Moses 1: A God’s-Eye View of the World #BCCSundaySchool2018

First a few items of business. Well, one item of business anyway: BCC will be blogging about the Old Testament this year. Big time. We’ve divided the world between us, and we will be following along with the Gospel Doctrine schedule, once a week, all year. Our goal is to give you the same profound, faith-driven inquiry that BCC is famous for on a schedule that can enrich your personal study and gospel doctrine discussions.

But wait, there’s more. The BCC archives contain trove upon trove of treasures relating to the Old Testament, and we pledge to search the archives so that you don’t have to. At the end of each #BCCSundaySchool2018 post will be a “From the Archives” section linking to posts from the past that are relevant to the lesson of the day.

So hold on tight, and come back often. This is gonna be great.

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Lesson One: This Is My Work and My Glory (Moses 1)

The Book of Moses is the longest continuous segment in Joseph Smith’s Revision of the Bible. Unlike most of the JST, which is included as footnotes or appendix items in the LDS Bible, the Book of Moses has been canonized (along with Smith’s revision of a passage in Matthew) in the Pearl of Great Price, where it has long functioned as something between a supplement to and a midrash on the first five and a half chapters of Genesis.

The relationship between the Book of Moses and its corresponding biblical chapters is complicated, but the most obvious difference between them is probably the most important: the two texts are narrated from different points of view. Genesis (like most of the Old Testament) has a human narrator, traditionally (if not always plausibly) assumed to be Moses himself. God does not speak in the first person in Genesis unless He is being quoted by a superordinate narrative voice.

On the other hand, the Book of Moses, with only a few narrative frames at the beginning and the end of chapters, is narrated in the voice of God. Instead of, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:14) we get, “And  I, God, said let there be light; and there was light” (Moses 2:3). This small shift–the addition of a single one-letter word–changes God from a third-person character in the story to its first-person narrator. And this is a big deal.

Point-of-view shifts are actually always a big deal in narrative theory. Authors sometimes shift the point of view within a work to deepen the readers’ experience (think of The Sound and the Fury or The Brothers Karamazov). These shifts always mean things. It is much more obvious when a new author tells a familiar story from a different perspective. This happens a lot in modern novels, like John Gardner’s Grendel (Beowulf) and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (Jane Eyre). But it also happens in poetry (Tennyson’s “Ulysses”; Browning’s “Caliban upon Setebos“), drama (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) and even big-budget Broadway shows (Wicked). And, since we have not plugged BCC Press recently, this is the same approach that Mette Harrison takes to re-frame the Book of Mormon in her phenomenal novel The Book of Laman.

The Book of Moses does just this sort of thing to the Bible. Actually, “the Book of Moses” is probably a misleading title. The first five books of the Bible are, collectively, the Book of Moses. What we have in the Pearl of Great Price is a  part of that story narrated from a different perspective. So maybe we should call it “the Book of God.”

The shift in perspective is especially important in Moses 1, a chapter whose most important theme is the difference between Moses’s perspective and God’s. Unlike the rest of Moses, Chapter 1 does not correspond to any passage in the current Old Testament. Rather, it is an introduction to all of the books that we attribute to Moses and, by extension, to the entire Old Testament. Before sending Moses to free the Children of Israel, God sits him down on top of a mountain and gives him one of those sweeping, panoramic visions of all things that prophets occasionally get. And, in the process, he gives Moses a God’s-Eye view of the world:

   27 And it came to pass, as the voice was still speaking, Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.

  28 And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore.

For this brief moment, Moses sees the entire world in ways that no unaided human can. We only see the world in small pieces and for a very short time. We lack the sensory perception and the cognitive ability to see everything, everywhere, everywhen, and how it all fits together. With God’s help, Moses sees all of this, and then he learns that even this immense vision is just an infinitely small fraction of what God sees, as there are “worlds without number” that work the same way (33).

But God isn’t done showing Moses the immensity of His point of view. Understanding God’s temporal and spatial perspectives are child’s play compared to grasping His moral perspective, which is the the divine attribute that we are specifically charged with emulating in this life. As immense as it is, God sums it up in one sentence: “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (39).

