Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jesus is Risen!

One of my favorite Greek Orthodox traditions is how on Easter, they greet each other by saying "Χρίστος ἀνέστη!" To which the reply is "Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!" "Christ is risen!" "Truly he is risen!" This historic fact is the central fact of Christianity. Amid the toil and trials of our lives, if anything is worth celebrating, this fact is. Just because it is simple does not mean it is not true.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this great talk, which deserves to be read in its entirety:
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?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Small Detail

Sometimes all it takes is a small detail to completely cast a story in a new light. Consider the story of Vashti in the first chapter of Esther. The Septuagint version of Esther 1:5 adds two words τοῦ γάμου making the occasion when all of this occurred not just any feast but Artaxerxes' marriage feast. Vashti thus becomes either the bashful blushing bride who blew it or the headstrong feminist who missed it.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:

Meanwhile, did not Jesus tell us what to expect by way of heat in the final summer? Did He not also say that He would prove our faith and patience by trial?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dræpa er Hann Vill

The Viking kings of Norway are depicted in the Konungs skuggsiá
as a rex iustus and God’s representative on earth. As such the king has power over life and death for all his subjects. Those who disobey him violate God’s will. The king "er sva mioc miclaðr oc tighnaðr aiorðu at aller skulu sva luta oc niga til hans sæm til Guðs. hann hævir oc sva mycit vælldi at hann ræðr hværs lifdagum þærs er i hans riki er sva sæm han vill. Lætr þann dræpa er hann vill en þann liva er hann vill." (Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Kings, Earls and Chieftains,” in Ideology and Power in the Viking and Middle Ages [Leiden: Brill, 2011], 69.)
The idea that the king has the ability to "kill whomever he will and let live whomever he will" lends itself to certain abuses. On a smaller level, sometimes those in power decide that they can similarly fire and retain whom they will, with similar abuses. Wise organizations limit the ability of individuals to have that sort of power over those they supervise by requiring more than one individual to make those decisions. This does not prevent abuse but makes it more difficult to achieve. Foolish organizations do not so limit individuals and routinize the abuse of power.

In the case of the kings of Norway, they depicted themselves as being like God. Humans tend to make trouble when those who are not really God's representatives think of themselves as having the power of God, whether on a large or a small scale.

Today's Maxwell Quote

Speaking about the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (which would later be renamed the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship) at the FARMS Annual Recognition Banquet, 27 September 1991:
I've never made any secret of my appreciation for FARMS. As I see you grow larger and become more significant, I'll never have any greater appreciation than I did a few years back when our enemies were lobbing all sorts of mortar shells into our Church encampment and among the few guns blazing away were the guns of FARMS. . . . As big and wonderful as you will become and I hope you do, my memories are always nurtured by those moments when so few stood up to respond and among those who did were scholars who have taken the lead in FARMS. . . . This organization, independent as it is, is nevertheless committed, as I see it, to protect and to build up the kingdom of God. . . . I hope you don't underestimate the significance of what you do as articulators of the faith. In praising C. S. Lewis Austin Farrar said the following (and when I think of this quote I think of FARMS), "Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish." An excellent quote. . . . I mention also to you, in the spirit of appreciation, that I believe much of the vindication that will come to the Prophet and to this work of the Restoration, will come by scholars who are committed to the kingdom, who are unequivocally devoted to it. . . . I myself would be reluctant if you ever moved away from what had become your traditional role. Enterprises of scholarship may be like some businesses who fail at enlargement or lose the essence of what they have been successful at doing.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What to Say When Your Tang is Toungled Up

I found a rather amusing collection of garbled phrases. My current favorite:
I have a date with a gorgeous read-head.
This is exactly the sort of thing that Oscar Wilde did in his plays, only with Wilde it was on purpose.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Isn't it interesting that at a time when we ought to know better about the limitations of what legislation can do to change human behavior, that some women prefer legal power to righteous influence? Some may choose to ignore or to rechannel the maternal instinct, but they cannot rise above it. Isn't it interesting that the secular world now directs our attention (with certain justifications to be sure) to the unmet needs of women, when the most common tragedy in the modern home is the malfunctioning father who so often leaves his post untended and who is so often insensitive to the needs of his wife? Isn't it interesting with regard to the matter of individual fulfillment, a natural and basic human need, that some fail to observe that one of the great advantages of being fulfilled is that one does not have to spend all of his or her time thinking about being fulfilled? Those I know and admire, who have deep and abiding testimonies, do show differences in certain preferences and in some dimension of their life-styles, but on things that really matter, they are incredibly alike!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 37:
When we stop acknowledging the existence of fixed value points in the scheme of things, we stop navigating by these points. And having stopped steering, to use a simple analogy, there is, at first, the naive, excited exclamation: "Look! No hands!" But this will be followed by the shocked realization: "Help! No brakes!" This latter condition is one of the major challenges of our society now: "No brakes!" We all seem to be expecting someone else to stop us, collectively, from doing the things we know are, historically, stupid.

More Trouble at Harvard

Harvey Silvergate, a lawyer who serves as the current Board chairman of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and his two research assistants have a chilling analysis of events at Harvard. The situation began last year when over a hundred students were caught cheating on a final exam. If true, that is bad.

During the investigation, however, an internal memo discussing possible punishments for the students was leaked. That is not good.

Then, according to Suilvergate, the head of the Administrative Board (Ad Board) at Harvard launched an internal witch hunt, including searching the email messages of all of Harvard's resident deans. Silvergate notes that Harvard's
complicated and contradictory codes and classifications, rife with ambiguity, put immense power into the hands of administrators to exact revenge against subordinates who cross them. That is how, in an astonishing act of institutional cannibalism, Harvard’s resident deans found themselves victimized by the same disciplinary apparatus of which they themselves are a part.
When caught having done the investigation, Harvard claimed to be protecting the students, even though the original leak had mentioned no individual cases or students by name.
those familiar with Harvard’s disciplinary structure understand full-well that what the secrecy protects is not the students but the administrators themselves, who run a retrograde disciplinary system in which facts and due process matter little and administrative power is everything.
So it is that
A student going public about his own disciplinary hearing commits an independent offense that can get him thrown out of school. Yet the Ad Board maintains the fiction that the secrecy—politely dubbed “confidentiality”—is for the protection of the student. But at Harvard, as everywhere else, secrecy is rarely for the benefit of those who have to endure the exercise of unrestrained power; rather, it protects those who exercise such power.
I draw a distinction here between confidentiality as it exists in the Church and how it might exist in a university. In the Church, the repentance process is protected by confidentiality because it might be difficult for people to finish the repentance process, which enables people to come back to full faith and confidence, if their sins were made public. A university is not the Church. The same conditions do not apply particularly since the idea of repentance is not widely condoned in the academy. Thus those trying to argue from a secular academic position cannot use the repentance model of the Church for the university.

Silvergate, whose organization monitors hundreds of schools including BYU, draws the following conclusions:
The Harvard email search scandal is only the latest demonstration of the power of Harvard’s administrators and lawyers over the faculty and staff, and should be a wake-up call to spur a rebellion against the unholy trends destroying liberal arts institutions in Cambridge and all over the country.
Chances are that this latest student and faculty reaction against the draconian and disrespectful measure engaged in by university administrators will fade—but it is only a matter of time until the next invasion of faculty and student prerogatives by academia’s new overlords.
So administration is supposed to protect students from faculty abuses, and such can exist, but who protects people from abuses by administration?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1979), 64:
Someone has recently coined what is called the Gadarene Swine Law, which is, simply put, that just because a group is in formation does not mean that it is going in the right direction. (Paul Dickson, The Official Rules [New York: Delacorte Press], p. 67.)

Leaders to Managers Viking Style

[One of my more popular posts has some comments on Hugh Nibley’s essay on leaders and managers. Recently Jón Viðar Sigurðsson published an interesting essay called “Kings, Earls and Cheiftains. Rulers of Norway, Orkney and Iceland c. 900-1300,” in Ideology and Power in the Viking and Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 69-108. I found much in Sigurðsson’s essay that fit well with the ideas that Nibley put forward and that interact with some scriptural passages. Page numbers after quotations refer to Sigurðsson’s article unless otherwise specified.]
Anyone who has read the Old Norse sagas will often discover what appears to be a rough and tumble lawless society that seems to be a sort of paradise of libertarian anarchy. Many of the sagas are set at the very beginning of the settlement of Iceland when there were few people who often took the law into their own hands out of necessity. Nevertheless there was a sense of civilization and rules to follow. More importantly, and this is clear from the sagas, there were leaders to follow. In Norway there were kings to follow. In fact, the sagas, such as Laxdæla Saga connect the establishment of a kingdom in Norway with the settlement of Iceland as many of the settlers were finding refuge from their expulsion from Norway. The Norwegian kings are always in the background of the sagas, even those taking place in Iceland, and their reigns serve as a chronological peg for the sagas (83-84). While the Vikings in Iceland did not have kings, they did have chieftains (goði).
When comparing the description of earls and chieftains with that of kings one clear difference emerges: the kings, who were at the top of the social hierarchy in the Old Norse society, do not only appear with a greater number of personal qualities than other secular leaders, but their qualities are also usually better than those of other rulers and depicted in greater detail. Kings are taller and stronger, more beautiful, wiser, more just, more generous and more victorious than other rulers (72-73).
Not only do the kings usually have twice the number of qualities, but the type of qualities are different:
In descriptions of the earls of Orkney and the kings of Norway, especially of the kings in the tenth and eleventh centuries, their ware skills are usually stressed. This is in clear contrast to the descriptions of the Icelandic chieftains. Their ability to fight in battles and to lead men in war is almost never mentioned. (74).
In both societies, leaders kept retainers, but this was short lived:
At the end of the Viking Age, only kings and princes could afford to keep a band of retainers. (74).
The term for retainer (húskarl) was originally a household term, they developed from the domestic sphere and were imported into the military and royal sphere.
Like the relationship between the owner of the farm and his servant, the bond between the king and follower was a reciprocal one, but the ties that bound retainer and king were stronger than those between the housecarl and farm owner. The follower and the master were bound by ties of friendship and loyalty. The retainer was expected to fight for his master in war, to be loyal to him in all legal disputes, and to obey his orders. In return, the master protected and supported his retainers. It was primarily freemen who could become retainers. They lived with their leader and ate at his table. The band of retainers constituted a brotherhood with a code of honour, and in addition to the duties towards his leader, the retainer had responsibilities towards his comrades. (74-75).
In Norway, this was relationship was codified in the law. In the twelfth century, Iceland began to follow the Norwegian system though on a smaller scale. They were called “home men” (heimamenn) but they were
men who did not work on the farm or have any specific duties in the management of it. . . . they were the chieftains’ bodyguards; they were expected to follow them through thick and thin, and to fight by their side in battles (75).
the power struggle in Iceland was only in a few cases decided on the battlefield, it was usually first and foremost a question of non-physical tactics and manoeuvres. The sagas mainly point to the shrewdness of the chieftains as an explanation of why some chieftains survived the power struggles while others failed. (76).
In sagas depicting Icelandic chieftains their appearance and physical attributes are less important than their mental qualities. (79).
Besides wisdom,
The sagas stress the generosity of the rulers. . . . Feasts and gifts were used to build up power and create or renew ties of friendship. Powerful secular leaders were described as vinsælir, which meant they had many friends. Amongst the rulers there was competition for the position of the most generous leader. The straightforward reason was that when a ruler was generous more men wanted to become his friends and supporters. (77-78).
These supporters included the relatives and kinsmen, which were called frændr (singular frændi, the participle of frjá meaning “to love,” which goes into English as friend). Supporters were thus those who loved their leaders. Leaders had to earn or win the love of their followers. When Ketill gathers his frændr at the beginning of the Laxdæla Saga, he consults with them about their course of action and lays out the options available and gives the reasons for his proposed decision and asks them for their support. They are allowed a chance to offer their counsel before a decision is finalized. It was a decision that the frændr could agree to and live with, or they would part ways.

The discussion Ketill initiates in Laxdæla Saga is interesting in another way. It centers on whether the group should submit to the Norwegian king and become his vassals. Ketill rejects this because, he argues, the group can expect no trausts from the king. The Old Norse term traust is the origin of the English term trust, but it means more than that. As E. V. Gordon points out, traust includes “help, protection, support, confidence” (Gordon, An Introduction to Old Norse, 2nd. ed. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957], 390). One could trust one’s leader because they would provide help, protection and support which in turn inspired confidence. The leader’s actions showed that he was trustworthy. The Old English cognate is treow, of which the modern form is true. The leader needed to be true to his followers if he expected his followers to be true to him.

