Thursday, February 28, 2013

Middle Management in 2 Esdras

In 2 Esdras 16 (= Nehemiah 6) we see the effects of middle management in the Persian Empire.

The Persian rulers had allowed the Jews to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. The Jews at Jerusalem wanted to build the temple. Even though those on the top and those on the bottom wanted the same thing, the middle management had other ideas. In this case, the middle management was the governors located in Samaria. They accused those who were building the temple:
It is rumored among the Gentiles that you and the Jews are considered apostate . . . and you have set up prophets for yourself (2 Esdras 16:6-7).
Nehemiah and those building the temple were not apostate, just rumored to be among the Gentiles. Nehemiah did not really care what the Gentiles thought. The middle management did not care that Nehemiah was carrying out the orders of the Persian emperors; they did not care that Nehemiah was following the dictates of his own conscience. They did not care to find out what was actually going on. They only wanted to listen to the Gentiles and declare Nehemiah in the wrong. Nehemiah said as much:
It did not happen according to this account, which you are claiming, because after your own heart you are lying to them (2 Esdras 16:8).
The middle management, however, got an ecclesiastical leader to denounce Nehemiah, but Nehemiah
 recognized that God had not sent him, because the prophecy was directed against me, and [the middle management] bribed him to set the crowd against me so that I would be afraid and would act this way and I would sin and get an evil reputation among them so that I could be censured (2 Esdras 16:12-13).
Nehemiah had previously done two things to protect himself:
We prayed to our God and we set a watch against them day and night (2 Esdras 14:3).
I sent them messengers (angels) saying. I am doing a great work and I cannot come down lest the work cease (2 Esdras 16:3).
At least in 2 Esdras (Nehemiah), middle management is likely to try to further their own petty self interest and thwart the work of the Lord.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
To remind of the linkage between the Church and this university is unnecessary for almost all. It is why most of you came here in the first place! To remind, as well, of the need for the enlivening of personal scholarship is unneeded by most. Likewise, to remind of how many other worthy projects could use the millions and millions of dollars of tithing that support BYU would be redundant for the truly appreciative, who make up nearly all of this audience.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Lord, Increase Our Faith (1994), 23-24:
It is our giving heed to temptations by dallying over them and by anticipating, savoring, and recycling them that get us into trouble. Jesus' character is such that He was consistently decisive and dismissive as to temptation and sin. There is no equivocation in Him regarding evil. He and His Father can make no allowance for sin (see D&C 1:31)—because of the terrible toll sin exacts from the happiness of all those they love.

We mortals, on the other hand, tend to tolerate our own little clusters of sin. We rationalize that we can dismiss these whenever we really want to. The trouble is that these "squatters" come to have "rights," too. By means of their persistent presence, they take over more than we ever intended; whereas to give no heed means to give no foothold, however small. To delay their eviction is, in effect, to "heed" and accommodate the temptation.

A Flash in the Pan for Sippar

Few people today have ever heard of Buntahtun-ila, probably only slightly fewer than four millennia ago when he lived. He was the ruler of Sippar and his reign lasted for only about a year. His story, what we know of it, is an interesting tale and was pieced together by Rivkah Harris in her illuminating study, Ancient Sippar (pp. 4-5).

The local rulers of Sippar, after the collapse of the Ur II Dynasty, functioned much like kings, but did not claim the titles. That changed with Buntahtun-ila, who seems to have usurped the office, supplanting the earlier ruler Immerum about 1865 B.C. Buntahtun-ila, having deposed or at least replaced Immerum, made himself king. His rule, however, was short lived as the Babylonian king, Sumu-la-ila, took over in his twenty-ninth year. and was thereafter ruler of Sippar. Sippar's nearly half century of independence came to an end. Thereafter Buntahtun-ila has scarcely been thought of.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Wonderful Flood of Light (1990), 44:
Since God is "lending [us] breath... from one moment to another" (Mosiah 2:21), how wrong it is to use any of that precious breath to lie or to bear false witness, or to use that vital energy to "dig a pit for [one's] neighbor"! (2 Nephi 28:8.)

Today in the Mormon Odditorium

Another worthwhile quote from today's Mormon Odditorium:
I have learned one thing to a demonstration since I became a member of this Church, that if a man is determined to be damned, nothing can hinder it. I have argued with men for hours, for weeks, for months, and for years, to prevail on them to serve the Lord; but my labours have generally been spent in vain on persons who needed so much persuasion to do good. The Spirit of the Lord does not inspire me to trouble myself any more about men who will do wrong. It is enough for me to do the will of the Lord my God, even those things I am dictated to do by my President; and let every other man act as I do, and be perfectly independent whether to serve God or Mammon. I would not now step one step out of my way to head a man's course that is determined to go to the Devil; but I will say, Go into the fire, that you may be burned out. He will be saved when he comes to himself; but he never will come to himself, until he is burned out like an old pipe that has become impregnated with filthiness. (Heber C. Kimball, April 6, 1854, JD 6:323.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Today's Mormon Odditorium

From today's Mormon Odditorium comes this thought:
There is a class of persons that persecution will not drive from the Church of Christ, but prosperity will; and again, there is another class that prosperity will not drive but persecution will. The Lord must and will have a company of Saints who will follow him to the cross, if it be necessary; and these he will crown. They are the ones who will wear a celestial crown and have dominion, rule and government. These are they who will receive honour of the Father, with glory, exaltation, and eternal lives. They shall reign over kingdoms, and have power to be Gods, even the sons of God. Those other classes will take different stations and possess inferior glories, according to their works in the flesh. That class who will altogether serve the world and disregard the cause of truth will become servants to the sons of God and be in servitude throughout eternity. What shall we do? I say, Cleave to 'Mormonism,' work with all our might for the Lord, and love him better than any other earthly or heavenly object. And if he requires us to sacrifice our houses, our horses, our cattle, our wives, and our children, let them remain upon the altar; but let us follow him to salvation and eternal life. (Brigham Young, April 7, 1852, JD 6:322.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 74-75:
In Sodom they probably had absolute free speech, but nothing worth saying! On the other hand, an otherwise permissive society, which tolerates almost everything, usually will not tolerate speech that challenges its iniquity. Evil is always intolerantly preoccupied with its own perpetuation.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ezra Prays

2 Esdras 9:5 provides a description of Ezra when he prays:
I will kneel upon my knees and spread my hands to the Lord God.
This description of prayer is interesting because, with one exception, it matches depictions of prayer in pictures surviving from the ancient world. It was typical to depict people praying standing with hands stretched apart and lifted up to heaven. What is different about Ezra's description is that he is kneeling.

The position of prayer is something of a cultural thing. In Egypt, the hands would face in for prayers of petition and face outward for prayers of praise. In Mesopotamia, the position of prayer was either with the hands uplifted or with the hand touching the nose. In modern times, a variety of positions are used depending on cultural or religious preference: palms together, or hands clasped, or arms folded, sometimes kneeling. The exact position might be cultural, but assuming a position is important. As C. S. Lewis has his devil Screwtape explain:
One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray "with moving lips and bended knees" but merely "composed his spirit to love" and indulged "a sense of supplication." That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy's service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 4).
So while the exact form may be culturally determined, for most of us, it cannot be dispensed with altogether.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 161:
One of life's toughest interpersonal challenges involves our tender concern for an offending friend who deserves reproof. Yet because of friendship we are reluctant to reprove, fearing that only further distance will develop. We fret over how to help, but unfortunately we often end up by not "interfering." It's a mistake I've made a few times.

A wider sense of proportion would sensitize us much more to the needs of those being offended as well as to those of the offender. The offended and their feelings matter too. These individuals, however, are sometimes under-represented as compared to our immediate and intense concerns for the offender. A sensitive inventory of all those being adversely affected might evoke a little more democracy of sympathy. Usually we resist reproving lovingly "early on," as the scriptural word betimes directs (see D&C 121:43). But we are not someone's enemy just because we tell him the truth.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1975) :
Finding my father and mother kneeling together in sincere and agonizing parental prayers made me realize they really believed in God and loved the children over whom they were praying. Tactical errors by such parents are dissolved in the warmth of the realization of their love and in the presence of their faith. The young will often be able to understand that adults really do believe—long before they fully understand what the adults believe in!

Three on the Fourth Century

I recently finished three books that happened to deal with Christianity in the Fourth Century.

Ramsay MacMullen, The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), is one of those books that completely changes the way you think about a subject. He examines the archaeological and architectural evidence for Christianity in the third and fourth centuries. This leads him to a number of worthwhile observations, some of which bear on the issue of the growth of Christianity. His arguments seem to show that Rodney Stark has grossly overestimated the number of Christians at the end of the fourth century.

Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2010), is an examination of how the Council of Chalcedon came about. Jenkins accepts Chalcedon and views the situation of how the council arrived at the conclusions it did and how they stuck as providential. But all the palace intrigues and dirty dealing that he recounts about how things arrived where they did, make it hard to see how most of it was related in any way to the workings of the Holy Spirit. In Jenkins' telling, most of those involved in deciding the creeds were more corrupt than Christian.

Adam C. English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2012) is a hagiography of Nicolas of Myra from an evangelical perspective. Drawing on late Catholic and Orthodox hagiographies, English wants to make Nicolas into a good modern evangelical saint. He recounts most of the legends, accepting those that make Nicolas look like a good evangelical and rejecting those that do not. He also tries to situate them into a fourth century context (though some of what he says is contradicted in MacMullen). Along the line, English drops occasional tidbits of information that show that even the earliest of the legends about Nicolas are late and probably invented, and that Nicolas was probably never at the Council of Nicea (he is not on any list of participants), so alas, he probably did not punch anyone in the face at the council.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Recognizing Turkeys

In Sandra Boynton's classic book, The Compleat Turkey, she gives five rules that you are dealing with a turkey:

Rule Number One:
A turkey spends a great deal of time improving others.
Rule Number Two:
A turkey takes its work very seriously.
Rule Number Three:
A turkey considers itself exempt from any rules.
Rule Number Four:
A turkey's beliefs are determined not by principles but by situation.
Rule Number Five:
A turkey never gives up.
 Of course, this is Boynton and so you simply have to look at the illustrations which I will not reproduce.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 161:
It is certainly more popular to exhibit mercy than to apply justice, isn't it?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thoughts on Parallelomania II

Yesterday I looked at the accusation of parallelomania as a form of ad hominem argument. Today, I would like to look at it as it pertains to the way Latter-day Saints read their scriptures.

The English term parallel comes from a Greek term meaning "beside each other." It is the placing of two things side by side to compare them. Comparison is one of the basic tools that scholarship uses, whether placing two manuscripts side by side or two texts or two cultures. Usually doing so allows one to see similarities and differences. When the differences vastly outnumber the similarities scholars might subjectively determine that the parallel is stretched, or far-fetched, or non-existent. What the parallels mean can be discussed, or even debated. For example, both the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Mayans depicted victorious kings trampling enemies under their feet. The parallels are clearly there, but what they mean is something that is perhaps worth discussing. (Personally, I have not found additional evidence that suggests that this particular parallel could be anything more than an interesting coincidence, but I might be missing something.)

When it comes to scripture, however, Latter-day Saints are encouraged to draw parallels:
for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning. (1 Nephi 19:23)
Nephi encourages his readers to liken what they read (or what he reads to them) to themselves as something that is profitable and has a potential to learn from. One could argue that Nephi encourages parallelomania as a scriptural hermeneutic. Thus there is a disconnect between those who would forbid Latter-day Saints the drawing of parallels between sources and situations and what the scriptures themselves tell Latter-day Saints they should do. Cries of parallelomania in LDS scripture study are inappropriate and bear an extra burden of proof on those making the accusation.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 9:
Among the hard realities about societies is the reality that liberty, if it is abused too much, will destroy itself. A society that continually permits anything will lose everything. To be sure, drawing lines is admittedly difficult, but once society shrinks from drawing any behavioral lines simply because to do so is difficult, it has surrendered. To confuse tolerance with permissiveness can be fatal, since it is like not knowing the difference between a mushroom and a poisonous toadstool.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thoughts on Parallelomania I

Parallelomania is a curious phenomenon. Like most such battle cries, it is rarely defined. It is typically used to dismiss an argument that one does not want to deal with, either because one lacks the patience or expertise to do so. For example, parallelomania is often used to dismiss the work of Hugh Nibley without actually dealing with his arguments, usually by an individual possessing only a tiny fraction of the intellectual candlepower that Nibley had. As such the invocation of parallelomania is usually a form of ad hominem argument in the following sense:
In twentieth-century [and now twenty-first-century] usage, an ad hominem argument is a device intended to divert attention from the critical examination of the substance of an argument, and to discredit that argument by dragging in irrelevant considerations having to do with the character or motives of its author. (Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 219.)
(There is, of course, the use of a classical ad hominem argument which is a legitimate argument having nothing to do with impugning motives and not necessarily fallacious; those interested can read about it here.) So when someone accuses someone else of parallelomania, the accuser is merely diverting attention from the critical examination of the substance of an argument by claiming that there is nothing to the parallel or that the accused who made the argument has been guilty of some unspecified error. What the accuser is doing is arguing that one should not waste time on the argument of the accused because it is not worth dealing with. What the reader should often conclude is that the accuser is too lazy or incompetent to deal with the actual argument.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (), :
When people are wrong they are reinforced in their wrong by being part of a like multitude. Perhaps it is the seeming anonymity. Perhaps they somehow feel less responsible. It was irritating and unsettling to Herod to have an articulate John the Baptist around who would not practice "if you want to get along, go along." But plain people as well as prophets irritate incorrect majorities. No wonder there is scorn and shame heaped upon those who will not go along with that which is wrong, especially when evildoers become rigidly proud of their patterns of living.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Making the Path Straight

In 2 Esdras 8:21, Ezra talks about fasting and seeking that the Lord would make the road straight. At first we might be inclined to think of Matthew 7:13, but Esdras talks about the ὁδὸν εὐθεῖαν (Hebrew derek yešārāh) whereas Matthew talks about the στενῆς πύλης. Esdras' road is straight while Matthew's gate is strait.

