December 27, 2017

Looking NE from St. Peter's to the old city and Mt. of Olives
Looking NE from St. Peter’s to the old city and Mt. of Olives

First, there’s a Kindle sale on some John Walton books I recommend, including some I haven’t read yet in the Lost World series. Lost World of Genesis 1; Lost World of Genesis 2-3; Lost World of the Israelite Conquest; Lost World of Scripture (about Israelite oral culture).

This post of recommendations focuses on the history and culture of the Old Testament. I’ve bolded my simple choices for those who don’t want lots of detailed options.

 

First, my free accessible stuff online.

Logos also offers some free stuff, like a Study Bible and Bible Dictionary. Again, Logos is a free app, you buy books and packages separately. I’ve starred the things available in Logos. (See my post here for instructions/demo and a follow-up here with another demo.)

Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament has an introduction to some of the history/culture, and is still $10 at Deseret Book

To learn more about all the peoples and civilizations around the Old Testament, like Egyptians, Hittites, Babylonians, etc., Arnold/Strawn, The World around the Old Testament: The People and Places of the Ancient Near East If you want to go deeper on this, you want Jack Sasson’s 4-volumes-in-2 Civilizations of the Ancient Near East.

Actual history books.

Physical and Social Structures

Reference Works

These are organized by topic or some other logic, not book/chapter/verse. I’ve starred those available in Logos, since reference works in particular benefit from the tagging/searching/linking capabilities of Logos.

Bible and other Dictionaries

  • The Oxford Companion to the Bible.
    • This is essentially a Bible Dictionary with some history and history of interpretation thrown in. It’s respectable, and it can be had used for $1.50 or so.
  • * Anchor Bible Dictionary
    • After a change in publisher, this is now the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. It’s ecumenical, academic, and 7000+ pages,  but 25 yrs old at this point, and apparently out of print and expensive. I got mine on sale at Logos. (It’s currently on sale for $190 instead of 260. Remember, Logos itself is free. You can treat it like a supercharged Kindle and just buy individual books.)
  • * IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament
    • This is a multi-volume Protestant series that is quite good, imo. It often leans conservative, but surprises me in good ways. You can buy a set or individual volumes, and there’s a New Testament counterpart as well. I also got this on deep sale at Logos, once upon a time. I keep my eyes open.

*Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible.  I bet you didn’t know there were enough of these in the Bible to merit an entire dictionary of almost a thousand pages 😉

 

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

December 6, 2017

George Cattermole, "The Scribe" public domain.
George Cattermole, “The Scribe” public domain.

Update: I’ve put together a collection of samples from these books.

First, note that LDS Perspectives is beginning a string of Old Testament-related podcasts, today with Philip Barlow (Mormons and the Bible), Cory Crawford next week, and me on December 20th, talking about what’s going on in Genesis 1, Moses, and Abraham. I also have a post coming on the early chapters of Genesis, so stay tuned.

When we read the Old Testament, we need several things, like good translations and notes. We need lots of background information on the history and culture (topic of the next post.) But it’s not just data that matters. It’s also our approach, what we’re looking for, what we expect to find, what we think the Old Testament was for, both overall and in its various parts. I suspect many of us are just unaware of how much we bring to our reading and how it shapes our experience.

This is a list of paradigm changers and eye-openers. In some ways, having a paradigm shift is more important than simply having more data, because it completely changes how you view and use the data. Sometimes data alone can lead to a paradigm shift. In my BYU Studies article on atonement terminology in the Old Testament, I recount my discovery of Israelite names meaning “God is my father” (just fine), “God is my brother” (uh, Jesus as elder brother, maybe, kinda?) and then the paradigm-buster, “God is my uncle.” I simply couldn’t fit that into my narrow conceptions, and it pushed me into new territory. So these books don’t go verse-by-verse or even book by book; rather they reshape our general approach, assumptions, and expectations.

img_0013.jpgIn my shortlist, I singled out Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes and Schlimm’s This Strange and Sacred Scripture img_0020.jpgas two must-reads, but in my ideal world, all the books below would be common reading among Mormons, even pre-mission. They’re mostly short (150-200 pages), inexpensive paperback, and aimed at non-specialists, so they’re meant to be accessible. Some longer/deeper volumes come at the end. As always, I neither fully agree with nor “endorse” any of these books, and with one exception, none of them are written by Latter-day Saints; they are fantastically helpful and thought-provoking.

