Topic Study: Josiah’s Reforms

(April 2014)

I was impressed by the following statement by Margaret Barker when I originally read it in BYU Studies about Josiah’s reforms.

A Dynamic World of Divine Revelation

Givens raises the companion questions of open canon, ongoing revelation, and prophetic preeminence.¹ As far as we know, there was no idea of a closed canon in 600 bce, and ongoing revelation from the prophets was accepted in that day, even if what the prophets said was sometimes very uncomfortable.

One generation before Zedekiah there had been the great upheaval in the reign of King Josiah, something now regarded as the turning point in the history of Jerusalem and its religion. The events are usually described as King Josiah’s “reform,” the assumption being that everything he did was good and that the biblical texts describing the reform are an accurate and objective account. Other ancient texts had a very different view of Josiah and his work, but since they were eventually not included in the Bible, they are not often considered when the Bible is taught today. Yet here is our first warning: if some of the wickedness in Jerusalem mentioned in the First Book of Nephi (1 Nephi 1:13) included parts of Josiah’s temple purges, we should expect to find information relevant to the Mormon tradition in texts outside the Bible. And we do. Moreover, the biblical texts themselves take on new significance if we no longer assume that everyone agreed with Josiah’s purge. Jeremiah, a contemporary of King Josiah, has many passages that seem to criticize what has just happened in the city.² (“Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion”, Margaret Barker, BYU Studies Journal: 44:4 [2005], papers presented at the international academic conference held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., in recognition of the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birth)

I remember thinking at the time it presents an intriguing possibility; that Lehi left because of those “reforms”.  We find the Melchizedek priesthood among the Nephites (McConkie, Joseph Field Smith doctrines).  We also find many fewer problems about understanding the importance of the Law of Moses among them.  It is almost as if Josiah was supporting the Presiding Bishopric (the head of the Aaronic Priesthood) in minimizing the importance of the First Presidency (the head of the Melchizedek Priesthood).

I’m not sure why, but a few weeks ago on a whim I pulled this issue of BYU Studies out to read this one paragraph.  A week or so later, while watching General Conference, had the feeling I needed to record this insight.  I have no idea why I would need to do that; what on earth could be the purpose?  I have no idea.

I was also surprised to find a week or two later that the current issue of BYU Studies also touches on this point again.

Temple Theology

The term “temple theology” has its roots in the writings of Margaret Barker.1 Over the course of the last twenty-five years, she has argued that Christianity arose not as a strange aberration of the Judaism of Jesus’s time but rather as a legitimate heir of the theology and ordinances of Solomon’s Temple. The loss of much of the original Jewish temple tradition would have been part of a deliberate program by later kings and religious leaders to undermine the earlier teachings. To accomplish these goals, some writings previously considered to be scripture are thought to have been suppressed and some of those that remained to have been changed to be consistent with a different brand of orthodoxy. While scholars differ in their understanding of details about the nature and extent of these changes and how and when they might have taken place,2 most agree that essential light can be shed on questions about the origins and beliefs of Judaism and Christianity by focusing on the recovery of early temple teachings and on the extracanonical writings that, in some cases, seem to preserve them.  (“The LDS Story of Enoch as the Culminating Episode of a Temple Text” Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, BYU Studies Vol. 53:1 [2014].  Footnotes include: 1. See Margaret Barker, Temple Theology (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), for a convenient summary of her approach to temple studies., 2. See, for example, William J. Hamblin, “Vindicating Josiah,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 165–76; George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Review of The Older Testament, by Margaret Barker,” Journal of Biblical Literature 109, no. 2 (Summer 1990): 335–37.)

I have no idea why I should record this.  But it’s now done.

Initial writing finished April 2015

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