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The Sting Of Death


David Bokovoy

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All of this recent talk concerning Ugaritic has rekindled my desire to write a post on the issue of the Book of Mormonâ??s use of the expression â??sting of death.â?

The Book of Mormon contains several references to the biblical idiom:

â??And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection. But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christâ? (Mosiah 16:7-8 )

â??And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the kingâ? (Alma 22:14)

â??Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God, and that he was slain by the Jews, and by the power of the Father he hath risen again, whereby he hath gained the victory over the grave; and also in him is the sting of death swallowed upâ? (Mormon 7:5)

Book of Mormon critics love these verses!

Critics, of course, have argued that these references to the sting of death that is swallowed up by Christ are simply a New Testament anachronism that appears in the Book of Mormon. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote the words:

â??Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the lawâ? (1 Cor. 15:54-56)

In 2005, author Corbin T. Volluz provided an interesting proposal as a FARMS Update arguing that both Paul and the Book of Mormon authors may have jointly relied upon a missing text. Readers can access Volluzâ??s helpful essay here:

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/display.ph...ghts&id=440

I believe that Volluzâ??s missing text is none other than Hosea 13:14. Critical evidence suggests that Paul quoted from this passage in his New Testament epistle.

This proposal will no doubt seem odd to most readers for the King James Version of Hosea 13:14 reads:

â??I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction? Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.â?

However, the early Greek translation of the passage known as the Septuagint presents the verse as:

â??I will deliver them out of the power of Hades, and will redeem them from death: Where is thy penalty, O death? O Hades [Death], where is thy sting? Comfort is hidden from mine eyesâ? (Hosea 13:14 LXX).

The same rendering appears in the Syriaic Bible known as the Peshitta which features the reading, â??uqseky â??your stingâ? for the biblical passage; the definition for the Syriaic expression appears in Carl Brockelmannâ??s Lexicon Syriacum (Halle, 1928), 695a.

Reflecting these alternative traditions, the translation of Hosea 13:14 presented in the New American Standard Bible reads:

â??Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sightâ? (Hosea 13:14 NASB)

The legitimacy of this interpretation is now apparent through a comparison with the tablets of ancient Ugarit (discovered in 1928). In the Baal Cycle (KTU 1.5 II 20-24), the Canaanite deity Baal faces the unpleasant prospect of being swallowed by his enemy Mot, i.e. â??Death,â? who threatens to use his demonic cohort â??Stingâ? in the destructive act:

Mot [Death], the son of El, rejoiced.

[He gave forth] his voice and cried:

â??How can [baal] provide moisture now?

[How can Haddu] sprinkle now?

[My hand will shatter] the strength of Haddu,

the palm of my warrior [Rashpu]!

[I myself be]got the Sting.â?? â?¦ broken;

As Near Eastern scholar Johannes C. de Moor explains in his analysis of the text, â??the Ugaritic name of the Sting (qzb) is only a variant of Hebrew qtbâ?¦ the literal meaning of qtb may well be â??stingâ??â?â?? Johannes C. De Moor, â??O Death, Where is thy Sting,â? Ascribe to the Lord: Biblical and other Studies in Memory of Peter C. Craigie, 104-105.

In reality, the use of standard Canaanite imagery in a prophetic context was not unusual to the book of Hosea.

In what many have interpreted as a polemic directed against the Canaanite deity whom Death swallowed, the Prophet Isaiah testified regarding the ultimate triumph of the Lord Jehovah who has â??swallowed up death for everâ? (Isaiah 25:8 ).

Therefore, the Book of Mormonâ??s use of both deathâ??s sting and the specific concept of swallowing up perfectly reflect Near Eastern traditions that preceded Paulâ??s absorption of the concepts by several centuries.

While the fact that the motifs appear in the New Testament precludes this Book of Mormon imagery from serving as evidence for the bookâ??s authenticity, critics must acknowledge that the Book of Mormon's use of these expressions cannot serve as a historical anachronism.

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While the fact that the motifs appear in the New Testament precludes this Book of Mormon imagery from serving as evidence for the bookâ??s authenticity, critics must acknowledge that the Book of Mormon's use of these expressions cannot serve as a historical anachronism.

historical anacchronism?......sure they must acknowlege this,,besides the "bible" fairly often

quotes it own verses time and again.... or simply reinstates the words of them..

we beleive the b.o.m./ to be an extention and part of the bible. or other books of the compilation

of books commanally refered to as "the bible"..

even if the truth were to be shoved where the sun dont shine , some people,

would still not know what to do with it?

:P

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The reason that this issue proves interesting from my perspective is in part a result of the fact that I have been trained as a biblical source critic. I therefore really dislike arguments that rely upon a missing source in order to explain connections between two texts. Especially in the case of the Book of Mormon, this seems from my perspective to be a very weak argument.

Granted, a missing source may explain some of these issues, however, as source critics, we tend to reject this type of approach in our efforts to understand historical developments.

Iâ??m interested in this issue because in fact this time, the argument actually seems to be correct.

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Dear DB,

Do you find any plausibility in the Update's suggestion that the quote could be from a missing passage in Isaiah?

I, too, share your reluctance to ascribe such similarities between NT and BOM to hypothesized common sources, but here we may possibly have evidence that the common source is more than merely hypothesized.

