Monday, December 29, 2008

The Psalms and the Book of Mormon

I have been reading through the Psalms for some time now, and it is fascinating, and entirely reasonable, that a careful reading of them turns up many similarities to the early chapters of the Book of Mormon. They are of the same milieu, after all.

Last night, I noticed something in Psalms 118.

Some translations (including, very disappointingly, the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh [aka the Hebrew Bible]) obscure the idiom that the King James Version preserves.

Namely, the psalmist writes:

"I called on the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me and set me in a large place."

The original word is rechab, which translates as broad or large.

Out of the confines of difficulty, the Lord brings the penitent into the open spaces of freedom. One familiar with the desert thinks easily of its narrow and dangerous canyons, difficult in many cases to escape.

And the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi reports in his vision a strikingly similar scene (1 Nephi 8:8-9):

"And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me ... And it came to pass that after I had prayed unto the Lord, I beheld a large and spacious field ..."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Book of Mormon as art

Mark Twain, perhaps disappointed that the Book of Mormon wasn't written for laughs, called it chloroform in print.

Brodie said it sprung from a boy's imagination, overflowing "like a spring freshet."

And yet, it continues to inspire the humble in heart, from the slums of London to the cantons of Switzerland, from the Hungarian Alfold to the heartland of America.

Now I read of Robert and Georgia Buchet, who have dedicated years of their lives and an amazing amount of labor to rendering one portion of the Book, The Allegory of the Olive Tree, Jacob 5, at a level that is nothing less than exquisite.

From BYU Today:

All of the paper is handmade, watermarked with an olive branch and bound in either olive wood or silk and leather. The Bucherts made 50 copies, taking years to delicately hand paint each image. The paints are made from precious stones. Each letter of type was handset and the first letter on the first page is gilded with 24-karat gold.

Their work won the 2008 J. Carl Hertzog Book Design Award.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


In my wanderings through literature, I have recently paused to study Gnosticism for a while. I have read some of the early Christian writings which attacked it, so now I want to examine the other side.

I am not one of those credulous folk who got caught up in the recent Gospel of Judas hoopla. I have been a student of pseudepigraphical writings for more than a decade.

It is intriguing to compare the positions of Gnosticism with some of the developments in the LDS faith. It is not possible, as some half-wit critic might suggest, that the Prophet Joseph borrowed ideas from Gnosticism, since, aside from fragments, almost nothing of their writings was extant until the Nag Hammadi library was unearthed in the 1940s.

So any similarities are either coincidental, glimmers of original truth that "orthodox" Christianity later lost, or perhaps represent decisions that every religion must make.

Nothing trumps the testimony of the Holy Spirit to truth, in LDS experience. For Gnostics, the ultimate experience was a mystical sort of enlightenment -- and both fight the perceptions of critics that it's all about warm fuzzy feelings or even hallucinations. The LDS Church, however, combines the testimony of the written Word and the promptings of the Spirit, as the ultimate guide to truth. All churches must choose what will be their authority: sola scriptura or the baptism of fire. Some go one way, some the other, some, as we do, combine the two.

Original but garbled truth may lie somewhere in the Gnostic considerations of a Heavenly Mother.

Original but garbled truth may lie somewhere in the Gnostic considerations of a structured heaven and certain steps taken to get there which I will not discuss here.

The early LDS Church seemed to be a movement, like the Quakers, in which all could receive equally valid revelation, whether apostle, prophet or candlestick maker. But such a society could quickly get out of hand, with competing and contradictory revelations cropping up. It came to a head with Hiram Page, after which the Lord revealed His pattern of revelatory order. Revelation would continue -- a path long ago rejected by "orthodox Christianity" when the same dillema was faced --but only in each person's allotted sphere: the prophet for the whole Church; a father for his family, etc.

Finally, it is fascinating that in the Gnostic Gospel of Peter, that Apostle is told by the Lord to place his hand over his eyes and only then does he truly "see." Compare this to the account of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, when the Lord places His hand over Abraham's eyes, after which that one truly sees, all the cosmic works of God. (Abraham 3:12). This bears some similarities to the account in Mark 8 of Jesus healing the blind man, but the latter account is purely a healing, not a doorway into spiritual visions.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Belloc, continued

What would this great Catholic thinker have said about Mormonism?

It is a puzzle that he devotes not one word in his "Great Heresies" to our faith. Granted, in the 1930s, we were still a small body, a drop in the world's religious ocean. Still, some aspects of our faith ought to have intrigued him.

Namely, we were unique among the many churches that arose in the Protestant milieu - we were a heresy within the Protestant heresy, he would have said -- in consciously becoming more like the Mother Church of Rome, rather than less. This flies in the face of the law of religious entropy.

Not councils of presybters, not a priesthood of all believers, but rather one man was to be Christ's representative on Earth -- our Prophet rather than a Pope.

A specific line of priesthood authority traceable to very Peter himself, not a mystical "calling," was to be rigidly required in order to administer in the ordinances of the church.

The word of the Prophet would be on a par with the canonized scriptures. As opposed to Sola Scriptura.

We would reclaim the office of bishop -- anethma to many 19th century Protestants. Indeed, some in the early LDS Church were quite concerned when this was done.

And we give consideration to a Divine Mother.

The point should not be carried too far, but our missionaries -- rigidly celibate, cutting themselves off from any worldly books and music or other such entertainment -- also live much like monks, albeit in the world, not in a cloistre.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Ducking into a bookstore out of the sunshine at a festival yesterday, I found a wonderful old book by the late Hilaire Belloc, entitled "The Great Heresies."

Published in 1938, it remains astonishly relevant to our time, as Belloc virtually prophesies that the Islamic world, hardly a concern to the West in those days, might very well become an issue again; and that the great Protestant movement, though then dying, might see a rebirth as well -- which is to some degree beginning to happen as fervent Christians from Europe's former colonies now seek to convert the urbane and materialistic great grandchildren of the missionaries who once brought them their faith.

