“I Will Give Judgment unto Him in Writing”

The Three Law Codes of the Pentateuch

Matthew L. Bowen

For many, it is hard to fully appreciate the law of Moses. Often understood as a punishment, the technical and detailed elements of the law can be confusing. Moreover, because of the fulfillment of the law in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, some may feel that there is no real need to understand the precepts that make up this law. Yet, for all its challenges, the law of Moses is still a law sent from God to his prophet and, as such, reflects the correct relationship and responsibilities between God and human beings and human beings and each other. This understanding of the law lies behind Matt Bowen’s chapter, within which he introduces the versions of the law as found in the Pentateuch, outlines the specific legal expectations associated with each, and, in so doing, demonstrates that the law was meant to produce holy individuals and communities built upon obedience to God’s laws. —DB and AS

Regarding Moses, his life, and his roles, Egyptologist and biblical scholar Kenneth Kitchen has observed that “a large amount of inconclusive discussion by biblical scholars in almost two hundred years has established next to nothing with any surety, and has vacillated all the way between extreme conservatism (‘Moses wrote all the Pentateuch’) and total nihilism (‘There was no Moses, and he left nothing’).”[1] The Prophet Joseph Smith’s reported statement regarding the imperfection of the diachronic transmission and translation of the Bible alleviates Latter-day Saints of the need to embrace an extreme conservative position. He said, “I believe the bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers; ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.”[2]

On the other hand, the appearance of Jesus and other biblical figures—including Moses himself—to the Prophet Joseph Smith on April 3, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple also means that Latter-day Saints do not embrace a nihilist or minimalist position either. Moses did live. He was a prophet, and he did leave a record—that is, he wrote books (see, especially, Moses 1:23, 40–42). Not only did Moses write, but a prophecy preserved in the Book of Mormon confirms that he was foreordained to receive divine law written by God himself. As mentioned by Lehi to his son Joseph (as recorded by Nephi), the Lord foretold the birth, life, and ministry of Moses to Joseph in Egypt: “I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing. Yet I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking. But I will write unto him my law, by the finger of mine own hand; and I will make a spokesman for him” (2 Nephi 3:17; see also JST Genesis 50:35; emphasis added). Elsewhere, Nephi refers to “the five books of Moses” (1 Nephi 5:11) that Lehi found on the plates of brass, indicating that by his time—the late seventh and early sixth centuries BC—there was already a fivefold division of the texts ascribed to Mosaic authorship or derivation (1 Nephi 5:11). What those five books—the Pentateuch—looked like in the sixth century BC vis-à-vis the Pentateuch in its present form is unknowable.

Biblical scholars generally recognize three law codes within the Pentateuch. In this chapter, I will describe the law codes and the implications of their legislation for Latter-day Saints living in the twenty-first century. In many instances, “in the reading of the old testament” (including its law codes), it is the “vail upon [our own] heart[s]” that needs to be “taken away” or “done away in Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14–16). Although we typically understand the law of Moses as having been “fulfilled”[3] or “done away”[4] in Christ, the eternal doctrinal principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ constitute the underpinnings of these law codes as a whole.

In their present canonical context, the three law codes can be viewed as follows. First, the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:22–23:33) legislation constitutes an ethos for the establishment of the Israelites in the wilderness as a covenant people—and holding them together as such—with a view of their eventual entry into the land of promise. Second, the Holiness Code’s (Leviticus 17–26) framing of Yahweh’s commandments to Moses in terms of holiness, ritual purity, and priestly instruction can be seen as preparing the Israelites to become a temple-worthy people (i.e., worthy of the temple in their midst and of the land itself as a kind of temple) and to partake of Yahweh’s holiness (Atonement). Third, the largest law code, the Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomy 12–26), reiterates the Lord’s covenant expectations for the Israelites in the context of their exclusive relationship with him and their imminent inheritance of the land of promise. The Israelites’ relationship with the land will be unique, and the Deuteronomic Code’s statutes have the long-range view of preparing and enabling the Israelites to maintain their inheritance of the land. Taken together, the three law codes articulate Yahweh’s purpose for the children of Israel: to “purify unto himself a peculiar people” (Titus 2:14) who would become and remain “partakers of his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Torah: The Legal Backdrop for the Three Law Codes

When one encounters the word law in the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), the underlying term in the Hebrew Bible is almost always tôrâ. Formed from the verbal root yry/yrh (III) meaning “instruct, teach”[5] (originally from the idea of “stretching out the finger, or the hand, to point out a route”),[6] the noun tôrâ, more precisely than “law,” denotes “direction, [or] instruction.”[7]

The Hebrew word tôrâ almost certainly represents a cognate of the Akkadian têrtu(m) “instruction,” “commission,” “directive,” “omen,” “liver” (of an animal)[8] from the verb wâru(m) = “instruct, govern,”[9] although it is not clear whether tôrâ was appropriated from Akkadian as a loanword, as some who argue for a late date of the Pentateuch often assume. Tôrâ seems, rather, to have been formed in accordance with the normal patterns for Hebrew noun formation. Nevertheless, the overlap between “instruction” and “direction”/“directive” in the semantic ranges of tôrâ and têrtu(m) is clear, which is to be expected if “a great deal of continuity exists between biblical and cuneiform law.”[10] As Hebrew scholar Hector Avalos notes, other tôrâ-related Hebrew legal terms—for example, ḥōq (“statute,” “decree”), miṣwâ (“commandment,” “precept”), mišpaṭ (“judgment,” “justice”), and ṣĕdāqâ (“righteousness,” “justice”)—“apply to rules of conduct said to be prescribed by God (Exodus 18:16), kings (1 Kings 2:43), Canaanites (Leviticus 18:3), or even unjust judges.”[11]

Although often referring to “direction” or “instruction” in general, tôrâ came to have an almost overriding technical reference to the body of legal material ascribed to Moses, with the Pentateuch standing at the head of the biblical corpus (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The phrase “law of Moses”—tôrat mōšeh—was already in use before the time of the Babylonian exile, as evidenced by five passages widely ascribed to the editorship or authorship of the Deuteronomistic Historian (Joshua 8:31–32; 23:6; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 23:25). This expression remains a feature of postexilic Jewish discourse (Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Daniel 9:11–13; Malachi 4:4; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 30:16). The phrase “law of the Lord” (tôrat yhwh) came to have a synonymous technical reference to the same body of material.[12]

Even as a technical expression, we must allow for some uncertainty and ambiguity in the phrase “law of Moses.” As Douglas H. Parker and Ze’ev W. Falk have stated, “A narrow definition would confine the Law of Moses to a body of prohibitions and commands set forth in separate, unrelated literary units within the first five books of the Bible.”[13] And yet, as they note, “this view makes it difficult to speak of ‘biblical law,’ since these provisions are not drawn together as a unity by the Torah itself.”[14]

Moreover, the content of the Pentateuch and its law codes changed over time. Thus we cannot say with any exactness what constituted an original text. Despite an overabundance of source critical studies from the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis[15] in the nineteenth century to the present, we find ourselves none the nearer to an original text or confirmation of its presumed sources (unless we countenance some of the restorative aspects of Joseph Smith’s inspired revision). Without earlier witnesses to the Pentateuchal texts (and its law codes), we are left to make do with the text and textual witnesses as we have them.

Our oldest witnesses of the Pentateuch and its “law codes” come from the Hellenistic period (although it surely did exist as authoritative scripture long before that time). Those who translated sacred biblical texts from Hebrew into Greek—a collection that eventually came to be known as the Septuagint (LXX)—rendered Hebrew tôrâ into Greek with the term nomos (“custom”). At least to some degree, the ancient Israelite idea of tôrâ accumulated the Hellenistic cultural baggage of nomos.

