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Joseph Smith, The Gods And The Corruption Of Scripture: A Case Study
In the King Follet Discourse, the Prophet Joseph Smith makes two important claims about ancient Israelite theology: first, there exists a council of Gods that is headed by a "head God" and second, this fact was edited out of Genesis 1:1:
"I shall comment on the very first Hebrew word in the Bible; I will make a comment on the very first sentence of the history of creation in the Bible—Berosheit. I want to analyze the word. Baith—in, by, through, and everything else. Rosh—the head, Sheit—grammatical termination. When the inspired man wrote it, he did not put the baith there. An old Jew without any authority added the word; he thought it too bad to begin to talk about the head! It read first, “The head one of the Gods brought forth the Gods.” That is the true meaning of the words. Baurau signifies to bring forth. If you do not believe it, you do not believe the learned man of God. Learned men can teach you no more than what I have told you. Thus the head God brought forth the Gods in the grand council."
Though we cannot test the idea that an original of Genesis 1:1 read “The head one of the Gods brought forth the Gods”, we can show that editing out the Israelite pantheon did happen in other parts of the Hebrew Bible.
In Deuteronomy 32:8-9(KJV) we read: "When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD'S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." The Masoretic text(MT) reads bene Yišrael(בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵֽל), children of Israel. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls version reads bene elohim(בני אלוהים), sons of God. The Septuagint has the same phrase as aggelon theoi(ἀγγέλων θεοῦ), angels of God. Both the MT's sons of Israel and the Septuagint's angels of God are likely derived from the Hebrew,bene elohim, for in each case, later editors required the change of only one word.
Deutoronomy 32:8-9 can thus be read: "When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God. For Yahweh's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." The title most High(Elyon) was originally applied to El(Genesis 14:18). El, most High, divides the nations according to the number of His sons and Yahweh, one of His sons, is given Israel. Now we can see that the MT version of Deutoronomy 32:8-9 is an anti-polytheistic revision, similar to a revision described by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
God And Gods
"A generation ago, when I was a graduate student, biblical scholars were nearly unanimous in thinking that monotheism had been predominant in ancient Israelite religion from the beginning—not just as an "ideal," but as the reality. Today all that has changed. Virtually all mainstream scholars (and even a few conservatives) acknowledge that true monotheism emerged only in the period of the exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C.E., as the canon of the Hebrew Bible was taking shape." -William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel,pg 294–95.
"Yet at the same time, Pslam 82, like Deutoronomy 32:8-9, preserves the outlines of the older theology it is rejecting. From the perspective of this older theology, Yahweh did not belong to the top tier of the pantheon. Instead, in early Israel, the god of Israel apparently belonged to the second tier of the pantheon; he was not the presider god, but one of his sons. Accordingly, what is at work is not a loss of the second tier of a pantheon headed by Yahweh. Instead, the collapse of the first and second tiers in the early Israelite pantheon was caused by an identification of El, head of this pantheon, with Yahweh, a member of the second tier." -Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, pg 68.
"One of the members of the Israelite pantheon was Asherah. She was worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem, where her statue was clothed with garments woven by women working in the Temple precincts. ... In Jerusalem and throughout the land, this goddess, the queen of heaven, was paired with Yahweh, the king of heaven." -Michael Coogan, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says, pg. 116-117.
"The language of a divine couple and their offspring stems from a living religious tradition in ancient Israel itself, for which we have documentation in the Bible, in it's polemics and commandments. We also have evidence for this tradition in non-biblical texts and artifacts, even though these are only sporadically attested because of the vagaries of preservation and discovery. The cumulative evidence, however, is continuous and undeniable: Yahweh is envisioned as a sexual being." -Michael Coogan, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says, pg 120.
"God addresses his pantheon, his divine council: 'Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness.' The narrator goes on to say: 'So God[elohim] created humans in his image in the image of elohim he created them, male and female he created them.'...An alternative is to understand elohim in the second line in it's plural sense: humans are male and female in the image of the gods -because the gods are male and female, humans are as well. Which male and female deities are the model? Although the entire pantheon is a possibility, the divine couple, Yahweh and his goddess consort, are more likely." -Michael Coogan, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says, pg 118.
"Many biblical writers frequently used polytheistic concepts, depicting Yahweh as the head of a large pantheon whose members advised him and celebrated his accomplishments. This pantheon functioned, as in Mesopotamian and Greek religion, as a kind of divine council or assembly, under the rule of the high god." -Michael Coogan, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says pg 116.