The Book of the Weeping God

One of the most striking features of the Bible is its division into Old and New Testaments, which present not only substantially different sets of religious beliefs and practices, but very different portrayals of God. The God of the Old Testament is a judgmental, jealous, and vengeful God, who destroys sinners without remorse, whether of his own people, the Hebrews, or even entire nations such as those of Canaan. God’s love and compassion are also visible in the Old Testament, but the harsher side is displayed quite dramatically. This judgmental conception of God is reflected not only in descriptions of God himself and his behavior, but also in the attitudes and behavior of his prophets and of his chosen people. There is quite a contrast with Christ in the New Testament, who is gentle with sinners and teaches that we should love our enemies, bless those that curse us, and turn the other cheek when others treat us badly.

Christians explain the major differences between the Old and New Testaments as partly a reflection of the fact that the Law of Moses was offered to prepare the Hebrews for the new law, which was delivered by Christ. This account explains the differences in worship practices and in behavioral commandments, but it does not explain the different portrayals of God. I suggest that part of the difference we are seeing is precisely the difference in perspective between a people who are hearing and receiving the new law from Christ (in the New Testament era), and one that does not understand this message and is not ready to receive it (in the Old Testament era).

The Book of Mormon, by contrast, describes a group of Hebrews long before the time of Christ, living under the Law of Moses, but with a full understanding that their salvation was ultimately to be made possible by Christ, and not by the Mosaic sacrifices and practices. In 1 Nephi chapter 1, about 600 B.C., Lehi sees Christ and his twelve apostles in a vision. In 1 Nephi 11 Lehi’s son Nephi sees a vision of Mary, of Christ’s birth and ministry, of his apostles, and of his crucifixion. Nephi also sees the risen Christ visiting his own descendants in the New World. Moreover, all of this is presented as an exposition of the love of God, as symbolized by the tree of life (1 Nephi 11:21-22). From the beginning, then, the descendants of Lehi have a detailed awareness of the purpose of the Law of Moses and its true fulfillment in Christ, and they understand Christ and his ministry fundamentally as a manifestation of God’s love.

It is a step in the right direction, then, to think of the Book of Mormon as a retelling of the story of the House of Israel from the theological perspective of the New Testament. One of the most important elements of this different perspective is the conception of God as fundamentally loving and compassionate, and not only toward his chosen people, but toward all human beings, the sinners as well as the righteous. This perspective is also reflected in the radically different actions of his people, and the attitudes of the prophets.

As they return to the promised land of Canaan, for instance, God tells the Israelites to destroy whole nations, man, woman, and child, and even destroy the animals. They are restrained in their march, sparing certain peoples for a time, only because at first there are not enough of the Hebrews to occupy all of the land. By contrast, Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon repeatedly insists that he takes up arms against the Lamanites strictly in self-defense, and would gladly live in peace with them if they would only stop attacking. When the Lamanites are ready to admit defeat, he is happy to let them go if they will only abandon their weapons and promise not to fight against the Nephites again (Alma 44, 48). Captain Moroni seems to reflect the longsuffering love even for one’s enemy that is central to New Testament teaching.

The harshness of the Old Testament is reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the prophets as well. When a captain comes to bring Elijah before the king, Elijah says, “If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty,” and it happens (2 Kings 1:10). He repeats the stunt with the next captain and his fifty, until the third captain comes crawling on his knees. Abinadi in the Book of Mormon similarly comes out of the wilderness to call his own king to repentance. Yet Abinadi confirms his own prophetic role with a different kind of fire, the fire in which he himself is burned to death, at the king’s order.

When Jonah sees the people of Nineveh repenting, he complains to God that they are not being destroyed as he had predicted they would be. Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah, by contrast, “could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thought that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28: 3). In this spirit they go to preach among their enemies the Lamanites, risking death and enduring imprisonment, and are prepared to live out their lives there in the hope of leading a few souls to Christ. In contrast with Elijah and Jonah, then, Abinadi and the sons of Mosiah reflect a willingness to sacrifice themselves to save the wicked that is reminiscent of Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross. Where Moses threatens Pharaoh with plagues to prove God’s power, Ammon proves God’s power by saving the king’s flocks from thieves, and has to be fetched from the stables to receive the king’s thanks.

God is quite strict with his own people as well, in the Old Testament. When the Hebrews balk at the prospect of fighting with the inhabitants of Canaan, God forces them to wander in the desert until all of that generation have died. Along the way, a number of people are killed for unfaithfulness, stoned, swallowed up in the earth, or at least smitten with leprosy.

In the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel are constantly rebelling and questioning Nephi’s and Lehi’s prophetic role, but are treated quite gently. On one occasion, an angel appears and scolds them. On another, Nephi shocks them. On another, he simply slips free of their bonds after they have left him to die. When they question Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, Nephi invites them to seek their own witness from God. When they tie him to the mast of their ship, a storm blows up and threatens the ship, but no one is actually harmed. Laman and Lemuel enter the promised land with the rest of the family. In his treatment of Laman and Lemuel, then, the God of the Book of Mormon reflects an attitude like that of Christ toward the woman taken in adultery, when he says, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more.”

There is substantial support, then, for this idea that the Book of Mormon retells the story of the House of Israel, with a New Testament conception of God that emphasizes much more strongly his love and mercy. The cases I have given are a small sampling, but to the extent that they are representative, there is a pattern of significant contrast.

It seems to me, however, that this characterization does not fully capture the differences between the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Mormons embrace a view of God as compassionate and loving, like traditional Christians, but unlike traditional Christians*, Mormons believe that God feels deeply both joy at human righteousness and grief at their wickedness. Far from celebrating the destruction of the wicked, he mourns them, as necessary as their destruction may be. Thus while the New Testament portrays God in a much more loving and less wrathful manner than does the Old Testament, the Mormon conception of God’s love goes farther still.

While the New Testament Christ is generally gentle and kind, even toward sinners, we see a harsh side when he says that those who do not believe in him will be damned. Christ seems vengeful in predicting that in the destruction that follows his death, not one stone will be left upon another.

In the Book of Mormon, an even more dramatic destruction of the wicked ensues among the descendants of Lehi at the time of Christ’s death. Yet immediately afterward, Christ speaks to the people in the darkness: “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings . . . and ye would not [and] how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me . . .” This image of the hen gathering her chickens appears in the New Testament (Matthew 23:37), but only a few lines before, Christ has called the Pharisees a generation of vipers. In this case one has the impression that Christ’s primary point is to emphasize that the Jews have lost their chance for mercy, rather than to express regret. In the Book of Mormon, however, it is clear that he is pleading still with those who were not destroyed, that they will repent and turn to him (3 Nephi 9:13), and affirming that this merciful invitation will remain open through the future. He is eager to see the wicked change their ways (3 Nephi 10:3-7), and he seems to be lamenting at length the loss of those who have fallen, as he describes their destruction: “O ye people of these great cities, who have fallen . . .” (3 Nephi 10:4). The very choice of words in describing these people as “fallen” seems to emphasize not God’s power in destroying them, but his sorrow at their destruction. This is another example, typical of the many ways in which the Book of Mormon directly redeploys motifs from the Bible, casting them in a very different light.

One of the most vivid portrayals of God’s compassion is in Moses 7, in the Pearl of Great Price. There Enoch sees the wickedness of the people before the flood, and sees God weeping over them. For good reason this passage has been a focal point for discussions of the distinctiveness of the Mormon understanding of God, for instance in Eugene England’s essay on “The Weeping God of Mormonism” and Terryl and Fiona Givens’s book, The God Who Weeps. Yet as we see here, the Book of Mormon portrays God’s compassion with very much the same poignancy and depth, in multiple passages.

We see another, similarly vivid portrayal of God’s compassion in the parable of the olive trees, in Jacob 5. When he sees that his vineyard has been taken over by wild fruit, the master of the vineyard says:

what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. And it grieveth me that I should hew down all the trees of my vineyard, and cast them into the fire that they should be burned. Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?

Again, the purging of the vineyard is presented as a necessary thing, but an occasion for grief over the loss of the branches and trees that are to be burned, and over their unrealized potential for good.

The contrast between a God who triumphs over the wicked and one who mourns over them shows also in the overall form of the narrative in the two books. The climax of the Bible is the resurrection, further preaching, and ascension of Christ. The letters of Paul and others read almost like an epilogue to this. The overall narrative is one of triumph. This theme of triumph is reiterated in the closing book, Revelation, which ends with a vision of heaven, God victorious on his throne, the tree of life, and the saints and angels singing God’s praises around him.

