In case you haven’t seen it, take a break from Wheat and Tares Apologizing and attend the BYU Church History Symposium on Joseph Smith’s Study of the ancient world. Richard Bushman, Sam Brown, Matt Bowman, and many more! Looks to be, um, historic!
It may come as a surprise to some that there are texts from ancient Israel, Judah, and its environs that are not found in the Bible. There are also a number of texts from (especially) ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia that make reference to Biblical persons, places, and events. Such epigraphic texts are important for many reasons. I want to discuss some aspects of why these texts are important in what follows, and to give some basic information with respect to some of the more prominent epigraphic discoveries that date to the period before Judah’s fall in 586/7 B.C.E. This latter task will be spread out over several posts, and I will proceed in roughly chronological order in my presentation of the material. Continue reading “Israel’s Past Without the Bible”
This comment by tom (#23) at Dave Banack’s challenging post over at T&S sums up why I think the Nibley approach to apologetics and its reception have, in part, had long term and still expanding negative effects on church members:
“Might not hurt to read a little Nibley along the way.. not exactly light reading, but take some time to examine the connections he makes with Enoch, Abraham, and ancient temple worship – through all the various non-biblical records that have come to light since the days of Joseph Smith. There really is a lot of evidence that Joseph was a prophet and that these restoration scriptures are really what they say they are.”
Here are some of the problems I see in these two sentences:
1. Nibley and his corpus of writings are assumed to be authoritative and can be wielded like a deceased General Authority and his conference talks.
2. Nibley’s work is dense and often impenetrable, and, therefore, just like Tallmadge’s Jesus the Christ, authoritative, irrefutable, irreplaceable, or un-updatable.
3. Obsession with finding ancient parallels and sources for modern LDS temple ritual revealing a basic assumption that ancient=genuine/divine
4. Strip-mining “non-biblical records that have come to light since the days of Joseph Smith” for the rare, usable nugget while disregarding everything else these texts offer or refuse to offer
5. Engaging in this strip-mining effort so that we can assertively and triumphantly ask: “How could Joseph have possibly known this?!”
6. Licensing every day members to make absolutist claims about the Book of Abraham, draw lines in the sand about its translation and provenance, make these criteria for heresy/orthodoxy and, to complete the circle, cite Nibley to prove one’s point about it.
7. Then drive by blog it to bash someone over the head
I value much of what Nibley wrote. His writings inspired a younger version of me and altered my life trajectory. But this continuing abuse of his work in the pursuit of faux-apologetics or chastisement is just plain bad. And all too common.
What makes Biblical Scripture, Scripture for LDS Christians?*
Historically one prominent model for the authority of Biblical Scripture in Christian history (including for some Latter-day Saint thinkers) is the Prophetic-Inspiration Model: the person who writes the text is divinely inspired by God to write the very words that are recorded. This model entails that the human being is a puppet of sorts for the divine will, a tool that can be used for the divine purpose, namely composing Sacred Scripture. In this view, any text so authored is worthy of the category Scripture because, in the end, its wording is really determined by God (even while still partaking in human language). This model therefore equates the words of the prophet figure with Revelation. However, although the prophet figure ultimately cannot be held responsible for the final text, the fact that it is composed, even if only instrumentally, by a prominent religious leader otherwise considered to have been commissioned of God, gives credence to the view that the text’s authority rests in the divine. Continue reading “On Biblical Scripture”
In 1858 Edward Tullidge wrote to Brigham Young to volunteer himself as the epic chronicler of the Restoration. The off-and-on again British convert to Mormonism enthusiasticaly described his fifteen-thousand-line epic style biography of Joseph Smith, “The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century.” He compared his work to Homer and John Milton and promised more to come.1 Evidently, Tullidge never completed the project.2 Fortunately, however, one chapter was published in The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star in January 1858. I located a scanned image via Google Books,3 but since I couldn’t find a reliable transcription online I decided to furnish one for your reading, copying, and pasting enjoyment. I numbered the lines for easier reference. For this post I put together a quick comparison between Tullidge’s chapter and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Continue reading “Edward Tullidge’s Miltonian “Gathering of the Grand Council of Hell””
David L., who recently joined M*, and I have been having a really wonderful conversation about methodologies of interpretation and comparison. My response got too long, and so I thought it would be better to put up as a full post of its own. At issue, I believe, is how LDS should understand themselves and their relationship to the ancient world, David and I representing two different approaches that are currently wrestling for primacy in LDS scholarship more generally. Let me summarize the main outline of the methodogical issues at stake.
Continue reading “Guarding the Temple: Our Procession to a Better Understanding; a Response to David L.”
Jude 1:5-7 (NRSV): Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgement of the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
In the passage quoted above the author of Jude draws on past examples to show that God punishes sinners in order to demonstrate that God will eventually condemn his own contemporary opponents too: v.5 relies on Exodus and Numbers concerning Israelite rebellion and punishment in the wilderness; v.6 draws on 1 Enoch 6-16 about the “angels” who left their appointed sphere and who were thus condemned (cf. Gen. 6:1-4); and v.7 speaks of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis. Continue reading “1 Enoch in Jude’s “Bible”: Issues of Canonicity and Scriptural Inspiration”
A recent book review of Eric Shuster and Charles Sale’s The Biblical Roots of Mormonism describes the book as “a 258-page overview of about 350 Latter-day Saint beliefs referenced in the Old and New Testament.” On the face of it, the book sounds like an extended exercise in proof-texting. I’ve talked about a few potential problems with such easy “likening” elsewhere but I haven’t read this particular book myself, so I can’t comment on its quality. Instead, I want to focus on the rhetorical approach of the book as described in the review. The book is an example of a larger trend in the marketing of recent LDS books generally: the marketing of stuff “made easier.”
Rabbinic commentators have sought to better understand the nature of God by exploring the implications and origins of his name. Michael Fishbane writes in Rabbinic Myth and Mythmaking (Oxford University Press, 2003): In the context of an explanation of why the ‘dry land’ (yabashah) is called ‘eretz (‘earth’) in Gen 1:10, we are told that the primordial earth was an obedient creation of God’s, and ceased to extend when He ‘said’ so. This compliance is strikingly forumated by an exegetical play on the noun itself, since we read that ‘the dry land’ was called ‘eretz because ‘she wished to do His (God’s) will’ (she-ratzta la-‘asot retzono). One may suppose that our myth was one of several accounts telling how the land, sea, or sky acquired their limits — narratives that were supported by a mythic etymology of the divine name ‘El Shaddai, as meaning that God (El) is He who (she-) said dai (‘enough’) to His creations when they grew out of hand and threatened to overwhelm the world with their profusion. In the context of such tales, the letters of ‘eretz in Gen 1:10 provided welcome proof from Scripture… Continue reading “Insights from Names of Deity”
Background/The Divine Council