Category: Scriptures

Did Nephites ride horses?

In our recent tirades about the obvious evils of deer, it was noted , once again, that some scholars think that the horses mentioned in the Book of Mormon may not have been horses, but another hoofed animal. The common one that lives in the right place is similar to a deer. Unfortunately, such comments often are made in the context of how funny it is to think of riding deer into battle.


Yesterday at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, here at Notre Dame, I attended a service of prayer and lamentation called “Tenebrae”, remembering the darkness of the night when Christ suffered in Gethsemane and was arrested, and anticipating his death. It closed with a final candle carried out, leaving us in complete darkness, and the congregation producing a loud noise, like the rolling of the stone to close the grave. Today I had a conversation with some friends, in which we reflected on the meaning of these events, and the difference in the darkness from a Mormon point of view.

Plainly, the One Shepherd

John goes out of his way to be sure we notice how various prophecies of Christ were fulfilled. For example, at his crucifixion the soldiers did not break his legs, “that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:36). John does not comment so explicitly on Christ’s description of himself as the good shepherd. Is this because the reference was already plain enough?

Modern Gadiantons?

One last post, before my non-philosophical blogging stint is done. One thing I’ve thought of with recent events in the middle east was the parallels to the Book of Mormon. I know that’s not exactly an original point to make, but I think the Book of Mormon has a lot of parallels both regarding our enemies as well as how we act towards our enemies. Dan Peterson has long written about the strong parallels between the Gadianton movement and various guerilla movements and insurgencies. I’ve listened to him describe extensive parallels, for instance, between Mao’s insurgency in China and events in the Book of Mormon.

Savior and Destroyer

William Blake wrote two poems that are usually studied together. These two poems, titled “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” explore the idea that as the Lord God created these animals, He isolated his own (seemingly contradictory) characteristics of meekness and ferocity and imbued each of these creatures with one of them. William Blake is inviting us to ponder how the isolated characteristics of a lamb and a tiger can share the same space in the heart of divinity. I only mention these poems in order to recognize that the issues and questions I’m raising and discussing have been pondered since a long time ago by far greater minds. And perhaps by some rather silly ones as well.

A Book I Would Like to See

With luck we should soon be hearing from Professor Royal Skousen, who is the mastermind of the critical text of the Book of Mormon. There is another critical text edition that I would like to see: A critical text of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Political Discourse

During this election season in the U.S., I have been troubled repeatedly by the tone of political discourse among my friends, in my community, on the internet, and in the mainstream media. I have been astonished by the extent to which the dominant motivation for political action has become hate. Most people I know are voting against a candidate for president, not in favor of ideas that might improve our country or the world. Last night, while reading in Alma 43 with my family, I perceived in the portrayal of Zerahemnah elements of both major candidates for president, and read with sadness the description of the then-wicked Lamanites — symbolic, in my account, of those who allow themselves to be manipulated by purveyors of hate. Consider the following passages (emphasis added): Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites and Zoramites. Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites, that he might bring them into subjection to the accomplishment of his designs. For behold, his designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them, and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage. And now the design of the Nephites was to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the…

Shameless Self-Promotion, or Thoughts on Writing an Apologetic Article

The most recent issue of the FARMS Review has arrived, and it finally contains my article, “‘Secret Combinations’: A Legal Analysis”. I actually wrote this article two years ago, so it has been a while in coming. It is fun to finally see it in print. The article is essentially apologetic. I am trying to respond to the claim that the phrase “secret combinationâ€? was exclusively associated with Masonry in Joseph Smith’s time and that as author of the Book of Mormon Joseph was producing, among other things, an anti-Masonic pamphlet. The real question, of course, is why I would bother with such a project in the first place.

The Challenge of Adam-ondi-Ahman

Various debates about the historicity of scripture have captured a fair chunk of the Mormon intelligentsia (and pseudo-intelligentsia) for the last decade or more. The “Big Issue” of course is the Book of Mormon. This seems to have replaced evolution and the creation story of Genesis as a situs for conflict about the scriptures. Lost in all of this is my question: What are we to make of Adam-ondi-Ahman?

A Different Kind of ‘Likening’

There is a great conversation over at that other blog about that classically difficult story, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. Among the many excellent comments, this one from danithew stood out to me: “In my Quranic Studies course today the professor talked about how one of the first things Islamic scholars used to do was look at a test and identify the problems/challenges/dilemmas that were imposed on the reader by the text.” This concept seems as if it would be more at home among the reader-response-flavored lit critics than it would among Islamic scholars, but I am nonetheless intrigued by the idea and I can’t recall it being applied in an LDS setting. I think it has a lot of potential for expanding the (sometimes stale and shallow) practice of likening the scriptures unto ourselves. I think it might be a less-threatening way to introduce a subject to a class that might otherwise be controversial: BAD: “I can’t buy the idea that God would want Nephi to violate a major commandment.” GOOD: “When we read that the Spirit tells Nephi to kill Laban, what challenges does it place on us as readers of this story–and how do we resolve them?” So, now that we have a new tool, let’s trot out our favorite dead horses and see what we can do with them: Judah and Tamar, Nephi and Laban, Abraham and Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s identity in Egypt, Rebekah and the…

The Place of the JST

Over at Intellectual Exhibitionist, Ryan Bell comments on a topic that I’ve wondered about on occasion: The Joseph Smith translation is not the official bible of the church. So we still rely on the KJV as the official word. This is exceedingly odd to me– we have one take on the Bible that’s the source of direct revelation to the head of our dispensation, and one that comes from a bunch of medieval scholars, and we go with the latter. Weird, but true. Exceedingly weird. I have over the years heard some potential rationales (many of which have come up over at Ryan’s blog): We don’t want our missionaries using “non-standard” scriptures for proselytizing; we don’t know how to deal with the incomplete nature of the JST; plus, the church doesn’t own the copyright. None of these have seemed particularly convincing to me. The church’s partial adoption of the JST (“we’ll put some passages in the footnotes, and a few at the end of the index”) seems to be a strange solution as well. After all, doesn’t the JST in theory answer the potential translation problems that are referenced in the Eighth Article of Faith?