Textual composition – how we “get” Scriptural Texts
For Latter-day Saints, one of the best examples of an complex and merged scriptural text that corresponds with the fundamental notion of the Documentary Hypothesis is Doctrine and Covenants 132. In the Journal of Mormon History, Danel Bachman wrote an article illustrating how the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation on plural marriage was in reality three separate documents that have been merged together into one to create a single literary text. 1 Section 132 provides an answer to three separate questions that Joseph asked the Lord concerning marriage. The first question is identified in verse 1:
Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines.
Bachman provides historical evidence that this question would have been asked by Joseph during his work on the Inspired Version of the Bible when he was translating the book of Genesis and other Old Testament passages as early as 1830.
However, in D&C 132, the revelation concerning polygamy in the Old Testament, is broken up textually in verses 2-28. 2 Based on comments the Prophet made during a meeting of the Nauvoo City Council, Bachman makes the point that these verses in 132 are a separate revelation that answered a question Joseph had regarding the meaning of Jesus’ response to the problem posed by the Sadducees in the Gospel of Matthew. 3 The text of Matthew reads:
The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. (Matthew 22:23-30)
The response from the Lord was as follows:
Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.
Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. (D&C 132:15-17)
Then, beginning with verse 29, the account returns to the original revelation, answering Joseph’s original question:
Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne. God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises. Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it. (D&C 132:29, 34-35)
Finally, D&C 132:41-50 represent a third and separate revelation Joseph received, and Bachman’s argument is that this revelation came to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, most likely in response to questions that he and Emma had regarding the definition of adultery in view of the practice of plural marriage. The revelation makes this clear with the statement: “And as ye have asked concerning adultery… (v. 41).
So, to restate how D&C 132 is textualized, Joseph essentially had three questions that in and of themselves necessitated separate revelations. It is highly likely that he received the answers to these questions at completely different times. These three separate revelations were then put together into one document, which today is known as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. 4
The questions were:
- Why plural marriage of the Patriarchs? Asked: 132:1 Answered: 132:29-40
- What is the answer to marriage issues in Matthew 23? Answered: 132:2-28
- What is the definition of adultery? Asked: 132:41 Answered: 132:41-40
Bachman’s analysis of the text presents us with modern scriptural historical information that reflect and sustain the complexities of both Old and New Testament texts in light of the Documentary Hypothesis. His analysis of D&C 132 also gives room for my hypothesis concerning the assemblage of texts in the New Testament- texts like Ephesians. As I have mentioned in the podcast on 9.27.19, a text like Ephesians perfectly illustrates how previous revelatory texts brought about by Paul were used to address circumstances in the church after Paul had passed away. These statements and revelations by Paul were then textualized in such a way as to reflect the mind and ideas of Paul as he worked with the Lord to build up his church, and then the book/letter of Ephesians was (probably) crafted by later followers of Paul in Ephesus to deal with real issues of their time. This is somewhat similar to the way D&C 132 came to exist. It is also an illustration of how the Old Testament texts came to be “stitched” together to tell the stories of the formation of God’s people Israel.
- While I find Bachman’s argument powerful, it is worth noting that Joseph Smith produced the actual document known as D&C 132 from memory in its entirety, with William Clayton acting as scribe. This is an important distinction: while the ideas and questions related to the text of Section 132 are an amalgamation of ideas that coalesced over time, the production of the letter to Emma happened all at once. This is the message of Joseph Smith’s personal secretary William Clayton, who was present when the letter which became Section 132 was dictated to him. Said Clayton:
- On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843; Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office in the upper story of the brick store, on the bank of the Mississippi river. They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, “If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.” Joseph smiled and remarked, “You do not know Emma as well as I do.” Hyrum repeated his opinion, and further remarked, “The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity and heavenly origin,” or words to that effect. Joseph then said, “Well, I will write the revelation and we will see.” He then requested me to get paper and prepare to write. Hyrum very urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end.Joseph and Hyrum then sat down and Joseph commenced to dictate the revelation on celestial marriage,
and I wrote it, sentence by sentence, as he dictated. After the whole was written, Joseph asked me to read it through, slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct. He then remarked that there was much more that he could write on the same subject, but what was written was sufficient for the present.
- Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked him how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.Joseph quietly remarked, “I told you, you did not know Emma as well as I did.” Joseph then put the revelation in his pocket, and they both left the office.The revelation was read to several of the authorities during the day. Towards evening Bishop Newel K. Whitney asked Joseph if he had any objections to his taking a copy of the revelation; Joseph replied that he had not, and handed it to him. It was carefully copied the following day by Joseph C. Kingsbury. Two or three days after the revelation was written Joseph related to me and several others that Emma had so teased, and urgently entreated him for the privilege of destroying it, that he became so weary of her teasing, and to get rid of her annoyance, he told her she might destroy it and she had done so, but he had consented to her wish in this matter to pacify her, realizing that he knew the revelation perfectly, and could rewrite it at any time if necessary.
- The copy made by Joseph C. Kingsbury is a true and correct copy of the original in every respect. The copy was carefully preserved by Bishop Whitney, and but few knew of its existence until the temporary location of the Camps of Israel at Winter Quarters, on the Missouri. (
History of the Church
- , Volume 5, xxxii-xxxiii. This was signed by William Clayton, February 16, 1874.)
- Bachman writes: it is likely that each of these questions arose under different circumstances and at separate times. Nevertheless, Section 132 is a deft amalgamation of the answers to each into a cohesive unity. It is significant that the material immediately following verse one does not answer the question therein about the patriarchs. The name of Abraham or any of the ancients is not mentioned until verse twenty-nine. Danel Bachman, “New Light on an Old Hypothesis: The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 5 (1978), p. 23. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23286035
- Bachman, p.23.
- Bachman, p. 27.