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Oliver Cowdery Characters 1835

English{For it grieveth me that I should lose this tree & the fruit thereof
Hebrew{fin Zemim ezmon E Zur Oms ifs veris exzer ensvonis vineris
Englishbrethren I bid you adieu
Hebrew{ifs E Zamtri
{ The Book of Mormon
[Two characters]
} { the interpretation of languages
[Two additional characters]
}
Written & Kept for profit & learning [Signature]

Book of Mormon characters copied by Oliver Cowdery, circa 1835, Church History Library.

This page can also be found in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, p. 362.

Explanation

This is a page written by Oliver Cowdery describing the Hebrew behind two short phrases from the Book of Mormon and four characters presumably from the golden plates with their corresponding translation.

The page consists of two parts. First are two scriptures from the Book of Mormon (Jacob 5:13, 7:27) each followed by what their underlying “Hebrew” was supposed to be. The second part is the interpretation of four Nephite characters; two of which mean “The Book of Mormon” and the other two “the interpretation of languages”. There doesn't seem to be any particular relationship between the English/Hebrew translations and the English/character translations.

Oliver's notes are also reproduced near the end of a letter written by Fredrick G. Williams (there's a lot more that could be said about this letter that I'd like to go into later).

As the English/Hebrew/Characters are the same between these two letters it seems likely that they share the same source. Likely this source is 1835 in the School of the Prophets held in Kirtland, Ohio. Why 1835? Because in January 1836 a Jewish rabbi, Joshua Sexias, arrived in Kirtland and began a multi-month course on Hebrew. I think it goes without saying that the “Hebrew” in this paper is nothing of the sort and as such probably belongs to the period in the School where they were waiting for their Hebrew teacher to arrive and were already working on learning Hebrew and Greek on their own.

As Joseph Smith was both in charge of and a partcipant in the School of the Prophets I find it worrisome that this page has no real connection to either ancient Egyptian (the written language of the Book of Mormon) or ancient Hebrew (the spoken/written language of the earliest characters of the Book of Mormon), both of which we might reasonably expect Joseph to have some familiarity with as the book's translator.

#Mormon #JosephSmith #SillyFakeHebrew

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Released in the late 1990s, the LDS Sunday School manual cycle is almost 20 years old now (though it was undergoing development for a number of years prior to being released, so I tend to view it as roughly being of drinking age). Because it's only encountered once every four years (for a total now of four times only so far) that may seem surprising to many readers. Twenty years is a long time; a lot can, and has, changed in the LDS Church and in the population of active membership during that time. So it's interesting to me that some issues that seem to be much more of a problem to the Church in the 2010s are problems that this manual produces in the early 1990s is aware of. And, of course, there are some other issues that have become much more problematic since the initial publication, to the point that there are a number of points in lessons, not to mention two entire lessons themselves, that seem tone-deaf to the issues of the modern LDS Church. Together, this shows the ever-increasing problem presented by the age of the current LDS Sunday School materials: they exhibit none of the modern LDS Church's flexibility when it comes to dealing with its own internal problems.

Of course, these issues have been best highlighted to myself personally through the careful production of what I call the “Inverse Bible”: a hypothetical document that contains scriptures from the Hebrew Bible (which many Christians call the “Old Testament”) that will almost never be encountered in the average LDS Sunday School class. The production of such a collection of chapters and verses, however, has also involved the creation, on my own, of what I've begun to call the “Sunday School Bible” which is the inverse of the Inverse Bible: it is the Bible composed only of the scriptures you would encounter in the average LDS Sunday School. To put it another way, if you went to an LDS Sunday School carrying this heavily-abridged collection you would never encounter a situation where you could not read verses from your book to participate in the lesson's discussion.

It's in the dividing line between these two puzzle pieces of the full Hebrew Bible that I've found the most interesting issues.

Milk and Meat

First off the bat is the fact that the Sunday School Bible is composed mostly of easily-digested stories and narrative. There are few examples of difficult-to-parse symbolic language, few examples of foreign customs and ancient culture, and very little poetry and prophecy. Instead, the Sunday School Bible is a Bible of people (usually men, even more than the complete Hebrew Bible). The Sunday School Bible is not nearly as concerned with what God has to say than with who God has assigned to speak his words. Through this focus on narrative history, the Sunday School Bible is a book that is almost entirely ignorant of the exile from Israel and Judah, instead preferring to focus on stories. Because of this ignorance, even the few prophecies that remain within the work are easily re-interpreted into prophecies of a future second coming of Jesus ad/or the founding of the LDS Church.

In contrast, the Inverse Bible is heavy with difficult prophecy, prose, and arcana. Most of the thickest books of the Hebrew Bible (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, for example) are present in the Inverse Bible, usually in long uninterrupted segments of multiple chapters. The Hebrew Bible is a library of works that is vastly influenced by the invasions and conquests of the Assyrians and the Babylonians who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, respectively. The Inverse Bible is full of the prophecies by various prophets of Yahweh promising destruction and bloodshed, and statements of the anger of Yahweh against pretty much every country of the world known to the ancient Israelites, including their own. The destruction, and promised restitution, of these kingdoms occupies the majority of the text contained in the Inverse Bible.

Old Problems

There is at least one problem with the Sunday School Bible's dependence upon the use of stories and narrative: stories use details to ground them in the real world (to a certain extent), and one story often leads to another. The problem is that this connected chain of stories is much like a rocky river where one flat stretch of relatively calm water and quickly lead to a small cataract of trouble. The Inverse Bible is not fully absent of narrative, but instead has some stories or even small pieces of stories as the Sunday School Bible attempts to deftly step around these issues without anyone noticing. Of course, these attempts aren't always very successful.

The authors of the LDS Sunday School manual are aware of many of the aspects of the stories from the Pearl of Great Price and the Hebrew Bible that strain credulity in a modern audience. The Inverse Bible is full of stories of fantastical creatures like giants, stories of Yahweh's prophets and patriarchs doing disturbing things, and examples of Yahweh's often violent rhetoric against Israel's enemies. Even the Pearl of Great Price doesn't escape unscathed; only the Inverse Bible contains Enoch's people being threatened by giants, spontaneously emerging islands where humans settle, Abraham's astronomical explorations, the stories of the founding of Egypt after the flood, and, most obviously, Moses 7:22. This one verse sits all alone in the Inverse Bible, the Bible that your average LDS member is never going to read. The Sunday School Bible silently implores the reader to skip over this verse while reading along through the chapter. It's of little doubt why this would be.

This old problem of the Temple Ban against black members was obviously something the Church wished people would just ignore even back in the mid-1990s as the current manual cycle was being developed. The Sunday School Bible skips over the people of Cain being black, skips over how Pharaoh could not have the Priesthood due to his ancestry, and the cursing of Canaan by his grandfather Noah. On the one hand, this is a good thing. These are the scriptures that lay behind decades of racist thought and teachings in the LDS Church. On the other hand, just because they're not read anymore doesn't mean they're gone or repudiated. The fact that a racism-sized hole exists in the Sunday School Bible does not amount to an apology or repentance for the ecclesiastical sins of the organization. The existence of this hole amounts to nothing more than a hope, faint in the Internet age, that the Mormon Church will somehow, someday, just forget about the Temple Ban against black members. Until this issue is dealt with the hole will simply become more and more obvious.

Not helping matters is the Sunday School manuals complete blindness to other racist issues that failed to die and have persevered from 1978 relatively unscathed. The Sunday School Bible still makes use of the story of Abraham's servant being sent to obtain a wife from his estranged family instead of from the local Canaanite population as an example of the importance of “Marrying in the Covenant”. The only problem is that the scriptures in this lesson were used during the most extreme days of racist rhetoric from Church leadership as divine instruction against inter-marriage between blacks and whites. The continuing presence of this lesson and it's emphasis of the “right” way to court and marry (within the faith) is an unfortunate legacy from before 1978 and has become increasingly outdated in the modern LDS Church.

