A repeating theme in Second Temple Judaism is the expectation for a political messiah that would rule Judea. While Christians are aware of this primarily through the expectations that Jesus of Nazareth encountered during his ministry, there are many other people who tried to fulfill that role. Herod the Great may have been one of these people who claimed messiahship. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Jodi Magness discussed Herod the Great. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). First, it is important to note who Herod the Great was. As Jodi Magness explained: King Herod ruled Judea as client king on behalf of Rome from 40 BCE until his death in 4 BCE. He was the son of an Idumaean Jew named Antipater and a Nabataean woman named Cypros. … For most people, Herod is probably most known for the massacre of the innocents described in Matthew 2:16, according to which he ordered all boys under the age of two in and around Bethlehem put to death after being informed that the Messiah had just been born. … Among archaeologists who work in Israel, Herod is known as the greatest builder in the country’s history. So, Herod the Great has a few things for which he is known, even today. And his descendants are also found throughout the New Testament time—such…
Who was Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene is a well-known figure in the New Testament whose life has been the subject of speculation and storytelling for much of Christian History. One of the more recent instances of this is The Chosen. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, From the Desk, Bruce Chilton discussed Mary Magdalene, offering insight into who she was, who she isn’t, and how she has been portrayed over time. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).
“In the celestial glory there was three heavens”
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 131 has had a huge impact on how we understand the afterlife. There is, however, some debate about a few key aspects of the text mean that also have implications for our fate in the afterlife, especially when it comes to marital status. Given the debates, it is probably best to observe a degree of humility about our knowledge of how the afterlife works.
The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, Revised Edition
Thomas Wayment’s The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, Revised Edition is an exceptional resource for anyone, and particularly a Latter-day Saint, interested in studying the New Testament from a fresh and modern perspective through its clear and readable translation, insightful commentary, and expanded introductory material. One of the standout features of this book is its readability. The translation is clear, easy to understand, and faithful to the original text. The text flows well and is not bogged down by archaic language or convoluted syntax, making it more accessible than, say, a 400-year old translation. In many ways, I also found it more accessible than the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (my usual go-to translation). Additionally, the commentary in the footnotes is insightful and enriching. Wayment provides helpful background information on cultural and historical contexts, as well as offering his own interpretations of certain passages. The footnotes are well-researched and thought-provoking, providing a deeper understanding of the text without being overly wordy or academic. The revised edition differs from the original in several ways. First, the revised edition includes upwards of two hundred updates and corrections to both the translation and the footnotes, taking into account recent scholarship to improve the accuracy of the translation. Second, the revised edition features expanded introductory material that includes discussions of the Joseph Smith Translation and on reading scripture, which were both interesting and helpful. Finally, the appendices detailing the instances in which…
Thomas Wayment on New Testament Canonization
An interesting point made by the late Eastern Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware is that the books that were selected to be contained in the Bible are a tradition that developed within and passed on by the Proto-Orthodox Church. The process by which that tradition solidified into official canon was a gradual (and messy) one. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, biblical scholar and BYU professor Thomas Wayment discussed that process of canonization of the New Testament (in connection with a chapter in Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints). What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). Now, a big part of the discussion revolves around the fact that it took several centuries to formally establish the Christian canon. As he states in the interview: One of the key points of conversation about the canon is the idea that it took several centuries for the church to firmly establish its own textual canon. The process was messy in many ways, and as one might expect, problematic statements were made about specific scriptural texts. It seems to me that much of the interest in this topic is to destabilize the notion of a binding scriptural canon because the process itself was not direct. Another problem in the conversation is that the duration of the conversation seems to give the impression that Christians were widely…
VIII. Catalyst theories of revelation
The previous posts have put us in the vicinity of catalyst theories of revelation, but none of the formulations that I’ve seen are adequate for describing the Book of Abraham translation, and I think “catalyst” is the wrong chemical metaphor.
VII. The GAEL and Linguistic Typology
The GAEL provides for a mode of interpretation that finds expansive (but not unlimited) meaning in seemingly simple characters. Zakioan-hiash, as we have seen, is both a name, a word with a specific phonetic realization, and the equivalent of at least one sentence.
VI. Non-Egyptian Linguistic Influences on the GAEL
Champollion – and Egyptian – aren’t the only influences on the GAEL.
V. The GAEL’s Degrees and the Structure of Abraham 1:2b-3
Two related features of the GAEL that have been the focus of the most controversy and puzzlement are how one character might represent much longer English texts, and the GAEL’s use of a five-fold system of degrees to expand a character’s potential meaning.
