Friday, January 31, 2014

Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

Pretty much. 

The Church has released a new article addressing criticisms of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence (link here).

Here are a few of my thoughts.

1. For anyone who has been following this issue, there is nothing really new or groundbreaking with this article. It is, rather, a basic summarization of the work of John Sorenson, Ugo Perego, Michael Whiting, Matthew Roper, John Butler, and other scholars who have written on this subject.

2. The article explicitly acknowledges the existence of non-Book of Mormon populations in the Americas.
The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA. Scientists theorize that in an era that predated Book of Mormon accounts, a relatively small group of people migrated from northeast Asia to the Americas by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. These people, scientists say, spread rapidly to fill North and South America and were likely the primary ancestors of modern American Indians. (Internal citations removed) 
The article also acknowledges the possibility of the presence of "others" besides the peoples described in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon itself . . . does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups. . . . Joseph Smith appears to have been open to the idea of migrations other than those described in the Book of Mormon, and many Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars over the past century have found the Book of Mormon account to be fully consistent with the presence of other established populations. (Internal citations removed)
This, incidentally, converges with one of the changes that the Church made to the introduction of the 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon. Whereas the introduction use to identify the Lamanites as the "principle ancestors" of modern Native Americans, it now reads that the Lamanites are "among the ancestors of the American Indians."

Given this recent trend, it seems evident that the Church is very much open to the possibility of a so-called "Limited Geography" for the setting of the Book of Mormon, although one must be careful not to assume the Church takes any official position on any single proposed geography.

3. The article approvingly cites the work of scholars and apologists associated with what was formerly known as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). This includes a volume edited by Daniel C. Peterson, former editor of the FARMS Review (now the Mormon Studies Review) and a prominent Mormon apologist. This should be clear indication that, contrary to the recently claims of some, the Church has not backed away from what is sometimes derisively called "classic FARMS" apologetics. To the contrary, the Church has appealed to "classic FARMS" scholarship in its own apologetic for the Book of Mormon.

4. The article urges caution in attempting to use DNA evidence to bolster the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. "Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, the evidence is simply inconclusive" (emphasis added). Misguided attempts by Latter-day Saints to use DNA to "prove" the Book of Mormon is true should be very carefully reconsidered.

Finally, it can be reasonably inferred from this article that the Church is not backing away from Book of Mormon historicity. In fact, just the opposite appears to be the case. The Church is attempting, with this article, to demonstrate the plausibility of the historicity of the Book of Mormon in the face of criticism. I would therefore recommend this article to anyone who thinks that the Church is bowing to its critics or otherwise loosening its stance on the Book of Mormon's historicity.

I would also recommend this article to anyone who is troubled by any arguments that attempt to use DNA evidence to disprove the Book of Mormon. One can also find more resources on issues relating to DNA and the Book of Mormon by accessing the FairMormon Answers website (link here).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Die schöne Müllerin (Part 7)

"Ich möcht mir ziehen einen jungen Star"
I've been neglecting my posting on Die schöne Müllerin, so before I do anything else I think I should do another post in this series.

The last time we left we had just finished listening to the miller implore his brooklet if the milleress loved him or not. With no answer forthcoming, the miller grows more impatient and frustrated by the hour. This leads us to the next poem in the cycle–––"Ungeduld."

[Note: Blogger is having issues with formatting this in two columns, so I decided to insert my translation between each stanza this time around.]

Ich schnitt es gern in alle Rinden ein,
Ich grüb es gern in jeden Kieselstein,
Ich möcht es sä'n auf jedes frische Beet
Mit Kressensamen, der es schnell verrät,
Auf jeden weißen Zettel möcht ich's schreiben:
Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben.

I'd gladly carve it into every bark,
I'd gladly inscribe it on every pebble
I'd sow it in every flowerbed              
with peppergrass seeds that'd quickly betray,
On every white note I'd like to write:
My heart is yours, and shall be forevermore.

Ich möcht mir ziehen einen jungen Star,
Bis daß er spräch die Worte rein und klar,
Bis er sie spräch mit meines Mundes Klang,
Mit meines Herzens vollem, heißen Drang;
Dann säng er hell durch ihre Fensterscheiben:
Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben.

I'd like to tug along a young star,
until it'd say the words clean and clear,
until he'd speak with the sound of my mouth,
with the the full, warm compulsion of my heart.
Then he'd sing brightly through her windows:
My heart is yours, and shall be forevermore.

Den Morgenwinden möcht ich's hauchen ein,
Ich möcht es säuseln durch den regen Hain;
Oh, leuchtet' es aus jedem Blumenstern!
Trüg es der Duft zu ihr von nah und fern!
Ihr Wogen, könnt ihr nichts als Räder treiben?
Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben.

I'd like to vitalized the morning wind,
I'd like to whisper it through the brisk meadow,
Oh! let it shine from every flower-star!
Carry the scent to her from near and far!
You waves, is moving wheels all you can do?
My heart is yours, and shall be forevermore.

Ich meint, es müßt in meinen Augen stehn,
Auf meinen Wangen müßt man's brennen sehn,
Zu lesen wär's auf meinem stummen Mund,
Ein jeder Atemzug gäb's laut ihr kund,
Und sie merkt nichts von all dem bangen Treiben:
Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben.

I thought it surely must be in my eyes,
and that one could see my burning cheeks;
that one could read it one my silent mouth,
and that breath made it loudly known;
Yet she didn't notice any of my concerned deeds:
My heart is yours, and shall be forevermore.

I'm not sure there's much I can comment on with this poem. It tends to speak for itself. Our miller is desperately in love, and will do anything to show it. He cries out to nature to be his emissaries to herald his love and laments that he can't seem to do anything to grab the attention of the milleress.

The use of the word "Drang" in the second stanza is interesting, as it hearkens back to the proto-Romantic Sturm und Drang movement of the 18th century. Like the literary characters that emerge from this period, our miller is yearning to for emotional catharsis. He'll do anything to release the pent up angst and impatience (hence the name of the poem), even the impossible like lassoing a star or having the wind carry his cry to his lover.

