Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Let us go up": Nephi's Literary Allusion to the Exodus and the Temple

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

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin, Part 2: Theological Exegesis on Leviticus

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emphasizes the New Testament at the expense of the Old Testament by simply discounting these scriptures as having been superseded.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 While Christ's teachings certainly superseded Israelite liturgical practices and, in some cases, He provided a higher order of doctrines and principles, still His teachings brought to surface principles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

Keeping the Faith

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.  

Temple Worship in Ancient Israel

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

The Apostolic Witness of Christ

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

The Plurality of Elohim

"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

Exodus 19.6 - A Kingdom of Priests

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

Theological Exegesis on Exodus 19

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

Hugh Nibley - Banks from Temples

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

Hugh Nibley - "A Stage Without A Play"

"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,"illustrates Shakespeare's search for this missing piece of his metaphor. Nibley summarizes:

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nibley on Testimonies

"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

Nibley on Rhetoric and Pseudo Scholarship

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."

He continues:
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

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hugh Nibley on the Relativity of Scriptural Events

“The story of the Garden of Eden and the flood has always furnished unbelievers with the best ammunition against believers because they are the easiest to visualize, to popularize, and to satirize of any Bible accounts,” he said. But apparent strange and extravagant phenomena described in the scriptures are often correct descriptions of what would have appeared to a person in a particular situation such “as we have never been in.” 

“To describe what he sees to people who have never seen anything like it, the prophet must reach for metaphors and similes. They are reporting, as best they can, what they have seen from a vantage point on which we have never stood.”

“...So it was with Noah and the ark. The flood, as described, is what he saw of it. The anthropic cosmological principle specifies that what an observer is able to see of the universe actually makes a difference in the real nature of that universe. It makes the observer an indispensable part of the macrophysical world. Nowhere is the principle of relativity more clearly proclaimed than in the cosmology of the Books of Moses and Abraham.” 

Hugh Nibley, “Hugh Nibley and Kimball Hansen: Candidates for the “Search Society”,” 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), 19:78

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

Based on a recent conversation with a friend, I've come to better understand why "love the sinner, hate the sin" is a phrase that is loathed by some. Personally, I hear the phrase 'love the sinner, hate the sin,' and I think exactly that: A) love the sinner, B) hate the sin. This doesn't seem problematic to me; simply two clauses that seem ideologically sound. Others hear this phrase and immediately think about how poorly this mantra has been executed by some of its advocates. "Has there ever been a phrase quite like 'Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin,' intended to express love, that falls so dramatically short of its goal?" The takeaway is that the phrase is essentially useless because good intentions have sometimes, or according to this author, has "uniformly" resulted in hurt and pain on the receiving end. Still, I wondered, what is wrong with the phrase itself? After all, it is really the poor application of the phrase that has caused pain. Could the simple phrase denote harm and pain all by itself? According to the same author, it does: "And uniformly, the people who have been on the receiving end of 'Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin' report it as hurtful. If you're using this language with people, it hurts them. Please stop." She also suggests that the problem with this phrase "is about our Christian lexicon and the ways we need to evaluate our words." I concur that communication is critical if we are to perform any type of outreach to others, thus, evaluation of our words, both in implication and inference, is an important step.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Distinquishing Questions from Doubts

On June 13, 2015, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, along with Brother Richard Turley, spoke to members in Boise, Idaho. Some excellent points were touched upon in this hour long meeting, but one particular comment by Elder Oaks provides important insight regarding the difference between questions and doubts. This distinction is important and timely considering that these two issues have been so frequently conflated in recent times by former Latter-day Saints as well as by a minority of Latter-day Saints engaged in online polemics.
"Another claim we sometimes hear is that “the leaders won’t answer our doubts.” Here we need to define the difference between doubts and questions. Questions, whenever asked with a sincere desire [to] increase ones understanding and faith are to be encouraged. Such questions, questions we call them, are asked with the real intent of better understanding and more fully obeying the will of the Lord. Questions are very different from doubts."1

Monday, June 29, 2015

Divine Council and Babel

Genesis 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said, Behold the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 
Regarding the phrase, "let us go down," in verse 7, Richard Briggs notes that, "theologians have long pondered the plural voice here, so obviously reminiscent of Genesis 1:26..." He writes, "Most OT scholars find the plural "Let us..." language of Gen. 1 and 11 to refer to YHWH's addressing his divine council...." and comments that, " may be helpful to read v. 6 as YHWH's "report" to the divine council, in between visits."1

1 Richard S. Briggs, "The Book of Genesis," in A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture, ed. Richard S. Briggs and Joel N. Lohr (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 39-40

