[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
Reading into the text
Because Mormonism is supposed to be based on the Bible, Mormons need to see themselves, their beliefs and the Book of Mormon in the Bible, particularly prophesied in the Bible. One of their favorite claimed passages is found in Ezekiel 15. It’s really best to read the entire chapter for the fullest context, but I will summarize the context before and after, while quoting the relevant part:
The first part of the chapter is Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones which become living men, signifying that the apparently dead nation of Israel (since both the northern and southern kingdoms had been carried into captivity, and were no longer occupying the Promised Land) would “come back to life” and be a nation yet again. Then God speaks to Ezekiel and says,
16 Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and for all the house of Israel his companions:
19 Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.
The two become one
Following this is God explaining what is being shown by this “living parable”, namely, that He will bring back both the northern and southern kingdoms, and they will be one people, ruled over by “David” who is “one shepherd”, and they will enter into a covenant with God and will obey it. [It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the interpretation of the parable, beyond saying that many Christian commentators have seen this as a figure of Jews plus Gentiles coming together as one church, as happened in the New Testament. Even if a more literal interpretation is made, and this is considered to be only about the literal, genetic Israelites, we should remember that the New Testament speaks of “the twelve tribes”, particularly in the letter from James to the believers, so even if we have no historic “return from captivity” of the ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel, as we have of the end of the Babylonian Captivity after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, we can make a case that at least the inspired writer of James considered the then-existing Jews to be “twelve tribes”.]
In any event, we have the Divine interpretation of this parable from God Himself, and it is not what the Mormons need for it to be. Sadly, many Mormons don’t read more of the Bible than what their leaders put into articles and sermons, so would be unaware of the Biblical interpretation of it. Even when they are aware, however, they tend to ignore the context – probably because they’ve heard the LDS viewpoint so much, that it’s all they can think of when they read the above quoted section.
A biblical prophecy about Mormonism?
The LDS interpretation is that “the stick of Judah” is (or represents) the Bible, while “the stick of Joseph” is (or represents) the Book of Mormon, and the two of them in one hand is a sort of prophecy of Joseph Smith and/or of the “Restored Church” (i.e., the LDS/Mormon Church).
Some oft-repeated LDS claims about this section include the following:
1) “Scrolls were typically wrapped around sticks, so Ezekiel is really talking about scrolls, and since the Scriptures were written on scrolls, this is actually talking about the Bible and the Book of Mormon.”
Counter-arguments to this include that the Hebrew word here translated “stick” does not mean and is never used to mean a scroll or anything like it; rather, different words are used for “stick” and “scroll”.
Further, the Book of Mormon is never claimed to have been written on a scroll of paper, but rather engraved in metal plates! [The LDS rebuttal to this would probably be something along the lines of the sticks not being actual scrolls but rather representative of scrolls – but this undercuts their previous claim that “sticks = scrolls, because scrolls are wrapped around sticks”, and makes the sticks a two-step representative of a representative. That is, sticks have to represent the Scriptures because they were written on scrolls which were then wrapped around sticks… but the scrolls themselves have to represent the BOM, since the BOM was never written on a scroll wrapped around a stick!]
2) “One of the sticks represents the house of Joseph, and it can’t be a coincidence that the Book of Mormon was written by descendants of Joseph, and even the Prophet Joseph Smith was a descendant of Joseph!”
Non-LDS counter-arguments include requesting any evidence that JS was a descendant of the Biblical Joseph (so far as I know, the only “evidence” that supports the claim is the claim made by JS himself), and the fact that the Bible says that the “stick of Joseph” is “in the hand of Ephraim,” while the supposed BOM peoples are claimed to have been descended from Joseph’s other son, Manasseh (Alma 10). [I would fully expect the LDSs to make a dodge similar to the above and say that “even though the Bible says Ephraim, it doesn’t have to be a descendant of Ephraim, since it’s really focusing on ‘the house of Joseph’.”]
3) One final counter-argument is that Ezekiel was supposed to hold the two “sticks” in one hand to make them “one”. Even assuming that the BOM was supposed to be one scroll and the Bible another, how on earth could anyone hold these scrolls in one hand at all? The OT was contained on multiple scrolls (typically 22 or 24, depending on various factors), and they were divided into multiple scrolls because they couldn’t fit on one, at least, not with any ease, nor could anyone hold such a large scroll in one hand. [Again, the LDS attempted rebuttal would be that the sticks aren’t the actual Scriptures, but only representative of them; but again, that makes this into a two-step representation, and really nonsensical, particularly if their original assertion was that the sticks were actually scrolls.]