Ezekiel's prophecy of the "stick of Judah" and the "stick of Joseph" has long been interpreted by Latter-day Saints to refer to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and there have been creative and interesting L.D.S. explanations of the meaning of the sticks. If the subject of the prophecy is indeed the restoration and rejoining of the ancient Israelite kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as the biblical context seems to require, a question naturally arises: how does the Book of Mormon, which claims to be a new world document, fit into the picture?
The ancient southern kingdom of Judah was dominated by the tribe of Judah. Since the Bible was, for the most part, written and preserved by the descendants of the southern kingdom, and intimately portrays Judah's beliefs, customs, and traditions, it very adequately fits the picture as the stick of Judah. In the north was the kingdom of Israel, made up predominantly of the Josephite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. For the writings of the Nephites to defend a claim to be the stick of Joseph, they need to be more substantially connected with the kingdom of Israel than just having been written by people who happened to descend from Joseph. They should also depict a society whose customs, beliefs, and traditions match those of the northern kingdom.
Until recently, little effort has been made to objectively measure these connections. Then, in 1977, John Sorensen produced a landmark study suggesting that the Book of Mormon was closely related to the literary tradition of the northern kingdom because the brass plates of Laban contained or were related to the northern ("E") source of the Pentateuch. The possible implications of this suggestion, both for biblical and Book of Mormon studies, are far-reaching, but they have not been extensively analyzed since then.
This paper expands the scope of inquiry into the Book of Mormon's connections with the northern Israelite tradition. It creates the outline for some of the religious ideas and attitudes that characterized ancient northern Israel, in hopes of providing an understanding of what should be written in an authentic "Stick of Joseph." In doing so, it makes two suggestions:
1. The list of sources considered to be relevant to the study of northern Israel should be expanded. Besides the northern Israelite traces in the scriptural account, other literary remains outside the Bible may provide additional strands of evidence about the people of the "Joseph" tribes. These sources include the traditions of the Rechabites, the chronicles of the Samaritans, the written remains of the Essenes and other baptizing sectaries of the turn of the era, and the legends of the ten lost tribes as preserved in Jewish lore.
2. The list of religious ideas that are characteristic of the authentic Josephite tradition should be expanded. Examination of the relevant writings reveals many hints about the beliefs of their authors, including especially ideas that are common to these sources, and that are different from, or in opposition to, attitudes of the Jews of Judah.
The paper also considers a few representative passages in the Book of Mormon on the same subjects, to determine whether they match the ancient northern Israelite pattern. It would be understatement to say that there are a number of interesting connections. Where there are findings that do not fit the model, it will be noted, along with the suggestion that the appropriate response is additional study of both the model and the Book of Mormon. In the process, new light may be thrown on some key ideas in the Book of Mormon itself.
Many scholars who study the text of the Old Testament believe they can sort out which portions of the text originated in Judah and which in Israel. Without defending the findings of those who hold to the documentary hypothesis, or describing it in detail, it would be fair to say that the Biblical passages that make up the "E" Pentateuchal source (so named because of its standard use of the name "Elohim" for God, and because of the document's association with the people of "Ephraim") can provide a good picture of the beliefs of northern Israel.
Groups or individuals claiming to be Rechabites continued to appear in Palestine down to the time of Christ, and in various locations into the middle ages. A medieval traveler described one such group called the "Sons of El Shaddai" in Arabia:
The Jews of Haibar even pretended to be descendents of the Rechabites who, at the command of their ancestor, Jonadab son of Rechab, carried on their Nazarite life after the destruction of the first Temple, until they came to Haibar, a country rich in palm-trees and corn.
Hugh Nibley has used the example of the Rechabites to enlighten our understanding of the Book of Mormon; but he has not to my knowledge stressed the northern Israelite connection. The likelihood that Lehi's ancestors came from Israel to Judah at the same time and in the same circumstances as the Rechabites, and that both groups left Jerusalem for a highly-fruitful area of Arabia at the same time, should highlight the relevance of the Rechabites as an example of the Josephite tradition.
The Samaritans themselves see things very differently. They have always considered themselves to be actual descendants of the inhabitants of the ancient northern kingdom and the tribes of Joseph. They describe themselves as:
The community of the observers who remained true to the truth, and they were the sons of Joseph, the sons of Phinehas, and a few of the sons of Levi and Benjamin, who maintained the sanctity of Mount Gerizim Bethel.