 

  • In terms of free and accessible, I’d point you first to my podcast last summer with LDS Perspectives about reading the Old Testament and genre. That kind of approach has become second nature for me, but it’s radically new for many Mormons. One friend posted the link to Facebook saying, “Read this transcript… then imagine how different your experience with LDS scripture would’ve been growing up if someone had explained this to you early on, if it had been integrated into the curriculum in a formal way — in seminary, in church, at BYU, wherever. It seems tragic to me that this has never happened. That generations of LDS students — even very smart and educated ones — fixate on the wrong questions and the wrong preoccupations about the text because they’ve never been taught to do differently”

 

 

  • Brent Strawn has some excellent Old Testament books, but it’s his short paper contribution found in few places, called “Genesis, Gilgamesh, and ‘Getting’ Jiggy wit It’ :Ancient Near Eastern Parallels, Scripture, and Hip-Hop Sampling.”  Many of the works I point to will compare/contrast Biblical ideas or passages with ancient Near Eastern material that the Biblical writers knew, alluded to, drew on, or at least breathed the same cultural air. Indeed, the more we learn about the ancient Near East, the less unique the Bible appears, at least in its constituent parts. This kind of shared cultural element in revelation can be challenging to people who assume revelation comes in unique forms, or that it wears no cultural trappings. Strawn uses rap sampling in his classes to explain why inspired authors might use (consciously or not) other non-biblical and even “pagan” materials. His short article has been summarized by someone else in YouTube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BVWXUIpTug
  • Peter Enns’ books and podcast, but especially Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. An Evangelical trained at Harvard, Enns addresses three assumptions Evangelicals img_0016.jpgbring to the Old Testament that causes struggles with it, like the one above, that revelation is completely independent of culture. As it turns out, Mormons largely share these assumptions. Enns’ earlier books like this one are a little more academic; his later books like X often cover the same material have a more popular jovial tone. Enns has been on the Maxwell Institute podcast twice and spoken at BYU. I covered that small conference here, his published remarks behind the paywall here.

 

 

  • James Kugel has been another influential Jewish author for me. His How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now opens with a history of modern Bible scholarship and its tensions. He then turns to the Hebrew Bible and goes through selectively and sequentially, explaining why Bible scholars today understand it the way they do, and why ancient interpreters might have understood it differently. I’ve likened Kugel to Richard Bushman at times. This is a wonderful but challenging (and long!) book, and Kugel explains at the end and elsewhere how he maintains his belief as an Orthodox Jew who taught Hebrew Bible at Harvard. Kugel has spoken at BYU on issues of faith and scholarship and been interviewed on the MI podcast.

 

  • Although narrowly about Job, I include Michael Austin’s LDS Rereading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poembecause it illustrates paradigm change with a deep dive into a book we mostly ignore, and perfectly balances devotional reading, practical application, and academic study. I know a Stake President who bought copies of this for the entire High Council. One spouse who read it came back in tears to report how instrumental it had been during a lengthy and extremely difficult physical and emotional situation involving health, sex, children, family alienation, and death. There are depths to the Old Testament, if we can grasp them.

 

 

 

img_0012.jpgBenjamin Sommer’s recent book Revelation and Authority gets into some of the same area as Sparks, but from a Jewish perspective. Sommer argues for a “participatory model of revelation” in which the human prophetic recipient shapes and influences the revelation, and the implications this has for Jewish law in the Hebrew Bible. As the Amazon blurb says, “Sommer’s book demonstrates why a law-observant religious Jew can be open to discoveries about the Bible that seem nontraditional or even antireligious.” Our conception of revelation contributes to our understanding of scripture, history, and tradition. (See also my presentation on “Truth, Scripture, and Interpretation: Some Precursors to Reading Genesis“)

Happy reading. As always, you can help me pay my tuition here. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

November 28, 2017

Public domain, http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=8577&picture=old-books
Public domain

This is the second in a series of posts about resources for study and teaching the Old Testament in 2018. If you feel overwhelmed by the information below, I recommend going back to the first post, a shortlist of five books to give you a leg up, without lots of discussion to cut through. Future posts will provide resources on “paradigm changers,” the JST, history/culture of the Old Testament, the early chapters of Genesis, creation/evolution, how to profitably study, take notes, teach, etc.

Before I get into it today, note that Deseret Book is selling one of my short-list volumes for $10. No reason not to pick it up at that price.

We often forget that we are not actually reading the Bible itself, but an English translation. Translation matters. Everyone’s first and primary interaction with scripture is in a language not their own. The Bible, of course, is translated from Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, but even D&C is not the American English of 2017. This means that for most people, their understanding of what scripture says depends heavily on what the translation implies. Well, what if it’s not a great English translation? Knowledge of how we got that English, what stands behind it, why translations differ, how the LDS Church came to use the King James Version as its official English Bible, etc. contributes greatly to our understanding and appreciation of the Bible.  For those without much time, I’ve chosen three select resources and bolded them.

Mormons and the Bible

  • Mormon leadership has read the Bible in a variety of ways, as detailed by Phillip Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible (Oxford Press). This is a must-read for understanding different views, interpretations, and usages of the Bible in LDS tradition. It demonstrates that we cannot simply “follow the Brethren” in how we read the Bible, because they haven’t all read it the same way.
  • Barlow has also written on how the King James Version went from the de facto Bible to the official Bible, which happened much more recently than many of us might expect. “Why the King James Version? From the Common to the Official Bible of Mormonism” Dialogue 22:2 (Summer 1986). PDF here, online version here.
  • Grant Hardy looks at how LDS usage of the KJV affects missionary work. While it has some positives, it has some serious negatives as well, e.g. “The KJV is no longer the dominant Bible of the English-speaking world, and the only denominations that still hold exclusively to that four-hundred-year- old translation are Latter-day Saints and a few marginal fringe groups.” There was an early edition of this paper, and a slightly different published edition.
  • Ronan Head responds to Hardy, “Unity and the King James Bible”
  • BYU’s Religious Studies Center put out an entire volume on The King James Bible and the Restoration, with a variety of topics covered well. Amazon link for print, but the whole thing is online from the RSC site.
  • Little has been written (to my knowledge) about non-English LDS usage of the Bible, but Joshua Sears examines the 2009 LDS Bible in Spanish, based on the 1909 Reina-Valera version, with some interesting observations.
  • David Seely put together a useful historical tool available here, “Reading the Old Testament in Light of the Restoration: A Comprehensive Bibliography of LDS Writings on the Old Testament (1830–1997)”

The KJV Itself

Since 2011 was the 400th anniversary of the KJV’s publication, a spate of books and articles appeared on its history and influence. What do we know about it? Lots. For example, the language of the KJV was already archaic when published in 1611. See my post here or this BYU Studies article “Through a Glass Darkly: Trying to Understand the Scriptures.” I’ve reproduced my list of resources from that post below. If you want only one, read McGrath.

If you need to do serious academic work on the KJV, David Norton is a name you should know.

Modern Translations

This is the single best tool in your box. I can’t recommend picking up one (or several!) highly enough. That said, all translations are not created equal and there are tons out there. See my article in the next section. I don’t think LDS should feel any reluctance in supplementing our official KJV with individual study of other translations and original languages. Joseph Smith did it.

