Origin of Ectothermy

Origin of Ectothermy

    We should not make too much of the claim that the evolution of endothermy flies in the face of the second law of thermodynamics, when we consider that the evolution of increasingly complex organisms in general does the same (as does the evolution of stars, cities, and so forth). Still, the existence of such thermodynamically inefficient organisms as endotherms begs explanation, especially since, unlike the problem of general evolution, it invites explanation in purely thermodynamic terms. All explanations to date have assumed that homeothermy was derived from poikilothermy, and that ectotherms gave rise to endotherms. It is the purpose of this article to examine that assumption from several angles, not precisely in the following order: 1) by attempting to define the terms; 2) by pointing to clear exceptions to the assumption; 3) by philosophical analysis of the problem and extrapolation to the general case; 4) by examining vertebrate evolution in light of the general case.

    1) Definitions: Unfortunately the biological terms do not agree with the thermodynamic terms, where plants are correctly labeled endothermic and animals are always exothermic. Biological “endothermy” refers to the character that the organism’s temperature is controlled internally, rather than by its ambient, as is the case with ectotherms. Although the biological “endotherms” may be quantitatively contrasted to “ectotherms,” the fact remains that a penguin with an internal temperature of 310ºK, sitting out an Antarctic storm at 210ºK, still obtains a majority of its heat from the sun. It is only with the evolution of fur and feathers that a seemingly qualitative distinction between endotherms and ectotherms becomes possible, and of course this criterion vanishes when investigating the primitive origins of endothermy, unless we go along with the assumption (or should we say, definition) of Robert McNab (1978), that the evolution of mammalian fur preceded mammalian endothermy, in which case even fur and feathers were not always relevant criteria.

    The customary terms, endothermy, and ectothermy, in fact confuse several parameters, principally, those of metabolic rate and the degree of temperature regulation. Clearly, high energy organisms have a greater potential than do less active organisms for acquiring an internal temperature substantially higher than the external temperature. But in spite of the fact that metabolism can only be quantified in terms of heat production, because heat loss must also be taken into account in determining an organism’s internal temperature, there is only a circumstantial relationship between metabolic rate and temperature regulation. The “paradox” of biological thermodynamics is that those organisms with the greatest variability in energy production, at least arithmetically, if not geometrically, are those with the least variation in temperature, while those with less variation in heat output undergo greater temperature variation. Of course this “paradox” may be explained by the differences in heat loss between the two groups, but a description of the evolution of the mechanisms of heat loss, and temperature regulation in general, is not as simple a matter.

    The earlier terms, homeotherm and poikilotherm have been replaced to some extent by the later endotherm and ectotherm, but those writers who retain both term pairs tend to emphasize with the former the tendency or lack thereof of maintaining a constant temperature, and with the latter, the organism’s capacity to maintain an internal temperature substantially different from the external temperature, either through heat generation, heat loss, or prevention of heat loss. Accordingly, at least one investigator (McNab) speaks of “endothermic poikilotherms” (like tuna and marlin), and he applies “inertial homeothermy” to animals sufficiently large that they maintain a fairly constant temperature as a result of their large mass rather than a high metabolic rate. McNab introduces the term “trivial homeothermy” in reference to animals that maintain a constant temperature simply because they inhabit an environment with a constant temperature, but we submit that once removed from such environs the animal will either die or it will not: if it dies its homeothermy was not so trivial, and if it lives, it is either an endotherm or a poikilotherm. Hence, there is no such thing as trivial homeothermy, but there is certainly such a thing as obligatory homeothermy, as displayed by such thermophylic creatures as lungfish when exposed to cold, or by any other organism with a very long pedigree of high-temperature physiology. We suggest the term tropotherm to designate such tropical homeothermy, or monotherm to denote the general case of inability to survive moderate temperature fluctuations, as exemplified by some arctic and Antarctic fish which cannot survive temperatures much higher than freezing.

    What we have then are two basic parameters for describing the thermal physiology of organisms: the degree of temperature and the width of temperature range at which it can survive. Survival in turn may entail various degrees of activity, including the inactivity of hibernation at one extreme, the activity of many temperate amphibians over a wide temperature range at the other extreme, and between the two extremes, the peak activity of many lizards at specialized temperatures with a sharp drop-off in activity at other than ideal temperatures. Thus on one parameter we have what we might call hyperthermy and hypothermy and on the other, monothermy and poikilothermy, avoiding the established term “homeothermy” only because it has generally been associated with hyperthermy, and so confuses the two parameters.

    2) As mentioned above, most investigators have assumed endotherms to be derived from ectotherms, but there is little agreement on how or when the transformation took place. Many take homeothermy to be an automatic result of a high metabolism: the heat resulting from high activity leads a species to tolerate increasing temperatures, and the need for high activity requires that such organisms evolve enzymes that operate at uniform temperatures. Bernd Heinrich (1977) notes that a lack of physiological temperature specialization can only be maintained at the cost of enzyme efficiency, since only a fraction of catalytic processes may operate at any given temperature. McNab on the other hand, considers his “inertial homeothermy” to be the result of a large mass, which once attained by mammals required that when they were reduced in size during the Cretaceous, they were forced to evolve into endotherms. While few would embrace McNab’s postulate that fur and feathers predated endothermy, the notion that homeothermy preceded endothermy should not be dismissed out of hand. Heinrich writes (1977:635):

[A switch to a new body temperature] may be an evolutionary “hurdle” of greater magnitude than mere species evolution. But body temperature can be altered [in order to maintain a high temperature] relatively easily (involving presumably few genes) by changes of insulation, vascular control, postural adjustments, and escape behavior. It is probable that these parameters would be the primary targets for evolutionary response in homeotherms that must respond to thermal changes.

While Heinrich and McNab might agree on little else, they do agree on the persistence of homeothermy, and one wonders why they and all persist in ignoring tropothermy, the most persistent of all “homeothermies,” as a relevant factor in the evolution of endothermy.

    There are at least two pathways of evolving to fill a new endothermic niche: 1) by way of ectothermy, which would involve alteration of both temperature requirement and improved temperature maintenance, or 2) by way of tropothermy, i.e., homeothermy, that is, through improved temperature maintenance only. It is the cross purposes of the processes of temperature alteration and temperature maintenance that presumably lead McNab to separate the evolution of homeothermy and endothermy; as he states (1978:4):

It seems unlikely that small endotherms could evolve directly from small ectotherms because the low rates of metabolism and high conductances typical of ectotherms must be simultaneously converted to the very high rates and low conductances of small endotherms. Simultaneity is important because a small ectotherm with a low conductance is disenfranchized with respect to its heat source; equally, a small endotherm with a high rate of conductance would squander heat in a hopeless attempt to maintain a constant body temperature.

So McNab’s solution to the problem that most have failed even to recognize, is to invent “inertial homeothermy” as a stepping stone to endothermy, and to postulate a comparatively late evolution of mammalian endothermy. In taking such a late development as the secondary palate as an indicator of mammalian endothermy, McNab is forced to assail Robert Bakker’s assertion that therapsids were endotherms   (1978:16).  Bakker suggests that the common ancestors of dinosaurs and crocodiles were warm blooded as well (1970:645):

Crocodilian circulatory and respiratory systems seem more complex than those of other reptiles–the lungs are highly subdivided and mammal-like, the heart is four chambered and a muscular diaphragm is present. The earliest, Late Triassic crocodilians were long-limbed, gracile, terrestrial, probably diurnal predators descended from semierect thecodonts (Walker, 1970). Improvements were quite possibly present in most semierect Triassic archosaurs, including the ancestors of dinosaurs.

Bakker makes a commendable leap when he seems to profess that in this case, ectotherms, crocodiles to wit, evolved from endotherms. Bakker’s insistence that a semierect posture denotes endothermy is of course anathema for McNab (1978:16): “it can be argued that the placement of the limbs under the body is a means of reducing the energy expenditure associated with the transport of a large mass, not evidence of the high rates of metabolism associated with endothermy, as suggested by Bakker.” McNab argues this point to buttress his theory that endothermy comes much later–he and Bakker are on opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue–but his point is well taken: inefficient limbs are in need of a better cardiovascular system than are efficient limbs. Accordingly, the ancestors of crocodiles would have had the greatest selective pressure to evolve complex lungs and a four-chambered heart while they were still squatters and active predators, i.e., before they ever became “long-limbed, gracile…predators.”

    The energy efficiency gained by vertical limbs was more advantageous to very large reptiles and dinosaurs than to moderately sized therapsids, since the larger endotherms were in greater danger of overheating–the more efficient their limbs, the faster they could run, and the longer they could run without succumbing to the exhaustion brought on by the inevitable internal temperature rise. This goes far to explain the retention of semisprawling in monotremes–energy efficiency as effected through reduced food consumption was evidently not of sufficient advantage for mammals of a mass typical of monotremes to quickly evolve efficient limbs. Limb structure is first, a measure of adaptation to a particular environment (granted such restrictions as a marsupial pouch, for instance, which might hinder efficient quadrupedal locomotion), and second, a measure of adaptation toward efficient endothermy. It is probably useless as an indicator of incipient endothermy. Limb position is a better indication of how long a lineage has been absent from trees or cliffs than of metabolic history.

    But returning to the original problem, let us restate it in Heinrich’s terms (1977:623):

The available evidence indicates that the various homologous enzymes and other macromolecules common to the different forms of multicellular life can be adapted to function efficiently at any of a wide range of tissue temperatures between at least 0ºC and 45ºC. Yet, most highly mobile aerobic animals, such as birds (Dawson and Hudson 1970), mammals (Bartholomew 1972), and large flying insects (Heinrich 1974), regulate body temperature, at least while active, within a few ºC of 40-45ºC, the apparent high-temperature ceiling common to most forms of multicellular life.