Thus the Samaritans claimed to be the people who kept the authentic Josephite tradition alive. They refer to themselves in their own writings as the sons of Joseph, and in Jesus' time they were still tracing their lineage back to Ephraim and Manasseh.
Modern scholars agree that the effects of the Assyrian victory were not so radical. They insist that "it seems certain that only a very small percentage of the ... northern Israelite people were exiled, to judge from Sargon's own account," and add that "the number of foreigners imported into Samaria cannot have been large." Thus, while recognizing that the Samaritan histories are notoriously poor chronologically, some scholars take seriously their descriptions of their own origins.
The question of whether Jesus considered the Samaritans part of the house of Israel is an interesting one. He used them as a positive example in the story of the good Samaritan. More importantly, at the time when his own approach to his mission and his instructions to his disciples was to preach only to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel," he travelled through Samaria, visited openly with the woman at the well, dwelt two days among the people, and personally delivered his message to them, making many converts. He evidently considered them to be part of the chosen people.
A look at the ancient Samaritans makes it apparent that they had connections or similarities with numerous other groups and societies at the time, and were so schismatic that finding a "normative" Samaritanism is a hopeless cause. They had such splinter groups as the Dositheans, who followed the old Biblical "E" tradition by pronouncing 'ELOHIM in place of YHVH, and the followers of Simon Magus, with whom the apostles had dealings in the book of Acts. Sifting through information about them leads to other possible traces of northern Israelite thought. In addition, both ancient and modern writers recognize connections between the Samaritans and other baptizing sects of the time. Similarities in religious thought have also been noted between the Samaritans and the Sadducees of Christ's time, and the Karaites of many centuries later.
Scrolls scholar Matthew Black's studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls illustrate well the fact that the ancient Palestinian baptizing sects were more closely related historically to ancient northern Israel than to the Jews of Judah. A careful look at the characteristics of the Essenes leads him to conclude that "these connections with Samaria and the north certainly point to an origin for Essenism in the ancient religion of the northern kingdom." He also finds that they are related to some old friends: "Their asceticism ... is undoubtedly to be traced to an ultimate origin in the ancient tribal asceticism of Israel, in particular that of the Rechabites."
Unravelling the influences among the Samaritans, Sadducees, Essenes, and other desert sectaries is a confusing task. One scholar says that "The Dositheans ... shared many traits with the Essenes of Josephus, the Damascus Document, and Qumran." Amidst the confusion, the one thing they seem to have had in common is their common relationship with northern Israel.
Again, Hugh Nibley has provided a steady stream of incisive articles and book chapters on parallels between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Mormon. More recently, he has admitted that "some of these materials may turn out to be 'poor stuff.'" His startling parallels may lose something when they are based solely on the tenuous connection of a common background in a vague Jewish sectarianism; but they leap back into relevance when seen as part of the common provenience from northern Israel.
As described in the sources, the Ten Tribes are typically living in a faraway land, usually in Arabia, India, or Africa. They are presented as being independent, fearless, and strong, and their land is described in idealistic terms as very prosperous and fruitful. A separate tribe among them called the "Sons of Moses" is also often described, who dwell on the other side of the magical river Sambatyon, and who live a life of particular purity, holiness, and prosperity.
The connection of the "Ten Tribe" legends with the actual
ancient northern kingdom may be supported by the fact that a high percentage
of their names contain the element "-el". This would characterize them
as related to the "E" Biblical source. The Ten Tribes are also described
as being close to the Rechabites. One source claims that "the Rechabites,
the children of Moses, Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher are on the
other side of the Sambatyon," while another says of the tribes of Reuben,
Gad, and half of Manasseh in Africa that "with them are the children of
Rehabiah and those of Moses." If more connections with northern Israelite
culture are needed, one scholar suggests that "descriptions of the manners
of the tribes may be modelled on Philo's description of the Essenes." James
Charlesworth, too, notes interrelationships between the Essenes, the Rechabites,
and the now-unavailable writing which he calls the "Apocryphon of the Lost
As heroic as Joseph was, post-Biblical Jewish sources take him to task for many failings or shortcomings. By contrast, all the favorable Biblical accounts of Joseph are traced to the northern kingdom, and the later northern Israelite sources uniformly hold him in high esteem. Some of them even make of him a Messiah figure.
