The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Conclusion

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I never got around to finishing up this short series, but I find myself returning to the list again and again in my head. I think it deserves a follow-up with my own thoughts.

This was an interesting project to me. I had begun it because as a teacher in an LDS Gospel Doctrine class I had recognized a few obvious times where the manual had us read around a few controversial scriptures. One example that stands out to me was Moses 7:22. At the time it relieved me that the structure of the lesson guided us to avoid these scriptures because I could recognize at the time that even covering them would result in a derailment of the lesson that could possibly take up the rest of the hour and result in some serious disagreement among everyone present.

Over time I concluded that the gaps in our study of the Christian Bible (the Hebrew Bible, often called the Old Testament by Christians, and the New testament) arose not because of how each lesson in the manual focused on the scriptures per se, but rather on a particular theological concept to explore using the scriptures covered by the manual. This made sense to me but it made me a little sad. Using the text in this way transformed the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament into little more than a bag of workman's tools for pulling out a scripture as long as it furthered the purpose of the lesson; the rich tapestry of the ancient texts was never comprehensively viewed nor appreciated fully.

The solution, I thought, would be creating new manuals still focused on specific topics but that made use of areas of the scriptures not now covered. With that in mind, I started this project to discover the "Inverse Bible" of scriptures that were never reached in typical LDS classrooms that don't deviate from the lesson plan. It turns out that the reasons for avoiding these scriptures is not simply that there are too many scriptures to cover, but also that the type of scripture now deemed useful for LDS lessons precludes using other types. The manuals avoid the poetic passages, the prophecies, and the lists; instead, they focus on the narratives and the stories. This is problematic as the context of the stories may show that the authors intended readers to glean different lessons from their stories than those given by the manuals, but it is also sad because the types of scriptures avoided in the manuals composed the vast majority of the Biblical text. Simply writing a new manual isn't going to solve the problem unless it becomes a new type of manual.

An LDS audience fully engaging with the Hebrew Bible in a way respectful of this ancient collection needs a manual focused around asking questions that force the readers to engage with the text. The manuals now ask questions of the audience that forces them to quickly scan the words on the page to try and almost "fill in the blanks" of the question asked. A new manual more comprehensive of the Hebrew Bible would orient by necessity around much more open-ended questioning and a more linear reading style within each book. It would be a slower process that would almost certainly not breeze through the entire collection through some fifty-odd hour-long sessions a year.

The LDS Church is a large organization that often declares that they welcome localized dialog among their membership; however, it is noteworthy that their manuals are not fond of fostering or generating such dialog institutionally. Because of this, I can now see why it is pointless to expect such an organization to inevitably create such a manual for their Sunday courses. It is safer to be boring, perhaps, and it may be that this is preferable by a membership that usually does not want to stretch their intellects on these subjects in particular.

I can hope that in the future the official Church sources will allow for a wider-range of tools to guide the membership in approaching the Hebrew Bible as what it is (a library of many disparate works from other times and cultures that were never meant to always work in tandem) as opposed to the false impression that arises from the tool-like use now adopted by the general membership (where it is a singular cog in the larger machinery of the LDS Standard Works, working together not just with itself but also with the other volumes of the LDS canon in a unified whole). But I'm not sure if that will ever happen.

In closing, though, while I have found that the differences between the Hebrew Bible studied by your generic LDS Sunday School participant and the Inverse Bible are in general differences that arise more from their type (narrative over prophecy, prose over poetry), I was not wholly wrong about the fact that some of the omissions from study arise because of how they clash with the intentions of the manual writers for the LDS Sunday School class. There are omissions that clearly exist because they would be troubling to a Mormon audience that assumes that the Hebrew Bible is a "Mormon" standard work.

I do not expect the majority of these scriptures to ever appear in an LDS Sunday School manual. I would love for a future correlated LDS manual-writing committee to prove me wrong (I mean, they now include such stories as the Rape of Dinah and Samuel completing Saul's aborted genocide), but it would not be without comment.

Problems with Prophets and Prophecy

These scriptures are troubling because they speak against how Latter-day Saints generally view prophets and their office. The Hebrew Bible presents prophesying as a literally irresistible force; the modern Church views prophetic inspiration as a subtle action upon a mind and heart. Because of their view of prophecy which works within human frailty, Mormons are not usually surprised when sometimes a prophet turns out to have prophesied incorrectly. However, in the Hebrew Bible, prophecy is not held within the bounds of human agency and mortal frailty: when a prophet prophesies it must be the will of the deity that is causing the prophecy, and so when a prophecy is wrong it is either 1) because the prophet was a false prophet, or 2) because God himself delivered the false prophecy. Both of which are troubling views for a Mormon audience more familiar with a more "deist" deity who interacts with His creation on a more subtle level. But Yahweh is often presented as being directly involved on a much more active level, even going so far as to assist his enemies when his reputation among others is on the line.

  • How to discern (and kill) false prophets, which unfortunately has trouble with a recent essay published by the LDS Church about Brigham Young and blacks (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:20-22)
  • Saul has some trouble with a case of incapacitating (and denuding) contagious prophecy (1 Samuel 19:19-24)
  • A prophet is tricked into offending God and the liar that tricked him is made to prophesy the death of said prophet, which then occurs (1 Kings 13:11-32)
  • A prophet commands his neighbor to wound him with a sword; the neighbor refuses and is killed by a lion (1 Kings 20:35-36)
  • The same prophet asks someone else and we find out the entire reason is for an object lesson from God to prophesy the death of King Ahab for not killing the King of the Syrians (1 Kings 20:37-43)
  • God asks for volunteers of the heavenly court to go down and give false prophecies to the prophets to convince Ahab to take deadly action in war, this one is particularly troubling in LDS theology (1 Kings 22:19-23)
  • God kills 70,000 men because he inspired David to perform a census of his people and David listened (2 Samuel 24:1-15)
  • God assists the wicked King Ahab in defending against the Syrians multiple times to defend his reputation (1 Kings 20:1-34)

Odd Actions by God's Servants

These scriptures are troubling because they muddy the waters of Mormon's "Pride Cycle" as found in the Book of Mormon. Mormon is the editor of the ancient Book of Mormon text, and he actively editorializes the sources from his people's history to fit them into his main thesis: God blesses the humble and righteous and they prosper until they become proud from their blessings and sin, at which point God punishes the prideful and wicked and they suffer until they humble themselves and repent. This view of history works in the Book of Mormon as long as Mormon is carefully presenting the history of his people so that he can present the story as he wishes to. However, even in his own time period, Mormon has given up on his simplistic rewriting of history as in his own day it is obvious that the world does not conform to the theologically simple world view he had been presenting. Unfortunately, the LDS Sunday School manuals follow in line with Mormon as they explore the history of the Israelite nations. This is not without help from some of the ancient Deuteronomistic editors of the Hebrew Bible, but there are many little scriptures and stories that muddy the waters that have emerged through the various levels of editing. Areas where the righteous do not experience blessings and protection and where God inspires actions seen by later peoples as wicked.

  • Samson's wishes to marry a Philistine, which vex his parents, is inspired of God (Judges 14:4)
  • The righteous Solomon marries the daughter of Pharaoh, who is outside of the chosen people and "cursed as to pertaining the Priesthood" as mentioned in the Book of Abraham (1 Kings 3:1)
  • The righteous Solomon sacrifices in "high places" like Gibeon, which only a few chapters later is a very bad thing (1 Kings 3:2-4)
  • It is mentioned almost in passing how Egypt is able to plunder Solomon's temple of all of the golden riches during the reign of the righteous Rehoboam so that they have to be carefully replaced with brass items (1 Kings 14:25-28)
  • Righteous King Asa of Judah, while besieged by Israel, uses the treasures of the temple to bribe the Syrians into attacking their besiegers (1 Kings 15:16-20)
  • King Azariah of Judah, who "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" is smitten with leprosy by God (2 Kings 15:1-5)
  • Zedekiah rebels, is captured, and all of his sons are killed (2 Kings 25:1-7)

Problems with LDS Doctrine or Practices

Finally, there are little scriptures that are problematic because they just don't seem to "jive" with LDS doctrine on the surface. Perhaps there are ways to reconcile the two, but not without some careful thought or without rejected popular LDS views on their theology. Certainly there are apologetic answers to many, if not all of them, but I'd predict that even with an apologetic answer you will probably never see these scriptures ever addressed or even read by an LDS Sunday School.

