Saturday, January 31, 2015

Salvation History through Blood and Family Ties

It was with quite some shock that I realized that Joseph Smith Jr believed that he was a biological descendant of the Patriarchs through Ephraim. The stance of the LDS Church on this issue is expounded in a complicated article in the Ensign from 1991, written by Daniel H. Ludlow, editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Ludlow does a good job writing up the issue; the complexity hails from the fact that lots and lots of words have to be reworked to mean new things they never meant before, in order to make the theory come out. Of course, it is a modern day interpretation of what Joseph Smith Jr may or may not have meant, so we will have to recontextualize it afterwards.

Ludlow's Argument

Ludlow first tries to sort out the general terminology.
... for the literal seed of Abraham are the natural heirs to the remarkable promises given anciently to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 
Terms like literal descendants of Abraham by birth, tribe of Israel, house of Israel, lineage, and Gentiles are sometimes confused, and some terms have a range of meanings, referring to different ideas in different contexts.
Ludow works with the equivalence of Abraham -- Hebrew; Isaac -- Israelite; Juda -- Jew. Ludow argues that via his other wives, Abraham had children other than Isaac: Ishmael, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Though the Midianites are thus literal seed of Abraham, they are not Israelites, much less Jews---though all Jews are Israelites and thus literal seed of Abraham.

In this context, Ludlow cites the Book of Abraham (3:14), a work whose translation from Egyptian papyri Joseph Smith Jr had begun in Kirtland in 1835 (the papyri have since been identified as funerary texts depicting Isis and Osiris). [On early criticism of the translation see Stenhouse's Rocky Mountain Saints, New York, 1873, who engaged an Egyptologist from the Louvre; and Franklin S. Spalding's Joseph Smith Jr as Translator,  New York, 1912, who received assistance from noted scholars like James H. Breasted or Flinders Petrie. See also Stephen E. Thompson on Egyptology and the Book of Mormon in Dialog 1995, pp.143ff.]

Ludlow emphasizes that lineages, esp. in patriarchical blessing, indicate blood lines, and are important for the privilege they convey, that is, "special promises and blessings attendant thereto". Thus it is important for patriarchical blessings that their lineage identifications "are not simply tribal identifications by assignment."

Ludlow then gives a long list of scriptural passages, OT and NT, which speak of the importance of lineage. Interestingly, of all of St Paul's letter to the Romans, the only passage cited is the one that insists on the preeminence of the Jews with respect to the Gentiles,  but not the elimination of that distinction in Christ.  This approach to inheritance goes counter to much of the arguments that St. Paul makes, whose insistence that neither Greek nor Jew, that is, neither Gentile nor Israelite matters for the story of salvation he is expounding. It is often claimed that Joseph Smith Jr is, like many Protestant reformators, inspired by Paul; but in this familial focus Smith Jr clearly is not. (I owe this point to Rahel Kahlert.)

Oddly, Ludlow lists Galatians (3:14), which clearly says that "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ", not through the descent of blood. The baptism into Christ makes one partake of Abraham's seed, says Paul (3:26-29): "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

In the Book of Mormon, the following passages are considered relevant by Ludlow:
A look at Doctrines and Covenants shows that the development of this interest belongs in the Kirtland period, as the topic begins with D&C 45.
There is also a quote from the Mt-Retranslation that Joseph Smith Jr and Sidney Rigdon pursued in 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio.
  • JS Mt Translation (JSTP Mt) of Mt 23:39-24
The problem remains that even passages like the Book of Abraham, 2:9-11, which hails from 1835, have a very non-blood interpretation. It is difficult to suss out the direction that a statement like
in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel
is supposed to be read in. In a sense, it inverts St Paul in Galatians, where by the acceptance of the Gospel, and baptism into Christ, all are made to Abraham's seed. Clearly it is Abraham's literal seed that makes this possible. 

Ludlow then "interviews" Church presidents and authorities to give more understanding. 