The first great heresy that Belloc examines, is Arianism.

That is intriguing because Mormons are sometimes accused of being modern Arians.

The Arian ideas were that Jesus was not God but man and that Jesus was a created being.

Although I am still studying out these concepts and am certainly no philosophic expert, I know that Mormons absolutely believe that Jesus is God -- in fact, we proclaim that He was Jehovah of the Old Testament. And though we may believe that the Father created His spirit body as well as His physical body (the latter being a point obviously accepted by "mainstream" Christianity, we also say that He has always been, that something of His nature is Uncreate.

So we are not Arians.

In fact, the whole Catholic vs. Arian quarrel comes about precisely because Catholicism inherited from the chaos of the Great Apostasy the apostate rejection of the igospel principle that God and man are the same species, even though such a doctrine is very much at home in the New Testament.

We mortals are simply at a much earlier stage in our development than our Father and the Savior are, and we are flawed and imperfect, though commanded by Him to become perfect. We are only different in the sense that a baby is different from its earthly Father, not in the sense that a worm is different than an orchid -- and also that Christ passed through His mortality without ever yielding to sin. Presumably, the Father did so as well.

Were that to have been understood and believed, the whole argument underpinning the Catholic vs. Arian debate would have been moot.

Back to Belloc: He makes another great point: the religious beliefs of a people shape their entire societal outlook. This is why he states that the study of heresy remains so important: a Protestant-based society will of necessity always be very different from a Catholic-based or a Muslim society.

When a heresy takes control, it changes the outlook of a society. Arianism, he said, appealed to those in the Roman world who wanted to see Catholicism weakened, who feared or resented Catholicism's cohesive structure and the social revolution that it was bringing about. It also appealed to those who considered themselves socially superior to the great masses of persons in the Empire. Thus its adherents were many of the nobility as well as virtually the entire army.

I hope that I have not mangled Belloc's conclusions too badly. I may come back and refine this rather hasty post.

Based on his theory, a Christian world in which Arianism had triumphed rather than Catholic Christianity, would have been an entirely different society.

That brings to my Mormon mind the story of the Zoramites, from the Book of Mormon. They were not godless folk. They were heretics -- devout elitists who overtly denied the divinity of Christ. Very much in the Arian spirit -- and the kind of society that they created in their sphere of influence seems to be exactly what Belloc suggested that Old World Christianity would have become had Arianism triumphed there.

My last thought: it would be interesting to study the kind of society that develops from a Mormon worldview, whether one believes as Belloc no doubt did that Mormonism is a heresy, or whether one accepts the claims of the Church that it is the restoration of the original Christian Church.

How do our distinctive beliefs affect our outlook?

Can such a study, however, even be made with a Church that is so aggressively a proselyter amongst other Christians? In other words, with so much of our membership becoming composed of people who were born and raised in another Christian tradition, with another outlook, would such a study be impossible to scientifically carry out? Would it have to be limited only to some small, isolated Utah hamlets?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Where God is

Among the singular claims made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that God dwells within our universe, not beyond it.

Perhaps that is hard doctrine for some. But, as Jesus once asked his disciples when some grumbled about His hard doctrine and left, "Wilt thou also go away?"

To believe that heaven exists within our universe does not change the omnipotence or the omniscience of God.

I have begun to read a little book entitled the Kolob Theorom, by LDS author Dr. Lynn Hilton. He goes so far as to assert - and is careful to note that he alone is responsible for his opinion -- that the dwelling place of God, Elohim, is in the center of our galaxy, a region of blazing stars that our probing technology has not been able to penetrate.


The concept of space, with its billions of stars and its unfathomable distances between them, and even the possibility of infinite worlds, is very exciting to me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Of Clement

I have been reading this weekend the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.

It dates to about 90 AD and many scholars believe that it is older than the canonical Gospels of the New Testament. Scholars also believe, although he never names himself as the author, that it is the genuine work of Clement, third bishop of Rome.

It was accepted as scripture by several of the Eastern Christian churches, though it is not included in the canon today.

It has stimulated me to some thoughts: firstly, that as a Christian, I owe a great debt to these early Christians of Corinth and other branches of the Church. The persecutions they endured are unspeakable.

From a cursory bit of Internet research, I gather that there is no "Mormon" ward in Corinth (Korinthos) today; the reception of the people in modern Greece to the message of the LDS church is as resistant and rocky as the ground beneath their feet.

Something in me sorrows to read that; the same way that I sorrow to know that most of the progeny of the late Joseph Smith Jr., prophet of the Restoration, are not members of the Church that he restored.

But it is also sorrowful, to me, that I am nearly 40 years old and just discovering Clement for the first time. Are not the life and writings of this man just as important as that of Alma, or of Parley P. Pratt? I don't think even the most dogmatic of Latter-day Saints believe that the early Christian Church had fallen into complete apostasy that early in the era -- 90 A.D.

Clement was a brother in the faith, an exemplary brother. Whether I am Mormon or Baptist or Roman Catholic, he and others of his era are, or ought to be, part of my Christian heritage.

So maybe I won't light a candle on November 23, his feast day. But I will certainly think about him and re-read his impassioned letter, still ringing with conviction nearly 2,000 years later.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Astounding Claims

Tonight I studied 1st John, which epistle launches with a sober yet astounding claim:

Its author, traditionally John the Apostle, declares without equivocation, that he has seen, heard and touched the Word of Life, even Jesus Christ.

This was not the typical literature being published in the 1st century A.D. The bestsellers of the day were more likely to speak of ancient myths in which no educated person still believed; of philosophy, such as the Stoicism of Epictetus; or of the natural sciences, such as the writings of Pliny or Strabo.

Christianity was completely out of step with the jaded, materialistic, oh-so-modern temper of the times, and was most unwelcome.

1,800 years later, in a veritable age of railways, as the late Dickens dismissively noted, a New York farmboy had the audacity to relaunch Christianity with all its original fervor, miracles and bold doctrines. He would even dare to announce that he had personally seen the Father and the Son, as well as a host of other notables that some of the learned Christians in his society had dismissed as mere myths, such as Moses and Elijah; and others whom the skeptics of the day might agree had once lived but were long vanished from the universe: John the Baptist and Paul, for example.

He would declare even that the Apostle John had never tasted of death but had received the call from the Lord to walk the earth and minister until He saw fit to call him back.

Which claim would surely lead to the consideration that John is no stranger to the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City and might even have a desk there.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A question

Jesus identified Himself clearly in the New Testament as I Am, which any Jew of the time knew meant Jehovah. Therefore, they took up stones to execute Him for blasphemy.

So a question to believers in the Trinity: How can Jesus be God but not the Heavenly Father if God the Heavenly Father is Jehovah -- I Am -- but not Jesus?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chains and cords

I noticed a few weeks ago the similarities, in words and tone, between Psalms 116, in the Bible, and Alma 36, in the Book of Mormon.

It is quite possibly that the author of Alma 36, being of Hebrew derivation, knew and loved this psalm, though it is not as familiar as others to our modern ears.

Psalms 116: 3-4, 16:

"The sorrows of death compassed me,
and the pains of hell gat hold upon me:
I found trouble and sorrow.

Then called I upon the name of the Lord;
O Lord, I beseech thee,
deliver my soul

...Oh Lord, thou hast loosed my bonds."

Alma 36: 18:

"... I cried within my heart:
O Jesus, thou Son of God
have mercy on me,
who am in the gall of bitterness
and am encircled about
by the everlasting chains of death ...

In my study of the Hebrew Tanakh today, I learned that the word, (chbl) translated "sorrows" in this Psalm can also be translated as "bonds" or "cords." The authors of the King James Version preferred to stick with "sorrows" but the authors of the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh use "bonds," which runs a clearer thread of continuity through the psalm. The bonds (chbl) mentioned at the beginning are released at the end.

The latter translation also more closely matches Alma's psalm, he who had found himself encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. True, "chains" (ziyqah) is a different word from cords or bonds, yet easily a synonym.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Alphabet, Word, Creation

A Jewish associate of mine on another website reports that the first sentence of the Bible – bereshit bara elohim shamayim eretz – actually is a little bit grammatically more complex than that. It requires an “et” before shamayim (heavens).

“ET is a word that is not translatable into English. It is like a marker that says - "a definite direct object is next." Thus there needs to be an ET before THE heavens and THE earth. If there was no the, there would not need to be an ET, but there is a deeper meaning. ET is spelled - Aleph Tav. And Aleph Tav is an abbreviation for the Aleph -BET. Aleph is the first letter of the ALPHABET and Tav the last. So in a beginning God created the ALPHA-BET. And God did this before creating the heavens and the earth. God used the letters, the building blocks, to create the world.”

Could John have had this very concept in mind when he spoke of Logos, The Word, which was with God and was God? When you create Alphabet, you create Word. And it seems to connect as well with the Savior’s statement that He is Alpha and Omega, the Greek equivalent of Aleph-Tav, the beginning and the end.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days, and years."

-- Genesis 1:14

The ancient Hebrews did not reckon time by minutes or by hours, according to Mary Ellen Chase's classic work, Life and Language in the Old Testament. The word "hour" does not appear in the Old Testament, except for one instance in the late Book of Daniel, and was not part of the Hebrew lexicon.

Even the Hebrew word "mowed," translated as "seasons" above , does not match our modern conception of the word: spring, summer, etc., but is far more indefinite.

"When the ancient Hebrew writer told of events in the past, he did not remember them as we do in the light of the present but instead took himself back into their time, real and living, if indefinite to him. His time knew no perceptible beginning or end, no clearly defined past, no circumscribed present and no discernible future except that in the Infinite Mind of God," Chase writes.

[Thus the famous KJV, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,' betrays the mindset of the 17th century English translators, and some versions of the scripture opt instead for, 'When God began to create ...']

Chase quotes the late Willa Cather: "This same dreamy indefiniteness, belonging to a people without any of the relentless mechanical gear which directs every moment of modern life ... we are among a shepherd people; the story has almost the movement of grazing sheep."

I am reminded of the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob, a Hebrew, who wrote: "Our lives passed away as a dream ..."(Jacob 7:26).

The word "hour," I have also discovered, appears only once in the Book of Mormon, which was the product of a Hebrew people. That single reference is quite vague, referring to the coming of the Messiah, not time on a clock. The original word translated hour could easily have been the Hebrew"mowed." [Ed. update: "hours" in the plural appears once as well, in Lehi's dream, 1 Nephi 8., i.e., he traveled for many hours in darkness -- again a very vague concept]

Yet, in the Doctrine and Covenants, a modern work of scripture, "hour" makes frequent appearances, as it also does in the New Testament, written in a different era than the Old Testament.

But of course Old Joe Smith, that pretended prophet, just got lucky once again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Word number four in the Hebrew Bible: Shamayim, translated "heavens."

From a root meaning lofty.

In the Satires of Juvenal, a Roman work of the 1st Century AD, Juvenal speaks of Jews worshipping the numen of the heavens. In the footnote to my edition of the Satires, by Dr. Peter Green, numen is suggested as the translation of shamayim, and Dr. Green suggests that shemayim is one of the alternate names of God in Jewish tradition, to avoid pronouncing His actual name.

