I stumbled across Ecclesiastes because of a reference in a novel about a year ago, and I’ve read it from front to back several times since. It reminds me of a TS Eliot poem, whirling around with its repetitive motifs and images, asking questions without answers, providing what seem to be contradictions. The pessimistic tone, the positions it takes which approach a sort of existentialism, these speak to me. Since the book only got a passing reference in Sunday School last week, here’s a few favorite passages for people to comment on:
Repentance, Insurance, and What I think is wrong with President Obama’s approach to the BP Oil Spill
I tend to think that, as a church, we don’t understand repentance very well. We have the 5 Rs down, but we still have the wrong attitude regarding it. It is viewed too often as distasteful or as unfortunate, instead of taking on the role that I think it has in the scriptures and in the Gospel. That role being the engine of the Atonement in our lives; the primary means for our becoming like the Father. I think that the reasons that we see repentance primarily in a negative light are, first, that we are ashamed of our sins (and we should be) and, second, we just don’t think repentance is powerful enough. My purpose today is to argue that the second of these reasons is based on unrealistic and unscriptural ideas about what repentance can do.
The comparison between insurance and repentance is a problematic one, but I’m going to make it anyway. [Read more...]
Reposted, and edited, in light of the use of the ephod in 1 Sam 23 (part of the Gospel Doctrine reading)
The Book of Mormon translation mechanism is surrounded in mystery. [Read more...]
For a kid in the 1970s, Mormon-themed media was pretty scarce. So I was nothing less than astounded one Saturday afternoon to turn on the TV and discover a movie about the Nephites and Lamanites!
Of course, they weren’t called by those names, but they fit the images perfectly. There was a group of “whiter,” more civilized Indians — new settlers in the land — who were building a city centered on a temple/pyramid (the Nephites). Outside their walls lurked a group of traditional Hollywood Indians, loincloth-clad and living in teepees (the Lamanites).
Even better, the Lamanite chief was none other than Yul Brynner. In my family, Brynner held an essentially canonical role in Cecil B. DeMille’s scriptural epic The Ten Commandments. [Read more...]
Troubled with the carnage unleashed by Moses, a friend wrote me the following: [Read more...]
Genesis 12 is the first Old Testament chapter that focuses entirely on the life of Abram. It describes his and Sarai’s departure from Haran and journey to the land of Egypt. The LDS Church’s Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual does not assign this chapter in Sunday School, except as an “additional reading” to Lesson 8. Its exclusion from the formally-assigned chapters saves the curriculum writers from having to come up with “How-can-you-apply-this-to-your-daily-life?”-type questions for passages like this one:
Aaron R. (AKA Rico) returns again with some thoughts on Lehi.
In Terryl Givens’ ‘very short introduction’ to the Book of Mormon he describes Lehi’s (first) vision in the following terms: ‘No details of the vision, no particulars of any message, are available to distract from the fact of the visitation itself, given to a man who shares neither the public prestige, nor, so far as we can tell, the national stewardship of his contemporary Jeremiah. Jerusalem then, for a time, has some, perhaps ‘many’ prophets, who do not neatly fit into a clear Church structure. Lehi then takes his family out away from the city, which is their literal and spiritual home, and effectively starts a new religious movement that appears to be far more Christ-centered. Moreover, it has a de-centralised view of revelation and the spiritual gifts and also has a far more multi-faceted view of the nature and locale of Zion. The puzzle then is, if Lehi was a contemporary of Joseph Smith (instead of Jeremiah) could his ‘new’ revelation and direct call be tolerated or incorporated as part of a broader Restoration movement? Or would he be branded an apostate, like Hiram Page . [Read more...]
Recent complaints from Iran that the British Museum is unreasonably delaying the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder reminded me of this old post. Beware everything you ever read about the Cyrus Cylinder.
I have been reading Bruce Feiler’s Where God Was Born. In it, Feiler travels the Middle East in search of the foundational places of the Bible. It’s enjoyable enough if a little preachy — most of the people he meets (rabbis, imams, priests, scholars) seem to have consistently and improbably eloquent defenses of religious universalism on their lips. It’s also very Old Testament-centric, unsurprising given Feiler’s Judaism. Mormons will enjoy his conversation with an LDS soldier on top of the ziggurat in Ur, although he commits the unforgivable “Church of the Latter-day Saints” mistake. [Read more...]
