Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lectio Brevior as Mental Shortcut

J. R. Royse's useful book on textual criticism contains a useful insight about the reason for the popularity of the rule of thumb known as lectio brevior (the shorter reading is preferred). Basically, this rule of thumb says that given two manuscripts that disagree, the text with the shorter reading is to be preferred. Rouse argues from empirical evidence (and I concur though I reached the same conclusion through a different route) that scribes tend to drop things out rather than add them in. So using lectio brevior is more likely to give an incorrect reading than taking the longer reading. In the quote below, he argues that using this rule of thumb is an excuse for textual critics to avoid using their brains:
The frequency with which scholars such ash Hort and Metzger appeal to the preference for the shorter reading is doubtless in part due to the ease and objectivity of its application. Whether a particular reading fits the style of the author, is grammatically smoother, follows Semitic idiom, or is theologically more acceptable, is usually very much a matter of debate, and reaching any decision on such issues would involve the weighing of a great deal of evidence But deciding whether one reading is shorter than another is, at least usually, a perfectly straightforward task. It is therefore convenient to reduce textual questions to questions of length, and then to decide accordingly. (James R. Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008], 711.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 54-55:
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve, in reflecting on his parents, shares these interesting insights:
Everything in my parents' home was gospel-centered, gospel-oriented, gospel-governed. Day in and day out we talked about the principles of the gospel—not in a speculative way, not dwelling upon the mysteries, not considering hidden and unrevealed matters that have little bearing upon gaining salvation. Rather, we pondered in our hearts the basic and fundamental things that men must believe and to which they must conform to gain eternal life. We rejoiced continually in the words of eternal life, hoping thereby to become inheritors in due course of that greatest of all the gifts of God.

Friday, November 29, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? VII

Those who belong to academic organizations know that unevenness is a constant problem. Some papers are better, or more important than others. Some papers are solid and some are sloppy. Some papers make one wonder how they ever got on the program in the first place.

By featuring particular examples of questionable papers, some may feel that they have been cherry-picked for putrescence. As well as viewing the trees, one also needs to get an idea of the forest.

Here are all eighteen papers on Mormon Studies on the program for the 2011 annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, divided into general category, with the percentage that every category made of the entire program:
Comparative Religion (22%)
“‘I am a Mormon’ and ‘I am a Scientologist’: Recent Marketing Efforts in Mormonism and Scientology”
“The Personal and the Impersonal Divine in Mormonism and Bohemeanism” 
“The Enoch Figure: Pre- and Post-Joseph Smith”
“Not the End of the Story: Theological Reflections on the Mormon Afterlife” 

Race (6%)
“Jane Manning James: Reenacting and Reclaiming the ‘Black’ and ‘Mormon’ Past”

Gender (28%)
“The Mommy Wars, Mormonism, and the ‘Choices’ of American Motherhood” 
“Western Pioneer Mythos in the Negotiation of Mormon Feminism and Faith”
“Scripting, Performing, Testifying: Giving Faithful ‘Seximony’ through the Mormon Vagina Monologues”
“‘Further Light and Knowledge’: Ways of Knowing in Mormonism and the New Spirituality”
“Female Priestly Subjectivity and Dynasty in Early Mormonism”
 Sex (28%)
“Captive Bodies, Queer Religions: Scripting North American Religious Difference”
“Giving Them a Way Out: What American Muslim Women Can Do About Polygyny”
“‘I am a Daughter of My Heavenly Father’: Transsexual Mormons and Performed Gender Essentialism”
“‘That They Might Have Joy’: Towards a Posthetero­normative, Gay Mormon Hermeneutic”
“Joseph Smith, Polygamy, and the Problem of the Levirate Widow”

Arts (6%)
“‘For Death was That — and This — is Thee’: Stephanie Meyers, Theosis, and the Twenty-first Century Vampire Romance”

Pilgrimage (6%)
“‘When You’re Here, We’re Here’: Encounters between the Living and the Dead at Latter-day Saint Pilgrimage Sites”

Ritual (6%)
“The Cultural Logic of LDS Death-ritualization: Puzzles and Possibilities”  
As can be seen, sex and gender issues account for more than half of the program. (Rounding issues account for why the total percentage is 102%.) My survey over the past week or so has highlighted over a quarter of the presentations. This was a fairly typical year. These are fairly typical topics (although politics, which is another common topic, was not represented this year).

Mormon Studies has potential: potential for good and potential for evil. Proponents tend to downplay both the existence of the bad, and its size, extent, and pervasiveness. By portraying Mormon Studies only as good is disingenuous. I think Mormon Studies has potential to do good, but currently I find much of the work wanting in terms of academic quality, accuracy and faithfulness. The current trends are not encouraging.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 110:
In giving thanks for their daily bread, families can constitute cultural counterpoint to the swelling chorus of secularism that asks not for daily bread, but for a guaranteed lifetime of leisure and plenty. The one life-style features gratitude, the other a demanding growl.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Things to be Thankful For

Some things to be thankful for this year:

We can be thankful for families who puncture our pretensions and promote our welfare.

We can be thankful for ancient records that enlarge our memory.

We can be thankful that there was a Lehi colony and that they left a record.

We can be thankful that there is a God and that he is a God of miracles.

We can be thankful that God is a God of covenants, and he keeps his.

We can be thankful that God still talks to men, even if we do not always listen.

We can be thankful for a plan of happiness.

We can be thankful to know that this life is a test and that we are proved therewith.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 83:
The presence of the Spirit in our lives also permits us to remember, and to be grateful for, past benefactors and past favors. The world's way, of course, is one in which new grievances quickly drain our reservoirs of gratitude.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What Is Mormon Studies? VI

Some might think, given the other papers profiled over the past few days, that Mormon Studies is obsessed with sex. This is not necessarily so. Here is one example:
The Cultural Logic of LDS Death-ritualization: Puzzles and Possibilities
This paper was presented at the 2011 AAR meetings. The reader might wonder what is involved in death-ritualization, so the published abstract might provide some clues:
Why didn't Mormons develop funerary rites as components of the esoteric temple ritual that emerged in the 1840s? Such rites would have been a natural development, given the temple's associations with the dead and preparation for the afterlife; and in fact, some elements of LDS practice point in this direction, most notably the custom of clothing the dead in temple robes that are otherwise never worn or displayed outside temples. Historical precedents in LDS ritual allow us to imagine temple-based funerary rites that might have been but weren't, in turn providing foils for a Geertzian reading of the cultural logic of how Mormons do and don't ritualize death. Building on a thesis by Douglas Davies, this paper argues that LDS death-ritualization is separated from the process and occasion of death itself, a fact which suggests a lack of ritual interest in dead bodies or the lived experience of dying.
So now scholars get "to imagine temple-based funerary rites that might have been but weren't." If only things were completely different than they are, they might be very different than they are. While we are at it we might imagine that these hypothetical notions constitute research. We might even imagine that they are scholarship. Does this mean that Mormon Studies is engaged in the production of fiction?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Let the winds and the storms beat and pound upon such faithful Saints; they will overcome the world—not vice versa. Let others falter; these will not! Let others pout and doubt; these will not! Let some noisily mock the temple; these will quietly flock to the temple, to do the work of Him whose house it is!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? V

If one wants to see what Mormon Studies is like, consider the following paper from the 2011 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion held in San Francisco:
Scripting, Performing, Testifying: Giving Faithful "Seximony" through The Mormon Vagina Monologues
You might think that the title was deliberately provocative but the content was mild. So here is the abstract:
Abstract: In 2001, a group of Mormon women scripted what came to be known at the Mormon Vagina Monologues and presented their monologues at the annual Sunstone magazine conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Using this public forum to express extremely private experiences, the women not only critiqued the Mormon Church patriarchy, but also used essential elements of the Mormon faith — those of testimony, scripture, and personal revelation — to envision a Church more accepting of sexual differences. Using methodological approaches from Mormon studies, feminist studies of religion, and performance studies, this paper argues that the Mormon Vagina Monologues exploited an inherent ambivalence in the LDS relationship between priesthood authority and personal authority. A number of monologues are examined, including pieces dealing with sacred undergarments, female masturbation, eternal marriage and the celestial kingdom, and the personal and theological struggles of male-to-female transsexual Latter-day Saints.
Perhaps the presentation was by some nut out of the mainstream. No, Jill Peterfeso was affiliated with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Guilford College, a job this presentation no doubt helped her secure. But surely, this presentation was given in one of the AAR's wierd sections. No, this was presented in the Mormon Studies Consultation. This is mainstream Mormon Studies.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1972), 59:
When we become too encrusted with error, our spiritual antennae wilt and we slip beyond mortal reach. This can happen to entire civilizations. In his lamentation to his son Moroni, Mormon notes the deterioration of the Nephite society. The symptoms include a wickedness so profound that Mormon's people were described by him as being "past feeling." The Apostle Paul lamented the destructive lasciviousness of Church members in Ephesus because they had developed such insensitivity in their satiation that they were "past feeling." A sex-saturated society cannot really feel the needs of its suffering members because, instead of developing the love that looks outward, it turns man selfishly inward. Imperviousness to the promptings of the still small voice of God will also mean that we have ears but cannot hear, not only the promptings of God, but also the pleas of men.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? IV

For those who might be tempted to think that Mormon Studies does not consider spirituality, consider the following from the 2011 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion:
"Further Light and Knowledge": Ways of Knowing in Mormonism and the New Spirituality
The title of this paper sounds very interesting. What is it about? Well the published abstract says:
This paper analyzes esoteric ways of knowing in Mormonism to illuminate how particular LDS women have synthesized, supplemented or replaced Mormonism with esoteric elements of twenty-first century New Spirituality. The New Spirituality is the current generalized spiritual milieu in the U.S.: dynamic, competitive, flexible, and hybrid—an inclusive category that can cover the wide range of non-institutional options available to Americans for spiritual self-expression as well as innovative theological trends in institutional religions. It can represent what Americans once considered to be New Age practices and ideas, such as astrology, reincarnation, channeling, and divination (the belief in and use of which are diffuse in American culture). It can also refer to what has become a revitalization of established religious traditions in America toward a progressive, more humanistic spirituality.
So the paper is looking at how some Latter-day Saint women "have synthesized, supplemented or replaced Mormonism" with things "such as astrology, reincarnation, channeling, and divination" to reach a "more humanistic spirituality."

The presentation was by Doe Daughtrey, an instructor at Arizona State University and Mesa Community College. One might think, by reading the abstract, that the presentation was made in one of the esotericism sections, but instead it was presented in the Mormon Studies Consultation.

Well, this is certainly not mainstream Mormonism, but it is mainstream Mormon Studies.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Sermons Not Spoken (1985), chapter 2:
The very repetitiveness of the cares of the world can thus make their claim on us predominant. Such cares can also create a self-serving rhythm to life, be it humdrum hedonism, humdrum humanism, or humdrum nihilism.

