Monday, September 3, 2018

Abraham - Prophet, Priest, and King

Marvin Sweeney's essay on form criticism provides an interesting perspective on Genesis 15 and specifically, the various forms or genres present in the chapter depicting Abraham as a prophet, priest, and king. Looking at the literary markers in the chapter and the "comparative identification of typical language forms in the text that appear elsewhere in biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature," certain genres can be discerned which aide in the interpretation (or exegesis) of the text. Sweeney cautions, however, that attempts to "reconstruct genres are constrained by the limited surviving textual base for ancient Near Eastern cultures." Accordingly, the form-critical hermeneutic isn't entirely definitive, however, sufficient evidence within the text and the ancient Near East provides for a high degree of reliable interpretation. 

A discussion of certain "generic forms" that "function within the narrative context," are highlighted below:

The first is the formula "the word of YHWH was unto Abram, saying . . ." in verse 1. This formula is known technically as the Prophetic Word Formula. It appears frequently in narrative and prophetic literature as a typical means of introducing and identifying a prophetic word or oracle. . . .The presence of this formula in Genesis 15 is particularly striking in that it presents Abram as a prophet or at least an individual who experiences a prophetic vision. This, of course, ties to the notice that Abram experiences the word of YHWH "in a vision" (v. 1). 
[Another] generic form in Genesis 15 involves the self-identification formula in verse 7, "I am YHWH who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldees to give to you this land to possess it". . . .the self-identification formula also relates to language pertaining to a fifth genre in Genesis 15. The expression in verse 18 reads literally, "On that day, YHWH cut with Abram a covenant." The expression "to cut a covenant" is a standard idiomatic form for expressing the making of a treaty in ancient Israel and the Near East. The expression derives from the practice of sacrificing animals as part of the process of ratifying a treaty between two nations. Parties to a treaty walked between the halves of severed animals as a graphic portrayal of what would happen to them if they did not abide by the terms of the treaty. . . .This practice apparently stands behind YHWH's instructions to Abram to cut several sacrificial animals in half so that YHWH, represented by the smoking fire pot and flaming torch can pass between the pieces. In effect, YHWH "signs" or "affirms" the treaty, which validates YHWH's promises. . . .Abram is portrayed vaguely in priestly terms here, insofar as he receives oracular communication and prepares the sacrificial animals for the making of a treaty. . ."
There are royal connotations in Abram's presentation, however, that must be considered. Throughout the Genesis narrative, Abram is closely associated with the city of Hebron - indeed he is buried there - a city that served as the capital of the tribe of Judah and the seat of David's first kingdom (2 Samuel 2-5). Abram acts in a manner analogous to that of a king. He walks the length of his land founds cultic sites (Genesis 12), allocates land to family members (Genesis 13), goes to war to protect them (Genesis 14), decides the fate of family members under his authority (Genesis 16; 21), stands up even to YHWH in order to maintain justice within his sphere (Genesis 18), arranges a marriage for his son with a foreign principal (Genesis 24), and enters into covenants (Genesis 15; 17). The language pertaining to covenant making likewise points to a royal setting. As noted in the previous discussion of genre, the assignment of land, the ritual of passing through the pieces of slain animals, and YHWH's self-identification formula all derive from the sphere of ancient Near Eastern treaty making. The social setting, then, is that of international relations in the ancient world, and this again points to the monarchy as the principal party involved in the making of such treaties. Indeed, the most telling aspect of Abram's royal presentation is the definition of the land YHWH promises him as "this land from the River of Egypt to the great River, the River Euphrates," for this is also the definition of the land claimed for David in 2 Samuel 8 (cf. Numbers 34; Ezek. 47:13-20). The royal context is confirmed by the portrayal of the land as Abram's "reward," or spoil of war, and by the assignment of the land to Abram's "seed," a designation that also appears int he language of YHWH's promise to David of an eternal dynasty. . . .Genesis 15 portrays Abram in Davidic terms as the founder of a dynasty that will possess a land."

Marvin A. Sweeney, "Form-Criticism," To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Applications, eds. Steven L. McKenzie and Stephen R. Haynes (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 75-80

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hugh Nibley grew up with our children. We were always Uncle LeGrand and Aunt Ina to him.
His mother told me that he read the Book of Mormon eleven times by the time he was twelve years old, and then commenced studying it. He says it is the greatest book in the world.
While he was teaching at the Brigham Young University, I asked President Wilkinson how he got along with the other faculty members. His reply was: "Oh they never bother Dr, Nibley; he knows too much."
His mother told us that when he went to Berkeley to get his Doctorate, one of the Professors asked the Doctor who was examining him, what he was going to do with the young man Nibley. His reply was: "I am going to let him go right through without any argument. I am not going to let him make a fool out of me."
While visiting with Dr. Hugh's mother July 3, 1957, she permitted me to copy a paragraph from his Christmas letter to her for Xmas 1956. He was telling of his work in writing the Priesthood manual for the Melchizedek Priesthood. I quote:
"This is a strange state of things - always thinking of you but never writing! The same things happen day after day, and the same thoughts night after night. It has been a steady diet of Book of Mormon, and no other food is so invigorating - it is the bread of life in the most digestible form."
LeGrand Richards, Just To Illustrate (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973), 81

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Ancient Near Eastern Metallurgy

Dan Levene and Beno Rothenberg wrote about "Tin and Tin-Lead Alloys in Hebrew and Jewish Aramaic,"1 which may have some indirect relevance to the plates of the Book of Mormon. They write that tin, in its metallic, unalloyed form was traded as early as the middle of the third millennium BCE. They then mention archival material from Anatolia recording "a flourishing trade in tin ingots and ore between the Assyrians and Karum Kanesh in the second millennium BCE," to the tune of roughly 100 tons of tin traded during a forty to fifty year window over one particular route. The authors quote Numbers 31:22, which mentions gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead. They note that these were the six most commonly used metals in antiquity. The KJV translates copper as brass, and Levene and Rothernberg note that the term נְחשֶׁת "is used indiscriminately in pre-modern Hebrew as a designation for copper and a variety of its alloys." Citing Ezekiel 22:18-22, the authors observe that this passage could be understood to describe silver smelting and cupellation. Referring to Isaiah 1:25, they suggest that, "pure tin was only obtained by smelting tin ore and could not be obtained from other metals at the time. As tin was primarily used to produce bronze by alloying with copper, or as solders and pewters when alloyed with lead, it might equally well have meant 'alloy', for this would have been its most frequent use, and the refining process referred to in Isa. 1.25 would have included removal of 'alloys' . . . as well as of the 'dross'."

The authors move into post-Biblical Rabbinic literature, which is not relevant to our concerns here, but they conclude by asserting that, "Tin is a metal that is not usually used on its own in the manufacture of objects owing to the poor combinations of properties of the pure metal. Its most frequent use is in the production of bronze: copper alloyed with tin has greatly enhanced properties." They note that Ezekiel 27:12 tells us that tin was imported from Tarshish. 

This has some relevance to Nephi's story when he states that prior to manufacturing plates (1 Nephi 19:1), Nephi's group found "all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper" (1 Nephi 18:25). Others have written about Nephite metallurgy before,2 but I just want to point out something that has been called to attention before, and that is the nature of the "gold plates" as well as the Brass Plates of Laban.

1 Dan Levene and Beno Rothenberg, "Tin and Tin-Lead Alloys in Hebrew and Jewish Aramaic," Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Texts: Essays in Memory of Michael P. Weitzman, eds. Ada Rapoport-Albert and Gillian Greenberg, JSOT Supplement Series 333, The Hebrew Bible and its Versions 2 (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001):101-112
2 John L. Sorenson, "Out of the Dust: Steel in Early Metallurgy," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/2 (2006):108-109, 127; Neal Rappleye, "Lehi the Smelter: New Light on Lehi's Profession," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015):223-225