A Rhetoric of Indirection

December 5, 2015 | 83 comments
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A Rhetoric of Indirection

I remember watching the Olympics when I was in high school and concluding that the swimmers had the best-looking bodies of all of the athletes. Not scarily gaunt like the runners, not comically and grotesquely bulging like the weight lifters, not the stunted look of the gymnasts. Read more »

Reading Nephi – 8:9-12

December 5, 2015 | no comments
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Reading Nephi – 8:9-12

How did Lehi know that the fruit was desirable to make one happy? Usually in dreams we just know things; we know the context or the background that makes the dream sensible. Is that what it was? What about in life? Why do some of us simply know how to be happy and others don’t? Why are some of us intuitively drawn to the “things of God” while others aren’t? Why do some react to the great theophanic events in the way that Nephi did and others react like Laman and Lemuel? Nephi makes it out to be a... Read more »

Beatus Vir

December 3, 2015 | 14 comments
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Beatus Vir

Throughout the middle ages, the popularity of the Book of Psalms caused it to be reproduced in Latin as a separate volume of devotional literature called the Psalter. In medieval manuscripts, the opening phrase of Psalm 1, “Beatus vir,” was often richly decorated, as in this example from the thirteenth-century. The Latin Beatus is related to the modern English words beatific and beatitude and translates as happy or blessed. Vir is the Latin word for man with variations persisting in modern language: virile, virtue, and virtuoso. The King James Version of the Psalms (which did not exist yet in... Read more »

Call for Papers: Mormon Scholars in the Humanities

December 3, 2015 | no comments
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I’m passing this along from MSH President Jenny Webb: Read more »

Reading Nephi – 8:1-8

December 2, 2015 | 3 comments
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Reading Nephi – 8:1-8

Verse 1: it seems clear that they lived in the Valley for quite some time. Lehi’s dream. This labyrinth makes the whole book worthwhile. I too have had dreams that make me deeply question the future and my relationships, that do not simply manifest but engender worry and joy. But here we see a dream that not only spawns reflection in the dreamer, but gives future credence to Nephi’s narrative and theocratic reign, shapes a people, is buried for fourteen hundred years, comes to light, and once again shapes another people. This dream is as iconic as anything in... Read more »

“That They Might Have Joy”: Conquering Shame Through At-one-Ment

November 21, 2015 | 17 comments
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“That They Might Have Joy”: Conquering Shame Through At-one-Ment

*Film spoilers* Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame is one of the most devastating movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. I’m wading into potentially touchy Mormon territory given its NC-17 rating and subject matter, but I think it’s worth the risk. In short, the film follows Brandon (an incredible Michael Fassbender) as he struggles with his all-consuming sex addiction; one that includes frequent pornography viewing and masturbation at both work and home, casual sexual encounters (including one in a gay bar despite being quite straight), and multiple hired sex workers. In the midst of his nihilistic despair, we witness his withdrawal from those around him,... Read more »

Three Footnotes on Moroni and the Swastika

November 20, 2015 | 10 comments
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My review of David Conley Nelson’s Moroni and the Swastika, a book about Mormons and the church in Nazi Germany, was just published in Dialogue. To summarize my review briefly: the book’s primary arguments are wrong, it distorts the facts and documents that it takes as evidence for those arguments, and the writing is imprecise and sensationalist in ways that are more typical of religious polemic than mainstream scholarship. Read more »

YW Lesson: Why Is It Important for Me to Gain an Education and Develop Skills?

November 18, 2015 | 29 comments
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Here’s how I taught this lesson in my ward: Read more »

A sad Sunday

November 17, 2015 | 50 comments
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It was a sad Sunday, this 15 November 2015. For two reasons; the major disaster of course was the murder spree in Paris, which has shocked Europe to the core. The Sabbath prayers in our Utrecht ward were for the many victims, and for the grieving host of their loved ones. Europe is united in grief, but also in anger. We consider ourselves at war, a word we do not use easily, not with Islam, but with IS. Even the problem of housing hundreds of thousands of refugees who voted with their feet not to stay in a completely... Read more »

On Ben Carson’s Adventism, Creationism, and the Bible

November 17, 2015 | 50 comments
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On Ben Carson’s Adventism, Creationism, and the Bible

I wrote a piece at ReligionandPolitics today about how Ben Carson’s SDA beliefs put him close to the source of creationism. Please give it a read. Ronald Numbers, eminent historian of science, creationism, and Seventh-day Adventism offered useful critique of an earlier draft, my thanks to him. There were a few questions I wanted to address beyond what I wrote, that get more into the history of interpretation. What was the genesis (sorry) of the seven-day structure of Genesis 1?  Wasn’t young-earth creationism the only understanding of Genesis until Darwin and evolution force a reevaluation of it? Below, some quick and dirty... Read more »

Consequences, Intended or Otherwise, in Light of the Update

November 13, 2015 | 99 comments
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Consequences, Intended or Otherwise, in Light of the Update

 A few days ago, after the new policies were leaked but before the First Presidency clarified them, I posted a list of possible consequences of the policies here. This post reproduces my list, crossing out those scenarios no longer possible in light of the First Presidency letter. I also made some updates (in bold print). Then I add some general thoughts at the end. Read more »

Consequences, Intended or Otherwise

November 11, 2015 | 130 comments
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Consequences, Intended or Otherwise

UPDATE: this post was written before the First Presidency clarified the new policies. Please see this post, which repeats everything in this post but updates it and provides some concluding thoughts. — I’m thinking about the implications–doctrinal and practical and cultural–of the recent policy changes. Read more »

A Member of the Church

November 11, 2015 | 61 comments
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints flared into life as an audacious venture, a scandal, an insult and an invitation to the Christian age. To the believing mind, the Mormon church is charged with keeping the flame of God’s authority alight for the world through the winds of secular modernity. But even without that lens of faith, Mormonism is something distinctly risky, brazen, and peculiar. It casually straddles the chasm between ancient and modern, old world and new, without concern and without a net. It yokes together competing claims to authority, forcing them to pull together despite... Read more »

Reading Nephi – 7:6-22

November 11, 2015 | 3 comments
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Reading Nephi – 7:6-22

Here again we get a narrative, and in the perceptible foil of a competitor narrative. Once again, Nephi works hard to discredit Laman & Lemuel, and here we can see clearly what their major point is: returning to Jerusalem. It’s easy to imagine a New World experience decades into the future, in the wake of hardships that rival or surpass the hardship of the 8 years in the wilderness—infant mortality, disease, lack of food, the general hardship of coping with an entirely unfamiliar ecosystem, together with whatever struggles they might have had with their native neighbors. It’s easy to... Read more »

Linguistics and belief

November 10, 2015 | 29 comments
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I don’t want to write about gay marriage. So let’s talk about linguistics first. We acquire language in childhood through a long process of listening to and eventually reading the language output of competent speakers of English (or whatever languages prevail in the communities where we grow up). As we are exposed to countless examples of language, we start to build up an internal model of English. We hypothesize about the rules of English and use our hypotheses to generate English statements unlike any we have heard before in response to new situations. Over time, as our hypotheses are... Read more »

My petition for a bill of…

November 8, 2015 | 26 comments
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The law that God gave to ancient Israel was pretty clear and unambiguous: divorce isn’t part of the program. Then the people sued Moses for a bill of divorcement. I have no idea what that conversation between Moses and God was like. Maybe it had parallels to the one where Moses talked God out of destroying the Israelites and starting over. Whatever the conversation, God granted the petition and gave Moses that bill of divorcement. Then came Jesus of Nazareth. Divorce was a normal part of society in his day (even if not anything like divorce in our day).... Read more »

Reading Nephi – 7:1-5

November 8, 2015 | 2 comments
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Reading Nephi – 7:1-5

Sometimes I feel like I deeply understand the tight integration of extended family, covenant, and connection to God—a trinity that is indeed one in substance. And sometimes, as here, it feels so exotic. I feel like I stand in between worlds. One cannot live today without having these three analyzed as fully distinct. The rhetoric at church tends to place them in complimentary relationship—Zion is when we can get these three together. But reading Nephi it seems like something different. None of the three make any sense without all three. The point of enlisting Ishmael’s family is to raise... Read more »

Recently uncovered texting conversation from 1600 BC

November 7, 2015 | 85 comments
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Exodus16-3

Shem: Oh great. Moses just posted a new policy. Mannassah: More animals we can’t eat? S: Nope, it says we wander in the desert until we are all dead. Read more »

Reading Nephi – 6

November 6, 2015 | 3 comments
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Reading Nephi – 6

This was a chapter break in the original edition (end of Chapter Two), but I’m not terribly impressed with whoever’s editorial decision that was. This is clearly not a break. Nephi’s switched from discussing his father’s reading of the Plates of Brass to discussing his own writing—but it’s not meant to be a substantive shift; rather, it’s mean to draw a continuity. I don’t know that Nephi’s being audacious in the same way that you or I (or a General Authority for that matter) might be being audacious if we declared our writings scripture. But he is being audacious... Read more »

The Handbook Changes from the Institutional Perspective

November 6, 2015 | 115 comments
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My default setting when digesting controversial news about the Church is defensive. I’m just emotionally-mentally-psychologically-whatever wired to identify with the institution, its leadership, its interests, and the status quo,  at least at first. So I’ve been trying to think this thing through from the point of view of Church leadership. Obviously I’m not privy to any official insight whatsoever, and these are just my own ideas thought through the institutional perspective. Consider every possible caveat covered here. I see at least two possible rationales, from Church leadership’s point of view, for the changes in policy with regard to gay couples... Read more »

