Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nibley on Testimonies

"A testimony is a gift and a talent (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)....It functions like any of the senses; for example, like hearing, it is an "absolute" thing--you either have it or you don't; but like hearing, it may be strong at one time and weak at another; it is never in ailing mortals in perfect operating condition...and may vanish altogether at times, be nonoperative at times, and at times return with astonishing force and vigor. But it does not produce the things it hears. It would be hard to explain to one devoid of those senses that seeing and hearing are not functions of the imagination and are only in part self-induced--that there would be no seeing and hearing at all if some sort of stimulus did not come from the outside....All this is commonplace enough but I am trying to say that when I "bear my testimony" I am really talking about something, whether you get it or not.

"We are here to use our brains, but the most important impressions that come to us do so directly and without any conscious cerebration. We may work over the data of such experiences in our minds, but we do not produce the impressions in the first place....It is surprising how many people have thought me to be merely spoofing--just having a little fun, like Joseph Smith when he got up the Book of Mormon. I wonder if they realize what a price one must pay for that kind of fun. I say to hell with careers and the things of the world...I am stuck with the gospel. I know perfectly well that it is true; there may be things about the Church that I find perfectly appalling--but that has nothing to do with it. I know the gospel is true."

Hugh Nibley, “Dear Sterling,” Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 19 Vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2008), 19:144-147

Nibley on Rhetoric and Pseudo Scholarship

Providing some harsh critique of certain conditions existing at BYU in the mid-20th century, Nibley wrote, "It is not the religious views of our professors that drive so many young people from the Church--few are fooled or impressed by the religious contributions of our English or Philosophy Departments, for example--it is the claim to a higher and deeper learning, a knowledge of things that others do not know; that is the weapon. It is the power to impress and beguile others by appealing to a learning that the "layman" does not possess that puts him at the mercy of the professors."

He continues:
For the past year I have been trying to learn and teach something called classical rhetoric. Rhetoric was "the art of the Sophists," and the ancient, medieval, and modern universities have all been under their spell. Plato warned against these people and prophesied that they would (as they soon did) gain complete control of education; in his dialogues he has Socrates draw from the great Sophists their admission that what they really seek is not knowledge but the prestige and influence that go with it and that the aim of their art is only to get enough learning to make an impression on the public and thereby get "power and gain." 
From the beginning the Sophists devoted most of their energies to attacking religion. The professional humanist simply cannot leave religion alone, for in the end he has nothing else to talk about. The philosophers can always get an audience by promising an attack on the Church, but whoever listens to them or reads their stuff when they talk about anything else? They don't dare apostatize, because if they did the public would lose all interest in them. To attack religion is the one safe course for the ambitious intellectual. A professional savant is expected to say something significant--it is not enough for him simply to repeat what others are saying. And so he strikes out in bold new directions by attacking prevailing religious beliefs. Of course in doing so he falls back on platitudes and truisms and arguments as old as the race..., but since he is in the minority, this marks him as a great thinker and above all saves him from being called to account; for if he is too closely questioned or criticized, he can always play the martyred liberal.

Hugh Nibley, “Nobody to Blame,” Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 19 Vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2008), 19:136-138

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hugh Nibley on the Relativity of Scriptural Events

“The story of the Garden of Eden and the flood has always furnished unbelievers with the best ammunition against believers because they are the easiest to visualize, to popularize, and to satirize of any Bible accounts,” he said. But apparent strange and extravagant phenomena described in the scriptures are often correct descriptions of what would have appeared to a person in a particular situation such “as we have never been in.” 

“To describe what he sees to people who have never seen anything like it, the prophet must reach for metaphors and similes. They are reporting, as best they can, what they have seen from a vantage point on which we have never stood.”

“...So it was with Noah and the ark. The flood, as described, is what he saw of it. The anthropic cosmological principle specifies that what an observer is able to see of the universe actually makes a difference in the real nature of that universe. It makes the observer an indispensable part of the macrophysical world. Nowhere is the principle of relativity more clearly proclaimed than in the cosmology of the Books of Moses and Abraham.” 

