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REVIEW: Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy

REVIEW: Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy

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Can a faithful Latter-day Saint accept the possibility that what are commonly called the Books of Moses were not actually written by Moses? Why would we want to? Would this necessarily undermine scriptural authority, and go against what is seen as clear modern revelation?

These are important and relevant questions for Mormons! And now, for the first time, they are properly addressed in a faithful, and easy to understand manner.

In this book, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis – Deuteronomy, the first of a Trilogy exploring the authorship of the Old Testament canon in general (and also the first in an exciting new series of ‘Contemporary Studies in Scripture’ by Kofford Books) David Bokovoy ( a PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East with an MA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University – and also currently serving as an LDS Youth Seminary Teacher) presents what I can unconditionally note is one of the most important books ever written for study and appreciation of the Old Testament from a faithful LDS Perspective.

Many LDS members, if they have been exposed to bits and pieces of secular biblical scholarship, including Higher Criticism and the Documentary Hypothesis, see such a departure from how they are used to experiencing the Old Testament that they either immediately discard the new knowledge, or allow it to create cracks in their faith.

David Bokovoy beautifully demonstrates how neither of these reactions are necessary, and that an accurate understanding of mainstream biblical scholarship, far from decreasing one’s faith, can add immeasurably to one’s appreciation of not only the formation and writings of the Old Testament, but also its relationship to scriptures of the Restoration, such as the Book of Moses and the rest of the Joseph Smith Translation, the Book of Abraham, and even the Book of Mormon itself.

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REVIEW: War and Peace In Our Time: Mormon Perspectives

REVIEW: War and Peace In Our Time: Mormon Perspectives

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Title: “War & Peace In Our Time: Mormon Perspectives”

Editors: Patrick Q. Mason, J. Davis Pulspher, Richard L. Bushman

Publisher: Greg Kofford Books

Year: 2012

Price: $29.95 (Paperback),  or in a two-part Kindle edition, priced at $9.95 each: Part 1, Part 2.

If you’re looking for a sign that Mormon Studies is not only maturing, but has significant practical, political and theological relevance, I’ve found your book.

If you’re looking for evidence that smart, faithful, and creative Latter-day Saints can express diverging perspectives on sensitive hot-button issues while refraining from creating straw-man caricatures of the opposing position, I’ve found your book.

If you’re new to Mormon Studies, and are looking for a helpful overview or sampler of different fields-within-the-field, whether it be history, Book of Mormon/Scriptural narrative deconstruction, theology, or simply personal lived experience narratives, (and more, in addition to combinations of the above), I’ve found your book.

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From an LDS perspective, I see War & Peace In Our Time: Mormon Perspectives as being an exemplar in constructing bridges between inhabitants of opposing schools of thought within the Wide World of Mormonism.

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REVIEW and MUSINGS – Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

REVIEW and MUSINGS – Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

Brigham-Young-Pioneer-Prophet-1John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet is an excellent book. An important book. And a deeply inconvenient book.

Brigham Young holds an interesting place in the lives of Latter-day Saints. At the same time we celebrate his leadership of the Twelve following Joseph’s death, his leading of the Exodus West, and the firm establishment of the building blocks undeniably leading to the longevity and survival of the Church, it is quite generally understood that, doctrinally, quotes by Brigham Young should often be taken ‘with a grain of salt’. That he was very opinionated, liked to speculate, and often was very confusing. Mixed with some wince-worthy quotes about race, and the role of Adam, this is generally all that most members know about Brigham Young. The larger than life epic high points make it easy to digest that he ‘said some weird things’, and then we move on.

John Turner’s biography does for Brigham Young what Richard Bushman did for Joseph Smith in his groundbreaking Rough Stone Rolling. Turner presents everything you’d heard about the Prophet, adds a lot more details you probably didn’t know, and nuances both with necessary context often removed from isolated antagonistic anecdotes or hagiographic prooftexts.

