Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Alternate priesthood lines

6And the sons of Moses, according to the Holy Priesthood which he received under the hand of his father-in-law, Jethro; 7And Jethro received it under the hand of Caleb; 8And Caleb received it under the hand of Elihu; 9And Elihu under the hand of Jeremy; 10And Jeremy under the hand of Gad; 11 And Gad under the hand of Esaias; 12And Esaias received it under the hand of God. 13Esaias also lived in the days of Abraham, and was blessed of him— 14Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah; 15And from Noah till Enoch, through the lineage of their fathers; 16And from Enoch to Abel, who was slain by the conspiracy of his brother, who received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam, who was the first man— 17Which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years. 18And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God. (D&C 84:6-18)

As the last verse indicates, the priesthood being spoken of in verses 6-17 is the Melchizedek priesthood. We learn in Section 84 (verses 23-27) that the Melchizedek priesthood was taken from the children of Israel. But it apparently continued on the earth in an alternate line. In fact, Moses did not receive it through the lineal passing of priesthood from father to son (since obviously he didn't grow up with his natural father). Interestingly, he didn't receive it from anyone of the birthright lineage. Moses, though presumably a descendant of Abraham, did not receive the Melchizedek priesthood from a descendant of Abraham. He received it from his father-in-law -- Jethro, the high priest of Midian, who also is known in the Bible as Hobab or Reuel or Raguel, meaning “friend of God.”

When Moses continued on his journey, he invited Jethro to come with him, but Jethro turned down his invitation and remained with his own people (Numbers 10:29-30). As far as I can tell from the passage in the Doctrine & Covenants about Moses’ line of authority, it is completely independent of Abraham. Esaias received it directly from God, as (presumably) Abraham did. [Thanks to Nathan for the correction.]

So what happened to the Melchizedek priesthood that Jacob and Joseph held? Was it not passed from father to son among the Israelites? What of the birthright of Joseph? Was it not something having to do with the Melchizedek priesthood? What are we to make of a completely separate group’s line of authority? Did Jethro's descendants continue the Melchizedek priesthood after it had been taken away from the children of Israel? Could there also have been another line of Melchizedek priesthood authority in, say, China, at the same time? Does this have any implications for us today? (If not, why include it in the Doctrine & Covenants?)

And if there were alternate lines of Melchizedek priesthood authority, why do we emphasize Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob so much? Did God make covenants with them, but not with others to whom he directly gave the priesthood? Doesn't the Melchizedek priesthood hold all the keys of the Abrahamic covenant? Do we emphasize Abraham primarily because we happen to have records passed down to us in the Bible that figure him as a prominent figure? If we had received the records of the Midianites instead of the Israelites, would we speak of the Esaian covenant or the Raguelic covenant instead of the Abrahamic covenant? Does this influence our understanding of Israel as a chosen people or lineage?


  1. I don't have any answers to the interesting questions, but I did note this:

    "Esaias received it directly from God, as (presumably) Abraham did."

    According to what you just quoted, Abraham received it from Melchizedek. 

    Posted by Nathan

  2. You're absolutely right. I'll fix that in my post. That's what I get for posting so late at night. 

    Posted by Grasshopper

  3. I don't know if you'd accept this as conclusive, but Dr. Skinner (Dean of Religious Education at BYU--and a great teacher, in my not so humble opinion) gave this explanation:
    MosesBasically, Midian was one of Abraham's sons (by way of his wife Keturah), ergo Jethro was one of Abraham's decendents. 

    Posted by Jason Richards

  4. That's a good point, Jason. Thanks for commenting. It still doesn't answer a lot of my questions, but it is interesting. 

    Posted by Grasshopper

  5. I think Midian was a son of Abraham - and Ketura who Abraham married after Sara Died. I would assume that Jethro was a decendant of Abraham through this line. 

