Year: 2014

Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?


The standard Mormon reading of Mark 11:15-19 goes something like this: the temple was corrupt and so Jesus cleansed it by kicking out the wicked money changers so that the temple, now purified of evil, could get back to business. But this may not be the best reading.

Who killed Goliath? CSI in Jerusalem

David with Goliath's head, by Caravaggio

Who really killed Goliath? Of course, this is the most stupid question possible. After all, this is one of the most advertised killings in the history of the world, its record read by millions of admiring people, glorifying in the victory of the brave and smart reddish boy over the Big Ugly Brute. Add the pious invocation of Jahweh throughout the battle, and one has the making of an inspiring heroic story, and that is precisely how it functions in the Old Testament. All the kids in Primary know exactly who killed Goliath, and can explain in detail how he did it, with his sling and a few pebbles. Reading the story in I Samuel as a military history one can understand how David came to be a great army leader, for the chapter defines him as a smart soldier. Goliath is the quintessential massive warrior, “whose height was six cubits and a span” (1 Sam 17:4) (KJV); 6 cubits and a span would put him at 2.85 meter (yes, we all are metric by now). Well, most measures, figures and numbers in the Old Testament cannot be trusted, but Goliath surely was huge. The Dead Sea Scroll text, probably…

Wickedly Awesome Traditions of My Fathers and Mothers

Jesus cake

Holidays make me think of traditions, especially the food and family traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas. But that makes me think about other traditions, such as the scriptural “wicked traditions of our fathers,” which then makes me think of the wickedly awesome traditions of my fathers and mothers. (And clearly that is the problem with me thinking.)

Book Review: The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History

council of fifty

I don’t have time to do a proper review of the 490 pages of The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History (Signature Books, 2014), edited by Jedediah S. Rogers, so I am just going to start writing and see what happens. The book hits the bookshelves today, so it’s a potential Christmas gift for the Mormon history fan in your life.

From Benjamin Park: A Statement Regarding a Recent Review Essay

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Today we’re pleased to share a guest post from Benjamin Park. The post refers to his review essay “The Book of Mormon and Early America’s Political and  Intellectual Traditions,” which is available to read at the Maxwell Institute site here, or as a Google document here. We have also published a follow-up comment from David Holland, whose book is one of the subjects of Park’s essay.  We have closed the post to additional comments. We will now turn the time over to Brother Park. [This is a response to the number of posts and comments dealing with a review essay of mine, “The Book of Mormon and Early America’s Political and Intellectual Traditions,” which appears in the most recent issue of Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. In the essay, I reviewed what I found to be two smart and important books: David F. Holland’s Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Eran Shalev’s American Zion: The Old Testament as Political Text from the Revolution Through the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).] My fellow saints, This will likely be my only response to the several posts and many comments that have appeared…

Taking Control of Your Gospel Doctrine Class… Because You’re the Teacher

I’ve wondered how much blame for  “uninformative” (Pres. Kimball’s description) or “uninspiring” (Elder Holland’s paraphrase) teaching in Gospel Doctrine comes from collective failure. Yes, a good teacher can do wonders, but if many classes don’t really talk about the scriptures in question, it’s because virtually no one but the teacher has read them.

For I am not ashamed…

Draw the Line

This past Monday one of the radio talk shows I listen to asked about what happened in Church during the weekend. In the wake of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, the host, Brian Lehrer, asked how the religious sermons given in the region had confronted these decisions. Of course, in LDS congregations this past Sunday was Fast Sunday, leaving the subject of the testimonies given up to those who chose to speak. In my own case, I heard no hint of a mention of these subjects, or any controversial current events, in the testimonies given or in lessons taught. Should there have been?

Hypersensitivity and Trolls: A Codependent Dysfunction

2014-12-08 Troll-No-Powers

Introduction My first posts at Times and Seasons were about epistemic humility, which is the awareness of the limits of knowledge. One of the common responses I got at the time was to ask how conviction was compatible with such an emphasis on uncertainty. The quote I led with (“The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind.”) seemed like a perfect setup for the ominous lines from Yeats’ The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” The answer is that even if one accepts the adage that “all models are wrong,” one ought to go all in and accept the entire adage: “essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful” [emphasis added]. Copernicus’ model of the solar system was wrong because he believed the orbits are circular. They are not; they are elliptical. But he still got heliocentrism right, and later on Kepler[1] added in the elliptical orbits. Newton’s theory of gravity was wrong in many respects that were later corrected by Einstein’s general relativity, but Newton’s model was still a great improvement over Aristotle’s. These models are obviously more useful in a simplistic sense: if you want to get…

The Mormon Challenge, Part 1: Creation

Continuing with my project to actually read the LDS books I buy, I’m now reading The New Mormon Challenge (Zondervan, 2002), a serious book about Mormonism by a bunch of Evangelical scholars, edited by Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen. Apart from our mere existence, two things about us really trouble Evangelicals: our relentless growth (which has apparently leveled off since the book was published) and our huge corps of missionaries (which has ballooned since the book was published). We are a threat. That perhaps explains why Evangelicals feel justified in disparaging Mormons from their pulpits, classrooms, and publishing houses. But this book is by academics, not pastors, and is a serious discussion, not a slam. So I was a little disappointed with Chapter 3, the first meaty chapter, which defends ex nihilo creation and critiques the LDS belief in creation out of preexisting but unformed matter.

