The Gaskill Hoax, Three Years Later

Hey, remember the Gaskill hoax of 2014?

In short, he published a book called The Lost Teachings of Jesus on the Sacred Place of Women. The basis of the book was a nineteenth-century forgery called the Unknown Life of Jesus. The fact of forgery was glossed over in the book, to say nothing of the sensational and entirely misleading title.

The publisher, Cedar Fort, promoted it for Mother’s Day that year. Here’s part of the ad:

“This extra-biblical text, thought to be the words of Christ, is presented and explained by Alonzo Gaskill where he expounds the divine role of women in the gospel and family.”

On April 10, guest posting at BCC, Taylor Petrey issued a warning about the deception. Local news stories also appeared in Utah. The same day, Gaskill apologized — kind of. And Deseret Book eventually stopped carrying that one of his titles. But on Mother’s Day itself, a book review in the Deseret News took his side:

“There has been some controversy over the use of the manuscript to represent the actual words of Jesus, but it is clear from what Gaskill states that he is representing this message as possible-but-unproven preaching from the Savior. Readers can enjoy the message pertaining to the power and glory of womanhood but should reserve judgment on the veracity of the documents used as the core of the message until more is known.”

Cedar Fort still sells The Lost Teachings of Jesus on the Sacred Place of Women, which continues to get 5-star reviews on Amazon. If that does not depress you, how about this …?

It turns out that back in the 1980s the Unknown Life of Jesus had already been discussed as a fake in the edited volume, Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints, published by the BYU Religious Studies Center. See Richard Anderson’s chapter in the volume. He refers to this and other texts as “modern frauds [that] have no documentary connection to antiquity.”

Why is it that we as a people seem to be easily misled along these lines, despite repeated warnings? It’s like for some reason we’re locked into a pre-critical understanding of biblical literature and cannot tell the difference between what’s ancient and what’s not. Go figure.

Some More on the BYUNTC and Snuffer’s Version of the Gospel of John

This is a follow-up on my last post where I showed that a bit of translation originally done by John Hall for the BYU New Testament Commentary project was published in Denver Snuffer’s revelation of the Fourth Gospel. Before getting to some further details, perhaps I should say something about my view of the big picture. I think it’s interesting, not to mention troubling, to see how info about the Bible that is wrong and misleading – whatever the motives of the people producing and perpetuating the info – can nevertheless be welcomed and accepted time and again as divinely inspired or revealed within various Mormonisms, from the 1800s to the present.

I also think it’s interesting to see how religions can develop in a rather repetitive cycle: new small-scale charismatic movements (e.g. Joseph Smith and company) aim to reform an older and larger group (e.g. Christianity in its assorted denominations); they go on to experience growth and routinization (e.g. the Utah-based church), all the while their charismata decrease, which in turn eventually prompts another round of reformation (e.g. Snuffer and company). That’s one possible cycle, at any rate.

Okay. Besides Hall’s rewriting of John 1:1, here’s another bit of translation he did for the BYUNTC that was never published by the project but now appears in Snuffer’s revelation. At both the 2006 FHE and the 2007 FAIR conference I discussed and linked to in my previous post, Hall translated the Johannine phrase “keep my commandments” like this: “stand watch as a sentry awaiting my every instruction,” which makes it about continuing revelation. This was perhaps even more popular with BYUNTC audiences and BYU Education Week audiences than his translation of John 1:1.

Snuffer was a fan and blogged about Hall’s rephrase of John 14:15, etc., in 2010, saying, among other things, that revelation was being stifled in the mainstream LDS church and that continuing to receive revelation is “our responsibility.” Indeed Snuffer would go on to claim that the Testimony of St John has been revealed to him, with Hall’s rephrase of ‘keep my commandments.’ In Snuffer’s version, John 14:15 reads: “If you love me, stand ready, watching for every communication I will send to you.” Again, Snuffer has revised it some, but this is Hall’s idiosyncratic translation from as early as 2006.

