The Blood of the Covenant

The Gospels of Mark and Matthew allude to the ceremony in which the Israelites make a covenant to keep the Law given by God (the Decalogue and the rest of the law given in Exodus; Ex. 20-23). The ceremony takes place in Ex. 24:4-8 and is a sacrifice in which Moses splatters the blood of the sacrifice either on the people or on pillars representing the people: “Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words'” (Ex. 24:8).

In Matt. 26:27-28 (NET), Jesus says, after giving his disciples the cup: ““Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (or “for this is my blood of the covenant that is poured out for many.”)

The Greek looks like this (using Blue Letter Bible):

The Greek (Septuagint) of Ex. 24:8 (scroll down for Septuagint):                                                 αἷμα        τῆς διαθήκης
The Greek of Matt 26:27:                                                             αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης

Jesus adds “my” (μου) which modifies blood (“αἷμά”), but otherwise the passages are identical. Some witnesses add “new” to modify covenant (“διαθήκης”), although it’s not clear if that’s a late addition or not (see NET Matt 26:27, footnotes 37 and 38).

I think this is a fascinating use and reworking of the covenant between God and the children of Israel mediated by Moses. It’s especially interesting that Jesus (and/or Matthew) sidesteps the Passover context that the synoptic gospels place Jesus’ death in favor of the covenant between Israel and God at Sinai. Jesus is making a new covenant and he does so by reworking some of the language of a previous covenant.


A Kingdom of Priests?

In non-Israelite ANE religions, the priests act as intermediaries between people and their god. but here, God wants to to something different: he wants the people to be part of a kingdom of priests, which can be read as a “kingdom made up of priests”* (See Kugel 2007, 240-241 for more on this). But if God wants to create a kingdom of priests, why didn’t he create one? On one hand, the laws and sacrificial rites don’t make sense for a democratized kingdom of priests, as they’re just doing what other ANE religions did: making priests the intermediary. On the other hand, political authority isn’t related to priestly qualification (that is, Levitical descent plus something, depending on the text [see Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? for more on this]), as Joshua–a man without priestly qualifications–is the next leader and the judge system doesn’t depend on this either. So God isn’t building a “kingdom ruled by priests”, which could be a plausible alternative reading.

In the LDS and (apparently) Kabbalaistic narratives (see here), something went wrong, and God wasn’t willing or able to make a kingdom of priests. But he never quite recants this promise, which, for LDS, is part of our narrative of a higher law that will only come back with Jesus. I think there are difficulties with the LDS narrative, but it is an explanation for this gap. Joseph Smith puts forward two competing explanations for the second set of tablets. In one, God removes “the priesthood” in favor of a “law of carnal commandments” (JST Ex. 34:1-2; here, scroll down) following the incident with the Golden Calf in Exodus 32, which suggests that the Israelite’s failure with the Golden Calf drives God’s refusal to give them the priesthood–so no kingdom of priests, then. But if this is correct, it raises a host of questions about the covenant that God, Moses, and the children of Israel made in Exodus 24. Was this covenant superceded? What of the distinctly “Mosaic” (to Mormons, at least) legal material that Ex. 24 and Ex. 32 bookend? Was the Ex. 24 covenant superceded by the Ex. 34 covenant? Was the legal material likewise superceded?

In the other approach Joseph Smith takes, he argues that it was the Israelite’s unwillingness to enter God’s presence that leads to the loss of the Priesthood (D&C 84:23-26)–either as expressed after the Israelites refuse God’s presence after He gives them the 10 commandments (Ex. 20:19) or in their failure when the spies report on the land (Numbers 14). While God is clearly angry after the second incident, refusing to allow any of the current generation of Hebrews to enter the promised land, he’s not angry when they refuse to remain in his presence after God gives the 10 commandments to them. But the first approach fails because Sinai comes before the spy story, so the failure of the spies and Israelites to want to enter the promised land can’t explain God’s (in the narrative as it’s presented, at least). This leaves us with God frustrated at his people’s unwillingness to enter His presence, but neither God nor Moses express that frustration. So this explanation doesn’t seem to work with the text as it stands, and the JST doesn’t make the additions that might bolster either case.