As it turns out the parallel is to Matthew 3:3 which quotes Isaiah 40:3 using the same vocabulary (in both Greek and Hebrew) as 2 Esdras 8:21 (= Ezra 8:21). In the parallel, John the Baptist is sent to make straight the way of the Lord before his face. Ezra discusses the need for fasting and prayer to make the path straight. John the Baptist discusses repentance as a necessary prerequisite for making the path straight. While Matthew (and the other gospel writers) explicitly refer to Isaiah, the use of the same language as Ezra was probably also in the hearers' mind.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things as They Really Are (1978), 20:
In a moral malaise, society comes to tolerate certain things that would have been intolerable years before, whether these be violence or shoddiness in education. Why do so many lack the capacity to be aroused, to be stirred over such declining standards? Part of the explanation, of course, is ignorance. Part of it is indifference. But there is a new dimension to this failure of many to be aroused: intimidation growing out of the very momentum that evil has achieved. There are many mortals who fear, genuinely fear, to speak up and to lead out! It is as if a flagship were sending signals to other ships of war in a convoy, warning them, "Beware of pirates who may try to board," only to have such signals read by the sneering faces of pirates already in command on the bridges of those ships.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 164:
Early members of the Church, with all their journeys, relocations, and persecutions, didn't have much leisure time in which to study the Book of Mormon in great detail. Nevertheless they received a firm testimony of its authenticity.

This fact is symbolized by a few surviving tombstones in southern Ohio and Indiana which speak for themselves. Displayed atop those tombstones are a stone Bible and Book of Mormon. Those early members left evidence that they knew, through the Restoration, we had been "added upon," and they were bold in so signifying and exulting.

Someday the boldness of the people of the Church may match the boldness of the doctrines of the Church. Right now, we are rather shy. We don't understand how remarkable as well as plentiful those doctrines are. They contain the answers to the most vexing and searching of all human questions.

AD 250

In the year AD 250 the roman emperor Decius issued his famous edict against the Christians. All Roman citizens were required to demonstrate their personal loyalty to the Roman emperor by sacrificing to the Roman gods. They were then issued a legal certificate to attest to their act. Such a certificate was called a libellus, and a few of these have survived. Those who refused would be killed. Christians were in a quandary because they could not in good conscience obey the law.

Decius had come to power because the group of soldiers he was in charge of had rebelled against the policies of Philippus and they proclaimed him emperor. After Philippus was killed, in AD 249, the empire merely capitulated to the earlier revolt.

So, once in power, an illegitimate ruler used his imperial might to persecute and punish believers.

From the Mormon Odditorium

From The Mormon Odditorium for today:
The whole people have a vote in the selection of their officers; and if they appoint wicked men for their Governors and for their rulers, and then those rulers go to work and rule unrighteously, tyrannize over the poor and humble, and sacrifice human life to satisfy their wicked ambition, at whose hands will the Lord require the blood of the innocent? He will require it of those who elected the officers; for the responsibility does not rest alone upon the Presidents, or Governors, of Judges, but it rests in a great measure with the people who placed them in power, when a nation becomes corrupt and appoints corrupt and wicked rulers, and sustains them in their wickedness." Wilford Woodruff, January 10, 1858, JD 7:105.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Even As I Am (1982), 112:
If Jesus Christ were merely a name for some sort of vague and nonintervening "life force" in the universe, or if He were someone who had passively given us the Beatitudes but who did not press upon us His way of living, then He might be tolerated, even extolled, by those who otherwise rage against Him and His work. The acceptance of Jesus, however, is the rejection of so much else. Hence those who are too caught up in and entangled with the world cannot bear to be separated from that to which they have given themselves so unreservedly. Some have even grown quite proud of their friendship with the world. 

Elder Maxwell on Ancient Scholarship

Elder Maxwell served as an administrator at the University of Utah for many years. He was the Church's Commissioner of Education before becoming a General Authority. He was not some nice old man who did not know anything about higher education. He actually had quite a bit to say about scholarship, how it fit with the gospel and how Latter-day Saints ought to approach the task.

I prize my modest academic training; it has been helpful in many ways. I am both impressed and grateful for the Church's deep commitment to education. The gospel is continuing education at its best. However, the gospel isn't simply another building block to be fitted into the tower of truth; it is the tower of truth itself. (Deposition of a Disciple, 16)
There is no question in Elder Maxwell's mind that all other disciplines need to be fitted into the gospel. The gospel provides the lens through which all else should be viewed:
My expectations for this institution [BYU] continue to include not only teaching “out of the best books,” but also having its faculty and graduate write some of the best books! Likewise, not only are BYU’s students to be helped to appreciate and to enjoy great music, but they and some of the faculty and graduates are to compose some of it! For these and like things to be achieved, the gospel provides an ordering context with perspective and proportion to shape what will come out of the best faculty! ("Out of the Best Faculty")
After all, 
Looking through the lens of gospel perspective, we see more clearly what life is really all about. ("Out of the Best Faculty")
Elder Maxwell also noted how the gospel provides ways of structuring and looking at evidence:
Scholarship is a search for truth. The fact that a truth is given by God and then is confirmed through scholarship makes it no less true. Premises and hypotheses that help in the search for truth are often supplied by the gospel; the process is hastened but is no less exciting. (Deposition of a Disciple, 16)
Without the gospel, Elder Maxwell noted a tendency of scholars to be caught up in meaningless minutia:

President John R. Silber of Boston University has observed:

‎"One can forget the meaninglessness of his own existence by occupying himself with scientific experiments of dubious import. Countless scientists and scholars spend their lives in the search of truths that are irrelevant to them."

Something can be both true and unimportant. Therefore, just as there are, in Jesus' words, "the weightier matters of the law," there are "weightier" truths! We must not only distinguish between fact and fancy, but know which facts are worthy of fealty.

The gospel of Jesus calls our attention to the reality that there is an aristocracy among truths; some truths are simply and everlastingly more significant than others! In this hierarchy of truths are some which illuminate both history and the future and which give to men a realistic view of themselves—a view that makes all the difference in the world.

In this context, one can see how being "learned" (by simply indiscriminately stockpiling a silo of truths) is not necessarily the same thing as being wise, for wisdom is the distillation of data—not merely its collection and storage. (The Smallest Part, 4)
He therefore would want the focus of research on important things, not trivia.

Furthermore he warned against the tendency to become too immersed in our pet disciplines:
The orthodox Latter-day Saint scholar should remember that his citizenship is in the Kingdom and that his professional passport takes him abroad into his specialty. It is not the other way around. That fact is true not only for the professor but also for the plumber in his relationships with his union.

The light and truth of the gospel illuminate the whole of the human terrain, and the Latter-day Saint is to be leaven in all situations. Comparatively, the gospel will always be more help to us in better understanding our specialty and in being more effective therein than will our specialty help us to be better Church members, though the latter occurs often. (Deposition of a Disciple, 15)
The gospel is what should inform our approaches to our discipline rather than the other way around.
LDS scholars can and should speak in the tongue of scholarship, but without coming to prefer it and without losing the mother tongue of faith. (Deposition of a Disciple, 16)
We should not prefer to speak in whatever scholarly jargon our discipline favors, nor should our discipline be more of a priority than the gospel. In a University setting, this requires special care in the selection of faculty:
To seek and to maintain a consecrated, bilingual faculty—who speak both the language of scholarship and also of faith—requires retaining and recruiting those with inarguably good scholarship and also with testimonies born of the Spirit. Such individuals need never look anxiously over either shoulder. ("Out of the Best Faculty")
Both testimony and scholarship are needed. (From Elder Maxwell's and the Brethren's perspective those who have both have their confidence; middle-level managers are another matter.) Elder Maxwell warned that looking for the praise of peers is a temptation and a trap:
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. (Sermons Not Spoken, 11)
Wanting to go the ways of the world clouds our view from what we really should do.

