Remember that one time God totally denied having a body in restoration scripture?

There I was looking at all the fascinating differences between the First Book of Moses called Genesis in the KJV and the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price … such as the global change from third person to first person (e.g. Genesis: “God said” > Moses: “I, God, said”) … when to my surprise I saw this anti-anthropomorphism:

Genesis 3:8 KJV

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

Moses 4:14

And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

In the KJV, God walks around like a human with legs (Hebrew Bible and LXX both have masculine single participles modifying the noun Lord God). But that would be some kind of crass theology. So in the Book of Moses, it’s Adam and Eve who do the walking.

Also, the whole business about God being ignorant of where Adam and Eve were hiding? Yeah, that’s been cleared up too. In the Book of Moses they don’t hide; they go to hide and get busted on the way:

Genesis 3:9 KJV

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Moses 4:15

And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?

There’s no hiding from an omniscient deity. Even if he doesn’t have feet himself to patrol with, he’s still gonna stop you in your tracks.

The Myth of “Listening” to the Scriptures

So, I am still thinking about the interpretive claim made by another blog that “God is a child sacrificing, misogynist, racial bigot.”  I started writing a post about the nature of interpretation and the naivety behind the myth that the scriptures contain a meaning prior to human interpretation. What I have found objectionable about this particular reading is not simply its conclusions, but the way it presents these conclusions as the outcome of an unbiased reading of scripture.  While I was thinking about writing this post, I remembered that Blake Ostler and I had an great exchange about the nature of interpretation a few years back.  Rereading it, I realized that pretty much everything I wanted to say now I had already said a few years ago.

Here is a link to my earlier blog post about interpretation and the comments section with Blake (and others) weighing in.

“Generous Orthodoxy” and Continuous Revelation

I recently came across a phrase from feminist theologian Hannah Bacon that I really liked.  She talked about a “generous orthodoxy,” a term used “to identify orthodoxy as an emerging, incomplete process that is never closed in on itself, always receptive to the voice of the other.” (See Bacon, “A Very Particular Body: Assessing the Doctrine of Incarnation For Affirming the Sacramentality of Female Embodiment,” in Women and the Divine: Touching Transcendence, eds. Gillian Howie and J’annine Jobling (New York: Palgrave Mcmillan, 2009).  Her essay is interesting in its own right, but I was particularly moved by the framework of the project itself.   [Read more...]

A Mormon Tribute to MLK

Given some of the discussion of Martin Luther King, Jr. in some LDS venues, I thought it would be a good time to reread my own tribute written five years ago.


Who wrote Ether 3? Or, Why Mormons do not fear the Documentary Hypothesis

The story of the appearance of Jesus Christ to the brother of Jared is one of the highlights of the Book of Mormon.  Searching out who exactly the author or authors of this chapter are can be illuminating. Let’s take a look: I can see five authors – how many do you count?

1. Moroni.

The Book of Ether, we are told, is transcribed by Moroni on to plates. Ether 1:1 states:

AND now I, Moroni, proceed to give an account of those ancient inhabitants who were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country.

This seems pretty clear: Moroni states he is an author. His commentary is present throughout the Book of Ether.

2. Ether.

While Moroni did the engraving onto the plates, though, he did not originate all of the material. He writes in Ether 1:6:

 And on this wise do I give the account. He that wrote this record was Ether, and he was a descendant of Coriantor.

Simply put, Moroni states he is reworking material at hand, a record originally written by Ether. And indeed, we are reading from the Book of Ether. So far, two authors. But let’s keep going.

3. The brother of Jared.

Ether 3 recounts a theophany, where Christ appears to the brother of Jared. Ether wasn’t there at the time, nor was Moroni. They do not claim to be writing this story via revelation. Rather, the brother of Jared wrote down his experience. After the theophany, the brother of Jared is commanded to record it, as described in the last verses of chapter 3 and the first verses of chapter 4:

And the Lord said unto him [the brother of Jared]: Write these things and seal them up; and I will show them in mine own due time unto the children of men. …And the Lord commanded the brother of Jared to go down out of the mount from the presence of the Lord, and write the things which he had seen; and they were forbidden to come unto the children of men until after that he should be lifted up upon the cross; and for this cause did king Mosiah keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ should show himself unto his people.

OK, so far this is pretty straightforward: the brother of Jared had an amazing experience. He wrote it down, then Ether re-recorded it onto his record, and then Moroni wrote the story again, with plenty of commentary inserted as the story is related.

Neither Ether nor Moroni indicate that they are writing a word-for-word transcription, and we also know that Ether’s recording was not in the language that Nephites typically read. How do we know this? Because earlier on, Mormon records that when Ether’s record was found, no one could read it. It had to be translated. This brings us to our fourth author:

4. Mosiah.

Remember that Mosiah (son of King Benjamin) is brought twenty four gold plates to translate, plates that the people of Limhi had found.  Moroni reminds us of this in the second verse of the book Ether:

And I take mine account from the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the Book of Ether.

Recall that these plates were translated by Mosiah – one of the places we first meet the two stones fastened into a bow for the purposes of translation in the Book of Mormon, back in Mosiah 28. Here are some relevant verses:

11 Therefore he took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God, after having translated and caused to be written the records which were on the plates of gold which had been found by the people of Limhi, which were delivered to him by the hand of Limhi;

17 Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea, and even from that time back until the creation of Adam.

 18 Now this account did cause the people of Mosiah to mourn exceedingly, yea, they were filled with sorrow; nevertheless it gave them much knowledge, in the which they did rejoice.

 19 And this account shall be written hereafter; for behold, it is expedient that all people should know the things which are written in this account.

Here it is clear that Mosiah was the source of the understanding of this record. While it is possible that Moroni might have re-translated these plates, he never mentions translating during his extensive work, whereas he does a lot of transcribing and editing of records he already has. Thus, it seems likely that Moroni is working from Mosiah’s translation of Ether’s record of the brother of Jared’s original account.

However, now that the subject of translation comes up, we must acknowledge that in any translation, the translator plays a role. The Book of Mormon is filled with passages that mirror the King James Bible, no doubt in part because Joseph Smith was familiar with the King James translation.  This brings us to our fifth contributor:

5. Joseph Smith.

That Joseph Smith’s input to the Book of Mormon was not divinely fixed but rather in part depended on Joseph himself was asserted by his biggest fan, Brigham Young, as recorded in the Journal of Discourses:

When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiff-necked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiff-necked, the Lord can tell them but little. (JD 9:311)

It seems that Brigham Young understood the translation of the Book of Mormon to be similar to other forms of translation – that frequently there is no single optimal way to translate passages, and so different translations are not a sign of imperfection but rather the limitations of human language.

There may be other authors. We don’t know, for example, if Mormon did any editing of the Mosiah translation when he received the plates (before Moroni got to the task), or if anyone else who held the plates between Mosiah and Moroni had any input. Nor do we know whether Ether had the original account of the brother of Jared, written hundreds of years (at least 28 generations) earlier. It seems possible that during those hundreds of years, some other translation or editing might have occurred.

So, I can estimate at least 5 different authors for Ether 3: Moroni, Ether, the brother of Jared, Mosiah, and Joseph Smith. The presence of multiple authors isn’t really surprising, once you reflect on it; we are fully comfortable as Mormons with all of these authors. We are completely fine with inspired editing and record keeping, the passing down and reworking of sacred writ.

Why is this of interest? One reason is our course of study this year in Sunday School, the Old Testament. All modern commentaries discuss the Documentary Hypothesis – the idea that the Five Books of Moses are a synthesis of four earlier documents.  While all agree it is only a hypothesis, and there are still ongoing debates about the degree of its applicability or validity, it is a concept that those who search the scriptures will come across.

To me, it seems Mormons are uniquely well equipped to not only accept, but embrace the idea underlying the Documentary Hypothesis. We are totally fine with one prophet editing and adding to what another prophet wrote, and still calling it The Book of Ether (or Alma, and so on).

And this analysis can be useful. For example, as Grant Hardy showed in his outstanding book, Understanding the Book of Mormon, we can learn a lot by thinking about who authored which verses in the Book of Mormon. I find his analysis of story in Ether 3 and the Christology of both Ether and Moroni to be fascinating.

Why not consider the same concepts for other scriptures?


Even More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

I once wrote about the Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma, which I said I would follow up on but never did, and I won’t do it here. Because there are even more Old Testament pseudepigrapha to write about that are not old but new!

The current issue of the Ensign features an article written in the first person as though by Adam. It looks to be the initial article in a series called “Old Testament Prophets,” coinciding with the year’s gospel doctrine topic. Apparently, soon there will be articles written by Enoch, Noah, and so forth.

So what are we to make of this? Here is a text that purports to be written by a biblical figure. Do we take it at face value? And if not, what exactly makes this text different from others that we may insist on taking at face value, such as the Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma, or the Book of Moses or the Book of Abraham?

The differences may well be extensive. They should not merely be assumed, however. They should be reflected upon and verbalized.

Repost: Ethics as an Interpretive Lens

This is a repost of an earlier post of mine that seems relevant today.

How should we evaluate and adjudicate doctrinal and practical matters? As LDS we look to scripture, authoritative statements by leaders, and to the history of LDS practice and thought. Appeals to these sources of authority, however, not only fail to yield definitive answers, but also obscure the authority with which they are invested. The authority by which these sources are invested is never itself investigated. The reinscription of the authority of these sources and the results they produce requires another level of scrutiny, particularly ethical scrutiny. Too often, authoritative sources become a cover for not having to deal with the ethical implications of doctrinal or practical matters.

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Yes, M* is a Child-Sacrificing Misogynist and Racist Bigot Blog

I believe that I recall the last time I posted M*.  It was April 2012.  JMax was defending Mormon racism and inventing a new history of the exclusion of those of African descent into LDS priesthood and temple rites.  (You can read the post and comments here.)  After they closed the thread without explanation, I decided that I had too many things going on in my life and I unlisted them from my RSS reader.

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FPR Best of 2013

This year, like many years past, we had some great posts.  We tend to be pretty inconsistent week to week, with regular life taking over, but every time we think we are going out of business, something else sparks our interest.  Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.

This year we also resolved to quit reading some of the more problematic Mormon blogs and “journals” (or at least to quit publicly commenting on them).  There were a handful of frustrating exchanges on other blogs, but overall we were a lot happier simply ignoring the incessant drivel out there.  Still, I think it is nice to reflect on some of our greatest hits from this year.

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Even Christ’s Body Has an A**hole

Communities sometimes find themselves in deep division over really important issues.  There is no universal answer to how to respond to these divisions, but one example from the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians, has been deeply influential for me, and one with conflicting messages in our present circumstances.

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