Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wordplay in Isaiah

I have heard, on several occasions, that some of the beauty and eloquence of Elder Neal A. Maxwell's talks are, to some extent, lost in translation. His carefully constructed choice of verbiage provides poetic expression that capitalizes upon the nuances of the English language. When his words are converted into a foreign language, apparently much of the intended wordplay does not carry over, and as such, appreciation for his sophisticated use of the language seems lessened, if not lost.
Isaiah was similarly highly-skilled in his writing abilities. When we often hear that Isaiah is difficult to understand, part of that difficulty comes with the inherent loss of his masterful artistry of language that is lost through translation. The intended message may become indecipherable in English. Margaret Barker demonstrates some of this wordplay in Isaiah that illustrates this point in a subtitled, "Echoing texts," in her The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sacred Objects in Israelite and Nephite Temple Worship

Occasionally, an essay, book, or presentation hits you in a way that substantially changes your perspective on a given topic. Don Bradley's presentation at the 2012 FAIR Conference provided a very interesting take on the topic of temple worship in the Book of Mormon. His talk was entitled, "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages." This post serves as a snapshot of his presentation in identifying the corollaries between Nephite sacred objects and Israelite temple objects, although I would refer the reader to the full talk where these concepts are more fully developed.

The Book of Mormon clearly identifies the existence of temples in Nephite territories (2 Nephi 5:16; Mosiah 2:1-7; Helaman 10:8; Alma 10:2; Alma 16:13; 3 Nephi 11:1), but the text provides minimal description of their functionality. Brother Bradley prefaces his discussion of Nephite temple objects by asking "what do we know about their temple worship, how it worked and what was it for?" The following Nephite/Israelite parallels provides some potential answers to these interesting questions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Noah's Ark and the Temple

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The following information was used as introductory material for a Gospel Doctrine lesson that I taught. My goal, as always, was to try and show how incredibly interesting the scriptures can be in order to encourage and inspire greater personal engagement with the scriptures. The following information, however, consists of a liberal borrowing of information from Interpreter and Benjamin the Scribe. For all quotations below, please refer to these two sources.

There are compelling reasons to connect Noah's ark with Moses’ tabernacle and the temple. The ark is the only instance in the Bible, outside of temple construction, in which the Lord provides revelation regarding building dimensions (Gen 6:14-16). The ark had three decks (Gen. 6:16), which correspond to the three divisions in the tabernacle. Each of the three decks of Noah’s ark were exactly the same height as the tabernacle, and three times the area of the tabernacle court. Both the ark and the tabernacle used mikceh, or animal skins (Gen. 8:13) as a covering for these structures. The ark was made of gopher wood (Gen. 6:14), commonly believed to be cypress wood, which was also used for the two doors and flooring of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:15, 34). Noah is instructed to “pitch [the ark] within and without with pitch” (Gen. 6:14).  The first word “pitch” is kaphar and the second word “pitch” is kopher. The second pitch, kopher, “looks to be an Egyptian loan word…it originally meant chest, or coffin, so Noah is quite literally building his own coffin, that he is figuratively going into death, and then being brought out of death.” Similarly, after Moses’ mother put him on the Nile on an “ark” (tebah – tāvah “vessel”), the same word as Noah’s ark, and seals it with pitch (Ex. 2:3).

Friday, May 2, 2014

Jacob the Supplanter

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An interesting observation made by Umberto Cassuto regarding the narrative of Jacob's life in Genesis provides a bridge to some Hebraic wordplay frequently observed by Biblical scholars. Jacob's name, which means "supplanter" is used by Esau in Gen 27:36 in referring to the two instances in which he was 'supplanted':
And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?
In other words, Esau is basically saying that Jacob has 'Jacobed' him twice now, or that the supplanter has supplanted him twice now. Cassuto observes poetic retribution in the story of Jacob initially marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Regarding Rebekah and Jacob's plan to obtain Isaac's blessing, Cassuto writes:

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book of Noah?