Interestingly, while there is an entire lesson about this issue that uses Rebekah and Isaac as the main example, the strong pronouncements against intermarriage from Ezra, Nehemiah, and some of the minor prophets, for the Levitical priests are absent from the Sunday School Bible. Apparently, the Sunday School Bible wants its readers to be inspired to marry the right kind of person by Rebekah, but doesn't want it's readers to be inspired to fix incorrect marriages by Ezra. But in the end, it might be a better Sunday School if even this story about “marriage in the covenant” were removed into the never-read Inverse Bible.

New Problems

“The fastest growing Church” was the common rhetoric of the 1980s and 1990s (in fact, it's still not uncommon to hear it repeated even in the mid-2010s). It may have been true at a few points in the 1980s, but that growth had technically begun to slow in the mid-1990s, and is now nearly stagnated when the actual activity and devotion of the membership is taken into account. Because it was produced at the end of this period of growth the Sunday School Bible is completely oblivious to the challenges faced by the LDS Church's growth rate.

Part of the common narrative during the period of accelerated growth was the attention given to Daniel's famous interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a human figure of various materials smashed by a rough stone that becomes a world (Daniel 2). Daniel interprets for the king that the materials of the figure represent a succession of nations which will culminate in a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Christians have often interpreted the rock “cut without hands” that fills the world as either the Christian movement or the Kingdom of God that accompanies the Parousia. Mormons similarly viewed the kingdom represented by the rock as the Kingdom of God, but extended the symbolism that the Kingdom of God is synonymous with the LDS Church and that the process of expanding to fill the earth was ongoing during the present time. The growth of the LDS Church was equated to Daniel's vision and was thus seen as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Of course, difficulties arise in this interpretation as the membership has gradually become aware that “all is not well in Zion”. In 2014 you are much more likely to hear people equate the LDS Church to other less-impressive scriptures, such as Christ's parable of the yeast that causes the bread to rise. The more-common narrative now is that the Church is small, will always be small, has always been understood to remain small before the Second Coming. Except for the lesson in the Sunday School manual that focuses on the book of Daniel. With some lip-service paid to Daniel's refusing the king's food and the LDS Word of Wisdom, the bulk of the lesson focuses on the king's dream and Daniel's interpretation with the LDS Church being specifically taught as the kingdom represented by the stone that fills the world.

This particular scripture has even been removed from the Seminary Scripture Mastery list, a collection of 100 scriptures that valiant LDS youth are expected to memorize. The modern LDS Church has already begun to adapt both officially and culturally to a rapidly deceleration growth rate, so it is more than odd to see an entire lesson meant to excite the membership about growth.

A Skewed Perspective

As I've said numerous times already, the largest problem presented by the Inverse and Sunday School Bibles is the skewed perspective a reader will come away from the texts with. The Hebrew Bible is an ancient library of many different texts by many different authors with many different purposes for writing. The Sunday School Bible has been correlated into a single book that gives the false impression of a unified voice speaking both in harmony with itself as well as together with other books of scripture such as the New Testament or the Book of Mormon.

This is unfortunate as often the original purpose of a particular book might be completely abandoned. Judges, instead of being a pro-monarchy propaganda piece focusing on the lack of control exhibited by the Israelites before the monarchy was instituted, becomes a collection of happy stories telling the same boring lesson as the first half of the Book of Mormon: that the righteous are blessed by Yahweh and the wicked are punished. The lack of stories from the Deuteronomistic history of 1 Samuel to 2 Kings that show Yahweh's unstoppable ability to directly interfere in the social structure of humans (sometimes violently, sometimes humorously) turns it in a collection of safe, little stories about safe, righteous people being led by safe, quiet revelation.

