The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography

9780252039089[1]

Review of Michael Hicks, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015). 210 pages with Notes and an Index. Part of the Music in American Life series.

Michael has been posting teasers from his book manuscript for many months now, and so when my volume finally arrived in the mail my interest had been fully piqued and I consumed it in just two days. [Read more…]

Sometimes Less Is More

Browning-Home-summer

My family moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where I would grow up, when my father got a job at Northern Illinois University as a professor of education. That was in 1965, and I was six about to turn seven. Every year for vacation we would drive to Layton to visit my maternal grandparents and other relatives. [Read more…]

The Power of Personal Stories When Giving Talks

580-speaking-in-church

Today was ward conference, and as is typical in ward conference sacrament meeting, we had two speakers: the bishop and the stake president. Both of their talks were excellent, and they both happened to do the same thing in such a way that I thought there was a lesson there for good public speaking that I commented on at the beginning of my Sunday School class. [Read more…]

MHA at 50

50th[1]

The Mormon History Association was founded at a meeting in San Francisco in 1965. For those of you with math skillz, that means that this year (2015) is the 50-year anniversary of the MHA. And to celebrate, Vol. 41 No. 1 (2015) of the Journal of Mormon History is a special issue in honor of the anniversary, guest edited by Spencer Fluhman and Doug Alder. My intention here is to give a brief synopsis of this special issue and then to offer some reflections of my own experience with MHA. [Read more…]

Religion of a Different Color

RoaDC

Review of W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 335 pages, with Notes and an Index. [Read more…]

A Home Teaching Visit

On Sunday afternoon I went to visit a woman I home teach. I went by myself. The guy who had been going with me couldn’t do it anymore. My actual companion isn’t anxious to do it, and the logistics of trying to organize a visit that way make it so it would hardly ever happen, and this woman very much wants and needs to be visited. So a couple of months ago I asked her if she would mind if I just came over myself, and she was perfectly fine with that. She’s 83 years old. At church in the morning she had asked me whether I was still her home teacher (because I had missed January), so I figured, oops, I had better get on it. We arranged a time after church to meet at her home. [Read more…]

I Know the Church is True

Try this experiment. Type the expression in quotes “I know the church is true” into a Google search, and see what you get. Page after page after page of material set in a Mormon context. That kind of affirmation is a specifically Mormon thing; it is not something other Christians are in the habit of saying about their churches. If you can go through an entire Fast and Testimony Meeting and not get at least a dozen recitations of that statement, it has been a slow Sunday. [Read more…]

The Synoptic Problem

So this coming Sunday we start our New Testament curriculum year. I plan to do an introduction to the New Testament, much along the lines I did four years ago, the gist of which you can read from my blog post at that time. I also think I may add a little bit about NT scholarship. Gospel Doctrine is not an academic course in the NT, but it is useful for students to have some sense of some of the issues that would be broached in such a course. Some of the things I’m toying with briefly describing are textual criticism, the delay of the Parousia, pseudonymous writings (although I’m thinking this last topic might be too much to bite off for only a portion of a single lesson and am leaning away from mentioning it). The other thing I’m thinking about describing is the Synoptic Problem. So I thought I would take a shot at describing this issue here in case it might be useful to others preparing similar introductory lessons. [Read more…]

Neither hath come near to a menstruous woman

I’m preparing for my GD lesson, the first one on Ezekiel. The lesson reading begins with Ezekiel 18, which is a sermon on individual (as opposed to corporate or familial) responsibility, riffing off of Exodus 20:5. A righteous man will be blessed for that righteousness, even if his father was wicked. The upshot is that the Judahites cannot blame their present circumstances entirely on their ancestors; they remain responsible for their own actions and how they react to their present circumstances (in exile). [Read more…]

Any Lunatic Who Pretends to be a Prophet

So I’m preparing GD lesson 42 for tomorrow, which is the second lesson on Jeremiah. Chapter 29 begins with a transcription of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon, basically advising them to settle in for the long haul, build houses, marry, have children, and so forth (things the LORD specifically commanded Jeremiah back in Judah not to do), because the Exile would not be over quickly, despite the prophecies of a quick return being circulated by the (false) prophets among the exiles. [Read more…]

O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion

So while I watch college football (go Irish!) I’m looking over tomorrow’s GD reading, which begins in Isaiah 40. Scholars widely consider the setting of chapter 40 to be in the Divine Council. In part this is because God commands not just Isaiah in the singular, but a group of persons in the plural to comfort His people. (Even without knowing Hebrew you can figure this out from the y- forms in “comfort ye” and “your God,” since y- form second person pronouns in the Jacobean English of the KJV are always plural.) So the Lord directs the Divine Council as a whole, of which the prophet Isaiah is an invited member, to comfort His people. [Read more…]

Mormon Adventures with Alcohol

I was born and raised in the Church, and have been an active member all my life. From those two facts, you might reasonably assume that these lips have never touched alcohol. And you would be wrong. [Read more…]