Hugh Nibley, “Hugh Nibley and Kimball Hansen: Candidates for the “Search Society”,” Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 19 Vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2008), 19:78

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

Based on a recent conversation with a friend, I've come to better understand why "love the sinner, hate the sin" is a phrase that is loathed by some. Personally, I hear the phrase 'love the sinner, hate the sin,' and I think exactly that: A) love the sinner, B) hate the sin. This doesn't seem problematic to me; simply two clauses that seem ideologically sound. Others hear this phrase and immediately think about how poorly this mantra has been executed by some of its advocates. "Has there ever been a phrase quite like 'Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin,' intended to express love, that falls so dramatically short of its goal?" The takeaway is that the phrase is essentially useless because good intentions have sometimes, or according to this author, has "uniformly" resulted in hurt and pain on the receiving end. Still, I wondered, what is wrong with the phrase itself? After all, it is really the poor application of the phrase that has caused pain. Could the simple phrase denote harm and pain all by itself? According to the same author, it does: "And uniformly, the people who have been on the receiving end of 'Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin' report it as hurtful. If you're using this language with people, it hurts them. Please stop." She also suggests that the problem with this phrase "is about our Christian lexicon and the ways we need to evaluate our words." I concur that communication is critical if we are to perform any type of outreach to others, thus, evaluation of our words, both in implication and inference, is an important step.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Distinquishing Questions from Doubts

On June 13, 2015, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, along with Brother Richard Turley, spoke to members in Boise, Idaho. Some excellent points were touched upon in this hour long meeting, but one particular comment by Elder Oaks provides important insight regarding the difference between questions and doubts. This distinction is important and timely considering that these two issues have been so frequently conflated in recent times by former Latter-day Saints as well as by a minority of Latter-day Saints engaged in online polemics.
"Another claim we sometimes hear is that “the leaders won’t answer our doubts.” Here we need to define the difference between doubts and questions. Questions, whenever asked with a sincere desire [to] increase ones understanding and faith are to be encouraged. Such questions, questions we call them, are asked with the real intent of better understanding and more fully obeying the will of the Lord. Questions are very different from doubts."1

Monday, June 29, 2015

Divine Council and Babel

Genesis 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said, Behold the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 
Regarding the phrase, "let us go down," in verse 7, Richard Briggs notes that, "theologians have long pondered the plural voice here, so obviously reminiscent of Genesis 1:26..." He writes, "Most OT scholars find the plural "Let us..." language of Gen. 1 and 11 to refer to YHWH's addressing his divine council...." and comments that, " may be helpful to read v. 6 as YHWH's "report" to the divine council, in between visits."1

1 Richard S. Briggs, "The Book of Genesis," in A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture, ed. Richard S. Briggs and Joel N. Lohr (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 39-40

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Lost Scripture - Intro to Eli

The Bible refers to several texts that are no longer extant, such as the Book of the Wars of the Lord, or the Book of the Acts of Solomon, for example, which we usually refer to as lost scripture. We generally do not think of many of the texts within the Bible as being incomplete in themselves, thus comprising another segment of lost scripture as well. Patrick D. Miller, Jr. and J.J.M. Roberts provide some interesting food for thought when it comes to 1 Samuel and the "ark narrative": is difficult to regard 1 Sam 4:1b as a natural beginning [of the ark narrative, as many scholars do] for the following supposedly independent, complete, and self-contained narrative. Too many questions are left unanswered. Why, for instance are the Israelites defeated? That the Israelites do not know the reason creates no difficulty--a similar motif occurs elsewhere (in the story of the defeat at Ai, for example)--but that the reader-- or hearer, as the case may be--is given no explanation for this unexpected course of events is quite strange. There are few, if any, analogies for such a narrative technique in the Old Testament, and whatever analogies might be cited seem to be cancelled out when the writer adds a second defeat involving the loss of the ark and the death of the priests of Yahweh. Where else in Old Testament literature does one simply narrate such a devastating blow to Israelite piety without any attempt at theological explanation? Moreover, who are Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas? The narrator introduces them in 4:4 as though they were already well-known by the reader. This would seem to imply the existence of a preceding narrative about them. It has also been suggested, though this is not absolutely necessary, that Eli's anxiety over the ark in 4:13 presupposes a similarly missing background.
In other words, to make the ark narrative a complete, self-contained unit, one must supplement Rost's text [the ark narrative beginning with 1 Sam 4:1b] with a tradition introducing the main characters and alerting the reader to Yahweh's displeasure toward Israel. The tradition of the wickedness of Eli's sons (1 Sam 2:12-17, 22-25) would fill part of that need. It would explain the reason for Yahweh's anger and, in particular, why his anger reached even the priests and led to the loss of Israel's most sacred cult object [the ark]. It would also be an adequate introduction to the sons of Eli, though one would still lack an introduction to Eli himself. One must question whether that part of the original ark narrative may be reconstructed from the present text of Samuel. It would appear that the original beginning of the ark narrative has been fragmented and partly lost by the secondary insertion of the traditions about Samuel's childhood.
This is where we differ from Willis. He regards the present form of 1 Sam 1-7, including the Samuel traditions, as an original, integral unity. Though his analysis is suggestive for interpreting the present form of the text, such unity it now possesses is clearly redactional, not original. Considering the major role Samuel plays in the present form of 1 Sam 1-3, the total omission of any mention of him in 4:1b-7:1 is certainly striking--particularly since 3:21 states that Yahweh continued to reveal himself to the now famous Samuel in Shilo--and suggests that these two sections in their present form could not be an original unity.
Patrick D. Miller, Jr., and J.J.M. Roberts, The Hand of the Lord: A Reassessment of the "Ark Narrative" of 1 Samuel (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008), 27-29

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review of Yearning for the Living God (Busche, ed. Lamb)

Yearning for the Living God: Reflections from the life of F. Enzio Busche is a collection of the memories and experiences of Elder Busche. This book is an inspiring book of faith. It almost serves the function of being a spiritual journal in highlighting the biographical events of his life that were spiritually significant. It was a pleasure to read about his life and learn of his experiences and perspectives that invoked appreciation for his example of faith, as well as inspiring and bolstering my own faith. It was very interesting to read about Elder Busche's experience as a member of the Hitler Youth in particular, and to better understand his perspective as a German in terms of the cultural perception of Christianity believed to have been tied to the Hitler regime prior to learning of the atrocities committed by the German Nazis. We often hear from modern day historians about the Nazi propaganda sold to Germans, and Elder Busche provided his own interesting insights as one who was brought up, like many, if not most Germans, believing in the Christian appeal of the Nazi rhetoric. He also discusses the shock and abhorrence felt by himself and other Germans when they learned of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the war. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Description of the Salt Lake Temple Holy of Holies

Another small room, reached by a short ascent from the main floor [of the Celestial Room], is a vision of almost supernatural beauty. It is circular in form and resplendent in blue and gold, with borders and panels of red silk velvet. It is paved with an artistically designed native hard-wood mosaic, the blocks being mostly no more than an inch square, finely polished. From the dome which furnishes the ceiling, the light streams through seventeen circular and semi-circular jeweled windows, taking a thousand hues as, softened and subdued, it reaches the interior. The large art window to which the south side of this exquisite little room is given, is a work of surpassing loveliness. It represents the moment in the life of Joseph Smith when he, trusting in the words of the Apostle James, sought wisdom of the Lord, and received as an answer the visitation of two heavenly beings, one of whom, pointing to the other, said, "This is my beloved son; hear him!"....In these three small rooms last described the most sacred ordinances for the living and the dead are performed.

House of the Lord: Historical and Descriptive Sketch of the Sale Lake Temple (Salt Lake City, UT: George Q. Cannon & Sons, Co., 1893), 19-20

Lehi, Mosiah, and The Writings In Between

The introductory superscription to 1 Nephi provides a synopsis of the events which are to be narrated in the subsequent text. Included in this brief outline is mention of Lehi and his family, their departure from Jerusalem, their journeys and travels across "large waters," and their arrival in a promised land. This synopsis is conspicuously limited in that it only progresses to the point of arrival in the promised land and continues no further. Before coming to this chronological point in the actual saga (1 Nephi 18), however, Nephi interrupts his historical narrative three times to provide editorial clarifications. First, in 1 Nephi 1:16-17, he explains that he is providing an abridgment of his father Lehi's records, which will be followed with an account of his own ministry. Second, in 1 Nephi 6:3 he informs the reader that his abridgment is intentionally selective as to his inclusion of Lehi's writings. Third, in 1 Nephi 9, he adds that he has created two sets of plates: one for historical purposes and one for recording the ministry of his people.

Review of An Other Testament (Spencer)

Joseph Spencer's An Other Testament is one of the more interesting and thought provoking books available on The Book of Mormon. It is the kind of book that generates greater appreciation for the sophistication and complexity of the literary and theological structure of the Book of Mormon. It is the kind of book that makes you wish that you could have identified the brilliant insights in your reading of the Book of Mormon that Joe Spencer identified in his reading of the Book of Mormon. It is the kind of book that I wish I was capable of writing. At the end of the day, we can be glad that we have great minds, like Joseph Spencer, to teach the profound ways in which we can appreciate The Book of Mormon, and in this case, appreciation for how The Book of Mormon intends to be read based upon its own terms. This last statement should be qualified, however, if we are to consider that The Book of Mormon is comprised of multiple authors, the appreciation is for how Nephi and Abinadi intend for their teachings and interpretations of Isaiah to be understood.

Review of Christ and the New Covenant (Holland)

Elder Holland begins his book by indicating what his book is not. After itemizing a few methodologies in approaching the Book of Mormon, he states that this is a personal work explicating his meditation on this restorational book of scripture. I think this approach is certainly all that we could hope for from an Apostle. I'm a huge fan of scholarly Book of Mormon pioneers like Hugh Nibley and John Sorenson who contributed enormously to our understanding of the culture and context of the Book of Mormon, but after all is said and done it is the message of the Book of Mormon itself that is most salient (a point I think that Nibley and Sorenson would both concur), and this is what Elder Holland set out to highlight. 

On a side note, two incredible books on the Book of Mormon are Book of Mormon Authorship, and Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited. Both books attempt to illustrate that the Book of Mormon has authentic and ancient information in it that points to the authorship of ancient individuals (that of Nephi, Mormon, Moroni, etc.), rather than being the original work of Joseph Smith. Both of these books do quite well in this regard. One of my primary interests in Elder Holland's book is his emphasis on the Messianic message of the Book of Mormon, a point that has not been given adequate attention, however, in regards to Book of Mormon authorship. The doctrinal clarity and the sheer volume of Christology in the Book of Mormon, to me, seems far more comprehensive than what a twenty-five year old, poorly-educated farmboy could ever hope to produce, and more than that, the Book of Mormon is more comprehensive in its depth and breadth in understanding the atonement than any individual or groups of individuals in the past two-thousand years have supplied. Truly, it is a treasure, and a pearl of great price. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review of The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Israelite Temple (Baker)

LeGrand Baker's book The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Israelite Temple utilizes John Lundquist's nineteen points from "The Common Temple Ideology of the Ancient Near East" to illustrate the Book of Mormon as a temple text. This book is not to be mistaken for his co-authored book with Stephen D. Ricks, entitled, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel's Temple Worship in the Old Testament and In the Book of Mormon, which has received favorable reviews. This book is limited to just 155 pages (contrasted with Who Shall Ascend... at just under 800 pages). To be perfectly candid about the content of this book, I have to say that it felt contrived. The author's attempt to describe the Book of Mormon under Lundquist's 19 points made for an intriguing proposal, but his methodology came off as too forced in its attempt to make the Book of Mormon fit the pattern on most points. I do believe that the Book of Mormon can serve as an excellent temple text, and I think that Baker had some interesting points throughout the book, but overall, I wouldn't recommend this book. If the book had a good editor, and the thoughts and points of contact were better developed, it could have been a better book, but it felt more like a self-published book that was underdeveloped. Nonetheless, the following thoughts and references seemed worthy of preservation: 

After quoting C. Wilfred Griggs regarding the Greek word for 'cross' being the same as used for the 'tree' of life in the Septuagint,1 Baker writes:
From that, we can understand Nephi and Alma's statements about the fruit of the tree of life and of the waters of life. If the cross is the tree of life, the Savior's body on the cross is as the fruit of the tree, and his blood as the waters of life. It is this symbolism that defines the tree, the fruit, and the waters of life each as "a representation of the love of God." (pg 44)

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Wheat and the Tares - Reactions to the First Vision

"A discerning reader responds to a text by breaking it apart . . . 
and separating the divine wheat from the worldly chaff."1 

Why do we respond the way that we do? 

