Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Truer Than Ever: The Book of Abraham

One of the biggest challenges to my personal testimony of the reality of the Restoration came when I was serving as Bishop years ago. I was exploring one of the issues that had affected some local people in the past, namely, the anti-Mormon attacks on the Book of Abraham. I went to a popular anti-Mormon website and read their pitch against the Book of Abraham. Whoa, what a powerful, clear-cut, rock-solid indictment of the Book of Abraham. How more obvious could the problem be? The papyrus fragments that Joseph translated as the Book of Mormon were found recently, and now scholars can translate them and see that they have no connection to Abraham. The book is a total fraud. Slam dunk. That's the pitch, anyway.

When I faced that evidence, not yet knowing that the real fraud was in the evidence that was being withheld to make the anti-Mormon case, I was deeply troubled. I was troubled enough to go to the Lord in prayer and explain that while I had a deep testimony of the Book of Mormon and accepted it as scripture, I had to ask what went wrong with the Book of Abraham? Did Joseph just blow it? The response I got was not an answer to my question, but a sense that I needed to put this issue on hold and do more homework, patiently. I know, some of you will say that was a total cop-out and the only ethical thing to do would have been to resign from the Church. But patience was what I needed.

I studied the issue more carefully. While reading a basic book on the history of the Book of Abraham from H. Donl Peterson, I learned that the primary anti-Mormon argument relied on deception, not just a weak argument, but deliberate deception. The authors of the site that had so troubled me surely knew and had been told dozens of times that the tiny collection of fragments found in 1967 was only a small fraction of the scrolls that Joseph had, and that the bulk of the collection had been sold to a museum by Joseph's widow and eventually shipped to Chicago where they apparently burned in the great fire of 1871. The critics also ought to know that numerous eye-witnesses had described the scrolls Joseph had been translating as the Book of Abraham, and their descriptions don't accurately match the fragments that were recovered. Mormons scholars and non-LDS scholars both agree that the fragments we have are not the text of the Book of Abraham. The critics desperately need those fragments to be the Book of Abraham, but they are not. There are still plenty of tough questions to ask and reasonable objections to make, as there is with almost anything in any religion, but I learned in that experience just how powerful and dangerous a well-crafted lie can be. I can sympathize with those who lost their testimonies over Book of Abraham attacks, but I'd like to urge you to come back and look at the exciting news that continues to be revealed about this majestic ancient test.

My little adventure led to several pages on my LDSFAQ area about the Book of Abraham and the growing evidence for its authenticity. These include "Questions About the Book of Abraham: Part One," "Questions About the Book of Abraham, Part 2: Evidences for Plausibility," and "Part 3: Ancient Records Offer New Support for the Book of Abraham."

A more recent source you'll want to consider is the new DVD, A Most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Abraham. Looks fascinating--this just came out. I'm ordering one and haven't seen it yet. You can also hear
podcast about the DVD at the FAIR Blog.

There have been some exciting discoveries since I wrote my LDSFAQ pages on the Book of Abraham and I'm in the process of adding some updates. Some of the most significant ones are mentioned by Dr. John Gee, one of a few scholars deeply familiar with the Egyptian texts potentially relevant to the Book of Abraham. Dr. Gee has some valuable insight into how modern scholarship is helping to better place the Book of Abraham in history. However, before I share some news from Dr. Gee, let me remind you of some of the controversy over the location of the Book of Abraham. This background will help you better appreciate Dr. Gee's additional insights. So first, here is a background passage from Daniel C. Peterson's article, "News from Antiquity," in the January 1994 issue of the Ensign, available online (for the footnotes omitted below, see the related quote on Part 2 of my Book of Abraham LDS FAQ page):
The book begins with Abraham "in the land of Ur, of Chaldea." (Abr. 1:20.) It is obvious that this "Chaldea" was a place under strong Egyptian influence. It was there that Abraham's own fathers turned aside from worship of the true God to the service of "the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt." (Abr. 1:6; facsimile 1, fig. 9.) Apart from a passing reference in Joshua 24:2 [Josh. 24:2], the Bible does not tell of the idolatry of Abraham's ancestors. However, their worship of false gods and Abraham's faithfulness in worshipping the true God, as well as his attempts to convert his family, are common themes of many very old Jewish and Christian stories. [2]

Where was Ur of the Chaldees? Since the nineteenth century, most authorities have identified it with the modern Tell al-Muqayyar, a site in southern Iraq. However, certain elements of the book of Abraham do not seem to fit well in southern Iraq; in particular, Egyptian influences appear to be lacking there during the time of Abraham (traditionally placed around 2000 B.C.). It is thus interesting to note that some recent reevaluations of the question locate Ur in the area known anciently as Aram-Naharaim, or northwestern Mesopotamia (northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey, in terms of modern geography). This was a region under Egyptian influence at the time of Abraham.[3] The book of Abraham mentions a place it calls "the plain of Olishem" (Abr. 1:10), which was apparently part of the land of Chaldea. No such place is mentioned in the Bible, but the name does occur in an inscription of the Akkadian ruler Naram Sin, dating to about 2250 B.C. Remarkably, it refers to a place located precisely in northwestern Syria.[4]
Yes, it's cool that there is new evidence from an ancient text for the plains of Olishem in the Book of Abraham, but the real purpose of this passage is to remind you that modern LDS scholarship points to Ur of the Chaldees and the initial setting for the Book of Abraham as being in the north, perhaps in Syria, not in southern Iraq. Now we turn to Dr. Gree for an update included in his presentation at the Eleventh Annual FAIR Conference, August 6, 2009 entitled "The Larger Issue."
For years the critics have noted that the Book of Abraham has Egyptians up in Abraham's homeland in Abraham's day. This is something that they see as problematic. In the 1960s Georges Posener first suggested that there was an Egyptian empire in Syria in those days, but most scholars rejected it. There simply was not enough archaeological evidence for it in their opinion. Two articles last year change the picture. One was the publication by the President of the International Association of Egyptologists of a new autobiographical text from the Middle Kingdom. It details how this Egyptian led an expedition to Byblos and while there became involved in a military altercation between Byblos and Ullaza and ended up taking over both. This became the beginning of Egyptian involvement in northern Syria in the Middle Kingdom. Confirmation of the story comes from Byblos were the former kings are replaced by Egyptian appointed governors who began recording their titles in Egyptians. The second article came out in the premier peer-reviewed Egyptological journal in North America and detailed how a careful examination of the textual and archaeological sources indicates that Egypt had a presence in the northern Levant only during the reigns of two pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom: Sesostris III and Amenemhet III.

These articles point to a specific historical scenario for the Book of Abraham. The first chapter of Abraham takes place when Egypt controls Abraham's homeland in northern Syria, and this can only be during a short, sixty year time period, about 1860-1800 BC. We know from archaeological evidence of that time period that Egyptian gods were worshiped at Ebla, and that Ebla is mentioned in Egyptian texts of the time. We also know that Egyptian sphinxes inscribed for monarchs of the time were found at Aleppo and Ugarit. This gives us an idea of the area under the Egyptian monarchs Sesostris III and Amenemhet III. It also explains Abraham's travel route. He crosses the Euphrates to Harran, outside the Egyptian sphere of influence and stays a few years, during which time the Egyptian empire of the Middle Kingdom collapses making it safe for him to return to formerly Egyptian held territory.

Unfortunately, the time period when Abraham lived is almost unknown to Egyptology even today. The debates among Kim Ryholt, Manfred Beitak, Jim and Susan Allen, Daphna Ben Tor, and Chris Bennett about this time period shows how much is up in the air even today.

It might come as some surprise to some that Abraham is in the area of northern Mesopotamia and Syria. The term Chaldean did not mean the same in Joseph Smith's day as it does now. In the present day, the Chaldeans are equated only with the tribes of the Kaldu that lived in the Iron Age in southern Mesopotamia. In Joseph Smith's day it referred to the language that we call Aramaic and especially the Aramaic dialect that we call Syriac. It also referred to those who spoke that language (which originated in northern Syria). It also referred to the general area of greater Mesopotamia. Additionally, it was used as a term for superstitious.

The Chaldeans do not appear as such in the Hebrew Bible. Abraham is said to be from Ur of the Kasdim, not the Chaldeans. Though Kasdim is translated as Chaldeans, that is no indication that the Kasdim are the Kaldu. Recent analysis of the names in the biblical account of Abraham indicates that all of them originate in northern Mesopotamia. The name Abram itself, is attested only in northern Mesopotamia. The name is also only attested at the time when the Book of Abraham predicts it. Several towns are named Ur in Mesopotamia, that is the reason why it must be qualified as the Ur of the Kasdim.

Another example of how the Book of Abraham matches its day is the mention in the Book of Abraham of human sacrifice after the manner of the Egyptians. We know from archaeological evidence that the Egyptians practiced human sacrifice at that time, in areas that they dominated outside of Egypt. This archaeological evidence corresponds in practice to later ritual texts that describe how do human sacrifice. It also corresponds to historical records from Egypt that detail the circumstances under which human sacrifice occurred in Abraham's day. Almost none of this material was available even to Nibley. This shows how much the picture can change in a few years. We also know the type of people targeted for human sacrifice: sbi, rebels or apostates (the term is used for both). Abraham says that his "fathers . . . utterly refused to hearken to my voice" (Abraham 1:5) when he condemned them for "having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given them , unto the worship of the gods of the heathen" (Abraham 1:5), instead they "endeavored to take away my life" (Abraham 1:7). There was no separation of church and state in ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh was the head of both. So to revolt against his authority, whether religious or political, made someone a rebel and subject to a ritualized death penalty. Archaeological evidence for this practice was first discovered about fifty years ago, but more archaeological evidence has appeared in the last ten years.
Read that passage again--there are a large number of interesting new twists in the unfolding story of one of the most remarkable ancient scriptural texts, the Book of Abraham. Like the Book of Mormon, the evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Abraham continues to increase, making it, in a sense, "truer than ever." This is an exciting time to be LDS!

So much has changed in the few years since Hugh Nibley took up the defense of the Book of Abraham. He clearly got some things wrong. That's life and that's scholarship. He sometimes said that anything he wrote more than 3 years ago shouldn't be held against him because things change so quickly. Well, they do. The vector of change, though, is in a direction I like. Some issues that were quite problematic are being resolved with evidence that just wasn't available in Nibley's day and certainly not Joseph Smith's. Some huge discoveries in the past few years have helped us better appreciate the text of the Book of Abraham in several ways. I'll say it again: like the Book of Mormon, it's a text that is becoming truer than ever, in spite of human influence (yeah, human influences like the ancient geocentric model of the cosmos embedded in the Book of Abraham--something for another post, another day).

Patience--that was the answer I needed in the 1990s when I had my own little crisis of faith. I'm glad I pressed forward and continued to study, ponder, pray, and finally see past the deception that had so bothered me. I felt really cheated when I saw the sleight of hand that the critics used, and I've seen crooked antics of that nature frequently since then. I still have some major issues on hold, waiting for further light and knowledge, interested in the truth but willing to wait for answers. Meanwhile, the journey is a rewarding and joyous one. The Church is true, in spite of some gaps, and the Gospel is true, in spite of human weakness in others and my own failure in understanding and faith. I look forward to learning and experiencing more.

Update: A great resource that calmly spells out the major arguments against the Book of Abraham and then refutes them is "Criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham" at the the Book of Abraham Project website. URL is http://www.boap.org/LDS/BOAP/SecondEd/Draft-copy/AppendixV-JS-Commentary-on-BOA.pdf.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Botox and Scripted Rituals?

I just received an email that reminding me of the danger when Mormonism is mixed with Botox:
Dear Mormon/Christian,
I grew up in southern Idaho with many LDS friends and attended several of their church services. As a Spirit-filled Christian I always went to these services with the hope of feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit. All I experienced was a group of people going through a bunch of scripted rituals. Good people, but empty inside and meeting out of duty, not love for the Heavenly Father. Most of the men were asleep and the women were staring with a blank expression as the children ran around. All of the talk was about Joseph Smith or one of the founding Fathers of Mormonism. Nothing about true liberty in Jesus.

I always left those services empty and sad that these beautiful people have never experienced the Joy and freedom in knowing the true Savior.
Mormons experience a great deal of joy and freedom in Christ, for the record, and we often show it--when we are awake. But it may be harder to visibly show that joy when we are trying to keep several active children quiet in a meeting or when Botox has been used. When I first read this, I thought the problem was that our troubled Christian had attended the Beverly Hills Ward, where Botox might (I speculate) be used more heavily than in less fashionable wards. Hence the blank expressions. But then I noticed my correspondent had mentioned the real Mecca of fashion and beauty, southern Idaho, renowned for being more Californian than California itself. Suddenly surrounded by numerous "beautiful people," as described in the email, whose beauty may have been enhanced in a few cases with heavy doses of Botox, our overwhelmed visitor might have associated those faces with some deficiency in our theology and not the failings of cosmetic surgery.

While Botox helps me understand part of the complaint, I'm really stumped about the "scripted rituals." Someone needs to get over to southern Idaho and see what's up. Our lack of scripted rituals has been a common complaint for newcomers attending our services. Fast and testimony meeting - anything can happen. Regular sacrament meetings: almost anything can happen. OK, we have an opening prayer and a song, and a closing song and prayer, and in between there are a few minutes for the sacrament where a brief specific prayer is used (yes, scripted), but the majority of the meeting is in highly unscripted hands. The first speaker usually speaks before the closing speaker, just like the closing prayer generally comes after the opening prayer--but that's not especially scripted. So what did our friend experience in Idaho?

Please, if southern Idaho wards have become highly organized and scripted, I think the rest of us need to learn from them, even if southern Idahoans make the rest of us feel a little ugly and unfashionable in comparison.

I find that our critics often not only seem to be willing to tell us what we believe, but also what we feel, what we think, and what is in our hearts. This person was able to just look at the Mormons and recognize that they were going to church out of duty, not out of love for God and joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He could see their hearts were empty, lacking love for Heavenly Father. Really? I bet he could see that without even talking to them or looking at their blank expressions. I bet he could even read their minds while they were asleep, perhaps from the other side of the world. The psychic gifts of anti-Mormonism: it wasn't just Fawn Brodie who experienced such supernatural powers.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Quoted in USA Today on the Issue of Romney and Anti-Mormon Bias

"Mormon Bias Still Part of Politics" by Dennis Wagner is an article in USA Today that came out Nov. 24, 2011. Dennis writes both for USA Today and the Arizona Republic. I was surprised to be quoted since I know that I was just one of numerous people the reporter interviewed, plus I've had lengthy interviews with other reporters that didn't get used. I find the article to be fair and reasonable, though I think anyone who is quoted in an interview feels some disappointment in how it all turns out. However, I think Dennis went out of his way to be fair and to understand the topic.

The quotes from me came in a portion of the interview when the reporter wanted to know if it's appropriate to use the term "anti-Mormon" in describing the people pushing the Mormon issue in their opposition of Romney. Discussing the merits of that label was one of the least interesting and least important parts of the conversation to me personally, but that part got used. Also used was the point I made about LDS politicians like Mitt Romney and Harry Reid clearly demonstrating that they will do things their way and not simply rely on the prophet or LDS teachings to determine their stance. So here's the passage where I'm quoted, but do read the whole article:
Richard Packham, the 78-year-old president of the Ex-Mormon Foundation, writes that the church's "ultimate goal" is "to establish the Mormon Kingdom of God in America and to govern the world as God's appointed representatives."

"I love the Mormons and hate Mormonism," Packham told The Arizona Republic. "To me, the possibility that the Mormon church might control America is a frightening prospect."

Tricia Erickson, a bishop's daughter who left the faith, just published a book titled, "Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters?" Erickson casts the church as a sexist, racist leviathan striving to gain power through politics. And she contends that Romney or Huntsman, as members, would have a duty to "follow the prophet -- no matter what," giving allegiance to religion over country.

Jeff Lindsay, a Mormon scholar who prolifically defends his church on the Internet, says Packham, Erickson and other critics convey an "awful distortion" of LDS doctrine and practices.

"It's paranoia. It's not based on any example," Lindsay said. "There is plenty of room for decent people to disagree with us. But when someone strives to stir up anger toward the church and relies on misinformation or half-truths, then I'm inclined to apply the anti-Mormon label -- especially when they do it for a living."

Church defenders point out that thousands of LDS members serve in public office without acting as church puppets, and critics are unable to identify Romney gubernatorial decisions that his religion dictated.

As Lindsay puts it, "The prophet has not been coming in and telling him how to vote."
When I discussed "anti-Mormons," I was speaking in general terms without Richard Packham in mind. I don't think he's one of the professionals who makes his living off spooking people about the Church. But I was really floored by his comment. Did he really say that, or has he been victimized by some sort of anti-anti-Mormon bias at USA Today? We're out to control the world? And a Mormon President raises the prospect of Mormonism controlling America? [Update: I questioned whether he really said that, but have been assured that he did--I just don't think he could have seriously meant it in the extreme way it reads in the article. But that extreme fear is what's fueling a lot of the controversy the USA Today article addresses. People, get real.]

"Brothers and sisters, today's sacrament meeting will be dedicated to the Mormon conquest of Planet Earth. Sunday school will focus on taking over America once we get the Prophet's agent in the White House. Also, home teachers, please begin working with your families this week to help them develop plans to subjugate their neighbors and take over the neighborhood."

The goal of anti-Mormonism is to frighten people away from the Church and stir up anger and fear. Spook them. Create anger so that people hate Mormonism and refuse to consider it even for a moment. I don't think it's healthy, personally.

Greatful for the Blessings of Life in China

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday. We sure did with one of the best dinners ever with some fabulous friends this week. A local Shanghai man was the brilliant cook who took an imported American turkey (and yes, I'm grateful that America still has some things worth exporting!) and created a masterpiece of tender, moist poultry--or as tender and as moist as turkey gets, which is still not quite up to the level of traditional Chinese-style duck in southern China (Guandong style, to be exact, which I prefer even over the delicacy of Beijing roast duck). The secret to his outstanding turkey is that he turned it over halfway through the baking process, redistributing the juices or something. It was amazing to watch how he served it, removing the skin, slicing the meat carefully, and then slicing the skin in strips to lay back over the flesh to give each piece a beautiful appearance. He was using Chinese duck preparation skills to enhance the turkey. Just beautiful and delicious. His mashed potatoes were some of the best ever, too.

China has its share of problems, as all nations do, but I'm so grateful to be here and to have a wife with a sense of adventure and a willingness to make the sacrifices that we thought we were making when coming to this land of promise. We have experienced miracles here and so much kindness. I've suffered from frequent discrimination, I'll admit, in which I've received special treatment and unjustified kindness for being a strange-looking foreigner who seems similar in height to Yao Ming (he's only a foot taller than me, a barely noticeable difference, it seems). I love how people are willing to talk and explain things to me or just chat. I love the smiles and nods I get, especially when I try to talk Chinese. Even the police have been friendly, as I can testify after last night when I thought someone had unzipped my bag and swiped my iPad somewhere on the subway. I just wanted to report the possible crime so I called the police and was surprised to have two officers at my door within 10 minutes to get more information.They were very kind and patient. I explained there was a chance I had somehow left it in my office, and would check in the morning. I hoped it would be there, but by using the "Find My IPad" feature of my iPad with the help of iCloud.com, my iPad was allegedly found and located at a location close to where I had been on the subway and several blocks away from my office. Turns out it that it was just in my office after all and that the map feature was highly inaccurate. Hurray, my iPad was found and no police action was needed. But how surprised I was to get personal attention from the police so quickly, and with a smile. I've seen many examples of police and officials who struck me as nice, hardworking people--something one doesn't find everywhere in the world. Again, not to minimize the problems that do exist here, but I rejoice in the many positives I've experienced.

China, at least Shanghai, is a lot like the Wild West. There's a surprising amount of freedom in some areas. Ok, not all of that is good, like the freedom people get when they buy electric scooters: once purchased, they never have to obey a traffic law again. (Pedestrians, beware.)

We Latter-day Saints from overseas are generally pleased and surprised at the freedom we enjoy to meet and worship in a beautiful setting. We need to keep our religious activities separate from those of our Chinese brothers and sisters, with no attempt to proselyte or otherwise violate the rules. But even with the uneasiness that Communist leaders in general may have with Christianity, it is flourishing. Surprisingly large numbers of local Chinese are Christian (I've heard estimates of 3%, and understand that the 100 millionth Chinese Bible will soon be printed). May that trend continue!

Not all people here share my optimism. Some local Chinese are unhappy with life here and it is a difficult struggle for many. Some foreigners really dislike their experience here, and depending on their situation and expectations, it can be very trying. There are many things my friends back in the States should be grateful that are less abundant here--especially Jello. It's one of the hardest things to find here. How can there be a true Thanksgiving feast without that? But what a feast we had nevertheless.

At our dinner, we each took turns to share something we were grateful for. Mine was hot water. Hot running water. When so much of the world lacks this luxury, what a marvelous and unfair blessing I enjoy in being able to simply turn a tap here in my small little Shanghai apartment and have warm water flowing for a shower anytime I need it. Amazing. And that's just the beginning of the wonders we are blessed with here (say, have you heard about the roast duck here?). How about you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Easy Way to Disprove the Book of Mormon? Joseph Smith's "Blunder" in Following the KJV in Equating Lucifer with Satan

Though I am opposed to off-topic comments and sometimes delete them, there's one example recently posted on this site that was at least interesting enough to inspire me to respond. It's a question that has already been answered to some degree on my LDSFAQ Website, which I hope some of you use (see the page "Relationships Between Man, Christ, and God: Mormon Answers (LDS FAQ)." The question I answered there was "Wasn't Joseph Smith clearly wrong when he said Lucifer in Isaiah 14 refers to Satan?"

Here's the question that a drive-by-critic apparently regurgitated from an anti-Mormon website:
There is a greater proof of Joseph Smith’s plagiarism than you have expressed in 2 Nephi 24:12. It is a typical mistake of most plagiarists. Joseph Smith was no linguist. Therefore, he had no understanding of what he copied from the King James Bible. From Isaiah 14:12, the King James scholars decided to keep the proper name of the morning star, renamed by St. Jerome when he translated the Septuagint (Greek Scriptures) into Latin. St. Jerome used two Latin words, a verb and a noun, which means, “to bring light.” St. Jerome joined these two Latin words and capitalized the word, making it a proper noun. Now, understand that most ancient civilizations had a name for the morning star, the brightest star of the morning. Most had a different name for the brightest star of the evening, even though it was the same celestial body, the planet Venus. The Hebrews had a name for this bright star, “Heylel.” Regardless of the reasons St. Jerome had for renaming the morning star, and why the King James scholars chose to keep that name, Joseph Smith made a grave error when he copied that name. The name I’m referring to is, of course, “Lucifer.” The inclusion of that name is puzzling enough. How is it that these ancient gold plates, written in an ancient Egyptian text, contained a name of the morning star that had been renamed by St. Jerome long after the alleged writing on these gold plates? Joseph Smith claimed that, while he had no understanding of the Egyptian text, he did have use of the Urim and Tummim (misspelled and completely misunderstood), as well as the Angel Gabriel, to help translate this text. Perhaps the Archangel decided to go with the Latin version, rather than the original Hebrew name, and conveyed that name to Joseph Smith. Okay, not a great argument; but not completely beyond the realm of possibility. Ah, but Joseph Smith didn’t stop there. In the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith wrote extensively on Lucifer. In fact, he claimed that, in primordial times, Lucifer was the name of an angel in Heaven, who later fell to Earth as the Devil. How is it that a fourth century Illyrian Catholic priest and apologist was able to stumble onto the primordial name of the Devil? For me, the use of Lucifer in 2 Nephi 24:12 is sufficient evidence to conclude that Joseph Smith plagiarized the King James Bible. As a teacher, it is not the correct answers common between two students, which proves that one copied from the other; it is the identical incorrect answers. After all, a correct answer is a correct answer. Identical anomalies will should prove sufficient.

Some have argued that the name "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14:12 doesn't refer to Satan at all, but simply to a Babylonian king. The Hebrew word translated as "Lucifer" refers to the morning star, Venus, or otherwise indicates a bearer of light. Critics say that the Book of Mormon is simply wrong when it quotes Isaiah 14:12 in 2 Nephi 24:12 and keeps the name "Lucifer." They say the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 76:26 is also wrong, for it also follows the allegedly incorrect interpretation of Isaiah 14 in calling Satan "Lucifer, a son of the morning." A good answer to this question comes from Ben McGuire on a page at FAIRLDS.org.

As McGuire points out, early Christians such as Origen and Tertullian associated the name Lucifer with Satan. Further, several New Testament passages associate Satan with an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), with lightning falling from heaven (Luke 10:18), or as the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4)--all consistent with the fallen "lightbearer" concept in the Hebrew of Isaiah 14. Christians for centuries have equated Lucifer with Satan, so there is no question what is meant in Doctrine and Covenants 76:26. In that context, there is nothing wrong with calling Satan "Lucifer, the morning star." However, in the book of Revelation, chapter 22, verse 16, we read that the title of "Morning Star" belongs to Christ, which again makes Satan an impostor, trying to take away the glory of God.

Here is an excerpt from Brother McGuire over at FAIRLDS.org:
Q. How come the LDS church erroneously believes that "Lucifer" is indeed Satan? This is an erroneous teaching and belief that wasn't introduced to Christianity until hundreds of years after Christ. See the following Web site to understand what I am claiming: [anti-LDS URL is given]. This seems to show that Joseph Smith wasn't "inspired" in a number of revelations (especially D&C 76) where he mistakenly equates "Satan" with the entity in Isaiah 14 that was always understood to be a fallen King of Babylon.

A. (by Ben McGuire) I am going to start off by saying that most of what appears on the Web link which you forwarded is nonsense. They give largely erroneous responses. While the Hebrew text is accurately noted, the quality of information goes downhill from there. Let me point out the major error, and then we can discuss the real meaning of the passage in Isaiah.

Jerome translates it as Lucifer in his Latin text--this, your article claims is the starting point for the connection between Lucifer and Satan.

Actually, Lucifer is first mentioned (under that name) in the writings of Origen (end of the second century) some two hundred years before Jerome puts it into his Latin text. Tertullian and others of the early fathers of the church also discuss Lucifer, so the connection between Lucifer and Satan was established some time prior to the end of the second century. Before the Latin text becomes widespread, however, the name Lucifer had a much more specific meaning. It was the name of Satan prior to his fall from glory. Origen explains that this is because prior to his fall, he was a being of light and thus it was an appropriate description of him. After his fall, Origen continues, he was no longer a being of light and became known as Satan.

The second point is that the scholarly community almost universally rejects the being identified as helel ben shahar in Isaiah 14 as being the king of Babylon directly. There is a figure in contemporary Canaanite religion which resembles Helel in Isaiah 14. That figure is 'Athtar. At one point in Canaanite myth, 'Athtar attempts to sit in the throne of Ba'al, the king of the gods. He fails in his attempt, and instead descends to the earth to rule there. 'Athtar is known in southern Arabian inscriptions as Venus, or the Day Star. More than this though, is the account in Isaiah. The "stars of God" is a reference to the divine assembly--all of the divinities of heaven. The mount of the congregation in the sides of the north (in the original Hebrew) is equivalent to Canaanite phrases describing the dwelling place of Ba'al. So, in effect, we have in Isaiah a description of a divinity who wants to seize the throne of Ba'al and rule the heavens. Of course there are differences as well as similarities, but I find this argument to be fairly convincing myself.

While the Web-site article you reference tends to look at the literal meaning of the words, instead of examining them as names, it completely loses the rest of the context of the narrative. There is no basis in Isaiah's charges as they would apply to the Babylonian king. It is primarily on the similarities between the Isaiah text, and text covering the Ba'al/'Athtar myth that this connection is drawn. (For bibliographic references and a description of the related scholarly arguments I recommend this article (the most recent on the subject that I am aware of): "The Mythological Provenance of Isa. XIV 12-15: A Reconsideration of the Ugaritic Material" by Michael S. Heiser, in Vetus Testamentum, 51/3 [2001], p. 354-369).

At the same time, this concept is, interestingly enough, seen in the New Testament. Jesus claims that he saw Satan "fall like lightning from heaven" and in John and Paul we find Satan described as the "God of this world." It was these references (among others) that led the early fathers of the Christian church to conclude that Helel in Isaiah 14 was Lucifer and also Satan. The similarities between their beliefs, and what they saw in the Old Testament texts came together to form a lasting opinion. And when the Latin text named the being in Isaiah 14 as Lucifer, that tradition has been followed ever since.
Continuing Ben's thought, note that the 1828 dictionary of Noah Webster defines the word "Lucifer" and gives it two possible meanings:
1. The planet Venus, so called from its brightness.

2. Satan.
Recognizing that Joseph was preparing an English translation in producing the Book of Mormon, we should not be surprised to find names translated or otherwise converted into modern recognizable forms. Jesus Christ is a translation, for example, with "Christ" being derived from the Greek for "anointed one," related to the word Messiah in Hebrew. Lucifer, at least as of 1828, was an accepted English term to describe Satan. You could (incorrectly) argue that it wasn't plausible or accepted when Jerome made that connection, but it certainly was widely accepted and understandable when Joseph Smith used the term in his translation and other writings. There is no confusion, only deliberate confusion caused by people trying to make a mountainous argument out of a non-existent molehill. Remember, the Book of Mormon is a translation into the modern English language. Most of the words in it were not used in ancient days because they did not exist--English did not exist. But today, Lucifer means Satan, and when railing against the latter, either term can be used by English speakers with fairness, whether you agree with Jerome or not.

Further insight is found in a discussion by René A. Krywult's. The second half of that page provides some excellent insights into ancient Near Eastern views that support the LDS position.

The confusion over the Lucifer/Satan issue may be one of the best arguments against the Book of Mormon, one that our drive-by poster thought was (at last) a slam dunk, but it's really a non-starter (not to be confused with the initial appetizer of bread at an Indian restaurant, which, of course, is a naan-starter).

I will at least give the critics behind this argument credit for recognizing that there can be errors in the Biblical record due to human limitations in translating. I hope they do not, then, rely on the alleged completeness and infallibility of the Bible as a reason to reject modern revelation and further scripture given by the Lord. For those in that camp, may I simply remind you that the Lord said that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4), and NEVER gave any indication that those words would stop.

The cessation of revelation and scripture as an allegedly Christian principle a post-biblical innovation created of necessity when it was clear that the word of revelation from apostles and prophets was no longer to be found, even though those offices and gifts were to be in the Church until we came to a not-yet-achieved unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:11-14). The problem, though, was not that we no longer needed them or that God had revealed everything we would ever need, but that man had rejected ongoing revelation and killed the messengers--part of the great falling away and famine for the word of God predicted in the Bible, requiring the future time of "refreshing of all things" also prophesied (Acts 3:19). That refreshing has begun and the Book of Mormon is part of the refreshing ancient scripture that has proceeded forth from the mouth of God. It's something we should live by, not ignore and condemn for reasons as silly as quoting a passage of Isaiah with "Lucifer" as a term for Satan.

The critics behind this attack take the tack of Joseph as the unschooled pretender stumbling over the basics. I hope, in their response to the growing body of fascinating evidence for the Book of Mormon such as chiasmus and the evidence from the Arabian Peninsula, that they do not rely on Joseph vast intellectual prowess in scouring the best libraries of the globe for vast tidbit of knowledge that could be woven into the text, which is one of the other vectors for anti-Mormon attacks on the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, boy wonder and literary genius tapping elite information across the globe, and Joseph Smith, uneducated farmboy pretender without a clue making the most basic mistakes imaginable. Make sure you at least stick with a consistent paradigm when you fail miserably to account for the modern miracle of the ancient Book of Mormon.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Not To Be Alarmist, But Is That a Chunk of Sky Crashing Through My Roof?

We like to believe that everything is going to be OK, that we'll get through our little setbacks and problems just fine, like we always have. To the extent that the sun will keep rising, yes, that's true. But it may keep rising even though all the assets you thought you owned in the bank are now part of someone else's account. When government itself permits or causes theft, real chaos and economic ruin can follow. You might have missed some of the alarming details about the failure of MF Global recently, but you should dig into this story. Regulators appear to have allowed a crooked CEO to steal the cash that people had deposited to pay for his horrific losses in highly leveraged futures trading. Something that is not supposed to happen, that should never happen, simply happened, with tacit government approval. Mysteriously, $630 million has just disappeared right under regulator's noses. For some, like Ann Barnhardt of Barnhardt Capital Management, the theft is a signal that the rule of law has ended in the United States and that we have become a kleptocracy (warning: she makes an nasty statement toward one party when the problem has become much more bipartisan). Feeling that her clients can no longer be secure in such a system, she's pulling the plug on her business. Worry about the implications of the MF Global crime? Yawn--I know, it wasn't your money. This time.

What happened may be a rare exception, limited to the commodities area and not necessarily applicable to whatever investments you may have. But that it could happen at all is quite unsettling.

Even if the electronic digits that represent your economic assets are secure, even if your cash balances remain untouched and not locked up by regulators or simply swiped, we also face the burden of devastating national debt, now $15 trillion worth plus obligations far beyond that. We'll be footing some of the bill for Europe and facing unpredictable consequences of their horrific debt. The US and Euro governments are stuck in a paradigm of printing money to solve our problems (and subsidizing big banks with artificially low interest rates that further transfers wealth away from citizens who pay them interest on the treasuries they buy with the money they borrow from us for almost free). This cannot go on without consequences, including the ongoing erosion of the dollar. It has lost over 95% of its value since the Federal Reserve began taking charge of our money supply to "protect" us. Adding trillions more to the effective money supply will inevitably erode the value of the dollar in the future--a form of theft, of redistributing your wealth into the hands of the Government, Inc. and their pals.

So is this a time to panic and fall into boundless despair? No, not at all. That doesn't come for a few weeks yet. But this is a time to avoid unnecessary debt, to become more frugal, to build up your food storage, to diversify, to maintain some cash reserves (some precious metals might help one day--a few handfuls of silver coins, for example), to have some fuel, water, and clothing on hand, and to make sure you have 72-hour kits in case of emergency. Be prepared--that's all I'm saying, really. Recognize that we live in perilous times where what we take for granted, like the rule of law and property rights, might not apply when you need it. I hope everything will be OK and that we'll get our debt under control without serious trouble, just like Greece has--wait, I mean Italy, no, Spain, uh, Zambia? Help me out, it's on the tip of my tongue--what was the name of that country that had been cranking out new money like we are and then managed to reduce their debt and fix everything smoothly without serious social and economic trouble? Utopia? Atlantis? Disneyland? Mental block, sorry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Worse Things Could Happen


Worse things could happen than the closing of this little bar in the village of Zhu Jia Zhao, an ancient water town with beautiful canals on the outskirts of Shanghai, halfway to Suzhou. Alcohol is not consumed as heavily here as it is Wisconsin, where I spent many years before coming here to to the Appleton of the East (OK, more like the Madison of the East, but without all the angry demonstrators, and, oh, about 100 times as populated). Even though they seem to generally be more temperate, the Chinese people would be even better off if they dropped alcohol completely, IMHO. Healthier and happier. That's just my Mormon 2 cents worth (or 0.13 RMB).

The official notice on the door is from the local power company declaring that their power has been shut off for failure to pay their bills. It looks like a competitor bar put some of their ads on the door.

Maybe I'll post some of the photos of this beautiful canal city, but this old door was one of my favorites from my photo shoot there, courtesy of two wonderful local Chinese friends with a car who took my wife and I on a day of adventure that included this ancient water town. We have such great friends out here!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Names: Some Random Thoughts Inspired by a Photo from Korea

One of the things I find charming about eastern Asia is the popularity of English names. Many people, especially professionals, take on an English name of their own choosing. Some of the names are really beautiful and others are a bit creative. Some have very typical names like Jon or Steven, and others have less common names like Spark, LeRou, and Queenie. One high-ranking manager I know uses the name "Handsome." Awesome! But the first time I addressed him in English, I sensed a touch of inner tension when I said, "Hello, Handsome" to another man. That's just not my normal style, in spite of whatever allegations might be out there.

Rather often I encounter names that might benefit from some feedback from native English speakers, but that's just my opinion. The photo below is from some slates at a Buddhist temple in eastern Korea, where some friends wrote their names for good luck (and a small fee to the temple). Cute!
Click to enlarge:
Choosing a new name for oneself is a fun thing. Usually, though, names are assigned by others. My Chinese name, 林哲甫, for example, was given to me by a sweet Latter-day Saint woman from Taiwan when I took some Mandarin classes at BYU long ago. It's a name that raises eyebrows and elicits positive commentary from the local Chinese when they see it for they can tell it's not a normal name for foreigners, but was given by someone with a deep understanding of Chinese culture. My teacher went home and pondered over an evening, she said, before she selected the name. It's actually been a blessing to me over here, decades later.