Similarly, centuries later when these texts were translated into Latin by Jerome (the Vulgate) and others (e.g., the earlier Old Latin [Vetus Latina]), nomos was translated using the word lex (genitive, legis). Thus, the original Israelite idea of tôrâ in its Hellenistic representation as nomos was further suffused with Roman legal connotations as lex (“law,” legal “enactment,” “motion,” “bill”).[16] All these scriptural terms have been traditionally translated into English as “law,” which derives from Old English lagu (from Old Norse lag) but which is also a cognate with the word lay—that is, “law” is something that is “laid down or fixed” (compare Alma 30:23; Helaman 11:22).[17] Biblical scholar Dennis T. Olson has observed that this lexical layering has “led to Christian misunderstandings that the Torah meant legalism.”[18]

It should be remembered that much of the Torah (that is, the Pentateuch) is actually narrative rather than legal material. The narrative material often provides context within which to understand the legal material. The “law codes” and other legal materials themselves exhibit two main forms: apodictic and casuistic. The former term has been adapted from the Greek verb apodeiknunai and its cognate adjective apodeiktos (“demonstrable,” that is, true or applicable under all conditions). The latter derives from the Latin word casus (“fall”) and refers to “case law.”

Apodictic laws are most often familiar to readers of the King James Version of the Bible in the form of “thou shalt” or “ye shall” commandments, reflecting the deontic modality of the verbs (that is, verbs having the force of “you must . . .”) in the underlying Hebrew text. There are some exceptions to this tendency: for example, “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17). Another example is the commandment to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” which employs a Hebrew infinitive absolute with imperative force: zākôr—“remember” (Exodus 20:8). Apodictic laws are moreover characterized by their unconditionality—they prescribe what is to be done in all situations. Casuistic laws or statutes, on the other hand, are commandments that govern behavior on a case-by-case basis. These statutes are worded as conditional sentences and often begin with the word “if.” Casuistic and apodictic laws primarily constitute the material found within the three law codes.

“I Will Give Judgment[s] to Him in Writing”: The Covenant Code or Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22–23:33)

The legislative material in Exodus begins with Yahweh’s giving of the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1–17). The first four commandments define and protect the Israelites’ covenant relationship with Yahweh (Exodus 20:1–11). These four commandments can be distilled down to what Jesus described as “the first and great commandment” (that is, to “love the Lord thy God”; Matthew 22:37–38, citing Deuteronomy 6:5). In other words, these first four commandments pertain to the Israelites’ relationship with God. The next six commandments pertain to their inner relationships within the covenant (Exodus 20:12–17). These six commandments may be thought of as Jesus’s second great commandment (that is, loving those around us; Matthew 22:39, citing Leviticus 19:8). The location of the Decalogue at the head of the three law codes that follow in the Pentateuch—Deuteronomy 5, in fact, recapitulates it ahead of the Deuteronomic legislation—helps us appreciate and understand the social/relational nature of all the legislation that follows.

The first major law code in the Pentateuch, immediately after the giving of the Decalogue, is the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:22–23:33), for which the Decalogue serves as a kind of prologue. The description of the legislation as the Covenant Code is appropriate, given its framing as a “covenant” (Hebrew bĕrît) on both ends. The opening frame attaches the promise to covenant obedience: “if ye will obey [truly hear] my voice indeed, and keep my covenant [bĕrîtî], then ye shall be a peculiar treasure [sĕgullâ = a marked or sealed possession][19] unto me above all people” (Exodus 19:5; see further below). Similarly, the Covenant Code legislation is punctuated with an enumeration of the covenant promises predicated upon covenant obedience, Moses’s writing “all the words of the Lord” (Exodus 24:4) in the “book of the covenant” (24:7), and Moses’s ratifying the covenant by applying “the blood of the covenant” to the people (24:8; compare Mosiah 4:2).[20]

Biblical scholars have frequently compared the Covenant Code to other law codes in the ancient Near East, especially the Code of Hammurabi. Although they possess similar content, direct textual dependency remains unclear at best.[21] In any case, the content of the Covenant Code is framed as a direct revelation from God to which the people would bind themselves by covenant: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven” (Exodus 20:22; compare 20:18–22); “And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do” (Exodus 24:3; compare 24:4, 7–8; emphasis added).[22] The dispensing of this covenant in the wilderness and its ratification mark the foundation of Israel as a community. The following constitute some laws pertaining to Israelite sociality and property that helped accomplish this ideal. The blessings for obedience to the Covenant Code are also adumbrated.

Laws Governing Israelite “Sociality” (Exodus 22:15–23:9)

Though it is the shortest of the three law codes, and presumably the earliest, the Covenant Code sets up the primary focus of the law given to the Israelites—namely, the social standards that they were to observe in relation to God and each other. This legislation again forbids worshipping or tolerating other gods (Exodus 22:19). It strictly forbids mistreatment of society’s weakest members, exemplified here by the foreign migrant (“stranger”), the widow, the orphan, and the poor (Exodus 22:19–26; 23:6; see further below). The reminder that the Israelites had themselves lived as marginalized, enslaved, and displaced “strangers” in Egypt helped them to recognize their obligation to care for their society’s weakest members and to do so with sympathy (“thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Exodus 23:9; compare 22:1). The Israelites had collectively been “the stranger,” “the widow,” and “the orphan” (as it were) in times past, and they could not become Yahweh’s “special possession” or “sealed people”[23] if they treated others unethically and abused the weakest among them.

The Joseph Smith Translation makes some noteworthy alterations to the text here. Exodus 22:18 (MT 22:17) mandates, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch [Hebrew mĕkaššēpâ][24] to live.” The JST renders this text: “Thou shalt not suffer a murderer to live” (JST Exodus 22:18; emphasis added). This alteration reflects the notion, consistent elsewhere in the Mosaic legislation, that murder constitutes a capital crime. Apparently, witchcraft—though a grievous sin—is conceivably forgivable (compare Deuteronomy 18:10–12).

The King James Version of Exodus 22:28 (MT 22:27) reads, “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” The JST renders this statute “Thou shalt not revile against God, nor curse the ruler of thy people” (JST Exodus 22:28; emphasis added). The Mosaic legislation places considerable emphasis on the exclusivity of worshipping Yahweh and Yahweh alone. Here most other English translations, like the JST, render Hebrew ʾĕlōhîm in the singular, as “God” rather than plural “gods” (the KJV follows the Greek Septuagint [LXX], which renders ʾĕlōhîm plural: theous). Here, too, the social or relational dimension of the Covenant Code is evident: this statute requires recognition and respect for God’s authority (rather than reviling him) from every Israelite. It also stipulated respect for authority within the community, because rejection of communal religious and political authority would have imperiled the Israelites’ existence. Today, Latter-day Saints readily recognize the need to avoid taking the name of God in vain (compare Doctrine and Covenants 63:61) and any blasphemy in general, but some are considerably less reticent when it comes to speaking evil of or “lift[ing] up the heal against [the Lord’s] anointed” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:16).[25]

Lastly, Exodus 23:3 stipulates, “Neither shalt thou countenance [favor] a poor man in his cause.” The JST rendering of the statute in Exodus 23:3 reads, “Neither shalt thou countenance a wicked man in his cause” (emphasis added). While on one hand, it might seem appropriate to legislate impartiality in all judicial cases, this juxtaposition of “poor” in Exodus 23:3 with “poor” in Exodus 23:6 that forbids “wrest[ing] the judgment [mišpaṭ, or justice] of thy poor in his cause” seems strange. The Mosaic legislation elsewhere—particularly in the Deuteronomic Code (see below)—in fact, provides certain protections and perhaps even some privileges to the poor. The JST alteration of “poor” to “wicked” here accords with both Deuteronomy and the Zion theology articulated in JST Genesis (Moses 7:18). Indeed, the impartiality mandated for the Israelites in Exodus 23:1–2, 6 should produce the ethic of fairness and equality necessary for the establishment of a “Zion” people (Moses 7:18).