Changing of the Guard at Dialogue

November 4, 2015 | 4 comments
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Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought gets a new editor every five or six years, and that time is now upon us. As a subscriber and supporter, I wanted to get a sense of where the incoming editor, Boyd Jay Petersen, is going to take the journal, so I bought a copy of his Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family (Greg Kofford Books, 2013) to get the lowdown. After all, Kristine is a hard act to follow. After reading the book, I am optimistic. To offer a few comments, I will highlight one... Read more »

Call for Applications: Summer Seminar in Mormon Theology

November 3, 2015 | one comment
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Call for Applications: Summer Seminar in Mormon Theology

The Third Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology “A Preparatory Redemption: Reading Alma 12–13” Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California June 1–June 15, 2016 Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar in partnership with The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship In the summer of 2016, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Alma 12–13. The seminar... Read more »

Reading Nephi – 5:10-22

November 3, 2015 | 2 comments
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Reading Nephi – 5:10-22

I’m first struck by what a joy this must’ve been for Lehi. At this point, he’s as committed as he could be, completely immersed in living the life of a prophet that he feels he’s been called to. Of course, it’s a serious question whether or to what extent he’d been exposed to scripture prior to this point. We see here that he was obviously familiar with the fact that there were five books of Moses, and the story of Joseph of Egypt was known to him (as was, of course, the story of Moses that Nephi used earlier).... Read more »

Truth and Access

November 2, 2015 | 19 comments
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Truth and Access

This month, I’ll be presenting a paper on the JST at a conference. I’m going to outline the use of the JST in Mark and then suggest that the moves that the JST makes could and should be adopted by LDS biblical scholars. One section of the paper argues that the JST–indeed, all revelation–is not inerrant. Joseph’s use (and nonuse) of the JST later in his ministry suggest that he did not take the JST as a perfected form of scripture. Read more »

The Assurance of Love

November 2, 2015 | 39 comments
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776 - Hendrick ter Brugghen - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

About a week ago, I came across an interesting quote from a talk President Hinckley gave during the October 1981 General Conference (Faith: The Essence of True Religion). He quoted a journalist who had recently given a speech during which the journalist had said that “Certitude is the enemy of religion.” (I’d be fascinated to see the full text of this journalist’s remarks, or even just learn his name.) President Hinckley’s response is challenging for someone like me. After all, I started out blogging at Times and Seasons with a series of posts about epistemic humility. (1, 2, 3,... Read more »

Reading Nephi – 5:1-9

November 1, 2015 | 17 comments
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Reading Nephi – 5:1-9

Here is a poignant scene. Reunions are an important trope in all stories, because they’re an important element in all of our lives. As Mormonism’s grand cosmological narrative makes clear, our very life is about separation from our parents and working toward an eventual reunion—after we’ve made our (usually very messy) journey and acted in faith to do the things that we’ve been commanded to do. Verse one gives us a nice twist, however. It’s not that the brothers have completed their quest and come home like every other Odysseus. Rather, they’ve completed their quest and having done so... Read more »

Reading Nephi – 4:20-38

October 29, 2015 | 25 comments
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Reading Nephi – 4:20-38

Zoram is another critical element of this narrative. Once again, we learn later in the Book of Mormon that there was controversy concerning Zoram’s departure from Jerusalem and joining Lehi’s expedition—enough controversy to eventually fuel a serious political movement and secession (Alma 31-35). It’s another instance of Nephi portraying himself as heroic, faithful and possessed of a liberal spirit. One certainly hopes that Lehi’s later blessing of Zoram corroborates Nephi’s account—but Zoram’s joining the Lehite project is another oddity. Why does Zoram join them so readily? He was from the lower classes, perhaps made naturally compliant on account of... Read more »

Panel on Mormon Apologetics

October 26, 2015 | 4 comments
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Panel on Mormon Apologetics

If you are in the Provo area next week: Read more »

Reading Nephi – 4:3-19 (part II)

October 25, 2015 | 22 comments
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Reading Nephi – 4:3-19 (part II)

So is this my contemporary sensibilities, my modern moral compass set in a fantastically different, less physically grueling and brutal world that recoils from Nephi’s terrifying justification? Undoubtedly—although that in itself certainly makes it no less right. But the text itself and Nephi’s manner of disclosing and addressing this event offers evidence that something was rotten in Nephi’s Denmark. Read more »

Reading Nephi – 4:3-19 (part I)

October 25, 2015 | 30 comments
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Reading Nephi – 4:3-19 (part I)

Once again, reading these difficult passages, I see something prodigious in Nephi, something my soul longs after. At the same time, however, my soul recoils, and chapter four is the realization of the danger inherent in Nephi’s faithful outlook. I want to think that Nephi’s mistake was youthful inexperience—faith and zeal untempered by the wisdom and moral constraint of realizing that every human one confronts is a child of Heavenly Parents and a brother or sister . Contextualizing our lives within the scriptures seems so right. This is how I want to read them—this is how I... Read more »