Lost Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible Part 2
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:וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן בָּם בִּתְּךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן לִבְנֹו וְּבִתֹּו לֹא־תִקַּח לִבְנֶךָ כִּי־יָסִיר אֶת־בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי וְעָבְדוְּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וְחָרָה אַפ־יְהוָה בָּכֶם וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ מַהֵר
NJPSV: 3 You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughter to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and [Yahweh’s] anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out.
Schocken: 3 And you are not to marry (with) them: your daughter you are not to give to their son, their daughter you are not to take for your son— 4 for they would turn-aside your son from (following) after me and they would serve other gods, and the anger of [Yahweh] would flare up against you, and he would destroy you quickly.
KJV: 3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. 4 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of [Yahweh] be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.
HOLY COW! (And that's not an ironic statement because we're dealing with the supposed writings of Moses.) I imagine that most people nowadays can understand, even if only a little bit, why this might be a problematic scripture to elevate to the level of memorization for LDS youth.
The context is the entire book of Deuteronomy, which is a retelling of the commandments of Moses from the perspective of the Jerusalem Temple. (For this reason many, though of course not all, scholars consider this to be a much later composition than the rest of the Torah, which some even speculating that it is the book “discovered”, or perhaps even written, by the priests during the reforms of king Josiah)
Throughout the Deuteronomistic History (a fancy, long word for the edited version of Israelite history preserved in 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings based on the ideas of Deuteronomy meant with recontextualizing the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE with the promises of Yahweh to the nation of Israel, which itself was heavily rewritten and edited into 1-2 Chronicles) the problems of the Israelites tend to arise from their leaving the worship of Yahweh to begin worshipping other gods common among their neighbors. Even Solomon the wise is described in as turning the worship of others gods because of some of his foreign wives. From the historical context of a battered people rediscovering (or possibly discovering for the first time) their monotheism in the midst of a polytheistic world, this sort of distrust of foreign people and foreign religions makes some sense.
However, when placed into the context of twentieth century LDS youth in what is likely an American High School system, how are we supposed to take these verses? Are they telling young, missionary-minded young women and men to not associate with their peers unless it's to try and convert them?
From official original materials for this scripture, the main doctrinal teaching of this scripture mastery is to teach young LDS kids that “marriage to people not of the covenant is not approved by the Lord. It can lead to a loss of faith and testimony,” and “marrying in the covenant is the Lord's appointed way.”
In today's modern world where only 20% of Latter-day Saints hold Temple recommends and the lowest activity rates are among young adults just in college, perhaps we should not be surprised that this scriptural admonition is being removed from the spotlight. Also, we have the uncomfortable fact that this scripture was often used during the 1950s and before by opponents to interracial marriage to imply that the idea of segregation was divinely inspired (including even among a number of LDS Church leaders of the 1950s). Of course, that association does not actually make the scripture itself somehow wrong, but it is certainly a troubling aspect of the history of these verses that the modern LDS Church certainly wishes were simply forgotten.
Finally, I can imagine that if the advice is to never enter a mixed-faith marriage, this verse could easily be extended to construe that the advice could also be to never continue within what has become a mixed-faith marriage. In other words, if the advice is to never marry a non-Mormon, it's not very far to go from there to never stay married to an ex-Mormon.
Why Was This Verse Removed?
I would posit that it was removed because it was pragmatically difficult to encourage all LDS youth to only marry other active LDS youth in the face of increasing statistics against such a likelihood. As well, the extremely troubling use of this scripture by previous Church leaders in racist ways also led to a need to de-emphasize its importance among LDS youth, most of whom have modern views that are extremely different from those of forty or fifty years ago.
Hebrew:לֹא־יָמוְּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתֹּורָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ וְהָגִיתָ בֹּו יֹומָם וָלַיְלָה לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשֹׂות כְּכָל־הַכָּתוְּב בֹּו כִּי־אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶךָ וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל
NJPSV: Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful.
KJV: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
The context for this verse is Yahweh speaking to Joshua after Moses has died, commanding him to lead the Israelites to conquer the land he has promised them. Yahweh in verse 8 here implores Joshua to hold fast to what Moses has written (the Torah) for only by following those writings will Joshua have success. Joshua then tells the people that it's time for them to go, and all of the people agree to also keep the laws Yahweh gave to them through Moses and that they will kill anyone who does not keep these laws. They then commence preparing for the conquest of their promised land.
In a list of only twenty-five scriptures, it makes sense to wonder why each scripture was chosen. What is the point, the usefulness, the utility of the decision? In this case, the point of this scripture probably wasn't the contextual point. It probably wasn't important for students to remember how Yahweh commanded Joshua to keep the teachings contained within the Five Books of Moses. How would that apply to twentieth century students? Mormons don't care about the idea of the first five books of the hebrew Bible being somehow more important than other parts (indeed, most Mormons would probably agree with most evangelicals that the most important book of the Hebrew Bible is the book of Isaiah).
So, outside of it's direct context, this scripture was probably used (and in my recollection, this was indeed the point) to remind students to constantly remember the scriptural lessons and doctrines they've learned.
Why Was This Verse Removed?
My guess is that the utility of a verse from the scriptures meant to implore youth to read their scriptures was pretty low. It seems redundant. If a student is not reading their scriptures, how will a scripture convince them otherwise? Also, the Hebrew Bible is a very foreign book when explored without a trained CES employee or CES manual to act as a micro-managing guide. Asking students to pay attention to the Hebrew Bible may have been leading to more problems than it was worth.
Hebrew:וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי גֹּאֲלִי חָי וְאַחֲרֹון עַל־עָפָר יָקוְּם וְאַחַר עֹורִי נִקְּפוְּ־זֹאת וְּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱלֹוהַּ
NJPSV: 25 But I know that my Vindicator lives; in the end He will testify on earth— 26 This, after my skin will have been peeled off. But I would behold [Elóah] while still in my flesh,
KJV: 25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see [Elóah]:
I wish this one hadn't been taken out. Not because it's useful, but because I could write a ton on this selection. Much has been written about this elsewhere, so let me just summarize a few main points about the context of this verse.
This verse is stated by Job as a defense to the arguments of his friends. Job, a man afflicted with countless catastrophes, is responding to the assertion that his misfortune occurred because of his sins. Job is responding that he knows he has not sinned. Furthermore, he knows that God, or a god, (using a generic term, אלוה, elóah which is the root behind the plural word for “gods”, Elohim) lives and will redeem him from his present situation (which happens near the very end of the book). This is the meaning of the word used in the King James Version, “Redeemer”. Job is testifying that Yahweh will rescue him from the illnesses and sadnesses that have befallen him. Job is not testifying of how Yahweh has (or is) a Redeemer who will save him from hell, death, or sin.
Secondly, the words “in my flesh I shall see Elóah” are very difficult Hebrew and the preposition “in” could just as easily be translated as “apart from,” rendering the statement “apart from my flesh I shall see Elóah”. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the idea of a physical resurrection!
Why Was This Verse Removed?
I believe it was removed because the doctrines that it has historically been used to promote are unfounded, namely that the Hebrew Bible clearly teaches a physical resurrection of the body (it doesn't, and these verses are too shaky to be used as a strong source) and that belief in the “Redeemer” can be found in the Hebrew Bible (many early Christians saw references to Jesus throughout the Hebrew Bible, but many of their Jewish contemporaries obviously read the same scriptures and didn't see it). I think this scripture was removed so that students wouldn't discover just how unstable a foundation it is on which to build a testimony of Mormon doctrine in the Hebrew Bible.