The Book of Mormon, by contrast, finishes with a scene of complete earthly destruction. Mormon fights alongside his people until they are all killed, and only his son Moroni is left to finish and bury the record. The same overall narrative is recapitulated in the Book of Ether, as another nation founded by a great prophet with a unique vision of Christ ultimately is destroyed by war. The gospel remains, and is to be unearthed with the Book of Mormon, but for the time being, the overwhelming impression is of grief. While the Nephites, like the Jaredites, are destroyed because they have fallen into wickedness, Mormon and Moroni find no joy in this, no sense of triumph. In fact, even after Mormon has been forbidden to preach to them, he goes back to lead them in battle because he cannot bear to see them simply driven helpless before the overwhelming numbers of the Lamanites. Mormon would rather die with his people, wicked though they be, than stand by as an idle witness. This is the compassion of God which we see transmitted to his prophets in the Book of Mormon.

It is also, of course, the kind of compassion we see in the Incarnation, the compassion Christ shows in living among us, and then allowing us to mock, spit upon, flog, and crucify him. There could hardly be a more vivid expression of God’s compassion, and that of his Son, than these events, recorded in the Gospels. Yet it seems to me that we have not always seen or appreciated their full meaning based only on the account in the New Testament.

The Book of Mormon thus vividly presents, in numerous ways, a view of God as profoundly compassionate. This conception of God is reflected not only in depictions of God himself, but in the attitudes and behaviors of his prophets and of his chosen people. It is also thoroughly reflected in the theology of the Book of Mormon, including a radically revised conception of God’s judgment at the last day. I’ll return to that on another occasion.

Ultimately the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price all describe the same God, and his relationship with his children. Presumably the differences in the aspects of God that come through in them are partly a simple result of different circumstances. God deals with his people in light of their situation and their spiritual state, and the more receptive and obedient they are, the more he is able to bless them and reveal himself to them. At the same time, different people will recognize different things about God in the same events, depending on their level of spiritual attunement. In this light the record of the Nephites, who through much of their history include a substantial body of sincere believers in Christ, offers an especially complete picture of the character of God, including his matchless love, tenderness, and compassion.

____________
*I am confident that many traditional Christians in the pews imagine God’s compassion in a way not very different from the way it is portrayed in the Book of Mormon and in Moses 7. For most of the past 2000 years, though, official Catholic and Protestant teaching has been clearly committed to the idea that God is without passions, and that his pure happiness cannot be tarnished by human foolishness.
(This post is based on a talk I gave at Utah State University in 2012)

20 comments for “The Book of the Weeping God

  1. JR
    July 3, 2017 at 8:06 am

    And yet much of the teaching in our Church meetings is of the keep-the-commandments (and arbitrary rules) -or-be-damned-in-the-hereafter-and-ostracized-in-the present variety. There seems to remain in Mormon culture a very strong view of God as vengeful more than compassionate. Can that be changed? How? Perhaps my perception is limited to a very limited subset of Mormon culture.

  2. Clark Goble
    July 3, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    JR, I confess that’s not been the vibe I’ve found in most meetings. Usually commandments are discussed as guides to our lives that bring happiness. I can’t recall the last lesson that took a hellfire and brimstone view of commandments. That is, usually commandments are seen as the guidance of a loving parent who knows they’ll bring us more happiness in this life.

    Ben, a big part of me wonders what the brass plates portrayal of God was like. My impression is that the portrayal we get was very much the consequence of exile and return. The Nephites seem different because literally the Judaism they practice is prior to those massive changes. That’s not to deny some of the elements you mention. But especially with the historical OT books I suspect there’s a very selective presentation that biases things quite a bit. We know the OT as we have it largely was compiled by uninspired scribes from unknown sources. Most scholars see that compilation as representing competing political interests and sources. Even in the Book of Mormon we’re told much of the OT of the brass plates is missing from that later compilation. Because of that I always think we have to be careful how we judge the text.

    Likewise, while we like to think the New Testament is radically different, yet much of what Jesus taught was extremely mainstream. Often his sermons were similar to the teachings of Rabbi Hillel from a generation or two earlier. That’s not to deny the important uniqueness of the NT – but the idea of a loving God was already strongly in Judaism.

  3. JR
    July 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    Clark, I’m glad to hear again that the Church is in fact not the same everywhere. In fact much of the tone and a good deal of content of Church teaching depend upon local leaders and teachers. I’m probably hyper-sensitive to the authoritarian, rule-bound, everybody-must-do-everything-right-now version of the “gospel” that we sometimes get here. And, of course, for my gay Mormon friends, the claim that the commandments as taught in our Church will bring more happiness in this life often falls flat.

  4. Clark Goble
    July 3, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Yes the idea that keeping the commandments always brings happiness in the short term is misleading at best. There’s often a lot of sacrifice and suffering people made when keeping the commandments. The idea of keeping the commandments as a kind of immediate transactional exchange for short term blessings is a rather destructive heresy. There are of course blessings tied to particular laws or covenants. But they don’t always deal with the short term. It’s hard to read say Alma 14 where Alma and Amulek’s converts are burned alive as short term blessings for accepting the gospel.

  5. Ben H
    July 3, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Clark, I’m totally with you that the OT as we have it probably reflects only a certain selection of the teachings and texts that were around in pre-exilic Judaism. A ton was lost during the Babylonian captivity, both in texts and oral tradition/understanding that shaped the understanding of texts, and what survived probably reflects somewhat skewed priorities. Of course, even before the Babylonian captivity we have dramatic stories of wickedness and apostasy, cycles a bit like the Book of Mormon, although we have enough prophets around that hopefully a good understanding was preserved among a segment of the faithful. I would be surprised if a more explicit understanding of the role of the Messiah wasn’t present in pre-exilic Judaism given the amazing prophets they had, but perhaps the priests who came back to restore the temple were more interested in reinforcing their own authority, a bit like the priests of King Noah, and so over-emphasized the power of the Mosaic ordinances.

    We risk some of the same dynamic in our time, of course, as we move farther away from the time of Joseph Smith and into our own Babylonian captivity, with a high degree of assimilation to the wider culture pretty much unavoidable. How well can we carry forward the original richness?

  6. July 5, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    Old Testament Israelite religion also believed in a benevolent and even merciful god. One of the chief differences between the Old and New Testaments is the writers of the former lived in a theocracy where the priests of the cult were embedded in the political structures of the Kingdom, and as it turns out with modern prejudices, whatever the State is doing the Church gets all the blame. The wrathful god of the Old Testament is often a reflection of the political needs and strategies of the political order.

    Whenever politics gets involved with religion God turns wrathful. This is human nature, as human political will is projected with whatever authority works for the culture. A religious culture will use God as justification for all sorts of political and violent aims. In a secular culture science is also used in the same sort of way (I was just reading an article a few months back of climate apologists demanding that people who do not agree with their models should be fined and/or arrested; whether you agree with the models or not, here is an example of “secular science” turning into the “wrathful god.”)

    New Testament writers are divorced from political power and the God of the New Testament is divorced from political concerns; “deliver unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” New Testament theology is rooted in individual concerns first and foremost; individual theology prioritizes individual faith and grace, and this is reflected in the ideas of deity.

    So I think there are some straight forward explanations for differences between the Testaments.

    As for the comparison with the Book of Mormon, I think you will discover some of the same tensions afoot. Early on we get individualized theology because Nephi and Lehi are fleeing the political order and do not consider themselves political agents. How this works out with the state, culture, and religion that develops from their community is not fully understood because after the writings of Jacob and Enos we get almost no reliable commentary. It all picks back up after the major political reforms of King Benjamin and Mosiah, who appear to have their own form of the separation of Church and State with elected and appointed judges that appear to be separated from the administering priests. The cross-over is ever present, however, as the Chief-Judge is also the High Priest, but even here there are complications. Alma the Elder reforms the Church, and the book of Alma is the only book that mentions priesthood. In Alma the priesthood is developed as the order of the Church and not of the State. Again, the details are iffy.

