A Word on a “Liberal” Vs a “Conservative” Understanding of Scripture

I recently saw a couple of blog posts that responded, one directly and the other indirectly, to a Round-Table panel on the topic: “Is Scripture Relevant.” I had not initially seen this discussion, so I am grateful to the two bloggers referenced for posting their thoughts. I have since gone back and watched the panel discussion and came away with sentiments similar to Dr. Hamblin’s.  I didn’t feel that the panelists really addressed or answered that question.  As I have strong feelings on this topic, I thought I would share a few comments.

As Dr. Hamblin also suggested, some of the ideas presented in the discussion can be boiled down to, at least in part, the differences between a liberal versus a conservative understanding of what scripture is and how it functions in a community.

The LDS understanding of scripture can appear, for those on the outside looking in, to be very complex.  Most Mormons could legitimately be described as having both a liberal and a conservative view of scripture.  For many of my protestant/evangelical friends and colleagues, our dismissal of the idea of sola scriptura (i.e., the Bible is the inspired word of God and as such is of higher authority than tradition or ecclesiastical authority),  or of scriptural inerrancy is a very liberal position.  For some, like Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists, our position, in this regard, is perhaps not so radical (although our acceptance of additional scripture beyond the Bible is).

As I went through my graduate degrees in theology and Biblical Studies, I had many discussions with troubled evangelical students whose world seemed to be crashing down around them because in class after class they were presented with evidence that the process of the scriptural canon coming together was a rather messy one and that there are many conflicting manuscripts, apparent contradictions, and human errors that entered into that process.  Some expressed to me that they had lost their faith or were in the process of losing it, because of these revelations (if you pardon the pun).  They wondered how I was able to get through my studies without feeling so shaken.  I would tell that my Mormon faith taught and prepared me to accept a view of scripture that allowed for errancy — the fallible hand of human beings in the transmission of the inerrant word of God.  It is one of our articles of faith that “we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, as far as it is translated (or ‘transmitted’) correctly.”  But for many of my Christian friends, this is an unacceptably liberal position.

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What in the World Are You Looking For?

Or should I say, “What on Google are you looking for that led you to Heavenly Ascents?” Looking back at the terms that people entered into search engines that led to them finding this blog can be very funny.  Besides misspelled words and foggy concepts of what they want to find, some people are just looking for some wild and weird stuff!

I thought I would post here some of the funniest search terms that I’ve seen lead here to Heavenly Ascents.  I got the idea for doing this from Jim Davila’s blog, PaleoJudaica.com. At least once a year, he reviews the search terms and posts some of the funniest and most outrageous ones.  Here is an example of some of the best from 2013:

east anglian daily times beyond 2000bc
old testament gaint og
dead sea scrolls enema instructions
essenes enemas
josephus giant bones on display in
fishman becoming people talmud
“the talmud and other diet books”
rashi on 12/11/12 at 7 pm
the latest report on the ist century mark man
news scriptdoomsday relates to the book of revelation
ancient spiritual gnosis texts for beginners gnosis
paleo tetragrammaton ring
chaldeans spoke quenya language
british new testament conference whisky room
angelina jolie stretch marks

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The Temple on Mount Zion: “From Dust to Exalted Crown”

I am posting here a presentation that I gave a while back at the “Temple on Mount Zion” conference held in September 2012, sponsored by the Interpreter Foundation in memory of Matthew Brown. It was an awesome gathering, with many great scholars presenting on various topics related to the temple.  If you haven’t seen them — or haven’t seen them recently — here is a link to all of the recorded presentations: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/youtube-videos-of-the-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/

My presentation was entitled: “From Dust to Exalted Crown: Temple Themes in the Psalms and in the Dead Sea Scrolls”

 

 

The proceedings from the conference are due to be published in the relatively near future. This was one of the best scholarly conferences on the temple that I have attended/participated in. I highly recommend keeping an eye open for the published version.  When I hear further on when it will be released, I will post the info on this blog.

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A Look Back at the Three “Men” Who Visited Abraham

In Genesis 18, we read that the Lord appeared to Abraham in Mamre, and also, in the same verse, that three “men” visited him.  This has to be one of the most debated scriptural passages of all time.  The big question is whether these three were divine beings (and if one of the three was the Lord, Yahweh), and if so, why are they described in these verses as “men” engaging in very human activities such as washing their feet and eating regular food (Gen. 18:4–8)? This is a very complicated matter, especially because the text is so vague, not providing the details that we would need to sort this out.  In fact, it is really impossible to come to a conclusion based on the biblical text. So why do I bother? Because divine theophanies are a serious matter and a correct understanding (or as close as we can get to it) of these narratives helps us understand the early Israelite beliefs concerning the nature of God.

This is a re-post of one of the most popular blog posts on Heavenly Ascents.  I am resurrecting it because I always like to hear people’s opinions on this topic and how we can best understand it. The solution offered here is definitely speculative, but hopefully something that will make you think — I would love to hear whether you agree or disagree or what your theory is. 

Back to the question of who visited Abraham — we are specifically told in Gen. 18:1 that the Lord (YHWH) appeared to him (Abraham) near the trees/oaks of Mamre.  The Hebrew makes it perfectly clear that Yahweh himself appeared, at least at some point in the story. The Greek translators confirm, albeit somewhat more generically, that it was God (ho theos) that appeared.

This seemingly random appearance of Yahweh to Abraham was not an isolated occurrence. God had appeared to him a number of times previously (see Gen. 12:7; Gen. 17:1–3, 22).  These theophanies are not described in any detail, but relate in a rather nonchalant fashion the idea that Yahweh descended from heaven to speak with Abraham (and then “went up” from him, Gen. 17:22).

So, in chapter 18, we are informed of another appearance of Yahweh to Abraham.  Many commentators make a point to distinguish this appearance from that of chapter 17.  The open (blank) space in the Hebrew text between the two chapters is an indicator that we are starting a new, unrelated narrative.  Some commentators identify this first clause of verse 1 as an introduction to the following chapters, which are characterized by their narrative of divine contact with mortals.  Although this may indicate that we should understand this line apart from the following verses — that perhaps this is just the “heading” and not the actual beginning of the story–we will have to answer more questions before coming to any conclusion.

After these words of introduction, we are told that Abraham, while sitting in his tent, looks up and beheld three “men” approaching. Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek call them “angels” here, but use common words for mortal men.  However, in the next chapter, Gen. 19:1, two of the “men” are called angels (or “messengers”, in both Hebrew and Greek). If two of them leave for Sodom, then apparently the third is left behind. The way the narrative comes to us, the third visitor would seem to be the Lord, who is left by the other two and remains speaking to Abraham in the last part of chapter 18.

Many early Christians believed that this was an appearance of the Son of God with two angels.  Many argued in their apologetics (see, e.g. Justin’s dialogue with Trypho) that this must have been a pre-mortal appearance of Jesus Christ, since they believed that the Father did not visit people in this way.

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Enoch and the City of Zion: Can an Entire Community Ascend to Heaven?

There are some things that I have done in the past year or two that I have not managed to post on this blog. I hope to rectify some of that and be a bit more active in getting things up here. One of these is my participation in early 2013 in a conference entitled “Enoch and the Temple” that was held at both Utah State University and Brigham Young University (I had to give my paper twice!).

This conference was co-sponsored by The Academy for Temple Studies and the USU Religious Studies Program. The keynote address was given by George Nickelsburg, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Iowa, member of the Enoch Seminar, and highly recognized expert on 1 Enoch. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and I were also on the program.  Both the Logan and Provo sessions included panel discussions with different panelists at both locations.  The three papers given were later published by BYU Studies.

I will post here the videos from the conferences and also links to the publications.

 

George Nickelsburg, “The Temple According to 1 Enoch”

 

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “The LDS Book of Enoch as the Culminating Story of a Temple Text”

 

David J. Larsen, “Enoch and the City of Zion: Can an Entire Community Ascend to Heaven?”

 

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Posted in Apocalypticism/Mysticism, Early Judaism, Heavenly Ascents, Pseudepigrapha/Apocrypha, Religious Scholars, Scholarly Conferences, Scripture, Temple, YouTube Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Posted in LDS Interest, Scripture, Sunday School Lessons | 1 Comment

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

 

Posted in Apocalypticism/Mysticism, Early Judaism, News and Events, Priesthood, Pseudepigrapha/Apocrypha, Religious Scholars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment