NoCoolName Blog


I've been working on updating my blog, and spending so much time going back over my series on New Testament Seminary Scripture Mastery, the Scripture Mastery removed from the Old Testament, and my initial attempts at illustrating the deep and fundamental problems with Callister's “Blueprint of Christ's Church” book made me wonder: there have been some major changes to the LDS Sunday and Seminary schedules, is there any change in teaching materials for this change? And it turns out there is.

And it's terrible.

No, wait, hear me out! The older manuals spent time detailing exactly what the teacher should go over. It spelled out what scriptural passages to cover, offered possible questions that could be asked to the class, and offered many explanatory sections to help the teacher present the scriptural texts with at least some historical context. They were restrictive and constraining, and, as I've detailed in my explorations linked above, they often presented outdated or even incorrect information. That's all admittedly pretty bad, so why do I think the new ones are worse?

Because while they have (thankfully) gotten rid of the specified verses that should be read (which produced a patchwork of biblical literacy for most Mormons featuring large gaping holes), they have totally removed nearly all of the historical context. The entire aim is now to merely play the old “Apply This To Yourself” game with Every. Single. Passage.

This is the game that goes, “I don't really understand this, but the general gist makes sense to me. And it reminds me of that time in my life when I [fill in the blank], so I guess it's about that.” It's both a recipe for producing a wonderful connection with the Biblical text as well as a recipe for producing terrifyingly incorrect assumptions of the meaning of a two-thousand-year-old library. (There is nothing in what Jesus said that is about whether or not you should ghost someone on social media who has upset you.)

It's one thing to be incorrect about a book, but it's another to be incorrect about a book and also feel divinely justified in your incorrect assumptions. And because so much is centered around group discussions, this will only help to perpetuate all of the old culturally-upheld misinterpretations commonly assumed by Mormons about the Christian New Testament and Hebrew Bible.

The good ship Zion may no longer be driven by a constraining current, but now it's taking on water and instead of a captain everyone gets to put their hand on the wheel together. And once you realize that the same Bible has been used throughout history to defend slavery, defend segregation, and defend killing witches, homosexuals, and transvestites you begin to see that any system that reinforces only what the general community believes without enforcing anything better can easily result in real danger for those who do not belong to the community.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But if you were looking for the “Come, Follow Me,” resources to actually teach you anything about the Christian New Testament you'll continue looking in vain. And that's a shame.

#Mormon #SundaySchool #AcademicBiblical


I like reading myths to my kids. We’ve ready the classic Greek and Roman myths, a collection of Egyptian Myths, and even a few Irish folktales and stories. One of my favorite collections is a children’s version of the Epic of Gilgamesh which summarizes the story in a way that is both appropriate for children but also covers the essentials of the actual ancient myths.

While talking to my kids about my childhood growing up in a Mormon household, I realized that my children were at a disadvantage when it came to the stories from the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament that permeate our culture. They knew about the basic image of naked people talking to a snake in a tree about fruit, but I hadn't spent much time actually going over that story. They recognized Noah's Ark as the big boat full of animals and saw it in various toys and images.

I felt bad about the fact that they know the stories of Hector and Achilles probably in more detail than they knew the stories of Moses or Abraham. Whether or not we want the world to be saturated with imagery and stories from the Hebrew Bible or the Christian New Testament is irrelevant to the fact that it is. It's going to be difficult to fully grasp the words of Shakespeare without understanding something of the Catholic and Protestant stories underlying many of his religious allusions.

I wanted to find a collection for children that approached these stories in the same way that the Gilgamesh stories approached his epic, or the books of Greek Myths approached the Olympian pantheon. These told the stories as internally consistent, but without trying to make a connection to the reader. The books said that Zeus's weapon was the thunderbolt, but they didn't say that even today you can see Zeus hurling his spear whenever a thunderstorm rolls by. When relating how the goddess Hel lives beneath Yggdrasil, the World Tree, the text doesn't encourage the reader to understand that the heat of the earth's mantle is actually caused by dragons.

But the only sources of ancient Hebrew myths and legends for children are in the form of religious Bibles. I'm not sure what to make of that, to be honest. I want a book that can introduce my children to the story of the man and the woman eating the fruit of the tree of knowing good and evil without making some sort of reference to original sin or to how humans might still be living in paradise today. I want a book that discusses the primordial creation of the world by Yahweh without saying that it's a story of actual history.