In a second case, then, Snuffer’s version of the Gospel of John has been influenced by Hall. There may be other cases, but just given these two I agree with the commenter on my last post who guessed Hall could be the Greek scholar that Snuffer mentions in his account of how the Testimony of St John was revealed to him. You can read blogs and posts dedicated to Snuffer’s revelation here and here and here, including his account of the new “Restoration Scriptures” in general and the Testimony of St John in particular:

There is a new edition of the scriptures being prepared which will use the JST of the Bible. That will result in both the Book of Moses and JS-Matthew being removed from the Pearl of Great Price. When I was asked to take a look at the project I had the impression that a new translation of John’s Gospel was needed and ought to replace the missing texts. I asked a qualified Greek Scholar to undertake that project and he declined. But the impression remained that it needed to be done.

I made it the subject of prayer and was told to do the work. I spent a few days working with an English-Greek New Testament, the JS Translation of John, and a Greek Lexicon before becoming hopelessly discouraged by the many options and choices. I prayed about it before retiring for the night and essentially quit. I explained that it would take years for me to accomplish this, and that I was not going to be able to solve the riddles of the text. I went to bed assuming I was done with it.

In the middle of that night I was awakened and given the solution to every dilemma I had been facing in the work on the text. So the next day I continued on from where I had abandoned the work and, to my surprise, everything was opened to my mind so clearly and continuously that the entire project was completed in less than three weeks. The light of heaven opened the material in a way I had never thought of nor had previously attained to in considering the Gospel of John. At times it progressed so rapidly that I was unable to finish one part before the next came rolling out. Many new and different things were added, and at least one thing was dropped entirely because it was not part of John’s original composition. Because of the rapid way it rolled out, once I finished the text I went back to clean up a lot of what had been left as incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, missing words (particularly conjunctions) and cryptic or inadequate explanations. The intent of the writer, John, was revealed, including why some things were included in the text and the manner he wrote.

When it began it was an attempt at a “translation” but by the time it was completed it was clearly a “revelation” and not merely a translation of a text. Therefore the result does not have my name on it, because I cannot claim any credit for the content. I failed in what I was attempting. What resulted came from heaven.

If the Greek scholar was Hall, he avoided getting involved for whatever reason. That’s curious. And there’s the curiosity that Snuffer doesn’t name him in this account. Snuffer had no hesitation naming Hall in blog posts from 2010, and Snuffer did so without providing any background on him or introducing him in any way, as though Snuffer’s readers would and should already be familiar with Hall. So why not name him as the Greek scholar, if indeed he was? Perhaps Hall wanted to remain anonymous. Perhaps Snuffer is trying to downplay Hall’s influence so that the revelation can he played up.

There’s also a certain amount of convenience to it all for the purposes of anticipating any possible question of plagiarism and the BYUNTC’s intellectual property rights. But I tend to think that Snuffer, like many religious charismatics, is being sincere in this account. Sure, it parallels the story of Joseph Smith and the translation of the Book of Mormon, to a degree — people often frame their own experiences in reference to past heroes and important events. And, yes, there is a naturalistic view of what probably actually happened: Snuffer mistook excitement and a burst of creativity for inspiration and revelation from God. I don’t think that rules out him being sincere.

Despite the sincerity, however, his version of the Fourth Gospel contains a lot of wrong and misleading info. He adds references to Mormon ideas about a heavenly council and plurality of gods, one of them being Father Ahman, to eternal progression, endless lives, worlds without end, to dispensations and ordinances, temple ritual (as ascent to heaven), foot washing, and the second comforter, obviously. He also seems to imply that Mary Magdalene, whom he equates with Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was Jesus’ wife. None of these additions has any reasonable claim to being original to the Gospel of John. To be clear, the ideas as ideas don’t have to be wrong or misleading, but they certainly become so when they are presented as ancient parts of the Bible, revealed/restored.

Ironically, all the while adding this modern material, Snuffer correctly subtracts something from early manuscripts of the Fourth Gospel and from the KJV, something that scholarship must have taught him was an ancient interpolation, the passage in John 7:53-8:11 about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. So we have an active interpolator qua revelator deleting a long-time addition to the Gospel of John. Here’s the thing. That ancient interpolation is chronologically as well as conceptually far closer to being original than any of the additions in Snuffer’s revelation. Or for that matter, anything in the JST, which incidentally leaves the passage alone.

Restating my prior conclusion with extra force and some pessimistic realism … The cost may be far too high for most Mormons, but I think that in order to stop the production and perpetuation of this kind of wrong and misleading info among mainstream LDSs and Mormonism as a whole, it will have to be admitted that there were no plain and precious things lost from the Gospel of John or the other books of the Bible. They were never missing; instead they have been added, starting in the early Christian period of manuscript history and textual transmission, and continuing on within various Mormonisms, from the 1800s to the present. To admit that would certainly be difficult and have many implications. Because no such admission is going to be forthcoming any time soon, if ever, we can expect more of the same.

From the BYU New Testament Commentary to Denver Snuffer’s revelation

As you may know, the BYU New Testament Commentary project started in the early 2000s and has published volumes on the book of Revelation, Gospel of Luke, and 1 Corinthians. Another bit of translation originally done for the project was just published, though not by the BYUNTC; it was announced and published as part of a revelation of Denver Snuffer, who, as you also may know, was excommunicated by the mainstream LDS church in 2013 and is now leader in a restoration/remnant movement that considers the mainstream LDS church to be in a state of apostasy.

Here’s what happened. One of the members of the steering committee of the BYUNTC was John Hall. He was listed as such on the project’s website until spring of 2014 but was then dropped from the listing that summer and so has not been affiliated with the project for nearly three years now. Back when he was still involved, Hall piqued curiosities and also raised eyebrows with his translation of the opening of the Gospel of John. The King James Version reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” According to Hall, the verse should be translated: “In the ruling council was a spokesman, and the spokesman was among the gods, and the spokesman was himself a God.

Though it was never published by the BYUNTC (to the project’s credit, good fortune, or both), Hall publicly spoke about his translation of John 1:1 more than once, and he was speaking for the project, whether officially nor not. He spoke about it at an “Empty-Nester’s F[amily] H[ome] E[evening]” in 2006. You can read the blogged notes here. He also spoke about it at the 2007 conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, FAIR. You can read the talk here. Furthermore you can read about Hall’s translation as well as the BYUNTC in the second edition of P. L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible, Oxford, 2013, page xliii. The notes from the 2006 FHE are admittedly paraphrastic. But they seem to be reliable enough, judging from the 2007 FAIR talk, which is Hall’s very writing.

Hall’s translation is wrong, or as FPR’s own TT has diplomatically put it, “highly problematic.” And it’s interesting to see how Hall may have adjusted his presentation to each audience, as though Hall himself realized on some level how problematic the translation is.

At the FHE, on the one hand, he is reported to have claimed that there is actual manuscript evidence for the plural “gods” in John 1:1 among the John Rylands papyri. The claim is simply not true, but no one at the FHE was likely to have known any better. It appears that Hall was referring to the famous John Rylands papyrus 52, which is in fact an early manuscript of the Gospel of John. However, not only does it lack any reference to plural “gods” in John 1:1, the manuscript lacks the entire opening of the gospel. It’s merely a fragment containing verses from chapter 18.

At FAIR, on the other hand, Hall didn’t claim manuscript evidence; he grounded his translation in the authority of Hugh Nibley. He said he learned it from Nibley while he was an undergraduate in Nibley’s class at BYU. Thus attributing the translation to Nibley, he presented it in terms of viable choices between the multiple meanings of words, and he had the Nibley of his memory gloss the Greek word for god as “godhead” and then “gods.” Of course, Nibley was no longer living, having died in 2005, so no one at the FAIR conference could confirm what Hall was saying, much as no one at the FHE was in a position to fact check his reported claim about manuscript evidence.

