LDS Hermeneutics

April 20, 2004 | 28 comments
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My least favorite thing about graduate studies in biblical studies was coming to the realization that there was a multisyllabic, Latin- or Greek- derived word for everything, and that precious few of these words would be found in a standard dictionary. Elder Dallin H. Oaks had an experience with this:

Some of us have never even heard of some of the subjects in which professional ministers have spent many years of professional preparation. A few years ago I encountered an example of this. I was talking with a Protestant minister who taught in a seminary. When I asked what subject he taught, he said, “Hermeneutics.” I had never heard that word, so I said, “What is that?” My minister friend explained that hermeneutics is the art of interpreting and expounding the scriptures. I smiled and said, “Well, yes, I guess I understand a little bit about that, but I’ve never heard it called that.”

I avoid peppering Church lessons with these words because I think that would be evidence of hubris, but I do think they are sometimes useful because of their precision. At any rate, a nice working definition of ‘hermeneutics’ is ‘the theory or methods used to interpret a text’, in this case, the scriptures.

There have been occasional stabs at developing a formal LDS hermeneutic, but for the most part, we are plodding along with unexamined assumptions about what is and what is not legitimate to do when interpreting the scriptures. I want to toss out just one question here for our consideration: Under what circumstances are the details in the scriptures important?

I recently had an interesting discussion here with Matt Evans as to whether Nephi’s use of ‘clinging’ in 1 Nephi 8:24 and ‘continually holding’ in verse 30 are significantly different, or are merely synonymous. How might we approach this question? Before we consider it, let’s look at a few other examples of the same phenomenon in the scriptures:

(1) Here is John 21:15-17 with a few of the Greek words included:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agapas) thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (philw) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

He saith unto him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agapas) thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (philw) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (phileis) thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest (phileis) thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love (philw) thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

You’ll notice that the word the KJV translates as ‘love’ is actually two different Greek words. Agapas is a stronger word than philw: it is possible to translate the former as ‘love’ and the latter as ‘like’. Some scholars think these words are used interchangeably, others do not. Obviously, you would interpret the passage very differently depending on which position you chose. Is this detail significant? How do you know?

(2) Take a look at Mark 14:3-9. Notice that the woman in never named, although, ironically, Jesus says that the wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will be told in memory of her. Is the absence of her name some sort of error or oversight? Should we just flip over to John to learn her name, and read mark assuming that that’s her name? Or did Mark deliberately leave her name out to make a point? If so, what’s the point? Are any of these legitimate questions to ask when we read the scriptures, or are they too minute, obtuse, or archane?

I could come up with a million more examples; for virtually every single detail (or missing detail) in the scriptures, I could ask if the detail (or its absence) is significant. Should I ask those questions? If they are legitimate, how do we go about determining their answers?

Let me share my tentative answer to the above questions, for you to mercilessly deconstruct.

Details are important and we should read for them much, much more often than we do now, in personal scripture study and when we teach. Here’s why: If you get to 1 Nephi 16 and you think “Liahona on the doorstep. Faith and diligence. Next.” your reading will be neither interesting nor inspiring. To quote some of the wisest words I have ever read in regards to reading scripture:

Assume that the scriptures mean exactly what they say and, more important, assume that we do not already know what they say. If we assume that we already know what the scriptures say, then they cannot continue to teach us. If we assume that they mean something other than what they say, then we run the risk of substituting our own thoughts for what we read rather than learning what they have to teach us. – James Faulconer (yes, our own Jim F.)

So, if you approach this chapter and start hacking at details (Why does the broken bow story interrupt the Liahona story? Why does the writing appear only after the broken bow incident? Why is the shape of the Liahona mentioned? Is the shape symbolic? What’s up with the two spindles? Why do you need two? How did it work? Why does Lehi find the Liahona on his doorstep, but Nephi has to make the ore to make the material to make the tools to make a boat?), scripture reading not only becomes new and interesting, but your act of pondering these questions creates an opening for the Spirit to whisper truth to you that the catechism approach does not.