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Lost Scripture - Intro to Eli

The Bible refers to several texts that are no longer extant, such as the Book of the Wars of the Lord, or the Book of the Acts of Solomon, for example, which we usually refer to as lost scripture. We generally do not think of many of the texts within the Bible as being incomplete in themselves, thus comprising another segment of lost scripture as well. Patrick D. Miller, Jr. and J.J.M. Roberts provide some interesting food for thought when it comes to 1 Samuel and the "ark narrative": is difficult to regard 1 Sam 4:1b as a natural beginning [of the ark narrative, as many scholars do] for the following supposedly independent, complete, and self-contained narrative. Too many questions are left unanswered. Why, for instance are the Israelites defeated? That the Israelites do not know the reason creates no difficulty--a similar motif occurs elsewhere (in the story of the defeat at Ai, for example)--but that the reader-- or hearer, as the case may be--is given no explanation for this unexpected course of events is quite strange. There are few, if any, analogies for such a narrative technique in the Old Testament, and whatever analogies might be cited seem to be cancelled out when the writer adds a second defeat involving the loss of the ark and the death of the priests of Yahweh. Where else in Old Testament literature does one simply narrate such a devastating blow to Israelite piety without any attempt at theological explanation? Moreover, who are Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas? The narrator introduces them in 4:4 as though they were already well-known by the reader. This would seem to imply the existence of a preceding narrative about them. It has also been suggested, though this is not absolutely necessary, that Eli's anxiety over the ark in 4:13 presupposes a similarly missing background.
In other words, to make the ark narrative a complete, self-contained unit, one must supplement Rost's text [the ark narrative beginning with 1 Sam 4:1b] with a tradition introducing the main characters and alerting the reader to Yahweh's displeasure toward Israel. The tradition of the wickedness of Eli's sons (1 Sam 2:12-17, 22-25) would fill part of that need. It would explain the reason for Yahweh's anger and, in particular, why his anger reached even the priests and led to the loss of Israel's most sacred cult object [the ark]. It would also be an adequate introduction to the sons of Eli, though one would still lack an introduction to Eli himself. One must question whether that part of the original ark narrative may be reconstructed from the present text of Samuel. It would appear that the original beginning of the ark narrative has been fragmented and partly lost by the secondary insertion of the traditions about Samuel's childhood.
This is where we differ from Willis. He regards the present form of 1 Sam 1-7, including the Samuel traditions, as an original, integral unity. Though his analysis is suggestive for interpreting the present form of the text, such unity it now possesses is clearly redactional, not original. Considering the major role Samuel plays in the present form of 1 Sam 1-3, the total omission of any mention of him in 4:1b-7:1 is certainly striking--particularly since 3:21 states that Yahweh continued to reveal himself to the now famous Samuel in Shilo--and suggests that these two sections in their present form could not be an original unity.
Patrick D. Miller, Jr., and J.J.M. Roberts, The Hand of the Lord: A Reassessment of the "Ark Narrative" of 1 Samuel (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008), 27-29

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review of Yearning for the Living God (Busche, ed. Lamb)

Yearning for the Living God: Reflections from the life of F. Enzio Busche is a collection of the memories and experiences of Elder Busche. This book is an inspiring book of faith. It almost serves the function of being a spiritual journal in highlighting the biographical events of his life that were spiritually significant. It was a pleasure to read about his life and learn of his experiences and perspectives that invoked appreciation for his example of faith, as well as inspiring and bolstering my own faith. It was very interesting to read about Elder Busche's experience as a member of the Hitler Youth in particular, and to better understand his perspective as a German in terms of the cultural perception of Christianity believed to have been tied to the Hitler regime prior to learning of the atrocities committed by the German Nazis. We often hear from modern day historians about the Nazi propaganda sold to Germans, and Elder Busche provided his own interesting insights as one who was brought up, like many, if not most Germans, believing in the Christian appeal of the Nazi rhetoric. He also discusses the shock and abhorrence felt by himself and other Germans when they learned of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the war. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Description of the Salt Lake Temple Holy of Holies

Another small room, reached by a short ascent from the main floor [of the Celestial Room], is a vision of almost supernatural beauty. It is circular in form and resplendent in blue and gold, with borders and panels of red silk velvet. It is paved with an artistically designed native hard-wood mosaic, the blocks being mostly no more than an inch square, finely polished. From the dome which furnishes the ceiling, the light streams through seventeen circular and semi-circular jeweled windows, taking a thousand hues as, softened and subdued, it reaches the interior. The large art window to which the south side of this exquisite little room is given, is a work of surpassing loveliness. It represents the moment in the life of Joseph Smith when he, trusting in the words of the Apostle James, sought wisdom of the Lord, and received as an answer the visitation of two heavenly beings, one of whom, pointing to the other, said, "This is my beloved son; hear him!"....In these three small rooms last described the most sacred ordinances for the living and the dead are performed.

