Provo-based Media and the Priesthood Ban

SCANDAL! Read on for details…

Given the many posts in the ‘nacle devoted to Sunday’s 30-year anniversary of the priesthood ban, I was surprised at the lack of attention given the anniversary in the Provo-based Daily Herald. Saturday, June 7th’s paper had a small (one-column) below-the-fold article noting the anniversary, while just under the Daily Herald’s logo at the top of the paper was a giant headline announcing the “Life and Style” section’s full-page article on Mack Wilberg’s taking the helm of the Tabernacle Choir. I do believe more was done in the online version,[1] but given the way this particular newspaper pitches to the LDS crowd, I find the lack of attention curious. Do they assume their readers would be upset by too much attention? Uninterested?

And I wonder if this seeming stance is at all related to perceptions promulgated recently by BYU’s top Religious Education professors in a discussion to air on KBYU this Sunday morning. They appear to defend (create?) a doctrinal basis for the priesthood ban. This was called to the ‘Nacle’s attention by David G at Juvenile Instructor. In the discussion that ensued, a call was made to petition KBYU not to broadcast the episode.

I don’t want to poach discussion from JI. [Go there and participate!] What I want to ask is what perspective is this answering? Does this represent tangible residues lingering from the Priesthood Ban, residues that the church has tried to denounce? Is it an attempt to counter the arguments that Brigham Young and Joseph Smith were simply racist?


[1] I found this “vignette” of Darius Gray online, with the note that it ran on Saturday June 7th on A2, but in my (Provo-Orem) copy of the Herald there was no such article printed.

Introducing Secco

We’d like to welcome our newest guest blogger! Secco enjoys European breads, pastries, and all things chocolate (which fits in well over here). Secco is, as you may have already seen from the regular comments, full of interesting takes on scripture and Mormonism, and we look forward to the discussion that will no doubt be generated by this blogger’s presence. Welcome!

What you have to explain without the Documentary Hypothesis

Last year I tried to give sure-fire evidence from a single chapter in Exodus supporting the claim that the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible were arranged from multiple sources. One negative response to my three-part post came from Julie M. Smith over at Times and Seasons.* She said, essentially, that if this was the extent of the evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis, she’d lost her faith in what she’d been taught during her Master’s Degree in New Testament studies. In the discussion of her post that ensued, the disagreement centered on the existence of possible alternative explanations for the material I was discussing. I argued that we have clear evidence that Deuteronomy knew only one version of Moses’ re-ascent of Sinai (Horeb) preserved, in integrated fashion, in Exodus 34. The only logical explanation for this is that the author of Deuteronomy (not Moses) had before him two distinct sources (or one of the two), which he incorporated into his own source. On the other side, people including Julie argued that this is not the only (nor, I assume they meant to say, the best) explanation of the phenomenon. After all, because our literary sensitivities differ from those of the ancient world, we don’t have license to go carving up the text, especially not one that, tradition tells us, was penned by Moses himself. This is a common (if vernacular) type of critique of the DH, the misconceptions of which need to be dispelled.

Continue reading “What you have to explain without the Documentary Hypothesis”

Elder Holland’s Subversive Message?

At the risk of stirring controversy against my absolute favorite Apostle, I want to ask a few questions stemming from his engaging discussion of Scripture and modern prophecy and his dialogue with biblical studies.

Elder Holland’s talk in General Conference was part II of his discourse on Mormonism’s place with respect to “Christianity”. He begins by giving justifications for an open canon, namely, why the various statements about not adding to or taking away from a given book (Revelation) don’t apply to the whole Bible. These arguments are, for the most part, old, but what is new is his recourse to mainstream biblical scholarship in making the arguments. Most biblical-studies types were ecstatic, I’d venture, to hear eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright quoted by Elder Holland. Continue reading “Elder Holland’s Subversive Message?”

Salt Lake City

In a nod to our friends at A Motley Vision, and in advance of this weekend’s Conference, I offer the following, as is, with no commentary, except to say it’s often refreshing to see the familiar through strange eyes.

Salt Lake City

Pompous Mormon symmetry. Everywhere marble: flawless, funereal (the Capitol, the organ in the Visitor Centre). Yet a Los-Angelic modernity, too — all the requisite gadgetry for a minimalist, extraterrestrial comfort. The Christ-topped dome (all the Christs here are copied from Thorwaldsen’s and look like Bjorn Borg) straight out of Close Encounters: religion as special effects. In fact the whole city has the transparency and supernatural, otherworldly cleanness of a thing from outer space. A symmetrical, luminous, overpowering abstraction. At every intersection in the Tabernacle area — all marble and roses, and evangelical marketing — an electronic cuckoo-clock sings out: such Puritan obsessiveness is astonishing in this heat, in the heart of the desert, alongside this leaden lake, its waters also hyperreal from sheer density of salt. And, beyond the lake, the Great Salt Lake Desert, where they had to invent the speed of prototype cars to cope with the absolute horizontality. . . . But the city itself is like a jewel, with its purity of air and its plunging urban vistas more breathtaking than even those of Los Angeles. What stunning brilliance, what modern veracity these Mormons show, these rich bankers, musicians, international genealogists, polygamists (the Empire State in New York has something of this same funereal Puritanism raised to the nth power). It is the capitalist, transsexual pride of a people of mutants that gives the city its magic, equal and opposite to that of Las Vegas, that great whore on the other side of the desert. [French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, from America (trans. Chris Turner; New York: Verso, 1988), orig. pub. Amérique (Paris: B. Grasset, 1986)]