While I  completed the Joseph Smith volume with some new and surprising (to me) information, I also found stirred within myself a powerful and strong respect for Joseph as an individual. A new world  – a new paradigm – was opened up to me, and I began a roller-coaster journey of exploring the nature of scripture and revelation. The Joseph Smith papers has greatly helped flesh this out, as has additional volumes such as Staker’s Hearken O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations, and Sam Brown’s In Heaven As It Is On Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death. These have broached very difficult questions concerning the nature of prophets, revelation, and scripture, and have been helpful friends on a journey of discovery, introspection, and a renewed – and in some ways readjusted – commitment to my Faith.

I expected the same sort of reaction while reading Turner’s Brigham Young book, but, initially, something else happened.

One of the review blurbs on the cover is this quote by Richard Bushman, which I think is a precisely accurate expression as to how I would explain this book:

“The story Turner tells in this elegantly written biography will startle and shock many readers. He reveals a Brigham Young more violent and coarse than the man Mormons have known. While lauding his achievements as pioneer, politician, and church leader, the book will require a reassessment of Brigham Young the man.”

Turner, who unlike Bushman is not LDS, is nevertheless extremely and somewhat surprisingly generous to Joseph, and to Brigham. I noted several occasions where my experience has shown that many other authors would have taken easy potshots, and illustrated less than generous conclusions. Turner is very quick to refer to other works of scholarship on more nuanced figures and persons and events rather than to make strong value judgments on his own.  (In the afterward, he thanks, among others, accomplished LDS scholars Jonathan Stapley and Sam Brown as being cultural guides of sorts. I’m familiar with their work, and their influence is very apparent in the text.)

It is Turner’s very clear generosity that makes many of the more uncomfortable and explicit aspects of Brigham Young’s life (foul language, politics, death threats, racial views, apparent apathy to murder) when presented, even more discomfiting than they may have been otherwise.

Brigham Young, by necessity, went beyond Joseph. Elements that Joseph only envisioned and began, Brigham brought to pass – Namely the in-the-open living of the concepts of Dynastic Family Chains, and a completely independent Kingdom of God in the West. Not only was Brigham a designated and authoritative spiritual guide, but he was also a temporal King in very deed. He had an earthly Kingdom he felt a duty and obligation to protect as his stewardship at all costs. In the context of frontier America, especially on the cusp of the Civil War, this was not an easy, nor a ‘clean’ job.

Turner did a fantastic job contextualizing – and to the degree possible, normalizing – the rough and tumble, harsh and bloody nature of the Antebellum West, and its related politics. Such a milieu can be extremely difficult for us 21st Century Americans to really and truly grasp. I’m still working at grasping it. It truly was a different world – and Brigham Young was not only a firm resident in this world, he was viewed as particularly radical within it.

If you’re seeking to ‘like’ Brigham more, I don’t think this book will be the best tool to accomplish that. As Bushman said, you will see a more violent, course, and angry individual than most have come to expect.

What I do think I beneficially gleamed is understanding. Understanding – it is important to stress – is very different than justification. Without feeling the need to support or condone all that Brigham did, I feel that perhaps I understand more clearly this powerful leader’s perspective, why he felt he needed to do and say the things he did, and perhaps see more clearly the goals he felt were the ends by which nearly all means were justified.

Brigham was fiercely loyal to his people, and to what he understood as his stewardship and responsibility for the survival of a literal and divinely appointed Kingdom of God. While we may find his broad ideals admirable, we can – and most, I believe, will – still find many aspects of his approaches to life’s challenges deeply troubling. And certainly not as things they could see being said and done by, for example, Thomas S. Monson.

As I neared the end of the book, what I found most fascinating was not the details of the life of Brigham himself, but what our reactions to him and his life reveal about our deeply held views of God’s personality and character. Many of the attributes we may find naturally repugnant in Brigham Young’s doings are attributes and actions that have traditionally been ascribed to God for millennia, and are found in our scriptures.

God, as presented throughout the scriptural records, was understood and presented as being willing to deceive (1 Kings 22:23), condoning extrajudicial killing and massacres (Numbers 31:17–18) , being inconsistent in his sometimes subjugating (see nearly all laws in Leviticus treating women as property)/sometimes exalting positions on women (see praise of Deborah, Esther), being discriminatory by lineage, employing fiery and harsh rhetoric (see Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), etc. These were popular divine attributes part and parcel of admitting the Ultimate Sovereignty of God.

An encounter with an undiluted Brigham Young is a powerful reality check for our understanding and approach to the scriptural records of God.

Joseph Smith took the once-upon-a-time nature and views of Ancient Prophets and Living Scripture, and demanded that we confront them and wrestle with them as a present and practical reality. I see Brigham Young doing much of the same for traditional – and scriptural – expressions of the deeds and sayings of God. If confronted with the Old Testament’s Yahweh in our present reality, as he was literally presented in that record – in broad strokes, would we see him as a Loving Fatherly King, or a Deviant Tyrant? Would we respect him out of love, or out of the Fear of Retribution? Just as there were some who saw God through both lenses, it is fascinating that the same can be applied to Brother Brigham. The relationship between the Saints and Brigham was just as complicated as the relationship between ancient Israel and their God.

To me, Brigham fulfilled his role as revelator, not in telling us about God, but by revealing how we all truly do feel about the actual ancient, traditional, scriptural expression of God.

While Jesus was sent as a presentation and revelation of the God Who Is, I suggest that Brigham presented a contrasting revelation of the God who the religious world actually claimed to love and worship and adore. While providing extraordinary, necessary, and perhaps miraculous temporal and practical services to the Church and its members, I find the strength in the broad strokes of Brigham’s spiritual ministry to be that he created a sharp contrast which made the ministry of Jesus shine even brighter. His life, most likely unknown to him, was a living parable. In a fascinating way, Brigham’s life and theology paved the way in later years for a strong and lasting reformation of the LDS relationship with and view of the attributes of God.

We can read the Old Testament and declare, authentically and rightfully,  “God did great and wonderful things,” note some inspiring tender moments, and still be incredibly disturbed at the implications of God’s nature based on his actions, leading it to be hard to love and have Faith in God as he is presented there. While I do believe in God, I believe that a progression of light and knowledge that has come into the world has revealed the inaccuracies, misunderstandings , and misrepresentations of key aspects of His personality and attributes as understood and expressed by the ancients.

I believe that Scriptures and Prophets are inconvenient by design. I believe what we learn from our interaction and confrontation with their lives and teachings is generally far more beneficial and conducive to growth and coming to know God than the correlated sum of their words and teachings alone.

The existence and daily lives of the first pair of true Modern Prophets – Joseph and Brigham – messily and inconveniently demand that we – Mormons as well as those who are not – confront and revisit our perceptions and paradigms of the Divine.

Book of Mormon, Joseph Spencer, and Collective Salvation

Book of Mormon, Joseph Spencer, and Collective Salvation

I think we’re finally being to see the fruits of what President Benson was really talking about, in regards to taking the Book of Mormon seriously.

On the heels of Brant Gardner’s Second Witness Book of Mormon Commentary Series, published by Kofford Books, and Grant Hardy’s groundbreaking Understanding the Book of Mormon, published by Oxford, the wonderful Salt Press just released an absolutely fantastic book, called “An Other Testament: On Typology”, by Joseph M. Spencer.

This book has already been reviewed magnificently by BHodges over at By Common Consent. I can only echo what he has said there.

The entire book is available for free as a PDF download here, but also as a hardbound purchase here. While I initially read this in its electronic edition, I’m going to want a hardbound edition for my library.

Before I express my thoughts, I want to reproduce most of the book’s Epilogue. If this doesn’t get you interested in reading the rest of the book to see how some of the assumed positions stated in this piece were argued, I’m not sure what will. Following this are some of my thoughts on one key aspect of its implications:

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REVIEW: “Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision”

REVIEW: “Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision”

Howe_Bushman__ParallelsTitle: “Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision”

Editors: A. Scott Howe, Richard L. Bushman

Publisher: Greg Kofford Books

Year: 2012

Paperback: 226 pages

Price: $24.95 Kindle edition:  $9.95

Mormonism,” said Brigham Young, “embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to Mormonism. The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. …There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods.

Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision brings together a series of essays that were first presented at Claremont University in 2009.

Edited by Richard Bushman and A. Scott Howe, this volume seeks to explore, practically, what Brigham Young envisioned.

Some of the earliest classic texts of Mormonism, such as those by the Pratt Brothers, sought to place the religious visionary principles of Mormonism as they understood them within the scientific world as was then understood. True Religion was not separate from science, but was perhaps even the overarching science.

Parley Pratt wrote in A Key to the Science of Theology, that “The present is an age of progress, of change, of rapid advance, and of wonderful revolutions…A new era has dawned upon our planet, and is advancing with accelerated force – with giant strides. [Advances in’ technology], with their progressive improvements in speed, safety and convenience, are extending and multiplying the means of travel, of trade, of association, and intercommunication between countries whose inhabitants have been comparatively unknown to, or estranged from, each other.”

Pratt then, in the context of his book, sought to express how these understandings apply to his vision of the Gospel in that day. He would have been saddened to see a day where the Church stopped seeking to learn from and apply the advances of the world’s knowledge. The authors of Parallels and Convergences are seeking – and in my opinion, succeeding – to carry on Parley Pratt’s vision, letting it be enhanced by our “age of progress”, rather than feel hindered or threatened by it.

It’s a book of marvelous speculations that open up the vision of how beautifully and practically Mormonism can (and probably even should) be wed with our increase in scientific knowledge.

You will find essays that excitedly explain how quantum physics, nanotechnology, transhumanism, space exploration, and even virtual programmed worlds open to our eyes potential models of the eternities, and even the very nature of resurrection, the millennium, and ‘spiritual creation’. The essays come from a wide degree of differing personal interpretations of the Eternal Story of Mormonism (some are more inspired by Brigham Young, some B.H Roberts some even Tad Callister and Cleon Skousen), but in the end, prior to my initial assumptions, it doesn’t diminish their vision, but rather serves to effectively illustrate how expansive and powerful ideas inspired by the Wide World of Mormonism can be.

While I didn’t always agree with the ultimate conclusions of the essayists, all of them made me consider some aspects I hadn’t before. In one early essay, due to the essayist’s stated belief in one particular theological model, I initially read through it not expecting to learn, or to be enlightened in any way by it, having made up my mind that the assumptions the essay were based on would not to speak to me. But I was surprised when an idea and interpretational paradigm was presented that indeed had not occurred to me before. In spite of not expecting or particularly desiring to learn from this essay, I was taught, and inspired. That is the sign of a remarkable teacher.

A key message of the entire collection is that our faith and vision doesn’t need to be held back by ancient shepherds’ or pioneers’ technology and understanding of the workings of the world. We can ‘map’ our technological understanding and development onto their expansive vision – and in many ways, that may indeed be the only way to bring their visions into reality and fulfillment. It is a call to not just hope that some day we may live again, or that we will live in a magically made paradise earth – but rather to very literally, through our acquired knowledge and technology, and guided by inspired vision, to work and apply engineering skills to “bring to pass the immortality and Eternal Life of man”.

This book was a blast. I highly recommend it.

Michael Heiser, Myth, and My Evolving Approaches to Study of Ancient Scripture

Michael Heiser, Myth, and My Evolving Approaches to Study of Ancient Scripture

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Recently, Michael Heiser placed online (temporarily) a first draft of his book, “The Myth That Is True”. Among Biblical Studies circles, Heiser is well known for his scholarship concerning the Divine Council in the Bible. He was made more well known in Mormon academic communities by his somewhat lengthy exchanges/debates with LDS Scholar David Bokovoy.

Having a bit of interest in the development and interconnection of OT theology, myth, and history, I excitedly placed the digital draft of Heiser’s book on my Kindle, and began to read.

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REVIEW: “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon”, by Brant Gardner

REVIEW: “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon”, by Brant Gardner

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Title: "The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon”

Author: Brant Gardner

Publisher: Greg Kofford Books

Year: 2011

Price: $34.95 (Available at Amazon.com for 23.07),  or in a two-part Kindle edition, priced at $9.95 each: Part 1, Part 2.

There are three key things that, if a book or paper can accomplish at least one, will instantly endear a book  to my heart forever – completely aside from whether or not I agree with the author’s main or final conclusions:

  1. Cause me to reassess and legitimately question (or even change) a current firmly held position or belief.
  2. Cohesively articulate a concept I had already been independently working on, but in a manner far better and more comprehensive than I could possibly have done.
  3. Help me to re-evaluate my own life, and clarify my own understanding of my own personal lived experience.

As much as #1 and #2 seem to be of necessity mutually exclusive, Brant Gardner’s new book “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon” , which I was grateful to receive as an Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher, happened to do both. And, perhaps more meaningful to me, also accomplished #3.

As a convert to the LDS Church in my early twenties, I have an interesting relationship with the Book of Mormon. Since my first encounter with the Book, as a skeptical and cynical critic, my opinions and theories pertaining to its origin have changed in dramatic ways.

I have run the gamut from viewing it as being a completely uninspired hoax, to being a literal word-for-word divine dictation, from expanded modernized interpretation of an ancient record to an inspired 19th century pseudepigraphon.

Following my first recognition of Something Good inherent in the Book, I have never since regarded the motivations and source of the text as anything but benevolent, and inspired in one way or another.

But everything around its production – especially the more I studied the historical background of Biblical texts, as well as the modern details of Joseph’s youth and the circumstances surrounding the production of the English text of the Book – kept me thinking, and puzzled, wondering how it all ‘worked’. What about the anachronisms? What about the language? What about the revisions?

While not answering every single possible question one might think of, Gardner, in this physically slim tome, still covers an unprecedented amount of material ranging all over the scope of Mormon Studies, even creeping into realms of cognitive science(!).

Gardner writes like a gifted diplomat. He finds value in nearly all that has been published on the subjects under discussion, believing apologist and unbelieving critic alike. You will find favorable use of the works of Dan Vogel and D. Michael Quinn right next to the findings of Richard Bushman, Royal Skousen and Blake Ostler. This book does not invalidate or denigrate any of their valuable work, but rather builds upon it, validating much of their efforts, and yet weaving it together in innovative and clarifying ways I didn’t think could be possible.

Many other prominent scholars who are not specifically writing on the texts of Mormonism are also utilized, and not simply as proof-texts to confirm an already decided point of view.

In fact, Gardner states several times throughout the book itself that what he found through the process of his writing of this book was not completely in tune to what he expected to find.

Make no mistake, the book is certainly written from a faithful perspective. That is, it begins with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is in fact a legitimate translation of an ancient record. The Book does not attempt to explain why he holds this conclusion – as much of that discussion can be found throughout Gardner’s master multi-volume Second Witness: An Analytical Commentary on the Book of Mormon.

This book focuses on not the “if” of it being a translation, but rather the “how”, or process of transmission.

The process by which Gardner presents his theory is a masterful layering of material, that at times may initially appear unrelated to the issue at hand. However, in the final chapter, every skillful layer is brought together in a way more impactful than I could have imagined it. The book is a journey – and it’s a fun one to travel though.

A key theme that gets hammered home pretty well in the early chapters is the importance of removing from our mindset a “religion vs. magic” dichotomy.

The history – and importance – of the exploring the so-called“Magic World View” of Mormon origins is given an important contextualizing survey, from Mark Hoffman to Quinn to the review of Quinn by Stephen Ricks and Daniel C. Peterson, to Dan Vogel.  This is not just some attempt to “normalize” or “inoculate” against the strange view of Joseph Smith the scryer sitting with his head in a hat staring into a seer stone.

While at times presenting repetitive themes that are then seemingly tossed aside, the concept Gardner hammers home – about those actions which we might classify as “magic” being in many cases simply  primitive attempts to scientifically explain otherwise unexplainable actual lived and observed results and experiences -  is in fact an essential part of understanding Gardner’s closing argument.

Now… what exactly is Gardner’s ultimate theory or argument?

There’s a reason Gardner presented it all in a full-length book. I find it extremely difficult to do it justice here.

But to put it very briefly, Gardner argues that the meaning of the content of the historic Book of Mormon was, for all intents and purposes, ‘deposited’ or revealed as pre-language ‘mentalese’, or the brain’s native Language of Thought, which Joseph’s brain was then able to ‘translate’ or work out into his own written and spoken language.

He argues that some of the way this was manifest to Joseph’s consciousness was through his eidetic memory, the scientific term for the documented means of visually recalling information and memories. It was not a matter of Joseph seeing with his eyes, but seeing with his brain – like we all do when we dream. And, technically, how we see in general. The eyes provide information, the brain interprets that information – and sometimes plays tricks on us, and adds its own ideas – and creatively removes other actual data. The interpretation of the light images by the brain is really what we see with. In this case, Joseph’s brain was getting images from the Divine Deposit – not his eyes, and not a random dream.

The seer stone was simply a dark object used as a focusing device, which Joseph had been comfortable using during his youthful time as a scryer, or seer – it was his own way of understanding and describing and projecting his eidetic experiences. Gardner explains in modern scientific terms what Joseph understood with a “folk” explanation, that we today generally write off as “magic”.

So yes, Gardner explains, Joseph did translate, but he wasn’t translating directly from Reformed Egyptian, or even use the plates at all. He was translating from the divinely deposited raw meaning of the text, and working it out into his own language.

Concepts were expressed as concepts, while maintaining structure. Names and proper nouns were transmitted the same way our brains record them – as specific literal data, and not simply as a ‘meaning’. While this sacrifices some of the popular attempts and needs of some to classify certain terms and phases as Hebraisms, it still does quite strongly allow for ancient structural and poetic patterns to come through, although not always perfectly.

This is admittedly just a very crude summation of the ideas expressed in the book, and I almost feel I need to apologize for it. It doesn’t do this work justice by far.

Yet these observations not only potentially explain in a very cohesive and coherent way the process of revelation for the Book of Mormon that accounts for many of the idiosyncrasies of the text, but also has implications for all Revelations – especially when taking into consideration Joseph’s tendency to revise them, and understand them better as time went on.

In fact, at risk of sounding hyperbolic, I like to refer to it as Gardner’s Grand Unifying Theory of Revelation.

If the initial Revelation was in and of itself a physical experiential deposit in Joseph’s brain/memory, as he gained more understanding, returning to that Deposit would allow greater understanding and meaning and significance to that event. He would have had a wider vocabulary and context with which to express that embedded Experience.

It has particularly interesting implications for Joseph’s adapting understanding and expressions of the First Vision experience, as well as other Divine Manifestations, including, as I see it, the experiences of commissioning to what was later understood as the reception of Priesthood Authority.

On a far more personal note, it also has some fascinating explanatory implication – and resonates quite eerily – with my early experience I wrote about previously , where, as a young teenager, before having learned anything about Mormonism,  I somehow worked out the story of the Restoration (along with VERY similar significant pronouns) in the context of exploring thoughts and concepts that came to my mind as a result of pondering relevant concepts and questions.

When all is said and done, I see this as one of the most important and groundbreaking books to come out in the field of Mormon Studies, at a time where there are many important and groundbreaking books coming out in this very rich and expanding field.

Do not miss this one.

Available at Amazon.com in hardcopy for $23.07, or in a two-part Kindle edition, priced at $9.95 each: Part 1, Part 2.

Offensensitivity and the Book of Mormon Musical–Who Offends Who?

Offensensitivity and the Book of Mormon Musical–Who Offends Who?

offensensitivity

While in my last post I felt it important to emphasize what I saw as a key message of the Book of Mormon musical that would be important, applicable, and beneficial  to all believing Latter-day Saints, I fully recognize that the Musical is not at all intended to be an endorsement of the truth claims of Mormonism, or religions in general.

But does that mean it’s, as is proclaimed over at Millennial Star, actually vitriolic  “Anti-Mormon Dreck?” – or even mean spirited at all? And if not, discussions about profanity completely aside for the time being, is there still something in there for Mormons to be genuinely offended about?

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“Man Up”–Applying The Book of Mormon Musical’s Message (Without the Profanity)

“Man Up”–Applying The Book of Mormon Musical’s Message (Without the Profanity)

 

The-Book-Of-Mormon-Boradway-Cast-Recording-MP3-Stream-on-NPR

Introduction and Explanation

EDIT: The following was based on a listening of the cast recording. After writing this, I learned there were some details from the stage production which clarified the story, and took it some different directions than I deduced from the cast recording alone. While I recognize I made some story errors, I still stand behind the general sentiment and thoughts behind this post.

Without condoning, recommending, or defending the presentation of the more offensive language and material in the Book of Mormon Broadway musical, I felt it would be useful to offer a presentation of the actual underlying story behind the production, which I listened to through NPR’s free streaming presentation of the complete cast recording online.

There are a great many who, quite justifiably, would not be able – or willing – to submit themselves to the expressions of profanity and blasphemy presented, even with a full knowledge of the context. I don’t blame them. I even would agree with them, and would not, under any circumstances, try to convince someone to listen to or watch this who I know would feel deeply uncomfortable with it.

As such, I cannot in good conscience offer an open endorsement to listen to or watch this production.

However – I cannot also in good conscience offer an open and sweeping condemnation of the creators, and the message underlying the (intentionally) provocative and profane lyrics.

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Down The Rabbit Hole: A Review of Charles Harrell’s “’This Is My Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology”

Down The Rabbit Hole: A Review of Charles Harrell’s “’This Is My Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology”

Harrell - This Is My DoctrineTitle: “This Is My Doctrine” The Development of Mormon Theology

Author: Charles R. Harrell

Publisher: Greg Kofford Books

Year: 2011

Pages: 583

Price: $34.95 (Available for Pre Order at $23.07)

In the film The Matrix, Neo found out about something that gnawed at him so much, he began actively searching out more information about it in such a way that resulted in his becoming highly disoriented from life as he knew it, feeling a bit like Alice caught in Wonderland. He eventually comes across Morpheus, who is known to have a pretty significant key to understanding Neo’s questions.

But before going ahead and answering, he gives Neo an option – to take the Red Pill, or to take the Blue Pill.

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If you take the Blue Pill, Morpheus says, “The story ends. You wake up in your bed, and you believe whatever you want to.”

It’s a somewhat attractive option. It embraces the ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality.

However, the other option still stands: you take the Red Pill, and, Morpheus says, “I show you how deep the Rabbit Hole goes.”

Many members of the Church are used to a completely internally consistent prophetic historical narrative from Adam through Thomas S. Monson, where all prophets knew explicitly of what was to come, and all scriptures speak in the same doctrinal language as our Correlated Church Manuals of today – all the while meaning and knowing the exact same things we mean and know today.

This is the story one can easily come away with if their only substantial interaction with the scriptures are the bullet point interpretations given in Gospel Doctrine Sunday School classes, and the doctrinal references to scriptures given in correlated manuals like Gospel Principles.

There’s something beautiful and attractive about such a worldview – it makes it very easy to see one’s exact place in the Grand Prophetic Narrative. We can easily place ourselves in another scriptural character’s shoes if we know that they knew what we know, and if we feel that those who opposed the prophets in all ages have the same knowledge being preached to them that the Missionaries are going door to door teaching today. It makes it easier to judge both the righteous and unrighteous in black and white terms.

If something in the scriptures seems to contradict the current understanding, it’s easy to cite the 8th Article of Faith, and note that the conflicting concept must not have been “translated correctly” –  whatever that means.

In fact, that’s exactly what the Seminary Manual does when it comes to events attributed to King David. Instead of accounting for historical socio-religious context, the explanation given is, “The story in 2 Samuel 21 is either not translated correctly or shows that David truly fell deep into apostasy.”1 – present day values and doctrinal concepts are retrojected into the narrative. Either some scribes wrote the story wrong, or David was disobeying the Restored Gospel. There is no other option presented, or explanation offered.

But that’s the only possible way Inspired Scriptures written by Inspired Prophets can be understood, right?

If the Gospel is Eternal, everyone inspired by God must have known the same things, and no erroneous historical concepts or theological and cultural ideas would have been allowed to creep into the record. There would be no development of doctrinal concepts, no trial and error, and every time a prophet interprets a scripture, he must know and be explaining the Original Intent of the original prophet.

Right?

If that’s how you want to understand the historical scriptural narrative, then it may just be that the Blue Pill is for you.

For the rest, Charles Harrell has produced a Red Pill in his book “This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology, of which I was able to read an Advanced Reader’s Copy.

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  1. Old Testament Seminary Manual, http://seminary.lds.org/manuals/old-testament-seminary-student-study-guide/ot-ssg-5-2_sam-21.asp []