Author: Ben S.

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

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 interpretation, the history of interaction between science and religion, history of science, and how other religious traditions have handled the challenges to tradition, authority, doctrine, etc. It’s terribly difficult to avoid spending too much time filling out these secondary areas, but I really can’t afford the time to read everything relevant; there is a TON of relevant scholarship. Below are a few things that are on my virtual nightstand that may be of interest, not all related to Genesis.

Constructive Thoughts on the Curriculum Shift

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 I’ve seen look very good, and the profs are top-notch.  BYU still includes this aspirational statement (which I’ve cited before) about the nature of teaching in RelEd. Teaching in Religious Education is to be substantive and inspirational. Students should become familiar with the text studied in each course taken and learn the implications of the text for daily living. They should feel free to raise honest questions, with confidence that they will be treated with respect and dignity and that their questions will be discussed intelligently in the context of faith. Where answers have not been clearly revealed, forthright acknowledgment of that fact should attend, and teachers should not present their own interpretations of such matters as the positions of the Church. Students should see exemplified in their instructors an open, appropriately tentative, tolerant approach to “gray” areas of the gospel. At the same…

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.

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. (Part 2, Part 3 are here.) As before, the absolute best and easiest thing you can do to increase the quality and frequency of your Bible study is to 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 do both. Below are some recommendations on Bibles. (If the idea of reading a non-KJV application bothers you, see my Religious Educator article at the bottom, which includes Apostolic examples of non-KJV Bible use in The Ensign and General Conference.)

The Hypothetical “Missionary Library”

As a companion piece to Dave’s post on missionaries, let’s talk about the approved missionary library. I have concerns about what missionaries study, know, and teach. The typical missionary develops far more motivation to read and study “the literature of the Church” than before the mission, but is far more restricted, although mission presidents have leeway to relax this. Certainly the primary content of missionary study should be scripture and the doctrine, but I think by narrowing the library too much, we miss real opportunities both for the missionaries themselves and the people they teach.

Faith, Revelation, and Jewish Parallels

Some Jewish reading recently has triggered some LDS thoughts and parallels. I jotted these down between lengthy organic chemistry homework sessions, so they’re less refined than I’d like, but still important to get out there. (I’m trying to shed my perfectionist writing tendencies.) James Kugel is an insightful and approachable Hebrew Bible scholar. He’s also an Orthodox Jew who retired from Harvard to go live in Israel. Kugel’s How to Read the Bible details how and why ancient and modern audiences understood the Bible differently, exposition which many people find disturbing or even undermining of faith.

What are the best Ensign articles?

We have four missionaries in our ward, with ipads. They have complete access to the library, but (per their mission president’s wishes) little else in terms of reading/enrichment material. I keep mentioning different books, as is my wont (see here, here, and here), and telling them “all you need to do is read,” so they’ve been frustrated at the apparent lack of access to “the good stuff.” 

An Offhand Apologia of Sorts, and some Reflections

I exchange emails with a good number of LDS people. Some of them are simply looking for information, a pointer to the right article or scripture or background. Some of them are finding their spiritual footing to not be as firm as it used to be, which is highly disconcerting. No one enjoys just trying to stay afloat while the waves keep breaking over you. One such exchange recently ended with a personal question, given X, Y, and Z, why do *you* stay? It was a busy day, and I only had five minutes (dangerous to write something serious so spontaneously), but I wanted to give my interlocutor something. Since several people have found it helpful, here’s my quick response, edited slightly for clarity and detail. 

Mormon Appropriation of Fundamentalism and Its Outcomes (u)

The last post I whipped off quickly and in frustration was surprisingly well-received. This post was similarly written, and may require editing. Update: I have good reason to believe that the Ensign article in question did not and definitely does not fully reflect its author’s position. This post is not about the author, nor even the Flood itself. (For that, please go read my Flood post first.) After 16 years, however, the article’s content is still easily and prominently accessible to members, with the authority of The Ensign and his BYU position behind it, and that remains highly problematic. Let’s focus on the ideas as written, and not the author. Mention was made today at Church of the 1998 Ensign article “The Flood and the Tower of Babel.” That article is conspicuously absent from the manual and the CES page of resources for teaching these chapters.

Benjamin the Scribe: My Old Testament Gospel Doctrine column

Perhaps redundantly, I’m announcing my  Old Testament column at Patheos, called Benjamin the Scribe. I post a lesson each week, with thoughts, analysis, background, handouts, links, and articles. I also have some other things, such as a link to my other writings (in which I demask my two past internet personalities), and a screencast about the Rediscovery of  the World of the Old Testament. Given my schedule (classwork and MCAT study), most of my posts will be there instead of here for at least a few months. You can subscribe to get an update whenever a new post goes up. I’ve just put up my lesson on the Flood, but see the Introduction post and About page. If you’ve missed me here after my flurry of  Old Testament posts in December, check me out there.    

