All posts by bfwebster

Sources for the story of Amalakiah (Alma 46-52)

A close reading of the Book of Mormon shows a sophisticated restraint in its narrative approach, namely an absence of descriptions of events, conversations, and actions outside of the observation and knowledge of its claimed authors, contributors, and participants. Consider all the things that are not included in the Book of Mormon narrative and yet have a direct bearing on that narrative:

  • Any statements or actions by Laban outside of the presence of Nephi1 or his brethren.
  • Any descriptions of events at Jerusalem after Lehi and his family depart.
  • Any private conversations or actions between Laman and Lemuel outside of the presence of Nephi1 and/or Lehi.
  • Any description of events, conversations, or actions among the Lamanites during those periods of separation and tension (with a major exception that is the topic of this post).
  • Any description of events, conversations, or actions among “Gadianton’s robbers and murderers”, except for some details at its founding, at which time it had been infiltrated by one of Helaman2‘s servants (Helaman 2).

And so on.

Contrast this with various stories in the Old Testament, where we are given details outside of the scope of any reasonable narrator. A good example is the whole story of Balak and Balaam in the book of Exodus (unless one presumes Balaam was somehow interviewed about these events or wrote down a separate manuscript that came into the hands of the Israelites). There are similar out-of-view events and details in Judges, Samuel/Kings, Esther, and Daniel. One can argue that these are natural attempts to fill in narrative gaps or offer obvious explanations, but that makes the restraint in the Book of Mormon all the more remarkable.

However, as alluded to above, there is one apparent major exception: the detailed story of Amalakiah, which is covered in Alma 46 through 52.

As explained in Alma 46, Amalakiah is a powerful Nephite figure who seeks to be made king by force over the Nephites, replacing the system of judges established by Mosiah2 roughly 20 years earlier. Moroni1, military leader of the Nephites, rallies the Nephites who oppose this change. Moroni1‘s forces significantly outnumber Amalakiah’s forces; Amalakiah and his followers seek to flee to the land of Nephi to join up with the Lamanites; Moroni1 heads them off, but Amalakiah and “a small number of his men” escape to Lamanite territory, while the remainder of his followers are forced to either acknowledge the current government or be put to death (“and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom”).

At this point, following standard Book of Mormon narration, we would expect to hear no more about Amalakiah except and unless he were to return to battle against the Lamanites. Compare, for example, the story of Zarahemna found in Alma 44, who after his defeat at the hands of Moroni1 swears an oath not to come to battle against the Nephites again, returns to the land of Nephi, and is never heard of after that.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, over the next few chapters, starting in Alma 47, we get a detailed inside look of how Amalakiah cleverly and ruthlessly works his way into being king over all the Lamanites. it really is a remarkable and very credible tale of sophisticated political intrigue; one seeking a naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon has to account how a 23-year-old farm boy with little education would think up such an approach, one that would likely earn a nod of appreciation from Greek playwrights and Roman historians, if not Machiavelli himself.

However, that is not the point. The point is that this detailed account is taking place outside of the on-going Nephite narrative context. Not only are the events taking place in the land of Nephi — at a time of hostilities with no major Nephite individuals present –but they are very intimate and secret details of Amalakiah’s intents and actions.

This appears to be a very deliberate insertion by Mormon, rather than necessarily part of the record being kept at this point by Helaman1 (see header to Alma 45). Note the introduction we get in Alma 47:1:

Now we will return in our record to Amalickiah and those who had fled with him into the wilderness….

The editorial “we” and reference to “our record” is used here and a few other places (3 Nephi 8:1, Moroni 9:33) as a indicator of either Mormon or Moroni2  speaking as editor. This suggests a narrative break from the events surrounding Amalakiah’s rebellion described in Alma 46. Furthermore, it appears that Mormon is deliberately setting up a contrast between Amalakiah’s duplicity, intrigue and murder in gaining the Lamanite kingship and Moroni1‘s personal righteousness and desire for freedom, since he follows the story of Amalakiah’s ascent immediately with the account of Moroni1‘s preparation for defense and his (Mormon’s) famous paean to Moroni1 , after whom he (Mormon) would name his own son (cf. Alma 48:16-18).

So, where did Mormon get these closely-held details? I suspect the answer is right there in Mormon’s introduction to this story: “those who fled with him in the wilderness”. These were also Nephites or, at least, of the land of Zarahemla (my personal suspicion, as some Book of Mormon scholars have speculated, is that Amalakiah and the “kingmen” followers were likely of the majority Mulekite population, unhappy at minority Nephite domination of government and religion; in any case, they were almost certainly not Lamanites).