Personal Injury Statutes and Laws on Compensating for Property Damage and Loss (Exodus 21:12–22:14)

That these “judgments” establish (or at least intend) a higher ethic for the Israelites is further evident in the details of the casuistic laws in Exodus 21:12–32, which govern personal injuries and reparations. Deliberate murder constituted an unambiguous capital offense (Exodus 21:12, 14), but the legislation made provision for those who had unintentionally killed (Exodus 21:13), holding divine justice and mercy in balance (Alma 34:10–26). These places of refuge are described in greater detail in Numbers and in the Deuteronomic Code. Violence and imprecatory oaths against one’s parents, as well as kidnapping, also amounted to capital offenses (Exodus 21:15–17). This legislation thus taught the ancient Israelites to value the lives of those around them as they would their very own.

Higher valuation of human life is evident in the legislation that immediately follows in Exodus 21:22–25, wherein we find the first articulation of the so-called lex talionis. Biblical scholar Pamela Barmash suggests that the “Lex talionis . . . expresses a principle of legal symmetry, of repaying in kind.”[26] In other words, “those guilty of physical assault are made to suffer the exact same harm they inflicted on others. This is in sharp contrast to fines, a fixed amount to be paid in particular circumstances. In the case of killing a person, lex talionis means the killer is killed. The act of the punishment must be similar to the offense in aspects in which the original act was wrong.”[27]

For his part, Jesus later attempted to move his disciples, all of Israel, and indeed the entire world back to a “more excellent”[28] standard in which we commit all personal vengeance or justice into his hands: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:38–40).[29] Perhaps Jesus did not so much intend to institute a new ethic as to restore the true ethic underlying the Mosaic legislation and the true telos to which that legislation had been given: that “they [may] be called the children of God”; “that ye may be the children of your Father” (Matthew 5:9, 45; compare Exodus 19:5–6; 22:31).

In the context of the Exodus, the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness and the establishment of a covenant people, the laws or statutes in Exodus 21:33–23:9 can be broadly viewed as rules necessary to holding a community together—that is, establishing a community ethos. These rules helped the Israelites to maintain and protect personal relationships. The establishment of basic rules governing property and the loss or damage of property helped hold the Israelites together as a community. The casuistic statutes of Exodus 21:33–22:14 ensured the forthcoming of some form of restitution (yĕšallēm, “he shall restore/make restitution”)[30] when property was lost or damaged. In other words, restitution ensured the šālôm—peace, integrity—of the community.

Covenant Reciprocity: Blessings for Covenant Obedience (Exodus 23:20–33)

The Covenant Code closes with an enumeration of blessings (Exodus 23:20–33). To receive these blessings, the Israelites must obey the “Angel” (malʾāk) that he is sending before the Israelites “to keep [them] in the way” (or, on the covenant path)[31] and “to bring [them] into the place which [Yahweh has] prepared” (Exodus 23:20). Disobedience will result in catastrophe, the Lord asserts, because “my name is in him [šĕmî bĕqirbô]”—that is, “he has my authority.”[32]

The blessings for covenant obedience enumerated here include the promise to the Israelites that the Lord himself “be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries” (Exodus 23:22). The Angel will destroy the Israelites’ Canaanite adversaries, who will flee before the Israelites and the hornets that the Lord will send (23:23, 27–30); the Lord will bless the Israelites with the blessings of safe food and water, absence of disease and illness, fertility, healthy birth, and long life (23:25–26); and the Israelites will have expansive borders (23:31).

However, all of it is predicated on obedience or “hearing” (Exodus 23:21–22), which should cause us to recall what is taught in Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” In Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, the Lord formulates it thus: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” These two statements are perhaps the clearest and most concise articulations of the principle of covenant obedience in the scriptures, and they summarize the point of Exodus 23:20–33. All covenant blessings are predicated upon obedience: “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant [the Covenant Code], then ye shall be [become] a peculiar treasure [ʿam sĕgullâ] unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5; compare 22:31). By divine design, the Israelites’ sociality was to be one characterized by unity or oneness (see also Psalm 133:1), oneness with Yahweh and with each other—to be sealed “his.” The Holiness Code provided further instruction that enabled that “at-one-ment.”

“Speak unto Aaron . . . This Is the Thing Which the Lord Hath Commanded”: The Holiness Code (Leviticus 17–26)

Yahweh sought not only an ethically pure but also a ritually pure, ultimately sanctified people. Accordingly, the second large law code in the Pentateuch is the Holiness Code, so called by biblical scholars since 1877, when A. Klostermann identified Leviticus 17–26 as a distinct unit within the Pentateuch, denominating it the Heiligkeitsgesetz (Holiness Code).[33] As biblical scholar Peter R. Ackroyd puts it, “Much of the material of the section is concerned with the problem of the holiness, the fitness in both cultic and ethical and ways, of the people before their God.”[34] Moreover, the Holiness Code can be viewed as the “instruction” (tôrâ)—or that part of the law of Moses that has been given a specific priestly orientation for the priests to instruct or teach the Israelites how to become holy like Yahweh himself.

We may surmise that if, as Exodus 19:6 indicates, Yahweh wished to have a “kingdom of priests [mamleket kōhănîm] and an holy nation [gôy qādôš],” one major reason the Holiness Code lays such stress on the ritual and ethical purity of priests (e.g., Leviticus 21) is that such priestly holiness would necessarily serve as a kind of beachhead for the broader hallowing (or sanctification) of the entire community. The priest was to be a representation of Yahweh’s “holiness” before the people (compare “angels”). The high priest was to be a representation of Yahweh himself—the “Holy One of Israel” (qĕdôš yiśrāʾēl).

In fact, an important term for understanding Leviticus and its legislation generally is the Semitic/Hebrew root *qdš, adjectival forms of which are often translated as “holy.” The basic sense of qdš is usually thought to be “set apart”[35] but may, in fact, have more specific reference to “that which belongs to the sphere of God’s being or activity.”[36] The designation of the Holiness Code for Leviticus 17–26 is apt because, as Coogan notes, cognate forms of qdš “occur more than twice as many times in the ten chapters of the Holiness Code as in the other seventeen chapters of the book of Leviticus.”[37]

For the Israelites, “holiness”—the state of being qdš—is extrinsic rather than intrinsic because it has its ultimate source in Yahweh. Yahweh commanded all of the Israelites to become “holy,” beginning with the priests. Significantly, then, the Holiness Code is framed as instruction to Aaron and his sons—that is, as priestly instruction (tôrâ) to the Israelites: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them; This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded” (Leviticus 17:1–2). The role of Aaron as the “spokesman” provided for Moses the prophet to the Israelites (Exodus 4:16; 2 Nephi 3:17–18) continues in Aaron’s priesthood descendants who speak to the Israelites on the Lord’s and the prophets’ behalf (their authority is subordinate to the latter).

The closing frame reasserts the origin and authority of the foregoing “statutes and judgments”: “These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the LORD made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (Leviticus 26:46). This priestly formulation of “the statutes and judgments and laws” aims to prepare the Israelites to become worthy of the land they will be inheriting—temple worthy, one might say—and to partake of Yahweh’s holiness. Since Yahweh’s holiness could not be compromised, this would require the Israelites and its priests to become not only ethically pure but ritually pure as well.