I don't remember when I first realized that there was more than one account of Joseph Smith's First Vision, even though I actually learned of the fact that more than one account existed when I first watched BYU's 1976 production, The First Vision: The Visitation of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith (starring Stewart Petersen):

In all likeliness, most members of the Church living today probably learned that there was more than one account of the First Vision from this video as well, even if this observation generally hasn't been recognized. While the typical Latter-day Saint is familiar with the canonical account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith-History, some events are depicted in this video that are not in the canonical account. For example, the 1835 account of the First Vision (transcribed by Warren Parrish, and related by Joseph Smith to Robert Matthews, "Joshua, the Jewish Minister"), includes the following details (spelling and punctuation standardized):

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Review of The God Who Weeps (Givens)

Terryl and Fiona Givens' book, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, is an excellent philosophical and theological exploration on 'how Mormonism makes sense of life.' A few gems from this highly recommendable book follow:

Premortality in the decision to embark on a mortal sojourn does not eliminate the problem of evil, but it dramatically alters it. If we were involved in the deliberations that culminated in creating and peopling this world, then we are not passive victims of providence. We would have entered into the conditions of this mortal state aware of the harrowing hazards mortality entails.
Such co-participation does not mitigate the horror of what many experience in this life. The enormity of evil may still appall and confound us. God's failure to intervene may distress and alienate us. Our personal experience of loss and loneliness may overwhelm us. But the suspicion that we were party to the terms of our own predicament may give heart when no other solace is to be found. (pg 53)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Return of the Temple

Joseph Smith's re-introduction of temple discussion after nearly two millennia of relative silence on the subject was pivotal for Mormonism and pioneering for Christianity in general. Hugh Nibley once wrote, "Long ago Adam of St. Victor observed with wonder that the Christian fathers had always gone out of their way to avoid any discussion of the tabernacle of God, in spite of its great popular interest and its importance in the divine economy. The reason for this strange attitude is, as Adam and his fellow Richard explain, that the very thing which makes the temple so attractive to many Christians, i.e. the exciting possibility of a literal and tangible bond between heaven and earth, is precisely the thing that most alarms and embarrasses the churchmen. Again, why so? Can it be that the destruction of the temple left a gaping void in the life of the church, a vacuum that the historians and theologians have studiously ignored . . .? If the loss of the temple was really a crippling blow to the church, the fact can no longer be overlooked in the interpretation of church history."1
It is nice to see that the importance of temple worship in Jewish and Christian history is being given its due attention by Biblical scholars in the 21st century. Margaret Barker's books are monumental in this regard. In Paternoster's, Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, Peter Walker writes, "the Temple is a key and major theme in Biblical theology, which we neglect to our impoverishment and at our peril. An appropriate focus on this Temple theme in the Bible, they [the authors contributing to this volume] concur, will not just have some repercussions in the Middle East, but can also vastly enrich other key themes within biblical thought. Our understandings, for example, of ethics, anthropology, creation, God's presence and the church will be so much poorer (so much 'flatter' and less biblical) if we do not take seriously what God has to teach us through the Temple."2
While Walker is missing a key component in his list, namely soteriology, it is nice to see recognition of this overly-neglected topic in Christian studies. Perhaps, as we begin to approach two centuries following Joseph's revelatory re-introduction of temples within Christianity, we may continue to see scholarly discourse on the relevance and importance of the temple liturgy.
For a great bibliography of temple related books and articles, see Danel Bachman's compilation here.

1 Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 4 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 391-392
2 Peter Walker, "Introduction," Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 4

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wordplay in Isaiah

I have heard, on several occasions, that some of the beauty and eloquence of Elder Neal A. Maxwell's talks are, to some extent, lost in translation. His carefully constructed choice of verbiage provides poetic expression that capitalizes upon the nuances of the English language. When his words are converted into a foreign language, apparently much of the intended wordplay does not carry over, and as such, appreciation for his sophisticated use of the language seems lessened, if not lost.
Isaiah was similarly highly-skilled in his writing abilities. When we often hear that Isaiah is difficult to understand, part of that difficulty comes with the inherent loss of his masterful artistry of language that is lost through translation. The intended message may become indecipherable in English. Margaret Barker demonstrates some of this wordplay in Isaiah that illustrates this point in a subtitled, "Echoing texts," in her The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sacred Objects in Israelite and Nephite Temple Worship