Once we are desensitized and dulled by the cares of the world, the routine of schedules and merely surviving becomes so consuming, so self-reinforcing, and so self-serving. Though we might be stirred to resist an outright political dictatorship, the dominating cares of the world keep us compliantly in our places. Thus, scarcely sensing what might have been, we are contented with what is.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? III

Sometimes Mormon Studies papers are not necessarily recognizable from their titles. Little in the following title hints that it is a paper about Mormon Studies:
Captive Bodies, Queer Religions: Scripting North American Religious Difference
The abstract, however, reveals that it is indeed supposed to be about Mormons:
Queering of the study of North American Religions requires taking seriously the embodied construction of religious difference. In this paper, I argue that attempts to render certain religions “bad” or unAmerican are often processes of queering specific modes of embodied religiosity. I first suggest that queering the study of North American religions requires more than simply recovering the voices of American LGBT people of faith – that we must rather mobilize critical theories of sexualities to think about religious difference in North America. Next, I consider three examples of the North American captivity narrative genre—Mormon, Neopagan, and Muslim—as articulations of American Protestant anxieties about the perceived challenges marginal religions pose to heteronormativity. Following Sedgwick, I conclude by insisting that the study of North American religions is not only incomplete, but damaged, if it fails to critically engage cultural assumptions about sex.

The paper was presented by Megan Goodwin, then a graduate student in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but now Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University.

Was this perhaps presented at some session on queer religions? No, it was presented in the North American Religions Sections. Perhaps this was done a long time ago. Well, actually, it was only two years ago, in 2011.

So the study of Mormonism "is not only incomplete, but damaged, if it fails to critically engage cultural assumptions about sex." So, according to Dr. Goodwin, this is what Mormon Studies is about.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 14-15:
We cannot count on a society increasingly slipping into homosexuality to be on its guard against homosexuality. The more normal abnormalities become, the less reason people have for being wary of them. Various movements involving sex and drugs, and even some involving music, once basically an effort to flee and to escape, have now taken the offensive.

We need to have compassion and love for those who are trying to escape the world. We need to try to understand them and the root causes for their behavior. What we do not need to do, however, is to follow them. They are to be pitied and understood, not praised nor followed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? II

Some topics in Mormon Studies might raise an eyebrow. This is sometimes done by perverting standard phrases used in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
"I Am a Daughter of My Heavenly Father": Transsexual Mormons and Performed Gender Essentialism
The typical reader probably wonders what in the world "performed gender essentialism" might be. (The computer's spell checker does not even recognize essentialism as an English word.) To figure this out we look at the published abstract:
Using monologues featured in the Mormon Vagina Monologues (MVM) and scripted by male-to-female transsexual Latter-day Saints, this paper offers a case study of sexual identity construction within a rigid religious system. To be Mormon and transgendered is to occupy a particularly precarious position—socially, culturally, and soteriologically. Located within conversations around Mormon studies, Judith Butler’s “gender performativity,” performance studies’ concept of the “utopian performative,” and the MVM, this paper investigates the impact that patriarchal theology has on Mormon transsexual agency: instead of rejecting the patriarchal Church that has excommunicated them, the monologists retain the Mormon’s Father God and emphasis on strict gender essentialism. In transitioning, Mormon transsexuals disobey the Church but obey God, thereby becoming “who the Lord Jesus wants me to be.” As this paper shows, the MVM’s transsexual contributors reclaim sexual subjectivity by performing testimonies—not of the Church’s truthfulness, but of gender identity and theological commitment.
This is the work of Jill Peterfeso, now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Guilford College, and was presented in the Religion and Sexuality Consultation at the 2011 annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion. It is about as standard a paper on Mormon Studies as there is.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Why do some crush and break the tender hearts of spouses and children through insensitivity and even infidelity? Unable to sustain lasting relationships, shouting, in effect, “I am my own, I am in charge!” they retreat like cowards from their real responsibilities. (See Jacob 2:35.) In such pathetic men or women, so strong is the competition between self-pity and self-indulgence that these urges both come in second! Furthermore, just as gender was of no saving significance in the self-destructive dash of the Gadarene swine to the sea, neither is it today.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? I

I published something on Mormon Studies recently. Many people did not like it. They thought I was too quick to condemn something before it had a chance to produce any fruit. Those commentators obviously have not seen some of what passes for Mormon Studies at academic gatherings. So what sorts of things can one expect of Mormon Studies judging by papers on the topic at the most prestigious organization devoted to Religious Studies in North America? Here is a typical example:
"That They Might Have Joy": Toward a Postheteronormative, Gay Mormon Heremeneutic
The gobbledygook in the subtitle probably has the reader wondering what this polysyllabic effusion means. For that we look at the published abstract:
This paper looks at the question of how a viable gay Mormon hermeneutic would read, and what it would take for it to gain force in Mormon culture, based on a brief examination of the development of anti-gay sentiments in the history of the Church, provided in the context of official statements set forth in regards to the Equal Rights Amendment and the road toward acceptance of African-American men in priesthood positions. I conclude by arguing that although a change of approach to this issue is unlikely in the near future, a healthy dose of their own "civil disobedience" may be necessary for LGBTQ Mormons, their families and sympathizers, who are willing to stick with the Church, and seek for change from within it.
Coming as it did in the Gay Men and Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion, it is not surprising that the abstract reads more like a political manifesto than a work of scholarship. The author, Devan Hite, a master's student in pastoral psychotherapy at the Chicago Theological Seminary, seems to view churches as mere social clubs subject to political manipulation.

This was presented in 2011, but it is nothing new for the AAR. Six years earlier at the Gay Men's Issues in Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion (which seems to be the same group) there was a paper entitled, "Why Are There So Many Gay Mormon Websites?"

You can't make this stuff up.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
This is no small point. We live in a world, for example, in which some individuals do some good but do so while breaking the seventh commandment—chastity before marriage and fidelity after. If we really want to do much good, we must also be good. Instructively, in the Book of Mormon we read about a political leader, Morianton, who dealt justly with his people but not with himself. Why not? "Because of his many whoredoms," the scriptures say (Ether 10:11). This is a fascinating insight regarding the ecology of the soul.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Closer Look at Mormon Studies

For many years the American Academy of Religion met with the Society of Biblical Literature for their annual meetings. To the ordinary member this seemed to work very well. Then, some years ago, for some reason, the American Academy of Religion decided that it really did not want to meet with the Society of Biblical Literature anymore. Perhaps some of their members could not tolerate the Bible; who knows? It does not seem to matter now since the meetings are held jointly again. But for a number of years they were held separately.

Many academics are limited in the amount of travel that they can do. One trip to a conference a year paid for by the university seems to be standard. So professors had to choose one or the other conference to attend since they could not attend both.

When the split occurred one of my colleagues could not believe that I would chose to go to the SBL meetings rather than the AAR meetings since, according to him, AAR was the one true organization and the Society of Biblical Literature was an inferior organization. I have served for years on the program committee for one of the sections of the SBL and currently serve as the chair of the section. I disagree. None of that seemed to matter to him.

While I have attended some amazingly vapid presentations at SBL, the content, as a whole, seems to me to be more academically serious and rigorous than presentations at AAR, but perhaps I am too much an elitist snob. Over the coming days, while the AAR/SBL annual meetings are held, I will be highlighting some of the wonders of the American Academy of Religion particularly Mormon Studies. Since Mormon Studies now tends to view itself as a subset of Religious Studies, of which the AAR is the premier organization, one need look no further than the AAR to see how Mormon Studies is carried out by those in Religious Studies.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Thus, life is carefully designed to produce for us, if we are willing, a harvest of relevant and portable experience. But there is such a short growing season! The fields must be worked intensively amid droughts, late springs, and early frosts. For the disobedient and despairing who refuse to plant, plow, or harvest, theirs is not simply a “winter of discontent” but a despair for all seasons. The indifferent and lackluster who work only on the surface of life will harvest little. Only for the perspiring and “anxiously engaged” faithful will the harvest be manyfold (see Matt. 19:29).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Profanity in the News

This news item caught my eye. It has nothing particularly to do with the ancient world or academia, but the author is correct. This commentary says a lot:
I long for the days when comedians such as [Bill Cosby] could do a two hour routine without any gratuitous sexual references or vulgarity.
I remember Michael Medved made the point a couple of decades ago (and this is not a verbatim quote):
When was the last time you heard someone walk out of a movie and say: "That was a good film, but it needed more swear words"?
One can think of one of the climactic scenes from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth Bennett (who can certainly hold her own verbally) says:
You have insulted me in every possible method. (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, chapter 56).
And yet, no profanity or vulgarity appears in the chapter. Even in insults, one need not stoop so low.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 13-14:
Finally, when we falter, or get discouraged, the Church offers us a panorama of models who have prevailed; these authenticators are evidence of the fruits of faith and the holiness of hope. As we encounter the mist-shrouded portions of life's trail, we can grasp the "iron rod," for the age has now arrived, which Dostoevsky foresaw when
‎‎"Freedom, free thought, and science will lead mankind into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluable mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious ones, will destroy themselves, and others . . . will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy . . . will . . . whine 'save us from ourselves!'"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Double Standards in Academia

Peter Wood's article entitled, "A Serious Blow to Academic Freedom," serves as an interesting, and appalling, illustration of the politically-correct double-standard applied to academic freedom by courts. The University of Central Florida committed a clear injustice to one of its own faculty by turning over his emails to an activist. Then they changed their minds and tried to get the emails back. The activist sued them. Judge Donald Grincewicz's opinion seems capricious and poorly argued to me, but I am not a lawyer. If Professor Michael Mann deserves the protections of academic freedom, then certainly so does Professor James Wright.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 10:
The absence of authority is not freedom; nothing is more controlling than anarchy—in the home or in the streets.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Nice Analysis in an Unlikely Source

An interesting analysis of academia shows up in a science fiction novel:
But the system had overlooked one crucial factor: How were the teachers chosen?

They were career military, all of them. Proven officers with real ability. But in the military you don't get trusted positions just because of your ability. You also have to attract the notice of superior officers. You have to be liked. You have to fit in with the system. You have to look like what the officers above you think that officers should look like. You have to think in ways that they are comfortable with.

The result was that you ended up with a command structure that was top-heavy with guys who looked good in uniform and talked right and did well enough not to embarrass themselves, while the really good ones quietly did all the serious work and bailed out their superiors and got blamed for errors they had advised against until they eventually got out.

That was the military. These teachers were all the kind of people who thrived in that environment. And they were selecting their favorite students based on precisely that same screwed-up sense of priorities.

(Orson Scott Card, Ender's Shadow [New York: Tor, 1999], 202.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1972), 1:
Some assessment of our strategic situation is required. We have a larger corps—quantitatively and qualitatively—of outstanding, almost elite, young people in the Church than we have ever had in this dispensation. They are committed. They want to serve. They believe the Gospel is true. They strive to apply it, and have already made some difficult life choices consistent with their beliefs. They are vibrant with burgeoning knowledge and increasing commitment.

Not all LDS youth, however, fit in this category. There is also a wide center band of reasonably active and informed young Mormons in the spectrum who are impressive, but who are not yet as thoroughly committed and versed in the Gospel as the "elite." To one side of the spectrum's center are numerous inactive LDS youth who are basically good, but bored. They feel no need for Church activity or prefer the illusory "autonomy" of non-involvement with the Church. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the disenchanted, the dissenters, the rebels and the defectors. Some of the rebels are more distant from us than any star and more determined in their differences than ever. Their rebellion is not simply reflexive—some of it is issue-oriented. Fortunately, some of the latter group are still of active concern to their LDS peers who desire to reach them.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Treacherous Weapon is Ever a Danger to the Hand

A little wisdom from J. R. R. Tolkien:
But let us not darken our hearts by imagining the trial of their gentle loyalty in the Dark Tower. For the Enemy has failed---so far. Thanks to Saruman.'

'Then is not Saruman a traitor?' said Gimli.

'Indeed yes.' said Gandalf. 'Doubly. And is not that strange? Nothing that we have endured of late has seemed so grievous as the treason of Isengard. Even reckoned as a lord and captain Saruman has grown very strong. He threatens the Men of Rohan and draws off their help from Minas Tirith, even as the main blow is approaching from the East. Yet a treacherous weapon is ever a danger to the hand. Saruman also had a mind to capture the Ring for himself, or at least to snare some hobbits for his evil purposes. So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvellous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all!

'Also they have filled themselves with new doubts that disturb their plans. No tidings of the battle will come to Mordor, thanks to the horsemen of Rohan; but the Dark Lord knows that two hobbits were taken in the Emyn Muil and borne away towards Isengard against the will of his own servants. He now has Isengard to fear as well as Minas Tirith. If Minas Tirith falls, it will go ill with Saruman.'

'It is a pity that our friends lie in between,' said Gimli. 'If no land divided Isengard and Mordor, then they could fight while we watched and waited.'

'The victor would emerge stronger than either, and free from doubt,' said Gandalf. 'But Isengard cannot fight Mordor, unless Saruman first obtains the Ring. That he will never do now. He does not know his peril. There is much that he does not know.' (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, chapter 5.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Yes, “the enemy is combined,” but when we are combined with the Lord’s “chariots of fire,” then “they that be with us are more than they that be with them”! (2 Kgs. 6:16–17.) Furthermore, the divine promise is that no weapon formed against the Lord’s work shall finally prosper; this “is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” (Isa. 54:17; D&C 71:9.) I so assure; I so testify!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Putting on Your Poker Face

Those who study such things assert that non-verbal communication is an important part of communication. A poker face is thus a means of hiding or miscommunicating information. A poker face is a two-edged sword. We may think that a poker face communicates care or neutrality. Our audience may interpret it that way. Our audience, however, might also interpret it as indifference, or heartlessness or being past feeling.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1972), 74:
Sometimes even the most articulate and inspiring words fail to bring the desired change because of the hearer's refusal to listen, but we need to be ready even if he is not. Ready not only with content, but with conviction. A casual, uncaring testimony may not be an effective witness at all.

Friday, November 15, 2013

On Pure Text Corpora

Stephan Seidlmayer makes an important point about text corpora in this article:
Für die Grammatik sucht man sich „reine” Corpora zusammen, Gruppen von Texten, von denen man meint, dass sie dieselbe Sprache sprechen.

For grammar one seeks for "pure" corpora, groups of texts which one considers to be in the same language.
But such pure corpora are illusory:
Die Auswahl „reiner“ Corpora ist, indem sie auf einer petitio principii fußt, zirkulär.
The selection of the texts as representing a "pure" corpus is a circular argument. What we find in Egyptian texts is a range of usage that changes over time. But we also have various registers of language that authors slide between.

To speak or write in an archaic form of the language or in an antique style conveys something different than doing so in a contemporary style. The same thing happens when one uses classical Arabic instead of colloquial or King James English (or even imitation King James English) rather than a more contemporary idiom. This is not to say that using archaic Egyptian necessarily meant the same thing to an Egyptian that archaic English does in modern English, but that in both languages the shift in register provides different connotations than the use of contemporary speech. A master of the language can use such things to great effect. Unfortunately, not all writers are masters of the language.

Speaking of text corpora, one of my favorite selections of texts was used by E. A. W. Budge in his book Egyptian Language. The text examples come either from the Pyramid of Unas or Papyrus D'Orbiney. The texts are about a thousand years apart. It would be a little like learning English with examples from Beowulf and Jane Austin. While there may not be such a thing as a pure text corpus, there are reasons we usually do not put those particular texts together.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Lord, Increase Our Faith (1994), 99:
In Lehi's vision of the rod of iron, a most interesting outcome was described. Some Church members, "after they had tasted of the fruit . . . were ashamed" (1 Nephi 8:28). Why? For some objective reason? No. Simply "because of those that were scoffing at them." We see a few around us who simply can't stand to be separated from the "politically correct" multitudes in the great and spacious building. These multitudes are "in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit" (1 Nephi 8:26-27). The "finger of scorn" has its own way of separating the faithful from those who have little or no faith (see 1 Nephi 8:33).

Like Lehi, the faithful in our time will endure the pointing fingers of scorn from the world and "[heed] them not," even when the ironical fact is that some of those pointing fingers of scorn once grasped the iron rod.

Some have little faith which then fails, because they can't stand the peer pressure, the shame and scorn heaped upon them by the world. They simply cannot learn to "despise the shame of the world" (see 2 Nephi 9:18), and they let go of the iron rod and slip away. Learning to despise the shame of the world means coming to think nothing of it, just as in taking no heed of temptation (see D&C 20:22).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who Lives Longer?

In the first book of Herodotus, Herodotus tells the story of Solon visiting Croesus and figuring out how many days a seventy-year old lives. For us that is 365 x 70 = 25550 with an additional 17 days every fourth year for leap years. For the Greeks, however, there are not leap years but leap months which are added every other year.

