Sunday School: Lesson 13 — Exodus as New Creation

This post may be coming too late for most LDS Sunday School classes — I’m not sure as my wife and I teach the youth, so I really don’t know exactly where everyone is in the Sunday School curriculum.  If you have already had Lesson 13 regarding the bondage in Egypt, the Passover, and the Exodus, I hope that this post can at least be of some interest and perhaps boost in some way your understanding of that lesson. 

What I am about to post is nothing new.  If you are a long-time reader of Heavenly Ascents (if such a creature exists), then this will all be familiar to you. I have decided to resurrect some of the posts I wrote during the last time we studied the Old Testament in the LDS SS curriculum, which was 2010.  Again, if you were reading this blog back in 2010 then this will be old news for you, but I am re-posting in the hope that it will be of some help or interest to someone.  I haven’t been posting a whole lot on this blog for the past year or more and still don’t have a lot of time on my hands, but I can at least take the time to repost things that are now relevant again.

I start off talking about Joseph in Egypt as I had not had much opportunity to explore that story previously.

Exodus as New Creation

Unfortunately, I missed commenting on a story I really love — the Joseph in Egypt narrative. I won’t take the time to backtrack now and write much on it, but I have always thought a comparison between Joseph and Christ is fruitful.

Joseph  is the beloved son of his father and (although not born first) is essentially made the firstborn.  Jewish tradition held that Joseph was the son that most looked like his father and whose life most resembled Jacob’s. Jacob taught Joseph the mysteries and the learning that he had obtained in the school of Shem and Eber. His (priesthood) garment was dipped in blood. Joseph was sent to be a slave/servant in Egypt (which is later associated with Babylon, or the World). He was made second-in-command in Potiphar’s house, and resisted all temptation. He was put into prison for crimes he did not commit. While in prison, he helped (in a way) liberate the good (butler/cup-bearer) and condemn the wicked (baker). He was raised up out of the prison to become vice-regent of Pharaoh. He is responsible for providing fertility/prosperity to Egypt (the World) during a time of draught, and brings salvation to his brethren. I’m sure there are many other parallels that can be noted.

After we are told of the death of Joseph, the book of Genesis ends and Exodus begins. The Israelites have multiplied and, because the Egyptians (who possibly overthrew the dynasty that favored Joseph and his Semitic family) feel threatened by their numbers, they are made slaves. We are told that they were in this condition of slavery for over 400 years. They looked forward to a new savior who would free them and return them to their promised land.  They desired, in effect, for the Lord to give them a new beginning.

That is exactly how the biblical Psalms present the Exodus events — as a new Creation.  The Psalms speak extensively about the Creation of the world, which they describe as Yahweh’s victory over the Chaos Waters — often including great sea monsters (Rahab, Leviathan, etc.). Gen. 1 picks up on this idea when it describes God as “dividing” the waters in the early stages of creation. The Psalms are much more graphic and likely represent older versions of the story.  A good example is Psalm 74:12–17:

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NOAH: A Catastrophe of Biblical Proportions … But Still Pretty Good

I have not had the opportunity to read many reviews of the film Noah, but I do realize that there is considerable controversy — especially among religious folk — regarding the film’s retelling of the biblical story.  As I am not much of a movie critic and have not been able to compare my opinions with those of others, I do not know how this review will be received, but wanted to share my own sincere feelings on what I saw. So, this is not so much of a full review of the movie as it is a few thoughts about what I felt worked and what did not — for me.  WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.  

I say in the title of this post “a catastrophe of biblical proportions” because I think what the movie does with the character of the biblical patriarch Noah is seriously a tragic disaster. Although I do not agree with the move, I can see why it would be banned in a number of highly religious countries.  Likewise, what God intends to do with Noah, his family, and the ark — the covenant he makes with them — according to the canonical account, is washed away in this movie before the flood ever hits.  In Aronofsky’s cinematic rendering of the tale, Noah is portrayed as being somewhat uncertain regarding God’s intentions with the flood and Noah’s role in it all — and ends up arriving at a tragically erroneous conclusion that makes him look like a murderous psychopath for a large portion of the film.

Having said this, and knowing that Aronofsky is, as stated in the disclaimers attached to the film, taking some considerable artistic license with the biblical story, the movie Noah is both powerful and beautiful.  It is an epic Hollywood blockbuster that entertains from beginning to end. The cinematography is breathtaking.  I’m not sure where they filmed this, but the scenery is both breathtaking and also very appropriate to the story.  The story that is told in the film, although not faithful to the message of the biblical tale in my opinion, is a poignant and important message regarding human nature and the importance of choosing mercy when dealing with our fellow human beings.  Now having said that, I believe this film will resonate more with a politically and socially liberal audience than it will with the more conservative viewers who would likely be most interested in a biblically-themed show.  I have not yet seen the movie Son of God, but I imagine that many of those who saw that movie would be interested in seeing a film about Noah — if they were not already turned off by all the chatter and controversy that has surrounded it — but would likely be disappointed by what they saw.

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New Andrei Orlov Book Released: Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham

As I previously announced on Heavenly Ascents, my MA advisor, Professor Andrei Orlov, has a new book entitled: Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham. Although I do not yet have my hands on a copy, I know that this is one to get excited about.

Here’s a description:

 

Andrei A. Orlov, Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham (Cambridge University Press, 2013) 224 pages. ISBN: 110703907X, 9781107039070.

Description from the publisher: The Apocalypse of Abraham is a vital source for understanding both Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism. Written anonymously soon after the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple, the text envisions heaven as the true place of worship and depicts Abraham as an initiate of celestial priesthood. Andrei A. Orlov focuses on the central rite of the Abraham story – the scapegoat ritual that receives a striking eschatological reinterpretation in the text. He demonstrates that the development of the sacerdotal traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham, along with a cluster of Jewish mystical motifs, represents an important transition from Jewish apocalypticism to the symbols of early Jewish mysticism. In this way, Orlov offers unique insight into the complex world of the Jewish sacerdotal debates in the early centuries of the Common Era. The book will be of interest to scholars of early Judaism and Christianity, Old Testament studies, and Jewish mysticism and magic.

About the author from the publisher: Andrei A. Orlov is Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University. His recent publications include Divine Manifestations in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2009), Selected Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2009), Concealed Writings: Jewish Mysticism in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2011) and Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology (2011).

http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/religion/biblical-studies-old-testament-hebrew-bible/heavenly-priesthood-apocalypse-abraham

http://books.google.com/books?id=CdIhbyNAENcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=orlov+heavenly+priesthood&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EUc_Up-VJvXK4APD-ICYDA&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=orlov%20heavenly%20priesthood&f=false

http://www.amazon.com/Heavenly-Priesthood-Apocalypse-Abraham-Andrei/dp/110703907X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1379878595&sr=8-2&keywords=andrei+orlov

 

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Archaeological Discoveries Reveal an Israelite Belief in God’s Wife and a Pantheon? (Haaretz)

A recent article in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz (online), presents some recent (and not so recent) findings by archaeologists and other scholars regarding the worship of the divine feminine in ancient Israel. Although interpreting the real-life use and theology behind ancient artifacts is always an imprecise science, the amount of material that has been collected and analyzed does favor a certain range of conclusions. I wanted to post this article on Heavenly Ascents in light of the upcoming conference at USU on the Divine Feminine (Oct. 23, 2013).  William Dever, the famous biblical archaeologist who literally wrote the book on God’s Wife, will be speaking at this conference.

The following is from Julia Fridman’s article on haaretz.com:

Archaeologists discover: God’s wife?

Israel is touted as the birthplace of monotheism, but mounting evidence suggests that the Israelites, and later the Judahites – like their neighbors – worshiped a pantheon.

 By Julia Fridman | Sep. 15, 2013 | 7:25 PM | (see original article for images)

“You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God that you shall make.” Deuteronomy 16:21.

The Old Testament is rife with the admonishment of errant kings and queens worshiping ‘false gods’, with the much of the blame falling on the Kingdom of Israel and that of Ahab and his infamous queen Jezebel. In recent years there have been a significant number of discoveries of cult stands and shrine caches throughout Israel. They were found either buried in favissae (underground cellars) or buried in caches, such as at Hazevah and Yavneh, or found in various other settings, like at Tel Rehov’s honey production site and at Tel Halif’s industrial textile area. The most recent findings were at Motza, just north of Jerusalem, where a cache of apparently cultic items were found in an ancient temple.

