In Tents # 83 A Note on Hermeneutics part 3

Ganesh Cherian, from Patheos: KiwiMormon

Black Friday today. How intriguing that we would associate commerce, shopping for Christmas, with blackness, or darkness. We have a lot of negative associations with blackness, which can be problematic, embarrassing and cruel when we attach those associations to people whose skin is is also dark or black. Last month I ended with a quote from Ganesh Cherian of Wellington New Zealand, “A Former Bishop’s Doctrinal Dilemmas

During this particular lesson one of my fellow high-priests informed us that two friends (a former Bishop, and a Stake President) in England had recently left the church over the Race and the Priesthood essay.  As dutiful leaders they had instructed their congregations,  referring to the ‘the seed of Cain’ explanation for withholding the priesthood from Black members of the church until 1978.

And I posed a question about that word dutiful.

If no one with general authority to each doctrine to the Church has been teaching the the seed of Cain explanation for nearly 40 years, who taught those men it was their duty to teach it as doctrine? And who taught whoever taught those men it was his or her duty to teach about the seed of Cain?

Another way to phrase that question would be, “What do we do about teachings we find repellant or troubling?” It’s a very old question. In his Great Courses lectures Lost Christianities Bart Ehrman talks about various controversies in the early church, including docetists who thought it unseemly to imagine that God could suffer as humans do, or would go through the indignity of suffering on a cross, therefore the suffering described in the gospels must be only seeming, docetic, not actual. Continue Reading →

In Tents # 82 A Note on Hermeneutics part 2

October 31, 2017, Happy All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day.

It’s been  a hectic month. In mid September my wife got quite sick and ended up with the horse spittle spittling her with four units of that elixir forbidden by Deuteronomy 12:23, and my time has been taken up with other things as well so this will be short, with a longer post to follow in November.

I was probably about 14 when I first learned blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood–I must have been about 14 because we were home teaching and my father and Karl Snow started talking about it.  At first I thought they were wrong. We had learned in grade school about the Civil Rights movement, about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves and such, and it seemed very odd the church would discriminate like that. A few years later my seminary teacher told us blacks had been denied the priesthood because they had not been valiant in the war in heaven  I found that a hard teaching to accept. The logic behind it went something like this: We know our actions in this life affect our state in the next life so it’s logical to assume that our actions and pre-earth life affected our condition in this life.

But in the next life I will be able to remember what I did here and understand the consequence of my actions, but none of us has a memory of our life before birth so there’s no way for us to double check on our actions and assess the consequences, no way to repent of something we can’t verify through memory.

A few years later, in September or October 1978, our new Mission president, Marvin Curtis, held some get-acquainted conferences and passed out and talk called “All Are Alike Unto God” explaining that it was given by Bruce R McConkie to the church educators at their annual symposium–his instructions on what to teach about the recent revelation on priesthood. Continue Reading →

In Tents #81: A Note on Hermeneutics

Hermes was the messenger of the gods, so the branch of philosophy dealing with how to interpret messages from God, and interpretation generally, bears his name.

When Jonathan Langford asked me to do a column I thought it would be an exercise in re-interpreting the stories of Jesus’s debates with the Pharisees, an opportunity to point out things like Mark’s first mention of the Pharisees. They ask three questions, and Jesus answers them without rebuke. The first question is not addressed to Jesus, but to his disciples:

And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
–Mark 2:16-17

It’s a charming answer, especially since the story doesn’t say he was preaching to his dinner companions, or calling them to repentance.

Continue Reading →

In Tents #80 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 5

This Sunday, August 6, would be my mother’s 98th birthday, but she died in January of last year. Fifty-one years ago her birthday was on a Saturday. That morning our family went to the south Relief Society room of our double chapel on 9th East in Provo across the street from Deseret Towers. The south Relief Society room was the one with the font, and as we sat there in our white clothes some priests (which will have an entirely different connotation to someone unfamiliar with Mormon culture) gave us a demonstration, standing in the middle of the room, of how the baptisms would proceed, how to hold our fathers’ hands, how to lean back under the water.

People born in June were normally baptized the first Saturday in July, but we had been on vacation that day. (That may have been the day we climbed Boot Hill. Disappointing. First, not much of a hill. Second, only six men had been gunned down and buried there. Six was the first 30 minutes of a John Wayne film, not a legendary event in the American imagination.)

Sometime during that first week of August I walked across the street to Beverly Broadbent’s, the Primary president, to pass off the Articles of Faith, including this one,

 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Or maybe it was four years later, when I graduated from Primary, that I memorized and recited the Articles of Faith. At any rate, for half a century now I have associated the word translate with words like BibleBook of Mormon, and scripture. In that time I’ve read a fair number of translators’ prefaces, a fair amount about the problems of taking words from one language and setting them down in another. (And I did some work on the manual for Book of Mormon translators.)

I’m comfortable with the idea that translations are incomplete, that things can be lost and gained in translation, and that translation can have a wider meaning than simply finding word equivalences between languages, such as transforming from a lower state to a higher state.

No piece of writing, my father had said, is perfect.

What if you got a perfect essay from a student?

I guess it would be translated.

Into what language? Continue Reading →

In Tents #79 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 4

What did Stewart Glutmeyer name his boat?
Stewardship.

Bless our Seminary teachers for giving us silly sayings to help remember complicated concepts. The multiple choice answers to a test question like “What is stewardship?” don’t really define the concept as much as they highlight its importance.

The concept of Stewardship has become much more important to me in the last few years, particularly since I read Steven C. Harper’s Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants  in 2008. Harper’s discussion of agency in the Doctrine & Covenants, of what it means to act as an agent for the Lord, gave me something to carry in Bro. Glutmeyer’s boat.

(A lot of the value I got from Seminary I got in spite of the political rhetoric it was couched in, rhetoric that might lead one to think the gospel resided in a political party or one wing of the national bird–which Ben Franklin thought would better have been a turkey. One of the valuable lessons I learned was from a comment that Jephthah should not have sacrificed his daughter, but should have fallen down before the Lord and asked forgiveness for making a rash vow. (See #33 for a fuller discussion.) That comment, together with a dramatic monologue of Pontius Pilate in Hell–Spirit Prison?–taught me that I didn’t have to accept what characters in scripture say about themselves or others as the Lord’s viewpoint, that I could question their motives and assumptions. A great gift.)

My historian cousin Joe Soderborg has also talked with me about the concept of being agents or stewards, particularly about the parable of the man traveling into a far country as a parable about leadership as stewardship: Continue Reading →

In Tents #78 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 3

June is a month to celebrate–give thanks for–prophetic religion.  And not just because June is the month when Spencer W. Kimball chose to mark the U.S. Bison Ten Eel not with a patriotic panegyric about the joys of living in a free country, but with a stern warning about “The False Gods We Worship“:

We train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

Two years later, the second Friday in June, I spent the morning with some other missionaries out at the Martin Harris Farm, cutting grass and getting it ready for the horde of Pageant visitors next month. When we came back to the Hill Cumorah for lunch, Jennie (foreman Ralph’s 9-year-old daughter) ran out of the quonset hut behind the hill, excited, Continue Reading →

In Tents #77 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 2

Last month we talked about the differences between Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s baptism narratives. Matthew and Luke record a brief sermon from John beginning, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” But they introduce the words differently.

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Matthew 3:5-7

What do we make of the conjunction in verse 7? But typically denotes an exception in English, an exception to what has just been said, but every time I listen to the King James Bible I notice a lot of passages where speakers 400 years after 1611 would use and instead of but. So I wanted to find out what the Greek conjunction connotes. My search for an online version of Strong’s Concordance and a lexicon led me to Bible Study Tools, which has lexicons, translations and commentaries.  (It’s a useful site, but I had to play around with it for about an hour before I could figure out how to find what I wanted. See my comment on last month’s post  for an account of my visit–though an easier way to get to the interlinear Bible is through the Read menu.)

Continue Reading →

In Tents #76 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives

The Friday before I post I usually get a note from Jonathan Langford: “You’re up for Tuesday.” Instead, Friday after work I opened up my email and saw a whole bunch of letters with the ominous subject line “Jonathan Langford.” My phone shows the first few words of each letter below the subject line, so I saw the word heartbroken in Margaret Young’s letter, which confirmed the omen. (I wondered if anyone had told my brother Dennis, then found out from my sister that Dennis was in the hospital after back surgery.) So I’ve been thinking about Jonathan off and on all weekend. On the bus Monday morning I realized I’ve probably also been waiting for someone to say, “April Fools.”

This column was a gift from Jonathan. Continue Reading →

In Tents #75 How Infancy Narratives Behave Rhetorically, Part 4

Birth is a universal experience. All living things have received or given birth, or planted seed, or witnessed birth, or helped. So if you want to write about a birth what details will you include, besides things like name, height, weight, date and time? What details will make this birth worth reading about?

To My Blossom‑Headed Boy

Andrew Jeremy née Clark
Born December 22, 1984, 9:16 a.m.
7 lbs 9 1/2 oz  20 1/4″

“One deft stroke and the head appeared,” I’d written of your birth.
“How’s that?”  I asked her.
“It’s three a.m.,” she said,
“And it’s not true; I had to push like hell
before it came.”
Continue Reading →

In Tents #74 How Infancy Narratives Behave Rhetorically, Part 3

Sometimes it can be useful to read things in a new form, format, or translation. For some reason my MP3 player treats anything after the first digit as a decimal, following the order 1, 10, 100, 101, 102, . . . 11, 110, 111, 112 . . . 2, 20, 21, und so weiter. So last year year I decided to listen to the Doctrine & Covenants in that order, and it was interesting to hear the early and late sections juxtaposed.

Later, when I got to the Tanakh I decided to listen in the Jewish order rather than the Christian. Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim:

  • Torah (Instruction): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  • Nevi’im (Prophets):
    • (Former) Joshua, Judges Samuel, Kings
    • (Latter) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel
    • (The Twelve) Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  • Ketuvim (Writings):
    • (Poetical Books) Psalms, Proverbs, Job
    • (Five Rolls–Hamesh Megillot) Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes
    • (Historical Books) Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles

According to Wikipedia the order of the Ketuvim has never been quite set, but this is the most common. Harold Bloom says in Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine  that the Ketuvim ends with Chronicles because Chronicles ends with the rebuilding of the temple and the invitation to return to the temple. Christians changed the order, elevating Daniel to a major prophet and giving Malachi the last word, because Daniel was so important to Christian eschatology and Malachi prophesied about their Lord’s forerunner. Continue Reading →

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