The question becomes then, why have endotherms of even distantly related taxa evolved similar operating temperatures: is it due to chance, the physical properties of water, the limitations of enzyme chemistry common to separate phyla of animals, or because they all retain in their physiology the temperature that has characterized the tropics of the globe since the Ordovician? And is there any way of testing the last possibility?

    The two possible pathways to endothermy proposed above can be explored in the world of nature by asking in the case of each endotherm, are its closest relatives ectotherms or tropotherms? That is, in each instance, do we have an example of a tropotherm which has extended its climate range through improved temperature control, or do we have a case where an ectotherm has returned to a tropothermic physiology and evolved temperature control mechanisms to maintain it?  Whenever this question can be answered, we find that the nearest relatives are tropotherms: endothermic moths evolved from tropical moths; tuna and marlin are the wide-ranging offspring of warm water fish.  As we might expect, the simpler route is always taken, which should hardly surprise us when we consider that, with little exception, until the Tertiary most of the globe was tropical. We see that once a lineage has employed the considerable evolutionary effort necessary to evolve poikilothermy, it is hardly a suitable candidate to re-evolve homeothermy, especially when tropotherms are available to fill the niche.

    To present an extreme case, consider the fish adapted to polar temperatures. Hemoglobin is useless at such temperatures, and these fish have long since lost it, hence their lack of color. If the poles were to regain the temperate climate that probably characterized them in the Cretaceous, the new niche would be filled by fish of formerly temperate waters. The fish with no hemoglobin, even if they could adapt to the warmer water, would be at a great disadvantage when competing with fish with hemoglobin; the polar fish would have to re-evolve hemoglobin or go extinct, and their future would be dim indeed.

    3. Within the phylum Chordata there have always been one or more lineages which progressively pressed their metabolic capacity to new levels.  Single celled organisms never had need of special breathing apparatus; with their tiny size they could easily absorb sufficient oxygen from their ambient to supply their considerable metabolic needs, which were principally applied to the process of replication. With the development of multi-celled organisms the metabolic processes of cells became subservient to the needs of the organism, and lower metabolic rates were required, but with continued growth in size there came a time when gas diffusion was insufficient for oxygen supply, and various innovations resulted: a vascular system, a heart pump, hemoglobin, gills, and specialized blood cells. We stress that all these innovations were evolved by those lineages which had the highest activity rates and the highest metabolic requirements.

    Ever since the evolution of specialized muscle cells then, there has presented itself an open ended ecological niche for faster, stronger, more responsive organisms, which niche can only be filled by those competitors with the highest metabolic capacity and the most complex sensory responses.  Accordingly, such contestants always occupy a highly unstable niche characterized by a rapid rate of evolution. These innovators comprise the principal stock of evolutionary advancement, periodically spinning off shoots that find more stable niches with lower energy life styles (though adaptation to a lower metabolism may itself present the opportunity of radiation into previously unexploited niches).

    The need for speed of Devonian fish left them perpetually starved for oxygen. The Devonian atmosphere probably had a lower percentage of oxygen than the present one, and what atmospheric oxygen was available had a low solubility rate in the hot Devonian seas. There were no ice-cold polar waters to provide oxygen to the tropics by way of bottom sea currents. Tides were slightly more frequent and quite stronger than at present, creating murkier coastal waters, more tidal pools, and stranding great numbers of coastal fish in oxygen depleted water at regular intervals. (Lest we underestimate the role of tides in early vertebrate evolution, consider that the most direct pathway to the observed estivation of Dipnoi (lungfish) is first, through surviving daily tidal strandings, then surviving from spring tide to spring tide, and only then, evolving the ability to survive from rainy season to rainy season.)  The fish with the highest mortality due to suffocation (except less than 100% of course) were those that evolved lungs, and this evidently occurred in fresh water, or water with a low salinity, but lungs provided Devonian fish with such an advantage that they quickly invaded and dominated the seas. Only a few inland species remain, but Devonian fish with lungs were the ancestors of all terrestrial vertebrates and most fish.

    All the teleosts evolved from air breathing fish; the swim bladder evolved from the lung. The evolution of the lung was partly the result of hot water, but gills were effective cooling organs, and the replacement of gills with lungs left the bigger fish susceptible to overheating. The teleost retention of juvenile gills can be explained as a response to changing conditions: an adaptation to cooler waters; but such a target niche could only be exploited at the expense of a previously warmer physiology. While lungs evolved as a response to a warm habitat, the same lungs evolved into a swim bladder as a response to an abandonment of those warmer waters.  The first stage of diminished dependence on lungs–that displayed by the holostenes–was adaptation toward a lower metabolic rate, and this must have been the result of competition with the other descendents of fish with lungs: aquatic reptiles and birds.  Thus the holostene-teleost lineage presents a major example of metabolic high achievers (obligatory air-breathing fish) spinning off somewhat less active dropouts from the metabolic competition.

    Lungfish still exhibit the voracious appetite of their Devonian ancestors; in fact they chew their food! This typically mammalian trait has probably continued without interruption from the lungfish down to the mammals. The sharks provide a still clearer picture of the appetite and metabolism, as well as the temperature requirements of some of the most primitive surviving jawed fish.  It is no accident that we find the most dangerous man-eaters among the most primitive fish.

    The first amphibians were more like crawling sharks than like frogs. The cardio-respiratory advances made by the ancestors of frogs and salamanders were made while they were still ferocious predators with supreme metabolic requirements.  While the amphibian lineage on the top of the food chain evolved into reptiles, those at the bottom reverted to more docile, passive lifestyles, with progressively lower metabolic and aerobic requirements. All amphibians are able to breathe through their skin and internal mouth surface, which trait was acquired by a single lineage with a very low oxygen intake but which still retained lungs. Two points must be taken into consideration of the development of dermal respiration: the smaller the organism, and the lower its metabolic requirements, the more effective is the function. Dermal respiration is not so much a supplement to as a replacement for lung breathing. Accordingly, when neither gills nor lungs provide enough oxygen, if the organism is small and has low metabolic requirements, dermal respiration may become a significant factor in oxygen acquisition and survival, especially if predators are waiting for the little amphibians to surface. Skin breathing is of negligible advantage, on the other hand, for large, predatory amphibians, of the sort that provided the ancestral stock for reptiles. We are quite safe in assuming that the evolution of dry reptilian skin did not involve the sacrifice of dermal respiration, but rather involved the dessication of fish-like scales. By the same token, mammals did not derive their glandular skins from anything like reptilian or amphibian skin, but from the same moist fish-like scales from which the amphibians and reptiles derived their skins.

    Mud-burrowing amphibians lost their lungs altogether and took to competing with earthworms. The adaptation to niches with short oxygen supply pre-adapted amphibians to enduring hypothermia and hibernation. At low temperatures metabolic rates are greatly diminished, hemoglobin ceases to release oxygen, and oxygen supplied by gas diffusion is sufficient to sustain life. But more to the point, amphibians provide the most striking and undeniable case of reverse metabolic evolution: like the teleosts, they abandoned a strict dependence on pulmonary respiration.

    As the earlier quote of Bakker’s asserted, the ancestors of the crocodilians were agile predators which evolved bird-like digestive and cardio-respiratory systems.  The most primitive reptiles had inherited the carnivorous niche once occupied by ferocious amphibians with which primitive high energy amphibians could not compete–only amphibians with low energy lifestyles could survive the age of reptiles.  The evolution of the amniotic egg–an egg that could survive in the relative safety of dry land contributed greatly toward reproductive efficiency, but had no bearing on the adult reptiles’ dependence on water. This was a function of metabolism, and the higher the metabolic need, the more water was required for predator and prey alike.  The fully terrestrial behavior exhibited by desert lizards was only made possible by a great reduction in food intake and energy expenditure, accompanied by highly efficient conservation of body fluids.  This naturally entails a dry skin, with no chance of cooling by perspiration.

    We have alluded vaguely to the evolving climatic conditions underlying vertebrate evolution, and of course, a detailed understanding of Mesozoic climates would be greatly desirable for purposes of discussing the evolution of homeothermy if such were available.  Unfortunately a good deal of what is surmised is based on suppositions of vertebrate homeothermy; for example, the temperature of Cretaceous temperate zones inhabited by dinosaurs can best be determined by knowing whether such dinosaurs were warm or cold-blooded.  Tertiary climates may be more accurately correlated to modern climatic zones by correlating fossil remains of pollen and the like to closely related surviving species.  But to avoid interdependence between evolution and paleoclimatology we must base the latter solely on the geologic evidence, and a very brief summary of the conclusions based on that evidence is called for (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1985, v.16, p.528):

In the last 600,000,000 years the Earth’s climate, on a planetary scale, generally has been much warmer than it is today. At such times there are no ice caps near the poles, the polar seas are open, and there are no glaciers on even the highest mountain ranges. Instead, temperate conditions prevail beyond the Arctic Circle. This picture of a relatively warm, ice-free planet applies for perhaps 95 percent of the geological past. Ice caps are anomalous in this framework of reference, and their presence has indicated past and present ice ages. There were several of these…cold aberrations during the history of the Earth; the first two occurred about 570,000,000 and 280,000,000 years ago. The third began about 3,000,000 years ago, bringing on a sequence of cold and relatively warm spasms known as the Pleistocene Ice Age.

The Infra-Cambrian (c. 570,000,000 years ago), Permo-Carboniferous (c. 280,000,000 years ago), and Pleistocene (c. 3,000,000 years ago to the present) ice ages are exceptional in the geological history of the Earth. There is no evidence of any glacial phenomena between the mid-Permian and late Miocene (a span of 250,000,000 years), when mountain glaciers are first indicated in Alaska; similarly, glaciation was rare or absent from Early Cambrian to mid Carboniferous times (again, about 250,000,000 years). Glaciers are anomalous on Earth, even in polar latitudes.

    The “normal” climate of geological times was comparatively warm, with few extremes of temperature. Polar latitudes were cool-temperate, with open seas, and a reduced albedo (index of reflection of radiation from the Earth’s surface) in the absence of snow or ice. Mid-latitudes were subtropical or warm-temperate, although the tropics do not appear to have been warmer than the modern equatorial zone. [p. 530]

    Global climatic variation is no doubt a function of many factors, including the configuration of wandering continents and changing seas and ocean currents, the principal factor probably being the presence of mountain ranges, but probably one important factor is atmospheric variation, possibly including the fluctuating content of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the air, but more probably depending on a variable total atmospheric mass.  The consensus is that there was no free oxygen in the atmosphere prior to two billion years ago, and that its introduction was brought about by the evolution of algae. The deposition of organic matter during the Carboniferous might indicate a lowering of atmospheric carbon dioxide and thus to a lower atmospheric density, which may well have contributed to the cooling of the Permian.  The Tertiary cooling that led to the Pleistocene ice ages was certainly a gradual process, as proven by the fully climate adapted flora and fauna of the present age.

    Till this point we have emphasized the supremacy of the high-energy vertebrates and the secondary derivative status of the low-energy offshoots, without specific reference to the temperature tolerances, i.e., the thermal behavior of either, the evolution of which is a function of the various lineages’ metabolic rates and other inherited traits and the climates in which they evolve. The question becomes then, as mammal-like reptiles or other high energy reptiles and their low-energy relatives found themselves confronted with a cooling Permian climate, how could their warm-blooded physiologies cope?  The contrast is sharp between the strategies available to the two groups.  Energy consumers could stoke the fire by increasing food intake, grow larger, or even evolve insulation.  Energy conserving lineages had no such options, but relied on outside heat sources, evolving behavioral responses to optimize solar intake, and evolving a heat sensing organ that enabled them to locate the warmest places available with the least expenditure of energy.

    The evolution of the pineal eye, the heat sensing organ that evidently evolved in the lineage ancestral to the snakes and lizards and the tuatara, and hence evolved early in the Permian, was the survival strategy of a reptile with a limited food supply in a cooling climate.  In other vertebrates, including agnatha, the pineal gland is present, and its primary purpose has probably always been as a temperature sensing organ, but it is not at all apparent how this organ could evolve into a sensitive prey detecting device without having first evolved some useful intermediate function that aided the survival of early reptiles.  Such an intermediate function would simply be an extension of the heat sensing function, albeit heat detection which gradually became more sensitive until it could detect heat sources from a distance.  Such an organ is of particular value to a low energy tropotherm finding itself in a sometimes cool environment.  Once fine tuned, this infrared detection could easily be transferred to detecting other warm-blooded reptiles, and once these evolved into ectotherms, to detecting the surviving warm-blooded vertebrates–mammals and birds.  As mentioned, when the saurid and rhynchocephalian lineages diverged, the pineal eye (or at least, some fine-tuned infrared detector) was well developed, and whether it was used at that time for detecting suitable environmental temperatures or for detecting prey, its existence requires that either the heat seekers were tropotherms or that they hunted tropotherms.

    More like those of birds and monotremes, and less like those of temperate amphibians, most reptilian eggs, in order to remain viable, cannot sustain cold temperatures.  The notion that the long road to endothermy entailed first the evolution of eggs that required warmth (unlike the adult reptile forms), and then adults that required warm internal temperatures, highlights the absurdity of the view that obtains till the present, for there could hardly be imagined a more disadvantageous trait for a cold-blooded animal than to have eggs (which formerly required no special heat) evolve the necessity of special temperatures.  Far more tenable is the notion that reptilian tropotherms evolved toward ectothermy at a faster pace than did their embryonic forms, where developmental rates of various tissues are precisely controlled and are highly temperature dependent.  True enough, amphibians along with their eggs, having little selection of water temperatures available, did evolve eggs with the ability to survive variable temperatures, even suspending development when temperatures dropped below critical thresholds, but the notion that this was the primitive condition of reptilian stock flies in the face of the climatic evidence, and requires a leap of faith in the inherent survival advantage of eggs that must keep warm to remain viable. That is, one must postulate some advantage gained that required warm eggs when crossing the terrestrial threshold, so much so that the enormous disadvantage of evolving such vulnerable eggs became minor by comparison. The burden of proof lies therefore with any who defend the status quo.

    So called “cold-blooded” vertebrates have been characterized by the trait of being slow growing, and of having no genetic mechanisms for arresting growth after reaching determined limits of size. According to the prevailing view such mechanisms were only necessitated after the evolution of rapid growth rates enabled by high metabolic rates enabled by efficient heart-lung systems.  The fact is, some of the most primitive vertebrates, like lung fish, for example, have relatively rapid early growth rates as well as arrested growth rates once maximum size is attained, and we are justified in supposing that it is the starvation rations of typical ectotherms that limit their growth rates, and which over time have rendered their original growth limiting mechanisms first irrelevant, and then non-functional.  In the world of natural selection, a slow growing vertebrate is likely to die of causes other than a mechanically unmanageable size.  Others have noted that all the surviving orders of reptiles have reduced in size from the “age of reptiles” till the present.  We may pertinently ask, why?  Is it because their life spans have decreased (greater predation?), or their growth rates have decreased (were they more successful feeders anciently?), or because they really do have maximum size controlling mechanisms?  (True, a part of this size reduction may be attributed to the disappearance of dinosaurs–constituting a reduction in size of both the reptiles’ predators and their prey–but the mere ability to respond to such an altered ecosystem presupposes existing growth control mechanisms.)  If their growth rates have decreased it must have been because their metabolic rates have decreased as a result of their reduced food intake, so that in any case, the more primitive reptiles were more like birds and mammals in their physiological behavior.  Typical ectothermic behavior is thus seen to be a response to competition over time with endotherms: the lower their diet requirements, the less directly they compete with endotherms.  In other words, by diverting to lower metabolic rates, ectotherms avoid competition with endotherms.  And progressive specialization in starvation diets would predict a decrease in size of ectotherms in the same way that restricted diets tend to reduce the size of endotherms–island stranded grazers, for example, in the case of pygmy elephants and rhinos.

    Monotremes and marsupials operate on the average at temperatures several degrees lower than placentals, which fact dovetails with the prevailing view that mammalian physiology has steadily climbed in temperature from a primitive, cold-blooded, reptilian condition. But such a view again ignores the climatic evidence, presupposing that mammalian evolution occurred primarily in the temperate zones of Tertiary like climates, and that the reptilian stock ancestral to mammals had already become ectothermically adapted to a cool Permian climate.  This view requires that tetrapods evolved from a hot, Carboniferous physiology to a heterothermic physiology in the Lower Permian, and to an endothermic physiology quickly enough during the Permian to allow for a survival advantage of fur before the evolution of marsupials and placentals.  Unless, of course, we allow for McNab’s furry poikilotherms.  A better explanation for the lower temperatures of monotremes and marsupials is to be had in recognizing the southern temperate geology of these primitive mammals.   Their physiological behavior has come to terms with the climate of Gondwana, their trail leading through the present continents of South America, Antarctica, and Australia. Having the highest metabolic rates, the birds have most closely retained the tropothermic temperature, followed by the placental mammals, while marsupials have lowered their operating temperatures a little, and the monotremes have even evolved hibernation.

    We have three salient criteria to deal with in tracing the thermal evolution of vertebrates: 1) their metabolic history, represented by a main stock of generally improving peak capacity which gave rise to various offshoots of diminishing metabolic rates; 2) the global climatic history which has placed periodic constraints and impetus on the physiological evolution of vertebrates; and 3) the various physiological and morphological responses of vertebrates to climatic variation as determined largely by their metabolic capacity.  We must begin to separate the peak metabolic history of vertebrates, as exhibited principally by their respiratory capabilities, from their thermal histories, which are a function of their resting energy capacity, climate, and their temperature controlling ability.  Having done so, we will recognize that bone growth patterns, however significant they may be in determining growth rates and the minimum metabolic rates necessary for sustaining those growth rates, are largely irrelevant to the question of the thermal behavior of the vertebrate in question.  The peak metabolic capacity of a typical endotherm is generally tens of times greater than its resting rate, the rate germain to its potential growth rate.  Peak metabolic rates comparable to the rest rates of hummingbirds were already to be found among Silurian and Devonian vertebrates, if we can take the sharks and lungfish as being typical of their first progenitors.

    While it may be that surviving agnatha have a history of cold physiology spanning hundreds of millions of years, many ectotherms have evolved cold tolerant physiologies since the cretaceous, while they have maintained low energy physiologies since the Carboniferous in the case of surviving amphibians, and since the Permian in the case of surviving reptilian lineages.  The ancestry of birds and mammals has been of steadily increasing peak metabolism since at least the Devonian, and of high temperature physiology since the Ordovician, but there is no compelling evidence for the assumption that resting metabolic rates have increased much in the ancestral stock of “warm-blooded” vertebrates since the Mesozoic.

    The foregoing discussion automatically renders superfluous the controversy over whether any or all of the dinosaurs were warm-blooded, as this thesis upstages Bakker’s contention that the common ancestors of dinosaurs and crocodilians were already warm-blooded.  In our view, ectotherms are exceptional, having evolved from high energy vertebrates, and having competed with each other for two hundred million years to see who could survive on the lowest rations.  All dinosaurs were very high energy consumers, as required by the simple physics–the kinematics and thermodynamics of their size and skeletature, and their ability to evolve flight.  (They even discuss the question of fur on Pterosaurs as though it were relevant to determining the metabolism of a flying creature in a warm climate!)  Current notions of their being slow moving predators and fugitives are as untenable as the old notion that brontosaurus was a snorkeler.  So for the mathematically competent paleontologists it came as no surprise that the first fossilized dinosaur heart discovered turned out to be bird-like rather than lizard-like: it was after all, fast-running dinosaurs that evolved the efficient air cooling system that the birds were able to make use of when evolving flight.