  • Harper-Collins Study Bible– Based on the New Revised Standard Version (which I recommend as a stand-alone translation), this is often assigned for New Testament 101, or Hebrew Bible 101 at colleges. The publisher is the Society of Biblical Literature, and translation and notes are done by a variety of scholars, so there’s little religious bias.
  • NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible–   This exists in two versions, one with the New King James Version translation, which is basically an update to some of the archaic language of the KJV, but still has many of its problems. It also exists with the New International Version translation, which is highly problematic. The NIV is demonstrably biased; it cheats. So be sure to get the NKJV version.  As you might guess from the title, the notes and essays focus on the cultural backgrounds, those things ancient audiences (likely) knew which moderns don’t. Review here. It’s edited by John Walton, an Evangelical scholar I like, and my understanding is that the notes and essays are derived or shortened from this stand-alone series.
  • Jewish Study Bible– This translation and notes/essays are all written by Jewish scholars, which means it only covers the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. It’s a fantastic resource that will enlighten and challenge (since, for example, Jews are unlikely to interpret Isaiah as messianic prophecies of Jesus.) The JPS is not at all defensive about “weird stuff” in the Old Testament, and draws on some of the best scholarship available.  A New Testament (NRSV) annotated from the same Jewish perspective is available as the The Jewish Annotated New Testament
  • NET Bible-The advantage of the New Electronic Translation is it’s entirely free and online at http://Netbible.org, and in free App form, called Lumina. There are thousands and thousands of footnotes, often about translation or background. Plus, the online reading page allows a lot of nice study options. Try clicking on the Parallel tab, for example. And note the sympathetic highlighting! (Try mousing over a greek or Hebrew word, see all its other occurrences there also highlighted, and sometimes the translation in English.) When it works, it’s great!
  • Faithlife Study Bible.  I recommend this mainly because it’s sometimes free, and designed to expand, integrate with, and maximize use of Logos resources.

Hebrew-focused translations with notes oriented towards literary and language aspects of the text, like allusion, poetry, and wordplay. These are great, but lengthy, multiple volumes each.

Understanding Bible Translations and Languages

So why are there so many translations? Why are they different? Is it just bias? Isn’t the KJV good enough? Are we limited to it, as LDS?

  • I’ve written an article in BYU’s Religious Educator about why translations differ, which includes personal study suggestions on how to use multiple translations and get at underlying Greek and Hebrew (the last bit superseded by my two posts below.) There are four primary factors.
    1. Different textual sources used for the translation.  (Traditional Hebrew text(s), Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Vulgate, Targums, etc.)
    2. Different readings of grammar and syntax.  (Hebrew is very different than English.)
    3. Different readings of individual word semantics (Uh, Hebrew is very different than English. This article in the Ensign gets at some relevant data. )
    4. Conscious choices about translation philosophy, style, and register. (Should we translate to 6-th grade English or 12th grade English? Should we be offensive where the text intended to be offensive?)
  • I also cover some of this ground in my article “The Israelite Roots of Atonement Terminology” BYU Studies 55:1 (2016). There I examine what “atone” “redeem” and “save” meant in an Israelite context. They weren’t synonyms.
  • Rather than use paper tools like Strong’s Concordance, there are now good, free electronic tools that do a better job. See my post here and here. If you see someone cite Strong’s Concordance for the meaning of a word, rest assured they do not really know the ancient languages.
  • If you want to learn a little Hebrew, start with the alphabet, found in your King James Version at Psalm 119. It’s an acrostic, so each section begins with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Check out Hebrew4Christians for some useful introductions about letters, grammar, etc. (FYI, I’m NOT on board with their sensationalistic “Discover amazing secrets hidden in the Hebrew Bible and even in the very letters of the Hebrew alphabet! Learn how Yeshua is revealed “Aleph to Tav” – from the first Hebrew letter to the last!” Hebrew isn’t magic. It’s just a language.) And if you do know a little Hebrew, this is hilarious.

Deeper Dives into Background

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

November 23, 2017

My bookshelf
My old bookshelf

Through November 26, Amazon is offering $5 off any physical order of books of $20. That’s prompted me to push up this first of several posts.

More posts are coming, with more depth and recommendations, including lots of free stuff. I’m not going to go into justifications or this vs. that in this post, just basic recommendations of five books I wish everyone would read.