Those who followed Amalakiah would have to be his most trusted confidants, since they are a group of Nephites deep in the heart of Lamanite territory. Furthermore, it makes the most sense that he would draw from this group the “servants” he uses to do his most dangerous and potentially damning work — first, poisoning Lehonti, the Lamanite army leader to whom Amalakiah had “surrendered”, and then slaying the Lamanite king and blaming it on the king’s own servants.

Now fast forward five or six years. Amalakiah, perhaps frustrated by the failures of his Lamanite military leaders (cf. Alma 49) and encouraged by the internal dissensions among the Nephites (cf. Alma 50), comes down in person at the head of the Lamanite armies, conquering a series of cities along the east sea (Alma 51). However, he presses his luck a bit too far, is stopped by Teancum (who is guarding Bountiful), and then is assassinated by Teancum at night, in his own tent, on the night before the first day of the new year (Alma 51:32-37). That account includes this statement: “he [Teancum] did cause the death of the king [Amalakiah] immediately that he did not awake his servants.” (v. 34)

Amalakiah’s servants are there with the Lamanite army. That army (led now by “Jacob, a Zoramite”) flees back to the city of Mulek and takes refuge there. They are subsequently lured out, engaged in battle, and defeated; those who are not killed in battle are taken captive and are put to work at hard labor, fortifying Bountiful and possibly other cities along the eastern seaboard, as well as building their own prison compound.

Among those captives are almost certainly some number of Amalakiah’s servants or close confidants, who would have detailed knowledge of Amalakiah’s actions since fleeing the land of Zarahemla. It is both credible and likely that one or more of those men would be willing to give Teancum or even Moronithe inside details about how Amalakiah had become king over all the Lamanites, likely in exchange for easier living conditions or possibly even a pardon and being sent back into Nephite society, much as many captured Lamanites were later granted to go live with the people of Ammon (cf. Alma 62:15-17). Furthermore, it is credible and likely that Moroni1 would want to know how Amalakiah had become king of the Lamanites, particularly since his brother Ammoron had become king after his death and sought to continue the conflict and hold onto currently occupied Nephite cities (cf. Alma 52:2-4).

So, as it turns out, the exception is not an exception at all, and the Book of Mormon retains its narrative consistency. While the record does not spell out exactly how the Nephites got the inside details of Amalakiah’s rise to power, it does provide the information to deduce how, why, and when they did so. Furthermore, Mormon himself introduces the narrative, suggesting that he may well have found it in a source outside of the Alma2/Helaman1 record itself, interleaving its events with that record to explain how this series of wars — which would stretch on for a full decade and cause tremendous destruction and upheaval — came to pass.

Christ, Gethsemene and agency

In our lesson in Sunday School today, covering Hosea, our teacher had us read from D&C 19:15-19, focusing in particular on verse 18:

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink–

The point the teacher made here was that Christ had been faithful and perfectly obedient throughout His premortal existence and His mortal life. But here, at the most critical moment of His existence, He does not want to go through with what He knows is facing Him.

The Atonement was not inevitable. It hinged on Christ — Jehovah — being willing to go through indescribable suffering voluntarily. Our eternal glory hinged entirely on Christ exercising His agency in the right way at that very moment — and, frankly, through every subsequent moment of the Atonement, even though He could have stopped it at any moment (“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” — Matthew 26:53).

I suspect that one major factor in the pre-existent rebellion was a lack of faith that Christ would voluntarily go through with the Atonement. As for the rest of us, we are left without excuse for our own exercise of agency. We cannot look Christ — our Judge — in the face on Judgment Day and say, “But the choice I faced was too hard.” The Son of Man has, in fact, descended below all tests of agency we will or can face in this life, and He made the right choice, in spite of the unknowable pain and sufferng He knew would follow. He and His Father do not ask us to go through that ourselves — in fact, They ask us to avoid that suffering by accepting and following Christ.

It’s our choice.

Stewardship, accountability, and community response (repost)

[NOTE: I originally wrote this essay back in 1994 for Vigor, an LDS samizdat put out for several years in the 90s by Orson Scott Card. I first posted it here at AIM  in 2008. Given the current intense discussions and post over Ordain Women and John Devlin, I thought it worth posting again. Comments not in the original 1994 article are in brackets.]