BYU Religion Dean on Premortal Life, Part II: Scripture “Mastery”

This is part II of a post begun a week and a half ago in response to a devotional lecture given by Terry Ball, dean of the BYU college of religious education. That discussion centered on what I argued to be the problematic connection Ball makes between the pre-existence, Isaiah 28, and mortality. This post focuses on the scriptural aspects of his argument. Continue reading “BYU Religion Dean on Premortal Life, Part II: Scripture “Mastery””

BYU Religion Dean on Premortal Life, Part I: Race and Nobility

Last week Terry Ball, Dean of the College of Religious Education, gave BYU’s weekly devotional address (mp3 file available here, Daily Universe report here). His talk raises many issues relevant to recent discussions here and elsewhere. My reaction to his talk will be divided into two posts: first, a discussion of some of the problematic themes that Ball raises, and second, an analysis of the way this Professor of Ancient Scripture handles scripture. Continue reading “BYU Religion Dean on Premortal Life, Part I: Race and Nobility”

Judah, Joseph, ‘Chastity’, and Authorial Intent

Most LDSs who have actually read Genesis 38 and 39 have undoubtedly had the thought, or heard the thought, that the juxtaposition of these two chapters teaches important lessons about chastity (see the OT SS manual, where this is made explicit). After all, in the former we have Judah’s wicked sons, the second of which (Onan) ‘spills his seed’ and dies because of it, and then Judah himself is trapped by his penchant for a prostitute. In the latter, we have the righteous Joseph who, unwilling to sleep with his owner’s wife, is thrown into prison because of his refusal, only to rise to second in command of all of Egypt and save Israel. Indeed, Genesis 38 clearly interrupts the Joseph story that began in Gen 37, thus the redactorial insertion, given the topic and putative lexical connections, appears to be the result of someone having seen a connection in these two texts. As James Kugel points out (see pp. 25ff.), even two prominent scholars (Robert Alter and Jon Levenson) have argued on linguistic grounds that these chapters were deliberately put in this order: “A few recent scholars have suggested that the story’s insertion was not the act of a mindless redactor, but a deft move by someone who established, or at least saw, a number of subtle connections between the Joseph saga and the Judah-Tamar episode.”

Kugel rightly challenges each of these linguistic connections and then puts forth what I think is the correct theory: that there was no demonstrable intent to juxtapose these stories. Continue reading “Judah, Joseph, ‘Chastity’, and Authorial Intent”

What readers bring to texts

Last week we learned of the discovery of another example in an increasingly long line of forged memoirs: Margaret “Jones” Seltzer was discovered to have forged the story of her life as a gang-affiliated, drug-running youth in LA, when her sister saw her picture in the NY Times and ratted her out. Of the many journalists covering the incident and those like it,NPR’s Scott Simon makes several points worth remembering (they’ve been made many times before) about the nature of genre in literature:

“Now if some Brooklyn or London novelist had written a story set among drug gangs and uttered those words [referring to an audio clip by Seltzer] people might have dismissed them as pretentious nonsense. Put those sentences into a so-called memoir and people call it ‘gritty and real’, or ‘raw, tender and tough-minded’ like the New York Times did.”

The point that this raises, for the purposes of this post, is that the meaning of a text cannot be divorced from the expectations brought to it by its reader(s). Simon also says “the people who wrote these frauds knew that if they had presented their books as novels they would have had to withstand a whole different kind of criticism; what critic will bash the literary style of a memoir by someone who was suckled by wolves, ran with gangs, or was dragooned into being a child soldier? Calling these books ‘memoirs’ allows their flaws to masquerade as proof that they’re ‘raw and real.'”

This has obvious implications for reading sacred literature that are already visible in the genre “sacred literature”. What it reveals is not so much about what the text contains as it does about what is invested in the texts by certain communities. Continue reading “What readers bring to texts”

Neutrality, Stumbling Blocks, and the Path of Least Interference

A discussion begun over at BCC propelled a train of thought that has been chugging along in my mind for some time. Amri Brown’s cousin, on being called as bishop, decided to give up Diet Coke:

So, why, why is he giving up Diet Coke? He says it is because he never wants it to be a stumbling block to those in his ward. There are members of Church that do believe caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom and he doesn’t want that to get in the way of him being able to act as their bishop. … He says that he feels impressed that he needs to give it up for the sake of others.

The responses to Amri Brown’s questions, as you can imagine, ranged from applause of the cousin’s decision to a middle of the road approach (quietly giving it up, not making an issue of it) to disappointment that he would cater to the most sensitive of ward members to exasperation that it was ever an issue at all.

I suspect that most of us run up against this, and that it’s probably a phenomenon that affects (plagues?) all religious traditions in their need to accommodate shifting spectra of orthodoxy among their constituents. I, personally, have been in many a heated discussion over the appropriateness of white shirts, close grooming, orthodoxy in Word of Wisdom, etc. In almost every case, my interlocutors have conceded that there is nothing cosmically important [1] about the need to wear white shirts or not to drink caffeine or not to shop on Sunday, but that what is of utmost importance is not to become a “stumblingblock” for another member of the church, so it’s best just to conform, to “take one for the team” in Brown’s words.

This discussion, though benign enough, raises some broader issues about the negotiations of liberal and conservative factions within a given tradition. Continue reading “Neutrality, Stumbling Blocks, and the Path of Least Interference”