Temple Night

So, it had been a long time since I had been to the temple. I’m talking years. I don’t have a good sense of how many; certainly more than two. Maybe five or something like that. This was strictly a function of my fundamental laziness. I used to go maybe four to six times a year, but working in the City and commuting by train it’s hard for me to do it on a week night. So often I would go on Saturdays, but then they started encouraging locals not to do that so that they could accommodate all the people coming in from out of town. These days, now that the temple district has been repeatedly cannibalized from various temples being constructed in what used to be a huge district, that concern probably doesn’t exist anymore, but I still have that directive rattling around in my brain. And when my TR expired, getting a new one was a hassle. I’m psychologically not down with having to return to church after the three-hour block, and having to do two interviews is a pain. And the Stake one can be a difficult get. But, to make a long story short, my blogmates recently inspired me to get back in the saddle, I managed to orchestrate the two interviews I needed in a fairly painless bit of logistics, and with a hot new TR burning a hole in my pocket I attended our ward’s temple night this evening. I just got back a little while ago. [Read more…]

Sunstone at 40

The June 2014 issue of Sunstone hit my mailbox earlier this week. As I glanced at it, I saw it was an anniversary issue, celebrating 40 years of existence since its origins in 1974 (when I was a high school sophomore). The whole issue is a cornucopia of navel-gazing, but I rather enjoy some navel-gazing and after 40 years I think they’re certainly entitled. I just this moment finished reading the issue, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be an excellent issue with which to initiate a subscription. [Read more…]

Diversity at Church

As I walked in to sacrament meeting this morning, I was greeted at the chapel doors by a beaming young girl from Primary, who I would guess is maybe 8 or 9 years old. She smiled broadly, handed me a program and shook my hand as I entered the chapel. [Read more…]

Throwing Tamar under the Linguistic Bus

Most of us recently had lesson 24 in this year’s Old Testament Sunday School curriculum. The main topic of discussion is the story of David and Bathsheba, but an enrichment section at the back of the manual suggests talking about the story of Amnon and Tamar from 2 Samuel 13. In characterizing this story, the manual summarizes: ” 2 Samuel 13 contains the story of David’s son Amnon and David’s daughter Tamar. Amnon was attracted to Tamar and forced her to commit fornication with him.” (Emphasis added) It seems to me that our nameless, faceless, anonymous curriculum committee writers have done Tamar a grave disservice with this formulation. [Read more…]

Child Sacrifice at Carthage

In my article “On Elkenah as Canaanite El” I made an argument for understanding the idolatrous god “Elkenah” from the Book of Abraham as the Canaanite deity El. Part of my argument was linguistic, suggesting that the -kenah element of the name could = Canaan. This looks counterintuitive at first, but the usage in cuneiform texts from Tell El Amarna and Bogazkoy demonstrates that the second n in Hebrew kena’an is an affixational morpheme, not part of the name itself. So while letters originating in Canaan itself (Tyre and Byblos) use the second n, those originating in Syria or Mesopotamia do not (resulting in the normalized form kinahh-). I also point to sources that report that Phoenicia was formerly called Chna (Greek chi-nu-alpha), which appears to represent a continuity with the earlier cuneiform form of the name. [Read more…]

Die Boek van Mormon Revisited

A little over two years ago I did a post titled “Die Boek van Mormon” in which I reacted to a story from John Pontius about how one Felix Mynhardt translated the Book of Mormon into the Afrikaans language. The story recounted as a faith promoting aspect of this that he translated the text from English first into Ancient Egyptian, and then from there into Afrikaans, and the text was obviously an Egyptian document, or something like that. I took the view that that was ridiculous, that no linguist worth his salt would actually approach a translation project that way, that there would be no virtue or benefit to creating an intermediate translation like that rather than just translating directly from the English ur-text into Afrikaans. [Read more…]

Martyr

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

(Obi-Wan to Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)

[Read more…]

MHA San Antonio 2014 Open Thread

Tomorrow will be my travel day; if the gods are willing, I should arrive at the hotel mid-afternoon. I wanted to throw this up early so that people will have a place to share their travel stories. For instance, Jared, Loyd, David, Brad and Colby are as I type this undertaking an epic road trip to get there; if one of you sees this, how about some reports from the road? Is anyone going to try to catch the Spurs v. Heat game tomorrow night? Anyone up for some dinner plans before the festivities begin? For the next four days, please feel free to share all things MHA right here. For those of you who will be there in person, I’m looking forward to seeing you. And please share what you can of your experience here for the benefit of those who are not able to attend in person.

Ordained

jm_200_NT1.pd-P12.tiffIf we’re going to use the Bible as precedent for our understanding of priesthood ordination, we’re going to have to be a little bit more careful about how we approach it. Mormons in 2014 read the Bible in a very presentist way, assuming that the full panoply of priesthood organization and procedure that obtains today has always obtained, notwithstanding the rather obvious development and evolution in these things even within our own dispensation. (After all, we started with a First Elder and a Second Elder; the priesthood framework we know today came only over time.) There are a lot of areas where we could improve our biblical literacy in this sphere. As a small beginning toward this end, I would like to comment on the vocabulary relating to the verb “ordain/ed” in the KJV. [Read more…]

Pure for God

Only $85!

