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


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









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