    Posted by Richard E

  6. I think Midian was a son of Abraham - and Ketura who Abraham married after Sara Died. I would assume that Jethro was a decendant of Abraham through this line. Oh well I should have read more. Anyway. you can find that information in Genesis 

    Posted by Richard E

  7. Well I will try again to add something new. I think there is a mention in D&C about "Holy men that ye konw not of" 

    Posted by Richard E

  8. This is a very good question that i've been wondering about also.

    To put more light to this thread , I just found this bit of the puzzle on wiki :
    According to the Hebrew Bible, Midian (Hebrew: מִדְיָן, Standard Midyan Tiberian Miḏyān; Arabic مدين; "Strife; judgment") was the fourth son of Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites, and Keturah, his concubine. (Gen 25:2-6 and 1Chronicles 1:32). Midian had five brothers, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Ishbak, and Shuah. (Genesis 25:1-6) Abraham sent his sons by Keturah to live in the east, far from his son Isaac. Midian was the father of Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

    Midian's descendants, the Midianites, settled in the territory east of the Jordan (Tobit 1:14) and also much of the area east of the Dead Sea (later occupied by Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites), and southward through the desert wilderness of the Arabah. During the time of the Exodus, their territory apparently also included portions of the Sinai Peninsula. They dominated this territory from roughly the twelfth through the tenth centuries BCE.

    In Bible history, Midian was where Moses spent the 40 years between the time that he fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian who had been beating an Israelite,[1] and his return for leading the Israelites.[2] During those years, he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian. Exodus 3:1 implies that God's appearance in the burning bush at Mount Horeb occurred in Midian. As the Bible asserts, in later years the Midianites were often oppressive and hostile to the Israelites, at least partly as God's punishment for their idolatry.[3] By the time of the Judges, the Midianites, led by two princes Oreb (Hebrew: עֹרֵב, Orev) and Zeeb (Hebrew: זְאֵב, Z'ev) were raiding Israel with the use of swift camels, until they were decisively defeated by Gideon.[4] Today, the former territory of Midian is located in what is now a small area of western Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, southern Israel and the Sinai.

    The ancient and historical people of Midian are also mentioned extensively in the Qur'an, where the name appears in Arabic as Madyan.
    Prophet Shoaib “Jethro” Mosque and Tomb is located near the Jordanian city of Mahis in an area called Wadi Shuib

  9. I am half Chinese and half Tahitian and so you can imagine my curiosity in the possibility of the M. priesthood being in China, and i wondered which of te sons of Keturah could be a candidate and chose Shu because it soun ded familiar to me, but nope, check the name of the very first emperor of the Dynasty of the same time period as Abraham's sons, sound very close to Joktan:

    Emperors & Dynasties of China
    Shang [Shang1] Dynasty 1523-1028 (1766-1122)this is BC

  10. Sorry for throwing so much at you, but here is a beautiful story story of emperor ChangTang that might reflect one famous trait of father Abraham, that of his kindness and charity, reflected in this man. It's a bit long , so skip a few parts if you wish. There are many studies now demonstrating how the origin of Chinese characters are so completely biblical, with sacrificial altars always outside the boundaries of the city, as if the altar Adam built just outside the garden of Eden is recalled, looking forward to Golgotha:

    Reflections on History: Virtuous Cheng Tang Prayed in the Mulberry Grove and Brought Rain That Ended Drought for Seven Years
    Li Demin
    [] Throughout the history of China, whenever calamities like locust plagues, droughts, and meteor impacts occurred, the ancient monarchs considered these occurrences to be heavenly signs, warning and urging the monarchs to improve their administrations. Ancient Chinese monarchs believed that the root cause of natural calamities was that "the monarch's virtue was not fit for his position." They believed that monarchs must wear "white robes" (for mourning), "keep away from the palace" (refrain from comfortable living), "abstain from entertainment," "partake in fasting," as well as many other measures to help them engage in self-reflection and "cultivate virtue." Some ancient Chinese monarchs would even "consider themselves responsible for all human crimes," that might have brought the calamities. The monarchs would beg the nation to forgive them for their "unfit administration." Virtuous ancient Chinese monarchs' reactions to natural calamities were in compliance with ancient rules for government and administration such as "taking the heavenly law as the guiding principle, and virtue as the foundation of administration," as well as "a monarch's morality must comply with Heaven's requirement of him."
    As a monarch genuinely prays for his subjects, his virtuous conduct will move heaven and Earth, and he will leave a good example for future generations. Cheng Tang [1], the founder of the Shang Dynasty (16th to 11th century B.C.), was a benevolent and virtuous king. In The Biographies of Emperors (or Di Wang Shi Ji in Chinese), Cheng was described as a man "nine feet in height, with the virtue of a saint." During the Xia Dynasty (21st to 16th century BC), when Cheng was still a feudal lord, he went on a tour and saw a hunter spreading nets in all four directions while praying to heaven, "May all the birds in the sky, and all the beasts on earth in all four directions be trapped in my nets."

    When Cheng Tang witnessed this scene, he sighed and said, "Such cruel acts as spreading the nets in all four directions to catch all living birds and beasts are the very acts of the tyrant Jie of the Xia Dynasty." Cheng Tang ordered the hunter to remove the nets in three of the directions, leaving one net in one direction. The hunter changed his prayer to, "May all the wild creatures on the left escape further to the left. May all the wild creatures on the right escape further to the right. May all the wild creatures flying in the air soar higher. May all the wild creatures escaping toward the earth make a quick escape downward. Let only those wild creatures who are destined to die enter my nets." When the feudal lords in the Han Nan area heard this story, they complimented Cheng Tang's virtuous deed, "Cheng Tang is so virtuous that he was compassionate toward even the wild birds and beasts. It is not only men that will receive the benevolence of the king!" Soon a total of 36 feudal lords pledged their allegiance to him. This is the origin of a famous Chinese idiom: "Spread only one side of the net," which now means, "giving the wrongdoer a way out for a second chance."

    According to the Book of Zhou (or Zhou Shu in Chinese), after Cheng Tang completed an honorable crusade that ended the reign of Jie, a tyrant of the Xia Dynasty, "3,000 feudal lords gathered to determine the new ruler of China. Cheng Tang presented the imperial seal that he acquired from Jie, placed it on the left of the Chinese emperor's empty seat, and bowed repeatedly to the seal. Upon completing paying respect to the imperial seal, Cheng Tang took his seat as a feudal lord, and said, "This throne belongs to a man of virtue, for China is a property of any family. Only a virtuous man should rule China. Only a man with principles (Tao) can govern the world because only a man with principles (Tao) knows how to govern the country properly." Of all 3,000 feudal lords, no one dared to claim the throne. Cheng Tang modestly declined the unanimous vote of all feudal lords three times before he finally took the imperial seat graciously.

    After Cheng Tang established the Shang Dynasty, the serious drought that had started during the reign of Jie of the Xia Dynasty continued to plague China. The drought, which lasted for seven years, caused all the rivers and wells to dry up, killed all the grass and trees, and stopped the crops from germinating, thus denying the people any crop harvests. From the beginning of the drought, Cheng Tang had set up an altar in the suburbs, and prayed earnestly to Heaven to end the drought with rain. Seven years had passed, but the drought persisted. Cheng Tang ordered the royal astronomer to seek a solution via divination. After the divination, the astronomer said, "We must use sacrifice a man to God to end the drought." Cheng Tang thought for a while and said, "I am praying for rain for the sake of my subjects. If we have to sacrifice a man to heaven, I will volunteer to be the sacrifice." Next Cheng Tang took a bath, abstained from meat in his diet, trimmed his hair and nails, and drove a white horse carriage, wearing a white coarse linen robe with a white belt to the alter at the mulberry grove. Cheng Tang said his prayer to heaven, "The fault is mine and mine alone. Please do not punish my subjects. If my subjects had done anything wrong that might contribute to the drought, I must be the root cause for their wrongdoings. Heaven and ghost spirits, please do not hurt my subjects because I failed to guide them properly due to my insufficient capability."

    Next Cheng Tang rebuked himself for six matters and said, "Was the drought caused by any lack of law and order in my administration? Was it because I had been oblivious to my subjects' hardships and because I failed to fulfill their expectations? Was the drought caused by any corruption of the government officials that I was not aware of? Did I waste any money or manpower building an imperial palace on a large scale? Did I allow the queen to interfere with politics? Did I employ corrupt and malicious government officials and take their bad advice?" By the time Cheng Tang finished his self-reflection, it began to pour within several thousand li's [a unit of linear measurement equal to about one third of a mile]. The story about Cheng Tang's volunteerong to be the live sacrifice to Heaven was recorded in The Historic Records by Luu (or Luu Shi Chun Qiu in Chinese), The Works of Mocius [2] (or Mo Zi in Chinese), The Works of Xun Zi [3] (or Xun Zi in Chinese), The History of the Zhou, Lu, Qi, Jin, Zhen, Chu, Wu, Yue Dynasties (or Guo Yu in Chinese), Shuo Yuan (written by Liu Xiang) as well as many other historic books. The story of Cheng Tang was consistently recorded in those books.