    There is inherent in every species the capacity for evolving toward a higher or a lower metabolism in responding to the available food supply or numerous other factors. It is precisely for such a ubiquitous option that we may be confident that there have always been high energy vertebrates since long before the evolution of lungs, and that these have been followed by successively higher energy vertebrates till the extinction of dinosaurs.  The Komodo Dragon gives us some slight indication of the general direction of upper metabolic evolution: without competition from already established high energy vertebrates even a low energy vertebrate (though high for a reptile) can become a stalking predator, dangerous to man and beast.  The same tendency has been at work since the Ordovician, constantly providing lineages of high metabolism, as well as drop-outs with lower energy requirements.

    To summarize our arguments for the continuity of high energy vertebrates, i.e., tropotherms, and for the contention that ectotherms have evolved secondarily, they are as follows:

1) Vertebrate improvements relating to metabolic capacity have been in progress since the Ordovician.

2) Some of the most primitive fish have some of the highest metabolic rates.

3) In the cases of Teleost and Amphibian evolution, the surviving lineages are of undeniably lower metabolic rates than their ancestors, Crocodilians are of almost certainly lower rates than their predecessors, and the other reptilian lineages are very probably of lower metabolic rates than their ancestors.

4) Inefficient locomotion (e.g., that of kangaroos) requires greater metabolic output than does more efficient locomotion (e.g., that of quadrupeds).  Likewise, every other character that has at some time been taken as an indicator of incipient homeothermy can be better explained as an improvement toward more efficient homeothermy, e.g., homeotherms gain a greater survival advantage in evolving fur than do ectotherms.

5)There is always the potential in any species to evolve toward a higher metabolic rate, hence, high energy niches tend to filled, and that by already adapted high energy organisms.

6) Alteration of physiological operating temperature constitutes a formidable adaptive barrier.

7) Evolving improved temperature control and evolving different operating temperatures are mutually exclusive adaptations.  Hence, it is simpler for a tropotherm than for an ectotherm to evolve endothermy.

8) Competition with endotherms and with other ectotherms generally drives ectotherms into progressively lower metabolic behavior.

9) The climate of most of the globe has been warm most of the time.  Hence, tropotherms have always been available to fill high energy niches without altering their operating temperatures.

Arguments for the prevailing view of ectothermic primacy may be summarized as follows:

1) Ectotherms are of primitive skeletal anatomy; i.e., those living vertebrates with the lowest metabolic rates are those that have evolved least in the fossil record.

2) The morphological evolution of the higher vertebrates may be recapitulated with confidence through the classes of fishes, amphibians, and reptiles; i.e., the anatomy of modern ectotherms may be inferred to have been the anatomy of the ancestors of endotherms, as seen even in their embryonic development.

3) Peak metabolic rates have certainly improved over time, leading to those of modern birds and mammals.

4) There is some correlation between peak and resting metabolic rates.

5) Internal temperatures generally increase in conjunction with increased metabolic rates in the evolutionary ladder of vertebrate classes.

6) Recent studies have indicated that many ectotherms are incapable of breathing and running simultaneously, which if true, strongly suggests that this was the primitive condition of tetrapods.

7) There are no high energy “ectotherms” extant.

We answer these points as follows:

1) Once ectothermic behavior is acheived, evolutionary rates decrease due to decreased competition and lower reproductive rates.

2) The physiology of extinct lines–especially their resting metabolic rates–cannot be extrapolated from their morphology. Lungfish and sharks should be given no less weight than other ectotherms in reconstructing that physiology. The present condition of ectotherms is further illusory in that they have survived because of their decreasing metabolism while competing with those high energy tetrapods that evolved into dinosaurs, birds, and mammals.

3) Peak metabolic rates are of uncertain bearing on resting rates, which have been potentially sufficient for the temperature needs of vertebrates throughout reconstructed climatic conditions.

4) While some quantitative relationships have been established between maximum and minimum metabolic rates in anurans, these cannot be extrapolated with any confidence to extinct groups of obviously much higher maximum rates. That is, the ratio of maximum to minumum rates of tropotherms has certainly increased since the Devonian, e.g., between lungfish and hummingbirds.

5) The current distribution of thermal behavior across vertebrate classes can hardly be taken to represent the historical one in light of the climatic history of the globe, especially considering the short span of the Permian in which cold-blooded reptilians are supposed to have evolved.

6) Clearly, lungfish have no need of breathing while they swim rapidly, and it is conceivable that limbs evolved and a population of amphibians adapted to a low energy niche before evolving efficient terrestrial respiration. While anaerobic locomotion is not intrinsically incompatible with our thesis, considering the many marine mammals and even aquatic birds that engage in such activity, the hypothesis that the reptilian stock ancestral to birds, mammals, and lizards was unable to run and breathe simultaneously is hardly compatible with our hypothesis. Just as crocodiles are not likely to have evolved a four-chambered heart while exhibiting their modern behavior, neither were early tetrapods likely to have evolved a three-chambered heart while not capable of sustained locomotion.

    Lizards are less limited by their cardiorespiratory potential than by their impoverishment of red blood cells, but the consequent shortage of oxygen carrying capacity is still adequate to the low dietary intake.  The weak link, then, even in a lizard’s peak metabolic capacity is its food intake, not its respiratory capacity, since its heart and lungs had long since evolved a greater capability than it is presently able to make use of, as its ectothermy is only secondarily derived from a former high energy physiology.  A lack of stamina in lizards has probably become an advantage–when forced to stay motionless at regular intervals lizards increase their abilitiy to escape detection, so that once faced with avian predation, saurids may well have encountered a situation where those lineages with the least aerobic capacity had the best chance of survival.

7) Considering the minimal advantage insulation provides tropical vertebrates, one might well ask, why have no high energy reptiles survived till the present.  In fact this question is inconsequential in the wake of the overriding question, why did no dinosaurs survive the K/T catastrophe?  Like modern mammals, modern reptiles have radiated to fill the vacuum left by the dinosaur extinction.  Modern reptiles, in many forms, the cacti of the animal kingdom, returned from their desert diaspora to repopulate the tropics.  All high energy reptiles disappeared with the end of the Cretaceous.

    While no certainty can be obtained in reconstructing the metabolic history of vertebrates, the preponderance of arguments is on the side of the derivative status of ectothermy, rather than of endothermy, as has so long been taken for granted. Ectotherms are as likely to evolve into endotherms as ratites are likely to re-evolve flight.  Like island-stranded featherless birds, ectotherms are physiologically stranded on a comparative evolutionary dead end.

                                                                             –AGF

 No mention of coelecanths?

Heterothermy?

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Isaac saved, Abraham butchered (by Wikipedia)

Abraham in Wikipedia (August, 2012)

“Joseph Blenkinsopp writes that a common view among modern scholars is that the Genesis story of Abraham was not transmitted by oral traditions but originated from literary circles of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE… (Joseph Blenkisopp, ‘Judaism, the first phase,’ p.39)” (Wikipedia, sv. “Abraham,” retrieved Aug. 7, 2012).

“Two conclusions about Abraham are now widely held in biblical scholarship: the first is that, except in the triad “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” he is not clearly and unambiguously attested in the Bible earlier than the Babylonian exile; the second is that he became, in the Persian period, a model for those who would return from Babylon to Judah.[20] Beyond this the Abraham story (and those of Isaac and Jacob/Israel) served a theological purpose following the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Davidic kingship: despite the loss of these things, Yahweh’s dealings with the ancestors provided a historical foundation on which hope for the future could be built.[11] There is basic agreement that his connection with Haran, Shechem and Bethel is secondary and originated when he became identified as the father of Jacob and ancestor of the northern tribes; his association with Mamre and Hebron, on the other hand (in the south, in the territory of Jerusalem and Judah), suggest that this region was the original home of his religion.[12]” (Wikipedia, sv. “Abraham,” retrieved Aug. 8, 2012).

The author(s) and the typical reader of the second paragraph may not immediately grasp its internal incoherence, incoherent in that it makes a claim for a post-exilic origin for the Abrahamic tradition while in the same breath making a case for its pre-exilic origin. That is, the “widely held” conclusions at the start of the paragraph contradict the “basic agreement” at its end, which “basic agreement” involves pre-exilic stages in the tradition’s evolution. The author(s) have merged conflicting viewpoints into a single paragraph, which viewpoints reflect an evolving modern scholarship in the same way the evolving Abrahamic tradition seems to have merged early southern and later northern shrine legends into a single story.

Sorry to say, much of the recent OT scholarship is rather idiosyncratic and retrogressive, and would be better ignored in an encyclopedia article. In the 19th century some of the most brilliant minds in Europe tackled the problem of Pentateuchal origins, and while much remained unsolved or insoluble, and while subsequent progress certainly has been made both in discovery and analysis, there has been a notable drop in the quality of biblical research in recent decades, or should we say, a proliferation of publication of decidedly inferior scholarly quality. Good books and bad books appear; what is a novice to do? Here is where a work like the Encyclopedia Britannica has a distinct advantage over Wikipedia: professional peer review is always in play. The volunteers at Wikipedia sometimes get it right, as with their dismissal of I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates, or the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship.

