The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament

Israelite Temple

In my last post I highlighted one particularly interesting bit of research presented by Kevin Christensen in his 2004 essay “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament.” After reading the rest of the essay I realized that it would be valuable to provide a summary of the points argued in this article. Latter-day Saints are sometimes criticized for the ancient Messianic prophecies found in the Book of Mormon which some believe are anachronistic (wrong place, wrong time). Margaret Barker has revealed to us some of the conditions of pre-Exilic theology that have very important implications for Book of Mormon studies.

Margaret Barker has demonstrated that many religious themes important to pre-exilic Israelite temple theology were modified or lost during and after the exile. Christensen draws our attention to some of these themes that are taught by pre-exilic Israelites in the Book of Mormon.

 Key points to remember from Christensen’s Essay:

  •  The existence of a Deuteronomic school of thought in Israelite history is agreed upon by all scholars
  • During the days of King Josiah these Deuteronomists reshaped official Israelite theology, revising Israelite history and editing the scriptures
  • Barker: “Thus we have inherited a double distortion; the reformers edited much of what we now read in the Hebrew Bible, and modern interpreters with a similar cast of mind have told us what the whole of that Hebrew Bible was saying. The fact that most ancient readers of the texts read them very differently is seen as a puzzle.”
  • Barker: “Scholars seem not to consider the major implications for Christian origins of the Qumran readings in, say Deuteronomy and Isaiah, which are not in the MT. The original assumption had been that the Qumran evidence represented sectarian or vulgar versions of the Hebrew text, but scribes updating texts and producing uniformity must mean that some things were being altered, some things were being removed.”52 The MT (Masoretic Text, on which the King James Version is based), it seems, does not represent the scripture that was used by the authors of the New Testament, but does, in fact, seem to have become the standard in response to the rise of Christianity.”
  • One important change was the role of the temple High Priest (H.P.). The 1st temple H.P. was called the “anointed one,” or the Messiah, or the Greek equivalent Christ. The 2nd temple H.P. was no longer called that, effectively de-Christianizing Israelite religion.
  • Christensen: ” That the Deuteronomists specifically targeted the atoning messiah is clear from several convergent lines of evidence that Barker discusses. For example, their histories systematically discredited almost all the kings, the calendar in Deuteronomy did not include the Day of Atonement, and the reforming actions of their hero, King Josiah, targeted the objects kept in the holy of holies, which was the exclusive domain of the anointed high priest”.
  • The prophet Jeremiah seems to have been called by God to counter the reforms being made by the Deuteronomists. Jeremiah cites Deuteronomy over 200 times, directly contradicting it many times.
  • Early Israel recognized that Yahweh was the son of El, but Deuteronomic Israel merged the two together creating a more strict monotheism.
  • Christensen: According to Barker, “the idea of a procreator God with sons seems to have fallen out of favour among those who equated Yahweh and El. (Those who retained a belief in the sons of God, e.g. the Christians, as we shall see, were those who continued to distinguish between El and Yahweh, Father and Son. This cannot be coincidence.)”
  • Barker: The Job dialogue thus represents the struggles of a man coming to terms with monotheism, and being deprived of the more ancient polytheistic view.
  • Certain Israelite traditions suggest that a lesser was given to Moses, and that a higher law would replace it (4 Ezra 14:4-6; Jer. 31:32)
  • OT era baptisms were a common practice, as indicated by the Book of Mormon
  • Anciently, Israelite kings often functioned as the High Priest, or the Messiah (anointed one). This king/high priest represented Yahweh, or the Son of God. On the Day of Atonement the king/high priest wore a turban with a metal plate on the front with the name YHWH inscribed on, making it clear who he represented.
  • These ancient ideas suffered a blow from the Deuteronomists, but managed to survive “underground” even until the days of Jesus. It was through this tradition that Jesus and his disciples interpreted his role with some modifications
  • Barker: On the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained to the two disciples that it was necessary for the Anointed One to suffer and enter his glory (Luke 24.26); this must refer to the Qumran version of the fourth Servant Song [Isaiah 53], since there is no other passage in the Hebrew Scriptures which speaks of a suffering Anointed One.
  • Christensen: Of particular interest to Latter-day Saint studies is Barker’s assertion that the traditions that do account for the appropriate messianic expectations go back to the First Temple in preexilic Israel. This roots the Book of Mormon in the key time and place.
  • The figure Melchizedek was a prominent figure in 1st temple angel mythology, and many parts of this tradition remained intact through the centuries and were an important part of New Testament Christianity (Hebrews). Alma 13 appropriately explores the Melchizedek figure associating the same ancient themes with him that 1st temple theology did.
  • Evidence exists suggesting that there were at times Israelite traditions which taught that God is concerned with our welfare in the afterlife. This runs contrary to popular understandings of Israelite (Deuteronomist) theology.
  • The story of Adam and Eve may have suffered modifications around the time of Ezekiel and Lehi. Lehi’s retelling of the tradition includes pre-Exilic elements that have been suppressed by later translators and theologians.
  • Sherem (in the Book of Mormon) appears to have been a Deuteronomist himself, challenging Jacob (a pre-exilic temple priest) on points of doctrine that reflect the Deuteronomist reforms of Israelite theology. Sherem may have been a Mulekite.




This entry was posted in ..

3 comments on “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament

  1. Kevin Christensen says:

    James, nice work here, on the website in general, and in your summary observations on my essay here. I’m pleased that you’ve found “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament” as useful as you have. It is worth mentioning in support of Margaret’s case that the Masoretic Hebrew was adopted in response to the rise of Christianity, her essay “Text and Context” which is linked at her website at It was also published in book The Great High Priest. When she came to BYU in 2003, and presented a session on that material, Jack Welch, bounded down to the front and opened her new copy of the Book of Mormon to 1 Nephi 13, and asked if she saw the connections. In turn, she asked him about the Narrative of Zosimus.

    Incidentally, you mentioned that you’d first been introduced to Barker’s work via listening to my first Sunstone presentation on the topic. Less than 20 people came to that session, and few there seemed to “get it.” At the time, I didn’t think it was a success. It’s nice to here that my effort there did some good.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  2. James says:

    Thanks Kevin. I appreciate your comments and the hard work you have done.

  3. David Larsen says:

    Great analysis, James. I think these points are very important for Latter-day Saints to understand, yet I believe that many have not yet been exposed to these ideas, despite the best efforts of a growing number. Thanks for your contribution to helping spread the word.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s