Loyalty was understood to follow certain conventions:
If the reigning king was not capable of fulfilling his obligations towards his friends, they were entitled to change sides. . . . There are not critical remarks . . . about the ‘traitors’ who turned away. (79).
In the twelfth century, however, the rex iustus ideology was introduced to Norway. In this ideology the king was
a rex iustus and God’s representative on earth. As such the king has power over life and death for all his subjects. Those who disobey him violate God’s will. The king "er sva mioc miclaðr oc tighnaðr aiorðu at aller skulu sva luta oc niga til hans sæm til Guðs. hann hævir oc sva mycit vælldi at hann ræðr hværs lifdagum þærs er i hans riki er sva sæm han vill. Lætr þann dræpa er hann vill en þann liva er hann vill." (69.)
The king was now supposedly deriving his power from God and did not have to build it up from below anymore. This meant that the king’s personal qualities, ideologically, were less important. The king was now God’s representative on earth with power over life and death for all his subjects. (84-85).

As a result,
The kin-based aristocracy was transformed into a service aristocracy which received its power from the king, who in turn derived his from God. (85).
This meant that the aristocracy did not need to build up their power anymore through their ability to protect, and with the aid of gifts and feasts, since the support of the householders was no longer essential for their higher positions in society. Thus feasting and extensive exchange of gifts between chieftains and householders gradually declined. The strong and critical mutual vertical ties of friendship between chieftains and householders disappeared. Previously, the chieftains had been obliged to defend and assist their supporters. As the kin’s servants, however, they had to prosecute and punish those who had formerly been their friends. The duty of the aristocracy was to govern rather than to lead. These changes meant that the personal qualities which had been so important to build power previously now became more or less superfluous. (86).
The rex iustus ideology thus turn the aristocracy into managers instead of leaders. So, for the Vikings, leaders built their support through their personal qualities and because they had to support as well as be supported by their followers. The rex iustus ideology change that and they only had to please their superiors. Instead of protecting those under them, they persecuted them. The rex iustus ideology thus gave a new direction to the rulers who could now prosper because of their lack of leadership rather than be held back by it.

It is little wonder that so many of the sagas were written at this time, looking back on a time when Vikings were leaders rather than sycophantic servants.


All of this provides a helpful backdrop in considering some statements from the Doctrine and Covenants.

The idea with the rex iustus was that the ruler was the representative of God and should be followed by virtue of his position whether or not his position was just. This idea is rejected by God: “No power and influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” (D&C 121:41). Instead a leader is expected to develop those qualities of mind and character that will make people want to follow him (D&C 121:41-43) so that the follower “may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:44). The individual who uses his appointed position to gratify his own pride and vain ambition “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” will find that there is an end to “the authority of that man.” (D&C 121:37). People will not willingly follow such an individual and thus he loses any authority over them. A leader cannot betray his followers and expect them to follow him; he will have lost his authority.

While in the Church the priesthood is given “by prophecy and by revelation” and thus from the top down (management), God expects those in such positions to build support from the bottom up (leadership). Thus in the Gospel, the leader is expected to serve not to be served. They must earn the trust of those they are supposed to lead rather than expect that it will come automatically by virtue of their position.

In the Church, we usually give a new leader the benefit of the doubt and are willing, at least initially, to follow them simply because of their position. Trust and goodwill, however, can be destroyed or erode away by failure to serve and support and persuade followers. If followers perceive that a priesthood leader is untrustworthy, then they will not trust him. Thus a leader needs to be true, not only to God and the Gospel, but also to the people he serves.

To have managers in the Church, rather than leaders, is not following the commandments that God has given us.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 63:
The Joshuas of the twenty-first century will be righteous fathers and mothers the world over. These are the unsung but nevertheless real heroes and heroines of our time. . . . There are no attention-getting press releases or news conferences held by such parents declaring "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

The Other Purim Plot

The Septuagint version of Esther is noted for its additions. The first chapter, for example, has a dozen and a half verses missing from the Masoretic text. These verses tell of an apocalyptic dream that Mordecai has warning him of the danger that the king was in. This warning enables Mordecai to be in a position where he can overhear the conspiracy against the king:
And Mordecai snuck quietly into the courtyard with Gabatha and Tharra, the two eunuchs of the king show were guarding the courtyard. So he heard their plans and discovered their plots and he learned that they were preparing their hands to overthrow Artaxerxes, the king, and he disclosed to the king concerning them (Esther 1:1m-n LXX).
In this case, the king does not get the revelation or dream about the plot. Instead, it comes to "a Jewish man living in the city of Susa" (Esther 1:1b LXX), an ordinary man living an ordinary life, who just happens to listen and respond when God inspires him.

The inspiration he receives leads him to be where he needs to become a credible witness of the plot to assassinate the king.

Note that Mordecai is somehow able to get access to the king and report what is happening personally (Esther 1:1n LXX), in spite of Artaxerxes ruling over 127 countries (Esther 1:1s LXX). The conspirators were part of the government administration. Can one imagine what might have happened if Mordecai had to go through bureaucratic channels, especially if those channels ran through Gabatha or Tharra?

Gabatha and Tharra were trusted members of the administration. If asked, they would have claimed they were loyal to the administration that they were plotting to overthrow.

Conspiracies of this sort cannot be treated like typical petty problems patiently pushed through the bureaucratic machine. They require different means to be thwarted.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Some . . . cast off on intellectual and behavioral bungee cords in search of new sensations, only to be jerked about by the old heresies and the old sins.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

An Ensign for the Nations II

Last week I discussed Isaiah 11:12 and the idea that the ensign could also be understood as a sign or miracle. As interesting as it is, the Septuagint does not have the most interesting take on Isaiah 11:12. That honor goes to the Aramaic, and not the Syriac version either (Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic), which is no more informative than the Septuagint. The more interesting reading belongs to the Targum Jonathan. This is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic from around the time of Jesus. It is generally thought to preserve the folk understanding of the biblical text from Palestine in the first century A.D. The passage in question consists of three words:
wa-zqup 'at la-`amamaya'
One could translate this as "and a sign will be lifted up to the nations" but other understandings are possible. The term 'at has a slightly wider meaning than sign or miracle. In Genesis 1:14, the term is used for the constellations. The term can also be used for letter as a unit of writing, not as a synonym for epistle.

