[Part 2] This is the first of what should be several posts on the Old Testament ("OT"). It's an unfortunate Mormon myth that the OT is dull and boring. You've all heard the quip attributed to J. Golden Kimball: "I read the Old Testament once, and I promised the Lord that if he'd forgive me, I'd never read it again." Ha ha. Personally, after trudging through the Book of Mormon yet again during the last few months of 2005, the OT is a breath of fresh air. The first step toward really understanding what is going on in the Pentateuch or the first five books of the OT is getting acquainted with the Documentary Hypothesis, and the best book to do that with is Richard Elliott Friedman's very readable introduction to the topic, Who Wrote the Bible? I'm generally following Friedman's discussion in the following summary (with page cites from my 1987 paperback edition by Harper & Row).
In a nutshell, source critics, chiefly German scholars, have determined that the present text of the OT displays strong evidence that most of the material in the Pentateuch as we have it derives from four primary sources: J (from Jahve, the German word expressing the tetragrammaton YHVH, the all-consonant name for God used by the J source, who wrote with a concern for the perspective of the Southern Kingdom of Judah); E (for Elohim, the Hebrew plural for generic "god," used by the E source, who revealed more of a concern for events of interest to Israel or the Northern Kingdom); P (the priestly source, showing a concern for priests, ritual, sacrifice, purity, and numbers and measurements in general, see p. 52-53); and D (for the Deuteronomistic writer who recapitulated much of the earlier material in a different form in Deuteronomy and later books).
Later editors did a masterful job of combining those primary sources into the text we have, which can be certainly be profitably read as a single narrative — and has been read that way for close to two millennia. But you really can get more from the text by understanding that the sources had different views about the themes presented in the text. It helps to explain why the text is so complex, so ambiguous in places, so challenging. Take the Creation story in Genesis 1 and (again) in chapter 2.
Genesis 1 to 2:3: P's Creation Story
Genesis 1 consistently refers to God as Elohim, translated in English Bibles as "God." The order of creation in Genesis 1 is plants, then animals, then man and woman (together). It's an orderly, six-step description of creation, carefully enumerated, capped by a seventh day of rest reinforcing priestly themes of the sabbath and purity: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (Gen. 2:3 NIV). As summarized by Friedman, "P's creation story begins with the creation of the cosmic structure: light and darkness, day and night, seas and dry land, the 'firmament' and heavenly bodies" (p. 236).
Genesis 2: J's Creation Story
Genesis 2 consistently refers to God as YHWH Elohim, a composite term reflecting a later editor's apparent attempt to smooth the contrast between the Elohim designation for God in chapter 1 and J's use of YHWH to designate God in later chapters of Genesis. In English Bibles, it is rendered "Lord God," with Lord in small caps, and YHWH standing alone is tranlsated "Lord" in small caps. The order of creation in Genesis 2 is man, then plants, then animals, then woman. It's a humanistic rather than a cosmic account of creation: God forms man (Heb. adam) from the dust of the ground (Heb. adamah), showing right up front J's fondness for word play; the story is set in a garden named Eden; woman is formed by physically taking a rib from an anesthetized man Adam and from it making a woman. As summarized by Friedman, "J's creation story is literally more down-to-earth. It begins with making vegetation possible, followed by the creation of humans, plants, and animals—without a single reference to light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, or even the seas" (p. 236-37).
The story also shows J's concern with names. Everything has or is given a name: the place of the garden, the four rivers, the animals, the man and the woman, and even God. J gives God a name, YHWH (anglicized as "Jehovah"), just like the gods in other pantheons. Mainstream Christianity doesn't follow this lead, but Mormonism does, naming two of the three Persons of the Mormon Godhead: Elohim (God the Father) and Jehovah (God the Son), with God the Holy Spirit not having a generally accepted name in Mormonism.
Personally, I see the modern Mormon naming scheme as a source of confusion, especially when one tries to apply it to the Old Testament, a monotheistic text that used both YHWH and Elohim, as well as YHWH Elohim, to refer to God. I'm not the only one who finds the Mormon view confusing. Spencer W. Kimball said, "I was surprised and perhaps shocked a little when I learned that it was the Son, Jehovah, or his messengers who led Abraham from Ur to Palestine, to Egypt, and back to the land of Palestine. I did not realize that it was Jesus Christ, or Jehovah, who inspired the long line of prophets in their leadership of the people of God through those centuries" (Teachings of SWK, p. 8).
For more on the rather confusing Mormon account of the names applied to God, see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism articles Elohim, Jehovah, and Names and Titles of God the Father. Also in the EOM is Robert Millet's article explaining how Jesus Christ is often depicted as both the Father and the Son. For a longer official treatment, see the First Presidency's doctrinal exposition published in 1916, "The Father and the Son" (the link is to a reprint, with minor editorial changes, in the April 2002 Ensign). FAIR has a nice set of relevant links here. Finally, I found the following Sunstone article particularly enlightening: Jehovah as Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine.