Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bookshelf: Paul Hanson

"Apocalyptic" is a scholarly category that's very interesting.  It takes its name from the Revelation of John (apocalypsis is the Greek word for "revelation"), and Revelations has heavily influenced scholarly thinking and writing about this category of books / beliefs / social groups.  I don't talk about this stuff much in class because I think we have a better way to approach the same subject -- from the practitioners' side, rather than the after the fact scholarly guesses trying to figure out what the practitioners were thinking about.  In other words, I prefer Nephi's "visionary men" to scholars' "apocalyptic conventicles."

But once you're clear on the limitations of scholarship, literature on apocalyptic can be very enlightening.  Paul Hanson's The Dawn of Apocalyptic is classic and seminal.  Hanson looks for the origin of the people writing literature like Revelations, Daniel, Ezekiel, 1 Enoch, and so on, and he finds it in Lehi's day, among disciples of the prophet Isaiah, whom he even calls "visionaries."  Pretty good, for a Gentile.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Staff of the Gods

(The church website is down as I write this, so I won't have the usual links.  I'm not going to come back and add them later, so you'll just have to look the verses up yourself.)

I mentioned in class and have written elsewhere that the Melchizedek priest bears a staff (see Psalms 110 and 23, as well as the "rod" of 1 Nephi 8, and elsewhere).  The staff imagery in the Book of Exodus is really interesting.

When the Lord commissions Moses from the burning bush, He asks Moses "What's that in your hand?" and Moses says "A staff" (Exodus 4:2).  Not my staff, just a staff.  That's interesting, because it leaves open the possibility that the Lord has just given the staff to Moses.  This possibility becomes an outright probability when we read Exodus 4:20 and 17:9, both of which call this same staff matteh haElohim.  The KJV translates this as "the staff of God," but for grammatical reasons (the ha is the article "the," which is unnecessary in front of a singular name), a better reading is "the staff of the gods."  The Lord gives Moses the staff of the Gods -- He confers on Moses the Melchizedek priesthood.

The appearance of this staff is especially interesting in Exodus 17.  In a battle against Amalek, Moses' role is to stand on top of a hill (= temple?) holding the staff in his hands.  There he sits on a Rock (enthroned like God on the Foundation Stone) with helpers (Cherubim) to his left and right.  The image here is of the Lord going to war with his people enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant, as He does for instance in 1 Samuel 4.  When he holds the staff of office, Moses is Melchizedek / the Lord.

Numerous passage connect this staff with serpents, suggesting maybe that it was a caduceus.  See Exodus 4:3-4, 7:8-10; Numbers 21:49 (in connection with which, John 3:14 and 1 Nephi 17:41), and Isaiah 14:29 (in which a murdered (righteous) priest is equated with a broken staff, which is also a defeated serpent).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who's the Man?

In Moses 7:35, God the Father seems to provide several names for himself.  Two of them are "Man" names, and they're both fascinating.

In Hebrew, "Holiness" may be two things: qodesh or qedusha. In addition to other meanings, qodesh is a name of the temple ("Holiness to the Lord" and "The House of the Lord" are identical statements), and qodesh qodashim, the Holy of Holies, really means Holiness of Holinesses.  So if God is naming himself Ish Qodesh, the Man of Holiness, it might mean The Man of the Temple.

Qedusha, another word translatable as "Holiness," can also mean "the sacred female one."  Now this starts to get really interesting, because in Hebrew the word for "man," ish, can also mean "husband."  So if the Father is introducing himself as Ish Qedusha, he might be saying he's the Husband of the Divine Woman.

That this latter interpretation is likely is suggested by the other "Man" name he gives himself: "Man of Counsel" in Hebrew is probably Ish Etza, the Husband of the Tree-Lady.  Ish Qedusha and Ish Etza would be parallel statements, connecting us into the imagery of 1 Nephi 11 (the white and beautiful Virgin is the white and beautiful tree), Isaiah 5:18-20 (the Tree of the Holy One of Israel is removed with ropes from the Holy of Holies, leaving it a dark cave), and others.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bookshelf: Othmar Keel

Othmar Keel's book The Symbolism of the Biblical World is a classic (40+ years old now) that I have only discovered in recent weeks.  It's full of nuggets that make amazing sense in light of the Visionary Men Paradigm.

In The Goodness in the Mysteries and also in class, discussing the Sermon on the Mount, I suggested that the relationship between Nephi's Visionary Men and the Secret Combinations is not casual -- as shown by their contrasting teachings on oaths, they are polar opposites.  So I enjoyed this passage in Keel:
Besides the entirely private enemy (enmity based on rivalry) arising out of some specified personal affair (dispute over an inheritance, over a woman, over an honorary post, etc.), every community knows a type of enemy which represents, as it were, the antipole to what the community recognizes as good and desirable and continuously threatens the same... Enemies of this sort are by their nature carriers of all that is subversive and evil.  The view which a particular group or culture holds of its enemies is crucial to an understanding of that group or culture.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bookshelf: Lester Grabbe

The writing of ancient Israel's history is in a state of high agitation right now, that might even be called a crisis.  Major scholars differ over the dating of historical events by centuries, as well as over whether crucial events and persons are historical or legendary.

Lester L. Grabbe summarizes the state of the debate in his recent book Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?  As you read this and other books on the challenges relating to Israel's history, it's important to think clearly about the data the Book of Mormon provides.  In some cases (e.g., 1 Nephi 1-5), Nephi is a witness to events in Jerusalem.  In others, he demonstrates that certain texts existed by his time (e.g., Isaiah 2-14).  In still others, he tells us that certain ideas were known by Nephi's day, whether or not those ideas are actually historically accurate (for instance, see Jacob's remarks on David and Solomon -- these don't prove that David and Solomon existed, only that Jacob thought they did, or at least he and his audience knew them as figures Jacob could use as examples in a sermon, proverbial for their numbers of wives and concubines).

Grabbe offers the following "summary of the principles" to be followed in writing the history of Israel (p. 219):

  • All potential sources should be considered.
  • Preference should be given to original sources.
  • The longue duree needs always to be kept in mind.
  • Each episode or event has to be judged on its own merits.
  • All reconstructions are provisional.
  • All reconstructions have to be argued for.

Monday, March 10, 2014

This Shall Be a Token unto Thee

I have suggested above that the Hebrew 'ot, meaning "sign" or "token" appears in number of contexts connected with priesthood, in other words, that the priests themselves were or bore the tokens.  We saw this in the creation account, in the covenant of the rainbow, in the story of Cain, and a propos of the Virgin and her sons.

The same idea appears in the story of the burning bush.  God tells Moses that the token of his calling will be priestly service on what Exodus calls (in the Hebrew) the "mountain of the Gods."

Saturday, March 8, 2014


For another three weeks or so, there's a film called Jerusalem playing at Thanksgiving Point.  It's worth seeing for many reasons, two of which tie into things we've discussed in class:
  1. Shalem.  The film says that the name Jerusalem is Jebusite, and means "City of Shalem," Shalem being a Jebusite deity.  This is one theory, and an interesting one -- from our point of view, the most interesting thing is the use of Shalem (the complete one, the perfect one, the initiated one) as a divine name / title.
  2. The Rock of Matthew 7 is explained, discussed, and shown.  This alone is worth the modest price of admission.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bookshelf: 1 Enoch

If you're going to get into the extra-biblical books, 1 Enoch is the place to start.  This book was held to be scripture by lots of ancient Christians -- including Jude, who quotes from it -- and by Ethiopian Christians to this day.

If you don't want to get 1 Enoch (it's called 1 Enoch because there are a 2 Enoch and a 3 Enoch; 1 Enoch is also the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Enoch) in a big anthology, there's a recent standalone translation by George Nickelsburg and JamesVanderKam.  The same guys also have a two volume (one and two) commentary on 1 Enoch, well worth the read.

Margaret Barker's first two books, The Older Testament and The Lost Prophet, are about how the earliest Christians new a different Old Testament than we have today... an Old Testament that included, among other things, 1 Enoch.  More about Margaret later.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The God of Jacob

The Israelites, including in the time of Jesus and also including the Nephite branch, often identify themselves as connected with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  So who is the God of Jacob?

The blessing of Ephram and Manasseh identifies him interestingly.  Jacob's God is one:

  • In whose presence a person can walk
  • Who is a shepherd (the KJV phrase "which fed me" is better translated "who shepherds me"); compare with Psalm 23; and
  • Who is a redeeming angel.