    One must also consider that much of the early Old Testament is rooted in oral culture. Oral culture is communal and oral religion is political. Communal and political religion will have a god that marches ahead of the communal and political army. Whereas the Book of Mormon BEGINS in full literacy already steeped in the reflection of individualized theological concerns. Oral religion is communal. Literate religion is individual. Communal religion is political. Individual religion is personal. As a result, Oral gods are communal (polytheistic), political (they are wed to every social aspect of the tribe or civilizations), and often tribal (they will fight for the clan, and this is where they seem to be so militaristic). Literate gods tend to be monotheistic, personal, introspective, and relational, because literacy develops this dynamic in the literate psyche.

    I am sure there were plenty of oral peoples amongst the Nephites and Lamanites, it is just interesting however that unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon begins within a literate tradition and with literate prejudices. And it shows.

  7. Brent Metcalfe
    July 5, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    JS made some interesting emendations to Moses 7:28 during the final edits of OT2 that renders the narrative far more metaphorical. Initially, JS’s scribe merely copied the text as it appears in OT1:

    OT2 (Moses 7:28–29), original transcription

    “And it came to pass, that the God of Heaven looked upon the residue of the people & wept. And Enoch bore record of it saying how is it the heavens weep & shed forth her tears as the rain upon the Mountains And Enoch said unto the heavens how is it that thou canst weep seeing Thou art holy & from all eternity to all eternity,”

    JS then dictated several revisions to his scribe:

    OT2 (Moses 7:28–29), emended transcription

    “And it came to pass, that Enock looked upon the residue of the people & wept. And he beheld and lo! the heavens wept also & shed forth their tears as the rain upon the Mountains And Enoch said unto the heavens how is it that thou canst weep seeing Thou art holy & from all eternity to all eternity,”

    (The terminal “k” in “Enock” is either a malformed miniscule *k* or a malformed miniscule *h*.)

  8. Cam Nielsen
    July 5, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    That is fascinating Brent. Quite different but equally amazing.

  9. Clark Goble
    July 6, 2017 at 12:46 am

    Ben, I wonder that as well. Of course not everything of the exile and return was bad. We as Mormons might look slightly askance at the move to a thoroughgoing monotheism with only hints or the prior deeper view popping up in weird places like the personification of Wisdom. Yet after the return idolatry just wasn’t the threat it seemed to constantly be before. The replacement idolatry with hellenism seems much more minor even if it did transform the conception of God for many to be less anthropomorphic and more the God of the Philosophers.

    Is the same thing happening today? Probably. Culturally I think in many ways even as the west has learned to be more ethical it’s affected the church. We’re far less racist than we were in the 19th century for instance. I suspect our family units in terms of day to day respect and charity are far better than the 19th century due to an appreciation of women as full equal actors. Those and numerous similar things we’ve learned as our culture has learned are positive for the church.

    Yet at the same time I do worry we are losing things as well. Even things that are still within the church seem to be recognized by fewer and fewer. It’s hard to say how we are being transformed and how much we jettison along the way we may one day wish we hadn’t.

    Brent, I hope to see a revision of the scriptures that pay much more attention to the final edits of the JST. There’s lots of passages that end up changed. Given how the Church has embraced the Joseph Smith Papers project I’d hope that it becomes a reality sooner rather than later.

    John, that’s amazingly insightful and something I’d never considered. The more I think about it the more I think you’re right.

  10. Ben H
    July 6, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    John, thanks for these ideas. I absolutely think that the difference between the OT theocracy and the underdog status of Christians in the NT has an impact on the message that comes through. Some of the way you put it makes it sound a bit more deterministic than I would embrace, but the general line of thinking you are pursuing I think is very fertile and there is real illumination to be found. I have some related thoughts in the paper this post is taken from. Here is a post I did a while back on how politics affects the Book of Ether.

    Clark, I totally agree that the church and its members have gained positive things from the surrounding culture as well. I think God was working in the world to set up the conditions for the church to be reestablished, and continues to work in various ways beyond the direct actions of the church. Christ’s message from his personal ministry continues to have a major influence in Western culture, playing out in new ways, even as more people move away from religion as such. Some of these ways have good and bad sides, as people run with this or that piece of the message in their own direction. I tend to see Hellenism as more of a new kind of idolatry for the Jews than displacing idolatry as a whole, though, so I’m not sure about your reading of the captivity and return. We’re working from pretty scanty evidence, though, so I’m certainly open to there having been upsides to it. It does seem to have strengthened the Jewish commitment to their identity as a people, as have their other travails over the centuries since Moses. Interestingly their slavery in Egypt doesn’t seem to have had the same effect, maybe because they didn’t have as developed a scriptural tradition and such to rally around at the time.