For Elder Maxwell scholarship was a form both of worship and of consecration:
For a disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship. It is actually another dimension of consecration. Hence one who seeks to be a disciple-scholar will take both scholarship and discipleship seriously; and, likewise, gospel covenants. For the disciple-scholar, the first and second great commandments frame and prioritize life. How else could one worship God with all of one's heart, might, mind, and strength? (Luke 10:27.) ("On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar,"  7.)

Scholarship on the Ancient World
Elder Maxwell was appreciative of scholarship dealing with the ancient world:
I simply could not have attempted to cover the ground without the help of able scholars. Hugh Nibley stands out with his remarkable output of books and articles over the years. His torch, which burns brightly still, has lighted others in turn. (But for a Small Moment, vii)

On scholarship dealing with the ancient world, Elder Maxwell saw a bright future:
There will be a convergence of discoveries (never enough, mind you, to remove the need for faith) to make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along.

Latter-day Saint scholars will show the way by being able to read firsthand such ancient texts rather than relying on secondary scholarship, as was the case earlier in this dispensation. We will be able to reach such texts through a Latter-day Saint lens rather than relying solely upon able Protestant and Catholic scholars, of whom it is unfair to expect full sensitivity to the fulness of the gospel's doctrines and ordinances. (Deposition of a Disciple, 48-49)
Elder Maxwell explicitly that he "d[id] not expect incontrovertible proof to come in this way" and "neither will the Church be outdone by hostile or pseudo-scholars." (Deposition of a Disciple, 49). He quoted approving of the lines of C. S. Lewis:
"A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age." (We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ, 166)

On the other hand, Elder Maxwell recognized that those of us who pour over ancient secular texts might neglect our scriptures:
Proportion keeps us from exclaiming over trivia, whether new or old. Scholars who pour over ancient clay tablets need that sense of proportion lest they exclaim over inscribings that were long merely a cargo list, while ignoring the Sermon on the Mount. Futurists need proportion lest they exult over how technology can bring us ease and luxury, but without remembering what history sternly tells us about some of the consequences of too much ease and luxury. (We Will Prove Them Herewith, 88)
There needs to be a point to studying the texts and Elder Maxwell suggested some reasons for doing so:
The advantages flowing from scholarship in the scriptures include not only the truthful content and the useful insights to be gleaned and that can be brought to bear on problems of today (personal or institutional), but also the reality that the very reading of the scriptures puts us in touch with what God said to others in other days. It thereby creates an atmosphere into which new inspiration can come, if needed.

It is all very much like a composer's being sufficiently inspired by hearing great music to create additional great music. An artist may stumble upon a scene of great beauty that sparks in his mind a painting that has never before been on canvas. Previous revelations in the scriptures are like the "clean sea breeze of the centuries" that can be played by us, putting things in a perspective as they really are—much as a person with a few aches and pains can, by visiting a hospital, put his own physical problems in fresh and grateful perspective.

As always there must be balance. The inordinate reading of the living scriptures that crowded out one's family, one's neighbors, and Christian service would be an error. One could become monastic though scholastic. (Things As They Really Are, 106)
The text of the scriptures is more important than the background:
It is understandable that some scholars would like even more contextual material about the life, times, and culture of the peoples in the Book of Mormon. Yet such attending history (of which there is much more than we have been able to assimilate and appreciate thus far 2) is not the purpose for which the book has been brought forward, as is indicated very early in the book itself: "Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world." (1 Nephi 6:5.) While these added scriptures fail to please the world, they are for those who are in the world but not of the world. (Plain and Precious Things, 4)
But there is a place for studying the background too:
Again, the caution must be given that the most important witness of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is the witness of the Spirit. Lehi's report of his ancestor Joseph's prophecies and the inspired foresight of Book of Mormon prophets, to the effect that these various books of scripture would "grow together"(2 Nephi 3:12), signified a many-sided development. This growing together would no doubt embrace the efforts of the Latter-day Saint scholars in uncovering and integrating external evidences—after all, "to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God" (2 Nephi 9:29). But much more significant would be the vast amount of internal evidence and witness that would increasingly surrender its treasures to the eager mind and heart, especially as these faculties would become trained in spiritual perceptions and thus would tap into the teaching resources of the Spirit. Such a combination would provide an enlarged foundation upon which all believers could place even greater reliance, with greater utilization of the truths in these books. (But for a Small Moment, 64–‎65)
Elder Maxwell noted that situating the scriptures in their ancient milieu makes the scriptural text more meaningful:
These and numerous other converging references affirm that the law of Moses was intended to point mortals to Jesus Christ. In fact, as scholars are now exploring, the keeping of the law of Moses by groups included in the accounts of the Book of Mormon will yet prove to be another evidence of that book's divine origins and coming forth. Thus many things are growing together. Verses and words we might previously have passed over lightly and uncomprehendingly are now coming to be appreciated as laden with significance. One example is 2 Nephi 11:4, quoted above. This and a statement in Alma underscore the understated Mosaic and pre-exilic roots of the Book of Mormon.

Yea, and the people did observe to keep the commandments of the Lord; and they were strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses; for they were taught to keep the law of Moses until it should be fulfilled (Alma 30:3).

Most of us have sped by such verses without realizing their implications. In the timing of the Lord, the need is now arriving for us to see more clearly the significance and implications of such verses. Filled with faith and scholarship, some—such as Jack Welch and his colleagues at Brigham Young University—are bringing afresh such possibilities to our attention, as have Hugh Nibley and others earlier on. (But for a Small Moment, 52)
Elder Maxwell specifically praised the early work of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies in this regard (the statement was published in 1985, when FARMS had only existed for about six years and had just started publishing books). Elder Maxwell's unstated assumption is that the Book of Mormon is historical and that the events told in it actually took place, otherwise the details of keeping the law of Moses are meaningless. He expressed it this way:
I feel sorry for the few who seek to redefine the Book of Mormon in order to believe in it. But we do not invite these few to rewrite the Church’s curriculum. ("Out of the Best Faculty")
To another group who refused to commit themselves he warned:
Do not dare to read the Book of Mormon seriously, or you may suddenly realize that it is inlaid with incredibly important insights from a millennium of sacred history. ("Why Not Now?")
He himself wrote a whole book on the Book of Mormon with the specific intent "to show the conscientiousness of the dedicated writers and editors who with blood, sweat, and tears bequeathed the Book of Mormon to all mankind." (Plain and Precious Things). He considered that it was real blood, sweat and tears from real authors who once lived.

In 1990, Elder Maxwell began a talk at BYU noting that he was going to focus on the book of Mosiah:
Left unexplored are other possibilities, such as some our LDS scholars are reconnoitering. For instance, the biblical term mosiah was probably a political designation; it also is an honorific title in Hebrew meaning savior or rescuer (FARMS Update, April 1989). Not bad for a bright but unschooled Joseph Smith who, while translating early on, reportedly wondered aloud to Emma if there were walls around Jerusalem (The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, vol. 4, 1873–1890 [Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1967], p. 447).