House of the Lord: Historical and Descriptive Sketch of the Sale Lake Temple (Salt Lake City, UT: George Q. Cannon & Sons, Co., 1893), 19-20

Lehi, Mosiah, and The Writings In Between

The introductory superscription to 1 Nephi provides a synopsis of the events which are to be narrated in the subsequent text. Included in this brief outline is mention of Lehi and his family, their departure from Jerusalem, their journeys and travels across "large waters," and their arrival in a promised land. This synopsis is conspicuously limited in that it only progresses to the point of arrival in the promised land and continues no further. Before coming to this chronological point in the actual saga (1 Nephi 18), however, Nephi interrupts his historical narrative three times to provide editorial clarifications. First, in 1 Nephi 1:16-17, he explains that he is providing an abridgment of his father Lehi's records, which will be followed with an account of his own ministry. Second, in 1 Nephi 6:3 he informs the reader that his abridgment is intentionally selective as to his inclusion of Lehi's writings. Third, in 1 Nephi 9, he adds that he has created two sets of plates: one for historical purposes and one for recording the ministry of his people.

Review of An Other Testament (Spencer)

Joseph Spencer's An Other Testament is one of the more interesting and thought provoking books available on The Book of Mormon. It is the kind of book that generates greater appreciation for the sophistication and complexity of the literary and theological structure of the Book of Mormon. It is the kind of book that makes you wish that you could have identified the brilliant insights in your reading of the Book of Mormon that Joe Spencer identified in his reading of the Book of Mormon. It is the kind of book that I wish I was capable of writing. At the end of the day, we can be glad that we have great minds, like Joseph Spencer, to teach the profound ways in which we can appreciate The Book of Mormon, and in this case, appreciation for how The Book of Mormon intends to be read based upon its own terms. This last statement should be qualified, however, if we are to consider that The Book of Mormon is comprised of multiple authors, the appreciation is for how Nephi and Abinadi intend for their teachings and interpretations of Isaiah to be understood.

Review of Christ and the New Covenant (Holland)

Elder Holland begins his book by indicating what his book is not. After itemizing a few methodologies in approaching the Book of Mormon, he states that this is a personal work explicating his meditation on this restorational book of scripture. I think this approach is certainly all that we could hope for from an Apostle. I'm a huge fan of scholarly Book of Mormon pioneers like Hugh Nibley and John Sorenson who contributed enormously to our understanding of the culture and context of the Book of Mormon, but after all is said and done it is the message of the Book of Mormon itself that is most salient (a point I think that Nibley and Sorenson would both concur), and this is what Elder Holland set out to highlight. 

On a side note, two incredible books on the Book of Mormon are Book of Mormon Authorship, and Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited. Both books attempt to illustrate that the Book of Mormon has authentic and ancient information in it that points to the authorship of ancient individuals (that of Nephi, Mormon, Moroni, etc.), rather than being the original work of Joseph Smith. Both of these books do quite well in this regard. One of my primary interests in Elder Holland's book is his emphasis on the Messianic message of the Book of Mormon, a point that has not been given adequate attention, however, in regards to Book of Mormon authorship. The doctrinal clarity and the sheer volume of Christology in the Book of Mormon, to me, seems far more comprehensive than what a twenty-five year old, poorly-educated farmboy could ever hope to produce, and more than that, the Book of Mormon is more comprehensive in its depth and breadth in understanding the atonement than any individual or groups of individuals in the past two-thousand years have supplied. Truly, it is a treasure, and a pearl of great price. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review of The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Israelite Temple (Baker)

LeGrand Baker's book The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Israelite Temple utilizes John Lundquist's nineteen points from "The Common Temple Ideology of the Ancient Near East" to illustrate the Book of Mormon as a temple text. This book is not to be mistaken for his co-authored book with Stephen D. Ricks, entitled, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel's Temple Worship in the Old Testament and In the Book of Mormon, which has received favorable reviews. This book is limited to just 155 pages (contrasted with Who Shall Ascend... at just under 800 pages). To be perfectly candid about the content of this book, I have to say that it felt contrived. The author's attempt to describe the Book of Mormon under Lundquist's 19 points made for an intriguing proposal, but his methodology came off as too forced in its attempt to make the Book of Mormon fit the pattern on most points. I do believe that the Book of Mormon can serve as an excellent temple text, and I think that Baker had some interesting points throughout the book, but overall, I wouldn't recommend this book. If the book had a good editor, and the thoughts and points of contact were better developed, it could have been a better book, but it felt more like a self-published book that was underdeveloped. Nonetheless, the following thoughts and references seemed worthy of preservation: 