Given twelve months of thirty days in a typical Greek year, how many days does Solon think a 70 year old lives for? Would you rather live to be seventy years old as an ancient Greek or a modern one?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
The more what is politically correct seeks to replace what God has declared correct, the more ineffective approaches to human problems there will be, all reminding us of C. S. Lewis’s metaphor about those who run around with fire extinguishers in times of flood. For instance, there are increasing numbers of victims of violence and crime, yet special attention is paid to the rights of criminals. Accompanying an ever increasing addiction to pornography are loud alarms against censorship. Rising illegitimacy destroys families and threatens the funding capacities of governments; nevertheless, chastity and fidelity are mocked. These and other consequences produce a harsh cacophony. When Nero fiddled as Rome burned, at least he made a little music! I have no hesitancy, brothers and sisters, in stating that unless checked, permissiveness, by the end of its journey, will cause humanity to stare in mute disbelief at its awful consequences.

Ironically, as some people become harder, they use softer words to describe dark deeds. This, too, is part of being sedated by secularism! Needless abortion, for instance, is a “reproductive health procedure,” which is an even more “spongy expression” than “termination of pregnancy” (George McKenna, “On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position,” Atlantic Monthly, Sept. 1995, 52, 54). “Illegitimacy” gives way to the wholly sanitized words “nonmarital birth” or “alternative parenting” (Ben J. Wattenberg, Values Matter Most [1995], 173).

Church members will live in this wheat-and-tares situation until the Millennium. Some real tares even masquerade as wheat, including the few eager individuals who lecture the rest of us about Church doctrines in which they no longer believe. They criticize the use of Church resources to which they no longer contribute. They condescendingly seek to counsel the Brethren whom they no longer sustain. Confrontive, except of themselves, of course, they leave the Church, but they cannot leave the Church alone (Ensign, Nov. 1980, 14). Like the throng on the ramparts of the “great and spacious building,” they are intensely and busily preoccupied, pointing fingers of scorn at the steadfast iron-rodders (1 Ne. 8:26–28, 33). Considering their ceaseless preoccupation, one wonders, Is there no diversionary activity available to them, especially in such a large building—like a bowling alley? Perhaps in their mockings and beneath the stir are repressed doubts of their doubts. In any case, given the perils of popularity, Brigham Young advised that this “people must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 434).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Matthew 24:17-18

When the abomination of desolation was to appear, Jesus advised his disciples:
17     ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ,
18     καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω ὀπίσω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ.

He who is on the roof, let him not go down to take the things of his house, and he who is in the field, let him to return back to take his clothes. (Matthew 24:17–19)
Two cultural points stick out. The first is the flat roofs (see also 2 Samuel 11:2). The second is the tendency to lay aside outer clothing to work in the fields. In this scenario, quick action is required and when it is time to go, it is time to go immediately. In some emergencies delay is deadly and Jesus says that this is one of them.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Fortunately, in the midst of all these things, so many Church members are sincerely striving for consecration. They “seek … first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness” (JST, Matt. 6:38). These members, in spite of their individual trials and discouragements, nevertheless, rally again and again and say, “Shall we not go on in so great a cause?” (D&C 128:22).

Soberingly, we are also advised, “Behold, the enemy is combined” (D&C 38:12). Faithful Latter-day Saints will thus surely be encompassed round about (see D&C 76:29), yet we can still develop our communities of Saints who are spiritually “one, the children of Christ” (4 Ne. 1:17).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Matthew 24:16

Since I have already discussed Matthew 24:15 in two places, I will skip to Matthew 24:16:
τότε οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ φευγέτωσαν εἰς τὰ ὄρη,

Then, let those in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:16–17)
As a military strategy, fleeing to the mountains had already been successful on at least two different occasions in Israelite history. Once under Joshua when Israelite settlements were almost always in the hills. The second time was under the Maccabees. The latter seems to be the historical precedent to which Jesus refers.

The idea is to get away from Jerusalem, which was corrupt. The idea partially backfired at Masada. Masada was partially successful because the place was defensible and the Romans had to lay siege for a couple of years. The Romans won in the end but the victory was very costly. One cannot think of what the Romans did at Masada and not think of the words of Tacitus (Agricola 98):
ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant

They make a desert and call it peace.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this article:
Thus, life is carefully designed to produce for us, if we are willing, a harvest of relevant and portable experience. But there is such a short growing season! The fields must be worked intensively amid droughts, late springs, and early frosts. For the disobedient and despairing who refuse to plant, plow, or harvest, theirs is not simply a “winter of discontent” but a despair for all seasons. The indifferent and lackluster who work only on the surface of life will harvest little. Only for the perspiring and “anxiously engaged” faithful will the harvest be manyfold (see Matt. 19:29). (Enduring Well/17)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Then What Else Matters?

I like this story, told over forty years ago by Gordon B. Hinckley:
Mine has been the opportunity to meet many wonderful men and women in various parts of the world. A few of them have left an indelible impression upon me. One such was a naval officer from Asia, a brilliant young man who had been brought to the United States for advanced training. Some of his associates in the United States Navy, whose behavior had attracted him, shared with him at his request their religious beliefs. He was not a Christian, but he was interested. They told him of the Savior of the world, of Jesus born in Bethlehem, who gave his life for all mankind. They told him of the appearance of God, the Eternal Father, and the resurrected Lord to the boy Joseph Smith. They spoke of modern prophets. They taught him the gospel of the Master. The Spirit touched his heart, and he was baptized.

He was introduced to me just before he was to return to his native land. We spoke of these things, and then I said, “Your people are not Christians. You come from a land where Christians have had a difficult time. What will happen when you return home a Christian and, more particularly, a Mormon Christian?”

His face clouded, and he replied, “My family will be disappointed. I suppose they will cast me out. They will regard me as dead.

As for my future and my career, I assume that all opportunity will be foreclosed against me.”

I asked, “Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?”

