Many scholars believe multiple authors wrote the Book of Isaiah, and some claim it was after 600 BC when Nephi left Jerusalem. Is there an Isaiah problem for the Book of Mormon? Who wrote the Book of Isaiah? Dr Dan McClellan will discuss these issues. Check out our conversation…

Did God Have a Wife?

GT  01:03 If you have any connections, let me know. So the idea is, and you’ve kind of mentioned this a little bit earlier, Asherah and El?

Dan  01:14 Yeah, and El.

GT  01:16 They were a couple, right?

Dan  01:18 Right. So El is the patriarchal high deity, and Asherah is the consort. So at Ugarit, you have the children of El are also referred to as the children of Asherah and Asherah and El are a pair. And so the 70 children of El are basically all the B’nai Elohim, the children of God and they are that…

GT  01:40 Seventy, that’s interesting, like a Quorum of Seventy.  Is that where we get that from?

Dan  01:45 So it’s based on this–70, anciently was just a symbolic number for a lot. So today, we would say a million or a billion. You know, I played golf the other day. I shot a million. You didn’t really shoot a million. That’s just a symbolic number for a lot. And so 70 was a symbolic number.

GT  03:37  Because somebody told me that Baal and Adonai were brothers.

Dan  03:44  So if we take Deuteronomy 32:8-9 as an indication that Adonai was one of the B’nai Elohim, one of the children of God, then Baal would have been one of the other B’nai Elohim. So yeah, you could call them brothers. I don’t think there are any texts that say that. But, yeah, that would work that way.

GT  04:04  So, El is the Father God, Ba’al and Adonai are sons of God.

Dan  04:10  Yeah. So there are these second tier deities who have responsibility. Now, they’re competing for the same goal.

GT  04:16  Would Asherah have been a daughter of God in that?

Dan  04:18  No, Asherah would have been the wife.

GT  04:19  No, she would have been the wife of El, that’s right.

Dan  04:21  Right. And so this is what makes people wonder, “Well, why is Adonai have Asherah as a consort?” And that’s because, at one point, probably around 1000 BC, this article you mentioned, you suggested that the argument is going to be that Josiah is the one who merged Adonai and El.

GT  04:41  Right.

Dan  04:22  So I think that’s probably too late, because I think we have text inscriptions from before Josiah’s time period that identify Adonai and El and identify Adonai and Asherah as a pair. So the controladores rude inscription, the Cubetto comb inscription, talk about Adonai and His Asherah.  And we even have drawings of a male deity, a very male deity, and a female deity with arms interlinked, and the inscription above their head says, “Blessings by Adonai and his Asherah.” So I would argue that it was probably somewhere around 1000 BCE, that El and Adonai were merged, probably…

GT  05:23  Oh, that early?

Dan  05:24  I think it was probably around that time period. But we don’t have a ton of data. But by the ninth century, we have in Israel and Judah, we have kings, who are independently attested, in some other inscriptions. So, the black obelisk of Shalmaneser, the third, the Tel Dan inscription.  We have kings whose names have Yahwistic theophoric elements, which would suggest, to me, that the Kingdom has already put Adonai at the pinnacle of the Pantheon. And so I think it was probably somewhere around 1000 BCE.  Because Adonai probably was a lower level deity until somebody acceded to the kingship, took the throne, who was a worshipper of Adonai and probably decided, if we’re going to have our people– if we’re going to have Adonai be more widely worshipped, we need to merge these two deities and make them one in the same. And that way I can consolidate power. I not only have my Adonai followers, but I have my El followers, as well. And so, that could have been Saul.

GT  07:47 Okay, so William Dever, is that his position that Asherah and El, I don’t know if I should say slash Adonai, were together?

Dan  08:10  Basically, if I recall, it’s been a while since I’ve read his book. It was published in 2005, originally. But yes, the idea was that the God of Israel had as his concert or his wife Asherah.

GT  08:23  I mean, in some ways, that’s really, what’s the word? Some LDS would embrace that, because we kind of have a heavenly mother. Is Asherah heavenly mother?

Dan  08:36  I mean, that’s up for other people to negotiate. There are complications with that, like the timing, and where this all comes from. It is a little difficult to reconcile with LDS concepts of heavenly mother.

GT  08:55  Because it is more polytheistic. Right?

Dan  08:57  But I do think that we’ve got to negotiate with this if we’re going to make it fit a contemporary worldview anyway. And so if folks want to think of it that way, I’m certainly not going to stop them. But I will point out that there are complications with that. But there are complications with pretty much all attempts to honor both the scholarship and devotional approaches to God.

Author(s) of Isaiah

GT  09:25  Right, right. So let’s see, where do we want to go next? We’ve been talking a little bit about Isaiah and deutero-Isaiah. I’ve heard, actually up to four possible authors of Isaiah.

Dan  09:43  Okay.

GT  09:44  Have you heard that?

Dan  09:45  I think the standard these days is three.

GT  09:48  Three, ok.

Dan  09:48  Yeah. So we have one through 39, 40 through 55 and 56 through 66.

GT  09:56  Why do people believe that there are multiple authors of Isaiah?

Dan  09:59  Well, if you read through the book of Isaiah paying careful attention to the language, what they’re talking about how they’re framing things, tight at chapter 40, there’s a marked shift. We’re now not talking about a pre-exilic Israel looking forward to this judgment from God. We’re now talking about all of this stuff as if it’s in the past, and not in a prophetic way. The point of view has shifted. The author is now looking back at the exile from a later time period. Suddenly, Isaiah’s named vanishes, from Second Isaiah 40 to 55, the author nowhere claims to be Isaiah, nowhere claims to be doing prophecy. It’s all looking back at what’s going on and talking about what has happened and Israel’s relationship to the nations around them. So that shift in and of itself, is reason to wonder what’s going on here? The text is has changed significantly. And then you have another shift when you get into third Isaiah or trito-Isaiah, as some scholars call it. Now, we’re looking back at the Persian Empire. We’re looking back at Cyrus having conquered Babylon and allowing Israel to go back to their homeland.

Book of Mormon’s Isaiah Problem

GT:  Okay, so this brings up another question. In the Book of Mormon, I do remember. There are there are some critics who say that the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon come from either second or third Isaiah, maybe a combination I can’t remember.

Dan  16:02  Yeah, it’s scattered around. But there are some passages quoted there.

GT  16:07  So that would be problematic because they’re after Lehi left. Right?

Dan  16:13  Right.

GT  16:14  Do you have a comment on that?

Dan  16:16  It’s just as problematic as the fact that Paul seems to be quoted, even in the King James Version translation of the New Testament so that that kind of stuff is scattered all over the Book of Mormon. But yeah, that’s an issue that I don’t think has been adequately engaged by Latter-day Saints trying to defend the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

GT  16:37  Well, it does seem like most and so the funny thing was, because I remember I talked to Sandra Tanner about this issue. And it was one of my favorite questions. I said, “So you would agree that there was only one Isaiah. You would agree with the BYU scholars that there was only one Isaiah?” And she said, yes. I was kind of surprised. Maybe, I shouldn’t be because she’s more of an evangelical conservative. And I guess that would be the conservative position.

Dan  17:01    That would be the party line. Yeah. It’s leaving cards on a table, though for her.

Birth of the Devil

GT  00:34  Let’s switch gears just a little bit. You told me that you were teaching a class on the birth of the devil. Is that right?

Dan  00:41  Satan in the Bible.

GT  00:42  Satan in the Bible. There’s a woman. I want to say her name is Kara Cooney. Does that sound right at UCLA?

Dan  00:46  That is an Egyptologist.

GT  00:52  Yes. Because I’m pretty sure I even watched it one time, but I haven’t watched [again.] I need to watch these things multiple times to maintain [my memory of] them. She’s written a book or thing called the Birth of the Devil.

Dan  01:07  Okay.

GT  01:08  Basically what she has said is, (and hopefully I’m not miss characterizing her.) Kara, I would love to have you on. I’m going to come to LA and come talk to you. But basically, there was no real devil, especially in the Old Testament, and that the birth of the devil came about as a reaction to well, although Zeus and Moloch and Ba’al and everybody else, we’re going to consolidate them into a single devil. And that became Satan essentially. What do you think of that argument?

Dan  01:50  I think that is not entirely off base. But [it’s off] a little. I don’t think that all of those figures are being consolidated. But I would agree entirely, that there is no entity whose name was Satan, who was the leader of the evil spirits…

GT  02:08  Lucifer.

Dan  02:09  …in the Hebrew Bible. The serpent in the Garden of Eden is nowhere identified as Satan in the Hebrew Bible. Lucifer is just a caricature of a human king. It has nothing to do with Satan. And it’s not until Greco-Roman period Judaism…

GT  02:27  A human king?

Dan  02:28  A human king, so this is the king of Babylon.

GT  02:31  Lucifer.

Dan  02:31  Yeah, so he’s been rhetorically kind of, “Oh, look at you. You tried to exalt yourself up above the stars of heaven and a throne of God and now you fallen to earth. In Hebrew It’s “hail el Ben Shahar,” which would be shining one, son of the dawn, or the planet Venus, the morning star. And Lucifer was just the Latin name for that deity. But it was a reference to the Babylonian king just saying, “Oh, look at you, little Lucifer. Look what happened to you.” But Lucifer is not the devil or any leader of evil spirits.

Dan  03:09  Then in the Greco-Roman period, you have the Book of Enoch, which renegotiates Genesis 6 and the B’nai Elohim, the children of God, having children with the daughters of humanity. It reframes those deities as fallen angels, and you start to see references to the good angels and the bad angels and their offices and their leadership. And so you see this idea developing of a leader of the evil spirits, and they’re called Shmi Huzzah. They’re called Melky Rasha. They’re called mas de ma. They have about a dozen different names. And it’s really around the turn of the era into the first century CE that Satan bubbles to the surface as the official name for this leader of evil spirits.