I’d argue further that it’s not clear to me that analysis within the framework of the Documentary Hypothesis explains this gap. It explains why, in Exodus, Moses comes down from the mountain twice, why the Israelites covenant with God twice, etc, but not why God doesn’t create a kingdom of priests. Then again, according to Kugel, there isn’t much of a gap to explain: the section that includes the line about having a “kingdom of priests” predates the development of a priestly class, since it’s hardly in their interests to democratize their work (see 721, fn 5). So, for whatever reason, the Biblical redactor included this passage (possibly, as Friedman argues, because he had too–enough people knew about these passages that their exclusion would have rendered that version of a “Bible” (well, proto-Bible, at least) illegitimate.

The standard Christian reading of the law fails here too, because it can’t account for the fact that the Torah never justifies its failure to create a kingdom of priests. In the Christian reading Jesus fulfills the law and that his “law” (or whatever you’d call it, in the light of Paul’s writings) is higher than the law of Moses.  It seems to me that a Christian might argue for Christ’s role as priest (which doesn’t create a kingdom of priests, as it’s not clear who the other priests under Christ’s high priest are) or that a priesthood of believers would create this kingdom. This approach fails because it still doesn’t explain why God never follows through on his challenge to make a kingdom of priests, since the Bible never has God give a reason for giving a “lesser law” as a result of the people’s unwillingness to enter God’s presence. So an LDS approach gets close, but presents its own difficulties (difficulties rooted in a Documentary Hypothesis approach can be found here, parts 1, 2, and 3).

Like the author in the last set of links, I don’t want to prove the LDS understanding of the giving of the lower law instead of a higher law false. I want to push on our ideas about how revelation works and what these passages mean when you confront the contradictions that are built into these different passages. To me, the narrative in Exodus contradicts itself and, even if we ignore the documentary analysis, Joseph Smith’s approaches contradict each other and the text of Exodus. Joseph Smith created the kingdom of priests that God failed to create among the children of Israel, but it’s not clear to me that Joseph Smith’s revelatory efforts solved any of the textual problems. To me, this points strongly to an idea that I wrestle with: doctrine can be correct even if it’s built on texts that, upon closer inspection, are contradictory. That is, Joseph’s attempts to explain how the Melchizidek priesthood fits into the Hebrew Bible are interesting and useful, despite the fact that they don’t fit the Biblical texts. In other words, revelatory conclusions can be correct, even if they don’t fit their textual premises. But then again, I also think that revelatory conclusions can be incorrect, even if they do fit their textual premises.

*While I am strongly sympathetic to the idea that the Priesthood can be extended to women, I’m not going to get into it here. I doubt that an appeal to the “kingdom of priests” idea to argue for a non-gendered priesthood, since it’s unlikely that Moses or anyone else in ancient Israel would have understood this to mean that both men and women would have priesthood.


Friedman, Richard Elliot. 1987. Who Wrote the Bible? New York: HarperOne.

Kugel, James. 2007. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. New York: Free Press.

Tvedtnes, John A. 2002. “The Higher and Lesser Laws” In Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks, editors. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

Enoch “Refuses to be Comforted”

After reading that there was mourning ritual associated with Job’s and Jacob/Israel’s “refus[al] to be comforted”, I noticed that Enoch says the same thing after he sees the destruction wrought by the Flood: “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted…” (Moses 7:44).

The idea of refusing comfort in the wake of a disaster is a common Hebrew part of mourning. Something terrible happens and the victim (or parent, or whoever) “refuses to be comforted” during his or her mourning. James Kugel, in How to Read the Bible, says:

There was a certain ritual practiced in the ancient Near East by anyone who had endured a severe loss–for example, the death of a parent or other close relative. The person would be visited by friends and family, who would seek to reconcile him or her to what had happened. But the normal, expected posture of the sufferer in such circumstances was to “refuse to be comforted,” at least for a time. This ritual of mourning called for sufferers to reject all such efforts for a while and remain plunged in grief, tearing their clothes, putting ashes on their heads, and wearing sackcloth… (639)

This is what’s going on in most of the Book of Job. For a time, his friends come to attempt to comfort him. But, as I said, this phrase also appears after Enoch foresees the destruction of humanity by the Flood. I think it’s profound that Enoch is so stricken by this destruction, as the language suggests that Enoch viewed these people as close enough that their death would elicit such a strong, mournful response. It might also be that he was shocked by the extent of the destruction. I think it’s interesting that we have such distance from many biblical stories that we aren’t stricken by how profoundly terrible many of them are. Yes, the people in the days of the Flood were wicked, but still, that’s a lot of death. We pass over it pretty lightly. In the same way, I think we do this when we read the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac (see here and here for some additional thoughts along these lines).

Second, I think it’s interesting that God’s immediate response to Enoch’s heartbreak is to comfort him, in line with the tradition, and tell him of the Messiah to come. Much of the rest of Enoch’s vision is Enoch trying to understand how God’s promise will be fulfilled. He is finally satisfied when God tells him, “Then [at the second coming of Christ] shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other…” (Moses 7:62).

The Flood as a New Creation: Some Textual Parallels

While I’m sure these are better elaborated elsewhere, these are a few things I noted that seem to tie the Flood together with the Creation stories in Gen. 1-3. (both in my own reading and drawn from other sources. Sadly, I didn’t keep detailed notes on other sources).

  1. In both stories the earth is submerged in the “deep”. The Hebrew word is tehom, which is often referred to as the waters of chaos in scholarly literature (this post gets at some of that. See the stuff under the third point). See Gen 1:2 (see here for the Hebrew) and the “fountains of the deep” in Gen. 7:11 and elsewhere in the flood story (again, see here for the Hebrew).
  2. The ark goes “on the face of the water” (Gen. 7:18) just as spirit does in Gen. 1:2.
  3. Noah and family to multiply and replenish the earth (Gen. 9:1), just as Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28)
  4. Relation of man to animals is emphasized, although it differs when repeated in Gen. 9:2. In Gen. 1:28, man has “dominion” over animals; in Gen. 9:2, animals will fear man.
  5. Noah and his family are to fill an empty earth, like Adam and Eve. This one is perhaps more of a stretch, as in Gen. 1, the earth is not empty, while in Gen. 2 the earth is empty of animal life but not plant life. Notably, God is unconcerned about the plant life when flooding the earth, suggesting that a parallel to Adam and Eve in Gen. 2, rather than Gen. 1 might be stronger.
  6. It appears that God removes the curse on the earth in Gen. 8:21 that he placed on it in Gen. 3:17. Gen. 8:21 says: “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s (Adam’s) sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.”

I don’t really have much to say about what I think this means, although it is intriguing. If point 6 is correct, then it suggests that whatever curse was on the land due to Adam is no longer operative. This would suggest that citing the curse on the land as a justification for our need to work–which is the kind of thing I’ve heard–would be a bit weaker. But I’m not sure that this is a great loss, since I’m sure there are other passages that can probably be used in its place.

Is the Book of Abraham Incomplete?

First, textual evidence suggests that there’s more story to be told.

  1. The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Pharoah is interrupted (Abraham 2:22-25). That is, we know that Abraham tells Sarah that they’re going to tell Pharaoh that she is his sister, not his wife. But since that story is interrupted by Abraham teaching the Egyptians astronomy, we never find out what happened. Does Pharaoh find out that Sarah is Abraham’s sister? How? What does he do about it? Is this how Abraham becomes wealthy (it is in the version in Genesis)? We don’t know the answer to any of these questions.
  2. Abraham’s retelling of the creation account(s) is interrupted in Abraham 5:21. This happens after Adam has named all the animals, which occurs after God creates Eve (notably, this order differs in Genesis). Clearly, this is not the end of the story, although this does correspond to the end of Genesis 2, given the switch of Adam’s naming of the animals and Eve’s creation.
  3. Finally, in Abraham 1:28, Abraham gives us a brief outline of the work. According to this outline, the work is incomplete. He says: “But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.” He does begin retelling the creation, but he does not connect the creation to his own chronology.

