Secular Sam’s Guide to the OT: the Pseudepigrapha

The writings contained in what is known as the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (hereafter OTP) are legion. They date from about the middle of the 7th century BC to the 9th century AD and were written mostly by pre-Christian Jews, Christians, and other minor people groups. Some of the languages represented in the OTP are Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Slavonic, Coptic, Latin, and others.

What is the OTP?

The word “pseudepigrapha,” as one may see, comes from the Greek compound word which means “falsely superscribed,” or in other words, “false author(ship).” The reason for the name is not to cast the shadow of suspicion upon them, but because the books frequently take the names of noteworthy figures in Israel’s history (like Enoch, Abraham, Moses, etc.) whose authorship either can’t be proved for sure, or the text simply cannot have originated with the author intended, whether by linguistic, historical (anachronisms), or other means. The proper adjectival form of the noun “pseudepigrapha” is, per the SBL handbook of style (p. 162), “pseudepigraphic” (not “pseudepigraphal” or others).
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Secular Sam’s Guide to the Old Testament: The Septuagint

The Septuagint generally refers to the books of the Old Testament in their old Greek translation. Some scholars only use the term to refer to the Pentateuch section, although mostly the term is used to represent the Greek translation of the entire Old Testament. The correct pronunciation of the term, and the one used by Septuagint scholars, is SEP-tu-jent, the ultimate and penultimate syllables almost sounding as one. Most other folks, however, continue to pronounce the term sep-TU-a-jint.

The origin of the Septuagint is unclear due to fictitious stories surrounding its inception. The most popular is from the letter of Aristeas which describes King Ptolemy Philadelphus’ desire to build a library containing all the books in the world. He requested a copy of the “laws of the Jews” (the OT), and so word was sent to Jerusalem to send 72 elders (6 from each tribe) to work on the translation from the Hebrew to the Greek. Legend states that the Septuagint was written in Ptolemaic Egypt (probably true) from the ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament (also probably true). There were 70 (sometimes 72) Jewish elders who independently, and without consultation one with another, each produced their own translation of the entire OT (probably not true). Once completed, the texts were compared with each other, and miraculously none of the translations deviated from each other, but were all in complete and total accordance (total bogus). Various other stories regarding the translation exist, and the reader is encouraged to seek secondary literature on the subject for more. This Greek translation of the OT often goes by the abbreviation “LXX,” the Roman numeral for “70.”
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Go-to Sources for Study of Genesis

I was going to hammer out a brief exegesis of the creation of humanity (Gen. 1:26-28), but I thought that would be less productive because it would have represented my viewpoints on it, which most likely don’t jive with correlation and would also appear terribly non-Mormon.

Instead, I’m offering here a list of good go-to sources for an in-depth look at the book of Genesis. These are sources that I’ve enjoyed using in my study of the book. I took an advanced Hebrew reading of Genesis this last semester and found a number of great monographs and commentaries which will help us with this wonderful book. Feel free to add others you’ve encountered as well! Note: none of these are Mormon.
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The Idiot Mormon’s Guide to Orthodox Christianity, Part 2

The responses to part 1 were great. Here are some additional things I’ve observed that are noteworthy. Again, for brevity’s sake, I may have referred to non-Mormons as “Christians,” so I expect everybody to be on the same page with that. As with part one, sometimes these are terms we use that will sound strange to Christians, and sometimes these are terms they use that will sound strange to us. Enjoy.

1. Gethsemane. To Christians, it appears as though we attribute virtually all of Christ’s suffering to the episode in the Garden, and this can be very offensive for Christians. We do dwell on this event much more than the climax of the atonement – the crucifixion. I have found in my life that avoiding our particular view of what happened in the Garden (up front) is best. True, there is a passage in Luke which indicates that Jesus sweated great drops of blood in the Garden, but this passage largely eludes commentators; and rightly so. They don’t use the D&C to help them understand it (logically). Moreover, the cross is central to the message of the Synoptics (and John), as well as for Paul (I’m thinking Phil. 2) and it is there that the Gospel authors indicate the climax and fulfillment of Jesus’ sufferings. It’s all about the Cross until one comes under the influence of the D&C material. One may wonder – how did the Garden so seamlessly replace the Cross in our history?

2. Jew. Adam wasn’t Jewish. Neither was Moses, really. The tribal distinctions came much later, even after Jacob’s blessings (Gen. 49). These distinctions, so far as the Bible reveals, occurred during and following the conquest of Canaan. Judah’s prominence can’t be easily located (again, there are hints of it in the Joseph story and again during Jacob’s blessing of his children – this may be an indicator of a late date for the composition of the Pentateuch, but that’s for another day), but to say the very least, “Jewish” probably didn’t occur until the time of the schism between the Northern and Southern kingdoms (8th century BC). Our Christian friends might think it strange that we seem to suppose (unknowingly yet innocently) that Judaism goes back much, much farther than most.