    You’re right that Mormons are less racist now than we were in the 19th century; you could say that about just about everyone, though, so I’m not sure that came predominantly from outside influences. We were much less racist than the surrounding culture in the early years of the church, and much more egalitarian with regard to women, so there too I’m not sure how to draw the trajectory. The sexual revolution really has not been very kind to women on the whole, no matter how much people may have used egalitarian language. Some really interesting articles just the past few days show how mixed a bag it is, and how we are slowly recognizing the depth of the problems, and even starting to question the basic strategies we have employed in the West to work for equality. Consider this article on rediscovering the benefits of gender segregation, this one on sexual harassment in entrepreneurial circles, and this one on objectification on campus (from a while back, which you pointed me to).

  11. Clark Goble
    July 6, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Ben I don’t disagree. I think it’s hard to balance these things and say whether we’re getting better or worse. Of course by many measures the world is so dramatically better than even 40 years ago let alone 400 that it’s not even funny. But it may well be, much like the Nephites, that our prosperity sets the seeds of our destruction. I certainly hope not, although the last few years of politics have me more worried than I’ve been since the days of my youth in the cold war.

  12. July 8, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Ben H.
    Great little post on Moriancumer. I came to similar conclusions quite some time ago, but never wrote them down.

    I would say some of this is more deterministic than we might think. You see, we have forgotten how the oral world worked, and there are determined cognitive consequences to oral society. Two of the consequences of orality (here defined as a culture where the vast majority of the population does not read or write and therefore utilizes oral noetic strategies within their culture) are polytheism and theocratic rule.

    In order to pass down complex information associated with all the concerns of the society (agriculture, technology, medicine, biology, social norms, calendars, festival cycles, etc.) an oral person must encode memories upon objects easily seen that display, in some analogical sense, a similarity to the thing that must be remembered. Oral cultures are dualistic, and all the functions of nature and culture are divided into male and female rationales. By the consequences of this oral memory theater, these functions are placed within a pantheon of deities, male and female, that are assigned to these functions and turn out often to be the symbolic key to keep the memories organized. This happens organically as a natural consequence of the oral psyche.

    Further, in oral cultures, as far as I am aware, there is never a word in their vocabulary that correlates with our modern word “religion.” Oral societies do not divide the “secular” from the “religious” from the “political” from the “economic.” These are literate categories and more modern divisions. Rather, oral societies seek to replicate cosmic functions in their religious/political order, but the object of the order is not to create a religion or political system. This happens organically, as a natural consequence of the people who are seeking to live within a sort of “cosmic harmony” with nature.

    The consequence of this feature of orality is the leaders of the tribes and civilizations tend to be both priests and kings, and the clan is both political and religious simultaneously. We call this theocracy, but really it is a culture that doesn’t see an ontological difference between religious and political ideas. Strange for us, because our literacy shapes the way we think, and out literacy divides these functions into more abstract concepts and categories.

    The invention of writing and the slow increase of literate thinking starts changing culture and civilization. And of course I am not saying everyone’s ideas of God(s) and how they choose to believe is totally predetermined. Of course not. But I am saying that if you, I, or Bruce R. McConkie were born as oral thinkers in an oral society, we would be polytheists and would have a political-religious ideology that would include the gods ruling over our economic and territorial concerns and control. By default we will have a god of war to help us out when we war. The leader of the pantheon tends to congregate the features of the rest of the pantheon, and over time henotheistic pressures make the chief god the war god. For the Israelites, Yahweh was both a god of compassion and a god of destruction as a result.

    Christianity is perhaps the first world religion to be managed by texts. This has enormous consequences as to how Christ becomes shaped and defined from its origins.

  13. Clark Goble
    July 9, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    John, sounds like you put most of the techniques of the art of memory as being quite a bit older than the Roman era. (Since what you describe is characteristic of the renaissance and late antiquity versions – the medieval one was perhaps a bit more restrained in what images one could use)

  14. July 9, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    A fascinating discussion. The one item I think is missing is I wonder how God on seeing all the evil simply weeps instead of doing what LDS theology says today He does, send the Holy Ghost down to convince the evil doers they are wrong and help them repent. It’s almost positively weird to me that all God does is weep about it. That is hardly a convincing theodicy is it? Just musing. The one missing ingredient here is the use of the Holy Ghost. That just makes precious little sense considering the teaching of the church today on the role of the Holy Ghost.