Only $85!

I subscribe to Meridian Magazine. This past week I kept noticing that the same article was appearing in every issue, by Maurine Proctor, titled “Stumbling upon a Treasure in Jerusalem.” I finally opened the page and read it, and then learned why it kept being repeated; it was actually a sort of essay-advertisement for a necklace based on a reproduction of a bulla (the impression made from a seal) that had been discovered as part of an archaeological dig in the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem in 2011. The inscription on the bulla had the letters DKA LYH, which was interpreted as Aramaic deka leyah, “Pure for God.” The presumption of the archaelogical team was that the seal had been used to stamp items declared as ritually pure and therefore acceptable for use in the temple. Meridian is selling these reproductions for $85 each; the gold-plated ones have sold out, but silver-plated ones are still available in limited quantity. [Read more…]

All about Our Mothers

I thought I would open up a thread here for you to tell us about your mums. I’ll go first. [Read more…]

So What Should Brother Jabari Do Now?

Here at BCC in the wake of conference we tend to have a flurry of post-conference commentary. In the Priesthood session Saturday night President Monson quoted Jabari Parker (who in turn was quoting his father, Sonny) as saying: “Just be the same person you are in the dark that you are in the light.” So for my contribution to the post-conference commentary, I would like to explore the question of what Brother Jabari should do now. The choices are: (a) serve a mission, (b) enter the NBA draft, or (c) return to Duke for his sophomore year. [Read more…]

The Dialogue Diet

Faith crisis–often leading to faith transition–is a “thing” these days. Someone innocently does a google search, travels down some online rabbit hole, and soon discovers weird–sometimes really weird–stuff about the Mormon past. These substantive issues are troubling enough on their own, but pretty soon they cease to be the primary issue. Rather, the fact that the person was never taught about these things at Church becomes the dominant issue. The person feels as though she has been lied to all of her life. The image she has constructed in her mind of a church that never changes, where everything is perfect, where the prophet has afternoon tea with Jesus Christ himself every Thursday afternoon in the temple, comes crashing down around her shoulders, as she considers for the first time the very human institution that is the LDS Church. [Read more…]

Authoring the Old Testament

This post is a review of David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014); 237 pp.  This book is the first of three projected volumes, which are meant in some measure to parallel the three parts of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh: Law, Prophets, Writings). The review is written in three parts: first, some personal reflections on my interactions with the Documentary Hypothesis (hereafter “DH”: the theory that the Pentateuch was not authored as a whole by the prophet Moses, but rather was created later by one or more redactors weaving together multiple documentary sources); second, a consideration of the first half of the book, chapters 1-5, specifically on the DH; and third, a consideration of the second half of the book, chapters 6-9, on the interaction of the DH with Mormon scripture. [Read more…]

Some Notes on Moses 5:16 et seq.

This past Sunday I taught GD lesson 5.  At the beginning of class I talked a little bit about going to see The Saratov Approach.  I was kind of surprised it made it all the way out here to Chicago.  When I went to see it, I was sort of assuming I would be the only one in the theater, but I was pleasantly surprised that a pretty good sized crowd was present.  Although I only recognized one guy, my Mo-dar was burning and I’m pretty sure the audience was at least 80% Mormon; maybe even 90%. Then I had two class members read the recent SL Tribune article about the new pilot program where missionaries do service for a couple of hours a day.  I thought this was not only way interesting but also important enough to read the whole thing (and I passed around to the class the great accompanying picture of those young missionaries wearing jeans and work clothes). Then it was on to the lesson itself. [Read more…]

Breaking the Faith

As the unofficial Bloggernacle chronicler of TV shows about polygamy, it’s about time that I put up a post about the latest entry in the genre, TLC’s “Breaking the Faith,” which is about eight or so young refugees from the FLDS living in a safe house in the Salt Lake area and trying to acclimate to gentile life.  I have not seen all the episodes, but I just watched several on On Demand. [Read more…]

When Do You Take Down the Xmas Tree?

This morning on the Today show they were talking about the different times when people take down their Christmas trees and other decorations.  Some people take everything down promptly on December 26; others opt for the weekend after New Year’s; others on January 6 or 7 (to observe the full 12 days of Christmas); others more or less don’t take them down at all.  I took our tree down today (New Year’s Day), which is my normal practice.  I like to keep them up for the full holiday (the 26th is too quick a hook for my taste), but I sort of like the idea of beginning the New Year fresh.  So, as I sit here in a major snowstorm with the last hours of New Year’s Day ebbing away, I got curious.  When do you take your Christmas stuff down?

Introduction to the Old Testament

I’m doing an Intro to the OT lesson tomorrow. Below is some of the gist of what I hope to manage to get across. [Read more…]

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