One of the interesting aspects of the Bible is the giving of new names to people. This practice is often associated with entering into a covenant with God. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, and Saul became Paul after his conversion. There is also the enigmatic verse in Revelation 2:17, that says "To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except him who receives it." This personal new name makes sense for those familiar with crown jewels of the Restoration found in the marvelous LDS Temple, a sacred place where covenants are made to follow God and Jesus Christ. Just as a newborn baby is given a name, so those who enter into the covenants of life can receive a new name. I don't understand its future importance, just as much of the book of Revelation and the mysteries of the Gospel are beyond me, but I like the idea of receiving a new name as part of entering into the covenants of the Temple that help us more fully be born again in Christ. It's a cool and ancient concept, and, like my Chinese name, something that has been helpful to me in my life in ways I can't explain here. Don't take this little part of LDS culture for granted. There are some deep and beautiful aspects to the LDS Temple ceremony and to the LDS experience, if we'll let the Lord reveal insights to us along the way.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Something's Brewing in China

My wife was away with some Relief Society women tonight so I was in no hurry to get home. I skipped my quick subway route (just one stop) and instead meandered along a longer path, going from Shanghai's Bund where I work up to Nanjing Street and then People's Square, then over to elegant Xin Tian Di, past a couple of parks, and then dropped by the booth of a struggling friend and chatted as he closed up shop at the famous but decaying Dong Tai Antiques Market, and then strolled two more blocks to my little apartment with one of the best views in China. As I approached the mix of modern buildings and old city that defines my endlessly lovable and sometimes troubling neighborhood, my heart lept as I encountered a scene that I just adore. In fact, not once, but three times, with three different groups all doing it differently. That's when I realized what I love most about China.

When I first came here, I thought what I love most was "the culture," or the food, or the language, or the scenery, or "the people." But "the people" is far too vague a concept. Yes, it's the people, but there's one aspect of "the people" and their culture that just elates me each time I encounter it, and tonight I got three doses in rapid succession. What I love most about China is . . . the dancing! At night in all sorts of unexpected public places, one can encounter groups of people, sometimes all women, sometimes men and women, sometimes old, sometimes middle-aged or younger, gathering where there is some vacant pavement or cement or tiled ground with a cheap boom box cranking out a tune so the group can dance. Many times the group appears to be doing a complicated line dance with lots of charming moves (where do they work out all those steps before going public?). Sometimes the music is Western, other times it's distinctly Chinese. Sometimes couples are dancing the swing, the fox trot or waltz, other times it's salsa or rumba or cha cha, or something I can't recognize. But whether it's couples or line dancing or musical group aerobics tai-qi style with all the mystic motions, public dance is alive and well on the streets of Shanghai and I just love it. My wife and I are planning to brush up on our old social dance courses we took and go out and join them some night.

The dancing is one of many things that makes me so happy to be here. But there's something bigger and deeper than just my personal enjoyment that draws me here. This is a land of miracles. Many people who have felt drawn to China and are now here are seeing and experiencing that. This is a difficult place to live, but here in the Shanghai Branch, so many of us feel blessed each day, supported and helped in ways we just aren't used to, sensing that the Lord is doing something through small means, small steps, but something real, something big. Something is brewing here in China, and it's going to be wonderful to see how all the strange little steps with the Lord's guidance may one day become a beautiful dance.

We like to think we have something precious that one day, when the time is right, we will be able to teach many people. But meanwhile, what's really happening is that people of China are teaching us. They have so much to offer, so much wisdom and strength and courage and beauty. If you want to understand what can be learned through suffering and affliction, our pioneer stories pale in comparison to what the people of China have faced in their long and even recent history. They know how to endure, how to work, how to sacrifice all they have, how to remain brave in the darkest of times and give hope to the rising generation. Some learn the wrong lessons and contribute to misery of others, but so many have come through the refiner's fire with noble souls that can lift and strengthen others even when their physical strength is spent. They are part of something amazing, something big that has been and still is brewing here in China. My wife might call this my boyish optimism again, flying in the face of reality, but there is a sense shared by many here of something great waiting to be revealed in China. I can't wait to see when and what it is.

Meanwhile, may the people of this great land keep dancing! And may some of us LDS people join the fun.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Mitt Romney and the Mormon Question

I had a call from a significant journalist in the US who wanted to discuss my views on anti-Mormonism and Mitt Romney. I accepted the interview, hoping that somehow I might do more good than harm in spite of dealing with controversial topics and the unpredictability of the press. If any of you lose your souls because of anything I said, well, I hope it's because I was misquoted. In fact, let me go on record now to state that I categorically deny saying whatever it was I said. Hey, that was easy--maybe I should run for office, too?

Chances are that nothing I said will make it into print--I was just one of multiple sources being interviewed for a story on opposition to Mormonism sparked by the Romney campaign. The reporter raised some common issues: "Does Romney's religion and his religious values jeopardize his ability to serve in office? Will his religious values play a role in his political decisions? Can a President be loyal to America when they follow a Mormon prophet?"

I explained that these are aspects of broader issues that are not unique to Latter-day Saint politicians. Every individual has a set of values that influence how they see the world and how they act. Whether those values are based on some flavor of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, atheism, etc., or mixtures thereof, every politician brings a set of values and beliefs to the table, partly expressed in words but also expressed in one's track record. How those values affect future decision making is a fair question for voters to consider in every case, not just for Mormons. For example, if voters oppose abortion, then they should support candidates who also oppose abortion. I didn't mention this second example, but here's another one to consider: if people want more racial diversity in a America, then they should select a politician whose political and/or religious values will lead him or her to oppose abortion, which eliminates a higher percentage of black children than white children.

The concern that a Mormon President will betray America by relying on the Prophet for decision making is simply ridiculous. Our two most prominent Mormon politicians, Romney and Harry Reid, have been in office for years and have never shown a sign of such behavior. Both, in fact, have taken positions on some major issues that many LDS people might not feel are highly aligned with LDS inclinations. So what's the threat? Where's the evidence of putting Church and Prophet ahead of America? They have values, including some I strongly disagree with, but they appear to be their own men (or, less naively stated, at least owned by someone else besides Thomas S. Monson).

