Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Today

I was reading Isaiah 2 this afternoon and came across a passage which describes the wicked Israelites of his day but which also applies to ours. Here is what it says (Gileadi's translation):

Their land is full of silver and gold
      and there is no end to their wealth;
Their land is full of horses
      and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is full of idols:
      they adore the works of their hands,
      things their own fingers have made.
Mankind is brought low
      when men thus debase themselves.
Forbear them not!

These are some of the distinguishing characteristics of both (i.e. ancient Israel and modern civilization) wicked societies:
  1. Their land is full of silver and gold: Incomparable and unequal wealth.
  2. Their land is full of horses and chariots: Horses and chariots are implements of war. Both societies are obsessed with building armies and navies and amassing guns and other instruments of death and destruction.
  3. They worship (adore) the work of their hands: Materialism is rampant and acquiring wealth and objects are obsessions. 
  4. Mankind is brought low when men thus debase themselves: Wickedness is so widespread that mankind as a whole is debased by it.
Our challenge is rise above this trend to wholesale and all encompassing wickedness. This description reminds me of Enoch's vision of the wickedness of Noah's day (and by extension our day) in Moses 7:

26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.

 28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

 29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?
 
 32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

 33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;

 37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

 40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands. (emphasis added)

 The result of this gross wickedness is misery - nothing more. The reason why God hates wickedness so forcefully is that it brings so much misery to the human family and he is likewise pained by witnessing this suffering.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"In the Cool of the Day"

In the Biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve a curious detail is included in the narrative that seems somewhat out of place. After eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil Adam and Eve hear God's voice as they are walking "in the cool of the day" (see Genesis 3:8). Why does it matter what time of the day it was that the voice was heard? It may be that the phrase has not been rendered into English in the manner in which the author of Genesis intended.

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw comments on this phrase in volume one of his commentary on the book of Moses entitled In God's Image and Likeness: Ancient and Modern Perspectives On the Book of Moses. This is what he has to say:

"The phrase can be translated as 'in the wind, breeze, spirit, or direction' of the day--in other words, the voice is coming from the west, the place where the sun sinks." (259)

The word from which the word "cool" is translated is ruach (רוח) which is generally translated as "spirit", "wind" or "breath" but indeed can be translated as "cool" (as wind has a cooling effect) or as "quarter (of wind), side" (Strong's H7307), hence "direction". It seems to make the most sense that the author of the Genesis account intended "direction" for ruach as that interpretation places the account squarely in the context of the temple. Earlier in the garden of Eden story the narrator mentions that God planted a garden "eastward" in Eden (Genesis 2:8). The question that every reader should ask is: eastward from where?

It is well known that the temple was thought of as a microcosm of creation. The Holy of Holies represented God's abode and represented day one of the creation. The creation of the earth commenced in the Holy of Holies and was directed from it and thus is seen from its perspective. Just outside the Holy of Holies (to the east) was the Holy Place which represented the Garden of Eden. Therefore, when the scriptural account states that the garden was planted "eastward" it means that it was planted eastward from the Holy of Holies where God was located.

In like manner, then, when Genesis 3:8 states that Adam and Eve heard God's voice from the west it has reference to the fact that the Holy of Holies was west of the Holy Place and was the place from which God's voice would be heard since it was his abode. Understanding that the stories of the creation of the earth and the fall of mankind are set in the temple is crucial to understanding these accounts.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

A trailer for the upcoming film on the exodus has been released. The costumes and sets look impressive, now if they would only stop casting actors of European descent in these films - I'm sure there are plenty of good North African and Eastern Mediterranean actors out there.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Laman and Lemuel

Laman and Lemuel
In 1 Nephi 2:12-13 Nephi mentions that both Laman and Lemuel did not believe the teachings of their father Lehi regarding the impending fate of the city of Jerusalem. That attitudes seems strange based on the fact that cities were destroyed on a routine basis anciently and that Jerusalem was not unusually large or well fortified. What, then, was the source of their misplaced confidence?

