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...]
I still haven’t had the chance to see the new Beowulf but advertisements for the film and anticipation of seeing it eventually prompted me to use my daily commute to re-read the epic poem a couple of months ago. It was very rewarding. [Read more...]
Mormon history often has an “I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it” quality for faithful Latter-day Saints. So much, it often seems, depends on the interpretive strategy of the historian that readers’ own perspectives are hard to change with anything other than direct reference to surprising or under-considered primary sources. Indeed, during the aftermath of the Hofmann forgeries, even primary sources — especially surprising ones — were suspect for many Mormons. Fortunately for us, that time of historical nihilism is largely past, but the broad skepticism of many Mormons that things were ever substantially different than they are today seems to persist. [Read more...]
It’s going to take me a few paragraphs to get there, so here’s advance notice that this post is intended to be a pointer to recent scholarship on how biblical curses associated with the stories of Cain and Ham came to be misinterpreted by some Christians as applying to dark-skinned Africans.
- – - -
In 18th and 19th century America, prior to the Civil War, the Cain and Ham curses were interpreted by many Christians as explaining the skin color of black Africans and as justifying the practice of African slavery. After slavery ended, and as late as the 1960s, the curse on Ham continued to be put to work by some Christians to justify ethnic segregation. (1)
Given Mormonism’s geographic beginnings, it’s not much of a surprise to find occurrences of Mormons making the same uses of these stories. For example, the early Mormons swung back and forth between fairly strong abolitionist tendencies to the eventual 1850s legalization of slavery in the Utah Territory. (2) In lobbying for the territorial law, Brigham Young is quoted as stating “In as much as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the ordenances of God, in the Preisthood and order and decrees of God, we must believe in Slavery- [Read more...]
Atheist demigod Richard Dawkins has said that in the face of science, religion always retreats. This is probably true to some extent. For example, a century or two ago, few of us would have worried about the historicity of the global Deluge. Confronted by the overwhelming evidence from geology and archaeology (and all manner of other -ologies), most of us have learned to project some nuance on to the Genesis account. The same might be said of evolution, Big Bang cosmogony, brain science, ancient history, etc. We are rational creatures: when science shows beyond reasonable doubt that the earth is many billions of years old, we adapt our theology to fit. Mormons are generally pretty good at doing this. [Read more...]
At the age of three, Liz Muir moved to the house just outside of Salt Lake City where she spent the next fifteen years of her life. At the age of five, she decided that her life goal was to know everything. Despite being confronted many times with the fact that this goal is not precisely realistic, she hasn’t stopped trying to obtain a generalist education in a specialist world. To that end, Liz is currently a junior at BYU, studying Chemistry and English, and in her spare time enjoys watching PBS (especially Nova), knitting things that by some definition might be sweaters, and theorizing on Harry Potter.
I’ll admit that I was pretty skeptical about the relevance of the Two Ancient Roman Plates exhibit that recently opened at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library. The interest in ancient metallic plates seemed like just another attempt to stretch for historical justification for the Book of Mormon–interesting as a speculation, but “like most speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them” (Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest). I was happily surprised to come away from a discussion with John Welch, the exhibit’s curator, with some interesting insights into the ancient concept of sealed documents, particularly some speculations (see above quote) about the relation of these ideas to the Book of Mormon. [Read more...]
Mormons are often accused of polytheism, and the accusation is generally meant to exclude them from the respectability of Abrahamic religion (the established monotheism of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). The notion that the LDS would be excluded from Abraham’s legacy would strike many LDS as bizarre, particularly given the fact that the scripture named for Abraham is a vital text in understanding Smith’s vision of the nature of God’s relationships to humanity and to other beings.
I have often been reminded by reasonably knowledgeable and well-intentioned Latter-day Saints that in point of fact Smith was a henotheist. While I am sympathetic to the underlying impulse (shielding Smith from the opprobrium of the monotheists), that answer is misleading. [Read more...]