Second, Joseph Smith appears to have claimed that there was more to come. Kevin Barney reports (here) that “In February of 1843, Joseph promised that more of the text would be published, but none ever was, and no manuscript evidence of additional text has been discovered.” Brian Hauglid says “Evidence from multiple sources suggests that JS may have produced other Abraham material that is no longer extant. However, JS did not subsequently publish any additional Abraham texts” (Hauglid, Textual History of the Book of Abraham, 5–6., cited here, scroll to the bottom of the page.).

Of course, this isn’t really anything more than an exercise in textual analysis (at least initially; obviously the points from Barney and Hauglid go beyond that). It’s interesting to think of what more Joseph Smith might have written about Abraham.

Note: While I realize that I don’t have much in the way of readership right now, I will point out that any comments not on topic, including comments about the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the Joseph Smith Papyrus and Joseph Smith’s role or status as a prophet will be deleted. This is not the place for that conversation.

OTGD Outline: Lesson 6: The Ark

I taught Lesson 5 (Cain and Enoch), but my lesson outline drew so heavily on Ben Spackman’s notes that I chose not to post the outline.

Genesis 6:5, 8:35
Gen. 6:5 (KJV): “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

First: This seems pretty extreme. We often hear leaders and members of the church bewailing the wickedness that prevails today, but it strikes me that the wickedness in Noah’s day was worse. What does the phrase “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” mean?

Let’s fast forward to after the flood. God says:
Gen. 8:21 (KJV): I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of
man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have

*So now we have God restating humanity’s desires. What are humanity’s desires? Did the flood change anything on this point? What do we take away from this?

What do other scriptures have to say about the nature of man and his desires?

Genesis covenant (Gen 8:21)

  1. “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s (Adam’s) sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” [I didn’t ask but wish I had: Is this an undoing of the ground that was cursed for Adam’s sake? (Gen. 3:17)]
  2. Ask: what was the covenant? As each person answered, I asked “is that all”? The first time it prompted an answer about the rainbow, but I was getting blank stares the second time (which I was sort of counting on). [It’s worth pointing out that strictly speaking, this may not all be of a piece with the covenant, but it’s presented in such close proximity that it may be.]
  3. There’s lots more going on in this covenant in Gen. 9. Read Gen. 9:1-13 (piece by piece).
    1. never again curse the ground (Gen 8:21)
    2. never destroy every living thing again
    3. multiply and replenish earth (gen 9:1)
    4. “dominion” over animals, plants–different context. Compare Gen. 1:28. Here it’s a fear of man, not a dominion. (gen 9:2) [We had an interesting discussion on this point, it’s difference compared to Gen 1:28 and 29-30, whether fear and dominion differ, and whether fear might relate to the fact that people can now eat animals, given Gen. 9:3-4
    5. Okay to eat plants and meat, but not meat w/ blood (gen 9:3-4). v. 5-6 as some sort of
      explanation. (NET Gen 9:3: “As I gave you the green plants, I now give you
      everything.” See Gen. 1:29-30, Gen. 3:17-18.
    6. Covenant with Noah, his family, and animals: Gen. 9:9-10. That is, the covenant is not just with a man and his family, but with animals. [For LDS approaches to covenants, this is weird, and I thought worth pointing out.]
    7. Rainbow as sign of covenant. Gen. 9:12-13, 16. Who is the rainbow a sign for? (It looks like it’s a sign for both man AND God, so that God will remember his covenant). This lead to an interesting discussion as well, since again we aren’t used to thinking that God might need reminders. In a later conversation with my wife, she pointed out that telling people that God was going to be reminded of his covenant by the rainbow too might have been a way of comforting them.