His dark eyes, moistened by tears, shone from his handsome brown face as he answered, “It’s true, isn’t it?”

Ashamed at having asked the question, I responded, “Yes, it’s true.”

To which he replied, “Then what else matters?”

These are the questions I should like to leave with you this morning: “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters?”

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
However, enduring and submitting are not passive responses at all, but instead are actually more like being braced sufficiently to report for advanced duties, while carrying—meekly and victoriously—bruises from the previous frays.

What are a few fingers of scorn now anyway (see 1 Ne. 8:33), when the faithful can eventually know what it is like to be “clasped in the arms of Jesus”? (Morm. 5:11).

What are mocking words now, if later we hear those glorious words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”? (Matt. 25:21).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ein Witz

It must be German week. A reader sent me a joke in German.
Hast du befolgt, was der Arzt dir geraten hat? Nur zu essen was Kinder essen?

Ja, leider. Ich habe Sand gegessen und eine Sicherheitsnadel, eine Kröte und ein paar alte Münzen verschluckt. Aber ich kann nicht sagen, dass ich mich jetzt besser fühle.
I was going to omit the translation, but my son persuaded me otherwise. The following translation is loose:
Have you been following the doctor's orders to only eat what babies eat?

Yes, unfortunately. I have eaten sand and swallowed a safety-pin, a toad and a pair of old coins, but I can't say that I feel any better.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
As we take our stand, the faithful will not be alone—not that alone, however. Of necessity, the angel who stood by Christ in Gethsemane to strengthen Him left Him (see Luke 22:43). If we hold aloft the shield of faith in God and faith in His commandments, His angels will be “round about [us], to bear [us] up” and “have charge over [us]” (D&C 84:88; D&C 109:22). Of this promise, I testify.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

In for the Long Haul

Stephen Seidlmeyer, in a recent article, points out the same obvious fact that I usually point out to my classes at the very beginning of class:
Das ägyptische ist die seit ältester Zeit und über die längste Dauer in Schriftquellen bezeugte Sprache der Menschheit. Von der Erfindung der Schrift im Niltal am Ende des 4. Jahrtausends v.Chr. bis zu den letzten koptischen Textschöpfungen im 14. Jahrhundert n. Chr. spannt sich ein Bogen der Literatur, der historischen und religiösen Texte, der Briefe und Verwaltungsdokumente, der alle Aspekte alten ägyptischen Lebens in Tradition und Transformation über mehr als vier Jahrtausende erhellt.

Egyptian is the human language attested at the earliest time and for the longest duration. From the appearance of writing in the Nile valley at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. until the creation of the last Coptic text in the fourteenth century A.D. it covers a spectrum of literature, of historical and religious texts, letters and administrative docuemtns, that covers all aspects of ancient Egyptian life in continuity and change for more than four thousand years.
Egyptian is uniquely situated to falsify many theories of historical linguistics. Chinese will not catch up for at least another millennium.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:

When we share the gospel as members or full-time missionaries, our friends and investigators need to feel our convictions and testimonies about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Yes, we are teaching a deep concept, but we should also be sharing a deep conviction about that powerful doctrine.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Saved by a Dolphin

Herodotus (I.23-24) tells the story of Arion, a Greek poet. In his day he was the most famous singer in the world. Arion got his money in Taenarum. Sailing back home to Corinth, the sailors decided that they could use the money that he had earned far better than he could. So they decided to throw him overboard and take the money that he had raised. He, however, sang one last song and when he jumped ship, a dolphin saved him and swam him back to Taenarum. In the end, Arion made it back to Corinth where Periander, the ruler of Corinth, caught the sailors in their lies and punished them appropriately.

At least one aspect of this ancient tale has now been called into question. Too bad.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 66:
We are free to choose, but choices bring certain consequences, affecting us and others and bringing happiness or misery. Outcomes do follow decisions, even if we did not directly choose the outcomes and their many consequences.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Situating a Book in Context

Several years ago, I published a review of a work by an eminent scholar, who generally seems to be a decent individual and whose work I normally like. The book was a commentary on a text of a religion (Mithraism) that flourished a thousand years ago but has long since perished and no living adherents survive. The work was erudite and about as exhaustive a commentary as could be done on the particular text from the particular point of view favored by the author. I thought, however, and still think that the author had situated the text in the wrong context. As I demonstrated at length:
We have a text found in Egypt, coming from an Egyptian temple archive, dealing with an Egyptian subject, in an Egyptian fashion, in an Egyptian format, using Egyptian offering
lists, invoking Egyptian deities, employing Egyptian words, and calquing Egyptian grammar that poorly matches Mithraic material. Nothing in the text is necessarily Greek or Mithraic, but several of the subjects dealt with in the text are definitely not Greek or Mithraic; on the other hand, there is nothing in the text that is not Egyptian. The simplest explanation is that that the text is Egyptian, not Mithraic.
Of course the native Egyptian religions have gone the same way as Mithraism. The point was, in a sense, purely academic. I concluded from this that the particular
book demonstrates that it is possible to provide a highly learned and seemingly plausible commentary for a work while still setting that work in the wrong contextual framework. The result, while neither useless nor worthless, is ultimately irrelevant.
Context of a work matters. If you situate the so-called Mithras Liturgy as written by Greek stoic adherents of Mithraism, you will end up with a very different reading of the subject than you will if you suppose that it is written by Egyptian priests in Thebes. The context makes a huge difference. This is why biblical scholars fight over when to place the various books of the Bible (and they are all disputed) and why there are scholarly arguments about when and where to place the Book of Mormon in history. The context is basic and makes a huge difference, which is why one can never say that the issue can (or should) go away.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Whom the Lord Loveth (2003), 65:
Evil always constitutes direct deductions from human happiness and direct additions to human misery. No wonder scriptural words about evil are harsh. Thus, trying to rationalize evil—nothing is finally wrong or a crime—is not merely naïve but terribly tragic (Alma 30:17).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Bibliographic Notice