  • Three very physical and hungry angels arrive to say Sarah will have a son, even though all angels before the resurrection of Christ are unembodied in traditional LDS thought (though not, of course, in older and more fundamentalist LDS thought, like "Adam-God") (Genesis 18:1-15)
  • Lot and his family are physically led by the hand of the angels out of Sodom (Genesis 19:16)
  • God declares that he will always have war with the people of Amulek, which is troubling viewed against the 2nd Article of Faith (Exodus 17:14-16)
  • Israel commanded not to worship and sacrifice to God anywhere else but at the Tabernacle/Temple, troubling for individuals like Lehi and Nephi (Deuteronomy 12:1-14)
  • The commandment to kill your family members who apostatize (Deuteronomy 13:9-11)
  • Tithing commanded upon your yearly increase, not interest (Deuteronomy 14)
  • Beer and wine are for helping those who are suffering (Proverbs 31:6)
  • All the dead go to the same place (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20)
  • There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
  • There was no god formed before God and there will be no god formed after him (Isaiah 43:10)
  • God is able to replace a collection of lost scriptures and even puts in new material as he does so; the lost scriptures are only a single scroll, however, not anywhere near 116 pages long, so it's no big deal (Jeremiah 36:22-32)
  • Daniel sees the Ancient of Days (Adam, according to LDS thought) judging millions from the books; he's described in godlike terms that might cause someone to think that Adam is God or something silly like that (Daniel 7:9-10)
  • Saviors on Mount Zion, in context, rescue the land by destroying their neighbors. Or through doing their temple work, I guess. (Obadiah 1:17-21)
  • God is so great: he makes the young men cheerful with beer, and the young women with new wine (which is not the same as grape juice, sorry) (Zechariah 9:17)

I never got around to finishing up this short series, but I find myself returning to the list again and again in my head. I think it deserves a follow-up with my own thoughts. This was an interesting project to me. I had begun it because as a teacher in…

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The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Part 5: Daniel to Malachi

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Daniel is an apocalyptic book with some stories as well. Apocalypticism is a viewpoint that arose in Judaism after the Babylonian Captivity (probably due to influence in Babylon/Persia by Zoroastrianism) that is defined by the idea of a great cosmic war between good and evil with a time-line from a beginning to an end. Named for the Greek term "apokálypsis", which means "uncovering from", the idea is that the secret purposes of universal forces have been revealed. Apocalyptic literature portrays God as the highest representative of good battling against the forces of evil (often personified in the form of great earthly rulers or even a supernatural equivalent to God, such as the devil). This war has echoes in the physical world around us in the forms of injustice, violence, and wealth disparity, all of which will experience a great reversal after the war ends and those who were upheld by the evil side are brought down low and the righteous oppressed are upheld. After the Babylonian captivity, apocalypticism became an energetic thread of Jewish thought influencing such famous thinkers as the author of Daniel, the Essene community that wrote and hit the Dead Sea Scrolls, John the Baptist, the historical Jesus, Paul of Tarsus, and the John who wrote the book of Revelation (actually called "apokálypsis" in Greek).

The few parts of Daniel that the Latter-day Saints are familiar with only just barely cover any of these issues. The stone cut out of the mountain without hands that will destroy the nations and fill the whole world is an apocalyptic vision that fits right in line with other writings. The Latter-day Saints have appropriated themselves into the apocalyptic time-line such that they are preparing the world for the final upheaval, and as such view themselves as that stone. Or at least they used to. This interpretation has been removed from the Seminary Scripture Mastery verses for LDS youth to memorize, videos expressing the idea have been abandoned to be forgotten in old Stake Center libraries, and on the whole the message has become far more non-denominational in recent years. But the Sunday School manual has become more and more of an antiquated relic from the early 1990s and is unrepentant about have en entire lesson on the subject (with some random attention given to the bizarre "Ancient of Days" = Adam interpretation thrown in). Unfortunately, because of this, no attention is given to the rest of Daniel, leading to the false idea that the book of Daniel is a collection of stories of faith instead of a collection of stories where good overcomes evil through supernatural means in a reflection of the apocalyptic visions that cover the non-narrative parts of the book. King Nebuchadnezzar, as one of the world's supreme monarchs, is made insane and acts like an animal for "seven times" in similitude to how the rulers of this world will eventually be overthrown and brought low. Daniel sees visions of beasts and horns and fights. He sees a vision of Alexander the Great and the various Greek rulers that arose after his death, including Antiochus Epiphanes,the infamous ruler oppressing the Jewish nation in 1 Maccabees, followed by the arrival of the Messiah to overthrow the nations oppressing the righteous people of the earth (which gives something of a clue as to when Daniel was probably written as we can match the vision against history rather well up to the point where the Messiah comes, which hasn't happened yet even over two thousand years later).

Hosea and Amos as prophets who pronounce doom on the northern kingdom are not really viewed much in their context. In Hosea a lot of attention is given to Hosea's forgiveness of his adulterous wife, symbolic of Yahweh's forgiveness of his people who have gone after other gods. Yet the Northern Kingdom is utterly destroyed by the Assyrians; there are no more Israelites that can be brought back into a worship of Yahweh.

The minor prophets are strongly present in the Inverse Scriptures, yet again showing the preference for narrative over poetics and prophecy for the Latter-day Saint Sunday School bible. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah are present almost completely in the Inverse Bible.

The presence of Malachi is an interesting combination of items. The book begins with a condemnation against Judah for not offering their sacrifices correctly and promising their destruction because of it. It then moves on to speak against the priests who offer sacrifices and who have married foreign wives and pronouncing doom. My guess is that these chapters aren't meant to be read in combination with the following chapters because they contextualize those chapters to the Jerusalem Temple and the rituals of it.

Perhaps it is a small blessing that the minor prophets are present in the Inverse Bible and not in the Sunday School Bible. Mormon doctrine is strongly apocalyptic and tends to reinterpret all prophecies of doom by various Hebrew prophets as relating to the modern world the LDS Church inhabits. If these books were to be studied in an LDS Sunday School the ancient, Near Eastern context would almost certainly be destroyed beyond all recognition as various calamities prophesied upon Israel and Judah are extended as prophecies against modern, First-World countries.

This ends my read-through of the Inverse Bible. The only thing left in this series is a final post detailing my conclusions in pursing this study. See you there!

Notable Verses and Pericopes

Daniel

  • Nebuchadnezzar's first-person account (so you know it must be true!) of how he had a dream about a tree and went crazy for "seven times" (Daniel 4:1-37)

  • Daniel sees the Ancient of Days (Adam, according to LDS thought) judging millions from the books; he's described in godlike terms that might cause someone to think that Adam is God or something silly like that (Daniel 7:9-10)

Joel

  • Woe to those who desire the day of the Lord! (Amos 5:18) (see also Isaiah 5:18-19)

Obadiah

  • Saviors on Mount Zion, in context, rescue the land by destroying their neighbors. Or through doing their temple work, I guess. (Obadiah 1:17-21)

Habakkuk

  • Habakkuk doesn't understand being a prophet to an all-powerful deity in a world where evil exists (Habakkuk 1:1-4)

Haggai

  • Haggai tells Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah after the return from exile, that in only a "little while" God will shake all the nations and the Temple will be awesome again, with his chosen servant Zerubbabel as his signet ring (Zerubbabel pretty much disappears from history after this point) (Haggai 2:1-9, 20-23)

Zechariah

  • The only possible reference to Satan as a personified representative of opposition to God as the high priest, Joshua, is seen as standing between an angel of God and the Satan. (Zechariah 3:1-5)

  • Zerubbabel is against proclaimed to become so great and famous. (Zechariah 4:6-10)

  • God is so great: he makes the young men cheerful with beer, and the young women with new wine (which is not the same as grape juice, sorry) (Zechariah 9:17)

Daniel is an apocalyptic book with some stories as well. Apocalypticism is a viewpoint that arose in Judaism after the Babylonian Captivity (probably due to influence in Babylon/Persia by Zoroastrianism) that is defined by the idea of a great cosmic war between good and evil with a time-line from…

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The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Part 4: Ezra to Ezekiel

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This post covers a huge chunk of the Inverse Bible. This is because the actual Sunday School Bible covers so very little over the same spread of books. The regular Sunday School Bible continues to show preference for stories and narrative as opposed to the poetry and prophecy of the Hebrew Bible, so the Inverse Bible is full of complicated theological reasoning (in Job), poetic structure (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), and prophecy (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). In a way this is understandable: the average reader tends to have their eyes glaze over if they ever encounter most of this material. Separated from the historical, eastern context it is difficult for most western readers to engage with these texts and most Latter-day Saint Sunday Schools are boring enough.

There are two downsides to skipping so much material, however. The first is the missed opportunity for collaborative exploration. Judaism, for instance, has a very strong tradition of discussion and argument over the foundational texts. And ancient eastern prophecy tends to use strong figurative images which means that many multiple viewpoints can be held on their contents. Early Mormonism used to have a similar culture of exploration, even if it sometimes led to conflict. In 1843, Pelatiah Brown was called before the Nauvoo High Council because they disagreed with his reading of Revelation 5:8. In response, Joseph Smith put an end to the issue, saying something like "[I] never thought it was right to [call] up a man for erring in doctrine... [I] want the liberty of believing as I please, [it] feels so good. [It] don't prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine." (William Clayton's Report of the General Conference of the Church, 8 April 1843). Joseph then proceeded to explore his own conclusions on the same text. There used to be room in Mormonism for such exploration. Covering these difficult texts in a Sunday School setting would almost demand such exploration.