Dan  04:07  You do have Ba’al in the Hebrew Bible. They’re referred to sarcastically as Beelzebub. That’s how we kind of traditionally pronounce it. But that is a caricature of their name. Because the title would have been Ba’al Zaful, which is something we find in the Ugaritic literature’s Zaful Ba’al, which means Prince Ba’al or Prince Lord. Beelzebub means Lord of flies. So it’s just an editorialization on the name.

GT  04:36  Oh, wow.

Dan  04:37  And then in the New Testament, it’s actually written correctly in the Greek. It’s Ba’al Zaful in the Greek. But most translations just render Beelzebub because that’s how we know that figure.

Dan  04:50  Jesus talks about Beelzebub are Ba’al Zaful, as the leader of evil spirits and as Satan. So Ba’al who was Adonai’s competition in the earliest periods, gets literally demonized and becomes the leader of evil spirits by the time of the New Testament. So you do have, as this leader bubbles to the surface, a lot of the figures who are identified as prominent representatives of the evil spirits get consolidated within that figure. So, you get Satan. You get the devil. You get Beelzebub and a handful of other references that turn into this entity named Satan by the time of the New Testament. So, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And I don’t know how much of the way you explained it is accurate.

Wise Men Came from Iran?

GT  09:46  I just love how these conversations bring up stuff that I had not anticipated. Since we’re on tangents here’s another tangent. Have you heard that the wise men that visited Jesus were from the Zoroastrian religion?

Dan  10:03  Yeah. So, the word that refers to them is Magos or Magi.

GT  10:09  Right.

Dan  10:09  That most likely refers to astronomers or astrologers, people who were wise because they could read the signs in the heavens. They were educated in that. And from the east, the Iranian associated wise people would be the most likely candidates.

GT  10:32  Most likely?

Dan  10:33  I think so. A friend of mine named Eric Vananichael just published a book on the Magi, which is, like literally four or five months ago. It is a great book that talks about the tradition and how it developed and how it likely originated. But I think that the author of the text, probably intended for their audience to evoke that image of these wise, probably Zoroastrian, or some other eastern astrologers who are so tapped into the natural world and what’s going on that even they can see the signs are just written all over the place that Jesus is coming. It’s also a way to denigrate Herod by having people from the East who are not even Jewish, and Herod supposed to be Jewish coming and saying, “We saw the signs in the heavens. We know that the Savior is going to be born. Where is he going to be born?”

Dan  11:36  And they go, “Uhhh. Go check and find out when and where.” Because he doesn’t know. And so they go look it up and say, “Oh, it says it’s going to be Bethlehem.” So they take off and so the foreigners know more about what’s going on than even Herod, the King who’s supposed to be Jewish knows about what’s going on. So, it’s also a way to thumb the nose at Herod.

Rich Man/Eye of Needle

GT  13:18  But you did one [video.] I actually had seen a video that talked about the rich man in the eye of a needle. And I posted about it on my Gospel Tangents Facebook page, and I got a little pushback from some people that were like, “No, that’s completely wrong.” And then you did a Tik Tok on it. And so can you talk about that parable of the rich man and the eye of a needle?

Dan  13:43  Yeah. Well, it’s where Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. And there are a couple of different ways to understand this. But one thing that has become pretty popular these days is to suggest that the eye of the needle was the name of a gate in Jerusalem that was really small and for a camel to go through, it had to be stripped of all its gear, and then shuffled through on its knees, which is just ludicrous. [The idea] that people would be like, “Oh, yeah, let’s use the gate where we have to take everything off of our camels and they’re going to shimmy through on their knees because camels are happy to do that. That’s [not] helpful. That’s so ludicrous. There’s never been any such gate identified. [We’ve never] found anything like that. That is a tradition that comes from many, many centuries later.

GT  13:57  But isn’t it there LDS manuals? Or at least it has been. Maybe they’re changing them.

Dan  14:43  There have been a lot of things in LDS manuals, but yeah. It’s really just hyperbole. It’s really just Jesus saying, “Yeah, not happening.”

GT  14:54  Rich men are not really going to heaven.

Dan  14:55  Because of how corrupt and corrupting wealth is. However, at the very end, the disciples say, “Well, who then can be saved?”

Dan  15:05  And Jesus says, “With God, nothing is impossible,” which kind of leaves the door open a crack saying, “Look, it’s impossible. But nothing’s impossible.” Wink.

Dan  15:14  And so another argument is people say, Well, the word for camel and Aramaic is really close to the word for rope. So it’s really saying for rope to go through the eye of a needle, which I think is just trying to soften the rhetoric a little bit. But these readings are attempts for people who like money to try to make it sound like Jesus wasn’t being as condemnatory toward the wealthy as the author really has him being. But yeah, those are some of the ways that people renegotiate the scriptures to try to make the ideas fit better with what they would like them to be saying.

Clearly these are not the sorts of things we discuss in Sunday School. What are your thoughts about Dan’s scholarship? Have you heard it before? What to you agree/disagree with?