Teaching Like The Prophets

I think the recently announced changes to the CES and BYU Religious Education requirements could be really great. Far from paying less attention to the scriptures, as some have worried, I suggest the new model pays more attention to the scriptures, in what might be the most important way. In the scriptures, Christ and the prophets focus their teaching on true doctrine above all, and refer to prior accounts to support this goal. The scriptures are designed to teach us spiritual truths, and these should be the primary focus of teaching today. The scriptural texts are one of the main ways we learn these truths, but they are the vehicle through which we learn, the lens through which we see, not the focus themselves. The point of the Book of Mormon, as described on its title page, is “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” D&C 1 and Luke 1 announce similar purposes. When we read the scriptures, understanding God and his plan for our salvation should be our primary concern. Think of the great passages we remember most from the scriptures. Alma 32 is a discourse on the nature of faith. 1 Corinthians 13…

Recommended NT Resources, part 3: History and Commentary

(Cross-posted at Benjamin the Scribe.) First, Amazon is offering 30% off any physical book you buy for the next two days, by entering HOLIDAY30 at the checkout. Great time to pick up that hardcover Jewish Study Bible,  Jewish Annotated New Testament, NRSV, or similar “expensive” hardcover you can’t get otherwise. Amazon link to the details. Short list. This was really hard to put together, much more than my OT list. 

Day 2 of Gratitude


Prayers of Gratitude—Sunday, November 9 . . . was the annual Primary Program, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. Though many find this day difficult, I simply have to smile at the unpredictable entertainment, as well as the sincere belief and sincere silliness of little children. Moreover, there is the pleasure of watching someone else discipline my rowdy children while I sit and enjoy whatever message I can glean from the too-close-to-the-microphone yelling of three-year-olds. This year I did get a message.

When to Disobey

2014-11-24 Naughty Dog

I’ve been having some interesting conversations about the high cost of membership in the Church. We believe, in general, that the cost of being a Mormon is high and that this is a good thing. Sacrifice leads to faith. We pour a lot of time and a lot of energy into the Church, and this helps us value our membership more than if the Church asked less of us. But it can be taken to extremes. There are reasons to say “no” to something our leaders ask of us, and foremost among those is the sake of our families. The Church exists to serve the family. Families do not exist for the purpose of serving or repopulating the Church. My bishop—a man I admire greatly—made this point explicitly at the start of priesthood opening exercises last week. He enumerated the very large number of activities planned for the ward between now and the end of the year, and then he reminded everyone that family comes first. It’s OK not to go to an activity if that is the best thing for your family. Of course, not everyone is lucky to have a bishop who is willing to state that. So…

Short Musings on the Wu-Tang Clan, Ezekiel, and Church Curriculum


Yesterday at a restaurant with my parents, I heard a nice bluesy instrumental over the audio system. I’m a blues fan, and liked it so much I flagged down the waitress to ask what it was. She went to check, and reported to our mutual surprise, that that particular song was “Slow Blues” by the Wu-Tang Clan! I don’t know much about Wu-Tang or the ODB, but I’m familiar enough to know that this is not their usual genre. Most of their music, from what I can tell, is fairly explicit rap. I imagine their CDs (if they still exist) would likely have the parental warning on them. If one of your kids came home with a Wu-Tang CD with the “explicit lyrics” warning, you might be concerned. (First question- “They still make CDs?! Why are you buying CDs?!”) Indeed, even if they explained they’re only listening to the blues song, it still might be of concern. Selective listening gives a misleading impression of the whole of their œuvre. And yet, this is exactly what we do with our scriptures by reading selectively, particularly here in Ezekiel. We avoid the challenging stuff, and focus on those bits that seem relevant. We’re…

Announcing the BYU & Maxwell Institute 2015 Summer Seminar

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UPDATED: The original version of this post didn’t include the link to the application form. That link was added on Dec 10, 2014. In the summer of 2015, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students, CES educators,  and other qualified individuals, on “ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM: PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.” The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. This iteration will be conducted by Terryl Givens, Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English at the University of Richmond. Givens writes: This particular seminar will continue a series begun five years ago on the history of Mormon thought. More specifically, we will study LDS ecclesiology, focusing on the origin and development of church organization, the evolution of public worship services and practices, and related topics. We will examine the outward forms as well as the underlying theology pertaining to these subjects. For additional information–including dates and funding–download the full description as a .pdf file here. The application form (which is due by February 15) can be downloaded…

My morning with McBaine and Wiman

As happens every now and then, I had a furious, fortuitous conjoining that so filled the boughs with fruit that they now creak and threaten to break. And language—especially quick language—isn’t likely to succeed in conveying the experience. What follows is a quick, momentary set of notes. But I don’t want to let it pass or hold back; I want to attempt to capture and share a moment of clear resonation. Riding in to work I was reading two books: Christian Wiman’s utterly unparalleled My Bright Abyss (review forthcoming) and Neylan McBaine’s desperately needed Women at Church. The one prepared me for the other, but I’ll share them in reverse order. At the end of Chapter One Sister McBaine seems to strike right at the heart of our paradox with women’s issues: “How do we protect the traditions, practices, and truths of our earliest progenitors while holding sacred the rebel explosion of the Restoration?” I’ve no desire to dilute or dismiss the vital, wrenching particularity of her focus. It’s a question that any reader of my posts at Times and Seasons knows I wrestle with almost obsessively. But clearly this question expands beyond women’s issues and is really a complicated…