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 →

In Tents 70 How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t Part X

41htbpmoillThe Title caught my eye, “Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs in The Book of Mormon.” Not unusual, my eye was scanning the table of contents to catch something of interest, and I’m open to any poetic diction that would make my poetry less paltry. (Praise be to the Orem library for stocking its sales shelves with interesting titles like Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4:2 (1995)) I read enough of the article to get the general concept and learn that word pairs are a common feature in Hebrew poetry. A few weeks later we were visiting my wife’s sister in northern Idaho and I noticed a framed psalm on the wall in her son’s furniture store. There’s a word pair, there’s one, there’s one.

I’d seen and heard word pairs before, particularly in the Psalms and Isaiah, but didn’t have a name for them, as I did for situations where the first and fourth lines rhyme and so do the second and third. It’s so common that we’ve schematized it as ABBA. Once I had a schema for parallel word pairs I could see how common they are and notice how they often appear in sets of two or three.

Consider the beginning of Psalm 106 Continue Reading →

In Tents 66 How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t, Part VI

Isaiah Reads The Book of Mormon, continued

Reading through posts in this series I’m struck by the reticence in some passages. Consider this from last month’s post:

Let me close by giving three brief examples from the Book of Mormon that may have involved the last steward of the record making changes as he transmitted the text from their language into his.

Why not just state it boldly? Partly because we don’t know a lot about how Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon. He didn’t say much about it besides affirming that he translated “by the gift and power of God.”

Brant Gardner’s The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon starts with a survey of what people who witnessed the translation said about it. He builds a fine synthesis around their statements, drawing on fields as diverse as anthropology and optics–the science of how a seer sees–though Gardner doesn’t say much about the presence of Deutero-Isaiah.

I’ve suggested some explanations, but there’s something I haven’t said and probably ought to. Continue Reading →

In Tents 64: How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t Part IV

Isaiah Visits The Book of Mormon, continued

The purpose of this blog, sooner or later, is to examine the rhetoric of Jesus’s encounters with the Pharisees, so it’s useful to explore rhetoric and how prophets use it. In the last column  I suggested that prophetic rhetoric is always bounded. God’s works are endless, as are God’s words, so no passage or bit of prophetic rhetoric can contain all them, or all their meanings–no passage can ever be the last word, not even,

The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.

That’s a ringing declaration, but lest we assume the appendages aren’t worth much and do a doctrinal appendectomy Joseph Smith immediately added a qualifier:

But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth. (Elders’ Journal, July 1838, p. 44; reprinted in History of the Church 3:30, and quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith)

The rhetoric of prophecy offers some challenges because in a sense all prophecy is about the past. Continue Reading →

In Tents 62 How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t Part II

Think back to that marvelous moment when your seminary teacher introduced you to the various groups in 1st-Century Palestine–that cartoon of the Zealot carrying a picket sign reading Render Unto Caesar, and that mnemonic comment about the difference between the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection, and the Saducees, who did not. And that’s why they were sad you see.

OK, it’s a cheesy joke as I told my Sunday School class, but for more than 40 years it’s been an easy way to tell the difference between the Pharisees and Saducees.

What my seminary teacher didn’t say however, and what the New Testament doesn’t tell us, is why the Saducees were sad. You see, I didn’t find that out till I was standing on the platform at the Draper FrontRunner sation waiting for the midday train (only once an hour at that time of day) last week listening to Thomas Madden’s second lecture in “From Jesus to Christianity.” Madden says at 9:50 that the Pharisees valued all sacred writings as well as oral traditions. Since Daniel and others mention the afterlife the idea of resurrection has scriptural support.

At 10:49 Madden states the Saduccees’ opinion on the question. They did not accept anything after the writings of Moses as scripture, and since the Books of Moses don’t mention a resurrection it’s not a binding doctrine.

How interesting, here I’ve been exploring the consequences of closed versus open canon in my column, and I come across something that tells me the debate between the two goes right back to the time of Jesus and before.

Continue Reading →

In Tents 52 This Jesus Ye Slew and Other Texts That Don’t Behave Part IV

If you ask the Duckduck to go find the phrase “corrupt and designing priests have committed many errors” the third source that comes up is from Yahoo! Answers, to the question, “Is the bible truly corrupted as the Mormons will have us believe?”

The answer voted Best Answer, from Smarty Bear, says:

The mormons believe Satan’s lie that we humans can become gods. The Bible teaches that we deserve to die for the sins we’ve committed against God, but there is still a way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ. Despite what any moron… sorry mormon says.

If I were to respond in kind I would say any moron can see that the answer doesn’t answer the question, but answering in kind is not usually very useful. Still, the question does deserve an answer, and it raises its own question. What does the questioner mean by the word corrupted? In the world of textual scholarship the word has a specific meaning akin to #3 for the adjective corrupt on, “made inferior by errors or alterations, as a text.”

When I hear of a corrupt text I think of a masters thesis I came across in the University of Washington’s Suzallo library, Husbandry, which ends with a translation of Beowulf, lines 2200-2323, after Fr. Klaeber’s text. After about 27 lines, the translator, Dennis Clark, puts several colons in one line and a string of periods in several others, with a note in the margin, “here the text is corrupt” (which may be Dennis’s note or Fr. Klaeber’s).

This sense of corrupt carries no moral connotation, and if that’s the meaning of the question It’s fairly easy to demonstrate some degree of corruption in the text. For example Numbers 1:14 reads “Eliasaph the son of Deuel,” while 2:14 reads “Eliasaph the son of Reuel.” Continue Reading →

In Tents #51 This Jesus Whom Ye Slew and Other Texts That Don’t Behave Part III

Last month I raised a question, a thought to experiment with, two questions actually. If you knew there was a typographical error in the Book of Mormon that had never been corrected would it shake your faith? Should it?

I concentrated on the first question, heading toward the answer that I didn’t think it would because Latter-day scripture gives us a way to think about imperfect scriptures, to understand that scripture can be imperfect but still true.

In response Th. Jepson sent a brief note to the effect that my posts are so complex that by the time he finishes one he forgets what he was going to say–sort of like J. Golden Kimball as the last speaker in a long conference saying, “My brothers and sisters, I’ve had some mighty good thoughts in this conference, but they’ve all kind of oozed out of me.”

I thought a lot about this. If I’m causing my readers’ thoughts to ooze away what can I change to make a more congenial blog? Slow down? Try to cover less? While I was thinking about that, I realized I had slighted my second question, Should it? Continue Reading →

In Tents #50 This Jesus Whom Ye Slew and Other Texts That Don’t Behave Part II

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose I told you there were thousands of errors in the first edition of the Book of Mormon–not necessarily in every copy, but in the first edition as a whole–or more precisely that there are nearly 4000 changes between the first edition and the 1981 edition. Would that shake your testimony? Should it?

Suppose I said it differently, “The Book of Mormon, the most correct book on earth, has 3,913 corrections.” (Read that with a sneer. Those or similar words begin Jerald and Sandra Tanners’ classic 3,913 Changes in The Book of Mormon.) Would my words shake your testimony? Should they?

My guess is that the answer to either question would be “No.” No, the fact of changes, corrections and errors in the Book of Mormon don’t upset or unsettle you, and no, you don’t see any reason why it should. And that lack of seeing doesn’t indicate some willful blindness on your part, some desire to avoid unpleasant facts, some lack of serious thought about the implications changes in sacred texts. Indeed, if I pushed you on it you would probably quote the first section of the Doctrine & Covenants,

“These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”
–D&C 1:24

You might say something about the scriptures not being dictation, that prophets write in response to a command to write the vision,

And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
–Habakkuk 2:2 

or even invoke Moroni’s comment about the imperfection of prophets,

Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.
–Mormon 9:31 

Continue Reading →

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