The second downside is that, once again, by only covering texts like a stone skipping across the surface of the water we emerge without an accurate understanding of the texts in question. I can think of few texts that suffer as strongly from this approach as Ecclesiastes and Job, both of which are present nearly in their entirety in the Inverse Bible.

Job, especially, is omitted. Instead, preference is given to the narrative frame of the story beginning with the downfall of Job and all he possesses and ending with the final verses where Job regains all he once had. The interim is almost entirely skipped, and possibly with good reason. Mormons are quite fond of the "Pride Cycle" of the Book of Mormon, where righteousness is rewarded with blessings, which causes pride, which results in punishment, which causes humility and righteousness, which is rewarded with blessings, and so on. The Book of Job takes this view and analyzes it directly. In the characters of Job, his wife, and his friends various points of view on the justice of God in light of the evil of the world are approached. Sunday School only focuses in the barest details on the arguments of Job's friends, who argue that his current troubles must be the result of sin, and Job's response that he knows he is righteous. The lessons ignore entirely, however, that Job hates his life so much that he wishes to die, and that he views God as being unjust. Job doesn't follow his wife's urging to "curse God and die" but he doesn't shy away from accusing God of acting unfairly towards him. The famous exclamation of "I know that my Redeemer lives" is not a statement about a later messiah or an atonement, but rather is an expression of Job's faith that eventually God will redeem him from his current troubles (the next part about how "in my flesh I shall see God" is actually very difficult to translate and could just as easily mean "without my flesh I shall see God"). And the lesson entirely ignores the arguments of Elihu, who argues that both Job and his friends have everything wrong and that God cannot be limited to human concepts of "justice" and "morality" and that it is wickedness to try and confine God to these human ideals. I find the exclusion interesting as Elihu's arguments are probably the most logical response to the hypothetical of a suffering righteous human (which is why many scholars view Elihu as a later addition to the parable). Finally, God responds to Job by comparing the extent of Job's wisdom and Job's accomplishments with that of God. Basically, God's repose amounts to "Am I being unjust in punishing you Job even though you are righteous? I'm not going to answer that; I'm God, and I'm incredible!"

I'm not surprised that Jeremiah is ignored: his viewpoint often seems excessively vindictive and violent to a modern, western audience. The study of Ezekiel is also limited, too. If it wasn't for the desperate attempts to interpret his vision of the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah as the Book of Mormon and the Bible I'd doubt they'd focus much on the book. People have found it to be confusing and insane for over two thousand years. I do find it surprising that the LDS Sunday School focuses on Ezekiel's description of the war of Gog and Magog as though it applies to the future, and their interpretation of a spring of fresh water emerging from the restored Jerusalem Temple "healing" the waters of the Dead Sea is surprisingly literal when it makes just as much sense when read figuratively (Ezekiel is all about having the "proper" people in charge of the Temple, so when the Temple is restored to what it should be, the blessings will flow into the Israelite people who have become dead and stagnant).

Finally, I'm a little surprised that the ends of Ezra and Nehemiah are ignored. Abraham's wishes for Isaac to not marry a Canaanite were not skipped over, but were rather transformed into a lesson on the importance of marriage within the covenant. Ezra's cleansing the Israelites of their foreign wives would seem to fit right in alongside this approach. Perhaps when the story involves putting away existing wives---and children!---it becomes a bit harder to spin it as a positive thing. The LDS Church is so focused on the importance of families, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that they'd prefer to ignore that one of the righteous leaders in the Bible actively encourages his people to break up their existing families along racial lines.

Notable Verses and Pericopes

Ezra/Nehemiah

  • Ezra asks God for forgiveness for his people who have intermarried with non-Israelites (Ezra 9)
  • Ezra demands that the Israelites put away their non-Israelite wives and children to regain God's favor (Ezra 10:1-12)
  • Nehemiah plucks off the hair of people who intermarried with non-Israelites (Nehemiah 13:23-27)

Job

  • Entire Book of Job is approached in a non-contextual way; the arguments of Elihu are completely ignored

Psalms

  • Even in the midst of killing children, Pharaoh, and various kings, God's mercy endureth forever (Psalm 136:10-26)

  • Happy shall he be, who dashes the little ones of the Babylonians against the stones (Psalm 137:9)

  • Praise ye the Lord by singing a new song, playing instruments, and using your swords to execute judgment upon kings and nobles. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalms 149:1-9)

Proverbs

Ecclesiastes

Isaiah

  • God will destroy the leviathan, the dragon that is in the sea, and this in no way echoes earlier Mesopotamian creation myths involving a divine battle between the king of the gods and the primordial sea of chaos (Isaiah 27:1)

  • There was no god formed before God and there will be no god formed after him (Isaiah 43:10)

  • Why are your clothes so red? Because he has trodden the wine-press alone and it is the blood of his foes that he trampled in his fury as he crushed the nations (Isaiah 63:2-6)

Jeremiah

  • Because the men of Anathoth seek the life of Jeremiah, God announces that he will kill their sons and daughters (Jeremiah 11:22-23)

  • Even if God's favorite prophets somehow pleaded for mercy for the people, God would cast those prophets out of his sight rather than show mercy (Jeremiah 15:1)

  • Jerusalem is destroyed because people carried stuff around on Saturdays (Jeremiah 17:21-27)

  • The Prophet of God requests that God kill the loved ones of people who don't listen to him with famine and sword (Jeremiah 18:21-23)

  • God brings evil on the city called by his name and calls for a sword upon everyone on the earth (Jeremiah 25:29)

  • God is able to replace a collection of lost scriptures and even puts in new material as he does so; the lost scriptures are only a single scroll, however, not anywhere near 116 pages long, so it's no big deal (Jeremiah 36:22-32)

  • God will curse any of those soldiers who holds back from slaughtering the Moabites (Jeremiah 48:10)

  • Israel is God's battle ax that he will use to destroy kingdoms such as Babylon (just ignore the fact that Babylon kicks their butt in the next chapter) (Jeremiah 51:20-26)

  • The Book of Jeremiah was written to be thrown into a river (Jeremiah 51:60-64)

Ezekiel

  • Ezekiel begins his ministry by seriously tripping out and sees wheels within wheels and bizarre creatures (Ezekiel 1:1-28)

  • Wicked yet efficient Israelites create dual-purpose idols and sex toys (Ezekiel 16:17)

  • Sons do not bear the iniquities of their fathers (don't tell Ezekiel about Exodus 20:4!) (Ezekiel 18:20)

This post covers a huge chunk of the Inverse Bible. This is because the actual Sunday School Bible covers so very little over the same spread of books. The regular Sunday School Bible continues to show preference for stories and narrative as opposed to the poetry and prophecy of the…

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The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Part 3: Samuel to Kings

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First off the bat, the Inverse Bible contains the story of Hannah's vow. It's a shame that a story featuring a proactive woman who is an active participant in a story gets skipped over so we can talk about how God speaks to a little boy.

I am amazed by the LDS Sunday School lesson that covers 1 Samuel 15! Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the verse, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22), but the lesson actually goes into the full context that where Saul disobeyed was in not killing every single living thing in a city of the Amalekites. He killed the men, the women, and even the children, but he had neglected to kill their livestock or their king. When Samuel the Prophet rectifies the situation by hewing the Amalekite king "in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal", the manual misses a great opportunity to talk about prophetic fallibility. It is a horrible, disturbing story with really very little redeeming about it. I am surprised in the extreme that the entirety of chapter 15 is part of the lesson, but it is. And, oddly, it is thus not present in the Inverse Old Testament.

I find it interesting that the story of Uzzah, who is killed while trying to steady the ark, is skipped as the phrase "steadying the ark" is often used with a negative connotation by members of the Church. Perhaps they don't want to address that Uzzah's death freaks David out so that he doesn't finish moving the ark the rest of the way to Jerusalem for three months and performs constant sacrifices as it moves and dances "before the lord with all his might" to prevent further problems.

Also, the rebellion of David's son, Absalom, is a major part of the story of David as told by the author of Samuel-Kings as it is something of a reversal of the story of David's guerrilla war against Saul. It also highlights some of the failings of David as a leader because he loves his son too much to treat him properly as a rebel and a danger to his rule.

I'm not surprised that the subsequent centuries of warfare between the divided kingdoms after Solomon are not covered: they're repetitive and rather boring. However, there are a number of oddities regarding the "prophets" and the actions of so-called "righteous" kings that would lead to some disturbing Sunday School classes for many LDS. The actions of the prophets in particular paint a picture of prophecy that behaves almost like a mental disease like epilepsy or something: it sometimes seems to take people by force and make people say and do things they might not otherwise do. Which is very different than how Mormons view their current leadership who are led so subtly that they sometimes make mistakes.

