10 October 2017

Some ideas on deity and the Old Testament

This post isn't about the Book of Mormon specifically, but more about LDS theology concerning God. Our rejection of traditional trinitarian creeds is unusual among mainstream Christianity, regardless of what individual Christians may believe. The idea that members of the Godhead are three distinct individuals has led some to declare that Mormons cannot be Christians, as this concept seems too close to polytheism. But the belief in gods that are literally father and son may have some surprising and ancient origins.

Judaism has long been considered as containing the earliest form of monotheism. But some secular scholars see evidence of polytheistic beliefs in the original text of Jewish scripture that has since been edited out. One example is in Deuteronomy 32:8-9:

When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

The immediate assumption is that 'Most High' (El-Elyon in Hebrew), a common title for God in the Old Testament, refers to the the Lord or Jehovah (YHWH). However, some scholars see a connection between the Hebrew 'El' and the supreme Caananite deity, El. The oldest versions of Deuteronomy, including the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, don't have the phrase 'children of Israel,' but instead say 'sons of El.' The idea behind this passage is that El divided up the world's people into different ethnic groups to be ruled over by his divine sons. To Jehovah (the Lord), a Son of God, was given the nation or people of Jacob (Israel) as his people. So the Hebrew God wasn't the only God, but a son, and not the only one.

Latter-Day Saints have long identified the Jehovah of the Old Testament as a pre-mortal Jesus Christ, and refer to his Heavenly Father as Elohim, a Hebrew word meaning 'God' or 'Gods.' There is even a belief of a divine council of elohim meeting to create the world, an idea not found in traditional Christianity, but found in many ancient texts from the Middle East. Perhaps this possible evidence of earlier polytheism among the monotheistic Israelites seen by some non-religious scholars is fragments of this original understanding. This Mormon belief has been mocked by Christians and agnostics alike, but there may yet be some support for it, hiding under our noses in familiar scripture. Many of the Biblical 'contradictions' about the multiple gods El and Yahweh (Jehovah) that could be troubling to Christians are easily explained by LDS theology. Maybe there is something to this multiple gods idea after all.

Read more from Robert Wright, Professor of Science and Religion.
Click here for this Contradiction in the Bible.