Category Archives: Judaism

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 “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, 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..

“Judaism as a native language” — lessons for Mormons?

Thanks to a link from a Jewish friend (whose wife published an article there), I have become a devotee of the on-line version of Tablet Magazine (subtitle: “A New Read on Jewish Life”). The level of writing (and journalism) is excellent, and there are at least a few articles every week or so that I end up reading.

I was struck by one today, “Learning Judaism as a Native Language Requires More Than Synagogue Once a Year” by Mark Oppenheimer. He starts:

It’s the High Holiday season, the time of year when synagogues double or triple or quadruple in attendance, as barely affiliated Jews stream back through the sanctuary doors, looking for their yearly connection. Some are scared, others disdainful, many bored. And confused—lots of confusion. As someone who writes about religion for a living, I have conversations throughout the year with these “High Holiday Jews,” but also with other Jews, some of them regular worshippers, others infrequent, who are trying to figure out why Judaism is so hard for them. I’m not a rabbi and I don’t have any good answers, but I do have some reflections, which I hope will put some people’s minds at ease, maybe even help them.

His answer: practice:

Religious practice, like musical or athletic practice, is easier for some than for others. For some people, it is so difficult that they probably should not even bother. I have no ear for music, and if I wanted to learn guitar even reasonably well it would take so many hours, at the cost of so much frustration, that I should probably just skip it. For some people, religion is like that: They don’t get it, they don’t see why it is meaningful, their not-getting-it makes them angry or resentful or sad or bored, and they would always rather be doing something else. Such people should, I think, stop trying. Don’t worry that your bubbe is looking down from heaven ashamed of you; after all, you don’t believe in heaven anyway. On Yom Kippur this year, do something that brings you joy, that takes you out of yourself, that helps you reflect, but don’t come to synagogue.

For everyone else, however, those of you who feel that maybe religion holds something for you, some mystery you just haven’t unlocked yet, or connection to a tradition you value, think about those things you have mastered, maybe in arts or sports, that came in time, with some regular practice. Think how rewarding those things are now. Maybe religion is like that. And maybe the next time you go to synagogue, you should take a bucket of balls, and not worry if you double-fault.

I think this touches on the reason why so many Latter-day Saints, having stopped attending church for a period of time, find it hard to start up again even when they want to.

My own brush with inactivity happened, of all places, at BYU, during my senior year of college. My (former) wife and I were head residents at Heritage Halls (back when it was all-girls); I had the responsibility of going around every Saturday night starting at 1:30 am to (a) kick all guys out of the dorms and (b) make sure all the outside doors were locked. Since we’re talking about 48 apartments in two halls (Snow and Smith), it meant that I usually didn’t get to bed until 2:30 am or later, while the student ward we attended (I was executive secretary) met relatively early on Sunday morning. We had a year-old toddler, and it was easy to decide to sleep in instead of getting up and getting ourselves ready.

Then one Saturday night, we realized it had been several weeks since we had been to church. And here’s the interesting part: my first reaction was, “We need to get up in the morning and go to church”, while my second reaction was a fear of embarrassment — that when we walked in, everyone was going to ask us where we had been or make other related comments. The impulse not to go at all startled me, since I had always been and still considered myself a staunch, faithful member. We did get up, we did go, and I’ve never gone through a period of inactivity again, but since then, I have always had sympathy for those who would like to start going to church again, but find it hard to do so.

I think Oppenheimer summed up that challenge with this passage:

But the religion is not native to you anymore, so if you do want a greater ease with it, it will take some time. Just as with guitar, or basketball. Or French or Swahili. If they aren’t native, they take a little work.

Food for thought; go read the whole thing.  ..bruce w..