Notes: Joseph Smith Papers Conference and BYU Sperry Symposium

Below are notes on the 2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference, at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and on two of the talks at the 2018 Sperry Symposium at BYU the next day.

 

2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference Notes

Janiece Johnson, “Embracing the Book: The Material Record and Early Book of Mormon Reception”

For 1st gen. LDS, family history still gets written in Bibles, not BoM, though sometimes baptism into church goes there. “Stories enabled access to divinity.” Marginal notes in BoM tend to be keeping track of complicated new narrative. Some created a table of contents. Patience Cowdery uses manacles (pointers) to annotate “seed” and “ancestors,” plus an index she made in the back. Frederick G. Williams 1st edition made an index of doctrine and narrative, and a list of 20 “lost books” from the Bible. Apostle William M. McLellin annotated with doctrinal index and notes showing close reading over many years…also drawings!

Sherilyn Farnes, “‘Able to Translate Any Where in the Bible’: Translation and the Early Saints”

On Edward Partridge’s study of Hebrew. EP studies Hebrew to translate Bible, including with Kirkland school of prophets. Considered useful for preaching—impressive to hearers. Approaching Antiquity: JS and Ancient World, put out by RSC—check it out! Alfred Cordon journaled that people wanted to hear Greek or Hebrew and then they would believe! James Harvey Partridge (Edward’s younger brother) was eulogized as a “learned Biblical scholar.” “Do good, lay aside evil…render assistance to fellow men and glorify the Lord” as a purpose for learning Hebrew. JS said this learning would prepare people for the endowment. Language study led to history study. JS studies Hebrew AFTER his inspired revision of the Bible.

Stephen Smoot, “The Dynamics of Revelatory Translation in Early Mormonism: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study”

JS’s concept of translation was “idiosyncratic” by modern standards. 1. Zeptah/Egyptus—Earliest manuscript of BoA has Zeptah instead of Egyptus and Egyptes in place of another Egyptus. BoA may confuse Zaeptah’s/Egyptus’s gender in the same way some ancient records do for that lfigure. Is Hebrew in BoA because of JS knowledge of Hebrew (reflected in his translation) or from an ancient scribe? “Not a 1-for-1 unsullied Ur-text.” 3. JS use of Elohim in plural in BoA couldn’t come from his Hebrew tutor Seixas. JS’s knowledge and language influenced the nature of the BoA text.

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October 2018 General Conference Notes

SATURDAY MORNING

President Nelson

Church supports the family, not the other way around–we need a home-centered church. “We are each responsible for our individual spiritual growth.”

 

Elder Cook–2 hour block

60 min sacrament meeting. SS on 1st and 3rd Sunday, priesthood and women’s meetings on 2nd and 4th. Home-centered, church-supported balance. Deepen conversion! More time to study the gospel at home! Gospel study at home will be significantly enhanced! New SS classes will support home study course. RMN wants us to “walk the covenant path.” Honor the Sabbath day and the sacrament (emphasized for last three years now). New “Come Follow Me” program helped people move from reading scriptures to *studying* them. The 12 and FP prayed about all this in the temple.

 

M. Joseph Brough (YM 2nd)–Enduring Hard Things

Sometimes we have to face hard things. Asking “why?” never takes away the hard thing. Examples. NAM: “I have given you leukemia that you might teach with authority” (check the wording on this). Forgive others who have hurt us, and turn ourselves over to HF. Great story of forgiveness. Then an even better story of his missionary daughter! “We can always rejoice when we keep the commandments.” Testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

 

Steven R. Bangerter (70)–Gospel-centered Family Traditions

Infuse children with strength to face challenges of life. (Great illustration of stones here!) Jesus Christ is our precious corner stone. Advice on family traditions. Parental interviews. Consistent, wholesome family traditions that include prayer, church meetings, etc. will bless our children. Helaman 5:12. Proverbs on training children. Are we exercising faith in the Lord’s command to teach our children? (check wording of this one)

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Sacrament Talk: Real Discipleship

A couple of months ago, I spoke in church on the assigned topic of “real discipleship.” Below is a script I wrote out for it.

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My hope for this talk, and for any meeting or class we ever have, is for all of us to get two main things: to be empowered through learning the gospel to live in ways that will bring us closer to God, and to be encouraged to do that in a way that will make us happy in everyday life. As I prepared this talk, I prayed to write a message that would help do that for all of us. That’s what I want out of this talk, and I hope that sounds good to everybody, so let’s get started.

But first, yesterday I had an idea. If any of the youth in the ward have tuned me out, listen up, this is for you. With your parents’ permission, if anyone under 18 wants to keep track of the scriptures and apostles I mention today, and get in touch with me later to talk about it, I’ll bring you a treat or snack of your choice–again, with your parents’ permission. So, Aiden, pay attention, son. You have your dad’s permission.

