Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Book Recommendation

Good books on the Old Testament that are accessible to the general public are rare. One I can recommend is:
James K. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 2008).
Hoffmeier covers both Old and New Testament from an archaeological point of view. He has a light touch and is able to convey the subject matter without getting lost in jargon. Hoffmeier's specialty is the Old Testament and so his discussion of the Old Testament is stronger than that of the New Testament. Even those familiar with the material will likely learn something new.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
The world in its search for physical security, for instance, tends to build Maginot Lines while naively neglecting its northern flank. It seeks to control the diseases flowing from sexual immorality but without honoring the principles of fidelity and chastity. The world in its wisdom constantly seeks to accommodate the natural man while gospel wisdom constantly urges us to put off the natural man (Mosiah 3:19). This is a pivotal point, and it makes all the difference!

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Old Problem

There has been much said this last week over how the latest Disney child star has turned from a model of probity into a model of depravity. A little history would lead us to expect as much. Miley Cyrus is not really very different from Lindsay Lohan, or Vanessa Hudgens, or Jessica Simpson, or Keira Knightley, or Justin Timberlake, or Britany Spears, or Christina Aguilera, and others could be named (all products of the Disney machine). The tradition goes back to the first Disney child mega-star, Hayley Mills, whose immoral behavior after she left Disney caused a minor scandal back in the 1960s.

A longer view of history would not change our expectations. Actors and actresses have historically had a reputation of very low morals. I'll skip over recent history to a more ancient time.

Remember that the Greek word for actors is ὑποκριταί, whence the English hypocrite. When Jesus wanted to insult the Pharisees, he called them actors (Matthew 23). This is an insult on several levels:
  1. Actors pretend to be something that they are not. They do one thing on stage (or screen) and another in private life. This is the hypocrite theme that Jesus stresses in his specific examples. One way to look at the profession is that an actor is a professional hypocrite.

  2. Actors had a reputation, even then, of low morals, while the Pharisees cultivated a reputation of high morals.

  3. Actors and the theater were largely used in plays promoted by Gentiles. The Pharisees saw themselves as being anti-Gentile.
So, to be an actor has a long history of ill-repute. We should not be surprised that modern counterparts live up to the same low standards of their predecessors. Perhaps the principle difference is that while those in the more recent past had their vices, they tended not to flaunt them.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From "Not My Will, But Thine" (1988), 120:
Second, matching those three young men are three young women whose names we do not have. They are mentioned in the book of Abraham, remarkable young women about whom I am anxious to know more. They were actually sacrificed upon the altar because "they would not bow down to worship [an idol] of wood or stone" (Abraham 1:11). Some day the faithful will get to meet them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On the Book of Abraham as Pseudepigrapha II

In an incoherent argument by a commenter over here I am accused of a number of things:
John Gee has gone so far as to state that “the Book of Abraham is not like the Book of Mormon; it has no equivalent of Moroni’s promise; it is not a sign of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.” Gee has also said publicly that “the Book of Abraham is not central to the restored gospel of Christ.”
Yes, the scriptures define the gospel as:
  1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
  2. Repentance
  3. Baptism
  4. the gift of the Holy Ghost
  5. enduring to the end.
In a strict sense, the Book of Abraham is not central to that. I have also written about what the significance of the Book of Abraham is. It is not insignificant and its rejection loses a number of important things. Without the Book of Abraham we lose much of what it means to be Mormon, not the gospel, but plain and precious things nonetheless.

The argument then becomes completely incoherent:
if Gee and Muhlestein are correct in their arguments that the BofA literally appeared on the papyri Joseph possessed, the BofA would be a late pseudepigraphic text authored by either an Egyptian or Jewish scribe who syncretized Jewish and Egyptian religious traditions.
This is absolutely false. My have never believed that the Book of Abraham was a pseudepigraphic text. I have always believed and argued that it was written by Abraham. My latest article on the subject implies that the pseudepigraphic position is false.

The incoherent argumentation reveals some intriguing clues:

The BofA revises the opening chapters of Genesis which scholarly consensus attributes to two separate Judean sources that date long after the time period associated with Abraham.
The author does not mention that there is no hard physical evidence of the Judean sources ever existing. They are imaginary inventions of the nineteenth century. So the irony of this is that the Judean sources are pseudepigrapha, and not even ancient pseudepigrapha. So, ironically, someone must accept two modern pseudepigrapha to argue that the Book of Abraham is ancient pseudepigrapha.  If the Pentateuch was really compiled from documents that never existed until they were invented in the nineteenth century then a number of valid propositions become untenable and incomprehensible. If we limit ourselves to real documents, however, there is no basis to the claim.

One of the advantages of Near Eastern studies over biblical studies is that one must work with real documents. Scholars of the ancient Near East don't have to indoctrinate our students into the blind acceptance of imaginary documents as an article of faith. For the Book of the Dead, for example, we have thousands of manuscripts extending over thousands of years. We can, if we choose, investigate how the text developed over time. We do not have to hypothesize or invent sources, we have them. We do not have to speculate about the processes of text formation, we can explore them.

As one author wrote:
We possess and thus can present good-quality, original comparative data, all with very clear date limits; therefore, will all respect, one cannot possibly consider substituting physically unsupported theories or wholly theory-originated "works" in their place. (K. A. Kitchen, Treaty, Law, and Covenant [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012], 3:241.)
So, with the Idrimi inscription, we possess and can present good-quality, original comparative data with clear date and space limits. This trumps wholly theory-originated works, no matter what consensus might support it.

The only way one can take my arguments as indicative that the Book of Abraham is ancient pseudepigrapha is if one privileges nineteenth century pseudepigrapha to actual ancient documents.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From But For a Small Moment (1986), 29:
In any event, for centuries the Lord oversaw the painstaking work of prophets engraving, as they did, upon the plates which would be the basis of the Book of Mormon. He could scarcely be true to those diligent men, whom he loved and called, had he ignored the modern Church's casualness about the Book of Mormon. After all, merely holding or reading a menu is not the same thing as eating a fine meal.

Regarding the incredible "implants" which appear in these "other books," one searches in vain for ways to analogize adequately. These are like nuggets found far from the original mine, or like Mount Everest towering above sister peaks. If the transcendent theology in these books were today's high technology, it would suddenly appear, free standing, with only a few loose wires indicating previous connections.