3. Prophet. Mormons, for the most part, tend to think that anybody who is important or holds some form of leadership role in a given time period is automatically a prophet. It feels almost like a substitute title for just about anyone who leads. Our Christians friends may not agree with some people that Mormons think were prophets, especially Adam (who caused this mess), Enoch (only 2 or 3 verses on this guy in the Bible), etc. This one is just a mere observation, as I’m willing to bet some of you can think of people who actually joined the church because we throw the title around a lot. I can think of two from my own mission (12 years ago). But we do put a lot of (well-placed) emphasis on prophets and prophecy, which may sound cultish to our Christian friends. But hey, we can create some mutual understanding here.

4. “Knowing God.” For the Christian, this is very, very liberal and open. They even say “God told me that…” and then usually continue with what we would call “testimony.” But for a Mormon, I think “knowing God” is something a bit more serious (TPJS p. 149-150?).

5. Testimony. For the mainstream Christian, this term indicates the sharing of one’s conversion to God, or a story which heavily involves God’s workings and presence in their lives. It usually mentions God a lot, and illustrates how he has changed their lives for good. It has nothing to do with how well our kids are doing at school, how much we love our roommates, where we traveled for summer vacation, and is usually devoid of lame allegories.

6. Ward. Most Protestants would agree that the equivalent of a ward is a parish.

7. Stake. As a unit of wards/branches, Catholics might refer to this as a diocese. Some Protestants use state boundaries, and refer to their state area as “The [insert name of state] Annual Conference.”

8. Ordinances. From part one, I indicated this is somewhat of a misnomer on our part. It doesn’t have to mean “ceremony” or “ritual” like we think it means. In fact, the fourth AofF, in its original, used to read “We believe the first ordinances of the gospel are…” The words “principles and” were added later for clarification. I don’t know the history behind the usage of the word “ordinance” in place of “ceremony” or “ritual,” but we’re alone in that usage. Our Christian friends simply don’t use it that way. For them, it is more like a “statute” or “commandment” (Heb. chuqqah). Sometimes it might be best to qualify what we mean by “baptism ordinance” and the like.

9. Original Sin. This one will really upset some of you people, but what I’ve observed withstood the test of fire. When I started my M.A., again, at a Protestant school, I heard this used a lot, and I mentally scoffed it. The more I heard them use it, the more I realized they were simply describing the effects of Adam’s sin, but not necessarily the sin itself. I asked peers and professors repeatedly to clarify this, and became very frustrated because I couldn’t disagree with their definition. Maybe it’s just the Methodists, I don’t know. But when they say “the original sin,” they’re basically just saying “the effects of the Fall.” So you and I live under the curse of the original sin, according to them, and I’m fine with that because I understand what they’re saying. They also think that Adam’s sin could have been forgiven of him, but that if it was, it happened upon the Cross. I tacitly agree, as there may be an indication of this in 1 Corinthians 15 (cf. N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God for more). That should make most Mormons madder than a scalded dog, but from the Protestants I know, it doesn’t have the loaded definition that we attribute to it. Maybe there are other faith traditions that use the term in a more non-Mormon way.

10. Orthodoxy. The feeling I get from most Mormons is that this term only refers to the Greek Church. A Protestant would be deeply and fervently offended by this. True, the Greek Church goes by the name “Orthodox Church,” but context is what gives away that usage (other names are Eastern Church, Eastern Tradition, Greek Church, etc.). Orthodoxy, to a Protestant, is anyone who believes in accordance with the Creeds. I think some blogger-ninjas were calling it “Creedal Christian,” but I have yet to encounter this term among non-Mormons. Protestants feel that they are starkly orthodox (despite what Catholics might think). So when Christians discuss Mormonism, which I’ve heard more times than I can number, we’re referred to as “unorthodox,” which they feel doesn’t apply to Protestants even though they’re not active members of the Greek Church. Protestants feel that they are orthodox (miniscule “o”) Christians.

11. Bishop. Bishops are one of the highest offices in some denominations like the UMC, for example. Our equivalent would be one of the Brethren. And there are lots of bishops for them. The local, congregational leader equivalent would be a “pastor.”

12. Sermon. This is a sacrament meeting talk, only the pastor gives it every week unless he asks someone else to preach, which is rare, but not non-existent.

Mormon Media Madness

Or, “how I stopped reading my book during stake conference because of the loud ‘BANG’ from somewhere near the pulpet.”

