LDS Living posted an article claiming that Joseph Smith saw a vision of Heavenly Mother. The same problematic information was related by Fiona Givens (as posted by Jana Riess) at Flunking Sainthood (with Religion News Service). I worry that this little "discovery" will make its rounds throughout the Bloggernacle and be received uncritically. The problem with the assertion, at least in the evidence provided, is that it simply isn't true...not without some unwanted baggage anyways. Both articles provide a quotation from the journal of Abraham H. Cannon (of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: 1889-1896). Both articles neglect to provide the context for the quotation provided and both authors were apparently unaware of the other accounts of the same event that contradict the details in Cannon's journal. The event described is provided from Zebedee Coltrin, that took place following a conference in New Portage, Ohio, on May 7, 1834 (see HC 2:64).
Monday, June 27, 2016
Saturday, June 18, 2016
President Ezra Taft Benson has been a strong influence upon the membership of the Church with respect to appreciation for the Book of Mormon. His enthusiasm for this book of scripture is encouraging and inspiring, and this enthusiasm is apparent in a number of his conference talks. One of his conference talks seems to have permeated Mormon consciousness more than others though and that is his talk, "Beware of Pride." This particular talk is memorable for its emphasis upon the evils of pride and its cure, humility, and the dissemination of this talk seems to have found its way into just about every discussion regarding the so-called Book of Mormon "pride cycle" (correlated materials, books, sacrament talks, etc.). The "pride cycle" is a repeating pattern within the Book of Mormon, wherein, a humble community becomes faithful, is blessed with prosperity by the Lord, begins to develop pride, which culminates in being destroyed once their pride sufficiently separates them from the Lord. Their "destruction" may come in various forms, including war, bondage, famine, or other devastating effects upon the community that humbles them.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The previous Times and Seasons editorial provided a lengthy extract from Stephens and Catherwood's Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. The author of that editorial believed that the structures found in Palenque provided incontrovertible evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. In the same volume and issue of the Church-owned newspaper as the last editorial, this conclusion is continued in three additional paragraphs. I'm not primarily concerned with authorship of the editorials as of yet, so much as I'm concerned as to what the editorials actually assert regarding Book of Mormon geography, and specifically whether any limitations are imposed upon that geography. The previous two editorials allowed for the region from Central America up to Ohio to be considered Book of Mormon lands, with the last editorial providing emphasis upon the area of Palenque as being uniquely in support of Book of Mormon events (specifically citing 2 Nephi 5 as a corroborating text). The editorial below is further assessed for clarification and elaboration upon these previous assertions.
In the previous post I discussed the first editorial in the Times and Seasons wherein Stephens and Catherwood's book was referenced as supporting the Book of Mormon. It was noted that the writer of the editorial actually understood Ohio, Tennessee, and Central America as locations supporting the Book of Mormon. Each of these locations seemed to contribute to the general term "this continent" used in describing Book of Mormon geography. Additionally, if Benjamin Winchester wrote the editorial as asserted by Neville, then Winchester would have viewed both the "heartland" and Central America as providing corroborating evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. This post continues the exploration of the Times and Seasons editorials wherein Stephens and Catherwood's book is discussed. In this particular editorial, a lengthy quotation is provided, followed by some editorial commentary.
Monday, May 23, 2016
I've read the first several chapters in Moroni's America and there are several points raised that I'd like to address; however, I will be returning to most of those points in a separate post. In the meantime, I wanted to comment on the Times and Seasons editorials regarding John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood's book, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Neville refers to these editorials multiple times in Moroni's America and asserts that Benjamin Winchester conspired with William Smith to print these editorials in the Times and Seasons with the intent to change Mormon and non-Mormon conceptions of Book of Mormon geography. According to Neville, Winchester succeeded in this endeavor and the Church (including the prophets and apostles) have been off course regarding Book of Mormon geography for the last 170+ years. He argues that the collective Church has falsely believed Mesoamerica to be the location of the events described in the Book of Mormon,1 and refers the reader to his other book The Lost City of Zarahemla for a full discussion of the matter. Matt Roper has thoroughly responded to these issues, including Benjamin Winchester's personal geographic views,2 but I want to explore the editorials here further. I'm uncomfortable simply 'taking his [Neville's] word for it' and would rather explore whether his assertions have feasible plausibility based on the actual editorials in question.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
I've never cared that much about Book of Mormon geography. I do care about Book of Mormon historicity though, and the concern about where the narrative in the Book of Mormon took place has immediate relevance to the concern that it did take place. Nevertheless, geography has always been tangential to my primary interests, and like many others I've been comfortable with the assumption that the narrative in the Book of Mormon described events that took place in Central America. I presume that most members in the Church have made similar assumptions. In recent years these assumptions have been challenged though. The assertion that Central America was the location of BoM activities has been denounced in strong terms by a small group of Latter-day Saints who advocate that the American "heartland" is where the Book of Mormon narrative really took place. I've sat on the sidelines for the past several years while these discussions have progressed, and probably would have happily stayed there, but a friend recently handed me a book written by Jonathan Neville, entitled Moroni's America, and I feel inclined to address some of the content of this book as I read through it.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
"It is not without consequence that Oliver Cowdery, "the second elder" of the Church (D&C 20:3), fell away and was excommunicated from the Church during the dark and troubling days of Kirtland, Ohio, and Far West, Missouri, in 1838. The details of his disaffection and excommunication are perhaps not as important to this study as are his return and rebaptism. Thanks to the intrepid efforts of Phineas Young, brother to Brigham Young, Oliver was kept conversant with the affairs of the Saints. As a lawyer first in Ohio and then in Wisconsin, Oliver even offered his services to the Prophet Joseph Smith when he was incarcerated in Carthage Jail in June 1844. Plagued with tuberculosis and sensing that his health was declining, Oliver returned to the Saints at Kanesville, Iowa, in November 1848. When Brigham Young, then in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, heard of his return, he penned these memorable lines of sincere gratitude and earnest invitation:
"A close examination into the nature of the revivals near Palmyra in 1820 does reveal "a strife of words" and "a contest about opinions" (Joseph Smith-History 1:8); however, not all the revivals were of the circus variety, full of zealous sermonizing, converts barking up trees or baying like dogs, and women swooning in trancelike devotion. Most of the revivals took on the personality and character of the dominant minister. And in the spring of 1820, one such prominent Presbyterian divine was the respected Reverend Asahel Nettleton of Connecticut (assisted by the Reverend Halsey A. Wood), whose travels through the areas west of Albany in late 1819 took the form of a quiet religious reformation.
"Preaching in Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, Ballston, West Galway, Cooperstown, Utica, and rural areas perhaps as far west as Rochester, Nettleton directed his listeners to nearby groves to pray in faith and find hope of salvation. His revivals lasted several weeks and were also characterized by Sabbath sermon meetings in which he taught the awful condition of the fallen and unrepentant soul...."All the meetings were crowded and solemn. There was no tumult, no noise. Everything was still, though every mind seemed filled with the magnitude of the work....So profound was the stillness, that a recent death could have added nothing to it, in many families. Common conversation was rarely engaged in, and every ear was open to hear the gospel....The people seemed never weary of attending....They would flock together during all the inclemencies of the season, and listen, when met, with so deep and profound an attention, that in a room crowded to overflowing, it would almost seem you might hear a pin drop or the beating of a watch. The stillness, at times, seemed to have something like mystery about it; it was sublime, it was awful; you almost seemed to be in eternity....Some of the most signal convictions seem to have been wrought by the Spirit in these circumstances....Our evening meetings [February 1820] were still more thronged, and in the coldest evenings of an unusually severe winter, many assembled who were not able to obtain admittance to our school houses, and have been seen to raise the windows and stand without in devout attention to the word of God."
Thursday, March 31, 2016
"It would appear that the process was less one of decoding or deciphering the precise meaning of the individual characters and inscriptions found on the plates, as Champollion had so painstakingly done with the Rosetta Stone, and more one of discerning the meanings conveyed thereon and then, in addition, transforming such meanings into acceptable King James Bible literary English. Consequently, the interpreters seem to have functioned on two levels: conveying meaning from the ancient text while simultaneously suggesting wording in biblical-sounding English beyond Joseph's limited ability at the time. Thus it would appear that Joseph Smith was not a decoder of ancient signs and symbols or a translator in the Champollion sense but rather a transmitter, translator, and writer who, with the aid of the interpreters, transcribed what he saw into exquisite English prose and poetry."1
1 Richard E. Bennett, School of the Prophet: Joseph Smith Learns the First Principles, 1820-1830 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 56
Sunday, February 28, 2016
This book by Steven L. Shields is a compilation of discourses by Latter-day Saint leaders on the atonement and plan of redemption. Since I'm trying to clear out some of my library, the purpose of this post is to basically reproduce his entire book here by linking to the articles and discourses that Shields' provides in No Greater Sacrifice:
Monday, February 22, 2016
Two quotations worth preserving from this book:
"President Harold B. Lee said, "That person is not truly converted until he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this Church, and until it goes down into his heart like fire." (CR, April 1972, p. 118)."1
"Significantly, there are no group ordinances in the Church. All covenants are made on a personal basis. It does not matter what others believe or do; we will be judged solely on the basis of what we believe and do."2________________________
1 Joseph Fielding McConkie, Seeking the Spirit (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981)
2 McConkie, Seeking the Spirit, 102
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Preston Nibley's Witnesses of the Book of Mormon is primarily a compilation of information about the witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates. The book contains minimal narrative, thus its value is based on the depth of resources providing biographical and other information about the witnesses. Since scholarship over the last several decades has produced numerous sources on the witnesses, the value of this compilation has been somewhat relegated. Nevertheless, for reference purposes, the sources used in Nibley's compilation is provided below.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
R.T. Beckwith provides a good summary of the some of the changes that took place from the First Temple to the Second Temple in terms of physical objects within the sanctuary:
The information which we are given about the Second Temple is not sufficient to enable us to compare it in detail with Solomon's Temple, though a comparison of Ezra 6:3 with 1 Kings 6:2 indicates that it was twice as high, and other differences will appear later. At the same time, it did not have the idealistic dimensions of Ezekiel's Temple, nor did it have the magnificence of Solomon's Temple, to judge from the reactions it inspired (Ezra 3:12-13; Hag. 2:3; Zech. 4:10; cf. Tobit 14:5). The apparent inferiority was not simply one of adornment, for, as the rabbis were afterwards to point out: 'The Second Temple lacked five things which the First Temple possessed, namely, the fire, the ark, the Urim and Thummim, the oil of anointing and the Holy Spirit [of prophecy].'
The 'fire' is the supernatural altar-fire, which fell from heaven (2 Chr. 7:1-3). In the version of the saying given by the Babylonian Talmud, the 'oil of anointing' is replaced by the 'Shekinah' (literally 'dwelling'), which means the visible manifestation of God's presence in Solomon's Temple by way of the glorious cloud (1 Kgs. 8:10-11; 2 Chr. 5:13-14; 7:1-3). The loss of the ark at the Babylonian exile was a calamity which the people naturally felt with especial acuteness, and many legends gathered round its fate (2 Macc. 2:4-8; 2 Baruch 6:3-9). Josephus states in so many words that the holy of holies was now empty (War V:219). So the Second Temple contained none of the visible tokens of God's presence that there were in Solomon's Temple: his presence was now purely a matter of faith.1___________________________
1 R.T. Beckwith, "The Temple Restored," Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, Eds. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon Gathercole (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 72-73
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Several LDS authors have pointed out the prevalent usage of the Exodus motif in Book of Mormon texts. S. Kent Brown, for example, observed that "The memory of Israel's exodus from Egypt runs so deeply and clearly in the Book of Mormon that it has naturally drawn the attention of modern students."1 Joseph Spencer, citing George Tate, points out that the importance of this theme stands out, for example, when, "Alma draws not on the texts of Exodus, but on the tradition of the exodus--a tradition present in the Nephite consciousness long before Alma."2 This consciousness must have been inherited from their Israelite forebears, or possibly developed culturally through focused attention upon specific scriptures in the brass plates; or conversely, both factors could have affected this tradition to varying degrees at different periods in Nephite history. The fact that this emphasis exists, however, is worthy of noting. Jo Bailey Wells comments on the importance of this motif within the Hebrew Bible itself, which could speak to an inherited Nephite tradition:
"With regard to the rest of the Old Testament, the motifs of the book--of the exodus, the wilderness, of Sinai--are repeatedly echoed. In particular the escape from Egypt is viewed as the event of supreme religious significance. Even elsewhere in the Pentateuch it is no mere historical event of the past, but a permanent symbol that constantly imposes itself afresh on the collective memory. In the Psalms, in the historical books, and in the Prophets, the experience of the exodus is declared again and again--so that Amos, for example, can voice God saying to a generation at least five hundred years later, "I brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (Amos 2:10).3
Monday, November 16, 2015
A superficial understanding of the Bible emphasizes the New Testament at the expense of the Old Testament by simply discounting these scriptures as having been superseded. The notion that Christ changed the law to effectively relegate the Hebrew Bible as though it no longer had relevancy is to assert ignorance regarding the Savior's exegesis on Psalms, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, and other scriptures. While Christ's teachings certainly superseded Israelite liturgical practices and, in some cases, He provided a higher order of doctrines and principles, still His teachings brought to surface principles and doctrines in other cases that were embedded in the Torah and elsewhere. One such example, is His reference to loving one another: "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19:18). Writing on the significance of this Israelite teaching, Joel N. Lohr, explains what this meant in terms of "corporate responsibility":
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Elder Clayton’s General Conference address earlier this year in April summarized the story of Sailor Gutzler, a 7 year old girl who was the sole survivor of an airplane crash. Her family was on a small private airplane, returning home to Illinois from a vacation in Florida. The airplane, which was piloted by Sailor’s father, began having engine trouble as they crossed over from Tennessee into Kentucky, noting that the right engine had lost all power. Through air traffic control they were rerouted to a small landing strip in Kentucky, which was in sight as they descended. Then the radio signal was cut off. At about 6 PM on January 2, 2015, Sailor, her mom and dad, older sister, and cousin crashed near Kuttawa, Kentucky, about 10 miles away from the landing strip. Everybody died upon impact, except for Sailor who suffered a broken wrist. She called out to her parents and family without response. Worrying that they were dead, but hoping that they were just sleeping, while still wearing only her vacation clothes – consisting of a t-shirt and shorts and apparently only one sock on - she unbuckled and climbed out of the plane, which was now partly on fire.
With sacrifice playing such a large role in temple worship throughout the scriptures, one may wonder what other purposes the temple may have served. Certainly it served as a locus for prayer. Donald W. Parry wrote an article regarding a possible reference to a prayer circle in Psalm 24. In Psalm 27:4 reference is made to inquiring of the Lord within the temple. Robert Fyall, in speaking of the Jerusalem temple in 2 Kings 6-8, adds additional insight to certain aspects of temple worship:
After an introduction in 1 Kings 5 outlining Solomon's preparations for his building project, chapters 6-7 deal with Temple and palace and chapter 8 with the prayer of dedication. The details of building probably come from Temple archives now lost beyond trace and the account is marked by great clarity as the writer moves from structural design to interior furnishings. In chapters 6-7 four matters call for attention.
