The Hope of Zion: From Qumran to Utah

Joseph Spencer’s forthcoming For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope is a book I am truly excited about, seeing that the concept of Zion plays a major role in my understanding of Mormonism and the Atonement (as I think it should). While reading the available preview, I was reminded of some early Jewish examples of what Mormons may recognize as “consecration.” After analyzing the Community Rule (QS1) found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Catherine Murphy of Santa Clara University explains that the voluntary contribution of wealth in the Qumran community was connected with covenant fidelity: “The fundamental act of the voluntary donor…is to bring his knowledge, strength, and wealth into the community of God in order to conform these gifts more closely to God’s statutes, ways, and counsels–that is, to God’s covenant…Not surprisingly, this recollection to the covenant is couched in terms derived from the written covenant, particularly from Deuteronomy.”[1] The Deuteronomic triad can be found in the first section of the Community Rule:

All those voluntarily offering (themselves) to his truth will bring all their knowledge, and their strength, and their wealth into the community of God in order to refine their knowledge in the truth of God’s statutes and marshal their strength in accordance with his perfect ways and all their wealth in accordance with his just counsel (1QS I:11-13; emphasis mine).

The triad specifically draws on the covenant found in Deuteronomy 6. “The term wealth,” Murphy admits, “…is nowhere mentioned in biblical citations of Deuteronomy 6:5. Related terms for wealth are, however, later associated with the command to love God in general and in particular with that part of the command to commit one’s strength…[A]ll of the early Palestinian sources translate the term ["strength"] of Deuteronomy 6:5 with “wealth,” “money,” “possessions,” or their lexical equivalents.”[2] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, for example, replaces the term “strength” in Deut. 6:5 with “money.” Commenting on Deut. 6:5, Mishnah Berakot 9:5 reads, “…and with all thy might–with all thy wealth.” Targum Neofiti also translates “strength” in Deut. 6:5 as “money.” Targum Onqelos replaces “strength” with “property, possessions, substance” (the term here is similar to the common Aramaic for “sacrifice”). Sipre Deuteronomy 32 is attributed to Rabbi Eliezar, who links “all thy might” with one’s wealth.

This understanding of Deut. 6:5 carries over into the New Testament. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 “bears out this interpretive connection between loving God with all one’s strength and the disposition of one’s goods…The Lukan passage also connects the love of God with the love of one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).”[3] In Matthew 19, the command to the rich man to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is “immediately contextualized in terms of relinquished possessions.”[4] The New Testament epistles (which Spencer discusses) continue this interpretive lens:

In Galatians 5:13-14, Paul summarizes the entire law and prophets in the single command to love one’s neighbor and refers to that love as a kind of slavery toward the neighbor…In Romans 13:8-10, love of neighbor is presented as all that one should “owe” another, after a list of monetary and honorific payments appropriately made to authorities and benefactors. In James 2:8-9, love of neighbor is enjoined as an antidote to partiality for the rich at the expense of the poor.[5]

The conflation of love for God and love for one’s neighbor, of covenant and community, is not a new project. But it’s one that Mormonism claims to have restored. As Spencer says in the (currently uncorrected) introduction of his book,

It is far too weak to state that living the law of consecration is “worth the effort.” Consecration is our only hope. Indeed…consecration is inseparable from hope. Consecration is the hope of the Restoration, the singular task of the last days in which Christian hope is perfectly embodied. To become quite clear about the nature of hope is to begin to see that the Restoration is the law of consecration. In a crucial sense, there is nothing else that needs doing, nothing else on which to focus. Everything else that makes up the movement that began with Joseph Smith is meant to serve as an instrument for the fulfillment of this one law. As Hugh Nibley has put it, “the midpoint and focus of the whole operation is Zion. Zion is the great moment of transition, the bridge between the world as it is and the world as God designed it and meant it to be.”

 

 

NOTES

1. Catherine M. Murphy, Wealth in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Qumran Community (The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 120.

2. Ibid., 122-123. 

3. Ibid., 123.

4. Ibid., 124.

5. Ibid.


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