Favorable Biblical accounts of Moses appear in writings by both northern and southern authors; but the northern writer is particularly full of praise. A modern scholar says that "E ... is a powerful composition reflecting a special interest, sympathy, and affection for Moses." This recalls the observation of James Sanders that the northern tradition was limited to a Mosaic theology, in contradistinction to the Mosaic/Davidic theology favored in Judah. The Samaritans, taking literally the passage that says "there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses," were so focused on Moses that they had no room for belief in any other prophets. Among the earliest of Samaritan phylacteries is one evidently used for liturgical or magical purposes, containing the incantation "There is no God but one, and no prophet like Moses." This is reminiscent of the great reverence for Moses that Josephus noted among the Essenes: "Their great object of reverence next to God is the name of their Lawgiver, and if any is guilty of blasphemy against this he is punished by death." Among the Ten Tribes, the group which was considered the pinnacle of righteousness was called the "Children of Moses." Thus we find a respect bordering on worship of Moses by the people of the northern kingdom. With all this in his favor, Moses might have been expected to attain the status of a Messiah, which the Samaritans accorded him.
Joshua was strictly a northern hero, a member of the tribe of Ephraim. In the "E" source material, Joshua is portrayed as Moses' faithful assistant, and performs numerous acts of courage and honor. He is the only Israelite not involved in the golden calf incident. He led the people in the covenant ceremony at Shechem, in Ephraim's territory, and was also buried there. We are not surprised, then, to find that Joshua played an important role in post-Biblical Josephite tradition. A Samaritan document claims that "the period of divine grace reached its zenith in the days of king Joshua," and follows with a panegyric on how the Israelites kept all the commandments during his reign. Certain Samaritan groups gave him messianic status.
In contrast to the positive feelings of the northern sources for these heroes, the northern tradition tended to disparage - or ignore - Judah, Aaron, and David. None of the Biblical stories of Judah that give him a personality are found in the northern "E" source. Aaron does receive some notice in "E," but it is uniformly negative; he is given full blame, for example, for the golden calf incident. A modern scholar notes that "only in E do we notice the propensity to find fault with Aaron." As important as he is in the Bible, Samaritan writings pay little attention to Aaron, other than grudgingly allowing that he is the brother of Moses and the start of their line of High Priests. As would be expected, the northern tradition had little interest in the line of David or the covenant with David, since his descendants after Solomon were kings exclusively of the southern kingdom. Schechter, in his study of the Zadokite Fragment, wondered at the propensity of the Essene tradition for "abusing its heroes, as in the case of David."
An examination of the attention paid to these Israelite forebears in the Book of Mormon is most instructive. Joseph, the ancestor of the nation, is considered as a hero whose blessings on his posterity had an ongoing effect on their success. In all, the Biblical Joseph is named twenty-five times in the book of Mormon; and when Lehi gave his youngest son that name, he specifically borrowed from the Biblical Joseph.
Moses is also looked upon in the Book of Mormon with supreme respect, and his leading of the exodus out of Egypt is seen as a pattern for much of the typology of the book, including the flight of Lehi's family through their own wilderness, across their own Red Sea, and to their own promised land. He is named sixty-three times, more often than any other Old Testament character. Incidentally, in all its accounts of Moses and his doings, the Book of Mormon never mentions the ark of the covenant --- a trait it shares with the northern Israelite "E" pentateuchal source.
Joshua provides a puzzle. The biblical individual is never mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and the name is used only once for an obscure town. If he was such an important character to the people of the northern kingdom, why were no stories about him recounted in the Book of Mormon? While Joshua the individual is never mentioned, though, his name appears everywhere. Whenever the English translation contains the name "Jesus" (two hundred five times) or the word "Savior" (thirteen times), the original would have been "Joshua" (Heb. Yeheshua), since "Jesus" is the Greek form of the name, and "Jehovah Saves" is the English translation of its meaning.
With the important role given to Aaron the brother of Moses in the Bible as we know it, it is hard to imagine that the Book of Mormon could say so much about Moses without ever mentioning Aaron. But that is indeed the case. "Aaron" is used as a place name and as the name of several people including the famous son of King Mosiah. But the biblical Aaron is never mentioned, not even to be credited as the source of the name.
The Book of Mormon uses the word "Judah" in obscure passages three times, besides incidental Isaiah quotations and the title "king of Judah." It is always the name of the tribe and never the person. Sorensen's study has already noted that the Book of Mormon ignores the Davidic covenant, and mentions David only six times, two of which are incidental quotations from Isaiah and two of which are strong condemnations.