People were worried about Catholicism and John F. Kennedy. Could a Catholic be a good president, or would the Pope get his foot into the White House? Catholicism was not a problem, and with all due respect, I think President Kennedy would have been wiser and happier if he had been a little more Catholic in his behavior. But I'll leave that discussion for another day.

What irks me about the issue of Mormonism and Romney is that some unpleasant folks are using it as a cause to push their own anti-Mormon bigotry. Again numerous congregations are being told that Mormons aren't even Christian, using contrived definitions for "Christian" that would typically exclude Christ and the early Christians of the New Testament. The attacks are intended to scare people away from the Church, and for too many, they are working. Folks, check it out for yourselves and don't give in to the hysterical fear mongering.

As for politics, I've tried to give a relatively bipartisan flavor to my occasional denunciations of politicians in an effort to not be political on this blog. Bipartisan criticism is easy, of course, when one feels both parties in the United States are have let America down. Is Romney the answer? Well, first tell me what the question is. That is one of the biggest gaps in popular American thought--a failure to ask questions, especially meaningful questions. Over here in China, there are a lot of people asking good questions, like "How can America stay solvent if it keeps spending like a bunch of, uh, Americans?" For another day.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Abiding in Christ and the Tragedy of Pernicious Theology

I've had some wild experiences since moving to China. Some were worried about the risks I might be taking in the crazy streets of Shanghai (one of Asia's most livable and lovable cities for Westerners) and other places over here, including parts of Indonesia where I was earlier this week. But the challenges I've faced are a piece of cake compared to what my youngest son is probably going through each day as a new missionary transplanted into an impoverished, dirty, parasite-rich, excessively hot, and not-always-friendly part of Peru. I know he probably won't share just how difficult and dangerous some parts of his experience are, but it's hard to hide what life is like there. Yet he went willingly to stand as a witness of Jesus Christ and to bear witness of the power of Christ and His Atonement, teaching and baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ.

A few days before he left the comforts of Appleton, Wisconsin, he was approached by one of his friends from high school, a friend who had known my son and seen his example as a Christian for years (recognizing parental bias, it's still fairly objective to say that my son is a popular and well-liked young man who is widely noted for being religious and for having high standards). This friend, a devout Protestant, just wanted to reach out and let my son know that his soul was lost and that he wasn't a Christian at all. What, believing in Christ, teaching of Christ, seeking to follow Christ, and putting your life at risk for two years as an ambassador of Christ doesn't count for at least being partly Christian? No, it doesn't count at all. You see, it's one thing to believe in Jesus and be saved, but if you ALSO think you really ought to keep the commandments, then you don't properly understand grace and, naturally, will rot in hell for this gap in theological understanding. In his form of modern Protestant theology, failing the Great Theology Quiz on the semantics of grace, justification, soteriology, and perhaps even esterification is just about the only way that someone who has accepted Jesus Christ can get thrown into hell.

My son was about to put on a name tag bearing the name of Jesus Christ ("The Church of ....") to be a public witness for Christ for two years. My son explained that he fervently believed in and accepted Christ as his savior. But that wasn't good enough. It's good enough for almost everyone else except Mormons, apparently. By coming along and adding an errant belief on the relations between grace, works, and salvation, all is lost. Eternally. So, in the spirit of Christian love, this good Protestant just wanted to reach out to my son and warn him that his soul was toast. Nice way to say good-bye. [Update: Of course, he was trying to be loving and helpful to save my son's soul, and my son recognized this. The intentions were noble, but good intentions can lead to bad outcomes when informed by horrifically flawed teachings.]

That Protestant young man was the victim of bad theology, and that theology, perhaps reinforced by religious bigotry from a pastor, led to an unfortunate result. A friend and fellow Christian was condemned as non-Christian. An entire religion of people seeking to follow Christ have been denounced as a non-Christian threat. That's not just bad theology, it's pernicious theology. Tragic theology.

If that young man is reading this blog, or for those of you who share similar unfortunate views, let me point to one of many passages from Jesus Christ that I hope you'll read and ponder. My son shared a lot of Bible verses that ought to have helped clarify the relationship between grace and our response to it, including the importance of following Jesus not just in word only, but to no avail, so this may not do any good. But this passage takes a different approach that I hope will open some eyes, somewhere. This passage reminds us that to be truly Christian and to truly accept the grace of Jesus and be saved eternally, we need to abide in Jesus. It's not a momentary event, but a journey. Abide. That means we endure, hang on, keep following, and not let go. Read this passage and see if you can possibly resolve what your minister has taught you with what Christ so plainly teaches.
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
How ironic, how tragically ironic, that a young man striving to be a friend of Christ by not just believing once but by abiding in His grace and keeping His commandments should, for that very reason, be condemned as a non-Christian whose soul was lost. That's pernicious theology. Tragically so.

Mormons believe in Christ. We accept Him as our Savior. After accepting Him, we seek to abide in His love. We seek to endure in faith to the end. We seek to do keep His commandments and do what He said. That great God who said, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" may have a lot of issues with our failures and misunderstandings, but I don't believe that salvation inn Christ depends on passing a quiz on modern theology.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Apparent Use of So-Called Magic Objects for Divination: A Sound Reason to Reject Joseph as a Prophet?

Should we condemn the prophet Joseph for apparent use of techniques that we would call magic or occult in our day? Things like using a solid object for purposes of divining or seeking revelation? Because of our modern discomfort with such concepts, do we reject him as a prophet of God and reject the scriptural records associated with him? I think that would be an unfortunate mistake, though the evidence of his "guilt" in this area is hard to overlook completely. Here is the primary evidence, straight from a part of the LDS scriptures, Genesis 44, which describes Joseph's use of an object that plays a key role in the interesting story of that record:
5 Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.
This is from the story in which the great ancient prophet, Joseph, used his cup, the cup he allegedly used for "magical" or revelatory divination, to frame one of his brothers as a thief in a clever scheme to save his entire family. It's a beautiful, touching, inspiring story, infused with a touch of the occult, at least when viewed from our modern perspective. Do we therefore reject Joseph, his revelations and inspired deeds as a prophet, and the scriptural records associated with him and that praise him--you know, records like the Bible? Personally, I think that would be a mistake.