Monday, November 14, 2016

Holiness and the Temple

Thomas King's study of the priestly literature in the Pentateuch includes discussion of holiness and the temple. His description of ancient Israelite belief and practice resonates strongly with the restored Gospel teachings, including latter-day temple worship. He writes:
Another foundational theme implicit in P is the concern for personal holiness, especially reflected in relationship to God and neighbor. In relationship to God, P describes this concern as the need for cleansing from sin and impurity. Based on the same rationale regarding the tabernacle (i.e., God cannot abide impurity), the children of Israel must also be cleansed. The purity regulations and sacrificial cult provide for such cleansing. As a result, God abides in the cleansed sanctuary, and among a clean people. The purification offering is the primary means by which contamination from sin and impurity is purged. Thus, the relationship with the Divine is sustained.
The relationship between God and persons is not simply one of preserving the Divine presence through cleansing and purity. The sacrificial cult includes the communication of positive expressions such as giving thanks, conveying satisfaction in the accomplishment of a vow, and the spontaneous giving of a free-will offering. All of these are expressed through the well-being offerings. In P, these offerings are presented in response to joyous motivations. Thus, contact with God through the sacrificial cult is understood as truly relational.1
1 Thomas J. King, The Realignment of The Priestly Literature: The Priestly Narrative in Genesis and Its Relation to Priestly Legislation and the Holiness School, Princeton Theological Monograph Series, 102 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications [Wipf and Stock], 2015), 69-70

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Noah and the Flood - Elder Mark E. Petersen

A number of years ago I had made a goal that I would obtain every book written by or about the Apostles and Prophets. This is still mostly true. There are some books, however, that I'm okay reading once and clearing out of my library, including Elder Mark E. Petersen's set of books on individual prophets and other Biblical and Book of Mormon figures.  

Noah and the Flood is a short book at just ninety-three pages (published by Deseret Book in 1982). A good portion of the book is comprised of all of the relevant quotations from the scriptures regarding Noah, as well as the flood, and includes quotations from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The book is primarily apologetic in terms of defending the historicity of Noah and a global flood. This is partially in response to the idea that Noah has been considered a "mythical figure created only in legend" (1), and that the "flood was strictly a local tragedy covering only a small area of the earth" (45). Elder Petersen's approach in dealing with these assertions is to affirm that, "We do not argue with scientists or scholars over their defensive views. We tell the story of scripture, and scripture is the word of God, verified by modern revelation over and over again" (45). The majority of his discussion focuses upon reaffirming the truth of Noah's reality and a global flood by citing revelation as the definitive conclusion on the matter. He does acknowledge some scriptural limitations in studying the flood in particular, especially as it relates to reconciling some of the difficulties of the flood story: "We must realize that we do not have the full account of the flood and the ark and its inhabitants. The few hundred words in the Bible on the entire life of Noah are sketchy at most. On thing we must remember is that God was at the helm--and He is a God of miracles!" (58). His conclusion on these topics can best be summarized in his assertion that "It all comes back again to the matter of faith in the scriptures as against the rationale of the critics. Of course, the wisdom of God seems like foolishness to men who ridicule these accounts of miracles in transportation that literally defy all the logic of the scholars" (83).

Monday, June 27, 2016

"When Joseph Smith Saw a Vision of Heavenly Mother" Corrected

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). 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Book of Mormon "Pride Cycle" and Deuteronomy 8

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 materialsbooks, 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

Book of Mormon Geography - Benjamin Winchester Part 3

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.

Book of Mormon Geography - Benjamin Winchester Part 2

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

Book of Mormon Geography - Benjamin Winchester

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

Book of Mormon Geography - Entering the Discussion

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

Richard Bennett on Oliver Cowdery's Return

"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:

Richard Bennett on Joseph Smith's "First Vision" Environment

"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

Richard Bennett on the Book of Mormon Translation

"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

No Greater Sacrifice - Steven Shields

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

Covenants and Salvation - Joseph F McConkie

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

Witnesses of the Book of Mormon - Preston Nibley

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

First Temple vs. Second Temple: "Comparisons and Contrasts"

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