I’ve followed with interest and not a little dismay the increasingly strident discussions in various forums of how to deal with the imperfections of Church leaders. On one side are those who claim for Church leaders an infallibility and wisdom which they do not claim for themselves. On another side are those who feel that a “community response” — full-page newspaper ads, press conferences, public seminars and printed articles (often with scathing criticism) — is right and necessary. [I might add “LDS blogs” and “social media sites” in here as well.]

When you have two (or more) sides of an argument going around and around without resolution, it’s usually due to conflicting unstated premises. The key issue, largely unvoiced, is this discussion: to whom is a person with a given stewardship accountable? Is it the people over whom he or she (“he” hereafter, just to save typing and since we’re mostly focusing on priesthood leaders) has a stewardship? Is it the person or group of people for whom he is a steward? Is it both, and if so, how does he resolve conflicts between the two demands?

My personal belief is that someone with a stewardship is accountable solely to the person or people for whom he is a steward. In some contexts, that may well be the people over whom he has a stewardship, for example, an elected official is accountable to those who elected him. In the context of the Gospel and the Church, that is rarely the case; none spring to mind, but I won’t flatly exclude the possibility. The bishop of my ward is responsible for the welfare of its members, but is not accountable to them (myself included). He is accountable to the one who gave him his stewardship, namely the Savior, and to any of Christ’s representatives who have stewardship over him, such as the stake president. That stewardship moves up the priesthood line authority to the general authorities, who are all directly or indirectly accountable to the First Presidency; the First President’ counselors are accountable to him, and the First President is accountable only to Christ.

Given my stated premise about stewardship, we can now look at the key issue: if I think someone with stewardship over me (or even not over me) is in error, how do I handle it?

If the bishop acts in a manner which I feel significantly conflicts with his stewardship, my first responsibility is to approach him directly and privately discuss it. If that doesn’t resolve things, I have the opportunity — and, in some cases, the responsibility — to inform the stake president. Likewise, if I judge my stake president to be in error, I can deal with him directly, and if that doesn’t resolve things, inform the general authorities of the Church; the exact channel may depend upon the issue. If I judge a general authority to be in error, I can address my concerns directly to him; lacking satisfaction, I can then go to the First Presidency. And if I think they’re messing up, I can take things right to God. (Actually, I can do that in any situation, but since He’s appointed earthly stewards at all other levels, I figure He expects me to use them when appropriate.)

In this context, it’s interesting to note that we have the Lord’s promise that He will never let the President of the Church lead us astray; we have no such promise for any other church leadership position, so obviously the Lord expects us to use these checks as needed

What is critical in this process is that it should be done with the same confidentiality, sensitivity, understanding, patience and forgiveness — in short, the same Christ-like behavior — with which we would desire our own imperfections and errors to be handled. The Savior taught that “if they brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother.” (Matt 18:15) The Savior goes on to say that if that brings no results, we should inform the Church — which I would interpret as meaning the appropriate divinely-appointed stewards, not our circle of friends, the members of our ward, or the readership of Sunstone and Dialogue [not to mention the entire Internet]. We would probably be outraged, and rightly so, if we found that a church member — much less a church leader — was publicly criticizing our performance in our church duties; we’d even be upset over private criticism, if it was shared with those not involved in the situation. Yet all too often, we feel little compunction — and, worse yet, a great deal of self-righteous satisfaction — about doing the same, whether privately, over the net, in print, or even over the pulpit or lectern.

Given the above, the idea of a “community response” to the statements, decisions and actions of church leaders is as appalling and inappropriate as would be a “community response” — complete with private discussion and correspondence, newspaper ads, public lectures and published articles — as to how well any one of us is carrying out his or her stewardships within the Church and within his or her family. It ignores the dignity of the individual, and commandments toward charity, tolerance and forgiveness, and the channels which the Lord set up to deal with these issues. I suspect the Lord will not justify us in such a course, and that — whatever the errors of those we criticize — upon us will remain the greater condemnation.

– Bruce F. Webster [Vigor, Issue 5, August 1994]

Thoughts while watching our ward’s Primary program

I love the barely controlled chaos. Been watching these meetings for what seems like forever (I’m 60), and I never, ever get tired of them.

I can’t think of another meeting in which I alternate so quickly between stifling laughter and holding back tears.

Speaking of which: I watched one older girl up on the stand close her eyes and struggle to hold back tears while singing, obviously moved by the words of the song.

I also love the obliviousness and outright theatrics of the youngest kids, who are usually standing along the front railing of the stand.

I would love to do a video recording of a Primary program and then follow the kids for the next 18 years or so to see how their behavior during the program correlates to their personality and choices later in life.

I am reminded as the children speak of the rich inner life of children.

I’ve lived this ward for 8 years, longer than in any other ward in my 46 years of Church membership. One 11-year-old girl I’ve know since she was 3. When I said hello to her before Sacrament meeting started, she said, “Wassup?”

God bless Primary teachers and leaders everywhere. It is one of the least visible, least noted, and most important callings in the Church.

“Ender’s Game” (the movie): a brief review w/spoilers

enders-game

I read the original “Ender’s Game” short story when it was published in Analog (August 1977). I was startled, because I knew the author, Orson Scott Card, slightly. He and I attended Brigham Young University at roughly the same time (he was a year ahead of me), I had met him a few times, and I knew him primarily as a playwright; I had even attended one of his plays (“Father, Mother, Mother, Mom”). I had no idea he was “dabbling” in science fiction.

When I saw the novel-length version of “Ender’s Game” in a bookstore (City Lights Booksellers) in San Francisco several years later (1985), I groaned a bit; I had seen other authors take short stories and expand them to novels, and they seldom held up well. The novel “Ender’s Game” was, instead, a counter-example to that trend: stronger, deeper, more emotionally engaging. It went on to with the “Best SF Novel” category in both the Hugo (fan-voted) Awards and the Nebula (writer-voted) Awards.

At some point many years ago, the movie rights were initially purchased, and “Ender’s Game” (the movie) went into what it commonly called “development hell” — never quite finding the right combination of studio, producers and director to get itself made, until just the past few years. I went into the film today with some trepedation; I have seen time and again what Hollywood has done to the science fiction/fantasy genre in general, and adaptations of material from that genre in particular. Beyond that, I was a touch underwhelmed by the trailers for the film — they were mostly whiz-bang and did little to convey the emotional depths and darkness of the novel. But my wife and I, along with our youngest (almost 28) daughter Salem, went to see the IMAX version today.

The first fifteen minutes of the film didn’t ease my concerns that much. The exposition was a touch clunky, and it was hard seeing past Harrison Ford the-action-hero to see himself instead as Col. Graff. But then one of the early scenes at the Battle School took place — one with Ender (Asa Butterfield) questioning both Graff and Sgt. Dap — that ended with Sgt. Dap saying, “I will never salute you [as a commander]”, and Ender replying (while doing pushups), “Yes, you will.” — and from that point on, I totally bought Butterfield as Ender.

The rest of the movie moved very quickly, if anything a bit too quickly. The film clocks in at just under 2 hours, which is probably as long as the studio dared make it — but I think it could have used another 20-30 minutes (and I hope for an extended director’s cut in the video release). The movie was engrossing, moving, and spectacular, particularly on the IMAX screen. It is also remarkably faithful to the novel; the few changes made were done for understandable reasons. I even eventually bought Ford as Graff, though I think that role would have been better played by someone with less accrued heroic aura — say, James Spader (who would have been both more chilling and more world-weary in that role, in my opinion).

My other great relief is that there was no Hollywood stupidity — no romance between Ender and Petra (but a touching, awkward friendship), no sugar-coating outcome of Ender’s final decisions. I will likely go see it at least once or twice more while it’s still in the theaters, something I hardly ever do.

Highly recommended. Your mileage may vary. Spoilers after the jump.

SPOILER (such as you can have for a story that’s been out 35 years)

My single biggest criticism of the film is that it did not — in my opinion — do a proper job with the Command School segment. It could have used just a minute or two more to more clearly establish that Ender thought he was fighting simulations against Mazer Rackham (played excellently by Ben Kingsley), and that they were battles that he kept losing, with him and his key ‘toon leaders burning out. The biggest omission was that in the novel, for the final “simulation”, Ender is specifically told he cannot attack the home world, but has to defeat the enemy fleets while leaving the home world untouched. When he and his subcommanders see the size of the enemy fleets, they are overwhelmed to the point of hopelessness. That’s when Ender decides that he’s going to get himself kicked out and buy relief for his friends by deliberately disobeying that directive to spare the home world; instead, he carefully guides the “Dr. Device” weapon (called the “Little Doctor” in the film) to a close-enough point and destroys the home world. Of course, the adults were hoping all along that he’d do that, but they needed to keep their hands clean of the potential xenocide. So when Ender afterward expects reprimand and dismissal, instead the adults hail him as a conquering hero — and he realizes the enormity of what he’s done.

That original sequence, as written in the novel, ties in very well with the prior attacks that Ender has experienced, with him killing an Earth schoolmate and a fellow Battle School commander, both at times when he felt he had no other option for survival. I think that would have greatly increased the emotional punch of that sequence, as would the subsequent revelation that people back on Earth, after initial praise, turn on Ender and see him as a genocidal commander. That is as much a reason as any why Ender does not return to Earth, but that doesn’t come out in the film.

That’s my main complaint. Again, highly recommended, and I hope this sets up Scott and his family financially for life.  ..bruce w..

[cross-posted from And Still I Persist]

Alma and John revisited — a brief thought

I have posted before about the parallels between Alma1 and John the Baptist, particularly with regards to (re)introducing baptism and establishing a “church of anticipation” prior to the Savior’s arrival into mortality. One of those parallels was that “the appearance of both John and Alma1 signals an abrupt break from the law of Moses/priestly tradition to a church of anticipation.”

What struck me the other day, though, was the difference in how they were received by those in charge of that priestly tradition. In the case of Alma1, we read:

And now it came to pass that when Mosiah had made an end of speaking and reading to the people, he desired that Alma should also speak to the people. (Mosiah 25:14)

And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. (Mosiah 25:19)

Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church. . . .And [Alma] said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes. But king Mosiah said unto Alma:   Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged. (Mosiah 26:8-12)

And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests. And it came to pass that king Mosiah sent a proclamation throughout the land round about that there should not any unbeliever persecute any of those who belonged to the church of God. (Mosiah 27:1-2)

It is important to recognize the humility and inspiration of Mosiah2 (and his priests) through all this. His grandfather, Mosiah1, led the exodus of the righteous portion of the Nephites out of the land of Nephi and into Zarahemla, where he took over rulership of both his own people and the resident Mulekites. His father, Benjamin, gave his great sermon and prophecy of the coming Messiah — received from an angel! — to the assembled nation, putting the people under covenant to take upon themselves the name of Christ, and at the same time turning both secular and religious leadership over to Mosiah2. And Mosiah2 has been ruling over the combined kingdom ever since.

But here comes Alma1 out of the the land of Nephi, a repentant-but-formerly-wicked priest of wicked King Noah, preaching and baptizing and establishing “the church of God.” What does Mosiah2 do? He basically turns most, if not all, religious leadership over to Alma1. There is no envy, no struggle for control, no dismissal and “I’ll take it from here.” He recognizes with Alma1 — as John did with Jesus — that “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Now, contrast this with reaction of King Herod (Antipas), the Jewish high priest Joseph Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin in general to John the Baptist, and imagine this: what if King Herod and his priests (starting with Caiaphas) had been righteous enough, or at least sufficiently repentant, to do for John what King Mosiah2 and his priests did for Alma1? What would have been the reception of Jesus when He started His ministry there in Palestine?

Food for thought.

Archaeological find in Israel: Jehovah’s wife?

I always treat articles like this — heck, just about any article (or, for that matter, paper) on Bible-related archaeological “findings” — with a spoonful of salt. That said, this is interesting:

Archaeologists Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, said, “The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown.”

“The iconography points to a pantheon of deities, as some scholars believe, or to two main deities, something of a duality,” says archaeology writer Julia Fridman, writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“Interestingly, there are vastly more female figurines and representations found on shrines than there are male ones. The evidence points to the worship of at least two deities. . . .

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou of the University of Exeter said, “There is increasing evidence that the ancient Israelites worshipped a number of gods alongside their ‘national’ patron deity, Yahweh. The goddess Asherah was among these deities.

“Not only is she mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), but inscriptions dating to the eighth and seventh centuries BCE attest to her worship alongside Yahweh in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Taken together, the biblical and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that Asherah was worshipped by some Israelites as the wife of Yahweh. They were likely a divine couple at the head of the local pantheon.””

Go read the whole thing, then read Daniel Peterson’s classic, “Nephi and His Asherah“.  ..bruce..