It's not that I think the Hebrew Bible contains truths that need to be heard, either true history or true theology. I don't think it does, for the most part. Most of the history has been rewritten, reinvented, or blatantly invented for the purposes of the authors, and I really doubt that the dense prophetic poetry of Isaiah and Jeremiah can be easily understood by anyone. But it is simply not fair to this artifact from the ancient world to treat it like a time machine for modern Mormonism to somehow exist in the ancient world. It's not unlike the caricatures often made of Mormonism by outside voices. It's not fair, it's not nice, and, above all, it is pompous and presumptuous to approach the Hebrew Bible without acknowledging its Hebrew origins.

A New Manual

To the astute it may appear that I have painted a picture of the Sunday School Bible where it is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. It has a racism-sized hole in it that need to be acknowledged, but it also presented doctrines and interpretations that no longer apply to Mormonism that need to be discarded. It may seem that the LDS Sunday School Bible just can't win.

In a certain sense, it can't. To make any attempt to cram a fair and thorough study of the entire collection of texts in an hour (often less than an hour) a week for 52 weeks means failure before you even begin. You're going to have to make difficult choices as to what gets covered and what does not. I understand that.

My problem isn't so much in the holes and the unnecessary parts represented by the Inverse Bible and the Sunday School Bible: it's in the presence of the Inverse Bible itself. Why has this project been possible in the first place? Why do we have a system of study that has remained unchanged with the four-year cycle for decades? Why are there verses that will never be read or explored?

I understand that the process of creating a manual like this can be difficult, but in my opinion avoiding the drawbacks of assembling and translating lessons is not worth the end result where the majority of believers in a biblical religion are completely and utterly illiterate when it comes to the majority of the Hebrew Bible. As a people, Mormons have lost more than just an understanding of the Hebrew Bible as it stands. They've lost the ability to explore their scriptures communally. The modern LDS Church has forgotten how to debate, inquire, and read their scriptures with each other as individuals and as fellow believers. They have little cultural ability to explore multiple points of view about their texts simultaneously and without argument. They have very little patience for questions with no good answers. We've lost this, and I think one of the reasons that devout Judaism, whether orthodox or reform, has held onto this culture of discussing their scriptures instead of just reading them is because they spend time on all of the books they have, even the messy ones that simply cannot be easily read.

Imagine how the LDS Sunday School would be made more interesting if they had to cover the Inverse Bible as part of their lessons. They can read about Yahweh sending a lying spirit into the prophets of Israel and discuss the implications. They can read about Saul prophesying so hard that he loses all control and instead of continuing on his quest to destroy David is instead sidetracked for a time as he strips off his clothes and helplessly issues prophecy. They can talk about the land raised up out of the water for the giants in the days of Enoch and wonder what the hell any of that means. They can read the apocalypticism of Daniel and Ezekiel without having a pre-existing interpretation which they may or may not agree with upon further personal thought handed to them to simply accept as given.

My problem with the Inverse Bible is that there is an Inverse Bible. The LDS people believe the Bible to be the Word of God, but they simply do not read it. The main culprit for this is that the pre-written chunks of scripture for the lessons were chosen years and years ago and have remained unchanged. We need a dynamic approach to all four years of study where every year will yield new treasures to discover (and sometimes new trash to deride).

#Mormon #SundaySchool #HebrewBible #AcademicBiblical

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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)

#Mormon #SundaySchool #HebrewBible #AcademicBiblical

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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)

#Mormon #SundaySchool #HebrewBible #AcademicBiblical

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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).

#Mormon #SundaySchool #HebrewBible #AcademicBiblical

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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)

#Mormon #SundaySchool #HebrewBible #AcademicBiblical

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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

#Mormon #SundaySchool #HebrewBible #AcademicBiblical

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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 [Write.as](https://write.as/), 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.

#Exmormon #MormonThink #Mormon

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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.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryOT #AcademicBiblical #HebrewBible

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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.

