Author: Ben S.

The War Chapters- Three Brief Notes

Dr._Strangelove

A few quick references for the War Chapters- While unlikely to make its way into the average Gospel Doctrine class, I’d call attention to the covenant/curse ritual in Alma 46:21-22, with its symbolic actions or “simile curses.” Very briefly, covenanters called down curses on themselves for violation of the covenant, but blessings for keeping it.  Further discussion of this passage (here), cursing (previous post of mine, here), and covenants (here). I wanted to dissertate on curses, so it holds interest for me, and for people interested in covenant in general. In a paper I worked on for a while in grad school (and haven’t touched for at least six years, still rough in spots), I look at Amalickiah as a proto-typical usurper, and propose that he took “Amalickiah” as a propaganda name meaning “Yahweh has made me king.” The etymology is, of course, speculative and perhaps over-detailed, but would fit. In any case, I hope it’s an interesting overview. PDF…

Midterm answers, final part

Here is the last of 3 sections of answers to the Book of Mormon exams I gave at BYU several years ago. (Original post, answers part 1, answers part 2) 27) Joseph Smith, responding to the question “What are the fundamental principles of your religion,” replied, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (TPJS, 272) In the Book of Mormon, we find two compact yet fairly complete historical summaries of Jesus’ life and mission. Where are they located (2 points each), and what are their major points? (3) Alma 7:10-12 and Mosiah 3:5-11 28) What is a prophet? (2) What is a seer? (2) Does “prophet” = President of the Church? Why or why not? (3) Prophecy is a gift of…

Book of Mormon Midterm Answers, part 2

Since these take a long time to write up, and the answers can be fairly dense, I’ve broken up the answers further. (Edit: Here is the original post without any answers, and answers part 1.) 18) On the back of this paper, provide a brief outline of 2 Nephi. Outlining is a tool useful at several levels of the text (book, chapter, verse), that can help one see logical connections in the text. Faulconer has an explanatory chapter on it here, and here’s what my quick sample outline of 2 Nephi looked like. 19) Who took a transliteration of Book of Mormon characters to see Charles Anthon? 20) Who helped Joseph translate early on, and switched a rock for the seer stone when Joseph wasn’t looking to test him? (See this transcript) 21) Who “borrowed” the 116 first pages and consequently lost them? 22) Who mortgaged and then mostly lost his home and farm for $3,000 to pay for the…

Book of Mormon Midterm Answers Part 1

I posted the questions last week. It’s taken me much longer than I thought to hunt down my references/handouts/links, so I’m breaking the answers into two parts. 1) Nephi says several times that knowing “the things of the Jews” can help us understand Isaiah. Similarly, the “things of the Jews” can help us understand the Book of Morm on. Briefly explain two specific examples of “things of the Jews” that help us understand either Isaiah or the Book of Mormon. (4 pts.) We talked about lots of these in class. What’s interesting to me is immediately after declaring “the things of the Jews” to be the key, he also says he deliberately has “not taught [his] children after the manner of the Jews;” (2 Nephi 25:5-6) 2 a) How do we know that when Jacob and Joseph were ordained “priests and teachers” they were not being ordained to our Latter-day priesthood offices of priest and teacher? 2 b) Why then…

Book of Mormon Midterm

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We’ve arrived in early Alma, and so, as I did for my BYU New Testament class I taught, I provide here some questions taken from the midterms and finals of the two Book of Mormon classes I taught in 2004 and 2006. Both sections covered 1 Nephi-Alma 29, but one was a freshman section and one an RM section. These exams were open-scripture, but as with the New Testament exam, open scripture certainly did not equate to easy. I wanted to test if students were reading, thinking, and able to make use of the critical-thinking and other skills we were learning in class and homework assignments. Sometimes I just wanted to see if students could read closely and think coherently. How do YOU do on these?

Reading the Bibles: Why Translations Differ (Part 4)

This is the third of four categories explaining why translations differ. 3) How does the translator resolve ambiguities on the word-level? Hebrew writing did not indicate doubled letters (which are significant) or vowels until the 8th/9th century AD*, when Jews who had memorized the pronunciation of the traditional text came up with a system (three, actually) of indicating the pronunciation in the text with marks above, below, and inside the consonantal text. That, again, is a thousand-year gap. Scholars vary in how much weight to give the vowel-pointing (niqqudot, or just “pointing”), but at times, greater sense can be made of a text by repointing a word or two. If we have GDSNWHR in God’s appearance to Moses, and the tradition said “GoD iS NoWHeRe” we might consider that a bit odd for a believing Israelite to say, particularly as God was there appearing to him. A scholar might repoint or redivide as “GoD iS NoW HeRe” since it fits…

Reading the Bibles: Why Translations Differ (Part 3)

Here is the second of four categorical reasons why translations may differ. 2) How does the translator parse the mechanics (syntax, etc.) and disambiguate the text on the sentence and paragraph level? (NB: This is a very simplified presentation of complex subjects.) Biblical Hebrew is very different from English. Like many other ancient languages, it has no formal punctuation, no capitals, and word order can vary. Consequently, it’s not always easy to figure out if this word belongs to end of this phrase or the beginning of that one. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one sentence ends and another begins particularly since the word “and” functions in multiple ways and is used more frequently then English. Translators have to decide where the breaks are in the text, and then how to represent that in English. (As a side note, several FARMS papers have discussed this in terms of the Book of Mormon’s awkward English syntax, with its endless run-on…

Reading the Bibles: Why Translations Differ (Part 2)

Before looking at the two sample passages in detail,  I want to familiarize you with some basic information about the Old Testament text and translation issues. And in the last part, I’ll make some suggestions about how to approach the text like this when you haven’t studied Greek or Hebrew. I’ve divided these into four semi-artificial headings, too long to all go in one post. 1) What are they translating from, and (1a) how much is the translation influenced by the versions? Translators must choose a base text from which to translate.  Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), the best manuscripts of the Old Testament were medieval, i.e. very late and far removed. This traditional Hebrew text is called the Massoretic text, or MT. Scribes copied biblical texts by hand for generations and as with all human endeavors, errors crept in by nature as well as by intention. That is, on occasion scribes would “correct” a text…

Reading the Bibles: The Problem (Part 1)

I received the following from an educated friend, and got permission to respond via blogposts.  Slightly edited, he asks- >>As someone without training in the original languages, how can I evaluate alternate translations of scripture? Here’s what motivates this question: I’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon, which I love. I’ve been working through Nephi’s Isaiah chapters, and, as I started working through 2 Nephi 19/Isaiah 9, I decided it was time to check alternate translations. I have several: a 4-in-1 that includes KJV, New Life Translation (NLT), New International Version (NIV), and New American Standard Version (NASB), a copy of the English Standard Version (ESV), and, via the web, the NetBible (NET), plus, of course, Nephi’s  versions of Isaiah (BOM). There are four issues that one can observe by working through 2 Ne 19/Isaiah 9: •     Similar translations, but with variations in clarity. •     Most translations reading the same, but with one…

Misattributed Quotes of Note: Henry Eyring (Sr.) on Babies, Bathwater, and Authority

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This wisdom is often attributed online to Elder Henry B. Eyring, but none provides a source.  It was Henry Eyring Sr., non-Apostle and brilliant prolific scientist who gave this nugget of wisdom. However, Henry Eyring Jr. apparently took the lesson to heart, as he has said similar things. And perhaps he quotes his father somewhere.  “There are few ways in which good people do more harm to those who take them seriously than to defend the gospel with arguments that won’t hold water. Many of the difficulties encountered by young people going to college would be avoided if parents and teachers were more careful to distinguish between what they know to be true and what they think may be true. Impetuous youth, upon finding the authority it trusts crumbling, even on unimportant details, is apt to lump everything together and throw the baby out with the bath.” Henry Eyring Sr., “What Are the Things That Really Matter?”  as quoted in…

Reading Tom Wright’s New Testament Commentary for Everyone

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Writings on the scriptures often comes from one of two perspectives. 1) Devotional-but-clueless, i.e. the author is able to read/write devotionally on a passage because they don’t know any other way to read it. They don’t address context or difficulties or objections or avoid pitfalls, because they’re completely unaware of them. It’s often trite and shallow (and I don’t think you necessarily need length to have depth, lead to reflection, or inspire.) Lest I be misunderstood, it is entirely possible to be devotional and clueless, but still meaningful,  I just think it’s rare and find little value in spending my time to read it. And let us not even speak of the abomination of trying to pass off rhyming poems as “spiritual thoughts.” 2) Knowledge-but-without-faith-implications, i.e. the author doesn’t care about affecting behavior, spiritual experiences, or the implications of the content for faith and doctrine, but is intent on talking about Roman culture, or Hebrew grammar, or Ugaritic history. This…

Conference Plug: Mormons and the Internet

Want to be discussed, dear reader? Engage in naval gazing? Hear voices and see faces of names you’ve only read and intellectually crushed on? A reminder of the conference to be held at UVU on Thursday and Friday and appropriately live-streamed over the internet, featuring various luminaries from all corners as John Dehlin (of Mormon Stories), Joanna Brooks (various), Ardis Parshall (Keepapitchinin and others), Scott Gordon (of FAIR), David Charles (of Patheos), James Faulconer, Patrick Mason, Jana Reiss, and others. Joanna Brooks and Jana Reiss will be doing readings on Wednesday, and it’s not clear if those will be broadcast. See here for complete info.

What Happened Last Thursday at Institute: l’Affair Botte Goes Local

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(I’m jumping because of the Bott stuff, but will still put up my 2 posts on Genesis 2-4 and Creation/temples post.) Instead of beginning on the Flood on Thursday as planned, I decided to take 5 minutes to talk about the mark of Cain in Genesis 4, and the curse on Canaan in Genesis 9. We never got to the flood, but ended up having a wonderful (I think) 2.5+ hour conversation about the priesthood ban, the eisegesis and various theories it engendered, the role and fuzzy definitions of tradition, policy, and doctrine in the Church. We also covered related issues like the context for Wilford Woodruff’s statement about “leading the Church astray”,  the tension inherent in living in a dynamic Church based on revelation that sometimes goes through upheavals (see polygamy, priesthood ban, etc.), and that we need to be careful not to get caught on either extreme. We talked about the nature of the writing of Church manuals…

Institute Report: Genesis Week 5 (corrected)

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!

(We’re a few weeks behind here on the blog. I hope to catch up. Most important for my students: We WILL have Institute this week, contrary to what I said last Thursday.) Tonight we finished off Genesis 1 and introduced the second creation account in Gen 2. Had a few more people, so I started by recapping Walton’s theory of functional creation (references in previous post.) Seven days It’s long been noticed that days 1-3 parallel days 4-6. Walton argues that days 1-3 create three primary and basic functions, while 4-6 create functionaries that either carry out those functions, or carry out their own within the parallel sphere. Day 1 creates the basis of Time, the cycle of night/day. This is simply the function; the functionaries who carry it out are designated on day 4. Day 2 creates the basis of Weather, which mostly means precipitation. That is, Israelite cosmology held as per Genesis that there were waters below which…

