Margaret Barker

Margaret Barker is an unassuming British scholar whose primary engagement is with the Old Testament.  Her expertise and her research have led her, however, into the New Testament, and, more recently, into Mormon sources.  I say Mrs. Barker is unassuming.  By that I mean that her personal manner is utterly devoid of pomposity or egocentrism; but in her writing she is bold, direct, and has not hesitated to turn the world of Bible scholarship on its head.When she speaks, her crisp, direct delivery takes charge of the audience from the very first sentence.  Dr. Barker is no shrinking violet.  When she speaks or writes, she does it as one speaking with authority.  Her authority comes, one is free to suppose, from not having followed the standard path of academia.  She was well-trained, but then chose to pursue her course as an independent scholar.  Free from the constraints of mainstream academia, she has been free to explore the Bible according to her own inspiration and insights.

Years of study preceded her first published book, The Older Testament, in 1987.  Since then, she has produced twelve books, and a sheaf of articles which would make any academic scholar bristle with pride.  The shape of her work can be traced by the titles of her publications.  The Older Testament reform” of King Josiah, in the seventh century, b.c. was less a reform than a bold apostate purge of Judaism.  As shocking as that is to Bible scholars, she backs up her assertions with solid research.  In the words of one Protestant publication, “Her thesis is that the ‘reform’ of Josiah and Hilkiah just before the Exile, was actually a massive repression of an older Israelite religion and priesthood.”  The writer adds, “These original elements were systematically removed — in terms of the furnishings of the Temple quite literally — by the puritanical party we know as the Deuteronomists. The Deuteronomists revised much of the tradition to suit their iconoclastic and radically monotheistic theology.”

The Deuteronomist purge is only one of a handful of hypotheses Dr. Barker puts forth, but it is one of the cornerstones of her work.  The bottom line is that scholars have taken it as “given” that the text of the Bible is reliable.  Dr. Barker claims — and shows — that there was an older tradition, the Bible before the Deuteronomists, as it were, that was based in the First Temple: Solomon’s Temple.  She calls this older tradition Temple Theology.  With the destruction of Jerusalem just after 600 b.c., all known copies of the scriptures were destroyed.  When Ezra and his priestly colleagues re-composed the Old Testament during the exile, it was an Old Testament with a Deuteronomist slant, a scriptural corpus from which almost all the old First Temple Theology (and books) were eliminated.  According to Dr. Barker, “It is becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament which should accompany the New Testament is not the one usually included in the Bible.”  We cannot be assured that the books long accepted as canonical are the books which composed the pre-exile canon.  Nor can we be sure that the books not included in the post-exile canon are properly excluded.  The Lord cautioned Joseph Smith to not reject the Apocrypha out-of-hand (D&C Section 91).  One of Dr. Barker’s main theses is that it is from certain apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works that we can recover significant elements of the configuration of pre-Deuteronomist, First Temple theology — works carried (and preserved) far from Jerusalem and Deuteronomist influence.  She specifically cites First Enoch.  Margaret Barker gives evidence which bolsters the prominence given to Enoch in Joseph Smith’s restoration — and the presence of an Enoch text in the Pearl of Great Price.

The First Temple theology which Dr. Barker teases out of pre-Deuteronomist sources gives a vastly different picture of the early Old Testament than has been almost universally believed in both Catholic and Protestant scholarly circles for centuries.  Speaking of these hypotheses of hers, among others, the author of the article we cited above, says, “Were anyone to demonstrate these hypotheses, it could have the potential to cause a seismic shift in the way we read and interpret the Bible.”  The author continues, “Barker paints a picture of the era from the reform of Josiah and Hilkiah to the visions of John the Apostle which is radically different from what we learned in seminary.”  Many mainstream scholars from the mainstream Christian tradition do not like the implications of such a radical “seismic shift,” but they find it difficult to refute her. (excerpted from Frederick M. Huchel,  “Antecedents of the Restoration in the Ancient Temple,” in Temple Theology and the Latter-day Saints)

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