Elijah and Ancient Ascension Traditions

In light of the church’s place in its Gospel Doctrine curriculum (1 – 2 Kings), I thought I’d share some of my findings/musings on ancient ascension traditions, given the attention the church gives to Elijah.

From a literary perspective, ascension motifs have been with us mostly since Greek and Roman times, with a few scattered tales of ascension from ancient Mesopotamia. Each of these different tales are unified by a singular thrust — removal. For the Romans, the removal of the emperor from the realm of humankind was the central piece of cultic life and living. Likewise, Jesus’ ascension in the New Testament is also viewed as a removal from this life and re-location, as it were, in a place not accessible to the common individual (Mark 16:19; Luke 9:51; Acts 1:2, 9, 11, 22; 1 Tim. 3:16).

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The Conquest Narrative of Joshua 6-12

I know it’s a bit late as far as the Sunday School schedule is concerned, but I thought that I would share what the scholarship has discussed regarding Israel’s appearance in Canaan with the blogernaccle. I feel that what those in the field discuss about it can contribute to our own peculiar views of scripture and how they tie into Biblical Studies in general and in the book of Joshua proper.

Continue reading “The Conquest Narrative of Joshua 6-12”

King David’s Double Anointing

King David is one of the most dynamic and enigmatic of all the figures of the Bible (Halpern, 3-13). He was favored of God, but utilized whatever means he could to secure the throne, including murder and treason. Yet it is through his unorthodoxy that God works out common good for Israel.

One piece of the text of the books of Samuel which I found intriguing are David’s two anointings: one at Hebron by the house of Judah, and the other at Hebron by “all the tribes of Israel.” The Bible (the Deuteronomistic History, at least) uses two technical terms for describing the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. For the southern kingdom, the one that receives most of the attention in the OT, terms such as “Israel” or “Judah” are employed to refer to the tribes of the south. In the North, other terms are used (like “Ephraim”). However, when the authors want to mention all the tribes together, as in the case of the united monarchy under David and Solomon, the technical term employed is “all Israel.” In our example here (2 Sam. 5:1), we see “all the tribes of Israel” (Heb. cal shibtei yisrael); clearly a reference to both the north and the south. This is an exciting moment in the text of the OT – the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom are united, both unanimously choosing David as their king.

Here is the NRSV’s version of the details of David’s first anointing at Hebron, before the tribe of Judah:

2 Samuel 2:1-4 After this David inquired of Yahweh, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” Yahweh said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” He said, “To Hebron.” 2 So David went up there, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 3 David brought up the men who were with him, every one with his household; and they settled in the towns of Hebron. 4 Then the people of Judah came, and there they anointed (Heb. mashach) David king over the house of Judah.

Later, the northern kingdom wants in on David’s protection, and here the NRSV illustrates David’s second anointing before all Israel:

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 10 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The LORD said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years… 10 And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

During the restoration of the gospel, Joseph Smith would restore what he called (publicly) the “fullness of the priesthood,” which would take place for the first time in the front upper room of the red brick store on Water Street in Nauvoo on September 28, 1843. Joseph himself dictated the words of the ceremony to William Marks and Hyrum Smith and received this blessing under their hands (Ehat, 94-96). The fulness of the priesthood comes by way of anointing, after the individual had already received an initial anointing. Joseph continually linked the power of the fulness of the priesthood to that of “a king and priest” and to the power of Elijah. Six months after restoring the fullness of the priesthood, Joseph said:

“Now for Elijah, the spirit power & calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations ordinances, oricles powers & endowments of the fulness of the Melchezedek Priesthood & of the Kingdom of God on the Earth & to receive, obtain & perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God even unto the sealing of the hearts of the hearts fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fathers even those who are in heaven.” (WJS, 329.)

In that same discourse, Joseph briefly mentions the murder of Uriah the Hittite, and David’s standing before God. Among the statements made about David’s standing, Joseph said:

“Although David was a King he never did obtain the spirit & power of Elijah & the fulness of the Priesthood.” (WJS, 331.)

Ehat & Cook’s footnote on this statement indicates that “…although David was anointed a king by the Prophet Samuel, it was not, according to this teaching of Joseph Smith, after the order of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” (WJS, n. 27, p. 390.)

I have since thought that the connection between David’s two anointings, and Joseph Smith’s understanding of two anointings (especially as they relate to kingship in Israel), are the cause behind Joseph Smith’s clarification of David’s fate. Perhaps Joseph knew that David’s two anointings (or possibly three anointings, counting the 1 Samuel 16 narrative by Samuel) might have appeared to his inner circle, according to the text, that David received the fullness of the priesthood. What would his listeners, who knew about the fullness of the priesthood, think of David after he kills Uriah if indeed David received the same two anointings that they received? Would David, the greatest king Israel had known, be doomed to reside in Hell for eternity? Joseph Smith, I believe, understood this dilemma and set out to clarify it for his audience on March 10, 1844, the discourse mentioned above. For Joseph, David’s two (or three) anointings were not the same as the anointings conferred by the spirit and power of Elijah, which Joseph aptly explains in the same discourse. This would allow for David’s final redemption. Rather, these anointings were the conferral of the kingdom of Israel only, and not to be confused with the rituals which Joseph Smith restored in September of 1843.


Ehat, Andrew F. Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the Priesthood Succession Question. M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982.

Ehat, Andrew F. & Lyndon W. Cook. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph. BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980.

Halpern, Baruch. David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. Eerdmans, 2001.

Six Easy Steps to Becoming an “Expert” Anti-Mormon

1. Don’t read the Book of Mormon. Indeed, this can only inform the anti-Mormon about its true content. Doctrines will be discovered, insights will be obtained, and most importantly, the spirit might be felt while reading it. If one does feel something divine within its pages, put the book down immediately, fight the feelings inside, and do something else. Make a loud noise, clap your hands, kick the dog; anything to avoid seeing something divine before you. Instead of reading the Book of Mormon and subjecting yourself to its childish 19th-century dogmatic interpolations, pick up a book or pamphlet about the Book of Mormon, especially if written by a non-Mormon, because of course only the non-Mormon can be totally objective about its message and content. By extension, don’t read the D&C or PofGP either. This will only add to the confusion and madness. Stay informed about the book, just don’t read it. Or just read your Bible. After all, the Bible is God’s word, and is a perfectly believable book with no strange stories, characters, or incredible situations, unlike that weird Book of Mormon (see #6 for more).

2. Avoid original sources. Why plough through thousands of pages of Joseph Smith’s journals, the Journal of Discourses, or other autobiographical sources when you can just pick up a perfectly decent abridgment of all this material by such noteworthies as Ed Decker or Jerald & Sandra Tanner? These folks are reliable and objective in their research, and after all, they were Mormons at one time! So that means that they undoubtedly know their stuff and have no malicious agenda whatsoever—they’re totally objective! Original sources cannot possibly reflect the reality behind the situations they describe, especially sources produced by the Mormons. Original sources will only slow you down and misdirect your research.

3. McConkie’s thoughts = everyone’s thoughts. First off, if you really want to know the ins and outs of Mormon doctrine, just buy the book by that very name! A book by any other name just isn’t the same. Surely a volume with such a name as “Mormon Doctrine” contains exactly what the title purports – an exhaustive and authoritative treatment of the doctrine of the Mormon church. And don’t be tricked into thinking that the ideas expressed in Mormon Doctrine are outdated, biased, or non-representative. Every Mormon reveres this guy (he was, after all, one of their apostles!), and they all adhere to this book like the Book of Mormon itself. This book should be your most valuable tool in learning about the Mormons. It’s handy, too. It’s arranged just like a dictionary. Just pick the doctrine you want to know about, turn to it, and voi-la, you’re an expert on Mormonism.

4. Don’t stay current. Avoid reading Journal of Mormon History, Dialogue Journal, or others. These works are mostly written by Mormon outcasts and gays who are well on their way to becoming Protestants or atheists anyway. They certainly have an ax to grind, so reading this material might actually lead you to think that Mormons think differently among themselves, which is surely not the case. They all conform to the “prophet,” dontchya know? Staying current might actually alert you to upcoming trends in defense of Mormonism, which should only be handled by experts (like your pastor or local “professional” counter-cultist). Staying current will also take time away from reading Mormon Doctrine or one of the Tanner’s books/pamphlets.

5. Consult outside sources. Never, ever ask a Mormon about Mormonism. They’ll only tell you what you want to hear, make themselves sound much less cultish than they really are, or try to pass themselves off as people who worship the same God that you do. This could lead to a friendly invitation to a church basketball game, barbecue, or a “family night” at the Mormon’s house. Avoid these activities, for there the Mormon will try to seduce you into their fold with nice words and a bowl of green jello. Always go to “professionals” for the answers.

6. Ignore hypocrisy. It’s best not to bring up beliefs or problems of faith that you share with the Mormons. Don’t mention difficulties in translating ancient texts. Don’t mention that the KJV, the long-time English language standard Bible, talks of anachronisms like steel bows, domesticated animals before they were domesticated, etc. Avoid discussing difficult aspects in any system of belief – the nature of God, revelation, life after death, etc. Don’t talk to the Mormon about the patristic writings, and how some of the early church fathers discussed such issues as a corporeal deity, eternal nature of souls, human deification, or a pre-mortal life. Don’t talk about how some of the writers of the New Testament used and abused Old Testament passages for their own exegetical agendas. Don’t talk about how the Christian Church has been manipulated by its leaders through the ages, especially such topics like the Crusades or the Inquisition, because for all it’s ugliness, the Christian Church is the imperfect perfection. Showing respect or “faith envy” for the Mormons leads to nowhere.

So there you have it. Becoming an “expert” anti-Mormon is much easier than one might think. Following these simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an “expert” anti-Mormon.

Secular Sam’s Guide to the OT: The Book of Exodus

The name of the book comes from one of its main themes: the departure of the sons of Israel from Egypt. There is much more to the book than this, however. There is the introduction of the zenith of prophets in OT tradition, Moses, as well as specifics surrounding Torah (chs. 20-23) and the tabernacle (chs. 25-40).

Various theories abound regarding the book’s historicity, especially with the presence of Israel in Egypt. These theories range from the pharaoh of the Exodus being Ramses II (1279-1213 BCE), to the whole book being written at a very late date and having no historical reality whatsoever. Various clues within the book show the reader that either theory is workable, which is problematic for those in the field of Biblical Studies. In the end, the writers of the book probably did not have the same ideas of accurate historicity that modern minds have, and the book is probably a mixture of myth and reality. It is best read as a story in its final form, demonstrating that God is one who intervenes in real history (and not a deity who acted only in primeeval times) for his people.

The book has been the catalyst for much of Israel’s tradition. Indeed, several festivals look back to the Exodus tradition in reverence: passover, unleavened bread, festival of booths, festival of weeks, etc. The main idea of the book throughout tradition, if one wishes to make reductionistic conclusions surrounding its content, probably boils down to Exodus 20:3 (1-6). The contention between worshiping Yahweh alone and incorporating him syncretistically into other pantheons continues throughout the remainder of the Pentateuch and well into the Historical Books (Joshua through Kings). Another key verse in the book is Exodus 7:16, which reads:

The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.”

The verse shows implicit causation — pharaoh is to let the Hebrews go so that they may cease to serve him and start to serve Yahweh. The people, then, exchange one master (pharaoh) for another (Yahweh). The book is primarily a story of oppression and redemption through the power of God.

The book begins rather abruptly, insomuch that if one blinks enough, the childhood of Moses might be missed. The author clearly wants to introduce Moses, but at the same time wants to move the story along quickly in order to get to the main setting in Egypt and then in the wilderness. The book ends climactically with the blessing of the presence of Yahweh’s glory (kabod) at the tabernacle. This motif is repeated when the temple of Solomon is dedicated in 1 Kings 8. The presence of Yahweh (or rather, the presence of “his name”) is the paramount blessing in the narrative.

For Mormon studies, the book became the allegorical focal point of our own exile from the midwestern United States to the desert of the Salt Lake Valley, especially as manifested in hymns such as “Redeemer of Israel.” Also noteworthy is the emphasis on the divine cult, the giving of the law to the people, and the reward of the presence of God in his own “dwelling place” (Heb. mishkan), all characteristic goals of Mormon ritual and worship. Likewise, discussion of the anointing of Aaron and the priests before entering the tabernacle (40:12-15) has mention our rituals.

The Uncorrelated Essentials?

So, my wife left the Deseret Book catalogue sitting out, and I felt like maybe I ought to pick it up and take a look. I saw most of what I usually see: yet another J.F. McConkie / Robert Millet collaboration (yawn), new cover designs for old classics (the new Miracle of Forgiveness is spiffy!), and plenty of artwork (none of which is of my stripe). It’s no SBL catalogue, but it seems like a pretty good one for its intended audience.

