Messianicity & Historicity

The Book of Mormon is a messianic text. As messianic, it means to interrupt and overwrite our normal experience of time. When this overwriting occurs at the level of the individual, it’s called repentance. When this overwriting occurs collectively, it’s called gathering. Both kinds of overwriting implicate the other.

Genesis- Various thoughts and notes on a Saturday night.

One depiction of Israelite cosmography, the inverse snow globe with the water outside.

The new Seminary manual on the Old Testament approaches the authorship of Genesis in a reductive and simplistic way. (HT: David Tayman, who also did the Israelite cosmology art below.) Ask students if they know who wrote the first book in the Bible. After they respond, invite them to turn to Genesis 1 and look in the title to see who wrote the book of Genesis. (You may want to explain that in addition to writing Genesis, Moses wrote Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price also contains Moses’s writings.) Now, this is certainly traditional. But I think the manual’s reinforcement of the simplicity of the tradition creates problems, as per Julie’s excellent post on The Next Generation’s Faith Crisis. Moreover, it’s a tradition that we have not examined closely or often, with rare exceptions. It’s a tradition we have often shared with conservative Protestants and Jews, although with a difference. I’ve been through…

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.”

Announcing the 2nd Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar

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The 2nd Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar will be held from June 22 – July 10, 2015 under the direction of Professor Terryl Givens. Here’s the seminar description: What are the general contours of Christianity’s efforts to find a marriage of belief and intellect? Does Mormonism face the same challenges as the broader Christian tradition? What are the contributions of Mormon theology to current debates in the political and cultural realms? How reasonable are LDS positions on the family, marriage, pro-life and end of life issues? Is the Mormon theological tradition an asset or a handicap in the public sphere?  With what mix of revealed truth and rational discourse can Mormons best address these issues in public debate? Students in the seminar will spend three weeks addressing these and related questions. Along the way they will survey illustrative moments in Christianity’s engagement with secularism, and examine pivotal Mormon theological understanding of such concepts as agency, the eternal soul,…

The Influence of Law on Mormon Theology in the 20th Century

I recently published an article that T&S readers might find interesting. It traces the legal issues faced by the Church as a result of its international expansion after 1945, arguing that the pressures created by these concerns tended to modify Mormon theologies of the state in the last half of the twentieth century. There is a bunch of interesting stuff in the paper (or at least I think that there is), but it mainly makes two contributions. First, it tries to provide an overarching narrative for Mormon legal history in the late twentieth century. Second, it shows that just as with the abandonment of polygamy at the end of the 19th century, law has been an important force in the development of Mormonism in the twentieth century. Here’s the abstract from SSRN, along with a link for those who want to read it: International Legal Experience and the Mormon Theology of the State, 1945-2012 Nathan B. Oman William & Mary…

Times and Seasons’ 2014 Mormon of the Year: The Authors of the LDS Gospel Topics Essays

Times & Seasons is proud to announce the 2014 Mormon of the Year:  Authors of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Mormon of the Year is our annual designation of the Mormons who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year. Beginning in 2013 the LDS Church has published a series of essays on LDS.org, under the heading of Gospel Topics, addressing controversial topics involving the church and its history. These special essays, currently covering 9 topics, represent a new approach both to public outreach and to informing the church membership on these subjects. While the publication of these essays is a step taken by the church as an institution, we feel it is appropriate to recognize their anonymous authors as the 2014 Mormon of the Year, because it is in substantial part because of these authors, and others doing related work, that the church is able to take this new approach. The essays have changed how…

A Brother in Zion: One man’s unlikely journey into Mormonism

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It was the jumpsuit that brought it all into focus, a jumpsuit much like one he had worn years before. But this jumpsuit was white. That one had been orange. Dressed in the white polyester garment, David was prepared for baptism into a new church. A fleeting glimpse of himself dressed in white seemed to capture the great changes in his life and outlook over the past months. White was his new orange. God’s voice began speaking in his heart. “You’ve been getting away with some things you’re not supposed to be doing, and it’s only by the grace of God that you’re here,” Dave heard. As he closed his eyes to pray with his new Pentecostal church family, the whole room suddenly grew bright. “There are many different ministries, but one God,” someone said. The words jumped out at him. Dave opened his mouth to object: after all, hadn’t he just chosen a new church? The Spirit spoke to…

We are all Charlie

French journalists with press cards and "Je suis Vharlie" (I am Charlie, before the premises of Charlie Hebdo.
Photo Gonzalo Fuentes