And where we have evidence of one such, it indicates that more may be lurking about waiting only to be discovered.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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David,

Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see anything in your post that would confirm the FARMS Update, as promised in the title of the thread.

Volluz postulated that Isaiah 25 originally contained the passage "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"--which he believes was preserved in the Gospel of Nicodemus--and that both Paul and the Book of Mormon writers drew on this longer text. As you point out, Paul actually derived "O death, where is thy sting" from Hosea 13:14, so Volluz's hypothesized "missing text" isn't actually missing at all.

Paul composed 1 Cor 15:54f-55 by conflating Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. Paul doesn't cite these two passages exactly, however. Isaiah 25:8 (MT: "He will swallow up death forever"; LXX: "Death in his strength has devoured") is changed to "Death is swallowed up in victory" (Gk versions by Aquila and Theodotion also read "in victory"). And Hosea 13:14 (LXX: "O death, where is your penalty? O Hades, where is your sting?") is changed to "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting"--with "victory" substituted here for "penalty", linking it to the Isaiah passage. As Raymond Collins points out, "victory is important for Paul's argument since "victory" (nikos) is a catchword that, along with "death," links Isa 25:8 to Hos 13:14" (Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians [sacra Pagina 7; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999], 577).

The KJV renders 1 Corinthians 15:54f-55 as: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Not coincidentally, all of the Book of Mormon passages that refer to death's "sting", and death's sting being "swallowed up" also contain references to "the grave" and "victory." While it may be true that "the Book of Mormon's use of both death's sting and the specific concept of swallowing up perfectly reflect [ancient] Near Eastern traditions" these passages are clearly derived from 1 Corinthians 15:54-56.

Take Mosiah 16:7-8 for example: "And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection. But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ."

"The grave hath no victory" isn't directly quoting Hosea 13:14, but reflects Paul's substitution of the catchword "victory" for "penalty" in the LXX version of the passage, linking it to Paul's Gk variant reading of Isaiah 25:8, as rendered by the KJV translation. The connection to Paul is even more obvious when we consider it's proximity to concepts of death's sting and death being swallowed up, all in the context of Christ's resurrection.

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Hello Nevo,

As always, thanks for adding some interesting elements to the discussion. Your knowledge of the New Testament is far greater than mine.

Volluz postulated that Isaiah 25 originally contained the passage "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"--which he believes was preserved in the Gospel of Nicodemus--and that both Paul and the Book of Mormon writers drew on this longer text. As you point out, Paul actually derived "O death, where is thy sting" from Hosea 13:14, so Volluz's hypothesized "missing text" isn't actually missing at all.

True enough. My first response to the FARMS Update was that it was a very problematic suggestion. Not only because I do not like arguments that rely upon a common missing source, but also, as you correctly note, the source for Paulâ??s statement wasnâ??t ever missing at all.

Since I happen to be a big fan of the FARMS Update, however, I chose to assume a more positive outlook by highlighting what I believe can be confirmed in the authorâ??s argument. Admittedly, I probably shouldnâ??t have been so overly enthusiastic in the thread's title. My bias as a FARMS devotee, no doubt was made manifest.

The KJV renders 1 Corinthians 15:54f-55 as: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Not coincidentally, all of the Book of Mormon passages that refer to death's "sting", and death's sting being "swallowed up" also contain references to "the grave" and "victory." While it may be true that "the Book of Mormon's use of both death's sting and the specific concept of swallowing up perfectly reflect [ancient] Near Eastern traditions" these passages are clearly derived from 1 Corinthians 15:54-56.

I can certainly accept that the Book of Mormon imagery intentionally reflects the King James version of 1 Corinthians 15:54-56, but in view of the evidence for â??swallowing death,â? â??Deathâ??s sting,â? and even a divine theomachy leading to a â??victoryâ? over Death, all of which perfectly reflects ancient Near Eastern traditions, these Book of Mormon statements cannot be taken as anachronisms.

"The grave hath no victory" isn't directly quoting Hosea 13:14, but reflects Paul's substitution of the catchword "victory" for "penalty" in the LXX version of the passage, linking it to Paul's Gk variant reading of Isaiah 25:8, as rendered by the KJV translation.

Thatâ??s very interesting. I wasnâ??t aware of the switch. Given my views concerning the development of the Book of Mormon, I have no problem accepting the obvious influence that the KJV has had upon the work.

Best,

--DB

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I'm going to try to clarify my views because I've been all over the place. I believe that Volluz should be highly praised for attempting to tackle this difficult issue head on. I really appreciated the way Volluz drew attention to the reworking of the tradition in the Gospel of Nicodemus. This was quite impressive.

As I suggested, this topic has been a challenging issue used by many critics to discredit the Book of Mormon. I believe that Volluz's underlying argument has indeed been verified, namely that the use of Paul's sermon in the Book of Mormon is not a true anachronism, since the imagery derives from Near Eastern tradition.

The interaction witnessed on this thread is simply the way scholarship works. Volluz presents an interesting possibility by thinking critically and others then react. No doubt many of my own writings will draw others to react critically and then contribute additional insights that will paint a fuller picture.

I think when my suggestions, together with Nevo's well-expressed cautions, are added to what Volluz originally offered in the Update that those who wish to use this argument to discredit the Book of Mormon face a difficult task.

Personally, I believe that the plates contained the Near Eastern imagery that when translated into the Book of Mormon reflected the KJV of 1 Cor. 15.

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