IV. The GAEL and the structure of Abraham 1:1-2a
In his 2009 article, Chris Smith argued for the textual dependence of the Book of Abraham on the GAEL. While Dan Vogel’s recent book about the Book of Abraham and related apologetics strenuously objects to any suggestion that the GAEL was reverse engineered from the translation of Abraham, Vogel nevertheless entirely rejects the basis of Chris Smith’s argument.
Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible
I’ve always wondered how well the talks of different general authorities translate to other languages. For example, I can imagine that a lot of the alliteration that a few apostles adopt in their addresses doesn’t carry over. And I know from my work on translating Spanish hymns that translating between languages is an inexact science and involves compromises to keep certain aspects of the original language – rhyme, meter, literal meaning of words, nuances conveyed in idioms, etc. It’s almost impossible to carry all of those together across from one language to another. Largely because of this, translations of the Bible have proliferated, with each trying to convey the meaning of the texts from the original languages in different ways. For example, Robert Alter’s English translation of the Hebrew Bible focuses on carrying the literary forms of the Hebrew texts. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Robert Alter discussed his translation. Robert Alter is a noted scholar who received his doctorate from Harvard University and is a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature. His doctorate was in modern comparative literature, but he noted in the interview that: “as an undergraduate I spent three years studying biblical texts rigorously with H. L. Ginsburg, one of the leading philological scholars of the Bible of his generation.” His familiarity with literary forms and biblical texts came together to lead to his translation: In the late 1970s I published…
III. What Joseph Smith Knew About Champollion
With the preliminary deliberations out of the way, it’s time for a close look at the GAEL.
II. What Joseph Smith Would Have Known About Champollion
Before we get to the heart of my argument – which is coming up next in a long post with a detailed look at what’s in the GAEL – we need to look at what Joseph Smith and his associates would have known about Champollion and the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics by 1835.
I. Putting the grammar back in GAEL
Scholars from seemingly every corner of Mormon Studies agree: While working on the Egyptian papyri, Joseph Smith and his associates were either unaware of Champollion’s recent work to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, or simply unaffected by the recent advances in Egyptology. Not only is this position untenable, it’s demonstrably incorrect.
What You Might Be Missing in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus
“Most readers of Matthew’s Gospel take one look at that first page full of ‘begats’ and impossible-to-pronounce names and quickly turn the page.” So begins Julie Smith’s thoughtful essay “Why These Women in Jesus’s Genealogy?”, which is available free of charge in the Segullah journal (2008) and is reprinted in her book Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels. “But,” Smith continues, “Matthew was a deliberate writer.” She goes on to highlight that among more than 25 men in Jesus’s line, Matthew includes just four women (plus Mary), and they aren’t the matriarchs, as one might have expected (such as Abraham’s wife Sarah or Isaac’s wife Rebekah). Rather, the women she includes are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Smith goes on to reflect on why Matthew may have included each of these women who were outside of the social mainstream in at least some way. Smith poses a range of hypotheses; readers can, of course, decide for themselves. I strongly recommend reading the (short, accessible) article yourself. But I’ll share two passages that I marked with exclamation points in my hard copy. “These women are, as Jesus is, intercessors: Tamar enables Judah’s line to continue; Rahab brings her family into the house of Israel; Ruth brings the Moabites into David’s line; and Bathsheba brings her son Solomon to the throne.” And one more: “Modern readers generally do this Gospel an injustice by skimming over the genealogy as if…
When Was Jesus Born?