Following FAIR, there were some healthy skeptics and those who knew better than to believe him, but they weren’t going accuse Hall of willful deception. Later, commenting somewhat hyperbolically on the FHE notes in March of 2009, one person did accuse him: “None of the words he has selected for this are even associated with the words in the manuscripts. THIS MAN IS A LIAR! READER BEWARE!” At the other end of the spectrum, some people eagerly awaited more from him. Another person commenting on the FHE notes in March 2009 asked: “What is the status of this translation? Are any parts of it published yet? Is there an official website for it?”

Meanwhile Hall continued to be involved in the BYU New Testament Commentary project until 2014. For instance, he presented a paper at the project’s 2013 conference on BYU campus, where he was introduced as the team member responsible for the Letters and Gospel of John (he is not anymore). You can watch his presentation here. It’s a heady mix of scholarship and Hall’s brand of LDS ascent/temple theology and visionary mystical gnosis.

As early as 2010 Hall was also in discussions with Denver Snuffer. You can read Snuffer’s own blog posts here, where Snuffer relies on Hall for info about Greek language, the Johannine writings, and other books of the New Testament. And this brings me back to the recent announcement and publication that I led with, the announcement and publication of an alternate edition of Mormon scripture called “Restoration Scriptures.”

In short, Snuffer and the restoration/remnant movement are reinstating writings like Lectures on Faith, while cutting out others like the Song of Solomon and while adding still others. The additional scriptures include, among other things, Snuffer’s version of the Gospel of John, which is described as follows in the announcement: “The Revelation of the Testimony of St. John – as given through Denver Snuffer, Jr. – has been added. It will not replace the existing Testimony of St. John found in the New Testament, but will stand as it’s [its] own book.” Compare the heading to the book itself: “Below is a newly revealed account of John the Beloved’s Testimony of Jesus the Messiah:” Right after that is the opening verse: “In the Highest Council of Heaven there was One who spoke out. And the One who spoke out was among the Gods, and He was a God.”

Snuffer has revised and expanded it some, but this is Hall’s translation for the BYUNTC. Unlike Hall at the FHE in 2006 and at FAIR in 2007, Snuffer doesn’t claim manuscript evidence or attribute it to Nibley. He presents it as revelation, the ultimate source of authority for many Mormons, whether they be of this or that kind. I have no idea how many of Snuffer’s followers are going to realize or care that he has been influenced by Hall’s translation or that the translation is wrong. In a group that considers revelation to be chief, no amount of counter evidence tends to matter much.

Clearly I can’t end this post with that, and the buck doesn’t stop with Snuffer or Hall. As problematic as it is, Hall’s translation of John 1:1, just published as Snuffer’s revelation, is not really surprising.

Before Snuffer, before Hall, J. Reuben Clark hoped for an inspired, i.e., LDS, collation and translation of the manuscripts of the Bible. The BYUNTC made Clark’s hope something of a mission statement for the project. Hall referred to it in his presentations at the FHE in 2006 and at FAIR in 2007. You can read it right now on the about-us page of the project website:

Almost sixty years ago, President J. Reuben Clark wrote, “[I hope to] provoke in some qualified scholars having a proper Gospel background, the desire and determination to go over the manuscripts and furnish us, under the influence and direction of the Holy Ghost, a translation of the New Testament that will give us an accurate translation that shall be pregnant with the great principles of the Restored Gospel. We shall then have a reliable record of the doings and sayings of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.” (Why the King James Version [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956], viii–ix). A team of Latter-day Saint scholars has joined forces to produce a multi-volume commentary on the New Testament with a new rendition of the Greek texts of the New Testament books ….

Before Clark, of course, Joseph Smith claimed in the Book of Mormon that plain and precious things had been lost from the biblical books as they were copied and transmitted over the centuries, things that Smith claimed to restore. With respect to the Gospel of John in particular, he said he saw a vision of an autograph manuscript of John 21, written in the authorial first-person rather than the editorial third-person; see D&C 7 and my earlier blog post here. He also reworked the opening of John chapter 1 in his revelations, where it was promised that “the fulness of the record of John” would one day be had, thus creating a door for Hall and Snuffer to walk through; see D&C 93:1-18.

A final thought: Unless Mormonism as a whole takes biblical and religious studies scholarship seriously, neither the empty nester listening to John Hall’s translation for the BYU New Testament Commentary in 2006 nor the attendee of the restoration/remnant conference in St George in 2017 is going to be able to tell whether or not what they’re hearing is plausible. The same goes for the gospel doctrine class member who is studying D&C 7 and 93 this year in Sunday school.

Right, Wrong, and the Divine Voice in Scripture

The story of Abram and Sarai in Egypt has always been concerning, specifically the part about him asking her to tell others they weren’t married but were brother and sister. One issue, by no means the most important, is that it seems he asked her to lie for him, which could conflict with notions of what a prophet is and is not supposed to do. The parallel account of Abraham, Sarah, and Abimalech claims that it was only a partial falsehood, since Sarah was the prophet’s half-sibling (Genesis 20:12).

In LDS scripture, there is as another solution. As Genesis 12 is rewritten in the book of Abraham, chapter 2, the whole thing is God’s idea:

Here is Genesis 12:11-13:

11 And it came to pass, when he [Abram] was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.

And here it is rewritten in Abraham 2:22-25:

22 And it came to pass when he I was come near to enter into Egypt, he the Lord said unto Sarai his wife me: Behold now, I know that thou Sarai, thy wife, art is a very fair woman to look upon; 23 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee her, that they will say—This She is his wife; and they will kill me you, but they will save thee her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: 24 Let her say unto the Egyptians, I pray thee, thou art my she is thy sister, that it may be well with me for they sake; and my thy soul shall live because of thee. 25 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me—Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee.

So, yes, Abraham may have asked Sarai to lie for him. That’s OK, though, because God told him to. In other words, right and wrong are defined solely in terms of divine fiat. Does that make this and other scriptural accounts (e.g. Nephi’s slaying of Laban) more or less concerning? If God says it, does that mean we can or should do it?

The answer to my last question might appear obvious to many Latter-day Saints. And if we knew for certain God were speaking, that would be one thing. But all scripture, like the book of Abraham, is written down by humans, not God. God may inspire humans to write; he does not pick up pen and paper himself, however. Thus there is always the possibility that, at least in part, scripture is your speech and mine placed in the mouth of God.

I think we see this plainly in Joseph Smith’s rewriting of Genesis 12:11-13, for example.

That being the case, instead of automatically attributing our motives and actions to God, could we try first acknowledging them as our own? Could we come to grips with the fallibility of scripture and prophets, ancient and modern, with the human, the societal, the cultural element that is in all revelation?

Paul and the three degrees of glory

Even though D&C 76 was prompted by revision of John 5:29, it also creatively draws from Paul’s discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

Because the revelation of the three degrees of glory is framed as lost biblical material (see the section heading), it can come as a surprise to learn just how different Paul’s views of heaven were from modern LDS beliefs.

In 1 Corinthians 15:40-43 (KJV as always), we do find the words celestial and terrestrial as well as reference to the glories of the sun and moon and stars.

We don’t find the word telestial there (or much anywhere).

And from an ancient Mediterranean cosmological perspective it would be rather odd for the terrestrial to be linked to the moon since the moon was generally considered a major planet then, not a satellite of Earth (terra).

In other words, if Paul were going to link them, he’d link the celestial to the sun, moon, and stars, leaving the terrestrial for the bodies of mortal life on Earth.

But those aren’t the big difference, which is that Paul was not about marriage and family here or likely in the hereafter.

Celibacy was his thing.

Check out 1 Corinthians 7.

Given our understanding of D&C 131 and 132, it’s not uncommon for us to believe that at the top heaven is an eternity of marriage/s. We even speculate about the anatomy of resurrected bodies, celestial sexual reproduction more or less, and the raising of infinite spirit children.

To say the least, Paul would not agree with our church doctrine that celibacy is somehow lesser than marriage now and forever.

If his view of the future mirrored his view of the present, as does ours, he would say that the unmarried in heaven would do better than the married. He would allow for celestial marriage and celestial sex, but only where people lacked his gift for self-control, and in order to prevent celestial fornication/adultery. He would see marriage and family in heaven as a distraction from God.

Arguably it was the other way around, though. Paul’s view of the present mirrored his view of the future: he would have taken it for granted that there was no such thing as marriage in heaven, one of the reasons why marriage was not a priority for him while he was alive.

Paul would have taken it for granted … along with Jesus, according to Mark followed by Matthew and Luke:

Mark 12:24-25 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

Matthew 22:29-30 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

Luke 20:34-36 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

What was not discussed in Sunday school this week

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul, on the one hand, takes it for granted that women pray and prophesy alongside men – historical evidence of female prophetic roles.

On the other hand, he distorts scripture in order to argue that women should do so veiled. The distortion is not always recognized much less challenged, in part because of its longstanding influence on Christian culture and society.

Paul distorts the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 by using bits and pieces of both, while imposing the latter on the former.

There are two very different creation accounts in Genesis.

In the first, God creates both male and female simultaneously in the divine image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27).

In the second, the Lord God forms the man alone (Gen 2:7) then subsequently derives the woman from the man (Gen 2:21-23) and only after forming the animals.

Paul imposes Genesis 2 on Genesis 1. The result is that according to his distortion of scripture, women are not created in the divine image and likeness.

Here’s the passage, 1 Corinthians 11:6-9 (KJV of course), with references to Genesis in square brackets:

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God [cf. Gen 1]: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man [Gen 2]. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man [Gen 2].

In sum:

Man in divine image, hence no veil.

Woman not in divine image, hence veil.

But again Paul is distorting scripture here. The creation account in Genesis 1 clearly states that both male and female are created simultaneously in the divine image. Paul reads and rewrites Genesis 1 through the eyes of Genesis 2, where there is nothing at all about a divine image.

As long as this distortion is allowed to persist in influencing Christian culture and society, even and perhaps especially in sacrosanct settings, it should come as no surprise that women may feel that they are considered to be less (godlike) than men.

Contextualizing Crises of Faith

It might seem that Latter-day Saints have a corner on the faith-crisis market, especially now that everything and everyone is online.

No doubt this is an information age second to none, at least in terms of quantity of info. Still there have been previous information ages, and Mormonism is far from being the oldest let alone the only religion on the planet.

Plus faith crises need not be religious. Many can be seen together as a subset of the universal human experience of (feelings of) betrayal — having to do in the first place with the perpetual processes of (mis)representing and (mis)understanding what is supposed to be true and false. It’s just that in the case of religion, faith crises have to do with (mis)representing and (mis)understanding what is supposed to be true and false about things that are really important to a lot of people, such as the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of scripture and prophets like Joseph Smith, the restoration of the church, and the hope of an afterlife, to name a few common LDS beliefs, and not to mention the orthopraxy based on them.

I don’t deny that the problem is acute in Mormonism, and at present. While issues in modern church history are being addressed now, there are issues in ancient church history that many Latter-day Saints have not wrestled with, given the way LDS tradition has yet to engage much in mainstream biblical scholarship compared to other Christian traditions.

The problem may even get worse before it gets better. If it gets better. Who knows?

My point, though, is that Latter-day Saints are not alone, which can be a comforting thought at a time of faith crisis when (feelings of) isolation and displacement are almost certain.

Finding community among others who are or have been in a crisis of faith won’t solve the problem, but it may well minimize the emotional burden. Various online LDS groups could attest to this, I suspect. Ideally the support would be found within the church itself too.

I also suspect that there is a great deal that Mormons could learn from the experiences of countless people in every age who have been through something similar.

Who are these people, then? And what were their experiences? I have one in mind. Feel free to post more in the comments.

