Monday, December 31, 2012

Faith and Intellect

Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye has written a thoughtful piece on Faith and Intellect in this month's Ensign. It is worth reading.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:

There are those who chronically misunderstand the Church because they are busy trying to explain the Church from the outside. They are so busy believing what they want to believe about the Church that they will not take the time to learn what they need to learn about the Church. They prefer any explanation to the real explanation. Some prefer to believe the worst rather than to know the truth.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Some insist upon studying the Church only through the eyes of its defectors—like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.

The Battle of the Rhetoricians

In 1 Esdras 3-4, Darius who had been eating and drinking, sets up a contest of rhetoricians:
Each of us will present an argument about what is most compelling, and the one whose account appears the wisest, Darius will give him a great gift (1 Esdras 3:5)
The whole trope of a rhetorical contest has deep roots in ancient Mesopotamia, being a popular genre for both Sumerian and Akkadian rhetors, but it is most known from Greek and Roman uses and abuses. The contest in Esdras seems to owe more to the Greco-Roman style contests.

The first rhetor insists that the most powerful influence over men is wine (1 Esdras 3:17-24). His arguments sound like a advertisement for the Word of Wisdom:
All men who drink it err in judgment (1 Esdras 3:18).
And when he wakes from wine, he cannot remember anything he has done (1 Esdras 3:23).
The second rhetor argues that the most powerful influence over men is the king (1 Esdras 4:1-12). After all, whatever he commands just or unjust is done.

The third rhetor argues that the most powerful influence over men is women (1 Esdras 4:13-32). For those who think that the ancient world was filled with misogynist brutes, This passage is well worth the read.

Zerubbabel argues that the most powerful influence over men is the truth (1 Esdras 4:34-41). His argument is that:
Wine is unjust; kings are unjust; women are unjust; all the children of men are unjust; and all their works are unjust; such are all things. But the truth is not among them, and they are destroyed in their iniquity (1 Esdras 4:37).
(The Greek uses the same term for both iniquity and unjust.)

Zerubbabel wins the contest. His gift for winning is to be transferred to Coile-Syria and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

The choice of things that influence men is interesting: wine, women, rulers, and truth. Darius is depicted as an idealist because truth probably has the least actual practical influence in human affairs.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Great and Spacious Buildings

Professor Barry Kemp of Cambridge is an Egyptian archaeologist whose published views are usually thought provoking. In one of his books he wrote:

“’Great culture’, which in times becomes tourist culture, was not the spontaneous creation of the common man. It is no accident that we meet its manifestations in large religious buildings, in palaces, mansions, and castles. Great culture, which requires patronage and the direction of labour, originates in courts. The wealth, size, splendour, craft standards, and intellectual novelties are part of the instruments of the rule. When well established, a great tradition may have an influence which is felt throughout society. But to reach this stage it has to expand at the expense of other traditions. It has to colonize the minds of the nation.”[1]

Such a statement makes the thoughtful reader of the Book of Mormon wonder if great and spacious buildings (1 Nephi 8:26, 31, 33; 11:35-36; 12:18) really equate with great culture. Interestingly, this quote is at the beginning of a chapter in which Professor Kemp shows how many of the Egyptian temples did not start out as great and spacious buildings.

Ancient Egypt produced great and spacious buildings, beautiful artwork, and an intriguingly picturesque script. By contrast, ancient Israel produced utilitarian buildings, crude artwork, and a scratchy script. But ancient Israel also produced the Bible, a work whose literary history has far outlasted anything any ancient Egyptian ever wrote. The ancient Maya too produced great and spacious buildings, beautiful artwork, and an intriguingly picturesque script. The Nephites, on the other hand, may not have had much of these things but they produced the Book of Mormon.

The three mentions of a lavish building project from the Book of Mormon are undertaken by king Noah who “built many elegant and spacious buildings” (Mosiah 11:8-13) and Riplakish who “did build many spacious buildings” (Ether 10:5-6) and Morianton who was rich “both in buildings, and in gold and silver” (Ether 10:12). All of these kings are depicted as wicked. From a Book of Mormon point of view great and spacious buildings are not signs of righteousness.