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Noah Mosaic, Basilica San Marco, Venice, Italy

Orson Pratt once declared that, "Noah, after having preached the Gospel and published glad tidings among the nations, was commanded to build an ark. He had a Urim and Thummim by which he was able to discern all things pertaining to the ark, and its pattern. He was a great Prophet, and predicted many things, and his records, no doubt, were hidden up, and will come forth in due time, when the Lord shall cover the earth with his knowledge as the waters cover the great deep."1 Where Elder Pratt was able to ascertain this information is uncertain (Joseph Smith? Brigham Young? Personal revelation? Scriptural conjecture?); however, James Charlesworth had an interesting tidbit of information to share about an extra-Biblical record of Noah. "We dare not conclude too quickly that because portions of 1 Enoch are extant in pre-Christian Semitic manuscript fragments, that all of 1 Enoch is pre-Christian, or even Jewish. The document we call 1 Enoch is certainly composite; it may contain six separate works and one of these may come from a lost Book of Noah."2 He adds (in a footnote), that "A Book of Noah apparently existed by the middle of the second century B.C.E.; Jubilees refers to a spr nh (10:13), and the author of the Testament of Levi (MS e) mentions a writing of the biblou tou Noe (18:2)."3 For a snippet of discussion on a pseudepigraphon that contained "considerable material concerning Noah," see this teaser here. For a little investigation into whether the Jaredites had access to Noah's writings, see here.

1 Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses (May 18, 1873), 16:50
2 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 38
3 Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, 153

Monday, April 14, 2014

Passion Week

From the 1st volume of the Improvement Era:

Read it online here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Favorite Nibley Quote

...I have a testimony of the gospel which I wish to bear. Again, as Brigham Young says, because I say it's true doesn't make it true, does it? But I know it is, and I would recommend you to pursue a way of finding out. And there are ways in which you can come to a knowledge of the truth. When is a thing proven? When you personally think it's so, and that's all you can do. And that's true, of course, in science or anything else. When enough experience, and enough impressions, enough thought and so forth, build up in your own mind so that a thing is proven to you, that's the proof....You can't force another person to believe....No two of us, you see, have the same experience, have the same background, have the same evidence, or anything else. All we can do is reach the point where, ahah! that is it, you see. Then you have your testimony, and all you can do is bear your testimony and point to the evidence. That's all you can do. But you can't impose your testimony on another. And you can't make the other person see the evidence as you do. Things that just thrill me through and through in the Book of Mormon leave another person completely cold. And, the other way around, too. So we can't use evidence, and we can't say, I know this is true, therefore, you'd better know it is true. But I know it is true, and I pray our Heavenly Father that we may all come to a knowledge of the truth, each in his own way, as Brigham Young would have us do it.1

1 Hugh Nibley, "Brigham Young as a Theologian," discourse delivered June 9, 1967

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Temple and Garment

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom... (Matt 27:51)
Disclaimer: Hugh Nibley, in writing his book, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, prefaced the content by stating that, "The whole purpose of this book is to compare two scenarios, the Egyptian and the Mormon; but the writer has been careful throughout to describe and discuss only one of them, preserving complete silence on the other. Though often sorely tempted to point out some really stunning parallels between the two disciplines, he has been restrained both by the admonition of the prophets and the consideration that what is glaringly obvious to him hardly needs to be called to the attention of any adult practicing Latter-day Saint..."1 A similar situation exists here, with respect to early Christian canonical and pseudepigraphical literature.
The Levitical priesthood allowed for the High Priest, as the sole representative of Israel, to pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies one time a year on the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 9:1-7). When the veil was "rent in twain" during the crucifixion of Christ, entrance to the Holy of Holies became available to all who were worthy to enter the temple, and more specifically, to those who were worthy to enter the presence of the Lord.2 Years ago, I first read Hugh Nibley's, Temple and Cosmos. There is plenty to glean from this tome, but there is one line cut from the text into my mind that has drawn the curtains back a little to shed light on an enigmatic subject. In discussing the ancient significance of the temple veil he notes that those who passed through the veil were "in a world surrounded by light." Nibley then quotes Marc Philonenko, who drew an interesting connection between the temple veil and temple clothing.Before quoting Nibley's translation of Philonenko, however, it would be well to understand the context of the subject that Philonenko was discussing.

Did the Atonement Take Place on the Cross at Calvary?