Making Atonement: The Sanctifying Character of Blood (Leviticus 17)

The first part of the Holiness Code emphasizes the sanctifying character of blood (compare Moses 6:60). In fact, Leviticus 17:10–14 helps us to understand why blood is so closely associated with covenant and holiness:[38]

And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.

And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.

For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:10–14)

In the ancient world, including in ancient Israel, blood was recognized as the seat of life (compare Genesis 9:4–5; Deuteronomy 12:23; John 6:53–54). Blood was thus sacred and not to be consumed. To this day, kosher meat in Judaism (via shechitah) and halal meat in Islam must be from animals slaughtered in the appropriate way—that is, their throats must be cut and their blood, drained. Even in early Christianity, when Gentile converts were exempted from the requirements of the law of Moses, the prohibition against eating meat with blood in it remained (Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25).

Here, however, we see the additional typology of atoning blood: that Yahweh had given blood to “make an atonement [yĕkappēr] for the soul.” In other words, the sacralizing character of blood of a living thing designated as qdš[39] enabled it to effect kpr, or “atonement.” The apparent root meaning of kpr is to “rub”[40] and hence, as scholar and theologian Michael L. Brown summarizes it, “to rub off” and “to efface,” “wipe way,” but also “to rub on” (or wipe on, smear on) and thus “to cover.”[41] Anthropologist and Leviticus scholar Mary Douglas suggests that kpr came to mean “cover”[42] in the sense of “recover, cover again, to repair a hole, cure a sickness, mend a rift, make good a torn or broken covering.”[43] The Piel stem of the root kpr can take on the sense of reintegrating or making intact something that has been disintegrated, pierced, broken, torn, and so forth. Thus, the kpr process was not only cleansing, but reparative and rehabilitative. As theologian and biblical scholar Margaret Barker further notes, “Atonement does not mean covering a sin so as to hide it from the sight of God; it means making good an outer layer which has rotted or been pierced.”[44]

This conceptual framework helps us appreciate the Atonement implications of Jesus’s paradoxical teaching: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53–54). It also helps us understand Jesus’s declaration about himself: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The blood that Yahweh himself “had given” to the Israelites by the will of God the Father and by his own will[45] “upon the altar to make an atonement” for their “atonement” was his own—the “blood of the covenant.”[46] Jesus did this as both High Priest and sacrifice. Margaret Barker writes,

When lesser offenses were kpr, the priest ‘carried’ the sin by virtue of eating the flesh of the animal whose life had effected the kpr. For the great kpr, the blood/life of the goat ‘as the Lord’ was a substitute for the blood/life of the high priest (also the Lord), who thus carried the sin of the people himself as he performed the act of kpr throughout the temple/creation. Thus, having collected the sins, he it was who was able to transfer them onto the goat who ‘carried’ them (nśʾ, Lev. 16.22) and he took them to the desert. The role of the high priest, the Lord, was to remove the damaging effect of sin from the community and the creation, and thus to restore the bonds which held together the community and creation.[47]

Barker’s description of the high priest’s conceptual function within Israel’s cult helps us to understand the importance of the purity of the high priests, the priests, and the people in general. Each in their own sphere was a representation of Yahweh himself: the high priest as Yahweh, the priests as his heavenly attendants/angels/messengers, and the Israelites themselves as his people/kin. They were all to become qdš—“holy,” “belonging to the divine realm,” “pure”—and to effect his “holiness” throughout the world/temple/creation (compare Jacob 5).

Laws Governing Sexual Behavior and Priestly Holiness (Leviticus 18–22:16)

The Israelites, as a covenant people, have always been composed of families. Perhaps nothing, then as now, threatens communal or family integrity and holiness as much as improper sexual relationships. Leviticus 18 contains apodictic injunctions against sexual relationships that would wreak havoc upon the Israelites’ individual families and the community as a whole. The Lord had gathered the Israelites, as a people, in families. These sexual sins threatened then, as they do today, to undo family bonds—to scatter families from each other and from the Church.

This legislation strictly forbade sexual relationships between close relatives, by blood or by marriage (Leviticus 18:6–18); adultery (18:20); homosexuality (18:22);[48] and bestiality (18:23). The legislation also prohibited sexual relationships during a woman’s menstrual period (18:19) and it also forbade so-called MLK offerings (often translated as “Molech” offerings)—that is, child sacrifices (18:21). The Lord declared the same penalty for the Israelites’ failure to observe these commandments as he had as for the Canaanites that had preceded them: “The land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants; . . . ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations . . . that the land spue [spew] not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you” (Leviticus 18:25–28). Improper sexual relationships constituted a formidable obstacle to the holiness that the Lord intended for the Israelites.

In Leviticus 19:2, Yahweh commands: “Ye shall be [become] holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.” This commandment presupposes the human potential to ultimately become like divinity in the latter’s defining characteristic: holiness (and all that holiness implies).[49] As noted, the high priest and the priests were representations of Yahweh and his holiness. Consequently, the Holiness Code contained numerous regulations governing priestly holiness. Priests were not allowed to become “defiled for the dead” (that is, to incur ritual/cultic impurity from dead bodies) except in the case of close relatives (Leviticus 21:1–4; for the Aaronic high priest the restrictions were even tighter, see 21:11). Priests were restricted in the way that they were allowed to mourn (21:5, 10). The high priest Caiaphas apparently violated Leviticus 21:10 when he tore his clothes during the illegal proceedings involving Jesus before his crucifixion (Mark 14:63; Matthew 26:65).[50]

Like the sacrifices that they offered, priests had to be free of certain physical “blemishes” and impairments (Leviticus 21:18–21). Viewing this legislation christologically, the “unblemished” priest, like the “unblemished” sacrifice typifies Christ, who lived free of both physical and moral blemish—highlighting the sacred nature of their priestly service. Moreover, Leviticus 22:3–9 contains statutes for the maintenance of ceremonial purity. The legislation required that the Aaronic priests maintain ceremonial purity in order to officiate in the temple or sanctuary to avoid “bear[ing] sin and d[ying] therefore” (Leviticus 22:9)—all of this to the end that the priest and the high priest might maintain and partake of Yahweh’s holiness (Leviticus 21:4, 6, 15, 22; 22:2).

Of the six verses in Leviticus to which the Prophet Joseph Smith made alterations, three are in the Holiness Code, all three in Leviticus 21–22. JST Leviticus 21:1 changes the prepositional phrase “for the dead” to “with the dead.” This change may simply be an attempt at clarification: for could be mistakenly understood as “on behalf of”—the phrase “for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29 had this sense, which came to have important connotations within Latter-day Saint discourse. With, on the other hand, more clearly conveys the instrumental idea of “by means of,” which seems to be the sense of the Hebrew preposition in context. JST Leviticus 21:11 similarly clarifies that the phrase “go in unto any dead body” (KJV) means to “go in to touch any dead body.” This clarification emphasizes that the priest must avoid physical contact with the corpse, not simply its presence. To the phrase “I the Lord do sanctify them” (Leviticus 22:9), JST Leviticus 22:9 adds the condition: “if they profane not mine ordinances, I the Lord will sanctify them.” Here again we see the principle of divine reciprocity: the addition emphasizes that the blessing of sanctification is conditional upon obedience—a covenant principle as true then as it is now.

Laws of the Sabbatical Year, the Redemption of Property, and the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25:1–22)

Like the Covenant Code (Exodus 23:10–12), the Holiness Code mandates a land Sabbath, or rest for the land. However, the latter extends the concept to include a jubilee year every seven Sabbath years (after forty-nine years): “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you (Leviticus 25:10). The prophet Isaiah and Jesus himself alluded to the Jubilee year when they declared their missions “to proclaim liberty [preach deliverance] to the captives” and “proclaim [preach] the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1–2; quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18–19). This Jubilee was to be inaugurated on the Day of Atonement of the fiftieth year by “mak[ing] the trumpet sound throughout all your land” (Leviticus 25:9). Latter-day Saints will appreciate the latter image, a variation of which bestrides many of our temples, as a symbol of the proclamation or preaching of the gospel—true liberty—to every human being on both sides of the veil and of the Atonement of Jesus Christ having its full impact upon the human family (and creation).

The Lord commanded the Jubilee as a year of release or liberty for the land itself as well. The Jubilee statutes required that the Israelites only eat what the land produced on its own during this year (and to not cultivate the land per usual, Leviticus 25:12, 20–22). The legislation, moreover, envisioned a year in which all people could “return” to the land of their inheritance and family (25:10, 13)—another interesting concept for Latter-day Saints who perform work in the temple.

The institution of the Jubilee also allowed for the redemption of property that had been sold off on account of debt and poverty, and for a kinsman-redeemer (another christological type) to buy back the property. The legislation afforded the possibility of the land’s redemption to the original owner, and during the jubilee year, the rights to the land reverted to that owner. The basis for all of the foregoing legislation is the truth that the land is ultimately Yahweh’s (Leviticus 25:23; compare Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein”). The Jubilee, like the rest of the foregoing legislation in the Holiness Code, aimed to prepare the Israelites, from its most important cultic functionaries (the priests and high priest) to its lowliest members, to become a ritually and ethically pure people—a people prepared to receive the realities of greater eternal blessings of which the Jubilee, atonement rites, and so forth served as emotive types and shadows. The Jubilee legislation regarding the Lord’s land appropriately sets the stage for what Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic Code required the Israelites to do in it.

“These Are the Statutes and Judgments Which Ye Shall . . . Do in the Land”: The Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomy 12–26)

The opening frame of the Deuteronomic Code contextualizes the legislation as: what Yahweh requires the Israelites to “do in the land”—that is, in the promised land—once they had entered and inherited it, and what Yahweh requires them to do to remain a distinct people in the land from the rest of the nations. “These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 12:1). The content of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches given by Moses following the forty-year dwelling in the wilderness, after the less faithful generation had passed away and before he was taken to heaven. The instructions contained therein constitute Moses’s passionate pleas to be obedient to the law of the Lord, become a holy people, and avoid death by claiming the blessings of eternity. The Deuteronomic code instructs the ancient Israelites on how to discern between false and true prophets and emphasizes obedience to the latter. Moreover, it provided rules for kingship and mandated the observance of “covenant economics.”[51]

Aside from the legal designations (“statutes,” “judgments”) and the divine name, the key terms found in Deuteronomy here are land/earth: observance of this arrangement of statutes and judgments would enable the Israelites to not only inherit the promised land but also to stay worthy enough, even in the midst of idolatrous neighbors, to remain on the land.

The closing frame of the Deuteronomic Code invokes a variation of the opening formula “these are the statutes and judgments,” creating an inclusio, or envelope figure around the entire body of legislation:

This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice:

And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments.

And to make thee high [most high] above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken. (Deuteronomy 26:16–19; emphasis added)

This closing frame of the Deuteronomic Code, like the material prefacing the Covenant Code, stresses the importance of the Israelites becoming not only a “holy people” (compare the “Holiness Code”) but a “peculiar people” (ʿam sĕgullâ)[52] (compare the Covenant Code, Exodus 19:6; 22:31). Latter-day Saints will further appreciate the term sĕgullâ as the term used by the Lord in his oft-cited words to Malachi: “in that day when I make up my jewels [sĕgullâ = “sealed possession”]; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”[53] The Lord intends to make all who are willing, to become his “sealed people”—or, he intends to “seal [us] his” (Mosiah 5:15).[54] The Deuteronomic Code’s prohibitions against idolatry, war regulations, marriage laws and so forth were given to further Yahweh’s purpose “in the land.” This legislation additionally emphasized the Israelites’ special relationship with “the land,” of which the Jubilee, tithes and other cereal offerings, and so forth were signs or tokens.

Discerning False Prophets and “A Prophet . . . like unto Me” (Deuteronomy 13; 18:15–22)

In addition to idolatry and foreign cults, perhaps nothing threatened communal integrity and survival as much as false prophets and illicit mantic activities. Deuteronomy 13:1–5 indicates that unauthorized mantic “prophet[s]” or “dreamer[s] of dreams” could, in fact, effect signs and wonders, not only for the purpose of pushing the Israelites away from Yahweh (“Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them,” Deuteronomy 13:2 [MT 13:2]), but also, in the language of the Savior, to “deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant” (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:22). The legislation helped the Israelites to understand that when this happens, “the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:3 [MT 13:4]). Mortal existence, after all, constitutes a “probationary state” and the Lord intends to “prove [us all] herewith, to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command [us]” (Abraham 3:25) and whether we will “love God with all [our] might, mind, and strength” (Moroni 10:32, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5). The Israelites were to remain distinct from the nations by its faithful maintenance of its covenant relationship with Yahweh.

Amid the two iterations of the law of witnesses in Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15—and perhaps in direct connection to it—comes Moses’s prophecy of a “raised up” (yāqîm) prophet “like unto Moses.” This text constitutes, far and away, one of the most important texts in the present form of the Deuteronomic Code:

The LORD thy God will raise up [yāqîm, or “establish”] unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.

And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.

I will raise them upāqîm] a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15–19; emphasis added)

The Savior himself declared this prophecy fulfilled in himself in 3 Nephi 20:23. This text became foundational to the early understanding of Jesus’s ministry. Peter declared this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus in Acts 2:22–23. Stephen cited this prophecy to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:37.[55]

Because the Israelites’ rejection of the immediate presence of God and a request for human intermediaries served as the basis for the giving of this prophecy (compare Exodus 20:18–19 [MT 16–17]; Deuteronomy 5:23–28 [MT 19–24]), many biblical scholars have understood it as an etiology (or causal explanation) for the existence of prophets—that is, prophets authorized or “raised up” by Yahweh—in ancient Israel. I have argued elsewhere that the Deuteronomistic Historian understood Samuel, in particular, as having fulfilled this prophecy.[56] The “raise[0]-up” language in Deuteronomy 18:15–19 echoes the language regarding the “choice seer” of whom Joseph in Egypt prophesied (2 Nephi 3; JST Genesis 50). Like Jesus and the Israelite prophets who preceded him, the Prophet Joseph Smith also represents a fulfillment of this prophecy, as do his successors. These raised-up prophets constitute, in a legal sense, witnesses, as Deuteronomy 18:19 makes clear: “Whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him,” or, as the penalty is expressed elsewhere, “cut off from among the people”[57] or “destroyed from among the people.”[58]

Law of the King (Deuteronomy (17:14–20)

Deuteronomy repeatedly warns the Israelites against becoming like the nations whose land they were dispossessing. All of the “de-Canaanization” and cult centralization legislation of Deuteronomy 12 is given to that end. This legislation obligated the Israelites to not seek after those nations’ gods or cults. Child sacrifice arguably constituted the worst of those nations’ abominations (Deuteronomy 12:30–31).[59]

Human kingship (in place of Yahweh’s kingship) presented yet another way in which the ancient Israelites risked becoming like their idolatrous neighbors and put additional distance between themselves and the Lord. Recognizing monarchy’s innate dangers, the Deuteronomic Code sought to drastically curb the power and prerogatives of the king. The Israelites’ request or demand for kings mentioned above (1 Samuel 8) is anticipated already in this legislation (“I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me,” Deuteronomy 17:14). However, the Deuteronomic Code required that the king reign differently than the kings of the other nations. It forbade the multiplication of horses, wives, and silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:16–17). It mandated, rather, that the king diligently “read” and “keep” the law (Deuteronomy 17:19–20). According to the Deuteronomistic historian, Hezekiah and Josiah of Judah represent the only truly outstanding representatives of this type of king vis-à-vis Solomon and most of his successors in both the north (e.g., Ahab) and the south (e.g., Manasseh). Kingship, by and large, brought about or exacerbated the apostasy and idolatry that the Deuteronomic Code legislated and warned against.

