Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The story that iguanas tell

So most of us know that the islands of the Pacific are either volcanoes that emerged from the ocean floor or atolls of ancient coral. I did not know until today that two of them, however, formed in a completely different way. Tonga and Fiji were actually part of an ancient supercontinent, which is now submerged except for them. And lizards help provide the evidence!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Psalm 122

“I rejoiced
when they said unto me,
‘We are going to the House of the Lord.’

Our feet stood inside your gates, O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem built up, a city knit together,
to which the tribes would make pilgrimage,
the tribes of the Lord,
-- as was enjoined upon Israel –
to praise the name of the Lord.

There the thrones of judgment stood,
thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem;
‘May those who love you be at peace.
May there be well-being within your ramparts,
peace in your citadels.’

For the sake of my kin and friends,
I pray for your well-being;
for the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I seek your good.”

- Psalm 122

(photo from

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The celestial yeshiva

"Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one [a wicked soul] can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?" Alma 5:24.

There is often so much more to scripture than the casual reader ever catches. The late LDS scholar Hugh Nibley cited this verse in Approaching Zion, p. 585, noting that "sitting down" is literally the meaning in English of the famous Hebrew yeshiva. A gathering together of holy men to contemplate and discuss the sacred word.

What Alma speaks of in this passage might be termed the celestial yeshiva. I wonder if, trained up at the feet of his father Alma the Elder, with stories of the latter's early life in the court of the loathsome King Noah, he thought as he wrote these words of Noah's counterfeit yeshiva. The priests of Noah "spent the greater part of their days studying and teaching iniquity" but convinced themselves somehow that they were great scholars of the Mosaic law. Even dared to think of themselves as fulfillment of the Isaiahic prophecy, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that publisheth peace."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Scripture study: Psalms 120: 5-7

Psalms 120:5-7:
"Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech
that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
My soul hath long dwelt
with him that hateth peace.
I am for peace: but when I speak
they are for war."

Psalms 120 is the first so-called "Song of Degrees." I like the suggestion by one Bible scholar that the fifteen psalms thusly designated may have been chanted by the Jewish priests as the pilgrims ascended the fifteen steps to the temple, one psalm per step.

Christian scholar Stephen Kaung suggests that the Songs of Degrees also lay out the believer's journey of conversion.

In Psalms 120, the soul who is becoming spiritually reborn, becomes disturbed as he surveys his sinful environment. Old ways and sometimes even old friends, no longer appeal.

Mesech, believed to have been in Anatolia (cf. also Herodotus III:94, Moschi or Tibarenes), and Kedar, a people in Arabia descended from Ishmael,(Gen 25:13,) were proverbial as places beyond civilization; barbarous and savage.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Of the Creation Hymn

The great saga of Genesis is called the Creation Hymn, beautiful in its imagery and rhythm. How fascinating to discover that imagery and those rhythms in other passages of scripture that reference the creation story. Thus, Jacob 4. “For behold, by the power of his word man came upon the face of the earth, which earth was created by the power of his word …” Today, however, I realized that Alma’s great sermon in Alma 5 is such an hymn – but of re-birth, re-creation. It uses the same words as Genesis to discuss the spiritual re-creation of mankind – and I am sure the decision was deliberate. “Have you received his image in your countenance …” It is in His image that we were created. His light shone upon the waters of creation, and it shines again in the reborn soul. “… Have your deeds been deeds of righteousness upon the face of the earth?” Alma asks. That expression, “face of the earth,” Hebrew “penye eretz,” first appears in the Creation Hymn.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Visualizing God

"Although every intellect as such is capable of apprehending the whole range of being," wrote Duns Scotus, that tremendous quality of being capax Dei, capable of (the vision of) God , is what made man as seen by Scotus the whole man of the Renaissance, of whom Pico della Mirandola was to cry, " L'anime mi s'aggrandisce (my soul swells!) -- Anne Fremantle, The Age of Belief.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chartsubbah ... the bands or pains of death or hell

In Alma 5:7, Alma the Younger quotes the late prophet Abinadi, in speaking of a people "encircled about by the bands of death." "Bands" in such a figurative sense never appears in the New Testament but does in the Old, reducing the probability that this is an anachronistic borrowing by the Prophet Joseph. Something interesting about the Hebrew word that is translated as "bands" figuratively in the Old Testament: it is chartsubbah, and in a figurative sense, it can also mean "pains."

Thus, the KJV of Psalms 73:4, lamenting the prosperity of the wicked, says that "there are no bands in their death." Which doesn't make much sense unless you understand the above, which the KJV translators may have missed. My Hebrew Tanakh has "pangs" rather than "bands."

So whatever word Alma the Younger or Abinadi used that was translated "bands", if it was originally some form of chartsubbah, could also have been have been translated "pains." And a brief look at the writings of Alma the Younger shows that he may have written of spiritual pains more than any other writer in the Book of Mormon, and how they encircled persons, and how persons were loosed from them -- seeming to me to indicate a strong familiarity with the concept of "chartsubbah."

When the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done?

There is no new thing under the sun, said Ecclesiastes. Truly he spake. At some point in the restoration of the Church, some Mormon said, "When the Prophet speaks, the thinking has been done." Critics of the Church have never forgotten nor forgiven. It is as if that presumptuous soul invented out of whole cloth some loathsome new cultish doctrine.

This morning, I began to read Anne Fremantle's The Age of Belief, a collection of writings and commentary on early Christian philosophers. Lo and behold, Ms. Freemantle makes the observation that the early Christian Church veered between two poles of belief:

"From apostolic times on, there were two fairly well-defined Christian positions: the deliberately, and aggressively, anti-intellectual, whose supporters argued that since God has spoken to us, it is no longer necessary for us to think, and a more orthodox, but minority, position that whatever is true or good is ours."

She puts the likes of Tertullian in the former camp; Augustine in the latter.

It is perhaps human nature as we contemplate spiritual things, for these two positions to take shape. There is no new thing under the sun. We Mormons are heirs to the same human nature as the rest of our Christian brethren.

Incidentally, the life of Ms. Freemantle appears to have been a fascinating one. Read more here:

Friday, February 3, 2012

The world of the grape

Wine drinkers have always had their regional favorites, their special lingo ... It tastes of roses with a hint of hay, they say ... The rest of us drank our grape juice and said, It tastes ... like grapes. That is changing now ... Enter artisanal grape juice. We can now savor the "flavor characteristics of each grape variety." Or at least those of us, which excludes me, able and willing to pay $10 a bottle.​news/virginia-news/2012/jan/16/​tdmet04-oakencroft-shifts-from-​wine-to-premium-gra-ar-1614211​/