1 Nephi 1:4 — LeGrand Baker — “Many Prophets”

1 Nephi 1:4

… and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.

We know so little about the Israelite religion before the Babylonian captivity. Actually, the Book of Mormon is a much better source of pre-exilic Israelite theology than anything we find in the Bible. The reason is that all the history books in Old Testament were written or edited after the destruction of Jerusalem and end of the Melchizedek Priesthood rites of Solomon’s Temple. After the Babylonian captivity, the five books of Moses were so severely edited that most scholars believe that they were actually written as late as the fourth century B.C.{1}

The Jewish apostasy began before the Babylonian captivity and was the reason Lehi and the other prophets were persecuted. Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord has a chapter called “Evidences of Ancient Jewish Apostasy.” It helps explain why the prophets in Lehi’s time were in such trouble.{2} By then, there were two competing “priesthood groups.” The prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, and Lehi had the Melchizedek Priesthood. However, for the most part they were disdained by the authors of the Old Testament who told stories about bears eating children and that sort of thing. The competing group was the priests who had control of the Temple and the temple treasury. From the time of King Josiah the priests either dominated, or at least were in cahoots with the apostate kings. After the Babylonian captivity the priests were in almost complete control. One of the authors of Chronicles gives us a hint of the conflict between the priests and the prophets, but there are no real details:

14 Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.
15 And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place:
16 But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy (2 Chronicles 36:14-16).


{1} Their editorial policy was apparently to remove evidences of such ideas as the Atonement, priesthood, and temple rites from the text. For an example see the contrast between the accounts of Noah and the ark as recorded in Genesis and in the Book of Moses in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord: 2009 edition pages 64-67; 2010 edition pages 59-61.

{2} Two works that discuss the pre-exilic Jewish apostasy are: Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest, The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York, T&T Clark, 2003); and G. W. Ahlstrom, Joel and the Temple Cult of Jerusalem, (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1971).


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