It's also somewhat disturbing how often the Temple Solomon built at Jerusalem is despoiled, sometimes by attacking nations and other times by the Judean kings themselves so they can use the treasures as bribes for other nations. Usually Mormons view Jerusalem as a stronghold that was never successfully attacked until the Babylonians attack after Lehi leaves Jerusalem, but the facts as presented in the biblical history paint a very different picture of a much weaker, more-often attacked Jerusalem. Jerusalem is sacked and plundered right before Zedekiah is made king (whose first year of reign begins the Book of Mormon).

Notable Verses and Pericopes

1 Samuel

  • Eli thinks Hannah is drunk as she prays for a son which she promises to God (1 Samuel 1:1-28)
  • Hannah's psalm of praise (1 Samuel 2:1-11)
  • Eli's sons use the ark to scare attacking Philistines, but it gets stolen instead and most everyone dies (1 Samuel 4:1-22)
  • The ark dismembers a Philistine idol and causes deadly hemorrhoids (1 Samuel 5:1-12)
  • The Philistines placate God by making golden mice and golden hemorrhoids and returning the ark (1 Samuel 6:1-12)
  • God kills over fifty thousand people because some of them looked in the ark (1 Samuel 6:19)
  • Jonathan is sentenced to death by King Saul because he ate some damn good honey after Saul decreed a fast even though Jonathan didn't hear the decree (1 Samuel 14:24-30, 38-45)
  • Saul has some trouble with a case of incapacitating (and denuding) contagious prophecy (1 Samuel 19:19-24)
  • David eats the showbread of the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21:1-6)
  • David levels up his weapons with Goliath's sword (1 Samuel 21:8-9)
  • David pretends to be crazy to avoid being killed by Philistines (1 Samuel 21:10-15)
  • David gains the wife and property of Nabal through divine means that were in no way suspicious (1 Samuel 25)
  • Unlike Saul, David has no problem with genocide (1 Samuel 27:8-9)
  • Saul talks to the ghost of Samuel through a necromancer (1 Samuel 28:3-25)

2 Samuel

  • David performs constant sacrifices and dances to prevent further death after God kills Uzzah while moving the ark (2 Samuel 6:6-15)
  • David's wife is upset at David's dancing because he exposes himself while doing so (2 Samuel 6:16, 20-21)
  • David executes prisoners of war using precise measurements (2 Samuel 8:2)
  • Absalom insults his father by publicly having sex with his father's concubines (2 Samuel 16:20-23)
  • Absalom dies because his hair gets caught in a tree (2 Samuel 18:9-15)
  • God kills 70,000 men because he inspired David to perform a census of his people (2 Samuel 24:1-15)

1 Kings

  • David is given a young girl in bed to keep him warm in his old age (1 Kings 1:1-4)
  • Nathan the prophet starts some political intrigue with Solomon's mom to ensure he inherits the throne instead of another of David's numerous sons (1 Kings 1:5-34)
  • David's dying counsel to his son Solomon is to wrap up all the loose ends of people he never got around to killing in vengeance before he died (1 Kings 2:5-10)
  • The righteous Solomon marries the daughter of Pharaoh, long after the Exodus (1 Kings 3:1)
  • The righteous Solomon sacrifices in "high places" like Gibeon (1 Kings 3:2-4)
  • The cloud of God is so thick in Solomon's new temple that the priests can't even do their jobs (1 Kings 8:10-13)
  • Solomon enslaves the Israelites' ancestral enemies (1 Kings 9:21-22)
  • A prophecy of an awesome later Judean king to come, which is in no way a possible editorial insertion by later scribes trying to curry favor with said king, is given to a wicked king (1 Kings 13:1-3)
  • The same prophet is tricked into offending God and the liar that tricked him is made to prophesy the death of said prophet, which then occurs (1 Kings 13:11-32)
  • It is mentioned almost in passing how Egypt is able to plunder Solomon's temple of all of the golden riches during the reign of the righteous Rehoboam so that they have to be carefully replaced with brass items (1 Kings 14:25-28)
  • Righteous King Asa of Judah, while besieged, uses the treasures of the temple to bribe the Syrians into attacking Israel (1 Kings 15:16-20)
  • God assists the wicked King Ahab in defending against the Syrians multiple times to defend his reputation (1 Kings 20:1-34)
  • A prophet commands his neighbor to wound him with a sword; the neighbor refuses and is killed by a lion (1 Kings 20:35-36)
  • The same prophet asks someone else and we find out the entire reason is for an object lesson from God to prophesy the death of King Ahab for not killing the King of the Syrians (1 Kings 20:37-43)
  • Lady Macbeth Jezebel, wife of Ahab, convinces him to man up and steal ownership of a nice vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-16)
  • After he humbles himself, God changes his mind about punishing the wicked King Ahab and instead decides to send the punishment onto Ahab's son (1 Kings 21:25-29)
  • God asks for volunteers of the heavenly court to go down and give false prophecies to the prophets to convince Ahab to take deadly action in war (1 Kings 22:19-23)

2 Kings

  • Elijah burns 101 soldiers with fire from heaven to prove he's a "man of God" (2 Kings 1:9-12)
  • Israel is besieged and goes so hungry that Israelites begin eating their young children (2 Kings 6:24-29)
  • Elisha gives a self-fulfilling prophecy worthy of the Matrix Oracle (2 Kings 8:7-15)
  • A chapter from Game of Thrones randomly appears in the Bible, complete with multiple kings, betrayal, arrows through the chest, and the bodies of royalty being consumed by dogs (2 Kings 9)
  • Jehu continues his bloody, HBO-friendly rampage through the kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 10:1-28)
  • King Azariah of Judah, who "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" is emitted with leprosy by God (2 Kings 15:1-5)
  • The Assyrians destroy the kingdom of Israel and replace the people with foreign nations (2 Kings 17)
  • Hezekiah is prophesied to die but is able to change God's mind about that, instead getting an extra fifteen years added to his life (2 Kings 20:1-7)
  • The Babylonians capture Jerusalem, despoil it and the temple, carry away to Babylon everyone except the poorest people, and set up Zedekiah as a puppet ruler (2 Kings 24:10-17)
  • Zedekiah rebels, is captured, and all of his sons are killed (2 Kings 25:1-7)

1 and 2 Chronicles

  • It's actually rather boring to list anything here because Chronicles is a later re-telling and whitewashing of the books of Samuel through Kings and thus has a LOT of duplications with those works while also leaving out many of the more odd or disturbing aspects (such as David's adultery with Bathsheba, for instance). Also, some stories are covered by LDS Sunday Schools in the study of Chronicles that are skipped in the study of Kings, such as the discovery of a book in the reconstruction of the temple by Josiah and the subsequent consultation about it by the Prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22).

First off the bat, the Inverse Bible contains the story of Hannah's vow. It's a shame that a story featuring a proactive woman who is an active participant in a story gets skipped over so we can talk about how God speaks to a little boy. I am amazed by…

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The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Part 2: Numbers to Ruth

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What is the LDS Inverse Old Testament?

I explained the basic idea in the first post, but I'll summarize it again. This is, based on a number of relatively safe assumptions, the collection of scriptures that almost all Latter-day Saints are going to be unfamiliar with as they have almost never read and studied them. The Seminary and Institute programs are an obvious exception to this collection, but these programs are really indented for the youth and the young single adults. Regular Latter-day Saints are unlikely to approach a thorough study of the Hebrew Bible on their own initiative and so their only real exposure to it is going to be through the weekly hour of Sunday School once every four years.

It's a far counter-argument that there is only one hour (often less) a week to devote to Sunday School, and that with less than sixty full hours to devote to the subject it is not reasonable to expect Latter-day Saints to exhaustively cover the Old Testament. And I agree fully. Except that the manual of study has remained almost completely unchanged since the mid-90s. That means that the LDS Church has had at least five full iterations of covering the Old Testament using the current manual. Once or twice I could agree with to spend only covering a small amount of the scriptures, but I find it to be very unsettling that the current curriculum has remained unchanged for so long. Two decades worth of attention to the scriptures covered in Sunday School has more than solidified the LDS conception of this ancient record, but this conception is flawed as the LDS Inverse Old Testament has also solidified during that same time as a sealed book that is often utterly alien to the average Latter-day Saint. The fact that the Inverse Old Testament is often more messy when it comes to other LDS scriptures and doctrines means that many Latter-day Saints have a false impression of cohesion and cleanliness between the various book of their scriptures. This may lead to promoting faith, but it is at the expense of authenticity and a fair understanding of the foreign aspects of an ancient Near Eastern body of literature.

Hopefully, bringing the existence and contents of the LDS Inverse Old Testament to light will help impel the LDS Church to adopt actions that will help expose more Latter-day Saints to more of their scriptures for a richer, deeper, and more complex understanding of their personal and official faith.

Moving On Past Leviticus

The project now continues from the Book of Leviticus, which is present in the Inverse Old Testament in its entirety, to the Book of Ruth, which is fully covered by LDS Sunday School attention and is thus absent from the Inverse Scriptures.