Now, on page 41, something caught my eye. It’s called “Essential Gospel Library.” Here they featured 3 books and refer the reader to the website (click here) for more. So I went there to see what the essentials were, according to the DB marketing machine (and Correlation?). I was pleasantly surprised and also mystified. Surprises: Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, vols. I & II. I didn’t even know these existed. Very cool. I won’t tell you what books left me mystified, but the list got me thinking. I’m sure there are other posts similar to this in the ‘nacle, so let’s start a new one — nice ‘n fresh!

What are your favorite UNcorrelated essentials for Mormon studies?

3 Rules:

1. You can name as many as you like, but let’s keep the reasons why we like them brief (but not non-existent) but informative. No more than a couple of sentences for each recommendation.

2. Explain why you like such-and-such uncorrelated material in an informative, intelligent way. Saying “this is good” doesn’t help other readers much.

3. No rule here. I just wanted the rules to have the magic number of three (“Trilogy! Trilogy!”). 😉

Let’s have fun.

A Deacon’s Dilemma: White Shirt vs. Scout Shirt?

This Sunday, the boys in our ward scout troops will have their Board of Review, which is the meeting in which advancement is discussed with those on the board. The meeting will be held immediately after church, and each boy is required to wear his scout shirt.

Which creates a dilemma – can the boys pass the sacrament wearing a scout shirt?

Unfortunately, somebody in the ward feels they cannot. The leader of the deacon’s quorum came into Elder’s quorum on Sunday and asked for volunteers for passing the sacrament. This boy, who is stalwart and wise beyond his years, seemed a bit confused by the whole thing. One of the fellas in the quorum spoke up and told the boy several things:

1.In certain very poor areas of the world, the requirement is “a clean shirt.” Color made no difference.
2.That priesthood can be utilized and carried regardless of how one dresses for church, so long as ample effort was made to appear neat and clean.
3.That wearing a scout shirt is an honor, and to preclude a boy from passing the sacrament because of a scout shirt is teaching the wrong thing about priesthood (and, by extension, scouting).

Should they pass the sacrament, or defer the honor to others wearing white shirts?

Genesis 12:1 – A Minor Textual Problem

So, the KJV isn’t the best translation one could use (see Ronan’s post here). Although it’s very good, the authors of the KJV often took liberties in translation where perhaps they should not (Isa. 26:19, anyone?). I imagine this is OK, given that much of what we know of the ancient languages today may not have been known back in the late 1500s to early 1600s. They did the best they could given what they knew at the time.

But there’s one verse where I wince at the KJV translators, and it came up last Sunday in Sunday School. I didn’t mention it to the class, and I lament somewhat for not saying anything.

Genesis 12:1 reads: “Now Yahweh said unto Abram: ‘Go from your land, and from your relatives, and from the house of your fathers unto THE land which I will cause you to see.'”

One stark difference, which I emphasized here, is the definite article on the word “land.” Indeed, the KJV translators went with the anarthrous translation of the word, and I believe this to be erroneous.

First, the concept of “land” in the OT is immense. It is the locale of Israel’s salvation and kingdom; so much so that even today is one of the major causes for war and oppression in the Middle East. A cursory reading of the book of Joshua would reveal the importance of the conquest of the land, and of its allotment to the tribes of Israel. The idea of land reserved for God’s people continued through the tradition, had a place in the united and divided monarchies, and even is part of the reason for the rise of a resurrection doctrine in Jewish lore. “Resurrection? David J, have you lost your marbles?” Yes, resurrection doctrine. But that’s for another post later on (when I review N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God).

Next, the idea of being gathered into the land is one of the high points of Biblical (OT) theology. But this isn’t just any land, this is God’s chosen space unto the children of Israel. It’s a big deal, and they all know it, even today. Curiously, the translators get it right in Gen. 12:7, where the adjectival demonstrative “this” is employed in conjunction with “the land.”

One would do well to read the indefinite article, “a,” as “the” when reading from Genesis 12:1. The KJV (and its sister ship, the NKJV), so far as I can tell, are the only translations I have in my possession which contain the indefinite article.

I’m not saying “lets sack the KJV,” (well, on this post, anyway) but I am saying that other translations often reveal insights that the boys of the KJV missed.

Canaan isn’t just “any” land, it’s THE land.