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

Situating Literary Context

Another articulate insight from James Charlesworth:
In a deeper sense, in our search for a social understanding of Early Judaism, we must acknowledge the multi-dimensional role of linguistic phenomena. We have been preoccupied with the meaning of the language in the texts, yet there is another extremely important dimension to them, namely the function of the language of the text for the early Jew who was embodying in his or her own contemporary world the functional meaning of the text. As W.A. Meeks, a New Testatement scholar and a social historian who is a moderate functionalist, writes, 'The comprehensive question concerning the texts that are our primary sources is not merely what each one says, but what it does'....It is a sensitivity to the social dimension behind (and somehow within) our texts that should guard us from repeating distortions, caricatures and false portrayals.1
1 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins, Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 54 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 22-23; Charlesworth's citation for Meeks: W.A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 7

Context vs. Proof Texting

Brilliant words from James H. Charlesworth:
In the attempt to move closer to the ancient authors and to grasp their needs and dreams it is essential to be ever self-critical of who we are and from where we are coming, and to struggle for a sensitive indwelling of their world. While we are primarily occupied with their bequeathed words we must always endeavor to supplement the received words with other non-literary artefacts and archaeological discoveries, and to define words, broadly, inter alia, in terms of their essence, their content, their function, and their social setting. I presume that they, like we, struggled towards an intended meaning, not scouring around in search of words, but by flowing through perception and intentionality to communication. Words, after all, come somewhat mysteriously as we shuttle between worlds of silence. Since most words in the Pseudepigrapha have not yet influenced our lexicons, and since most of the ancient Semitic words disappeared when Hebrew and Aramaic died out, it is unwise to support arguments or develop ideas by myopically citing lexicographical data. It is the living word, not the dead record of how it was employed in a few surviving texts, that alone can open our eyes to that world two thousand or so years ago when the documents in the Pseudepigrapha and in the New Testament were being composed and read aloud.1
It is too easy to impose a presentist interpretation of ancient texts when we read the scriptures and other ancient documents. It would be well to read the scriptures (and all ancient literature) by reading them as though we "were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago..."2 and to heed Charlesworth's admonition to be careful that we understand context, lest we be guilty of proof texting these documents in a way that they were never intended to be understood. 
1 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins, Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 54 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 4-5
2 Brigham Young, The Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 128

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Passover, the Day of Atonement, and Margaret Barker's Forthcoming Book

About a year ago I began reading Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.1 It has been an extremely interesting book and has been quite informative regarding parallels between the Passover and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. A synopsis and discussion of these parallels will follow in a subsequent post. While the parallels between these two events are striking, still, I was left to wonder why Christ's Atonement occurred in connection with the Passover, rather than on Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The rituals associated with Yom Kippur, which seem to me to best foreshadow the Atonement of Jesus Christ, intriguingly, was not concurrent with Christ's actual sacrifice. Passover commenced in the middle of the month Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar (the Jewish new year is celebrated during springtime), whereas, Yom Kippur takes place on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei). For various reasons that Pitre posits, the Passover festival provided an appropriate setting in which the infinite atonement took place, but did not explain why the Passover was a more appropriate context than the Day of Atonement (nor was it his intention to cover this topic in particular). In the foreword to Pitre's book, Scott Hahn writes:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Melchizedek's Seal and Scroll - Mitchell

I have recently discovered that some of my writings on the Seal of Melchizedek (in which I have written five posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have been utilized in a recently self-published work entitled Melchizedek's Seal & Scroll, by Alan Rex Mitchell. The author provides the following summarization of his book:
Multiple Melchizedek associations are brought together in this illuminating book; originating with the popular Seal of Melchizedek as a symbol for rebirth, resurrection, and righteousness, and culminating in the Dead Sea Scroll named Melchizedek. Using ancient sources from Coptic Christianity, 2nd Enoch, Joseph Smith, and the prophets Alma and Daniel, the narrative leads to the Scroll's prophecy of the King of Righteousness in the last days.
The book is broader in scope then the necessarily limited nature of my posts that he cites, nevertheless, I appreciate that the author has taken notice of my writings and incorporated some of this material into his discussion of the Seal of Melchizedek. It appears that the majority of the book focuses on DSS 11Q13, frequently referred to as the Melchizedek Document of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and some other canonical and non-canonical writings. The link to Amazon above will allow any interested parties to preview the book's contents.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A "Mormon Studies" Discussion