So, I firmly believe that reading for details is very important. I think the worst thing we do when we read is to read 1 Nephi 16 today, 17 tomorrow, 18 the next day, etc. We should read chapter 16 each day for one week. I can guarentee that you will notice things about it on day 5 that you never would have spotted on day 2.

The next question is harder: When are details significant? Which ones are just, well, details and which should be read symbolically? To use another example from the same chapter, I wonder why it is mentioned that Nephi’s bow broke, but his brothers’ had lost their spring. It seems to me that you wouldn’t carve this into metal if it were simple historical fact (who cares?), but at the same time, I wonder if I am stretching when I posit that there is a metaphor here to Nephi’s broken heart and contrite spirit, versus his brothers’ ability to see angels (see angels!!) and then ‘spring’ right back to their wicked ways. Again, this feels like a stretch to me, but I can’t get over the idea that details in metal are not included accidentally. In other words, I don’t know when or how we know when details are significant. You might answer, ‘we know details are significant when the Spirit impresses us during our study.’ Of course, this is true. But is it the only way to know? Or might we formulate some guidelines?Thoughts?

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28 Responses to LDS Hermeneutics

  1. Kristine on April 20, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    bugbugbug

  2. lyle on April 20, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    Given your discussion of translation challenges in the Bible, I wonder re: the BoM. In re: The BoM, how does the inspired translation affect how we see the ‘details’? In some instances, there are apparently “real” Nephite words that don’t have a modern equivalent. While “bow” and “spring” seem to be hard to mess up in translation…I’m sure there are other passages that might be. I know that alot of FARMS research is built around defending the ‘details’. I.e. a “river of water” is the correct way to talk for someone from the desert because their ‘rivers’ were seasonal wadis for the most part, etc. Is this what you have in mind?

  3. Julie in Austin on April 20, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    Lyle–

    You raise good points here. The BoM is tricky, of course, since we don’t have the original. We might conclude that details have a different significance in the BoM than the Bible, I don’t know.

    I will say: there is a tendency among LDS scholars to do this: the original Hebrew behind the word the BoM translates as ‘y’ is ‘x’, and we know that ‘x’ can also have the connotation of ‘z’, therefore . . .

    Now, I don’t know Hebrew very well, but . . . the reasoning here always bothers me. How do we know for sure which Hebrew word underlies any given Book of Mormon word?

  4. Mike on April 20, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    I have thought that same thing- we don’t know for sure which hebrew word was used. Further, we don’t even know that we have the same form of hebrew today as was used by the Nephites.

    I think that it can be interesting to look at what the hebrew words behind things in the Book of Mormon might be, and what that might mean-
    but I don’t think we should focus our interpretation there.
    I think other things done by scholars- such as attempting to look at the cultural and historical aspects- just like lyle mentions- something that would seem a large river to some one from the desert would not seem as such to some one not from the desert.

  5. Ben on April 20, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    The whole question of the BoM translation is completely unresolvable, for now. I’ve spent some time (and arguments) on it.

    While it may be hair-splitting, I don’t believe the inspired nature of the BoM to extend to the translation. “Gift and power of God” applies to the *means* by which Joseph translated. If you frequent ZLMB, there are many who assume that this makes *God* responsible for word choice. This seems to flatly contradict both internal, historical, and scriptural evidence. In particular, if God is responsible for the word choice, it removes JS from having to do any translating. He would simply be God’s scribe, like Mohammed.

    As for the underlying text, we assume it’s Hebrew, though as soon as we leave the small plates, it’s Hebrew that’s been exposed to unknown linguistic influence. Certainly it shifts, though by Mormon’s day, he still identifies the language (or script?) he has written in as altered Hebrew. I think it’s possible, depending on the context of the word in question, to arrive at a probable Hebrew equivalent.

    Whether we can actually get to a word level of certainty seems dubious, but it’s fun to try as a last resort. I tend to use the following methdology for trying to nail down word-level meaning in the BoM. 1) Immediate context. 2) Other usage in the BoM. 3) usage in JS time (via the Webster’s 1828 dictionary and the OED.) 4)Usage in the KJV. 5) Possible Hebrew words that fit the context better than the English, which translate the same KJV word.

    For those words that are transliterated (in the inconsistant KJV transliteration system as loosely attempted by JS) such as curelom, Irreantum, and personal names, we can get much closer, and I think good though tentative work has been done there.

    Julie’s new Testament example is particularly difficult. Did the author mean to specify a distinction between agapw and philew? He may have, but if so, it’s doubtful that Jesus did, as Aramaic lacks that semantic distinction.

    I think it’s very important that we read for the details, as long as we’re aware of the limitations of the text. Beginning Greek and Hebrew students frequently start trying to extract doctrinal or other points from what the dictionary says… I think what I’m getting at is that the scriptures were not written by lawyers poring over every word and phrase for loopholes, nor as a theological handbook with doctrine hiding in the syntax. It’s good to pay attention to the details as long as we don’t read more into the details than we should. Which brings me full circle back to Julie’s question- how do we know what details are significant?

  6. clarkgoble on April 20, 2004 at 4:39 pm

    I think, Julie, that the idea is that even if Hebrew isn’t the primary language its role underlies theological thinking. While guessing the underlying Hebrew is just that: a guess, it is at least an educated one. Often there are only a few choices and one can eliminate alternative choices. Unfortunately people making these arguments generally don’t lay out their logic but simply engage in hand waving.

    I should add that similar things are done with Greek. Admittedly there things are easier since we have a Greek translation of Hebrew texts.

    Connotative arguments can be interesting though. However I think they really require structural arguments from the surrounding text that often aren’t made. (If anything I think stuctures are often downplayed too much in LDS theology. This despite recent focuses in on chiasmus and the like)

    I do worry that the claims of a “tight translation” are difficult to maintain when viewed across the entire text of the Book of Mormon. I think phrase borrowing, much like some modern linguists quickly translate passages via a lookup dictionary, makes much more sense.

  7. frank on April 20, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Julie: If you haven’t read it already, you should check out Elder Holland’s Ensign article entitled, Daddy, Donna and Nephi. He wrote it while dean of religion at BYU and makes the exact same point, with regard to the importance of details, that you appear to be making. Its an excellent read.

  8. Nate Oman on April 20, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    There was an interesting exchange on the topic of whether or not there was such a thing as a Mormon Hermeneutic last summer on the Metaphysical Elder’s blog. Check it out at:

    http://elders.blogspot.com/2003_06_22_elders_archive.html

  9. Mike on April 20, 2004 at 5:04 pm

    I think that it is important to cull different details at different times. Sometimes it is ok to sit down and read chapter 15 today and 16 tomorrow and so forth, or further to sit down and read most of a book of scripture in one sitting.

    Sometimes our study should take the form of simply reading large amounts and sometimes it should be closely investigating a chapter or verse for days, weeks, months, or years.

    This post (and previous discussion on prooftexts) reminded me very much of an article I read in the Journal of Book of Mormon stories about five years ago on a Maori view of the Book of Mormon.
    I looked for it online and found it:
    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=179&mp=

    interesting comments,
    also interesting- Richard Bushman is cited a couple of times

  10. Taylor on April 20, 2004 at 5:04 pm

    Julie,
    I am a bit confused by your post. Perhaps you could speak to how your understanding of hermeneutics is different from exegesis. You seem to me to be asking exegetical questions, not hermeneutical ones, though we may just be using these terms differently. In exegesis, every detail is “important”, and there are method’s which establish how to determine which elements are more important than others.

    For your question on John, the exegete would do a philological analysis of agapew and philew to see how John (or, in this case, the redactor) uses these terms, compare it to other Johannine lit, NT lit, and Greek lit.

    For your question on Mark, you could look at it form critically, redaction critically, or source critically and come up with a good answer. The most interesting is probably Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s reading of that text, for which her book _In Memory of Her_ is titled.

    Should you ask these questions? Yes. I can’t think of a reason why not… even conservative exegetes ask questions of texts.

    How do you determine the answers? Herein lies the rub! (Perhaps this is the hermeneutical reflection of your post.) The problem is that most of the methods developed by biblical studies types are all messed up. They are full of unexamined assumptions about how to determine the meaning of a passage. You seem to suggest that time is the solution to properly interepreting a passage. I am not so optimistic. Exegetes probably agree with you, but I think that we don’t get any “closer” (whatever that means) to understanding a text until we examine the very questions we are looking to find answers to.

    For example: why are we assuming that there is a metaphor in the details? What makes us think that the scriptures in general, or Nephi in particular, speaks to us in coded metaphors? What does that teach us about our own expectations for the text?

  11. Charles on April 20, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    “Agapas is a stronger word than philw: it is possible to translate the former as ‘love’ and the latter as ‘like’. ”

    I don’t know Latin or Greek very well but if these two words truely have a different connotation and they were translated accurately from the Hebrew text, then the details are very important.

    If Jesus said “do you love me?” and Peter replies, “I like you, You know I like you?” to which Jesus replies “you like me, eh?”
    Doesn’t that change the whole dynamic of the dialogue? It would be very important to translate it as best as possibly.

    My understanding is that we acccept the KJV as the best available translation, with a few JS translations for correction. We should be concernec about some details, but we should not loose sight of the overall message and allow ourselves to pick apart the scriptures until we no longer have faith in them.

    As for your second example, I don’t think it matters that the detail of her name was left out. Does it matter that we know who she was or only that she did a good work. The ommission of her name could be that the author understood that detail was not neccessary for us to understand the context of the story.

  12. Thom on April 20, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    One side thought – We as English speaking, North American members of the church often seem to take for granted the idea that because the Book of Mormon was translated into English, our understanding of what words mean in English have significant import for how we interpret the meaning of details and doctrines in the Book of Mormon. However, on my mission it became clear to me that when the Book of Mormon is translated into other languages, words and passages are often translated in such a way that they appear to mean something particularly different from how I would interpret the meaning as written in English. Surely, part of this disjunct stems from my non-native understanding of what words mean in Thai, but it is just as likely that some of the difference in translation comes from native Thai speakers translating the book from English (not their native language) into Thai. Clearly it is not a neat an tidy process. It therefore occurred to me that many of the members of the church worldwide read and gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon from translations that are perhaps somewhat less inspired than the English translation that we take for granted. This also implies that the Spirit will testify as to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the gospel despite whatever inadvertant changes occur during a prayerful if not prophetic translation.

    Okay, so to tie this thought in with the topic of the post – It seems to me that for a linguistic detail of the scriptures to be truly doctrinally important, it has to mean essentially the same thing no matter what language we speak. The “details” of the gospel are outside of human language, and so it is doubtful that we can gain all that much insight by trying to pigeonhole the meanings of gospel concepts strictly on the basis of the grammar and syntax of our earthly languages alone.

  13. john fowles on April 20, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    Having studied “hermeneutics” as a masters student in European Literature (though we didn’t throw around that old-fashioned word so much), I can also vouch for the importance of reading for details.

    Mike was right-on when he wrote that even if language proves problematic, for instance when trying to deduct Hebrew words from the BoM text, a FARMS-type approach to the cultural context of the writers and the writings does a great deal to inform the “details” of the text. I understand Ben’s point as well about the usefulness of a language-oriented approach when it comes down to personal names and other unique words that arise in the text. I also agree with the caution Ben urges at the end of his post above, but would like to note that we might not be overreaching to pull meaning out of specific word-choice, unless the translation sufficiently cuts off any authorial intent. That is, I became aware of how consciously writers chose the exact words they wanted to use while doing my masters. Focusing on the reception history of certain works of European literature in other cultural contexts also helped me understand the role that translation can play in obscuring what any given text really says.

    In other words, an author–even one that is not a lawyer pondering every word and searching for loopholes–is often very aware of the words chosen. That is precisely why they can convey very meaningful details. Therefore, I fully agree with Julie’s approach to detail-oriented reading. I think that detail-packed word choice comes into play especially in the context of ancient texts that have already been edited. Mormon may not have been a lawyer, but he was a conscientious editor who picked and chose what was to be included in the limited space he had. It is conceivable that some aspects of language or meaning were already closed to Mormon by the time he did his job. But at the same time, he had a vision of what the plates needed to contain, picked subject matter according to that vision, and to a large extent redacted much of what others had written with his own word-choice. I submit that he chose those words carefully. I further submit, with reference to the Eighth Article of Faith, that we can reliably pick apart those words for details because the Lord has assured us through Joseph Smith that the BoM is translated correctly. So although I agree with Ben that Joseph Smith was likely responsible for word-choice, thus diminishing any Mohammed-like role for him, the Lord has ratified that word-choice.

    We can thus read carefully for details, informed by the cultural context through e.g. FARMS materials or our own education and insights, and truly still liken the scriptures unto ourselves by paying attention to the details that speak to us as the Gospel is preached to us through these texts in our own tongues.

    As for the question of knowing what details are significant, I am almost inclined to say that if not all, then at least the vast majority are–at least with the BoM–precisely because of the role that Mormon played in including only that which is essential. Some details might open up a metaphorical understanding that enriches our view of the players on the stage; others might actually teach us something essential about the nature of God or about his love and condescension towards the children of men. When one searches for these details, one is rewarded richly for the effort. That means that by not searching for the details–e.g. by simply plowing through one chapter a day, one is not acting wrongly but one foregoes the benefit otherwise obtainable.

    I would be interested to see what you all think about the statement made in the Introduction that

    On September 21, 1823, the same Moroni, then a glorified, resurrected being, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and instructed him relative to the ancient record and its *destined translation into the English language.*

    Talking about the details in words, I wonder what significance this has, if any, on how we should view the “original” English. I bring this up because an internationally-minded evangelical once brought this sentence up as a concern of his. Somehow this sentence denigrated other languages in his mind. I think it is interesting on the level of our discussion here, though. What should this sentence say to us, if anything, in a discussion of the hermeneutics of BoM study?

  14. Kaimi on April 20, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    John,

    Perhaps it has to do with the primacy of the English translation — it may be only a translation, but it is one that will never be re-done, unlike translations to other languages which have been revised over the years by better (human) translators.

  15. Taylor on April 20, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    John, to respond to your question, I don’t take the “Introduction” to be binding or doctrinal, nor do I personally think that the BoM was destined to be translated into English any more than it is destined to be translated into any language. English does not enjoy any special privelege! Also, the priveleged status of English is not to be found in JS’s actual account.

  16. Nate Oman on April 20, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Thom: There is actually a special, unpublished translators edition that is used internally by the Church translation department. It is a restatement of the Book of Mormon in English that tries to resolved conflicting grammatical and definitional issues in the English text so that translations into other languages are at least consistent.

  17. john fowles on April 20, 2004 at 7:07 pm

    Taylor,

    That is exactly the point that this individual made to me when he protested that sentence in the introduction. However, I think that Kaimi’s take on it is more accurate. After all, when it merely OBSERVES that the English language is the destined language of the translation, I don’t think it has any pejorative connotation for all of the other languages in the world. Rather, I would say that it is merely an acknowledgement of the fact that the BoM was written for our day and that those who wrote it initially knew that (i.e. that it was destined for our day). You could even speculate that they knew it would never be read/used in the language it was originally written in. Thus it was “destined” to be translated into English as the prime source for subsequent further translation into other languages. That is why I like Kaimi’s take, and admitting the primacy of English in the coming forth of the BoM should not evoke a defensive stance–it is not meant to be insulting. But it might have an effect on our detail-oriented read when considering Ben’s point about deducing a proto-language from the “destined” English usage.

    Do not misunderstand me: readers in other languages can perform just as detailed reads as English-language readers. My point was to underscore the fact that this destined translation may cut off a certain amount of the tie to the original language and diminish some of the value in trying to guess the original words. It also, by correlation, I believe, raises the value in the context-specific read, because although language might be problematic, these people still stemmed from and were rooted in a very specific cultural, legal, and religious tradition.

    On the point of detailed reading in other languages, I have a great example. Chaismus was discovered in the BoM through the German translation in use in the late 1960s, not through the English text. Jack Welch had been attending a Catholic seminary on his P-days while a missionary in the Southern German Mission and had been learning about Chiasmus in the OT and NT. Because of his faith in the truthfulness of the BoM, he adduced that if there was chiasmus in the OT, then it must be in the BoM. He didn’t doubt it–he just set out looking for it, knowing it would be there because he knew it was true and that it was the product of people coming from this same cultural/literary tradition. So he found a spot in Mosiah where in that particular edition of the German translation, the word “Übertretung” was printed on top of another occurence of that same word, which tipped him off that it was the middle of a chiasm. He was right and proved it in his master’s thesis and his book Chiasmus in Antiquity.

    So there is little chauvanism in saying that the English language was destined to be the “original” or primal language; rather, it is an affirmation of fact and might influence our goals in guessing at the original words for non-unique or specific words like proper names etc.

  18. john fowles on April 20, 2004 at 7:12 pm

    By the way, I am extremely agnostic on the proposition that someone can “know” what a word really meant at a point in time thousands of years ago. We don’t even really know or understand very much about how they thought or felt. Our current period of existence has divorced us from that possibility.

    That is why, for me, a cultural context-specific analysis is more useful in performed a highly detailed read, because it focuses on the acts of the people of the day, rather than on what I think they might have understood by a certain word or what they thought about things, etc.

  19. Julie in Austin on April 20, 2004 at 11:44 pm

    Taylor–

    Exegesis is the practice of interpretation, hermeneutics is the theory behind what constitutes legitimate interpretation.

    Have you actually read _In Memory of Her_? I only ask because, despite the fact that the title refers to our woman in Mark 14, the book itself really only mentions her in the intro, where there is no extended exegesis. This struck me as so ironic that I mentioned it in my own thesis (which was about 14:3-9) as evidence of the utter neglect of this story not only in traditional scholarship, but, strangely, in feminist scholarship.

    I think your point that my assuming the details had metaphorical meaning is an *excellent* example of the unquestioned assumptions that may hinder our practice of interpretation.

    BTW, I am not suggesting that time alone is a cure-all for poor Mormon reading practices, but it would be a dang good start at getting people to think more about details.

  20. Taylor on April 21, 2004 at 10:47 am

    Julie,
    Thanks for your response. I agree that we all should spend more time reading and thinking about the scriptures!

    I appreciate you clarifying how you are using the term ‘hermeneutics.’ Do I understand you correctly that you are seeking a method of interpretation rather than an attempt to clarify what makes interpretation possible by exposing the pre-judices of the interpreter?

    Do you mean “legitimate interpretation” in the sense of accurately representing the text, or legitimate in an LDS context, for an LDS intepreter? (I hope that one is clear!)

    I agree that it seems a bit strange that ESF deals so little with the passage in Mark! I mentioned her reading as the most interesting because I find most of the traditional methods of biblical criticism to be pretty boring, and the feminist reading of that text very compelling. Since you did your thesis on it you have obviously looked at the scholarship on this passage more than me, so I believe you when you say that this story has been neglected. However, I am not sure that you can fault ESF entirely since her main point in using this passage is only that women have been erased from the history of early Christianity, by both ancient and modern historians. In this sense the Pauline material is better suited to her overall goal.

    I am curious about what reading you came up with for the passage in your thesis? Did you develop a feminist reading that has been overlooked by feminist scholars? I’d love to here more about your thesis.