But often enough they are the professors of junk science, as with the superbird myth (the peregrine falcon’s supposed 240mph stoop) and with Abraham. Granted, the Graff-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis has come under considerable scrutiny in recent decades, but it is hardly in shambles, and no claim of a purely post-exilic Abraham can stand while the Documentary Hypothesis stands–the legend of Abraham is an intrinsic part of the documents, and the documents are supposed to have spanned five centuries, the majority of them pre-exilic.

In the first place we should remark that the Qumran discoveries in the middle of the 20th century doubled the age of the oldest known (written) Abrahamic text in the original (Hebrew) language, but that was hardly taken as an argument to extend the tradition’s age from the Medieval to the Common Era. But to spoof Blenkinsopp’s reasoning we might well claim that the “unambiguous evidence” had in fact been extended by a millennium. Just as we are confident that the scribal tradition of Abraham was much older than the surviving manuscripts, so we may be confident that the oral tradition was much older than the earliest manuscripts. Let us examine a few of the arguments that can be made for a pre-exilic Abrahamic tradition, for an ante-textual, oral Abrahamic tradition, and for “unambiguous” evidence regarding the antiquity of the Abrahamic tradition.

A Case for a Pre-exilic Abraham

1. yalad is used (rather than holid) in the J Abraham genealogies (Gen 22:23, 25:2); yalad (masc.) in the sense of ‘beget’ is clearly pre-exilic (see Jer 30:6[H], where yalad [masc.] = ‘give birth’ [impossibly]; cf. 16:3 where holid = ‘beget’). That is, yalad in the sense of ‘beget’ was replaced by holid before the exile. This is “unambiguous evidence.” Accordingly Abraham’s pedigree at Gen 11:26 is attributed to P and is post-exilic, as is the promise of Ishmael at 17:20, while the genealogy of 22:20-24 is J, c.10th century BC.

2. Beer-Sheba: Isaac names the well at 26:33(J), Abraham at 21:31(E). The different explanations (seva’ ['abundance' --following on 26:22: Rehoboth = "Room Enough"; Seva' = "More than Enough," "Surplus"] versus sheva’ ['oath']) imply different dialects with variant sin/shin pronunciation (as Jud 12:6). Are we to suppose that a post-exilic author intentionally created the contradiction? Such variant and contradictory traditions must have evolved orally in mutual (sometimes dialectal) isolation, not in a late scribe’s notebook.

3. Numerous place name substitutions (explanations) indicate a long history involving onomastic discontinuity, and imply remote antiquity; e.g., Gen 14:2,3,17, 23:2 (also Jud 1:10,11), etc. Are all these contrived (pseudo-archaic)?

4. A late legitimizing of the altars through their attribution to the patriarchs would run counter to D/P attempts to outlaw the shrines.

5. Gen 14 seems to be motivated by the Jerusalem priesthood’s wish to legitimize itself in the eyes of the Abrahamic tribes after David captured the city. If so, it would date to the time of J and David (10th century BC).

6. Jud 19 > Gen 19 (or vice versa?), apparently through oral transmission (see Addenda).

7. Variant accounts of Hagar’s (Abraham’s concubine) expulsion: 16:6ff(J), 21:10ff(E). Did P invent a redundant and superfluous version of his own fiction?

8. Other Abrahamic traditions have parallels with other patriarchs: wife/sister stories, well names, etc. That is, same story, different characters. The legends are transmitted orally, modified to suit the audience and setting (the sitz im leben). How did there come to be a J and an E Abraham?

9. Whereas Gen 11:28,31 has Abraham’s homeland in “Ur of the Chaldees,” Gen 22:20-24 has Abraham’s brother Nahor as ancestor to the Chaldees and Arameans, so that Abraham’s birthplace is called “Ur of the Chaldees (Chasdim)” before the birth of Chesed, their eponymous ancestor. That is, whether we attribute the anachronistic “Ur of the Chaldees” to P or J, it remains anachronistic even internally within Genesis, not only by modern criteria (which have the Chaldees occupy Ur in the 11th century BC).

10. The post-exilic introduction of an Israelite patriarchal ancestor whose posterity includes most of its pagan neighbors would run counter to D/P doctrine of election. As the genealogical tradition progresses with the appearance of Keturah, Abraham further usurps Shem’s place as the general Semitic ancestor (25:1ff). Why should the father of the peculiar monotheists be also the father of Ishmael and Esau, of the Edomites and Arab tribes? Why invent an eclectic ancestor for the chosen people when Jacob is suitably available? And as with the Captivity, Jacob migrates to Syria and returns to Canaan, while Abraham only migrates out of Syria. Accordingly Jacob would make for a better candidate for post-exilic invention for any determined to do such violence to the text.

11. The morality of J’s Abraham is primitive: J is not embarrassed to have Abraham pimp his wife (Gen 12:11ff) and lie about her status. E allows no such lying or successful pimping (20:1ff; but does have Abraham attempt to offer human sacrifice–see next). Apparently the Abraham legend was old enough or sufficiently widespread to pass through disparate ethical traditions. The priests may dictate the ethos, but the ethos dictates the bards’ motifs. The priests of the exile would not invent an Abraham anything like J’s or E’s.

12. The binding of Isaac (Gen 22 [E]): The Elohistic Abraham is depicted as flourishing in an environment where human sacrifice is countenanced (as at Jud 11:39). Accordingly the narrative must have evolved in a milieu where the practice was not yet taboo. D and P would not have been likely even to toy with the idea of human sacrifice: D because the practice had not been fully eradicated, and P because it presents such an embarrassing, primitive, and contradictory picture of God’s dealing with the “father of the faithful.”

13. The triad, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” appears in Deuteronomy as well as in the Priestly source. Deuteronomy has long and with good reason been held by most to be the book discovered in the temple (2Ki 22:8) when young Josiah was king (649-609 BC). Attempts to make D post-date P must contend (e.g.) with the fact that Aaronide priests are never mentioned in D or Samuel/Kings while they monopolize P and Chronicles. In D priest and Levite are synonymous. In P Levites are the would be usurpers of the now exclusively Aaronide priesthood (Num 16:10).

14. The Ur > Haran and Haran > Canaan migrations are best explained as variant accounts of a single migration. That is, they indicate divergent oral tradition in antiquity. But assuming otherwise, if Abraham was to serve as a prototype for the exiles, why is he given a way station in Haran (in present day southern Turkey)? Babylon is much closer to the Sumerian Ur than to Haran. If we attribute an Ur > Haran migration to P, why is this migration instigated by the pagan Terah, while the Haran > Canaan trip is commanded by God? In other words, if P had invented Abraham, he would have God command him to move directly from Babel to Canaan. If, as is likely, Ur Chasdim was generically analogous to Haran (that is, an Ur not in Sumer, but situated near Haran), why is Abraham’s home so far north of Babylon? Neither Wooley’s nor Gordon’s Ur suits Blenkinsopp’s Abraham. See addenda.

15. The reason J differs with the rest as to whether the patriarchs were acquainted with the theophoric ‘Yahweh,’ is that all but J considered Moses to have been the first beneficiary of the revelation of the NAME. That is, J is not indoctrinated with that part of the Exodus tradition which has Yahweh newly reveal his name to Moses (Ex 6:3), or with the belief that Moses was the first to distinguish between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals. J’s Noah makes this distinction; P’s does not. Thus at least J’s Abraham is older than the Exodus tradition, and the Exodus tradition is older than the Exile.

16. The Sabbath is never mentioned by name in Genesis or Judges, and is only referred to in Genesis in the P creation. The patriarchs seem oblivious to the institution, as we might expect in an independent pastoral society (but not among caravaneers). Settled Israel is well acquainted with it, but for them it is synonymous with the full moon. The weekly Sabbath was apparently a post-exilic institution, and when the priests transformed the Sabbath into a weekly event, at the same time they invented the institution of a religious seven-day week independent of the lunar month, unless this was borrowed from Babylonia. The raison d’etre for the Sabbath is provided by P (after the exile): God rested on the seventh day. If the patriarchs had been of post-exilic invention they would have no doubt been portrayed as faithful Sabbath keepers, shunning the shrines.

The foregoing is not intended to minimize P’s considerable innovation. Ezra and his contemporaries did publish the Torah, and are responsible for much if not the majority of what would become the law and religion of the Jews. As pertaining to Abraham however, not much more than the advent of circumcision is uniquely attributed by P to the patriarch after the exile, and we cannot be sure this was in fact P’s innovation (its ascription to Abraham, that is, not the rite, which was much older than Abraham).  Abraham’s tradition is clearly pre-exilic, and certainly was well established by the end of the 2nd millennium BC as far as the J evidence goes. By J’s time it had already diverged considerably into independent oral lineages.

As for the question of a historical Abraham, the strongest argument is the metaphysical: when Israel was few in number they lauded an ancestor who was promised a posterity that would be of benefit to humanity, and in retrospect we speak of Abrahamic Religion, espoused by two billion monotheists who trace their belief to the ancient patriarch’s descendents.

______________________________________________________________________
Addenda:

#6. Cf. Gen 19:5-8 with Jud 19:22-24:

Gen 19:5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. 6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, 7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. 8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Jud 19:22 Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him. 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly. 24 Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.

The multiple parallels and near equivalence of dialogue are not likely to be due to chance, nor is such invention or confusion on the part of the story tellers easily attributed to post-exilic scribal activity.
 
#14.

