Category: Scriptures

VII. The GAEL and Linguistic Typology

The GAEL provides for a mode of interpretation that finds expansive (but not unlimited) meaning in seemingly simple characters. Zakioan-hiash, as we have seen, is both a name, a word with a specific phonetic realization, and the equivalent of at least one sentence.

IV. The GAEL and the structure of Abraham 1:1-2a

In his 2009 article, Chris Smith argued for the textual dependence of the Book of Abraham on the GAEL. While Dan Vogel’s recent book about the Book of Abraham and related apologetics strenuously objects to any suggestion that the GAEL was reverse engineered from the translation of Abraham, Vogel nevertheless entirely rejects the basis of Chris Smith’s argument.

Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible

I’ve always wondered how well the talks of different general authorities translate to other languages.  For example, I can imagine that a lot of the alliteration that a few apostles adopt in their addresses doesn’t carry over.  And I know from my work on translating Spanish hymns that translating between languages is an inexact science and involves compromises to keep certain aspects of the original language – rhyme, meter, literal meaning of words, nuances conveyed in idioms, etc.  It’s almost impossible to carry all of those together across from one language to another.  Largely because of this, translations of the Bible have proliferated, with each trying to convey the meaning of the texts from the original languages in different ways.  For example, Robert Alter’s English translation of the Hebrew Bible focuses on carrying the literary forms of the Hebrew texts.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Robert Alter discussed his translation. Robert Alter is a noted scholar who received his doctorate from Harvard University and is a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature.  His doctorate was in modern comparative literature, but he noted in the interview that: “as an undergraduate I spent three years studying biblical texts rigorously with H. L. Ginsburg, one of the leading philological scholars of the Bible of his generation.”  His familiarity with literary forms and biblical texts came together to lead to his translation: In the late 1970s I published…

I. Putting the grammar back in GAEL

Scholars from seemingly every corner of Mormon Studies agree: While working on the Egyptian papyri, Joseph Smith and his associates were either unaware of Champollion’s recent work to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, ­or simply unaffected by the recent advances in Egyptology. Not only is this position untenable, it’s demonstrably incorrect.

What You Might Be Missing in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus

“Most readers of Matthew’s Gospel take one look at that first page full of ‘begats’ and impossible-to-pronounce names and quickly turn the page.” So begins Julie Smith’s thoughtful essay “Why These Women in Jesus’s Genealogy?”, which is available free of charge in the Segullah journal (2008) and is reprinted in her book Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels. “But,” Smith continues, “Matthew was a deliberate writer.” She goes on to highlight that among more than 25 men in Jesus’s line, Matthew includes just four women (plus Mary), and they aren’t the matriarchs, as one might have expected (such as Abraham’s wife Sarah or Isaac’s wife Rebekah). Rather, the women she includes are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Smith goes on to reflect on why Matthew may have included each of these women who were outside of the social mainstream in at least some way. Smith poses a range of hypotheses; readers can, of course, decide for themselves.  I strongly recommend reading the (short, accessible) article yourself. But I’ll share two passages that I marked with exclamation points in my hard copy.  “These women are, as Jesus is, intercessors: Tamar enables Judah’s line to continue; Rahab brings her family into the house of Israel; Ruth brings the Moabites into David’s line; and Bathsheba brings her son Solomon to the throne.” And one more: “Modern readers generally do this Gospel an injustice by skimming over the genealogy as if…

When Was Jesus Born?

When was Jesus born?  While not consequential to our salvation or daily choices, it’s an interesting question to explore.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Jeffrey R. Chadwick discussed his research into the question: When was Jesus actually born?  What follows here is a co-post to that discussion (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). When a non-expert Latter-day Saints approach the question of “When was Jesus born?”, they often draw upon a traditional interpretation of Doctrine and Covenants, 20:1 to claim that it happened on 6 April.  Elder James E. Talmage’s widely read Jesus the Christ reinforces this interpretation.  As Chadwick explained: Growing up as a Latter-day Saint boy, serving a mission, and entering service as a seminary teacher 45 years ago, it was axiomatic in our conversation that Jesus had been born on April 6th of 1 BC, as stated by Elder James E. Talmage in his classic work Jesus the Christ. … Generally, and also quite specifically, many Latter-day Saints take at face value the statement of Elder James E. Talmage that Jesus was born on April 6 of 1 BC, a position Elder Talmage linked to the passage in Doctrine and Covenants 20:1 which notes the organization of the Church on April 6 of 1830, being that many years since the “coming of … Jesus Christ in the flesh.” This seemed to Elder Talmage a specific dating tag…

Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints

The Maxwell Institute at BYU recently published Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints, and it is a fantastic journey into early Christianity geared specifically to Latter-day Saints.  Through a collection of 14 essays dealing with topics ranging from praxis and worship to scripture and theology, the key elements of Christianity during its first several centuries (and beyond) are addressed in an accessible way.  The discussions are punctuated by a large collection of artwork produced by early Christians, spread throughout the book in beautiful detail. When approaching Latter-day Saint writings about early Christianity, I’m generally concerned that it will be an effort to convince people that the ancient Church was identical to the modern one in a polemic effort to reinforce the traditional apostasy-restoration narrative.  Ancient Christians quickly dispatched that concern, with Jason R. Combs discussing this at length in the introduction.  He notes that: “rather than dismissing entire epochs as corrupt … today we work to understand ancient Christians on their own terms.”  He added that: “We cannot assume that today’s Church is a template for what the first-century Church must have been, or vice versa.  For that reason, in this book, our authors acknowledge the differences between ancient Christians and Latter-day Saints without automatically assuming such differences to be evidence of apostasy.”  In this way, Ancient Christians both compliments and expands on some of the concepts discussed in Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy (Oxford University…

Susa Young Gates and Joseph F. Smith’s Vision

The vision that we have printed as Section 138 was received by Joseph F. Smith in the last few months of his life.  Among the very first people he asked to have review the document was none other than his friend, Susa Young Gates.  In one of the excellent essays presented in the Revelations in Context book, Lisa Olsen Tait talked about Susa’s experience with the revelation.  More recently, Lisa Olsen Tait discussed more about Susa and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). Why was Susa one of the first people to read the vision?  Part of it has to do with her personal friendship with Joseph F. Smith.  As Tait described: Joseph F. Smith was over seventeen years older than Susa Young Gates. … They became friends in Hawai’i in 1885-87. Susa accompanied her husband, Jacob F. Gates, on a return mission to the Sandwich Islands, and their service overlapped with the time that Joseph F. Smith and his wife Julina were there, basically keeping a low profile during the anti-polygamy crusade. (Smith was a highly-wanted man due to his church leadership position and his knowledge of the records.) A few letters between them from that time survive, and, in my reading, evince a progression from friendly but formal acquaintances to deep…

Antipus, a Forgotten Hero

This is a guest post by Brian Stubbs. The faith, feats, and divine protection of the 2,000 stripling warriors is a favorite episode for many readers of The Book of Mormon.  Yet a number of less-than-obvious details may muster even more admiration.  The people of Ammon were called Anti-Nephi-Lehi (Alma 23:16-17), likely meaning ‘those of Nephi-Lehi’ (Book of Mormon Onomasticon, online; Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, Stubbs 2020, 101). The original adults covenanted never to kill again and were given protection within Nephite territories. With time, the Nephite burdens of war led to 2,000 Ammonite youths, teenage sons who had not entered into such a covenant, to volunteer for service.  These 2,000 striplings asked Helaman, the son of Alma the younger, to lead them (Alma 53:19). From Middle English, the word stripling basically means ‘skinny teenager’; its dictionary definitions include ‘youth’, ‘adolescent’, ‘boy’, ‘young man’, ‘teenager’, etc.  In earlier English, the -ling suffix referred to one of the category or quality of the preceding stem: compare yearling (one-year-old), underling (one serving under), hireling (one hired), earthling (one of earth).  It also often referred to the young of whatever species: duckling (young duck), gosling (young goose).  So stripling means one like a strip, a long narrow or slender youngster, not yet a fully filled out adult, though some of us overshoot the filling out part.  Perhaps only as a matter of interesting trivia, stripling warriors is one of our…

To Ezra or not to Ezra…

Ezra is an important figure in the Hebrew Bible, but there are some concerns that have been raised over the historical record around him and some interesting places where he is missing in that record.  In an interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, the Biblical scholar Charlotte Hempel discusses some of the theories and thoughts around Ezra, with a particular focus on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). One of the central questions in the debate is whether or not Ezra was an actual historical figure.  Charlotte Hempel explained that: This is a great question and has been debated by scholars for centuries. Ezra appears in 6 chapters of the Hebrew Bible in Ezra 7–10 and Nehemiah 8 and 12. He is described as a priest, a skilled scribe who has his heart set on the study of the law and its promulgation among the people, as well as a social reformer. On the more radical end of the spectrum there are those, including C. C. Torrey, who suggest Ezra was a fictitious creation. For most scholars today Ezra is a historical figure whose literary record was amplified by subsequent authors and editors. There is a spectrum of thought on how accurate the records we have are in relation to Ezra’s life. Ezra and Nehemiah are portrayed as contemporary individuals,…

