Ten Tidbits about the Old Testament

This post joins the previous ones of similar title on the New Testament and Book of Mormon.

I make no claims that these are the biggest nor the most tantalizing, but here are ten tidbits about the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) that receive little attention (in my experience) in Church settings. I’m intentionally leaving out the better known biggies, such as JEDP, two or three Isaiahs, or the fact that “history” in the modern sense wasn’t an operative category for the authors of the Hebrew Bible. These topics are more widely discussed elsewhere and don’t lend themselves easily to one-line smackdowns. Here’s the list, with thanks to my fellow bloggers for corrections and additions, esp Moggett, Nitsav, and HP:

Continue reading “Ten Tidbits about the Old Testament”

(Anti-)Intellectualism in the Church

A very good friend of mine, MantiHigh, wrote me recently to suggest that I include in some future post a discussion of some issues of (anti-)intellectualism arising in recent General Conference talks. I thought s/he spelled out things nicely, and in a different way than is usually done (I’m sure the commenters will let me know if I’m wrong.) In any case, with MantiHigh’s permission, I copy the following for your discussion:

Anti-intellectualism in the Church is a favorite concern of mine given my experience and observations. Maybe I’m hypersensitive to this, but I think the data are pretty clearly supportive of an ongoing, long-term undercurrent of suspicion towards intellectuals. (Just try bringing up your favorite intellectual topic in Sunday School or PEC sometime.)

Given my fears, I was really surprised to find something interesting in Pres Hinckley’s talk in Priesthood Session of Apr 07 GC.

Continue reading “(Anti-)Intellectualism in the Church”

Ancient Justification for Modern Practice

Kevin Barney’s post over at BCC has me thinking about the ramifications of female Apostleship (capital A): What it would mean if we came to agree that the New Testament bore strong witness to there having been women in roles now held only by men?* The question, when placed within the larger framework of our penchant for finding ourselves in the past, presents an interesting dilemma: Could a future opening of the Priesthood to “all worthy persons (not just males)” find scriptural justification for itself in the same way that we see the Book of Mormon in such difficult places as John 10 and Ezekiel 37?

As is well known, we are fond of justifying our ban on homosexuality with reference to Leviticus 20:13, but have no qualms about neglecting passages such as Lev. 19:27: “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard,” or 17:10, where anyone who eats meat with blood in it will be excommunicated. (Note that the “ban” on homosexuality is part of the “Law of Moses” …)

So here’s a question: What are some issues not currently part of LDS practice for which one might find justification in the scriptures? (This question is more about discerning our use of scripture than about calling for social change.) Continue reading “Ancient Justification for Modern Practice”

A Case for the DH, Part III: No New Covenant (not in Exod 34, anyway)

The evidence and discussion in parts I and II are more than just academic exercises and proofs of the DH, because they deal with a narrative that is central to some of the fundamental tenets of the Church: the “New Covenant” that we understand God to have made with the Israelites. In the compiled version of Exod 34, it appears that Moses went up the mountain a second time to get a new set of tablets. The first set, which was intended to include the decalogue and possibly the Covenant Code (Exod 21-23), was smashed in Exod 32. The second set, as we have seen, looks as if it contains the words the covenant of Exod 34:10-26. But when the strands are separated (as we have done with confidence), there is nothing new to be written on the second set of tablets. And J only ever has one covenant: the one that stipulates that in exchange for obedience to vv. 10-26, God would be with Israel when she went into the promised land. It’s only because someone tried to make a Diatessaron-like narrative that we suppose a new covenant ever existed. Thus the “new covenant” is a product of the compiler’s work, not of any “original” story. Continue reading “A Case for the DH, Part III: No New Covenant (not in Exod 34, anyway)”

A Case for the Documentary Hypothesis, Part II: The Clincher

In part one of this post, I outlined “internal” reasons for dividing Exodus 34 into 3 sources: J, E, and P. All three of these sources continued earlier narratives related to Moses’ ascension of the mount and could be teased out solely by reference to these earlier, separate, narratives. I’ll review the verse divisions: J: 34:2-3, 4.2, 5b-27. E: 34:1, 4.1, 4.3, 5a, 28. P: 34:29-35.