After quoting C. Wilfred Griggs regarding the Greek word for 'cross' being the same as used for the 'tree' of life in the Septuagint,1 Baker writes:
From that, we can understand Nephi and Alma's statements about the fruit of the tree of life and of the waters of life. If the cross is the tree of life, the Savior's body on the cross is as the fruit of the tree, and his blood as the waters of life. It is this symbolism that defines the tree, the fruit, and the waters of life each as "a representation of the love of God." (pg 44)

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Wheat and the Tares - Reactions to the First Vision

"A discerning reader responds to a text by breaking it apart . . . 
and separating the divine wheat from the worldly chaff."1 

Why do we respond the way that we do? 

I don't remember when I first realized that there was more than one account of Joseph Smith's First Vision, even though I actually learned of the fact that more than one account existed when I first watched BYU's 1976 production, The First Vision: The Visitation of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith (starring Stewart Petersen):

In all likeliness, most members of the Church living today probably learned that there was more than one account of the First Vision from this video as well, even if this observation generally hasn't been recognized. While the typical Latter-day Saint is familiar with the canonical account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith-History, some events are depicted in this video that are not in the canonical account. For example, the 1835 account of the First Vision (transcribed by Warren Parrish, and related by Joseph Smith to Robert Matthews, "Joshua, the Jewish Minister"), includes the following details (spelling and punctuation standardized):

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Review of The God Who Weeps (Givens)

Terryl and Fiona Givens' book, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, is an excellent philosophical and theological exploration on 'how Mormonism makes sense of life.' A few gems from this highly recommendable book follow:

Premortality in the decision to embark on a mortal sojourn does not eliminate the problem of evil, but it dramatically alters it. If we were involved in the deliberations that culminated in creating and peopling this world, then we are not passive victims of providence. We would have entered into the conditions of this mortal state aware of the harrowing hazards mortality entails.
Such co-participation does not mitigate the horror of what many experience in this life. The enormity of evil may still appall and confound us. God's failure to intervene may distress and alienate us. Our personal experience of loss and loneliness may overwhelm us. But the suspicion that we were party to the terms of our own predicament may give heart when no other solace is to be found. (pg 53)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Return of the Temple

Joseph Smith's re-introduction of temple discussion after nearly two millennia of relative silence on the subject was pivotal for Mormonism and pioneering for Christianity in general. Hugh Nibley once wrote, "Long ago Adam of St. Victor observed with wonder that the Christian fathers had always gone out of their way to avoid any discussion of the tabernacle of God, in spite of its great popular interest and its importance in the divine economy. The reason for this strange attitude is, as Adam and his fellow Richard explain, that the very thing which makes the temple so attractive to many Christians, i.e. the exciting possibility of a literal and tangible bond between heaven and earth, is precisely the thing that most alarms and embarrasses the churchmen. Again, why so? Can it be that the destruction of the temple left a gaping void in the life of the church, a vacuum that the historians and theologians have studiously ignored . . .? If the loss of the temple was really a crippling blow to the church, the fact can no longer be overlooked in the interpretation of church history."1

It is nice to see that the importance of temple worship in Jewish and Christian history is being given its due attention by Biblical scholars in the 21st century. Margaret Barker's books are monumental in this regard. In Paternoster's, Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, Peter Walker writes, "the Temple is a key and major theme in Biblical theology, which we neglect to our impoverishment and at our peril. An appropriate focus on this Temple theme in the Bible, they [the authors contributing to this volume] concur, will not just have some repercussions in the Middle East, but can also vastly enrich other key themes within biblical thought. Our understandings, for example, of ethics, anthropology, creation, God's presence and the church will be so much poorer (so much 'flatter' and less biblical) if we do not take seriously what God has to teach us through the Temple."2

While Walker is missing a key component in his list, namely soteriology, it is nice to see recognition of this overly-neglected topic in Christian studies. Perhaps, as we begin to approach two centuries following Joseph's revelatory re-introduction of temples within Christianity, we may continue to see scholarly discourse on the relevance and importance of the temple liturgy.

For a great bibliography of temple related books and articles, see Danel Bachman's compilation here.

1 Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 4 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 391-392
2 Peter Walker, "Introduction," Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 4