     1st stage/version       2nd stage/version

1. A family member dies     11:28 Haran         11:32 Terah
2. Intended destination       11:31 Canaan       12:5 Canaan
3. Starting point                   11:31 Ur                Haran
4. End point                          11:31 Haran         12:5 Canaan
5. Initiated by                      11:31 Terah         12:5 Abraham
6. Left behind                       11:31 Nahor         12:4,5 Nahor

Much of the argument depends on the interpretation of the word moledeth –does it mean ‘birth place’ or ‘kindred’?  If ‘birthplace,’ then both Ur and Haran are given as Abraham’s homeland. Contrary to Sagg’s assertions, LXX only translates ‘kindred’ (syngeneias) here at Gen 12:1–nowhere else. Gordon never invokes the single migration hypothesis in support of his northern Ur.  Abraham’s wanderings can be better synchronised with those of the ancient Bene-yaminu (=Benjaminites?) than with the returning Babylonian exiles.  –AGF

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Originally posted on agfosterjr:

The Case for a Pre-exilic Abrahamic Tradition

1. yalad is used (rather than holid) in the J Abraham genealogies (Gen 22:23, 25:2); yalad (masc.) in the sense of ‘beget’ is clearly pre-exilic (see Jer 30:6[H], where yalad [masc.] = ‘give birth’ [impossibly]; cf. 16:3 where holid = ‘beget’). That is, yalad in the sense of ‘beget’ was replaced by holid before the exile. This is “unambiguous evidence.” Accordingly Abraham’s pedigree at Gen 11:26 is attributed to P and is post-exilic, as is the promise of Ishmael at 17:20, while the genealogy of 22:20-24 is J, c.10th century BC.

2. Beer-Sheba: Isaac names the well at 26:33(J), Abraham at 21:31(E). The different explanations (seva’ ['abundance' --following on 26:22: Rehoboth = "Room Enough"; Seva' = "More than Enough," "Surplus"] versus sheva’ ['oath']) imply different dialects with variant sin/shin pronunciation (as Jud 12:6). Are we to suppose that a…

View original 1,097 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Case for a …

The Case for a Pre-exilic Abrahamic Tradition

1. yalad is used (rather than holid) in the J Abraham genealogies (Gen 22:23, 25:2); yalad (masc.) in the sense of ‘beget’ is clearly pre-exilic (see Jer 30:6[H], where yalad [masc.] = ‘give birth’ [impossibly]; cf. 16:3 where holid = ‘beget’). That is, yalad in the sense of ‘beget’ was replaced by holid before the exile. This is “unambiguous evidence.” Accordingly Abraham’s pedigree at Gen 11:26 is attributed to P and is post-exilic, as is the promise of Ishmael at 17:20, while the genealogy of 22:20-24 is J, c.10th century BC.

2. Beer-Sheba: Isaac names the well at 26:33(J), Abraham at 21:31(E). The different explanations (seva’ ['abundance' --following on 26:22: Rehoboth = "Room Enough"; Seva' = "More than Enough," "Surplus"] versus sheva’ ['oath']) imply different dialects with variant sin/shin pronunciation (as Jud 12:6). Are we to suppose that a post-exilic author intentionally created the contradiction? Such variant and contradictory traditions must have evolved orally in mutual (sometimes dialectal) isolation, not in a late scribe’s notebook.

3. Numerous place name substitutions (explanations) indicate a long history involving onomastic discontinuity, and imply remote antiquity; e.g., Gen 14:2,3,17, 23:2 (also Jud 1:10,11), etc. Are all these contrived (pseudo-archaic)?

4. A late legitimizing of the altars through their attribution to the patriarchs would run counter to D/P attempts to outlaw the shrines.

5. Gen 14 seems to be motivated by the Jerusalem priesthood’s wish to legitimize itself in the eyes of the Abrahamic tribes after David captured the city. If so, it would date to the time of J and David (10th century BC).

6. Jud 19 > Gen 19 (or vice versa?), apparently through oral transmission (see Addenda).

7. Variant accounts of Hagar’s (Abraham’s concubine) expulsion: 16:6ff(J), 21:10ff(E). Did P invent a redundant and superfluous version of his own fiction?

8. Other Abrahamic traditions have parallels with other patriarchs: wife/sister stories, well names, etc. That is, same story, different characters. The legends are transmitted orally, modified to suit the audience and setting (the sitz im leben). How did there come to be a J and an E Abraham?

9. Whereas Gen 11:28,31 has Abraham’s homeland in “Ur of the Chaldees,” Gen 22:20-24 has Abraham’s brother Nahor as ancestor to the Chaldees and Arameans, so that Abraham’s birthplace is called “Ur of the Chaldees (Chasdim)” before the birth of Chesed, their eponymous ancestor. That is, whether we attribute the anachronistic “Ur of the Chaldees” to P or J, it remains anachronistic even internally within Genesis, not only by modern criteria (which have the Chaldees occupy Ur in the 11th century BC).

10. The post-exilic introduction of an Israelite patriarchal ancestor who’s posterity includes most of its pagan neighbors would run counter to D/P doctrine of election. As the genealogical tradition progresses with the appearance of Keturah Abraham further usurps Shem’s place as the general Semitic ancestor (25:1ff). Why should the father of the peculiar monotheists be also the father of Ishmael and Esau, of the Edomites and Arab tribes? Why invent an eclectic ancestor for the chosen people when Jacob is suitably available? And as with the Captivity, Jacob migrates to Syria and returns to Canaan, while Abraham only migrates out of Syria. Accordingly Jacob would make for a better candidate for post-exilic invention for any determined to do such violence to the text.

11. The morality of J’s Abraham is primitive: J is not embarrassed to have Abraham pimp his wife (Gen 12:11ff) and lie about her status. E allows no such lying or successful pimping (20:1ff; but E does have Abraham attempt to offer human sacrifice–see next). Apparently the Abraham legend was old enough or sufficiently widespread to pass through disparate ethical traditions. The priests may dictate the ethos, but the ethos dictates the bards’ motiffs. The priests of the Diaspora would not invent an Abraham anything like J’s or E’s.

12. The binding of Isaac (Gen 22 [E]): The elohistic Abraham is depicted as flourishing in an environment where human sacrifice is countenanced (as at Jud 11:39). Accordingly the narrative must have evolved in a milieu where the practice was not yet taboo. D and P would not have been likely even to toy with the idea of human sacrifice: D because the practice had not been fully eradicated, and P because it presents such an embarrassing, primitive, and contradictory picture of God’s dealing with the “father of the faithful.”

13. The triad, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” appears in Deuteronomy as well as in the Priestly source. Deuteronomy has long and with good reason been held by most to be the book discovered in the temple (2Ki 22:8) when young Josiah was king (649-609 BC). Attempts to make D post-date P must contend (e.g.) with the fact that Aaronide priests are never mentioned in D or Samuel/Kings while they monopolize P and Chronicles. In D priest and Levite are synonymous. In P Levites are the would be usurpers of the now exclusively Aaronide priesthood (Num 16:10).

14. The Ur > Haran and Haran > Canaan migrations are best explained as variant accounts of a single migration. That is, they indicate divergent oral tradition in antiquity. But assuming otherwise, if Abraham was to serve as a prototype for the exiles, why is he given a way station in Haran (in present day southern Turkey)? Babylon is much closer to the Sumerian Ur than to Haran. If we attribute an Ur > Haran migration to P, why is this migration instigated by the pagan Terah, while the Haran > Canaan trip is commanded by God? In other words, if P had invented Abraham, he would have God command him to move directly from Babel to Canaan. If, as is likely, Ur Chasdim was generically analogous to Haran (that is, an Ur not in Sumer, but situated near Haran), why is Abraham’s home so far north of Babylon? Neither Wooley’s nor Gordon’s Ur suits Blenkinsopp’s Abraham.

15. The reason J differs with the rest as to whether the patriarchs were acquainted with the theophoric ‘Yahweh,’ is that all but J considered Moses to have been the first beneficiary of the revelation of the NAME. That is, J is not indoctrinated with that part of the Exodus tradition which has Yahweh newly reveal his name to Moses (Ex 6:3), or with the belief that Moses was the first to distinguish between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals. J’s Noah makes this distinction; P’s does not. Thus at least J’s Abraham is older than the Exodus tradition, and the Exodus tradition is older than the Exile.

16. The Sabbath is never mentioned by name in Genesis or Judges, and is only referred to in Genesis in the P creation. The patriarchs seem oblivious to the institution, as we might expect in an independent pastoral society (but not among caravaneers). Settled Israel is well acquainted with it, but for them it is synonymous with the full moon. The weekly Sabbath was apparently a post-exilic institution, and when the priests transformed the Sabbath into a weekly event, at the same time they invented the institution of a religious seven-day week independent of the lunar month, unless this was borrowed from Babylonia. The raison d’etre for the Sabbath is provided by P (after the exile): God rested on the seventh day. If the patriarchs were of post-exilic invention they would have no doubt been portrayed as faithful Sabbath keepers, shunning the shrines.

 

Aside | Posted on by | 1 Comment

Free Will 1984

Free Will

  A Faithful Copy (except for present format) of a Letter Sent to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

  Which was “lost” or ignored

  
 
3555 South Oakwood Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84109
October 19, 1984
 
Dialogue
Editorial Office
202 West 300 North
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103
 
To the editors:
 
Concerning the incompatibility of human free will and divine foreknowledge
(“The Mormon Concept of God” by Blake T. Ostler, Dialogue 17:2, Summer 1984),
I am not convinced either by the formal proof Ostler provides (p.69, n.11),
or by his rebuttal of Augustine’s objections to that line of reasoning
(pp.69ff.). I would handle the problem this way:
 
Postulate 1:
There exists, temporally distinct from reality, truth, of and
concerning reality. (Explanation: Tuesday, Jones mows his lawn. It is true
Wednesday that on Tuesday Jones mowed his lawn, although on Wednesday the
reality of Tuesday no longer exists.)
 