I’ve been asked to speak about discipleship today, and that’s a huge topic, but it also cuts right to the center of how we live our lives. When the bishop asked me speak, the phrase he used was “true” discipleship. I guess that’s meant to be the opposite of a false discipleship, and that reminds me of a General Conference three years ago, when Elder D. Todd Christofferson mentioned a great German leader from another church named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was famous for using the terms “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has….It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

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President Nelson’s 8-Step Guide to Revelation

This quote was, for me, the most important part of the most important talk in the most important General Conference in decades. It seemed to me that the prophet’s words naturally broke down into an eight step process, in order. The attachment below has his words verbatim from his talk–I added the numbering.

Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives

Revelation

Three Great New Mormon Podcasts

I’ve written before about the awesome LDS Perspectives podcast, and lately three more worthwhile productions have started and caught my eye. It’s worth your time to check them out:

The Interpreter Radio Show. A weekly audio broadcast by the Interpreter Foundation, publishers of the eponymous journal of scripture scholarship, this roundtable discussion has a rotating panel that discusses various timely topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. Like the journal itself, it’s a reliable source for enlightenment, entertainment, and edification.

Rare Possessions Podcast. This one is put out by Book of Mormon Central, and each weekly edition features a discussion of–and then a short reading from–classic but largely forgotten works about the Book of Mormon. The most recent show is devoted to the life and work of the great, recently-departed scholar John Tvedtnes. Definitely listen.

True Blue Mormon Podcast. The newest entry in this list–they have three episodes under their belt–this new show has a cast of hosts who are active in the online world (the excellent Jr. Ganymede blog gets more than one shout out), and thus the show has a largely apologetic bent, both in terms of doctrine and culture. This fills a major hole, and is much appreciated.

Elevating the Elders Quorum President

Another positive effect of combining priesthood groups in a ward into one quorum: the position of elders quorum president, as the single head of all the men in the ward, will be recognized as a calling of greater importance than it has been seen as in the past.

If this calling is being magnified properly, the EQP is really sort of a junior bishop. That’s not meant to eat into the bishop’s authority, of course, but there are so many things a bishop does that should be shared by others in the ward–and not just by the ward council leaders, but by all of us helping each other–and the EQP is the only other man in a ward who holds priesthood keys, so a large share of the responsibility for ministering overall falls on his shoulders.

People often joke the the EQP is the president of a moving company, but nobody would ever say that the bishop is just “the tithing settlement guy” or “the dude who signs temple recommends,” because his many other, more vital functions are so visible. I wonder if, around the church, the elders quorum presidents have been living beneath their privileges, as it were, if people don’t see how much power to serve and bless that this calling really has.

Consider this summary from the church handbook:

The elders quorum presidency…preside over, sit in council with, and teach quorum and group members… They direct the efforts of quorum and group members to advance the work of salvation in the ward…. They serve as members of the ward priesthood executive committee and ward council. As members of this committee and council, they participate in efforts to build faith and strengthen individuals and families…

There’s a whole world of possibilities in those general outlines!

I’ve been very lucky to live in a ward where every man who holds this calling rises up to make the most of it and make a real positive difference for others (full disclosure: I had the privilege of serving as EQP myself over a decade ago, and I loved it). A man who catches the vision of this opportunity can be a major force for good in a community. He can truly challenge, lead, and help draw everyone in a ward closer to the Lord.

When ward members think of men with inspired directions, noble examples, pure and fervent testimonies, constant priesthood service, and selfless sacrifice for the whole ward, they should think of the elders quorum president and the bishopric together. I think that’s a worthy vision for this calling in its new, expanded, elevated form.

Reviewed and Recommended: Godsong, by Amit Majmudar

Amit Majmudar’s new translation of the Bhagavad-Gita is the third one I’ve read, and the second one I’ve loved. Overall, it’s the best of the three. It strikes the perfect balance between the first two: it has the strain of clear pragmatism with the idioms and images of the source culture (which I really liked in the first one), along with a direct, point-blank Western style that doesn’t try to impress with mysticism but which still retains the originally foreign flavor (unlike the second version I read, which just watered it down in trying to make it sound too American).

Majmudar’s poetry sometimes does go a bit too far into prosaic territory, I felt, such as when he liberally peppers a stanza with the prefix “meta” to describe cosmic concepts. There, his Millennial-ness shines through.

But not only are his lines generally clear, gripping, and clever, but his short personal notes on each chapter are genuinely insightful and enjoyable. It’s not too often that one reads an old classic and finds translator’s notes that equal the beauty and power of the work itself. I think the last time that happened was when I read Anthony Esolen’s version of the Divine Comedy of Dante.

This new Bhagavad-Gita complements the literature and religion of the West both when it’s similar and when it’s different–either way, it’s so thoughtful that it makes you think., too. The magic of Majmudar’s work is that it can’t be clear if that’s mostly due to the translator’s subconscious or the text’s original ethos…probably some of both.

 

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Twilight of the Conservative Mormon Group Blogs

Things are out of balance. While one side of the socio-political (and faithfully orthodox) divide waxes ever more prominent in the online Mormon world, the other side wanes, wasting away, evaporating into nothing.

Consider the position of some of the most notable conservative Mormon group blogs from recent years:

  • Real Intent launched in 2012 with more than two dozen great bloggers, including some widely known names, and produced some intriguing and even powerful posts. However, after publishing a total of seven items in the years 2015 and 2016 combined, they have yet to post anything since then.
  • Orson Scott Card created Nauvoo Times and seemed to have hit on an easy success formula: not only did it also have a roster of admirable authors, many of the posts were merely reprints from the authors’ home blogs–constant content should have been a simple thing. But this site also failed and folded, though archives are still online.
  • The great standard bearer of this group is undoubtedly the Millennial Star, but even that’s not immune from these doldrums. Frequency of posts declined sharply several years ago, and at the end of 2013, they brought in Meg Stout to apparently fill the void and keep their product fresh. Meg’s writing is thoughtful, lucid, and original, bringing views and concerns to the table that would otherwise be largely absent. But most importantly–and most relevantly for this post–she’s productive. Of the last fifty posts at Millennial Star as of 5/5/18, Meg has written 21 of them–nearly half. That’s as many as the three next most frequent contributors combined. This isn’t to criticize Meg or anyone else at M*–again, she brings a lot of quality to the table, but the point is that M* isn’t really much of a group blog right now, at least not to the degree it once was. It’s become more like Jr. Ganymede, a great personal blog that sometimes features other voices.

Meanwhile, how many of the socially/politically liberal Mormon group blogs have expired or declined? The only one I can think of is Mormon Matters, which didn’t really die so much as it evolved into something else.

Is no one else worried by this trend? Where have all the great voices–faithful to the church, dissenting from the world’s culture–gone?

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My YouTube Interview With a Christian Apologist About the LDS Church

Nick K. of the “Next Generation Saints” channel is a really awesome guy. He contacted me a couple of weeks ago wanting to do a live online discussion about the our respective beliefs. I’ve been wanting to do something similar for a while, so I gladly agreed. We streamed our discussion yesterday, and we both think it went great. In fact, we want to do more of these! I’m really grateful for this opportunity to share my testimony of Jesus Christ.

2018 Book of Mormon Central Conference: Notes

My wife and I drove up to Provo Friday with our 12-year old and 13-year-old to attend this awesome conference. Thanks to our friends who watched our three youngest kids while we went, and thanks to Book of Mormon Central for organization such an amazing, enjoyable, educational event. Not only did we hear from several great teachers, but we got to take a tour of Herod’s temple with virtual reality headsets, see some museum displays about metal plates from Roman times and a Bedouin tent, the kids got to meet John Bytheway, and they even gave us lunch! :)

Here are my notes:

 

Matt Roper & Paul Fields: Abinadi to Zenos: 28 Speakers in the Book of Mormon

  • Multivariate Tukey-Kramer multiple comparison procedure shows 28 distinct speakers in the Book of Mormon.
  • Book of Mormon style cluster is completely distinct from other major 19th century works.
  • Diversity of speech in the Book of Mormon is easily far greater than any of the great novelists of the 19th century.
  • Style of each character is consistent throughout the text.
  • Mormon has 96,000 words, 36% of BoM
  • BoM narrator only = 15% of text, vs. 66% of 19th century novels
  • BoM voice diversity = 300, vs. 200 in 19th cent. Novels
  • BoM uses 28 styles consistently and congruently

 

Mark Wright: “In the Fields and in the Forests”: Mesoamerican Ecology and Cosmology in the Book of Mormon

  • Title from Mosiah 20:8.
  • To ancient Mesoamerica, fields are safe, forests (wilderness) is dangerous
  • Social spaces are modeled after cosmic spaces.
  • Preclassic period starts restricting temple space to high priests. Poor people couldn’t wear jade–reserved for upper class (priests, royalty).
  • Mayan temple rituals included a culmination in becoming god.
  • Mayans would integrate and adapt foreign influences: reflected in Ammon correlating “great Spirit” with God. After conversion, Lamoni’s father refers to “Great God,” not Great Spirit.
  • Jun Ajaw in a Mayan god, “one Lord,” lots of similarities to Jesus Christ.
  • Argemone mexicana–poisonous thistle. Mosiah 12:12, 7:30.
  • Mosiah 12:6–hail, east wind, pestilence, perhaps like destroyed maize and aftermath.
  • Helaman 5 on whirlwind and hail = Ritual of the Bacabs, colonial Yucatan document.
  • Alma quote Zenos to poor Zoramites: wilderness -> field -> house -> closet very much like inner / outer courts of temples
  • Mayan word saq means white/pure, tzuc means germinate/sprout/light breaking through. Compare Alma 32:42. Corn was considered a fruit, like the colors of corn above.

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April 2018 General Conference Notes

Saturday Morning

Elder Ballard: Record in journal what you feel about today’s solemn assembly. Testimony of President Nelson’s calling. Urges us to sustain and follow. Faith is how we move forward. Also, gifts of sabbath day, sacrament, service, and our Savior. Vote for “honorable” people. Do not hesitate to run for public office if you desire. Some activities must always be at the heart of our membership. Lift and strengthen others. Visit and assist them. Answer questions and concerns in clear and kind ways. CHRISTLIKE SERVICE

Brian K. Taylor (70): [he tears up right away talking about how we’re all children of God.] The pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line: you are a child of God. Teach children identity and purpose. Story of a girl’s tragedy, told to write and say “I am a child of God” ten times a day. She drew nearer to Christ and felt better. [Reaches out to young mothers especially.] Seek God and His beloved Son! [Beautiful testimony—review this talk!] IDENTITY AS A CHILD OF GOD

Larry Echo Hawk (70): Focuses on forgiveness. [2nd speaker in a row to tell story of a fatal car crash!] Learned to have a forgiving heart from the Prince of Peace. Are there people in our lives who have hurt us? Do we harbor “fully justified” feelings of anger? Forgive completely and let healing come from within. Follow the example of Jesus on the cross—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” FORGIVENESS

Elder Stevenson: [Tells of his love for the prophets during his life.] 1. The passing of our prophet. 2. The time awaiting the reorganization of the new presidency. 3. The calling of a new prophet. 4. The sustaining and work of the new presidency. Details about President Nelson’s character. [Review the material about President Nelson’s teaching methods.] THE CALLING OF A PROPHET

Lynn G. Robbins (70): Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Why doesn’t the Lord give us success right away? 1. to give us experience. 2. to learn to know bitter from sweet. 3. the battle is the Lord’s  4. to learn Christlike attributes “I wanted to be on the same side as the students.” Repentance is the Lord’s plan for us to progress along the covenant path. The sacrament is not a license to sin. Not “going” from failure to failure but “growing.” BKP: “When we are through changing, we’re through.” Spiritual growth is as invisible as physical growth from day to day.  REPENTANCE

Elder Anderson: This assembly is everywhere in the world. The job of a prophet is to teach about Christ and lead us to Him. More details about President Nelson’s life. He is our watchman on the tower. [look up Ezekiel reference.] Elder Anderson’s wife went back and read all of Pres. Nelson’s conference talks from the past 34 years. [Some mighty fine cultural criticism in here!] Encourages us to follow the prophet, even if personal views are contrary to teachings. President Nelson: don’t put question marks after prophet’s teachings, put exclamations! FOLLOW THE PROPHET

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Notes on Biblical Archaeology Review’s Greatest Hits, part 2

And here are my notes on the twenty articles in the second volume!

 

    1. Israelites and pre-Israelites built elaborate water tunnels in rock that provided water during sieges. Impressive engineering feats that developed over time, and were refined throughout centuries.
    2. Underground tombs in First Temple period Israel have a standard floor plan similar to older catacombs in nearby parts of the world: entrance chamber with several rooms attached to it for burying bodies, with a preparation/funeral room. Engraved walls may resemble what the walls of Solomon’s temple looked like. Empty space between rooms stored bones as new generations were buried, perhaps inspiring Biblical phrases “gathered unto/buried with/slept with his fathers.” Such complexes are large–some are 10k square feet, including one under St. Etienne’s monastery. Rooms are built with a 8:10 cubit ratio, as with the temple–1 Kings 7:10.
    3. Excavations at Lachish show massive destruction in 12th century BC, as Joshua 10 says (by Israelites or Sea Peoples)–clearly done by fire. A large, detailed wall relief of Sennacherib at Nineveh shows his Assyrian conquest of Lachish in 701 BC (2 Kings 18:13), and another destruction by Babylon in 588/6 BC (including the burying of the very important Lachish letters). Side note: in 1938, the original British excavator of this area, James L. Starkey, was murdered in the street on his way to a museum ceremony!
    4. Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, a random 8th century BCE structure west of the Gaza Road in Sinai, was some sort of religious site, but no other details are clear. Multiple pottery inscriptions of YHWH and the Egyptian figure Bes are ambiguous, maybe indicating an asherah (a symbol of divinity) or Asherah (proper name–a goddess–and maybe even Yahweh’s wife). One inscription there contains a poetic blessing similar to that in Numbers 6. Name suffixes used there connect it to northern kingdom of Israel, not the nearer southern kingdom of Judah. As with all else at this site, nobody knows why. Side note: Artifacts were given to Egypt in 1994 as part of a peace treaty, and never seen since. A 2011 robbery, soon recovered by government and moved to Cairo, might be them.
    5. Israel was a victim of conflicts between Egypt to the southwest and Babylon to the east. Babylonian Chronicle tells of the destruction of Philistine city of Ashkelon in 604 BCE. Jeremiah 47:4 alludes to economic partnerships. Ashkelon has evidence for rooftop altars, condemned in Jeremiah 32:29. Many Egyptian artifacts there, such as figures of Bes, show a strong cultural influence. A 7th c. BCE ostracon there uses a pseudo-Hebrew script called Neo-Philistine. Contrary to stereotypes that Philistines were beer guzzlers, Ashkelon had refined wine facilities and stores. “Streets” in 2 Samuel 1:20 should be “bazaars.” Jeremiah railed against pro-Egypt policy of Judah; they ignored him and were destroyed.
    6. Small figures show lots of cultural exchange and borrowing from Egypt and Greece in Palestine. Pagan idols were very popular in Israel (despite reforms of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:3-6 and Josiah in 2 Kings 23:1-15), until after the return from Babylonian exile, when they suddenly disappear forever. Elephantine papyri from Egypt shows that dispersed Jews built a new temple there; Samaritans did the same at Gerizim in 4th century BC after being expelled.
    7. 1975-1996 excavation at Ketef Hinnom, a hill outside St. Andrew’s Scottish Church and Hospice of Jerusalem, found uses by several civilizations from 700 BCE (burial tombs) to World War I (ammo and weapons storage for Ottoman Turks). A Byzantine church on the site may have been “The Church of St. George Outside the Walls.” Most important find: a First Temple Period tomb repository unraided by looters! Includes a seal from “Palta” (maybe the official from Ezekiel 11:1,13), jewelry like that in Isaiah 3:18-21, two silver scrolls with variations of Numbers 6:24-26 and Deuteronomy 7:9. These inscriptions are the oldest known copies of writing similar to Biblical text–400 years older than the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls. This shows that the text of P (Priestly) author was developed by First Temple Period.
    8. 1970 excavation found a house in Jerusalem burned by Romans in 70 AD, belonging to family of Kathros, a High Priest (name inscribed on a stone weight in the ruins). Bones and a spear in the debris tell a dramatic story of sudden destruction.
    9. Dead Sea Scrolls were clearly written by Essene sect. Essenes applied Joshua 6:26 in their Testimonia document to their own plight; the “Cursed Man” there may be the same as their arch-enemy, the “Wicked Priest”; best candidate for that is High Priest Simon Maccabeus, founder of an illegitimate priestly line who persecuted those minorities who opposed him, like the Essenes.
    10. A house south of a synagogue in Capernaum dates from 1st century BC; in middle of 1st century AD, its largest room became a Christian church–domestic items disappeared, it was built up, and Christian inscriptions appeared on the new walls; in 4th and 5th centuries it was built up into even larger holy structures, ending with an octagonal church, a shape used for very sacred spaces. Early pilgrims identified it as originally St. Peter’s house, and there are ambiguous inscriptions on the walls that may or may not confirm that.
    11. Around Sea of Galilee, fish species named “musht” is called St. Peter’s fish, but the fish in Matthew 17:24-27 is probably a barbel, though the fish in Luke 5:1-7 is surely a musht caught by a trammel net (multiple nets are mentioned, partners are involved). Different kinds of nets are mentioned in figures of speech by the prophets.
    12. A drought on the Sea of Galilee in early 1986 revealed a sunken boat that was excavated and dated to the 1st century BC or 1st century AD. It is of the kind used by Jesus and the Apostles: four rowers (or an option for sailing with a mast), and could carry up to 15 men. Sandbags at one end could be used as pillows (Mark 4:37-39). Exciting story of digging it up while racing rising waters, would-be looters, and decaying timbers!
    13. A student photographing Jerusalem’s Golden Gate in 1969 kneeled in the adjacent cemetery and fell through the ground, into an old tomb that revealed parts of another double-door gate below the Golden Gate. Its age is unknown, but 19th century digging by Charles Warren found a wall 41 feet underground and 46 feet in front of Golden Gate. He described masonry similar to lowest courses of the wall on either side of the GG, which is probably pre-Herodian, and maybe as old as Solomon.
    14. In June 2004, a sewer repair project in Jerusalem revealed steps that were then fully excavated; they turn out to be part of the Pool of Siloam, from John 9:1-11. Coins in the plaster of the steps show that it is from the time of Jesus. (This corrects a location for the pool from Byzantine times by the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel.)
    15. The historian Josephus says that John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded at the remote hilltop fortress of Machaerus. Forgotten for centuries, it was rediscovered in the 19th century, and explored from 1968 off and on until recently. Very well preserved, it’s easy to see the courtyard where Salome would have danced and even where Herod’s throne would have been there!
    16. In 1968 a tomb was discovered in Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period with eight ossuaries (boxes to hold bones permanently after the rest of the body has gone). One of these boxes held the bones of the only victim of crucifixion ever found (though many near Eastern and Mediterranean civilizations did so). His heels had been pinned together by a nail that bent in the upright wood, so his feet were cut off so the body could be buried; some wood was still on the nail. His legs had been lined up together, then, with his knees sticking out to the side from the cross. Arms bones showed that he was nailed between the bones of the forearm, not his hands. His legs were broken so he would die faster, so he could have been buried before dark the same day (see John 19:18). Evidence from throughout the tomb shows that his family was wealthy, but most died young. He was in his 20’s, and was probably executed for politics. His name was scratched into the box: “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.”
    17. A plaque in the Colosseum in Rome gives information about the emperor who built it and when, but holes in the stone suggest other metal letters had been attached before this carving. An expert did some great logic puzzle work and surmised that the letters on those holes said that it was built with “booty.” The only place that much money could have come from for Rome at that time was their recent looting of the temple when they destroyed Jerusalem. The riches stolen from the Jewish temple financed the building of the Roman Colosseum.
    18. Christians were often sent to the infamous ancient copper mines of Faynan district in Jordan as punishment by Roman and even by early Byzantine rulers (for being the wrong kind of Christian). Faynan is mentioned, with different spellings, in Genesis 36:41 and Numbers 33:42. These mines were very dangerous–early Christian historians thought of men sent there as martyrs. Damnatio ad metalla: condemned to the mines!
    19. Sussita was an impressive mid-size city on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, probably established 3rd century BCE by Hellenistic Ptolemies, then integrated into Roman territory as part of the decapolis, and later by Byzantines. All three civilizations built sacred structures there, including hundreds of heavy columns. Sussita was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 CE and never inhabited again.
    20. Aphrodisias is a city in southeast Turkey. In late classical times, it was clearly home to a diverse array of religious groups, pagan, Christian, and Jewish. Religious graffiti (such as menorahs and crosses) is common in the city. A marble pillar has the longest Jewish inscription in Greek, a list of donors to the synagogue. Among the many names are theosebeis (“Godfearers”), non-Jews who supported and even participated in Jewish religious life.

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On Combining Priesthood Quorums

Maybe the most important thing said about the big reorganization change at today’s General Conference wasn’t in President Nelson’s ultimate priesthood session talk, but in the brief introduction he gave before making the initial announcement:

I’m very grateful for each man who bears the holy priesthood. You are the hope of our Redeemer, who desires that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world. He wants all of His ordained sons to represent Him, to speak for Him, and bless the lives of God’s children throughout the world. (italicized words emphasized in the original)

I think that’s the key. Besides the other reasons given tonight for this change–unity, harmony, communication, flexibility, diversity, etc.–consider this in light of other changes in recent years: starting the Preach My Gospel method of missionary work, lowering the missionary age, creating “Come Follow Me” curriculum for various ward groups, instituting monthly councils for various groups, eliminating First Presidency messages in the Ensign, and now this…what do they all have in common?

The recurring theme is putting more responsibility on individuals. Or maybe, to put it better, helping individuals see their existing potential. The point of all these changes is to empower people to live up to their abilities to serve the Lord.

So many critics want to paint our church as some repressive conspiracy run by a cabal of octogenarian oligarchs, but all of these changes show just the opposite. These are choices made by men who want to help put everybody behind the wheel of their own life. As Elder Neil L. Andersen said in the morning session, “A prophet does not stand between you and the Savior. He stands beside you and points the way to the Savior.”

Or, as it says in Number 11:29: “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”

Church leadership seems to be trying very hard to make that beautiful dream come true.

Notes on Biblical Archaeology Review’s Greatest Hits, part 1

40by40One of my goals for the year is to read 40 articles about the Bible. Casting about online and through library catalogues in January for suitable material, I came across this: in 2015, the venerable journal Biblical Archaeology Review celebrated their 40th year with a “greatest hits” collection of their 40 best articles ever. And that’s what we call serendipity.

I was able to borrow a copy of the massive, 600-page, two-volume set from the good people at the University of New Mexico. I just finished volume 1, and it was an amazing experience. I’ve never read anything like this before–it’s not technical at all; on the contrary, it’s clearly written to be accessible and exciting to a general audience. Every article was at least very good, and some were actually gripping page turners. Here are my notes on the first 20 articles, the ones in volume one. I’ll start volume 2 today.

    1. 3rd millennium BCE for patriarchal age–Joseph story reflects drought and famine in Egypt @2000 BCE–now-extinct “Kuwait River” may be Pishon, because of minerals nearby (like gold and bdellium)
    2. 2nd millennium BCE Mesopotamia inspired Biblical religion, esp. with a parental, personal God
    3. First alphabet invented by Canaanite miners (many immigrant cultures came to work in Egypt at this time) adapting Egyptian hieroglyphs, 19th century BCE–the evolution of forms is apparent in inscriptions. They took hieroglyphics and simplified their forms, but used them for the initial sound of each, to spell out their intended subject phonetically. “The alphabet was invented in this way by Canaanites at Serabit in the Middle Bronze Age, in the middle of the 19th century BCE, probably during the reign of Amenemhet III of the XIIth Dynasty.” alphabet
    4. First illustration of Israelites is in the 4th of pharoah Merenptah’s reliefs near his stele mentioning them, end of 13th century BCE, 600 years before any other reference outside Bible. They have no city and dress like Canaanites. merenptah stele
    5. Egyptian documents that indirectly parallel elements of the Exodus–as a series of smaller events over time, climaxing in late 13th century BC–include the Leiden Payrus 348 (mentioning ‘Apiru [Hebrew?] workers at Ramesses), Merneptah Stele, Papyri Anastasi (mentioning groups immigrating from drought and slaves escaping into the Sinai), and the Elephantine Stele (“Asiatic” enemies in Egypt robbing them before escaping).
    6. The common assumption that “Red Sea” means “Reed Sea” has no linguistic or physical basis–more likely is that the term is often literal but, as in the case of the parting mentioned in Exodus, symbolic of chaos and ending.
    7. Interview with legendary Israeli archaeologist about the uses and abuses of Biblical archaeology. yadin.jpg
    8. Physical evidence that Canaanite city Hathor was destroyed by intense fire in late 13th century BCE, as book of Joshua says, and by process of elimination, that the early Israelites are the only real contender for the destroyers. (However, most of Joshua, including battle of Jericho, has no physical evidence.)
    9. Lack of formal burial sites, as well as Spartan nature of pottery and architecture, and the lack of temples and royal inscriptions–all common to nearby societies–suggest that Iron Age I-IIA Israel (the time of the Judges) had an ideology of simplicity and egalitarianism.
    10. Ancient Arab town of Izbet Sartah is likely the Israelite town of Ebeneezer in 1 Samuel 4–geography and distances between known places, and location on a road used to get to Shiloh, make this probable. / Izbet Sartah pottery sherd from 1200-1000 BC (the time of the Judges) has longest Proto-Canaanite inscription, and oldest Hebrew abecedary, evidence for literacy among early Bible peoples, early Hebrew read from left to right, and letter forms show that Greek borrowing was also quite early, around 1100 BC. Biblical acrostics with two reversed letters also consistent with this early alphabet, with those letters in the same reversed order.
    11. Large 9-foot tall cultic center on Mt. Ebal from 12th-13th century BC may actually be Joshua’s altar from Joshua 8:30-35. It has very similar form to known altars in and around Israel, w/ evidence of animal sacrifice. It’s boxed to the compass, follows building directions in Exodus 20:26, 27:8 Deut. 27:1-10, and Mishnah. Independent altar–no town or temple nearby. No inscriptions found yet but it’s the oldest Hebrew altar known.
    12. Philistines were clearly part of the Sea Peoples–their armor and pottery attest to that. No Philistine text or language yet discovered.
    13. City of Ashkelon, ruled by Canaanites, innovated metal calf worship, condemned later in the Bible when it was ruled by Philistines during the Iron Age. Philistines are Aegean in origin, migrating from Greek world in 12th century BC. Mycenaean Greek pottery styles showing up later in Palestine, made from local Canaanite clay, shows this. Also, Ashkelon had an engraving of a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, made in Roman times, suggesting an ancient tale original settlers (Philistines) brought over that persisted. Goliath–with riddles, “magic” hair, and super strength–may be influenced by Hercules. Israelite tribe of Dan may come from the Danaoi of Greek legends–they “dwell on ships” & have no Biblical genealogy.
    14. “…the evidence is strong that iron technology developed in the Aegean and was probably brought to Palestine by the Sea Peoples, and perhaps by the Philistines themselves. Based on excavated evidence, it appears that the Philistines did not have a monopoly of sorts on ironworking, as reflected in [1 Samuel 13:19-22]. Iron weapons are found at Philistine sites only; at Israelite sites we find iron agricultural implements, as reflected in the literary tradition preserved in the Bible.”
    15. Excavation at Horvat Qitmit yields first find of Edomite shrine (though we know nothing of their gods and ceremonies), from around the time of the Babylonian destruction of 586 BC. Exact reason why Edomites were living in Judah in 7th and 6th centuries BC is unknown, though invasion of this edge of the ailing nation of Judah is likely. Pomegranates, found on pottery there, represent fertility in the Near East.
    16. 1993 excavation at Tel Dan, in north Israel, found an amazing fragment of a stele from 9th century BCE covered in clear fragments of script, which mentions both the “House of David” and the “King of Israel.” This is the first mention of David outside the Bible, and the oldest reference to Israel in Semitic script.The stele is from Aramean military/royalty boasting of victory over Israel & Judah, maybe a reference to events in 1 Kings 15:16-22 or something similar (the dates match, and both Bible and stele mention Hadad). This site also yields other items of interest with important Hebrew names in the Bible. name of david.jpg
    17. 2005 excavation north of the 12-story “Stepped-Stone Structure” in Jerusalem found a huge, regal palace adjacent to it–some sort of major public building, at least–that may be King David’s palace, called “Large-Stone Structure” for now. That spot satisfies 2 Samuel 5:17–the fortress is “down” from the palace; the rest of the City of David is lower. Pottery dates this building to around 1000 BCE, the time of David; nothing is beneath this excavation, meaning that it was not built on an older site–indeed, this is outside the border of town from the Jebusite period. Beautiful, intact pottery shows that this area existed and ended peacefully. A fascinating find there: a document seal engraved “Belonging to Yehuchal son of Shelemiyahu ben Shovi.” This royal minister is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. [In 2014, a scholar from a skeptical university agreed that this site is a good candidate for David’s palace.] david grandfather.jpg

      david.jpg

      There are many exciting first-person narratives like this in the book!

    18. No archaeological evidence for Jerusalem as a major city before King David, but the very important Egyptian “Amarna letters” between two pharaohs show that it was. Complexity and detail of later Biblical writing shows literacy in David’s time because of the records that later writers must have referred to. Pottery writing (ostraca) from 8th and 7th centuries BCE show elements of hieratic Egyptian, which must have been incorporated hundreds of years before, since other neighbors closer to Egypt then didn’t use it. Jerusalem may have been more of a “chiefdom” at that time, but they and their neighbors saw Israel’s leaders as kings.
    19. In 1979 an archaeologist found a small ivory pomegranate in an antiquities store that, upon inspection, seems to come from Solomon’s Temple. If so, it’s the only part of that temple ever found. Pre-Babylonian exile Hebrew on it reads, “Belonging to the temple of the Lord, holy to the priests.” Exact function is unknown. Most who have inspected it declare it genuine. Now on display in a museum in Israel. 
    20. The ‘Ain Dara temple in northern Syria, excavated between 1980-1985, is the closest parallel in size and age to Solomon’s temple, of which nothing remains. They have a nearly identical floor plan; indeed, dozens of others also do, showing this to be a standard template. Faces southeast. 1 Kings 6:5,8 also calls for an outer hallway around the perimeter; ‘Ain Dara also has these. 1 Kings 6:4 calls for some kind of window–scholars can only guess what they were, but ‘Ain Dara has some false windows made of recessed frames. Walls of both are heavily decorated with nature and mythology pictures (1 Kings 6:29). Apparently built to honor Ishtar (due to the art’s lion motif), ‘Ain Dara also has a series of 3-foot long footprints carved into the floor. 
      giant

      Who *wouldn’t* want to read a book with lines like this in it?

      temple

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After Reading The Book of Mormon Again

fd445fc55ad1517bb03f62e79b2441de--count-to-readI started this year by reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days, using this schedule. I really enjoyed it this way, because that schedule breaks the text into big but natural narrative chunks–all the Abinadi chapters in one day, all the Ammonihah chapters in one day, etc. The stories made a lot of sense, and the connections from day to day were clear.

The biggest take away from this reading is just how eventful the Book of Mormon is. I’ve read it many times, but I still found myself saying, almost every day, “Oh, yeah, that’s right! I forgot all about this awesome part!” Those moments just kept piling up. Hardly a day passed without some major, deep, impressive section making me pause and think. The mere fact of the book’s density of originality and quality would be enough alone to make me love it!

I was really overwhelmed with how strongly I was drawn to Helaman 7, until that reaction rang a bell and I checked this blog, to find that I’d had the exact same reaction just last year. To that entry’s love for Helaman 7 and 3 Nephi 5, I now need to add Ether 4: I never realized until now just how special and powerful that obscure little chapter is–the Savior starts speaking in verse 6, but verse 13 begins a direct plea from Him to the latter-day readers of the book, that lasts for the rest of the chapter. That’s a pretty big deal!