The answer may lie in the recent history of Jerusalem and in the prevailing attitudes of its people at the time. Approximately one hundred years before the time of Laman and Lemuel, Hezekiah, king of Judah, defied the Assyrian king, Sennacherib and stopped paying tribute. In retribution, Sennacherib invaded Judah and nearly wiped out the entire kingdom. When he laid siege to Jerusalem the city was saved by either (depending on which source you accept) a plague of some kind that swept through the Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:35) or by a large payment made to Sennacherib when Hezekiah stripped the temple of all its precious metals (2 Kings 18:13-16) or a combination of the two. (A few years ago I put together a short video depicting this event. You can watch it here.)

Margaret Barker in The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem explained what the result of the city's preservation was on its inhabitants: "The people of Jerusalem were content to believe that the presence of the temple had saved them and would continue to do so" (6, emphasis added). In all probability Lehi's progenitors were refugees from the northern kingdom of Israel who had fled to Jerusalem when Assyria decimated it (the northern kingdom) only twenty years before. They had probably witnessed first hand the immense power of the Assyrian war machine as their homeland was destroyed. It must have seemed all the more miraculous, therefore, when their lives were preserved in Jerusalem and this may have contributed to their confidence that Jerusalem could not be destroyed. This attitude was inherited by Laman and Lemuel and their contemporaries. It turned out, however, that their confidence was tragically misplaced.

In 586 BC, fourteen years, or thereabouts, after Lehi's departure from Jerusalem the Babylonian empire laid siege to the city, slaughtered its inhabitants and razed the temple to the vindication of Lehi and Jeremiah. It would not be until several decades later that the Jews would be allowed to rebuild their sacred edifice following the decree of Cyrus, the Persian king. Unfortunately, the Israelites of that era learned the hard lesson that the Lord would not protect his people unconditionally. His promises could only be secured by obedience to his laws and commandments.

Adam and Eve

I came across this quote from Hugh Nibley in Jeff Bradshaw's commentary on the book of Moses and thought it was very insightful:

"The perfect union of Adam and Eve excited the envy and jealousy of the Evil One, who made it his prime objective to break it up... His first step (or wedge) [was] to get one of them to make an important decision without consulting the other. He approached Adam in the absence of Eve with a proposition to make him wise, and being turned down he sought out the woman to find her alone and thus undermine her resistance more easily. It is important that he was able to fine them both alone."
(In God's Image and Likeness: Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Book of Moses 1:249-50).


Friday, June 27, 2014

The Martyrdom

Today marks 170 years since the death of the prophet of the restoration, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.



He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated! (D&C 135:3)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Law of Consecration ≠ The United Order

Ephraim United Order Cooperative Building
One of the least understood doctrines of the Church is the law of consecration. Most members equate the law of consecration with the United Order and use the terms interchangeably.  They assume that since we no longer live in communities governed by the United Order we therefore do not practice the law of consecration, however this is not the case. The law of consecration is currently binding on the Church and has been since its inception. Indeed, President Hinckley taught that "the law of sacrifice and the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect" (Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 639.) Many, perhaps most, active members of the Church practice the law today without even realizing it. To understand the distinction it's important to clearly define the terms so that difference between the two can be understood.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1972 until his death in 1985 gave a very clear and concise definition of the law of consecration in an address given during the April 1975 annual general conference. The title of his talk was Obedience, Consecration and Sacrifice, and this is what he had to say:

"The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth."

The United Order on the other hand operated under the principles of the law of consecration but was not synonymous with it. The United Order only existed for a short time in the early to mid 1830's. In March 1832 Joseph Smith and some of the other leaders of the Church had gathered in Kirtland for the purpose of discussing church business. During their meeting Joseph Smith received a revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants 78. In this revelation the Lord called for the creation of an organization that would oversee the Church's printing and business endeavors both in Kirtland and in Missouri. This organization became known as the United Order.