Many readers will remember my Back Row series on the Doctrine and Covenants. I wanted to continue writing about the scriptures connected with Sunday School, but the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is far more complex than the Doctrine and Covenants, and I’m just an interested amateur. So I’m calling in reinforcements. This week, I’m joined by Kiskilili from Zelophehad’s Daughters, as well as Ronan, John C., and Kristine all from BCC. (Because the documents are all complicated and in some ways different, this series will focus on Hebrew Bible texts discussed in Sunday School, with Pearl of Great Price and JST texts referred to when they are of interest for the Hebrew Bible but not placed at the center of attention.)
JNS: This week’s Back Row discussion focuses on Genesis 2-3, the Hebrew Bible reading for the fourth Sunday School lesson this year. Here, we’re asked to talk about one of the most-interpreted narratives in human history, the Adam and Eve narrative. To get things started on the right note, I’d like to make the popular point that the narrative is about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. [Read more...]
LDS people place a lot of confidence in the scriptures. We believe that the answers to most of our questions and challenges can be found in the pages of the canon. If you are faltering in your faith, you need to read the scriptures more. If you are struggling with temptation, read the scriptures more. If you are experiencing difficulties of any kind in your life, you will find guidance in the holy scriptures.
Many readers will remember my Back Row series on the Doctrine and Covenants. I wanted to continue writing about the scriptures connected with Sunday School, but the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is far more complex than the Doctrine and Covenants, and I’m just an interested amateur. So I’m calling in reinforcements. This week, I’m joined by Seraphine and Kiskilili from Zelophehad’s Daughters. (Because the documents are all complicated and in some ways different, this series will focus on Hebrew Bible texts discussed in Sunday School, with Pearl of Great Price and JST texts referred to when they are of interest for the Hebrew Bible but not placed at the center of attention.)
JNS: The Old Testament begins with a slight surplus of creation narratives. Chapter 1 and the first three verses of Chapter 2 tell one complete story of the creation of the world and all life. Chapter 2 begins a basically different story that continues into Chapter 3 (and therefore beyond the confines of this Sunday School lesson). So let’s quickly acknowledge two familiar explanations for the excess of creation. First is the Documentary Hypothesis, which I think convincingly argues that the two Hebrew Bible creation stories were drawn from different texts and then placed side by side in the Book of Genesis. Note, among other classic evidences for this argument, that God in Chapter 1 is named God, whereas in Chapter 2 he’s named the LORD/YHWH.
Josephus and Joseph: A Brief Comparative Study of Mormon Scripture and the Antiquities of the Jews.
by Stephen Cranney [Read more...]
The Old Testament is a fairly intimidating source of scripture as it was produced thousands of years ago by a culture that is greatly foreign to our own. The strangeness of the Old Testament text and cultural milieu is likely particularly potent for women who approach the text. Among the few things that we can say with confidence regarding the culture of Ancient Israel is that it was misogynistic. Therefore, Camille Fronk Olsen’s recent book Women of the Old Testament is best considered as a good introductory text to help teachers, particularly those interested in applying scripture to women’s lives, tackle this very difficult work.
I recently left a note here about the “liturgy” that our ward routinely does in honor of Remembrance Sunday and which I look forward to every year. We also enjoy a uniquely Mormon liturgy on Fourth Advent to celebrate Christmas properly as one — as a “ward family”. Hopefully the word “liturgy” isn’t misleading here: make no mistake, the meetings still had the rough and tumble of low church Mormon practices (i.e. this wasn’t a ritualized sung Eucharist or anything, just a slightly different readings-based format to Sacrament Meeting channeling the inspiration received by the Bishop in contemplating the Christmas message for the ward). [Read more...]
Nothing like an all-destructive act of divine carpet bombing to kindle the holiday spirit. I actually debated putting off the conversation to a less celebratory time, but time, it seems, is the one luxury which we currently lack. You see, it turns out (so I’m told, by people who really seem to know what they’re talking about) that God destroys societies that embrace and normalize homosexual relationships. Since we appear to be on the brink, as a civilization, of making precisely that mistake, I figured better safe than Sodom. So, let’s get to brass tacks: why did God destroy the cities on the plains, and what might it all portend for a society (ours) where the gay agenda is spreading and taking root like a crop of rainbow dandelions? [Read more...]
