Author: Ben S.

Benjamin the Scribe: My Old Testament Gospel Doctrine column


Perhaps redundantly, I’m announcing my  Old Testament column at Patheos, called Benjamin the Scribe. I post a lesson each week, with thoughts, analysis, background, handouts, links, and articles. I also have some other things, such as a link to my other writings (in which I demask my two past internet personalities), and a screencast about the Rediscovery of  the World of the Old Testament. Given my schedule (classwork and MCAT study), most of my posts will be there instead of here for at least a few months. You can subscribe to get an update whenever a new post goes up. I’ve just put up my lesson on the Flood, but see the Introduction post and About page. If you’ve missed me here after my flurry of  Old Testament posts in December, check me out there.    

God, the Necessity of Scholars, and the Old Testament: A Long Post and a Short Announcement.

Among laypeople, one sometimes finds a distrust of scholarship as it applies to the Bible, particularly if that scholarship runs against a traditional interpretation, or if tells you an obvious face-value reading you favor doesn’t really mean what you think it does. LDS have competing traditions towards serious scripture study. On the one hand, we are not a Bible-based (or even Book of Mormon-based) religion, where doctrine comes primarily through exegesis and interpretation. No sir, we’ve got prophets! We make an end run around all that stuff. We don’t believe you must attend college and be trained for the ministry to preach the orthodox religion! If you’ve read the Ensign and served a mission, or you grew up in Utah, most weeks you don’t need to bother preparing anything at all to participate fully in our Sunday lessons. A great pity, indeed. So there can certainly be an anti-intellectual strain, the expression of which varies greatly by ward and geography. In…

The Old Testament, Scripture, Apostles, the Priesthood Ban, and Theological Diversity: Calibrating Our Expectations

(I’m probably cramming too much into this mishmash of a post, but frustration over certain conversations has collided with academic stress and lack of time to refine it. I may regret it, so consider this a preview, a beta.) The expectations we bring to reading scripture can radically affect our reading, our faith, and our communities. One frequent assumption, traditional in many religions, is that revelation (and scripture, as a subset of revelation) must be monolithic, unified, in harmony, univocal, internally consistent. This is not the case, and it is not an accident. Let’s back up, though, particularly as we get in to the Old Testament, and ask, what are our expectations of scripture? Are they properly calibrated? I think we tend to read the scriptures for three reasons, devotional (performing piety and seeking communion with God), doctrinal (stripping away the “irrelevant cultural dross” to extract “True Doctrine”), and moralistic (expecting to find simple models of modern LDS principles and standards). Certainly, those…

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Reading and Resources!

December has finally arrived! For the last six months, I’ve felt like Old Testament is just around the corner. Finally we’re into the last loose stretch of D&C and I can put up the first Old Testament post. With the cyclic return to the Old Testament comes the perennial question, how do I make sense of this? Where should I turn to read “out of  the best books”? Look no further, friend, for here is a scattered list. (I’ve been even busier than anticipated, and just don’t have time to polish or add images.) First, though, a note. All the books below can be divided into two structural categories. There are those arranged by book, chapter, and verse, and those that are not. The first category includes commentaries, introductions, guides, histories (generally), and Study Bibles. These are the easiest books to use because you simply read them along with our schedule, or go directly to the chapter/verse you need help with. Having…

Hodayot: A Dead Sea Scroll Thanksgiving

  One of the non-Biblical texts from the Dead Sea cache is known as hodayot or the Thanksgiving Scroll or Thanksgiving Hymns  (or 1QHa and 1QHb, for you scroll groupies). It is so named because of the repetition of the line ‘odeka ‘adonai  “I give thanks to You, O Lord…” The scroll is lengthy, nearly thirty columns, and fragments of seven copies have been found. Alas, the text is quite fragmented, and not terribly exciting to read, so I’ll link to Wikipedia instead of the text. While these poems/hymns/psalms “resemble the biblical psalms in many ways, these poems show a development of literary forms and express the theology of the Qumran group. They speak often of the psalmist, suffering, including attacks by Belial’s people, and of God’s grace to him despite his own unworthiness…. [In some of these] the speaker stresses the trials he has endured, God’s grace in saving him from them, and the knowledge revealed to him so that he…

The Bible in Jacksonville

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 6.07.28 PM

I wrote some lectures on the Bible to present in Paris, although due to scheduling and communication conflicts, only the first was actually delivered. I’m now scheduled to do two of them in Jacksonville, FL in the next two weeks. These will be held at the LDS Chapel on 440 Penman Rd. in Jacksonville. The first is next Sunday at 7PM (flyer below), the second (similar to my presentation here) will be Friday the 23rd, same time and place. Given that I speak English slightly better than French, these will probably be a bit more spontaneous and expansive. If you’re in the neighborhood, come check it out and say hi.

