Blog Archives

Genesis vs. Science: Background, Readings, and Discussion

March 18, 2013 | 22 comments
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Genesis vs. Science: Background, Readings, and Discussion

One of the problems that crops up with Genesis is its proper context or genre, what background it should be read against. That is, modern western English readers have a particular worldview with various questions and issues. When they read Genesis, they naturally place it into that setting, and read it against that background, which creates conflict. It’s as if we’ve summoned an expert witness to trial, only to surprise her with questions far outside her area of expertise. Although she gives strong indications to that effect, the judge forcefully says, “Just answer the questions please!” The lawyers seize... Read more »

With apologies to President Kimball, Shorten Your Stride! Or, thoughts on running, scriptures, and pushing metaphors too far.

March 15, 2013 | 11 comments
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With apologies to President Kimball, Shorten Your Stride! Or, thoughts on running, scriptures, and pushing metaphors too far.

As I lie in bed before falling asleep, the mental inventory of the day can take a toll, inevitably a combo of Jesus’ “these you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” and Paul’s  “I do not act as I mean to… the good things I intend to do, I never do.” 1 Among all the other omissions and commissions of modern life, it’s very healthy to have at least one personal victory each day. If that personal victory turns out to have mental, physical, and emotional benefits such as running does, so much the better.  I’ve become much more... Read more »

On Scripture Changes and the Bible Dictionary(s)

March 2, 2013 | 13 comments
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I’ve had this post half written for a while, and one of the changes in the new LDS scriptures has prompted me to emerge from my cave to finish it. The introductory section to the Bible Dictionary has been rewritten with some interesting twists. The old version is still available at the “classic” scripture site, classic.scriptures.lds.org.  The  oft-ignored disavaowal of the BD as an official position or revelation therein remains, I’m happy to report, as does the statement that the BD represents (light) scholarship, and is subject to scholarly revision. It seems few people know that the original BD was a revision of the Cambridge... Read more »

One Day, The Past’s Future May Seem Just This (Un)Weird

February 2, 2013 | 5 comments
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One Day, The Past’s Future May Seem Just This (Un)Weird

It’s always fun to read computer/science/tech magazines from the 80′s, and see just how far things have come in 30 years, and what predictions were way off. Even more so from the 1950s. Sometimes the things they herald as bizarre and never-going-to-happen have come to be so taken for granted that I can seem really old for talking about VCRs, and having to look in the newspaper to find out movie times.  It strikes me that such is also the case with the Church, in some ways. But really, I just wanted to post the below image, made with... Read more »

Guest post: Failure, by Nate Curtis

January 9, 2013 | 15 comments
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Guest post: Failure, by Nate Curtis

No one sets out on a path with the intent to fail. In late 2009 I took the last major hike with my father before he died.  We decided to do the Tapeats Creek/Deer Creek loop, a trail in the Grand Canyon that we had done several times over the years, and is considered by many to be not only the most difficult hike in the Grand Canyon, but among the hardest hikes in North America. It was the first hike my father had done in the Grand Canyon when he was 14 years old, and it was the... Read more »

Writing about Genesis: Status Update

December 2, 2012 | 9 comments
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Writing about Genesis: Status Update

 Last year in September, I posted some thoughts on a book project dealing with the early chapters of Genesis. A good number of my (too rare) posts since then have dealt with those chapters in certain ways: Problems of language and culture (1, 2),  issues of translation (six parts so far, begin here), the structure of the first creation account, and my posts from teaching a Genesis Institute class (start here). I started researching the book and doing some initial writing. Here’s a very quick update. Read more »

Pre-storm Report from NYC (updated)

October 29, 2012 | 13 comments
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Since I live in NYC, I’ve been following the weather and news pretty closely from various sources.  I left work early yesterday, and it was closed down today. All transit has been shut down, evacuations taking place, and the Ward/Stake communications network is in place. I live up a hill, so I’m not worried about flooding. I went for a short walk this morning to pick up a few more supplies, and the reactions vary broadly. Some places are boarded up and closed, others open like usual. Fewer people are out on the road, but I saw three runners... Read more »

Winning the mini-mini-Lottery: What would you do?

October 27, 2012 | 11 comments
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Winning the mini-mini-Lottery: What would you do?

I sat in a comfy chair downtown reading my iPad for two hours, and received $175 in Amazon credit for my troubles. That’s nice work, if you can get it. Even better is getting paid four figures to fly to France on a private G5 and take four naps a day for a week. (Yes, I’ve done that too, but napping on a rigorous schedule is much more difficult than it sounds.) Read more »

Last Call for Faith and Knowledge Conference Submissions

October 12, 2012 | no comments
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CALL FOR PAPERS – OCTOBER 15: THE FOURTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE WESLEY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY WASHINGTON, D. C. FEBRUARY 22–23, 2013 Read more »

NYC Institute Announcement: Psalms and Israelite Poetry

September 5, 2012 | 8 comments
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NYC Institute Announcement: Psalms and Israelite Poetry

I didn’t think I’d be able to teach again in Fall, but my schedule changed and then I was asked. And so, I announce an Institute class to be held Tuesday nights at 8Pm at the Union Square building in Manhattan, on Psalms and Israelite Poetry. Class begins next Tuesday, Sept. 11th, and will continue through the 1st week of December (anticipated.) Why study Psalms? A few reasons, which I’ll elaborate on in the first week’s intro. Psalms was the most translated Old Testament book into Greek during the early NT period, and the most popular book at Qumran... Read more »

Mormon, Helaman, Fiction, and History: Short Notes

August 31, 2012 | 4 comments
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Mormon, Helaman, Fiction, and History: Short Notes

We had some interesting discussion in Gospel Doctrine class on Sunday, focused on Helaman 2. Helaman’s servant was joining Gadianton’s group. From my view, he wasn’t infiltrating, but joining for personal gain… until he learned what their higher goals were, at which point he bails out by killing Kishkumen and fleeing to Helaman, who sends out (the army? what? there’s no object in the sentence) to catch them.  11 But behold, when Gadianton had found that Kishkumen did not return he feared lest that he should be destroyed; therefore he caused that his band should follow him. And they took... Read more »

Why Translations Differ, Part 6: Putting It All Together. Mostly

August 27, 2012 | 4 comments
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Why Translations Differ, Part 6: Putting It All Together. Mostly

To summarize the first five parts of the series (linked below) and apply what we’ve learned to the original question- Translations can vary for multiple reasons: 1) Different underlying texts (MT vs DSS) and influence of the versions (LXX, Targums, etc.) 2) Different understandings of the text on the grammatical and syntactic level 3) Different understandings of the text on the semantic/word level 4) Differing philosophies of how to best express one’s understanding of 1, 2, and 3 in English Translators must examine, weigh, and make decisions on each of these issues before actually getting on to providing a... Read more »

The War Chapters- Three Brief Notes

August 15, 2012 | 2 comments
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The War Chapters- Three Brief Notes

A few quick references for the War Chapters- While unlikely to make its way into the average Gospel Doctrine class, I’d call attention to the covenant/curse ritual in Alma 46:21-22, with its symbolic actions or “simile curses.” Very briefly, covenanters called down curses on themselves for violation of the covenant, but blessings for keeping it.  Further discussion of this passage (here), cursing (previous post of mine, here), and covenants (here). I wanted to dissertate on curses, so it holds interest for me, and for people interested in covenant in general. In a paper I worked on for a while... Read more »

Midterm answers, final part

August 15, 2012 | 2 comments
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Here is the last of 3 sections of answers to the Book of Mormon exams I gave at BYU several years ago. (Original post, answers part 1, answers part 2) 27) Joseph Smith, responding to the question “What are the fundamental principles of your religion,” replied, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (TPJS, 272) In the Book of Mormon,... Read more »

Book of Mormon Midterm Answers, part 2

July 26, 2012 | 4 comments
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Since these take a long time to write up, and the answers can be fairly dense, I’ve broken up the answers further. (Edit: Here is the original post without any answers, and answers part 1.) 18) On the back of this paper, provide a brief outline of 2 Nephi. Outlining is a tool useful at several levels of the text (book, chapter, verse), that can help one see logical connections in the text. Faulconer has an explanatory chapter on it here, and here’s what my quick sample outline of 2 Nephi looked like. 19) Who took a transliteration of... Read more »

Book of Mormon Midterm Answers Part 1

June 27, 2012 | 9 comments
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I posted the questions last week. It’s taken me much longer than I thought to hunt down my references/handouts/links, so I’m breaking the answers into two parts. 1) Nephi says several times that knowing “the things of the Jews” can help us understand Isaiah. Similarly, the “things of the Jews” can help us understand the Book of Morm on. Briefly explain two specific examples of “things of the Jews” that help us understand either Isaiah or the Book of Mormon. (4 pts.) We talked about lots of these in class. What’s interesting to me is immediately after declaring “the... Read more »

Book of Mormon Midterm

June 23, 2012 | 20 comments
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Book of Mormon Midterm

We’ve arrived in early Alma, and so, as I did for my BYU New Testament class I taught, I provide here some questions taken from the midterms and finals of the two Book of Mormon classes I taught in 2004 and 2006. Both sections covered 1 Nephi-Alma 29, but one was a freshman section and one an RM section. These exams were open-scripture, but as with the New Testament exam, open scripture certainly did not equate to easy. I wanted to test if students were reading, thinking, and able to make use of the critical-thinking and other skills we... Read more »

The Lord is My Goatherder, I Don’t Want Him: Why Translations Differ (Part 5)

June 9, 2012 | 29 comments
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The Lord is My Goatherder, I Don’t Want Him: Why Translations Differ (Part 5)

The Lord is my Goatherder, I don’t want him; he hauls me up the mountain; he drags me down to the beach. Surely we all recognize the 23rd Psalm there, from the infamous first translation into Tlingit. Sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? Read more »

Reading the Bibles: Why Translations Differ (Part 4)

May 11, 2012 | 7 comments
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Reading the Bibles: Why Translations Differ (Part 4)

This is the third of four categories explaining why translations differ. 3) How does the translator resolve ambiguities on the word-level? Hebrew writing did not indicate doubled letters (which are significant) or vowels until the 8th/9th century AD*, when Jews who had memorized the pronunciation of the traditional text came up with a system (three, actually) of indicating the pronunciation in the text with marks above, below, and inside the consonantal text. That, again, is a thousand-year gap. Scholars vary in how much weight to give the vowel-pointing (niqqudot, or just “pointing”), but at times, greater sense can be... Read more »

Reading the Bibles: Why Translations Differ (Part 3)

May 11, 2012 | no comments
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Here is the second of four categorical reasons why translations may differ. 2) How does the translator parse the mechanics (syntax, etc.) and disambiguate the text on the sentence and paragraph level? (NB: This is a very simplified presentation of complex subjects.) Biblical Hebrew is very different from English. Like many other ancient languages, it has no formal punctuation, no capitals, and word order can vary. Consequently, it’s not always easy to figure out if this word belongs to end of this phrase or the beginning of that one. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one sentence ends and... Read more »

Reading the Bibles: Why Translations Differ (Part 2)

May 10, 2012 | 3 comments
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Before looking at the two sample passages in detail,  I want to familiarize you with some basic information about the Old Testament text and translation issues. And in the last part, I’ll make some suggestions about how to approach the text like this when you haven’t studied Greek or Hebrew. I’ve divided these into four semi-artificial headings, too long to all go in one post. 1) What are they translating from, and (1a) how much is the translation influenced by the versions? Translators must choose a base text from which to translate.  Until the discovery of the Dead Sea... Read more »

Reading the Bibles: The Problem (Part 1)

May 8, 2012 | 11 comments
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Reading the Bibles: The Problem (Part 1)

I received the following from an educated friend, and got permission to respond via blogposts.  Slightly edited, he asks- >>As someone without training in the original languages, how can I evaluate alternate translations of scripture? Here’s what motivates this question: I’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon, which I love. I’ve been working through Nephi’s Isaiah chapters, and, as I started working through 2 Nephi 19/Isaiah 9, I decided it was time to check alternate translations. I have several: a 4-in-1 that includes KJV, New Life Translation (NLT), New International Version (NIV), and New... Read more »

Misattributed Quotes of Note: Henry Eyring (Sr.) on Babies, Bathwater, and Authority

May 5, 2012 | 16 comments
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Misattributed Quotes of Note: Henry Eyring (Sr.) on Babies, Bathwater, and Authority

This wisdom is often attributed online to Elder Henry B. Eyring, but none provides a source.  It was Henry Eyring Sr., non-Apostle and brilliant prolific scientist who gave this nugget of wisdom. However, Henry Eyring Jr. apparently took the lesson to heart, as he has said similar things. And perhaps he quotes his father somewhere.  “There are few ways in which good people do more harm to those who take them seriously than to defend the gospel with arguments that won’t hold water. Many of the difficulties encountered by young people going to college would be avoided if parents... Read more »

Reading Tom Wright’s New Testament Commentary for Everyone

April 25, 2012 | 24 comments
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Reading Tom Wright’s New Testament Commentary for Everyone

Writings on the scriptures often comes from one of two perspectives. 1) Devotional-but-clueless, i.e. the author is able to read/write devotionally on a passage because they don’t know any other way to read it. They don’t address context or difficulties or objections or avoid pitfalls, because they’re completely unaware of them. It’s often trite and shallow (and I don’t think you necessarily need length to have depth, lead to reflection, or inspire.) Lest I be misunderstood, it is entirely possible to be devotional and clueless, but still meaningful,  I just think it’s rare and find little value in spending... Read more »