I'm not saying I want a book that says that people who do believe it to be actual history are wrong or stupid. Nobody reads the account of the battle between Zeus and his father Kronos and think “Those idiots, this never happened!” Instead people read the stories as stories and they enjoy them as such.

I wanted a collection for children that approaches the Hebrew myths of creation and the legends of ancient Israelite heroes in the same way. As stories within their own context, not within the context of the world of the reader. A world where God creates a flat world where the sky is blue because it's made of water that he stuck up there. The world that the ancient storytellers would have in their minds as they told the tales to their audiences.

That book doesn't seem to exist. The books are either simplistic paraphrases tightly dependent on the actual texts of the Hebrew Bible and Christian gospels, or if they do expand on the texts in any artistic fashion they also speak to the reader indicating what lessons they are supposed to draw from the stories.

So in the sense of if you can't find it, make it, I've decided to begin work on my own version of the book I couldn't find. And yes, since you're probably wondering, I have no idea as to the issues of respect towards Jewish people and towards faithful fundamentalist Christians. There is an important difference between this collections and one about Gilgamesh, Thor, or Zeus: people still use these stories as guides for their lives. I welcome suggestions and comments on how a book like this might be assembled in a way that is still appropriate to modern believers.

As for one issue that might be raised, which is that I am not of Jewish ancestry and these stories are still foundational to Jewish religion and culture, I respond that I am writing the same type of book that a non-Greek would write about the Olympian pantheon, or a non-Scandinavian would write about the Norse deities. I don't have to be Finnish to write my own children's version of the Kalevala. Do I have to have ancestry in West Africa to write a children's collection of stories about Anansi? That is the same approach I am currently taking towards this project. Perhaps that approach is far too imperial, though, and represents an appropriation of stories that cannot belong to me. Which opens up the larger question of how to stories belong to different groups and what are the ethics of how they are told and related.

Anyways, if you have any suggestions or responses, I would be very interested in hearing them.

The next post is an example of the style I am looking for. It is a retelling and harmonization of the various Israelite creation myths. It doesn't really cover the creation of humans, per se, but instead uses the Priestly creation story of Genesis 1 instead of the Elohist story of the creation as found in Genesis 2, as well as a smattering of other hints of the various myths of the ancient Israelites (Psalm 74:13-23, Job 38:7, the Book of Enoch, and Isaiah 59:1), though as with other various children's version of myths I've made small alterations that may or may not be demanded by the texts (Behemoth is created by Yahweh in some texts, and the climactic battle between Yahweh and Behemoth happens at the end of time in others). That's important to me as well: these are not just simplified versions drawn from the modern texts as they emerged from centuries of editors and redaction following the Exile in the 6th and 5th Centuries BCE. I want them to represent the stories in the same way that we represent stories from other cultures of similar age and importance.

I'm curious what you all think.

#AcademicBiblical #HebrewMythology #ReconstructedMythology


The Mormon Church has claims since its earliest days to be a restoration of an “original” Christian religion. The 9th Article of Faith states, “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.”

However, the era of modern biblical studies arose a few decades before the Mormon Church began, and it's rapid pace of study and learning has continue ever since. The ability to read the Christian New Testament as a unified work has grown extremely tenuous. The formation of Christian orthodoxy and its various hierarchies is now seen as a very organic process that took decades and centuries.

As such, past arguments to “prove” Mormonism as “primitive” Christianity have become increasingly brittle as changes become ever-more obvious.

I have to take my hat off to Tad Callister. He has provided this argument with enough flexibility that I'd bet we'll still be seeing it made for a few more decades before Mormonism succumbs to the inevitable position of acknowledging itself as a modern religion.

As [our] home was being constructed, we occasionally submitted to the builder a “change order” that revised the blueprint. When the home was finally completed, it was in exact conformity with our blueprint as revised from time to time...In a similar way, Christ built a Church to best accommodate the spiritual needs of His children. The spiritual blueprint for this Church can be found in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Occasionally the Savior made a “change order” to the blueprint. Such a spiritual change order came in the form of a revelation.

This is how Callister is able to explain what previously have been large problems with the “Mormon Church is a Restoration” approach in the past. The Primitive Church had “evangelists” which the Mormons turn into “Patriarchs” (seriously, it's still a moronic change that is meaningless). The original apostles were missionaries, but the modern LDS apostles are corporate board members. Jesus sent his people into “all of the world” but until 1978 the LDS Church didn't really know what to do with their black members.

The “change order” however, has a wonderful flexibility. Did you find a difference between ancient Christianity and modern Mormonism? Change order! The two blueprints are still the same, but the Mormon Church has been divinely altered to better serve the needs of the modern world.

However, the “change order” is also a double-edged sword that threatens Callister's argument as well, because part of the need for a restoration is the idea of the ancient Christian Church disappearing. Callister is going to spend many pages discussing the process that he believes led to the need for a restoration. But first he has to deal with the “change order” idea he came up with.

Bishops are now going to be in charge of the Church? Was there a change order? Perhaps there was. The Catholic Church is a church of bishops. The Orthodox Church is a church of bishops. The Mormon Church is not a Church of bishops. If an ancient change order caused the ancient Church to move to an episcopal hierarchy, then the Mormon Church needs to also have that same change order, but it obviously has not.

So now Callister has to retreat to a position that will cause his argument problems throughout his book. He needs to uphold the idea that there was an ancient Christian Church lying behind all of Christianity (no small task as most scholars today distinguish between the religion Jesus taught and the religion his followers taught about him). He needs to uphold the New Testament as a source of truth and he needs to downplay early Christianity as found outside of the New Testament either in writings by early Christians or scholarship. He needs to show how ancient Christianity fell, but he needs to do so without drawing any disturbing parallels to modern Mormonism. Ancient Christianity fell, but modern Mormonism won't. Why not? That's actually a very difficult thing for Callister to explain.

So he needs to qualify what constitutes a real change order. But here he runs into a problem: he can define a change order narrowly enough that it supports differences between orthodox Christianity and Mormons, but wide enough that he doesn't highlight differences in Mormonism between 1830 and the present day because his thesis is that change without a change order is what constitutes apostasy and the ancient Church fell into the Great Apostacy through the cumulative little differences that arose. At the same time, his argument about the Mormon Church needs to support its truth claims from 1830 to 2015, which is a much larger feat that I believe Callister is aware of.

As an example, let's look at his first assertion of a matching blueprint:

Apostle and Prophets as the Foundation

...The Apostles understood the imperative need to keep the quorum of twelve Apostles intact. This was demonstrated when one Apostle, Judas, died and a portion of the foundation was “chipped away.” The other eleven Apostles gathered together and by revelation chose a successor so the foundation would be whole again (see Acts 1:22–26).

This pattern evidenced the importance of maintaining a quorum of twelve Apostles. In other words, the selection of the initial twelve Apostles was not a single, isolated event in the establishment of Christ’s Church... Suffice it to say, the Apostles were critical to keeping the doctrine pure.

The blueprint clearly reveals that at the foundation of Christ’s Church are apostles and prophets. Do you know of any change order in the New Testament, any revelation that revised the blueprint and stated that Apostles were no longer needed? I do not. If that is the case, then Christ's true Church today should have apostles and prophets at its foundation. Such is the case with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Grand words (I get the feeling I'll be saying this a lot over the coming weeks), but problematic. Only one chapter later, Callister says:

At first, upon the death of one Apostle, the surviving Apostles would gather and choose a successor. This pattern was established after the death of Judas. Since part of the foundation had been “chipped away” with Judas's death, the other eleven Apostles gathered together to make it whole again. The scriptures tell us: “Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection... that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell,... and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:22, 25–26).

I'm surprised Callister even chose to quote the qualifications that Luke gives for what constitutes an Apostle: a man who had been involved with the movement from the Baptism by John but who also witnesses Jesus ascend into heaven. Where is the change order that these requirements went away? Callister instead chooses to view this as proof that the Apostles all died before they could replenish their number. In Acts 1 it is stated quite clearly that the rewards appointed to Judas needed to be taken up so that there would be 12 Apostles. But there is no change order in this chapter stating that an unfallen apostle must be replaced upon death but only that Judas was replaced.

Another missing change order is that the Apostles were commissioned to go out into the world in Matthew and Luke. In Luke's sequel, Acts, we see the Apostles appointing seven men to take on the chore of handling the economics of the fledgling organization (Acts 6:2-4) so that they could be specifically freed to preach as missionaries (those same seven would also be compelled by the Holy Spirit to be missionaries themselves, a common theme in Luke-Acts of the irresistible Spirit, leaving the question of who actually handled the finances of the commune unanswered). Where is the modern change order for the Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the physical organization? It doesn't exist, at least not to be studied.

