The Essential Old Testament

This summer our family took a break from our regular Book of Mormon study so we could take our kids on a tour of the Old Testament. Both as someone who cares about deeply informed discipleship and as an educator who laments the loss of Biblical literacy in our society, I want my children to know the Bible better.

Thus, I put together a short version of the Old Testament, one that we could read and discuss together just during our time together during the break from school.

I wish we’d had more time–I had to skip the amazing Enoch material in Moses 6-7, as well as almost everything from the minor prophets. We missed several days, so we didn’t get it all done, and I updated the list now with a few different choices. Here’s my “essential Old Testament,” with some labels and explanations.

  • Abraham 3:22-28 / Moses 4:1-4 pre-existence
  • Genesis 1 / Moses 2 compare creation details
  • Moses 3
  • Moses 4:5-32
  • Genesis 4
  • Moses 5:1-41 Cain and Abel
  • Genesis 6-8 Noah’s ark
  • Abraham 1
  • Genesis 17 Abrahamic covenant
  • Genesis 37, 39-45 Joseph in Egypt
  • Job 1, 42 first and last chapters
  • Exodus 1-2
  • Exodus 3:1-4:17
  • Moses 1 great vision in the Pearl of Great Price
  • Exodus 4:18-5:23
  • Exodus 6-14
  • Exodus 20 The 10 commandments
  • Leviticus 26:1-13, Deut. 28:1-14 comparing covenant promises
  • Joshua 5-6 the battle of Jericho
  • Ruth 1-4 the whole book!
  • 1 Samuel 17 David and Goliath
  • Psalms 1, 3, 15, 19, 23, 24, 37, 82, 116 some favorites
  • 1 Kings 3 Solomon’s wisdom
  • Proverbs 1-4
  • 1 Kings 8 Temple dedication prayer
  • 1 Kings 17-18 The awesome ministry of Elijah
  • 2 Kings 17 the fall of the ten lost tribes
  • Isaiah 2, 5, 29, 40, 53, 55, 58 some favorite chapters
  • Jeremiah 42 & Ezekiel 33 prophetic warnings, literal and symbolic
  • Ezekiel 37 the gathering of Israel & the Book of Mormon
  • Daniel 6 the lion’s den
  • Esther 1-10 courage in a hostile society

 

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Vote For the Best Book in the Bible, Round 2 of 6

Round One is finished, and half the books in the Bible have survived. But only half of those survivors will make it to the third round. Vote here, until next Sunday. Please comment below with your thoughts! :)

Results from the first round are below, with my comments.

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Genesis is the obvious winner. Exodus is great, but the second half is mostly dry instructions about the tabernacle and its use, while Genesis is one of the oldest and most epic records of the human race. My fantasy bracket last week has Genesis making it to the final four.

Leviticus is underrated. It’s controversial, but thoroughly infused with Atonement imagery, and it demands careful reflection in a way that Numbers just doesn’t.

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Vote For the Best Book in the Bible, Round 1 of 6

There are 66 books in the King James Version of the Bible, and in most English-language editions. But if we had to choose just one as the best, most important part, which one would it be?

Vote here.

This contest is set up like any single elimination tournament, with 64 initial competitors: the books of Ezra and Nehemiah have been combined for this purpose here, as the 2nd and 3rd epistles of John have been. This also means that all books with a “First” and a “Second” part have those parts set against each other

The standard order of books has been used instead of any attempt at seeding. This has the appeal of order and simplicity, but it will make for some hard choices in round 1: you must choose between Job and the Psalms, and between Hebrews and James. Half the gospels will disappear.

A purely popular vote will determine the winners in each round; voting will remain open for a week at a time, from Sunday to Sunday.

Comments and discussion are appreciated here. The goal is to promote reading and thinking about the Bible, Western Civilization’s ultimate classic and God’s gift to us.

For what it’s worth, here is a completed bracket: my own personal choices for how I would ideally see this all go. Not a prediction, just my own favorites.

Bible Brackets

Conversation With a Man Who Hates the Bible

A couple of weeks ago, a public Facebook group for teachers that I belong to posted about a local protest by the Westboro Baptist Church. Another teacher commented: “Ya, the bible is just a book written by men who wanted to control people. It is a phony document professing that a being lives in the sky and watches over us yada, yada. Really! I hope we as teachers teach our students to study science and to look at facts and research for their answers to their questions about the universe and our existence. These people are crazy!”

I private messaged him, and the following exchanged ensued:

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Two Examples of the Value of Reading the Bible Chronologically

  1. 1 Samuel 21 tells of the young fugitive David–the future king–as he desperately seeks asylum. Psalm 34 is a poem about that specific experience–the same people and places are mentioned. Go ahead and read them together–the connection is clear, and illuminates both. But in the edition of the Bible I use, they’re separated by 321 pages.
  2. 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 not only tell the same story, they use nearly identical language to do so. Clearly, the Chronicles version was written later and used the Samuel text as a basic source. Reading them together makes that obvious, but it might be harder to spot if you go in the standard order, which puts 136 pages between them.

Who is the Book of Genesis Really About?

Bring up the book of Genesis and you’ll likely end up in a discussion about the Creation and the Fall, and maybe Noah’s ark. This must reflect the memories of readers who started the book and didn’t get far. Consider who the star actually is in each of its 50 chapters:

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Obviously, the hero of Genesis is Abraham, whose tale is the focus of wholly 15 chapters. Second place is his great grandson Joseph, who dominates 13 chapters. Jacob is next, getting nine chapters. Noah–he of the ark–is in a distant fourth place, with only five chapters (and the last of those is really just a genealogy of his descendants).

To put it another way, the super-famous legend stories, those about Adam and Eve and about Noah, roughly comprise just 1/5 of the whole book. The other 4/5–everything from chapter 11 onward–focus on four generations of the patriarchal family: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

It’s almost like those famous early chapters, like most origin stories, are mostly obligatory background to lay a foundation for the more important material about the covenant stories that really shaped God’s people.

The Daughter of Jephthah As a Symbol of Jesus Christ

jephthah-s-daughter-jpglargeWhile reading Judges 11, I reviewed some notes from one of my favorite books of pop analysis on the Bible, James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament, where he draws parallels between many figures there and Jesus Christ. Ferrell notes the following about Jephthah, the protagonist of Judges 11:

  • He was hated and expelled by his people
  • The people turned to him when they were in distress
  • When the people turned to him, he became their deliverer
  • He subdued the enemy on behalf of the people who had made him head and captain over them

This pattern of comparison with Jesus is clever and valid, but as I read the chapter, I was much more impressed with the character of his unnamed daughter, and the story of her sacrifice. Consider these points of similarity–the sacrificed person:

  • Obediently agreed to be a sacrifice in accordance with the plan of their father (Judges 11:30-31, 36)
  • Was sacrificed in a way reminiscent of a “burnt offering” (11:31)
  • Was sacrificed as part of the salvation and deliverance of Israel (11:32-33, 36)
  • Was the “only child” of the father (11:34)
  • Was sacrificed despite their loss causing the father great anguish (11:35)
  • Was sacrificed to satisfy the demands of justice (11:35)
  • Immediately before the sacrifice, solemnly went out from the people to a mountain area with their closest associates (11:37)
  • Was morally pure (11:37)
  • Inspired the behavior of those who followed (11:39-40)
  • Had their sacrifice memorialized in a regular ritual (11:40)

It’s not especially relevant here to debate whether her sacrifice was literal or metaphorical (the LDS Institute manual, however, opts for metaphorical), but either way, her position as a Christ figure is strengthened:

  • If her sacrifice were literal–and she died–her symbolism for Jesus is obviously much more graphic. Even Abraham didn’t actually have to kill Isaac!
  • If her sacrifice were metaphorical–and she was put in perpetual service in the tabernacle in some way, for example–then her life of selfless, consecrated service still directs us to think of Jesus.

Jephthah’s story certainly has strong elements that remind the reader of Jesus, but I think the lesson is stronger–more focused on the atonement–if he stands in for God the Father, and his loyal, anonymous daughter is a symbol of Jesus Christ.

A Bible Story About Guts And Poop

If you’ve never read the book of Judges in the Bible, you’ve missed this little gem in chapter 3:

17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.

21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:

22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

So, not only is this king assassinated, but the text makes it as pathetically undignified as possible. We have to be told of the king’s obesity, with the lovely detail that the sword sank into his guts up to the hilt, so that Ehud couldn’t even pull it out again.

And then that bit about “dirt,” a delightful euphemism telling us that when he had been impaled trough the intestines, this king’s last act on earth was to soil himself as his bowels released.

These details are here, and they’re here for a reason. The only thing I can think of is that the author really wanted to humiliate the memory of this king who’d held Israel captive for 18 years (Judges 3:14), perhaps as an illustration of God’s power to deliver his people and punish those who oppose him. Can there be any other reason for including these unsavory details?

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Excellent Audio Bible on YouTube

There are a lot of audio Bibles on YouTube, for various translations, but some are better than others. I just finished one of the more dense sections of the Old Testament by reading along with the excellent dramatized audio at the minimalist-named Biblical channel. I’m surprised they have so few views–it’s really great work.

Nephi Really Loves The Bible!

Today is International Day of the Bible, and that got me thinking about Nephi and his love for the Bible. Not only does he absolutely adore Isaiah–he cites, paraphrases, or comments on nearly a fourth of that prophet’s book–but consider this:

In 1 Nephi 17, he tries to teach his brothers about faith, essentially–he corrects their complaining about their lot in life by comparing it to previous precedents. Notice how detailed his metaphor is–Nephi clearly believes their situation is deeply analogous to that of their ancestors’.

Not only does he make several specific references to Old Testament material in one place, he writes that all into his record for future readers, for us–he expects us to be well versed in Bible stories, too!

Here are six references in 1 Nephi 17 to specific stories from four different books of the Bible, with the Biblical books to which he refers added in red:

 27 But ye know that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh. Exodus 

 28 And ye also know that they were fed with manna in the wilderness. Exodus and Numbers

 29 Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst. Exodus and Numbers

 32 And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction. Joshua

 40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made… Genesis

 41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. Numbers

Another Way To Look At The Sacrament

I’ve always thought of the bread and water of the sacrament–the body and blood of Jesus–as emblems of his death only. That makes sense–the ordinance is to commemorate the Atonement.

But lately I’ve also been focusing on how it could direct us to his life, as well as his death.

The prayer on the water says, “the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them” (D&C 20:79), that second part explicitly directing us to think of Lord’s infinitely painful sacrifice that last night and day of his life.

The prayer on the bread, however, only mentions “the body of thy Son,” with no added description like there is on the water.

Indeed, the first two of the three Biblical synoptic gospels (John does’t mention the Last Supper), inspires this: both mention the body of Christ, without any further explanation, but then also mention the blood of Christ, with the overt follow-up about it being shed as a sacrifice for us:

Matthew 26:26-28

26 ¶And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

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