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Category: Textual History

New Youth Curriculum, and the Digital Facilitation of New Revelation

New Youth Curriculum, and the Digital Facilitation of New Revelation

 

[Cross posted over at Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable, a wonderful group blog where I have recently become a contributor]

joseph_phoneI have often considered the massive practical difficulties in regards to promulgation that would be involved if the Church today were to present a radical, paradigm-, policy- or doctrinal-shifting revelation, the likes of 1978’s Official Declaration 2. This difficulty can be seen on a smaller scale, with relatively minor decisions to subtly update the presentation of the modern scriptural canon and normative manuals, such as “Gospel Principles”.

For example, in the recent past, there have been some well-documented updates to some of the introductory material and chapter headers in the Book of Mormon. While some of these changes appeared in some printings of the Doubleday Mass Market edition of the Book of Mormon in 2007, the official church print editions as of yet remain unaltered.

However, these changes are to be found in the current official electronic text, found on lds.org, and all of the mobile apps, such as LDS Gospel Library. Which, at least in the wards I’ve attended in the United States, is becoming more and more the standard edition referenced in Church meetings.

This can create confusion. For example, during a recent Gospel Principles class, I was asked to read from the introduction to the Book of Mormon. I read aloud from my official Gospel Library app on my smartphone that the Lamanites  are “among the ancestors of the American Indians.

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My wife nudged me, and pointed to her print edition, hinting that I left out the word “principal” as found in her newly purchased leather-bound mini quad.

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Both are current and authorized editions of Church documents. While this example can validly be seen as a minor detail , it still raises the question of which is to be institutionally preferred? As far as I am aware, the changes to the explanatory introductory material, footnotes, and section headers [1] have never been officially announced or presented to Church members. My experience is that, five years after they have been altered, most Church members do not even know that these changes exist.

Similarly, while the publication and existence of the new 2010 edition of Gospel Principles was well known, no official attention was called to the individual changes in wording and emphasis, and what their significance may have been. When the new edition was first released in July 2009, I personally went line by line and documented each and every change, no matter how minor, and documented my discoveries on an LDS Message board. The reason and significance for individual changes was at times heatedly debated. [2] Since the manual’s implementation as an official replacement in 2010, I have seen teachers still content to use the old print edition, thinking any changes were only in form of format and shifting of some chapter orders. They had no significant reason to believe otherwise.

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The coming of a new and completely revamped curriculum for youth has been rumored and whispered  about (and clamored for) throughout the web in the past year. Well, it’s finally here, and will most likely be announced and explained in this weekend’s General Conference.

While I’m sure there will be much more to be said about the new curriculum in the coming months before its implementation in January 2013, both by Church Leaders and throughout the bloggernacle, there is one key element about its presentation – and very existence – that I find fascinating, and worth exploring.

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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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Jesus’ First Vision

Jesus’ First Vision

jesus-baptismI want to begin this post by plugging the fantastic series A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus by John Meier. In unexpected ways, it  has been a wonderful companion to my study of early LDS Church history. The series, written by a believing Catholic scholar, sets out to present all that is knowable about the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth from purely a scholastic perspective, a set of data that could be agreed upon by a theoretical ‘unpapal conclave’ made up of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Atheists, and others. It deeply analyzes the culture of the time, and asks many provocative questions I had not even considered asking.

The second volume in the series ( Volume 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracles) opens with an exploration of John the Baptist, and what we can understand concerning Jesus’ relationship to him. In the course of this, the question was raised as to why Jesus actually went to John to be baptized.

LDS generally have a quick answer to that question, an interpretation coming from the Book of Mormon’s  meditative take on the subject in 2 Nephi 31:6–8:

6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?

7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.

8 Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove.

This is generally simplified and summed up to express, “Jesus was baptized because baptism was a commandment, and he did it to set an example.”

The assumption generally comes that when Christ was baptized, and the sign of the dove appeared with the concurrent voice declaring his Sonship, that this was nothing new to Jesus, but was rather meant for the benefit of others.

While I had earlier been turned to think of this experience as being a first apocalyptic-esque vision experience for Jesus ( inspired by a reading of Margaret Barker’s The Revelation of Jesus Christ), Meir’s book substantially added to the power of this concept for me.

Meier asks about Jesus’ motivations for receiving John’s baptism, a baptism that was presented as a unique means of declaring one’s allegiance to God, and as a sign of protection and one’s freedom of sin, against the coming fiery Eschaton.

The question is first raised, “Was Jesus baptized by John because he was a sinner?” – it is immediately pointed out that, from a historical and scholastic perspective,  this is an impossible question. Since Sin is by definition that which is unpleasing to God and separates one from him, one cannot historically and scholastically determine if anyone has done anything that is ‘unpleasing to God and separates one from him’.

The relevant question, however, is, “”Was Jesus baptized because he thought he could have been a sinner?”

This question blew me away. I had never even considered it before.

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Why All Church History Is Faith Promoting For Me

Why All Church History Is Faith Promoting For Me

A few months ago, I brought a PDF file of the 1837-1838 Church newspaper The Elder’s Journal to a local print shop in order to have a hardcopy made and bound for my ease of reading –  and to put on my bookshelf.

When I picked up the final product, the employee asked me, very tentatively, if I was a Mormon. I answered , ‘Yep. Sure am.’ This was followed by a sigh of relief from the employee, who then said, “Good. I saw what you were printing, and figured you were probably an Anti-Mormon … or maybe a member.”

Yes, the employee was a Church member. Now keep in mind that the response, including the assumption that there was a good chance I was an anti-Mormon was because I printed a copy of an old yet official Church Newspaper that was edited by Joseph Smith himself.

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Parley P. Pratt’s ‘A Voice of Warning’: The Original ‘Gospel Principles’

Parley P. Pratt’s ‘A Voice of Warning’: The Original ‘Gospel Principles’

When introduced, Religions need a story, a framework, and a context.

Most Christian religions, when introducing Christianity, do not just hand someone a copy of the Bible, tell them to start reading at the Beginning of Genesis, and assume that at the end, they will, on their own, come to understand and agree as to why their organization and belief structure is important for them. Individuals are guided, and given a context for the scriptural records.

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“Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets”

“Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets”

The more I think about and have studied how Prophecy is used in the scriptures, and how our Living Prophets and apostles execute their calling, I have come to see some very strong parallels, which perhaps should (and could) lead us to a different understanding than how we usually think of “Prophecy” and “Fulfillment of Prophecy”, and even ‘historical’ scriptural/religious narratives. It also makes clear how each member of God’s Kingdom is able to participate to a degree in receiving the prophetic vision.

The way we are accustomed to thinking of it is in terms of a prophecy being when a Prophet literally sees forward in time, and may actually see the people and names and clothing and vehicles of a latter day, and writes it down in his own language.

When the literal ‘historical’ event that they saw happens, that prophecy is said to have been ‘fulfilled’.

Personally, I think we miss the mark when, in viewing what are generally understood of Isaiah’s writings said to be about the latter-days we envision him actually seeing airplanes, iPhones, our modern dress and buildings, etc, and specifically talking about us of the 21st Century – which, frankly, the people in 6th century BCE Judah couldn’t have cared less about.

A study of the textual history of Old Testament scriptures shows that there have been layers upon layers of redaction and revision. Pieces of an ‘Older Testament‘, and older versions of Israelite theology and imagery can be seen, but, based on the context of other material, it seems out of place, confusing, and without any real explanation.

Why was history rewritten? Was any of it valid, or authorized, or understood as part of the prophetic/priestly calling? Certainly there were alterations that were done for political and other socio-religious purposes. But why was this viewed as okay? Why are such practices viewed today as generally falsifying history? How can the answers to these questions relate to the LDS text known as the Joseph Smith Translation, and even what is presented in our Temple Drama?

These are some the aspects I want to explore, in a view of Dispensations in a way in which we are not generally accustomed to thinking of them.

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The Joseph Smith Translation: Inspired Targum and Pseudepigrapha For Latter-day Saints

The Joseph Smith Translation: Inspired Targum and Pseudepigrapha For Latter-day Saints

Many have wondered how I understand the Joseph Smith Translation in light of some of what I’ve written here concerning Old Testament textual traditions and interpretation. As always, the following is my own understanding of the matter at hand, and I take complete responsibility for the contents therein.

In 1830, only a few months after the publication of the Book of Mormon,  Joseph Smith, the founder and first Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began work on a project which continues to be misunderstood by not only those not associated with the Church, but by many within it as well. The project is commonly known today as the “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST) of the Bible.

The JST is not a replacement Bible in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day  Saints. The Church does, however, use excerpts from this work today as a companion to the Bible. For example, while the original King James Version is given full canonized status as the official English Language Bible , the JST of the early chapters of Genesis is presented as a separate work in the volume of scripture known as the Pearl of Great Price, under the title, “Selections from the Book of Moses”.

Some may have wondered why, in exploring Old Testament texts that have JST emendations, I, as an active and believing latter-day Saint, do not generally utilize the JST texts in my studies as presented here, and in fact at times draw historic and symbolic conclusions which are different, and sometimes contradictory, than those found (apparently) clearly stated in the JST. It is hoped that the following post will clear these questions up.

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