Occasionally, an essay, book, or presentation hits you in a way that substantially changes your perspective on a given topic. Don Bradley's presentation at the 2012 FAIR Conference provided a very interesting take on the topic of temple worship in the Book of Mormon. His talk was entitled, "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages." This post serves as a snapshot of his presentation in identifying the corollaries between Nephite sacred objects and Israelite temple objects, although I would refer the reader to the full talk where these concepts are more fully developed.
The Book of Mormon clearly identifies the existence of temples in Nephite territories (2 Nephi 5:16; Mosiah 2:1-7; Helaman 10:8; Alma 10:2; Alma 16:13; 3 Nephi 11:1), but the text provides minimal description of their functionality. Brother Bradley prefaces his discussion of Nephite temple objects by asking "what do we know about their temple worship, how it worked and what was it for?" The following Nephite/Israelite parallels provides some potential answers to these interesting questions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Noah's Ark and the Temple

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The following information was used as introductory material for a Gospel Doctrine lesson that I taught. My goal, as always, was to try and show how incredibly interesting the scriptures can be in order to encourage and inspire greater personal engagement with the scriptures. The following information, however, consists of a liberal borrowing of information from Interpreter and Benjamin the Scribe. For all quotations below, please refer to these two sources.
There are compelling reasons to connect Noah's ark with Moses’ tabernacle and the temple. The ark is the only instance in the Bible, outside of temple construction, in which the Lord provides revelation regarding building dimensions (Gen 6:14-16). The ark had three decks (Gen. 6:16), which correspond to the three divisions in the tabernacle. Each of the three decks of Noah’s ark were exactly the same height as the tabernacle, and three times the area of the tabernacle court. Both the ark and the tabernacle used mikceh, or animal skins (Gen. 8:13) as a covering for these structures. The ark was made of gopher wood (Gen. 6:14), commonly believed to be cypress wood, which was also used for the two doors and flooring of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:15, 34). Noah is instructed to “pitch [the ark] within and without with pitch” (Gen. 6:14).  The first word “pitch” is kaphar and the second word “pitch” is kopher. The second pitch, kopher, “looks to be an Egyptian loan word…it originally meant chest, or coffin, so Noah is quite literally building his own coffin, that he is figuratively going into death, and then being brought out of death.” Similarly, after Moses’ mother put him on the Nile on an “ark” (tebah – tāvah “vessel”), the same word as Noah’s ark, and seals it with pitch (Ex. 2:3).

Friday, May 2, 2014

Jacob the Supplanter

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An interesting observation made by Umberto Cassuto regarding the narrative of Jacob's life in Genesis provides a bridge to some Hebraic wordplay frequently observed by Biblical scholars. Jacob's name, which means "supplanter" is used by Esau in Gen 27:36 in referring to the two instances in which he was 'supplanted':
And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?
In other words, Esau is basically saying that Jacob has 'Jacobed' him twice now, or that the supplanter has supplanted him twice now. Cassuto observes poetic retribution in the story of Jacob initially marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Regarding Rebekah and Jacob's plan to obtain Isaac's blessing, Cassuto writes:

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book of Noah?

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Noah Mosaic, Basilica San Marco, Venice, Italy

Orson Pratt once declared that, "Noah, after having preached the Gospel and published glad tidings among the nations, was commanded to build an ark. He had a Urim and Thummim by which he was able to discern all things pertaining to the ark, and its pattern. He was a great Prophet, and predicted many things, and his records, no doubt, were hidden up, and will come forth in due time, when the Lord shall cover the earth with his knowledge as the waters cover the great deep."1 Where Elder Pratt was able to ascertain this information is uncertain (Joseph Smith? Brigham Young? Personal revelation? Scriptural conjecture?); however, James Charlesworth had an interesting tidbit of information to share about an extra-Biblical record of Noah. "We dare not conclude too quickly that because portions of 1 Enoch are extant in pre-Christian Semitic manuscript fragments, that all of 1 Enoch is pre-Christian, or even Jewish. The document we call 1 Enoch is certainly composite; it may contain six separate works and one of these may come from a lost Book of Noah."2 He adds (in a footnote), that "A Book of Noah apparently existed by the middle of the second century B.C.E.; Jubilees refers to a spr nh (10:13), and the author of the Testament of Levi (MS e) mentions a writing of the biblou tou Noe (18:2)."3 For a snippet of discussion on a pseudepigraphon that contained "considerable material concerning Noah," see this teaser here. For a little investigation into whether the Jaredites had access to Noah's writings, see here.

1 Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses (May 18, 1873), 16:50
2 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 38
3 Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, 153

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Favorite Nibley Quote

...I have a testimony of the gospel which I wish to bear. Again, as Brigham Young says, because I say it's true doesn't make it true, does it? But I know it is, and I would recommend you to pursue a way of finding out. And there are ways in which you can come to a knowledge of the truth. When is a thing proven? When you personally think it's so, and that's all you can do. And that's true, of course, in science or anything else. When enough experience, and enough impressions, enough thought and so forth, build up in your own mind so that a thing is proven to you, that's the proof....You can't force another person to believe....No two of us, you see, have the same experience, have the same background, have the same evidence, or anything else. All we can do is reach the point where, ahah! that is it, you see. Then you have your testimony, and all you can do is bear your testimony and point to the evidence. That's all you can do. But you can't impose your testimony on another. And you can't make the other person see the evidence as you do. Things that just thrill me through and through in the Book of Mormon leave another person completely cold. And, the other way around, too. So we can't use evidence, and we can't say, I know this is true, therefore, you'd better know it is true. But I know it is true, and I pray our Heavenly Father that we may all come to a knowledge of the truth, each in his own way, as Brigham Young would have us do it.1

1 Hugh Nibley, "Brigham Young as a Theologian," discourse delivered June 9, 1967

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Temple and Garment

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom... (Matt 27:51)
Disclaimer: Hugh Nibley, in writing his book, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, prefaced the content by stating that, "The whole purpose of this book is to compare two scenarios, the Egyptian and the Mormon; but the writer has been careful throughout to describe and discuss only one of them, preserving complete silence on the other. Though often sorely tempted to point out some really stunning parallels between the two disciplines, he has been restrained both by the admonition of the prophets and the consideration that what is glaringly obvious to him hardly needs to be called to the attention of any adult practicing Latter-day Saint..."1 A similar situation exists here, with respect to early Christian canonical and pseudepigraphical literature.
The Levitical priesthood allowed for the High Priest, as the sole representative of Israel, to pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies one time a year on the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 9:1-7). When the veil was "rent in twain" during the crucifixion of Christ, entrance to the Holy of Holies became available to all who were worthy to enter the temple, and more specifically, to those who were worthy to enter the presence of the Lord.2 Years ago, I first read Hugh Nibley's, Temple and Cosmos. There is plenty to glean from this tome, but there is one line cut from the text into my mind that has drawn the curtains back a little to shed light on an enigmatic subject. In discussing the ancient significance of the temple veil he notes that those who passed through the veil were "in a world surrounded by light." Nibley then quotes Marc Philonenko, who drew an interesting connection between the temple veil and temple clothing.Before quoting Nibley's translation of Philonenko, however, it would be well to understand the context of the subject that Philonenko was discussing.

Did the Atonement Take Place on the Cross at Calvary?

"...Jesus' death on the cross is not the place or the primary means of atonement for the author of Hebrews. Rather, when the writer claims in 8:4 that Jesus can only serve as a high priest in heaven, he intends to say that the great redemptive moment of the Christ event occurred not when Jesus was crucified, but after he was resurrected and ascended into heaven. There he presented himself alive and incorruptible before God. Just as Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] does not focus on the slaughter of the victim, but the presentation of its blood--that is, its life--before God, so also the author of Hebrews thinks in terms of the presentation of Jesus' indestructible life before God as the central act that effects the atonement."1

Read the rest of this interesting article here, starting at page 211.

1 David M. Moffitt, "Blood, Life, and Atonement: Reassessing Hebrews' Christological Appropriation of Yom Kippur," in The Day of Atonement: Its Interpretations in Early Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Thomas Hieke and Tobias Nicklas (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2012), 211-212