“Rediscovering the World of the Old Testament”- A Report

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 8.42.44 PM

As noted a few weeks ago, I gave my first of three lectures last night, on the Rediscovery of the World of the Old Testament.   It was open to the public, and although several groups of an inter-religious nature were invited (apparently the local ward has had some contacts and activities with them before), I think most of the 30-odd in attendance were LDS. I prepared about 35 slides, with a projecteur, divided into three parts. 1) Why “Rediscovery”? In short,  the full “World of the Old Testament” was lost. We had nothing but the Bible. It was akin to having a deep textual tradition about Cuba (like Israel, a relatively small, powerless, and insignificant country) but knowing nothing about Spain, Russia, or the USA, the major influences on it, then discovering their own massive records. Israel was surrounded by much larger and influential nation-states and empires, like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. 2) What Have We Discovered? Here I picked 7 major rediscoveries of…

Giving lectures in Paris on “The Bible from Yesterday to Today”- Help me narrow my topics.


I’ve been asked to give a series of three 1-hr lectures on the Bible in French, to be held at three different LDS chapels in Paris, beginning in mid-June. (Yes, we’re currently in Paris, where man can live on bread alone. Quite happily, too.) These lectures will be open and advertised to the public, as a kind of open-door/public education thing. They’re still to be finalized and scheduled, but I’m trying to narrow down my topics, which will not be Mormon-centric. Each lecture must be freestanding, because we’re not going to get the exact same group each time, though presumably some will attend all three. I have five general areas that need to be reduced to three, either combining, condensing, or just eliminating. Old Testament Period between the OT and NT, sometimes called the Inter-testamental period, or 2nd temple period (term which also includes the New Testament time under that term) New Testament Transmission/translation process Reading/interpreting the Bible today My…

Books! A small timely plug (updated!)


As you know, we are to study out of the best books, which entails reading. President Hinckley once lamented, “I confess that I am constantly appalled by the scarcity of my knowledge, and the one resentment I think I carry concerns the many pressing demands which limit the opportunity for reading.”

Everything is a Remix, Genesis Edition: Intro


In this recent post (which I plan to revisit in the near future) and others, I mentioned the discovery of various ancient Near Eastern texts related to Genesis, such as Enuma Elish. The relationship between these accounts and Genesis has never been definitively settled, though dominant interpretive trends have been clear. At first, German scholars such as Friedrich Delitzsch, driven largely by Protestant bias against the Hebrew Bible and a good bit of anti-Semitism, seized on them as the original sources of Genesis, assuming the relevant bits had been taken more-or-less whole cloth from the Israelites neighbors. This undermined longstanding assumptions of their originality or uniqueness, easily conflated with claims of religious and/or revelatory value. (See “Babel and Bible” controversy.) Other scholars pushed back, particularly conservative scholars. Others came to recognize that claims of direct borrowing were highly overstated, and ignored important and significant differences. It is a rare scholar today who argues that Genesis has nothing to do with these other accounts. Positions run from (paraphrasing…

And when they had sung an hymn…

Mark 14:26 records “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” Sometimes people have asked, did they have a hymn book? What did they sing? Israelites did indeed have a hymn book; it was called the Book of Psalms, and certain Psalms were sung on different occasions. Some were sung as one ascended to Jerusalem for certain feasts and holy days, others at the crowning of a new king, others in the temple/tabernacle to accompany certain sacrifices. Notably, the Psalms for Passover were referred to as The Hallel, Psalms 113-118. Hallel should look familiar, as it’s the first half of hallelujah, or hallelu-yah, meaning “praise (a plural command) Yahweh” i.e. the Lord. Psalm 113 embodies this faithful praise, repeated elsewhere thought the Hallel. hallelu yah, hallelu ‘avdey Yahweh, hallelu ‘et shem yahweh. Praise The Lord, praise, o servants of The Lord, praise the name of Yahweh. As he surely knew what was shortly…

