Archival dross: Lies, damned lies, and ancient history

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...]

Eden: Hebrew Bible Back Row 2

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...]

The Scriptures Won’t Save You

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.

[Read more...]

Creation: Hebrew Bible Back Row 1

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.

[Read more...]

BCC Papers 5/1: Cranney, Josephus

Josephus and Joseph: A Brief Comparative Study of Mormon Scripture and the Antiquities of the Jews.

by Stephen Cranney [Read more...]

Book Review: Women of the Old Testament

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.
[Read more...]

A Mormon Liturgy for Fourth Advent

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...]

A Holiday Visit to Sodom and Gomorrah

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...]

Jehovah and the World of the OT

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 [2007]). 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...]

Canonization of Kitsch

[Updated March 11, 2009*]

Look closely at what is visible in the background of the picture below. [Read more...]

Alma 36:9

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...]

Tuesday Afternoon Theological Poll: Christian Paradox Edition

Could Christ have sinned prior to the age of accountability?
Answer after the fold.
[Read more...]

Mormonism’s Satan and the Tree of Life: Part 2 (Job and the OT)

(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.

[Read more...]

On Laman, Lemuel, and that angel

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...]

Health baptisms, pond hockey, & Asherah– A New Year’s toast

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...]

Who I’m voting for (and why)

If you’ve been waiting for someone at BCC to post an opinion of the current election, here it is. [Read more...]

The Parables of Jesus: Part 2, The Mustard Seed

After a long hiatus… [Read more...]

Everything I really needed to know about relationships, I learned from the Old Testament

A partial list of things the Old Testament teaches or suggests about sex, marriage, and relationships:

1. Kidnapping and rape are perfectly acceptable ways to find a wife. (Judges 21: 16-23; Deut. 22:28-29)
2. Don’t underestimate the benefits of visiting prostitutes. (Joshua 2) [Read more...]

The Miraculous Plates of Voree Examined

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...]

The E Source, Ephraimite Lineage, and the 8th Article of Faith

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...]

The Parables of Jesus: Part 1, The Good Samaritan

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...]

Messianic Prophecy and the Meaning of Palm Sunday

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...]

Cain and Race

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...]

Doing the Works of Abraham

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...]

Curses (on Cain and Ham), foiled again!

June_2007_cain-and-abel-vouet-pietro-novelliIt’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...]

Making Adjustments

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...]

Sealed Documents

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...]

Was Joseph Smith a henotheist?

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...]

Job’s inscription

In Job 19, Job laments his affliction, suffering the anguish of one abandoned by friends, family, and even God. He wishes for his words to be an eternal testimony of his pain, that he not be forgotten as time passes and God chooses another victim. [Read more...]

Offering the Book of Mormon to the non-believer

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?

[Read more...]

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