Category Archives: LDS Doctrine

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.

 

 

 

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..

 

 

Time enough for love

(I originally posted this over three years ago over at Mormon Mentality. A friend asked me recently about thoughts on grace; I sent him a link to this post. I decided to move it over here, unedited.)

I’m still not sure what triggered this thought (and associated mental images), but I’m pretty sure it happened while listening to random (audio) chapters from the Book of Mormon on my iPhone (that’s the bulk of my scripture study these days — that and random audio chapters from the New Testament).

Let me start with a story I’ve told before (so if you’ve heard it before, apologies). A bit less than 30 years ago, I was visiting Utah from out of state and attended church with an acquaintance of mine. Said acquaintance had a PhD from the Ivy League, of which he was quite proud, and was at that time teaching at BYU; we attended his ward in Orem. Though I was not at that time a high priest, I attended high priest group meeting with him. When it was over, and we were walking back to his home from the chapel (this is Orem, after all), he said something to the effect of: “You know, I look around the high priest group, and I see men such as myself and [named a few others], all with PhDs and academic positions; and I also see 3rd- and 4th-generation farmers who never got beyond high school; and I marvel that the same church and gospel can encompass both.” To which I replied, “Maybe from where God sits, there isn’t any real difference.” He was not amused.

In the years since then, I have continued to dwell on that concept: that in most areas that we discern differences, the Lord sees few, if any. That’s why I smile when I hear the common dismissal of Abrahamic religion as “the local god of some wandering nomads.” We tend to be snobs of space, time, culture, education and wealth — what could we have in common with pre-literate Semitic tribes in 1000 BC? Again, from where God sits, I think the differences between our civilization and theirs are trivial and unimportant, much like two small kids arguing who has the nicer t-shirt. We tout our sophistication, as if sophistication ever led someone towards Christ-like service and love rather than away from it.

What struck me the other day is that we may well be just as myopic when it comes to duration (and circumstances) of mortal life. We see tragedy and inequality in lives “cut short” — while from where God sits, they’re all cut short, they are all cut infinitesimally short, and the major difference between dying at 5 and dying at 50 is that we have a touch more rope to hang ourselves with in the latter case. From an eternal perspective, we’re like 100 billion popcorn kernels popping within the space of a minute or so; the fact that some kernels took a bit longer than others to pop is a fine distinction and one irrelevant to the overall event.

Anne, bless her heart, worries about swearing, while God’s mind and love encompasses her, a tribal chief in Indonesia thousands of years ago, a baby girl put out to starve to death in 12th century AD India, and someone of uncertain gender walking around here on Earth 50 years from now and sees them all equal in His sight. One of the things that rang true in my heart as I learned and converted to the gospel some 43 years ago, and that has continued to ring true for those 43 years, is how encompassing God’s grace and love is.

None of this denies agency, sin, accountability, or evil. But for those of us who stick around in this life long enough to become accountable — and that’s probably less than half of everyone ever born on this planet — He gives us every break and opportunity to make things right and come back to Him.

His grace is not only greater than we imagine, it is greater than we can imagine. And however long or short our lives, God always has enough time to love us home. ..bruce..

Mormons and hell, revisited

godandhell

Doug Gibson, the opinion editor at the [Ogden, UT] Standard Examiner, regularly touches on religious issues, usually dealing with the LDS Church. His latest post examines the concept of hell as found in much of mainstream Christianity; as usual, he pulls no punches:

The absoluteness of this doctrine is evil. If one does not accept Christ in the same manner of someone else, that individual is consigned to an eternal punishment in hell. Taken to its absurd conclusions, the vengeful God that hell-believers worship would consign to eternal torture an infinite amount of devout Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, and so on, who reject the entreaties of those who see only a narrow passage to heaven and a vengeful God punishing those who don’t “dot their i’s or cross their t’s.”

Doug has more to say, offering links to four films that actually depict the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” theology. Go read the whole thing.

As I wrote six years ago, back in the early days of this blog, Mormons actually believe in three types of hell, all successive, with almost everyone who somehow ends up there getting out after the first or second (and ending up in a kingdom of glory). The LDS doctrine of hell is both just and merciful, and it gets back to a point I made in another post over at Mormon Mentality:

[God's] grace is not only greater than we imagine, it is greater than we can imagine. And however long or short our lives, God always has enough time to love us home.

The message of LDS doctrine is that it takes a very deliberate, determined effort to fend off God’s grace eternally; our salvation (after Christ’s atonement) results from informed choices we make, not upon chance, situation, or God’s arbitrary decisions. ..bruce..

Radical life extension and the LDS Church

Interesting article in the Atlantic on the prospects of extending human life and the religious implications thereof, based on a Pew Research Center poll. The Pew Center asked sought comments from several major religions; for the LDS Church, they ended up talking with Steven Peck at BYU:

“The church believes that the human body is sacred, which is why it even discourages body piercing and tattoos,” says Steven Peck, a bioethicist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “So, as long as the body remained the same, as long as you were only giving people more of what they already have without big alterations, I think it would be fine.” On the other hand, “if there was a sense that [life-extension therapy] was desecrating the body, that would be a problem,” Peck says.

Peck, obviously, is not a General Authority or (to my knowledge) an official Church spokesperson. Also, his answer as given — and he may well have had more to say — doesn’t really address advancing technology in artificial prosthetics and organ transplants. I doubt Church leaders or most Church members have problems with organ transplants, artificial limbs, artificial hearts, and so on. But what happens when we can transplant, say, the human head of a quadriplegic  on top of a mobile prothetic torso (with heart/lung machine, etc?). Does that count as ‘desecration’ or merely another logical step in transplant/prosthetic technology? Suppose the side effect of such an action is a significantly greater human lifespan and/or greater functionality for the person involved — would elderly people who were not quadriplegics then be justified in such a procedure, assuming they could afford it?

Interesting questions. Lincoln Cannon, where are you? :-)  ..bruce..

 

A few reactions to the new temple film

My sweet wife Sandra and I attended the Denver temple this past week, where the new temple film has replaced the two older ones. A few careful thoughts:

  • Speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoyed the previous temple films, this one is significantly better in all respects: cinemetography, music, direction, art design, and acting.
  • I don’t recall — in 42 years of going to the temple — ever weeping during the temple presentation (at least, in response to the presentation itself). This week, I teared up several times during the presentation. I also saw certain aspects in a signficantly new light.
  • Contrary to a few grumbles elsewhere, this is not an “all white” film. Fully half of the eight actors (including Adam and especially Eve) look as though they come from Latin America, not Northern Europe (I speak as someone who served a mission in Central America and who has extended family members from Mexico and South America).
  • Eve rocks. Or, as my sweet wife Sandra put it, “Eve is the star of the film.” It calls to mind Hugh NIbley’s comment (which I’ll have to look up and quote) about Eve easily holding her own while sharing a stage with seven very powerful males.

I look forward to going back repeatedly. ..bruce..

One of my favorite quotes ever

As a teenaged convert in the late 1960s, I found that the book “Eternal Man” by Truman Madsen had a tremendous impact on me, as did Madsen himself (he came to San Diego a few times with BYU Education Week, and also came down for one of our stake youth conferences). I gave away my copy of “Eternal Man” a few years ago to a new member, but found a paperback version at Deseret Book this past week and picked up two copies.

I opened it up today and ran across this quote in the book just before the preface. This observation impacted me greatly when I read it some 45 years ago — because it spoke to my own conversion, testimony, and baptism at age 14 — and still moves me greatly:

 

Sometimes during solitude I hear truth spoken with clarity and freshness; uncolored and untranslated, it speaks from within myself in a language original but inarticulate, heard only with the soul, and I realize I brought it with me, was never taught it, nor can I effectively teach it to another. — Pres. Hugh B. Brown

Clinton (Bill) plays the anti-Mormon card

Buzzfeed reports on a Bill Clinton stump speech in which the former President gives a false representation of LDS theology:

Clinton also recalled a moment from his youth in Arkansas being approached by two or three Mormon missionaries in Hot Springs, where they explained the Mormon view.
Clinton spoke highly of their effort, recounting the different degrees of heaven as was explained to him 50 years ago, describing it as a pyramid with many levels that put Hitler and Stalin at the very bottom, faithful Mormons on top, and everyone else in between.

Clinton, a Baptist, said the sticking point for him was leaving his friends and family out of the top level of heaven.

“I didn’t want to leave all these other people behind,” he said.

I can’t speak to what those missionaries told Clinton — assuming this ever actually happened — but the representation of LDS beliefs is false. Unlike much of Christianity, LDS doctrine is nearly Universalist as to who gets saved. As I wrote five years ago on this site when Gary South at Politico tried to play the same card:

This posting — indeed, my starting this entire blog [Adventures in Mormonism] — is prompted by Hugh Hewett’s blasting of a piece by Gary South on Politico.com talking about “Mormon Intolerance”. South’s big concern: the LDS Church’s claim that “no other Christian church…is valid” and that only those who receive proxy baptism will be saved. He sees this as intolerance, being apparently unaware of that the LDS belief (and practice) actually is vastly more inclusive than the “problem of the unevangelized” that has plagued Christianity for most of the last 2000 years, viz., eternal condemnation to hell for anyone who doesn’t accept Christ (and, for some churches such as the Catholic Church, the appropriate sacraments/ordinances) in this life. Didn’t South ever read Dante’s Inferno, if not St. Augustine? In fact, by Augustinian doctrine, even Christians, however sincere, who never received an acceptable baptism, are damned to hell forever. Does South consider that religious intolerance?

The irony is that LDS theology is possible the most inclusive and diverse in terms of salvation of any major Christian denomination.

To wit:

  • Honest-to-goodness Mormons (by which I mean — and will always mean on this blog — individuals who in this life have been baptized into the LDS Church since its founding in 1830) will make up a very tiny fraction (<0.01%) of those who who inherit the highest (celestial) kingdom of glory.
  • Virtually everyone (>99.9% and probably >99.9999…%) who has ever lived upon this earth will end up in a kingdom of glory (celestial, terrestrial, telestial — glory likened to sun, moon, stars), in service to God — and the glory of the lowest (telestial) kingdom “surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76:89). Mormons will be scattered throughout all three kingdoms, based on how they’ve lived their lives.
  • Mormons, on the other hand, will likely dominate among those in this life who end up as the “sons of perdition” (D&C 76:26-32, 43), the only group that will not ultimately be saved in a kingdom of glory.

Let me explain.

Read the whole thing. Also, if you’re interested on how LDS concepts of “hell” (a term actually not used much within the LDS Church — instead, we tend to talk about “spirit prison” and “outer darkness”) differ from the rest of Christianity — no actual fire and brimstone and (with a very few exceptions) only of limited duration — here is this post as well.

UPDATE: The irony is that Bill Clinton gave this speech the same day that his wife Hilary, our SecState, tweeted, “The U.S. deplores the intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”