Brief notes on Laman, Lemuel and Cursing

(Corrected!) I hope it’s not too late to post this, and equally that it will still be useful in this quick and dirty form. Though long, I’ve included the scriptural passages for quick skimming, since I doubt they’re familiar. We’re familiar with blessings in the Church- patriarchal blessings, blessings on the food, blessings of health, etc. But blessings have a counter-part that Israelites were just as familiar with and we have no background for: cursings. I wanted to write a typology of curses for my dissertation, but it turned out my advisor’s advisor (three generations of UChicago!) had already done that for his dissertation. What we’re describing here is a very small portion of curse usage. Since many people find the cursing (or at least their interpretive history within the Church) in the Book of Mormon problematic, I want to provide a tiny bit of background. Curses were an inherent and important part of covenants, most relevantly the law of Moses.…

Institute Report: Genesis Week 4

Far Side

This week, we continued talking about Enuma Eliš and Genesis 1, beginning with a review of some of the similarities we talked about last week. Similarities– 1) Opens with temporal clause. 2) pre-creation darkness 3) precreation cosmic waters 4) wind/spirit 5) division of the waters to create space for human existence 6) a solid “roof” created to restrain the cosmic waters from reentering that space. There are also stark differences, which generally fall under the category of semi-polemical monotheistic reinterpretation. That is, while Genesis shares with Mesopotamia (as well as all the other ancient Near Eastern cultures we know of) a very different conception of the physical universe and some other elements, it differs sharply in who’s in charge. Differences– Lack of combat– In contrast to Enuma Eliš, other creation accounts, and other parts of the Old Testament (per the last post), creation is portrayed as being free of combat with other deities or cosmic waters/chaos. Monotheistic. – Things which are deities…

Institute Report:Genesis week 3

The Biblical View of the Universe

(updated!) Attendance down a little this week; I know one student had a date, the weather was poor (no one likes to travel in the rain), and so on, but I also heard that last week was too much for at least one person. But, I felt this week went quite well, and we finally got into Genesis itself. As per the syllabus, class today was divided in two parts. And due to my own schedule and time commitments this week, I’m afraid my notes here are much rougher, less complete and posted later than I’d wish. I. Tools part I We went over a handout about language and dictionaries, talked about why Webster’s modern dictionary isn’t useful, how to use Strong’s Concordance, where to get it for free, and what’s wrong with it, then some resources that you can use once you understand Strong’s and have the number for a word. Here’s the handout (ask if something isn’t clear),…

Institute Report: Genesis Week 2

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I was gratified to see most of the class come back, but we’ll see if it happens again. Here’s the tentative syllabus for the next few weeks. I was really apprehensive about today, for two reasons. First, the material in this lesson was largely groundwork for the next few weeks, and really shouldn’t stand on its own, because you don’t see the payoff. Time constrained me, though.  Second, this is some of the most tentative material I’m working with, and I’m hesitant about some of it. I’m still working it out in my own mind, but this seems to be the direction the evidence points in. Because of those two things, and the amount of material to cover, I’m not sure it all got presented in the clearest way, and I know at least one of the major arguments didn’t get presented. Reverse summary: Next week, we’re going to start reading Genesis against other creation accounts, particularly the Babylonian Enuma…

The Standard Packet, the Book of Mormon, and Critical Thinking at BYU

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Perhaps due to the authoritarian structure of the Church, students at BYU (more than elsewhere?) come to college expecting Pure Truth to be bestowed by The Authorities (i.e. professors) on those less enlightened (i.e. students), instead of learning how to engage data and arguments. I’ve often distributed a collection of readings and articles to students in my Institute and BYU classes. These help introduce and reorient students towards a broader perspective of LDS intellectual engagement, approaches, and critical thinking. Essentially, this is accomplished through stories, historical/doctrinal/cultural engagement, scholarly engagement and explicit guidelines. My “standard packet” has varied a bit from time to time, so here’s a fuller list than anyone has previously received. Carlfred Broderick, “The Core of My Faith“- Broderick reflects on his parents, upbringing and schooling, and various issues he dealt with along the way. He’s an inspiring model, I think. Bruce Hafen, “Dealing With Uncertainty“- Hafen lays out three degrees of faith, and acknowledges messiness while providing one…

Institute Report: Genesis, Week 1

Institute!