When was Jesus born? While not consequential to our salvation or daily choices, it’s an interesting question to explore. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Jeffrey R. Chadwick discussed his research into the question: When was Jesus actually born? What follows here is a co-post to that discussion (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). When a non-expert Latter-day Saints approach the question of “When was Jesus born?”, they often draw upon a traditional interpretation of Doctrine and Covenants, 20:1 to claim that it happened on 6 April. Elder James E. Talmage’s widely read Jesus the Christ reinforces this interpretation. As Chadwick explained: Growing up as a Latter-day Saint boy, serving a mission, and entering service as a seminary teacher 45 years ago, it was axiomatic in our conversation that Jesus had been born on April 6th of 1 BC, as stated by Elder James E. Talmage in his classic work Jesus the Christ. … Generally, and also quite specifically, many Latter-day Saints take at face value the statement of Elder James E. Talmage that Jesus was born on April 6 of 1 BC, a position Elder Talmage linked to the passage in Doctrine and Covenants 20:1 which notes the organization of the Church on April 6 of 1830, being that many years since the “coming of … Jesus Christ in the flesh.” This seemed to Elder Talmage a specific dating tag…
Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints
The Maxwell Institute at BYU recently published Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints, and it is a fantastic journey into early Christianity geared specifically to Latter-day Saints. Through a collection of 14 essays dealing with topics ranging from praxis and worship to scripture and theology, the key elements of Christianity during its first several centuries (and beyond) are addressed in an accessible way. The discussions are punctuated by a large collection of artwork produced by early Christians, spread throughout the book in beautiful detail. When approaching Latter-day Saint writings about early Christianity, I’m generally concerned that it will be an effort to convince people that the ancient Church was identical to the modern one in a polemic effort to reinforce the traditional apostasy-restoration narrative. Ancient Christians quickly dispatched that concern, with Jason R. Combs discussing this at length in the introduction. He notes that: “rather than dismissing entire epochs as corrupt … today we work to understand ancient Christians on their own terms.” He added that: “We cannot assume that today’s Church is a template for what the first-century Church must have been, or vice versa. For that reason, in this book, our authors acknowledge the differences between ancient Christians and Latter-day Saints without automatically assuming such differences to be evidence of apostasy.” In this way, Ancient Christians both compliments and expands on some of the concepts discussed in Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy (Oxford University…
Susa Young Gates and Joseph F. Smith’s Vision
The vision that we have printed as Section 138 was received by Joseph F. Smith in the last few months of his life. Among the very first people he asked to have review the document was none other than his friend, Susa Young Gates. In one of the excellent essays presented in the Revelations in Context book, Lisa Olsen Tait talked about Susa’s experience with the revelation. More recently, Lisa Olsen Tait discussed more about Susa and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). Why was Susa one of the first people to read the vision? Part of it has to do with her personal friendship with Joseph F. Smith. As Tait described: Joseph F. Smith was over seventeen years older than Susa Young Gates. … They became friends in Hawai’i in 1885-87. Susa accompanied her husband, Jacob F. Gates, on a return mission to the Sandwich Islands, and their service overlapped with the time that Joseph F. Smith and his wife Julina were there, basically keeping a low profile during the anti-polygamy crusade. (Smith was a highly-wanted man due to his church leadership position and his knowledge of the records.) A few letters between them from that time survive, and, in my reading, evince a progression from friendly but formal acquaintances to deep…
Antipus, a Forgotten Hero
This is a guest post by Brian Stubbs. The faith, feats, and divine protection of the 2,000 stripling warriors is a favorite episode for many readers of The Book of Mormon. Yet a number of less-than-obvious details may muster even more admiration. The people of Ammon were called Anti-Nephi-Lehi (Alma 23:16-17), likely meaning ‘those of Nephi-Lehi’ (Book of Mormon Onomasticon, online; Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, Stubbs 2020, 101). The original adults covenanted never to kill again and were given protection within Nephite territories. With time, the Nephite burdens of war led to 2,000 Ammonite youths, teenage sons who had not entered into such a covenant, to volunteer for service. These 2,000 striplings asked Helaman, the son of Alma the younger, to lead them (Alma 53:19). From Middle English, the word stripling basically means ‘skinny teenager’; its dictionary definitions include ‘youth’, ‘adolescent’, ‘boy’, ‘young man’, ‘teenager’, etc. In earlier English, the -ling suffix referred to one of the category or quality of the preceding stem: compare yearling (one-year-old), underling (one serving under), hireling (one hired), earthling (one of earth). It also often referred to the young of whatever species: duckling (young duck), gosling (young goose). So stripling means one like a strip, a long narrow or slender youngster, not yet a fully filled out adult, though some of us overshoot the filling out part. Perhaps only as a matter of interesting trivia, stripling warriors is one of our…
To Ezra or not to Ezra…
Ezra is an important figure in the Hebrew Bible, but there are some concerns that have been raised over the historical record around him and some interesting places where he is missing in that record. In an interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, the Biblical scholar Charlotte Hempel discusses some of the theories and thoughts around Ezra, with a particular focus on the Dead Sea Scrolls. What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). One of the central questions in the debate is whether or not Ezra was an actual historical figure. Charlotte Hempel explained that: This is a great question and has been debated by scholars for centuries. Ezra appears in 6 chapters of the Hebrew Bible in Ezra 7–10 and Nehemiah 8 and 12. He is described as a priest, a skilled scribe who has his heart set on the study of the law and its promulgation among the people, as well as a social reformer. On the more radical end of the spectrum there are those, including C. C. Torrey, who suggest Ezra was a fictitious creation. For most scholars today Ezra is a historical figure whose literary record was amplified by subsequent authors and editors. There is a spectrum of thought on how accurate the records we have are in relation to Ezra’s life. Ezra and Nehemiah are portrayed as contemporary individuals,…