The verb zqap also means to crucify or to hang. And aleph-taw, the two letters used to write 'at are the first and last letters of the Aramaic alphabet. There is an Aramaic saying about going from aleph to tav meaning from beginning to end. The Greek equivalent would be alpha and omega. That provokes some interesting speculation, but not any that would not be appropriate for a Sunday.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 56:
Without a moral compass, agency goes awry. Strangely, provincial pride is then mistaken for genuine individuality. The broad way leading to the wide gate is well traveled, including by some self-styled rugged individualists who scarcely notice they are actually part of a crowd (Matthew 7:13).

Addendum to Onchsheshonqy 7/15

In my earlier discussion of Onchsheshonqy, I neglected to point out that the word translated boss could also mean superior or supervisor. In an academic context I have known of some supervisors who want their graduate students to worship them. If the graduate student refuses to worship the supervisor, the supervisor seeks to destroy the graduate student. This is also idolatry.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
A few dealings with student dissenters taught me (too late to help them, I'm sorry to say) that my silent disgust did not necessarily teach them. It often created distance. Unexplained indignation is not always communication. True, silence in some circumstances is a powerful reprover, but not in other situations. To withhold deserved reproof, and the reasons therefore, may be to withhold a warning that is urgently needed. Reproof is often a last railing before an erring individual goes over the edge of the cliff.

A.D. 282

For the events of A.D. 282, it is worth quoting Harold Mattingly's entry on Carus from the older Oxford Classical Dictionary (p. 210):
Carus, Marcus Aurelius (PW 77), born at Narbo, praetorian prefect of Probus, rebelled in Raetia in A.D. 282, and, after Probus had been murdered by his troops, announced to the Senate his accession as Emperor. Leaving Carinus as Caesar in the west, Carus marched east against Persia with his younger son and Caesar, Numerian. On the way he defeated the Quadi and Sarmatae on the Danube. Carus invaded Persia and captured Ctesiphon, but, venturing on a further advance, was killed, perhaps by treachery on the part of Aper, the praetorian prefect.
Don't these Roman Emperors learn anything?

Choosing Sides

Greg Smith has another thoughtful post. My thoughts are in addition to his. Read his post first.

This reminds me of a quote from C. S. Lewis in "The World's Last Night":
In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely “First Servant.” All the characters around him—Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund—have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play­ is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed at his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.
Lewis does not mention what the Servant says, his opening words are as follows:
Hold your hand, my lord!
I have serv'd you ever since I was a child;
But better service have I never done you
Than now to bid you hold. (Shakespeare, King Lear III.vii.73-75.)
We must take sides. To sit on the fence is to choose by default. As Pahoran writes to the man who censured him:
Therefore, my beloved brother, . . . let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words---yea, such as rebellions and dissensions---let us resist them with our swords (Alma 61:14).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 53:
Consider, for example, the case of the Gadarene swine. By the time that herd made their headlong dash to the sea, they would not have been much interested in considering options.

Addendum to the Last Post

I neglected earlier to add this insight of Greg Smith's that I particularly liked:
Elder McConkie was right on two other fronts, as well:
  1. there is such a thing as “semi-anti-Mormons,” among those who purport to be scholarly, neutral, and “balanced.”
  2. it is indeed just as important–or perhaps even more so–to know our enemies. Far better that they be honest and overt, than skulking hypocritically in the shadows, undercutting the prophets while protesting their allegiance.
It must be wearying for them. It certainly is for those of us who must watch it.
I have lived long enough to see a great number of semi-anti-Mormons. Some of them at very close range. I have also seen my share of plain anti-Mormons, and several of them at very close range.

Another Worthwhile Voice

The thoughtful Greg Smith has a blog and some interesting observations. I have found a number of his observations insightful. I will only point out a couple from last week: one dealing with wanting to couple our pet cause to the gospel, and one dealing with moral judgments. I had some other favorites, but blogger with an accidental keystroke irretrievably deleted them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
God gives to us the lessons we need most, not the ones we think we need. Also, often that which we resist learning vicariously we must learn the hard way—experientially.

Onchsheshonqy 7/14-15

Do not neglect to worship your god (P. Onch. 7/14)
 The term translated as to neglect can also mean to hesitate or to procrastinate. The term translated worship can also mean to follow or to serve.

This saying has several similarities with Alma 34:33-34. Amulek, in Alma, goes further than Onchsheshonqy in that he specifies a reason why we should not wait to serve God.

Immediately on the heels of this statement, Onchsheshonqy appends:
Do not hesitate to worship your boss (P. Onch. 7/15).
The only difference in the phrasing of these two statements is the last word. Onchsheshonqy, like most wisdom literature, is the ancient equivalent of How to Make Friends and Influence People. This sort of statement shows that.

Doubtless there are many bosses who would love to be worshiped, but not a good one, and certainly not a Christian one. (A Christian would recognize this as a form of idolatry.) A good boss appreciates candid assessments and so will not surround himself with sycophants who simply tell their boss what they think their boss wants to hear.

A Christian, therefore, would disagree with Onchsheshonqy: Worship God, not your boss.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 44:
It is usually a particular preoccupation, not a specific occupation, that we need to leave straightway and without looking back.

Of Libraries and Morality

Victor Davis Hanson has a thoughtful column about things he observed on five days.

Hanson notes that most students at CSU Fresno do not actually use the library to access books. I have noticed that trend at BYU as well. Hanson estimates that only twenty percent are studying. My impression is that BYU might be higher, but I could not say how much. Like Fresno,
The library has very little to do with students searching out books and articles in a repository.
Last year, half of the periodicals in the periodical room were removed for more desks. Unfortunately, from my point of view, the half that were removed were the more useful half.
If the new library is now designed as a valuable cultural nexus, to throw together all sorts of young people of different classes, religions, and races, and at least expose them to the idea of sitting in a comfortable and humane learning place, overseen by courteous and professional staff, where reading is theoretically possible, then it is a smashing success.

If, on the other hand, it is supposed to be a place where disciplined young people individually pursue real knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences, through self-motivated and faculty-guided research, then it appears an utter failure. Does playing a video game next to the Iliad and Prometheus Bound mean that it is more likely that the video game is educational?
Hanson also thoughtfully explores the morality of wealth using the example of Leland Stanford.
It is difficult to figure out quite how the methodology of gaining huge fortunes is atoned for by later unprecedented generosity. Might Bill Gates have been a little more honorable to rivals when 35, earning a billion or two less — or did he need every penny so that he could give most of it away at 55?
Given that God will judge us not only for the aims we have but also the means we use to achieve them, it is a point worth considering.

