Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tractate Yoma

So I read Tractate Yoma of the Mishnah, and the corresponding sections of the Tosefta, today, rather than go to Sunday School (ahem).  Relative to what I've been writing about for the last two weeks, I want to make four observations.  This is a bonus post.

1. 1 Nephi 20:1 quotes Isaiah, with a significant addition.  Nephi addresses those who "are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism".  Like Coriantumr's "moons", this was a passage that made me cringe when I was younger, because it seemed wrong, too modern, too Christian to be truly written in the sixth century B.C.

As of today, I love this passage.  Remember that Lehi was oppressed the Temple hierarchy of Jerusalem (as vividly depicted in 1 Nephi 8).  Remember that the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe, ruled Jerusalem, which probably helps explain why Nephi is so interested in Isaiah passages foretelling woes to Judah.  And know that, per Tractate Yoma, on the Day of Atonement the high priest was immersed over and over again (and priests were immersed at other times, whenever they went into the temple) in the "place of immersion" (Yoma 3:3).  Remember that baptism and immersion are the same word.  In other words, Nephi inserts this clarification that for him the waters of Judah = the waters of baptism because he wants to focus the condemnation of 1 Nephi 20 (Isaiah 48) on the priests in Jerusalem, the ones who come out of the waters of the place of immersion.

2. Remember, those of you who were around two years ago, that we talked about the elements of the vision in 1 Nephi 8 and compared them to the architecture and furniture of Solomon's temple?  And remember that we talked about rivers, and I pointed out that Lehi's vision had a river, which was consistent with other Temple visions (Daniel 7, 1 Enoch 14, Genesis 2, Ezekiel 47, Revelation 1, Psalms 1-2), even though I didn't know what the river corresponded to in "real life"?

I know what the river might be now.  Yoma 5:6 tells how the excess blood from the Day of Atonement sacrifices flowed through "channels" into the brook Kidron.

3. Yoma 5:1 records a disagreement among the earliest rabbis about the veil of the temple.  Some thought it was a single sheet; others thought it was two sheets, one cubit apart, with the nearer sheet having its opening against one wall of the temple and the further curtain having its opening on the other side of the building.  So you entered the Holy of Holies by entering the curtains at one side, turning and walking all the way across, perpendicular to the direction of the building, inside the veil, through a one-cubit-wide passage, and then exiting.

Strait is the gate and narrow the way, anyone?

4. Yoma 1:1 says a curious thing about the requirements for a high priest to perform the Day of Atonement sacrifices.  There is discussion of preparation for the rite, and this is reported: "R. Judah says: Also another wife was made ready for him, lest his own wife should die, for it is written, He shall make atonement for himself and for his house; 'his house' -- that is his wife."  So A) the high priest, who represented the Lord coming to make his atoning sacrifice, had to be married, and B) there's this peculiar connection between the high priest's (the Lord's house) and a feminine presence or person.

The Deuteronomists stamped really hard on Israel's memories of the Lord's mother, but the memories of her keep bubbling up at every turn.


  1. I would be very disappointed to go to Sunday School and find Brother Butler missing. Remember, others need your presence and countenance.

    Since the Yoma is a Hebrew text, you can study that on Saturday. Don't deprive us on Sunday my friend!

    4. Perhaps the other wife is Joseph when Judah dies due to unbelief?

  2. Actually, the extra phrase in 1 Nephi 20:1 was added in the second edition of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery (or Sidney Rigdon, possibly) asked Joseph what the "waters of Judah" meant, and he replied that it was baptism. "Then why doesn't it say that?" So in the second printing, Joseph added the phrase in what we today would consider a marginal gloss.

  3. Gale: you can find my presence and countenance in the foyer, from 2:15 to 3:00. I like your thought about the high priest's spare wife, it sounds sort of rabbinical -- are you looking at some commentary I don't have?

    Nate: I'm so glad you've made this comment, because it gave me an opportunity to get Royal Skousen's Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon (part one) off the shelf, which is a rare and delightful thing.

    Skousen is unaware of the Oliver Cowdery story, so if you have a written source for that, I'd love to see it. He finds rumors (which he can't confirm) that Parley Pratt suggested the phrase should be inserted, and an 1883 account by Ebenezer Robinson, who helped set the type for the 1840 edition, that Joseph inserted the words in parentheses. (Interestingly, the extra phrase stayed in RLDS editions of the BoM until 1908 and was then taken out; it was NOT inserted in subsequent LDS editions until 1920, and then it didn't have the parentheses).