Examples of such Everests would include chapter 3 of Abraham, chapter 1 of Moses, the third and fourth books of Nephi, and of course such verses as D&C 76:24; 107:53-57 and 121:26-32, from Liberty Jail. There are many others. These special portions sometimes stand amid a penumbra of other well-loved, less spectacular chapters and verses of scripture.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On the Book of Abraham as Pseudepigrapha I

The notion of the Book of Abraham as pseudepigrapha fits into a continuum of theories about (or ways of looking at) the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.

There are four basic positions on the authenticity of the Book of Abraham:

  1. The Book of Abraham as Abrahamic: Under this way of looking at things, the Book of Abraham is a work written by Abraham. It was translated by Joseph Smith under the inspiration of God.

  2. The Book of Abraham as pseudepigrapha:  In this view, the Book of Abraham is ancient but not actually written by Abraham. It was written by someone else centuries or millennia later. It was translated by Joseph Smith under the inspiration of God.

  3. The Book of Abraham as inspired fiction: In this view, the Book of Abraham was not ancient at all but God inspired Joseph Smith to produce a story about Abraham that is not true but teaches some edifying or inspiring concepts.

  4. The Book of Abraham as a fraud: In this view, Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Abraham in the nineteenth century and God had nothing to do with it.
There are theoretically some other possibilities but they are either logically incoherent or historically impossible.

So taking the Book of Abraham as pseudepigrapha is to claim that it is ancient and Joseph Smith was inspired to translate it, but it is an ancient fraud. That is what is claimed by those who claim that the Book of Abraham is pseudepigrapha.

There are those who have claimed that I promote the idea that the Book of Abraham is pseudepigrapha. For the record, I reject the idea that the Book of Abraham is pseudepigrapha.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 106:
Nephi found favor with the Lord because he did not murmur as did his brothers, who murmured because they were sent back to Jerusalem for the plates, which was to them such "a hard thing." (1 Nephi 3:5.) Laman and Lemuel felt imposed upon by what they thought, apparently, was not such a good idea—especially because of the personal risks involved. When prophets, like Nephi, are plain-speaking about such disobedience, some murmur the more at being found out and called down. (2 Nephi 1:26.) Nephi refused to join their fraternity of fault finding, for which Laman and Lemuel never forgave him.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Little More Nibley

The main BYU University Conference starts today. It is time, on this serious occasion, to remember this quote from Hugh Nibley:
In an apocryphal but very ancient account, Peter, in the course of a debate with Simon Magus, points out that people either take themselves or the gospel very seriously--nobody ever takes both seriously. At our Utah universities we take ourselves very seriously, but the suppression of free and open discussion of things academic, while it provides needed security to those who have reason to shun honest scrutiny, can only contribute in the long run to mounting jealousy, suspicion, and tension. There is a point beyond which reticence ceases to be prudence and makes only for misunderstanding." (Hugh Nibley, "Nobody to Blame," CWHN 17:126.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 52:
Indeed, in the macropolitical processes and trends in the world, we are seeing the large-scale consequences of individual selfishness; there is even in some areas a possible loss of nationhood in the recurrence of sectionalism and tribalism. There is surely a hardening of regional and class interests. These trends are ominous manifestations of selfishness and of the coarsening of people. The less love, the less service. The more selfish assertiveness, the less neighborliness.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Little Nibley

As BYU's University Conference starts today (for some), let us pause to remember something Hugh Nibley wrote on the subject over half a century ago, which is unsurprisingly still relevant:
I have discussed the supplanting of the gospel by the teaching of the schools (in ancient times, that is) in a number of studies, but to show what I mean, one example close to home will suffice. On 23 March 1955, I engaged in a public discussion in Salt Lake with my friend Sterling McMurrin. I closed my rather feeble address with the words, "At this point (i.e., after we have discovered the depths of our own ignorance) we can begin the study of the gospel; there is no further need for waiting around until 'history' can make up its mind." Immediately Sterling (for it was his turn to speak) arose and introduced his own discourse by saying, "now we will hear the real gospel." This brought a round of applause from the university crowd--did they realize what it meant? It was a frank declaration that the celebrations of the learned men and not the utterances of the prophets comprise the gospel. This has been the credo of the Christian schoolmen since the days of Clement of Alexandria: the university--Christian, Moslem, Jewish, or pagan--has its own religion, and the basic tenet of that religion is the denial of revelation." (Hugh Nibley, "Nobody to Blame," CWHN 17: 128-29.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 32:
Regardless of the type of suffering, however, if one examines the ecology of suffering, he will see many things. The mistakes and sins of some often cause great suffering among those who are, in a sense, innocent. The parents of disobedient children suffer because of the unrighteousness of their children.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Translating Matthew 28:1

A reader asks about the translation of Matthew 28:1 and what it implies for the arrival of the two Marys at the tomb.The question comes because Tyndale translated it:
The sabbath day at even which dawneth the morrow after the saboth, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the sepulchre.

The Greek text in question is:
Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων, τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων, ἦλθεν Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία θεωρῆσαι τὸν τάφον. (Matthew 28:1)
My translation (at least for today) is:
Long after the Sabbath, at the dawn of the first of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb.
To me the text seems pretty clear that the two Marys came at dawn on the first day of the week.

I can actually see where Tyndale comes up with his translation. The text has ὀψέ which looks a lot like ὀψία which was used just a few verses before in Matthew 27:57. The Greek term ὀψία does mean evening, and ὀψέ is related to it both terms referring to lateness, but they are not the same term and do not mean the same thing. It is an easy mistake to make.

I think William Tyndale was a phenomenal translator. It is perhaps too easy to take a few hundred years of hindsight and nit-pick the work of someone else. This passage simply has a nit. Even when he was wrong, his prose is beautiful, much better than mine.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things as They Really Are (1978), chapter 3:
The living Church can, to a great extent, provide us with growth experiences we would not otherwise have through added friendships. It is true, for instance, that the Latter-day Saint has immediate friends, or "instant community," in every country or city to which he would go where there are already brothers and sisters in the gospel. He has a chance to become a native rather than being a mere tourist.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Trust and Distrust

M. Johnston has some interesting thoughts about trust and distrust. His analysis is bound up in current politics and so I will generalize a bit:
If [someone in a position of power] starts with the perspective that whatever he wants is necessarily right, all of this is beside the point to him. If an act on his behalf, or by one who works on his behalf, is even arguably legal, it’s right (and do you think that [an underling in a position of power] doesn’t have his back on any and all close calls about legality?). [The person in a position of power] doesn’t care about your idea of what’s right or wrong, except insofar as it limits what he can do.

The rest of us, though, live in a world where our faith in the integrity of our most senior elected and appointed officials matters very much. If we think that they are self-interested mandarins who treat their “friends” well and their “enemies” roughly, we will have a very different perspective on the social contract than the one that we have had. And, sadly, it’s beginning to look that way.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Those, however, who "for a while believe" never have these adventures which are reserved for the "true believers of Christ." Those who "almost" believe will never know these joys, for they are far too easily satisfied. Those who believe for a while make only a brief tour in the kingdom, though, thereafter, they often feel qualified to inform those who know even less about the Church; but the fact is they were really only tourists—not natives who really knew the kingdom's countryside.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Tale of Woe

It has been said that the Greek term historia was originally the progressive stages of a disease, and then was applied, by Herodotus, to his researches into how things happened and how the Greek world got where it was. The evidence is not as clear-cut as that, but it is still sometimes useful to think of history as the progressive stages of a disease.

Paul Gottfried certainly seems to view things that way. He describes how the acceptance of a progressive political fad destroyed the atmosphere at Elizabethtown College. He describes Elizabethtown College as "a sleepy Anabaptist college, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren."

Gottfried attributes the beginning of the end to a new administration headed by a president who "pushed the college in an unmistakably ideological direction from which it would never turn back." Gottfried does not think that the president "believed any of the multicultural doctrines he so energetically pushed. He was just taking his lead from the presidents of other colleges."

First came the "tolerance." "This typically took the form of being more “welcoming” to our modest number of non-Christian, non-white students." No one was allowed to say or do anything that might make those not of the college's religious persuasion uncomfortable even though there were plenty of other outlets for them.

Then came the invited "guest speakers who would be invited to campus to edify us, and justify the stress on diversity and social justice" and thus "even without injecting the righteous odor of PC into every core course, the entire college would emit its fragrance."
Equally significant were the multiple “hires” that took place during this time. Most of the younger people who came on board have better credentials than the older generation of faculty. Unfortunately, they are not much interested in serious scholarship. . . . The primary effect of the younger faculty has been to radicalize the institution beyond recognition.

Then came the dean "who imposed her political values on recalcitrant residents. Students of mine were dressed down by this dean and the provost for not being sufficiently sensitive . . . [and] were threatened with expulsion for disputing the diversity dogma that had been proclaimed for the “college community.”"

Next those faculty decided, “It’s time we make a statement.” And they did.

Gottfried, no longer teaching at Elizabethtown, generalizes the situation found at his college:
Elizabethtown’s pitiable transformation corresponds to a widespread degradation of learning. What bothers me about such glib generalizing, however, is the unwillingness of those of my generation to acknowledge that what they are deploring happened on their watch.

This process of change took place in different places and varied contexts, and so when I hear from those who lament what has befallen our college that “it’s really the same all over” I get intensely annoyed. I have no doubt that at Elizabethtown something could have been done to make things less crazy if fewer professors had hidden their heads in the sand. There was rarely a vote on any issue that radicalized the school in which the “nays” could not have won or at least held their own. The critics were just too cowardly or self-centered to let their opposition be known at the appropriate time.

Although this passage from Burke may now be overworked, it seems particularly apt looking back at my college experience: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Clearly those who wish "the opportunity to live in a charming setting and to teach at a socially traditional college" (if any such places still exist) need to exhibit vigilance or the same thing could happen to them.

The point in seeing history as the progression of disease symptoms is to recognize the symptoms and treat the disease.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Not My Will, But Thine (1988), 33:
Thus the Book of Mormon will be with us "as long as the earth shall stand." We need all that time to explore it, for the book is like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards, and wings. There are rooms yet to be entered, with flaming fireplaces waiting to warm us. The rooms glimpsed so far contain further furnishings and rich detail yet to be savored, but decor dating from Eden is evident. There are panels inlaid with incredible insights, particularly insights about the great question. Yet we as Church members sometimes behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry hall.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Follow-up on the City of Abraham

I noted a couple of days ago a news report on an archaeological site (Oylum Höyük) that either its excavator or a newsman connected with Abraham. I have now had a chance to read through a recent (2012) report on the Early Bronze (EB) and Middle Bronze (MB) Age finds and a surface survey of the surrounding area. It is a bit more sober than the news reports. I note the following features:
  • The site is the largest archaeological site of the Kilis plain during the EB and MB periods. It was the major city (town) of the area. For those proposing that it is the site of Ulisum mentioned in the Naram-Sin inscription, this is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

  • There is a destruction layer in the EB levels which would match with the destruction of the site under Naram-Sin. (Again a necessary but not a sufficient condition.)

  • There are also two destruction layers in the MB levels.

  • There is a massive fortification wall dating to the Bronze age (but exact dates are not given and appear not to have been known when the report was written).

  • The evidence from the Bronze Age "remains partly patchy and includes gaps."

  • No radio-carbon dates from the site are available.

  • Burials provide much of the information and it appears from them that the population was poorer in the MB than in the EB. 

  • Burials within the houses in the MB period match those of other MB sites in Syria.

  • The archaeological report says that there is so far no inscriptional evidence from the site for the periods in question.

  • Although the publication date is 2012, the information may not reflect finds from even a couple of years before that. So the archaeologists may now have inscriptional evidence that they did not have when the report was written, or they may have simply ignored the inscriptional evidence they did have because it was from a later time period and hence not relevant to discussing Bronze Age remains. Typically, there can be a ten year lag between the discovery of an inscription and the publication of the inscription.

Oylum Höyük is the largest site in the Kilis plain and clearly dominated the whole plain in the Middle Bronze Age. The site would explain the wording in the Book of Abraham that "Potiphar’s Hill [was] at the head of the plain of Olishem" (Abraham 1:10) Olishem is only mentioned because the whole plains took their name from the city and that Ur was apparently located in the plains, but the text never says that Abraham was at Olishem. Nothing precludes this site from being Abraham's Olishem, but nothing requires it to be either.

The site (possibly of Olishem) is about thirty-five to forty miles north of where I guessed the site of Ur would be. I made my guess based on the confluence of the Egyptian evidence (for Olishem) and the Naram-Sin inscription. (You can see my guess on the map published here.) Ur should be in the same plain and about five to ten miles from Olishem.

If indeed tablets in Hittite from the site identify it as Ullis, then it is probably the Ulisum that Naram-Sin attacked, and is a likely candidate for Olishem. If Oylum Höyük is Olishem, then Ur of the Chaldees would be one of the dozens of MB II sites in the Kilis plain. At present, there are still too many ifs to see this as anything more than promising but not proven.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Much sifting will occur because of lapses in righteous behavior which go unrepented of. A few will give up instead of holding out to the end. A few will be deceived by defectors. Likewise, others will be offended, for sufficient unto each dispensation are the stumbling blocks thereof! A few will stumble because, in their preoccupation with the cares of the world, they do not have oil in their lamps. And, again and again, those who refuse to eat their spiritual spinach will come off second when they wrestle with the world. Some, because of the scorn of the world, will grow ashamed and let go of the iron rod. (See 1 Ne. 8:28.) A few who have not been Saints, but merely tourists passing through, will depart from the path. A few, failing to be of good cheer, will even charge God foolishly. (See Job 1:22.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Geographic Ignorance

Victor Davis Hanson has a discussion of ignorance in the public square. He argues that ignorance of geography and history are especially prevalent. This is part of an ongoing trend. Back when I was an undergraduate, I graduated with a Middle Eastern Studies major who thought that Mecca was in Palestine. As Hanson notes, they were singing about it in the fifties.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
As He began to feel the awful weight of the approaching Atonement, Jesus acknowledged, “For this cause came I into the world” (John 18:37). We too, brothers and sisters, came “into the world” to pass through our particularized portions of the mortal experience. Even though our experiences do not even begin to approach our Master’s, nevertheless, to undergo this mortal experience is why we too are here! Purposefully pursuing this “cause” brings ultimate meaning to our mortal lives. And we are greatly helped if we enter with faith that pavilion of perspective—the plan of salvation. Then the search for meaning is ended, even though further and resplendent discoveries await us. Alas, as Church members we sometimes behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry point.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The City of Abraham?

Turkish archaeologists claim to have discovered the city of Abraham near Kilis in Turkey (news report here, repeated here).

The site (which appears to be Oylum, just a few miles east of Kilis, which is about thirty-five miles north of Aleppo and only five miles from the border between Syria and Turkey) is said to have occupation levels dating to the Chalcolithic, and been occupied since the Early Bronze Age. It is also said to have some Hittite documents, and coins from the time of Alexander the Great. The excavator, Atilla Engin, claims that an Iron Age papyrus says that the site was where Abraham lived. He also refers to clay tablets in Hittite which are said to support the idea that the site was the ancient city of Ullisu.

An overview of past excavations (since the 1980s) can be found here. Surface surveys were conducted in the 1960s, and an Italian team went through in the late 1960s. Since the 1980s the work has been done by the Turks, first under Prof. Dr. Engin Özgen and now under Atilla Engin. Some interesting points: The city was burned twice in Middle Bronze II, and the inhabitants seem to have been poorer than at earlier times.

Whether the claims that this is the city of Abraham, or that this was ancient Ullisu are intriguing but remain to be seen. I have not seen the excavation reports or publications of the clay tablets or the papyrus. The site is in the right general area for the Book of Abraham's Olishem. Whether it is Olishem is too early to tell. News from the site will be worth watching.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Deposition of a Disciple (1976), 61:
There is just too much on record and too many reasons to have an institutional church to question seriously its value and the need for it. People who are inside the Church are in a sense inside something holy, and we can understand it, mostly. It is difficult to tell a so-called tourist more than superficial things about something he remains outside of or experiences only fleetingly. If he really wishes to know, he must come inside. Tourists seldom really savor a place even when inside! It is difficult for nonbelievers to describe the believer's world. The nonbeliever can circle a concept indefinitely—like besieging armies outside a city wall—without grasping it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

This is Interesting

Here is a chart that shows increases at 370 higher education institutions across the United States. I guess now we know where some of those tuition increases are going.

Real increases

(BYU tends not to follow the trend in tuition increases. I suspect it does not in the compensation of the president but what would I know.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Wonderful Flood of Light (1990), 73:
Some people expect—almost demand—that God will reveal himself on their terms and even according to their own schedule. Yet they would still reject God, especially if it should turn out that He resembles us mortals too much!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Something Found Along the Way

One of the sacrament speakers today had a great quote by President Gordon B. Hinckley. I have not been able to locate it, but I stumbled on this one looking for it:
We live in an age of compromise and acquiescence. In situations with which we are daily confronted, we know what is right, but under pressure from our peers and the beguiling voices on those who would persuade us, we capitulate. We compromise. We acquiesce. We give in, and we are ashamed of ourselves. . . . We must cultivate the strength to follow our convictions. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 135, ellipses in source.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 17:
If God did not know our predilections and our choices even before we made them, and had not planned accordingly, we might well have ended up having Joseph Smith born in Manchuria and the Book of Mormon plates buried in Belgium! A less than omniscient god would be more like the earnest but fumbling Caesars who dot the landscape of history than a living, all-knowing God.

Though His plans are known to Him, there is no premature exposure of the Lord's plans. This could bring unnecessary persecution upon an unready Lord's people. Further, a premature showing of His power and strength in support of His Saints could cut short the trial of our faith.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980): 31:
A good friend, who knows whereof he speaks, has observed of trials, "If it's fair, it is not a true trial!" That is, without the added presence of some inexplicableness and some irony and injustice, the experience may not stretch us or lift us sufficiently. The crucifixion of Christ was clearly the greatest injustice in human history, but the Savior bore up under it with majesty and indescribable valor.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 21-22:
Was it not God who, from the beginning, reminded earthlings that the wisdom of men is foolishness? We are only discovering, afresh, what He has long told us about all man's puny efforts that do not rely upon Him. Mortals are fretting over the weakened arm of flesh, but God has told us for centuries to beware of those biceps!

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Category in which BYU Ranks Third

BYU's Law School is ranked third in return on investment, according to one source. Congratulations!

Squishy Love

Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, has a thoughtful article called "No Squishy Love" on the wrath of God and how certain strands of thinking have a tendency want to think of God as love only. He quotes H. Richard Niebuhr on certain theological projects:
A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.
He also quotes Tertullian of the Marcionite sect:
a better god has been discovered, one who is neither offended nor angry nor inflicts punishment, who has no fire warming up in hell, and no outer darkness wherein there is shuddering and gnashing of teeth: he is merely kind. Of course he forbids you to sin – but only in writing.
The Latin of this is:
deus melior inventus est, qui nec offenditur nec irascitur nec ulciscitur, cui nullus ignis coquitur in gehenna, cui nullus dentium frendor horret in exterioribus tenebris: bonus tantum est. Denique prohibet delinquere, sed litteris solis. (Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 1.27).
The god of Marcion looks very similar to the god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. His description is as follows:
God is not demanding. He actually can't be, because his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process. (Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, with Melinda Lundquist Denton [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], 165).
So the obvious question for those who believe in a god of squishy love: What happens if you are wrong?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Sermons Not Spoken (1985), 84-85:
We should think of God in terms of His divine attributes, for He is perfect in His love, mercy, and compassion—as well as in His justice. Only then can we begin to understand why His anger is kindled and to appreciate the loving concern which underlies His wrath. God's love for us is perfect, and His desire for our happiness is so deep that when His anger is kindled this signals much more than we realize. Our God is not preoccupied with other concerns, nor is His ego offended, as are ours. Such narrow views of Him do an injustice to God who is perfect in His justice.

. . .

God's anger is kindled not because we have harmed him but because we have harmed ourselves. We are His children and He is a perfect Father. He does not want us, for instance, to take His name in vain, but this is because of what happens to us when we do. Our profanity cannot diminish from His Godhood, His love, His omnipotence, or His omniscience. But our profanity does damage us and can damage us profoundly.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A.D. 430

The year 430 is noted for the death of Augustine. He died at the age of 75 when the town where he served as bishop, Hippo, was besieged by the Vandals.

Augustine was a typically hedonistic youth. He had prayed:
Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo. "Give me chastity, but not yet." (Augustine, Confessions 8.7).
When he was nineteen he read Cicero's Hortensius and decided to study philosophy. Yet, as Peter Brown notes, he was "the only Latin philosopher to fail to master Greek." (OCD 148). Still, it was a conversion. He would later convert to Manichaeism, and then to Neo-Platonic Christianity. "Augustine developed his ideas with an independence that disquieted even his admirers" (OCD 148). In part this is because "Augustine's major works are landmarks in the abandonment of classical ideals." (OCD 148).

Some people celebrate Augustine, others disdain him. I worry a bit when I see some who claim to be Christians who worship Augustine.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Not a day passes in the television news or in the press without our seeing some secular solutions being sincerely advanced to solve vexing human problems. These solutions usually involve lower ways, however sincerely offered they are, and they resemble trying to play shuffleboard on a slippery hillside, using a twisted stick for a cue, with a misshapen lump for a puck.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Some Notices that Bear Repeating

I have mentioned these before, but I will repeat them.

From this entry:
Normally blogs have some sort of comment feature. The purpose behind such a feature is to have readers leave behind thoughtful comments. In reality, however, comments on most blogs that I have read are ignorant, hate-filled, and incoherent diatribes.
For that reason I do not allow comments on the blog, even the occasional good one.

From this entry:
The views expressed in this blog are the author's own. They do not necessarily represent those of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
I understand some people view that as an understatement.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Of course we all need affectional security and to be loved! Yes, recognition can be healthy! Likewise, we are to enjoy life amid a like-minded community of Saints. But to like being liked for its own sake is unhealthy. Similarly, overmuch concern with public image can cause us to rearrange priorities rather than striving to have Jesus’ image in our countenance (see Alma 5:14, 19).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Apostasy in 1 Maccabees

Anyone who is at all familiar with the basic story of the revolt of the Maccabees will not be surprised that the book opens up discussing apostasy. The successors of Alexander, according to the author, "filled the earth with evil" (1 Maccabees 1:9):
In those days [the days of Antiochus Epiphanes] wicked sons came from Israel and persuaded many saying: We will go and make a covenant with the nations round about us, since we have abstained from them many evils have come upon us. And the saying was good in their eyes. And some of the people were pleased and went to the king, and he gave them authority to enact the standards of the Gentiles. And they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the custom of the Gentiles. And they made themselves uncircumcised and apostatized from the holy covenant and joined themselves to the heathen and sold themselves to do iniquity. (1 Maccabees 1:11-15)
So the author sets up the opposition, one can make a covenant with God or with the Gentiles, one cannot keep both. Those who wanted to accommodate the world are depicted as apostatizing from their covenants. Unlike some uses of the verb apostatize in Greek, the apostates are depicted as not revolting against the king, but their covenants. The king, who has already been identified as wicked, gives them authority to do what they want. So, for Maccabees, apostasy may be perfectly compatible with possessing authority. They also have standards, but those standards are those of the Gentiles rather than those deriving from the covenant.

Of course, one of the historical ironies of the Maccabees is that while the Maccabees revolted against a corrupt monarch, they became equally corrupt in their turn. Apostasy is a constant problem.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
If becoming popular requires participating in the follies and the fashions of the world, it is too big a price to pay for fleeting approval. Consider Pontius Pilate. He reluctantly pleased the mob by doing the “popular thing” in order to avoid a civil disturbance. Ironically, Pilate, a scant few years later, lost his status anyway because of a disturbance in Samaria.

As one looks at the sweep of human history, its lessons are so quickly forgotten. Illustratively, Winston Churchill chose as the theme for his final volume dealing with the history of World War II the prescient words, “How the Great Democracies Triumphed, and so Were able to Resume the Follies Which Had so Nearly Cost Them Their Life” (Winston Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1953, p. ix).

Monday, August 12, 2013

Greco-Roman Hittites

The Hittites, for modern scholars, a nation of people living in Anatlia from about 1800-1200 BC. The spoke the earliest attested Indo-European language, a distant cousin to English. (The Hittite word for water is watar.) The Hittites seem to have been wiped out aroun the time the Israelites entered the promised land.

Most of the Hittites in the Bible (think Uriah the Hittite, you know, the guy David betrayed to his death to cover up his adultery with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba) are the various Neo-Hittite kingdoms in the areas of modern Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. They too spoke an Indo-European language, Luwian, but also Aramaic, a Semitic language. These kingdoms disappeared in the Assyrian expansion by the end of the eighth century. Conventional wisdom says there were no more Hittites after that time.

Conventional wisdom is wrong.

1 Maccabees opens with the words:
And it came to pass, after the conquest of Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon, who came from the land of the Hittites (Χεττιμ), and he smote Darius, the king of the Persians and the Medes, and he reigned in his stead, and previously over Greece. (1 Maccabees 1:1)
The author of Maccabees identifies those place on the other side of the Mediterranean, not to mention Anatolia, as the land of the Hittites (Χεττιμ). This is also reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the Commentary on Habakkuk, the enemies of Israel (such as the Chaldeans) are identified as Hittites, which seems to indicate the same thing as it does in Maccabees. Modern scholars have often identified the Hittites of the Habakkuk Commentary as the Romans. It seems, in light of the Septuagint, that the term Hittite could either be a geographic or linguistic designation. Geographically it would be the lands northward and across the sea from Israel. Linguistically it would mean Indo-Europeans.

Thus a notion of Hittites continues at least a millennium after the people that modern scholars recognize as Hittites have disappeared from the scene.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Jesus gave us the ending demographics: wide is the gate and popular and broad is the way that leads to destruction (see Matt. 7:13). The narrow and straight way that leads to salvation, alas, is the path less traveled by. Hence, there is no way we can both move with the herd and also move toward Jesus. Nevertheless, there are some who try to serve the Lord without offending the devil. Others want “to serve the Lord but only in an advisory capacity,” cautioned President Marion G. Romney.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Matthew 24:7-8.

Continuing the theme of wars and rumors of wars, Jesus adds:
ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, καὶ ἔσονται λιμοὶ καὶ λοιμοὶ καὶ σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους· πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων.

For nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and plagues, and earthquakes from place to place, but all of these are only the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:7–8)
An interesting sidelight on these verses is that within two hundred years of this being written the words λιμοὶ and λοιμοὶ were no longer distinguished in pronunciation. Someone listening (and scriptures, indeed all writings at the time, were read aloud) would not be able to distinguish the two. This and the similarity in spelling (there is only one letter difference between the two) explains why manuscripts like Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and a number of others drop out the explicit mention of plagues. They were all written after the shift in pronunciation. Interestingly, many of the modern editors (such as the Alands and the United Bible Society) have failed to recognize what is going on and have followed the incorrect reading.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
We should not really be surprised at how some of the foregoing reflect the absence or neglect of the holy scriptures. History tells of those who, without sacred records, soon denied the Creator! (see Omni 1:17). The untaught can, so quickly, become unbelieving. They form a rising generation who do not understand the words of prophets and who do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ, as when there “arose another generation … which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:10; see also Mosiah 26:1–4).

Holy scriptures testify powerfully, but they also familiarize us with the history of what God has done for His people. This spiritual memory is so essential. Consider this relevant verse, often neglected in favor of the special verse it precedes: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moro. 10:3).

Holy scriptures, when searched and believed, help us to “remember,” as it were, from the sacred records. These are part of the institutional memory of the kingdom of God. Hence, Alma observed to his son, Helaman, how sacred records, in effect, “have enlarged the memory of this people” (Alma 37:8).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Matthew 24:6

Jesus continues his sermon by warning his disciples that not only would they have to face false prophets but:
μελλήσετε δὲ ἀκούειν πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων· ὁρᾶτε, μὴ θροεῖσθε· δεῖ γὰρ πάντα γενέσθαι, ἀλλ’ οὔπω ἐστὶν τὸ τέλος.

Ye shall hear wars and rumors of wars. See that ye do not worry for all these things must occur, but the end is not yet. (Matthew 24:6)

While the disciples should worry about false Christs (Matthew 24:4-5), they should not worry about wars or reports of wars (and there were a lot of wars during the Roman Empire). Wars do not signify the end. One might lose one's life in war, but not one's soul. A false Christ, however, could cause one to lose one's soul. They are the greater danger.

Note that the perspective already presumes a life after death, even a resurrection of the dead, although the first instance of a resurrection is not for another week.

At the time Christ gave this sermon, Pilate was sitting in his palace; he would be more concerned about an uprising, a rumor of war, than sorting out true and false Christs. Barabbas was probably sitting in his cell, a false Messiah awaiting trial for inciting an uprising unaware that soon he would be set at liberty by the true one.

War is a terrible thing, a wicked thing, an evil thing. It is not, however, the worst thing. It may legitimately claim our attention, but there are other things that deserve more attention.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Some things are popular precisely because they make no demands upon the individual and produce a false sense of freedom. Yet there is no real liberty in license, and no real emancipation by avoiding personal responsibilities. The world’s intellectual pressures are relentless, too! Elder Albert E. Bowen of the Quorum of the Twelve observed how some, “to gain favor, to enhance [their] popularity, to avoid giving offense, … have adopted the theories of men and tried to integrate them with the teachings of the Son of God, and they will not mix” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1952, p. 66).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Matthew 24:5

Matthew 24:4-5 are really one long sentence:
Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ· πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Χριστός, καὶ πολλοὺς πλανήσουσιν.

Watch lest someone deceive you, for many shall come in my name saying: I am the Christ, and many will be deceived. (Matthew 24:4–5)
Two things interest me about this passage for the moment. The first is that Jesus is saying that those who claim to be Christ are taking his name. He is therefore claiming to be the Christ.

The second thing is that many will be led astray by individuals claiming (falsely) to be Christ. They will claim to be him and claim his prerogatives, but they will do so illegitimately. They will lead individuals astray. Jesus warns his followers not to be led astray.

For Christians this creates a balancing act between faith and skepticism. Setting aside those who actually claim to be Christ, there are those who claim to be Christ's and yet are not. They also can lead someone astray. In the end, Christ will tell those who falsely claim to be his that he does not recognize them or their deeds (Matthew 7:21-23). So the dilemma that leaves the Christians is: How does one know when one who claims to act for Christ is actually authorized by him?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Continuing the sampling of the societal spectrum, there are the lukewarm Church members who lack dedication and who are not valiant in their testimony of Jesus (see D&C 76:79). These often fear losing either their place in the secular synagogue or missing out on the praise of men (see John 12:42–43). Some members are like the earlier Amulek, who was called and would not hear; he really “knew,” yet he “would not know” (Alma 10:6). These members, like Amulek, may even have experienced feeling the redeeming, loving power of God, but they do not “feel so now” (Alma 5:26).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sumerian Tyrants

Normally we look at Sumerian kings through either through their royal inscriptions or their administrative records, both official portraits. Piotr Michalowski has some interesting observations about the flip side of those documents:
An Old Babylonian copy of an inscription placed on an illustrated stele with representations of scenes from victory over the highland land of Zabšali contains these words:
(Šu-Sin) killed both the strong and the weak, heads of the just and wicked he piled up like (heaps) of grain, corpses of their people he piled up like sheaves. . . . their established cities and villages he turned into (empty) tells, destroyed their walls, blinded all the young men of the cities he had conquered, and made them serve in the orchards of Enlil, Ninlil, and in the orchards of all the great gods; he donated all the women of the cities he had conquered to the weaving establishments of Enlil, Ninlil, and the great gods.

These seemingly contradictory portraits of a Sumerian sovereign are, of course, hardly unique as far as tyrants are concerned. And yet the word "tyrant" is scarcely, if ever, used in describing ancient Mesopotamian kings. Instead, they are usually portrayed, in the manner of their own propaganda, as heroic and patriotic, bringing together quarrelling smaller political units for the common good. . .  . In the study of early Mesopotamia, we invariably favor periods of centralization of authority, if for no other reason than that such times provide more ample documentation. But this sort of centralization is the anomaly rather than the norm; in the third and early-second millennia, it accounts for 250 years or so at most. We may celebrate the various civil accomplishments of the famous kings associated with these times—namely, Sargon, Naram-Sin, Šulgi, or Hammurabi—but we should also remember the piles of corpses and shattered lives that they left in their wake. (Piotr Michalowski, The Correspondence of the Kings of Ur (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 11-12.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Furthermore, not only must we forgo erosive popularity, but we are to be unsurprised when “at that day shall he [Satan] rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Ne. 28:20).

Church standards remain constant in a time when some actually call good evil and evil good! (See Isa. 5:20.) No wonder the Latter-day Saints “must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 12:272). Since there is not much chance that the fingers of scorn will be diverted, we should “[heed] them not” (1 Ne. 8:33). Ironically, among those pointing fingers of scorn are a few that once grasped the iron rod. As Lehi envisioned, these defectors become ashamed, fall away, and become aligned with the popular taunting multitude in the great and spacious building (see 1 Ne. 8:27, 33).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It's 1984 BC

Piotr Michalowski makes the following observation:
Although contemporary evidence is still sparse, it appears that sometime under Ur-Namma and Šulgi the masters of the academies wiped the literary slate clean and discarded all but a few of the old compositions that went back to Early Dynastic times. They kept most of the lexical teaching tools but discarded old narratives, replacing them with materials written in honor of the contemporary ruling house—royal hymns, stories about their Uruk ancestors, and so on. (Piotr Michalowski, The Correspondence of the Kings of Ur (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 9.)
So, according to Michalowski, the Ur III kings were not only reformers but systematically rewrote the historical and literary record. Fortunately they overlooked Lagash which has provided a treasure trove of inscriptional material unedited by the Ur III censors. The problem with Orwell's novel 1984 is that it aimed to be futuristic.

One irony, however, is that most of our literary accounts of the Ur III period come from the Old Babylonian period and have a tendency to depict the Ur III monarchs in less than flattering terms.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
There are real dangers—subtle and obvious—when members fall into lockstep with the world’s ways. In so many respects, the world’s ways head in opposite directions from gospel destinations. Moreover, as a covenant people, our behavioral loyalties are to be with the Lord, not with the Caesars of this world. But the tugs of the world are real and persistent. Besides, following the fashions of the world is merely to pursue eventual obsolescence, “for the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor. 7:31).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

An Interesting Observation from a Strange Place

Occasionally one finds interesting observations in the oddest places. This is one such:
It should also be noted that European and North American academia in general suffered during the inter-war period because of severe economic decline and the rise of fascist dictatorships that restricted and corrupted education and research.
And the unlikely source for this observation is:
L. R. Siddall, The Reign of Adad-nirari III (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 3.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
There are a few among us who believe in God but do not want to let Him be God; they would limit Him in terms of character and attributes. Reassuringly, in two adjoining verses, the Lord said tersely, “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Ne. 27:20–21). Brothers and sisters, that is about as nice a way as God could say to us that He can handle it!

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Sermons Not Spoken (1985), 11:
For the academician in his search for truth and in his efforts for its preservation or dissemination, the admiration and esteem of his peers is both useful and desirable. But these too can be easily corrupted into an inordinate desire for "the praise of men." Sophistry can come to be preferred to simplicity. The language of scholarship, necessary in its realm, can come to be preferred to the language of faith. Once again, even for the person of faith, the incessant requirements of such associations can come to cloud one's perspective.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Book of Abraham Bullseye

Middle Bronze Age autobiographies from Syria are, in the words of A. L. Oppenheim, "without parallel in texts of this type from Mesopotamia and Egypt." They are very distinct in form and features. They also differ considerably from the same kinds of texts from the same area from a later date. As it turns out, however, those distinct features appear in the Book of Abraham which depicts Abraham as coming from Middle Bronze Age Syria.

I explore the connections in an article, which just appeared on Friday. The article is:
John Gee, "Abraham and Idrimi," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/1 (2013): 34-39.
I do not know that it has appeared in electronic form, but it has appeared in print. (Interested parties can find the reference for the Oppenheim quote in the article.)

So here is the problem. The Book of Abraham was published by Joseph Smith in 1842. The first Middle Bronze Age Syrian autobiography was published in 1949. If Joseph Smith had made up the Book of Abraham, he would have had to compose an autobiography set in a certain time and place and use the correct literary features and publish it a hundred years before anyone else would publish one from an archaeological dig. The process by which he may or may not have done it is simply irrelevant. None of the proposed processes can account for the literary parallels.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Those who “live without God in the world” anxiously glean their few and fleeting satisfactions, but they are unable to find real happiness (see Mosiah 27:31; Morm. 2:13). Today many are caught up in one form or another of the “club-and-pub” culture. Others focus on the popular and pervasive substitutes for real religion—sports and politics. All this is accompanied by political churning as you and I watch the secular “Princes come, Princes go, An hour of pomp and show they know.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A God of Miracles

For some reason I am reminded today of this conference talk from a dozen years ago. I am also reminded of this talk, which immediately followed it (and which I am also reminded of every time I see a potato plant. If you don't understand why, you need to read it or watch it again.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
We cannot improve the world if we are conformed to the world (see Rom. 12:2). The gospel represents constancy amid change, not compliant adaptation to changing fashions and trends. Firm followers of Jesus, therefore, will not be mere chameleons—adapting their colors to match the ever-changing circumstances by simply blending in.