Onchsheshonqy 7/7

Do not trust the things of a stupid man (P. Onch. 7/7).
Though the term nk.t often means property, it can also mean a thing in general. In the sense of property, the implication is that because a foolish man cannot wisely take care of his own property, it is wrong to rely on it. One could extrapolate and say that one should not rely on the ideas of a foolish man either. They are likely to be wrong.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Sometimes, in the mutual climb along the straight and narrow path, brothers and sisters, we need friends to shout warnings to us or to give us instructions, but we also need those moments when warm whispers can help us to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Getting to Higher Education

A recent series of diagnoses about the path to higher education shed some light on certain problems with elementary education.

In this post, Elaine Tuttle Hansen, argues that many of the top students do not come prepared to do college level work when they get to college. Why? Because they have never been taught the discipline necessary to do the work. They have been brighter than their peers and have not had to work to excel in elementary and secondary education. Since they have not had to work, they have not learned how to work.

In this post, Sarah A. Hoyt, tells of her experience with gifted sons whom their elementary school teachers tried to place in remedial programs because they were not at normal academic levels for their grades, and how the teachers tried to force them backwards in their academic progress.

Others have noted
(1) the low if non-existent requirements for admission to our education schools and (2) a K-12 curriculum shaped almost entirely by the academically underqualified teachers and administrators who come from our education schools.
Those involved in education rarely know what to do with the gifted because few are gifted themselves.

I learned this years ago when I took a class on abstract algebra. The class was the largest math class I remember having at a university level. The reason for that was that it was the weed-out course for math education majors, the toughest course they would ever have to take. So two types of students took the class: math education majors, and math majors. It seemed like every class we would be assigned half a dozen proofs. The math majors would do all the proofs. The math education majors would do two of the proofs and complain about how hard it was to do them. (Admittedly some of them were tricky but they were all doable.) Math education majors are those who go on to teach math in high school. I hope that my generalization did not reflect the attitude of all of the math education majors in the class because it only takes a few vocal complainers to reflect badly on a whole class. The top half dozen of the class constituted the entire next semester's class of abstract algebra, while the rest of the class presumably went on to teach math to our children in high school and junior high. Elementary education majors learn even less math. One can be a fine individual without being a math whiz. I have long suspected, however, that a widespread attitude among elementary and secondary school teachers that they hate math and are not very good at it has produced generations of students who hate math and are not very good at it. Consequently these teachers do not know what to do with a student who is good at it.

Carl Friedrich Gauss was a mathematical genius who was fortunate to have an elementary teacher who recognized that Gauss had an early aptitude for math and knew enough to foster it. Many rate Gauss as the greatest mathematician of all time (I, myself, prefer Leonhard Euler). He may not have become such if his talent had not been recognized and fostered.

But what of those who are neither penalized nor challenged? What becomes of them. When I was finishing graduate school, my department chair lamented that the department in the Ivy League school had a tendency to admit mainly the A students, the one's who were brilliant. It was the B students, however, who actually finished because they were the ones who knew they were not brilliant and worked harder, and thus actually finished their degrees.

These, of course, are generalizations derived from a smaller sample size. Individual cases may prove exceptions. But I have found, time and again, that they serve well to explain what I usually see in education.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 43:
If we do not know the doctrines, do not honestly count our blessings, and do not serve and think about the Lord, then we become estranged from Him (Mosiah 5:11-13). It is our decision--entirely.

An Ensign for the Nations I

The magazine, The Ensign, gets its name from Isaiah 11:12:
And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (KJV)
The translation is adequate. One might quibble that nasa' really means to lift up and so it should be something like "he shall lift up an ensign for the nations." The point, however, seems small. One might also complain that nes as ensign is archaic and that standard or flag might be more current, although flag might be somewhat anachronistic.

The Septuagint, however, translates nes with σημεῖον which is a sign or miracle. This is a very different reading.

As it turns out, this idea is not unknown to Hebrew. The saying on the dreidel is nes gadol hayah šam "A great miracle happened there." So the Hebrew term nes easily encompasses the idea of a miracle.

The idea of lifting up a miracle to the nations as part of the gathering figures into the discussion in 3 Nephi 21 where the Book of Mormon is a sign for the gathering of Israel.

There is another interpretation from this text that I will save for next week.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A.D. 276

When Aurelian died in A.D. 275, the senate appointed Marcus Claudius Tacitus as emperor in his stead. Tacitus was already elderly at the time, which makes one wonder if he accepted the post because he was power-hungry, or merely senile. In A.D. 276, Tacitus was murdered by his own troops at Tyana. Perhaps he should have treated them better.

This left a power vacuum which was filled by the Marcus Annius Florianus (commonly known as Florian), who was the praetorian prefect of Tacitus. When Tacitus died, Florian seized control of the empire and was recognized as emperor everywhere except Syria and Egypt, which were under the control of Marcus Aurelius Probus. Probus demoralized Florian's troops to the point that they killed Florian.

So Probus outflanked Florian at Tarsus and became the sole emperor. Probus owed his position at emperor to the army, but he too had to deal with several rebellions by the army, such as those of Saturninus in the East (277-78), Proculus and Bonosus in Gaul (280), and a revolt in Britain. So the army was not exactly happy with Probus's rule. In 282, Probus was killed by his own troops, after some of his troops deserted to Carus, who was proclaimed emperor by army renegades.

Roman history of this time period begins to sound like the same thing over and over with only the names changing.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Specific and special opportunities are pending for every person here today, if we can trust God and do each day's duties and bear our present pain.

From the Mormon Odditorium

I have been neglecting to pass on some of the gems from the Mormon Odditorium. This was yesterday's:
I often ask myself, how can I appear before the Lord Jesus, my Master, if He should call me to account for the charge that He has placed upon me: can I stand up and say I have not obstructed the work with which I am connected; I have not obscured the light of heaven; I have not acted in any way to divert the rays of truth from shining in the midst of the children of men--I ask myself, can I stand in this position and look upon the face of God without feeling condemned, and that my garments are unstained with the blood of this generation; that I have been a faithful minister of the Lord, a faithful shepherd of the flock of Christ, a watchman who has never slept at his post, who has never failed to utter the cry of warning when danger has menaced the Zion of God. This is a feeling it seems to me every man who bears the holy Priesthood ought to have. (George Q. Cannon, 2 September 1889)
If you want the rest, read the Odditorium or the original.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 30:
Some are not fully settled, however. They go through the motions of Church membership but without the developmental emotions of discipleship. Superficial affiliation is not conducive to course correction.