I see that my colleague, Alexandra van Lieven's very important article, "Book of the Dead, Book of the Living," has finally been published:
Alexandra von Lieven, "Book of the Dead, Book of the Living: BD Spells as Temple Texts," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 98 (2012): 249-67.
This is an extremely important paper for understanding the Book of the Dead in the context of Egyptian religion. Though many of those engaged in research on the Book of the Dead have known about the article for some time, it deserves to be more widely known

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
In striving for ultimate submission, our wills constitute all we really have to give God anyway. The usual gifts and their derivatives we give to Him could be stamped justifiably “Return to Sender,” with a capital S. Even when God receives this one gift in return, the fully faithful will receive “all that [He] hath” (D&C 84:38). What an exchange rate!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Words Without Context

One of the biggest problems in understanding Egyptian religion is not lack of texts but lack of contexts. My colleague, Martin Stadler, writes perceptively about problems with certain types of research:
Die bisherige Forschung zu Thot wird dominiert von einer eher additiven Nebebeinanderstellung der Belege ohne analytische Ordnung oder dem Versuch, einen Zusammenhang zu finden, wenngleich einzelne Arbeiten das Material thematisch gliedern und dabei einen zentralen Wesenszug indentifizieren möchten, aus dem alle anderen Zuständigkeiten des Gottes hergeleitet werden. (M. A. Stadler, Weiser und Wesir [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009], 36.)
Although his purpose was not such, he has identified one of the problems with computerized research in the humanities. It is the same problem that often plagues philologists, like those who have preceded him in researching aspects of Egyptian religion.

While today we can gather large amounts of data, we can digitize books and have the computer turn them into text, and have the computer search them for words, we still may not know what is in the book. Our philological analysis will consist, as Stadler points out, of merely a continuous stream of passages without any analytical system or the attempt to find a context. The computer is great at finding words or phrases in a work but the mere ability to do so does not give the researcher any sense of context unless the researcher already knows the work. Thus the computer can only help to a certain extent and does not relieve the researcher of the burden of reading the text.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Regarding trials, including of our faith and patience, there are no exemptions—only variations (see Mosiah 23:21). These calisthenics are designed to increase our capacity for happiness and service. Yet the faithful will not be totally immune from the events on this planet. Thus the courageous attitudes of imperiled Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego are worthy of emulation. They knew that God could rescue them. “But if not,” they vowed, they would still serve God anyway (see Dan. 3:16–18). Similarly, keeping the unfashionable but imperative first and seventh commandments can reflect the courage which three young women displayed anciently; they said no with their lives (see Abr. 1:11).

Monday, November 4, 2013

More on the Death of the Humanities

Walter Russell Mead's blog has a post on the death of the humanities, but he also suggests how the humanities might still survive. He points out that the humanities died because the professors abandoned the great books and great ideas, which they were supposed to be engaged with, for the latest fad.
Great teachers teaching great books and great ideas are exactly what most students need. Unfortunately, too many people in the field in the last generation were interested in producing bad or indifferent teachers who taught dull and impenetrable books filled with tendentious and superficial ideas. And as for concepts like character and spiritual development, forget it.
Mead notes that not only have the students abandoned their support for the humanities, but the donors and other supporters have too. No one really has an interest in supporting people who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, or who argue that what their doing has no interest or relevance to anyone. Those who abandon the best books for the mediocre probably deserve to be abandoned. As Mead puts it:
The priests deserted the gods; the gods have deserted the temple.
Yet, no one really wants to hold the guilty accountable.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
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).

Typically, President Brigham Young spoke sternly concerning popularity and what can be its ruining acclaim:

‎“I do not want ‘Mormonism’ to become popular. … I would rather pass through all the misery and sorrow, the troubles and trials of the Saints, than to have the religion of Christ become popular with the world” (in Journal of Discourses, 10:297).

President N. Eldon Tanner cautioned, “This craving for praise and popularity too often controls actions, and as [people] succumb they find themselves bending their character when they think they are only taking a bow” (Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 76).

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).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Yet Another Reason to Keep the Word of Wisdom

A reader passed along a news report (in German) about the town of Lazaret near Gjirokaster in Albania. It seems that the major industry in the town is growing marijuana. The news report is that the entire town got stoned and about 700 people (mostly women but also children) are suffering from Cannabisvergiftung ("cannabis poisoning"). The comments on the article sound typically European with heavy doses of denial. I suppose this is what a "victimless" crime looks like.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Deposition of a Disciple (1976), 65-66:
First Questioner: Doesn't the revelation dealing with the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) make the impending conspiracy prophesied therein a little dramatic?

The Disciple: No. Combine the profit motive with the fanning of human appetite in things narcotic, or near narcotic, and the warning is not too dramatic at all. Suppose those who now profit from cigarettes were to seek dominion over the legalized use of marijuana. You can be quite certain that those who were resistant to calling attention to the harmful effects of nicotine will end up extolling the harmlessness of "pot." There is already a built-in, national constituency favoring such legalization.

Now, if such were to happen, and time and real research were to demonstrate the harmfulness of marijuana, how easy do you think it would be for a whole society to disengage? Whose lock-them-in style does this sort of consequence suggest? Such a condition would be brought about by the very "conspiring men in the last days" who brought us accelerated alcoholism, prostitution, and gambling. Such conspirators will not view with favor a minority of sin-resistant souls who seem to block their path, any more than their evil counterparts tolerated the Old Testament prophets who were an irritating interruption centuries ago!