(In all of this I am still struck by how Callister approaches books like Luke-Acts as though they were history books. This is going to come up to bite him in the ass later on when he talks about an “open canon” as Callister rejects books many early Christians viewed as authoritative, choosing to quote from them only when it suits his purposes.)

This is getting pretty long as is, so I'm going to stop for now. Next time we'll go into more detail on Callister's absurd claims about the name of the Church and the “loss” of early “teachings” of the ancient Mormon Church.

#Mormon #AcademicBiblical #EarlyChristianities #Counterapologetics


I've just finished a very quick read-through of Tad Callister's “The Blueprint of Christ's Church” and figured it might be nice to do a sort of mini-review of my impressions of the book as a whole before beginning to discuss pieces of the book. The verdict? About what would be expected, though with some unexpected highlights.

I was surprised to find that I was not nearly as aggravated by errors and smugness as I thought I would be (damning by faint praise, I suppose, right?). Let's be honest: everything I was expecting to find was there. The book presents a false picture of the unassailable strength of Callister's position (I'd say the position of the LDS Church, but he was very clear in his foreword that the book is his own). There is a constant use of the weakest opposing arguments combined with the best supporting arguments. Often a list of supporting arguments ends abruptly and gives the reader the impression that the author could have continued to give examples supporting their position, but my impression knowing what I do is that the list is actually complete without betraying itself as such. Similarly, lists of opposing arguments end before the author runs out of the poorest arguments to dissect.

But the book surprised me, too, by it's careful approach to ecumenicalism in some areas. Chapter 7, which contains an extremely brief overview of the Nicaean Council and Creed did not actually run into blatantly false areas as other LDS authors and speakers do on the subject. Callister is careful to include language indicating that Trinitarianism as a theological idea might have existed before the Council convened and never comes right out to claim that Trinitarianism was invented by political expediency, which I've found to be the somewhat usual approach to a LDS interpreting the Council and Creed. It is unfortunate that Callister never read much of the “Ante-Nicene Fathers” discussion of the debates of the Council, otherwise I'd imagine that his book would contain more of the scripture-based arguments of the Arianist position.

From this omission and several others I'm led to believe that while Callister may indeed own a copy of the “Ante-Nicene Fathers” library, he's never actually sat down to read them through but instead has picked them up and perused them when he had spare moments. Or it may be that he does not want to associate himself with the other “heretical” early Christianities who agree with him in some aspects but who also hold other positions that Callister would find disturbing. So when discussing baptisms for the dead we hear no mention of Tertullian's mockery of the Marcionite version of the practice, or when discussing the word ὁμοούσιος we don't get into the use of the word by Valentinian Gnostics or it's uncomfortable close association to Sabellianism among early Trinitarianists. I'm guessing that Callister doesn't want to present a picture of a fractured early Christianity. Perhaps he didn't want to draw too close an association between a Christian movement that fractured and a Latter Day Saint movement that has also fractured along doctrinal, political, and geographic lines (and continues to fracture).

Which brings me to what I think is the main problem of the book: the audience. Callister claims that he is writing to an audience composed of both Mormons and even non-Mormons. He thanks a handful of non-Mormons for their helpful critiques of his early drafts (what I wouldn't give to see what those critiques actually were!) and is careful to address at time orthodox Christian readers, Mormon Readers, doubting Mormons, former Mormons, and even secular humanists (though not by such an accommodating name, preferring to just use the word “secularists). It's quite the presumed audience, but in the end I found myself increasingly creating a mental cast of characters and wondering how each of them would be responding to Callister's words. I admit, I was getting a little bored so I had more fun with this than I should have.

Callister's audience is supposed to be a wide variety of people, but in the end I think the only real audience he is seeking to satisfy is an audience of one. And I can't really blame him too much for that. The process of writing is often solitary. But the process of editing and rewriting does not have to be. I wonder how Callister's book would have emerged had he given it to my mental cast of characters for their thoughts on it before publication:

  • Astrid, the young single mother living in Norway raising her son. She is Lutheran as most Norwegians are, but also extremely secular as most Norwegians also are (they make it work, don't ask me how).

  • John, a historian and member of the Community of Christ, which formed around a large group of original followers of Joseph Smith living in the Midwest who were opposed to Brigham Young and polygamy. (Yeah, this guy isn't made up, I know. He's too cool to not leap to mind when thinking of modern RLDS people!)

