My School of the Prophets


A long time ago I was called to be my stake’s “institute teacher.”[1] I had taught lots of Gospel Doctrine classes in the stake, and I have always endeavored to make my classes interesting and on the level of a good BYU Religious Education course, and apparently someone had noticed that effort and decided to let me teach on a stake-wide basis. I took the call as quite an honor and of course accepted. [Read more…]

The Intelligencer: Filling Inboxes with Faith Since Like October 2015 or Something

giphyIf you still aren’t subscribed to The Intelligencer, BCC’s weekly email newsletter, we can only assume you don’t like Mormon news, By Common Consent posts, funny GIFs, the scriptures, or chocolate Easter eggs. Either that or you’re holding out for the BCC Snapchat channel to launch.

That’s not going to happen. We’re all-in on this email thing. You might as well subscribe.

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XXII. Crucifixion part 3. Luke and John. Finale.

Part 21, here.

Crucifixion 3. Luke and John. Last post!

After the story of the repentant robber, we read that it’s the 6th hour and the darkness comes until the 9th hour. Like Matthew, Luke only speaks of the 6th and 9th hours and doesn’t mention the third hour. Luke talks of the sun being eclipsed and it’s not clear whether he means some kind of solar eclipse or simply that the sunlight is obscured in some way. The word he uses is the one that would be used in the case of the moon passing in front of the sun, but that is impossible for that time of year. Now Luke speaks of the “curtain of the temple” being torn. He moves this event to a point where Jesus is still alive. This revokes the point of Mark’s narrative. No judgement is implied this way, and Luke has a soothing vision of what happens after Jesus’ death.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XXI. Crucifixion part 2.

Part 22, here.
Part 20, here.

Crucifixion 2.

Matthew follows Mark for the most part, but he makes some changes. “they came to a place called Golgatha which means the place of a skull and they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall.” Mark had myrrh in the wine, a flavoring, but gall is bitter, unpleasant. There is another Psalm here, Psalm 69:21. (KJV)

They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

This is a parallelism and it’s two sides of the same coin as usual, saying the same thing twice. Once again, the writer at the time did not treat it as parallelism he saw it as two different acts. Mark is perhaps thinking of the Psalm in his narrative where at the beginning he has the wine with myrrh, and at the end, the vinegar or sour wine. Matthew is more pedagogical: at the beginning it’s gall, at the end it’s vinegar. He’s more precise in his adherence to the Psalm. The parallelism becomes two separate acts and we’ve seen this kind of misapprehension of parallelism before.
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Good Friday

The scandal and offense of Jesus’ crucifixion lies mostly buried under 2000 years of familiarity. Isaiah writes of the shock that the nations experience when Israel, that no-account postage stamp of land they were used to running over en route to fighting more important peoples, turns out not only to be exalted and lifted up on high, but also the means of their salvation, in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant. Similarly, that a minor Jewish political threat hanging like a ragged corpse on a cross outside Jerusalem—just like so many others, before and especially after—should turn out to be the Savior of the World ought to surprise us, or at least inspire a little incredulity. We often say that the Jews were expecting the wrong kind of messiah, but really, who can blame them? According to the Gospel accounts, even Jesus’ closest associates did not expect him to die, and certainly not like this. Their shock still resonates through the stories recorded many decades later. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XX. Crucifixion part 1. Mark and God’s Compassion on the Downtrodden.

Part 21, here.
Part 19, here.

Crucifixion 1. Mark and God’s compassion on the downtrodden.

Crucifixion was designed as a public event, meant to control by fear. People were meant to be allowed up close and personal to the cross. Of all the people who show up at Jesus’ cross, the most historically certain are the soldiers. Also likely are passersby, it’s entirely plausible that Jesus would be seen by those moving about in normal activity. However, the Psalms are so evidently used as framework, and the pictured audiences so contemptuous, it seems impossible to know whether there are specific memories of events of crucifixion in John and other Gospels. It’s certainly not implausible that members of the Sanhedrin might show up, for various reasons (but the priests are more problematic–it’s Passover eve for John, and lambs must be killed).
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIX. Pilate and John’s Gospel. Some Genuine Chiasmus.

Part 20, here.
Part 18, here.

Pilate. John’s Gospel.

John’s Gospel gives more detail about Pilate and the trial and it is almosst 3 times longer than Mark’s. Pilate is in the praetorium (probably the Herodian Palace), Jesus is inside, the chief priests etc. are outside. John is the Gospel of Eternal Life, and John’s Jesus is Divine before his life (John 1) and his actions throughout consist of encounters with people who are tested as to whether they choose light or darkness. For John, the Jews have chosen darkness. John has a rule regarding those who dither, who can’t decide when presented with the choice between light and dark. They have already chosen darkness, and this is where he places Pilate. In John’s version of the trial, Pilate is constantly moving in and out of the praetorium, he can’t make up his mind.
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Groundwork: Postponing Heaven II

PostponingHeaven-Front-200x300Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi is a study in what Jad Hatem calls “human messianicity.” Though it pays careful attention to the details of its source materials, Hatem isn’t interested, for instance, in the Book of Mormon for its own sake. He’s interested, instead, in what the Book of Mormon (and Mormonism itself) is about.

That is, Hatem is interested in Christ.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes his work a model for the future of much of Mormon Studies. In Hatem’s hands, the study of Mormonism isn’t about Mormonism; rather, the study of Mormonism is about Christ.