When the book Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament came out, Julie at T&S posted a very positive review, and I followed that up with my own (see “Finally!” FARMS Review 19/2 ). A couple of months ago Julie and I had the chance to meet one of the coauthors of that book, Eric Huntsman, and found him to be as delightful a person as he is fine a scholar. [Read more...]
[Updated March 11, 2009*]
Look closely at what is visible in the background of the picture below. [Read more...]
Yesterday someone asked me the following question:
Every time I read Alma 36:9, I wonder if this is a Hebrew construct[ion] that doesn’t do well on the literal translation into English. Yet it isn’t listed among the Hebraisms found in various sources. Am I interpreting this correctly?
I thought I would try to put together a little procedural detailing how I went about trying to respond to this question. [Read more...]
Could Christ have sinned prior to the age of accountability?
Answer after the fold.
(Part One here.)
The “satans” of the Old Testament
Some elements of the LDS characterization of Satan find fascinating analogues in the Old Testament, particularly in the story of Job. In Job, as in Mormon accounts of the premortal councils and the Fall, God grants astonishing liberty for the testing of his children. In all cases, God’s work is not frustrated. For Job, his trials lead ultimately to the fountains of divine wisdom; in the Fall, Satan’s efforts to forever limit the progress of Adam and Eve do not succeed, and instead play perfectly into God’s hands, roundly advancing His beneficent purposes.
It’s a well-worn Mormon trope that Laman and Lamuel were a couple of halsstarrige gangsters. Exhibit A: L&L are beating Nephi and Sam with sticks; an angel appears and gives them a rollicking; L&L begin anew their murmuring ways. “How,” we ask, exasperated, “could anyone see an angel and not be spurred on to ecstatic moral heights?”
Well. [Read more...]
It’s a blustery 3 degrees F (-17 C) outside right now on the first Sunday of the New Year. In a moment I need to head into the wind for an meeting. But first, two New Year examples of BCC bloggers popping up in daily life in Utah County.
A few days ago we were playing a family game of hockey on a nearby pond. While one of us chased down a puck after an errant pass, the rest of the family paused to rest, and someone commented, “Can you imagine breaking through this ice to get baptized, and doing that for 7 days in a row!” That statement stems from a family home evening lesson we had based around J. Stapley’s and Kris Wright’s Journal of Mormon History article, “A History of Baptism for Health.” If you haven’t [Read more...]
If you’ve been waiting for someone at BCC to post an opinion of the current election, here it is. [Read more...]
On September 13, 1845, four Mormons acting at the call of the prophet James J. Strang went to a certain hill near Burlington, Wisconsin, and, at a spot beneath a great oak that showed no signs of having been disturbed, they dug and found an earthenware box containing a set of three plates of brass. Beyond the four witnesses, the plates were viewed by hundreds of curious spectators including a local non-Mormon newspaper reporter. [Read more...]
Biblical scholars have long identified distinct sections within the early books of the Bible that employ a consistently different tone, language, and content from one other. In what is generally called the “documentary hypothesis,” these scholars have labeled the major underlying sources with letters: J, E, P, and D, along with R (the redactor, who assembled the whole). [Read more...]
What follows is the first of a series of posts on the parables of the gospels, an attempt on my part to approach these incredibly well-known and well-worn remnants of the Savior’s ministry in something of a new light. I plan to include commentary on such classics as the Mustard Seed, the Vineyard, the Unmerciful Servant, the Talents, and (today) perhaps the most famous and taken-for-granted of all, the Good Samaritan. [Read more...]
Today is Palm Sunday. Christians worldwide will commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a spring day sometime during the first half of what we have come to refer to as the first century of the Common Era. Much can be said here about the social, political, and historical context of what the Gospel accounts portray as a momentous (if ironically so) event. I propose a reading of this story* for which one particular element of the sociopolitical context is especially relevant: Jesus’ “triumphal” entry was not the only procession into Jerusalem that day. [Read more...]