I'm not surprised that Leviticus is skipped. It's too full of uncomfortable questions in regards to its usefulness after Jesus Christ "fulfilled" the Law of Moses; since the Church still uses many aspects of the Torah in its doctrines the line dividing old law from law still in force becomes fuzzier the closer you examine it.

Numbers is, the name aside, an interesting book. Yes there are a lot of genealogies (why it's called numbers) but there are also a lot of stories, too. It's rather odd that people tend to view Exodus in the abstract as a book of the story of leaving Egypt with only a little bit of boring law material and Numbers as a book with tons of boring law material and only a few stories when the inverse is pretty much true.

Some of the stories I can understand being skipped as they show a very merciless God and prophet, but some of the others that are skipped could have been put to great used, such as the story of Zelophehad's daughters. Interestingly, the divine command to attack the Midianites in Numbers 31:1-16 is covered in LDS Sunday Schools. They are commanded to kill everyone, but they take as prisoner the women and children. The Inverse Scriptures contain the rest of the story, however, where Moses commands them to kill the women and male children and to keep the young virgin girls for themselves, as well as the immense list of booty the Israelites took from their slaughtered foes.

I also think some attention to the varied ingredients and types of sacrifices would be useful for a Mormon audience who seem to think that the sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple always consisted of the blood sacrifice of lambs. There are offerings of grains, offerings of wine, offerings using cows, goats, birds. There are even offerings of hair as part of the Nazarite vow that even early Christians such as Paul continued to perform (Acts 18:18). Mormons, like Christians, like the symbolism between Jesus's execution on the Cross and the death of the lamb as part of Passover, but good symbolism is no reason to obscure the depth and complexity of an ancient culture.

Some Stories and Pericopes contained in the Inverse Scriptures So Far

Numbers

  • God claims the Levites as his own instead of claiming all Israel's firstborn as his because he didn't kill their firstborn when he killed the Egyptian firstborn during the Exodus (Numbers 3:12-13, 45-51)
  • A magical ritual to prove the guilt or innocence of wives, though not of husbands, accused of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31)
  • The ritual requirements for a Nazarite vow, which even Paul performed post-conversion (Numbers 6:1-21)
  • Moses talks with an invisible God (Numbers 7:89)
  • Moses changes God's mind by implying he'll look bad to other nations if he kills all of the Israelites (Numbers 14:13-20)
  • Moses leads the camp in stoning a man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36)
  • God puts down internal rebellions against Moses through earthquake, fire, and disease (Numbers 16)
  • Moses begins the conquest of Canaan (Numbers 21:32-35)
  • Aaron's son takes charge in ending wickedness by throwing a javelin really, really hard (Numbers 25:1-15)
  • Zelophehad's daughters make an impressive feminist argument about inheritance rights to Moses (Numbers 27:1-11, 36:1-13)
  • God tells Moses that he is going to die just like his brother Aaron died (Numbers 27:12-13)
  • Moses tells the Israelites to kill all of the enemy survivors of a battle except the young virgin girls which they can keep (Numbers 31:13-18)

Deuteronomy

Joshua

  • Joshua circumcises the Israelites who'd been born in the wilderness (Joshua 5:2-8)
  • Joshua is visited by the captain of God's army (Joshua 5:13-15)
  • Joshua burns the body, family, and possessions of Achan because he stole an idol from a ruined city (Joshua 7:24-26)
  • The Israelites take the city of Ai by stratagem and kill everyone, man and woman, and burn the city (Joshua 8)
  • The Israelites merely enslave the Gibeonites instead of slaughtering them because the Gibeonites trick them (Joshua 9)
  • God holds the sun and moon in the sky to give the Israelites enough time to defeat and kill the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-14)
  • The death toll of merely the kings of the cities that the Israelites destroyed (Joshua 12:7-24)

Judges

  • Left-handed Ehud kills the very fat King Eglon with a homemade sword (Judges 3:14-30)
  • Shamgar kills six hundred Philistines with an ox goad long before the more-famous Samson (Judges 3:31)
  • Sisera is killed by Jael by lulling him into a false sense of security and nailing his head to the ground (Judges 4:17-22)
  • Gideon makes a golden coat that becomes an idol and has 70 sons from his many wives (Judges 8:22-32)
  • Jephtah makes a rash vow to God and sacrifices his daughter (Judges 11:29-40)
  • Samson's wishes to marry a Philistine, which vex his parents, is inspired of God (Judges 14:4)
  • Samson carries away the doors of the gate of the city, posts and all, on his shoulders (Judges 16:3)
  • A Levite's concubine is cruelly raped and killed, so he cuts her up and sends her to the various tribes around (Judges 19)
  • Because of this, the other tribes begin a war that nearly wipes out the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20)
  • Because so many of the Benjaminites died, new wives are provided by killing the men of the city of Jabesh-Gilead as well as by kidnapping from the city of Shiloh (Judges 21)

What is the LDS Inverse Old Testament? I explained the basic idea in the first post, but I'll summarize it again. This is, based on a number of relatively safe assumptions, the collection of scriptures that almost all Latter-day Saints are going to be unfamiliar with as they have almost…

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The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Part 1: Pearl of Great Price to Leviticus

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What is the LDS Inverse Old Testament?

I am assuming that most Sunday School teachers are both lazy and fearful of doing things wrong. For this reason, even though the manual itself suggests that teachers use it merely as a guide and not as the lesson itself, most teachers are just going to use the lessons as written. I am assuming that when the manual says "read Moses 4" referring to an entire chapter that this directive is usually not going to be followed. It takes a long time to read a full chapter and it'd be easier to just summarize it, which introduces our own biases and assumptions far more easily. Scriptures that are more likely to be read are the smaller snippets the manual lists in the catechism-like questions to be read and discussed. From these assumptions it is easy to create a list of scriptures that are likely to be read and discussed by any typical LDS Sunday School class. And from this list of scriptures it is easy to create the inverse of such a list and produce a list of scriptures that are not likely to be read and discussed by any typical LDS Sunday School class. And, assuming that most Latter-day Saints do not read the Old Testament voluntarily or closely as they do the Book of Mormon or the New Testament, it is likely that this inverse list contains chapters and verses that the average member of the Church is likely to never read or discuss.

So I've begun to do just that. I've gone through the lesson manual, highlighted the suggested scriptures, and then inverted the highlighting. I've only spent about two hours on the project so far and have gotten to the Book of Numbers. I'll keep posting more as I get further along.

You can click here to see the actual list of scriptures in the Inverse Old Testament.

My Thoughts So Far

There is a ton of time spent in the Pearl of Great Price and Genesis compared to the rest of the Bible.

All of Abraham's astronomy is skipped except where it's useful. A few verses about pre-existent intelligences are read from within the midst of conversation about Kokoabeum and how the sun and moon gets their light. And the polytheistic renderings of the creation account in Abraham might as well as not exist since they receive no attention whatsoever in comparison to Moses/Genesis.

The genealogies are skipped (okay, that's actually not very noteworthy, I'd do the same). Also skipped are the lists of instructions on how to build the Tabernacle in Exodus.

There are a number of stories that are skipped, probably because they are either 1) weird, 2) racist, or 3) show someone held up as a moral figure in a bad light.

Some of the verses that are skipped are ones that seem to stretch credulity in regards to these ancient stories by being too physical and real, such as the land that arises out of the ocean that the evil people opposed to Enoch's people retreat to, giants seeking the life of Noah, the angel wrestling with Jacob, or Moses's face shining so brightly that he has to put a veil over his face.

Moses 7:22 is such an obvious omission that I find it laughable. Seriously, the reading of the verses before and after is meant to be a very close reading in class, but the verse itself is 100% absent from the readings suggested by the materials.

While it is recommended to "teach and discuss" the entirety of Moses 4 (the temptation of Eve by the snake) I find it notable that the scriptures listed to read are all about the results of the fall. There is nothing recommended to read in class, unless it's the entirety of chapter 4, that covers the actual mechanics of the snake tempting Eve. My personal speculation is that it is more than a little disturbing that the "Inspired Version" still presents this temptation as occurring through a snake even after introducing Satan as the force of evil trying to thwart the Creation. This flies in the face of the LDS Temple drama where there is no snake and Satan himself does the temptation directly. I think they don't want people to begin messing with the thorny questions of which of these two chapters, both revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is the "more real" and "less symbolic" account of things.

I am surprised that the story of Judah and Tamar is meant to be discussed and even possibly read, but it is, along with the rape of Dinah (though, oddly enough, the following retaliatory murders by the sons of Jacob aren't really the focus of the story as presented in the manuals).

The attention paid to the Ten Commandments is somewhat sad when you consider that these commandments begin a series of several chapters of additional commandments, including such gems as "Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon" and "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day". The entire Book of Leviticus is also apparently useless for any attention by any given Sunday School.