So last Sunday was stake conference, and two hours of talks is usually a bit much for me, let alone my two toddler-aged children. As usual, I normally bring something to read just in case the talks… well, go sour. This week’s reading was Phil Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible which I am enjoying immensely.

While totally wrapped up in my book, I vaguely heard the speaker (a member of the stake presidency) state that he was about to show a video clip he obtained from the History Channel the night before. Then I heard a mechanical buzz as a large screen descended behind the choir seats, and a projector whir itself to life as a brief, two minute clip on Roman architecture was presented on the screen. I thought the clip was neat, but right away I could tell where it was going; it was a clip that described the keystone of an arch, and how important it was for Roman architecture in the ancient world, and that the stake president would bust out that (supposed) Joseph Smith quotation about “the keystone of our religion.” I was right (for once).
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Damning Knowledge

As the perfect antithesis to John C’s deep and insightful recent post, I’d like to ask the opposite.

I thought I had a firm handle on this one until recently, but I’d like to get the take on this from the rest of the ninjas in the Mormon blogger dojo. So…

What constitutes “speaking against the Holy Ghost”?

The Idiot Mormon’s Guide to Orthodox Christianity, Part 1

Okay, as many of you know, the terminologies employed by both Mormons and orthodox Christians (hereafter “Christians” for brevity’s sake) are identical in form, but often different in meaning. Since getting the word out to our neighbors in the form of missionary work is one of the three essentials to the overall mission of the Mormon church (the other two being perfecting the saints and redeeming the dead), I thought I’d share with you some of the common vocabulary employed by both sides, but at the same time note some of the key differences.

These are all terms phrases that I noticed during my first semester of graduate school at a Protestant educational institution. When appropriate, I will flag terms as distinctly Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or what have you.

I believe that knowing some of these distinctions will create greater meaning between Mormons and Christians. As always, I encourage you to contribute some of the same similarities/differences in vocabulary that you’ve noticed!

1. Sacrament. For Christians, this term is primarily utilized as a catch-all term for what Mormons call “ordinances” (another misnomer I will discuss later). For Catholics, the sacraments are seven in number. I’m not sure why the Mormon Church now utilizes the term “sacrament” as only applicable to the Lord’s Supper, but I imagine that it is now a truncated form of, possibly, “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” Since it may appear somewhat strange to our Christian brethren and sisteren to hear us saying “sacrament meeting,” perhaps we might qualify what we mean by “sacrament” when discussing it in the company of Christians.

2. Melchizedek Priesthood. This is actually a New Testament term from Hebrews 11. For most Christians, only Jesus possesses the Melchizedek Priesthood, and it can be very offensive for them to hear that we claim to possess it on a collective scale.

3. Similarly, terms like “priest,” “teacher,” and “deacon” for most Christians indicate not only some form of formal ordination before a recognized authority, but there is much more semantic weight with each of them. For us, it mostly indicates the age of the young man (and his purported worthiness) as well, e.g., a 17 year old boy would be considered part of his local priest quorum (but not in every case). Likewise, when a Christian hears us say “I’m an ordained Elder in the Mormon Church,” their assumption, in many cases (though not all), will have them believe that the elder in question has been to some form of parochial school or seminary style of training, passed certain exams and met certain requirements, and then defended himself before an ordained board of ministry of some sort. Likewise with terms such as “deacon,” “priest,” etc. Priesthood ordination is big-time for Christians.

4. Jehovah/Elohim. I almost dare not go here because of how defensive so many temple Mormons become when discussing this. But it is something that offends or causes much confusion with our Christian friends. The Mormons are pretty much alone in assuming that Jesus is a pre-incarnate Jehovah/Yahweh – something I assumed most people except the J-Dubs espoused. However, we ought to be aware that when discussing God’s name with Trinitarian Christians, they won’t see Yahweh as Jesus like most of us do (save only through Trinitarian means). He is what we would call “The Father.” If you’re interested, I can post some of the biblical (read: Hebrew language) reasons for thinking that J and E are the same dude.

5. “The Church.” When our Christian brethren and sisteren say “The Church,” they’re not always talking about their own denomination. Many times they’re referring to all of (orthodox) Christianity. When Mormons utilize the term, it almost exclusively refers only the Mormon Church. This is a handy one to know.

6. Virgin. For Christians, this term represents a woman that has not yet had sexual intercourse with anyone else from this world or any other world (sorry Ezra Benson).

7. Martin Luther. This is not “that one black guy from the 1960s,” but rather the church reformer, which the Lutheran Church now eponymously employs. He’s very important for Protestants, akin to Joseph Smith for a Mormon (although not venerated so often). He was the father of the Reformation, and I believe there’s even praise from our own general authorities for his efforts.