  • Matthew, the Catholic father from Central America who isn't just Catholic because his father was Catholic, but has spent many years of his adult life reading Catholic books and listening to Catholic sermons very similar to your average Mormon father in Utah

  • Kumiko, the Japanese atheist who knows more about Shinto and the Buddha than Jesus

  • Michael, the retired professor of Meso-American history from Yale (again, this guy is real because it's too cool to have it otherwise)

  • Danielle, the follower of Denver Snuffer (who has no followers, I know, I've heard it, but let's be honest here, people follow him even if he doesn't want them to)

  • Raul, the black Baptist pastor from Georgia

  • Tammy, the female Anglican paster from California

Let's be honest: if even one of these mostly-hypothetical people (or a similar real-world counterpart) had been asked to provide input and that input was responded to we would have a very different book on our hands. I'll probably be referring to this cast list as I continue in my more focus critiques over the coming weeks. Each of these people would have a lot to find fault with or at least to question.

Another surprise was just how little of the book covered the same bases as Callister's 2014 CES fireside. Instead, this book is a consolidation of everything he's previously had published both in book form and in the Ensign. Even my (least) favorite graphical analogy of the line defined by two points being the line of truth between the Bible and the Book of Mormon makes an appearance! Large chunks of the book have been moved, occasionally just cut and pasted, from previous books and talks. If you've ever looked at the shelves of Deseret Book under Callister's name and wondered which book to buy (haven't we all been there?) now you don't have to: this book seems to be the end result of Callister's church writings over the past decade or so. Those familiar with his Ininite Atonement or Inevitable Apostacy are going to be feeling a lot of de ja vu reading this book.

The only notable absence or revision would be his discussion of modesty, which pretty much ends up a nothing more than a long paragraph that seems to avoid gendered distinctions of any kind. This leads me to think that Callister was very much aware of the frustration his BYU-I sermon had caused and it seems to be that it bothered him a lot. If so, I feel a little bad for him as I know he didn't mean anything hurtful by his comments and I imagine it would be a painful shock to be made to realize just how dangerous his words (and perspective) were. It really does feel to me that he retreated from those words and their absence in what seems to be the magnum opus of his life's written LDS work indicates that he'd rather not be remembered for those comments. Which I can respect: people always continue to change over time and it's a sign of a healthy mind that can re-evaluate things on the basis of new evidence.

But, in the end, my final overall impressions were what I was expecting. He quotes the infamously unsubstantiated Catholic priest who claimed, “You Mormons don't know the strength of your position.” Similarly, I would state, Tad Callister you also don't know the strength of your position, or, to be more accurate, the lack of strength. His wording is often bold, overbearing, and even sometimes demeaning in his assumptions that all sources of knowledge point to what he himself believes. He seems to be unfamiliar with the real arguments against his positions, which is odd as he presents himself as very well-read among many authors who would present challenges (being the only GA I know of who quotes Dr. Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, for instance). His position is not unassailable, and indeed his arguments often are unknowingly attacking themselves. All of this I'm sure will come up as I start to respond to this book.

Tad Callister has been gunning for one of the top seats for a while. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it one of these days with the top 15 being as old and sick, physically and mentally, as they are due to their age. If that happens, this book will probably gain even more popularity which would be fortunate or unfortunate depending on your point of view. Testimonies founded on this book and its arguments are going to be founded on a deceivingly weak foundation of ice that will melt and shatter under any close examination and fail to uphold anything with the strength they claim to have.

#Mormon #AcademicBiblical #EarlyChristianities #BookReview #Counterapologetics


Let me state before going any further: I don't bear Tad Callister any ill will personally. I'm sure he is a great guy, and you don't get to earn a higher degree in law and still be a dodo. You've got to read a lot of books to get there!

I've heard some bad stories about the personal behavior of some of the General Authorities when they're in private situations like visiting a friend's home or working at the Church Office Building. I find it notable that despite being a rather well-known GA, Elder Callister always comes off as a thoughtful, intelligent, and kind man when talking to anyone who has met or worked with him personally!

Which is part of why it bothers me when it seems he always sticks his foot in his mouth when speaking publicly in his office as a General Authority.

