In Tents #27 Ethics and Aesthetics Part 5

Last night at dinner my sister Krista asked what I was presenting at the AML symposium. She was trying to distract me from mourning the impending loss of our mother’s four last infected teeth, with nothing left to anchor lower dentures to. (Last Tuesday, March 19, I heard Ron Chernow talking on the radio from BYU about George Washington’s ivory (not wooden) spring-loaded dentures. How difficult and painful they were to wear–how hard to keep them in his mouth and do things that required an open mouth, like talking. Perhaps that was the reason, he said, for the brevity of Washington’s speeches.)

I said I would be talking about aesthetics as a reflection of ethics. “Do they have the same root?” she asked. “I don’t think so. The root of aesthetics has to do with feeling. An anaesthetic is something that deadens our feelings. As soon as you start talking about feelings, you raise the question about whether the feelings are genuine, whether the way a work of art appeals to your feelings is genuine or false.”
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In Tents #24 Ethics and Aesthetics of Jesus and Pilate, Part II

By any measure the story of Jesus and Pilate is not flattering to Pilate, or to Rome. To see why take the elements of the story and move them to another time. A judge or military commander who says to a person on trial, “I believe you are innocent but I’m going to kill you anyway, and it won’t be a painless death–it will be torture,” is a coward if he believes what he’s saying. If he doesn’t believe the prisoner is innocent his words are a sign of extraordinary cruelty, an exercise of sheer power, playing with the prisoner’s emotions and expectations–a foretaste of the humiliation of mortal public torture.

Imagine how we would feel if an American military commander asked to settle a grudge between two competing religious factions found a way to humiliate both groups, and posted photos of the torture–including pictures of sexual humiliation, and desecration of both the corpse and his writings–on his Facespace page. Now imagine how the people of that country would feel towards the American commander and towards the country that sent him to occupy their land.

Why don’t Christians feel that way toward Pilate, or toward Rome? It’s not a rhetorical question–that is, the answer is not obvious. The answer is certainly not that the Crucifixion happened 2,000 years ago and it just doesn’t make sense to hold a grudge against a nation or people. Nor is the answer that Jesus’s disciples embraced his ethic of forgiveness, that they forgave everyone involved in the Crucifixion because those people did not know what they were doing.
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In Tents # 22 Jesus and Pilate Part 8 The Midrash

As stated in part 7, while I was preparing my original AML paper I came across Robert Rees’s “The Midrashic Imagination in the Book of Mormon” (Dialogue 44:3, Fall 2011). Rees describes Midrash as imaginative engagement with scripture, and after reading the article I noticed a couple of General Conference speakers using midrash, and mentioned it to my Gospel Doctrine class. I related midrash to Nephi’s “we did liken all scripture unto ourselves,” and noted our Latter-day prophets following in the ancient tradition of prophets and scriptural students. Continue Reading →

In Tents # 20 Pilate before Jesus, Part 6

Today, Sept. 23, 2012, stake centers in Utah became extensions of the temple so people could participate in the dedication of the Brigham City temple. We attended the 9 AM session, the first of 3, conducted by L. Tom Perry, who grew up just south of Brigham City in Perry, “The peach capital of the world.” Elder Perry started the dedication by explaining there would first be a cornerstone sealing ceremony. He said that modern temples, being built of concrete, don’t actually have cornerstones–“the Lord is our cornerstone”–but there was a space built in at one of the corners to hold a box of mementos that should be of historical interest in the future.

During the cornerstone sealing he (or whoever was narrating) said, “This is purely ceremonial,” meaning, I suppose, that the mortar wasn’t meant to be permanent. It was simply part of the ceremony for the various participants to put some mortar into the groove. But that doesn’t mean the action wasn’t significant, wasn’t freighted with meaning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ceremony and ritual the last few years. In ceremony and ritual, words and actions have ritual meaning they don’t necessarily have in other settings. In this case placing the mortar had nothing to do with the structural integrity of the building, and much to do with testifying of that stone the builders rejected, which became the chief cornerstone (see Matt. 21:42).
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In Tents #19 Pilate before Jesus Part 5

Note: I hope to revise this a little later with scripture quotes and citations. I’ll note the updates in the Reply section.

He taught me language, and my prophet on’t is,
I learned how to pun

At the end of #18 I suggested Jesus might have appealed to Pilate, perhaps as a prophecy of Paul’s appeal to Caesar, and/or a prophecy about the mission to the Gentiles. The suggestion that Jesus may have appealed to Pilate answers a question I didn’t ask, but it’s worth asking: Continue Reading →

In Tents 17 Pilate’s Trial Before Jesus Part 3

As I mentioned in May, the last parable Jesus tells before going into the temple to deliver his final public sermon–and I think “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees” is best seen as a sermon, a jeremiad, rather than a rant or tantrum–is about a man who has the power to send out slaves to compel people to come in and fill up his banquet hall. My suggestion that we see this as a prophecy about Pilate might seem less fanciful if we ask, “What are all those people doing in Pilate’s courtyard anyway?”

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In Tents #16 Pilate’s Trial Before Jesus, Part 2

I ended last month’s post with a note about how little power Pilate has, not even the power to force a response from Jesus. That doesn’t mean, however, that Pilate’s power is inconsequential. Jesus’s death is a consequence. But we often treat Pilate as an inconsequential person, or an inconsequential power broker, maybe a bit of a bumbler who lets the crowd pressure him into executing a man he believes to be innocent.

We could even see him as a tragic hero, but I don’t think we usually do. He doesn’t rise to that stature, more of a bumbler, an unfunny Inspector Clouseau. For Luke, at least, he’s much more ominous than a bumbler. Consider Luke’s first mention of Pilate:
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In Tents # 15, Pilate’s Trial Before Jesus, Part 1

Note: This is out of sequence, but I’m putting it here because I’ve been working on it this month as part of my paper for AML’s annual meeting. I also want to use it as an introduction to the next section, which will focus on the first mention of the Pharisees, which also involves a Roman soldier. I had thought to make this a one-part digression, but, there’s too much to say for one part.

If you asked a random group of Christians who is responsible for Jesus’s death the non-reflexive answer would likely be, “The Jews.” A little reflection might yield an answer like, “The Romans crucified Jesus with some pressure from the Jewish leaders,” or, “The Romans put Jesus to death using a form of execution reserved for insurrectionists,” or like the Boy Scout troop I heard about decades ago who had a Scout-O-Rama exhibit inviting people into their booth to see who was responsible for Jesus’s death. Once inside the booth a Scout would pull back a curtain, revealing–a mirror.

But the non-reflexive answer, I’m fairly sure, would be, “The Jews.” In contrast if you asked a random group of college students who was responsible for Socrates’ death they wouldn’t automatically say, “The Greeks,” or even, “the Athenians.” They’d likely say that Sew krates came into conflict with the Athenian elders, who condemned him on a flimsy charge.

Rome would have felt good reason for concern over a preacher Continue Reading →

In Tents # 9

Contradictory Commandment, Taking Leaves, and Ritual Language

Harlow Soderborg Clark

They are not, on the face of it, contradictory commandments, Go forth, multiply and replenish the earth, and Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet I think I was an adult before I understood that. Perhaps I had adult children. I grew up hearing my father ask that question, in Family Home Evening and other contexts, perhaps in the classroom.

I’m not quite sure what the answer was. I’m sure it had something to do with being enticed by one choice or the other, but I couldn’t imagine the answer being half as good as the question.
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