A.D. 275

In A.D. 275, the emperor Aurelian set out against the Persians. On the way, in Caenophrurium, he was assassinated, abetted by his secretary who bore the provocative name of Eros.

Aurelian, himself rose to power in 268 by aiding the military plot to destroy Gallienus. For his help in the conspiracy, he was appointed to be the chief commander of the cavalry by Claudius II. Only two years later he became the emperor by ousting Quintillus after the death of Claudius.

So after forty years of disastrous rule, Rome under Aurelian considered herself restored to her rightful place, which lasted all of five years. Aurelian had a couple of problems to deal with. Roman money was now essentially worthless. But Aurelian tried to meet the problem by being an absolute tyrant noted for his ruthlessness. When he died, he was plotting to renew persecution of the Christians.

This might be the only time in history when Christians were saved by Eros.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 15-16:
The last days will be discouraging, with dizzying inversions of good being called evil, and evil good (Isaiah 5:20; 2 Nephi 2:5; 15:20; D&C 64:16). This form of vertigo produces worldly individuals who either have trouble drawing the line or holding the line against evil.

At Harvard No Less

Mark Bauerlein has some chilling news out of Harvard. He has a couple of warnings:
Administrators act not on trust but on preservation--that is, protecting the institution and safeguarding their own careers.
So what is the upshot?
Professors should adjust their thinking. Forget about privacy, confidentiality, and trust.
So who guards the guardians?

More Sad News

This is another sad story out of higher education. The scenario, unfortunately, seems to be becoming more common. The push to publish prestigious research causing researchers to cut corners or forge data or fraudulently manipulate it to cover for lack of productivity or lack of good ideas, with millions of dollars in funding on the line, lead to the stonewalling by the institutions involved and the firing of whistle-blowers. In the meantime, the fraudulent research is not corrected and many more hours are wasted pursuing dead-ends that others knew were wrong.

Academic fraud leaves a trail of broken lives in its wake. It used to be that this was the only sort of crime that was punishable in academia. Now, they just punish those who would point out the corruption.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
We know what's happening to us, but we don't know all the implications of it. But God knows. It's a sacred process. We know more than we can tell other people—not only for reasons of confidentiality but for what I will call "contextuality." Those who are not a part of the process are not likely to value and understand its significance. They're not apt to appreciate fully.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Race to the Bottom

Elsewhere this week, they note the ten lowest paying college majors (this link will probably only work this week):
Ten Lowest-Paying College Majors

1. Anthropology and archaeology
2. Film, video, and photographic arts
3. Fine arts
4. Philosophy and religious studies
5. Liberal arts
6. Music
7. Physical fitness and parks recreation
8. Commercial art and graphic design
9. History
10. English language and literature
It has been noted that those who specialize in Mormon studies types are even less likely to get a job than those in religious studies. So who actually ranks lower, those in Mormon studies or those in archaeology?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
We have yet to invent better words than those expressive but well-worn words thank you, although we can juxtapose adverbs.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 7/5

Do not instruct someone who never listens to you (P. Onch. 7/5).
This seems self-evident. If someone is not going to listen to you, it is a waste of time talking to them.

Years ago, a colleague called me up and asked me my opinion about a certain point of ancient Egyptian. He was not a specialist in ancient Egypt and I appreciated him asking me about it. It became clear in the course of the conversation, however, that he had already made up his mind about how the point ought to be, and did not appreciate me saying that ancient Egyptian did not work the way he thought it did. For all the effect it had, I might as well have been talking to a brick wall. He persisted and published his opinion regardless of the fact that it had absolutely no support for it. How sad!

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Most of you are too young to appreciate how those of us who are older feel as the sense of memory slips away. I can safely hide my own Easter eggs now.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 7/4

Do not instruct a fool lest he hate you (P. Onch. 7/4).
The term translated instruct can also mean to bear witness as in giving testimony in court. The term for fool refers not so much to the uninformed as to the willfully misinformed.

On the one hand, Onchsheshonqy is right.  It often seems counterproductive to try to reason with fools. They do not seem to learn anything. They rarely change their ways. And they just hate and despise anyone who tries to teach them what is right.

On the other hand, Onchsheshonqy may be wrong here. Even an idiot deserves a chance to change his mind. (We might recall that Greek metanoia refers to both changing one's mind and repentance.) Though that may not lessen the hatred, at least it lessens the culpability that we have to try to warn our neighbor, even when they choose to deliberately ignore the warning.

Jesus teaches something similar in Matthew 7:6 when he talks about the folly of casting pearls before swine. We tend to overlook, however, the less common metaphor immediately before that, the one about giving things that are holy to the dogs. The holiness aspect is probably the more important one for Jesus.While we may not give that which is holy unto the dogs, the dogs can still eat of the crumbs that fall from the Master's table (Matthew 15:27).

Today's Maxwell Quote

From "But for a Small Moment" (1985), 65-66:
As one begins to appreciate further the Book of Mormon, both as a historical record and as a witnessing, religious volume, another parallel out of human history comes to mind. In the book, earnest prophets who witnessed social deterioration, including terrible slaughters, were moved upon to make a record of those things.
But behold, the land was filled with robbers and with Lamanites; and notwithstanding the great destruction which hung over my people, they did not repent of their evil doings; therefore there was blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land, both on the part of the Nephites and also on the part of the Lamanites; and it was one complete revolution throughout all the face of the land (Mormon 2:8).
‎And it came to pass that my sorrow did return unto me again, and I saw that the day of grace was passed with them, both temporally and spiritually; for I saw thousands of them hewn down in open rebellion against their God, and heaped up as dung upon the face of the land. And thus three hundred and forty and four years had passed away. (Mormon 2:15.)
For Mormon, seeing thousands of bodies "heaped up as dung upon the face of the land" must have produced profound emotions within him, not unlike those a British journalist experienced when he went to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the end of World War II, the opening lines of whose dispatch were, "It is my duty to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind" (Time Magazine, April 29, 1985, p. 133, International Edition).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 6/10

Do not covet another's property, saying "I will live on it." Acquire your own. (P. Onch. 6/10)
From the Ptolemaic Egypt from which the manuscript of Onchsheshonqy comes, we have records of lengthy lawsuits fighting over the ownership of property, usually considerable amounts. The choachyte archive, for example, preserves the records of one side of a lengthy legal dispute where one side of the dispute was clearly trying to live on the property of the other.