God, the Necessity of Scholars, and the Old Testament: A Long Post and a Short Announcement.

Among laypeople, one sometimes finds a distrust of scholarship as it applies to the Bible, particularly if that scholarship runs against a traditional interpretation, or if tells you an obvious face-value reading you favor doesn’t really mean what you think it does. LDS have competing traditions towards serious scripture study. On the one hand, we are not a Bible-based (or even Book of Mormon-based) religion, where doctrine comes primarily through exegesis and interpretation. No sir, we’ve got prophets! We make an end run around all that stuff. We don’t believe you must attend college and be trained for the ministry to preach the orthodox religion! If you’ve read the Ensign and served a mission, or you grew up in Utah, most weeks you don’t need to bother preparing anything at all to participate fully in our Sunday lessons. A great pity, indeed. So there can certainly be an anti-intellectual strain, the expression of which varies greatly by ward and geography. In tension with that, LDS have “the glory of God is intelligence”, “study out of the best books” “obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, and laws of God and man.” “Thy mind, O Man… must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal expanse.” Joseph Smith thought it worth the cost and trouble to import a Hebrew…

The Old Testament, Scripture, Apostles, the Priesthood Ban, and Theological Diversity: Calibrating Our Expectations

(I’m probably cramming too much into this mishmash of a post, but frustration over certain conversations has collided with academic stress and lack of time to refine it. I may regret it, so consider this a preview, a beta.) The expectations we bring to reading scripture can radically affect our reading, our faith, and our communities. One frequent assumption, traditional in many religions, is that revelation (and scripture, as a subset of revelation) must be monolithic, unified, in harmony, univocal, internally consistent. This is not the case, and it is not an accident. Let’s back up, though, particularly as we get in to the Old Testament, and ask, what are our expectations of scripture? Are they properly calibrated? I think we tend to read the scriptures for three reasons, devotional (performing piety and seeking communion with God), doctrinal (stripping away the “irrelevant cultural dross” to extract “True Doctrine”), and moralistic (expecting to find simple models of modern LDS principles and standards). Certainly, those are worthwhile things to do, though the last two are problematic in their assumptions. The Old Testament wasn’t written for those reasons. (Heck, it wasn’t really “written” at all, but no time to get in to that.) The last two goals in particular, because of the the faulty assumptions on which they are built, are likely to be thwarted unless you are highly selective in choice of passage and stick with KJV. The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship…

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Reading and Resources!

December has finally arrived! For the last six months, I’ve felt like Old Testament is just around the corner. Finally we’re into the last loose stretch of D&C and I can put up the first Old Testament post. With the cyclic return to the Old Testament comes the perennial question, how do I make sense of this? Where should I turn to read “out of  the best books”? Look no further, friend, for here is a scattered list. (I’ve been even busier than anticipated, and just don’t have time to polish or add images.) First, though, a note. All the books below can be divided into two structural categories. There are those arranged by book, chapter, and verse, and those that are not. The first category includes commentaries, introductions, guides, histories (generally), and Study Bibles. These are the easiest books to use because you simply read them along with our schedule, or go directly to the chapter/verse you need help with. Having information so focused has a downside, namely, that it tends to be narrow. The second category of books includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, maps, general books, monographs, journals, and most reference materials.  Building a broad knowledge of the history, culture, and thought of the Israelites and their neighbors takes time, study, and reading, mostly of this second kind of book. Even though category II books often contain scriptural indexes, these are usually to verses cited in that volume, not all the verses…

Hodayot: A Dead Sea Scroll Thanksgiving

  One of the non-Biblical texts from the Dead Sea cache is known as hodayot or the Thanksgiving Scroll or Thanksgiving Hymns  (or 1QHa and 1QHb, for you scroll groupies). It is so named because of the repetition of the line ‘odeka ‘adonai  “I give thanks to You, O Lord…” The scroll is lengthy, nearly thirty columns, and fragments of seven copies have been found. Alas, the text is quite fragmented, and not terribly exciting to read, so I’ll link to Wikipedia instead of the text. While these poems/hymns/psalms “resemble the biblical psalms in many ways, these poems show a development of literary forms and express the theology of the Qumran group. They speak often of the psalmist, suffering, including attacks by Belial’s people, and of God’s grace to him despite his own unworthiness…. [In some of these] the speaker stresses the trials he has endured, God’s grace in saving him from them, and the knowledge revealed to him so that he could teach it to the community.” (The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 235.) The psalmist immediately states his reason for offering thanks by recounting what God has done for him: for example, “because you have placed my soul in the bundle of the living” (1QHa 10:22); “because you have redeemed my soul from the pit” (1QHa 11:20); “for you have illumined my face by your covenant” (1QHa 12:6); “because you have dealt wondrously with dust and mightily with a…