Ours is a day when “every man walketh in his own way” (D&C 1:16). Thus there is also a special need to consider how dangerous pleasing oneself can be; it may be the most dangerous form of preening, lulling us into the fatal illusion one commentator aptly described:
“For if God is a socially conscious political being whose views invariably correspond to our own prejudices on every essential point of doctrine, he demands of us no more than our politics require. Besides, if God is finite, progressive, and Pure Love, we may as well skip church next Sunday and go to the movies. For if we have nothing to fear from this all-loving, all-forbearing, all-forgiving God, how would our worship of him constitute more than self-congratulation for our own moral standards? As an atheist, I like this God. It is good to see him every morning while I am shaving (Eugene D. Genovese, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” The New Republic, 11 May 1992, p. 38; emphasis added).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Report on the FAIR Conference

Yesterday and the day before FAIR held their annual conference. I was at the first one, ages ago, crammed into a little room that held about fifteen people. I have not always been able to attend, but it is a good group of people. I was surprised at some of the people who turned up. I will only talk about a few of the presentations that I think are worth a more careful look. When these become available, they should be looked at with care.

Ron Barney laid out a very careful argument that Joseph Smith had a natural inclination to keep his visions secret. Almost all of the evidence I had seen before, but Barney put it together in a very interesting and compelling way.

Ralph Hancock, a very careful thinker, argued that political and religious spheres overlap in certain areas and cannot be kept completely separate. It is important to know where these areas of overlap are and the dangers of certain political assumptions to religious freedoms. Hancock used labels for political ideologies that come from political science, and carefully explained what these meant since the same vocabulary is used in journalism to mean very different things. Hancock then explained how the assumptions behind certain political ideologies is at odds with the gospel and particularly with the Proclamation on the Family. He then argued that those who would defend the Church would have to expose the fuzzy thinking and bad assumptions behind any political ideology that would accept the assumptions that he identified. The one he focused on was the notion that the greatest good was for humans to decide for themselves what the greatest good was. He showed how this assumption runs counter to religion and undermines the family.

Apparently some individual or individuals was offended by Hancock's lucid reasoning and either did not understand his argument, or is more committed to a political ideology than either the gospel or the Church of Jesus Christ. As a result this person or persons complained to Scott Gordon and brought forth a hasty and garbled non-apology. I feel sorry for the misguided individual(s), but I also think that Professor Hancock deserved to be treated better.

Robert Kirby gave a very funny talk, but was also serious about some of the lines that those who engage in humor might impose on themselves. Some things need to be kept sacred and serious; other things do not. He provided his own ideas about some of the lines that need to be drawn. He also talked a bit about how easy it was for those with power to abuse it using examples from his days as a policeman.

Don Bradley talked about how the First Vision interacted with Joseph Smith's home environment. He also noted how the First Vision was the beginning of Joseph Smith's experience with being a seer. Again although I had seen most of the evidence before, Bradley put it together in a new, interesting and persuasive way.

There were other good presentations and I am certain that FAIR will make them available.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 91:
Among other things, a real disciple is willing, if necessary, to be part of a righteous behavioral minority, enduring the tauntings and cultural disapproval of those who walk in the wide and broad way. Such is part of the lot of the "few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:14; 3 Nephi 14:14).

By holdingfast to the iron rod, disciples will not wander, nor will they give undue heed to the "fiery darts" (1 Nephi 15:24; 8:33).

Friday, August 2, 2013

Matthew 24:4

Jesus begins his eschatological oration by saying:
Watch that none of you err. (Matthew 24:4)
The term that he uses for erring is πλανήσῃ. This verb is used in the Book of Enoch to describe the erring messengers. It is also the same root where the term planet comes from; a planet is a wandering star. The warning is against wandering away from what Jesus lays down.

In looking at the last days, it is not uncommon for individuals to wander off the right way, and Jesus does not want his disciples to stray from the path. Why they might wander is related in the next verse.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From For the Power is in Them (1970), 23-24:
It is often asked, "Where are the great Mormon painters, sculptors, artists, etc.?" It is presumptive for one with such "middlebrow" tastes to attempt a response, but perhaps a "middlebrow" has some special clinical detachment. For instance, since Church members now constitute about .001% of the world's population, it is not statistically likely that we will have any Michaelangelos or Beethovens—let alone several.

Perhaps, some say, there is reason to expect us to over-produce so that we account for at least a few blips on the cultural radar screen. But I know of no scriptural promise that suggests such overproduction. But it is often said, shouldn't we at least "try harder?" Perhaps, yet the commitment to family and the chores of the Kingdom mitigate against the harsh, unrelenting disciplines that even genius requires.

There appears, however, to be no written hostility to the arts, though there may be and probably are attitudinal deterrents among individual members. In fact, there is scriptural affirmation: "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." The rising generation of bright, talented young Church members may give us both "models" or artists who can do their home teaching and still play in Carnegie Hall. Meanwhile, a middle brow question: Is there a divine music or art? If so, the Church ought to reflect it and even to originate some of it. But does God really have a favorite school of painting, or musical composition? Or are such things a matter of preference, not principle? "There is beauty all around" and "we seek after these things." We clearly have an affirmative obligation to appreciate and to see and, presumably, to create as best a small culture can.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Matthew 24:3

In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples about future events. What provokes the discourse are three questions:
When Jesus sat down upon the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately saying: Tell us:
  •  When shall these things [the destruction of the Jerusalem temple] be?
  •  And what is the sign of thy appearance?
  •  And of the end of the world?
The chapter reads very differently depending on whether one takes the questions as three separate questions (as I have here) or combines them some way (such as considering the appearance of Christ as the end of the world). What signs one looks for depends on how one reads the question or questions.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Sermons Not Spoken (1985), 65-66:
We should recognize that certain scriptures commingle prophecies which bear upon different time periods. The classic example is chapter 24 of Matthew, in which Jesus prophesying both about events which were to happen soon and events then quite distant.

The destruction of the temple (see Matthew 24:1-12) occurred within a few decades, but the foreseen calamities preceding the Second Coming (see, for instance, Matthew 24:21, 22) were still centuries away.