There is so much more in the Book of Mormon than we have yet discovered. The book's divine architecture and rich furnishings will increasingly unfold to our view, further qualifying it as "a marvelous work and a wonder" (Isaiah 29:14). As I noted from this pulpit in 1986, "The Book of Mormon is like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards, and wings (Book of Mormon Symposium, 10 October 1986). All the rooms in this mansion need to be explored, whether by valued traditional scholars or by those at the cutting edge. Each plays a role, and one LDS scholar cannot say to the other, "I have no need of thee" (1 Corinthians 12:21).

Professor Hugh Nibley has reconnoitered much of that mansion, showing how our new dispensation links with the old world. There is not only that Nibley nexus, but also one between him and several generations of LDS scholars. ("The Children of Christ")
Elder Maxwell's biographer says the following of his efforts to support FARMS:
Neal told his brethren, "We're going to gather together several people, so that we have that wonderful resource of BYU available to us [for] research that would help with the Church's needs." He was satisfied from past experience that we "can't just wave our arms" in the face of criticism. "We've got to protect our flanks." So he told the BYU scholars about their religious research, "Let's have some peer review, so nobody in your shop publishes a faulty manuscript." He wanted "no more slam dunks" against the Church's history or the Book of Mormon, no more "shoddy, pseudo-scholarship" claims by critics. (Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple's Life, 509-510)
Elder Maxwell was emphatic on the need to defend the faith as well as possible:
Let us be articulate, for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions. The reactions to us will vary: there will be the almost Agrippas, the puzzled Pilates, the timid Van Burens, and the stout Colonel Kanes, and, of course, there will be some scorn and some rage. But deep within the rage and the scorn, if one listens closely, are the sounds of profound pain, hushed hope, and of doubt beginning to doubt itself. ("All Hell Is Moved")
I have already noted Elder Maxwell's repeated use of a quote by Austin Farrar on the need to defend faith with rational argument to create a climate where belief may flourish. Elder Maxwell was also concerned with the rising generations and knew that each rising generation needs its own faith and its own answers so the need to defend the faith never expires.

In praise of what was then FARMS, Elder Maxwell said on his last visit to BYU:
‎In a way LDS scholars at BYU and elsewhere are a little bit like the builders of the temple in Nauvoo, who worked with a trowel in one hand and a musket in the other. Today scholars building the temple of learning must also pause on occasion to defend the Kingdom. I personally think this is one of the reasons the Lord established and maintains this University. The dual role of builder and defender is unique and ongoing. I am grateful we have scholars today who can handle, as it were, both trowels and muskets.

‎Our scholars' work must be respectable, and it must be effective over the long haul. In the revelations it is clear that the Lord is concerned about the 'rising generations.' So whatever is done today in the Church is done in goodly measure for those who will follow. The rising generation needs to be, in the words of Peter and Paul, 'grounded,' 'rooted,' 'established,' and 'settled.' BYU and its scholars have a role to play in this effort. Of course testimonies are a gift of the Spirit, but the youth of the Church are blessed by what happens here.

‎I've thought several times in recent years: Who would have ventured to say 30 years ago that BYU would become a focal point for work on the Dead Sea Scrolls? And who would have guessed 30 years ago that we would have a key role with regard to certain Islamic translations? Who would have foreseen the extensive work we do on ancient texts?

‎I do not think anybody would have guessed that all that is happening would happen so quickly and so demonstrably. The Lord's hand is in it. I do not presume to know in all its dimensions or implications, but it is not accidental. (“Blending Research and Revelation,” remarks at the BYU President’s Leadership Council meeting, 19 March 2004)
The need for both muskets and trowels will never go away. Both are necessary and neither can say that the they have no need of the other. After all, gospel scholars are expected to be proficient in both. Elder Maxwell noted the tendency for church institutions not grounded, rooted, and settled in the gospel could drift into apostasy. He also noted how that had to be prevented:
Thirteen years ago I also noted how many once church-related institutions have long since become indistinguishable from other universities and colleges, keeping the ceremonial robes without the theology, the pomp without the purpose. My conviction was, and is, that such a change will not happen here, since both BYU’s trustees and faculty are at home with John Henry Cardinal Newman’s observation that the sponsoring church “steadies” the university in the performance of its tasks pertaining to true education (The Idea of a University [Garden City, New York: Image Book, 1959], Preface).

James Burtchaell’s recent writings about “The Decline and Fall of the Christian College” lament how

Ambitious but improvident leaders had suppressed their schools’ Christian immune systems and since the virus of secularization would not seek out these now-defenseless institutions until the professional personnel could be replaced by scholars predominantly of no faith or a hostile faith or an intimidated faith, the reformers had no way of understanding how much farther their actions would carry beyond what they intended. [James Tunstead Burtchaell, “The Decline and Fall of the Christian College,” First Things, April 1991, no. 12, p. 29]

Avoiding the outcome described by Burtchaell is not something that can be achieved only by a few trustees, administrators, and faculty. Only a deep and widely shared commitment by the faculty will insure that such a decline will not happen here. ("Out of the Best Faculty")
While the board of trustees does its part to keep faith in the university, it is the faculty that must draw the line in the sand and refuse to slide into the ways of the world. That commitment must be deeply and widely shared or the faculty will go south. Faculty who share that consecrated commitment find their influence multiplied:
Hence the university will continue to do all the things a good university would do anyway, but there are extra chores to be done . . . that would contribute directly to the mission of the Church, thus giving added value to the entire Church. ("Out of the Best Faculty")

Through it all, those associated with Brigham Young University need to excel at what they do:
Only an excellent university can really help the Church much. Mediocrity won’t do either academically or spiritually. A unique Church deserves a unique university! ("Out of the Best Faculty")
Elder Maxwell, who had such a vision and hopes for the scholars at BYU, and worked so hard to get the organization in place, deserves to have scholars actually take up his vision and work for it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
For what happens in cultural decline both leaders and followers are really accountable. Historically, of course, it is easy to criticize bad leaders, but we should not give followers a free pass. Otherwise, in their rationalization of their degeneration they may say they were just following orders, while the leader was just ordering followers! However, much more is required of followers in a democratic society wherein individual character matters so much in both leaders and followers.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Of One Heart (1975), 56-57:
The ways of the adversary are such, as men's hearts grow increasingly hard, that any who seem to have any tolerance whatsoever for the people of God will be viewed with anger by those who would destroy us.

AD 247

In AD 247, Julius Philippus, the Roman emperor, was victorious over the Carpi. Philippus had been born in Arabia and had come to the throne only three years earlier. And therein hangs a tale.

The emperor before him was Gordian III who began to rule in 238 at the age of 13. Gordion had appointed Philippus to be his praetorian prefect in 243 after the previous praetorian prefect, Timistheus, had died in battle. Seeing an offer of the kingdoms of the world and the glory thereof, Philippus gladly gave his soul for it. Using a shortage of food as a pretext, Phillipus told his men that it was better to be ruled by a man than by a boy. And so, in 244, Philippus had Gordion assassinated in Zaitha and himself proclaimed emperor. For six years he ruled the "civilized" world, until his own soldiers killed him in a battle in Verona.
Later tradition honoured Philip as the first Christian Emperor, but this was certainly false. (OCD, 816).
 After all, what in the conduct of Philippus would lead one to the conclusion that he was Christian?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1975), 73:
Since so much of our time is spent communicating—writing, speaking, listening—we naturally assume it is done well. But our performance level is usually poor, and this can reflect a lack of caring about the quality of our communication skills.

Valentine's Day

The earliest mention of Valentine's Day seems to be this one:
For this was on Saynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make,
Of every kynde that men thynke may,
And that so huge a noyse gan they make
That erthe, and eyr, and tre, and every lake
So ful was that unethe was there space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.
And right as Aleyn, in the Pleynt of Kynde,
Devyseth Nature of aray and face,
In swich aray men myghte hire there fynde.
This noble emperesse, ful of grace,
Bad every foul to take his owne place,
As they were woned alwey fro yer to yeere,
Seynt Valentynes day, to stonden there.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, 309-322).
The whole poem is in praise of Valentine's Day and seems to be responsible for our current celebration. It is significant that except for the mention of Saint Valentine (309, 322, 386, 683) and an oath by Saint John (451), the poem is bereft of Christianity. Venus (260-273, 351, 652), Cupid (211-217, 652), Priapus (253-259) and other such beings of classical mythology are present and the convocation is convened by Nature.

My favorite lines, though, come earlier:
For out of olde feldes, as men seyth,
Cometh all this newe corn from yer to yere,
And out of olde bokes, in good feyth,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, 22-25).
The day gan faylen, and the derke nyght,
That reveth bestes from here besynesse,
Berafte me my bok for lak of lyght,
And to my bed I gan me for to dresse,
Fulfyld of thought and busy hevynesse;
For bothe I hadde thyng which that I nolde,
And ek I ne hadde that thyng that I wolde.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, 85-91).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose, 25:
A disciple of Christ will be tolerant, but he will also be constant and consistent. A few years ago, student peer groups practiced a kind of fashionable tolerance that was really one-sided. Some students simply were not tolerating the returned missionary as much as the swinger, and some were much less understanding of the believer than of the agnostic.

Ten Ancient Mistakes VII A

I already talked about mistake #7 Customer Concentration. There is perhaps a better example which comes from a fascinating article I remember reading as an undergraduate, which unfortunately I am unable to find again to properly cite.

The article argued that Iceland lost its independence in the thirteenth century because the spinning wheel was introduced in Europe that same century. How that came about was that Iceland had never had the agricultural resources to support much of a population, and that they were always having to import grain. Fortunately, they had flocks of sheep that provided wool that they used to trade for grain. The spinning wheel changed all that because it made linen cheap. James Burke takes it from here:
While the upper classes bought silk, the peasants were able to afford linen, now in plentiful supply thanks to the earlier introduction of the horizontal loom and the spinning wheel. These two devices had considerably increased the production of both wool and linen. Linen was cheap to produce: to make linen thread all that was necessary was to harvest the flax, allow it to rot in water, dry it, beat the stalk to remove the fibrous material, and twist this together. The widespread and increasing use of linen in the late fourteenth century represents one of those crucial moments in the history of the process of change when the sequence of events suddenly changes direction and context. (James Burke, Connections, 2nd ed. [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995], 100).
With the production of clothing on the increase, the price dropped, particularly since linen was cheap. Icelandic farmers could no longer get sufficient prices for their product and thus could not afford to buy the grain to feed themselves and the Norwegians had to step in to save their Icelandic brethren (so the argument went). This is why Iceland belonged first to Norway and then to Denmark, and one of the reasons that the Icelanders bear no great love for the Danes.

It is also an example of how a country (Iceland) relied too much on one customer (Europe), and what happened when that customer decided to get its product (clothing) elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rewriting Founding Documents

I have already recommended D. A. Carson's book, The Intolerance of Tolerance. He tells the story of Robert P. George attending a meeting of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. There Professor George found a pamphlet distributed that included the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and the Constitution. But he noticed that the editors had removed the words "under God" from the Gettysburg Address. Carson comments (p. 142):
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that powerful figures and institutions are willing to rewrite our history and even our foundation documents in order to achieve the secular order for which they long.
There are many efforts to rewrite founding documents to make them more amenable to secular ideologies. One needs to be aware and wary of such efforts.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 34:
Leadership should seek to create a climate in which the leader and members of the group bring forth the best they have to offer. Sometimes, of course, the best which individuals have to offer is not of a high quality, but we must assure them as to the acceptability of their offering. Our task is avoiding unnecessary mediocrity, too, and our tolerance of poor performance by ourselves and others is, at times, not tolerance at all, but lazy leadership.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From For the Power Is in Them, 16:
The only safety lies in the beautiful blend of concepts found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, for in these we see: a concern for the poor and a stress on the corrosiveness of envy and the duty and dignity of work; both a certitude about the need for authority and extensive warnings against exercising "unrighteous dominion." We see both persuasive teachings on the need for tolerance, love, and forgiveness and the need to assert the truth articulately, to stand by it rather than compromise the truth merely to make others feel good or comfortable (for Jesus had only to "put on" Pilate in order to go free, had only to "modify" his message to be accepted by Jerusalem's power structure).

Academic Tribes

Daniel B. Klein has a nice piece on how the academic hiring practices create self-perpetuating tribes of like minded individuals.

When one sees an academic who manifests diversity of thought from his colleagues, one wonders: what happened and how does he manage to survive?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Book Recommendation

D. A. Carson has a great book out called The Intolerance of Tolerance (also available in paperback). Carson explains how the current mantra of tolerance is simply an excuse to be not just intolerant but tyrannical. I noticed in graduate school, both at Berkeley, and even more so at Yale, that an immense amount of bigotry was promoted in the name of intolerance. Carson provides many examples of the intellectual vacuousness and hypocrisy promoted in the name of tolerance. He also distinguishes between two different philosophical positions promoted under the name of tolerance and argues that one should be supported and the other thwarted.

I highly recommend the book. It should be required reading, especially at Ivy League schools.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 34:
In any event, the unwillingness of most leaders to set standards, to administer feedback when standards are not met, to praise clearly when standards are met, stands in the way of the development of excellence on the part of followers with inevitable loss in follower effectiveness and follower satisfaction. The leader who makes no demands of his disciples cannot really lead them at all. The sense of new excitement and new challenge generated by the gospel will be blunted by leaders who shield followers from the full demands of followership.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Chose (1972), 81:
Serving as a water boy on a construction project one summer at about age fourteen helped me to see many things. I especially remember the physical courage of the steel workers who had to erect a 400-foot chimney, and the boss who never asked his men to take any risk he was not willing to take himself, nor to do anything he was not competent to do himself. There were carpenters who seemed to look alike but were widely divergent in their morality, their empathy, and in their treatment of a lowly water boy.

Ten Ancient Mistakes X

The last of our ten modern mistakes that were also made anciently is:

#10 Wrong Workers

One of the best examples of this is the mistake made by Urhi-Teshup in keeping his uncle Hattusilis around in his post as administrator of the Upper Land after the death of his father Muwattallis.

Muwattaillis had appointed his younger brother Hattusilis as Chief of the Royal Bodyguard and then as administrator of the Upper Land (Apology of Hattusilis 4). Already under Muwattallis, Arma-Tarhunta brought accusations against Hattusilis, but Hattusilis escaped unpunished (Apology of Hattusilis 4), he was even promoted to be in charge of the army (Apology of Hattusilis 5). Muwattallis even made Hattusilis king of Hakpish (Apology of Hattusilis 8).