I’ll also put them as they would have appeared in their original order, using the KJV and beginning with J: Continue reading “A Case for the Documentary Hypothesis, Part II: The Clincher”

A Case for the Documentary Hypothesis, Part I: The Division of Exodus 34

HP’s very recent post provides a good springboard for a discussion of the Documentary Hypothesis. Rather than introducing the hypothesis via a historical summary, which may be discussed in comments or a subsequent post, let me present a case study.

In this multi-part post I propose to lay a source division of Exodus 34, the so-called “New Covenant”. This chapter both exemplifies the issues and is relevant to an LDS audience, and thus is particularly fitting for this forum. I will outline the case for separation of sources based on internal and external evidence and then will ask what sorts of issues this raises for Latter-day Saint interpretation of scripture and of revelation. N.B.: This is not my original idea. It was worked out in part by a friend of mine, whose permission I have to reproduce it, even if only in outline, here.

Before we jump into the material, a Documentary Hypothesis refresher: Continue reading “A Case for the Documentary Hypothesis, Part I: The Division of Exodus 34”

Colonization, Conformity, and Contribution, Part I

Many posts at FPR of late have had to do with Kent Jackson’s description of LDS scholarship. At issue is to what extent Latter-day Saints can (or should) engage in a dialogue with the greater world of academia, and to what extent we should let our faith claims dictate our research and conclusions.

This issue has been recently exemplified in a prominent, front-page Daily Universe (BYU’s student-run newspaper) article entitled “Mysteries of Ancient Egyptian Papyri Revealed” (Feb 15, 2007), complete with imposing but poorly produced graphic. The article first describes how BYU/Maxwell Institute uses multispectral imaging to read otherwise illegible texts written on papyri and other materials. It then goes on to describe some of the contents of these texts and notes that many students are participating in the work.

Imagine my horror when the article was emailed to a major ANE mailing list with the following paragraphs included:
Continue reading “Colonization, Conformity, and Contribution, Part I”

Passivity and Practice

handle’s recent and excellent post on architecture raises some connected issues that I’ve been struggling with lately: To what extent should the church reflect local culture, flavor, etc. and to what extent should it be Mormon? I know this is quite broad, and diahman and others have posted on related questions. The one I want to ask is more specific to architectural and temple traditions.

Are we more invested when we pay for and design our own meetinghouses? And do we understand the temple better and become more engaged with it when we are the ones doing the acting and not actors on a screen? Does a cookie-cutter temple or ceremony imply cookie-cutter practice? Is this what God wants? I am profoundly convinced that architecture (and active participation in ritual) alters the spirit.

In my hometown recently a world-famous architect designed a pedestrian bridge that cost far too much for a small town to afford, and many were justifiably angry about it (although the project was almost entirely funded by private donors). Once it was built, though, it became a focus for the community, a gathering place, and for the first time in my life I felt like there was a community.

I grew up going to a completely non-standard meetinghouse and temple. In other areas of the country I’ve attended regularly the cookie-cutter types (with one embarrassing story about going in the wrong bathroom because the position of male/female restrooms was one thing they decided to vary.) Now I’m back to a non-standard meetinghouse that sometimes drives me crazy, but it drives me crazy in all the ways the area I live in drives me crazy. In this building the local customs, flavor, attitudes, people are expressed, and in the end it enhances my worship experience. One would have to say the same thing about the “cookie cutter” buildings–not that the people are monotonous in their attitudes, but that their values (frugality, willingness to accept authority, perhaps even desire for unity) are expressed through this architecture. Maybe it says more about me–in both positive and negative ways–that I prefer atypical architecture.

I think similarly about the format of the temple ceremony. I realize that the video format makes it possible for scores more to attend and for more temples to be open, less staffing problems, etc., but likewise something is lost when the patrons aren’t the ones participating in the ceremony–delivering the lines, playing out the drama. I worry that there is a trend toward the passive, and that some of the values the Church was built on (local sacrifice and dedication are two I’m thinking of) are fading. As the architecture becomes increasingly unremarkable (and Protestant?), are we?