Covenant Economics (Deuteronomy 14:22–29; 15:1–11; 24:10–15)

We see the Israelites’ unique relationship to the land that Yahweh had granted on covenant conditions evident in the Deuteronomic Code’s tithing requirement. This legislation mandated that Israelites set aside one-tenth of their agricultural produce (Deuteronomy 14:22). It further directed that the Israelites bring these tithes to the central sanctuary (Deuteronomy 14:23). The clear implication is that Yahweh gives the increase: “the Lord thy God hath blessed thee” (Deuteronomy 14:24). Provision was made for those who would have to travel great distances to exchange their tithing crops for money, which could then be used to purchase sacrificial goods for the use at the central sanctuary (Deuteronomy 14:24–26). The payment of tithes at the central sanctuary (temple) was to be a time of rejoicing (14:26). Every third year, the tithe (the “increase”) belonged to the local community (14:28). These tithes contributed to the support of the Levites (14:27, 29), as well as that of the foreign migrant, the widow, and the orphan (14:29). How Israelites used their tithes for the benefit of their society’s most vulnerable members served as an infallible indicator of their regard for Yahweh and the increase that he had so freely given them.

The Israelites’ covenant with Yahweh meant a form of economics that differentiated them from their neighbors. What was beneficial to the land on which the Israelites resided would consequently benefit the poor and the vulnerable. Where the Sabbatical year in the Covenant Code emphasizes the land being given “rest” (“thou shalt let it rest [tišmĕṭennâ],” Exodus 23:11), the Deuteronomic Code, using the very same root, emphasizes that this sabbatical year was also a time for the remission or “release” (šĕmiṭṭâ) of debts: “At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’s release” (Deuteronomy 15:1–2). Both the year of the land Sabbath and the year of the Lord’s release provided for the poor (compare Exodus 23:11 with Deuteronomy 15:4). Deuteronomy 15:5–6 contains the promise of divine blessings upon the children of Israel if they will observe this principle (compare especially Malachi 3:8–12).

Moreover, the Deuteronomic Code strictly entailed care for the poor in Israel within the gates: “Thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother” (Deuteronomy 15:7). That care was to be abundantly generous—“Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth” (15:8)—and given with a willing heart: “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him” (15:10). Contrary to some bad exegesis, the statement “for the poor shall never cease out of the land” (15:11) does not amount to a commandment or a prophecy but rather a sad statement of fact. Moses 7:18 implies that Zion cannot exist under this condition. Therefore, Yahweh commanded, “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). Again, this legislation emphasizes the Israelites’ unique relationship with the land and the moral obligations they owed to each other while upon it. Responsibility for the land’s abundance belonged to Yahweh, who predicated that abundance upon the Israelites’ obedience. The Israelites’ care for the poor should have always evidenced recognition of that fact, not least because their poor depended so greatly upon the land to sustain an always difficult existence.

Furthermore, when the Israelites harvested the crops of their fields, olive orchards, and so forth, the legislation required them to leave behind a liberal amount for these disadvantaged classes to glean and thus to provide for themselves (compare Naomi and Ruth in Ruth 2). The principle that the Lord has given these “good things of the earth” to the whole human family “to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:16–20) underlies this legislation. Moreover, it reflects the Israelites’ strong connection to the land of promise as the fulfillment of Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The poorest and most vulnerable especially needed the blessings afforded by the land.

In further recognition of the needy, Deuteronomy 23:24–25 allowed the Israelites to eat from, but not gather up, the grapes in their neighbors’ vineyards and the grain in their neighbors vineyards as safeguards against hunger and as a protection of the poor. Jesus’s disciples made use of this allowance when they ate the grain in the fields through which they passed (Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1). All of this legislation reflects the economics of Yahweh’s covenant regarding the land that the Israelites stood to inherit: both they and the land belonged to Yahweh. The Israelites’ performance of this legislation would become a defining measure of its regard for Yahweh and his covenant.

Using a mix of casuistic and apodictic statutes, the Deuteronomic Code forbade practices that could easily lead to the oppression and extortion of vulnerable persons. The one making a loan could not take a pledge inside the house of the borrower (Deuteronomy 24:11). Clothing taken from poor people as pledges had to be returned before sundown (24:12–13). The code forbade Israelites from oppressing hired servants, whether native Israelite or migrant foreigners (24:14), and required employers to pay them for a day’s labor by sundown (24:15).

Here, too, the Deuteronomic legislation reflects Yahweh’s strong concern for the poor and the vulnerable, and proper treatment of the poor becomes a matter of covenant obedience The “widow and the fatherless [orphan]” becomes a metonymy throughout the Hebrew Bible for the most vulnerable members of its society, and the Israelites and Judahites repeatedly come under condemnation by prophets such Amos,[60] Isaiah,[61] Jeremiah,[62] Zechariah,[63] and Malachi[64] for their mistreatment of the poor and the aforementioned vulnerable members. James describes “pure religion . . . undefiled before God”[65] as meeting the needs of those whom Jesus characterizes as “the least of these,” his brothers and sisters (adelphōn).[66] The treatment of a society’s most vulnerable constitutes a kind of spiritual barometer.[67] A Zion society takes care of the needs of its most vulnerable (Moses 7:18).[68] To that end, modern revelation, like the Deuteronomic Code, establishes provisions for these members: “The storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor” (Doctrine and Covenants 83:6). The Israelites could distinguish themselves from the nations by their care for their most vulnerable and could thereby keep their covenant with Yahweh.

In keeping that covenant, ancient Israel, like latter-day Israel,[69] was to live in thanksgiving and generosity one toward another. Deuteronomy 26:1–11 constituted the Israelites’ formal, ritual acknowledgment that Yahweh was not only the giver of the land but the one who gave them increase and constituted a fundamental requirement of the Deuteronomic Code. In a sense, this rite functioned like the sacrament does for Latter-day Saints today, wherein we formally acknowledge (“witness”) that we do and will remember the Lord Jesus Christ (“they do always remember him”), all that he does for us, and that we will remain faithful to our covenants with him (“keep his commandments which he hath given them”; Moroni 4–5; Doctrine and Covenants 20:77–79).


Although the present-day form of the Pentateuch has resulted from numerous diachronic processes, latter-day revelation confirms that Moses was a real person and a true prophet and that he wrote the judgment or law that the Lord gave unto him in revelation. The Covenant Code, Holiness Code, and Deuteronomic Code can be seen as three context-based expressions of these instructions. The Covenant Code constitutes a foundational ethos upon which to establish a covenant people in the wilderness. The Holiness Code represents a holiness or ritual purity–oriented instruction calibrated for priestly administration in order to prepare the Israelites to become a ritually pure and ethically pure (essentially a temple-worthy) people—so that the people can become worthy to inherit the land of promise and partake of Yahweh’s holiness. Finally, the Deuteronomic Code iterates obedience to “the statutes and judgments” that are to be “observe[0] . . . in the land” to help the Israelites retain possession of the land of promise after inheriting it, all while maintaining its unique relationship with Yahweh and its uniqueness among the nations of the earth. The Israelites’ observance of covenant economics would constitute a sure sign of the intactness of their covenant relationship with him.

All of this has relevance for Latter-day Saints as temples now “dot the earth,” thus making “lands of promise” out of all the nations of the earth. We seek not only to become a people founded upon divine covenant principles and doctrine but also to receive preparatory Aaronic Priesthood ordinances[70] that enable atonement with the Lord. We thus become temple worthy—and not just in the temporal (mortal) sense, meaning worthy to receive the ordinances that enable us to see the face of God and live.[71] We seek to bring all into the covenant relationship that Yahweh offers the willing and, while so doing, to become worthy to enter and inherit the true “far better land of promise” of which Alma spoke (Alma 37:45) and to retain an inheritance in that kingdom, “to go no more out” (Alma 7:25; 29:17; 34:36; Helaman 3:30; 3 Nephi 28:40; Revelation 3:17). The instructions God gave and will give to his people, then and now, will help accomplish these goals.[72]


[1] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 299. Here he also notes, “As for the role of a Moses, there is no factual evidence to exclude such a person at this period, or his having played the roles implied in Exodus and Genesis.”

[2] “History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844],” p. 1755, The Joseph Smith Papers.

[3] Matthew 5:17–19; JST Matthew 5:21; JST Luke 16:20; Luke 24:44; Alma 25:15; 30:3; 34:13; 2 Nephi 25:24–30; 3 Nephi 1:25; 9:17; 12:17–18, 46; 15:5; Ether 12:11; Doctrine and Covenants 74:1–7; compare Romans 8:4; 13:8–10; Galatians 5:14; 6:2; James 2:8.

[4] Second Corinthians 3:11–14; 2 Nephi 25:27; 3 Nephi 9:20–21; 12:47; Doctrine and Covenants 22:1–4; 76:4–5.

[5] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 436–37 (hereafter, HALOT).

[6] HALOT, 1710.

[7] HALOT, 1710–11. This general sense of tôrâ (“law”) as “instruction” is evident in Lehi’s fatherly paranesis to Jacob, whose days were to be spent as a priest (2 Nephi 5:26; Jacob 1:18) in the “service of [his] God” (2 Nephi 2:3) in the then-future Nephite temple—and thus whose responsibility it would be to “instruct” the Nephites (2 Nephi 2:7, 13). On the priestly responsibility to “instruct” in ancient Israel, see 2 Kings 12:3; Ezekiel 44:23; 2 Chronicles 15:3.

[8] Jeremy Black, Andrew George, and Nicolas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, Arbeiten und Untersuchungen zur Keilschriftkunde 5 (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2000), 405 (hereafter, CDA).

[9] CDA, 435.

[10] See, for example, Bruce Wells, “The Covenant Code and Near Eastern Legal Traditions: A Response to David P. Wright,” Maarav 13, no. 1 (2006): 118.

[11] Hector Avalos,” Legal and Social Institutions in Canaan and Ancient Israel,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. Jack M. Sasson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 617.

[12] See, for example, 2 Kings 10:31; Psalm 1:2; Ezra 7:10; Nehemiah 9:3; 1 Chronicles 16:40; 22:12; 2 Chronicles 12:1; 17:9; 31:3–4, 14; 35:26. Compare Amos 2:4; Isaiah 30:9; Psalms 1:2; 19:7; 119:1.

[13] Douglas H. Parker and Ze’ev W. Falk, “Law of Moses,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:811.

[14] Parker and Falk, “Law of Moses,” 2:811.

[15] See Karl Heinrich Graf, Die geschichtlichen Bücher des Alten Testaments: Zwei historisch–kritische Untersuchungen (Leipzig: Weigel, 1866); Karl Heinrich Graf, “Die sogenannte Grundschrift des Pentateuchs,” Archiv für wissenschaftlich Erforschung des Alten Testaments 1 (1869): 466–77 (repr. Theologische Studien und Kritiken 45 [1872]: 287–303); Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (Edinburgh: Black, 1885).

[16] Originally, “a set form of words,” lex (legis) also came to denote “a proposition made by a magistrate to the people.” See J. R. Marchant and Joseph F. Charles, Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (London: Cassell, 1897), 316.

[17] Alma 30:23: “Now the high priest’s name was Giddonah. And Korihor said unto him: Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words”; Helaman 11:22: “And also they had peace in the seventy and eighth year, save it were a few contentions concerning the points of doctrine which had been laid down by the prophets.”

[18] Dennis T. Olsen, “Torah,” in Dictionary of Ethics and Scripture, ed. Joel B. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 788.

[19] Compare Akkadian sikiltu(m) = “acquisition(s), (hoarded) property” (see CDA, 322) and sakālu(m) = “to acquire, hoard” (i.e., treasure up); “acquire possessions” (CDA, 312). Compare also Ugaritic sglt = “treasure; property.” A. Murtonen, Hebrew in Its West Semitic Setting, Part 1: A Comparative Lexicon (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1990), 296.

[20] This has led many scholars to suggest that the foregoing legislation constitutes the book of the covenant mentioned in Exodus 24:7: “And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” In other words, the Book of the Covenant is the Covenant code. Perhaps a more important point is that here the text insists that Moses wrote. Thus, it may be of this “Book of the Covenant” or “Covenant Code” that the Lord prophesied to Joseph in Egypt (as preserved on the brass plates, mentioned by Lehi, and recorded by Nephi): “I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment [cf. Hebrew mišpaṭ] unto him in writing” (2 Nephi 3:17; compare Moses 1; emphasis mine). The “Covenant Code” largely consists of the “judgments” (hammišpāṭîm)—apodictic and casuistic laws—which are both civil and religious in character.

[21] See, for example, Wells, “Covenant Code,” 85–188; Bruce Wells, “Review of D. P. Wright, Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi,” Journal of Religion 90 (2010): 558–60; contrary to David P. Wright, “The Laws of Hammurabi as a Source for the Covenant Collection (Exodus 20:23–23:19),” Maarav (2003): 11–87; David P. Wright, Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[22] In the Book of Mormon, covenant renewals were often made with “one voice.” See, for example, Mosiah 4:2; 5:2; Alma 43:49; 3 Nephi 4:30; 3 Nephi 20:9.

[23] Hugh W. Nibley, “On the Sacred and the Symbolic,” in Temples of the Ancient World, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994), 559.

[24] Compare Akkadian kišpu = “witchcraft.”

[25] For more on this subject, see Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign, February 1987, 68–70.

[26] Pamela Barmash, Homicide in the Biblical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 157–58. Nephite law seemed to operate on this principle. Compare, for example, Alma 1:1–19 [see especially 1:17–18]; 11:2; 30:10. There are perhaps additional echoes of the eternal law of restoration as formulated by Alma to his son Corianton, who struggled with the idea of divine justice (see especially Alma 41:12–15).

[27] Barmash, Homicide in the Biblical World, 158.

[28] Compare 1 Corinthians 12:31; Ether 12:11; Hebrews 8:6.

[29] The covenant conduct of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies constitutes one of best recorded examples of living a principle that Jesus later taught (Alma 24:17–19).

[30] Saul M. Olyan, “Hǎšālôm: Some Literary Considerations of 2 Kings 9,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 46 (1984) 661, asserts that the Piel form of šlm “describes a process only necessary when the state of šālôm [“peace”] is absent.”

[31] Compare the phrase “to keep them in the right way,” as used in Moroni 6:4.

