Easter. The Passion of Jesus XV. Matthew and the Fate of Judas. The Theory of Innocent Blood. Zechariah. Ahitophel again.

Part 16, here.
Part 14, here.

Matthew and the fate of Judas.

One the three predictions Jesus made was about the betrayal of a disciple, and that it would be better if he had not been born. Matthew tells us what happened to Judas in the aftermath of the kiss in Gethsemane. As the chief priests et al. are taking Jesus off to see Pilate, Matthew interrupts the story to tell how Judas dies (Mt. 27:3-10). The first thing to note is that not only is Peter following the action, Judas is too. Matthew is vague about this, maybe he’s thinking that Judas is outside the palace.
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Endowment and Eucharist V

JKC concludes his guest series.

Finally, the conclusion of my series about how the endowment and the eucharist perform similar functions. (For the rest of the series, see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.) I’ll apologize in advance for getting a little personal in this one. Thanks for indulging me! [Read more…]

Groundwork: Postponing Heaven

PostponingHeaven-Front-200x300The first published book in our new Maxwell Institute series, Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture, is Jad Hatem’s Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi.

This book offers, in microcosm, a model for the future of Mormon Studies.

The book is written by an established scholar with an international reputation working in a foreign language who is not himself a Mormon, it is fundamentally comparative in nature, and, rather than attempting to adjudicate Mormon materials, it aims to deploy them. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIV. Peter Denies Jesus. Different Stories. The Invisible Disciple.

Part 15, here.
Part 13, here.

Peter Denies Jesus. The details here differ considerably in the different Gospels. The Invisible Disciple.

When Jesus is taken to the High Priest, Peter follows the group and enters the area where Jesus is. The various Gospels interpret the location of Peter differently. One has Peter in a courtyard, one inside a building, one in a court. He’s sitting with guards, warming himself by a fire. Mark has Jesus upstairs, Peter is below in a courtyard. Matthew says Peter is outdoors. Luke has Jesus go to the house of the High Priest, and Peter seems to go into the same house, where a fire is built. John has Peter interrogated before Jesus’ interview with Annas, then twice after. The Synoptics do things differently as usual. Before Luke’s trial, Peter denies Jesus three times.

Just to recap, in Mark, Peter is in the house but downstairs, in Matthew, Peter is outside, in Luke Peter is in the same room as Jesus. One thing the stories have in common is a maid who asked Peter a question. She says, you were with him [Jesus], Peter says, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
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Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture

Groundwork - BlocksJoseph Spencer and I are editing a new series of scholarly books for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship entitled Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture.

In line with the official description, the series will test the richness of scripture as grounds for contemporary thought and the relevance of theory to the task of reading scripture. By drawing on a broad range of academic disciplines—including philosophy, theology, literary theory, political theory, social theory, economics, and anthropology—Groundwork books offer a deeper understanding of Mormon scripture and contemporary theory alike.

Books in this series, while of interest to a popular Mormon audience, are pitched primarily as scholarly contributions in Mormon Studies. [Read more…]

Monday in Holy Week

As we approach Easter, the Lenten anticipation of a new creation rises to a new pitch. We hope for the healing of all the injustices we see around us—including those smaller things we’ve tried to leave behind for Lent. Sometimes those hopes hinge on what we expect to be a grand and mighty act, but Easter offers something different: the shame of the cross and the quiet, publicly unheralded resurrection. Easter, in other words, teaches us to look for redemption in the small things–the servant who, instead of crushing the nations, will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax. Jesus, rather than shedding the blood of others, spilled his own—once for all. On the side of this redemption are not the mighty, but the meek. [Read more…]

Sneaking Out in the Middle of the Night: The Anti-Exodus Type in the Book of Mormon #BOM2016

Jarom, Omni

The first time that our family read the Book of Mormon, we used the four-volume children’s version by Deta Petersen Neeley. After completing the second volume, I asked my ten-year-old son what he thought of it. “Well,” he said, “I’m not sure what it means, but there sure are a lot of people sneaking out in the middle of the night.” [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIII. Luke and John on the Jewish Trial.

Part 14, here.
Part 12, here.

The Trial. Luke and John.

Luke doesn’t have a trial at night, whereas Mark and Matthew have one at night. All three have Peter’s denials at night however. In Luke the trial is in the morning. Luke does have a Sanhedrin meeting at night, but the High Priest plays no role, and he also has mocking at night. Luke’s sequence is better from a legal standpoint. Luke’s rearrangement of events probably comes from a desire for a better sense of order. Trials at night suggest some kind of secretive hurried kangaroo court atmosphere, Luke doesn’t like that sort of thing.

On the questioning, Luke has “if you are the Christ, tell us.” Luke splits Mark’s question in two. He’s emphasizing the dual role of Jesus: Christ, Son of God. Jesus responds in a strange way: “if I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.” It’s incredibly ambiguous. Maybe this is Luke’s way of saying that Messiah has become a complicated term that means something different to Christians of his era than it did to Jews of Jesus’s time. Then he has Jesus go into the “right hand of the Power” thing.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XII. The Jewish Trial: Sanhedrin and a bunch of interesting questions.

Part 13, here.
Part 11, here.

The Jewish Trial: The Sanhedrin.

Jesus is now alone, that is, his friends are gone. Mark says that they led Jesus to the High Priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. Peter followed at a distance, into the courtyard of the high priest, he sits with the police, warming himself at a fire (remember, it’s Passover-ish). Mark is setting up the two parts of the narrative he’s going to explore: the interaction with Jesus and the High Priest and the interrogation of Peter. These are simultaneous events, not consecutive. For the trial part, Mark says that “the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death.”
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XI. The Arrest and more on Judas.

Part 12, here.
Part 10, here.

The Arrest of Jesus. More on Judas.

The story of the Passion of Christ has its share of pathos, and certainly a portion of that is provided by the betrayal of one of the Twelve, Judas. Mark 14:43 (ESV): “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.”[12] Mark has already told of Judas contracting with the scribes and priests to deliver Jesus at a moment when he’s isolated so there won’t be a riot. Riots were not unknown in Judea but they could have fearful consequences, since the Romans didn’t like them at all.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus X. Gethsemane part 8. Passion as Parable. Bloody Sweat, or Just a lot of Sweat?

Part 11, here.
Part 9, here.

Gethsemane VIII. This is it for Gethsemane. On to the arrest next time.

The Passion is a parable in itself. The kingdom is not coming in power. It comes by having the King become powerless. (Now, John would not like that idea, he has a much different vision of Jesus’ psychology, his position.) This is remarkable because Jesus has demonstrated power previously, conquering death (Lazarus), calming the sea (storm on sea of Tiberius), healed the sick merely by the touch of his clothing. Now he will soon be in the power of “sinners” as Mark says at the end of the Gethsemane story. And Jesus has to live through this, he doesn’t have power to stop it. He’s asked God to stop it, the answer is no. Finally, he comes to a point of utter aloneness on the cross. It’s through this weakness, isolation, impotence, suffering, that the kingdom will finally emerge. The sleeping disciples fulfill the tale at the end of Mark 13. They aren’t ready for the end trial, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak–they aren’t ready, Jesus must do it alone.

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

I remember once, as a teenager, asking my dad how he stayed in the church back when the church wouldn’t allow black members to hold the priesthood or attend the temple. I was probably 16 or 17, because I’m pretty sure I was driving. I don’t think I was asking an accusatory question, though I was 16 or 17, so who knows. And I don’t remember how my dad responded.

I do remember, though, that his response was complicated, both a bearing of testimony and an acknowledgement that the pre-1978 racial policies of the church were bad. It was messier than the black and white world a teenager craves. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus IX. Gethsemane part 7. Jesus Prays. How do we know? Our Prayers are Infected with Aristotle.

Part 10, here.
Part 8, here.

Gethsemane 7.

Jesus is coming into God’s presence, and Mark indicates it by saying Jesus falls to the ground. It’s Abrahamic. Luke doesn’t like this drastic picture: he has Jesus kneel—in control of himself always. Luke’s picture of Jesus in his trouble and finally his death is one that models the death of Christians in persecution. You see this in the death of Stephen.
Earlier, Mark reports that Jesus says (three different times) that he must suffer and die. But in prayer he now says, “And going a little further, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me.'” This seems illogical. Why is he praying for the trial to go away, when he’s already predicted that it will come?
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VIII. Gethsemane part 6. Is it twelve or three? Draining the Cross of Meaning.

Part 9, here.
Part 7, here.

Gethsemane 6.

In Mark, after Jesus comes to Gethsemane, he takes Peter, James, and John with him a little further on, and then he leaves them and goes off by himself. This separation with the three occurs in other spots. Sometimes Andrew is included so you have two sets of brothers and Jesus. Mark 5 has Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead in the presence of Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration has the three with him. In Mark 13, it’s Peter, James, John, and Andrew hearing Jesus teach on the Last Days. These four always appear at the beginning of lists of the disciples. As far as the rest are concerned, during Jesus’ ministry they are basically invisible.
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Whither Big Tent Mormonism?

A quick post to start a discussion and get your thoughts.

In talking with friends about Mother In Heaven, it seemed clear that her presence in LDS doctrine is now permanent but that our liturgy and current practice just don’t know what to do with her. We don’t pray to Her, we talk of Her but we have nothing to say; we know nothing of Her except by association. But She is a compelling figure for many and the desire to work Her into a pattern of worship is there.

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Hebrew School in the BoA?

I had a little time to kill this afternoon, so I decided to run a deltaview comparison of Abraham 4 and 5 against Genesis 1 and 2 to get a good visual map of the variations from the latter to the former. The results were fascinating. Some of the changes seem to have been influenced by Joseph’s studies with Joshua Seixas in the Kirtland Hebrew school (as a number of scholars have opined over the years). I’m at work without resources (in particular my copy of the Seixas grammar), but I thought I would try to identify some of the changes that to me seem most likely to have had a Hebrew-based motivation. These are just a series of (very) rough notes for my own future reference, but I thought some of you might find them interestintg as well: [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus VI. Gethsemane part 4. Luke: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Part 7, here.
Part 5, here.

Gethsemane 4. Luke + Mark – Matthew in between. John: off the ledger.

Luke doesn’t have anything on the conversation at Kidron, but he puts it in the supper. Luke has a more upbeat narrative, he doesn’t like to speak badly of the legends of the church (his Gospel is partly shaped by Acts). So he tempers a lot of it. The prophecy about Peter is still there, but in Acts he tells how Peter is fearless in preaching, he’s a heroic figure. This is always true of venerated religious people of the past. We always ignore or minimize their faults and failures. We did the same thing in writing about Joseph Smith in the 1850s. He was practically sinless by some lights. Of course he was nothing like that, but it’s natural and that’s Luke. Remember, he’s writing 50-60 years after the fact. Luke can’t help Judas, there’s nothing really that can be done to mitigate that story. But for the other disciples and Peter in particular, he puts in positive statements about their ultimate fate:
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus V. Gethsemane part 3. Predictions, Failure, and Mark.

Part 6, here.
Part 4, here.

Gethsemane III.

Last time I ended with the predictions and they are negative. Going back to Mark 14:27, Matthew 26:31, and Zechariah 13:7. Mk reads “And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away (you will all be scandalized, offended); for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ Yet after my resurrection I shall go before you into Galilee.” The last part is the only positive phrase in the whole Markan Passion account (Luke expands on this a lot because he doesn’t care to have Jesus unsure about himself, Luke covers up much of the negative). Matthew has it somewhat differently: all of you will be offended IN ME this night. Offended, or scandalized begins to take on the sense of losing faith. They will be so disturbed that their faith will be completely threatened. In Mark’s audience, he is perhaps looking at a situation in the community where people have failed in some drastic way. Many believe Mark was written in the aftermath of the Nero persecution, when Christians betrayed other Christians to the empire in the threat of martyrdom. It was a time of shock, loss, and depression. Mark’s negative tone, he even has Jesus wavering in his resolve, seems meant to show that the worst kind of failure can be healed by Christ. Take courage he seems to be saying. We are all human, but God can heal us.[7]
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus, IV. Gethsemane part 2. Locations: Old Testament Influences, Judas as Antitype.

Part 5, here.
Part 3, here.

Gethsemane II.

The Mount of Olives is a large hill, east of the city, separated from it by the Kidron Valley. Kidron is a wadi, it only has water during part of the year, in this case, the winter. So Jesus crosses this winter flow.

Gethsemane (lit. oil press) means a place where there were oil vats. There are olive trees about, and they need oil presses to press out the oil. Gethsemane is a place where this is done. This seems to be part of the earliest tradition, that there was this place called Gethsemane. Mount of Olives has interesting theologizing around it, and it’s mentioned in Luke that on Easter Sunday night Jesus ascends to heaven there, and in Acts, he again does this after 40 days. It’s usually inferred that he will come back to that spot in the future.[5]
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The Allegory of the Olive Tree and the Conversion of the Jews: Jacob 5 as a Response to Romans 11 #BOM2016

Jacob 5

The text of Jacob 5 introduces several new elements into the Book of Mormon, among them: a new genre (extended allegory) and a new narrative voice (Zenos). It is difficult to see how this prophecy relates to Jacob’s original audience, but it is easy to see how it relates to Latter-day readers, as it comments on, and partially revises, a passage from the Letters of Paul that has structured the relationship between Christians and Jews for more than a thousand years. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus, III. Gethsemane part 1.

Part 4, here.
Part 2, here.

Gethsemane 1. Where to begin? The Gospels give us different pictures. John’s Gospel has the Last Supper, chapters 13-17 and then a break, crossing the Kidron Valley in chapter 18. The break in the other Gospels is not so clear, especially in Luke. It’s hard to make a break there, but the Supper is a complex thing in itself, so I’m just going to start things with Gethsemane, even though that’s not always how the Passion is defined. But this thing has to be finite. It’s a blog post. The same thing happens at the other end. Matthew doesn’t make a sharp divide between death and burial. I think the latter belongs in a treatment of resurrection, something I don’t want to get in to, and I haven’t really carefully reviewed the texts anyway. That’s on purpose. This series focuses on issues we don’t consider with much frequency.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus, II. The Natural Order.

Part 3, here.
Part 1, here.

Passion narratives in the Gospels differ from the rest of the respective content in several ways, this is one. The Passion stories of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John have a sort of built in consecutive character. And that probably represents the second epoch. It’s just natural. You must have a conspiracy, a capture/arrest, a trial, a conviction, a death. The ordering is just there, though there are some variations. Some people have argued that no such ordered narratives existed until Mark, the earliest Gospel. This seems odd and I don’t think it can possibly be true. This contrasts with the rest of the Gospel stories in several ways. There is no implied sequence for most of the them. For example, the parable of sower and seed. One Gospel has it in one place, another Gospel puts it in a different place. There isn’t anything that clues you in to where or when it was said. Jesus heals the blind man. Where was he? It doesn’t say. Sometimes there is a place name attached to an event, but one Gospel puts it when he comes into town, another puts it when he leaves town. The sequence of events is not part of the story, and it’s obvious that there are different (oral and perhaps written) traditions in play, and that the Evangelists themselves exercise freedom over the placement of traditional events.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus I. Preliminaries.

Part 2, here.

Latter-day Saints don’t often use the term “Passion” in referring to the last hours of Jesus’ life. I like the term however, so I will use it in this series of Easter thoughts. One can think of its historical meaning as “suffering.”

I’ll begin this with a word about the nature of the Gospels. If you’ve managed to get through some of my posts lately, then you have probably already encountered this. There are various levels of meaning in scripture, and the longer scripture has been around the more this is true. I’m going to assume a centrist position, one that can accommodate faith, and scholarship. What I mean is this: you can, I think, err on a “fundamentalist” side, or a “liberal” one. It’s somewhat complex to illustrate this in general, but since we will be discussing the New Testament Gospels, the two positions might go like this. The fundamentalist notion is that everything we find in the Gospels is precisely what Jesus said and did. The liberal position is that virtually nothing is historical in the Gospel accounts (in both cases I’m stating the most extreme view). Each has been argued for but each has drawbacks. The first is really not tenable because when you compare the Gospels (and we will see this as we go along) you find deep divergences. It’s obvious that something has happened between the time of Jesus’ words and acts and the time the Gospels were written down. The liberal argument uses such divergence to conclude that nothing can pass the test of being historical. I think that position (one that exists in the literature) goes too far in the other direction.[1]
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Endowment and Eucharist IV

JKC continues his series

In the last three parts (Part I, Part II, Part III), I have suggested that although we as latter day saints are accustomed to thinking of the Kirtland endowment, if at all, as an incomplete chapter of our history that was later superseded by the endowment ceremony administered in the Nauvoo temple, another way of looking at the endowment liturgy could be to see it as a way to organize and systematize the principles that were revealed first in Kirtland, and provide an ritual through which saints that were not present at the Kirtland endowment could symbolically participate in the same spiritual gifts, blessings, and powers by symbolically becoming sanctified, symbolically receiving the divine law, and symbolically receiving God’s presence.

In this part I finally get into the discussion of how all this relates to the Eucharist. Sorry it took so long to lay the groundwork! [Read more…]

Pride and Polygamy in Jacob’s Temple Discourse #BOM2016

Jacob 1-4

The Book of Jacob is weird. I say this lovingly, but it’s true. It’s not that the book says weird things. It’s just that the things it does say don’t seem to have anything to do with each other. It’s more like a mix tape than a coherent narrative or a sustained argument about anything.

But the wonderful thing about Jacob as a narrator is that he knows he’s weird. And he tells us exactly why his book does not have the kind of coherence that Nephi has trained us to expect. Writing on plates, he tells us, is really hard: [Read more…]

Honoring Stephen Webb

We are sorry for the occasion of this post, but grateful to Hal Boyd of Eastern Kentucky University for this tribute to someone whose work many of us at BCC have learned from and deeply appreciated.

The man who so often contemplated eternity has now stepped beyond its threshold. Dr. Stephen H. Webb passed on this weekend.

A protestant convert to Catholicism, Dr. Webb increasingly dedicated his immense intellect to Mormon theology.

For him, the Latter-day Saint doctrine of an embodied God held the potential to rejuvenate what he saw as moribund mainline theology. The Mormon notion of the material essence of “spirit” was a novel breakthrough. [Read more…]

Grind upon the Face of the Poor


So as usual I’m beginning to read the assignment for next Sunday’s GD lesson. I’m in 2 Nephi 26 when I come to verse 20 (the verse is quite dense, so I’ve broken it into lines to make it easier to parse): [Read more…]

Top 15 Hamiltunes

There’s a little musical on Broadway; perhaps you’ve heard of it?


This was a hard list to write, and even harder to sort. But here goes:


15. The Schuyler Sisters – I’m always awed by the harmonized vocal runs in this song. Also, there’s always a Peggy. WORK!

14. You’ll be Back – King George, ostensibly channeling British pop star Mika, singing to the colonies as though they’re his estranged lover?? Say no more. (Well, just one thing more: “Da da da da daaaaaaaaaa da, da da da di-ya da, da da da da di-ya da…”) [Read more…]

Sexual Violence in Church History

We’re pleased to feature this guest post from Kristine A., who blogs regularly at Wheat and Tares.

I attended the Church History Symposium in Utah co-hosted by BYU and the Church History Department last week. I live-tweeted quite a bit of the whole weekend using #LDSwomen and #CHsymposium. The most memorable session was Andrea Radke-Moss’ presentation on her paper “Beyond Petticoats and Poultices: Finding a Women’s History of the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838.” I overheard some Mormon historians mentioning that her presentation was likely the biggest reveal/discovery in Mormon history in at least the past 50 years.

IMG_7274 [Read more…]

First 50 Years of RS – Evening with the Editors

From our friends at Benchmark Books:

We are very excited to announce that Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook and Matthew J. Grow will be here on Wednesday, March 9th, to discuss their new book, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (published by The Church Historian’s Press). They will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.—speaking at 6:00—and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. We hope you will be able to make that night but, if not, we can mail signed copies or hold them here at the store for pick-up. To RSVP on Facebook, click here.
[Read more…]


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