Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Adam Versus the Patriarchs: Covenant Renewal in the Book of Mormon

Over the last century, archaeologists have uncovered many treaties from the Ancient Near East (ANE) that served to regulate the affairs between powerful nations and their vassal states. Scholars have subsequently shown that many biblical texts follow the format of these vassal treaties, especially the covenant rituals found in portions of Joshua and Deuteronomy. Frank Moore Cross tells us, “The parade example of the covenant ritual is found in the accounts of Joshua's covenant making in Joshua 24:2-28 happily supplemented by Joshua 8:30-34 and Deuteronomy 27 (11) 15-26.”[1]

What I find interesting is that some scholars have noted that the biblical texts behind these vassal treaties create a direct link to the patriarchs while omitting any connection to personages in the primeval history (Genesis 1-11) such as Adam. For example, Lloyd Bailey notes that the covenant ceremony in Joshua 24 begins with a retelling of the migration of Abraham and that Deuteronomy 26 also begins with the homeless wandering of the patriarchs. He concludes that “the ‘primeval’ events thus may seem to us to be conspicuously absent from the recitals.”[2]

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin’s address is often discussed by LDS scholars in the context of these same ANE covenant-renewal ceremonies.[3] An interesting difference, however, is Benjamin’s reliance on comparisons to Adam and not to the patriarchs. Unlike the covenant renewal ceremonies in the biblical texts that compare the ritual to the patriarchs, Benjamin explains the salvific ritual in the context of Adam’s garden story no less than five times:
I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world. (Mos 4:7; see also 3:11, 16, 19, 26).
Why does the covenant-renewal theology in the Book of Mormon link to Adam while the covenant texts from the Hebrew Bible link to the patriarchs? It's an interesting question. Covenant renewal liturgy in the Hebrew Bible that does reference Adam, the creation, and other aspects of the primeval history can be found in numerous Psalms that also reference a fall festival that would have included a combined pre-exilic Tabernacles/Day of Atonement coronation ritual for the king as Yahweh.[4] On the other hand, the Deuteronomistic reforms that lie behind the passages in Joshua and Deuteronomy appear to omit the Day of Atonement that is the cultic setting for these Psalms (as well as Benjamin’s sermon). In other words, the Book of Mormon appears to reflect a faith setting prior to (or at variance with) the Deuteronomistic reforms.

As many LDS scholars have pointed out, the similarities between this text from Mosiah and the biblical covenant-renewal passages are important in establishing a common ANE pattern between both texts. What I am asking here is this: are the differences illuminating as well?


1. Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (USA: Harvard University Press, 1973) 84.

2. Lloyd R. Bailey, Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition (Columbia, SC: Univ of SC Press 1989) 117.

3. Cf., Stephen Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6,” in Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (eds.), King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom" accessed at http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=31&chapid=121
on October 26, 2010.

4. See my series of posts on the Fall Festival in ancient Israel and the Book of Mormon:

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