Reading and Writing (Genesis): Books, books, and more books

November 12, 2014 | 14 comments
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I have a few things in my way before being able to work full-time on Genesis 1- a recalcitrant article draft, some travel, volunteer work, etc. In the meantime, I’m making slow but good progress. I’m beginning to suspect the most important parts of the book will be the first two sections dealing with groundwork/assumptions and LDS entanglements with Genesis, not the last two sections on the ancient Near Eastern context or the text/translation itself. I’m interested in a lot of things that are secondary or tertiary to the main thrust of the book, such as the history of biblical... Read more »

Doux Commerce in the City of God

November 10, 2014 | 6 comments
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I just put up an essay at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) that readers of this blog might find interesting. It’s a response to some of Hugh Nibley’s writings on Zion and commerce. Nibley was famously critical of the mercantile ethic, arguing that trade and capitalism were fundamentally hostile to the ideal of Zion. This essay takes a more optimistic view of commerce, drawing on the ideas eighteenth-century thinkers like Montesquieu, who saw in the rise of markets a fundamentally pro-social force with the potential to limit violence and conflict. I’ll let readers judge the ultimate merits of... Read more »

I Need My Kids

November 10, 2014 | 32 comments
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Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter in "Raising Arizona".

Last month, my friend Betsy VanDenBerghe wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion inspired alternately by Pope Francis and the Coen brothers’ 1987 comedy Raising Arizona about Why Children Are Better Than Pets. Her central question was: What would a society of adults skewed toward childlessness, like the perpetually barren Time magazine beach couple, look and act like without having acquired the altruism, personal growth, and wisdom that bringing up children generally bequeaths on those who undergo parenthood? Her piece really resonated with me. My life has not gone at all as planned over the last several years. Without going into... Read more »

2015 Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology

November 6, 2014 | 4 comments
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2015 Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology

The Second Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology “Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7” Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York June 8—June 20, 2015 Read more »

Historians Saying Interesting Things … About Mormonism

November 6, 2014 | 5 comments
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Between the new polygamy essays at LDS.org and the new religion curriculum at the BYUs, there has been a lot to argue about this week. Let’s try something a little friendlier: The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years (U. of Illinois Press, 2006). It has been on my shelf a couple of years now. I recently pulled it down as part of my new plan to actually read the LDS books that I buy. The book contains 21 articles, all variations on “Mormonism and X” but all terribly interesting. That template derives from MHA’s format for... Read more »

Q&A with Myself

November 4, 2014 | 42 comments
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Q. Are you an apologist or neo-apologist? A. No, I’m just a philosopher. Others have said I’m an apologist, but I’ve never been interested in apologetics. Mormonism can stand on its own two feet and it doesn’t need me to defend it. Read more »

Your New and Improved BYU Religion Core

November 3, 2014 | 39 comments
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After several days of rampant speculation and gnashing of teeth (here, here, here, and here) the new BYU religion core has been officially announced at LDS.org. Read more »

A Crazy Wild Reformation Day

October 31, 2014 | 24 comments
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A Crazy Wild Reformation Day

For some reason, kids in my neighborhood don’t celebrate Halloween: they do Reformation Day instead. Right around 5, the little tikes start pounding on doors, dressed as characters of the Reformation and absolutely clamoring for people to tell them more about the big event. Read more »

The Next Generation’s Faith Crisis

October 31, 2014 | 95 comments
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The Next Generation’s Faith Crisis

Let me share a friend’s story; it won’t be new to you. He was raised in the church, did all the things, went on a mission, blah blah blah, and in his 30s, heard for the first time that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a stone in a hat. Read more »

Mormon Weakness

October 30, 2014 | 20 comments
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My position is a weak one. But the question is: why? Read more »

Constructive Thoughts on the Curriculum Shift

October 29, 2014 | 15 comments
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As I’ve stopped hyperventilating over the leak of this forthcoming change, I’ve had some thoughts. I have a general rule when I’m in Gospel Doctrine that I try not to say anything unless it’s constructive (or the teacher says something really flagrantly crazy/wrong, which is rare in my experience.) Let me open with this positiveness, then. BYU’s RelEd has some fantastic people, some new hires, and good things happening. I’ll single out the Advanced Book of Mormon class. The two Fall 2014 sections are not the first time this class has been taught. The two “regular” Book of Mormon classes are prerequisites, the syllabi... Read more »

Letter to a CES Student

October 28, 2014 | 100 comments
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It’s important to keep our tough questions about Mormonism in perspective. And, especially, we need to keep the genuinely urgent questions front and center. The big problems are straightforward. We’re dying here. You and I. We’re getting sick, we’re getting old, and we’re dying. Our lives are small and our time is short. Our days are filled with suffering of all kinds: distress, worry, boredom, frustration, and loss. Read more »

New BYU Religious Ed and CES Curriculum

October 27, 2014 | 83 comments
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According to this letter posted on William Hamblin’s blog, big changes are afoot.   Read more »

Alma and Apocalypse

October 27, 2014 | 9 comments
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Alma and Apocalypse

In Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy argues that an important part of the Book of Mormon’s meaning emerges from how it alludes to, comments on, or patterns itself after other stories, such as Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Fall. Another such story not discussed by Hardy but central to understanding the Book of Mormon is, I think, the end of the world. Read more »

New Polygamy Essays

October 22, 2014 | 125 comments
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Read them here, here, and here. I’ll leave the squabbling over whether they fairly represented the historical situation to those who get paid the big bucks to consider those questions and instead look at a tangential issue: how they depict the way that prophets receive revelation. Read more »

Mormonism Isn’t About Mormonism

October 22, 2014 | 6 comments
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It’s a mistake to think that Mormonism is about Mormonism. Read more »

4 o’clock

October 20, 2014 | 10 comments
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4 o’clock

A few years ago, my sister handed me a lumpy white envelope for Christmas. I opened it carefully, able to feel the jumble of small parts beneath my fingertips. Inside were perhaps 30 or 40 small, dark seeds. “Um. Cool,” I said, mystified. Read more »

Announcement: Faith & Knowledge Conference at UVa

October 20, 2014 | no comments
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THE FIFTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA FEBRUARY 27-28, 2015 The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2006 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past four conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline. In keeping with these... Read more »

The Body of Christ

October 16, 2014 | 39 comments
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“Is the church true?” This question is, I think, poorly posed. It seems ill-suited to the kind of existential burn that might compel me to ask it. It seems like a bad fit for what I’m after in a white-knuckled prayer. Read more »

Recommended NT Resources part 2: General and Reference (updated)

October 15, 2014 | 22 comments
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Recommended NT Resources part 2: General and Reference (updated)

Many of these can be purchased in paper, kindle, or from Logos or Accordance. (I’m a big Logos user.) As with all my recommendations, take them with a grain of salt. I neither fully endorse nor vouch for everything said in these, but you will certainly learn and grow by reading them. Samples are often available from Amazon or Google books, and in some cases I’ve linked to others here or in the past. If you missed it, part 1 is here. Read more »

Two Approaches to Isaiah

October 15, 2014 | 10 comments
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This is going to be a post about Isaiah that does *not* talk about Second Isaiah. After addressing the transmission of the text of Isaiah, I will contrast two different approaches to reading and understanding that book and, more generally, any scriptural book. Read more »

A Hypothesis for Columbus Day

October 13, 2014 | 18 comments
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1 Nephi 13:12 refers to Bartolome de las Casas. Discuss. Read more »

Our Prayers and God’s Messy Plans

October 13, 2014 | 9 comments
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The Council of Gods, Giovanni Lanfranco (From Wikimedia Commons)

I taught lesson 35 today, which covers Amos and Joel. As usual, I benefitted a great deal from Ben Spackman’s Patheos posts, and in particular his discussion of Amos 3:6 and Amos 3:7. The latter, of course, is the famous scripture we all learn in seminary: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Ben included a short paper about the meaning of the word “sod” (“secret”) and its relation to the idea of a divine council. The word refers to both private discussion and the product of such discussions.... Read more »

Meeting the Mormons

October 12, 2014 | 26 comments
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Meeting the Mormons

Imagine that the Meet the Mormons movie was made any time between, say, 1940 and 1990. I think we know almost exactly what it would have looked like: Read more »

Recommended NT Resources, Part 1: Translations, Text, and the Bible in General

October 10, 2014 | 20 comments
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Recommended NT Resources, Part 1: Translations, Text, and the Bible in General

(Cross-posted at Benjamin the Scribe) We’re 80% of the way through our Old Testament, and the time has come to start looking forward. As I did for the Old, so I will do for the New. This time, I’ll break it up into a few posts, probably a few weeks apart. As before, the absolute best and easiest thing you can do to increase the quality and frequency of your Bible study is to replace/supplement your KJV with a different translation. You can do it with a free app or website, or go old school and buy hardcover. I... Read more »

Do Women Count?

October 9, 2014 | 130 comments
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Do Women Count?

Here are the words that President Uchtdorf used in his talk at the General Women’s Meeting:   I am honored to have this opportunity to be with you as we open another general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the coming week the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles will meet with all the General Authorities and general auxiliary leaders, and the remaining sessions of our worldwide general conference will follow on the coming Saturday and Sunday. Read more »

Expectations and Meet the Mormons

October 9, 2014 | 16 comments
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Expectations and Meet the Mormons

Early in my book publishing career, I worked for an innovative publisher of high-quality childrens picture books. One day, in conversation with my boss, the publisher, I criticized the Little Golden Books, a long-running line of cheaply produced picture books with very simple (and, I thought then, not very notable) stories. To my surprise, my boss leapt to their defense. Without the Little Golden Books, he explained, millions of kids wouldn’t have been read to as children, and my not have learned to read. In my focus on issues of quality, I had not realized that purpose is more... Read more »

A supplementary lesson plan for October 2014 Sharing Time, week 2

October 9, 2014 | 48 comments
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I love Primary. It’s my favorite place to serve in the Church, and if I had my way I’d serve there for the rest of my life. This month’s Sharing Time theme is “‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ Came from God to Help My Family.” Looking through the October lesson plans in the 2014 outline, week 2 caught my eye: “Marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God’s plan.”  The topic — the importance of marriage — is one that matters a lot to me. I thought that the suggested lesson plan could do... Read more »

Losing Our Youth?

October 8, 2014 | 44 comments
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So I stumbled upon a Rod Dreher article at Beliefnet, “The Church’s Lost Generation” (and by “Church” he means generic Christians). It is clear from General Conference themes that senior LDS leaders are now aware (finally) of our youth retention problem and the broader faith versus doubt problem that seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. Dreher makes it clear we are not the only ones worried about the problem. Everyone is losing their youth, it seems. Read more »

Forgetting Kolob

October 8, 2014 | 47 comments
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Forgetting Kolob

General Conference is the central forum for official instruction in Mormon doctrine. Conference has very wide viewership among church members, and its influence is magnified by the widespread reach of Conference talks in the Ensign. The last General Conference in which Kolob was mentioned — the star where God lives — was in 1969. In 1969, President McKay briefly alluded to the idea of Kolob as an actual belief: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints always have known through revelation of the numberless creations of God. They are taught that somewhere out in that great... Read more »