If there’s sufficient interest,  I will post some general notes, handouts and materials here instead of mailing out everything to my class. Handouts are pdf format and have live links embedded. I felt the first week went well; in contrast to the last time I taught this, few students had a science background, and only 1-2 had previous experience with me. I introduced myself and established some formal bona fides. The more important informal trust that comes from personal experience and knowing someone will come over time, I hope. I had students introduce themselves, give a bit of their own background in terms of studies and interests (only one with hard science, several in literature and humanities, a few in business/finance), and express what had brought them to the class, what they hoped to discusses, or nagging questions or issues in Genesis. As expected, questions ran the gamut, but no one expressed a desperate struggle trying to “square evolution with…

Scripture Unchained: A New York Institute Announcement

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After taking off 18 months or so, I’m returning to teaching Institute in my free time. Beginning January 12, 8 PM in the Union Square chapel of Manhattan, I’ll be teaching a class called “Genesis, with an Introduction to Studying the Bible in Hebrew.” The Institute Director added the last part, but I don’t mind one bit. I’m quite looking forward to it. Institute can really be a breath of fresh air, especially for those who are looking for a deeper exploration of the scriptures than Sunday School allows. After all, there’s no schedule to follow, no manual to adhere to, none of the constraints that people argue over. Instead of 45 minutes with ambivalent mostly non-readers, I get 75 minutes with a self-selecting group of slightly less ambivalent reading-a-bit-more. This is not to say there are no constraints; in a lesser implementation of Helaman 10:4-5, teachers generally get vetted one way or another, and then are simply trusted to…

Teaching from the Pew: When the Manual Authorizes Subverting the Teacher

A thought inspired by Aquinas’ review, which focuses on the teacher, instead of the manual. If I had any Photoshop skills, I’d have put the manual in the middle of that ring. Reference comes from Aquinas’ post. I taught the Teacher Training course for a few months earlier this year, which meant I spent a lot of time with Teaching:No Greater Call. I discovered an important and surprisingly subversive story p. 214-15, presented below with minor editorializing in brackets and bolding. “In our new ward my husband and I discovered that the Gospel Doctrine class [read: the teacher] wasn’t very effective. As the teacher talked, some class members read their scriptures; others just kept their heads down. I could tell that this bothered the teacher. Once he even asked, ‘Is anybody listening?’ Soon we learned that a number of people in the ward attended the Gospel Principles class instead of Gospel Doctrine [or just hung out in the hallway.] We…

Gospel Doctrine New Testament Midterm and Final

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We’re nearing the end of our New Testament study for the year; what have we learned? Shall we assess? Back in 2006, when I was still engaged in my Sisyphian PhD pursuit, I taught an Honors Acts-Revelation class at BYU, which was a lot of fun. We learned a little Greek, read some introductory scholarship, and the New Testament in two translations. Students had an outside assignment each week, and a reading assignment for each class period on top of the New Testament passages. Generally speaking, students responded very positively. On the very first day, we learned the Greek alphabet, and they got a Greek assignment, in order to filter out the purely devotional, Seminary-type students who wouldn’t fit the class profile or rank me highly. Student reviews are king at The BYU, especially in the Religious Education department. Below are the midterm and final I gave. The midterm was take-home and open scripture, though I warned them it wouldn’t…

Quotes of Note- Elder Holland on Boats and Struggling Swimmers

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Unfortunately inspired by a personal experience related to me recently, I present a rebuke of sorts  and a call for more Christ-like compassion by Elder Holland. “When a battered, weary swimmer tries valiantly to get back to shore, after having fought strong winds and rough waves which he should never have challenged in the first place, those of us who might have had better judgment, or perhaps just better luck, ought not to row out to his side, beat him with our oars, and shove his head back underwater. That’s not what boats were made for. But some of us do that to each other.” –A Robe, a Ring, and a Fatted Calf, BYU Devotional, 1984. (Also available in mp3 and other formats) Holland’s negative inspiration for the boat-model was someone he grew up with, who suffered at the hands of those who might have helped and encouraged him instead. “one of the added tragedies in transgression is that even…