During the reign of Augustus, however, things got worse, when the powers that be took over the endowments that had been set aside for charitable purposes by others, and used them for their own gain, saying, in effect, "I will live on it."

Covetousness has been with the human race since the beginning. In some sense we live off the capital inherited from others. An illustration of this comes from the fifteenth century A.D.:
By the middle of the fifteenth century the population of Europe was half what it had been a hundred years before. . . . When the plague was over, however, everybody was better off in gross terms, since those who survived took what had belonged to those who had died. (James Burke, Connections, 2nd ed. [New York : Simon & Schuster, 1995], 98).
The children of Israel were warned that they would live in
great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,
And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full;
Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.
Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;
(For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:10–15)
But in real ways we have the opportunity by our labor to add to the collective sum of human capital. We have an obligation to make things better for those who follow us.

To live off the human capital that others accumulated obligates those who do so with a debt of gratitude, whether or not they realize it. To rob someone of the living that they earned and live off it instead not only shows a want of gratitude, it shows a want of human decency.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
I do not, therefore, worry about your generation's lack of adventure. Before you are through, you are likely to appreciate, in those lines from Fiddler on the Roof, what Tevye said when he wished aloud that the Lord would choose someone else for a change. You will become very conscious of who you are. However, today I will not stress the extraordinariness of your times but the immense possibilities which lie within the seeming ordinariness of your lives.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 6/7

Study a matter so that you may learn it. (P. Onch. 6/7)
The word translated as study is also used for to investigate. The sense is not so much one of a casual inquiry but a more thorough searching for information. While the term translated as learn can also mean to know, the idea is really more one of learning something.

What Onchsheshonqy advocates here is more than a superficial perusal, like looking something up in Wikipedia, but a thorough investigation of the subject that produces something more than superficial knowledge.

At the Symposium today, there were many who talked about others' study of the ancient world because those others thought there was something useful to be learned from the ancient world. For all of the talk of these people, they had not done any study of the ancient world themselves. Thus one speaker who feigned much learning informed his audience that Latin prisca came from Greek and that Patristic authors ceased in the fourth century. Those who think that the ancient world actually has something to offer, do the study themselves.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Selfishness is much more than an ordinary problem because it activates all the cardinal sins! It is the detonator in the breaking of the Ten Commandments.

By focusing on oneself, it is naturally easier to bear false witness if it serves one’s purpose. It is easier to ignore one’s parents instead of honoring them. It is easier to steal, because what one wants prevails. It is easier to covet, since the selfish conclude that nothing should be denied them.

It is easier to commit sexual sins, because to please oneself is the name of that deadly game in which others are often cruelly used. The Sabbath day is easily neglected, since one day soon becomes just like another. If selfish, it is easier to lie, because the truth is conveniently subordinated.

The selfish individual thus seeks to please not God, but himself. He will even break a covenant in order to fix an appetite.

Selfishness has little time to regard the sufferings of others seriously, hence the love of many waxes cold. (See Moses 6:27; Matt. 24:12; D&C 45:27.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Betraying Our Sins

The nineteenth chapter of 2 Esdras contains a scene of repentance on a large scale:
And they stood and betrayed (ἐξηγόρευσαν) their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood at their places and they read in the scrolls of the Law of the Lord their God and they were announcing (ἐξαγορεύσοντες) to the Lord and worshiping the Lord their God (2 Esdras 19:2-3).
The key term here comes from the ἀγορά, the Greek market place, where people bought and sold their wares, and there people came to hear the latest thought and news. So the verb to buy was ἀγοράζω and to speak in public was ἀγοράομαι which became in Koine Greek ἀγορεύω.To publish news or announce something in public was ἐξαγορεύω. To publicly announce a secret or conspiracy was to betray it, so ἐξαγορεύω could also mean to betray.

The Hebrew term used here (Nehemiah 9:2) is yitwaddu (mitwaddim in verse 3) which is usually translated confess and is part of repentance under the Law of Moses (Leviticus 5:5). So according to Esdras sins are not just to be admitted, they are to be betrayed.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From The Promise of Discipleship (2001), 9:
In today's relativistic society, we see indulgence masquerading as tolerance. We see the primacy of the "politically correct" substituting for righteous indignation and for moral outrage. Instead of genuine and pervasive concern for the public good, we see intense devotion paid to niche causes. People are often viewed as advocates of causes rather than as neighbors, being stereotyped because of their interest groups. It is anemic enough to know neighbors and others only as functions but worse still to regard them so much more narrowly. Because all others are actually the spirit sons and daughters of God, the new math of the new morality is even more disturbing than it is fuzzy.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
A real university does not oscillate in response to all the political, social, and educational trends and fashions of a particular time. Six decades ago, thought there were a few notable exceptions, German universities failed as providers of perspective. They were too concerned with becoming “politically correct.” Just after World War II, one commentator wrote of Hitler’s rise and of the decline of Germany’s universities, bemoaning that

Nothing occurred in 1933 in the way of spiritual upheaval, and examples of weakness and corruption were abundant. . . . The invention of “German” mathematics and other forms of intellectual prostitution, as well as the numerous “somersaults” of scholars and writers, one can only recall with shame. It is also undoubtedly true that many trends in German academic life had paved the way for an excessive nationalism and an “anarchy of values” upon which the brutality of Nazi dictatorship . . . could thrive. [Hans Rothfels, The German Opposition to Hitler (Hinsdale, Illinois: Henry Regnery Company, 1948), pp. 34-35]

In our period of human history, traditional values are being challenged, and some are even being inverted.


Another great article in the New Era this month is about the (CM)2 project. This is a great idea. Now where can I get one of those T-shirts?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Don't Wear Masks

This month's New Era has a great article by Elder Quentin L. Cook entitled, "Don't Wear Masks." The following are some highlights:
It is common today to hide one’s identity when writing hateful, vitriolic, bigoted communications anonymously online.
This is very true. I refer to it as people lacking the courage of their convictions. If they really believed that what they were saying was true, then why don't they have the courage to attach their name to it?
What we are seeing in society is that when people wear the mask of anonymity, they are more likely to engage in this kind of conduct, which is so destructive of civil discourse. 
I had other things to say about that at the beginning of the blog.
One of your greatest protections against making bad choices is to not put on any mask of anonymity. If you ever find yourself wanting to do so, please know it is a serious sign of danger and one of the adversary’s tools to get you to do something you should not do.
I often wonder about the motivations of those who post anonymously. Why exactly are they trying to hide? What do they have to hide?
It is interesting that people who are involved with [bad behavior] often assume a false identity and hides their participation. They mask their conduct, which they know is reprehensible and destructive to everyone they care about.
Of course, with some people the mask is what they wear every day and they take it off in private.