Hattusilis made out that he was a successful administrator, and had divine favor, but the city of Hakpish revolted against him (Apology of Hattusilis 9) and he ruled it with an iron hand. In the meantime, Arma-Tarhunta and his son Shippaziti brought charges against Hattusilis again, but they were unsuccessful because Muwattallis would not listen to them (Apology of Hattusilis 10).

When Urhi-Teshup became the king in place of Muwattallis, he kept Hattusilis but demoted him (Apology of Hattusilis 11). After seven years, Hattusilis revolted and and overthrew Urhi-Teshup using Kashkans, who were previously enemies of the Hittites, to depose Urhi-Teshup. In all of this Hattusilis depicts himself as a good and pious Hittite even though he was a traitor.

So Urhi-Teshup kept a power-hungry, ambitious, administrator who was only too willing to ally himself with enemies to betray and overthrow his own kinsman. Urhi-Teshup definitely kept the wrong employee around.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ten Ancient Mistakes IX

Continuing with our examination of the ancient world looking at ten business mistakes made anciently, we have reached

#9 No priorities --- no processes

An example of no processes is the famous example of the persecution of the Christians under Pliny. Pliny had the vague notion that being a Christian was something to be punished but had no idea what the procedure was. He wrote his buddy, the emperor Trajan, and asked what he should be doing in the case that someone was accused of being a Christian. Trajan's response lays out the procedure. In the first place, Pliny had no business accepting accusations without knowing who was making them. Vague accusations that someone accused someone else of wrong doing are unacceptable. If someone has an accusation to make, they should be willing to put their name behind the accusation. The vague notion that someone unspecified in a hierarchy is displeased is not an acceptable way of doing business. It makes it impossible to resolve difficulties. Trajan had the good sense to recognize that anonymous accusations should be given no credence.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1972), 31:

The sophist, who is often a carrier of cleverness, is really an intellectual guerrilla, a forlorn man without a country who draws his delight and satisfaction from the process of verbal combat and encounter itself; he does not seek resolution, but disruption. He has no homeland and, therefore, seeks always to fight his battles on the homefront of the believer. The sophist has nothing to defend. He takes no real risks because he believes in nothing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 77-78:
We ought to listen as carefully to those we supervise as to those who supervise us. You and I are usually pretty good at paying attention upward, but we are not nearly as good at heeding that which comes from other directions. Likewise, while parents are to teach their children, my, how we can learn from them at times!

Ten Ancient Mistakes VIII

Continuing our selections of ten ancient mistakes (based on this article):

#8 No vision --- No Strategy

In order to make progress, one must have a clear and communicable vision of where one wants to go and persuade others that this vision is desirable.

An example of someone without a vision is perhaps Ibbi-Sin. Ibbi-Sin inherited the Neo-Sumerian empire, at the time, the largest in the world. Faced with an Amorite invasion, Ibbi-Sin seems to have made no plans. As a result, he watched his empire slowly dwindle and vanish with him. His subordinate, Ishbi-Erra, while praising him to the skies---he was the beloved of the gods from the womb, and the king without rival---notes that he cannot get anything done, not even get the grain threshed. Another subordinate, Puzur-Numushda, notes that the strategic losses that Ibbi-Sin suffered were entirely predictable, but Ibbi-Sin appears to have done nothing about them other than get mad at his subordinates.

Sometimes, the problem is not having a vision but the ability to communicate that vision and persuade others that it is a good thing. Akhenaten wanted to take Egyptian society in a new direction where it had never gone before. While he had a clear vision where he wanted to go but was unable to sell that vision to anyone else. This is one of the reasons that his revolution is mainly a fifteen year blip in Egyptian history. If his vision of a remade Egyptian society was desirable to him, no one else wanted it. The Egyptians rejected his vision and systematically destroyed all traces of it that they could find.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ten Ancient Mistakes VII

Continuing our series on ten ancient mistakes based on ten business mistakes:

#7 Customer Concentration

This refers to businesses who have mainly one client and cannot support themselves when the client goes elsewhere.

Anciently there are a number of cases of this and I have a great example in press, but I will wait until that comes out to talk about it.

At the end of the kingdom of Judah, Judah relied on Egypt for most of its military power. Since the Egyptians were nearby and had actually installed one of the kings this made some sense at the time. Unfortunately, we know from hindsight that this was not wise. Egypt was not particularly reliable at the time. One of the reasons was that much of the Egyptian military at the time was made up of Greek mercenaries rather than Egyptians. When it came right down to it, Judah was not that important of an ally for Egypt and when the Babylonians came with their armies, Egypt decided to save her own skin rather than risk helping Judah. Zedekiah waited in vain for help.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 144:
The possessors of secular power have often allowed their intense loyalty to others to grind down their integrity. The tendency to indulge one's friends, or the failure to see betrayal or toadying sycophancy in their earliest stages, contribute to tragedy. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed" (Proverbs 13:20). Some political leaders have difficulty in personally discharging those who must go. Other leaders are too quick to provide scapegoats.

Another example for your files: Britain's Prime Minister Clement Attlee, for instance, sought to place lively individuals about him:
The fatal mistake in making appointments was to select "docile yes-men." To guard against this Attlee sometimes chose to "put in people who are likely to be awkward." These were always to be warned in advance: "If you don't turn out all right I shall sack you." ... And he was as good as his word.

One junior minister ... was summoned precipitously to Number ten, to be congratulated on the work of his department, he thought. "What can I do for you, Prime Minister?" he said, as he sat down. "I want your job," said Attlee. The minister was staggered. "But ... why, Prime Minister?" "Afraid you're not up to it," said Attlee. The interview was over.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 144-145:
Too often mortal power, status, acclaim, and riches are allowed to define people and their roles. How slowly, therefore, do some relinquish those trappings! Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, critics said, clung to power and office like a limpet.

If only all of us understood our true and lasting identity and were not so dependent on fleeting things!

By the way, one of the great moments of reproof occurred in the parliament that marked the beginning of the end of Neville Chamberlain's prime ministership. There had been an immense buildup of frustration. On this occasion Parliament was packed, as various members began to attack Chamberlain's faltering administration. Leo Amery, the next speaker, quoted some lines from Oliver Cromwell on the need for fighting spirit and resolution. Then, to the rapt attention of Parliament, he added:
I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation:

‎"You have sat too long here from any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.
It was a most dramatic moment and one that shattered Chamberlain.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Glendon W. Gee (1938-2013)

Glendon Gee passed away last week. He was a soil physicist but I knew him mainly for other roles. He was a good man and will be sorely missed.

Ten Ancient Mistakes VI

As a business mistake, this one is ranked

#6 Dreadful Customer Service and Support

An interesting twist on this is the village of Deir el-Medina at the end of the New Kingdom. The village of Deir el-Medina is unusual in a number of ways. It may be the only site in the ancient world, where we have not only the houses where the people worked, the tombs where they were buried, the construction site where they worked, but also a vast quantity of documentation on their daily lives, and, in some cases, their archive of books. Deir el-Medina was a village of workers engaged in top secret work for the government: creating the magnificent tombs for the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. Very few people were allowed to know the location of the tombs, not even all the workers were.

