A few days ago I read a post by James over at his superb blog, Lehi’s Library, entitled, “Looking Beyond the Mark: Insights from Margaret Barker.” In it, James refers to an excellent article by Kevin Christensen who talks about the Deuteronomist de-Christianizing of the Old Testament and Josiah’s reforms1. I thought he made some great points that I want to reiterate and further discuss.
The LDS Church been criticized for superimposing a Mormon/Christian theology onto the Old Testament, particularly with the Book of Mormon that relates Christian/Messiah concepts and practices in place among Israelites before the coming of Christ. The latest scholarship, however, particularly that of Margaret Barker, is slowly pulling back the veil of the Old Testament, showing that certain portions of Israelite history may have been rewritten, changed, or otherwise removed as part of King Josiah’s reforms around the time of Lehi (compare 1 Nephi 13). These reforms were instituted to mask the first temple (Solomon’s) theology and practice, including the belief in a polytheistic God (El/Yahweh), and a Messiah or “Anointed One” which the high priest in the first temple symbolized.
As an example of the effects of such reforms, Christensen shows that Lehi was called to preach in Jerusalem of an anointed Messiah who would come, which was in direct opposition to the prevailing authorities of his time, but which hearkened back to the former “Messiah” religion (1 Nephi 1:19). Christensen also points out that Jeremiah, like Lehi, “appears to have been called against the very people who put Josiah in power, and thus against the very people and institutions who would have been implementing the reforms at the time of his call”2. Lehi’s son Jacob later related the condition of the Jews in Jerusalem at the time, and what Lehi and Jeremiah were up against:
But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble. (Jacob 4:14)
Christensen posits that the “mark” that Jacob referenced was the same that Ezekiel, another contemporary of Lehi, used in his writings. Margaret Barker gave a commentary that the “mark” used by Ezekiel in vision in Ezek. 9:4–6 was the Hebrew letter tau or tav, the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, which the angels marked in the foreheads of the righteous. In the Paleo-Hebrew script of Ezekiel’s day, this letter would have been a diagonal cross. Barker goes on to describe further what this “mark” might have represented to the older religion:
The rabbis also remember that the anointed high priests of the first temple had been anointed on the forehead with the sign of a diagonal cross. This diagonal cross was the sign of the Name on their foreheads, the mark which Ezekiel described as the letter tau.3
A note in Wikipedia corroborates Barker, noting that the Hebrew word emet, meaning truth, ends with the letter tav, and has an interesting tradition associated with it:
In Jewish mythology it was the word emet that was carved into the head of the golem which ultimately gave it life. But when the letter “aleph” was erased from the golem’s forehead, what was left was “met” – death. And so the golem died.4
Christensen concludes that such a “mark,” therefore, may have represented to the Nephites the taking upon themselves the “name” of the Messiah (Hebrew), or Christ (Greek), both meaning the “anointed One.” As Barker showed, taking upon themselves His name involved being anointed, or receiving an unction or chrism, which made each like the Christ, sons of God, anointed ones, a pre-exilic first temple practice and theology which the Deuteronomist reformers in Jerusalem were in contest to cover up.
The gospel that Jesus Christ taught was a restoration of what had been previously known in ancient Israel, and if we use this latest Old Testament scholarship, allusions to an anointing being reinstituted are found among His disciples using the same language. A reference to “marks” appears in Paul’s New Testament epistle to the Galatians:
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Gal. 6:17)
Even among all the references to Satan’s counterfeit of the “mark of the beast” in Revelations, the Apostle John also notes that God has His own “mark” which He sets and seals upon the forehead of the righteous.
2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. (Rev. 7:2–3)
4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. (Rev. 9:4)
3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. (Rev. 22:3–4)
That Christ was anointed is unquestioned (Acts 10:38). But we also read references to the disciples and saints being anointed as well, by God, and thus becoming like Christ, or as C.S. Lewis put it “little Christs” (compare Acts 10:38 and Mark 3:14–15). Paul taught the saints in Corinth:
21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;
22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Cor. 1:21–22)
John also taught of the anointing of the saints:
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (1 Jn. 2:27)
I wrote a post previously about how this “mark” or anointing sealing has been restored in Christ’s church today. The only way one becomes a Christian, in the true sense of the word, is by being anointed by God as Christ was.Notes:
- Kevin Christensen, “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament,” FARMS Review, 16.2, http://farms.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=16&num=2&id=547 [↩]
- ibid. [↩]
- Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Which God Gave Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1) (Edinburgh: Clark, 2000), 162. [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taw_(letter) [↩]