Three Degrees

Language is a tricky thing. Sometimes, when someone says a word, it can mean something very different to them than it does to us. This can be particularly true when that person is from the past and the exact meaning of a word changes over time. In a recent interview with Bryan Buchanan about an article by Shannon Flynn at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk discussed a major example of where this seems to have happened in our understanding of the afterlife about divisions within the Celestial Kingdom. What follows here is a copost – a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion. The concept that there are three subdivisions within the Celestial Kingdom is based on one section in the Doctrine and Covenants (131). In the current edition of the scriptures, it reads as follows: “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.” The assumption is that “celestial glory” is precisely equivalent to the Celestial Kingdom-the highest degree of glory announced in Joseph Smith’s 1832 vision (D&C 76). As it turns out, that may not be a great assumption. The word in question is “celestial”. Buchanan explained that: If we look at contemporary dictionaries (like Webster’s 1828 dictionary), “celestial” was simply a synonym for “heavenly.” In other words, Joseph Smith may have been expressing the idea that “in the heavenly glory (or just, heaven), there are three gradations.” … If we argue…

Was Jesus Married or Not?

An enigma that has been explored repeatedly over the years, both in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in Christianity more broadly, is the marital status of Jesus of Nazareth. There is little to reliably indicate either way in the established canon of the New Testament, but that hadn’t stopped people from discussing the topic. And in organizations like the Church that emphasize marriage, there are some theological reasons to want to say that he was indeed a married man.  In a recent interview over at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, Christopher Blythe discussed the issue in connection with a recent article published in BYU Studies. What follows here is a copost to that interview. In addressing how Latter-day Saints have approached the question “was Jesus married?” over the years, Blythe described how it has shifted within the Church. It’s a little more complicated when you talk about whether Jesus was married. Historically, the question has gone through an evolutionary process: First, there was a wide consensus among Latter-day Saints that Jesus was married. Then, there was a wide consensus that he was married (but we should not speak about it). And finally, it was thought that the answer is unknowable and individual Latter-day Saints might take either position. For me, this essay belongs in the book because it shows that even when a doctrine is privately held by general authorities, that does not…

Collected Thoughts on the Doctrine and Covenants

I spent most of 2021 writing a series of posts to follow along with the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum for the Doctrine and Covenants.  I had a few reasons for doing this.  First and foremost, I wanted to challenge myself to look more closely at the scriptures, to really read and think about what the Doctrine and Covenants says and the context in which it says it to deepen my personal understanding.  Studying the Joseph Smith Papers resources around the earliest versions of the revelations and then writing about an idea or thought that caught my attention is an approach that helped me do that.  Second, there were several ideas that run through the Doctrine and Covenants that I’ve been musing on for years and wanted to take the time and effort to really collect and organize my thoughts on those topics, such as the endowment of power and the development of temple ritual.  Third, I noticed that there was a surprising dearth of literature about the Doctrine and Covenants compared to the other sections of scriptures (that’s not to say that there isn’t literature about it out there, just not nearly as much available as the Bible or the Book of Mormon), so, for better or worse, I wanted to offer my own contribution to that literature in a format that was freely available and which drew on the scholarly analyses that I have read. The results varied from…

Women of the Hebrew Bible

In a culture that is often male-centric, it can sometimes be easy to overlook women in the scriptures. While very few are mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants, the Bible has many women who are mentioned by name and featured in the stories therein. In a recent From the Desk interview, Camille Fronk Olson discussed some of what she has learned about the women of the Old Testament over years of studying, teaching, and writing about them. What follows here is a copost (a shorter post with done excerpts and commentary). I learned a fair amount from reading what Camille Fronk Olson said in the interview. One interesting point had to do with Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Olson stated that: The Dead Sea Scrolls contributed to my appreciation and understanding of Hannah (I Samuel 1-2). In the King James version of the Bible, Hannah’s husband Elkanah tells her, “only the Lord establish his word” (1 Sam. 1:23), indicating an understanding that Hannah was free to make daily decisions as she deemed best, except when they violated a promise to the Lord. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, Elkanah tells Hannah, “May the Lord establish that which cometh out of thy mouth” (4QSama), showing that Elkanah believed that Hannah spoke the words of God—and that God was working through her. This same wording also appears in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.…