The Pious Bias

January 18, 2006 | 127 comments
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Perhaps we’ve put white hats on some people in the scriptures who don’t deserve them.

In an against-the-grain reading of the story of Esther, Bob Deffinbaugh introduces the concept of the pious bias: the assumption that, hey, if they’re in the Bible, they must be good people, right? He writes:

Why are Christians so inclined to embrace Esther and Mordecai as model saints, examples of faith and godliness? First, because they err in assuming that people recorded in Scripture are all godly. And so wayward prophets like Jonah are “sanctified� by a misreading and mishandling of the text. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi is embraced as a kind and loving woman rather than a grouchy and bitter old woman. Jacob is viewed as a pious man of faith rather than as a deceiving, self-seeking, con artist. And Esther and Mordecai are just one more example of reading the Bible through rose-colored glasses, seeing people in a way that makes us feel comfortable. Second, we fail to study books like Esther and Jonah in light of the rest of the Old Testament, especially the Law, and contemporary writings. In the case of Esther, we can study this book and its events in light of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah and the prophecies of Jeremiah and Daniel. Third, we often “guild the lily� because we have been taught to understand the text a certain way, without questioning whether it is correct.

There’s a lot going on here. [And, I'll note, that I think some of his essay comes close to bordering on anti-Semitism.] I’d like to pose a few questions:

(1) How do we know when we read the scriptures whether a character’s actions are presented as a model or as a warning? I once heard the theologian Renita Weems, while arguing that the story of the creation and the fall should not be accepted as normative for our lives, pose this question: We don’t take Cain and Abel as a model for sibling relationships; why would we take Adam and Eve as a model for male/female relationships? Well, the Saints have an answer for that question, certainly, but unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to every single story in the scriptures. What then?

(2) What do you make of Deffinbaugh’s assessment of Esther, Mordecai, Jonah, Naomi, and Jacob? Is this character assasination or is it a more plausible reading of the text, or both?

(3) Let’s Mormonize: Is there a pious bias in our reading of any Book of Mormon characters?

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127 Responses to The Pious Bias

  1. Jim F. on January 18, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    I should start by saying that I didn’t take the time to read Deffinbaugh’s essay, so what follows may be wrong. At least in the excerpt, however, he seems to me merely to replace one too-simple understanding with another. In the story of Jonah, Jonah is neither a complete saint nor merely wayward. In Ruth, Naomi is not merely bitter. Similarly Jacob is not merely a con artist. Robert Alter helped me see the complexity of biblical stories and the characters in them, a complexity that gives the stories a great depth of meaning. I don’t think we are better off putting black hats on people instead of white ones. Most people in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and my life wear gray hats.

  2. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Jim, you didn’t miss anything–he gets no more nuanced than he is in that excerpt. I think the reason that we dislike grey hats on scripture figures (despite the verisimilitude) is due to the sense that it diminishes the teaching opportunity. I don’t agree with this, but it is much easier to convey to a Primary class the message “Be brave like Esther” than to convey “Be brave like Esther but don’t sleep with and then marry a pagan or ignore the dietary laws or hide your religion or ignore the commandment to return to the promised land.” Life is so messy.

  3. D. Fletcher on January 18, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    I do think Esther has been misinterpreted forever. But truthfully, with little exception, the entire Old Testament is difficult for me to appreciate, to find heroic and spiritual models. Only Job seems to rise above, and he is clearly fictional, an allegory.

    I definitely think there’s a “pious bias” in Nephi, who is always so justified as a murderer.

    P.S. I’m currently reading Harold Bloom’s book, Yahweh and Jesus. Could somebody please write a review of this book and start a thread? (Or has there been one?)

  4. Rob on January 18, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    Amen Jim. Gray hats all around. Especially in the BoM.

    We see Lehi as a great father, concerned about his children. But did he alienate Laman and Lemual to such a degree that it set off over a thousand years of conflict?

    Nephi kills Laban in his sleep. How comfortable did that make Laman and Lemuel sleeping in the next tent over?

    Sons of Mosiah go on great mission to reclaim Lamanites…but their absence when Mosiah dies throws the whole kingdom into jeopardy, resulting in the revolt of Amlici, with his followers causing all the other wars in the Book of Alma.

    Moroni, great general, but we’re constantly told how angry he was, contra Christ’s teachings about contending in anger.

    List goes on and on. To answer Julie’s question, maybe if we take Christ as the only role model, we can see everyone else as coming in somewhere closer or farther from that model. We can learn from their good qualities, and learn caution from their failings. Trouble is taking good for bad, and vice versa. Keeping Christ as our model can keep us from falling into the trap of following a grey hat down a crooked path.

  5. Ivan Wolfe on January 18, 2006 at 10:59 pm

    D. Fletcher -

    Job is clearly fictional?

    I don’t agree. But whatever. You seem to enjoy being deliberately iconoclastic, so I think I’ll save that debate for another day.

    Thanks to videos my kids enjoy, I just think about vegetables when I read the Old Testament.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on January 18, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    Good post, Julie. Some thoughts:

    1) As you note about Adam and Eve, we as Mormons are fortunate enough to have additional, clarifying witnesses as to the impact and/or importance of certain scriptural figures. But unfortunately, most of the time (especially, perhaps surprisingly, just about everyone in the BoM), we’re stuck with the same problem in drawing normative assessments from scripture stories as the rest of the Christian world has. Failing prayer and prophetic counsel (both of which are, thankfully, always available if not necessarily sufficient), all we have left are those same close reading and questioning strategies that rabbis and English majors have been perfecting for millennia.

    2) I’m no Biblical scholar. Still, I’ll throw in my two cents. I don’t know where he’s coming from regarding Esther, Mordecai, and Naomi; none of those figures have ever been, to my knowledge, presented as absolute pillars of righteousness, but rather as good and faithful people doing what can in their less-than-ideal situations, which is an interpretation I think fully supported by the Biblical text. As for Jacob, I think he–like all the patriarchs–may well sometimes receive a little “gilding” by Christians and Mormons alike; I certainly wouldn’t call him a “deceiving, self-seeking, con artist,” but let’s admit it, there’s a lot in those chapters of Genesis which is just so tribal and “primitive” that it’s very hard for us moderns to make good sense of it, so we may sometimes brush it up for Sunday School’s sake. This goes in particular for Jonah, and perhaps even more particularly for us Mormons; before I moved to the South and was exposed to a lot of evangelical Christian teaching, I’d never to my recollection heard the Jonah story presented–even to children!–as so plainly a tale of a weak and wayward prophet.

    3) Well, let’s hit the obvious ones: Was Nephi’s defiant leadership and strict judgment of his brothers really all that admirable? Should we agree that perhaps Captain Moroni was just a little hot-headed? Are we really supposed to think it’s a good thing that the children of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis went to war? My friend (and occasional T&S commenter) Rob, way back when, presented some of these possibilities to Orson Scott Card; OSC wasn’t very receptive.

  7. Russell Arben Fox on January 18, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    And, of course, while I was writing, Rob himself already weighed in…

  8. D. Fletcher on January 18, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    Ivan, sorry to be contrary, I was answering Julie’s questions with my best answers. Do you know that Job isn’t an allegory? I mean, do you have information about that? I’ve always thought it was an allegory, but I’ve been very wrong before.

  9. Mark B. on January 18, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    Anyone who “guilds” a lily has to give us pause–but I’m with Jim: the challenge is to see the good that God does through flawed men and women. We ought not, as Deffenbach suggests, turn all these characters into ultra pious saints, but we shouldn’t ignore the good because of the faults.

    I’m almost with D on Job–but I’ll stop short on the threshold of agnosticism. It doesn’t matter whether Job was historical or not. The lessons of the book remain the same whether history or allegory. (Although the “conversation” between God and Satan is troubling if historical.)

  10. D. Fletcher on January 18, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks for the backup Mark.

    ” It doesn’t matter whether Job was historical or not. The lessons of the book remain the same whether history or allegory.”

    …and I might say the same about the Book of Mormon, in toto. In doesn’t matter…

  11. Clark on January 18, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    Job doesn’t read like an allegory. People also miss that the beginning and ending are almost certainly much older prose. It is as if one (or more) poets took this historical or quasi-historical text and added a poetic meditation on the nature of evil and suffering. But it’s hard to see as an allegory, from what I can see.

    I should add, to the larger issue, that I agree with Russell. I think we can see, both in history and the scriptures, that prophets sometimes don’t act perfectly. I think those of us reading RSR and seeing the consequences to some of Joseph’s choices can recognize that. Even the revelations recorded in the D&C often have Joseph getting some serious criticism by the Lord. Yet we still tend to look at the good in such a way that we sanitize him. Heavens, we do that with many leaders.

    The unfortunate opposite tendency is, as Jim I think alluded, just as mistaken. We focus unduly on flaws to such an extent that we miss their greatness. (I think Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and other early Americans are great secular examples of this)

    The reality is somewhere in the middle. I also think we, as latter-day saints, have an advantage in that we can see Joseph Smith in terms of the history and in terms of the scriptures and see what is left out. The same process almost certainly occurs in all scripture.

  12. Otto on January 18, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    Reading the original post, my wife and I both uttered our simultaneous and shared thought: as she put it, Nephi “sometimes seems a little big for his britches.”

    Perhaps we’re supposed to read the scriptures of different levels, and one angle of approach is the “effective/ineffective leadership” reading. So, we can see Nephi as a bright-eyed and super obedient prophet to be, a brave guy, and, eventually, a fairly visionary prophet — but also a leader who could have benefited greatly from D&C 121. We can admire Lehi’s and Jacob’s faith, but we parents can also perhaps read into it a word of warning on the dangers of playing favorites with our children.

  13. Ivan Wolfe on January 18, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    D. -

    See, I would disagree. The Book of Mormon’s truth claims lie in its historical basis.

    Otherwise, Joseph Smith was just a plain, crazy decitful man, because he based the truth claims he was making on the BoM being a historical record.

    Job, on the other hand – Well, it doesn’t have to be “real.” I think some parts are likely, if not fictionalized, at least creatively interpreted.

    But I feel it to be real, mainly because the Lord usually doesn’t refer to fictional personages to make points in the scriptures, and D&C 121:10 [10 Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.] would be rather meaningless or even mocking if there never was such a person as Job.

    However, it would not shake my faith if Job turned out to be some sort of fable tale.

    But if the BoM were not historical, well – then there’s no point in being/staying Mormon, because then Joseph Smith was basically either a fraud, insane or both.

  14. Russell Arben Fox on January 18, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    “Although the ‘conversation’ between God and Satan is troubling if historical.”

    I actually kind of tend to think that the first two chapters of the book, along with the last, are the only parts of the story at all that have any chance at all of being historical, since the rest–his long speeches, the long speechs of his unfaithful friends, etc.–is a poetic construction (and probably one with multiple authors). And theologically, I don’t think the bare outlines of the tale at the beginning and the end of Job is necessarily implausible.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on January 18, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    …and, for the second time tonight, I take too long to comment, and someone else (Clark) makes my point (this time about Job).

  16. Clark on January 18, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    Ivan, while I think historicity issue are more complex than some, I think the fact so much is clearly poetic written after the initial and concluding prose, suggests that the poetry is highly “expansive” at best. So to me it is akin to asking whether Shakespeare’s historic plays are really historic.

    I disagree about D&C 121:10 doesn’t entail historicity. If I say that at least you’re not like Hamlet, it says nothing about whether Hamlet was a historical figure. Contrast this with say discussions of Adam at Adam-ondi-Ahman where more is being asserted than just a comparison. Thus I think Adam does have to be historic in some sense.

    But clearly the Book of Mormon is different. (I’ll not repeat the reasons I think that so)

  17. Matt Evans on January 19, 2006 at 12:46 am

    Rob (Comment 4),

    You write as though you don’t know that Christ has been far angrier than Moroni, killed far more people than Nephi, and may have even alienated Lucifer, setting off a billion year conflict. Our Book of Mormon heroes emulated Christ in all of his righteous dimensions, though of course none of them turned anyone into a pillar of salt or shot brimstone into the homes of blameless children with wicked parents. If only we could follow Christ’s example as well as they did — the devil would never have power over the children of men. Hello 4th Nephi.

    All,

    It seems as though those who think we may have “put white hats on some people in the scriptures who don’t deserve them” should explain what color hat God wears.

  18. Eve on January 19, 2006 at 2:02 am

    I tend to find the flawed and complex characters of scripture comforting in that they suggest that perfection isn’t a prerequisite to a life of devotion. If God can work with them, perhaps God can work with me.

  19. Lynnette on January 19, 2006 at 2:04 am

    I like the idea of gray hats. I actually find them more inspiring than white ones. To me, one of the most powerful messages of the scriptures is that God is willing to be in relation with and work through flawed and fallible human beings. And that gives me hope for my own life.

  20. Lynnette on January 19, 2006 at 2:05 am

    (And I see that Eve managed to post nearly my exact thought, but she beat me by two minutes. ;)

  21. danithew on January 19, 2006 at 6:58 am

    Nephi does come across as ostentatious at times (like Joseph of Egypt) — but his achievements (spiritual, physical, leadership, etc.) are almost off the human scale. Lehi’s righteousness aside, I don’t think this family would have made it to the promised land if Nephi hadn’t been around to make it happen. In my opinion he was the juggernaut that really carried this family to their ultimate destination. Some wags might point out that the ultimate destination (a thousand years later) was genocide. But I think the whole venture was in fact more than worthwhile.

    Lehi and Nephi can’t bear the principal blame for Laman and Lemuel — though there is no record of them actually killing anyone (unlike Nephi as D. Fletch points out … though I bristle a little bit when I hear Nephi referred to as a “murderer”) … I am convinced that they are in fact murderers in their hearts. That they would discuss killing their own father and brother or even attempt to do so (as the text reveals on several occasions) is unacceptable. They had other options .

    Moving to the principal point of the post, I think there is a “pious bias” that heavily influences how scriptures are interpreted. Esther is a perfect example. Is she a hero? Yes. Is she the conventional example of what a Hebrew/Jewish woman or wife of a CES instructor (cough cough) should be? Probably not. But then again, conventional isn’t always what is needed.

    My feeling is that in the church, if we were to study Esther as she really is, as the text presents her, we would learn more about human nature and reality and even morality. It’s the complications and twists and the ensuing debate that takes place in our minds as well as in conversation, that leads to learning. The same is true for just about any other scriptural figure.

    One of the main factors I love about the Old Testament is that its heroes are so human and complicated.

  22. danithew on January 19, 2006 at 7:01 am

    BTW, I second D. Fletcher’s call for a review of Harold Bloom’s book “Jesus and Yahweh.” That book looks interesting — but I haven’t gotten around to it yet except to read a bit in the store.

  23. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 7:15 am

    Matt,

    “You write as though you don’t know that Christ has been far angrier than Moroni, killed far more people than Nephi, and may have even alienated Lucifer, setting off a billion year conflict.”

    That’s an interesting way to put it. Perhaps your accounting of Christ’s pre-mortal actions are accurate….but if so, so what? The scriptures are not stories about the life and trials of the Eternal Jehovah, but stories about people who try to follow Him. And, if the words of the prophets are to be believed, sometimes they fail to do so, and are sometimes even deluded in that failure. The whole question of the “pious bias” is whether it isn’t sometimes possible that we read the scriptures and see triumphant righteousness and obedience when perhaps we ought to see nuanced struggle and sometimes failure. And we’re allowed to ask that question, it seems to me, exactly because we’re looking at mortal records, not at Jehovah’s private diary.

    I made the point in Geoff’s thread that, assuming we want to take God’s existence as by definition one to aspire to, we can’t simply interpret the nature or meaning of that existence on the basis of what we might think is good; on the contrary, God’s goodness itself (or at least what little we know about it) provides us with our standard and definition of goodness. All Rob is saying is that we should take Christ as our model, and not anyone else, which I think is entirely correct. If the both the scriptures and modern revelation make it abundantly clear that resurrected and eternal Christ affirms that Captain Moroni did exactly what He would have done in the same situation, then ok: we’ve been given permission to take Captain Moroni’s actions as our model. But absent that, we’ll simply have to use, as I wrote above, prophetic counsel and prayer and scholarship as best we can to liken them unto ourselves.

    I like how Jim put it. God Himself wears a white hat, but most everyone else wears gray.

  24. Emma's Son on January 19, 2006 at 8:47 am

    Russell & Jim seem to put it in the right light and Nephi himself wrestles with this whole thing in 2 Ne. 4:16-35.

    “16] Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

    [17] Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

    [34] O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

    [35] Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.”

    Is not this the answer we all seek in finding the way away from the little self serving people we all are?

  25. Matt Evans on January 19, 2006 at 9:03 am

    Russell,

    As I see it, the allegation of a pious bias is based on the belief that the person has been wrongly regarded as a righteous example. The problem with that allegation is that it supposes we can judge the person’s righteousness from the text. Rob went astray in his analysis because he supposed that displays of violence, anger, and raising wayward children suggest a person is unrighteous, without remembering that righteousness is the same thing as “like God.” But because God is frequently angry and violent, as Rob used those terms, saying that Nephi and Moroni were angry and violent says *nothing* about their righteousness. Projecting new age standards of righteousness, rather than God-defined standards of righteousness, on scriptural accounts will lead us to confuse light for darkness. We can therefore impute nothing to Nephi’s violence, or Moroni’s anger, except by pretending to know whether the prophet was inspired to do as they did, and I submit that it’s impossible to learn from the text that Nephi or Moroni didn’t act exactly as God instructed them. The question for pious bias then becomes the propriety of assuming that people identified as prophets and moral exemplars by the scriptures, like Nephi and Moroni, were indeed inspired as the scriptures indicate. Otherwise we’ll have to second guess even their behaviors that are prima facie righteous, like saying a kind word, wondering if they may have actually been rejecting God’s instruction to speak with sharpness at the time, and their “kindness” was actually sinful cowardice. That kind of second guessing, it seems to me, is worse than worthless.

    The whole conversion story of King Lamoni and his people, for example, is based on Ammon being strengthened by God to kill seven men and cut off the limbs of others for scattering sheep. Because bastardized views of righteousness teach that killing and limb-severing is a morally inappropriate response to sheep scattering, there’s tension between the new age righteousness and the scriptural account teaching that God (co-terminous with righteousness) chose to respond with violence.

    Modern scriptures teach that Christ is staying his hand while his wrath kindles, to build until Christ’s wrath is unleashed with fury against the wicked. With that being our standard of righteousness, I see no basis for saying that Lehi, Nephi, Ammon, Moroni, et al, acted other than God inspired them to, except when the scriptures themselves point that out. Of course we know that they weren’t perfect, but the pious bias isn’t merely observing that the prophets need Christ for their salvation. No one has alleged otherwise.

  26. Otto on January 19, 2006 at 9:08 am

    Matt, RE “New Age Righteousness”,

    I think you mean New Testament righteousness, perhaps?

  27. Matt Evans on January 19, 2006 at 9:20 am

    Otto,

    No, I meant “New Age Righteousness.” The New Testament clearly indicates that many New Age evils (anger and violence) are actually essential facets of righteousness. Christ promises to violently “cut asunder” the wicked when he comes again, after all, like he had Ammon do.

  28. annegb on January 19, 2006 at 9:30 am

    Much of this is totally over my head, but the points I have sort of understood are really wonderfully compassionate. In my opinion.

    I don’t think Job was an allegory. I also don’t take anything in the book of Job literally. There are many things in the Old Testament I don’t buy, but I figure I’ll understand some day.

    I love the point about Laman and Lemuel. Somewhere I read that when we err, our children will not suffer, in the eternal sense, from our mistake. What I take from that is that most, most of our earthly experience is not punitive, but educational, and in the long run, most of us will be okay with God. I think Mormons spend too much time keeping score and comparing ourselves and not enough time rejoicing in our God.

  29. Eric Russell on January 19, 2006 at 9:40 am

    “We see Lehi as a great father, concerned about his children. But did he alienate Laman and Lemual to such a degree that it set off over a thousand years of conflict?”

    Interesting, but I don’t see it. I read a father whose arms were ever outstretched towards his sons. I think the text pretty clearly shows that it was they who turned away from their father.

    “Nephi kills Laban in his sleep. How comfortable did that make Laman and Lemuel sleeping in the next tent over?”

    Again, I think Nephi was the one who slept scared at night.

  30. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 9:42 am

    Matt,

    I don’t think we’re really disagreeing here, at least not much.

    “Rob went astray in his analysis because he supposed that displays of violence, anger, and raising wayward children suggest a person is unrighteous, without remembering that righteousness is the same thing as ‘like God.’ But because God is frequently angry and violent, as Rob used those terms, saying that Nephi and Moroni were angry and violent says *nothing* about their righteousness.”

    There are two contentions in the foregoing. The first is that we need to take “like God” as our standard of righteousness, and not assume that because God is good, He must of course be good in a way that is informed by some entirely different standard. I agree with that, as said as much above. The second contention is that because the scriptures show us evidence of God’s “anger” and “violence,” then we can assume that displays of anger and violence on the part of figures from the scriptures may similarly by Godlike, and thus good. I also agree with that….but a great deal of attention must be paid to that may. I am willing to worship a God who shows what can arguably be defined as violence and anger, because, well, He’s God. I am not, however, willing to assume that just because someone associated with the works of God in the scriptures performs a certain act of anger and violence that they are justified and should be therefore be considered a godly example. Just as God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, I would be wise to assume that God’s anger may not be the same as my or anyone else’s anger.

    “The question for pious bias then becomes the propriety of assuming that people identified as prophets and moral exemplars by the scriptures, like Nephi and Moroni, were indeed inspired as the scriptures indicate….That kind of second guessing, it seems to me, is worse than worthless.”

    I think you’re making this out to be a bigger task than it actually would be in practice. We’re already commanded to liken the scriptures to ourselves, to listen to the inspired counsel of the prophets, and to pray about what we read. And there are people at BYU–like Jim Faulconer!–who have spent years teaching students to critically, thoughtfully, and seriously ask questions as they read the scriptures. How distant is any of that from “second guessing”?

  31. annegb on January 19, 2006 at 9:51 am

    But, Eric, maybe he tried his best and failed. Maybe the fault does not only lay with Laman and Lemuel. I always loved my kids, but I screwed up. Lehi was human. He had to have made mistakes.

    And aren’t we taught not to compare our children? If I am constantly telling my kids one is better than the other, it breeds all kinds of bad thinking.

    I don’t embrace in totality Laman and Lemuel’s decisions, but I also do not like the blanket condemnation and rush to compare. We ask ourselves, “am I Laman or Nephi?” This comparison stuff is so counter-productive. I really hate it about our church.

  32. D. Fletcher on January 19, 2006 at 9:54 am

    One thing I find interesting here, is that we are justifying our pious bias for all Biblical characters, which I don’t think was the initial impetus for the thread. Are there some characters that might be misinterpreted, that are not justified in our benevolent bias toward them? We can always say… how human of him (in fact, we can say this of Jehovah), and that makes it a better learning experience, therefore it’s justified.

    But Esther, may simply be mistranslated and misinterpreted. And what about the angry prophets, like Elijah, and the slothful prophets, like Jonah?

    I’m trying to say, if there is a lesson to be learned, that doesn’t necessarily justify the “bias.”

  33. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 10:02 am

    When I examine the state of my own immortal soul, it becomes clear to me that it is I, not the prophets of the Book of Mormon, who are in the dock.

    Russell Fox,
    I find your statement about following Christ as an example, and him alone, surprising. First, it seems to me difficult to do. How do I know how Christ would have acted as a government leader, in a different society, and so on, without having other models who themselves were trying to be like Christ? Most importantly, its radically alienating. It means that of all humanity, there are none that I would either try to emulate or be concerned to give a good example to.

  34. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 10:07 am

    I also think its pretty alienating from the scriptures. If we approach them like a scientist or a judge, evaluating them for good or for ill, we have a different and less fulfilling relationship with God’s word then if we approach them as a supplicant.

  35. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 10:10 am

    And, frankly, if we take the pious bias argument seriously, I think we ultimately have to conclude that we have to take even Christ’s teaching and earthly example with suspicion. After all, we have reason to believe that he was not fully informed during his earthly ministry, and we know he went from grace to grace, which implies that even if he never sinned subjectively, he still might have done things wrong because of ignorance or insufficient development. And we only have the scripture’s word for it that he was sinless . . .

  36. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 10:17 am

    “I am not, however, willing to assume that just because someone associated with the works of God in the scriptures performs a certain act of anger and violence that they are justified and should be therefore be considered a godly example. Just as God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, I would be wise to assume that God’s anger may not be the same as my or anyone else’s anger.”

    Taken to its conclusion, this would also mean that when someone in the scriptures performs an act of kindness or repentance or charity or forgiveness, you would still have no reason to take them as a godly example. You’re creating a distance between us and God that I think is unwarranted. You say that you’re trying to follow God’s example yourself, but if what God does is so incomparable to what we do, how can you try to do that in any meaningful way?

  37. Wm Jas on January 19, 2006 at 10:22 am

    Sometimes it does matter whether a story is history or allegory. If Korihor was real, if people like Korihor really exist, that teaches us a lot about human nature. But if Korihor is just an allegorical symbol of evil, a caricature used to make a point, then mistaking him for a real person would lead one to draw incorrect conclusions about what real people are like.

  38. Ivan Wolfe on January 19, 2006 at 10:30 am

    Clark -

    well, Hamlet may have been a historical figure. But the question isn’t whether YOU would compare someone to Hamlet – the question is whether the Lord in the D& C would. Even some of the parables of the NT show evidence of being based on historical events the listeners would have been familiar with.

    However, if the Lord ever compares someone to Tom Sawyer, then I might change my mind.

  39. D. Fletcher on January 19, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Hamlet may have been a historical figure?

  40. Eric Russell on January 19, 2006 at 10:45 am

    Yea, Halmet is based on Amleth, a character in the legends of Danish history.

  41. Clark on January 19, 2006 at 10:56 am

    Ivan, I’ve read Hamlet’s Mill but find the “Hamlet was real” thesis a tad . . . stretched. Certainly there were elements that might have inspired Shakespeare. But by that logic Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan were real.

    But I guess I don’t see why you think God can’t make comparisons to fictional or quasi-fictional characters when we do quite frequently. As that old Yiddish saying goes, stop telling God what he can or can’t do. (grin)

  42. D. Fletcher on January 19, 2006 at 11:10 am

    Hamlet is based on legend. He is no more real than Siegfried or Arthur or… Zelph.

    ;)

  43. Ivan Wolfe on January 19, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Clark -

    i study fiction for a living. I’m not trying to put down fiction. Fiction is powerful “equipment for living.”

    At the same time, fiction isn’t real and so if Job’s suffering were fictional, then, it seems to me (in my flawed mortal thinking), that to compare JS to Job would be meaningless, since Job’s sufferings “never really happened.”

    But, as I said, if Job (or parts thereof) are fiction, It isn’t that big of a deal to me – I would adjust.

    I’m not really convinced by Hamlet’s Mill and other books/studies/articles that try to prove Amleth existed. However, it is plausible and possible, so I try to keep an open mind. I find Job being “mythlogical” a big step towards writing off the lessons of the tale completely. But that’s my intellectual baggage.

  44. Clark on January 19, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Just to add to the discussion (getting back on topic) I think that the “higher law” involves listening to the spirit, which clearly will have a lot say on these things. That is, I’ve been reading the scriptures while feeling spiritual (as opposed to the times I’m anything but) and learned both positive and negative lessons from these figures. I think discussing the issue in terms of rationally, using only the text, to determine the ideals is difficult if not impossible. There’s just not enough information. So we have to go outside the text. Typically that entails just reading our own personal biases onto the text. But we can also use the texts as a catalyst for revelation.

  45. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 11:16 am

    Hmm. Your questions are good ones Adam; they touch on (whether you intended them to or not) a lot of deep stuff regarding how we are understand ourselves as Christians.

    “I find your statement about following Christ as an example, and him alone, surprising. First, it seems to me difficult to do. How do I know how Christ would have acted as a government leader, in a different society, and so on, without having other models who themselves were trying to be like Christ?”

    There is, of course, an old and important body of thought which argues exactly this: that Christ does not provide us with a political, economic, social, or public model; Christian morality is radically acultural, unconcerned with what the world calls “virtue,” demanding nothing save repentance, an absolute other-directedness, and flights into the desert to await the end. Say hello to Menno Simons. The gospel should seem alienating to us, because it is.

    Augustine, and other thinkers that have been influenced by him (Luther, etc.), acknowledged the power of this understanding, and dealt with it via his famous doctrine of the two cities. We are, of course, utterly alienated from worldly concerns when we stand before the Judgment Seat; all that matters is whether we love God–that is, whether we have chosen citizenship in the City of God. Anyone who seeks to serve God through the City of Man is deluded in the extreme; Christ does not teach us how to live virtuously in public life. However, since we are in a historical space that obligates us to acknowledge the City of Man, it is not imprudent to hope for some kind of virtue as we wait out our days. Since some of those virtues are vaguely closer to the gospel than others (just as, while all war is evil, some wars are moderately more justifiable in accordance with certain understandings of the Christian tradition), it is possible to construct Christian arguments for certain worldly arrangements. But one shouldn’t identify those arrangements with what it means to do what Jesus did, because Jesus, in fact, did nothing of the sort.

    Of course, plenty of other thinkers and prophets, from Thoms Aquinas to (in his own way) Joseph Smith, have claimed that there is a godly or prophetic politics, etc., which can be drawn pretty much directly from the revelations and/or the behavior of Christ Himself. This is part of my belief system too, but when you get right down to it, the absolutist reading of Christ’s example still seems undeniable.

  46. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 11:19 am

    “And, frankly, if we take the pious bias argument seriously, I think we ultimately have to conclude that we have to take even Christ’s teaching and earthly example with suspicion…we only have the scripture’s word for it that he was sinless…”

    I don’t think it’s necessary to drag “suspicion” into all this; that’s a much stronger term than anything Julie’s original post was getting at. But look at it this way, Adam; what is Moroni’s injunction at the end of BoM all about, if not asking us to pray and see if we can have our feelings confirmed in regards to “taking the scripture’s word for it”?

  47. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 11:26 am

    “Taken to its conclusion, this would also mean that when someone in the scriptures performs an act of kindness or repentance or charity or forgiveness, you would still have no reason to take them as a godly example. You’re creating a distance between us and God that I think is unwarranted. You say that you’re trying to follow God’s example yourself, but if what God does is so incomparable to what we do, how can you try to do that in any meaningful way?”

    This is, Adam, actually a pretty good way of opening up the whole notion of negative theology. (Clark and Jim could easily add something here.) We know that God is “good,” but how can we really know, in a positive sense, that God’s goodness is the same as my goodness? We can’t, at least not according to this line of argument. Thus, we can only operate by analogy: God is described as “merciful,” and on the basis of the scriptures and the parables, I can identify certain mortal experiences as involving “mercy.” That mercy probably isn’t exactly God’s mercy, but it gives me something to hold onto, something that I know God is not. (For example, we can’t know exactly what Jesus would have done with the wounded man left to die on the road, but we can know that He wouldn’t have passed him by.)

  48. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 11:27 am

    “Of course, plenty of other thinkers and prophets, from Thoms Aquinas to (in his own way) Joseph Smith, have claimed that there is a godly or prophetic politics, etc., which can be drawn pretty much directly from the revelations and/or the behavior of Christ Himself. This is part of my belief system too, but when you get right down to it, the absolutist reading of Christ’s example still seems undeniable.”

    I don’t think you can have it both ways, Russell Fox.

    “what is Moroni’s injunction at the end of BoM all about, if not asking us to pray and see if we can have our feelings confirmed in regards to “taking the scripture’s word for itâ€??”

    The key word is “confirm.”

  49. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 11:29 am

    “We know that God is “good,â€? but how can we really know, in a positive sense, that God’s goodness is the same as my goodness? We can’t, at least not according to this line of argument. Thus, we can only operate by analogy: God is described as “merciful,â€? and on the basis of the scriptures and the parables, I can identify certain mortal experiences as involving “mercy.â€? That mercy probably isn’t exactly God’s mercy, but it gives me something to hold onto, something that I know God is not. (For example, we can’t know exactly what Jesus would have done with the wounded man left to die on the road, but we can know that He wouldn’t have passed him by.)”

    If so, then you have no reason for rejecting prophetic examples. In fact, it makes the argument for following them stronger.

  50. Seth Rogers on January 19, 2006 at 11:30 am

    I think part of the reason we put “black hats” on the villains is that it makes us more comfortable with them.

    A Laman and Lemuel who are murderous, hypocritical, complainers, with absolutely no redeeming qualities, are much easier to live with than a Laman and Lemuel who might actually highly resemble me, or my friends.

    We like to reassure ourselves that we really “aren’t all that bad.” We do this by making cariacatures of the villains in scripture.

  51. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 11:38 am

    “I don’t think you can have it both ways.”

    Assuming the dichotomy I’ve set up is correct–and I’m not sure it is. There is, I think, an important argument for understanding a certain kind of withdrawal from the dominant modes and transactions of the world as itself involving a kind of building and community making; it’s not all just the compromises of the Christian prince vs. the solitude and survivalism of the desert fathers. But that gets us off into different issues. Basically, yes, you’re correct: I’m torn. I want to live, and I want everyone around me to live, according to Jesus’s teachings, and at the same time I believe doing so is probably impossible. (Of course, feeling torn is an important part of Christianity itself.)

    “The key word is ‘confirm.’”

    Right. You read and think and study and pray hard about the scriptures, and the truth and meaning of their messages can be confirmed to you. As I said to Matt above, I’m not sure how much difference there really is between what we’re saying.

  52. Andermom on January 19, 2006 at 11:42 am

    What often I see as a problem is scripture interpretation is the ascribing of anything *except* grey hats. Judging the sort of family that Laman and Lemuel grew up in they would probably have been considered ‘good kids’ through most of their story had they been around today. They probably would have been in the crowd that did their equivalent of serving honorable missions, attending church regularly etc. etc. Every time we tell the story though, they are immediately the unrighteous sons. We are so quick to paint them as extremely wicked that we never take the time to see their mild wickedness. When we do that, we can’t see ourselves as being similar because we aren’t extremely wicked, we’re still in the mild wickedness phase. We loose an opportunity to learn a valuable lessons.

    Also in regards to God’s anger vs man’s anger, I don’t think God ever encourages anger in any of His children. I think of where He says “I will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” He knows how to be angry in a righteous way, and I don’t think that righteous anger is something mortals are really capable of. A few of us may come close, but anger and violence are *never* qualities we should be taught to emulate.

  53. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 11:45 am

    “If so, then you have no reason for rejecting prophetic examples. In fact, it makes the argument for following them stronger.”

    You’re eliding the difference between the records and revelations we have regarding God, and those we have of prophets and other (sometimes rather marginal) figures in the scriptures. I don’t have to assume that I can only know prophets by analogy or negatively–they, unlike God, are human. Of course all our information is subjective and partial, often culturally distant and confusing, and subject above all to contemporary prophetic interpretation and the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. But, given all that, the fact remains that I can read the story of Jacob and tentatively and humbly conclude “Man, that’s weird,” whereas I have no way to step outside God’s normative framework–that is, assuming that I agree that He is who He says He is–and assess His weirdness or lack thereof in any sort of positive manner.

  54. Matt Evans on January 19, 2006 at 11:45 am

    Russell,

    I know next to nothing of formal theology, so I don’t understand the dilemma over God’s goodness and my goodness being the same thing. Because we teach that we must be perfect like God is, and that Christ told us to be men like he is, to my elementary logic it seems God is wants us to weigh goodness the same way he does.

  55. Frank McIntyre on January 19, 2006 at 11:52 am

    Russell: “But, given all that, the fact remains that I can read the story of Jacob and tentatively and humbly conclude “Man, that’s weird,â€? whereas I have no way to step outside God’s normative framework–”

    But the whole point is that the prophets sometimes act weird because they are following God’s law, and so you can’t use your human evaluation and think that it binds. Also, Adam’s better point was that if one wishes to apply this reasoning to God’s acts of anger, it is not clear why it does not apply to God’s acts of mercy. But by the time you get done you’ll have thought yourself out of a lot of useful instruction.

    Never think so far that you can’t think your way back!

  56. Otto on January 19, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    Seth and Andermom,

    I agree. Laman and Lemual are obviously evil when considered within the broad framework of the teleology of the Book of Mormon — that is, if they’d had their way, it wouldn’t have come about, none of its grand promises and revelations realized. Considered within the drastically smaller perspective that most of us would have had in that situation, it’s not that hard to play devil’s advocate: I mean, if your dad announced that your family was taking off into the wilderness because the Wasatch front (or wherever) was about to be destroyed, you’d think he was nuts and ask the doctor to up his medication. And if you perceived that his crazy ideas were putting the lives of your wife and children in peril, you’d resent that too. And if your goody-goody brother, who was always the favorite, went along with the crazy old man, you’d probably get even angrier. And if you dad’s way of trying to get you to repent was to hamfistedly name a river or a valley after you, you’d probably find it humiliating. In other words, I bet most of us, if we were among Lehi’s children, would have been Lamans and Lemuels, not Sams or Nephis. But when we’re reading the scriptures, we like to align ourselves with the protagonists, and relate to the white hats (because we like to think that’s the team we’re on), so we’re not inclined to see gray. I mean, is it just my Sunday school classes, or is it in every class that, whenever, we the discussion of some sin comes up, the first inclination is to find an example of it out the window in “the world” as opposed to among ourselves as a church community, as families, or as individuals?

  57. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    ” There is, I think, an important argument for understanding a certain kind of withdrawal from the dominant modes and transactions of the world as itself involving a kind of building and community making; it’s not all just the compromises of the Christian prince vs. the solitude and survivalism of the desert fathers.”

    Its not just that, Russell Fox. You’re not just talking about withdrawing from the world into an alternate Christian community. You’re talking about withdrawing from *everyone*, in important ways–there’s no one at all whom you feel you can emulate or be an exemplar to.

  58. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    “But the whole point is that the prophets sometimes act weird because they are following God’s law, and so you can’t use your human evaluation and think that it binds.”

    I’m still failing to see how this is in any significant way different from anything that we teach in Sunday School about studying the scriptures with all our hearts and minds. We want to be open to whatever God is trying to teach us, both directly and through the prophets, which means we also want to be aware of what is not being taught. It would be a terrible thing if I outright dismissed the book of Jeremiah because of the weird detour in that book regarding Jeremiah’s marriage to a prostitute because, after all, a prophet would never do that. It would also be a terrible thing if outright accepted the weird turn at the end of the book of Jonah as a reasonable depiction of how we ought to relate to God, after all, a prophet did it.

    “Adam’s better point was that if one wishes to apply this reasoning to God’s acts of anger, it is not clear why it does not apply to God’s acts of mercy.”

    I’ll let Jim or Clark comment on whether they think negative theology is necessarily an instance of “thinking so far that you can’t think your way back.” But again, note what I said in #50: there is, I think, an obvious difference in how we ought to think about what the Book of Mormon tell us about Christ, seeing as how the purpose of the text is to testify of Him, and how we ought to think about what it tells us about, say, Ammon, who is, unlike Christ, a human being. So I really don’t think acknowledging the possibility of legitimately asking ourselves “hey, have I understood Ammon’s motivations as well as I can here?” is in any way an invitation to ask ourselves, “hey, and isn’t it also possible that the Resurrected Messiah is just acting like a selfish brat here”?

  59. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    There’s a lot to be said for identifying yourself with the white hats. Being Nephi in your imagination can have just as many good effects as it does bad.

    There’s a lot to be said in pointing to examples of sin that aren’t drawn from one’s own neighbors or people in the audience.

  60. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    ” I think, an obvious difference in how we ought to think about what the Book of Mormon tell us about Christ, seeing as how the purpose of the text is to testify of Him, and how we ought to think about what it tells us about, say, Ammon, who is, unlike Christ, a human being.”

    I don’t see this. If the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify of Christ and bring us closer to him, which it is–and if the Book of Mormon includes the stories of Ammon, Captain Moroni, and so on, which it does–then it seems to me that their stories are included because in those stories, in those men’s way of being, is rooted a testimony of Christ. But the approach you and the Pious Bias fellow are taking would see them instead as objects of study, not conduits of being. The real learning comes from the Spirit and from your own study. Moroni and so on are, ultimately, just catalysts.

    If I accepted your version of things, It would be hard to explain why, in the temple, we must first become Adam or Eve to become Christ.

  61. Otto on January 19, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Adam,

    But the moral of the story that I get in reading the history of the Nephites is that they made a classic inversion. Instead of remembering that they’re blessings were contingent on righteousness, they looked around at their blessings and said “Huh! Whatever we’re doing must be righteous!” In other words, instead of seeing the wearing of the “white hat” as an obligation to act righteously, they thought that with the white hat on they could do no wrong. And that’s the danger, I think, when Saints get too comfortable with reading the scriptures with an eye to looking out the window and checking of the commandments as they observe them being broken by others. If we always assume we’re wearing the white hat, we’re less inclined to respond personally to the scriptures’ call for self-reflection and self-assessment, and instead expend all of our righteous indignation against the enemy without.

  62. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    “You’re not just talking about withdrawing from the world into an alternate Christian community. You’re talking about withdrawing from *everyone*, in important ways–there’s no one at all whom you feel you can emulate or be an exemplar to.”

    No Adam; I’m talking about the possibility that there is no one perfect and infallible whom I can emulate insofar as figuring out how to invest in stocks, teach American politics, wash dishes, run for office, repair a telephone, write rap music, or judge the constitutionality of laws–that’s what I meant (perhaps I wasn’t clear above) when I said that if Christ is to be our sole exemplar, then it is arguable that we are without such godly exemplars when it comes to making our way through much of the ordinary world. Again, there are those who disagree; they insist (warning: hyperbole alert) that in the New Testament (or the Book of Mormon, or Joseph’s revelations, or the Ensign) there is everything you need to know to live life and run a country just as Jesus would. The Augustinian position is that this is false, because Jesus, on the evidence of the very marginal and radical life that he lived, did not in fact seem to show much concern for any of those things. However, by analogy and prudent common sense, you can find other (lesser but not necessarily bad) exemplars to guide one in ordinary, public life.

    In any case, as I said above, my feelings on this issue are somewhat torn, which is why I believe (and hope) that building “alternate Christian communities” complicates the above dichotomy somewhat.

  63. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Otto,

    I acknowledge that wearing the white hat has severe dangers, just as only the blessed can become sons of perdition.

  64. Mark IV on January 19, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    There’s a lot to be said in pointing to examples of sin that aren’t drawn from one’s own neighbors or people in the audience.

    True enough, Adam G., but where’s the fun in that?

    Doesn’t part of the problem arise from the fact that the text itself is so sketchy, sometimes summarizing a person’s character in only a few verses, so we have to make do with stock figures. Also, sometimes the same person wears both hats – think Peter.

  65. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    “I’m talking about the possibility that there is no one perfect and infallible whom I can emulate insofar as figuring out how to invest in stocks, teach American politics, wash dishes, run for office, repair a telephone, write rap music, or judge the constitutionality of laws.”

    Agreed, but that’s not the point. Someone doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth imitating. They just have to be better than you.

    So you emulate Christ–you don’t apply suspicion and pious bias judgment to his example–because you believe that wherever your own judgment would tell you to act differently, your own judgment is mistaken. Christ is morally superior to you.

    But that same reasoning would suggest that you should emulate other people, if you have reason to think that they are also superior to you morally. You don’t have the same certainty as you do with Christ (but that wouldn’t help you much anyway, because you think that Christ’s perfection sets up sort of barrier between us and him that makes emulation impossible anyway), but the probability still cuts your way. I would suggest–and this is where the Pious Bias fellow gets it wrong at the root–that if someone is presented as a role model in the scriptures, particularly in the edited and brought forth by miracles Book of Mormon, that we do have reason to believe that they are superior to us spiritually and morally. This doesn’t relieve us altogether of the responsibility of trying to think through their actions and reconcile them with what we know of Christ and of God’s will with respect to us, but it does mean that in some situations we will act for no other reason than that (1) we think this is how Captain Moroni would act and (2) Captain Moroni is presented as a good man in the scriptures–and if this isn’t emulation, I don’t know what else is.

    So I flatly deny your doctrine that we have no models other than Christ. In addition, I know from my own experience that emulating other people can bring us closer to Christ, and I have private, spiritual reasons for so thinking.

    Update:
    I’m pretty sure that we are talking past each other. I wouldnt’ be surprised if you read this and said that you agreed with it entirely.

  66. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    “The approach you and the Pious Bias fellow are taking would see them instead as objects of study, not conduits of being. The real learning comes from the Spirit and from your own study. Moroni and so on are, ultimately, just catalysts. If I accepted your version of things, It would be hard to explain why, in the temple, we must first become Adam or Eve to become Christ.”

    Another good thought, Adam; this is taking an interesting, incarnational turn. I need to turn off the computer for the time being, but here’s a question: is scripture something that we are supposed to take up as faith-emanating, something iconic and full of power, on its own constructed terms? That is, is the reading of scripture and the performing of a temple ritual essentially the same in terms of its incarnational role in shaping our lives? I am doubtful. Or–let me qualify that–I am doubtful that the actual content of the stories within scripture are themselves “conduits of being”; I suspect that it is the fact of scripture itself, the reception and the reading of it, not the details of what is gleamed from within its pages, that shapes us. What comes afterwards is, well, just what you said it is: “learning.”

  67. Russell Arben Fox on January 19, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    “So I flatly deny your doctrine that we have no models other than Christ. In addition, I know from my own experience that emulating other people can bring us closer to Christ, and I have private, spiritual reasons for so thinking.”

    Ok. I have said all along that it is not my doctrine (though it is one I am tempted by), but if you wish to ascribe it to me for purposes of denial, feel free. You’re certainly not alone in thinking that this kind of absolutist reading of our relationship with Christ is heretical.

  68. Keith on January 19, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    There are any number of identifications we can make through the Book of Mormon (and scripture in general). We can identify with prophets who care for their people and seek to urge them to repent. We can idenfity ourselves with Laman and Lemuel and see in us the tendency to go along with the journey (Laman and Lemuel do go with Lehi after all) but who complain and rebell all the way. We can identify ourselves with the Zoramites who do not see their need for Christ. We are asked to identify ourselves with the dust of the earth–and see that it obeys where we do not. There are any number of folks and situations we are invited to identify with. And. of course, we are also asked to identify ourselves with Christ by taking on his name.

    So which identification should hold primary place? Maybe none of them, or perhaps the latter. Or maybe shifting identifications according to need. Regardless, these identifications each call us to repentence, either by putting us in the place of the sinner directly called to repentence, or (in the case of identification with the righteous) calling us to repentence by revealing the gaps between our life and the life of Christ or the life of the righteous who, as Nibley points out are identified as righteous because they are repenting. In other words, there won’t be a smugness in identifying with the rigtheous because if we actually are striving to live that life we feel keenly our weaknesses and dependence on the Lord and we seek to live that life out of and though love, humility, gratitude, etc. Whether black hats or white hats–all must be worn in fear and trembling.

  69. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    “Another good thought, Adam; this is taking an interesting, incarnational turn. I need to turn off the computer for the time being, but here’s a question: is scripture something that we are supposed to take up as faith-emanating, something iconic and full of power, on its own constructed terms? That is, is the reading of scripture and the performing of a temple ritual essentially the same in terms of its incarnational role in shaping our lives? I am doubtful. Or–let me qualify that–I am doubtful that the actual content of the stories within scripture are themselves “conduits of beingâ€?; I suspect that it is the fact of scripture itself, the reception and the reading of it, not the details of what is gleamed from within its pages, that shapes us. What comes afterwards is, well, just what you said it is: “learning.â€? “

    It must be a good thought, because it provoked a response and a question too wise for me to understand.

    Since I’m too stolid to get your question, I can’t answer it. Instead, I’ll just say that as I believe Christ is an incarnation of Godhood, righteous men and women, such as are found in the scriptures, are “incarnations” of Christ. In emulating them, we are led step by step to emulate Christ, except that as the end product we have love and relationship not just with him but with the many models he gave us.

    I further tentatively believe that when we read about their experiences we sometimes learn things about virtue and love from them through the sort of soul-to-soul communication discussed in D&C 50.

  70. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Ok. I have said all along that it is not my doctrine (though it is one I am tempted by), but if you wish to ascribe it to me for purposes of denial, feel free. You’re certainly not alone in thinking that this kind of absolutist reading of our relationship with Christ is heretical.

    My apologies for mistaking you. I think I understand better your point. That is, that you aren’t wholly comfortable saying that we should not imitate our fellow beings in some way, but you aren’t wholly comfortable saying we should, either, because to the extent anyone other than Christ is in the image of God, it is a grossly distorted and shattered image.

  71. Rob on January 19, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    Matt (and to some degree Adam)–
    I’m not sure how to proceed in replying to your comments. I’m not sure we could even agree on what lines of evidence to accept (eg. I’m sure I place way less trust in the historical, or even spiritual, accuracy of the Old Testament–a book with a very, very suspicious history–and its depiction of God). For my part, I think taking the mortal Christ as our example is the safest, if we need an example. I know there is a lot of hero worship of scriptural figures in the Church. Since I can’t find any scriptural injunction to follow the example of anyone besides Christ, I think the practice of taking the behavior of favorite scriptural characters as normative is in itself nonscriptural. But again, I’m not sure if we could ever agree on how to judge this modern cultural practice.

    Seems we have a long way to go before we are of “one heart and one mind”. For my part, I suspect it would take more than anyone on this list would be able to muster to convince me that Matt’s “kick-butt” Jesus is more than just a bastardized apostate view that found its way into the Old Testament more under the influence of the bloody nature Telestial human societies than through the whisperings of the Spirit.

    But if we can’t agree on the nature of the Bible and its authorship, any debate about black hats, white hats, or gray hats may be premature! I know from our past exchanges that this discussion tends to get very personal and angry, with people questioning each other’s views of God and self. So, like I said, not sure how to proceed, and am more inclined to let it go at this point. I’m not sure we can make anything productive come of this.

  72. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Fair enough, Rob. For what its worth, I am less wedded to the Old Testament than any other book of scripture, though I think folks are too ready to dismiss it on the grounds that it makes them uncomfortable.

    My belief that Christ is in seasons a man of wrath and vengeance is mostly based on the Book of Mormon, and on apocalyptic statements associated with Christ in the New Testament and the Doctrine and Covenants. Also, the usual prooftexts from the NT don’t quite bear the weight thats put on them.

  73. Aspen on January 19, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Adam,

    Just curious. When you say that reading about the experiences of “scripture characters” we learn about virtue and love through “soul-to-soul” communication, are you implying that the experiences of humans portrayed in the scriptures are more beneficial (in the sense that they provide a type of “soul-to-soul” connection) than stories of individuals outside the scriptures? In other words, are you implying that because the stories are recorded in what we consider canon, they allow for a more spiritual connection than can be attained in stories elsewhere?

    Anyone else,

    This seems like as good a thread as any to ask this question:

    Does anyone know if there is historical evidence of the existence of the persons King Laban/Lehi, etc. in Jerusalem? I was asked this question by someone and even after searching FARMS, didn’t find much. I’m specifically asking about the existence of the individuals, not of the BoM experiences (trek to Bountiful, rivers, valleys, etc).

  74. Jack Sprat on January 19, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    Where in the BoM do you see Christ exercising wrath and vengeance as a man? Again, I’m inclined to take the mortal Christ as an example. I find it inappropriate to follow the example of a God, since I don’t have the luxury of omniscience, omnipotence, perspective from an eternal standpoint outside of time (if you believe in that), etc.

    What I see in the scriptures is:
    Mortal Christ–white hat
    Everyone else–gray hats
    Satan (maybe)–entirely black hat
    Views of God–mostly through a glass, darkly colored by limited human understanding

    Given that, I would aspire to follow Christ, and see the other characters as someone I can identify with, but not as people to follow when they seem to depart from the example and teachings of the Mortal Christ.

    As for the Old Testament making me uncomfortable, I will admit that. But for several reasons–
    1) problematic origins
    2) departure from the Word as revealed to Latter-day prophets
    3) cultural issues and understandings that seem pretty far removed from our day

    I have an undergradute degree in anthropology. I’m all from learning as much as we can from the perspective of other cultures–including those that brought us the bible. I’m still trying to figure out how much of the bible is inspired, and what time period its authors lived, to try and triangulate how to read it. But at my current state of investigations, from the perspective of modern science, archaeology, and Latter-day revelation, I can see some good reasons to be suspicious of much of the Old Testament–both as religious and spiritual history. I’m sure there are truths there that are challenging to me as well, and hope to avoid throwing those out with the bathwater. That said, I’m not much of one for chugging down big swigs of bathwater as inspired teachng, either!

    Maybe what we can agree on is that there are lots of ways to read the scriptures, based on our individual levels of growth, development, and temperment. There are many potential pitfalls when the scriptures are read without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost or without the guidance of living prophets. Some of us, when we liken the scriptures unto ourselves, see the behavior of scriptural characters as a mixed bag–offering much to admire, and much by way of cautionary tales. Others, in looking to the scriptures for spiritual guidance, tend to concentrate on what they take to be the positive characteristics of these individuals, and may even attempt to emulate those behaviors that they consider worthy. It is tempting to argue about which way to read the scriptures is better, but contending in anger is of the devil, so it is best to try and understand why people read the scriptures in different ways, and find ways to love each other, even though we still don’t see “eye to eye”, but rather, through a glass, darkly.

  75. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    “Where in the BoM do you see Christ exercising wrath and vengeance as a man? Again, I’m inclined to take the mortal Christ as an example. I find it inappropriate to follow the example of a God, since I don’t have the luxury of omniscience, omnipotence, perspective from an eternal standpoint outside of time (if you believe in that), etc.”

    1. There are two separate questions here. The first is whether Christ is sometimes a man of anger and vengeance. The second is whether we are currently to emulate him in that regard. I take it you are conceding the first point.

    2. The scriptures do not say that is only the mortal Christ that we are trying to be like. It is the immortal, resurrected Christ that tells us we are to be perfect, even as he, or his Father in Heaven, is perfect. Make of it what you will.

    3. I do like, however, that you acknowledge that anger and wrath, if they are inappropriate for us, are only inappropriate provisionally or temporarily. But given that caveat, you are right that they have to be inappropriate to some degree if we’re to make sense of the scriptures.

  76. Rob on January 19, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    I don’t see Christ as ever exercising wrath and vengence as a man.

    If we are to be perfect, like the resurrected Christ, that doesn’t tell us to follow the example of the Pre-Mortal Jehovah. Where, since Christ was resurrected, has he a) exercised wrath and vengence, and told us to follow him in doing so? Maybe he let the tectonic plates shift and wipe out some wicked BoM cities. Until I can control tectonic plates, and have some other pretty impressive powers, that’s going to be a hard example to follow.

    I’m not sure what anger and wrath mean from a divine perspective. That said, I’d be more willing to say that they are only appropriate provisionally or temporarily. One thing I really liked about reading the David O. McKay manual last year, was his emphasis on controlling your emotions. I don’t think we’ll find any authorization for blowing our stack in the scriptures. We may be angry, but we are only to express that in constructive ways. As for wrath–not sure what to make of that. We seem to be perilously close to a threadjack as the discussion shifts to semantics.

    Can we stay on track with this thread by examining the appropriate place of anger and wrath in the life of white, black, and gray hats? Or maybe that warrants its own thread, or half a dozen!

  77. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    Rob,
    Your treatment of Christ’s vengeance in the Americas is silly and frivolous. On the other hand, I agree that anger has to be controlled and only expressed in certain ways, and what you have to say here is useful. Weighing everything in the balance, I’m bowing out of this discussion.

  78. Rob on January 19, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    Adam–my wife might agree with your “silly and frivolous” comment–and she’d probably include the complete corpus of my limited T&S comments in that category ;)

  79. Visorstuff on January 19, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Julie you wrote:

    “it is much easier to convey to a Primary class the message “Be brave like Estherâ€? than to convey “Be brave like Esther but don’t sleep with and then marry a pagan or ignore the dietary laws or hide your religion or ignore the commandment to return to the promised land.â€? Life is so messy.”

    I agree. But wasnt’ Ester just following the cultural norms and laws of the day? Wasn’t the law of their land to obey the King? Yes in some cases, Saints like Daniel disobeyed the law and was blessed, in others, the people are encouraged to obey the laws rather than live all of the gospel. If it wasnt’ for Abraham lying to Pharoh, secularists would say there wouldn’t be any of these monotheistic religions.

    How do we as Latter-day Saints reconcile certain laws we are commanded to live in scripture that we do not because of our current environment, cultural norms and laws. I know some people will immediately think of laws prohibiting polygyny, but I was thinking more on the lines of buying property in Zion, living consecration, working on sunday, gardening, law of gathering and more.

    Aren’t we just as bad? Or is the point that an average person who stuggles can still do great things by trusting in God?

  80. Clark on January 19, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    “Where in the BoM do you see Christ exercising wrath and vengeance as a man?”

    Well, that cat of nine tails after the money changers in the Temple is pretty violent.

  81. Rob on January 19, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    “Well, that cat of nine tails after the money changers in the Temple is pretty violent.”

    Mebbe. Maybe not. It never said that he beat anyone up. My Mel Gibson imagination can take that scene one way, but that wouldn’t be based on my imagination more than the text itself.

  82. Clark on January 19, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    He violently drove them against their will from the temple. Whether he “beat them up” seems somewhat beside the point.

  83. Rob on January 19, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    Clark, I think you are reading the “violently” into your description of the account.

  84. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Wow. I missed a lot.

    (1) Re Job’s ‘allegoricity’: I actually think that little wager between God and Satan is just about the perfect figurative description of the Plan of Salvation.

    (2) I’m with Ivan: Esther is forever a green onion. And all hale anything that gets me a 1/2 hour peace with no guilt on a Sunday :).

    (3) Re Clark #16: Eeerie that I was not only going to make the same argument about that D & C verse, but I was going to make it with Hamlet.

    (4) Matt asks, “It seems as though those who think we may have “put white hats on some people in the scriptures who don’t deserve themâ€? should explain what color hat God wears.” Um, I made that statement and it is rather obvious to me that God is a white-hat kinda guy. Am I missing something here?

    (5) Re Eve in #18–well said. I agree.

    (6) Matt later writes, “The problem with that allegation is that it supposes we can judge the person’s righteousness from the text.” The problem with that is: What the *$^* is the point of reading the scriptures if we cannot judge if an action is righteous? OK, so David sleeps around. . . go thou and do likewise?

    (7) Re D. Fletcher in #32–I think you are on to something. We know for a fact that sometime God wants the negative behavior of good people recorded in the scriptures (for example, all of the dressing downs of JS in the D & C, also Peter in the NT). I think the question becomes: Have we misread some incidents in the scriptures by attempting to rationalize or ignore bad behavior because we’ve missed the big neon sign between the lines that flashes DON’T DO THIS?

    (8) Adam writes, “And, frankly, if we take the pious bias argument seriously, I think we ultimately have to conclude that we have to take even Christ’s teaching and earthly example with suspicion.” No, even in the moments when I am most persuaded by the pious bias, I don’t think it has anything to do with Christ and I wouldn’t apply it to his life.

    (9) Seth re #50–good point. Have we done the inverse of the pious bias on some of the bad guys–and is there something we might find redeeming about some of them? Anyone? Anyone?

    (10) Adam, might there be a danger in your approach? If we read your white hat guys as having REALLY white hats, might we confuse them with Christ, possibly blaspheming in the process?

    (11) Re Keith #68–Lovely, just lovely. Thank you.

    (12) Re #74 Jack Sprat–very nice comment, thank you.

    (13) Visorstuff asks, “But wasnt’ Ester just following the cultural norms and laws of the day? ” Yes, but since when has THAT justified sinful behavior? It is funny that you mention Daniel in the next sentence–here’s someone willing to suffer death instead of just following the cultural norms or the king!

    And thanks to all for the comments–good discussion all around.

  85. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Adam writes, “And, frankly, if we take the pious bias argument seriously, I think we ultimately have to conclude that we have to take even Christ’s teaching and earthly example with suspicion.� No, even in the moments when I am most persuaded by the pious bias, I don’t think it has anything to do with Christ and I wouldn’t apply it to his life.

    Julie, I don’t doubt that you don’t apply it to him. Which makes you inconsistent, for the reasons I’ve already discussed.

  86. Greg B. on January 19, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    Christ did commit acts of violence against property in the passages in question (overturning tables, kicking over chairs, and dumping bags of money), but we don’t read where violently attacked anyone in the temple.

    If Christ had attacked the moneychangers, would he have been blameless before the law–or would he have been vulnerable to accusation of crime and perhaps arrested? Seems to me, the priestly class had to drum-up scenarios and false charges because the Savior could not be charged with acts such as violently attacking folks. Aren’ t these passages better examples of non-violent resistance: He disrupted the system, undermined the authority, and tried to convert the opposition?

  87. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    “Julie, I don’t doubt that you don’t apply it to him. Which makes you inconsistent, for the reasons I’ve already discussed.”

    No, it just means that I recognize that Christ has a different status from the mere mortals described in the scriptures.

  88. Clark on January 19, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Greg, exactly why do you think the moneychangers left? You had a guy knocking over tables and scaring them with a big whip – probably with spikes in it. The debate about whether he hit anyone or not seems a bit misplaced. I agree it matters, but in the same way that armed robbery doesn’t entail shooting someone. It’s still violent though.

    Put yourself in the shoes of the moneychangers. Trying to make this a pacifist non-violent act seems difficult to reconcile. When I think of non-violence it doesn’t typically involve someone making a whip and destroying property and scaring the vendors off.

    The issue of whether this was a crime is a very good one. I recall reading a paper on this subject, but I can’t recall the details confidently enough to say much.

    Anyway, to me non-violence would be something akin to laying down so as to be an annoyance. Of course in the ancient world non-violent protest almost always resulted in the pacifists receiving a lot of violence.

  89. Clark on January 19, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    Julie: “What the *$^* is the point of reading the scriptures if we cannot judge if an action is righteous? “

    Catalyst to revelation. It seems to me that the scriptures, especially the historical sections, are quite difficult to take as a totalizing “answer to everything and every context” kind of answer of how to live. Indeed, to me, the higher law is to move away from that kind of mindset (which we see in the Law of Moses and then the rules that interpreted it).

  90. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    Clark, I think there should be a mix. If the scriptures are solely a catalyst to revelation, we might as well search, ponder, and pray the phone book. I think the content matters greatly because, imperfect beings that we are, we need the examples of what to do and what not to do. And that’s why we have to determine whether any given story is a what or a what not to do.

  91. D. Fletcher on January 19, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    In addition to determining whether the story is a model of appropriate or inappropriate behavior, unfortunately, it seems we have to determine who wrote the story, and to what end. Even the New Testament seems to have been written by people who did not know Jesus, and had palpably conversionary (and often polemical) designs upon the readers. Martin Luther tried to get the Epistle of James excised from the Lutheran Bible, because it did not conform to Pauline guidelines for conversion. James… may be the one piece in the Bible written by someone very close to Jesus’s time, perhaps written within 10 years of the crucifixion, written for Ebionites? or Jewish-Christians.

    And as we have seen, Job was authored by at least two different sets of authors, to perhaps two different ends. Calling it an allegory is too easy, I agree, but insisting on its historicity isn’t right, either. So, we are trying to model our behavior on vague literary allusions of 3,000 years ago? No wonder we need prayer, and a lot of it.

  92. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    D. Fletcher–

    Why do we need to know who wrote it or why they wrote it? (And, if we do need to know these things, we are in deep doo-doo, because we simply don’t know them for most canonical books.)

    What I always tell my classes: We can’t be sure who wrote this epistle (for example). And it doesn’t matter: It either teaches truth or it doesn’t. The author is an independent variable: an apostle could, hypothetically, have written things untrue, while an apostate author could have written factually and/or correct doctrine.

  93. D. Fletcher on January 19, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    I guess I think truth is more slippery than that. There is no ceiling of truth. Perhaps the “untruth” written by the Apostle will lead its reader to conversion, and in this case, the “untruth” is more powerful than the truth. I think the writers of both the Old and New Testament were writing with much more in mind than revealing the ideas of the prophets and the Plan of Salvation. And it might be helpful to know, as much as we can, what they had in mind.

    The Song of Solomon is generally considered to be the one piece of the Bible that probably doesn’t belong there. I’m guessing, that none of us prays all night asking for guidance about it… because it’s pretty clear, it wasn’t intended as a spiritual testimony.

  94. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    D.,

    It _is_ slippery-er than I made it sound: no epistle would be entirely true or entirely untrue. But I think it less slippery than you make it sound: I think trying to know what they had in mind is a boondoogle as likely to lead to incorrect assumptions as correct ones and best avoided for that reason.

    And, D., there’s a well-established reading of the S of S as a metaphor for the (also well-established) bridegroom imagery of the OT. It doesn’t do much for me, but there’s plenty of people now and through history who have indeed found it to be a spiritual testimony–regardless of the intentions of its author.

  95. Visorstuff on January 19, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    Julie (#84) – You wrote “But wasnt’ Ester just following the cultural norms and laws of the day? â€? Yes, but since when has THAT justified sinful behavior? It is funny that you mention Daniel in the next sentence–here’s someone willing to suffer death instead of just following the cultural norms or the king!

    Not to be an iconoclast, but cultural norms is exactly what we went through after the second manifesto. That is why we have shorter garments. That is why there is divorce allowed in the church without disciplinary action. That is why we don’t encourage people to live in Utah. That is why we don’t all buy land in Jackson County. That is why we only encourage people to store a year supply of fuel (because it is prohibited in certain areas), that is why the church doesn’t discipline medics and football players and TV personell who work on Sundays, that is why we don’t all live in one big communes, don’t excommunicate folks for not giving to the poor. They did each of these (except the football/tv example) in the early restored church.

    And is this action any more sinful than not fully living a dietary law? There is dispute as to what was kosher that was built up by the Jewish leaders and what was done by Moses/God.

    One of my points is that we have no room to judge Ester. She struggled with sins, just like all of us. Some on this board use profanity. Some view pornography. Some don’t pay tithing. Some don’t have a year supply. Some don’t do genealogy. Some break the work of wisdom. We all struggle.

    My other point is that when something becomes illegal, our church today – rightfully citing revelation – says that obeying the law of the land excuses us from certain religious practices. Case in point: the Temple in Far West, Polygamy, the city of Zion and of course . My great-grandfather was willing to go to prison for practicing polygamy. My Grandfather wore the long garments as long as he could. We get blessings for going the second mile in keeping the commandments, like Daniel, but we are not penalized for choosing to obey one commandment over another.

    Who is to say that the prophet in Ester’s day also encouraged the Jews to live the “law of the land” – to be married to someone who a pagan. Or break dietary laws because of the king. Or hide their religion in order to save it? Or ignore the commandment to return to the promised land partially because you can’t “prove” your genetic purity as a Jew.

    In criticizing Ester, you also condemn Daniel. He didn’t obey the law of the land. He is just as guilty as Ester was for not obeying dietary laws. She chose to obey the laws, he chose to disobey them. They chose different paths.

  96. D. Fletcher on January 19, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Of course, but that’s your “phonebook” example. People can find truth… almost anywhere. Why do we need the scriptures, then? if all we have to do is pray and get revelation? Maybe it’s true that all the prophets and models in the Bible and Book of Mormon provide a human example, something that we can learn from, and therefore, it’s all positive. Everything can be justified as… it provides a good lesson. All lessons are good.

    But Jesus did say that the parables were enigmatic on purpose, so that those who can understand, will understand, and those who can’t, won’t. It’s a very exclusionary doctrine, only for those “with ears to hear.” And yet, did Jesus really say this? or is it the words of a Christian revolutionary 100+ years after the fact, and if we’ll never know, what do we do to determine the truth from the specific designs of the real author?

  97. danithew on January 19, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    Visorstuff — Daniel in the OT was actually very careful to observe the dietary laws. That (according to the book of Daniel) was the reason the Lord blessed him with so much wisdom, etc.

  98. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Sorry, Visorstuff, but you attribute many things to cultural pressure that I attribute to revelation.

    As far as judging Esther, this isn’t about trying to determine which kingdom she belongs in, but I propose that we cannot understand this text if we cannot determine whether her actions were right or wrong.

    You ask, “Who is to say that the prophet in Ester’s day also encouraged the Jews to live the “law of the landâ€? – to be married to someone who a pagan. Or break dietary laws because of the king. Or hide their religion in order to save it? Or ignore the commandment to return to the promised land partially because you can’t “proveâ€? your genetic purity as a Jew.”

    If you want to go down that road, you’ll end up with a hash of all scriptures. After all, shouldn’t we assume that Pharoah had had a revelation to enslave the Egyptians? That Herod had had a revelation to kill the babies? (In real life, it may be useful to assume that people operating contrary to the SOP are doing so on the basis of inspiration.)

  99. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    danithew–

    I think visorstuff meant that Daniel was guilty of disobeying civil law to the same extent that Esther was guilty of disobeying dietary laws. But I’m sure he’ll (she’ll?) clarify.

  100. danithew on January 19, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    Here’s the quote about Daniel and dietary laws:

    Daniel 1:8-17
    8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
    9 Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
    10 And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.
    11 Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
    12 Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.
    13 Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.
    14 So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
    15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
    16 Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
    17 As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

  101. danithew on January 19, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    Lol Julie … i’m too quick on the reading and submitting. I should have read visorstuff more carefully.

  102. Visorstuff on January 19, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    Julie and danithew

    Yes, I was referring to Julie’s clarification – Daniel was guilty of breaking civil laws. Ester was guilty of breaking dietary laws.

    Julie – you wrote: “Sorry, Visorstuff, but you attribute many things to cultural pressure that I attribute to revelation.”

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I do attribute each of these changes to revelation. Probably moreso than most. That is the wonder of this church, to be able to receive revelation for our day. I do not in any way think they are a result of “cultural pressure.” But the revelation was receieved because the prophets asked because of current cultural norms.

    For example, the word of wisdom was received because of cultural norm of smoking. On the other hand, revelation to shorten the temple ceremony (and garments) was received because prophets asked what to do about those who wouldn’t attend the temple as it took too much time away from families, or who modified their garments.

    Another example – I’m reminded of Jesus’ words: “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” This illustrates that some things are ideal, however, individual situations and cultures are taken into account by God and his prophets. (Hense the Garments and divorce examples).

    We don’t know for sure what Ester’s rationale was for deciding on which laws to break, but we learn a great deal from the strength and conviction of a sinner like us.

    You wrote: “After all, shouldn’t we assume that Pharoah had had a revelation to enslave the Egyptians? That Herod had had a revelation to kill the babies?”

    I’m not sure where to start on this one. Just like not understanding Ester’s rationale, sometimes we don’t understand the rationale of Joseph Smith, of Brigham Young, of Heber C. Kimball. Nor do we need to. We should, however, learn from their mistakes, from their successes and strength, and of course realize that the Lord uses all of his children to teach us, regardless of whether or not we are sinners – or choose which religious laws to obey and which to disobey.

  103. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Visorstuff, I think we are going in circles. I’m not sure why it would be more legitimate to assume that Esther breaks the laws that she does because that was God’s will for her than it is to assume that Esther should not have done those things. In fact, I think the burden of proof is on the former: In the scriptures, when someone goes against the SOP (Abraham and Isaac, Nephi and the beheading), the scriptures make very clear why they did what they did. I’m not sure why we need a perfectly white hat on Esther.

  104. Visorstuff on January 19, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    I don’t think we need to understand her motives. I think it is safe to say she (and Daniel) chose to obey certain commandments over others. We do the same. We can make a difference too, although we are not perfect. We can learn from her.

  105. Clark on January 19, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    The difference between the phone book and the scriptures are the topics and examples. It is, I think, far easier to learn something about religion in the scriptures than reading the phone book.

  106. Beijing on January 20, 2006 at 1:06 am

    I dunno, Clark. Seems like a phone book plus some divine guidance could lead you to a lot of widows and orphans, and visiting them is a big part of pure religion. James 1:27.

  107. LisaB on January 20, 2006 at 4:25 am

    I am way beyond bedtime so don’t have time to read all the responses here but just want to respond to Mark B.’s #9. Doesn’t the “conversation” between God and Satan in Job strike you as similar to the “council in heaven” story?

    Okay, skimmed the rest. I cast my vote with one Exemplar.

  108. Seth Rogers on January 20, 2006 at 8:48 am

    Well Julie, if you want one example, re-read Mosiah and the first part of Alma and pay attenition to what is happening to the Lamanites politically and culturally.

    Sometimes we get so caught up in the story of King Noah and Abinadi and Alma and the others, that we don’t notice that the Lamanites had some really visionary kings during this period. The Lamanites start trading with each other, establish cities, become educated in the written language (with the help of Amulon and the other “wicked priests”), and generally start to display much more enlightened behavior than their forefathers.

    Basically, the stage is all set for the sort of enlightened discourse that occurred between Ammon and King Lamoni. Two generations earlier, Ammon would likely have been killed on sight.

    But we are so focused on the main protagonists that we don’t really see all this.

  109. Matt Evans on January 20, 2006 at 9:57 am

    “(6) Matt later writes, ‘The problem with that allegation is that it supposes we can judge the person’s righteousness from the text.’ The problem with that is: What the *$^* is the point of reading the scriptures if we cannot judge if an action is righteous? OK, so David sleeps around. . . go thou and do likewise?”

    Julie, the comment you’ve quoted me on is where I asked Rob how he could know from the text that Nephi and Ammon, for example, weren’t doing exactly as God had commanded them, when the authors of the text seem to think the they were doing what God wanted. On what basis can we, judging from the story fragments copied to the Book of Mormon, better judge the righteousness of Ammon or Captain Moroni (which, we’ve decided, requires knowing that God didn’t want them to do what they did), than did the prophet Mormon?

  110. Rob on January 20, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    If Nephi and Ammon, for example, were doing exactly what God commanded them, then it seems that they were operating under very specific instructions that cannot be generalized to make normative for our own behavior. That’s all I’m saying. We don’t normally cut off heads when someone opposes our righteous desires. I’m OK thinking Jesus knew that the only way he could get arrested and actually crucified was to make a big scene in the temple, so that’s what he had to do to fulfill his mission. Ammon was given a job as a sheep security officer and, since he had a sword on him, was obviously entrusted within Lamanite society to use any and all necessary force to protect the sheep–and wether inspired or not, he did so marvelously. Doesn’t mean we should be giving machetes to all the full-time elders so they can impress everyone with their swordplay. I’m even OK with seeing Captain Moroni as having been told to smite some Lamanites. Within his warlike society, maybe that was the best the Lord could do. They obviously didn’t have as much faith as the City of Enoch, so the Lord couldn’t drop mountains on their enemies, etc. That doesn’t mean we should aspire to Captain Moroni’s level of understanding and capacity. It may be noteworthy. It may have been enough to bind Satan. But, in reality, it only postponed a complete Lamanite invasion of Zarahemla by a few years. Moroni wasn’t able to establish Zion. Maybe we should be aspiring to more. If we see a contradiction between what seems to be a commandment (don’t contend in anger) and what a scriptual figure seems to be doing (writing epistles and threatening to kill people), then I think we should take a good hard look and see if there might have been another way of doing things that seems more in line with gospel teachings.

    On the other hand, if we can see negative consequences to some of the actions that scriptural characters are depicted as doing, then maybe we can learn something about unintended negative consequences and how we need to be careful, and hope the Atonement can cover any mistakes we make.

    Since we know that in our own experience, nobody is perfect, seems like a stretch to expect more from those we read about in the scriptures–hense, gray hats. Maybe thats why we have to ponder the scriptures when we read them, because it is possible to get the wrong message and justify our mistakes using scriptural examples.

    LDS have been given mandates and things to accomplish in preparation for the Millenium. We’ve been given enough instructions to do fulfill our mission. Anytime we use a character from the scriptures to justify an action that doesn’t take us closer to accomplishing that mission, we’ve got trouble. These aren’t the Old Testament, Book of Mormon, or even D&C times. We have our own work to do, and if we can find lessons in Esther or Job or the BoM to help us do that work, great. We can even admire some characteristics of some people in the scriptures. But following our own pious bias and handing out the white hats seems to do more harm than good. Follow the Son. Listen to the Spirit. Everyone else has a gray hat. Mines a nice little gimme cap!

  111. Matt Evans on January 20, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    Rob, I don’t believe anyone here has tried to justify their actions based on something Ammon or Nephi did (to my knowledge none of us have killed anyone in their sleep, or severed a bagful of arms), but rather said that we have no basis for saying our “pious bias” isn’t warranted. Nephi and Ammon were pious men doing God’s work, and we have every reason to honor and emulate them.

    You had attempted to knock the prophets off their pedestals (dirty their hats, so to speak) with examples of things you think show they were less-than-righteous, such as Nephi’s killing Laban in his sleep. But as I pointed out above, unless you think that Nephi killed Laban against God’s will, then there’s no basis for your conclusion that this is an example of his unrighteousness. From the scriptures it appears more likely that it would have been sinful for Nephi to not kill Laban. (As King Benjamin noted, there are so many diverse ways to sin — even sparing someone’s life can be evil!)

    It’s fine to say that the prophets weren’t perfect — no one is perfect but Christ — but the evidence you offered for the prophets’ imperfection only revealed your own predilections for and biases against particular facets of God’s righteous perfection. You don’t like that righteousness sometimes demands that we be angry, or that we kill, and that’s fine, we each face our own struggles to be more like God. My point had been to show that the evidence presented (having wayward sons, killing Laban, etc.) doesn’t show them to be unrighteous.

  112. JCP on January 20, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    I think there is a distinction between honoring and emulating that would help resolve this discussion. It seems clear to me that many of the prophets were righteous men doing God’s work, but that we should not necessarily emulate their specific actions. To make this point specific, Ammon was not wrong to slice off arms, but it does not follow that I should emulate his actions or adopt his attitudes about life and death in any (realistic) situation in my own life.

    When the Saints were persecuted in Missouri (driven from their homes as was Lehi) the Lord told them to forgive “seventy times seven” times, and that He would take care of vengeance. He commanded them not to get righteously angry (as prophets occasionally have) but to forgive.

    There is a big difference between honoring and emulating. I honor God and His prophets, but I do not try to emulate His wrath (or all of his prophet’s actions), because I am not commanded to do so. In fact, I am specifically commanded NOT to emulate some of those actions … probably because I do not fully understand the eternal implications of those actions.

  113. Rob on January 20, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Matt, not sure where Ammon and the bag full of arms entered the discussion, and I’d be willing to take Nephi killing Laban off the table for the purpose of this discussion. I still think the other 3 of my examples (Lehi, Captain Moroni, and Sons of Mosiah) bear closer scrutiny. Clearly, we don’t have enough evidence to know if every one of their actions recorded in the scriptures was righteous or not. But since there is room to wonder, and lessons that can be learned from questioning some of their actions, perhaps its better to question them rather than take everything they did as righteous.

    So, compromise? No white hats. No grey hats. No black hats.

    No hats!

    We’re supposed to take our own hats off when we pray (about the scriptures) anyway, right?

  114. Adam Greenwood on January 20, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    I think I can agree with that, JCP. To everything there is a time and a season. Just because we see a righteous soul or even the Righteous Soul acting a certain way in the scriptures doesn’t mean its right for us in our current circumstances. That’s why the scriptures give us so many apparently contradictory examples–the bloody righteousness of Captain Moroni, the heroic pacifism of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites, the seventy times seventy you refer to, Christ the lamb led meekly to the slaughter, the resurrected Christ slaughtering the wicked in the New World, Esther who meekly obeys civil authority until her goodness gives her an opening to sway the civil power, Daniel who sways the civil power by defying its commands–we can find a righteous model to fit whatever action that virtue and the Spirit require of us.

  115. A Nonny Mouse on January 20, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I haven’t read all of the comments in this discussion yet, but I thought I would weigh in on the whole Nephi-killing-Laban-making-him-a-murderer-and-irreconcilably-violent thing.

    I’m no Old Testament scholar, but I think this scripture takes the whole “murder” word off the table, at least in terms of the Law.

    Note that the Spirit specifically tells Nephi that Laban has been “delivered” into his hands, making him unguilty according to the provision in Exodus 21:12.

    Not that killing somebody isn’t violent or that Nephi himself wasn’t a grey-hat, just that he’s not breaking any commandments, and therefore it seems slightly useless to consider this particular episdoe when judging him :)

  116. Clark on January 20, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    I think Nonny that this gets at the heart of the issue. Mormons seem to focus more on “exceptionalism” rather than rules. That is the unique commands of the spirit are more important than the general laws. That’s not to say that the general laws aren’t useful (following Julie) but that I think there are huge limits to them with the exceptions being more significant.

  117. Rob on January 20, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    It was often easier on my mission to bend a rule if needed to get someone baptized. But now, years later, I look back on that and my tears water my pillow at night. At the time, it all seemed so right…

  118. Julie M. Smith on January 20, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    A Nonny Mouse–

    OK, then, follow the law completely (v13) and set Nephi up in a town of refuge. Until and unless that happens, he is still in violation of the law by your reading.

    (But, ultimately, I don’t think that’s the way to read it: I think the command of the Spirit trumps the confines of hte law.)

  119. A Nonny Mouse on January 20, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    Julie Smith (#118): OK, then, follow the law completely (v13) and set Nephi up in a town of refuge. Until and unless that happens, he is still in violation of the law by your reading.

    Well I suppose in spirit, he did flee out of Jerusalem pretty darn quick and you could look at the Promised Land as a sort of ur-town of refuge… ;)

  120. Julie M. Smith on January 21, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    You know what, A Nonny Mouse, I was thinking the same thing :). See also 2 Ne 5. Someone should explore this. . .

  121. A Nonny Mouse on January 21, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Julie, #120: Someone should explore this. . .

    I thought somebody already did explore this. :) I heard the Exodus 21 thing first while on my mission in a mission conference from a visiting General Authority (Elder Carmack, now emeritus member of the 70, who was overseeing the PEF at some point, reference given only because I hate gratuitous: “I talked to an Area President about this once…” without naming names), but upon returning I think I read some FARMS thing about it…
    Maybe.

  122. mormon fool on January 21, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    This is a good discussion that looks at how pious bias influences us to judge the actions of people in the scripture narrative. My thought would be to extend this observation to the text itself. How much does our pious bias help us overcome possible skeptism that the writers are getting the theology right? As an example, it would never have occurred to me not to take Josiah’s reforms as a purely positive thing. But then I encounter the writing of Margaret Barker and Kevin Christensen and I end up second guessing the Deuteronomist contributions to the scriptures which theoretically accompanied the reforms. While Josiah probably overcame some extremist worship practices, the corresponding scripture emendations obscure the notion of Jehovah as a Son of God, implements a strict monotheism, and drives belief in a Heavenly Mother underground.

  123. Justin B. on January 21, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    John Welch examined Nephi’s slaying of Laban in light of Exodus 21.

    Legal Perspectives

  124. Justin B. on January 21, 2006 at 4:31 pm
  125. Rob on January 21, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    mormon fool–
    You’re right, our pious bias extends beyond our consideration of the characters in the scriptures to include those who have transmitted the scriptures to us–even though, at least in the cae of the Bible, we believe that there is a chance that parts of it weren’t “translated correctly”.

    For those accustomed to seeing the scriptures as strictly the word of God, it may be very difficult to see the scriptural authors and scribes as wearing anything but a brilliant white hat–albeit maybe a bit frazzled here and there by the limitations of human language.

    I think Mormon teachings place us in a far more radical position vis a vis the scriptures–as we are encouraged to see them as products of human, divine, and even at times diabolical forces. We are not scriptural literalists. We don’t have to be, because we are free to seek truth from wherever it comes–from the scriptures, other ancient sources, modern revelations, and even contemporary scientific studies.

    Its amazing that many of us had to read Barker’s work before we started to question the Deuteronomistic reforms–hadn’t the BoM already told us that the religious and secular leaders of Jerusalem had gone astray? Once we recognize what we have–a restoration not of the religious practices as described by the Deuteronomists, but part of an earlier religious system that allowed for closer approach to Deity, the strength of our LDS position is breathtaking. We are freed from having to twist every teaching and doctrine in the Bible to fit the prejudices of Deuteronomists in white hats (sound like the name of a band?).

  126. grego on January 22, 2006 at 6:52 am

    at http://www.bookofmormonmusings.blogspot.com there’s an article that talks about moroni and pahoran: “moroni the man, pahoran the propagandist”; it’s rough, but enough.

    nephi? underrated in LDS, not overrated. completely justified by the law and the Spirit.

    king mosiah and his sons–hardly a problem–not like it was their fault. and, a better ruling system for it.

    ammon? he killed murderers–actually, he maimed most; self defense, defense of his “brethren”;. hardly a problem.

    captain moroni? in the article.

    a-n-l sons? let’s see, I remember about 15 places it talks about righteous reasons to fight, the law of the Lord to them to do so, etc. not a problem.

    all perfect? no. not needed. that’s why there’s Jesus. do we sometimes misread, misinterpret, misunderstand, etc. yes.

  127. Mike B on January 22, 2006 at 10:28 am

    Eve # 18 “I tend to find the flawed and complex characters of scripture comforting in that they suggest that perfection isn’t a prerequisite to a life of devotion. If God can work with them, perhaps God can work with me.”

    My feelings exactly. For me, Moroni’s epistle to Pahoran teaches both about the people God chooses to work with and the nature of revelation. I am grateful that story is in the BOM.

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