What does it mean to be Christ? What does it mean to be a Messiah? How might different messianic conceptions lead people to be situated differently—redemptively—in relation to their worlds?

More, what differences are made in the flesh? Not just in history or doctrine or philosophy, but in the bloody, existential meat of a present tense, fully embodied life?
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Friendship (Maundy Thursday)

Joseph Smith called friendship “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,” so it’s fitting that friendship should resonate so deeply with one of the most sacred days of Jesus’ mortal life: the day when, according to the synoptic gospels, he instituted the sacrament, bathed his disciples’ feet, and went on to pray in Gethsemane while his closest friends slept nearby, and when, according to the Gospel of John, he gave those whom he addressed as friends the vital commandment to love one another. [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVIII. Pilate in Matthew and Luke. Herod Again.

Part 19, here.
Part 17, here.

Pilate. Matthew and Luke.

In Matthew, Pilate’s questions are essentially the same as in Mark. Matthew adds, “so the governor wonders greatly.” It’s a little more drama. But in the Barabbas narrative, Matthew has “while Pilate was seated on the judgement seat.” Only John and Matthew reference the judgement seat. And this is genuine Roman practice. The Tribunali, the Bema, judgement seat, it was a show of formal meaningful procedure. “While he was there his wife sent word to him saying have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” This is early in the morning, recall the cock crow. This is Matthew all over, the Gospel of dreams. Joseph the dream master who echoes the original Joseph the dream master. The Gentiles worship baby Jesus (Magi) while the Jews try to kill him, and Matthew has king of the Jews there too, and now there is this Gentile woman who wants to protect Jesus, has a dream, etc. There is this excellent parallel between beginning and end.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVII. Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death. The Roman Trial.

Part 18, here.
Part 16, here.

Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death.

When did Jesus die? The problem here is the differences in the Gospels over the relation of his death to the feast, Passover. They all agree that it happens on a Friday, but for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, that coincides with Passover.

The Jewish day starts in the evening and runs until the following evening. This means that the Last Supper, the Trials of the Sanhedrin and Pilate, crucifixion, and death, all take place on the Passover holiday. Thus, for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the dinner on Thursday night is a Passover meal. For John, it’s different. When the chief priests come to Pilate, they don’t want to go in, because they want to celebrate the feast that begins on Friday (evening). So for John, Passover runs from Friday evening until Saturday evening. In that case, all the actions take place the day before Passover. And the issue is one of timing Jesus ministry. It’s possible to compute which years Passover occurred on Thursday and which on Friday.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVI. Pontius Pilate and the Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Part 17, here.
Part 15, here.

Pontius Pilate. Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Pilate lived at Caesarea, the Roman capital on the coast, and there are inscriptions with his name there. When he came to Jerusalem, he probably stayed at the Palace of the Herods built about 23BC, it’s a strategic spot, the highest in the city. In the second century BC, the Maccabees were fighting Antiochus Epiphanes. Desperate for help, they wrote letters to Rome. The Romans wrote back with encouragement, they would rather deal with the Jews than the Syrians at that point, but sent no army. Much later, Pompeii invaded Palestine, to fix conflict there. The competing Jewish priest/kings were fighting and killing each other, and Pompeii came in and set things in order, in fact this begins the uncomfortable interplay of international politics and religion in Jerusalem: the Romans start picking the High Priest, and they change them now and then to show who’s in charge.
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Was King Benjamin a Socialist? #BOM2016

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.–Mosiah 4:16

BenjieMormon liberals love to quote King Benjamin. He seems to validate the whole social-justice/safety-net program of the contemporary left. He admonishes us to give to the poor, and, like so many of the prophets of the Old Testament, condemns an entire society for allowing deep inequalities in its midst. If there are better liberal-Mormon proof texts in the Book of Mormon than Mosiah 4, I don’t know them. [Read more…]

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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Mormon Art and Cultural Change

Guest post by Christian Frandsen, BYU student and Assistant Curator at Writ & Vision.

Exciting—even radical—things are happening in the world of Mormon art and aesthetics. Certainly this reflects the recent widening of cultural horizons in the way mainstream Mormonism considers social topics like feminism and race, but the work of Mormon artists even in Mormon-est of all Mormon havens—Utah valley—is digging out a foundation of progressive aesthetics that extends well beyond the plot of cultural square footage that we Mormons have staked out. This is important, especially considering that one of these artists is J Kirk Richards—perhaps the most respected creator of Mormon religious art. [Read more…]

Abide with Me — Thoughts on Staying

Christian Harrison generously agreed to respond to Sam’s post. Christian is a longtime friend of the blog, an urban enthusiast, a professional storyteller, and a man of faith—a practicing member of the Church. He’s also gay.

Whether it’s some progressive acquaintance calling me an Uncle Tom or Elder Bednar insisting that I don’t exist, I must admit that I’ve had no shortage of chances to wonder, lately, why I stay.

Why do I lend material support to an organization dead-set on erasing me and countless other queer members? Why do I stay when my very presence defies the wishes of so many of my coreligionists—members of the flock who want so desperately to run off the sheep with different wool? Can’t I see that I’m unwelcome? Can’t I see that God’s love is a tough love—that His love isn’t universal? Why? Why? Why…
[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]


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