    Skousen thinks that "Joseph Smith's probably intention was to provide an interpretive reading." I think there are four explanations:

    1. It's a mistake or an insertion by someone else, and should come out.

    2. It's a modern gloss. In other words, Nephi didn't write it or think it or mean anything like it, but a prophet has suggested that we should apply these verses to ourselves, so we stick the phrase in. In this case, the phrase should come out, or possibly be in a footnote, but we don't footnote the Book of Mormon every time a prophet applies the verses to us. Also, I ask you, does the modern gloss really make sense? Who is the passage talking to / about now -- all baptized people? All Mormons? As a modern gloss, I think it obscures rather than clarifying.

    3. The words were actually on the plates -- Nephi wrote them, and Joseph later realized that he or his scribe accidentally omitted them.

    4. The words are an ancient gloss. In other words, Nephi didn't write them, but Joseph added them because they clarified who Nephi meant, not in terms of modern readers, but anciently.

    I have heard #2 suggested before, and it's okay, as explanations go, but it leaves the passage still puzzling. My point is, I think there is reason to find #3 and #4 plausible as explanations.

  4. Remember, what we have is not a word for word translation, but a prophetic conceptual translation, rendering the concepts from the plates into English with divine guidance. The words we have are not the words that were written. Anytime one moves from one language to the next grammar and structure get all mixed up.

    With that in mind, I don't think it is a gloss or a mistake, but rather a prophetic clarification which, depending on the context in which it is read, can either provide understanding or befuddlement. Coming out of the waters of Judah is a reference to birth. Our first baptism is in the waters of our mothers womb. (Virgin theme)

    In this way one could read both references as referring to birth into Judah, or the royal class that is suffering from self righteousness. In the second way it could be comparing second baptism, i.e. baptism of the Spirit to being born into Judah. Basically identifying those who "swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness." as being aligned with Judah, whether from that tribe or not, and thereby ripe for the destruction that Lehi escaped.

    This is further clarified in verse 2 and makes the cryptic declaration in verses 3 and 4 more understandable.

  5. I think you steal a base in your first paragraph. I agree that translation fargles things up, but, based on my experience with the BoM, the KJV and the Hebrew Bible (my Hebrew is pedestrian, but not non-existent), I think one of the striking things about the BoM translation is how totally mechanical it is every checkable point. This is why there are so many Hebraisms, and why chiasm is so evident in the text when you look for it, and why we can look for formulas like "inquired of the Lord", for instance, and detect underlying Hebrew usage that indicates to us the use of the Urim & Thummim.

    Having said that, I think you've proposed a very interesting interpretation. I am going to have to think about it. I think you establish the equation birth = baptism, allowing the chapter to be read either as a judgment on people of a certain birth origin OR on people of a certain covenant status. Hmmn.

  6. I would agree with your view of the mechanicalness of the translation. This underscores the value of a prophetic translation as opposed to a scribal translation (and in many instances in the bible, of multiple generations of scribal translation).

    The equation might even be extended further: glory ~= waters = birth = baptism = life.

    This opens several layers of understanding throughout the readings.


  7. This is feeling very Bhagavad-Gitaish. Are you saying that we are all trying to get back to the womb?

  8. Ha! Some of us really might. I know that Phoenix would really like too. It seems like he is crawling back into bed with us more often than not these days.

    No, I simply drawing similarities among metaphors that might open up interpretation of certain passages that otherwise remain a mystery.

    When I was at BYUH one of my English teachers said something that I jotted down in the front of my literature book, and have to this day remembered.

    "Reading literature is like looking through a window at someone else's life, and occasionally we step back and super imposed over the people we are viewing is the image of ourself."

    I think that applies to the scriptures too. As if the prophets, looking through the window of eternity, see their people superimposed over the image, and when they write down their visions with the imagery relavent to them, their people and their time, we in turn get to see ourselves reflected in the glass.

    And even though the times change, the prophets change, and the people change. The vision of God and the Eternities is constant. Only the reflection of ourselves superimposed over the image is changing.