Blair Hodges from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship added a link on Facebook to his post on "A Mormon Studies Blogliography" on the Maxwell Institute's blog. I felt that the post was pretty good overall, but felt it was also problematic in how it portrayed John Gee's discussion of the matter. I certainly do not speak for John Gee; nonetheless, I took the liberty to comment on what I felt was a misconstrued portrayal of Gee's salient points, and offered my own inarticulate interpretation of what John Gee said and what I believe he meant.
I should clarify that I believe my blog's namesake, LDS Studies, to be largely in the same vein as Mormon Studies, in that it comprehends all things 'Mormon.' The distinguishing difference, however, includes the approach as well as the scope of the subject. Mormon Studies is being approached in terms of academic studies, whereas my blog represents a written portion of my personal studies on Mormonism. My scope is limited to whatever I feel is relevant to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the 'only true and living church' with which the Lord is well pleased. Mormon Studies has a scope that seems to be in the process of being defined and seems to be continually evolving. I personally believe that an academic approach from any scientific field that adds knowledge and value to understanding the subject, which is any and all things 'Mormon,' is entirely relevant and appropriate, but this also includes a religiously engaged approach. Some might feel otherwise. I believe this disparity exists because they differentiate between science and religion as though they were opposites, or at least incompatible. I see the two as being somewhat synonymous. Both involve the same processes, just with different tools to measure the results. However, an academic study of religion that excludes attempting to understand the religion consistent with how its adherents understand it, is irresponsible in my opinion.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

President Hinckley - The Keys of the Kingdom

When the Mark Hofmann drama took place I was too young to appreciate how the church handled the situation and responded to his confrontational documents. While I had heard of the counterfeit artist in my youth, it wasn't until the mission field when I first encountered issues surrounding his forgeries. A friend from home had actually written me a letter wanting to know about the "white salamander" that Joseph Smith allegedly saw. This supposed vision was based on a letter from Martin Harris to W.W. Phelps that Mark Hofmann had forged in 1984, intimating Joseph's occult practices (money digging, etc.), and included a replacement of Moroni with a white salamander. Of course the letter was fraudulent with no basis in history or reality and should have been buried years previous, but of course these types of absurdities occasionally rear their ugly heads. The letter was the forger's attempt to tie Joseph Smith more closely with the occult, since a salamander in the 1820's could refer to a "mythical being thought to be able to live in fire." This was one of a number of documents that Hofmann concocted.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Margaret Barker on Temple Theology and Mormonism

Following Margaret Barker's lecture, "Our Great High Priest: The Church Is the New Temple," given at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary as the Fr. Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture on January 31, 2012, she addressed a few questions relevant to her discourse and scholarly studies. The second question is of particular interest for Latter-day Saints and is quite complimentary:
Q. "One of the other questions which came about prior to your visit to St. Vladimir's, is a curiosity about why people of the Mormon faith are interested in your work. Maybe, again you could explain their attraction to understanding of temple worship?"
A. "Well, you never know who is going to read your books. And many years ago now, I was contacted by a leading scholar of the Latter-day Saints, and he came to see me when he was in England, and he said, when he read this particular book, The Great Angel, he couldn't believe it hadn't been written by one of their community. And he was intrigued how somebody working outside their community, just using the conventional tools of scholarship, could come up with something very, very similar, unusually identical to their teachings. And we explored this, and I have developed a very happy relationship with many top Mormon scholars, really good Biblical scholars, who know their temple stuff. And what they've come up with, and what I've come up with, is just about identical. So, I work with Mormons because in terms of temple scholarship, they are the best available."
My thanks to Kevin Christensen for referencing this discourse.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Direction of the Maxwell Institute


The Direction of the Maxwell Institute
My posts are generally intended to be somewhat formal, so this post will be a bit of a departure for me. I suppose my commentary on this subject is a bit late, but I wanted to comment on the direction that the Maxwell Institute seems to be heading in with the benefit of hindsight. It has now been just over a year since Dan Peterson and others were unprofessionally dismissed. Numerous online blogs and other venues have commented on this drama. I, like many others, was disappointed in the decision made by Bradford; however, I was also gratified to see Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture formed and the prolificacy that has resulted in connection with that formation.
So, what is the direction that the Maxwell Institute is heading in? According to Blair Hodges, who currently seems to be the only active voice at MI,1 the organization's mission statement declares that their objective is to "deepen understanding and nurture discipleship among Latter-day Saints and to promote mutual respect and goodwill among people of all faiths through the scholarly study of religious texts." The organization is further identified as an academic unit at Brigham Young University. I'm not sure how mutual respect and goodwill among people of other faiths will be achieved through academic publications, nevertheless, I'm not opposed to a good cause such as this.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Brigham Young - John Turner Review Chptr 3

Shortly after the publication of Richard Bushman's monumental tome Rough Stone Rolling, he began recording his candid observations of the publication's aftermath in his personal journal. Included in his entries he discussed some of the reviews of his book, and the following entry addresses one of his primary concerns with some of the critical reviews received:
I am annoyed by what the reviewers choose to emphasize in Joseph's life. Most of them pick up a few fragments and present them as if they were the key elements. There is something so cavalier about the implicit assertion that they have delivered the essence of the man.1
The opposite has been true thus far in this biography. Rather than reviewers inappropriately highlighting fragmentary information, the biographer has actually provided us with morsels of Brigham Young's life and character. In fact, in the first ten pages (of 25 within this chapter), Brigham is virtually all but missing from the content. There are some passing references to him with surface-level attention given to some of his actions, but minimal insight is gained in capturing his character development. Brief reference to Brigham's contributions during the Missouri period in church history are overshadowed with the narrative of general church history. Professor Turner intermingles LDS and non-Mormon perspectives, providing somewhat of a balanced summary of this historical period, but he distances the narrative from biography and, I believe, underplays Brigham's role in this larger setting.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Brigham Young - John Turner Review Chptr 2

I suppose my frustration with this book thus far, is based on a couple of issues that I see as significant shortcomings. First, I am bothered with the labeling of this book as a biography, especially as a definitive biography, because it has yet to provide adequate biographical information. John Turner has provided a contextual landscape, but neglected to sufficiently delineate Brigham Young's portrait within the book's canvas, at least through the first fifty-four pages. Second, Turner's hostile bias towards Joseph Smith distracts from Brigham as the primary focus in this chapter. The author's inability to appreciate Joseph for his leadership and ability to inspire and attract disciples fatally flaws his ability to comprehend, or at least articulate, why Brigham was so devoted and such a strong disciple of the restorational prophet. Additionally, on a side note, I am confused as to why LDS reviewers are treating this book as favorably as they have been. While Turner's in depth research is apparent, his selective inclusion of  information leaves the contents materially deficient and he has created an imbalanced portrayal hardly acceptable under scholarly standards. All that I can conclude thus far, is that propaganda evolves and becomes more elaborate. I will further address each of these issues in detail below.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Brigham Young - John Turner Review Chptr 1

The late Peter G. Mode, formerly Assistant Professor of Church History in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, opened his encyclopedic entry on Mormonism by introducing the Prophet Joseph Smith as being "of neurotic, superstitious parentage..."1  John G. Turner's introduction of Brigham Young's heritage is a bit more subtly stated, but ultimately mirrors Dr. Mode when noting that the Prophet's ancestors, "bequeathed to their descendants a robust belief in supernatural phenomena" (pg 10). This assertion follows shortly after discussing Brigham's great-grandparent's house as being haunted. Leading up to this sensationalistic portrayal of his ancestor's basis underlying their religiosity, Turner focuses on the Young family's perpetual state of poverty. All of this is preliminary, however, to his focus on their membership and participation in Methodism.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Brigham Young - John Turner Review Prologue

Continuing where we left off, we now move into the Prologue. I should preface my continuing critique of Turner's book by noting that I certainly do not intend to be critical of his entire book without highlighting the positive as well. However, thus far Turner is simply setting the stage for the biography itself. When interesting and unique information or insightful perspectives are shared, I will eagerly acknowledge these contributions. For the time being, we really are just covering preliminary background information, and thus my concern of atmosphere looms heavily over this segment of the story.
Turner's Prologue uses a New Year's Day speech given by Brigham Young in 1877 at the dedication of the St. George Temple to introduce his character. What is striking to me is how Turner interprets the text of this speech. His preconceived notions color the atmosphere through his choice of text that he quotes and the language he employs in describing how Brigham spoke to the people gathered at the temple. Turner starts by noting President Young's emphasis on the restoration of sacred temple ordinances not exercised in full since the days of Adam, so far as any knowledge had been given. "Then," Turner sets the stage, "Young's tone gradually changed." From this point forward Mr. Turner narrows his focus solely upon his perception of Brigham Young's escalating tone and scathing remarks to the gathered saints. He points out that Brigham accused Elders of choosing hell over heaven, of choosing a dollar over salvation, and calls attention to Brigham's mention of too many Mormons being "damned fools." He continues to bolster this paradigm by using phrases such as, "Young demanded...," and "Building to a crescendo, Young upbraided...," and "Young thundered as much as his aging lungs would permit...." Turner concludes by saying that President Young was "blunt spoken, pugnacious, and sometimes profane."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Brigham Young - John Turner Review Preface

Why read the preface?