Some Stories and Pericopes contained in the Inverse Scriptures So Far

Moses

  • Lamech, the son of the infamous Cain, is betrayed by his wives (Moses 5:53-54)
  • The baptism of Adam (Moses 6:64-68)
  • The retreat of Enoch's enemies to a land that arises out of the sea where they fight with giants (Moses 7:14-16)
  • The seed of Cain is black (Moses 7:22 all by its lonesome)
  • Enoch sees all things long before the Brother of Jared (Moses 7:67)

Abraham

Genesis

  • God commanding Noah not to eat blood or murder (Genesis 9:1-7)
  • Noah getting drunk and cursing Ham's son Canaan (Genesis 9:18-29)
  • Abraham, not told by God to do so, tells a king that his wife is his sister (Genesis 12:11-20)
  • Abraham performs sacrifices and sees a smoking furnace pass between the pieces (Genesis 15:7-17)
  • Hagar runs away from Sarah's abuse and is told by an angel to go back (Genesis 16:4-9)
  • Abraham is commanded to circumcise his household (Genesis 17:10-14, 23-27)
  • Three very physical and hungry men arrive to say Sarah will have a son (Genesis 18:1-15)
  • Lot and his family are physically carried out of Sodom by the messengers (Genesis 19:16)
  • Lot has unconscious, incestuous sex with his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38)
  • Abraham tells another king that his wife is his sister (Genesis 20)
  • Isaac is born (Genesis 21:1-8)
  • Sarah kicks our Hagar and her young son (Genesis 21:9-21)
  • Abraham buys a grave for his dead wife (Genesis 22)
  • Abraham marries again, doesn't give anything to his concubines' sons, and dies (Genesis 25:1-10)
  • Isaac tells a king that his wife is his sister (Genesis 26:6-17)
  • Jacob has kids with his two wives and with their two servants (Genesis 29:29-35, 30:1-24)
  • Laban tries to cheat Jacob, instead Jacob cheats Laban with bad biology (Genesis 30:25-43, 31:1-16)
  • Rachel steals her brother's household gods and hides them by sitting on them and claiming she's having her period (Genesis 31:17-35)
  • Jacob meets the angels of God (Genesis 32:1-2)
  • Jacob wrestles all night with God demanding a blessing (Genesis 32:24-32, except for verse 28 which is read)
  • Rachel dies (Genesis 35:16-20)
  • Everything after Jacob arrives in Egypt to see his long-lost son Joseph (Genesis 47-50)

Exodus

  • Moses's wife circumcises her son to save Moses's life from an angry God (Exodus 4:24-26)
  • God declares that he will always have war with the people of Amulek (Exodus 17:14-16)

Leviticus

  • The entire book

What is the LDS Inverse Old Testament? I am assuming that most Sunday School teachers are both lazy and fearful of doing things wrong. For this reason, even though the manual itself suggests that teachers use it merely as a guide and not as the lesson itself, most teachers are…

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The LDS Inverse Old Testament Scriptures

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See the first post for a fuller explanation, but these are the scriptures that your average LDS Sunday School, and thus your average Latter-day Saint as most do not read the Hebrew Bible (often called the Old Testament by Christians) if they don't have to, is not going to read and discuss. If for some reason you brought a Hebrew Bible to an LDS Sunday School that only contained the following scriptures you'd never be able to be called on to read aloud. Conversely, the inverse of this collection is the greatly shortened and abridged Hebrew Bible composed only of scriptures encountered during the weekly Sunday SChool class.

* = [this passage is covered technically by the manuals but in such a way that I'd still argue it will almost certainly not be read or discussed.]

Moses

Abraham

Genesis

Exodus

Leviticus

Numbers

Deuteronomy

Joshua

Judges

Ruth

  • (None of Ruth)

1 Samuel

2 Samuel

From the manual, summarizing 1 Samuel 25 to 2 Samuel 10:

Soon after David spared Saul’s life, Saul sought David’s life one more time. Again David had the opportunity to kill the king, but he refused to do so. Battles continued between the people of Judah and the surrounding nations, and Saul and Jonathan were killed in one of those battles. David succeeded Saul as king and became one of the greatest kings in the history of Israel. He united the tribes into one nation, secured possession of the land that had been promised to his people, and set up a government based on God’s law. However, the last 20 years of his life were marred by the sinful decisions that are discussed in this lesson.

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

(Due to the overlaps between Samuel/Kings and Chronicles not every chapter present here indicates a lack of attention and knowledge to what Chronicles depicts)

2 Chronicles

Ezra

Nehemiah

Esther

  • (None of Esther)

Job

Psalms

(The entire book of Psalms has probably been read by most LDS as with the Book of Isaiah)

Proverbs

(Proverbs contains a great deal of famous sayings and possibly is familiar to many LDS)

Ecclesiastes

Song of Solomon

Isaiah

(Much of Isaiah is quoted, with some changes, in the Book of Mormon, so I will be explicitly skipping those chapters as they almost certainly have been read, even if they're not usually understood, by most active members.)

Jeremiah

(I am surprised that chapter 16 is absent as the hunters and fishers being missionaries is laughably incorrect in context, but it's actually covered in the Sunday School manual as such.)

Lamentations

Ezekiel

Daniel

Hosea

Joel

Amos

Obadiah

Jonah

(None of Jonah)

Micah

Nahum

Habakkuk

Zephaniah

Haggai

Zechariah

Malachi

See the first post for a fuller explanation, but these are the scriptures that your average LDS Sunday School, and thus your average Latter-day Saint as most do not read the Hebrew Bible (often called the Old Testament by Christians) if they don't have to, is not going to read…

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Technology Proposal for MT

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MT has become, without a doubt, one of the most influential websites of its kind on the Internet. Both beloved and vilified because of their reach and their fame, the editors of MT should be proud of what they have been able to accomplish.

However, the Internet moves fast and staying still often means falling behind. If MT wants to continue to inspire thought and research they need to move away from a paradigm of disseminating information outwards to a new paradigm where the editors are not just content producers but are more traditional editors of content provided by a wide variety of sources. Response time to research, both in terms of advancing new findings as well as removing incorrect facts, will become more important in the future as sources of information continue to widen.

Recently, MT underwent a much-needed design and layout change. It is very much appreciated, but we can and need to move further than just a redesign. However, there are two groups who have different needs that must be satisfied in any future planning.

The editors need a solution where creating and editing content is as easy as possible. However, developers and designers need a solution that removes as much of the display layout and logic from the content as possible. CMS's such as Wordpress usually provide a great middle road by providing simple content editing that is later combined with the site layout after editing. However, CMS's as a technology are complex and are targets for security flaws, and when combined with multiple users of various permission levels can quickly become immensely complex for an average user.

 --Update--

 I don't even discuss wikis, which has been pointed out by a few people.  It's true, I don't, and it's true that a wiki would take care of much of the needs of the editors and people who want to contribute.  However, I feel that adopting a style used by sites like FAIRMormon have a few shortcomings.  Using FAIRMormon as an example, here are the problems that I feel need to be addressed with a wiki-based system.  None of them are, of course, inevitable or impossible to overcome.  They just seem to be problems that FAIR, a wiki which has been operating for a number of years now with a large volunteer force, still has.

 FAIR has a single voice on every topic.  Those voices may contradict each other at different parts of the site, but within each article there is only one point of view.  The history and discussion pages where (presumably) discussion and debate occurs are blocked off.  Edits are thus private.  We don't know the editors, we don't know who contributed a particularly bad edit, and we don't know if there are other viewpoints that are not being expressed.  It produces an unfortunate image of an "official" page on a subject.  But history and sociology are messy subjects.  We as a public need to have access to these discussions.  We need to know what the biases are in the construction of these pages.  We need to know why or why not certain items of information were written in this or that way, or were entirely omitted.  This produces an air of anonymity, which can be a powerful tool *and* a powerful weapon.  Anonymity provides some of the weaker apologists with a cover: their apologetic theories are imbued with the strength associated with FAIRMormon as a whole because nobody knows whether Daniel Petersen or some lowly high schooler made the argument.  Anonymity also can be a potent weapon: often FAIR has made sport attempting to portray their critics (whether they are also critics of the LDS Church or not) as fearful if they hide behind anonymity.  In the inverse, with a site devoted to an accurate discussion of LDS history and sociology, anonymity can prevent editors who have difficulty in keeping bias out from being found out.

 The answer to this, of course, in a future wiki system is to ensure that the history and discussion pages are open to public view.  Not too hard.  I just think that a system where the entire site can be openly accessed with improvements suggested, even down to the very nuts and bolts of the Javascript and CSS, is more in line with open source ideals.  I know a lot of people disagree with me and can be much more eloquent about how wrong I am.  I look forward to it when an eventual wiki-based site arises that attempts to be the honest FAIRMormon with fuller context to the issues.