Deuteronomy 7:3-4

Hebrew:

וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן בָּם בִּתְּךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן לִבְנֹו וְּבִתֹּו לֹא־תִקַּח לִבְנֶךָ כִּי־יָסִיר אֶת־בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי וְעָבְדוְּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וְחָרָה אַפ־יְהוָה בָּכֶם וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ מַהֵר

NJPSV: 3 You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughter to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and [Yahweh’s] anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out.

Schocken: 3 And you are not to marry (with) them: your daughter you are not to give to their son, their daughter you are not to take for your son— 4 for they would turn-aside your son from (following) after me and they would serve other gods, and the anger of [Yahweh] would flare up against you, and he would destroy you quickly.

KJV: 3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. 4 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of [Yahweh] be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.

HOLY COW! (And that's not an ironic statement because we're dealing with the supposed writings of Moses.) I imagine that most people nowadays can understand, even if only a little bit, why this might be a problematic scripture to elevate to the level of memorization for LDS youth.

The context is the entire book of Deuteronomy, which is a retelling of the commandments of Moses from the perspective of the Jerusalem Temple. (For this reason many, though of course not all, scholars consider this to be a much later composition than the rest of the Torah, which some even speculating that it is the book “discovered”, or perhaps even written, by the priests during the reforms of king Josiah)

Throughout the Deuteronomistic History (a fancy, long word for the edited version of Israelite history preserved in 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings based on the ideas of Deuteronomy meant with recontextualizing the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE with the promises of Yahweh to the nation of Israel, which itself was heavily rewritten and edited into 1-2 Chronicles) the problems of the Israelites tend to arise from their leaving the worship of Yahweh to begin worshipping other gods common among their neighbors. Even Solomon the wise is described in as turning the worship of others gods because of some of his foreign wives. From the historical context of a battered people rediscovering (or possibly discovering for the first time) their monotheism in the midst of a polytheistic world, this sort of distrust of foreign people and foreign religions makes some sense.

However, when placed into the context of twentieth century LDS youth in what is likely an American High School system, how are we supposed to take these verses? Are they telling young, missionary-minded young women and men to not associate with their peers unless it's to try and convert them?

From official original materials for this scripture, the main doctrinal teaching of this scripture mastery is to teach young LDS kids that “marriage to people not of the covenant is not approved by the Lord. It can lead to a loss of faith and testimony,” and “marrying in the covenant is the Lord's appointed way.”

In today's modern world where only 20% of Latter-day Saints hold Temple recommends and the lowest activity rates are among young adults just in college, perhaps we should not be surprised that this scriptural admonition is being removed from the spotlight. Also, we have the uncomfortable fact that this scripture was often used during the 1950s and before by opponents to interracial marriage to imply that the idea of segregation was divinely inspired (including even among a number of LDS Church leaders of the 1950s). Of course, that association does not actually make the scripture itself somehow wrong, but it is certainly a troubling aspect of the history of these verses that the modern LDS Church certainly wishes were simply forgotten.

Finally, I can imagine that if the advice is to never enter a mixed-faith marriage, this verse could easily be extended to construe that the advice could also be to never continue within what has become a mixed-faith marriage. In other words, if the advice is to never marry a non-Mormon, it's not very far to go from there to never stay married to an ex-Mormon.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

I would posit that it was removed because it was pragmatically difficult to encourage all LDS youth to only marry other active LDS youth in the face of increasing statistics against such a likelihood. As well, the extremely troubling use of this scripture by previous Church leaders in racist ways also led to a need to de-emphasize its importance among LDS youth, most of whom have modern views that are extremely different from those of forty or fifty years ago.

Joshua 1:8

Hebrew:

לֹא־יָמוְּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתֹּורָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ וְהָגִיתָ בֹּו יֹומָם וָלַיְלָה לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשֹׂות כְּכָל־הַכָּתוְּב בֹּו כִּי־אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶךָ וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל

NJPSV: Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful.