Think about that for a minute. God has just allowed Moses to experience the universe as it appears to an infinite being with the capacity to grasp infinite time and space. And then he declares that, as the creator of all these infinitudes, he really only has one job, which is to bring about the temporal and spiritual salvation of a species of cognitively overdeveloped apes with opposable thumbs. Everything this Being has ever done or will do has this singular objective. Every. Single. Thing.

This is a huge departure from how people usually read the Old Testament, which, let’s face it, has some really disturbing stuff in it. But this is why we need the divine preface, which shifts the perspective of the whole story from the human to the divine perspective. Most of the people who brought us the Old Testament were interpreting the events that they experienced through their own perspective, which saw Yahweh as a tribal deity who was supposed to help them win wars. But we know from Moses 1 that this is not how God saw the same events, and the difference in narrative perspective requires a massive reinterpretation of the events narrated.

If we can really internalize this little bit of God’s perspective–that everything He does has the singular objective of redeeming all of humanity from sin and death–then we will have a consistent filter for interpreting scriptures and all sorts of other things. If we encounter something that somebody attributes to God, and we cannot understand how it brings to pass the immortality or eternal life of humanity, then we can be absolutely certain that one of two things must be true: 1) we do not understand it correctly; or 2) that it does not come from God.

 

From the Archives
Kevin Barney: Introduction to the Old Testament
Russell Arben Fox: What I Learned from the Old Testament
Blaire Hodges: Reading Moses 1 as an invitation to greater ecological awareness

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s a post that is very general about why I love the OT that I suspect would fit well here:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2009/05/09/why-i-love-the-ot/

  2. Oh my gosh! Thank youuuuuuuuuuu!! I’ve been prepping all week and really needed this!

  3. Mette Harrison’s name was accidentally left out of the sentence on The Book of Laman> Otherwise, a superb beginning, Michael!

  4. maustin66 says:

    Fixed it. Thanks.

  5. it's a series of tubes says:

    This is gonna be a good year. Great stuff to start!

  6. Looking forward to this!

  7. This series will make my BCC membership dues worth the expense! Thank you, seriously.

  8. “If we can really internalize this little bit of God’s perspective–that everything He does has the singular objective of redeeming all of humanity from sin and death–then we will have a consistent filter for interpreting scriptures and all sorts of other things. If we encounter something that somebody attributes to God, and we cannot understand how it brings to pass the immortality or eternal life of humanity, then we can be absolutely certain that one of two things must be true: 1) we do not understand it correctly; or 2) that it does not come from God.”

    Thanks very much for putting this concisely. In my view, it’s a really important point. I also recognize that we may be tempted to assume option 2, and reluctant to admit to option 1. I imagine there are a fair number of combo plates, too, things we don’t understand that also don’t come from God.

  9. I personally have a hard time with the notion of being “absolutely certain” that we can use this particular interpretation of Moses 1 to reduce certain misunderstandings into a simple exploratory dichotomy. If Moses 1 acts as “something between a supplement to and a midrash on” the beginning of Genesis, then the “God’s-eye” view it apparently presents represents a useful interpretive lens for our experiences and theological speculations, but not exhaustively so.

    I guess I just see this chapter differently. Maybe I read too much Joseph into the chapter — the foreshadowed alchemical wedding of man who is “nothing” on his own to a Being of infinite power that desires to exalt His creations, and a demonstration of such an alchemical wedding by the existence of the text itself, hidden words from the dust “had again among the children of men” thanks to “another like unto” Moses, a weak thing of the earth made strong.

  10. Dancer_Esquire says:

    Thrilled about this!!! Thank you. Thank you.

  11. Leonard R says:

    Really great stuff, Michael.

  12. Geoff - Aus says:

    Now that the Prophet has died and the next not announced yet, this chapter is important, as it describes revelation, speaking face to face with God. It also says that Moses, who was in his prime, after the experience, fell to the ground, and did not recover his strength for many hours.
    If we continue to call very old men who would not survive the experience of speaking to God, we will have to make do with inspiration, which is filtered through prejudices.
    Our attitude to women, and gays, is likely to take revelation to change.

  13. What are some of your opinions about divine investiture – especially as it relates to Moses 1? Are we the only Christian religion that has a doctrine of divine investiture of authority? Isn’t it just easier to believe that God the Father is speaking in Moses 1?

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