More lessons from Judaism: Orthodox Jews confront Torah inerrancy

Again from the Tablet comes this article about how some Orthodox Jews are trying to deal with historical and compositional questions about the Torah (the five books of Moses):

“Virtually all of the stories in the Torah are ahistorical,” declares a manifesto posted in July on TheTorah.com. “Given the data to which modern historians have access,” the essay explains, “it is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift, and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical.” Not only did the events in the Garden of Eden and the Flood of Noah never transpire, readers are informed, but “Abraham and Sarah are folkloristic characters; factually speaking, they are not my ancestors or anyone else’s.”

Such sweeping sentiments might be expected from an academic scholar, or perhaps a critic of fundamentalist religion. But the author of this manifesto is an Orthodox rabbi named Zev Farber. The essay, and much of the work of TheTorah.com, is an attempt by dissident Orthodox rabbis and professors to reconcile the findings of modern biblical scholarship with traditional Jewish belief.

This project is not new, but it has bedeviled American Jewry in different ways. Within liberal denominations, while some intellectuals and theologians have grappled with the questions posed by the field of biblical criticism—which sees the Torah as a man-made, composite work produced over time, rather than simply revealed to Moses by God at Sinai—the results have rarely filtered down to synagogue congregants and day-school pupils. Within Orthodoxy, meanwhile, the findings of academia have often met with outright rejection.

One of the greatest gifts that Joseph Smith gave the nascent Church was to reject the inerrancy of the Bible, not just in the Articles of Faith but in other comments he made through his lifetime. In some ways, the Church slipped back from that during the 20th century, due largely to the prolific, unofficial, and often unauthorized writings of Elders Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie (not to mention W. Cleon Skousen), which promoted a very strict, literal (young earth/creationist) reading of the Old Testament (vs. Elders B. H. Roberts [see prior link] and James E. Talmage) and had a tremendous impact on the general Church membership, particularly through official teaching materials for Sunday School, Seminary, and Institute.

Now, unlike the Orthodox Jewish rabbi cited above, I actually believe a lot of the Old Testament, including the books of Moses, is historical, or at least is rooted in historical events that have gone through millennia of transmission. But I think that in our efforts to hold onto that which is valid and important, we end up accepting a lot that is not valid or that misrepresents the time frame and circumstances of the events.

The quality and openness of the work coming out of the Joseph Smith Papers project, as well as the New Testament Commentary project at BYU (and the many excellent New Testament publications of scholarship that preceded it), show the Church’s commitment to faithful and defensible scholarship. One hopes that at a future date, a similar effort will be made in Old Testament scholarship as well, with the results reflected in Church manuals.

 

 

 

Some insight into the phrase “desolation of abomination”

John Gee, over at his excellent and always provocative blog Forn Spǫll Fira, gives some insight into the Savior’s use of Daniel’s phrase, “desolation of abomination” based on its historical use within Maccabees, specifically that

This description from Maccabees supplies an understanding of what Jesus was predicting for the future of Christianity before his death.

Go read it. It’s his work; I’m not going to copy it wholesale here.  ..bruce..

Higher dimensional realms revisited

branes

The first published article I ever wrote was “Some thoughts on higher dimensional realms”, co-authored with Dr. Robert P. Burton of the BYU Computer Sciences department and published in BYU Studies, Vol 20, No. 3 (Spring 1980).  You can read the whole article here; the gist of it is that there are events and descriptions in the scriptures and other religious sources that could be interpreted as meaning that we are a three-dimensional universe existing within the context of one with (at least) a fourth physical dimension.

Now, physics and cosmology didn’t give a lot of support to the idea of a fourth macroscopic physical dimension at the time (string theory posits quite a few extra dimensions, but all on the subatomic level). However, starting about 30 years ago, some cosmologists started seriously putting forward the concept of our 3-D universe being a membrane (or “brane“) within a 4-D physical universe.

One of the latest papers to come forward attempts to account for the ‘inflation’ problem in cosmology by postulating that our universe is actually the 3-D cross-section of a 4-D nova collapsing into a black hole — that is, the singularity of the big bang is actually the event horizon of a 4-D black hole, and our universe comprises the matter outside that event horizon (or a 3-D cross-section thereof). According to the authors, this help explain the uniformity across the observable universe without resorting to some type of cosmic hyper-inflation.

I have no idea how the proposal will hold up, but it is satisfying to know that there are at least some cosmologists out there who believe we are embedded in a 4-D universe. ..bruce..