  15. Brent Metcalfe
    July 10, 2017 at 1:42 am

    Kerry, you may want to take a look at my comment above because JS excised the reference to God weeping in his final emendations to OT2 (Moses 7:28).

  16. July 10, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Hello Brent. Good to see you again. I just read it. The second emendation does appear to me more metaphorical than how Terryl Givens renders it and expounds on it in his book. I shall have to think on this. did Givens give any indication there was an amendment to this? It’s been quite awhile since I have read his book. Age is catching up to me. How come you are the only one who has ever seen or commented on this? (I suspect you aren’t but my ignorance and naivete are showing)

  17. Brent Metcalfe
    July 10, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Kerry, if memory serves, Colby Townsend (recently?) pointed out the emendation to Terryl who seemed completely in the dark on the manuscript evidence.

    Scholars of various disciplines need to spend more time investigating the manuscript traditions of the sources they cite, or at least begin talking to those of us who have already done much of the legwork.

  18. July 10, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    The manuscript traditions are just not mentioned or pushed by the church in any manner, whether the unique LDS scriptures or the Bible. Once I began studying the manuscript evidence in the Bible it changed my entire perception of almost everything in it. I knew there were problems, being raised with Joseph Smith saying “as far as translated correctly,” but that hardly scratches the surface. In fact, it appears to me that it is a minor point and the actual manuscripts and the evidence of what happened from that angle is vastly more important and when viewed critically challenges Mormonism far greater than the mere translation issue. It is all fascinating to discover and discuss. I’ll never forget studying the early Christian discussion of how the Bible was canonized. There was literally nothing sacred, sacrosanct, or revelatory about the canonization process. It was truly political. That made me reel. It was in Sozomon’s “Church History” if I remember correctly, it’s been awhile since I looked into it. Fun stuff all this discovery about the scriptures.

  19. Clark
    July 11, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Kerry, depending upon what you mean, that’s not entirely true. There have been a reasonable number of articles in the Ensign on changes to the Book of Mormon as well as changes to the JST. So for example the latter article notes “throughout his life the Prophet continued to work on the manuscripts, editing and making further changes, preparing them for publication virtually until the time of his death.”

    It’s true that while there are lots of articles on the variants in the Book of Mormon, especially since Skousen’s work starting in the late 80’s, but far fewer on variations in the JST or related texts. Although there are a few, such as this article on Moses.

    Variants in the D&C got a lot more attention given the pretty big changes from the Book of Commandments. Still, I think when lessons are taught the variant readings don’t get discussed much nor theological significance. You can of course find lots of books that discuss such things but it’s rarely mentioned in the lesson manuals. That’s significant both due to I think telling us a lot about the nature of the changes in the JST but also to undermine the common view it was restoring an ur-text. A great example of that is how Joseph forgot he’d already translated Matthew 26 and redid it, often with pretty substantial differences. Yet in the footnotes to our Bible that isn’t mentioned nor are the variant readings.

    Regarding the development of the OT canon I agree completely. I don’t think it makes much sense why so many Mormons are uncomfortable with the documentary hypothesis given how much our own texts push that view of the Old Testament.

    To your larger points, I truly wish the Church would come out with a new edition of the scriptures that mention variant readings more. Actually entirely redone footnotes really are needed. The current footnotes are embarrassingly bad. Rather than just give what an obscure or archaic KJV means I wish they’d do a rewrite of full verses in the footnotes. Also have all the JST variants plus some of the commentary from Joseph’s later revisions. Say the colorful exegesis to Genesis 1:1 from the KFD. I’d love all the first vision variants added to the PoGP too.

    I’d also love a bit more engagement with the documentary hypothesis too, although that might be hoping for too much. Still a lot of apologists embrace the DH since questions about the priestly and deuteronomist traditions are pretty relevant for the Book of Mormon. Kevin Barney has done a lot there.

  20. July 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Ah! Well, I shall have to keep myself apprised of the situation. I appreciate the comments. As usual, you are a delight to converse with. I appreciate it.

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