A Missionary Reminiscence on Christmas

Place Kleber

When the mission president announced to our small group of greenies that I was going to Strasbourg, I shrugged the resigned shrug of a missionary who knew nothing about anywhere but was willing to go wherever. One of the sisters expressed jealousy; Strasbourg, she said, was one of the best cities in the mission. She was right, and it would not be a good thing. Strasbourg is and was beautiful pre-Christmas.* Several weeks passed before I fully acclimatized to the major time-change, and the schedule of missionary life, but I loved Strasbourg almost instantly. The eastern area of France bordering Germany is known as Alsace, and offers the best of both countries in terms of food, architecture, and other things. Parks are plentiful, the accent is easier to master, and doner kebab is cheap. Two wards meeting in an actual chapel with a basketball court were staffed by over a dozen hard-working missionaries who made me feel welcome as we…

Quotes of Note- McKay on Running the Church

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“Men must learn that in presiding over the Church we are dealing with human hearts, that individual rights are sacred, and the human soul is tender. We cannot run the Church like a business.”-David O. McKay Diaries, May 17, 1962, as quoted in “David O. McKay and the Twin Sisters’: Free Agency and Tolerance” by Gregory Prince, Dialogue 33:4 (Winter 2000):13. I read this as saying, we need to be sensitive to other people; we cannot make hard decisions and simply say, “this is business, not personal” as if real people were not involved. I wish we had more context for the statement by McKay.

Finally, Family Scripture Study that Works for Us

Quad, Greek NT Reader's Edition, Hebrew Bible Reader's Edition, Jewish Annotated New Testament, Jewish Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, Book of Mormon

My family is not very large (C and, uh, me. Not even a cat), so schedules aren’t hard to coordinate. We’re both active in the Church, and bibliophiles who regularly read and study our own scriptures,  and yet we’ve never been able to have productive scripture study together. I am largely to blame for that, since our questions and interests tend to not overlap very much and mine are too arcane and rabbit-hole-ish to be productive for her. In spite of trying several times, it’s never lasted long. I have memories of my teens, bleary-eyed hot breakfast at 5:15, slogging through Alma, taking turns reading in between bites of Hutterite pancake with cream and bananas. We read every day, but I never felt conscious enough to really pay attention, especially since I was competing with three brothers for pancakes. (My older sister wasn’t very competitive in the pancake horking department.) Somehow between hearing it at breakfast and sleeping through four years…

Quotes of Note: Elder Hafen on Independence

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Quotes of Note will be a recurring series of lesser-known General Authority statements of interest, as conversation starters. I’m starting with a favorite. “We need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,” because new ideas don’t always come along with little tags attached to them saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. Whether in the form of music, books, friends, or opportunities to serve, there is much that is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy that is not the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or courses of instruction. Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends. We must develop sufficient…

Breaking Gender Stereotypes at the Dinner Table

Given that my wife is female and her heavy and varied involvement with food (cooking school, PhD in Food Studies (scroll to bottom), sometimes-food-blog, etc.), most people assume she’s doing all the cooking at our house. Not so. In fact, even before we were married, I did so much of it  that at our sealing we laughed when Grampa said (tweaking us both in turn), “Now Ben, when you come home, and C. has burned the roast…” We maintain a strict division of labor in the kitchen. She does all the baking, and most of the French and American food. I do most of the Mexican, Asian (except Korean), and pseudo-Italian food. And so I present below a recipe I made up, good for fall. It’s become a favorite at our house, and it packs a good punch. What I love most is when people compliment C. on it, and she disarmingly says “Oh, Ben made it.” Italian Lentil Stew…