Study Genesis and the Gospels through Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, this weekend only (updated)


One issue that appears repeatedly when studying scripture is dealing with conflicting accounts and multiple perspectives. We have four Gospels that vary in detail, several creation stories, both inside the Bible (Gen 1-2:4, 2:4ff, and the scattered watery Chaoskampf account), and outside (Genesis accounts, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, Temple), as well as two conflicting accounts of Israelite history (Samuel-Kings vs. Chronicles), and two interpretations of the destruction of Ammonihah (Alma 16-17 vs 25, see Grant Hardy’s article). Our modern tendency is to treat all of these, and indeed nearly all scripture, strictly as history, although bad or inaccurate history, and since we really don’t like multiple accounts, we then wrest ahem… harmonize them. To some extent, that misses the point; none of these were written as history as the modern person would understand it, as a dispassionate, journalistic wie-es-eigentlich-gewesen how-it-really-happened neutral account written down by an eyewitness clerk. Perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated.

Genesis vs. Science: Background, Readings, and Discussion

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 7.18.36 PM

One of the problems that crops up with Genesis is its proper context, its genre, what background it should be read against (modern science or ancient Near East?) That is, modern western English readers have a particular (modern) worldview with various questions and issues. When they read Genesis, they naturally place it into that setting, and read it against that (modern) background, which creates conflict. It’s as if we’ve summoned an expert witness to trial, only to surprise her with questions far outside her area of expertise. Although she gives strong indications to that effect, the judge forcefully says, “Just answer the questions please!” The lawyers seize upon any statement, and force it into relevance. Only recently have defense attorneys appeared in the courtroom to object to this treatment, with several lengthy briefs detailed below. The history of interpretation of Genesis’ early chapters is fascinating, particularly the science/religion debate. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition is a great…

With apologies to President Kimball, Shorten Your Stride! Or, thoughts on running, scriptures, and pushing metaphors too far.

6.5 miles in full outfit- Smartwool, gps/hr, camelbak, ipod, goofy grin, etc.

As I lie in bed before falling asleep, the mental inventory of the day can take a toll, inevitably a combo of Jesus’ “these you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” and Paul’s  “I do not act as I mean to… the good things I intend to do, I never do.” 1 Among all the other omissions and commissions of modern life, it’s very healthy to have at least one personal victory each day. If that personal victory turns out to have mental, physical, and emotional benefits such as running does, so much the better.  I’ve become much more of a runner in recent years than I ever was in high school or college. Consequently, I’ve thought more about President Kimball’s saying and taken more note of the various running metaphors in the scriptures.

On Scripture Changes and the Bible Dictionary(s)

I’ve had this post half written for a while, and one of the changes in the new LDS scriptures has prompted me to emerge from my cave to finish it. The introductory section to the Bible Dictionary has been rewritten with some interesting twists. The old version is still available at the “classic” scripture site,  The  oft-ignored disavaowal of the BD as an official position or revelation therein remains, I’m happy to report, as does the statement that the BD represents (light) scholarship, and is subject to scholarly revision. It seems few people know that the original BD was a revision of the Cambridge Bible Dictionary, as reported in the Ensign back in 1982 and perhaps elsewhere.  As the Bible Chronology and Harmony of the Gospels have become their own Help/Aid, they no longer merit mention. Much more interesting is the excisal of a recommendation to use another Bible Dictionary.

One Day, The Past’s Future May Seem Just This (Un)Weird


It’s always fun to read computer/science/tech magazines from the 80’s, and see just how far things have come in 30 years, and what predictions were way off. Even more so from the 1950s. Sometimes the things they herald as bizarre and never-going-to-happen have come to be so taken for granted that I can seem really old for talking about VCRs, and having to look in the newspaper to find out movie times.  It strikes me that such is also the case with the Church, in some ways. But really, I just wanted to post the below image, made with The Pulp-o-mizer. It’s a bit limited in the right images, but captures the spirit.  