[1] Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization (London: Routledge, 1989), 64.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From (We Will Prove Them Herewith [1982], p. 104):

Lies are wearying: "She hath wearied herself with lies. . . ." (Ezekiel 24:12.) So are the exacting mental computations that go with dissembling and the extra efforts required in the shading of the truth.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
It should not puzzle us, if we have studied scriptural history carefully—including what happened to the Savior—that defectors often cause more difficulty than disinterested disbelievers. It should not surprise us either, as Peter observed of those drawn away by false accusers, that it will be they and their followers "by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 2:2).

Thoughts on Church Discipline

A conversation I was having the other day turned to the subject of excommunication. Such is not necessarily the most pleasant of topics. There are some who think that excommunication is a terrible thing.

The Church of Jesus Christ is an organization of those who have made certain covenants with God. Those who have made the covenant of baptism are members of the Church. The covenant is voluntary. We do not baptize infants or those who are not judged to have the intellectual capacity to enter the covenant. Of course, since none of us can see the future, we do not have a full understanding of what the covenant we enter into entails when we enter into it. But when we enter school we also do not have a full understanding of what that will entail either. Those of us who have entered the covenant have an obligation to keep the covenant that we have made.

The Church would rather have everyone who enters the covenant keep the covenant that they made with God. Not everyone who has entered the covenant keeps the covenant. The Church then has to decide what to do with those who have broken their covenant. Excommunication is simply an acknowledgement by the Church that an individual has left their covenant and so the Church releases them from being bound by the covenant that they have already abandoned.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reading Yahya ibn Adi I

Abu Zakariyya Yahya ibn Adi ibn Hamid ibn Zakariyya al-Tikriti al-Mantiqi is an author who has not made the best seller list for a millennium. Born in A.D. 893, Yahya was an influential scribe and scholar in Baghdad in the mid-940s who attracted both Christian and Muslim disciples. A dual language edition of his work, The Reformation of Morals is available.[1] This is a remarkable work that deserves to be better known.

While today it is popular to claim that one cannot or should not change because one is born that way, Yahya ibn Adi argues that individuals can and should change their behavior to have better morals. Yahya’s comments compare interestingly with those of two Book of Mormon kings: Benjamin and Mosiah.

Yahya argues that “people are disposed to bad morals, inclined to yield to base desires.” [2] “There are some people who take no notice of the matter; but when they are put to notice, they perceive the foulness, and so sometimes their soul brings them to renunciation.”[3] King Benjamin was more emphatic: “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19).

Yahya also argues for the flip-side of something that King Mosiah argued. King Mosiah argued that: “how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.” (Mosiah 29:17–18). Yahya argues that “the advantage of kings of good conduct is immense. They will dissuade the wrongdoer from his wrong, they will hold back the angry man from his anger, they will punish the immoral man for his immorality, and they will restrain the tyrant to the point that he reverts to moderation in all his affairs.” [4]
Because we all need repentance and improvement, Yahya ibn Adi’s work, The Reformation of Morals, is as relevant now as it was a millennium ago.

[1] Yahya ibn Adi, The Reformation of Morals, ed. and trans. Sidney H. Griffith (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002).
[2] Yahya ibn Adi, The Reformation of Morals, ed. and trans. Sidney H. Griffith (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 11.
[3] Yahya ibn Adi, The Reformation of Morals, ed. and trans. Sidney H. Griffith (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 11.
[4] Yahya ibn Adi, The Reformation of Morals, ed. and trans. Sidney H. Griffith (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 11.

Today's Maxwell Quote

Speaking about Jesus:
Can we excuse our compromises because of the powerful temptations of status seeking? It was He who displayed incredible integrity as the adversary made Him an offer which could not be refused—“all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” (Matt. 4:8.) But He refused!

Another Note on Khoiak

Part of the celebration of Khoiak was a large boat procession. If only Egyptian oars had paddles on both ends! Then they could have been Khoiaking.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Today's Maxwell Quote

Speaking about Jesus:
Can we really counsel Him about being misrepresented, misunderstood, or betrayed? Or what it is like when even friends falter or “go a fishing”? (See John 21:3.)


The ancient Egyptians did not have Christmas but they did have a festival at this time of year that lasted most of the month. It was called the Khoiak festival. It coincided with both the winter solstice and the end of the inundation of the Nile and beginning of planting season. It celebrated the death of Osiris and the birth of Horus. For Egyptian Christians it commemorated the death of Abraham and the birth of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Today's Maxwell Quote

 From his first talk as a special witness:
Therefore, in addition to my boundless admiration of His achievements and my adoration of Jesus for what He is—knowing that my superlatives are too shallow to do more than echo his excellence—as one of His Special Witnesses in the fulness of times, I attest to the fulness of His ministry!

How dare some treat His ministry as if it were all beatitudes and no declaratives! How myopic it is to view His ministry as all crucifixion and no resurrection! How provincial to perceive it as all Calvary and no Palmyra! All rejection at a village called Capernaum and no acceptance in the City of Enoch! All relapse and regression in ancient Israel and no Bountiful with its ensuing decades of righteousness!

Jesus Christ is the Jehovah of the Red Sea and of Sinai, the Resurrected Lord, the Spokesman for the Father in the theophany at Palmyra—a Palmyra pageant with a precious audience of one!

He lives today, mercifully granting unto all nations as much light as they can bear and messengers of their own to teach them. (See Alma 29:8.) And who better than the Light of the World can decide the degree of divine disclosure—whether it is to be flashlights or floodlights?

Merry Christmas!

Surely you have something better to do on Christmas than reading blogs! Spend some time with your family!

If you are in a contemplative mood, contemplate what life would be like without Christ. Mosiah 16 can get you started.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Even as believers, however, when we are a part of encapsulating events, we can scarcely savor all that swirls about us. It is unlikely, for instance, on that night so long ago in Bethlehem, that Joseph and Mary looked at the newly born Christ child’s feet with the realization that those feet would, one day, walk the length and breadth of the Holy Land. And, further, that, later on, spikes would pierce those feet.

As a loving Mary grasped those tiny hands, and, as in the months ahead those tiny hands clasped her, did she know that those hands, when grown, would ordain the original Twelve or, still later, carry the rough-hewn cross?

As she heard her Baby cry, did she hear intimations of Jesus’ later weeping at the death of Lazarus or after blessing the Nephite children? (See John 11:35; 3 Ne. 17:21–22.) Did she foresee that those baby-soft knees would later be hardened by so much prayer, including those glorious but awful hours in Gethsemane? (See Matt. 26:36–56.)

As she bathed that Babe so many times to cleanse His pores, could she have been expected to foresee that one day, years later, drops of blood would come from His every pore? (See Mosiah 3:7.)

There is such a thing as cheerful, believing participation—even without full understanding—when you and I keep certain things in our hearts and are nourished as we ponder them! (See Luke 2:19.)

Christmas Eve

In Duden's German etymological dictionary (p. 7), it very helpfully explains the reason for Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and All Hallows Eve:
Dieser Wortgebrauch erklärt sich daraus, daß nach der früher üblichen Zeiteinteilung der Tag mit der Nacht begann.
So in the old form of reckoning, Christmas Eve is properly part of Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Onchsheshonqy 5/11

One of the opening proverbs of Onchsheshonqy provides an interesting juxtaposition:
P. Onchsheshonqy 5/11

If Pre is wroth with a district he commands its ruler to do evil to its people (P. Onch. 5/11).
This shift of blame is interesting in light of the frame story of the text. In the frame story, a man seeks to shift responsibility for his actions onto the god. The Pharaoh's response to that is to have the man burned alive. The moral of the frame story is that individuals need to take responsibility for their own actions and not try to shift the blame for their bad behavior on the god. Yet here, the ruler is absolved of his bad behavior in precisely the same way. I noted before that in ancient Egypt criticism of one's leaders was not allowed under penalty of death. Onchsheshonqy phrases his critique in such a way to make it look like the ruler is off the hook but it still means that the god is angry with the district.

While the causation is not what we expect, the correlation is. Onchsheshonqy notes that rulers mistreating the people and the wrath of the god go together.