The suggested strands of northern Israelite tradition appear to be consistent in their treatment of the founding heros of their religion and their nation. It would also be fair to say that, almost without exception, the Book of Mormon chroniclers handled each individual the way they would have been expected to as part of the northern Israelite literary tradition.
After the Assyrian defeat of the northern kingdom, the Samaritans adopted Mount Gerizim, the site where the northern hero Joshua had conducted his great covenant-renewal ceremony, as their central place of worship. They later built their temple there; and the existence of the Gerizim temple became a major point of contention between its owners and the Jews to the south. The Jews laid out the rules by which Samaritans could become Jews in these terms: "When may they be received into the Jewish community? When they have renounced Mount Gerizim and acknowledged Jerusalem." But Josephus reports that the Samaritans were convinced that their location was better:
Now there arose a quarrel between the Jews in Alexandria and the Samaritans who worshipped at the temple on Mount Gerizim, which had been built in the times of Alexander, and they disputed about their respective temples in the presence of Ptolemy himself, the Jews asserting that it was the temple at Jerusalem which had been built in accordance with the laws of Moses, and the Samaritans that it was the temple on Gerizim.
Thus the idea of the non-Jerusalemite temple continued to flourish. The Samaritans may also have had multiple temples; Buchler believes that the above-described quarrel was actually about rival claims involving a Samaritan temple in Egypt.
The recently-discovered temple at Elephantine, in Egypt, built precisely at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, is usually cited as an example of late syncretistic Yahwism, and its builders assumed to have been Jews from the southern kingdom. Their writings indeed refer to them as Jews; but they have a very high incidence of names containing the element "Bethel," which was the name of a major cultic site in northern Israel. Albert Vincent proposed a theory which, according to W. F. Albright, "may very well be correct ... He suggests that the colonists at Elephantine came largely from Ephraim, from the environs of Bethel." Thus the supposedly shocking Jewish temple away from Jerusalem may actually be another example of the northern Israelite willingness to establish their holy places in other locations.
Having lived in the vicinity of the Temple in Jerusalem for many generations, the Qumran people had come to view it as the temple site par excellence; but they still followed the northern Israelite pattern of dissatisfaction with the temple there. They looked upon those officiating in the temple as corrupt priests who violated the holy temple ground: "They defile the sanctuary inasmuch as they do not distinguish in accordance with the Law." For this reason they had made a complete break with the temple and its worship, and they praised those "who have made the resolution not to enter the temple any more." In place of temple worship, they developed their elaborate system of baptismal rites and sacred meals. Their primary hope for true temple worship was the eschatological promise of a restored temple.
The Book of Mormon account indicates that within twenty years of arriving in the promised land, Nephi and his people had unhesitatingly built at Lehi-Nephi a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon ... the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine." This may be the same temple the wicked King Noah ornamented years later. Another temple was built in Bountiful at some unspecified time, which survived until the visit of Jesus Christ. Since there are no clues about how long the first temple lasted, or how late the second was built, we have no way of knowing whether the two were ever actually functioning at the same time. What is obvious is that the Book of Mormon peoples followed the normal northern Israelite precedent of building multiple temples and building temples away from Jerusalem.
King Jeroboam "appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the sons of Levi." A modern commentator interprets this to mean that "some divergences from the norm may have taken place in the northern temples ... there is evidence here of an illegitimate priesthood in northern temples." The book of Judges describes Micaiah's provincial temple in the hill-country of Ephraim, where one of the master's sons officiated as priest. Friedman adds his conviction that the priests of Bethel "were not Levites."
Other traditions indicate that the original priesthood of northern Israel was held by descendants of Moses rather than Aaron. Chapter eighteen of Judges is generally agreed to have originally read that "Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land." Some scholars also consider it likely that the northern priesthood at Shiloh consisted of descendants of Moses. Viewed in this light, the Jewish "Ten Tribe" legends that call their favored people the "Sons of Moses" may be vague recollections of ancient priestly connections.
The Samaritans agreed that priests needed to be of Aaron's progeny, but they put much more importance on the descent of their line of high priests from Aaron's son Eleazar and his grandson, Phinehas. Eleazar is said to have received those powers and teachings unique to him not from Aaron but from his uncle, Moses. They did claim to have such a high priestly line until the 1600's, when the last male descendant died out.
Priesthood practice among the Rechabites is most instructive as an example of northern Israelite views. When the Prophet Jeremiah, himself perhaps a descendant of northern Israelite priests, praised the covenant-keeping of the Rechabites shortly before the Babylonian captivity, he made them a striking promise in the name of the Lord: "Jonadab, son of Rechab, shall never lack a man to stand before me." To "stand before the Lord" was a technical term with the specific meaning of serving as a priest, because the title "priest" (Heb. cohen) is derived from a word meaning "to stand upright." Centuries later, there were still descendants of Jonadab serving as "water-drinking sacrificers" in the second temple period. When James the Just, the brother of Jesus, was martyred at the temple, it was "a priest of the Rechabites" who tried to prevent his death by crying out "Stop! the Just is praying for you." The Rechabites, then, were a group of functioning priests who had no traceable connection with the tribe of Levi or the ancestry of Aaron.
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi designated his younger brothers Jacob and Joseph as "priests and teachers" without specifying any special tribal or lineage requirements. Later, a series of high priests served among the Nephites who made no claim to descent from Aaron. In light of the normative practices regarding the priesthood among followers of the northern Israelite tradition, it is probably a mistake to search for some connection with Aaron or Levi, since it does not seem to have been required of northern priests.
Both the Samaritans and the Qumran sectarians were well-known for their baptismal facilities. Numerous related sects were also characterized by the practice: Isser assures us that "water for immersion played an important role for many 'baptist' sects of the first century and earlier, including the Qumran community. Ritual immersion was always important for priests as well." J. Thomas describes both the Masbothaeans and the Sabuaeans as baptist sects deriving their names from "sb'," "to baptize." John the baptist was certainly a classic representative of this movement, and early Christian writings refer to him as a "Hemerobaptist," the name of one of these sects. The Mandean development of a theology of water purification was among the most advanced of any group; and if we are to trust their description of their own beginnings, they were also part of the same milieu, having originated as followers of John the Baptist.
The immersions were often related to prayer, and probably performed daily. Among the Samaritans, "Baba Raba built in the confines of the sacred mountain a cistern of water for purifying oneself therewith at the time of prayer, and it was before the rising of the the sun and at sunset." The Dositheans, a Samaritan sect whose attitude about the subject was described by an ancient writer as a "veneration of the cleansing properties of water," also prayed in water. But the baptismal experiences could also signify a one-time religious experience that marked a change in belief; opponents to the Dositheans reported an experience at a ritual pool where "one of the men ... went down into the pool and was immersed, but as he came out he said, "My faith is in Thee, Yahweh, and in Dusis Thy servant, and in his prophecy."
In the Book of Mormon baptism is discussed in a number of interesting settings. A quotation from the book of Isaiah says that those who are called by the name of "Israel" are come forth out the waters of Judah. The term "waters of Judah" is emended to say "waters of baptism" --- a change that would only have been made by a northern Israelite intent on removing references to the southern tribe. Another passage describes the baptism of the Messiah by a baptizing figure that would have been completely at home in northern culture. Alma at the waters of Mormon offered the characteristic prayer in the water, and prayed for the occurrence of the change of heart that the immersion was supposed to accomplish in northern Israelite societies.
Perhaps the most interesting reference to baptism in the Book of Mormon is the vehement letter of Mormon to Moroni specifying that infant baptism is an abomination. Even people who are not disturbed by the doctrine taught there may have doubts that such a subject would be a preoccupation for an ancient Israelite writer. The northern Israelite provenience of the Book of Mormon may provide such an ancient context. A Samaritan document reports a serious legal disputation over whether an infant born to an unclean mother "is subject to the same rules of uncleanness as is its mother." In a society as preoccupied with purity and immersions as was this one, an affirmative answer to such a question would inevitably have resulted in a ruling that the same cleansing act - ritual immersion - would have been necessary for the child as for the mother. Thus it may not be far-fetched at all to picture ancient Israelites agonizing over the question of infant baptism.
According to an old tradition in the Mekilta, the Ephraimites were impatient to move on even in their pre-history. There was an attempted exodus from Egypt under the leadership of the sons of Ephraim thirty years before the Exodus under Moses. They ignored the term stipulated for their deliverance from Egypt and the oath imposed upon them not to attempt to leave Egypt before the time fixed by God. The Ephraimites failed, and their undertaking resulted in disaster for them and their followers.
Whether or not this legend is based on fact, the Ephraimites ended up with an independent and militant character. A modern attempt to explain why makes this suggestion:
The central position of the Ephraimites' area of settlement and the fact that a considerable part of their territory was unpopulated before the arrival of the Israelite tribes protected them from serious clashes with the earlier inhabitants of the territory or its border lands. They were thus able to lead a life of freedom and independence, which fostered a militant spirit.
The descendants of the northern tribes kept up the wandering and militancy, and are oftentimes said to have travelled beyond great bodies of water. Shalmanezer is said to have taken the ten tribes toward the east and "carried them over the waters," from which location they travelled even further: "they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt." Other traditions say that the Ten tribes, or certain portions of them, are beyond the River Sambatyon, which flows with water and boulders for six days of the week and rests on the Sabbath. The quest of Zosimus for the Rechabites led him to a great sea, about which he was amazed at its vastness, and the sea in turn told him, "never has a man proceeded farther or passed beyond me." On the other side of this impassible ocean, he found the Rechabites.
The Samaritans engaged in similar pursuits. According to their chronicles, about 500 BC they gathered at the site of their defiled temple. "Afterwards they embarked in ships; some of them reached the outlying regions of the earth, some went to Babel, and some to Wadi al-Kutha. ... Some of the Samaritans went eastward toward the rising of the sun, others remained in Nablus as they were."
The family and descendants of Lehi, true to the same tradition, were in a constant state of wandering. Jacob describes them as "a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in the wilderness ... wherefore, we did mourn out our days." The travel eastward, the passage in ships across the great waters, and the search for a promised land would all have been familiar themes to northern Israelites. Even after attaining their goal of a new land, the history of the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations is a story of unending wandering, always on the move for purposes of religion, commerce, conquest, defense, or adventure.
Bowman notes "the refusal of the Samaritans to accept any book other than the Torah." So strongly did they feel about the Law of Moses that they "claim to believe literally that nothing can or must be taken away from the Law or be added to it. They claim that their text of the Law is perfect, while that of the Jews is defective." They thus went to extraordinary pains to preserve copies of the Law. One Samaritan sect claimed that the scroll of the Law in their possession had belonged to the children of the prophet (that is, Moses), which reminds us again of the tradition that the priests at Dan in Old Testament times were sons of Moses, and of the group among the lost tribes called the " Children of Moses." Although the Samaritan books of Moses contain roughly the same material as the Jewish Pentateuch, including both "E" and "J" sources, the Samaritan commentaries often go out of their way to ignore the "J" material. Of all the sections of the Law, they also had a particular interest in the Decalogue in their writings and liturgy.
If the Josephite treatment of the Law of Moses was unique, so was the style in which they wrote it. Alterations, harmonizations, and restorations were carried out extensively by the Samaritan writers. A Deuteronomic passage was added to the text of the Decalogue narrative in the Samaritan version, for which there is an important parallel in the Qumran Testimonia text. James Sanders characterizes the Qumran Community's handling of their scriptures by saying that they "cited their Bible in what looks like a free-wheeling fashion." Matthew Black comments that parts of the Qumran writings are like the Samaritan Pentateuch in their "repetitious style, borrowings, transpositions and expansions." The Temple scroll demonstrates this propensity carried to the extreme by the people of Qumran.
Another difference was their tracing of the transmission of their Law. Jewish tradition tended to list sages of every generation from Moses to their own time. The northern practice was much more simple. Eldad the Danite, who provided one of the most striking of the "Ten Tribe" legends, described their ritual laws by saying "these rules ... are different from those in the Talmud. The ritual is introduced in the name of Joshua, son of Nun." Another expansion of the same idea says "They say for each Halakah, 'This is the tradition we have from the mouth of Joshua, from the mouth of Moses, from the mouth of the Almighty'" Thus they described a chain of transmission through familiar northern heros that departs completely from standard Jewish practice.
The Samaritans countered their positive attitude toward the Law with a negative one toward the prophets. Epiphanius considered it the most noticeable difference between them and the Jews: "They differ from the Jews in this first, that no writing of the prophets after Moses was given them, but only the Pentateuch." Other early writers note that "Dositheus the Samaritan ... first dared to reject the prophets as not having spoken with the Holy Spirit," and that they were "contemptuous of the prophets of God, but especially contemptuous of Judah." Their own chronicles give a flavor for their feelings: "In those days appeared Hosea, Joel, and Amos, who called themselves prophets, but the community of the observers did not hearken unto them, in obedience to the command of the Lord in the Torah," and "Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah were acting as prophets among the sons of Judah and Israel."
