Three Thoughts

  1. On a recent day at the temple, I decided to specifically look for all the references to symbolism in the endowment, both the implicit ones and the explicit (“Hey, you! This is symbolic!”) ones. There were at least a few of each, and it’s likely that I missed some. In particular I was struck by the use of words like “represents.” This really warrants more focus in future visits.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:39-41), this also applies to our relationship with God himself. When we’re asked to tithe, we should voluntarily covenant to consecrate the other 90%. When we’re assigned to serve for an hour, we should do more; we should “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27) as we seek to “waste and wear out our lives” (D&C 123:13). When we’re called on to suffer and sacrifice, we should offer up the rest of all we have and are in life to the Father, anyway.
  3. Steve Reed of the excellent One Climbs blog recently posted a long analysis of Jacob 2:30, suggesting that our traditional reading of it as a hypothetical apologia for polygamy is wrong. It’s a very long post, but represents some of the most careful, detailed close reading of scripture I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if he’s correctly figured out Jacob’s intent or not, but he makes a compelling case. After his exegesis, we might read Jacob 2:30 like this: “The Lord says, In order to be spiritually converted to me, people must accept me as their leader; or else they’ll find themselves making these mistakes and be cursed.” Great stuff, Steve–consider submitting it to the Interpreter!
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Allegorical Readings of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

7ac78a6837587-560b93258816dWhat if the world of The Road isn’t a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but is just the same world around us? What if, morally and spiritually, we’re already living in the nightmarish hellscape of that novel?

The Man’s and the Boy’s journey isn’t archetypal, then, so much as it’s symbolic for each of us, trying to make our way through life in a society that in many ways is falling apart. McCarthy’s rapacious marauders are actually just the neighbors in our own communities. The devastated environment is the poisonously corrosive culture in which we all now live.

The Road could simply be about life in America in the early 21st century. Our protagonists are in the same position as many who try to preserve the heritage of civilization today.

Or, if we want a more specific application, maybe the wife-and-mother’s suicide was the major catastrophe that soured the world, and wasn’t due to it. The world only changed for these two men. Because of her loss, the world becomes this twisted, broken shell of its former self. The Man’s and the Boy’s journey is just them trying to soldier on in the wake of a lingering grief that they can’t escape. The novel proceeds from their vantage point, and everything else in the world is seen through the soiled lenses they now wear.

And you thought this book couldn’t get any sadder!

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.

Great Authors On Symbolism In 1963

In 1963, a precocious American student wrote to dozens of authors, asking them about symbolism.  This article collects some of the most memorable responses he got, including this one from beatnik auteur Jack Kerouac.  Others include Saul Bellow, Ayn Rand, John Updike, and Norman Mailer.