Here now is Schubert's rendition.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Prophets' Opinions in Scritpure

Paul Writing His Epistles (17th century) att. Valentin de Boulogne.
In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul gives counsel to the Corinthian Saints on how to live a chaste life. A few times in the course of his instruction, however, Paul says that he's not giving this counsel as a commandment but as his opinion. "This I say by way of concession, not of command," he says in verse 8 as he counsels married couples on whether they should be celibate for religious purposes (vv. 1–7). In other words, Paul does not command these Saints to be celibate, but let's them be if they wish. (It is clear from vv. 7–8 that Paul would prefer the Saints in this situation to be celibate, but he concedes to potential contrary desires nonetheless.)

Later in this chapter Paul is more explicate. After giving and explaining two commandments which he says come from "the Lord" (vv. 10, 12) Paul then says, "Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are" (v. 25). Paul then proceeds to give his opinion.

The word Paul uses that the NRSV translates as "opinion" is γνώμην (the feminine singular accusative of γνώμη), which is basically "opinion," "view," "judgement," "intent," etc. The verb then used in the next verse is νομίζω (in this case a first singular present active indicative), which means "to think," "to suppose," or, you might even say, "to reckon."

In other words, there comes a point in his letter where Paul feels it is okay to give his own opinion or speculation on a matter without necessarily claiming it is a revelation from God. Notice that he had just claimed twice before that he had a commandment from God to give to the Saints, but on this matter he is going to give his opinion.

This, incidentally, calls to mind Alma's discourse on the resurrection where he tells his son, "I give it as my opinion, that the souls and the bodies are reunited, of the righteous, at the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven" (Alma 40:20).

We therefore have two scriptural passages that give precedence for the idea that prophets are allowed to express opinions without those opinions necessarily being revelation or commandments from God. I hasten to add that this doesn't necessarily mean the opinions are false or otherwise uninspired, only that they're opinions.

But here's a question I have. If these opinions from Paul and Alma have been canonized, what does that make them? Canonized opinions? And does that then make these opinions more authoritative than non-canonized opinions? Why or why not? I will not attempt to answer these questions here, but want to raise them for others to consider.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Taking the Stories of Primeval History Seriously": A Review of In God's Image and Likeness 2

You're just a few clicks away from owning this excellent book! So what are you waiting for?

The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price has been the attention of considerable Latter-day Saint scholarship. Beginning with the pioneering work of Hugh Nibley, much work has been done on understanding the history, nature, and teachings of the Book of Moses.[1] Next to Nibley, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw stands out as one of the giants among Latter-day Saint scholars who have looked carefully at the Book of Moses. In his excellent 2010 commentary In God's Image and Likeness Bradshaw delved deep into the text of the first half of the Book of Moses to unlock fresh insights and provide intriguing links between the Book of Moses with the temple and other ancient Near Eastern texts and traditions.[2]

However, Bradshaw's first book only covered up to Moses 6. So then what about the rest of the Book of Moses, including the accounts of Enoch and Noah? With David J. Larsen as a co-author, Bradshaw has now completed his commentary on the Book of Moses with In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, co-published by the Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books.

If one could summarize the purpose of this sequel, it would have to be that Bradshaw and Larsen are "taking the stories of the primeval history seriously" (p. 4) and attempting to show the richness, beauty, and power of these accounts.
Given their status as targets of humor and caricature, the well-worn stories of Adam, Eve, and Noah are sometimes difficult to take seriously. However, a thoughtful examination of the scriptural record of these characters will reveal not simply tales of “piety or inspiring adventures” but rather carefully crafted narratives from a highly sophisticated culture that preserve “deep memories” of revealed understanding. We do an injustice both to these marvelous records and to ourselves when we fail to pursue an appreciation of scripture beyond the initial level of cartoon cut-outs inculcated upon the minds of young children. (pp. 4–5, internal notes removed)
Bradshaw and Larsen pick up exactly where In God's Image and Likeness finished. They begin by discussing how the Book of Moses presents the prophet Enoch, and compare the Book of Moses' depiction of Enoch with the depiction of him found in a corpus of pseudepigraphal Enochic literature. Their discussion of Enoch both compares and contrasts the Book of Moses with the pseudepigraphal texts that bear Enoch's name, and Bradshaw and Larsen are careful not to engage in the sort of parallelomania that one could easily fall into when comparing the Book of Moses with this literature.[3] 

After their discussion of Enoch, Bradshaw and Larsen then comment on Noah, the ark, and the flood. They discuss the events preceding and following the flood, in addition to the flood itself. Besides doctrinal discussions, their commentary on the flood also tactfully includes a brief discussion of how to reconcile the flood account with evidence from geological science that strongly contradicts belief in a global catastrophic flood. Instead, Bradshaw and Larsen posit the likelihood of a local flood that was possibly mythologized in the Genesis account to carry specific theological significance and symbolism (esp. pp. 267–271). This symbolism is actually quite interesting, as Bradshaw and Larsen point out that the Genesis flood symbolically throws the earth back into its pre-created chaotic state, when the waters of chaos reigned before the formation of the earth (see Genesis 1:1–3; cf. Abraham 4:1–2). With the emergence of a new earth from out of the waters of the flood, the account presents Noah as a type of Adam (pp. 256–259, 267, 277–279).

Finally, Bradshaw and Larsen include a discussion of the Tower of Babel. Bradshaw and Larsen begin by helpfully providing the Mesopotamian background to the Tower of Babel pericope (pp. 382–388). They also (rightly) urge caution about reading too much into the account of the confounding of languages that contradicts scriptural and scientific evidence (pp. 398–402). 

Of course, as might be expected in a tome covering the Book of Moses and Genesis, Bradshaw and Larsen make no small effort to draw our attention to the many links between these stories and the temple. There are simply too many wonderful insights concerning the temple in this book for me to fully describe in this review. Suffice it to say that nobody can walk away from reading this book without coming to more fully appreciate the importance and centrality of the temple and temple symbolism in the scriptures, including in the stories of Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel.

In addition to their commentary on the text, Bradshaw and Larsen include what they term "Gleanings," or reproductions of quotes by various General Authorities or scholars on topics relating to the subject being discussed in each chapter. Bradshaw and Larsen also provide numerous paintings, photos, and charts to help the reader visualize the stories they're reading. In this regard, In God's Image and Likeness 2 follows in the steps of its predecessor, which also stands out for its wonderful artistic reproductions.

There wasn't much that I found in this book to criticize, and there was only one part that I really disagreed with. In their commentary on the story involving Noah and his sons in Genesis 9, Bradshaw and Larsen speculate that Noah didn't actually get drunk from the wine that he made from a vineyard he had planted (Genesis 9:20–21), but had participated in "a ritual drinking of wine" that preceded a vision (p. 300). They base this argument on a statement attributed to Joseph Smith and an excerpt from the Genesis Apocryphon. The evidence presented by Bradshaw and Larsen is, however, tenuous. First, the statement attributed to Joseph Smith that Noah "was not drunk, but in a vision" is late and thirdhand.[4]contemporary (and preferably firsthand) statement on this by the Prophet would be stronger evidence for their claim. Second, their appeal to the Genesis Apocryphon, while interesting, doesn't do much to mitigate against the plain reading of the text in Genesis–––Noah got a little too carried away with his wine. It would seem that the author of the Genesis Apocryphon was trying to do the same thing that Bradshaw and Larsen are doing, that is, exonerate Noah from any wrongdoing.

Likewise, Bradshaw and Larsen's speculation that the "sin of Ham" was that Noah's son "was neither qualified nor authorized to enter a place of divine glory" (p. 305) is also tenuous. Their evidence, while also interesting, is not definitive, and is also derived in part from their reading of later biblical and pseudepigraphal texts and drawing parallels with the pericope in Genesis 9. While they're reading of Genesis 9 is plausible, it is far from certain.

But my hesitancy to agree with Bradshaw and Larsen on this point doesn't severely detract from my overall appreciation for the effort and thoughtfulness that they put into this marvelous book. In the end, I wholeheartedly agree with this statement made by Bradshaw and Larsen at the beginning of their impressive volume.
The acceptance of the book of Moses as part of the LDS scriptural canon and, more generally, the premise that the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible may contain something more than naïve personal speculations on passages that perplexed the Prophet has not only been grounds for amusement for many non-Mormons but also has drawn criticism from some within the tradition of the Restoration. . . . It is our firm witness that the book of Moses is a priceless prophetic reworking of the book of Genesis, made with painstaking effort under divine direction. Although neither “complete” nor “inerrant,” it is a text of inestimable value that should be one of the centerpieces of our gospel study. (pp. 17–18)
To that end, any Latter-day Saint interested in an informative and engaging scriptural commentary on the Book of Moses would greatly benefit from both volumes 1 and 2 of In God's Image and Likeness.

[The book can be purchased at the FairMormon Bookstore or]

Addendum: Jeffrey Bradshaw has responded to my brief comments on Genesis 9. My review here was meant to be quick and limited, so I may not have done justice to Bradshaw and Larsen's argument. Below are Bradshaw's comments.
David and I qualify our explorations of an alternative interpretation of Genesis 9 as an "admittedly tentative" effort to "account for its many anomalies." Many other respected scholars have remarked on the odd inconsistency of the Noah portrayed in Genesis 8 and Genesis 9, leading to conclusions such as that of Gordon Wenham that "the two traditions are completely incompatible and must be of independent origin." In addition, it might be helpful to readers if you could note that the purported statement of Joseph Smith is not a completely isolated phenomenon. For example, drawing their conclusions from the Hebrew text of Genesis 9 alone (i.e., not considering the Genesis Apocryphon), Koler and Greenspahn concur with the opinion that Noah was enwrapped in a vision while in the tent, and that Ham's sin was looking at Noah while the latter was in the course of revelation.[5]


[1]: See Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 2 (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1986).

[2]: Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness: Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Book of Moses (Salt Lake City, Utah: Eborn Books, 2010). See also Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Temple Themes in the Book of Moses (Salt Lake City, Utah: Eborn Books, 2010); Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (Salt Lake City, Utah: Eborn Books, 2012). Bradshaw has published numerous articles and has presented at a number of symposia on various Latter-day Saint scriptural topics. For a complete look at his publications and presentations, see here.

[3]: For those unaware of or otherwise unfamiliar with the corpus of Enochic pseudepigrapha, my good friend Colby Townsend provides an overview of this literature in an appendix.

[4]: Bradshaw and Larsen (p. 300, n. 35) cite Charles Walker's 1881 diary entry of a conversation he had with William Allen where Allen attributed the quote to Joseph Smith.

[5]: E-mail from Jeffrey Bradshaw to Stephen Smoot, sent on January 27, 2014.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mach keinen Unsinn

This comes from my friend Daniel Taylor. I would idiomatically translate the caption as, "Okay, I'll be back in just a second. Don't do anything stupid!"

A New Level of Nerdom

What, you may be wondering at this moment, are these two pictures?

Well, I'll be happy to tell you.

A week ago I joined what is perhaps the closest thing to a sports team that I will ever join up with in my life–––a Dungeons and Dragons Guild.

Yes, you read that correctly. I will shortly be adventuring with a group of friends in imaginary lands as the elf cleric/archer Amel-Marduk. (For those who may be wondering where the name comes from, all you need to know that is that Amel-Marduk, "man of Marduk," was the son of Nebuchadnezzar II. I mean, why not name an imaginary character after an ancient Babylonian king?)

What skills do I posses to adventure through wondrous lands as Amel-Marduk?

Well, my elf cleric is a healer, a magician, a pretty damned good archer, and, above all, uses a seer stone to look for lost or hidden objects. That's how he made a living before he joined up with a rag-tag group of adventurers; he would be hired to find lost or stolen artifacts. (To answer your next question, yes, I got the idea of from Joseph Smith's youthful exploits with folk magic.)

I have, I believe, officially arrived at a new level of Nerdom.

That Sneaky Snake

The Temptation and Fall of Eve (1808) by William Blake.
Here's another insight from Ziony Zevit, this time about the nature of the serpent in Genesis 3.
The serpent was 'arūwm. People characterized as 'arūwm conceal what they feel and what they know (Prov 12:16, 23). They esteem knowledge and plan how to use it in achieving their objectives (Prov 13:16; 14:8, 18); they do not believe everything that they hear (Prov 14:15); and they know how to avoid trouble and punishment (Prov 22:3; 27:12). In sum, they are shrewd and calculating, willing to bend and torture the limits of acceptable behavior but not to cross the line into illegalities. They may unpleasant and purposely misleading in speech but are not out-and-out liars (Josh 9:4; 1 Sam 23:22). They know how to read people and situations and how to turn their readings to advantage. A keen wit and a rapier tongue are their tools. 
(Ziony Zevit, What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013], 163.)

With this in mind, consider the following example.
Now the serpent was more crafty [ערום'arūwm] than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1–5 NRSV)
The serpent says that the woman, upon eating the fruit, would become כאלהים or "like/as God(s)". Sectarian critics of the Church have used this as a proof text against the Mormon teaching of deification. After all, who, the criticism goes, says that men and women can become like God? Well, Satan, of course. (Never mind that the text of Genesis never says the serpent is evil, let alone Satan, as noted by Zevit and countless others.) So the Mormon doctrine of deification must be a satanic lie!

But notice what God says at the end of the chapter, after the man and woman have eaten the fruit. "Then the LORD God said, 'See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'" (Genesis 3:22).

This verse is significant in two ways. First, it confirms that what the serpent had said was, it turns out, true. The man and woman did become "like one of us," i.e. God(s). So confirmed God himself in the verse. Second, the use of the plural (כאחד ממנו, "like/as one of us") probably indicates the presence of the divine council in the text (cf. Gen 1:26). Or at least that's what David M. Carr says in his commentary in the New Oxford Annotated Bible.

So what, then, was the serpent being less than honest about? He bent the truth when he told the woman that as a consequence of eating the fruit "you will not die." So the serpent really was 'arūwm. He mixed a truth (the man and woman would become like God[s]) with a lie (they wouldn't die), which is what 'arūwm people do in the Bible.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book of Mormon Minimalists and the NHM Inscriptions: A Response to Dan Vogel

One of the NHM altar inscriptions. 
As promised, here is my article (co-written with my good friend Neal Rappleye) responding to Dan Vogel's arguments against the significance of the NHM altar inscriptions for the Book of Mormon's historicity.

The article can accessed online here.

If nothing else, the article will probably serve as a good sleep aid for those suffering from insomnia.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Goethe and Mormonism

Der Meister – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).
I am currently taking a senior seminar on the life and writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. My professor, Hans Wilhelm-Kelling, has an article comparing some of Goethe's (often enigmatic) religious convictions with Latter-day Saint theology. According to Kelling, some of Goethe's religious thoughts that intersect with Mormonism includes:
(1) A falling away from the original church has occurred, and the existing churches no longer adhere to the kind of Christianity that Christ practiced and taught, rather they are involved in fossilized dogmatic and institutionalized practices. (2) The generally accepted Christian concept of the Trinity is incomprehensible and thus unacceptable. (3) Mephistopheles–Satan, the spirit of destruction and nihilism, is in the final analysis an instrument in God's divine plan to bring about the salvation of man (4) There is no Original Sin. Men are not accountable for Adam's transgression. (5) God is a loving, forgiving father who cares for His children. He will not condemn them to eternal damnation but will save then into one of His many different mansions. (6) Man is immortal. His soul may have a premortal existence, and it will, no doubt, continue to live after death. (7) Man is inherently good, not evil. God has endowed him with a divine spark and recognizes that his eternal quest leads ever in the right direction, namely toward God's divine light. (8) In this life, man has the power and responsibility to strive to improve himself and reach higher goals. He also has the solemn responsibility to be a personal example of human nobility, to reach out to his neighbor, and to assist him to come closer to God. (9) God has endowed man with an irrepressible drive to strive ever onward, with the power to attain the noble and sublime. He can improve himself, master his natural inclinations and become a "beautiful soul" [schöne Seele], the highest condition of human existence. (10) Because of his inherent strong drive, man will commit sin. God is aware of that and will lead him gradually from intellectual and spiritual confusion into clarity. (11) The hereafter is an existence of striving and noble activity. In the eternities each soul will be assigned a task for which man on earth has diligently prepared himself. He will assist God in administering the universe.
(Hans Wilhelm–Kelling, "Thoughts About Goethe's Religious Convictions," Literature and Belief 20, no. 2 [2000]: 101–102.)

That these theological lynchpins are what make Mormonism distinct (and distinctly wonderful) in a world of competing Weltanschauungen that range of classical theism to militant atheism is essentially what Terryl and Fiona Givens have articulated in their wonderful book The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. (One of these days I'll get around to blogging on The God Who Weeps.)

I like to image Goethe and Joseph being pals in the spirit world. Joseph just beat a young Goethe at stick pull and after a mutually shared hearty laugh they are now settling down to go another round of discussion.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some Viennese Music for the Evening

Johann Strauss II (1825–1899).
Tonight, as I was doing some 60 pages of assigned reading in Peter Green's nigh-impenetrable tome Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, I needed something to drown out the sound of my roommates watching TV, so I jumped onto YouTube and started listening to music. As I was looking up some videos I came across the overture to the delightful operetta Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II (whose grave in Vienna's Zentralfriedhof I've actually visited).

When it comes to music it's hard to get much more Austrian than Strauss. If you ever think of fin de siècle Viennese music, think Strauss (or his counterpart Mahler). I can recall walking through the U-Bahnstation on Stephansplatz (or was it Karlsplatz?) last spring while hearing Strauss' music playing overhead. He's perennial popular, and for good reason.

But perhaps you already know of Strauss from his world-famous waltz "An der schönen blauen Donau." Having swum in the Donau, I don't know where Strauss got the idea that it's blue. (Maybe it was blue in his time, before the pollution, or maybe it's only blue outside of Vienna.) Nevertheless, it's also a wonderful piece.


Damn. Listening to this music makes me really miss Vienna. Here I am suffocating on Provo's terrible air and stressing myself into an early grave over homework when I could be walking through the Prater while I eat a Döner and drink some Almdudler.

Tyche sure is a harsh mistress.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Upcoming SANE Symposium

BYU's Students of the Ancient Near East (SANE) association will be holding it's annual symposium this Friday. (Click the image below for more details.)

If you're like me and have nothing better to do on a Friday than nerd out on ANES topics, you'll like this presentation.

You can probably skip the presentation at 2:30 PM, however. I have it on good authority that the fellow presenting at that time is a total crackpot.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Writing Materials in the Bible

The Moabite Stone or Mesha Stele (composed circa 840).


Although modern readers usually take it for granted, the authors, compilers and redactors of the biblical texts took much effort to ensure the survival of the Bible. An untold number of ancient texts are no longer extant for no other reason than the writing media used to write the text could not survive the passage of time or the inevitable damaged caused by human hands. Given the importance of the use of writing media to ensure the survival of a text, the question naturally arises whether the Bible ever speaks about what writing media were used in ancient Israel, and whether archaeological evidence may help make sense of this puzzle. In this paper, I shall review those few passages in the Bible that speak of the use of writing media and then compare those statements with what we find in the archaeological record.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Biblical Books of Kings and Chronicles: Their Value and Limitations for the Study of Ancient Israelite History

The so-called Taylor Prism, or Sennacherib's Annals (circa 690 BCE), describing, among other things, Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE.


Any student of the Bible[1] must inevitably ask him or herself the question of how much credibility one can assign to the historical claims found therein. To many modern readers of the Bible, especially professing Christians and Jews, it may seem somewhat out of place, or even presumptuous, to assume that the historical information in the Bible is anything less than infallible or absolutely reliable. Notwithstanding, biblical scholars for some time have recognized that the authors of the Bible likely weren't primarily interested in presenting the history of Israel from an objective, neutral, or even entirely factual way.[2] The modern scholarly ideal of presenting history wie es eigentlich gewesen ist,[3] to borrow the oft-cited German phrase, is just that–––modern. The ancient historian, conventional biblical criticism informs us, was, apparently, not as concerned with preserving this ideal as the modern historian is.

The Insanity Continues: Two New Articles

Pictured: Mr. Almoni (center) presents his findings on the divine council at the 2013 Students of the Ancient Near East Symposium.
You can probably ignore this post, since it probably amounts to little more than a reiteration of my insanity.

But for those who, like me, find solace in madness, you may enjoy these two new articles of mine.

The first was published in the Studia Antiqua, which is BYU's student journal for Near Eastern studies. It is on the topic of the divine council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon. (I had presented this paper at the 2013 Students of the Ancient Near East symposium previous to its publication.)

Link here.

The second was published in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. It is a review of Adam S. Miller's new book Letters to a Young Mormon.

Link here.

(This article by my good friend Neal Rappleye, published at the same time as my own piece, should be read alongside my own review.)

Next week, I am pleased (sorry?) to announce, will feature the publication of another article of mine (co-written with my friend Neal) on the topic of the NHM altars and the Book of Mormon. Stay tuned for that as well.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Setting a Good Example

Facsimile 1 from the Book of Abraham.
Passions can run high when discussing certain controversies within Mormonism. The debate over the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith Papyri, for example, can become especially vicious. (I've seen first hand just how low some people can sink.)

Michael Frassetto, a professor of history at the University of Delaware and the former religion editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, has set a good example of how to describe this controversial aspect of Mormonism without compromising one's objectivity or fair-mindedness.

Although an important text for the church, the book of Abraham is the most controversial of the works found in the Pearl [of Great Price]. The translations and Smith's commentary on the accompanying facsimiles illustrating various rituals have been the subject of great debate almost from the time of publication and continue to be points of controversy between church members and non-church members. A number of Egyptologists from outside the church have criticized Smith's translations and interpretations of the papyri. Non-LDS scholars have argued that Smith's translation of the text was highly flawed, that the text does not contain the name Abraham, and that anachronisms in the text indicate it was not written by Abraham. These scholars have also noted the similarity of the text to The Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Book of Breathings, which were compiled long after the time of Abraham and have little to do with him. Smith's understanding of the illustrations, according to these scholars, is also problematic; they have maintained that they are depictions of common Egyptian funerary rites that have little to do with Abraham. LDS scholars have responded to these criticisms and have sought to demonstrate the accuracy of Smith's translation and interpretation; needless to say, neither side has been convinced by the other, and as a result the controversy continues. Scholars have also identified parallels between the book and various works of Jewish and Christian pseudepigraphy.

(Michael Frassetto, "Introduction," in Joseph Smith, The Pearl of Great Price, The Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading [New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2009], xv.)

One might quibble with some of Frassetto's wording, but the above paragraph is a perfectly fine condensed explanation of the controversy. What strikes me, however, is Frassetto's even-handedness. He doesn't launch into any personal attacks, doesn't exhibit a dismissive attitude, doesn't pass any rash judgement, and doesn't hurl any rhetorical barbs.

One would do well to follow Frassetto's example of how to discuss this (and other) controversial topic(s).

Die vier Weltalter; or, Schiller as Proto-Mormon

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805). 
The Council of Gods (1518) by Raphael.

Next to the immortal Goethe, Friedrich Schiller stands as the great German polymath of Weimar Classicism and the Sturm und Drang (conventionally translated as "storm and stress") literary movement. Schiller's works include dramas, poetry, histories, and philosophical essays. 

Schiller's work has endured in popular culture, even if you don't realize it. Ever heard of the story of the marksman William Tell shooting an apple off of the head of his son? Well, that's from the old German legend of Wilhelm Tell made popular by Schiller's 1804 play. So the next time you hear this music, think of Schiller, as the opera was directly based on his play.

Or maybe you've heard Beethoven's famous "Ode to Joy" from the last movement of his 9th symphony. The lyrics are taken directly from Schiller's "Ode an die Freude," written in 1785.

As with "Ode an die Freude," there is another multi-stanza ballad by Schiller that includes the imagery of the gods, nature, creation, beauty, joy, history, etc (themes all-too-common to Schiller and like-minded Romantics). This one, however, especially caught my attention because of the depiction of the divine council and some other imagery that fits nicely in Mormon mythology and cosmology. I'm positively fascinated by the concept of the divine council, so I thought I'd share this wonderful poem (titled "Die vier Weltalter," or "the four ages of the world,") with y'all and comment on how many aspects of this poem makes Schiller something of a proto-Mormon.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pre-Adamites in the Bible?

Death of Abel (1865) by Gustave Doré.
I continue to be highly impressed by Ziony Zevit's new book What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? Zevit's analysis of the Garden of Eden pericope in Genesis is very informative. Here is another instance of an insight that comes Zevit's close reading of the text.

The story [in Genesis] implies the existence of other people, people formed before the 'ādām or at the same time but in a different place for a different reason. Adam's guarding function was to protect the Garden from them. The existence of these other people is also presupposed elsewhere in the primeval history.
Qayin [Cain], sentenced to be a wandered after killing his brother, complains that "anyone who finds me will kill me" (Gen 4:14). God acknowledges the validity of Qayin's observation and comforts him by threatening vengeance on anybody who kills him: "whoever kills Qayin, he will be avenged sevenfold"; that is, if you will Qayin, seven of your family will die. Moreover, God provides Qayin with a sign, a conventional indicator recognizable by these other people, warning them to leave him alone (Gen 4:15). Had the author and his audience not understood that other people lived in the inhabitable world outside Eden, the narrative elements of Qayin's fear, God's warning, and the use of a sign would have made no sense. Extrapolating from these minor assumptions, it appears that the author understood that Qayin later settled among some of these other people in the land of Nod, where he found a woman to be his wife (Gen 4:16–17).
The extant biblical narrative, however, is uninterested in these other people because it traces the genealogical descent of all humans known to Israel back to Noah and his family, and from them back both through Qayin (Gen 4:16–17; 5:28), and thence back to Adam and Hawwa [Eve]. Other people, whatever their story–––a fragment of which is embedded in Genesis 6:1–4–––were among those wiped out in the flood along with most of Adam's descendants (Gen 6:5–7, 13).

(Ziony Zevit, What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013], 118–119.)

Of course, any Latter-day Saint who has read the work of B. H. Roberts or Hugh Nibley knows that the idea of "pre-Adamites" is certainly a potentially viable way to reconcile Genesis with evolution. I am not necessarily saying that this is the answer for reconciling the two, but it may be a good approach. If nothing else, Zevit's insights here may help in this regard.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Early Christians Were Communists! (Literally!)

Comrade Peter is seen here holding the keys to the State Wealth Re-Distribution Center (Acts 4:37)
In Acts 4:32 we read of the early Christians, "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common" (NRSV).

The underlying Greek of this verse reads as follows.

Touv de« plh/qouß tw◊n pisteusa¿ntwn h™n kardi÷a kai« yuch\ mi÷a, kai« oujde« ei–ß ti tw◊n uJparco/ntwn aujtwˆ◊e¶legen i¶dion ei•nai aÓll∆h™n aujtoi√ß a‚panta koina¿.

So the text literally says not only that "nobody claimed to own anything for themselves," but also that "everything amongst them was in common."

I have a burning urge to use this verse to troll a Tea Party website.

[Note: Lest anyone with an impaired sense of humor accuse me of being a communist or of otherwise claiming that the early Christians were communists in the modern political sense, I stress that this post is a little tongue-in-cheek joke.]

Temple and Cosmos

The Nauvoo Temple. What Joseph Smith restored here is the crown jewel of his theology.
No, I'm not referring to the awesome book in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (although I would recommend you pick it up if you haven't already). I'm instead referring to the terms used by John H. Walton (following Moshe Weinfeld) in his book Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology to describe the Sitz im Leben of Genesis 1: a temple text.

Though there is no explicit mention of a temple per se in the Genesis account, two items that are specifically mentioned help to connect the idea of temple in the ancient Near Eastern and biblical contexts: rest on the seventh day of creation and the Garden of Eden. (p. 179)

Mark Smith, in his discussion of the motif of the seven days of Genesis 1, concludes, with Hurowitz, that "creation in Genesis 1 uses the language of temple-building." Regardless of whether Genesis 1 is understood as reflecting a temple-building account (like the building of Baal's Temple in seven days) or a temple-inauguration account (like the temple inauguration in Gudea Cylinder B), the connection between Genesis 1 and temple imagery is confirmed. (p. 181)

This is creation as it was understood in the ancient Near East. Even in the biblical picture of creation in Genesis 1, the manner in which the material stuff of the cosmos came into being and the time involved in this process had little significance. . . . Creation takes place when the cosmos/temple is made functional for its human inhabitant by means of the presence of God. (p. 183)

The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland but as an archetypal sanctuary–––that is, a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary. (p. 184, quoting G. Wenham)

[Some of the parallels between the Garden of Eden and temples include:] Adam's job [in the garden] is very like priestly duties; Adam and Eve are clothed specially, and the priests also wear special garments. . . . Temple complexes often featured gardens that symbolized the fertility provided by the deity [like the Garden of Eden]. (p. 185)

Because the creation narrative of Genesis refers to God's resting at the conclusion and because the account is immediately followed with a description of the Garden of Eden, we can conclude that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is built on a platform of temple theology: both of these ideas–––rest and the garden–––are integral to the temple theology of the ancient world. . . . The evidence that has been presented thus far confirms that the temple in Israel was seen as a microcosmos, particularly through its identification with the symbolism of the Garden of Eden. (p. 187)

Weinfeld's seven points are as follows:
1. God's dwelling in his sanctuary is considered as "rest", parrallel to the concept of the sanctuary in the ancient Near East, and to the seventh day's rest in Genesis.
2. The completion of the Tabernacle is parallel to the completion of the universe in Genesis.
3. The seventh day of completion appears both in the Tabernacle accounts and in the Creation stories.
4. Creation and Temple building in the ancient Near East are associated with and tied to the notion of enthronement.
5. Creation and the Enthronement of God are interrelated in the Old Testament.
6. The Sabbath and the enthronement of God are related together in Jewish liturgy.
7. The Sitz im Leben of Gen. 1:1–2:3 is to be sought in Temple liturgy. (p. 191)

Finally, this quote by Walton also stood out to me. (It sounds eerily Mormon, wouldn't you say?)

In Genesis, the image of God has to do with rule and relationship to deity, but the rule is terrestrial rather than political, and the relationship presents humanity much like lower-echelon deities in the other cultures [of the ancient Near East]. (p. 196)

Small wonder, then, that Latter-day Saint temples also prominently feature the themes of creation and the Garden of Eden. Latter-day Saint temples are a restoration of ancient temples. (I can think of specific things in the Endowment that go back to ancient temples, but to preserve the sanctity of the Endowment I will not discuss them here.) Anyone who claims that Joseph Smith was just stealing his temple theology from the Freemasons, or that Latter-day Saint temples aren't biblical, evidently hasn't looked back at what the ancient Israelites (as well as the Egyptians, Canaanites, and Mesopotamians, for that matter) were cooking up in their temples.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Die schöne Müllerin (Part 6)

"Sag, Bächlein, liebt sie mich?"
Work is over, the beautiful milleress has wished everyone a good night, and the miller is now alone. This sets the scene for the next poem in the story–––"Der Neugierige." Whom or what does the miller now have that he can share his deep feelings with? Of course, he has the brooklet. So, naturally, that's where he goes.

Ich frage keine Blume,                              I won't ask any flower,
Ich frage keinen Stern,                              I won't ask any star,
Sie können mir nicht sagen,                      They cannot tell me,
Was ich erführ so gern.                             What I so desperately want to know.

Ich bin ja auch kein Gärtner,                     I'm certainly not a gardner,
Die Sterne stehn zu hoch;                         The stars are way too high;
Mein Bächlein will ich fragen,                  I'll ask my little brooklet,
Ob mich mein Herz belog.                        If my heart has lied to me.

O Bächlein meiner Liebe,                         O brooklet of my love,
Wie bist du heut so stumm?                      Why are you so silent today?
Will ja nur eines wissen,                           I just want to know one thing,
Ein Wörtchen um und um.                       One little word again and again.

Ja heißt das eine Wörtchen,                      "Yes," is the name of the word,
Das andre heißet Nein,                             "No," is the name of the other.
Die beiden Wörtchen                                In both of these words,
Schließen die ganze Welt mir ein.             Is the entire world encompassed.

O Bächlein meiner Liebe,                          O brooklet of my love,
Was bist du wunderlich!                            How quaint you truly are.
Will's ja nicht weitersagen,                        I'll not say it again,
Sag, Bächlein, liebt sie mich?                   Speak, brooklet, does she love ?

This is one of the most touching poems of the entire story. Maybe it's because I've also performed this song in concert, including once at a very tender time in my life, that makes me so in love with it. I don't know. All I know is here we see the miller's truly heartfelt love and desire. His emotions are raw and unreserved. At one point he even has to ask himself, like before, if he's lying to himself. The feelings of love he has for the beautiful milleress are real, but he doesn't know if they're being met by the milleress. This, I believe, is what he means when he asks himself if his heart has deceived him. He wants to know, in other words, if it's all in vain.

The simplicity of this poem is likewise powerful. There's no flashy imagery, no fancy words, no complex form. It's just a simple man asking a profoundly sincere and meaningful question: does she love me? But even thought the question is simple, the answer, according to the miller, encircles the entire world.

But what is the answer? We won't find out just now. We'll first have to wait a little bit and observe the miller's relationship grow with the milleress.

In the mean time, here is Schubert's rendition. It is, without a doubt, one the absolute gems of this song cycle.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Elder Steven E. Snow On Historical Questions

As you'd say in German, "Was für ein Typ!"

Drink Deep: Resources on Early Mormon Plural Marriage

Look, we can't kid ourselves or others by pretending this never happened. It happened, but there's no reason to freak out about it.
The early Mormon practice of plural marriage is one of the most controversial legacies of Mormonism. Understandably, many people, including members of the Church, are often troubled by what they hear are seemingly undeniable proofs of Joseph Smith's lechery and debauchery. Joseph Smith had sex with teenage girls! Joseph Smith sent men on missions and then secretly married their wives while they were away! Joseph threatened eternal damnation to any woman who wouldn't accept his proposal for marriage! And so the list goes on. You can readily find these and other accusations on a number of Internet websites, as well as in plenty of books.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Atmen, du unsichtbares Gedicht!

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)
From the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, a rather (obscure? bizarre? trippy?) poem I had to translate for one of my classes.

Rilke's German is somewhat tricky at some spots. It's not like translating the rather simple Müller (or even Goethe, who's surprisingly easy to read and translate given his genius and erudition).

Don't ask me what it means. Maybe someone else will be able to figure it out.

Atmen, du unsichtbares Gedicht !
Immerfort um das eigne
Sein rein eingetauschter Weltraum. Gegengewicht,
in dem ich mich rhythmisch ereigne.

Einzige Welle, deren
allmähliches Meer ich bin ;
sparsamstes du von allen möglichen Meeren, -

Wieviele von diesen Stellen der Räume waren schon
innen in mir. Manche Winde
sind wie mein Sohn.

Erkennst du mich, Luft, du, voll noch einst meiniger Orte ?
Du, einmal glatte Rinde,
Rundung und Blatt meiner Worte.

Breathing, you invisible poem!
Constantly about one's own.
His pure, exchanged space. Counterweight,
in which I rhythmically fall into.

Singular wave, for which
I am an almighty ocean;
you, the thriftiest of all possible oceans,–

How many of these spots of space were
already inside of me. Some winds
are like my son.

Don't you recognize me, air, as once being my place?
You, once a smooth bark,
a curve and leaf of my word.

Once Again: Joseph Smith, Richard Dawkins, and the Language of Translation

The King James Bible: the greatest monument of English literature or a work of charlatanry?
[This is another follow-up post to these posts here, here and here. This blog post has been reposted at the Interpreter blog here.]

At the risk of overkilling this topic, I want to return to Richard Dawkins' arguments against the Book of Mormon one last time. (I'm pretty sure I'll leave it alone after this.)

In an online article where he expresses his disappointment that not every English state school has a copy of the King James Bible in its library, Dawkins opines on the incomparable quality of the King James Bible as a work of English literature while at the same time insisting that it is not a suitable guide to morality.[1] "Ecclesiastes, in the 1611 translation," Dawkins specifies, "is one of the glories of English literature (I'm told it's pretty good in the original Hebrew, too)." (Having read large parts of Ecclesiastes in Hebrew, I can attest that it is.) "A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian," Dawkins goes on to say as he affirms that the King James Bible "really is a great work of literature" that should be appreciated as such. Indeed, "an atheistic world-view," Dawkins has said elsewhere, "provides no justification for cutting the Bible, and other sacred books, out of our education. . . . We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage."[2]

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Die schöne Müllerin (Part 5)

Die Knappen after a long day of work.
With no time to waste our miller gets to work! After all, how else is he going to win the love of the beautiful milleress unless he proves he's a dependable, loyal, hardworking man? And so we reach the next poem in the cycle–––"Am Feierabend."

Hätt ich tausend                           If only I had a thousand
Arme zu rühren!                          arms to move.
Könnt ich brausend                     I could loudly
Die Räder führen!                       lead the wheels.
Könnt ich wehen                        I could blow
Durch alle Haine!                       through all the groves!
Könnt ich drehen                        I could spin
Alle Steine!                                 every stone.
Daß die schöne Müllerin            So that the beautiful milleress
Merkte meinen treuen Sinn!      would notice my faithful thoughts.

Ach, wie ist mein Arm so schwach!             Ah! How is my arm so weak?
Was ich hebe, was ich trage,                         Whatever I move, whatever I carry,
Was ich schneide, was ich schlage,              whatever I cut, whatever I strike,
Jeder Knappe tut es nach.                             every other bloke does the same!
Und da sitz ich in der großen Runde,           And so there I sit in the giant circle
Zu der stillen kühlen Feierstunde,                To the still, cool hour of rest
Und der Meister spricht zu allen:                 And the master says to everyone:
Euer Werk hat mir gefallen;                         Your work has pleased me.
Und das liebe Mädchen sagt                        And the lovely girl says
Allen eine gute Nacht.                                 to everyone, "Good night."

What interests me about this poem is the sudden juxtaposition between it and the last one. "Danksagung an den Bach" is quiet, soft, restful, and calm. This poem, however, is filled with motion, energy, impatience, haste, and power. It's a vivid contrast that depicts how quickly our lives are set in motion day by day.

It also calls to my mind the curse placed upon Adam by God after the Fall.

And to the man [Adam] he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it”, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ (Genesis 3:17–19 NRSV)

Our miller has to work and toil for the affection of the milleress. Like Adam, his desire won't just be given to him. He has to earn it. There's a subtle parallel in imagery then, I believe, between Adam working to sustain him and his wife Eve in their new fallen world and the miller working to win over the milleress.

In the last four lines the master of the mill addresses the entire group of the "Knappe," or as I translate it, "blokes." (I get the sense that the word is being used to describe the "guys down at the plant," as it were, so I avoided "boy" or "lad" or "friend" and went with the more distant "bloke." The word itself, literally, means "squire," but has an archaic meaning of "boy" or "knave," the latter of which is a cognate of the German "Knabe," or "boy," "youth," etc.)

So too does the milleress. Notice how she doesn't really notice the work of our miller. She addresses everyone in the group when she wishes them good night. Why? Has the miller not worked hard enough? Does she not care about him? Is it too early for her to even notice him?

This ambiguity in the conclusion of the poem actually sets up the next poem very nicely, which we'll look at sometime soon.

Here now is Schubert's rendition.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

E. A. Speiser on Creation

Ephraim Avigdor Speiser (1902–1965).
Bob Smith, in a comment on this post of mine, drew attention to E. A. Speiser's comments on the question of creation from pre-existing matter in Genesis.

Here is what Speiser had to say.

If the first sentence states that "In the beginning God created heaven and earth," what ensued was chaos (vs. 2) which needed immediate attention. In other words, the Creator would be charged with an inadequate initial performance, unless one takes the whole of vs. 1 as a general title, contrary to the established biblical practice. To be sure, the present interpretation precludes the view that the creation accounts in Genesis say nothing about coexistent matter. . . . On this score, at least, the biblical writers repeat the Babylonian formulation [as found in the Enuma Elish], perhaps without full awareness of the theological and philosophical implications. At all events, the text should be allowed to speak for itself.

(E. A. Speiser, The Anchor Bible: Genesis [New York, NY: Doubleday, 1964], 12–13.)

For the record, here's what Joseph said in the King Follett Sermon.

The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world. The grand councilors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds which were created at the time. . . . In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted [prepared] a plan to create the world and people it. 

(Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1950], 6:307–8. See also Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980], 341, 345, 351, 358.)

Now, the word create came from the word baurau [bārā] which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos––chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory.

(History of the Church, 6:309. Compare Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 341, 345, 351, 359, 361.)

I am amazed at Joseph Smith's ability to recapture authentic ancient cosmology with little more than a semester's worth of Hebrew.

(Of course, it helps that he was a prophet.)