KJV: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

The context for this verse is Yahweh speaking to Joshua after Moses has died, commanding him to lead the Israelites to conquer the land he has promised them. Yahweh in verse 8 here implores Joshua to hold fast to what Moses has written (the Torah) for only by following those writings will Joshua have success. Joshua then tells the people that it's time for them to go, and all of the people agree to also keep the laws Yahweh gave to them through Moses and that they will kill anyone who does not keep these laws. They then commence preparing for the conquest of their promised land.

In a list of only twenty-five scriptures, it makes sense to wonder why each scripture was chosen. What is the point, the usefulness, the utility of the decision? In this case, the point of this scripture probably wasn't the contextual point. It probably wasn't important for students to remember how Yahweh commanded Joshua to keep the teachings contained within the Five Books of Moses. How would that apply to twentieth century students? Mormons don't care about the idea of the first five books of the hebrew Bible being somehow more important than other parts (indeed, most Mormons would probably agree with most evangelicals that the most important book of the Hebrew Bible is the book of Isaiah).

So, outside of it's direct context, this scripture was probably used (and in my recollection, this was indeed the point) to remind students to constantly remember the scriptural lessons and doctrines they've learned.

Why Was This Verse Removed?

My guess is that the utility of a verse from the scriptures meant to implore youth to read their scriptures was pretty low. It seems redundant. If a student is not reading their scriptures, how will a scripture convince them otherwise? Also, the Hebrew Bible is a very foreign book when explored without a trained CES employee or CES manual to act as a micro-managing guide. Asking students to pay attention to the Hebrew Bible may have been leading to more problems than it was worth.

Job 19:25-26

Hebrew:

וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי גֹּאֲלִי חָי וְאַחֲרֹון עַל־עָפָר יָקוְּם וְאַחַר עֹורִי נִקְּפוְּ־זֹאת וְּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱלֹוהַּ

NJPSV: 25 But I know that my Vindicator lives; in the end He will testify on earth— 26 This, after my skin will have been peeled off. But I would behold [Elóah] while still in my flesh,

KJV: 25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see [Elóah]:

I wish this one hadn't been taken out. Not because it's useful, but because I could write a ton on this selection. Much has been written about this elsewhere, so let me just summarize a few main points about the context of this verse.

This verse is stated by Job as a defense to the arguments of his friends. Job, a man afflicted with countless catastrophes, is responding to the assertion that his misfortune occurred because of his sins. Job is responding that he knows he has not sinned. Furthermore, he knows that God, or a god, (using a generic term, אלוה, elóah which is the root behind the plural word for “gods”, Elohim) lives and will redeem him from his present situation (which happens near the very end of the book). This is the meaning of the word used in the King James Version, “Redeemer”. Job is testifying that Yahweh will rescue him from the illnesses and sadnesses that have befallen him. Job is not testifying of how Yahweh has (or is) a Redeemer who will save him from hell, death, or sin.

Secondly, the words “in my flesh I shall see Elóah” are very difficult Hebrew and the preposition “in” could just as easily be translated as “apart from,” rendering the statement “apart from my flesh I shall see Elóah”. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the idea of a physical resurrection!

Why Was This Verse Removed?

I believe it was removed because the doctrines that it has historically been used to promote are unfounded, namely that the Hebrew Bible clearly teaches a physical resurrection of the body (it doesn't, and these verses are too shaky to be used as a strong source) and that belief in the “Redeemer” can be found in the Hebrew Bible (many early Christians saw references to Jesus throughout the Hebrew Bible, but many of their Jewish contemporaries obviously read the same scriptures and didn't see it). I think this scripture was removed so that students wouldn't discover just how unstable a foundation it is on which to build a testimony of Mormon doctrine in the Hebrew Bible.

#Mormon #ScriptureMasteryOT #AcademicBiblical #HebrewBible

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