Ten Tidbits About the Ten Commandments

1. Although commonly referred to as the “Ten Commandments,” in the Hebrew Bible itself they are not so called; rather, they are referred to as the “ten words/sayings” (Exod 34:28; Deut 4:13; 10:4). Thus a better designation perhaps is that derived from the ancient Greek translation of the Bible, known as the Septuagint (LXX), from the 3rd or 2ndcentury B.C.E: the “Decalogue.”  The word “Decalogue” comes into English via French and Old Latin from the Greek, deka meaning “ten,” and logos (pl. logoi), meaning “word, saying.” There are at least two versions of the Decalogue in the Hebrew Bible: Exod 20:2–17 and Deut 5:6–21. Continue reading “Ten Tidbits About the Ten Commandments”

LDS Correlated Lessons and the Hermeneutical model “PaRDeS”

I deeply respect the Jewish approach to the study of the scriptures. It is said that simply stating an opinion about Torah without any background or training in how to critically think about the text is Torah discussion but is not necessarily Torah study. To encourage critical thinking, rabbis from at least the third century C.E. established a simple four-level system known as PaRDeS. Each consonant in this acronym stands for a Hebrew word, and put together they mystically form the word “orchard” (פָּרְדֵּס), or paradise.

  • p’shat — “plain”
  • remez — “hints”
  • d’rash/midrash — “inquire”
  • sod — “secret”

The p’shat level of exegesis seeks to explain the “plain,” simple, or obvious meaning of the text.  This is the type of scripture study that we see so often in our Sunday School classes. Even LDS Seminary and Institute manuals are filled with this level of study. Of course, the p’shat meaning of a text is quite important. It is the keystone of scriptural understanding, and takes into account the customary meanings of the words, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. In Lesson 20 of our current Sunday School manual, the teacher is advised: Continue reading “LDS Correlated Lessons and the Hermeneutical model “PaRDeS””

Now Reading… Bad Religion

Published this AM, by Ross Douthout.  Amazing what Kindle can do, no?

So the “problem,” so far, is the loss the great orthodox Christian center.   And this means heretics, among whom Douthout places us.  He writes:

Heretics are often stereotyped as wild mystics, but they’re just as likely to be problem solvers and logic choppers, well-intentioned seekers after a more reasonable version of Christianity than orthodoxy supplies.  They tend to see themselves, not irrationally, as rescuers rather than enemies of Christianity–saving the faith from self-contradiction and cultural irrelevance” (335).

Looks like that shoe fits, no?  Makes me think about all the denunciations of Trinitarianism as a “mass of confusion.”   I wonder, though, did JS really produce a more rational or reasonable version of Christianity?

Well, we shall have to see where Douthout takes his ideas…





I’ll put up my next post on Mormon ways of knowing shortly. In the meantime I just wanted to touch upon some things I’ve written at my blog on LDS retention. I’ll not go over my main analysis again. (You can read it at my blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) What I wanted to go into is just how hard it is to figure out how well the Church actually is doing in terms of retention. I will only deal with the Church population in the US. If knowing what is going on here is hard, knowing what is going on in the international Church is probably a lost cause.

First it seems like most of what I’ve read comes from just a few studies. The best and most informative is the ARIS self-identification study which has statistics for 1990, 2001 and 2008. They have a separate report with the information on Mormons broken out and analyzed. (They also have a report on the rise of the Nones – which is probably as important since half of those leaving Mormonism appear to join the Nones) What’s best about the ARIS study isn’t just the three periods allowing us to identify changes but the relative size of the samples. The 1990 survey interviews 1742 self-identified Mormons our of 113,723 people total. The 2008 survey had 783 Mormons out of 54,461 people. That isn’t quite as good (more than half as few) but still enough to give some reliability to the study – especially considering the overall survey size.

Continue reading “Retention”

Knowledge For the Strong and the Weak

In 1 Cor 8, Paul give some advice to the “strong” who know something that the “weak” do not know.  He argues that even though the strong are in the right, and that what they know is fully true, they should keep such knowledge to themselves.  The reason is that, “by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died might be destroyed” (1 Cor 8:11).  Paul suggests that one’s primary duty is to good of the community as a whole, not to the truth.  It even seems that Paul is saying that the liberal, more open minded people should cede ground to the more close minded precisely because they are more capable of handling the disparity.

Continue reading “Knowledge For the Strong and the Weak”

The Creation of American Ignorance

Over on BCC, Steve P has posted a nice summary of an article in New Scientist which attributes the decline in scientific literacy in the US to three factors:  relativism in the academy, unserious journalism, and the illiteracy of Congress.