The first is that the project begins well: the Temple is 'for the LORD' (6:2) and the detail in verse 7 about dressed stone shows scrupulous obedience to the Torah (Exod. 20:25 and Deut. 27:5-6). This is reinforced by 6:11-13, where Yahweh himself underlines the words spoken by David in 2:2-4. Thus obedience, humility and gratitude rather than bricks and gold are to be the true fabric of the Temple.1__________________
1 Robert Fyall, "A Curious Silence: The Temple in 1 and 2 Kings," Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon Gathercole (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 50 (emphasis added)
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Doctrine and Covenants 107:23 defines the latter day calling of an apostle to be "special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world." This distinction is important because it provides the qualifying characteristic revealed by the Lord as pertaining to the function of apostles in the latter days. Cultural assumptions rooted in New Testament scripture regarding the physical need to see Christ tends to result in preconceptions in our day that overlooks this qualifying distinction. One of the key New Testament passages that serves this perception, reads:
(Acts 1:) 21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
"In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality
of Gods beyond the power of refutation."1
Joseph Smith explained that Genesis 1:1 inherently taught a plurality of gods in its usage of the word ’ĕ·lō·hîm. He discussed this principle in his famous funeral sermon for King Follett (amalgamated, parallel) as well as during his "Sermon in the Grove" (HC, parallel), where he "turned commentator" on the Hebrew text of the Bible. Joseph undoubtedly drew upon his Hebrew studies with Joshua Seixas, and may have referred to Professor Seixas (or to Dr. Peixotto, Seixas' predecessor in teaching Hebrew at the School of the Prophets) when he declared, "I once asked a learned Jew, 'If the Hebrew language compels us to render all words ending in heim in the plural, why not render the first Eloheim plural?' He replied, 'That is the rule with few exceptions; but in this case it would ruin the Bible.'"2
I suspect that the text of Seixas' Hebrew Grammar used in the School of the Prophets provided Joseph with the foundation for his critical exegesis. The transliterated elohim is defined as "God; a sing. noun with a plur. form":
Friday, October 2, 2015
Continuing with insightful commentary by Jo Bailey Wells on Exodus, the following observation on Exodus 19:6a is interesting - particularly the Rabbinic interpretation:
The third phrase that demands attention is mamleket kohanim ("a priestly kingdom," v. 6a). This title not only presents a unique juxtaposition of two (otherwise common) terms in the Old Testament, but also the grammatical construction is uncertain. It is therefore not surprising to find ancient translations of the text paraphrasing it differently. There are at least four variations: the LXX renders it basileion heirateuma (a royal priesthood); the Vulgate reads regnum sacerdotale (a priestly kingdom); the Syriac Peshitta, "kingdom and priests"; and the Targums read "kings (and) priests." Likewise, the title has been rendered in a wide variety of ways by modern interpreters.1_______________________
1 Jo Bailey Wells, "The Book of Exodus," A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture, Eds. Richard S. Briggs and Joel N. Lohr (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 75
Monday, September 21, 2015
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant,
then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth
is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.
These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
"In verse 5, YHWH explains to Israel the manner of the relationship with him in which they are invited to participate. It seems that on the condition of their being obedient and faithful to his covenant, certain blessings will ensue. Here is the core of the passage, which Muilenburg suggests exemplifies the covenant Gattung (larger theme or genre), consisting of a conditional statement promising divine favor for obeying YHWH's will or threatening punishment for disobeying. Muilenburg cites many examples of this type of speech. However, verses 5-6 appear to differ from his model in the aspect of "conditional promise," in that the relationship of protasis (the statement of condition) to apodosis (the result of meeting the condition) is not consequential. The connection is far more subtle. Rather, as Patrick puts it, "the protasis is a definition of the requirements of the position or vocation designated by the titles of the apodosis." Obedience is the basis for the identity of the covenant people. In other words, to be YHWH's own possession, his priestly kingdom and holy nation, entails submitting to his will. Israel is invited to accept this offer. Thus the "if" is not a conditional, suggesting cause and effect, but almost the reverse. It describes a logical relation between responsibilities and privileges, in which Israel is invited to participate.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
I have to admit, the first time I read Hugh Nibley assert that banks were derivative from ancient temples I thought he was really stretching. The striking contrast that he provided between the two was compelling and intriguing, but it also seemed too contrived. That was my mistake.
The following two Nibley quotations seem to be popular online:
"In our day, as in various other times in history, the sanctity and the authority of the temple have been preempted in the religion of mammon, for example. Our banks are designed after the manner of ancient temples, with imposing fronts, ceremonial gates and courts, the onyx, the marble, the bronze--all are the substance of ancient temples. The sacred hush that prevails, the air of propriety, decorum, and dedication; the pious inscriptions on Zion's Bank's walls are quotations from Brigham Young (the one man who really had it in for business). The massive vault door, through which only the initiated may pass, gleams chastely in immaculate metal. The symbol makes the reality of all that is safe and secure--that is, the Holy of Holies. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. This is the Lord speaking. We declare that our trust is in God, and we give ourselves away by stamping that declaration where it belongs--on our coins and bills."1
Thursday, September 10, 2015
"MIDGLEY: What book or books have influenced you the most?"