The horrendous attack on Charlie Hebdo last Wednesday has shocked the world. This is beyond humanity, and all reactions, also from the Muslim communities, is one of deep anger and clear condemnation. Everywhere this murderous spree is seen as an attack on a core value in modern free society, the freedom of the press. Whoever attacks the free press, attacks democracy and free society, so whoever attacks a free press in fact attacks us, all of us, none excluded. Throughout Europe, people flocked to the large squares, expressing their revulsion for this brutal massacre, voicing their conviction that this is not to be tolerated. Thus, the ever so divided Europe unites in one voice, that we are all Charlie. The target, Charlie Hebdo, is a satirical magazine which by definition is iconoclast. It choses provocation, not dialogue, trying to shock, not to gloss over. Their humor is not mine, and their policy is not the one I advocate to bridge…

Incredulous About Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Incredulous About Joseph Smith's Polygamy

Entrenched in Mormon Culture I am a 7th generation Mormon who grew up in Utah County. I attended church all my life, had regular family scripture study and FHE. My dad was a BYU math professor and my mom a devout scripture scholar. I graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU (with all its required religion courses) and married a 5th generation, returned missionary in the temple. And I didn’t learn that Joseph Smith personally practiced polygamy until I was in my 20s. I had heard the story about Emma pushing Eliza down the stairs, causing a miscarriage in her jealous rage. But it was all fabricated nonsense created by anti-Mormons trying to defame the prophet. Like everything else that looked or sounded unsavory. Everyone knew about the public polygamy in Utah. Every year our elementary class toured the Beehive House, complete with all the wives’ bedrooms and  fairly open discussion about managing the logistics. Polygamous ancestors were a dime a…

Laughing through General Conference

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No one comes to General Conference for the jokes. And yet, some of the conference moments I remember most clearly involve laughter. In 1997, after Elder Nelson gave a laudatory talk about President Hinckley, President Hinckley took the stand and said, “I thought we were conducting General Conference. It’s turned out to be a funeral.” He went on to challenge Elder Nelson to a duel in the basement of the Tabernacle. Later in the session, he postponed the duel. It was a fabulous moment in conference history. What does humor in General Conference do? First, the spiritual tide of General Conference can feel overwhelming at times and humor can break it up, making it easier to be attentive to the rest of the counsel we’re receiving. Second, it can teach a subtle lesson, as with the humility implicit in President Hinckley’s embarrassment at being praised. Third, it can make a story that teaches a lesson more memorable, as when President…

Welcome to Guest Blogger Dave Evans

Times and Seasons is pleased to welcome David K. Evans as our latest guest blogger. Dave is a Senior Economist in the Chief Economist’s Office for the Africa Region of the World Bank and holds a Ph.D in economics from Harvard University.  In the wake of last year’s Ebola outbreak, Dave has also become talk radio and cable news’s go to source on the economic effects of the epidemic in West Africa, with appearances on BBC, Bloomberg, CNN International, and Diane Rehm, among other outlets. Dave is engaging, thoughtful and one of the most well-read individuals I’ve ever met. He and his wife Diana have three brilliant children and are staples of the Rolling Valley Ward in Springfield, Virginia.

Reconciling Shame and Guilt

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Last year was my first year teaching the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine, and I benefited a ton from Ben Spackman’s Patheos blog. So I’m starting off this year by reading some of his recommended books for teaching the New Testament (list continues here and here). First up? Misreading the Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. The point of Misreading the Scripture is that the Biblical authors left certain cultural assumptions unspoken because they took them for granted. When we read the Bible today, we fill in those gaps with our own cultural assumptions. This process is often unconscious because, using the metaphor of an iceberg, most cultural assumptions lurk below the surface. So we don’t even realize that we’re imposing our own cultural paradigm on the scripture when we do it. Problems arise when the cultural context provided by a 21st century American deviates significantly from that provided by (for example) a 1st…

Vote for Mormon of the Year 2014

This post opens the voting for Mormon of the Year. Votes will be taken until midnight Eastern Time on Wednesday, January 7th, at which time the voting will close. The voting mechanism will attempt to restrict votes to one per person. The order of the choices is set at random, and is different each time the form is presented. THE WINNER OF THE ONLINE VOTE IS NOT NECESSARILY THE MORMON OF THE YEAR!!!

Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?

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

Who killed Goliath? CSI in Jerusalem

David with Goliath's head, by Caravaggio

Who really killed Goliath? Of course, this is the most stupid question possible. After all, this is one of the most advertised killings in the history of the world, its record read by millions of admiring people, glorifying in the victory of the brave and smart reddish boy over the Big Ugly Brute. Add the pious invocation of Jahweh throughout the battle, and one has the making of an inspiring heroic story, and that is precisely how it functions in the Old Testament. All the kids in Primary know exactly who killed Goliath, and can explain in detail how he did it, with his sling and a few pebbles. Reading the story in I Samuel as a military history one can understand how David came to be a great army leader, for the chapter defines him as a smart soldier. Goliath is the quintessential massive warrior, “whose height was six cubits and a span” (1 Sam 17:4) (KJV); 6 cubits…

Wickedly Awesome Traditions of My Fathers and Mothers

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

From Benjamin Park: A Statement Regarding a Recent Review Essay

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

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

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