Is shamayim then a synonym for Great Mind or did Dr. Green confuse the term with HaShem, another alternate name for God?

I have put the question to a Jewish webgroup of which I am a member and have not yet received a response.

From whence we came ...

The idea that we came from heaven to this earth is instinctively felt and cherished by many in Christianity though their clergy officially revile it.

The pre-Earth existence -- not reincarnation but simply the idea that we once lived as spirits with God our Father and now live here, clothed in mortal flesh -- is one of the beautiful doctrines explained in the restoration of the Gospel.

While reading in 1st John the other day, I came across this exquisite verse:

"I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father."

If we did not once live, as conscious, sentient beings, with our Heavenly Father, what could this verse possibly mean?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Some people are very disturbed by one of the Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, namely:

"We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly." (The Article continues with: "We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." That will be the subject of another discussion.)

Why should this be a problem? Should Christians be bound to believe that an incorrectly translated passage in the Bible is still the word of God? That's rather scary, to me. I cannot believe that every person in the world who takes up the job of translating the Bible is inspired or infallible. Some make glaring errors, such as the infamous edition which left out a very important "not" from the "thou shalt nots" of the Ten Commandments.

The above statement and common sense also proves that it IS possible to incorrectly translate the Bible. In fact, critics of the Prophet Joseph Smith routinely accuse him of having done so himself.

I love the Bible. I read it as often as I can. I firmly believe that it is inspired of God. I also believe that it does contain some errors suffered in the many thousands of years that it passed through the hands of man, but that those errors are few and that the Book remains Scripture.

Check out this very good, non-LDS essay on the whole concept of Bibliolatry -- worshipping the Bible.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A question of perspective

Psalms 116: 15: is translated in some cases: "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints/holy ones;" elsewhere, as in the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, "Grievous in the eyes of the Lord ..."

The word in question is yakar, dear or expensive. Is the word in this context better understood as a great loss, therefore grievous, or as something valuable, therefore precious, as in these holy ones die in God and are taken to Him?

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Hebrew word-play?

In Alma, chapter 1, in the Book of Mormon, covering events circa 90 B.C., the abridger Mormon describes the organization of the congregation of the righteous -- their shul, I suppose.

He lays emphasis on the priests imparting the "word" of God. Word in Hebrew is "dabar." And what was the effect of imparting that word? They did establish the "affairs" of the church. "Affairs, " as in business, not infidelity, is a rare word in scripture. It shows up only a handful of times. One of those times is in Psalms 112:5, which very passage Mormon seems to have had in mind. For the psalmist talks about a good man handling his affairs with discretion -- and being generous, lending to those in need.

Which is exactly what Mormon says that Nephite congregation did. (cf. Alma 1: 27).

Strong's Concordance of the Bible informs us that "affair" in Hebrew is "dabar," too, perhaps because business involves words.

So we have two instances of dabar, one leading to the other: imparting the dabar of God ... leads to the establishment of the dabar of the church.


This month's National Geographic features Iran, and in a few minutes, I am going to sit down and enjoy reading it.

Iran -- such a puzzle of a country! To many minds today, the word evokes a shudder. Yet, by its ancient name, Persia, the most romantic of imagery is conjured up: Persian rugs, Persian cats, etc.

To the ancient West, Persia was the perennial enemy -- whether the Evil Empire that threatened heroic Greece, the land of the once Great King who fell to Alexander the Great, or the Parthians who frustrated Roman advancement into the East.

Ironically, when the West embraced Christianity, it embraced a book which portrayed a completely different Persia. To the Jews before the Common Era, Persia was a benevolent master, much preferred to the horrible Babylonians that came before. Cyrus, king of Persia, may have been a hiss and a byword to the Athenians but the Bible venerates him. And the Jews had far more trouble from the Hellenizing legions of Alexander than they ever did from the Persians.

Yet this very land of Persia, today's Iran, has to be modern Israel's greatest nightmare.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

In the image of God

We look like God.

Does that bother you?

It shouldn't.

Genesis says that we are created in His image. The Apostle Paul boldly declared that we are His offspring.

Of course, as mortals, we are but pale shadows of His perfect and eternal image. No man can look upon His glory and live -- unless transfigured, strengthened as it were for the purposes of God. He which is of God, he hath seen the Father ...

Does Genesis refer only to a spiritual image, personality or something non-physical? Not likely. The Hebrew word is tselem, and it is used elsewhere in scripture to refer to the carved idols that pagans made which they believed to be the very likenesses of their gods. It does not have reference to some airy allegory.

The Bible, word by word, continued

The third word in the Tanakh is Elohim, bereshit bara Elohim. It is always translated God, and therefore perhaps the mystery surrounding the word is appropriate.

For, literally, in the Hebrew, Elohim should be translated "Gods." Plural. eloh + im. But nobody does that, not even the Mormons, accused though we are of polytheism. We designate Elohim as the sacred, personal name of the Father, who is one Being, as differentiated from Jehovah, the Son.

I am told that Allah of the Muslims derives from the same root, without that puzzling pluralization.

Perhaps a secularist would resolve the mystery by deciding that the early Hebrews were polytheists and Elohim is a leftover from that distant age, preserved like literary amber in the text of the Tanakh by the reluctance of later scribes to alter the ancient wording.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I visited some pathetic anti-Mormon site the other day that practically cackled in glee to announce that more anti than pro Mormon sites and blogs exist on the Internet. This, the writer exulted, signals the beginning of the decline of the Church.


The Church has always been outnumbered. A hundred years ago, far more printing presses cranked out attack literature about the Church than ever anything positive. And yet, the Church survived.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


The second word in the Bible transliterates to "bara."

Create, in English.

Bereshit bara. When/in the beginning [God] created ...

The footnote to my LDS version provides also the synonyms "shaped" and "fashioned."