Postulate 2:
Truth is motivated or generated by reality; i.e., it is secon-
dary to reality. That is, truth is of, and concerns reality; reality is
not of or concerning truth. (Explanation: The truth on Wednesday that
Jones mowed his lawn on Tuesday, does not motivate the reality on Tuesday
that Jones mowed his lawn. Wednesday’s truth is of, and concerns Tuesday’s
reality; it is motivated or generated by Tuesday’s reality, and not vice
versa.)
 
Postulate 3:
As truth of reality may exist after the reality it concerns
ceased to exist, so there may exist truth of a reality which does not yet
exist. (Explanation: As it is true on Wednesday that Jones mowed/mows his
lawn on Tuesday, so it is true on Monday that Jones mows/will mow his lawn
on Tuesday.)
 
Postulate 4:
Humans have free will. In any particular exercise of free
will, a human has the power within himself to bring about either or any
of at least two mutually exclusive events.
 
Discussion:
Postulates 1 and 2 coincide with human experience. That is,
human experience entails a partial knowledge of previously existing
reality. While postulates 1 and 2 suggest the third, the third has no
relevance to human experience. Humans do not have access to a truth that
precedes reality except as incidentally, where a future reality may be
predicted through extrapolation from a prior reality. In other words
humans do not possess on Monday the truth they partially possess on
Wednesday concerning Tuesday’s reality. Though it is postulated that it
is true Monday that Jones will mow his lawn Tuesday, that truth has no
relevance to humans since it is not available to them.
The notion of divine omniscience entails the idea that God does have
access to truth which precedes reality, and which is still of, and concerning,
i.e., secondary to, motivated or generated by, that reality.
[Page 2]
Definition 1:
God’s omniscience consists of access to all truth.
Definition 2:
God’s foreknowledge consists of access to truth of, and
concerning, future events.
Theorem 1:
God’s foreknowledge of reality does not determine that reality.
Proof:
This follows directly, since God’s foreknowledge consists simply of
access to truth preceding and concerning reality, which truth is postulated
or defined as being secondary to, or generated by reality, and not vice versa.
Theorem 2:
God’s foreknowledge is compatible with human free will.
Proof:
Human exercise of free will pertains to reality. God’s foreknowledge
of reality consists of access to truth concerning reality before that reality
exists. That truth is postulated or defined as being distinct from, and
motivated by reality, and not vice versa. Therefore God’s foreknowledge is
of and concerning, secondary to, motivated or generated by, that reality,
which may consist in part of events brought about by free agents. God’s
access to that truth does not affect the truth, nor does the truth motivate
the outcome of the event which it concerns.

Thus we have proof of each of two opposing theses. One of the two is
fallacious. If our proof is valid, it must be possible to show where
Ostler’s goes wrong:
“1. If I am free with respect to X, then I have a genuine option to do or
refrain from doing X.” –OK.
“2. If an option is genuine (i.e., not merely apparent), then both doing
and refraining from doing X must be logically possible.” –While the intent
of this statement is clear on the surface, it is so poorly stated as to be
ambiguous: it may be interpreted to mean that “both doing and refraining
from doing X” must be simultaneously “logically possible,” to guarantee a
“genuine” rather than an “apparent” option. While admittedly such an absurd
interpretation was not intended, the force of this observation will be seen
below. A philosopher can never be too careful in his semantic formulation
of an argument. Such statements as “…when freedom is conceived in this
stronger way a major problem arises if God foresees precisely what must
happen” (Ostler, p.69), are all too common in typical treatment of this
problem. Here “will” should be substituted for “must” to avoid the tautology,
i.e., to avoid incorporating the deduction within the premise.
“3. God exists and has foreknowledge (i.e., for all X, if X, then God knows
that X).” –OK
“4. Whatever God knows (infallibly believes) is true.” –This seemingly
self-evident statement in fact serves an important and deceptive function,
which can be appreciated when considered in light of the opposing proof.
Statement 4 serves to define “truth” as emanating from or dependent on
God’s knowledge, which is for its part taken to be independent and self-
existent. No attempt is made to distinguish this “truth” from reality,
or to explicitly define its relationship to reality.
“5. Hence, if God believes that I will do X, then it is analytic that I will
do X (3,4).” –This does follow from steps 3 and 4, but the problems inherited
from step 4 remain.
“6. If it is analytic that I will do X, then refraining from doing X is not
logically possible (5).” –This correctly follows from step 5. At this
point we must analyze our objections to step 4 as they apply to step 6.
Obviously if it is true that I will do X, it cannot also be true that I
will refrain from doing X. But this possibility, of doing both of two
mutually exclusive deeds, that is, our absurd interpretation of step 2, is
now required in order to satisfy step 2′s definition of a “genuine” option.
[Page 3]
“7. Hence, I do not have a genuine option to do or refrain from doing X
(2,3,6).” –Rather, this should be stated in the language of step 2, from
which it supposedly derives: “Hence, I do not have a genuine option to do
and
refrain from doing X.” –A rather obvious deduction.
“8. Hence, I am not free with respect to any morally significant action X
(1,2,7).” –Given the definition now assumed by “genuine option”, this is
certainly true; we are not “free” (i.e., capable) of doing simultaneously
anything and its opposite.
The argument indeed flows semantically from start to finish, but the problem
has been conceived and formulated in such confusion that there was no chance
of arriving at a significant conclusion. In contrast to the first argument,
the latter 1) does not take into account a ‘truth’ which exists temporally
independent of reality; 2) does not allow for a ‘truth’ which is always
secondary to reality. Its ‘truth’ is derived from God’s knowledge and then
conflated with ‘reality’. It ignores any generative relationship between
outcomes of choices made (subsets of reality) and God’s foreknowledge of
these outcomes (truth, or access to truth), thus never coming to grips with
the utter circularity of the argument (the event motivates God’s foreknowledge
of the event, which in turn motivates the event, cancelling the possibility
of an alternative event). And in all this the philosophers in question
congratulate themselves at sidestepping any considerations of causality!
In brief, this argument is only valid on the premise that God’s knowledge
motivates all reality (which premise automatically precludes free will),
or by a definition of free will consisting of “genuine” options of being
able to do a thing and not do it at the same time. Since the first argument
is not based on such premises, it arrives at a different conclusion, where
free will and divine omniscience are compatible.
Now, if Augustine was right after all, in his objection to the incompatibility
of divine omniscience and human free will, of what import is that to Mormon
theology? Both are fundamentally incorporated into Joseph Smith’s theology.
Several scriptures expressly affirm God’s omniscience (2Ne 9:20, Al 7:13,
26:35, Mrm 8:17, Mro 7:22, Mss 1:6; for references to free will see e.g.,
2Ne 2:27, 10:23), while two attest specifically to his absolute foreknowledge:
“I know the end from the beginning” (Abr 2:8); and “…according to his
foreknowledge of all things” (Al 13:7).
Additionally, we have a number of accounts which have as their basis the
theology explicitly taught in the scriptures already cited. Nephi witnesses
in vivid detail Mary’s beauty (1Ne 11:5), the baptism of Jesus, his ministry
and crucifixion (1Ne 11:27-33), and the destruction of his own nation
(1Ne 15:5). The promise of Nephite destruction becomes a dated prophecy
at Alma 45:10. Nephi’s detailed prediction of the murderer’s confession at
Hel 9:25-27 echoes the tale at Mrk 14:13-16; in both accounts, either fore-
knowledge is required, or the predicted behavior is impelled (i.e., not free).
According to Joseph Smith’s theology, God’s prophets could preach sermons
custom made to future audiences (2Ne 29:5-6), since the prophets could be
shown their future deeds (Mrm 8:35). The solution Joseph Smith provided
for the loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, that is, a replacement
which corresponded chronologically to the lost history, was one that assumed
or required detailed foreknowledge on God’s part. In fact the classical
concept of prophecy–one that distinguishes between promise (contingent),
prognosis (extrapolated), and prophecy (future history), so thoroughly
embedded in Judeao-Christian and LDS scripture, always assumes divine fore-
knowledge. For fairly clear-cut examples in the Old Testament, consider
[Page 4]
Joseph’s prophetic dreams (Gen 40), or the traditional and facile attri-
bution to Isaiah of a prophecy naming Cyrus as Israel’s deliverer (Is 44:28,
45:1).
But more fundamental to the dependance of God’s providence on his foreknowledge
in the Mormon view, is the doctrine of atonement. It is no accident that
the most explicit statement concerning God’s absolute foreknowledge (Al 13:7)
occurs within a discussion of “a preparatory redemption” (Al 13:3). Jacob’s
exclamation of admiration for God’s omniscience (2Ne 9:20) similarly occurs
in a discussion of the atonement: Jacob apparently refers to God’s ability
to foresee the need of a redemption, which foresight prevented mankind’s
universal damnation. In Joseph Smith’s doctrine, Christianity predated the
mortal Christ. Faith and repentance could lead to a remission of sins
centuries before the atoning sacrifice was performed (Enos 6:8). From
God’s vantage point that sacrifice was as though present, far in advance
of its reality. It was efficacious before it was effected. And only
Christ could carry it out. There was only one Begotten Son of God; no
replacement was waiting in the wings. Christ was Jehovah, and the future
redeeming “condescension” (1Ne 11:16) consisted of the fact that “God him-
self ” (Mos 15:1), “the very Eternal Father” (Mos 16:15), would assume a
mortal existence. As a man he would be tempted, exercising moral free will,
thus incurring the possibility of committing sin, any commission of which
would have undone the plan of salvation. Moreover Jesus seriously contem-
plated withdrawing from his mission’s consumation (Mt 26:39, 42: cf. D&C 19:18-
19). Jesus was careful to leave the final decision in his Father’s hands,
since Jesus himself held the real option of declining to participate in the
redeeming act. But God perceived in advance the success of the Redeemer’s
mission. God’s providence took into account the truth of all reality,
however impossible it was to extrapolate that reality from know conditions.
And what was known to God could be shown to Nephi and Enoch (Mss 7:47) as
easily as to any who should live after the Savior’s mortal life.
There may exist methodologies which will cast into doubt the historiography
of these testimonies, but these do not yet include proofs of the incompati-
bility of divine foreknowledge and human free will. Jacob 4:12-13 nicely
summarizes the discussion: “And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you
these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to
a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection
and the world to come? Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him
prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth
and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and
of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested
unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls.”
The last sentence brings to mind D&C 93:24, which accurately apprehends
the relationship of truth to reality: “And truth is knowledge of things
as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” While for our
purposes it was preferable to speak of “truth” in the abstract, floating
state, the prophet justifiably equates truth with someone’s knowledge,
presumably God’s knowledge. Far better to equate God’s knowledge with
“truth” than with the “reality” which of God is known.
A. G. Foster, Jr.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

