Lost Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible Part 1
In 2013 the list of Scripture Mastery scriptures for LDS youth to memorize was finally changed. As part of exploring the Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible (commonly called by most Christians the "Old Testament") I figured it would be fun and interesting to look over scriptures that were *removed* from the lists before I embarked on the new standard list for the Hebrew Bible in my Context series.
Hebrew:יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵהוְּ וְשָׁב אֶל־הַמַּחֲנֶה וְּמְשָׁרְתֹו יְהֹושֻׁעַ בִּנ־נוְּן נַעַר לֹא יָמִישׁ מִתֹּוךְ הָאֹהֶל וְדִבֶּר
NJPSV: [Yahweh] would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp; but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent.
Schocken: And [Yahweh] would speak to Moshe face to face, as a man speaks to his neighbor. Now when he would return to the camp, his attendant, the lad Yehoshua, would not depart from within the Tent.
KJV: And [Yahweh] spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
I do not speak or read much ancient Hebrew (if you do, please get in touch with me as I'd love to have some help here), so I am using some supplementary translations for help. These include the New Jewish Publication Society Version as well as Everett Fox's translation of the Torah, published by Schocken Books. I have also editorially inserted the most popular reconstruction of the Tetragrammon, Yahweh, into each of the texts as the use of the phrase “The Lord” obscures the fact that there is a real personal name for the Hebrew deity underlying this replacement. I plan on discussing my use of the personal name of Yahweh and my particular choice of this reconstruction in a future post.
The context for this scripture was that God has finished telling Moses to begin leading the Israelites out of the wilderness near Mount Horeb (where one of the sets of 10 Commandments had been given) and to the land Yahweh had promised to Abraham. The text then describes how Moses talks with Yahweh.
There is a tent set up outside of the camp. Whenever Moses goes into the tent, the pillar of cloud that followed the camp would move over to the tent while Yahweh talks with Moses. Everyone else would move away (except for Joshua), and Yahweh would talk with Moses. That's what is before this verse.
Most LDS seminary students were taught this scripture as an example of how God is an embodied person who has a face. They were also taught that the pattern for prophets is that they speak to God in a very literal sense. Allusions were made when I was a young man in Seminary between this scripture and the experience of Joseph Smith speaking directly to God (or Jesus, or an angel, depending on which account) as a young man in the woods near his home.
Ultimately, though, this scripture tended to be used as en example that God has a body. However, in context this interpretation becomes problematic, as the rest of the chapter afterwards describes how after Moses asks to see the glory of Yahweh he is told bluntly that nobody can see the face of Yahweh and live. But since Yahweh like Moses so much, he'll allow Moses to hide in the rocks as Yahweh passes by and Moses will be allowed to see his backside but not his face. In context, this applies an entirely different emphasis to the scripture mastery verse in question. Instead of being a scripture about how Moses and Yahweh speak “face to face”, the emphasis now becomes how they speak to each other: in a close manner as shared between friends and neighbors. Moses is almost on an equal level to Yahweh in their relationship. They are friends.
One wonder why, if the importance of this scripture was the physicality of Yahweh, CES didn't instead choose verse 23, where Yahweh says that he has a backside, which Moses will be allowed to see.
Why Was This Verse Removed?
The LDS Church doesn't face as much opposition from evangelical Protestants who are opposed to its doctrine of an embodied God. There are many other points of opposition now that are not based on what is increasingly becoming a non-essential doctrine for Mormonism. I think this scripture was dropped because 1) the defense it offers isn't really needed as much, and 2) because in context it might not actually be saying what it at first appears to be saying. For these two reasons, it makes sense to remove it from the list.
Hebrew:לֹא־תִקֹּם וְלֹא־תִטֹּר אֶת־בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמֹוךָ אֲנִי יְהוָה
NJPSV: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am [Yahweh].
Schocken: You are not to take-vengeance, you are not to retain-anger against the sons of your kinspeople—but be-loving to your neighbor (as one) like yourself, I am [Yahweh]!
KJV: Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am [Yahweh].
In context, this is one of a long number of rules given in Leviticus to the Israelites by Yahweh. While I am a little upset that they took it out as it provides a good example of the Priestly source, as described in the Documentary Hypothesis, in the end it is not really that noteworthy. The entire reason that it was selected in the first place, I believe, is merely because it is quoted by Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian New Testament as one of the great laws of Judaism. As such, it is one way to try and tie Jesus and his teachings back into the Hebrew Bible (no easy feat, even though it's been done by Christians for over a thousand years now).
Why Was This Verse Removed?
I believe that this scripture was removed because it is redundant for LDS students. The same scripture appears, in quotation, in the New Testament as a statement of Jesus. Including it in a study of the “Old Testament” merely helps to “Christianize” this ancient Hebrew work. Combined with the loss of Job 19:25-26, this appears to be part of a move to not read Jesus back into the Hebrew Bible (though Isaiah 53 remains as part of the Scripture Mastery list, but we'll look more closely at that one later).