Those would be more conducive to the LDS concept of "bara" being carried out with pre-existent matter, not "ex nihilo."

I'm no expert on the whole ex nihilo (from nothing) doctrine or why "traditional Christianity" weds itself so tightly to the notion.

Richard Hopkins, How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God, finds no direct Biblical support for ex nihilo. (p. 290).

Ex nihilo is a purely Platonic concept, based on the idea that the universe was created from illusory matter having no being. (p. 295).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In the Hebrew ...

For about two years now, painstakingly, I have been trying to learn Hebrew, to understand the Tanakh (the "Old Testament") in the original tongue.

It has not been easy, of course. No language ever is. But I am enjoying the process.

Of course, the Bible begins with a beginning, the famous "In the beginning."

Transliterates to "bereshit." I'd love to reproduce the letters here but blogger doesn't seem to have the Hebrew font.

In his own studies of Hebrew, the Prophet Joseph Smith at one point suggested that the "be" was unnecessary and that the "resh" or "rosh" meant "head," as in head God, which he expanded to "the head God of the Gods brought forth/called together the Gods."

However, he never offered up this suggestion to be canonized as revelation and in the parallel accounts in the Pearl of Great Price, the closest to it is this:

Abraham 4:1: At the beginning, they, the Gods organized/formed the earth.

The JPS Tanakh translates "bereshit" as "When [God] began ..."

Strong's Concordance seems to agree with the Prophet at least as far as in deriving "bereshit" from "rosh," to which the "be" is a prefix.

Linguistics aside, it is when we consider the concept of time, beginnings and endings, that we become most conscious of our mortal state, even of our nothingness in this vast universe. We can dam up the biggest rivers on the planet. We can prevent polio. We can walk on the moon. But no man can call back one measly minute of time or speed it forward or hold to life after the sands of his hourglass have run out.

Look out upon the vast universe and contemplate how long it would take even the fastest spacecraft simply to reach the nearest star to our own.

Consider that paradox that Einstein suggested about the twin who hypothetically travels at the speed of light somewhere into space and comes back to find that on Earth, a completely different measure of time has elapsed.

Bereshit. The beginning. Before which was nothing but God, in traditional Jewish/Christian theology. Before which, were we, with Him, according to LDS doctrine, spirit children, in time indefinite.

Bereshit. And the super-dense marble-sized lump that contained all the matter in the universe exploded, the Big Bang, and creation began.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The seven habits of highly unoriginal critics, number one

It is a well-worn tactic of the critics of the Church to try to use our own Book of Mormon against us, to suggest that its claims about the nature of God are different from what the Church now teaches.

They state that the Book teaches the Trinity, the uncreated status of God and His eternal, unchanging nature, things, they say, that Mormonism came to deny, along with ancient heresies such as Sabelianism, that Christ is the Father.

But this alleged discrepancy never seems to have troubled the Prophet Joseph Smith or the vast majority of Church members, then or now. Was he and are we all just blind and stupid?

The truth is, we DO teach the Trinity. The Father is God. Jesus Christ is God. The Holy Spirit is God. They are one.

We DO teach the uncreated status and eternal nature of God. More detail on that later.

We just differ in certain ways in HOW we believe these things, what they mean, where the line is drawn.

Let's take one example: In a sense, Christ certainly is our Father, as the Book of Mormon teaches. We are reborn spiritually because of His atonement and we take upon us His name. That does not mean that we confuse him with the person of our Heavenly Father, who created our spirits in the first place. The latter is Sabellianism.

Now, was that so difficult to understand?

I have neglected this blog ...

... I have neglected this little blog lately and I resolve to do better.

The theology of the Restored gospel is so beautiful and the lifestyle it advocates is so intuitively attractive, at least to one not blinded by lusts and addictions! Even such a one, though enslaved, though sunk in a pit, will often still sense the higher way of living that the Restored gospel offers and long for it -- but, wrongfully, think it to be out of their reach.

It is amazing how in a few simple, almost casual words my grandmother relates in her 1975 journal, that my parents were preparing to join the Mormon church. In truth, a seismic change was taking place in their lives, a rebirth.

Difficult habits had to be given up. The Sabbath became a different kind of day. Callings of service were offered and accepted.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A milestone tonight

I finished reading the first chapter in Genesis, in Hebrew.

There were several -- okay, many -- words that I still don't know and a few letters that still trip me up but when I compare where I am now to where I was a year ago, I'm getting somewhere.

This is not an easy language. There's one letter that doubles as a vowel or a consonant and also can serve as a prefix meaning "and." N and B look almost alike, as do B and C. I know what the aleph looks like but the average Hebrew kindergarten student can probably draw it more accurately than I can.

Most of the consonants change shape depending on whether they are at the front or the back of the word. The vowels are like Morse code -- and in grown-up Hebrew, they don't even bother with them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

China connections

I clipped a column from the paper today about historic trade relations between China and the U.S. One paragraph grabbed my attention, as it bears most interestingly upon the history of the LDS Church.

"U.S.-China trade began in 1784, when the ship Empress of China set sail from New York, bound for Canton -- now Guangzhou -- with a cargo of fur and ginseng, prized in Asia for its healing properties.

"It turned a handsome profit," said [Craig] Canning, historian at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. "And right away, other Americans went out to seek their fortune."

One of those Americans, was Joseph Smith Sr., father and namesake of the future Mormon prophet.

Writes Richard Bushman, in "Rough Stone Rolling," a biography of the prophet, p. 18:

"It was a fateful turning point in the Smith family fortunes."

The man entrusted by Smith to transport his ginseng, one Stevens, turned out to be a rascal who fled to Canada with all the profits. The Smiths, who had been getting by relatively well until this time, were unable to pay their debts and were reduced to destitution. They were forced to move several times during the next few years, finally settling in Palmyra.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Theosis

My dear wife and I visited the local Christian bookstore yesterday, hoping to find an Easter tie for her father.

Ah, you know what's coming!

On the way out, I glanced briefly at a book about defending one's faith. I don't remember the title or the author. But of course it had the obligatory chapter about "the Mormons."

I really am not quite sure why the rest of the Christian world so vehemently recoils from the ancient Christian doctrine of theosis: becoming like God. That it is taught in the LDS church is considered by many to be one of our greatest sins, right up there with believing that God can still write scripture.

The last time I read the Bible through, it was full of statements such as the command for us to become perfect; the promise that we would be heirs of the Father and joint-heirs of Christ; that we are the offspring of the Father, and that ultimately we would become like Christ, who is, let us note, fully God.

The author of the aforementioned book said that many Mormons he met did not understand/defend/present consistent statements when asked about said doctrine.

Is that not to be expected? Could every "traditional" Christian one meets, possibly be expected to understand/defend/present consistent statements on any given permutation of "traditional" Christian doctrine, such as, say, the definition of the Trinity?

It was not one of the finest moments of the late Gordon B. Hinckley, our recently passed-away prophet, when he said, "I don't know that we teach that [that as man is, God once was, as God is, man may become]. That was during an interview several years ago with Larry King. But I understand why he didn't want to become embroiled in theological technicalities that the show's format would not have allowed him to properly explain.

We do not need to back away from or be ashamed of this doctrine. We are the children, the very offspring of God, heirs to all that He has. We certainly won't ever dethrone Him. An earthly father does not cease to be a father when his son becomes a man and begets a child.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Re the Facsimiles

When I attended college a few decades ago, I discovered a wonderful literary invention called an anthology. Inside two covers, selections from the works of dozens of authors could be sandwiched. You might start with the Epic of Gilgamesh at one end and wrap up with the writings of Maya Angelou at the other.

So it is not hard for me to understand, although critics of the Church apparently cannot grasp the idea, how the remaining fragments of a certain papyrus roll once possessed in fullness by the Prophet Joseph Smith could contain a text different from that which he translated as the Book of Abraham.

Last night, I learned a new Hebrew word. I am working my way slowly through the text of Genesis and “firmament” was my subject for the evening.

Transliterates to “rawkeya.” Something about that word struck me as familiar so I pondered for a while, then it hit me. I opened up those curiosities of the Pearl of Great Price, the facsimiles.

Sure enough, Facsimile 3 had it. It is the scene of a person on a “couch,” with another person beside him, a winged being above him, and symbols inscribed beneath. On that, all can agree.

The Prophet declared that the person lying down was Abraham, about to be sacrificed on an altar by the person standing up. The winged being was the angel of the Lord. Beneath him, the crocodile represented the god of Pharoah, and the four jars represented the nations surrounding Egypt, Canaan, Libya, Cush and Anatolia. A series of small rectangles represented the pillars of heaven, above which was, of course, rawkeya, heaven, or the cosmic expanse, the firmament, in which the crocodile god of Pharoah was wont to swim. (The Prophet wrote the firmament word as “rawkeyang,” for some reason.)

Traditional Egyptologists declare that the person on the altar was Osiris. But Osiris and Abraham both were messianic figures and one could quite comfortably stand in for the other in the bounds of Egyptian religious ritual. Standing in for a god was a basic part of those rituals.

The winged being, they state, was Horus, the hawk god who protected Osiris. The Prophet does no violence to the text to call him the angel or messenger of God.

It annoys me when people who know nothing at all about Egyptology simply shrug off the Prophet’s work in this field because the name Abraham doesn’t appear in big Hebrew block letters on top of these facsimiles or in a fragment of the papyrus that once accompanied them. It would be different if we still had the whole papyrus that Joseph Smith once owned. It would be different if the ancient Egyptian language lent itself more easily to translation. And it would be different if his translations weren’t quite so plausible.

Monday, January 28, 2008

We mourn

Our beloved prophet and president of the Church, Gordon Bitner Hinckley, has passed away.

We mourn because we will miss him. For him, it is surely a joyous event, passing into the arms of the Lord whom he served all of his life, and to the presence of his dear wife, who preceded him in death.

He has gone the way of all the earth and has "left a fame and name" that will long be remembered.

Pres. Hinckley took up the prophetic mantle the year that my wife and I were married.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Lady is a recommend

In Commentary, Part 2, (pp185-186) of the late LDS apologist Hugh Nibley's "Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri," we are introduced, albeit briefly, to Maat.

This chapter, and the book itself, is a subtle and appropriate comparison of the revealed LDS temple doctrines with the ancient, rather garbled Egyptian equivalent.

Maat is an Egyptian goddess but not really. Like so many of the earliest deities in myth, she is more concept than a specific being. She is truth, justice and order.

I remember encountering this phenomenon in Hesiod's "Theogony" and in the "Enuma Elish."

Justice, Victory, Wisdom, Discord, even Vengeance all had quasi-divine or anthropomorphic status among peoples of the ancient world -- perhaps this was the missing link between the original religion revealed to Adam and the degenerate, pagan theologies which ruled the world by Abraham's day.

Wisdom is even personified within the pages of the Bible.

Writes Nibley: Maat's presence [with the initiate in the temple] signifies that all is correct and in order -- the equivalent of a temple recommend. Maat herself is not a regular deity: she has no temple, cult [reader, please understand this term in the classical sense, not the modern notion of a"spurious religion"] or mythology of her own.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Should Mormons learn philosophy?

I am in my mid-30s. I have been an LDS missionary, a graduate of LDS seminary and later of Brigham Young University. I am active and participatory in Church, including Sunday School. I seek learning out of the best books, as the Lord advised in revelation.

So what to make of the fact that, until 20 minutes ago, I did not know the definition of "ontological?" I had to lean on my dictionary.

It's probably a basic word for a "traditional" Christian. Refers to being. As in the Trinitarian "ontological" unity of God. God is one in being.

I still don't understand how this concept is understood. What is the traditional Christian concept of "being"?

We are told as Latter-day Saints that the early Christian Church stumbled when it stepped off the rock of revelation and attempted to engage its intellectual tormentors in their own philosophical language. Thus words like "homeostasis," "essence," and the aforementioned "ontological" came into play, to try to make primitive Christianity agree with the Hellenic notions of a passionless, bodiless Prime Mover.

The Church does not want to make that mistake again. So the learning bloc on Sunday is kept as simple as possible, bereft of such terms. Every official Church gathering that I know of, keeps to those same rules.

But shouldn't the average Latter-day Saint at least be able to understand the terminology of his or her modern colleagues in Christianity? At least be able to say, "Here's the LDS response to the doctrine of one divine essence"?

We need to learn the words and how to respond to them. That is my opinion. We may find that we agree with other Christians more than we thought in some areas, and they might be able to realize that as well. We will find other areas in which we still sharply disagree. But at least we will be able to understand each other.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

False Prophet?

Some critics of the Church like to claim that the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied the Second Coming of the Lord in 1890.

This is the text, from History of the Church, on which they base their statements:

" I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:

"'Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter.'

"I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face. I believe the coming of the son of Man will not be any sooner than that time."

Joseph Smith made this statement at a conference held at Ramus, IL, on April 2, 1843.

Only the most bitter or blighted of minds could possibly label this a false prophecy of the Second Coming. Joseph Smith himself declares that it wasn't a prophecy of such an event. And, in fact, he stated elsewhere:

"The Lord has not shown me any such sign ... The Lord will not come to reign over the righteous, in this world, in 1843, nor until everything for the Bridegroom is ready." -- HOC 5:291.

More information:

The emotions of God

Jesus wept.

So the scriptures say. But He was both man and God.

Does the Father weep?

The scriptures speak often of the anger of God.

And the Prologue to the Quran of Islam also speaks of the poor souls who have "earned the anger" of God.

Is this anger of the same type that we feel when confronted with injustices? If so, it almost seems that God Himself would be the most miserable of beings, cognizant of billions of daily injustices against His children all over the world.

Or is this anger simply a human way of attempting to describe the actions of God when confronted by sin? Man sins, God punishes according to divine law, impartially, like a courtroom judge, without emotional involvement.

Is God without passions, as the creeds of historic Christianity declare? Could such a God, though, truly love His children? Could I run to such a God when I reach heaven, and throw my arms around Him, as He throws His arms around me, and love Him and be loved by Him?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Plural marriage, change in the church and Joseph Smith

Dear world:

Yes, the Prophet Joseph Smith was sealed to more than one wife. No, this does not shake my faith. I believe I have known it since I was a teenager, in spite of the fact that many critics of the church are shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that Joseph actually engaged in the very practice that was revealed to him as recorded in the Doctrine & Covenants. Apparently, in the minds of some, polygamy sprang fully formed, like Athena from Zeus, from the wild mind of Brother Brigham.

Shocked they also are that the Church doesn't rent billboards trumpeting this knowledge to the world. After all, a knowledge of the names of the wives of the Prophet will be required of every member hoping to achieve celestial glory. (I'm being a little sarcastic there.)

Yeah. Boggles the mind.

I know all about the Helen Kimball thing, too, the 14 year old to whom the Prophet was sealed in some capacity. It is quite a stretch, a very slanderous stretch, to call a man a pedophile -- our critics' new favorite word for the Prophet -- for being sealed and that not to a child but to a teenager. In many states of the US, it is still perfectly legal to marry a teenager. Furthermore, there is no clear evidence anywhere that the Prophet ever had any intimate relations with Helen Kimball. Sealing is a doctrine, like many doctrines, that took time to be fully and properly understood and fully unveiled.

The bigger picture: Aside from one line in the New Testament about certain qualifications of being a bishop, the Lord issues not one word of condemnation in the entire Bible about plural marriage and, in fact, even called the polygynous Abraham His friend.

Latter-day Saints do not practice this principle today, because the Lord can command and the Lord can revoke and He has currently revoked. Thus He had no problem with judicious use of wine in Biblical days but has told us to refrain in this modern era -- so please do not trot out that tired line about Timothy and his stomach or Jesus drinking wine so why don't we? Thus He forbade pork in Biblical days but does not forbid it now.

Silence is golden?


Nothing but silence.

When I created this blog, I expected silence at first. And perhaps it is still too early to be fretting about it.

It is a mixed blessing, I suppose. On the one hand, there is no point in a blog which no one reads and where no one posts comments. On the other hand, my subject is controversial and I am no master of rhetoric, no doctor of theology, no kind of brilliant intellectual. I am very comfortable within the pages of scripture but not so much in philosophical arguments -- homoestasis and transcendence and all that sort of thing.

I have visited a few blogs in hopes of drawing some interest here, so far without success. I could be a glutton for punishment, I suppose, and pass the news of this blog to Recovering From Mormonism or the anti-Mormon Saints Alive website, but I'm really not interested in that.

No, I want to talk with ordinary people, Mormons and others, keeping the discussion as simple as possible. I don't want to shy away from controversy but neither do I want to spend what little time I have here dealing with people who hate my faith.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Whence the unknowable God ...

I am currently reading "Lives," the magnum opus of the 1st century Roman writer Plutarch.

In his account of Numa Pompilius, the legendary successor to Romulus, Rome's first ruler, Plutarch speaks of the Greek Pythagoras thusly:

"[He] ... conceived of the first principle of being as transcending sense and passion, invisible and incorrupt and only to be apprehended by abstract intelligence ... all access to God [was] impossible except by the pure act of the intellect."

This doctrine of the Greeks found its way into the apostate Christian church through Greek converts steeped in the tradition, as it had earlier found its way into the Jewish church through the likes of such as Philo, and it reigns supreme today.

How refreshing and daring the declaration of Joseph Smith, supported by John 17, that we can know God, we MUST know God and that we, as Paul declared in Acts, are veritably His offspring. Though we are mortal and flawed and He is immortal and sinless, yet He declares throughout scripture that we are His children.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Book of Mormon names

I'm kind of jumping ahead of my schedule here, but someone -- I wish I could remember on what website -- recently poked fun at the name of one of the early characters in the Book of Mormon, Sam, the brother of Nephi.

"That's a Yankee name, not a Hebrew one," she wrote.

Well, tell the current leader of North Korea or many other Koreans that Kim is an American girl's name and see what they have to say about that.

Sam, according to the late apologist Hugh Nibley, who spoke Arabic, Egyptian and Hebrew, is a perfectly good Egyptian name, the normal Arabic form of Shem and possibly even a Hebrew dialectic version of that same name.

God, continued

I visited a blog today whose author subscribes to the Athanasian Creed, as do most -- but not all -- Christians. Latter-Day Saints are among those who do not feel bound by this post-Biblical exposition.

It reads thusly:

"Whoever wants to be saved should above all cling to the catholic faith.
Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable will doubtless perish eternally.
Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.
For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.
But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.
What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.
Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.
The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.
Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit:
And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal;
as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.
Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit:
And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.
Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God:
And yet there are not three gods, but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord:
And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.
As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords.
The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten;
the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father;
the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.
And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other;
but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.
Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.
It is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe that our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh.
For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and man.
He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother --
existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body;
equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity.
Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.
He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.
He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.
For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man.
He suffered death for our salvation.
He descended into hell and rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds.
Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith.
One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully."

What, I wonder, is the definition of "being" as described here, and how is it different from a person?

Brief review of Hilton's "My Burning Bush"

My Sweetie bought me a book for Christmas, by Nancy Goldberg Hilton.

It's titled: "My Burning Bush: My Spiritual Journey from Judaism to the Lord Jesus Christ."

It is essentially the story of a Jew who became a Mormon.

I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were Jewish and reading this book. Is it the Mormon version of one of the de-conversion stories of former Mormons found on so many websites -- the sort of story that makes a believer in the spurned religion grit their teeth and shake their head?

Hilton actually treats Judaism with the greatest respect and still speaks of herself as Jewish. She asserts difficulties with only three of its major doctrines: no resurrection; no modern miracles or prophecy; and, of course, that the Messiah is yet to come. (These are beliefs proclaimed openly by Jews with whom I have relationships today.)

She felt a desire to leave behind these doctrines and embrace their opposites, and the book explains her journey to find a spiritual home where she could do so.

This differs from all those people who "come out" of Mormonism and then accuse the Church of believing or not believing Doctrine X, Y and Z, when Mormons would strongly disagree with such an assertion.

Her book would be more like the story of a Mormon who always felt in his or deepest soul that Mary was a life-long virgin and that the beautified saints truly offer intercession -- and so became Catholic.

I am currently reading another book that speaks of Judaism and Christianity, James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword." It strikes a certain sore spot, as it condemns the supercessionism that has poisoned Jewish-Christian relations since the faiths diverged nearly 2,000 years ago.

Hilton found solace in the LDS Church as the first Christian church she visited that did not proclaim hatred of the Jews. In my 30 years as a member, I concur with her report, although individual members may have their own prejudices.

However, to be fair, the very foundations of the LDS Church are rooted in supercessionism and it is a common doctrine in the Book of Mormon. If I were Jewish, investigating the Church, that would bother me.

She talks about the joy that she has as a Latter-day Saint, of being able to research Jewish ancestral lines and share the information with Jewish researchers, but Jews have also been frustrated by LDS temple baptisms for the victims of the Holocaust, a controversy which perhaps she ought to have mentioned

The LDS Church also proclaims that a sort of reverse supercessionism will someday take place -- that sons of Levi will someday lead the Priesthood, that the Jews will recover their birthright, that they are not doomed, condemned.

But these would be Jews who have become Christian, Jews would counter, so we are back to the ancient goal of Christians -- a juden-rein world, Jews embraced but only after they cease to be Jews.

It is a complex and often painful subject, Jewish-Christian relations.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Who is God?

"We believe in God the Eternal Father and in his son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."

-- First Article of Faith, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One God in purpose, but three Beings. The Godhead -- a valid, New Testament term.

Or one could imagine drawing a circle around God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost and labeling God that which is within the circle. Both Latter-day Saints and other Christians can do this without violating their respective beliefs about deity.

Thanks for dropping in!

My name is Cliff and I am glad you dropped in. I hope that we can have some respectful, useful conversations here.

I have created this blog as a way to discuss that which is most important to me, my faith in Jesus Christ and my belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called Mormons) is His restored church today.

My opinions expressed here are my own. I cannot presume to speak for the Church.

Please do not post long lists of cut-and-paste charges against the Church. Please remain respectful -- of any church or faith group that is discussed here.

I'm a busy guy. I may not visit here everyday. I may not answer posts for several days either.

I try to be a well-read person. I have read the Bible cover-to-cover almost three times now, as well as the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price -- the latter three being books that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to be scripture along with the Bible. Scripture ... words written by the inspiration of God, not the inspiration of man, so don't insult my intelligence by quoting Revelations 22:18. God can add to His words anytime that He pleases.

I've also read pretty much every anti-Mormon book and pamphlet out there, so there's not much that will surprise me.

My other interests include wild food foraging, gardening, classic literature, science, geology and geography. We can talk about that too!