A few years ago he chose a childishly silly analogy for why LDS doctrine depended on the combined authority of the Christian* Bible and the Book of Mormon. I'll have to write a short post someday on how that one fails miserably.

And then he gave his infamous talk at BYU-Idaho (a location where it seems the high level of strident Mormons in the local culture causes some of the mental cautions to fall for many people) where he unknowingly gave voice to what is pretty much the epitome of rape culture when he cautioned young women to dress modestly because of how they affected men. His comments at the time caused some stir, and the controversy only grew when a year later the Ensign reproduced the talk in its entirety for English-speaking Mormons generally living in America and Canada (interestingly enough, the talk was not translated or reproduced in the Liahona, the international magazine of the LDS Church which includes an English version that English-speakers around the world can subscribe to).

Finally, nearly a year and a half ago Tad gave nearly an hour-long overview of why Mormonism was true and confined himself to using the Bible to do so. The talk was merely the latest in a particular LDS argument that has been made far longer than I or even Elder Callister have been around. I led a panel discussion that sought to critique some of the more egregious errors and oversights of the this talk. If you do happen to give it a listen you should know that I am an anxious person by nature and it was my first major podcast that thousands of people listened to. I've been told that it's actually quite fun, but I haven't yet worked up the nerve to listen to myself. You can cover a lot more ground speaking out loud than through text, but you also can't review and revise what was said before releasing it. There's a few mistakes and mistatements I myself made in that episode and what is said is said and can't be easily fixed with audio.

For a while since recording, I have found myself thinking back to Elder Callister's presentation of January 2014 with the same thoughts. It's entirely possible that Tad made some mistakes, and that if given the chance to do it again he might have delivered things differently. I know that no matter how well I would have prepared, in the same situation there's no way that I could be completely satisfied with whatever I presented. Perhaps he has similar misgivings afterwards, too.

Which is why I am planning to take another look at Elder Callister's arguments over the new few weeks. He recently published a full book on the same subject, and while we could spent a lot of time discussing the possibly-immoral practice of spiritual leaders who publish materials for profit meant to benefit their fellow humans spiritually I think I'll have more than enough to talk about Tad Callister's arguments when he has the time and patience to slowly explore them in textual form. I hope that things will have improved in the interim, but I suspect that on the whole it will be as problematic as the fireside (please prove me wrong, sir!).

Why am I wasting my time critiquing something meant to help people? Why am I (conceivably) “tearing down” instead of “building up”? I covered my objections to the use of this particular argument style on the podcast episode, but to reiterate them here: because just as Tad discusses in his fireside, the strength of a position rests upon the foundational parts of it, ultimately running to the strength of the very blueprints of the position itself. The attempts to build up the position of the LDS Church by tearing down, misunderstanding, and omitting the beliefs of other Christians does not benefit anyone. It doesn't benefit other faiths who approach the Christian New Testament as an authoritative book, it doesn't benefit Mormons who build their testimony on faulty information and assumptions, and it doesn't even benefit the presenter when he presents faulty arguments unknowingly (or even knowingly as Elder Holland has sometimes done, though Callister doesn't seem to dance the same careful dance about the boundaries of information detrimental to his argument that betrays his knowledge of such information).

The hardcover has been out for a few weeks now, but like many people my age I tend to read a lot of my books digitally, so the release of the book on Kindle this upcoming Wednesday will be the first time I've taken a look at it. I'm looking forward to it because even if I plan on tearing down the bad arguments (and hopefully highlighting the goos ones) the end result is increased knowledge. I can reasonably predict that Elder Callister has read a lot on the subject of the rise of early Christian orthodoxy and I have too, but I doubt that our knowledge overlaps exactly. This will mean study and research of my own as I try to unwrap the original sources and current research behind Tad's arguments. I think everybody benefits from this sort of approach, because between the both of us I'd predict that most people who will be reading my critiques will walk away knowing more than they did about the subjects.

I hope you enjoy the series as much as I do. (And I hope I can actually keep moving forward with it, unlike the Nicea project I have thousands of notes and many aborted posts written for but just can't seem to find the oomph to keep moving forward on it.)