There comes a point of impasse for most readers of the Book of Mormon. Either you can believe in angels, seer stones, and gold plates, or you cannot. If you cannot, the Book of Mormon is likely to forever languish on the shelf next to the Bhagavad Gita that the Hare Krishnas similarly foisted upon you. After all, who can take such a preposterous book seriously?
Jana Riess comes to us as one of the regular Dialogue participants.
I just returned from a very encouraging conference for young Mormon scholars–the first-ever gathering of LDS graduate students who are getting advanced degrees in theology and religious studies. About 40 such students, plus a few spouses, convened at Yale Divinity School on Friday and Saturday. We had folks from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, UNC, Claremont, Iliff, the University of Durham, and the GTU, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few schools. (All of our sessions were held in the RSV translation room, which felt very auspicious and cool.)
Sixteen students presented papers on everything from the Deutero-Isaiah theory and the Book of Mormon to the question of whether an LDS scholar is ipso facto a defender of the faith. All these papers were sandwiched between some great opening remarks by Richard Bushman, who helped conceive and organize the conference, and a closing session by Terryl Givens, who gave us a fascinating sneak preview of his cultural history of Mormonism, due out in August from Oxford University Press. [Read more...]
Salt Lake City Aug 2006
As Latter-day Saints many of us feel confident in our belief in God and our understanding of his attributes. We are often quite adamant, truthfully so, that we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, the Eternal Son of God. These two figures justly receive the majority of our devotions. The Godhead, though, contains another entity, what other Christians call the Holy Spirit and we prefer in its older English translation–the “Holy Ghost.” [Read more...]
Our canonical texts are stridently negative about the practice of “wresting the scriptures.” Wresting the scriptures is said to lead to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16, Alma 13:20), to lead us far astray (Alma 41:1), and to produce contention (D&C 10:63). What, exactly, is this dangerous thing, this sower of chaos, this “wresting” of the scriptures? [Read more...]
Nowhere in the New Testament will you find a condemnation of slavery, nor an updating of the Mosaic slave code. Instead you have stuff like Ephesians 6 where slaves are told to be “obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling”; and Philemon, where Paul sends back a runaway slave to his Christian owner. Jesus does not raise a word against the practice. [Read more...]
If you have been paying close attention to my posts here thusfar, you may have noted a theme. I’ll be a bit more explicit about it here. We, Mormons, don’t know how to righteously dissent with our leaders (or our Leader). In fact, generally speaking, we frown on dissent, no matter how well intentioned or politely put. We certainly have assurances that God is at the helm of the church, both public and private. But I wonder if we sometimes read too much into that, arguing that anything the Brethren say is the Word of God and not to be questioned. On the other hand, there are those for whom the advice of the Brethren and other Priesthood leaders is considered to have no greater weight than anybody else’s. That also seems to be an extremity. Of course, most Mormons live between the extremes of these two poles. However, should we?
The scriptures have something to say about this problem. In fact, they have several things to say about it, sometimes revolving around the same scriptural figure.
I wrote the Old Testament section, Ed Snow the New Testament section.
Clearly, Mormon sexual doctrine is influenced by the Bible. It would therefore seem important for us to understand what the Bible says on the subject of homosexuality. [Read more...]
Any early present for Anti-Christ day: 6/6/06.
Did you know that Jesus was Lucifer? (That’ll get Ed Decker going.) Well, perhaps only in philological geekdom. [Read more...]
I was browsing through some of our cuneiform tablets and spotted this otherwise unexciting receipt. The last two lines are kind of cool though.
The tablet is dated to the 5th day of the month of Addaru in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon = 585 BC. This is only a year or two after the final fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jewish elite. [Read more...]
Paul Y. Hoskisson, ed. Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament. Salt Lake: Religious Studies Center, BYU, and Deseret Book, 2005.
Andrew C. Skinner. Prophets, Priests, and Kings: Old Testament Figures Who Symbolize Christ. Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 2005.
