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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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.

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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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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Beautiful Biblical Writing

I recently read 2 Kings 8, where a sick king sends a servant (who is secretly plotting to kill the king) to the prophet Elisha to see if he’ll recover, and Elisha tells the jealous servant that illness isn’t the enemy the king really needs to worry about. In verse 11, Elisha stares down the servant with classically stoic Old Testament severity, and the scheming servant breaks down under his guilty conscience, but then Elisha likewise breaks down, weeping over the corruption of humanity.

This sweeping drama reaches its climax in that single, short, simple verse: “And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.”

I’m impressed by all that goes on there–first, the three major emotional peaks: the prophet’s cold scolding, the servant’s shame, and the prophet’s apparent 180 of attitude from scolding to open sadness about the violent weakness of human nature.

But I was also floored by the sparseness of the prose. It echoes with an empty disregard for decoration, sending out its story with the plain directness of folk art. It’s the kind of style that is actually so often affected in modern times by writers trying to look wise or macho. This tiny sentence perfectly illustrates the way that, for example, Hemingway would punch out prose with a lack of clarity for who’s speaking.

I underlined 2 Kings 8:11, not because it’s profoundly doctrinal or because it provides direction for discipleship or because it’s a useful proof text or for any other such reason. I just underlined it because it’s beautiful.

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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

 

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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 3.05.20 PM

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:

bible1bible2

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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:

genesis

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.