I have a colleague, who works at another university. A friend of mine used to praise him for his open-mindedness and fairness. Another friend spoke well of him. I had always found him very congenial. About a month or so ago, however, the mask dropped off and I got to see a side of him that I had not seen before. Gone was the congeniality, the tolerance, and the open-mindedness. Instead I got to see a small-minded bigot who was so upset that he could not read straight. It is very sad. What I had known was the mask, the face beneath was ugly.
The righteous need not wear masks to hide their identity.
 In most cases, the righteous need not wear masks of any sort.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Personal righteousness, worship, prayer, and scripture study are so crucial in order to “[put] off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19). Be wary, therefore, when some demand public tolerance for whatever their private indulgences are!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Interconnected Ancient World III: Harald the Tyrant

Harald Fairhair, king of Norway (c. 859-928), has a somewhat mixed reputation in the Norse sagas. He united the petty kingdoms of Norway into a single country. The sagas tend to treat this event somewhat ambivalently. Egils Saga explains the situation in this way:
Once King Harald had taken over the kingdoms he had recently won, he kept a close watch on the landholders and powerful farmers and everyone else he suspected would be likely to rebel, and gave them options of entering his service or leaving the country, or a third choice of suffering hardship or paying with their lives; some had their arms and legs maimed. In each province King Harald took over all the estates and all the land, habited or uninhabited, and even the sea and lakes. All the farmers were made his tenants, and everyone who worked the forests or dried salt, or hunted on land or at sea, was made to pay tribute to him.

Many people fled the country to escape this tyranny and settled various uninhabited parts of many places, to the east in Jamtland and Halsingland, and to the west in the Hebrides, the shire of Dublin, Ireland, Normandy in France, Caithness in Scotland, the Orkney Isles and Shetland Isles, and the Faroe Islands. And at this time, Iceland was discovered. (Egils Saga, chapter 4, translation of Bernard Scudder) 
King Harald’s conquest of Norway figures large in the sagas as an important event in the background of many of them.

In Laxdaela Saga this was not a positive development. As the saga opens, Ketil tells his kinsmen “I have true tidings of Harald’s enmity (fjándskap) to us; so it seems to me that we cannot ask for succor (trausts) thence.” The Norse term fjándskap would be fiendship in English. Harald was a fiend. The term traust is cognate with English trust. One can put one’s trust in someone who will help, aid or succor someone else. Those who will not cannot be trusted.

So it is that Ketil and his kin depart Norway. Ketil, himself, settles in Scotland, but the saga follows his daughter Unn to Iceland (as many of the sagas do). The event also figures into the settlement of Greenland, and Vinland, and one branch of the family expelled by Harald’s conquest settled in Normandy and produced William the conqueror, who may nominally have been French, but his heritage was that of a Viking.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Only an excellent university can really help the Church much. Mediocrity won’t do either academically or spiritually. A unique Church deserves a unique university!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Nehemiah's Hope

From 2 Esdras 9:9 comes a hopeful thought:

δοῦλοί ἐσμεν καὶ ἐν τῇ δουείᾳ ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγκατέλιπεν ἡμᾶς κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν.
We are servants, and in our service the Lord our God has not abandoned us.
Yet, this same verb, ἐγκατέλιπες, appears in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, when Jesus cries from the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me." Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1 (Psalm 21:1 in the Septuagint), which is a Psalm particularly appropriate for many aspects of the crucifixion, and one which is quoted eight times in the New Testament and alluded to another twelve times. It is a reminder that God does indeed, at least for a time, abandon his servants. (So are D&C 121 and the great apostasy.)

Jesus, at least, knows what it is like when your friends, who should stand by you, do not, and what it is like when those whom you thought were your friends betray you to your enemies. It is interesting that while Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers who did not know any better and were only doing what their superiors commanded (Luke 23:34), he did not forgive Pilate who gave the order of execution, he did not forgive those Jewish leaders who plotted and schemed his death, and he said that there could never be forgiveness for Judas who betrayed him.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From One More Strain of Praise (1999), 63:
Mercy, even so, is not naiveté. Nor is it uncaring indulgence. Nor is mercy to be mistaken for today's standardless and indulgent tolerance. Divine mercy has its fixed divine standards intact. When Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," He was mercifully and forgivingly acknowledging what was, nevertheless, an ignorantly induced but terrible wrong! (Luke 23:34.)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mine Intent

Along with the thoughts on parallelomania, one of the quotes that I have always tried to keep in the back of my mind in studying the ancient world comes from C. S. Lewis's devil Screwtape:
Only the learned read old books, and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 27).
I have known many learned scholars who are very knowledgeable about the ancient world, but are not very wise. The great Egyptologist, Jan Assmann, put it this way:
Today we know infinitely more about Egypt than did the experts of the eighteenth century. But we are also infinitely less sure of what to do with that knowledge.
This is the problem articulated by C. S. Lewis, knowledge without wisdom. I suspect that part of the problem is that the discipline required to master the languages and other information necessary crowds out the pondering about what it means and why we are pursuing the study. Time after time in graduate school, we would go through the motions of translating a text and moved on even if the result were gibberish. It may not mean anything, but we had translated it, whether or not we had understood it. We moved on none the wiser.

I would hope that those reading this, likely not experts in the ancient world, could gain snippets of why this study matters.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
There is not reason for the tithe payers of the Church to fund another secular university since, as taxpayers, they are already helping to fund useful systems of public higher education.

Friday, March 1, 2013

On Commendations

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that in modern English the object of the verb to commend must be a person. People are commended. Things, ideas, and inanimate objects are not. We commend those who do good things. We do not commend the good things themselves, though we might commend people for the good things that they do.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Today, in place of some traditionally shared values is a demanding conformity pushed, ironically, by those who eventually will not tolerate those who once tolerated them. While incremental iniquity may not cause a huge decline all at once, the same somber direction is nevertheless continued, subtly and carefully, with no arousing jolts or jars (see 2 Ne. 28:21).