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””

On Biblical Scripture

The Problem

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”

The Flood: Global or Localized?

I would argue neither.

With the rising tide of modern science, historical criticism, and other scholarly disciplines, those committed to a strict literalist interpretation of the Flood stories in Gen 6-9 have had to retreat farther and farther up the metaphorical beach in order to maintain their belief in the historical reality of the Biblical tale.  For instance, basic problems with a literal reading of the narrative include the fact that there is no geological evidence for a global flood, and that the Biblical Flood narrative in large part is derivative of an older Mesopotamian Flood story from the myth Atrahasis (among many other reasons).  Sometimes, though, more liberal readers of the text suggest that the Flood was a historical event but that it was localized in a specific area, and that from the shortsighted view of the ancient author the whole land (including the mountains) indeed was covered with water. Thus we shouldn’t expect there to be evidence in the geological record for a global flood. However, there is, in my view, a more adequate understanding of the text, one that takes it on its own terms.

Israelite cosmology as it is reflected in the Bible basically consisted of a three-tiered world with the heavens/sky above, the earth below the sky, and the waters below the earth.  In the heavens (which, for some authors, had multiple levels) the gods resided, while humans lived on the earth. Moreover, Israelites believed that there was water above the earth, presumably because the sky, like the sea, is blue and, moreover, rain would often come down from the sky. In this pre-scientific worldview there was a solid, clear (perhaps ice or crystal?) dome-like structure that prevented the waters above the earth from crashing down onto the earth. This material object is translated as “firmament” in the KJV in Gen 1. The so-called “windows” of heaven were, in their view, sluices cut into the dome through which YHWH would send down rain according to his providence.  The sun and the stars were underneath this solid dome.  Furthermore, pillars were sunk into the subterranean waters to support the earth, and below the earth was also She’ol, the underworld.  Mountains, on the other hand, were thought by some to support the dome.  For more visual readers, see HERE for a basic representation of this cosmological worldview.

Gen 1 describes creation as a divine process of organizing the world from the chaotic primeval waters by separating different elements so as to provide order.  The Israelite God separates the waters using the dome in order to create the sky and then, within this “bubble,” proceeds to organize the rest of the world through separation and demarcation.  Just as, on the social level, God separated the Israelites from the other nations and gave them his covenant and its attendant laws in order to organize their lives and provide them with well-being, so too, on the cosmological level, proceeded the creation of the world.  The formation of the world, in a sense, mirrored the creation of Israel, and vice versa.

Thus it would seem somewhat unfair either to criticize or to validate – on scientific grounds – the author(s) of the Flood stories by measuring their texts against the ruler of modern scientific cosmology.  The Flood stories do not comment upon whether the Flood was local or global in scientific terms; indeed, their view was pre-scientific.  Rather, for the Israelites who authored these stories the Flood primarily represents “uncreation”: that is, the disorder and chaos that existed before God’s mastery over creation brought order. When sin filled the world the God of Israel unleashed the subterranean and heavenly waters to fill the bubble. So too if Israel transgressed its covenant and failed to keep the laws of YHWH their society would fall into chaos and ruin.

Ten Tidbits About Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament

1. The biblical, or so-called “canonical,” prophets–those whom we tend to consider the prophets–in many instances (e.g., Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea) are not called prophets (Hebrew nabi’) in the superscriptions to their books, or elsewhere, and indeed probably would have rejected this label for themselves. For instance, in a third person biographical narrative about Amos, he rejects the Bethel priest Amaziah’s suggestion that he is a nabi’ (See Amos 7:10-17; cf. Hosea 9:7; Micah 3). This is because… Continue reading “Ten Tidbits About Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament”

Polytheism and Ancient Israel’s Canaanite Heritage. Part V

Of course, much of this [i.e., that Israel worshiped El and Asherah alongside YHWH] is really to be expected given that recent syntheses of the archaeological, cultural, and literary data pertaining to the emergence of the nation of Israel in the Levant show that most of the people who would eventually compose this group were originally Canaanite.   Continue reading “Polytheism and Ancient Israel’s Canaanite Heritage. Part V”

God, Gods, and Sons (and Daughters) of God in the Hebrew Bible. Part III

This historical reconstruction [that El was originally Israel’s chief deity, and YHWH was originally his son and the patron deity of Israel], in turn, helps to make sense of certain biblical texts which seem to indicate most naturally that El was originally the chief god of Israel and that YHWH was the patron deity of Israel.  For example, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 reads:

When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the sons of Israel.  For YHWH’s portion, his people; Jacob, his allotted share. בְּהַנְחֵל עֶלְיוֹן גּוֹיִם בְּהַפְרִידוֹ בְּנֵי אָדָם יַצֵּב גְּבֻלֹת עַמִּים לְמִסְפַּר בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ כִּי חֵלֶק יְהֹוָה עַמּוֹ יַעֲקֹב  חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתֽוֹ

Continue reading “God, Gods, and Sons (and Daughters) of God in the Hebrew Bible. Part III”

When Jehovah Was Not the God of the Old Testament. Part II

As the very name Israel might indicate on account of its theophoric element el (אל), it appears that the chief god worshiped in earliest Israel was El, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon in the Late Bronze Age.  The god El has been revealed most clearly to the modern inquirer through the discovery of the Ugaritic texts at Tel Ras Shamra in 1929, a flourishing kingdom-city-state on the Syrian coast during the second half of the second millennium B.C.E.[1] As biblical tradition affirms as represented by the E and P sources (probably to be dated to the eighth and seventh/ sixth centuries B.C.E., respectively[2]), throughout the book of Genesis the ancient forbears of Israel worshiped the god El.  For example, Exodus 6:2-3 (P), recounting the divine theophany of YHWH to Moses at Sinai, states: Continue reading “When Jehovah Was Not the God of the Old Testament. Part II”