    Cheng Tang ruled the nation with his virtue, and "governed his subjects with immense tolerance," which promoted the strength and prosperity of the Shang Dynasty. The Odes to Shang says, "Since Cheng Tang established the Shang Dynasty, all neighboring nations came to pledge their allegiance to Cheng, and gave him royal respect." The poem reflected the prosperity of the Shang Dynasty at that time. Cao Zhi, the feudal lord of Weichen, as well as a famous poet, also recorded Cheng Tang's virtue in "Ode to Cheng Tang," "Cheng Tang led the charge in a crusade against the Xia Dynasty, and all other feudal lords admired the just cause. Cheng Tang fought with Jie and sent him to exile in Mingtiao. Cheng Tang rose up to the throne, prayed at a mulberry grove for his subjects and ended the drought. Cheng Tang took Yin Yi as the prime minister, who became a virtuous and talented prime minister." The "Ode to Cheng Tang Who Prayed in Mulberry Grove says," "In the Shang Dynasty, there was a severe drought that lasted seven years. Cheng Tang prayed at a mulberry grove to heaven for rain. He cut his hair and nails short, and volunteered to sacrifice his own life for people that touched the Heavens, which bestowed rain." Zhou Yuxin's "Ode to Cheng Tang Who Undid the Net" says, "Signs of good fortune emerged one after another, such as pearls floating up in a river, pieces of jade being found in the earth, trees of good fortune growing healthy, and mulberry trees forming mulberry groves. Cheng Tang undid nets on three sides, and left only one side open to leave most of the wild creatures unharmed. Cheng Tang governed the nation with virtue and a kind heart. Cheng Tang reigned for thirteen years, and died at the age of one hundred."

    With several thousand years of history as our lessons, modern times should be better than before. However, today's China, under the reign of Jiang Zemin for twelve years, especially in past four years, Falun Gong practitioners who conduct themselves with the principles of "Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance" have been brutally persecuted by the evil head, Jiang Zemin, driven by his mad jealousy of the popularity of Falun Gong. Eventually, his tyrannical nature provoked the wrath of God and the anger of man. SARS is now prevalent all over China, accompanied by earthquakes, droughts, and plagues of locusts, which have been getting worse every year. When man stops committing this evil crime which causes heavenly rage, man will be conforming to the righteous principles of Heaven.

    [1] Cheng Tang was also known as Prince Tang, or Feudal Lord Tang, who overthrew the tyrant Jieh of the Xia Dynasty and established the Shang Dynasty in 1766 B.C.

    [2] Mocius, or Mo Ti, was one of the great philosophers of the Epoch of Warring States, who preached love without distinction, or compassion.

    [3] Xun Zi, or Xun Kuang, was known for his doctrine of man's natural wickedness.

    Translated from:

  11. Ok, this is my last comment for a while, to clinch my point:
    Here’s the part of Abraham’s wonderful trait from ‘Abraham in the Desert’ by Hugh Nibley: Joseph Bloch:”It is compassion and forgiveness alone that are the unfailing family trait of the true descendant of Abraham.” Like Brigham Young, Abraham sought to benefit his fellows in practical ways; as a young man back in Mesopotamia he invented a seeder that covered up the seeds as it sowed them, so the birds could not take them, and for this “his name became great in all the land of the chaldees.” He apologized to the birds for driving them off, and came to an amicable understanding with them, for he was kind to all living things: “ No one who is cruel to any creature, “ says an old formula, ‘can ever be a descendant of Abraham.” P 207

    It's interesting that it's about birds also in this story of Abraham.

  12. so... despite the seemingly plausible idea of Jethro's being a direct descendant of Abraham, we still have a documented priesthood lineage apparently independent of Abraham, and of Adam for that matter, as it states that Esaias received the priesthood directly from God. It seems to me that the circumstance is quite unique, I mean even in such great events as the Restoration or the Transfiguration the priesthood was given by those of a previous dispensation rather than by God the Father or Jesus, as far as I know the only case of this would be Adam's receiving the priesthood. Another interesting thing of note is that Esaias was apparently blessed by Abraham (DC 84:13) so they were not only contemporaries, but associates. What possibility is there of another record yet to be discovered, or revealed for that matter? I mean, the Pearl of Great Price was a set of scrolls unearthed in Egypt with no apparent connection except the hand of God in matters. Esaias must have been quite an important figure in religious history.
    As far as the naming of the 'Abrahamic Covenant' I would suppose that is a tag given to the promise for our association, certainly Adam and Noah are entitled to the same blessings yet obviously lived before Abraham.

  13. Great post! Now, your personalized Priesthood Line of Authority is beautifully laminated featuring the classic portrait of Jesus Christ by the renowned artist Greg Olsen.