Apparently, President Joseph Smith Fielding felt that those that had joined the Church in the present days had a mix of Gentile and Israelite blood in their lineage. In this way, the Church is gathering the House of Israel.
The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. 
President Spencer W. Kimball wrote
The Lamanite is a chosen child of God, but he is not the only chosen one. There are many other good people including the Anglos, the French, the German, and the English, who are also of Ephraim and Manasseh. They, with the Lamanites, are also chosen people, and they are a remnant of Jacob. 
This all could be read in a spiritual vein as well, in the sense of Galatians 3, but Brigham Young's talk of veins makes that impossible.
Will we go to the Gentile nations to preach the Gospel? Yes, and gather out the Israelites, wherever they are mixed among the nations of the earth. … Ephraim has become mixed with all the nations of the earth, and it is Ephraim that is gathering together. …
If there are any of the other tribes of Israel mixed with the Gentiles we are also searching for them. … We want the blood of Jacob, and that of his father Isaac and Abraham, which runs in the veins of the people. …
Crucially, Brigham Young notes in the same discourse,
The Book of Mormon came to Ephraim, for Joseph Smith was a pure Ephraimite, and the Book of Mormon was revealed to him.
Since it is crystal clear that Joseph Smith was from New England stock hailing from Old England, this is a rather surprising statement, and Ludlow turns to this point next.
Again, President Joseph Smith Fielding explains
In this Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, the gospel came first to the Gentiles and then is to go to the Jews. However, the Gentiles who receive the gospel are, in the greater part, Gentiles who have the blood of Israel in their veins. There is a very significant statement in the words of Moroni as recorded on the title page of the Book of Mormon that it was ”[Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and his up unto the Lord, … ‘To come forth … [in due time] by way of the Gentile. …’
But in the title face of the Book of Mormon,  it says
Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile.
Thus, the issue of being of the house of Israel while being a Gentile is not really addressed here. This makes it doubtful that in April of 1829, Joseph Smith Jr had already decided that he was a descendant of Joseph.

The main argument for that is the 2 Neph 3, which says, as President Joseph Smith Fielding reminds the reader in the passage quoted by Ludlow, that
“How did the Book of Mormon come forth? By the hand of Joseph Smith. Yet we read in the Book of Mormon [see 2 Ne. 3:7–15; 2 Neph 2, p.67 in BoM 1830] that Joseph Smith is the descendant of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brethren, ....
What makes all of this so confusing is that the LDS leadership holds on to the Romans story of the Olive Tree (filtered through Jacob 5, which is expanded to fit in the fall of the Lamnites and the Nephites), and admits of the possibility of joining through faith. As Joseph Smith Fielding said:
Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs.
But what then is the necessity of the mixed blood assumptions that are applied to the majority of the Saints?
The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph.
On top of that, they in some sense deny the "special" nature of the natural descendants, because it is the obedience to the commandments and the faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that are decisive; whoever lapses here, cannot use their lineage to inherit (1 Neph 17:35; Rom 9:6). The big difference, according to Ludlow, is that Ephraim is responsible for performing the work of the Restoration and for directing it. Again, President Joseph Smith Fielding states
The members of the Church, most of us of the tribe of Ephraim, are of the remnant of Jacob. We know it to be the fact that the Lord called upon the descendants of Ephraim to commence his work in the earth in these last days. We know further that he has said that he set Ephraim, according to the promises of his birthright, at the head. Ephraim receives the ‘richer blessings,’ these blessings being those of presidency or direction. The keys are with Ephraim. It is Ephraim who is to be endowed with power to bless and give to the other tribes, including the Lamanites, their blessings.
(The allusion of the "richer blessing" here is to KJV Gen 48:19f.)


Clearly there are all sorts of problems here. 

One issue that was already bothering the Jewish interpreters of the story of Joseph was the fact that Ephraim and Menasseh as sons of Asanet, an Egyptian girl whose father was the priest Potifera, could not have been Jewish. This has to do with the fact that the Jewish interpreters were projecting the laws of Ezra and Nehemia, that Jews have Jewish moms, back into Patriarchical times (cf. Karin Hügel, in her queer readings of Joseph, p.92, makes). Thus Joseph is made to marry an adopted niece of his to bring forth Ephraim and Menasseh.
Die Israelit_in Dina, eine Halbschwester Josefs, wäre die Tocher Jakobs und Leas, hätte also eine andere Mutter als Josef, und Sichem, der Sohn eines Hiwiters, käme aus einem kanaanäischen Stamm. Asenat wäre also Josefs Nichte gewesen.
[The Israelite Dina, a half-sister of Joseph, would be the Daughter of Jacob and Leah, thus had a different Mother than Joseph, and Sichen, the Son of a Hiwite, would come from a canaanite tribe. Asenat would have been Joseph's niece, then. translation RCK]
The biggest issue remains why it was not sufficient to be counted among the seed through the Gospel; perhaps it was not sufficient to be non-Israel in that sense?

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