Amen to the third one!  In fact, amen to all of them!   However, speaking as someone who has taught both science and religion at the undergraduate level, there is at least one discipline in which student ignorance exceeds that of science:  religion.  Just sayin’ that when we’re passin’ round the cryin’ towels, I want one…  Not really.  I get paid for this, and I quite like it, except when I have to grade essay questions.

Anyway, as I prepping for my science and religion class next week, it occurred to me that some rejection of science arises specifically from religious venues and if Steve’s article mentioned that, he didn’t bring it up.  Unfortunately, some scientists must themselves accept some level of responsibility for the ease with which their results can be ignored or downplayed by those who do not wish to engage them in a meaningful manner.

Continue reading “The Creation of American Ignorance”

Christianity 101, Book of Mormon Style 3

So in this last week we, that is me and the 17-18 year old gentlemen I teach, were looking at the Tree of Life vision and Nephi’s interpretation.  As you know, our goal is to read the BoM and look for foundational Christian doctrine – hence the title “Christianity 101:  BoM Style.” This time we started with that mysterious man who pops up in front of Lehi and declares his intent to lead Lehi to the Tree of Life (1 Ne 8:5-7).

Who is that guy and what is the Bat Signal that brings him out?  I vaguely remember reading that someone thought he might be the Holy Spirit, although I can’t remember who or why.  Myself, I thought it might be the Spirit because the whole scene reminds me of this passage (Rom 5:3-5 NRS):

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

In Lehi’s vision, the Tree of Life and the Water of Life both represent the love of God.  And in fact, so important is this symbol that when Nephi’s interlocutor wants to test Nephi’s response to his father’s narrative, he asks Nephi whether or not he believes that his father saw this tree! (1 Ne 11:4)  So the man in Lehi’s vision is responsible for linking Lehi to the love of God, which is precisely what Paul suggests is the role of the Holy Spirit.

Continue reading “Christianity 101, Book of Mormon Style 3”

If the Book of Mormon is dull, the New Testament is duller

One recent, sympathetic critic called the Book of Mormon “dull.”  This is not a new accusation.  Mark Twain famously called it “chloroform in print,” and I don’t deny the charge.  Trust me, I’m quite aware of the boringness of the Book of Mormon. Mormons are aware that the Book of Mormon can be difficult reading, and often make jokes about it.  It’s characters are one-dimensional, there isn’t much plot to speak of, only some of the content is occasionally moving, and even many of the theological debates just seem not particularly pressing anymore.  But is an aesthetic appraisal the best way to evaluate sacred literature?  Is dullness really relevant at all?   Continue reading “If the Book of Mormon is dull, the New Testament is duller”

9-0: Hosanna!!?

In a 9-0 decision the U.S Supreme Court has declared that the government may not second-guess a religious community’s decision about who should serve as ministers, teachers, or leaders even when employment discrimination issues are at stake.  Why did the government even try this?  Beats me.   The unanimity of the decision, though, shows just how unreasonable the Court found the Obama administration’s argument.

Now you might ask, “Why do you care, Mogs?”  Well, I teach the sole religion class my students take, so if they don’t “get religion” from me, with all its modern facets, they probably don’t get it at all.  And since civics seems not to be as vital to those who create and execute high school lesson plans as, say, what kind of light bulbs Americans should use, my students generally have no idea how American courts work.  So I try to clear up several mysteries with one stone, so to speak.  This specific case interests me because it reinforces the idea that religious communities are different from other organizations.  Had the Obama administration’s argument prevailed, the government could potentially insert itself into a variety of what we might think of as “EO issues,” such as an all-male priesthood, if it so desired.

Continue reading “9-0: Hosanna!!?”

Christianity 101, BoM Style 2

Another little doorway into Christianity lies, I think, in the second of the three enumerated purposes of the BoM and particularly in the phrase I have underlined:

that [the remnant of the House of Israel] may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever

As I was looking into this, I discovered something interesting:  in many web citations this particular purpose is completely missing or truncated, as you see here:



I think that the underlined phrase is quite important because it points up the difference between a religious covenant and a contract.

Both contracts and religious covenants are agreements between two parties.  The difference is this:  contracts may be rendered void if one or both parties fail to fulfill their part of the agreement.  This means that when one of the parties defaults, the relationship is ended.  Religious covenants, on the other hand, are created and lived in a larger context, one of forgiveness and repentance.  This means that when one of the parties fails to meet an obligation, the relationship does not end.  Instead, both parties may reevaluate the situation and opt to extend the relationship under the same, similar, or new conditions.

And that is why, when someone properly learns about the covenants of the Lord, they also learn that they are not cast off forever.  God’s love is remarkable.