The workers at Deir el-Medina seem to have been largely isolated from contact with outsiders. They were entirely dependent on the government for their livelihood. The government would bring them their food and rations, which, truth be told, seem to have been considerably better than the average Egyptian; they were comfortably middle class. (But because they worked in the funerary industry, their own burials were significantly better than they would have been on their earnings alone.) The citizens of Deir el-Medina were both the employees and customers of the government.

At the end of the New Kingdom, the government, which seemed to be in trouble, began to be inconsistent in providing the people of Deir el-Medina with wages, which came in the form of food. As a result, the workers went on strike. At a later date, the protested by abandoning the place altogether, dumping their then worthless documentation in a well to prove invaluable for a later generation (if we only knew to what use we should put it!).

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
If, for instance, our attitude towards life depends upon the praise of men, the level of interest rates, the outcome of a particular election or athletic contest—we are too much at the mercy of men and circumstance. Nor should our gratitude for the gift of mortal life depend upon the manner in which we die, for surely none of us will rush eagerly forward to tell Jesus how we died!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Decline of Christian Reasoning in the Fourth Century

In his book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Mark Noll looks to the creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries as a high-water mark in Christian intellectual discourse. He also (p. 162) praises the work of Philip Jenkins as important work in "developments in world Christianity." Oddly enough, that same Philip Jenkins has a less sterling view of Christian intellect. Here are some of his comments on the level of intellectual discourse in the fourth and fifth centuries that produced the creeds:
Church debates became a matter of dueling slogans, phrases shouted at councils and synods, or recited antiphonally in a precursor of modern rap, in order to drown out opponents. The church's battles continued through slogan, symbol, and stereotype rather than through any kind of convincing intellectual discourse.

But if they did not fully understand the theology they believed, Christians knew passionately the kinds of religious thought that they loathed. They knew what they were against. (Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars [New York: Harper One, 2010], 66-67).
Jenkins acknowledges that there were a few geniuses in the fourth and fifth century but notes that they often did not even understand each other.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Not My Will but Thine (), 77-78:
If one has any doubt about how enormous ego is, he need only look at history. How often history turns upon collisions and intrusions of ego: Lucifer's bid for power in the premortal existence; Cain's bid for ascendancy over Abel; Lucifer's pleading for Moses to worship him; Jacob and Esau's earlier jousting over place; David's apparent feeling, despite loyal Uriah, that the burdens of leadership were such that he deserved Bathsheba; Laman and Lemuel's refusing to be "ruled over" by Nephi; the anxious mother of James and John seeking next-world ascendancy for them; and the rejection of Abinadi, the prophet, by a society who felt he had no business telling them what to do, just as in ancient Israel when some rebelled against Moses.

In all these and in episodes like them in our daily lives we see ego at work, refusing to give place for faith unto repentance.

Today's Nibley Quote

From his foreword to Learn Greek CWHN 17:112:
We do not study ancient languages in order to translate from them, but to read, ponder, savor, and, if possible, sound the depths of those things which cannot be translated but only tentatively paraphrased.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Today's Nibley Quote

From his forward to Learn Greek CHWN 17:113:
If you want to get serious in almost any field of study you cannot escape the Greeks. Every student at some time or other should at least give them a try.

Ten Ancient Mistakes V

Continuing our exploration of ancient mistakes we come to

#5 Customers are Not Relevant

This was summarized as:
Company leaders who don't listen to and respond to customer needs are facing financial disaster. Sadly, these managers believe their products are compelling; that they are well designed and correctly manufactured. They see no need to talk to potential buyers. They also see no reason to innovate to develop new offerings.
Ancient states did not have customers but they did have citizens. What happens if an ancient state says, in effect, "We don't care about the citizens." Many of them took exactly that attitude.

An interesting illustration of this is arguably the area of Syria during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenemhet III. We have very few written records for this time and place, enough to know that Egyptians and Egyptian troops were in the area. We also know from his bloated praises of himself that Amenemhet cared mainly for himself. We have two sphinxes belonging to him that were found in the area: One from near Aleppo, and one from Ugarit. Both were smashed to pieces. That might give some idea of what Amenemhet's Syrian subjects thought of him and were able to express once he was gone from power.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
It would be so much safer to float with the ebbing theological tides as do so many today who simply regard Jesus as a Galilean Gandhi or as a Socrates who strode in Samaria. But we know Jesus to be divine, the literal Son of the Father. We know that he established his church, and that it is not simply a church built upon doctrinal debris from other dispensations or fragments of the faith from another age. It is a church built upon the fulness of his gospel; it bears his name and is his kingdom in these latter days, a kingdom to which the good men and women of all nations, cultures, and races will be drawn. Knowing this, we are like Joseph Smith—we speak the truth because we can do no other.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ten Ancient Mistakes IV

Yesterday's Post on Rehoboam might have worked as well for today's topic:

#4 Pathetic Revenues

Dan Peterson and I wrote about one such situation in our article entitled "Graft and Corruption":
By the end of the first century A.D., Greece and Italy and even Asia Minor were dependent for grain on other countries that produced it in large quantities, as they could not. Greece and Asia Minor were fed by southern Russia, while the Italian peninsula looked anxiously to Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, Gaul, Africa, and Egypt for its support. The spread of the culture of vines and olive trees, both in the West and in the East, meant not only economic ruin for Italy (owing to a shortage of agricultural products for exchange), but could, in very rough times, result in a corn (grain) famine throughout the Empire, as indeed happened in A.D. 93. Rome had claimed Egypt as a personal dominion of Caesar under Augustus, and thus had the bread basket of the empire to supply it, but Greece and Asia Minor, less fortunate, were obliged to tough it out with only the dwindling supplies from southern Russia. These were diminished still further by the imperial army's share, for the Roman government had prohibited "the export of corn [grain] from Egypt to other places than Rome save in exceptional cases." "Thus over-production of wine and olive-oil both in the East and in the West meant a permanent crisis in the East."

Obviously, "the Roman government could not afford to let the Eastern provinces starve." Hence, emperors took measures to encourage grain production and to limit that of wine and oil. But little is known about such measures. As moralists would have seen it, the greed abounding in Roman society had infected its agricultural base. Therefore, to stop the profiteering that he believed was starving the empire, Domitian (died A.D. 96) ordered a halt to all new vineyards and the destruction of half of the existing ones. (The decree was rescinded before its full execution). But Roman policy was inconsistent.
The problem was that olives and wine were cash crops. They brought the individual farmers more money. Grain did not fetch the prices that the olives and wine did. But people needed grain to survive. To keep the Roman welfare state going, Rome needed grain. It levied taxes in grain. In A.D. 93 the Roman empire did not have enough grain to feed its population. It had insufficient grain revenues.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Look Back at Sodom (1975), 33:
While the precise mathematical proportions of the critical mass of good people necessary to save a society is not known to us, it cannot be doubted that without that critical mass, societies decline rapidly and significant changes come, in one form or another, and sometimes suddenly!

Today's Nibley Quote

From his review of History of Syria CWHN 17:101:
One is disturbed by the author's habit of annotating his remarks by references to biblical and classical sources (for example Ammianus Marcellinus) instead of the modern authors from whom he got them.