Perhaps because they had been among the Jews for so long, the Qumran community differed from this trend. They would "extensively cite the prophetic books of the Bible, something that orthodox Samaritans would never do;" and they gave almost equal place with the Law to the prophets and to certain apocalyptic writings. The "Ten Tribe" legends describe them as having "all the Prophets of the First Temple," and, according to one person who claimed to have visited them, the Children of Moses even have a living prophet: "Jacob ha-Levi asserts to have visited the Bene Mosheh in the land of Cush and to have received from their prophet the power to do wonders by means of the divine name."
Against this backdrop, a number of aspects of the Book of Mormon people's attitudes toward scripture might be more understandable. A way of writing consisting of "repetitious style, borrowings, transpositions and expansions," and a style made up of "alterations, harmonizations, and restorations" might match to a "T" the reaction of a Bible-reader to encountering the Book of Mormon for the first time. Abinadi's use of the Decalogue as a core text for preaching to King Noah and his priests is reminiscent of the northern tradition's fixation on that section of the Law. The Samaritan claim that their Law is perfect and complete would provide a context for the idea expressed in Second Nephi: "A Bible! A Bible! We have a got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible." The very next words of admonition, "And because I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished," would have made no sense to people from the Jewish tradition with its ongoing prophecy in full flower, but would have been appropriate aimed at northern Israelites.
Probably most telling is the reaction of Book of Mormon people to "the manner of prophesying of the Jews." Nephi and Jacob, who respond favorably to the writings of Isaiah and other prophets from the brass plates, leave the impression that they are excited about the prophetic writings because they are hearing them for the first time. The words of Korihor are more reminiscent of the standard northern Israelite feelings about prophets: "Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers." It also explains how Sherem could say he believes in the scriptures, and then be totally unaffected by appeals to the writings of the prophets.
The best-known recently-discovered example of writing on metal materials is the copper scroll found among the writings of the Qumran caves, which supposedly listed the burial places of the treasure of either Solomon's temple or Herod's temple. The author wrote on metal for the purpose of preserving what, of all the writings, he considered most precious. In so doing, he was perhaps influenced by a legend that the Jews in captivity in Babylon "listed on a copper tablet the vessels of the first temple which were in Jerusalem, or in any other holy place." This copper scroll is related to the Samaritans in two interesting ways: (1) the list of treasure burial sites includes Mount Gerizim, the temple site of the Samaritans; and (2) It is reminiscent of a story recounted by Josephus that a hoax had been perpetrated on the Samaritans by a charlatan who promised to reveal to them the location of the buried treasure from their destroyed temple on Gerizim.
The likelihood of a Samaritan tradition of writing on metal is reflected in the form of their alphabet. Moses Gaster describes some Samaritan writing in these terms:
It will be noticed that not a few of the letters terminate with small ringlets instead of straight lines ... these ringlets seem to be of a very archaic origin, and show that the alphabet had been used also for quite a different purpose ... no doubt the Samaritan alphabet had become a mystical alphabet
This form of writing was indeed adopted for use in mystical and magical writings, and the association of the ringed letters to writing on metal is noted in a description of similar characters by the translator of an early Jewish text, the Sepher haRazim: "The use of ringed symbols may derive from the punch writing on Greek allotment plates which were worn in a similar fashion to amulets." Evidently the rings were the punched-out starting points for letters being cut completely through thin metal plates.
A Samaritan work describes a dispute before Nebuchadnezzar on the correctness of worship at Gerizim as opposed to Jerusalem. The deciding event was an ordeal by fire of the Jewish and Samaritan scriptures The Jewish writings were destroyed and the Samaritan writings survived. Given the setting, it is possible that the Samaritan scriptures survived because they were written on some indestructible substance such as metal.
Among the "Ten Tribe" legends is the story of a colony who called themselves Jerusalem Jews, even though they believed that they came there at the time of Shalmaneser and that they were descendants of the northern tribes. Around 490 A.D. they were led by one Joseph Rabban into the territory of king Airvi in India, where they founded a kingdom. The privileges accorded them by King Airvi were engraved on a brass plate in Indian characters, with a Hebrew translation of a peculiar style.
The Book of Mormon chroniclers kept their records in a similar way, and for similar reasons. They make no suggestion that the brass plates are normal in Judean practice; the only metal plates are those under the control of Laban, a descendant of Joseph. One passage literally equates writing on metal plates with descent from Joseph: "And behold, are not we a remnant of the seed of Joseph? And these things which testify of us, are they not written upon the plates of Brass?" The preservation of the people was seen as being dependent on the preservation of the records: "The things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation ... that (Joseph's) seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand." Anything not written on plates would perish: "we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away." In writing on the plates, they were literally working for their very survival.