Guest post: Failure, by Nate Curtis

Tapeats Creek

No one sets out on a path with the intent to fail. In late 2009 I took the last major hike with my father before he died.  We decided to do the Tapeats Creek/Deer Creek loop, a trail in the Grand Canyon that we had done several times over the years, and is considered by many to be not only the most difficult hike in the Grand Canyon, but among the hardest hikes in North America. It was the first hike my father had done in the Grand Canyon when he was 14 years old, and it was the first hike he took me on in the Grand Canyon when I was 12 years old.  He used to tell a story of a pudgy kid from Houston (himself) who had never even seen a valley, much less the Grand Canyon.  A boy who descended into the depths of those sandstone walls and emerged 20 pounds lighter and fully converted to…

Writing about Genesis: Status Update


 Last year in September, I posted some thoughts on a book project dealing with the early chapters of Genesis. A good number of my (too rare) posts since then have dealt with those chapters in certain ways: Problems of language and culture (1, 2),  issues of translation (six parts so far, begin here), the structure of the first creation account, and my posts from teaching a Genesis Institute class (start here). I started researching the book and doing some initial writing. Here’s a very quick update.

Pre-storm Report from NYC (updated)

Since I live in NYC, I’ve been following the weather and news pretty closely from various sources.  I left work early yesterday, and it was closed down today. All transit has been shut down, evacuations taking place, and the Ward/Stake communications network is in place. I live up a hill, so I’m not worried about flooding. I went for a short walk this morning to pick up a few more supplies, and the reactions vary broadly. Some places are boarded up and closed, others open like usual. Fewer people are out on the road, but I saw three runners in twenty minutes. And I’ll confess, one reason I went out was to see if I wanted to run in the weather. (RunnersWorld had some good humor on that.) So far, it’s not much different than any other storm. Constant drizzle, but not hard rain. Wind, sometimes really strong wind, but I haven’t seen any downed trees or even big branches yet.…

Winning the mini-mini-Lottery: What would you do?


I sat in a comfy chair downtown reading my iPad for two hours, and received $175 in Amazon credit for my troubles. That’s nice work, if you can get it. Even better is getting paid four figures to fly to France on a private G5 and take four naps a day for a week. (Yes, I’ve done that too, but napping on a rigorous schedule is much more difficult than it sounds.)

NYC Institute Announcement: Psalms and Israelite Poetry


I didn’t think I’d be able to teach again in Fall, but my schedule changed and then I was asked. And so, I announce an Institute class to be held Tuesday nights at 8Pm at the Union Square building in Manhattan, on Psalms and Israelite Poetry. Class begins next Tuesday, Sept. 11th, and will continue through the 1st week of December (anticipated.) Why study Psalms? A few reasons, which I’ll elaborate on in the first week’s intro. Psalms was the most translated Old Testament book into Greek during the early NT period, and the most popular book at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls); moreover, Psalms is the most quoted book in the New Testament. As Psalms are human responses to God (prayers, hymns, etc.), they cover a lot of our normal situations; frustration at feeling like we’re doing what we should but not getting anywhere, feeling like God isn’t answering, and so on. It’s a very emotive book, easy to relate…

Mormon, Helaman, Fiction, and History: Short Notes


We had some interesting discussion in Gospel Doctrine class on Sunday, focused on Helaman 2. Helaman’s servant was joining Gadianton’s group. From my view, he wasn’t infiltrating, but joining for personal gain… until he learned what their higher goals were, at which point he bails out by killing Kishkumen and fleeing to Helaman, who sends out (the army? what? there’s no object in the sentence) to catch them.  11 But behold, when Gadianton had found that Kishkumen did not return he feared lest that he should be destroyed; therefore he caused that his band should follow him. And they took their flight out of the land, by a secret way, into the wilderness; and thus when Helaman sent forth to take them they could nowhere be found. 12 And more of this Gadianton shall be spoken hereafter. And thus ended the forty and second year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. 13 And behold, in the end of this book…

Why Translations Differ, Part 6: Putting It All Together. Mostly


To summarize the first five parts of the series (linked below) and apply what we’ve learned to the original question- Translations can vary for multiple reasons: 1) Different underlying texts (MT vs DSS) and influence of the versions (LXX, Targums, etc.) 2) Different understandings of the text on the grammatical and syntactic level 3) Different understandings of the text on the semantic/word level 4) Differing philosophies of how to best express one’s understanding of 1, 2, and 3 in English Translators must examine, weigh, and make decisions on each of these issues before actually getting on to providing a translation. With those issues in mind, let’s look at the original passages in question. KJV Isaiah 9:1 (followed by 2 Nephi 19:1) reads negatively, “Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the…