"NIBLEY: Well, actually the scriptures. And I do like Shakespeare,
things like Homer's Odyssey, and so forth."1
Hugh Nibley was a fan of William Shakespeare. In his youth he memorized MacBeth and a portion of Hamlet.2 In Nibley's writings and lectures Shakespearean quotations aren't difficult to find. One particular theme from Shakespeare's writings, however, finds a fair amount of recurrence in Nibley's works, and that is the adopted and adapted idea that "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women are merely players."3 This quotation comes from the character Jacques in As You Like It, who goes on to say that "They [the players] have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts..." The whole speech is one of Shakespeare's more quoted scenes and it seeks to address, to a limited extent, what happens in the play, but it doesn't address the nature of the play. Shakespeare's writings show an immense interest in searching for the plot - the meaning of life. The puzzling nature of our very existence, echoed in Hamlet's famous line, "To be, or not to be: that is the question,"4 illustrates Shakespeare's search for this missing piece of his metaphor. Nibley summarizes:
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
"A testimony is a gift and a talent (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)....It functions like any of the senses; for example, like hearing, it is an "absolute" thing--you either have it or you don't; but like hearing, it may be strong at one time and weak at another; it is never in ailing mortals in perfect operating condition...and may vanish altogether at times, be nonoperative at times, and at times return with astonishing force and vigor. But it does not produce the things it hears. It would be hard to explain to one devoid of those senses that seeing and hearing are not functions of the imagination and are only in part self-induced--that there would be no seeing and hearing at all if some sort of stimulus did not come from the outside....All this is commonplace enough but I am trying to say that when I "bear my testimony" I am really talking about something, whether you get it or not.
"We are here to use our brains, but the most important impressions that come to us do so directly and without any conscious cerebration. We may work over the data of such experiences in our minds, but we do not produce the impressions in the first place....It is surprising how many people have thought me to be merely spoofing--just having a little fun, like Joseph Smith when he got up the Book of Mormon. I wonder if they realize what a price one must pay for that kind of fun. I say to hell with careers and the things of the world...I am stuck with the gospel. I know perfectly well that it is true; there may be things about the Church that I find perfectly appalling--but that has nothing to do with it. I know the gospel is true."
Hugh Nibley, “Dear Sterling,” Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 19 Vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2008), 19:144-147
Providing some harsh critique of certain conditions existing at BYU in the mid-20th century, Nibley wrote, "It is not the religious views of our professors that drive so many young people from the Church--few are fooled or impressed by the religious contributions of our English or Philosophy Departments, for example--it is the claim to a higher and deeper learning, a knowledge of things that others do not know; that is the weapon. It is the power to impress and beguile others by appealing to a learning that the "layman" does not possess that puts him at the mercy of the professors."
For the past year I have been trying to learn and teach something called classical rhetoric. Rhetoric was "the art of the Sophists," and the ancient, medieval, and modern universities have all been under their spell. Plato warned against these people and prophesied that they would (as they soon did) gain complete control of education; in his dialogues he has Socrates draw from the great Sophists their admission that what they really seek is not knowledge but the prestige and influence that go with it and that the aim of their art is only to get enough learning to make an impression on the public and thereby get "power and gain."
From the beginning the Sophists devoted most of their energies to attacking religion. The professional humanist simply cannot leave religion alone, for in the end he has nothing else to talk about. The philosophers can always get an audience by promising an attack on the Church, but whoever listens to them or reads their stuff when they talk about anything else? They don't dare apostatize, because if they did the public would lose all interest in them. To attack religion is the one safe course for the ambitious intellectual. A professional savant is expected to say something significant--it is not enough for him simply to repeat what others are saying. And so he strikes out in bold new directions by attacking prevailing religious beliefs. Of course in doing so he falls back on platitudes and truisms and arguments as old as the race..., but since he is in the minority, this marks him as a great thinker and above all saves him from being called to account; for if he is too closely questioned or criticized, he can always play the martyred liberal.
Hugh Nibley, “Nobody to Blame,” Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 19 Vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2008), 19:136-138