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 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 Sadducees, 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 Sadducees.

What my seminary teacher didn’t say however, and what the New Testament doesn’t tell us, is why the Sadducees 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 #38 The Physical First, Then the Spiritual

On Sunday, October 15, 1843, Joseph Smith preached “at the stand east of the Temple.” He began by talking about the Government’s (capital letter his) failure to uphold the civil rights of the saints, then turned to the failure of religion to uphold people’s rights of inquiry, rights of access to God:

I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further;” which I cannot subscribe to.

I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors. (DHC, vol. 6, p. 57.)

We often see one or the other paragraph quoted separately, but not as often together, yet together they redefine our relationship to scripture. The first paragraph separates creed from scripture, the second invites us to think about the rhetorical purposes of scripture and of the people who transmit scripture from one generation to another.

And the two paragraphs are scandalous. “Do you really think Jehovah God Almighty would allow his holy scriptures to have errors in them?” a woman asked a young missionary, who thought (at least in retrospect), ‘Of course I believe that. God didn’t protect the Book of Lehi, didn’t protect the Word made flesh, so why protect the word on the page?’

But the first is also scandalous. Continue Reading →

Speaking Out vs. Being Heard

With the advent of the Internet and its applications (blogs, tweets, Facebook) more people have more ability to speak out than ever before, resulting in the greatest diversity of expression in history. But I’m still not convinced that we’re being heard any more efficiently despite having that louder, more expansive voice.

The two most obvious examples are religion and politics (itself a sort of burned over district of religion), where the use of mass communication is to deliver a message, not to receive (or revise) one. The ability to testify (and be seen doing so) of one’s own standing relative to an essentially fixed (orthodox) position is designed to reinforce that core message as it is.

In other words, the conclusion has already been reached, and the goal is to express that conclusion as clearly and forcefully as possible. The fundamental intent is to implant that conclusion in the mind of the recipient and replace whatever is there now through a combination of repetition (political talking points) and expressive power (rhetoric). Continue Reading →