Sabbath and Sunday

A refreshing post at BCC asked bloggers what they were going to do for New Year’s, given that New Year’s Eve falls on Sunday. (Refreshing because rather than debate the requirements of Sabbath observance they actually talked about what they were doing.) This got me thinking again about a question that came up in a class on Christian use of the Hebrew Bible.

The professor, who is a well-known expert in Judaism and early Christianity, said that Christian application of Sabbath regulations to Sunday didn’t occur until the Puritans in the 1600s. While obviously Sunday (the first day of the week) as a day of worship was an early idea, the transferrence of “Sabbath” to “Sunday” didn’t occur until this particular group of people started grounding their law and society in norms expressed in the Hebrew Bible.

We, of course, are heirs to this tradition, and our vocabulary shows it. It’s gone so far that it’s not uncommon to talk about the Jews having “their Sabbath” on Saturday. Although I’d like sometime to get into the larger question of our haphazard appropriation of laws of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. we use Leviticus to condemn homosexual acts but not the killing of those who engage therein), today I wonder about the implications of the transfer of Sabbath to Sunday. Is our interpretation and use of Sabbath law generally done by reference to the perceived “spirit” of OT Sabbath norms? My feeling is that we are somewhere between the severity of the Hebrew Bible and the recognition of our distance from this tradition. What say ye?

Immanuel = Christ?

This time of year Isaiah gets more airtime than at any other point in the calendar, thanks in no small part to GF Handel. One passage used by Handel is taken ultimately from Isa 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name EMMANUEL, God with us.” Careful readers of scripture will note that this is not exactly as Isaiah has it: “God with us” is a gloss explaining the name Immanuel, which gloss appears fully in Matthew 1:23. In fact, as is well known, the “virgin” is also slightly inaccurate, since in Hebrew “‘almah” (‘young woman’) is used instead of “betulah” (‘virgin’), the concept of ‘virgin’ entering via the Greek use of ‘parthenos’ (‘virgin’) in this verse.

The question I have is whether this verse need be read as Messianic at all. Without Matthew, would this ever have been read as referring to a Messiah? Is there any indication besides our later lenses that Isaiah meant anything Messianic? The verses from Isaiah that immediately surround this section are decidedly non-messianic, and refer clearly to the geopolitical conflict of 734 BC and not to events seven hundred years later.

To this question a response containing the term “dual fulfillment of prophecy” is usually applied: Isaiah was at once referring to Christ and to some child that was to be born in the immediate future. But was he?

I’m having a hard time seeing this as anything but Matthew’s being a good first-century interpreter of scripture, and every Christian reading Isa 7:14 accordingly ever since. I find no evidence in Isaiah 7 that Isaiah meant anything besides his and King Ahaz’s immediate context, and it strains the sense of the chapter to read with Matthew.

The reason I raise this issue is not to spread a little Christmas doubt, but to get at how we understand prophecy and scriptural authority to work. Furthermore, I have the sneaking suspicion that the concept of ‘dual fulfillment’ of prophecy is one we have invented to justify our appropriation of scripture, and it crosses an important line between texts being applicable to more than one situation and prophets speaking directly, intentionally to more than one situation. I rather think it’s a concept that tends to impede our understanding of scripture, because it usually prevents scripture being read as anything other than it’s “ultimate” fulfillment. This is why I’ve heard BYU profs say things like “Yeah, sure, Isaiah spoke to his time, too, but what he really meant was Christ.” The problem becomes then, of course, that in Isaiah 7 we have one verse that makes sense and the rest is gibberish. Who are the two kings? Who is king Ahaz? What is “the land that thou abhorrest?” This chapter is quite specifically grounded in its historical context, and when read in any other way one encounters insurmountable difficulties. No wonder Isaiah has come to be described as a ‘hurdle’.