Ancient Jewish Synagogue at Dura Europos Seized by ISIS in Syria

“Jihadists looting ancient archaeological sites, including 244 BCE synagogue; officials warn 5,000 years of history being erased.”

An Israeli news website has shared an AP report that ISIS (Islamic State) has taken over a number of archaeological sites in Syria and Northern Iraq, including the famous site of Dura Europos, which is known for the discovery of an ancient Jewish synagogue there.

The report states:

Much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, which is rich in the archaeological remains of numerous ancient civilizations, is now under the iron fist of ISIS…

Aside from destroying pagan statues from the Assyrian period in Tell Ajaja, Abdulkarim noted the 2,300-year-old city of Dura Europos has come in for particularly intense looting.

The ancient city lies near the Iraqi border on a cliff overlooking the Euphrates River, and has fallen into ISIS hands; satellite imagery from April shows numerous holes from looter digs littering the site.

Images show hundreds of people, including gunmen, taking part in the excavations from dawn until night in many cases. Abdulkarim notes dealers are present, and “when they discover an artifact, the sale takes place immediately. They are destroying entire pages of Syrian history.”

One of the earliest known Jewish synagogues is located at Dura Europos along with numerous pagan temples and churches, making the digging particularly troubling.

The fate of the synagogue, which was discovered in 1932 and dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, remains unknown.

The synagogue at Dura Europos is of great significance for the study of early Judaism. The murals painted on the walls of the synagogue provide rare and valuable insight into Jewish thought in the early centuries A.D. regarding matters such as the afterlife, resurrection, and ideas associated with temple, priesthood, ritual and more.

Some have argued that the murals represent a presentation of the Jewish “mysteries” — with which LDS readers may see many parallels to concepts found in modern LDS temple worship.  A great article related to this topic was recently written by my good friend, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, entitled: “The Ezekiel Mural at Dura Europos: A Witness of Ancient Jewish Mysteries?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can access this article at BYU Studies: https://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=8516

Or you can read a free version at Jeff’s Temple Themes website: http://templethemes.net/publications/BradshawFinal.pdf

 

Anything lost from the precious artifacts discovered at these sites is a great tragedy and needs to be stopped.

 

Posted in Apocalypticism/Mysticism, Archaeology, Early Judaism, News and Events | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Event: 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

via MormonInterpreter.com

2014 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

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Saturday, 25 October, 2014, full day,
251 TNRB (N. Eldon Tanner Building),
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

The Interpreter Foundation would like to announce a forthcoming conference, the 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Conference to be held in 251 TNRB (N. Eldon Tanner Building) on the campus of Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah, on 25 October, 2014.

The conference focuses on LDS conceptions of ancient and modern Temple theology as reflected in the Bible and LDS scripture. There will be thirteen presenters:

  • Carli Anderson: “Enthroning the Daughter of Zion: The Coronation Motif of Isaiah 60-62”
  • Dan Belnap: TBD
  • Matt Bowen: “‘I Have Done according to my Will’: Reading Jacob 5 as a Temple Text”
  • Jeffrey M. Bradshaw: “What Did Joseph Smith Know about the LDS Temple Ordinances by 1836?”
  • David Calabro: “Joseph Smith and the Architecture of Genesis”
  • Shon Hopkin: “The Day of Atonement, the Mosaic Temple, and the Christian Sacrament of Communion: Links and Symbols”
  • David Larsen: “Psalm 24 and the Two Yahwehs at the Gate of the Temple”
  • Ann Madsen: “Temples in the Margins: The Temple in Isaiah”
  • Donald Parry: “The Number ‘Seven’ in Israelite Temple Worship”
  • Daniel Peterson: “Reflections on the Temple on Mount Zion”
  • Stephen Ricks: “Prayer with Uplifted Hands”
  • Stephen Smoot: “The Book of the Dead as a Temple Text and its Implications for the Book of Abraham”
  • John Thompson: “The Temple in the Gospel of John”

The conference is free and open to the public, with no RSVP or entrance fee.

Posted in News and Events, Scholarly Conferences, Temple | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Presentation: “What Did Joseph Smith Know about the LDS Temple Ordinance by 1836?”

Jeff Bradshaw is a personal friend of mine and an excellent author and student of the Restored Gospel. I highly recommend taking the time this Friday to see his important presentation.

Via Interpreter

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw will be giving a presentation at Eborn Books this coming Friday, August 8, in Salt Lake City.  His topic is “What Did Joseph Smith Know about the LDS Temple Ordinance by 1836?”

It is increasingly apparent that Joseph Smith’s early revelations and teachings evince a detailed understanding of concepts relating to temple worship. In this presentation, I will summarize precedents for LDS temple ordinances, both in antiquity and in the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith through 1836. I will focus on three major items: 1. the backbone of narrative and covenants that relate to the liturgy of the LDS temple endowment, as revealed in 1830-1831; 2. prominent priesthood symbols associated with temple-related concepts for which we have evidence going back as far as 1826; and 3. the full sequence of blessings associated with the oath and covenant of the priesthood, given in 1832. In discussing these matters, I will be respectful of the sacred nature of LDS temple ordinances.

Date: 8 August 2014, 7:00 PM
Place: 254 S. Main Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84101 (map)

Posted in LDS Interest, News and Events, Temple | 1 Comment

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

I recently saw a blog post by Dr. William Hamblin that responded to a Round-Table panel on the topic: “Is Scripture Relevant.”  I have since gone back and watched the panel discussion and came away with sentiments similar to Dr. Hamblin’s.  As Dr. Hamblin 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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Posted in Doctrinal Issues, LDS Interest, Religious Scholars, Scripture | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

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.

Posted in LDS Interest, Scholarly Conferences, Temple, YouTube Videos | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Posted in Doctrinal Issues, Favorite Posts, LDS Interest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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