The revenue generated by the United Order would be utilized in operating the Church and caring for the poor. The principles by which the United Order would operate were established in another revelation the next month which became Doctrine and Covenants 82. In section 78 this organization is called the United Firm but it would later be referred to as the United Order. Ultimately, because of discord within the Church the Lord dissolved the United Order in April 1834. This was done through the revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 104 wherein the Lord stated:

Therefore, you are dissolved as a united order with your brethren, that you are not bound only up to this hour unto them, only on this wise, as I said, by loan as shall be agreed by this order in council, as your circumstances will admit and the voice of the council direct.

To summarize, the United Order was an organization, established by the Lord, which was guided by the principles of the law of consecration. It existed for a short time from April 1832 until April 1834.

Later, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Church established numerous cooperative community organizations which those involved referred to as united orders, but they were not the same thing as the original United Order established in 1832.These united orders were operated in numerous different ways. Some were communal type organizations where property was held in common while others were more cooperative in nature and didn't require the consecration of property. These united orders pretty well died out by the end of the nineteenth century and there have not been any more official attempts to establish these types of communities since that time.  (ref)

Currently when members of the Church talk about the law of consecration they are typically referring to the system these communities operated under but when the terminology is utilized in this way it is not accurate. The reason for this, to reiterate, is that the law of consecration is a requirement that members of the Church be willing to sacrifice of their time, talents, possessions etc. to the building up the Church as is requested by the Lord or his agents and is not the system of united orders that operated in the intermountain west over a century ago.

Another common misperception is that when these united orders failed the Lord replaced them with tithing. It is seen by some as a lower law subordinate to the law of consecration/united orders as they understand them. This is simply untrue. The principle of tithing was first introduced in this dispensation in 1838 when the revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 119 was given to Joseph Smith in Far West, Missouri. Contained in the revelation is a declaration by the Lord which makes it clear that the principle of tithing is not a substitution which will be done away with at some unspecified future time. In verse four the Lord states regarding the law of tithing: "and this (the law of tithing) shall be a standing law unto them forever." Clearly, if it was a lower law it would not be destined to be practiced forever.

Another common idea in the Church is that at some future period the Church will again establish a united order to govern the economic affairs of its members. It is conceivable that there is some truth to this idea but I am not aware of any authoritative source that confirms this to be the case and I suspect it is merely a folktale. 

In summary, the original United Order operated for a very brief time during the infancy of the Church and subsequent united orders which operated during the latter half of the nineteenth century were attempts to implement the principles contained in the law of consecration but were not synonymous with it. Also, the law of consecration is currently binding on members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and simply states that we will sacrifice whatever may be required to the building up of the Church. Finally, the law of tithing is not a substitution for the law of consecration and is to be practiced by the Church forever.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Sea of Galilee and Bear Lake

I spent the fall semester of 1999 studying at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. As part of that experience I, along with my fellow students, spent about ten days living and studying on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at Kibbutz Ein Gev. Upon returning to the United States I moved to Cache Valley to continue my education at Utah State University where I would occasionally make excursions to Bear Lake to go water skiing or swimming. Prior to moving to Cache Valley I had been to Bear Lake once or twice but it had been nearly a decade since I had been there and I had somewhat forgotten what the surroundings of Bear Lake looked like. The first time I traveled there after my return from Israel I was stunned by how similar it looked to the Sea of Galilee.

On the east side of the Sea of Galilee the land rises sharply up to the Golan Heights. Here is an image taken from Google Maps of what the east side of the Sea of Galilee looks like as viewed from the west:


 The land to the east of Bear Lake, in a very similar fashion, also rises sharply from the water's edge. Here is another image taken from Google Maps of what the east side of Bear Lake looks like as viewed from the west:


You'll noticed that both shorelines bear a striking resemblance to one another. The western shores of these bodies of water also look similar. Both rise gently away to low mountains and the largest communities along both shorelines lie on the west, namely, Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and Garden City on Bear Lake.

Here is a photograph I took of Tiberias from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee when I was a student there in 1999:


And here is another image taken from Google Maps of the view from the eastern shore of Bear Lake looking to the west. Garden City is difficult to make out but it is there:


There is one more noteworthy similarity and that is the size of each body of water. They are both very similar in size. The width of each is virtually identical with Bear Lake being slightly larger north to south. I created the image below using a website called Mapfrappe.com. The image superimposes a blue outline of the Sea of Galilee over a satellite image of Bear Lake:

Another interesting characteristic common to both bodies of water is that they both drain into endorheic lakes. The Sea of Galilee drains via the Jordan River into the Dead Sea and Bear Lake drains via the Bear River into the Great Salt Lake.

There are, of course several notable differences between the two bodies of water the most significant being the difference in altitude and climate.

Bear Lake lies at approximately 6,000 feet above sea level and the Sea of Galilee lies at nearly 700 feet below sea level which results in a drastically difference climate. I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Galilee in 1999 and the weather was warm and sunny. Snow is unheard of along the shores of the sea and temperatures in summer can get quite high. Additionally, palm trees are a common sight around the Sea of Galilee.

Bear Lake on the other hand commonly experiences snow accumulation along its shores by the end of November and routinely freezes over. Ice fishing during the winter months is a popular activity on the lake and the weather can become chilly even in the middle of the summer. The flora of Bear Lake is decidedly alpine and there isn't a naturally occurring palm tree for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

The Sea of Galilee and Bear Lake differ in another important aspect as well. The Sea of Galilee drains through its southern end while Bear Lake drains to the north.

Despite these differences ascetically the two bodies of water do bear a striking resemblance. Each time I visit Bear Lake I can't help but to remember my time in Galilee where I walked in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. One especially fond memory I have from my semester in the Holy Land occurred the evening before we went back to Jerusalem. I ambitiously decided to read all four gospels while sitting in a deck chair, wrapped in a blanket on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. I only ended up making it through the book of Matthew but it was a very memorable experience nonetheless. I'll never forget reading of the Savior stilling the sea or walking upon its waves only to lift my eyes and see where those events occurred.

As I read I glanced across that sacred body of water to the site of Capernaum where the Savior spent so much of his time and performed some of his mightiest miracles including healing Peter's mother-in-law and the paralytic who was lowered through the roof of Peter's home. A part of me still sits on that shore. Every time I think about my time there I can't help but to pine away a bit for the place and for the dear friends I shared that experience with. I hope someday to return when circumstances permit. In the meantime, however, Bear Lake is a fitting substitute.

Ever since the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in 1847 the similarities between the Holy Land and Utah have been noted. The Great Salt Lake has been compared to the Dead Sea and the pioneers even named the river between Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake the Jordan. In that scheme Utah Lake is analogous to the Sea of Galilee but I believe, based on the similarities between the two mentioned above, that Bear Lake corresponds more closely. Because of that and because of the memories it provokes Bear Lake will always be my Galilee in the west.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Evidences of the Book of Mormon

In my last couple of posts I have briefly mentioned some fairly minor bits of evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the work of Joseph Smith. In the spirit of those posts I thought I would post a video featuring a presentation by Daniel C. Peterson examining some of the more impressive pieces of evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon:

 

"Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Messengers

Peter, James and John in a statue by Avard Fairbanks on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, UT.
Currently I'm slowly making my way through volume one of Jeff Bradshaw's commentary on the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. One page 181 of that volume he points out a fascinating piece of information found in extra-biblical literature. He is commenting on Moses 3:21-22 which reads:

21 And I, the Lord God, caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and I took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh in the stead thereof;

22 And the rib which I, the Lord God, had taken from man, made I a woman, and brought her unto the man.

Regarding these verses Bradshaw says the deep sleep which came upon Adam was a sleep of forgetfulness in which he became ignorant of his past. He then goes on to say the following:

"The awakening of Adam represents the beginning of his recovery from his state of ignorance and mortality. In the Hypostasis (of the Archons), it is Eve, 'the spirit-endowed woman.' who says to the sleeping Adam, 'Arise,' however, in the Apocalypse of Adam this same role is played instead by 'three men' of surpassing 'glory.' Although in Adam's new state of ignorance he was at first 'unable to recognize' them, they proceeded to reveal knowledge to him about his Creator."

To summarize, Adam, in his forgetful state is visited by three messengers who are not recognized by Adam at first. They then proceed to teach him. 

It's no secret that in the liturgy (or ordinances) of the LDS temple there is a dramatic portrayal of the creation of the Earth and the fall of mankind. What's most striking about this passage is that the details regarding the three messengers from the Apocalypse of Adam parallel the temple account. A critic might be tempted to believe that somehow Joseph Smith had access to these extra-biblical sources but that seems highly unlikely since both the Hypostasis of the Archons and the Apocalypse of Adam were completely lost until they were found as part of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945, more than 100 years after the death of Joseph Smith! It seems far more reasonable to suppose that the modern temple ceremony was divinely inspired just as Joseph Smith claimed it to be.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Sinai Covenant

This afternoon I was reading through Avraham Gileadi's Isaiah commentary and came across a fascinating insight in verse two of chapter one. The verse reads as follows (Gileadi's translation):

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth:
      for the Lord hath spoken,
I have nourished and brought up children,
      and they have rebelled against me.

Gileadi then provides the following commentary:

"Isaiah begins his prophecy by calling on the heavens and the earth, which are witnesses of the Sinai Covenant (Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19). That is the covenant Jehovah makes with Israel as a nation, through which the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob become the people of God (Exodus 6:7). However, the "heavens" and the "earth" don't refer simply to the physical heavens and earth but to those who reside in them. Such heavenly witnesses to the covenant no doubt include Israel's ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who would have the utmost interest in their descendants.
     
"Additionally, when Jehovah makes the covenant with his people Israel, it includes both those present and those who aren't present (Deuteronomy 29:14–15). That alludes to the idea that there exist others yet unborn who are parties to the covenant as much as the people who stand with Moses at Mount Sinai. In fact, even though God's people Israel may at different times break the Sinai Covenant, that never causes the covenant itself to be annulled. According to Isaiah, even the new covenant Jehovah makes at the dawning of the millennial age is a compound of all former covenants he has made." (underline added)

I don't really have anything additional to add - it made an impression upon me and I wanted to share. Fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Great are the Word of Isaiah"

Isaiah, by Michelangelo, (c. 1508–1512, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Vatican City)
During his appearance to the Nephites, Jesus Christ quoted chapter 54 of the book of Isaiah and then commended the prophet's writings to the Nephites and by extension to readers of the Book of Mormon, by stating the following:

"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah." (3 Nephi 23:1)

Clearly Jesus Christ holds the writings of Isaiah in high esteem regardless of whether they were composed by the original prophet or by one of his disciples (Isaiah 54 is generally considered by scholars to be part of Deutero-Isaiah, a post-exilic work, although there is not a consensus). What's more, Isaiah is the only prophet he specifically endorses in this way.

The idea that Jesus was particularly influenced by and placed great value on Isaiah finds convergence in the work of non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker. In Frederick M. Huchel's review of Barker's book Temple Themes in Christian Worship the following point is made:

"In her commentary on Isaiah, Barker 'argued that Isaiah was the crucial influence on Jesus . . . and that the Isaiah tradition continued to be dominant in the early church . . . [by representing] the world view of the first temple, an Enochic . . . faith . . . known to the Christians who consciously looked back to the first, the true, temple.'” (underline added)

As I read Huchel's article this afternoon it occured to me that this was one more detail in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith is unlikely to have merely guessed correctly regarding. It stands as a small albeit significant piece of evidence of the Book of Mormon's authenticity.