* I only use the term "Christian" here to distinguish from the Hebrew Bible, which many Christians would know as the "Old Testament". However, the idea that the scriptural authority of an entire religion and people can be relegated under the single term of "old" in comparison to "new" is rather offensive to Judaism in general, so I tend to use the terms Christian New Testament and Hebrew Bible, or Christian Bible if I need to refer to the combined scriptures that most Christians use. This isn't a statement of whether or not Mormonism is Christian. When compared to the wide range of Christianities in the history of Christian thought they most certainly belong to the same group, just as there were Arian Christians, Donatist Christians, Anabaptists, Pelagian Christians (in fact, the overlap with the Pelagians hopefully would pop up in Callister's book as there's a lot of meat for interesting discussion in comparing and contrasting there), and a plethora of various Gnostic Christians with widely divergent beliefs. They're certainly not orthodox or traditional, but they are Christian: a style of Christianity firmly in the camp of orthodox heresy, but Christian nonetheless.

† Seriously, what would the harm be of selling them only for the cost of materials and publishing, or even, in this age of the Internet, releasing the text for free digitally, especially if the material in question is meant to help people grow in testimony and spirituality?

#Mormon #AcademicBiblical #EarlyChristianities #Counterapologetics


I feel the need to rant a bit. Hopefully, something more substantive will arise from this, but for now I'm just upset and discouraged. The parallelomania by many Jesus mythicists has begun again.

It seems to come in waves. I suspect it has something to do with school and college (perhaps biblical studies has not yet reached its own Eternal September), but I have no way of proving it. Someone will write a blog post or an article at some magazine and the blogosphere ignites with it again.

The problem to me is not the Jesus Myth hypothesis. That is a valid exploration of the historical data (or to be more accurate, the near lack of historical data). I have my own argument with supporters of the Mythic position (usually about their binary approach to historical data, an approach that may have merit in the hard sciences but not as much in the soft sciences like history). My argument is with the parallelists.

These are the parasites that hang onto the discussions of the Jesus Myth hypothesis. “If there was no historical Jesus,” the historicist asks, “then every aspect of his life, not just the miraculous and supernatural, is an invention. Where did the non-supernatural parts of the story arise?” A fair question and one that can be answered by looking at yet-older Jewish apocalyptic ideas and Jewish numerology.

Enter the Parallelist: a certain brand of Mythicist that is even more excited about the non-historicity of an ancient, Jewish apocalyptic prophet than the regular Mythicist or Historicist. They know where every aspect of Jesus's life came from. They came from everywhere else, obviously.

The Parallelist is quick to produce long lists of parallels. And they certainly seem compelling! Mithra, a divine being of Zoroastrianism, was born on December 25! Horus, the son of the Egyptian god Osiris, was baptized! Both Horus and Mithra had twelve disciples! Mithra was known as the “Good Shepherd” and the “redeemer”! Horus was crucified and rose from the dead! Even the Greek god Dionysus died and rose again, and he turned water into wine!

Wow! What a list, eh? It sounds so much like Jesus it'd take a complete idiot to not see a connection, right?

Here's my mean, rude, and completely hurtful statement: it takes a complete idiot to not at least attempt some research of these statements and just takes them for granted. Seriously, we're dealing with history here, and what is the provenance of these claims? The answer: for most of what I just listed there is none.

And every time I bring this up it seems I tend to tick off at least one of the Parallelists. I've been accused of being a biased Christian. After explaining that I am not a believer in the supernatural propagandas presented by the ancient Christian texts I've been accused of being a biased historcist. Because obviously if I stand with a particular hypothesis then my reasoning for supporting that hypothesis must be because of confirmation bias, whereas the reason they support their hypothesis has to do with “evidence” and totally not confirmation bias.

Here's the crux of how it stands. You can take the position that there was no historical existence of a First Century Jewish apocalyptic prophet named Jesus who was executed by the state for insurrection. That is fine. You can reject the historicity of the gospels as biased sources written decades after the fact; they are. The crux of the Jesus Myth Hypothesis is the lack of evidence. The Parallelist is occupying no more than a sideshow of the tent trying to grab the limelight from the main ring by being loud and showy. And by not being above some exaggeration and occasionally some outright creative construction of facts.

Those of us who grew up in the LDS Church are familiar with the works of Dr. Hugh Nibley. No matter what you think of him, he was an intelligent man and he has left a lasting mark on LDS scholarship. And when it came to defending the historical claims of Mormonism, Nibley enjoyed the use of parallel most of all. Those of us who have left have had to deal with his parallels between scholarship about the Ancient World and “How Could Joseph Smith Have Know This?” His parallels are, at first glance, impressive. But once you start looking into their source you see how they begin to break down.

The same is true of a disappointing majority of the Jesus Myth parallels. Sorry, Horus wasn't baptized. Sorry, Mithra wasn't born on Christmas (unless you're going to argue that the Roman cult of the Unconquerable Sun established by Marcus Aurelius was in actuality centered around Mithra: that's a doubtful claim you'll need to back up, too). Horus didn't have twelve disciples. Mithra wasn't known as the “Good Shepherd”. If you've been passing these lists around you need to know that you have been duped (by people who have in turn been duped) and you haven't done the due diligence to back it up.

And if you are feeling angry and upset at my claim here, there is an easy way to resolve it that doesn't involve yelling at me: prove me wrong. My claims are falsifiable. I am claiming that the majority of those lists you see all over the Internet about figures like Mithra, Horus, and Dionysus are not accurate claims that can be backed up by direct textual evidence. All you need to do is to provide the quote from the ancient scroll(s) or inscription(s) that is the source for the parallel. Go ahead and dig into the sources from the books and YouTube presentations that lie behind the Parallelist claims. I'm pretty confident that you will emerge perhaps still a Mythicist but no longer a Parallelist. The sources are not there, and many of them were fabricated long ago (which is why I don't bear anyone now living much ill will over this; the faulty data was created generations ago).

Here's what you will find. You will find that there are certainly some parallels from various cultures. You will find, for instance, in one particular book evidence of Horus being conceived without sexual intercourse (in the more poetic “Book of the Dead”). But once you find the original sources you'll see that you are dealing with a stretched interpretation within the context of the source itself (Isis, Horus's mother, is certainly not a virgin even if you argue that Horus is conceived without sexual union with Osiris). You'll find that there are far more texts from the same culture spread across centuries of time that don't support the few true parallels you discover. And the very definition of confirmation bias is to support only the evidence in support of your theory while ignoring the evidence against it. Because even in the end, it's not enough to show that the parallel could have existed. You'll need to show the relative probability of this cultural viewpoint spreading to a small Jewish movement of the First Century. How likely was it that the nascent Jesus movement would have even been aware of the parallel in the first place to pull it from the foreign culture into the Jewish movement?

I respect the Jesus Myth position even as I have rejected it. Proponents of the Mythicist position have forced scholars to examine more closely the so-called genuine letters of Paul and their authorship as well as the nature of ancient Roman historical documentation entirely. Science, whether hard like physics or soft like history, is invigorated by scholarly critique and I believe that the position of the Historicist is benefited by the skepticism of the Mythicist.

However, the Jesus Myth Parallelomania is not the same as the Jesus Myth Hypothesis and it deserves to stand up to scholastic scrutiny and to live or die by the source materials. About the only thing I can think of that has resulted from this regurgitation of old lists is a renewed emphasis into the role of cultural astronomy in the ancient world view. So many of the parallels dovetail with ancient myths involving Venus, the solstice, and other aspects of the sky and the seasons. The ancient world was one where the stars were easily visible at night, and I do not doubt that there is merit in analyzing anew the relationship between the natural world and the creation of religious myth in the ancient world. But that does not mean that this relationship necessarily gave rise to aspects of the story of the supernatural Jesus's life: aspects that can be just as easily explained by an appeal to Jewish mysticism and numerology as they are to far-flung ideas of Sumerian myth and the Vedas. Just as they can also be partially explained by the short life of a poor, itinerant Jewish prophet from Galilee.

Oh and before I get the angry comment about my hypocrisy let me lay out my hypocrisy in the clear here: I'm not going to be putting footnotes on this blog post. I'm not going to be backing up my claims here with citations. As I said at the beginning, this is a rant written in the frustration of emotion. Go ahead and call my claims into question as I've called yours into question. And then why don't you begin to research your own position a bit further than you already have. Don't just depend upon some rock star scholar that you trust who taught these parallels to you. If they deserve the rock star status you give to them they'll have done the scholastically responsible thing of providing at least a bibliography where you can begin you search. Prove me wrong. I'm pretty confident, at least based on the work I've done myself actually trying to do so while I was myself a proponent of the Mythicist position, that you'll emerge with a better point of view on the uselessness of parallelomania.

#AcademicBiblical #JesusMyth #NewTestament #HistoricalJesus


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


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


  • 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)


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


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


  • 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)


  • 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


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 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)


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


  • 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)




  • 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)


  • 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 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


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