Mainstream Mormon publications on scripture studies follow a four-year calendar; after all, how large would the market be among rank-and-file Mormons for a book on the Old Testament in a year when the Sunday School reading is the Doctrine and Covenants or the Book of Mormon? Don’t most Mormons like to basically pretend that the Old Testament doesn’t even exist during the off years in the Sunday School calendar? [Read more...]
Two old posts from the Feminacle, unrelated except in my mind, and a recent visit from my parents have got me thinking.
Over at FMH, Emily S. posted one of my favorite poems, about the austere and lonely “offices of love” which even the least skilled or emotionally savvy parents often perform for their children. Meanwhile, in the trenches of the mommy wars, a a guest poster and several commenters seem very certain of their superiority to their parents in terms of commitment to marriage and the ability to make it work. Naturally, I hope they are right. Divorce stinks, especially for kids, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t aspire to atone for the sins of the last generation and make a better world for our children. Still, perhaps because of my advancing age (:)), and my pained awareness of the thousand ways I fail my children despite my best efforts, I feel a great deal of sympathy for the parents whose children describe their failures so starkly.
It seems to me that we have lost something in our sophisticated understanding of our parents and our “dysfunctional families of origin.” [Read more...]
In some ways, Joseph and the early Saints set about restoring, not just the practices of early Christianity, but also of ancient Israel. As such, they/we were both Christianand Old Testament “primitivists,” seeking to restore the primitive, and presumably superior, institutions of a previous culture.
Since much of the bible is the story of the relationship of one tribe, ”the Israelites”with God, the primitivist Mormons were intensely interested in that tribe. They prepared for the “literal gathering of Israel,” the Book of Mormon identified a new world people as Israelites, and the European Saints, though non-Israelite “Gentiles,” considered themselves to be spiritually of Israel, or to be of Israel through adoption.
But many Saints came to view themselves as literally of Israel; they believed they were genetically descended from Israel (through Ephraim). The Mormon tendency towards a literal “Israelism” seems to have played out over time. [Read more...]
When I was on my mission, back in the late-Jurassic before quads were common, we used to call our scriptures “sticks.” In our flipcharts was a painting of Ezekiel, holding a scroll in each arm, one representing the Bible and the other the Book of Mormon, representing the scene portrayed in Ezekiel 37:15 et seq. It did not take long, however, for me to see the problems with this traditional understanding. The writing was actually on the wood, not on a parchment scroll wrapped around the wood. Further, the context of the passage clearly had to do with the reunification of the tribes, not scriptural records. [Read more...]
Kevin Barney studied classics at BYU, where he worked as a teaching assistant to S. Kent Brown. He has published a couple of dozen articles on Mormon scripture, and is currently working on a book to be entitled _Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints_, which is scheduled to be published by Covenant later this year. He practices tax-exempt finance law in Chicago.
When Ronan introduced this series at BCC, he mentioned euphemisms as a possible topic, so I would like to follow that lead.
There are some topics that inherently have the potential to offend the squeamish: genitalia, nakedness, sexual intercourse, homosexual acts, excretory functions, death, possible affronts to God, and so forth. There are several possible strategies to soften these types of topics. One could simply avoid them altogether; one could dance around them with some sort of circumlocution; or one could euphemise them. That is, one could use a mild, delicate or indirect subsititute for the offensive word or concept. (Of course, in the case of one’s enemies, one could go the other direction and employ a dysphemism, which is the opposite of a euphemism, such as Beelzebub “lord of the flies” for Beelzebul “Baal the prince.”) [Read more...]
David J from Faith-Promoting Rumor has provided this Mormon Dummies’ Guide to the names of God in the Old Testament. Every Kool Kat has to know his El Shaddai’s from his El Elyon’s.
In the cultural milieu in which the OT was written, knowing the name of a person or thing opened up channels of communication between the two. The one who knows the name of a person or deity can appeal to that person or god. [Read more...]