I want to preface with something Elder Ballard said recently in a BYU devotional. (The full transcript isn’t up yet. This starts about minute 12.)

Elder Ballard, from lds.org“I am a general authority, but that doesn’t make me an authority in general. My calling and life’s experiences allow me to respond to certain types of questions. There are other types of questions that require an expert in the specific subject matter. This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to such questions. I seek others including those with degrees and expertise in such fields. I worry sometimes that members expect too much from Church leaders and teachers, expecting them to be experts in subjects well beyond their duties and responsibilities. The Lord called the apostles and prophets to invite others to come unto Christ, not to obtain advanced degrees in ancient history, biblical studies, and other fields that may be useful in answering all the questions that we may have about scriptures, history, and about the Church. Our primary duty is to build up the church, teach the doctrine of christ, and help those in need of our hep. Fortunately the lord provided this counsel for those asking questions.”seek ye diligently and teachone another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118) If you have a question that requires an expert please take the time to find a thoughtful qualified expert to help you. There are many on this campus and elsewhere who have the degrees and the expertise to respond and give some insight to most of these types of questions.

Today, I’m pointing you to some academic experts to answer your questions, or at least, change how you think about them. I don’t want to draw overly bright lines between devotional and academic study, since Elder Maxwell said that “for a disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship.”On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, ed. Henry B. Eyring (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995), 7.

If I had to pick just five books I wished everyone would read for their Old Testament study and teaching this year, this is what I would say.

First, a modern Bible translation. I can’t overstate how game-changing this is, in numerous ways. Everyone I have known who picks up a modern translation and uses it has gained greater appreciation and understanding of the Bible. If you only have the budget or time for one new book this year, go for this. Mormons shouldn’t feel any theological reluctance in consulting other translations, since prophets and Apostles have done so in The Ensign and General Conference. (See here.)

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 1.32.17 PMFor a note-free translation of the whole Bible, I’d recommend the New Revised Standard Version, which comes in a variety of forms and formats. This is grandchild of the KJV, a revision of a revision of a revision. For the Old Testament, with notes and essays from a Jewish perspective, I highly recommend the Jewish Study Bible, which is meant for laypeople.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 1.30.45 PMSecond, if you feel like the Old Testament is completely foreign and can’t tell Ruth from Rahab, pick up Jehovah and the World of the Old TestamentIt’s LDS, general, has lots of illustrations, and covers the whole Old Testament but not in so much detail to overwhelm. I reviewed it very positively here.

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 1.24.43 PMThird and Fourth, we need a paradigm shift about how we approach the Bible and the Old Testament in particular, if we want to understand it and profit from it. This was the hardest category to limit to two book and will get its own post. But I think the one-two punch of Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes and This Strange and Sacred Scripture: Wrestling with the Old Testament and Its Oddities will do two things.Picture1 The first book makes us aware of how naturally and unconsciously we misread scripture, because we don’t share the authors’ cultures. We “fill in the gaps” with our own cultural understandings, which are foreign, which leads to misunderstanding. And then, thus sensitized to our mental impositions on scripture, Strange and Sacred fills in those gaps with ancient understandings instead of modern.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 1.20.09 PMFifth, a history. The Old Testament covers more than a 1000-yrs of history, and sometimes doubles back on itself, recounts the same things more than once. To get a good grasp of the main story, you need to read an introductory center-of-the-road history. Hershel Shanks anthology, Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple fits the bill. It covers the story, raises the necessary issues, and does an admirable job, for the most part. NB: I don’t understand Amazon’s pricing here. Purchased new from the publisher, Biblical Archaeology Review (which Shanks edits), it’s $22. And if you want a magazine which is balanced, reliable, accessible, and talks about the Bible, history, archaeology, and interpretation, Biblical Archaeology Review is fantastic. You’ll see me reference it in the coming year repeatedly.

So, there are your five books I wish everyone would pick up.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here (and get early access to papers of mine!) You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

February 17, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 2.20.18 PMIt’s Logos’ 25th Anniversary, and they’re offering a $25 coupon through March 1. That means it’s a great time to invest in some of the supplementary Old Testament resources I suggested (below), or N.T. Wright books, or Peter Enns, or John Walton, or Jodi Magness’ book on Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, or a line-by-line commentary on how the New Testament uses the Old Testament, or why modern translations differ in the New Testament, or Tikva Frymer-Kensky’s JPS Commentary on Ruth, or or or… There’s so much.

Here’s the Old Testament stuff I recommended.

Now, I know Logos looks intimidating, but you can treat it like a Kindle until you start figuring stuff out. Below, I walk you through another tool to help with words and translations.

 

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

August 20, 2016

War. Public domain
War. Huh.
Public domain image

Today we continue the war chapters, and get to read some military correspondence. I don’t have any overarching, connecting commentary here, so I’ll start with a rough outline and then individual verses.

My very rough outline –

Alma 53- Preparations for war. Helaman takes 2000 stripling warriors from Ammonites.

Alma 54- Moroni receives letter from Ammoron, writes back, gets response. Prisoner exchange discussion.

Alma 55- Takes prisoners by stratagem. (wine and Lamanite)

Alma 56- Epistle from Helaman about 2000, cities retaken by  stratagem, not a single one lost.

Alma 57- Helaman to Moroni cont., describing more epistles, battles, etc.

Alma 58- Helaman recounts more battles, closes letter to Moroni.

Alma 59- (30th year) Moroni1 sends epistle to Pahoran. Lamanites get strong, take more cities. No response from Pahoran.

Alma 60 – Moroni writes angry epistle to Pahoran.

Alma 61- Pahoran writes Moroni1 back, asking for help.

Alma 62- Moroni takes army to center of the land, overthrows Pachus and king men. Takes Nephihah. More battles, Teancum kills Ammoron, gets killed in process. Moroni1 gives command to his son, Moronihah. Helaman1 dies.

Alma 63- Shiblon takes records, Moroni1 dies, Hagoth deal. Corianton goes north, Shiblon gives records to Helaman2, and dies. Lots of other people die. Big war, but Lamanites lose.


Alm 53:17 Contrast the pacifist covenant of the 1st generation’s (Alma 24:12-16) with the covenant of their children  – “they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.” What kind of lesson or moral is legitimate to extract from this comparison? Are the specific circumstances of both the parents (repentant killers turned pacifist and in turn slaughtered) and the children general enough to allow for general lessons about the morality of war, pacifism, “just war,” and so on?

Alma 54

Mormon greatly admires the courage and spirit of Captain Moroni. He praises him so extravagantly at Alma 48:11–18 that any subsequent criticism would be inconsistent. Nevertheless, there are indications that Moroni had his faults and could have been a difficult man to work with —or at least this is the conclusion that readers can draw for themselves from reading his letters reproduced at Alma 54 and 60. In the former letter, it is hard to see how the accusation “thou art a child of hell” (54:11) might have been a successful opening for negotiations, and in the latter Moroni claims (inaccurately, as it turns out) a revelation suggesting that the governor has “transgress[ed] the laws of God” and needs to repent of his “sins and iniquities”….

[In the war chapters]  we see Moroni at war—defending, maneuvering, strategizing, threatening, and attacking. We could cite several passages where his actions seem questionable. During a lull in the fighting he clears out Lamanite villages and establishes fortified cities in their stead (Alma 50:7–16), a particularly aggressive form of keeping the peace, which seems contrary to the articulated ideal of engaging only in defensive warfare (Alma 43:46–47, 48:14). (This is the moment that Mormon, somewhat jaw-droppingly, pronounces to be the happiest in all of Nephite history; see Alma 50:23.) At one point Moroni slaughters some four thousand of his political opponents, thus “breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, and subjecting them to peace and civilization”(!) (Alma 51:17–22). His negotiating skills are a bit weak….

On the other hand, there are also instances where Moroni can be seen giving quarter to his enemies (Alma 52:37, 55:18–19, 62:16–17, 27–29) and proving that he was indeed a reluctant warrior (Alma 48:22), one who “did not delight in bloodshed” (Alma 48:11, 55:19). Mormon seems quite sincere in his admiration of Captain Moroni, even though his account of the Amalickiahite Wars is uncharacteristically secular. God and religion are mentioned in the quoted letters, but hardly at all by the narrator, who seems content to explain causation in naturalistic terms. Perhaps this is the respect of one professional soldier for another. Whatever success the Nephites have at this time is credited to Moroni’s skill as a general. If his blunt manner, quick temper, aggressive posture, and hasty suspicions would have made him a poor missionary, they are nevertheless qualities that serve him well on the battlefield. (Even so, Mormon’s account glosses over the fact that under Moroni, the Nephites lost a whole string of heavily fortified cities, including, for a time, the capital Zarahemla itself; Alma 51:11, 22–28, 52:12.)- Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, various pages.

 Alma 56:28 Wives and families appear to travel with the army. That presents its own hardships over separation. Does war do anything good to families?

 Alma 56:52 Although we’re in the middle of a letter written by Helaman, we suddenly switch to talking about Helaman in the 3rd person. Is Mormon doing some editing, filling in the gaps?

Alma 60:2– Cimeter= scimitar, and curved swords are right at home in the ancient Americas.

 60:7, 11,21- “Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor… Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain….  Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?

I’ve applied this before in a few ways. It seems that God is quite reluctant to do for us what we can do for ourselves, especially when a) he has already provided us the means to do, and b) stepping in would deprive of the growth that comes from experience. This is almost anti-Calvinist rhetoric in a military setting; you can’t just do nothing and depend on God for deliverance, you have to act!

In quite a different light, I’ve used it in terms of scripture study and resources. (I cite it in my article here, listing of Old Testament resources here, and blog post here.) God has given us all kinds of fantastic tools and resources to study scripture, and most of us ignore them. We do not make use of the “means the lord has provided for us.”

60:12- “If you suppose they died because they were wicked…”

Although there don’t seem to be any literary allusions here, this is the problem of both Deuteronomy (“If you are righteous, you will live and prosper”) and Job’s friends (“If bad things are happening to you, it’s because you deserve them.”) In the long long term, I believe Deuteronomy. But in the individual and short term, often times bad things happen to good people. Like Job, Moroni warns against justifying the misfortunes that befall people as divine justice.  (If you haven’t read it, Michael Austin’s LDS treatment of Job is a fantastic combination of readable scholarship and practical discipleship. I know a Stake President who bought copies for his counselors and High Council, and a mother who found it a strength in providing end-of-life care to her daughter’s ex-partner with cancer, who had been cut off by her own parents.)


Punctuation in the Book of Mormon was added by the non-LDS printer. It had no punctuation at all, and he refused to print  it like that. So punctuation is not canonical in the Book of Mormon, and feel free to repunctuate if it makes more sense of a passage.

These passages offer two examples of repunctuating which changes the sense.

Alm 56:47-48. How should we understand this oft-cited passage?

47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.

“We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Boy did our mothers know it, we have no doubt of that!)

“We do not doubt. Our mothers knew it.” (We warriors don’t doubt at all, and our mothers sure as heck knew that we stripling warriors have no doubt.)

Alm 54:24  There is a marked difference between

“Behold, now I am a bold Lamanite.”

and

“Behold now, I am a bold Lamanite.”

The latter uses “now” as a filler word. The former emphasizes Ammoron’s socio-religio-political conversion: now, he is a bold Lamanite. Grant Hardy is the one who noticed this, in this short article.


Alma 57:21 “they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them”

How well does a military model of command, execution/implementation map onto a gospel setting of discipleship? Does it presume full details in every divine directive, and is that the same as “micromanaging”?  Does that undercut spiritual development? How does it relate to D&C 58:26-28?

“it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. 27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; 28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. 29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.”

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