Without using the term "messiah," then, we need to try and understand the messianic concepts of the Samaritans. There appear to have been three basic eschatological figures among them, all of whom have important connotations to understanding northern Israelite thought. They are (1) Joseph the King; (2) the Taheb, or restorer of the Tabernacle, associated with both Moses and Elijah; and (3) The Prophet like Moses, often seen as a Joshua figure. Thus the Samaritans made three of their greatest historical heroes into latter-day "Coming Ones."
The "Joseph" figure was the prototypical secular leader at the end of time, and was so close to the later "Messiah ben Joseph" tradition in Judaism that scholars suggest that the late Jewish belief actually goes back to the Samaritan model.
The Taheb was the restorer of Rehuta (the "Era of Divine Grace") and the restorer of the tabernacle. He is certainly an Elijah figure, since he is the restorer par excellence of all things. At times he seems similar to the preexistent Son of Man. He was finally identified with Moses, or was a "Moses Redivivus" figure.
The "Prophet like Moses" was predicted by the passage in Deuteronomy: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you (i.e., Moses) from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." He was sometimes associated with the title of "Standing one." Since the great figure Joshua had been Moses' successor in their earlier history, the Samaritans concluded that Joshua would fulfill the prophecy of the "prophet like Moses" in the last days. They believed that this predicted prophet would not be anointed. The early Christians were disappointed that the Samaritans would not recognize Jesus, whose name is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua," as the fulfillment of this prophecy: "The Samaritans indeed rightly, from the predictions of Moses, expect the one true Prophet; but ... they were prevented from believing that Jesus is he whom they were expecting."
The study of eschatological figures in the Book of Mormon shows that similar concepts are found there. The Joseph figure is obviously the "choice seer" who will be raised up out of the fruit of the loins of Joseph, whose name and whose father's name would be Joseph. He would be "great like unto Moses," connecting him with the expectations for a "prophet like unto Moses." He would "rise up one mighty among them," a likely reference to the "standing one," and do much good, "unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel," in the spirit of the Taheb, or restorer. All the elements of northern Israelite messianism are here, and there is no trace of actual messiahship, or anointing.
The prophet like Moses as a separate figure also receives attention. Lehi's earliest eschatological prophecy referred to the predicted prophet, and added details that would have been surprising and even to shocking to northern Israelites: he would be "raised up among the Jews," the last place they would have expected a "coming one;" and he would be a "Messiah," or anointed one, going against the northern expectations and tying him to David. The only reassurance a northern Israelite would have felt from this prophecy was that the messiah would be a "Savior," because "Joshua" is a Hebrew word meaning "the Lord saves." Nephi later declared that "this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel;" and one of Jesus Christ's ways of Identifying himself to the Nephites was by telling them "I am he of whom Moses spake." Thus the Book of Mormon people's northern expectations were met, but they also had to be willing to accept southern messianic elements.
Of course, the essential message of the Book of Mormon is its witness of Jesus Christ. The stated purpose in the ancient preface of the book is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ." Read in northern Israelite terms, its purpose is for the convincing of Jew and Gentile (everyone outside the northern Israelite family) that Joshua (the northern "Coming One") is the same person as the Messiah (the anointed, the southern, Davidic "Coming One.") A message more unifying to the two branches of the house of Israel is hard to imagine.
At the same time, it would probably not be premature to say that the Book of Mormon paints a believeable picture of what a branch of the northern Israelite nation would have believed. It becomes plausible to suggest that Lehi and his family were descendants of inhabitants of the northern kingdom who, like the Rechabites, drifted south to the area of Jerusalem when Israel was defeated in 722-721 BC. Through their unassimilated hundred-plus years in Judah on the fringes of Jerusalemite society, they preserved unchanged much of their northern Israelite heritage. Then throughout their independent existence as a separate people, the Nephites remembered and preserved the otherwise nearly-forgotten traditions, beliefs, and ideologies of the the kingdom of Israel. Far beyond a mere literary connection, the descendants of Lehi continued the lifestyles, practices, and attitudes of their northern Israelite forebears. The peoples of the Book of Mormon were a living and uniquely representative branch of the tribe of Joseph, and their literature a true "Stick of Joseph."