"...Jesus' death on the cross is not the place or the primary means of atonement for the author of Hebrews. Rather, when the writer claims in 8:4 that Jesus can only serve as a high priest in heaven, he intends to say that the great redemptive moment of the Christ event occurred not when Jesus was crucified, but after he was resurrected and ascended into heaven. There he presented himself alive and incorruptible before God. Just as Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] does not focus on the slaughter of the victim, but the presentation of its blood--that is, its life--before God, so also the author of Hebrews thinks in terms of the presentation of Jesus' indestructible life before God as the central act that effects the atonement."1

Read the rest of this interesting article here, starting at page 211.

1 David M. Moffitt, "Blood, Life, and Atonement: Reassessing Hebrews' Christological Appropriation of Yom Kippur," in The Day of Atonement: Its Interpretations in Early Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Thomas Hieke and Tobias Nicklas (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2012), 211-212

Situating Literary Context

Another articulate insight from James Charlesworth:
In a deeper sense, in our search for a social understanding of Early Judaism, we must acknowledge the multi-dimensional role of linguistic phenomena. We have been preoccupied with the meaning of the language in the texts, yet there is another extremely important dimension to them, namely the function of the language of the text for the early Jew who was embodying in his or her own contemporary world the functional meaning of the text. As W.A. Meeks, a New Testatement scholar and a social historian who is a moderate functionalist, writes, 'The comprehensive question concerning the texts that are our primary sources is not merely what each one says, but what it does'....It is a sensitivity to the social dimension behind (and somehow within) our texts that should guard us from repeating distortions, caricatures and false portrayals.1
1 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins, Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 54 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 22-23; Charlesworth's citation for Meeks: W.A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 7

Context vs. Proof Texting

Brilliant words from James H. Charlesworth:
In the attempt to move closer to the ancient authors and to grasp their needs and dreams it is essential to be ever self-critical of who we are and from where we are coming, and to struggle for a sensitive indwelling of their world. While we are primarily occupied with their bequeathed words we must always endeavor to supplement the received words with other non-literary artefacts and archaeological discoveries, and to define words, broadly, inter alia, in terms of their essence, their content, their function, and their social setting. I presume that they, like we, struggled towards an intended meaning, not scouring around in search of words, but by flowing through perception and intentionality to communication. Words, after all, come somewhat mysteriously as we shuttle between worlds of silence. Since most words in the Pseudepigrapha have not yet influenced our lexicons, and since most of the ancient Semitic words disappeared when Hebrew and Aramaic died out, it is unwise to support arguments or develop ideas by myopically citing lexicographical data. It is the living word, not the dead record of how it was employed in a few surviving texts, that alone can open our eyes to that world two thousand or so years ago when the documents in the Pseudepigrapha and in the New Testament were being composed and read aloud.1
It is too easy to impose a presentist interpretation of ancient texts when we read the scriptures and other ancient documents. It would be well to read the scriptures (and all ancient literature) by reading them as though we "were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago..."2 and to heed Charlesworth's admonition to be careful that we understand context, lest we be guilty of proof texting these documents in a way that they were never intended to be understood. 
1 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins, Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 54 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 4-5
2 Brigham Young, The Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 128

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Passover, the Day of Atonement, and Margaret Barker's Forthcoming Book

About a year ago I began reading Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.1 It has been an extremely interesting book and has been quite informative regarding parallels between the Passover and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. A synopsis and discussion of these parallels will follow in a subsequent post. While the parallels between these two events are striking, still, I was left to wonder why Christ's Atonement occurred in connection with the Passover, rather than on Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The rituals associated with Yom Kippur, which seem to me to best foreshadow the Atonement of Jesus Christ, intriguingly, was not concurrent with Christ's actual sacrifice. Passover commenced in the middle of the month Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar (the Jewish new year is celebrated during springtime), whereas, Yom Kippur takes place on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei). For various reasons that Pitre posits, the Passover festival provided an appropriate setting in which the infinite atonement took place, but did not explain why the Passover was a more appropriate context than the Day of Atonement (nor was it his intention to cover this topic in particular). In the foreword to Pitre's book, Scott Hahn writes: