Thursday, November 27, 2014

On Gratitude

As I was rushing down to the store for my mother to pick up some desperately needed last-minute supplies for dinner this evening, my mind was caught up in reflection of what I am grateful for.

I am grateful for the Restored Gospel in my life. I am grateful for my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am grateful to have a testimony of the Restored Gospel and for those good brothers and sisters in the Church who have blessed my life through their service. 

"Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy" (D&C 128:19).

I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for my loving and supporting parents and siblings. 

"O God, grant that I may have the privilege of seeing once more my lovely family in the enjoyment of the sweets of liberty and social life. To press them to my bosom and kiss their lovely cheeks would fill my heart with unspeakable gratitude" (Joseph Smith, November 1838).

I am grateful for good, loyal, and kind friends. 

"How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not" (Joseph Smith, August 1842).

I am grateful for beautiful and meaningful art, music, literature, and film that enriches my life, expands my imagination, stirs my soul, transports me across cultures and through the currents of time, and brings vibrancy to how I see the world around me. 

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things" (Article of Faith 13).

I am grateful not only to have received an education, but to have received an education at Brigham Young University. I am grateful for my professors who have taught me so much and have inspired me to grow in my academic field. I am also grateful for the tithe-payers who heavily subsidized my tuition and for those who contributed to BYU financially so that I could receive a scholarship from the university. 

"The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth" (D&C 93:36).

I am grateful for the men and women who defend and sustain the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. 

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).

I am grateful for the ancient scribes and copyists who painstakingly, letter by letter, preserved the biblical and Nephite records. I am grateful for those brave and pious men and women (like William Tyndale and Caroline and Mary Elizabeth Rollins) who sometimes risked their very lives to make these scriptures readily available for study and appreciation. 

"William Tyndale was not the first, nor the last, of those who in many countries and languages have sacrificed, even to the point of death, to bring the word of God out of obscurity. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude. We owe perhaps an even greater debt to those who faithfully recorded and preserved the word through the ages, often with painstaking labor and sacrifice—Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, John, Paul, Nephi, Mormon, Joseph Smith, and many others" (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, April 2010).

I am grateful to live in a county where I can feely express my opinion and freely practice my religion. 

"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may" (Article of Faith 11).

I am grateful to live in a country where I have easy and relatively cheap access to food, water, electricity, health care, and other commodities.

"[T]he next time we pray, instead of presenting the Lord petition after petition for some action in our behalf, give Him thoughtful thanks for all with which He has blessed us" (Elder Steven E. Snow, January 2002).

These are just some of the things I'm grateful for. I could list many more. But for now, on this Thanksgiving day, may we remember the words of President Thomas S. Monson. "My sincere, heartfelt prayer is that we may in our individual lives reflect that marvelous virtue of gratitude."

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

 For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

(Psalm 100)

The Book of the Dead as a Temple Text and Its Implications for the Book of Abraham

Last month I presented at the 2014 Temple on Mount Zion symposium on the Book of the Dead as a temple text. The video of my presentation is now online.

My understanding is that the proceedings of the conference (including my paper) will be published sometime next year.

As I re-watch my presentation, I realize there were a few things I would've articulated differently, including how I would've answered a question from an audience member. That being said, you should be able to get the gist of what I was getting at with my paper. My published article will also be more in-depth, and will include material I had to omit from my spoken presentation. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Can a Man See God?

El sueño de Jacob by José de Ribera (1638). Genesis 28 narrates Jacob's dream at Bethel, wherein he saw Yahweh standing at the top of a stairway leading into heaven.
The answer, according to the Hebrew Bible, is pretty clear.

(All translations from the Hebrew are my own.)

וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֞וּ אֶת־קֹ֨ול יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹהִ֛ים מִתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ בַּגָּ֖ן לְר֣וּחַ הַיֹּ֑ום וַיִּתְחַבֵּ֨א הָֽאָדָ֜ם וְאִשְׁתֹּ֗ו מִפְּנֵי֙ יְהוָ֣האֱלֹהִ֔ים בְּתֹ֖וךְ עֵ֥ץ הַגָּֽן׃

And they heard the voice of Yahweh God as he was walking in the garden in the breeze of the day. So the man and his wife hid themselves from the face of Yahweh God in the middle of the trees of the garden. (Gen. 3:8)

וַיֵּרָ֤א יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם
Then Yahweh appeared before Abraham. (Gen. 12:7)

וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יְהוָ֔ה

Then Yahweh appeared before him [Isaac]. (Gen. 26:24)

וַיִּקְרָ֧א יַעֲקֹ֛ב שֵׁ֥ם הַמָּקֹ֖ום פְּנִיאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־רָאִ֤יתִי אֱלֹהִים֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים וַתִּנָּצֵ֖ל נַפְשִֽׁי

Then Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, [saying], "Because I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been delivered." (Gen. 32:31)

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֔ב ק֛וּם עֲלֵ֥ה בֵֽית־אֵ֖ל וְשֶׁב־שָׁ֑ם וַעֲשֵׂה־שָׁ֣ם מִזְבֵּ֔חַ לָאֵל֙ הַנִּרְאֶ֣ה אֵלֶ֔יךָ בְּבָרְחֲךָ֔ מִפְּנֵ֖י עֵשָׂ֥ו אָחִֽיךָ׃

And God said to Jacob, "Arise, and go up to byt-el, and dwell at that place. Make an alter there to El, who appeared to you when you fled from the presence of your brother Esau." (Gen. 35:1)

וַיֵּרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹב֙ עֹ֔וד בְּבֹאֹ֖ו מִפַּדַּ֣ן אֲרָ֑ם וַיְבָ֖רֶךְ אֹתֹֽו

Then God appeared before Jacob again when he came from Padan-aram, and he blessed him. (Gen. 35:9)

וַיִּרְא֕וּ אֵ֖ת אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
And they saw the God of Israel. (Ex. 24:10)

וְדִבֶּ֨ר יְהוָ֤ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יְדַבֵּ֥ר אִ֖ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֑הוּ

Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his companion. (Ex. 33:11)

בְּבֹ֣וא כָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֵרָאֹות֙ אֶת־פְּנֵי֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ

When all of Israel comes to appear before the face of Yahweh your God. (Deut 31:11) [Note: an alternative voweling of  לֵרָאֹות֙ would yield "to see" the face of Yahweh.]

וַיֹּ֧אמֶר מָנֹ֛וחַ אֶל־אִשְׁתֹּ֖ו מֹ֣ות נָמ֑וּת כִּ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים רָאִֽינוּ׃

Then Manoah said to his wife, "We will surely die, because we have seen God!" (Judges 13:22)

בַּלַּ֣יְלָה הַה֔וּא נִרְאָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים לִשְׁלֹמֹ֑ה

During the night God appeared to Solomon. (2 Chron. 1:7)

בִּשְׁנַת־מֹות֙ הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ עֻזִּיָּ֔הוּ וָאֶרְאֶ֧ה אֶת־אֲדֹנָ֛י יֹשֵׁ֥ב עַל־כִּסֵּ֖א רָ֣ם וְנִשָּׂ֑א וְשׁוּלָ֖יו מְלֵאִ֥ים אֶת־הַהֵיכָֽל׃

In the year of the death of Uzziah the king, I saw the lord sitting upon a throne, great and lifted up. The hem of his garment was willing the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)

(For now I will leave aside the implications of God being described as having a face.) 

Concerning the ability to see God in the Hebrew Bible, James Kugel remarked, "[God] was not to be represented in an image, not because He did not have a body, however, and not because He could not been seen by people. On the contrary: perhaps making an image of Him was forbidden precisely because the fact of His appearing among human beings, His being revealed, was (as we have seen) such a crucial item." (The God of Old, 106, emphasis in original.)

Whatever the meaning of 1 Timothy 6:16, it emphatically does not mean what sectarian critics of the Church claim it means.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wrestling the Angel

Alexander Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling With the Angel (1865).

This evening I (finally) finished reading Terryl Givens' excellent Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity. (Before I say anything else, may I express my delight in Givens using a story from the Hebrew Bible to symbolize his treatise on Mormon theology?) Anyways, in a (simplistic) word, if I had to summarize which "version" of Mormonism I hold dearest in my heart, it is the Romantic Mormonism of Terryl Givens; if for no other reason than Romantic Mormonism appears, in my own estimation, to be the closest approximation to the metaphysics Joseph the Seer was trying to capture and impart to the Saints. In short, I think Givens comes more closer than anyone else in articulating the true vision of Joseph Smith's theology.

To be sure, the modern Mormonism I practice has in many respects significantly moved beyond what Joseph articulated and taught during his ministry. That being said, I am confident that the essence of Joseph's Romantic Mormonism can be found in the Church today, to say nothing of the keys of the priesthood and continuing revelation. I am grateful to Givens for describing and expressing that essence in a much better way than I could ever hope to.

Basically, if you want to know what I believe as a Latter-day Saint, I'd say go read Wrestling the Angel, The God Who Weeps, and The Crucible of Doubt. (If you want a single volume that best expresses my own views on the Book of Mormon, I'd recommend By the Hand of Mormon.) Givens has nearly perfectly voiced my own views on Mormon theology. If Goethe is my poetic muse, Brandon Flowers my musical muse, Caspar David Friedrich my artistic muse, then Terryl Givens (channeling Joseph, Brigham, and the Brothers Pratt) is my theological muse.

Ranting aside, I thought this concluding line from Givens was just great. "Mormon Restoration, in many cases, finds greater theological kinship with the ancient Christian past than the great age of reform. This fact may account in large measure for the dissonance contemporary Christians experience in the face of Mormonism's unique body of teachings."

In other words, the reason why Mormons are looked upon with suspicion by mainstream Christians today is because, iconically enough, Mormon doctrine predates the Reformation (with it's theological accretions and interpolations) and anchors itself firmly in the soil of ancient (especially pre-Nicene) Christianity.

But what else would you expect?