OTGD Lesson 4 Notes: The Fall

Genesis 2–3; 1 Corinthians 15:20–22; 2 Nephi 2:5–30;
2 Nephi 9:3–10; Helaman 14:15–18; Doctrine and Covenants 19:15–19;
29:34–44; Articles of Faith 1:2; “Fall of Adam,” Bible Dictionary, page 670.

Try Ardis Pashall’s DH approach here (see here, scroll down to “Here’s a point about Biblical studies”):
These chapter and verse divisions are foreign and largely arbitray; the story of Genesis 1 appears to wrap up in Gen. 2:4. Then a new story appears to begin. So we “wall off” story 1 and study story 2. The only thing we really bring to story 2 from story 1 in our reading tends to be the commandment to multiply (also the bit about dominion over the earth, but it doesn’t figure much into our fall narrative). This approach also highlights some of the other differences between story 1 and story 2, whcih I won’t get into, but which are worth exploring on your own.

Also “these are the generations of ___” framing. Generations of earth and heaven, Adam, Noah, etc.
1:1-2:3 Prologue
2:4-4:46 History of heaven and earth
5:1-6:8 Family history of Adam
6:9-9:29 Family history of Noah
10:1-11:9 Family history of Noah’s sons
11:10-26 Family history of Shem
11:27-25:11 Family history of Terah
25:12-18 Family history of Ishmael
25:19-35:29 Family history of Isaac
36:1-37:1 Family history of Esau
37:2-50:26 Family history of Jacob
Gordon Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis, 1:xxii, found here.

The above is a framing device generally attributed to one of the DH sources, while the details get filled in by one of the other sources, if I recall correctly.

Splitting the stories up in this way is interesting because it highlights something about the “conflicting commandments” approach we often take with the Fall. That is, the conflicting commandments story is only possible when you squish story 1 and story 2 together and read them as one story. It is also worth pointing out that the conflicting commandments argument about the Fall comes from John Widstoe’s writings in the 1940s–even for Mormonism, this is a pretty late doctrinal development.

LDS approaches to the Fall:
1) Fortunate Fall
2) Conflicting Commandments

Results of the Fall (a-j in the manual; k – are my additions)
a. Adam and Eve were able to have children, which allowed us to come to
earth and receive mortal bodies (Moses 5:11; 6:48; 2 Nephi 2:23, 25).
b. We experience physical death, or separation of the physical body from the
spirit (Moses 4:25; 6:48; 2 Nephi 9:6).
c. We experience spiritual death, or separation from God’s presence (Moses
4:29; 6:49; 2 Nephi 9:6).
d.We are partakers of misery and woe (Moses 6:48; Genesis 3:16–17).
e. We are capable of sinning (Moses 6:49, 55; 2 Nephi 2:22–23).
f. The ground is cursed, causing us to need to work (Moses 4:23–25; Genesis
g. We can learn to recognize good and evil (Moses 4:28; 6:55–56; 2 Nephi 2:23;
Genesis 3:22).
h.We can have joy in mortality (Moses 5:10; 2 Nephi 2:23, 25).
i. We can know the joy of our redemption (Moses 5:11).
j. We can obtain eternal life (Moses 5:11).
k. Eve cursed with painful childbirth, desire toward her husband.
l. Adam to “rule over” Eve.
m. We are afforded some protection from disembodied spirits (Joseph Smith, find ref)

Are these descriptive–that is, statements of how things will be or prescriptive–that is, statements of how things should be?

The sin-transgression discussion could be interesting.
1. A sin and a “transgression of the law” are different things. Elder Oaks compares this to the difference between something wrong because its wrongness is inherent, while other things are wrong because they are prohibited. (Why isn’t breaking the Word of Wisdom coded as a transgression, but not as a sin? To me, it’s the pinnacle of a commandment based on malum prohibitum). Were Adam and Eve “punished” or were the changes in their state a natural result (or simply the consequences) of their actions? This seems to feed into the descriptive vs. prescriptive question about the results of the fall.

Adam and Eve:
1. Talk about Adam and Eve as a model of Aristophanes’ double-people who are split in two as a result of an attempt to scale Olympus. The half-people have a yearning for their other halves. Eve is formed from a part of Adam–does he miss it? How does he feel to be reunited with his missing part? Eve is literally a part of him.

2. Eve as “help meet”: help is divinely given; meet is something like “equal to” or “sufficient for”. What does this suggest about gender relations?

3. Moving on from their creation and their status before “the Fall”–what are the differences between life before and after the eating the fruit? What can we learn from these differences? Are the changes descriptive or prescriptive?

The Bible rarely seems to comment or follow up on Adam and Eve and the Fall. None of the passages refer to this series of events as “a fall”–although the Book of Moses does. What do you make of this? How does the Bible “solve” the problems of the Fall? How does modern revelation and modern scripture solve the problem? (There’s got to be a less awkward, more “Mormon” way of saying this. I guess it is interesting that there really isn’t any sort of intervention by God to “solve” the problem of “fallen” man and women, but that God’s later interventions have different motivations. Indeed, it does seem like Christianity is more interested in this question than Judaism is, as it provides Christianity with some grounds for requiring redemption from sin.)

Satan is the “father of lies”: What lies does he tell Eve?

Is there something to be said about the likelihood that Eve’s desire is sexual and connected with her pain in childbirth? I’m not really sure what I’d say or how I’d say it or what sort of discussion would be worth having on the point.

I feel like I’m leaving out Jesus. This isn’t a class on the text of the OT, but on how we as Mormons read the OT. And the manual is right that the Fall is important because it tells us why we need something. It doesn’t necessarily tell us what we need–it could be a law, although perhaps it suggests that law is not what we need. There is lots of interesting stuff here about Jesus, about how the gospel solves the problem of the fall.

Things I read to prepare for this lesson:

The BYU Studies lesson resources page is fantastic. I found the first two articles there.

  • “Mormonism’s Satan and the Tree of Life,” by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Ronan J. Head, Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology, Volume 4, no. 2. The authors lay out a three-fold puzzle regarding Satan’s role in the Fall, according to Mormon scripture: First, it’s not clear what Satan means when he says he’ll redeem all mankind; second, it’s not clear how Satan can destroy human agency; third, it’s unclear why it’s necessary for spirits to get embodied. They propose a solution to these problems by arguing that Satan acted in the garden in an unauthorized manner. In this sense, he said and did nothing that was incorrect, except that it wasn’t his job. Additionally, God intervenes to prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit from the Tree of Life, which Alma explains would have eliminated their opportunity to use their agency in a probationary state. Satan “redeems” mankind by preventing them from leaving an immortal, innocent state, “removes” agency by preventing mankind from having a probationary state, and prevents them from having bodies, which Joseph Smith and Lehi taught protect them from Satan and others who wish them ill.
  • “The Cherubim, the Flaming Sword, the Path, and the Tree of Life,” by Donald W. Parry, The Tree of Life: from Eden to Eternity. The article makes some interesting points about the garden of Eden and its geography, although I’m pretty skeptical about the author’s conclusions about the path. The Garden of Eden is on the East of Eden, the Garden appears to be walled off or hedged such that only one gaurdian-cherub was necessary (although cherubim is plural, but still, it/they are only placed East of the Garden). (Also discusses Ezekiel 28)
  • Lehi’s Theology of the Fall in Its Preexilic/Exilic Context,” by Bruce Pritchett, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3(2): 49–83. This article was especially interesting in terms of the possible references to the Fall and Adam that may be included in the Bible. I think he may be overplaying his point somewhat, but it’s still really interesting to see the possibilities here.
  • Ben Spackman’s Blog at This will probably be a major source for every lesson I teach.
  • The Mormon Theology Seminar on Genesis 2-3 Collaborate Blog (start here)