The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Conclusion

The LDS Inverse Old Testament, Conclusion

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)
Tom Doggett

Tom Doggett

I'm a programmer, Ancient Greek reader, feminist, spouse and partner, and a dad.

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