Israel is often touted as the birthplace of monotheism. But the Motza artifacts, so similar to those of distant Hazeva and Qitmit, taken in conjunction with the previously discovered stands, shrines and altars from Megiddo, Taanach and Beit Sh’ean, paint a significantly richer picture of the religious life of this ancient land. Add the various figurines found strewn about the land of Israel of females in various poses and states of dress and undress as well as dogs, horses, and bulls: The iconography points to a pantheon of deities, as some scholars believe, or to two main deities, something of a duality.

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Conference: THE LADY OF THE TEMPLE: EXAMINING THE DIVINE FEMININE IN THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION

Conference Schedule

The Academy for Temple Studies and the Utah State University Religious Studies program announce further details of the conference to be held on October 23, 2013, on the campus of Utah State University.  It will start at 9:15 a.m. in the Eccles Conference Center and adjourn at 4:30 p.m.  Since seating is limited, we recommend that you register now if you want to attend.

THE LADY OF THE TEMPLE:  EXAMINING THE DIVINE FEMININE IN THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION

This conference will approach this topic from a temple perspective with biblical, archeological, liturgical and LDS components.  Looking at the abstracts below it is clear that this conference should promote a lively discussion and time is being allotted for panel discussion and response to questions.

8:45 Benchmark Bookstore open in the lobby.

9:15 Welcome and Introduction of the conference.

9:30 Margaret Barker, well-known for her numerous books and articles on temple theology, whose book called The Mother of the Lord:  The Lady in the Temple was published last year.  Her presentation is entitled, “The Woman Clothed With the Sun in Revelation 12.”  A female figure, apparently not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, appears in the centre spot of the Book of Revelation.  She is a royal figure, crowned with stars, and she gives birth to the king who rules from a throne in heaven.  She is attacked by a red dragon, escapes to the wilderness, and there waits for the allotted time to pass. Her other children were the Christians, but who was she, and where had she been hiding?  The implications are that the Lady is the Mother of Yahweh.

10:20 Q&A

10:40 break

11:00 William Dever, distinguished professor of Near Eastern Studies; has written 26 books and 350+ articles on Near Eastern archeology.  The writers of the Old Testament clearly present monotheism—the exclusive worship of the male deity Yahweh—as the ideal.  Yet the frequent condemnation of “idolatry” by prophets and reformers indicates that in folk religion other deities were often worshipped.  In particular, the Mother Goddess “Asherah” appears as a shadowy figure, almost forgotten in later times.  But several recent archaeological discoveries of both artifacts and texts have revealed that the cult of Asherah was widespread throughout the monarchy.  And in many circles she was regarded not simply as a patroness of mothers, but as the consort of Yahweh. Even in later Judaism, she appears as the “Shekinah”—the earthly Mother who represents the presence of a remote God.  Prof. Dever will give an illustrated lecture on Asherah, based on his recent book Did God have a Wife?  Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel.

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The Legend of the Ten Lost Tribes “Carried Over the Waters”

Eli Yassif of Haaretz has a recent article that looks at legends surrounding the  ten Lost Tribes of Israel. One story, found in the book of 4 Esdras, speaks of the ten tribes being “carried over the waters” and inhabiting a land “where never mankind dwelt.”

As far as we know, the oldest source that refers to the myth is the Fourth Book of Esdras from the Jewish Apocrypha, written shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, toward the end of the 1st century C.E. This tradition interprets one of the central visions described in 2 Esdras 13:40-48 ‏(King James Version‏): “Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmanasar the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land. But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, that they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land. And they entered into Euphrates by the narrow places of the river. For the most High then shewed signs for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed over. For through that country there was a great way to go, namely, of a year and a half; and the same region is called Arsareth … But those that be left behind of thy people are they that are found within my borders.”

It is interesting to see the speculation in this early Jewish text on where the tribes had been taken.

(Via Jim Davila at Paleojudaica)

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Seeing with an Eye of Faith (from www.plantingmindseeds.com)

A remarkable phrase shows up a number of times in the Book of Mormon. It involves “looking forward” with an “eye of faith” to a desired result in the future. The idea is that if there is something that you sincerely desire, you should use your inner “eye,” or your imagination, and picture yourself as already being there or having what you want.  Through your faith that it is possible, you can begin to see yourself as having already reached your goal.

In the book of Alma 5:15–16, a man named Alma the goal of being received into heaven when their life on Earth is over.  In order to direct them toward that goal, he asks them if they can imagine, or visualize, how things will be at that future time when they finally get there. As they “look forward with an eye of faith,” what kind of outcome do they see? He asks:

15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality … to stand before God …?

 16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

What Alma is trying to have his audience do is to visualize their own future in minute detail. They are to imagine being resurrected and raised to stand before God.  They are to imagine themselves hearing the approving voice of the Lord accepting them into heaven — reaching their ultimate goal.  He suggests that if they try to visualize this scene and what they envision is only negative, then perhaps they need to find that balance in their lives so that the way they are living is in alignment with a positive outcome and then exercise their faith so that they are now headed in this more desirable direction.

In a later discourse, Alma brings up this concept again in a similar way.  He essentially teaches that when we accept a new teaching (“the word”) and apply it in our lives, we need to use our “eye of faith” in order to follow it through to the end where we can see the result of how that teaching has improved our life.  He compares this process to planting a seed (the word/teaching) in our hearts and helping it to grow until it grows into a beautiful tree from which we can pluck delicious fruit.  He states in Alma 32:40–41:

40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.

 41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.

Alma warns that we need to be constantly visualizing the end goal — that figurative fruit that we desire to receive.  If we do not continue looking forward to and working towards that fruit, we can never “pluck” it.

I want to share one more passage on this idea.  This one is from the book of Ether and describes people who have already achieved their desired goal and declares that it is because they had used that “eye of faith” to visualize the outcome that they were able to achieve what they did.  The goal of these people was to see their Lord, their Savior, even before He came into this world.  Ether 12:19 says:

19 And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad. 

I think what we should understand from this is the idea that these people had envisioned seeing Christ in their mind in such vivid detail and with such great faith that someday they would see Him that what they hoped for soon became a reality for them.  They had seen it in their mind first and then it actually happened.

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“And There Are Many Kingdoms”: D&C 88 and the Hierarchy of Kingdoms

I recently had the opportunity to lead a discussion on the topic of Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 88 in which we delved into the subject of the multiple kingdoms of glory as they are described in that section. That discussion reminded me of some material I had posted on Heavenly Ascents a few years back.  I went back and reread that post and thought it would be nice to revisit it here.

D&C 88 discusses the idea that God has filled his Creation with various “kingdoms” that can be inhabited by his children. Verse 37 states:

37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

This declaration suggests that the cosmos is somehow divided up into various kingdoms and that within these kingdoms are subdivisions that constitute smaller kingdoms within the larger ones.  The revelation describes how these are categorized by their degree of glory — celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or no glory — and how God’s children become assigned to a specific type of kingdom based on their adherence to the laws designated for each type. In verse 47, the revelation states that all of these kingdoms, although they be inhabited by mankind, are subject to God.

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

Although God himself reigns over all of the kingdoms as King of kings and Lord of lords, He has prepared these kingdoms for his children to inherit. The revelation presents the example of the Earth and declares that it will be sanctified and “celestialized.” Inhabitants that live the law of celestial glory will, when they have been resurrected and obtained that glory, inherit the celestial Earth.

26 Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it.

27 For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

The ideas presented in D&C 88 reminded me of a concept found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and elsewhere) which concerns the idea that there are several levels of heaven and that each level has an appointed chief or guardian who rules over it.  This is actually a fairly common theme in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical literature (See, for example, the Jewish Hekhalot literature or the Jewish/Christian Ascension of Isaiah).  As one ascends to the throne of God in the highest heaven, one must pass first through the several (usually seven) firmaments or “sub-heavens” before reaching the highest, where God is present. Each level is generally inhabited by a different class of angels, and in many texts, there is a principal angel or guardian who guards the door to the next level and who sometimes is depicted as having his own throne. Read More »

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