 Basica — In …

 

Basica — In A Nutshell

 

D&C 136:37: “… from the days of Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Jesus and his apostles, and from Jesus and his apostles to Joseph Smith…”

 

This should be contrasted with “mine apostles” at 29:12, 63:21, 84:63, 108, 95:9, where as at the quoted 136:37, the apostles mentioned are Jesus’ apostles from the New Testament. Thus in all the references except 136:37 it is Jesus who speaks, while in Section 136 it is not. Then it remains to be noted that the mouthpiece of Section 136 is Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith. If this seem trivial happenstance, we might further point out that all of Joseph Smith’s revelations are given by Jesus, so that Brigham Young’s concept of the divine revealer is clearly unique in the Doctrine and Covenants, and quite distinct from Joseph Smith’s: for Young it is God, the Father of Jesus, who speaks his revealed word to man.

Concordantly Brigham Young equated Jehovah with God, the Father of Jesus, as did most of his contemporaries, while Joseph Smith clearly did not: the God who revealed himself to Smith in the name of Jesus Christ was the same God who revealed himself to Israel by the name of Jehovah. Brigham Young popularized the title “our elder brother,” and introduced the phrase “the only begotten in the flesh,” to describe Jesus, which titles have found a permanent place in the Mormon liturgy, though conspicuous by their absence in LDS canonized scripture, not to mention their incompatibility with Joseph Smith’s doctrine. Soon after the deaths of Brigham Young and Orson Pratt proponents of the identity of Jesus with Jehovah began to assert themselves, most notably George Reynolds in 1881 and Thomas W. Brookbank in 1887, culminating in the publication of Talmage’s Jesus the Christ in 1915 and the “Doctrinal Exposition” of 1916.

So the Church had returned to the doctrine espoused by Joseph Smith, at least in name: Jesus was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. But he was still called “our elder brother,” and “the only begotten in the flesh.” More importantly, no Mormon would ever think of praying to Jesus–church apostle Bruce R. McConkie would go so far as to condemn as heresy the notion of obtaining a personal relationship with Jesus while at the same time asserting the identification of Jesus with Jehovah. So the half measures of Talmage and the First Presidency early in the 20th century had in some serious respects created more problems than they solved: Jesus was Jehovah, Jehovah was God, but Jesus was not God, at least not God on a par with the God of the Old Testament to whom all prayer was addressed. The decalogue forbade prayer to all but Jehovah; McConkie forbade prayer to Jesus; yet Jesus was Jehovah! And one might search in vain for any recognition of the paradox by LDS theologians and modern critics alike, let alone any attempt to reconcile it.

That this paradox has its origins solely with Brigham Young and his successors and not at all with Joseph Smith’s teaching is easy to prove. As mentioned, all of Smith’s revelations come from Jesus, and it is clear that he prays to the same God who reveals the revelations: Jesus Christ. Moreover the Nephites in the Book of Mormon likewise pray to Jesus on several occasions. And the same Jesus answers the prayers of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. Accordingly there is no paradox in Smith’s theology: Christ is Jehovah and is worthy of prayer.

 

A number of students of Joseph Smith’s theology have asserted that he did not distinguish between the Father and the Son, that the Book of Mormon clearly asserts an absolute equation of the two. Some have insisted that his theology evolved significantly between dictating the Book of Mormon and the supposedly polytheistic doctrines of the Nauvoo period, even claiming that Smith never referred to Jesus as “Father” after such arbitrary dates as 1835. The capable rebuttals to this theory have done little to dissuade them from the seemingly unmistakable declarations of doctrine in the Book of Mormon. That “The Vision” of 1832 has Jesus stand at the right hand of his Father as in Stephen’s vision does not register in their calculation. Nor does the fact that in 1836 Smith prays to the same God who called them “friends” in previous revelations, identifying himself as Jesus, or the fact that the later revelations like Section 132, closer in chronology to Brigham Young’s Section 136, mirror a view that differs nothing from the first revelations: Jesus is the revelator.

So while there is hardly any evolution of Christology between 1829 and 1840, in order to maintain their insistence in a Book of Mormon modalism the critics would have to posit a drastic break between the theology of the Book of Mormon and that of Section 76. We might remind them that Smith’s Christology had little effect on Young’s–Young essentially was stuck in a pre-conversion rut as far as his view of the godhead was concerned–and so it is with most: unless someone drills you as with a catechism you are not likely to change your view of the divine nature. Yet the Smithian modalists would have us believe that Smith went from modalist to something entirely different almost overnight. This is far fetched for more reasons than one.

 

We will have difficulty further arguing our case without making this orthographic distinction: “FATHER” (in block letters) will indicate the Father God who is not Jesus, not the Son; “Father” will be retained for the fatherly role of Jesus, the Son of God, the Father of all mankind or of all those who are “born again.” We will show that there is absolutely no room in Smith’s theology in the Book of Mormon or anywhere for a modalist God, where the FATHER and Son are the same.

An accurate appraisal of Book of Mormon Christology would stress its affirmation of Jesus’ role as Father in contrast to the Christology of the New Testament, where the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity had barely reached maturity with the close of the canon. Joseph Smith’s Christology is dependent on the Johannine writings and on the Letter to the Hebrews, which interprets Psalms 2 and 110 to refer to the apotheosis of the pre-mortal messiah. According to Smith’s interpretation of Psalm 2, Jesus, who was neither God nor Son of God, but “the elder brother” (1844), through an act of “begetting” or priestly ordination equivalent to an apotheosis, became the Son of God, hence God. Accordingly the godhead now included two beings, the FATHER, who was always God, and the Son, who “was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first” (D&C 93:14, May 6, 1833).

The fatherhood of Jesus in Smith’s Christology can best be understood in terms of the phrase “only begotten,” as defined at D&C 76 (Feb. 16, 1832):

 

23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.

 

The human race is saved by being born again with Jesus as Father. Only Jesus was begotten of the FATHER. With Brigham Young’s successful modification of the phrase, “only begotten in the flesh,” the waters were permanently muddied, and Mormons and critics alike prevented thereafter from appreciating the genius of Smith’s doctrine. The practical effect of Jesus’ apotheosis was negated and Jesus was demoted to a permanent status of “elder brother.” Jehovah, who is never called “our elder brother” even in the popular jargon, was still identified with Jesus, yet prayer could not be directed to Jesus. But this paradox is only a distracting digression.

Smith’s Christology was in no wise an academic abstraction, as the conference of June 3, 1831 amply demonstrated. During this conference the “high priesthood” was restored, that is, the office of “high priest after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of the Son of God.” The restoration of the power of this priesthood as envisioned by Smith constituted a major part of his life’s work and ambition, and we cannot begin to appreciate his prophetic calling as he perceived it without understanding his understanding of the “high priesthood.” Alma 13 introduces us to the subject, followed by the Book of Moses, JST Genesis 14, “The Vision” –D&C 76, D&C 93, and others. What the doctrine of the high priesthood consists of is the idea that ordinary humans could participate in the same apotheosis that Jesus experienced before the earth’s existence as depicted in Psalms 2 and 110. This priesthood is named after Melchizedek not only because of the precedent in Hebrews, where his priesthood is represented as being superior to the Levitical, but because Melchizedek was supposed to have shared in this ordination, as were Enoch, Moses, Elijah, and Alma. These prophets had in common an investiture of unlimited godly power, including power over death–none of them died–not even Moses.

And it was just such a revival of prophetic miraculous power that Joseph Smith had the expectation of producing on June 3 of 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio. While the official record makes only passing mention of it, the apostate Ezra Booth gives a fairly detailed account of the proceedings in one of several letters published in the Ohio Star soon after the event. His account leaves little room for doubt that the restoration of the “high priesthood” constituted an attempt to reestablish the very priesthood shared by Melchizedek, Enoch, Elijah, and Alma–Alma the younger, that is, the Book of Mormon prophet, which illustrates how this doctrine of the high priesthood was full blown in 1829. The point being, recipients of this priesthood were ordained to the same order to which Jesus was ordained, who was ordained by his FATHER. This in turn proves what all Mormons already know, that Jesus and his FATHER are distinct beings, as Smith taught in 1829. Joseph Smith could no more equate the FATHER and Son than he could equate the Son and Alma.

And when the Book of Mormon preaches the fatherhood of Jesus it is only emphasizing his role of “only begotten,” the Father of all others begotten to his order or to any sort of rebirth, which might have been sooner understood had not Brigham Young confused the saints with his preaching of “our Elder Brother,” “the only begotten in the flesh.” But Young was never so confused as modern critics who take Joseph Smith’s Christology to be modalist, and these in turn are hardly as confused as are those who posit that some other than Smith authored the Book of Mormon. –A. G. Foster, Jr., March 15, 2012

 

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment