Category: SS Lesson – Old Testament

Hurlbut’s Story of the Bibles

Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, a Methodist minister, first published the Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible in 1904. In the book, he retells 168 Bible stories in simplified modern English prose. The author’s purpose was to provide a version of key scripture passages that young readers would find accessible. The numerous republished editions that have appeared throughout the years witness to the popularity of the volume. The author is a distant cousin in my family tree, but because of the similarity between his name and mine, I have always perceived a personal connection to his life’s work. In honor of his project, I would like to apply my training and scholarship in medieval literature and culture in order to describe a handful of late medieval versions of the Bible that likewise sought to make the understanding of the sacred text more widely accessible. The earliest copies of these texts predate the popular use of the printing press and were originally reproduced by hand. The number of surviving copies confirms the popularity and the appreciation of these precious objects. In what follows, I propose a story of several Bibles. The Glossa Ordinaria The Glossa Ordinaria (Ordinary Gloss) does not summarize or rephrase the biblical text but appends lexical and interpretive commentary to the full canonical transcription of Jerome’s Latin Bible (the Vulgate). The biblical text proper was presented in a block in the center of each page in a large, bold hand. Short…

Literary OTGD #31: My Friends and I by J. L. Townsend

Lesson 31 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual covers the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which consist mainly of short statements meant to help guide our behavior. But its pretty easy to make these statements seem contradictory. We all agree that “pride goeth before destruction,” but what if it is pride in our work or in doing our best? And what do we say to parents who have “trained up a child in the way he should go” when that child does depart from the way? It is precisely these contradictions that the following poem addresses.

Literary OTGD #30: Strength by Mabel Jones

What benefit do we get from the temple? Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #30 covers two renewals of the temple in ancient Israel; that of Hezekaih and that of his great grandson, Josiah. It also gives the example of Hezekiah’s fending off the Assyrians with the help of the angel of the Lord following his cleansing of the temple. This apparently comes because of his righteousness. Could it be the indirect result of cleansing the temple? Does the temple lend us strength? The following sonnet sees strength in the temple, comparing its outward appearance with the inward strength it gives us:

Literary OTGD #29: To President Brigham Young by Eliza R. Snow

Eliza R. Snow

There are at least two potential problems when there is a leadership transition—the transition plan or procedure isn’t always known ahead of time, and those involved don’t always follow the plan or procedures. Mormonism’s initial experience with transition didn’t go well—I suspect for both reasons—and the transitions elsewhere in the scriptures often seem unexpected also. For example, the transition from Elijah to Elisha described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #29 is unexpected by the Israelites, who search for Elijah for three days after Elisha succeeds him. It is, of course, Mormonism’s difficult initial transition, following the death of Joseph Smith, that led to the following poem.

Literary OTGD #28: The Still Small Voice by George H. Brimhall

The story of Elijah listening for the voice of the Lord (1 Kings 19:9-13) is frequently used by Mormons to describe the manner we can receive revelation. Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #28 includes that story, along with others discussing Elijah’s acts as prophet, but focusing on his listening to the Lord to accomplish those acts. While it is undeniably important for a prophet like Elijah to listen to the still small voice, in latter days Mormons emphasize that all people should receive revelation, an idea that is found in the following poem.

Literary OTGD #27: Our Kings by Henry W. Naisbitt

It seems likely that today we (in most western democracies) aren’t influenced by leaders the same way that the children of Israel were by their kings (at least as described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #27). I suspect that all else being equal, democracy reduces the influence of individual leaders. Still, the example of the influence of their rulers, for good or evil, is instructive today. And the following poem highlights the qualifications of leaders and how their influence is felt by those that they lead.

Literary OTGD #18: What Will They Do, Let History’s Page by Charles A. Rogers

As the Children of Israel entered the promised land, they also faced a change of leadership, with all that entails. As Moses doesn’t cross the Jordan, Joshua is called to lead the Israelites, cross the Jordan and subjugate the territory promised. Lesson 18 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual portrays this time as a time when the Children of Israel re-commit themselves to serving the Lord behind a new leader. Following the death of Joseph Smith, the nascent Mormon people also had to face a change in leadership, and (although in a somewhat different manner) cross a river behind that leader on their way into a new land. Their similarity to the ancient Israelites was not lost on them, and influenced the following poem.

Literary OTGD #17: The Mountain Standard by Parley P. Pratt

Approaching the promised land has to influence leaders to remind their followers of how they should act when they enter the long-sought utopia. The goal is to live as God would have them live, covenanting to live in righteousness and harmony. In the case of Moses, as described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 17, he gives instructions to the Israelites to help them remember their covenants. He urges them to obey the commandments and remember God and to be mindful of the rock of their salvation. While the experiences of the Mormon pioneers are similar to those of the Israelites, I’m not aware of any discourse by Brigham Young that matches this exactly. There is, however, a poem by Parley P. Pratt that touches on the same concept.

Literary OTGD #16: The Saint by W. G. Mills

The story of Balaam, as discussed in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 16, is about a prophet’s struggle with obedience and the requirements of political leaders. As portrayed in the Bible, Balaam follows the commandments of the Lord, but he attempts to get gain by currying favor with a political leader needed. I think this issue of obedience is fascinating, something that, if we all think about it, we also face.  We all have employers, friends, and others who try to influence us, sometimes against what we know the Lord would have us do. Our response is sometimes to merely appear to be a Saint, as the following poem describes.

Literary OTGD #15: Exodus by John Lyon

John Lyon

As the Mormon pioneers began their westward trek, they already saw themselves on an exodus similar to that of ancient Israel leaving Egypt for the promised land. And they faced some of the same difficulties that Israel faced—such as those outlined in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 15: complaints, backbiting, uncertain knowledge of the land they were going to, and even a promised land populated by another people. The poem below, written near the beginning of the Mormon trek, urges the Saints in England to promptly take part in the trek, despite its dangers and the misgivings of many Church members.

Literary OTGD #14: excerpt on Israel in the Wilderness from chapter 1 of The Millennium

Are commandments also spiritual fare? When Moses received the law on Sinai, was he spiritually fed? Were the children of Israel? Lesson #14 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual discusses Israel’s trek across the Sinai, their partaking of manna from heaven, which we interpret today as a symbol of the spiritual feast that our Heavenly Father provides for us. But when we read or talk about the commandments, we sometimes don’t talk about them as spiritual food—instead seeing them as temporal duties to be performed. But, the miracle of their delivery to Moses is a spiritual story, and I think the following poem describes what should be seen as a spiritual feast.

Literary OTGD #13: excerpt on the Exodus from chapter 1 of The Millennium

The story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt is one of the iconic stories of western religious culture. And that story has descended to Mormonism, showing up, of course, in lesson #13 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual. And we Mormons basically see the story in the same way as other Christians—an oppressed people is led by the hand of God out of opression and into a promised land. But the story has gained other cultural meanings for Mormonism. Best known is naming Brigham Young as the American Moses, and the Mormon pioneer trek as a new exodus to a promised land. But that isn’t the first association. In the following, Parley P. Pratt sees a future comparison to the promised return of Israel’s 10 tribes.

Literary OTGD #12: excerpt on Joseph from From Out of the Dust

Today, we Mormons see the “coincidence of names” between Joseph of Egypt, Joseph the son of Lehi and Joseph Smith as anything but a coincidence. They shared names allow us to make connections between the three cases, adding to our understanding of their histories. And Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 12 allows us to revisit some of the parallels, such as Joseph’s separation from Israel, and eventual reunion, as well as his visionary nature. Elder Orson F. Whitney, who served as an Apostle from 1906 to 1931, recognized this connection, and included it in his epic poem Elias in the following extract.

Literary OTGD #11: Joseph’s Temptation

[I’m sorry that I’m a bit behind in getting these posted. I’m hoping to do one each night for the next 3 nights to get caught up.] Temptation is a constant. We all struggle with temptation to do that which we should not, and often these temptations involve significant sin or things that could lead to significant sin. Worse, as Joseph’s story indicates, even when we have acted properly, we can be seen as a sinner or in error, and treated accordingly. Sometimes this is because others are mistaken, and other times it is because those who judge have different values from ours. The following poem claims that, even though others mistakenly found Joseph guilty, he still won the approval of the Lord.

Literary OTGD #10: Our Golden Wedding

The marriage process in Abraham’s family (covered in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 10) is very different that the common experience in the Church today (at least in North America). Arranged marriages, polygamy, dowries and working for a wife are all discussed in the source chapters in Genesis, while the marriages are still eternal, evidently the same way that marriages in LDS Temples today are eternal. But while there are clear differences, there are also similarities in how these marriages work. Isaac and Rebekah, as well as Jacob and his wives, work together to make the union productive and to raise their children. The couples toil together, and apparently grow together over decades. This kind of work is described in the following poem.