~

The allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic is well known, and I’m sure the allegory has been used in LDS discussions of faith crisis more than once (even if it has not always been recognized that according to the Republic, it’s necessary to return to the cave and stay there for decades).

Far less well known is the allegory of the suppositious child (573d-539d).

After the allegory of the cave, Plato has his character Socrates describe the ideal educational system in which the curriculum builds up to dialectic or in other words a philosophic method of asking questions that tend to destabilize what is supposed to be true and false.

The (ostensible) goal of this advanced study is to get at what is really real, but that’s not what most Athenians thought Socrates himself was doing. In Aristophanes’ Clouds, written before Socrates went to trial, and before Plato was writing, the school of Socrates is portrayed as a very dangerous place. Athenians go in, and they come out no longer believing in much of anything including the traditional gods. Without belief in the traditional gods, the notion of justice (read: righteousness for Christians) is at risk. So one concerned parent of a student burns the school down while Socrates is inside.

Again that’s Aristophanes’ Clouds. But Socrates himself was indeed convicted by his peers.

Plato’s Socrates admits some of this danger. He says that even in the ideal educational system, dialectic must be introduced cautiously and only to 30-year-old students who have completed the prerequisites. The destabilizing effect of this risky advanced study is compared to what it’s like to find out as an adult that the father and mother who raised you are not your real parents: what was supposed to be true had been misrepresented to you, and perhaps you also misunderstood. Furthermore you can’t locate your real parents: you don’t know what is true anymore or how to find out. You feel betrayed. Alone. Isolated. Displaced.

~

The take-away is, once more, that Latter-day Saints in a crisis of faith are actually not alone. There’s a world – ancient, medieval, modern, and postmodern – full of suppositious children. To shift metaphors, Mormon talk of inoculation and when to inoculate is something that people have been talking about for thousands of years.

Within the allegory of the suppositious child it’s easy to image that the adoptive mother and father didn’t mean to deceive let alone betray the child, but that’s what ended up happening. They wanted to protect the child from potentially painful information, so they put off disclosing it. The longer they waited, though, the worse the betrayal when the info finally came out. They may have hoped that the child would never have to deal with it. Over the years, however, perhaps one parent saw that it was an impossible secret to keep and thought that telling the child would be better late than never, while the other parent sharply disagreed.

Which is to say that Plato’s Socrates was wrong about the ideal educational system. Difficult as it may have been, the adoptive father and mother should have told the child early on that they were not the child’s real parents, and that the real parents may never be found. That kind of uncertainty would surely be a painful thing for the child to learn to live with, but at least that way feelings of betrayal by the adoptive parents would not be added to the uncertainty. Put differently, dialectic should be taught to students long before their thirtieth birthdays. Advanced study – its principles and results anyway – should be made basic, even if it won’t be fully understood at age 5 or 10 or 15 or 20.

Until recently, church leadership as a whole has arguably taken an even more cautious approach to education than Plato’s Socrates. They have been like the adoptive parent who doesn’t want the suppositious child to have to deal with uncertainty ever if possible. But it’s not possible. Certainly not anymore.

It seems that leadership has come to a realization that telling the adult suppositious child about issues in modern church history is better late than never (when the child goes looking for the info).

Moving forward, the question is when and how the younger and next generations will be educated. Will they have to wait until adulthood to find out just how must uncertainty there is in modern church history? … in ancient church history?

Leadership will decide much of the answer, but it’s also up to every member to decide what the ideal (church) educational system is and so modify the curriculum as seems best – at home, with friends and neighbors, in branches, wards, and stakes, maybe even at church-owned schools, where possible.

Obedience and Speaking for God

Last week in my ward, the Sunday school lesson included 1 Samuel 15, where Samuel speaks for God and tells Saul, “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

So Saul kills the Amalekites, except the king, while sparing the best animals, ostensibly for sacrifice. Then, as is well known, Samuel tells him that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Followed by this: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”

1 Samuel 15 is an extreme example from the Holy Bible, extreme in that Samuel says God says to massacre, and extreme in that obedience is defined here such that taking human lives is scarcely an afterthought. But it raises important issues for less extreme examples too. At what point does obedience become a cult? And what are the dangers of speaking for God?

