Category: Scriptures

Going All Sorts of Gentile

tuvision

It’s almost Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost went wild, which brings to fiery minds the thought of not only that particular world-turned-upside-down event but assorted others a whole lot like unto it, which other events alas never got their own special red-letter day on the calendar, even though they probably deserved to, and so it occurred to me, why not just piggyback them all onto Pentecost, given their decidedly Pentecost-like qualities, and commemorate them all together, and not just as something dead and done and so last year, but something with very possibly bone-shaking and world-rocking consequences right here and now? Especially my two very favorites.

Hell Part 1: Close Readings of the Book of Mormon

I love doing close readings of scripture. The normal way to do this is reading linearly through the entire book of scripture. An other great way is to study by topic. Each helps you see things you might miss using only the other method. While I’m glad our gospel doctrine has encouraged reading all scripture, part of me kind of wishes there was something akin to the Gospel Principles class. Just with broader topics and focused on reading our key texts rather than simple answers. My goal here is to do that sort of thing with a particular focus on the Book of Mormon. It’ll take time and may follow a somewhat circuitous route. With luck I’ll make a post each week in this series. I’ll be mixing the two methods I mentioned slightly as I’ll typically pick a few texts related to the topic and then do a close reading of them. I was kind of encouraged by a recent…

The Sabbath Day: Its Meaning and Observance

This was a talk I gave a month or so ago as part of High Council Sunday. In preparation for this talk, I read through Elder Nelson’s April Conference address on the Sabbath, in which he stated, “I am intrigued by the words of Isaiah, who called the Sabbath “a delight.” Yet,” he continued, “I wonder, is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me?”[1] Well, Joseph Smith revealed that the Lord’s day should consist of “confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord” (D&C 59:12), so here’s my confession: the answer to Elder Nelson’s question, for me personally and on average, is a big No. My Sabbath experience has often been far from a delight. Maybe some of you can relate to this. For one, I work every other weekend. Half of my Sabbaths each year are typical workdays. But even those I have off don’t fend much better. I end up leaving church with…

Reading Genesis

howtoreadthebible

The latest entry in the how-to-read-the-Bible genre is How to Read the Bible (HarperOne, 2015) by Harvey Cox, a Harvard divinity prof who has been around since the sixties (his classic The Secular City was published in 1965). The first chapter is devoted to Genesis. He offers some helpful perspectives to go beyond simply plodding though chapter by chapter, verse by verse, trying to follow what is going on or being said. Here are four approaches to shape one’s reading.

Teaching Genesis, Sort Of

OT seminary manual

A new year of LDS seminary is just starting up, and this year’s course of study is the Old Testament. The first week of lessons gives some Mormon framing: (1) an introduction to the Old Testament (it “contains images, symbols, and teachings about the Lord Jesus Christ” and “in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is known as Jehovah”); (2) a review of the Plan of Salvation (essential elements: Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Atonement); (3) a module on how to study the scriptures; and (4) a lesson on the Bible (with a timeline starting with Adam at 4000 BC). Then lessons 6-16 cover the LDS Book of Moses, followed quickly by three lessons (19-21) on the LDS Book of Abraham. The material in Genesis 1-5 is never studied directly. The student reading chart includes all of Moses and all of Abraham but omits Genesis 1-5. The early lessons use Moses references almost exclusively.

Practical Apologetics: Historicity

Over the holidays I borrowed a copy of Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001). Turns out the full book is available online at the RSC site. The book features articles by the usual cast of religion profs and scholarly apologists, plus an apostle and a philosopher. Given how central the historicity issue has become of late (as evident in the Book of Abraham essay, for example) this seems like a good topic for my occasional series on practical apologetics. At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, I am going to suggest that LDS writers who address historicity take one of two approaches, which I will label “no middle ground” and “it’s not so simple.”

Two Approaches to Isaiah

This is going to be a post about Isaiah that does *not* talk about Second Isaiah. After addressing the transmission of the text of Isaiah, I will contrast two different approaches to reading and understanding that book and, more generally, any scriptural book.

On Not Reading the Book of Mormon

Having heard nice things about the odd little book by Pierre Bayard How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (ht: someone out there), I finally found it. And read it. Summary: You read a very, very small slice of all published books. You forget most of what you read, so you retain only a small part of the few books you actually read. Worse yet, you bend and twist what you do remember to fit your own personal matrix of ideas and experiences. So what is in your head after reading a book, even more so for a book you read years ago, likely bears little or no similarity to the actual text of the book. Maybe we should forget books, forget any claim to link to some text that we supposedly read and remember, and just talk creatively and imaginatively about our own ideas and experiences. The author draws a lot out of that simple set of claims.…

Literary Worship – Miracle

Miracle

I find the story of the woman with the issue of blood, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, both odd and beautiful. Like most of the recipients of Christ’s miracles, she excites sympathy within me. Twelve years is a long time to be sick, especially with an illness that renders you and anyone who touches you perpetually unclean. She must have been lonely. It makes me wonder how many times she did get touched during those years–how many people braved the social and religious taboo to offer her a bit of human care or comfort. Did she have a family? Was she abandoned because of her affliction? Did her ritual uncleanness make her feel personally and spiritually unworthy? The Scriptures tell us that she had spent “all her living” on whatever passed for medical treatment in her day. Not only did the treatment fail to heal her, but she actually grew worse. The resultant poverty must have added to her…

The Rise of Biblical Criticism and the Mormon Response

“The rise of biblical criticism” is the title of a section in Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages (Viking, 2005). Those pages are a short and objective introduction to what is variously called biblical criticism, historical criticism, higher criticism, or the historical-critical method. This discussion is sort of a set up for my upcoming review of David Bokovoy’s new book Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis — Deuteronomy (Kofford Books, 2014), which I will be posting in two parts over the next couple of weeks.

Openings and Beginnings

beginning

When we read scripture, we generally start at the beginning. This is one reason why openings — first lines, first paragraphs — are so important. They set the scene for what is to follow. They set the context and frame our understanding for entire chapters and books to follow. Terry Eagleton has a lot to say about openings in his How to Read Literature (Yale Univ. Press, 2013). While his focus is on literature, not scripture per se, his comments are helpful because scripture is a form of literature. And when it comes to how to read our scriptures, we Mormons certainly need all the help we can get.

The Earliest New Testament

paul writing

This is the third post (first, second) in a series on the New Testament. This post covers what should probably have been the first post: consideration of the seven undisputed letters of Paul, chronologically the earliest documents in the New Testament, written in the 50s. They give us the best information we have on the early Christian churches scattered around the Roman world. Oddly, Paul’s letters receive much less attention in most LDS discussion of the New Testament than the gospels.

Revelation

revelations

My previous post on the upcoming BYU New Testament Commentary series was so well received I have decided to do some follow-up posts discussing individual books. I’ll start with Revelation, partly because that will be the first volume in the BYU series but also because I happen to have a copy of Elaine Pagels’ Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation sitting on my desk for one more week. While a fairly informed reader of the New Testament, I’m no scholar and navigate Greek only with the help of a good interlinear New Testament and various supplements, so my discussion is mainly drawn from the secondary literature and the English text I read in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and of course the trusty King James Version (KJV). But that’s enough to author helpful blog posts. Enough throat clearing: So who wrote Revelation, what is it talking about, and why is…

BYU’s New Testament Commentary

A website for the upcoming BYU New Testament Commentary series has popped up. The short announcement on the main page promises “a multi-volume commentary on the New Testament along with a new rendition of the Greek New Testament texts,” which will “combine the best of ancient linguistic and historical scholarship with Latter-day Saint doctrinal perspectives.” A short post at the Interpreter claims that the first volume, covering Revelation, will be available this summer in e-book format. This promises a dramatic upgrade to the quality of LDS interaction with the New Testament. Here are a few issues (offering both opportunities and challenges) raised by the new series.

But Is It Priestcraft?

In popular Mormon discourse, priestcraft seems to be the descriptor of choice for things that we don’t like. Paid clergy? Check.1 CES? Check.2 Deseret Book? Check. Authors of religious books? Maybe check.3 It’s fair, I think, to be suspicious of financial interests that are wrapped up with the Church. At the very least,  such interests raise the specter of conflict-of-interest. But—and here’s the big question—is it priestcraft?4 According to the Book of Mormon, “priestcraft” is comprised of five criteria:5 Preaching Setting oneself up as a light In order to get gain In order to get worldly praise Not pursuing the welfare of Zion Note that some are objective criteria (I’d say (1), (2), and (5)), while others are subjective. In addition, in context, these criteria appear to be conjunctive. That is, for something to be “priestcraft,” and thus forbidden by the Lord, it needs to have all of these things. So is paid clergy priestcraft? Note that the Church has paid…

Book of Mormon Word Cloud [updated]

WordItOut-Word-cloud-96918

I’ve been curious what a word cloud of the Book of Mormon would look like, so , just for fun on a Friday, I finally made one. I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than that “unto” seems to be a very popular word (which doesn’t really surprise me, but I didn’t expect, either). “Lamanite” shows up more than “Nephite,” though the usage of both is dwarfed by “people.” I took the text from the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, and I copied it from here, and I made the cloud using WordItOut. (Note that I actually prefer the look of the Wordle cloud, but I couldn’t get it in the post at a decent size. That said, I’ve included it below.) Update: Ardis pointed out that, in many ways, the word cloud would be more useful if some of the dull words came out (really, other than an interesting look at word choice, having…

Mormon Talks, Christian Sermons

Krister Stendahl, the noted Swedish theologian who was unusually considerate of the LDS Church, listed “holy envy” as one of his three rules of religious understanding. Let’s see if comparing Mormon talks with Christian sermons doesn’t create for us a bit of holy envy. I think there might be something we can learn from how other Christian denominations preach from the pulpit on Sunday.

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

hebrew

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…

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…

Beyond Translation: Job and Isaiah at Ugarit? Part 2

baal

In Part 1, I promised some Biblical examples of where translation alone fails to convey all the meaning an Israelite would have grasped. I’ve broken these examples into three fuzzy categories. 1) Israel is often described in the Torah as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” We probably all have milk and honey in our kitchen, yet not quite what is described here. In the Old Testament, milk doesn’t usually come from cows, and honey doesn’t come from bees. Cattle were primarily used for beef, while milk came primarily from goats, only rarely from cattle. Israelites didn’t raise bees, so honey was likely difficult to acquire. “Honey” was a boiled-down thick sweet syrup, usually made from dates or  some other fruit, though on rare occasion “honey” does seem to clearly indicate bee-honey. Israel, we might say then, was “a land oozing with chèvre and fruit-honey.” 2) Several times in Genesis 1, curious circumlocutions appear. There’s no mention of the…

12 Questions with Grant Hardy – part I

Grant Hardy

To cap off our roundtable review of Grant Hardy’s new book Understanding the Book of Mormon we’re fortunate to feature an interview with the book’s author. The interview will be posted in two parts. Our thanks to all who have participated, and especially Bro. Hardy.

YSA and the Bible: Observations from a KJV Conference

KJV

On Saturday June 11,  nearly 200 YSA gathered at the Lincoln Center chapel, the same as houses the Manhattan Temple, for a YSA conference that centered on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Saturday from 1-4, three one-hour workshops were held on the Bible. Three Bible Nerds were on hand to teach:  Jon H (MA, Biblical Studies, Yale) covered the writing and transmission of the books of the Bible; Jon R (MA, New Testament, Duke) spoke on using modern translations and other study aids, with extensive slides and books on display. We each submitted a brief teaser description. Mine read, How to Read the Bible and Love It– Many LDS are less familiar with the Bible than our other scriptures, and feel more uncomfortable with it when they do read it; the Bible is “weird,” and Bible-reading can seem like a more Protestant kind of thing. However, the Old and New Testaments were central for Joseph Smith and…

Grant Hardy and Personal Scripture Study

Understanding BofM ii

Every semester, one of my principal goals in my tax classes is to get my students to engage with the Internal Revenue Code. And it’s harder than you might think: often they don’t read the Code itself, focusing instead on the explanations in their casebook.[fn1] And their aversion to reading the Code is completely understandable: unlike court decisions, the mainstay of law school, there is no narrative flow, no character, no imagery, nothing that we traditionally latch onto in order to immerse ourselves in a text. And frankly, using the casebook isn’t a bad short-term decision. The casebook explains what the Code provisions mean and how they’re applied, at least in simple situations.But in the longer term, relying on the casebook’s explanation does my students a disservice. While it helps them be able to answer my questions in class, and while it likely helps them do decently on my exams, if they rely on the casebook at the expense of…

Who Wrote the Gospels?

It always helps to know who wrote what you are reading, and Bible books are no exception. The four gospels, in particular, present interesting questions of how the narratives were composed and who did the composing.

The Parable of the Talented Endowment Tax

Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services.[fn1] In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax.[fn2] But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my leisure is worth $8/hour to me. In the absence of an income tax, if I have a choice between work and leisure, I’ll choose work. Even with a 10% tax, I’ll choose work, because I’ll bring home $9 after taxes, while my leisure is still worth only $8/hour. However, if the income tax is at a 25% rate, I’ll only bring…