Literary OTGD #09: Saturday Evening Thoughts

Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac is one of the most difficult to understand episodes in the Bible, and it is also a regular subject of LDS lessons, such as Lesson 9 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual. Despite its troubling nature, this event is seen as a clear type of Christ’s sacrifice, and it is often portrayed as an ideal of the righteous sacrifice we should ourselves be willing to make. Both of these views of Abraham’s dilemna appear in LDS poetry, and the latter view—that we too are expected to sacrifice for sake of the gospel—is expressed in the following extract from a poem by Eliza R. Snow:

Literary OTGD #08: Go search and say

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is found in the material covered in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, lesson 8, is one of the more bleak stories in the bible. Its depressing to think that a city cannot be saved from its own wickedness, and that there was not one person there who was innocent enough to merit its salvation. Regardless of what their sins were (lets not go into that), the destruction of an entire city is heartbreaking. I think the following poem captures some of the pathos and the meaning that can be found in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, and many other, similar stories in the bible.

Literary OTGD #07: The Gathering

If doctrines can have ideological parents, then the doctrine of the gathering is clearly descended from the Abrahamic covenant, the same that is discussed in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 7. Throughout the scriptures, when the Lord talks of “gathering” his people, he is refering to Israel, the descendants of Abraham. The covenant speaks of giving his people a promised land—the place where his people will be gathered to. Indeed, the gathering is simply a part of how the Lord’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled. I think that many of the elements of the Abrahamic covenant are found in the following poem, although it seems to primarily discuss the gathering.

Literary OTGD #06: Gleanings from Scripture

Lesson 6 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual seems like a difficult lesson to me. It covers both the story of Noah and the flood as well as the story of the tower of Babel. The lesson combines these disparate stories under the very general topic of worthiness and avoiding the evils of the world, which may not give most teachers much to work with. While I can’t really tell teachers where to go with this, I did find a poem that also addresses these stories (and a few more) in a very general way.

Literary OTGD #05: Age after age has roll’d away

While many teachers will focus their teaching of Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #5 on the story of Cain and Abel, that is only half the lesson. The other half of the lesson is the story of Enoch and his city—perhaps a more positive example for us today as we strive to live the admonition “be ye therefore perfect.” The following poem is like the story of Enoch, one of the most unusual works in its corpus. As the prefatory paragraph indicates, it came out of an LDS meeting in which Elder David W. Patten (still at least 2 years before he was ordained an Apostle), spoke in tongues.

Literary OTGD #04: O Adam

When we talk about the Fall and its roll in the plan of salvation, as Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #4 does, the focus naturally (and properly) is on the effects of the Fall and its relationship with the atonement. But the Fall is also the story of a relationship between Adam, Eve and God. his makes it easier to put ourselves in the place of Adam and Eve, and in the process learn, in a very palpable way, the consequences of a separation from God and the need for a way to return to Him. In that sense, the following poem, a kind of dramatization of the events, might help.

Literary OTGD #03: Eternity of Matter

In our science-oriented world today, its hard to see the creation stories in the Bible and Pearl of Great Price as recounting actual events or having meaning beyond a simple myth explaining the origin of life. So when we teach the creation in classes like the current Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 3, I believe the best option is to put the story in a gospel context, and emphasize its meaning as part of our understanding of the purpose of life, rather than historical or scientific events. Although written in the 1840s with a traditional view of the creation, the following poem does put the creation into a Mormon gospel context, placing the creation, as we understand it, as a necessary part of the plan of salvation and happiness; part of our eternal progression.

Literary OTGD #02: Shadows and Whisperings

Mormon beliefs about the pre-existence are an important part of our understanding of our purpose in this life and the meaning of the life to come. The beliefs covered in the second lesson in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, “fore-ordination” and the “war in heaven,” are no exception. But, it is also worth remembering that what happened in the pre-existence is veiled from our memories. The details most relevant to individuals are something we don’t know. Our own specific missions aren’t clear. We are left with “shadows and whisperings.”

Literary OTGD #01: Metamorphosis

For the coming year, I’ve decided to post poetry for use in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society classes two weeks ahead of when they would normally be used, instead of a week ahead as I’ve done in previous years. I’m doing this to allow teachers a bit more time to prepare and integrate the poetry into their lesson plans (if they wish to use the poetry), and because, in the case of the Priesthood/Relief Society manual, there are more lessons than can be covered in a year. Working two weeks ahead will give the teacher time to decide which lessons to drop, and still (I hope) have the poetry available on time.

Sunday School Lesson 48: Zechariah 10-14, Malachi

Zechariah 1:7-6:8: We may be able to read the first six chapters of Zechariah as having a roughly chiastic structure. As with many chiasmi, however, deciding whether this is a chiasmus is a matter of judgment rather than fact. A 1:7-17: The Lord’s omniscience B 1:18-21: Judah and the empires C 2:1-5: Jerusalem’s territory [2:6-13: Reiterates the first three parts] D 3:1-10: Joshua the high priest D’ 4:1-14: The temple itself C’ 5:1-4: Jerusalem’s self-rule (the scroll of the law?) C’ 5:5-11: Judah and Persia (? perhaps a “counter-temple”?) A’ 6:1-8: The Lord’s omnipotence If this analysis is correct, the chiastic structure helps us understand better some of the more difficult parts of Zechariah’s vision. Earlier parts of the chiasm help “define” later, more obscure parts. Notice that each step in the chiasm narrows the scope: from the widest scope, that of the Lord; to the next widest, the international; to Jerusalem; and to Joshua (Jeshua) and the temple. The focus of the vision is clearly on priesthood and on the temple standing at the “center” of the world. The return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple were of critical interest to the Jews. Why? Many had become quite settled and successful in Babylon. What would be the appeal of returning to the Jerusalem area? What part might prophecies like Zachariah’s have played in the return of the Jews and the rebuilding of the temple? Prior to the…

Sunday School Lesson 47: Ezra 1-8; Nehemiah 1-2, 4, 6, 8

Note that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book until well after the time of Christ. The rough chronology below will help place this week’s material in its historical context. 606 The fall of Nineveh, capital of Assyria. Babylon becomes the major power. Daniel and others are taken to Babylon from Israel 604 Nebuchadnezzar is king of Babylon 598 Judah’s king, Jehoiachin, and the prophet Ezekiel (with thousands of others) are carried captive into Babylon. Lehi leaves Jerusalem. Habakkuk and Ezekiel prophesy 587 The fall of Jerusalem; much of the population of Judah is taken captive into Babylon. Some, including Jeremiah (who is a hostage), escape to Egypt. Mulek leaves Jerusalem 562 The death of Nebuchadnezzar and the beginning of the decline of Babylon 538 Babylon (in modern-day Iraq) falls to Cyrus, king of Persia (in modern-day Iran). Cyrus reads the Hebrew scriptures and encourages the Jews to return to Jerusalem 535 Zerubbabel and Jeshua lead approximately 50,000 Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple 533 The cornerstone of the temple is laid 522 Haggai and Zechariah encourage the Jews to finish the temple after the Samaritans’ opposition and Jewish indifference had forced a stoppage. King Darius of Persia commands the opposition to cease 516 Zerubbabel’s temple is completed 486 Esther, wife of King Xerxes in Persia (460?) 458 Ezra leads a second group of 1,496 exiles back to Jerusalem 445 Nehemiah (Artaxerxes’ cupbearer) arrives in…

Sunday School Lesson 46: Daniel 2

Verses 4-5: Why does the king make this demand on his wise men? Verses 10-12: What did it mean to be a wise man in Babylon? Why was the king angry? Why do you think that the gods of Babylon are never mentioned in this story, not even negatively? Verse 24: Why does Daniel save the other wise men of Babylon?  Verse 28: Why would a king living hundreds of years before Christ’s birth be interested in what would happen at the age when the end of the world would come? (“Latter days” is probably better translated “at the end of days.”) Why should anyone but those who live in the latter days care about them? Books about the last days and prophecies of them were not uncommon during the time after the Jewish exile in Babylon, but why? Why are they important to us? Verse 32: The Greek poet Hesiod uses the image of world history as having four parts, each less happy than the last, and each designated by a metal of decreasing value: gold, silver, bronze, iron. The Persians had a similar understanding of the ages of human existence: gold, silver, steel, and iron mixed with clay. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is a mixture of the two traditions. Why would a revelation to the Lord come to Nebuchadnezzar in those terms? Verse 34: What is the stone cut from the mountain without hands? Why do you think that? How…

Sunday School Lesson 45: Daniel 1, 3, and 6; Esther 3-5, 7-8

Let me begin, once again, with a reminder that these are not intended for notes to help teachers, though they may also serve that purpose. I write them for people who want to study the lesson materials more thoroughly. So you’ll find explanatory notes and study questions (fewer for this lesson than for most), but few answers. There is considerable material in the readings for this lesson, so I am going to focus the study questions on the book of Esther (the entire book rather than only the parts assigned for Sunday School). I want to focus on Esther because it is one of the books of the Old Testament with which I believe Latter-day Saints are least familiar. That lack of familiarity is ironic, given that Esther is perhaps the Old Testament book best known among the Jews outside the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Esther is the only book that is still usually read from a scroll on ceremonial occasions, and Jews often publish beautiful editions of it. Esther is the last of five books gathered together as a collection and called “The Five Megilloth,” meaning “The Five Scrolls.” These books—Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther—are a sub-collection within that part of the Old Testament called “The Writings.” These are books read at each of the Jewish religious feasts: Song of Songs at Passover (approximately the same time as Easter, a celebration…