[32] The identity of this theophanic “Angel”—in Exodus 23:20, he is called “my Angel” (malʾākî)—has elicited no small amount of discussion and speculation. The description malʾākî draws our attention forward to the book of Malachi (“my angel/messenger”) and the Lord’s promise that he would again send “my messenger” (malʾākî) to “prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1). That promise identifies “the Lord” himself as “the messenger of the covenant.” Perhaps it is the same here: the Angel is the Lord himself.

[33] A. Klostermann, “Beiträge zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Pentateuchs,” Zeitschrift für lutherische Theologie und Kirche 33 (1877): 401–45; A. Klostermann, Der Pentateuch: Beiträge zu seinem Verständnis und seiner Entstehungsgeschichte (Leipzig: Deichert, 1893), 368–418.

[34] Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B.C., Old Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1968), 87.

[35] See HALOT, p. 1072, where it is noted that qdš as “an original verb . . . can only with difficulty be traced back to a root קד [qd]; if this is the case, the basic meaning of קדש would be ‘to set apart.’”

[36] Philip Peter Jensen, Graded Holiness: A Key to the Priestly Conception of the World (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1992), 48. David J. A. Clines, “The Holy and the Clean: Category Confusion in Semitic?” (paper presented at the Society for Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta on Monday, November 23, 2015), points out that in 2 Samuel 11:4 qdš has the definite sense of “purify” (rather than “sanctify”) and describes Bathsheba’s ritual purification (not sanctification). He also argues that in other Semitic contexts qdš has the sense, contra expectation, of “make clean, purify.”

[37] Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 151.

[38] The sacred character of blood is especially evident in Moroni’s description of the covenant that subsumes all other covenants and in the role of Christ’s blood in that effectuation of that covenant (Moroni 10:32–33).

[39] If Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, is the source of holiness (qdš), the sacrificial system, with its animals designated as qdš, and the blood of those sacrifices must ultimately point to him and the giving of his own blood (compare Alma 34:10–14). The author of Hebrews, commenting on the meaning of the Mosaic sacrificial system, points out that apart from Jesus’s sacrifice, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Regarding the priests who offered the sacrifices, the same author avers, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (10:11).

[40] Benno Landsberger, The Date Palm and Its By-Products according to the Cuneiform Sources (Graz, Austria: Weidner, 1967), 32; Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 1079–84 (especially 1080).

[41] Michael L. Brown, “Kippēr and Atonement in the Book of Isaiah,” in Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine, ed. Robert Chazan, William W. Hallo, and Lawrence H. Schiffman (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns: 1999), 192–93.

[42] See, especially, Mary Douglas, “Atonement in Leviticus,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 1, no. 2 (1993): 109–30.

[43] Margaret Barker, “Atonement: The Rite of Healing,” http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/Atonement.pdf, 8.

[44] Barker, “Atonement,” 8.

[45] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013, 94: “I know Jesus was His only perfect child, whose life was given lovingly by the will of both the Father and the Son for the redemption of all the rest of us who are not perfect.”

[46] See, for example, Exodus 24:8; Zechariah 9:11; Hebrews 10:20; 12:24; 13:20; Moroni 10:33.

[47] Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 53.

[48] It is frequently pointed out that Leviticus 18:22, strictly speaking, condemns only male homosexuality. However, this can probably be understood as a metonym for all homosexual relations; see especially Romans 1:26–27. First Corinthians 6:9 should also be understood as speaking metonymically regarding all homosexual relations.

[49] This Holiness prescription was paraphrased by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, in Mathew 5:48, and again in another version of the sermon delivered at the temple in Bountiful when he reiterated this commandment following his own “perfection” (see especially Luke 13:32) at his resurrection, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and again in 3 Nephi 12:48, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” Perhaps the best statement on holiness, perfection, the source of both in Yahweh, and on how all of this applies to us today comes from Moroni 10:33: “And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”

[50] Compare D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Four Gospels (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 615.

[51] For an extended treatment of this subject from a biblical ethics perspective, see Richard A. Horsley, Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009).

[52] This expression is found twice in the Deuteronomic Code (14:2; 26:18) and in one other instance in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 7:6) that describes the Israelites as the Lord’s people.

[53] Malachi 3:17; 3 Nephi 24:17; Doctrine and Covenants 60:4; 101:3.

[54] See John Gee, “Book of Mormon Word Usage: ‘Seal You His,’” Insights 22, no. 1 (2002): 4; see also Matthew L. Bowen, “Becoming Sons and Daughters at God’s Right Hand: King Benjamin’s Rhetorical Wordplay on His Own Name,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 2 (2012): 2–13.

[55] Deuteronomy 18:15–19 was read messianically even before Jesus’s time, as evident in Lehi’s citation of it when prophesying of a coming Messiah and Savior (1 Nephi 10:4). Nephi, too, directly quoted Deuteronomy 18:15–19 in predicting its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (1 Nephi 22:20).

[56] Matthew L. Bowen, Rejective Requests and Deadly Disobedience: The Literary Utilization of Deut 18:15–17 in 1 Samuel and Its Function within the Deuteronomistic History (master’s thesis, Catholic University of America, 2009), 20–21; Matthew L. Bowen, “‘According to All That You Demanded’ (Deuteronomy 18:16): The Literary Use of Names and Leitworte as Antimonarchic Polemic in the Deuteronomistic History” (PhD diss., Catholic University of America, 2014), 34–69.

[57] See, for example, Exodus 30:33, 38; 31:14; Leviticus 7:20–27; 17:4, 9–10; 18:29; 19:8; 20:3–18; 23:29; Numbers 9:13; 15:30; 1 Nephi 22:20; 3 Nephi 20:23; 21:11, 20; Doctrine and Covenants 1:14; 133:63; Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:55; Joseph Smith—History 1:40. Compare also 1 Kings 9:7; Ezekiel 14:8; 27:7; 31:12.

[58] Leviticus 23:20; Acts 3:23; compare 2 Nephi 30:10.

[59] The subsequent Deuteronomistic History records that the king of Moab sacrifices his son in 2 Kings 3:27. The historian condemns Ahaz of Judah for this specific violation (2 Kings 16:3). Manasseh of Judah, whom the historian evaluates as the worst of the kings of Judah and Israel and whom he ultimately blames for the exile of Judah to Babylon, would similarly commit this abomination (2 Kings 21:6). The problem appears to have become particularly pervasive in Judah (Jeremiah 7:31) and was perpetuated by its monarchy (Jeremiah 19:5).

[60] See, for example, Amos 2:4–6; 8:4–10.

[61] See, for example, Isaiah 1:17, 23; 10:2.

[62] Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3.

[63] Zechariah 7:10.

[64] Malachi 3:5.

[65] James 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

[66] Matthew 25:31–46.

[67] This can be inferred not only from these biblical passages but from the Book of Mormon. Mormon himself described the Nephites’ treatment of their widows in graphic terms in a letter to his son Moroni in the waning days of their civilization. Moroni 9:16 says, “And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die.” Moroni foresaw that we would face a similar moral crisis with respect to our society’s most vulnerable members: “Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?” (Mormon 8:40; compare Doctrine and Covenants 123:9).

[68] See further Acts 2:44; 4:32; 3 Nephi 26:19; 4 Nephi 1:3.

[69] The same principle that underlies Deuteronomy 26:1–11 underlies Doctrine and Covenants 59:7, 21: “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. . . . And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.”

[70] See Doctrine and Covenants 84:26–28.

[71] See Doctrine and Covenants 84:21–22.

[72] The author would like to thank Suzy Bowen, Daniel Belnap, Devan Jensen, and Megan Rollins Wilson.