One of my favorite subjects in LDS studies is the divine council. Modern scholarship understands a theme throughout the OT that before this century was not well understood, and was even supressed by those who managed to detect it. Ancient Israel imagined their God as the head god over a council of gods. This “divine council” as it has come to be known was the scene of many major decisions concerning mankind. These gods over which Israel’s God YHWH presided were of the same ontological order and of the same genus. They were not a separate and distinct species.
Many Evangelicals who have wrestled with this fact have tried to argue that the gods mentioned in divine council scenes were in fact angels, beings of a lower order. This in actuality is what evangelical scholar Michael Heiser calls “theologically protecting God”. The fact is that the Hebrew word for “angel” is malak, which is simply the word messenger and does not describe a different species of being. Instead, malak describes the office, the responsibility that some of these gods were given in carrying out the orders of YHWH.
What I find fascinating is that the Prophet Joseph Smith somehow managed to figure this out a whole century before the rest of Christianity. He was an intense student of the bible, and loved the old testament (OT). He also studied Hebrew passionately, and was trained by Jewish professors. All of these things equipped him with the proper tools for deciphering the divine council theme in the OT. It can be argued that Joseph figured out this doctrine on his own, without any unique revelation from God. However that argument seems to me to overlook a major point.
Even if a man is handed all the tools he needs to accomplish a goal, he does not automatically know how to use them. When Nephi built his ship, he had all the tools at his disposal and he probably had an idea of what a ship should be. However he was instructed to build a ship not after the manner of man, but to follow unique instructions given to him by God. Nephi could not have learned this on his own, even with all the tools at his disposal.
Likewise Joseph had all the tools but not the directions. He could understand the original language, and was well versed in the OT. However, unlike his contemporaries he ended up piecing together the pieces of the puzzle in a fashion unlike anyone else in Christianity. His final product was shocking, even alarming to Christians of that day. It was utterly foreign to anyone’s way of thinking. Over a hundred years later Joseph’s innovations would be vindicated. Modern scholarship is equipped with far greater tools and with hundreds of minds. Scholarship has taken those same pieces of the puzzle that Joseph had plus a few more major pieces he didn’t have and has built a picture of OT theology that is remarkably, astonishingly similar to the one Joseph built over a hundred years earlier.
I find this to be evidence of his prophethood. I would not go so far as to call it a nail in the coffin however. Many men have been ahead of their time, Joseph is not alone. But Joseph falls among the ranks of men like da Vinci and Nephi. The sum total of all of Joseph’s bull’s eye hits points to only one conclusion in my mind, that he is indeed a prophet. This happens to be one of my favorite bull’s eyes.