Moses, Justin and Dana M. Pike, Ancient Scripture and ANES
My academic inquiry is a bipartite construction and demands a thorough, but succinct, introduction. The first and primary element of my study concerns kingship in the Book of Mormon. The main purpose of this study is, first, to outline Nephite kingship ideology as it is portrayed in the Book of Mormon and, second, to find possible origins for that ideology. While kingship ideology in the Book of Mormon has demonstrated unique properties, it has also shown a propensity to be similar to, and potentially influenced by, the ideology of other cultures. Depending on whether one believes the Book of Mormon to be an ancient record or a product of the 19th century, influences may include ancient Near Eastern kingship, Biblical kingship, Mesoamerican kingship, or modern and early modern European kingship.
Though tradition holds that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is a unified, literary unit, modern scholarship proposes that Deuteronomy maintains separate authorship and a differing theology that was the foundation for the books of Joshua through 2 Kings (called the “Deuteronomistic History”). Some Latter-day Saint scholars have compared the Book of Mormon with Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History to see if the Book of Mormon is “deuteronomistic” in nature. With the intent to contribute to the conversation on Book of Mormon kingship as well as Deuteronomy and the Book of Mormon, I decided to compare Book of Mormon and Deuteronomistic kingship to see if the latter had any influence on the ideology of the former.
I began by identifying every reference to kingship in the Book of Mormon with the exception of the book of Ether because that book does not describe Nephite life and is much earlier chronologically. With these references I drew preliminary conclusions on Nephite kingship ideology, practice, and development. Next, I performed a thorough search for scholarship written on the subject of Book of Mormon kingship as well as Deuteronomy and the Book of Mormon. I read and considered every piece, incorporating into my analysis of Book of Mormon kingship those things I found to be insightful and likely accurate. Finally, I turned to those Deuteronomistic texts that provided explicit ideology on kingship and compared them to that which I found in the Book of Mormon.
In short, my research indicates that there appears to be many elements influencing Nephi and subsequent Nephite rulers regarding how they valued kingship and what their ideal for kingship entailed. The Deuteronomistic History in particular demonstrates similarities and dissimilarities to Book of Mormon kingship. Broadly speaking, Deuteronomistic kingship (that is, that found in Joshua through 2 Kings) exhibits many aspects found in the broader ancient Near East including, but not limited to, kings’ prominent, if not autonomous, judiciary, military, and religious roles in their kingdom. This kingship tradition is relevant to Nephi and his descendants because it is the precise culture from which the Nephites emerged and it is plausible that the Brass Plates contained an account of some of these kings for Nephi and his descendants to analyze and review (though this point is by no means confirmed). Book of Mormon kings also demonstrate that they participated in strong judiciary (see Mosiah 12:16; 26:10-11), military (see Words of Mormon 1:13; Mosiah 10:19), and religious (see the lives and ministries of Nephi and King Benjamin for examples) roles. Despite this similarity, the Deuteronomistic History evaluates many of the kings based almost entirely on whether they followed the sins of Jeroboam (for the Northern Kingdom; see 2 Kings 10:21) or the righteousness of King David (for the Southern Kingdom; see 1 Kings 11:6). The sins of Jeroboam are that he did not stay loyal to Yahweh only and that he set up worship centers outside of Jerusalem, the designated site for centralized worship. David was not fully righteous (having committed an affair and murder), but was righteous in that he never turned to a god other than Yahweh. Nephite kings, however, appear to be analyzed on all the commandments, not solely the command to worship only Yahweh.
Considering that current theory postulates that the Deuteronomistic History is based on the ideology found in Deuteronomy, one would assume that this holds true for kingship ideology. However, Bernard Levinson1 explains that the kingship in Deuteronomy is one ideology from which the Deuteronomistic authors strayed. He theorizes that Deuteronomy strips the king of those very roles that Deteronomistic and Book of Mormon kingship apparently emphasize: judiciary, military, and religious. However, the Book of Mormon does seem to comply with one section specifically, Deteronomy 17:14-20, dubbed “The Law of the King,” which outlines some very specific prerequisites and expectations of the king. Nephi and Benjamin, the standards for good Nephite kings, comply explicitly with most of these requirements and implicitly with the rest. King Noah, the antithesis of a good Nephite king, does not seem to comply well with them.
Because the parallel between kingship in Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomistic History, and the Book of Mormon is not precise, I turned briefly to other possibilities for influence. It seems that besides Deuteronomistic influence, Nephite kingship ideology may have been fashioned on a complex of factors, including Isaiah’s teachings of the Messiah as the true king, on ancient Near Eastern kingship, and on Nephi’s own (negative) experience with kingship in Jerusalem.
Much work still needs to be done in the area of Book of Mormon kingship as well as Deuteronomistic tendencies in the Book of Mormon. Latter-day Saint scholarship in these areas have generally been incomplete in their interaction with Biblical scholarship. Often, LDS scholars cling to the theory of one biblical scholar to defend their work (namely, Margaret Barker) without properly representing the rest of the scholarly world. Thus, my current agenda is to familiarize myself with the history of biblical scholarship on Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomistic History, and biblical kingship before I return to the subject of the origins of Book of Mormon kingship and the relationship between the Book of Mormon and the Deuteronomistic History. Fortunately, these are subjects I intend to pursue as I enter graduate school. Though my research is not complete enough to pursue publishing an article at this time, my research for this grant was very productive and effective and has prepared me well to continue researching these subjects.
1Bernard Levinson, “The Reconceptualization of Kingship in Deuteronomy and the Deuteonomistic History’s Transformation of the Torah,” Vetus Testamentum 51 (2001): 511-534.