In my first post on this book review I suggested that Turner's preconceived notions and biases would inevitably present themselves throughout this biography. Since the preface introduces the outline and scope of the book, it is the appropriate place to assess the highlights and agenda of his work. My initial concerns with respect to how Turner would portray Brother Brigham is reflected to some degree in the preface and is further enhanced by what is said, as well as by what is left unsaid. A biographer may cast their subject in whatever light they so choose based on how their arguments and assertions are structured, even if the facts have been incorporated into the narrative. Hugh Nibley pointed this out years ago in a book he wrote that similarly addressed critiques of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. He cites Hugh Trevor-Roper as follows:
Nowadays, to carry conviction, a historian must document, or appear to document, his formal narrative, but his background, his generalisations [sic], allusions, comparisons remain happily free from this inconvenience. This freedom is very useful: against an imaginary background even correctly stated facts can be wonderfully transformed."1
What the author can successfully achieve is staging an atmosphere so that everything else is judged under the desired lighting. To argue that scholars are above this petty notion is simply naive. The extent to which a facade is presented of course will vary based on the integrity and objectivity employed by each author, and of course by the extent to which they recognize their own lack of objectivity. At any rate, I am still optimistic regarding this book, but share the following brow-raising statements.

Brigham Young - John Turner Review Intro

So I had been deliberating about whether to buy this book based on the available online reviews thus far. Some tout it as the definitive biography on Brigham Young, surpassing Leonard Arrington's masterpiece, or even as the companion volume to Rough Stone Rolling. It has been labeled as fair, balanced, and critical. John Turner is a respected scholar and is an Assistant Professor at George Mason University. After determining that I'm sufficiently open minded and acknowledging an appreciation for sophistication, I decided to buy it.

From the get go, I already have my reservations. Considering that the book is only 500 pages (413 pages of text), I can hardly imagine that this book will do Brigham Young the justice that he deserves. Rough Stone Rolling barely covered sufficient ground on Joseph Smith's short life of thirty-eight years in its 740 pages (561 pages of text). It is hard to imagine that Brigham Young's life of seventy-six years and his volume of accomplishments in mortality can be sufficiently captured in a book limited to this length; especially so when one considers the mountains of data that exist relative to his life. Any reasonable assessment must take into consideration the thousands of discourses he delivered, the volumes of notes, journals, and letters composed by himself and dictated to scribes, the personal actions he took as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, as well as Governor of Utah, colonizer, patriarch, temple builder, economist, and the cultural context of his character development, as well as personal assessments formed by his closest associates and character perception by his public audiences. I am certain that my short list vastly understates all of the dimensions which culminate in the man, Brigham Young. At any rate, based on my judging the book by its size (the cover seems good enough), I am apprehensive about Turner's alleged monumental accomplishment in condensing Young's life into such a little book.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Jaredite Scriptures and Tsohar

A Pre-Mosaic Bible

The Bible, as we have it, begins with the Pentateuch (or the Torah to the Jews), which is the five books of Moses. Similarly, the Brass Plates referenced in the Book of Mormon also seems to begin with the Pentateuch (1 Nephi 5:10-11). Assuming traditional Mosaic authorship of these books,1 our Bible potentially dates as far back as some time between the 17th and 13th centuries B.C. (depending on standard Christian and Jewish chronologies). Since Genesis includes history long before Moses' day, one may wonder whether he drew upon extant writings or possibly oral traditions to document the Book of Genesis. Fortunately for Latter-day Saints, the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 1:1 through 6:13 brought about the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price.2 From this book of scripture we learn that Moses was on an exceedingly high mountain where he spoke with the Lord face to face, and while conversing with the Lord, was given a vision of the creation, the garden of Eden, the fall of man, and ultimately "beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created..." (Moses 1:8). Accordingly, it seems reasonable that Genesis could have been documented by Moses based on his vision.  On the other hand, it is possible that Moses had access to ancient texts that he relied on, in part, to formulate Genesis.