Unanswered Questions about the Priesthood

As President Uchtdorf said in his in general conference talk last October, “Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information.”[i] And as Managing Director of Public Affairs for the Church, Michael Otterson, stated last month, “I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles, either in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, or when the Church was restored in modern times.”[ii]

It’s important to recognize how much we don’t know, and here are some unanswered questions about what in contemporary Mormonism is understood to be the priesthood, including LDS priesthood keys and some LDS priesthood offices.

Q1. Why are there so few references to priesthood in the Old Testament (8 total, in Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah)? Note that there are 600+ references to priests, however, many of them being Levites, others being priests of gods besides the God of Israel.

Q2. Why aren’t there any references to priesthood in the Book of Genesis, that is, from the creation accounts throughout the time of the patriarchs and their contemporaries, such as Abraham and Melchizedek? Note that Melchizedek is referred to as a priest, though (one of 6 total references to priests in Genesis, all the others being Egyptian priests).

Q3-4. Why are there so few references to priesthood in the New Testament (7 total, in Hebrews and 1 Peter), and why aren’t there any references to it in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry? Note there are references to priests in the gospel accounts (130+), but none of them are Jesus’ disciples (unless somehow the father of John the Baptist counts), and many of them are his enemies. According to Acts 6:7, it was not until after his death that some priests become followers of Jesus.

Q5-6. Why are there so few references to priesthood in the Book of Mormon (7 total, in Alma; cf. Hebrews), and why aren’t there any references to it in the account of Jesus’ establishment of his church in 3 Nephi?

Q7-8. Conversely, why are there so many references to priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants (100+), and where did this emphasis on priesthood come from if not from the Bible or Book of Mormon?

Q9. How can there be references to priesthood in the Books of Moses and Abraham (8 total), when there is none in the Book of Genesis?

Q10. Why are there references to priesthood keys only in the Doctrine and Covenants and in Joseph Smith History (26 total), not in the Bible or Book of Mormon? Note that in Matthew 16:19 there is a reference to Jesus giving “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” to Peter, but there is no reference to priesthood.

Q11. Why are there prophetesses in the Bible (e.g. Deborah) but none in contemporary Mormonism?

Q12. Why is there a female deacon (Romans 16:1, “servant” in the KJV) and a female apostle (Romans 16:7) in the New Testament but none in contemporary Mormonism?

——

i. President Uchtdorf went on to say, “and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.”
ii. Otterson went on to state: “We only know that he did not, that his leaders today regard this as a doctrinal issue that cannot be compromised, and that agitation from a few Church members is hindering the broader and more productive conversation about the voice, value and visibility of women in the Church that has been going on for years and will certainly continue (the lowering of the age requirement for female missionary service was consistent with this conversation).”

 

Remember that one time God totally denied having a body in restoration scripture?

There I was looking at all the fascinating differences between the First Book of Moses called Genesis in the KJV and the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price … such as the global change from third person to first person (e.g. Genesis: “God said” > Moses: “I, God, said”) … when to my surprise I saw this anti-anthropomorphism:

Genesis 3:8 KJV

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

Moses 4:14

And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

In the KJV, God walks around like a human with legs (Hebrew Bible and LXX both have masculine single participles modifying the noun Lord God). But that would be some kind of crass theology. So in the Book of Moses, it’s Adam and Eve who do the walking.

Also, the whole business about God being ignorant of where Adam and Eve were hiding? Yeah, that’s been cleared up too. In the Book of Moses they don’t hide; they go to hide and get busted on the way:

Genesis 3:9 KJV

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Moses 4:15

And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?

There’s no hiding from an omniscient deity. Even if he doesn’t have feet himself to patrol with, he’s still gonna stop you in your tracks.