  21. Taylor on April 21, 2004 at 11:09 am

    John, I agree with you that there is no intended insult in saying that the BOM was “destined to be translated into English.” However, I have two concerns about how this might be understood.

    First, it seems to suggest that the English tranlation is the most accurate, the closest to the original, etc. I appreciated Nate’s observation that there is a BoM edition that is the basis for translations which is NOT the one we read! This is essentially an English translation of the English translation. I think that it is important to recognize the limitations of an English translation in understanding the BoM.

    Second, the insistence on the “primacy” of the English translation seems to convey more than just an ordinal number, but also a superiority of the English translation, and by default the English language itself as being a divine language. It seems that certain strands of Mormonism couple the American/English language heritage of the church with a divinely sanctioned patriotism, in the negative sense of the word. I am concerned about how the “primacy” of the English translation gets used in political discourse about the “primacy” of the English speaking American church. In this sense, I agree with the concern your investigator expressed.

  22. john fowles on April 21, 2004 at 12:22 pm

    Okay Taylor. Point well taken–I agree with you (and I wasn’t really arguing contrary to anything you just wrote). I would never suggest that English is somehow a divine language just because it was the first language the BoM was translated into. I speak several other languages and find English to be by far the most boring. The language about “destined” merely indicates that the Lord knew it would come forth at the hand of his servant Joseph, who was an uneducated, English-speaking country boy in 19c America, not a doctor of religion in Germany who knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

  23. Taylor on April 21, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    John, I didn’t think that you were arguing for any of the things that I criticized! I was just trying to articulate my own concerns about this. I think you make very good points how the English translation isn’t a perfect guide to the ancient languages. I absolutely agree!

  24. Julie in Austin on April 21, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    Taylor–

    When you talk about using hermeneutics to reveal bias, I think you are getting around to ESF’s herm. of suspicion. What I want to do with this post is to discuss what kinds of approaches LDS might/could/should/shouldn’t take in their interpretations.

    Hm, I wonder if I could cut and paste my thesis into this little box (just kidding). Long story short, my basic conclusion was that 14:3-9 is the primary Christological material in Mark’s Gospel. (Noteworthy that no titles are used in it–I think focus on titular Christology has been a huge dead end). However, what the story does do is to define what is meant by the title Messiah/Christ/anointed one. And, the definition provided is that there is a dual meaning of both Jesus kingship (i.e., a royal anointing; the story has very close parallels to 1 Sam 10) and Jesus’ death (i.e., a burial anointing, which is obvious, but also evident in subtle ways). I see Peter (able to confess Jesus’ glory but unable to get his mind around His death) and the centurion (whose statement is, IMO, best read ironically, and only sees Jesus’ suffering and not his glory) as foils for the woman, who is the only character in the Gospel (besides Jesus, of course) who is able to integrate both aspects of his identity and to express that (again, not in words, but in deeds). It’s not accidental, IMO, that it is a woman (an unnamed woman) who does this.

    There’s more to it than that, of course, but the kiddos are hungry.

  25. Ethesis on April 22, 2004 at 12:29 am

    Julie in Austin, any chance I could get a copy of your thesis?

    Thanks.

  26. Clark Goble on April 22, 2004 at 3:47 am

    Elder Oaks had a great talk on scriptural hermeneutics that I always felt had a lot in common with various postmodern hermeneutics – especially deconstruction. I’ve brought it up a lot, but it is interesting especially as contrasting with more Protestant approaches to scripture.

    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/1995.htm/
    ensign%20january%201995.htm/scripture%20reading%20and%20revelation.htm

  27. Julie in Austin on April 22, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    Ethesis–

    Hmm, let me see about that. It’s on the ‘old computer’ and I’ll need IT support (i.e., husband) to help me convert it.

    (You aren’t in CA are you? It would be easy to inter-library loan it.)

  28. Ethesis on April 29, 2004 at 11:48 pm

    Julie, I’ll be reading it. The other Julie is in California, I’m in Texas. She’s at the Claremont Colleges, I’m in Plano practicing law.