Static Site Generators

One halfway point between the needs of the content creators and the web developers is the new idea of static site generation. A static site generator does not store the content in a database, but rather stores content in text files (usually Markdown or ReStructuredText). Upon command, the content files can be "compiled" with a site layout to produce a collection of HTML files ready to be deployed to a simple web server. Most web developers are familiar with the development pattern of Model-View-Controller. In a very rough (read: wrong) summary, the idea of an MVC web app like Wordpress is that the Model is the content written by the users, which is interpreted by a Controller, to produce (usually in conjunction with a template) a View for the end user to see. A static site generator could be though of as a Model-View-Controller pattern where all possible views are pre-built and saved as files.

The benefits, from a web developer's viewpoint, of a Static Site Generator (SSG) are speed and security. When a page is requested from the server there is no interpreter to be run, no specialized compilations to perform. Instead the server just grabs the HTML file in question and serves it. Files can be browser and cache-able, as well as compressed, providing even more speed improvements. And from a security point of view when there are no actual moving parts there are no vectors for attack: no SQL injections to guard against, no Status 500 errors to exploit. Also, the hardware needs of the server are at their most minimal.

Of course that describes the current site, which is also flat files. But the current site does nothing to separate the concerns of the content creators and the developers. Using a SSG means that the content itself is still stored separately from the site layout. Extensive modifications can be performed upon the look, feel, and behavior of a page without altering the content and vice-versa.

Markdown

Markdown, as a formatting language, is becoming more and more well-known. It is the formatting language used by many popular websites, such as GitHub and Reddit. Chances are that the editors and other content contributors are already quite familiar with it (it is the formatting language used by Reddit, for instance, and we know that many of the MT editors are active on Reddit). This proposal itself was written in Markdown (not that this is much of a big deal as it isn't really using much formatting). You can see the original file here, if you'd like.

--Update--

I've moved this blog from a Pelican backend to Ghost, which is also Markdown-based but with a much more efficient web interface.

GitHub

One other benefit of moving the content pages to their own files is that it becomes far easier to make and track changes to them. The penultimate piece of this new technology system for MormonThink would consist of hosting the entire source code for the site publicly at GitHub. I understand that this extreme transparency might make a lot of people nervous, but in the end MormonThink is devoted to facts, truth, and accuracy and transparency is one of the best ways to force these ideals in technology.

Also, having the source at GitHub introduces an entirely new aspect to the development of MormonThink for the future: additional content. As a public repository of code, anyone would have the freedom to download their own copy of the website to do with as they wish. In reality, there is nothing about this process that is now impossible and indeed I've had to copy every accessible file from MormonThink as I've pursued this project.

GitHub, and its underlying technology of git, are centered around this idea of widely distributed code because of how those widely separated copies of the code can be used to make the project better. Users can do more than just make a copy of the code: they can alter it (creating what is called a "fork" of the code). In the case of the future MormonThink site they can add new pages or even entire sections, they can clean up and alter existing pages, they can upload images, and much more. This is because they have full control over their own copy of the code. Again, there is nothing preventing this behavior even now so while this might sound quite scary it really isn't. Anyone can post their own altered version of MormonThink even now, but these unofficial versions have no hope of attaining anywhere near the audience they need to endanger the fame and authority of the current site. Opening up the code would not change this: MormonThink.com is still the official page.

But users can request that their changes be "merged" back into the official code (the technical term for this request is a "pull request"). And here is where the editors of MormonThink get to continue to be editors. GitHub has extensive tools set up around users and permissions involved with these merges. This process of third-party, independent coders and content creators contributing their own effort back to the main project is how open source projects like Linux are built. Allowing these requests is fully the responsibility of the owners of the original GitHub repository.

Example

Let's assume that it's now a year in the future. The existing pages of MormonThink have been migrated to a combination of Markdown content pages being compiled by a Static Site Generator like Pelican or Jekyll. The source code, including all of these content pages, are publicly accessible at MormonThink's GitHub repository. A reader, let's call her Janet Law, notices that there's an error on a page, say the page about the Expositor affair. She wants to know how to fix it and sees a link at MormonThink about how to contribute. There she finds a set of simple instructions that lead her to create an account a GitHub and to fork the code for MormonThink. Now she has her own personal copy of the code. She opens up the files that discuss the Expositor history and makes the changes she thinks need to be made and saves them to her personal copy. Now she initiates a "pull request" to MormonThink asking them to merge her changes back into the main website. A MT editor sees her pull request and takes a look at the changes. GitHub color-codes the changed files so that it is easy to see exactly where changes have been made. The editor, while impressed, is concerned about one or two of the changes. He comments on the pull request asking Janet Law for more information on one point and to rewrite another point. Janet makes those changes to her personal copy and saves it again. Now her pull request is asking to merge in all of those changes, too. The editor takes another look at the request and decides that it's a good change and he approves the request. With that approval Janet's changes are now incorporated into the official website. If there are any problems it's not very difficult to roll the site back to a previous version of the code as git, the technology underlying GitHub, keeps a full and complete record of every change made to the code and can roll back and forwards the active code easily.

In our example we still have an official MT editor, but now much of the content development and maintenance can be moved from their own responsibility to a wide army of volunteers who want to help. Of course, every editor can go through the same process and approve their own merges if they also want to add content, but they are now editors in a very real sense.

(Also, as a quick aside, the created content does not only need to be in English! Translations of MT content are sorely lacking, and opening up the code and the contribution process this way would do wonders for the ability of foreign language speakers and writers to quickly amass a large amount of translated copy.)

Prose

There's one final benefit in this example layout: it can be done without opening any code tool such as Dreamweaver or Sublime Text. For Markdown files contained in a GitHub repository there is a tool, called Prose, that can edit them on-line and save the changes to the personal or official code repositories. Prose is a great tool because it can instantly translate the Markdown being written into a rough formatted version so that an author can quickly make sure that they're writing and formatting their content the way they want.

Healthcare.gov (Not the Bad Bits!)

This technology plan for MormonThink isn't just an unproven idea. While the actual application parts of the website have been bogged down in bugs and errors, the landing pages and informational pages for the US government site healthcare.gov are produced using a Static Site Generator, a private instance of GitHub, and Prose. These aspects of the website have been lauded for their simple design and devotion to user-friendliness. It does kinda stick that the rest of the site is so buggy because it certainly reflects badly on the parts of the site served with the SSG.

Conclusion

The future of MormonThink requires some drastic changes (we didn't even get into the fact that quite a bit of their current content is heavily dependent upon tables of data and while these don't need to be deleted they shouldn't be the main content for average users to read). I want to propose that these changes should include moving the website to an open source model that would allow to wide involvement from users across the world. In my opinion, the best way to adopt an open-source model would be the use of a Static Site Generator, such as Jekyll or Pelican, combined with Markdown content source files. This very blog is actually produced via the same process. The difficulty in setting it up would involve the initial transition. Once set up, maintenance and continuing content creation would be very easy and manageable with a shallow learning curve no more difficult than the current process of local file editing via Dreamweaver and upload via FTP.

I welcome any and all comments and questions. For anyone who is interested you can find my current explorations of this project at the following two repositories:

  • nocoolnametom/MT-Transfer - This is a scraper I'm spun up in some free time that rips the existing site and converts it (mostly) into Markdown files that can be used with a SSG.

  • nocoolnametom/MormonThink - This is my attempt at creating a SSG-served version of the site using the files from the scraper. I'm not very far along on this project, obviously.

An Update After Posting

In conversation with others and in asking for feedback (here, on Reddit, and through email and chat) it seems that there is a general consensus that this process may be too technical for an average user. I still disagree but then again I am a professional programmer and my perspective on "user-friendliness" is very skewed so I shouldn't be very surprised if it turns out I am wrong. The general response is that 1) MT probably needs at least a good re-organization of their materials and sections but a full change of approach might be going too far, 2) if (and it's still a big "if") the editors favor a system where outside edits can be accepted it seems a wiki approach is preferred, 3) there have been a few responses from more technical people who really like the idea even if they may or may not see it as feasible.

So I will admit that the energy behind a more wiki-based solution for disseminating full information on LDS history is impressive. I support it as it still helps approach the ideals of the newer generation of Internet users who don't always want to simply read information but want to participate with sites in a more back-and-forth method. I still have my worries about such a project, but I imagine that those worries may be misplaced.

One further avenue of this discussion has also been brought up by a friend: the Internet presence of the New Mormon History and the resulting communities of people impacted by it seems to be unavoidably fragmenting. The rise of other sites and approaches, including but not limited to The 95 Theses, The Letter to a CES Director, MormonCanon, ExploringMormonism, and a few already-existing wikis shows that there are many people who want to participate and have already made movements of their own in this regard. While I don't think MormonThink is in any more danger of being lost in the noise than McDonald's is currently in danger of being lost in the noise of other restaurant chains who knows what the future may bring? However it goes, I doubt that MormonThink will ever truly go away or be forgotten, any more than Dialogue and Sunstone have gone away. Instead those trailblazers established an untapped field of study and of community and later gave rise to many different on-line communities in the Bloggernacle, such as By Common Consent and Times and Seasons, and they're still alive and actively contributing to the discussions.

So I'm going to leave this technical proposal up on my blog for others to peruse. I still think that this approach will work much better in approximating the process of editing a scholastic journal than a wiki ever would, but if that is the way things move forward I will not fight against it. I don't think a wiki is a bad idea: I think it's a good idea (I think it's better than the pace of change able to be kept by the current site written by a small group of private editors in their free time), I just think this approach would work better with the current editors of MormonThink and their need to retain a sense of strong ownership over the text and content. I also think that releasing the content itself under an open source copy-left would do wonders to help the information get out to an even wider audience (foreign languages in particular do not have much access to this information which is a major failing of most existing sites).

If my friend is right and the fragmentation continues I may someday resurrect this idea and throw my own hat into the ring. Until then, perhaps the ideas here will spark some interest in how to move forward with presenting the New Mormon History more effectively.

MT has become, without a doubt, one of the most influential websites of its kind on the Internet. Both beloved and vilified because of their reach and their fame, the editors of MT should be proud of what they have been able to accomplish. However, the Internet moves fast and…

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Lost Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible Part 3

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In 2013 the list of Scripture Mastery scriptures for LDS youth to memorize was finally changed.  As part of exploring the Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible (commonly called by most Christians the "Old Testament") I figured it would be fun and interesting to look over scriptures that were *removed* from the lists before I embarked on the new standard list for the Hebrew Bible in my Context series.

Isaiah 55:8-9

Hebrew:

כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבֹותַי מַחְשְׁבֹותֵיכֶם וְלֹא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי נְאֻם יְהוָה כִּי־גָבְהוְּ שָׁמַיִם מֵאָרֶץ כֵּן גָּבְהוְּ דְרָכַי מִדַּרְכֵיכֶם וְּמַחְשְׁבֹתַי מִמַּחְשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם

NJPSV: 8 For My plans are not your plans, Nor are My ways your ways —declares [Yahweh]. 9 But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and my plans above your plans.

KJV: 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith [Yahweh]. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

I really do not know why this one was removed. In a scientific world where evidence and logic are so important to people, perhaps the Church Education System felt that emphasizing a scripture that, in effect, denies the supremacy of human thought and discovery in the face of what Yahweh says was a poor choice. Isaiah's intent, however, was to show the power and majesty of his god, and to respond to his opponents who perhaps argued that Isaiah's prophecies of the destruction of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were without merit. However, this is all just my own thoughts on the matter. Let me know what you think.

Jeremiah 16:16

Hebrew:

הִנְנִי שֹׁלֵחַ לְדַוֳּגִים רַבִּים נְאֻמ־יְהוָה וְדִיגוְּם וְאַחֲרֵי־כֵן אֶשְׁלַח לְרַבִּים צַיָּדִים וְצָדוְּם מֵעַל כָּל־הַר וְּמֵעַל כָּל־גִּבְעָה וְּמִנְּקִיקֵי הַסְּלָעִים

NJPSV: Lo, I am sending for many fishermen—declares [Yahweh]—and they shall haul them out; and after that I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them out of every mountain and out of every hill and out of the clefts of the rocks.

KJV: Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith [Yahweh], and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

This one is easy. This verse was removed because it is obviously, horribly, and laughably incorrect and torn from its context.

This one seems to have gained its last bit of popularity from the support of Elder LeGrand Richards, where it is mentioned in his popular book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. Wonder was so popular that for over two decades it was included as part of the Missionary Gospel Study Library, a collection of books that missionaries throughout the world were allowed and encouraged to read and study from. Wonder is full of colorful anecdotes, allegories, and scriptural explorations that attempt to show not only the truthfulness of the LDS Church. The Church, unfortunately, has moved on both culturally and doctrinally since its publication and I sadly see this book disappearing from the collective attention of Mormons over the next few years. An exploration of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder is necessary if anyone wants to understand the energetic and excited viewpoint of late 1980s Mormonism before the rise of the New Mormon History and the Internet.

LeGrand Richards argues that this verse from Jeremiah, which is in the middle of a rather negative chapter about the upcoming destruction of the Kingdom of Judah, represents the mercy of God as he will eventually send missionaries that will recover scattered Israel again.

However, when read in context it's obvious that the "hunters" and "fishers" Yahweh is sending represent soldiers and warriors that will find anyone who attempts to hide from the coming destruction. Yahweh has decreed total destruction upon Israel and they're not going to escape. The transformation of Babylonian soldiers intent on death and destruction into an army of modern, clean-cut young women and men intent on happily knocking doors across the world is one that is simply too sudden and jarring to be acceptable.

Update

It turns out that while this verse has been removed as a Scripture Mastery verse for the youth, it is still part of the focus of one of the Sunday School lessons for the Old Testament being studied in 2014, completely with the horribly incorrect comparison of the hunters and fishers to LDS missionaries. Wow!

Daniel 2:44-45

Aramaic:

44 וְּבְיֹומֵיהֹון דִּי מַלְכַיָּא אִנּוְּן יְקִים אֱלָהּ שְׁמַיָּא מַלְכוְּ דִּי לְעָלְמִין לָא תִתְחַבַּל וְּמַלְכוְּתָה לְעַם אָחֳרָן לָא תִשְׁתְּבִק תַּדִּק וְתָסֵיף כָּל־אִלֵּין מַלְכְוָתָא וְהִיא תְּקוְּם לְעָלְמַיָּא 45 כָּל־קֳבֵל דִּי־חֲזַיְתָ דִּי מִטּוְּרָא אִתְגְּזֶרֶת אֶבֶן דִּי־לָא בִידַיִן וְהַדֶּקֶת פַּרְזְלָא נְחָשָׁא חַסְפָּא כַּסְפָּא וְדַהֲבָא אֱלָהּ רַב הֹודַע לְמַלְכָּא מָה דִּי לֶהֱוֵא אַחֲרֵי דְנָה וְיַצִּיב חֶלְמָא וְּמְהֵימַן פִּשְׁרֵהּ

NJPSV: 44 And in the time of those kings, the God of Heaven will establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, a kingdom that shall not be transferred to another people. It will crush and wipe out all these kingdoms, but shall itself last forever— 45 just as you saw how a stone was hewn from the mountain, not by hands, and crushed the iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great [Elóah] has made known to the king what will happen in the future. The dream is sure and its interpretation reliable.

KJV: 44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. 45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great [Elóah] hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

I'm sad to see this one go, but it also makes sense to me that it's gone. Like Jeremiah 16:16, this scripture has already seen its day in the sun come and go and its popularity has waned considerably.

It used to be that references to the LDS Church as the "stone cut out of the mountain without hands" could be easily found within the Church in common discussions, in writings, and even in official Church media (I remember a video produced for LDS Visitor's Centers at historical sites that was centered on this image as the Church as the rock, complete with horrible early computer animation, growing to eventually fill the world). As the membership of the Church ballooned during the second half of the twentieth century it was common to assume that this growth would continue until the LDS Church became one of the great world religions. Extrapolations of growth rates led many members to extrapolate numbers in the hundreds of millions before the middle of the twenty-first century. Quotations of Joseph Smith's prophecy that this Church will "grow to fill North and South America; it will grow to fill the whole world" often accompanied this scripture.

However, the growth rate, while still positive, is decelerating. Recent surveys have illustrated just how important the distinction is between members "of record" and members who self-identify as Mormons. For example, while US membership has increased between 2000 and 2010, the number of people who would identify themselves as Mormon in the United States has remained constant during the same period.

Instead, though, it is far more common nowadays to talk about how small the Church will be in the last days in terms of numbers. The rock going forth to crush the kingdoms of the earth is not the LDS Church but rather is the kingdom of God which will establish itself after the Second Coming. Until then, the wheat and the tares will grow up together, the leaven will leaven the bread, and the numerical size of the LDS Church will remain small. Se why would we want to focus on this scripture which has been historically used for the purpose of celebrating growth and potential?

From a translation and higher criticism point of view, I'm sad that this scripture isn't covered anymore. You'll notice that the original language behind this scripture is Aramaic and not Hebrew. The Book of Daniel (and other similar books like Ezra and Nehemiah) are extremely interesting windows into a period of time when they were written, which was long after the events depicted within them occurred. A time during or possibly even after the Greek occupation of Israel/Judah. But we'll not be covering that in detail for now and we'll have to set it aside for another time.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

Because it's a relic of the previous few decades celebration of membership growth, but membership growth, while still growing, is quickly slowing down. The message has changed from one celebrating quantity to one celebrating quality.

In 2013 the list of Scripture Mastery scriptures for LDS youth to memorize was finally changed. As part of exploring the Scripture Mastery of the Hebrew Bible (commonly called by most Christians the "Old Testament") I figured it would be fun and interesting to look over scriptures that were *removed…

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