Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes

Here are a series of comments and postings I've done on a Facebook page (Mormons Talk | OT Bible Scholarship (Old Testament / LDS / Mormon)) for scholarly studies in Old Testament regarding several of the scrolls translated by the renowned scholar, Geza Vermes. It is "The Dead Sea Scrolls in English".

Image may contain: outdoor

With several people busy, and little happening with the OT text, and with upcoming holidays, etc. We're going to veer off the OT somewhat (although everyone is invited to still write posts on it), and begin discussing the non-Biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This group of writings from Qumran, on the edge of the Dead Sea, likely written by Essenes, will help us understand where the OT evolved to, and the world of Jesus, which was greatly influenced by Qumran, came from. Many scholars believe that when John the Baptist fled into the wilderness as a child, it was possibly with the Essenes of Qumran. There are strong similarities between John's and Qumran's teachings. We'll primarily be using Geza Vermes' The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. It is an easy translation to read and very popular. Other translations can also be used, of course.

A PDF of Vermes' book can be found here:…/Complete-Scrolls…

Some can also be found online, such as these links:

The scrolls include all the books of the OT except for Esther (the only book that does not mention the name of God), plus hundreds of other books, mostly in fragment form. While we may not cover all the books, we'll cover several of them, especially those that contain interesting information relating to restored teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The history of Qumran is generally believed to be a group of religious people living between 250 BC and 70 AD. There seems to have been two portions of this sect. One group contained normal people that lived in the cities and towns, marrying and living average lives. Then there were a sequestered group that lived in the desert of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. These people believed they were the legitimate priests and leaders of Judaism and the Temple, forced out by the Wicked Priest. Many scholars today believe that the Maccabees family, who kicked the Greeks out of Israel and took control of both the kingdom and temple, were those that supposedly removed the Essenes from power.

Among the sins of the Wicked Priest was a changing of the calendar, which changed the dates for holy days and festivals.

The original leader of the Essenes was called the Teacher of Righteousness, and has many prophetic qualities, as we shall see from some of the writings related to him and the community. The community saw themselves as the true order/church, and Hugh Nibley once noted that one DSS scholar noted that if the people had a name to call themselves, it would be "Latter-day Saints, but that name is already taken."

Here is an article from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

The scrolls were originally found in 1947, and were held close to the vest by a small cadre of scholars on the DSS translation team. Translations came very slowly. After decades, little of the translation had occurred. Then, in the early 1990s, Herschel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeological Review, started a movement to 'free the Scrolls.' Others joined in. There was an in depth index of each word in the scrolls, which was put into a computer to create texts of many of the scrolls, opening up much of the work to other scholars. Then, a college that maintained a copy of all the scrolls, released their copies. The DSS team was expanded, including some LDS scholars like Dana Pike, and the work was quickly completed.

Today, computers are being used to read texts that were unreadable before hand. Computers were useful to organize thousands of fragments, some the size of a thumbnail.

The DSS have revolutionized New Testament studies. In fact, the NRSV Bible uses the DSS translations in many cases, rather than the Masoretic (which the KJV is based on), or the Septuagint (Catholic Vulgate), as being more authentic/ancient.

We'll start with the first book in Geza Vermes' book, as it will help us understand the Community of the Essenes in Qumran. So, please start reading the Community Rule. I will next be posting something regarding the Community Rule and Nephi's Psalm that I studied several years ago, as a beginner.

Here's a link to a comparison I made several years ago between Nephi's Psalm (2 Ne 4) and a hymn in the Community Rule Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Vermes - DSS in English
More background regarding the Qumran people.

While most of the scrolls are general religious texts, there are a few that are specific to the Essene sect, generally believed to be the people at Qumran. Among these are the Community Rule, the Manual of Discipline, and the Damascus Document.

These separate the sect into at least two groups: the ascetic group found at Qumran, and those who dwell in families in the general population of Israel.

Besides the Essenes, the two other main factions were the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Essenes called these other sects Ephraim and Manasseh, representing the fallen Northern Kingdom of Israel, while the Essenes were the righteous of Judah.

After Alexander the Great died, he left his lands to his 4 generals to battle over. Israel, being in the middle, suffered much from the warring factions. the Seleucids especially, attempted to enforce Hellenism on Israel, placing a statue of Zeus in the temple and sacrificing pigs on the altar.
This started the Maccabean war, where the Maccabee family fought for decades, finally kicking the Greeks out. Jonathan Maccabee pronounced himself both king and high priest, even though he was not of the Zadokite line. This led many Jews to reject him as religious leader. The Zadokite priest Onias IV, fled with many followers and built a temple in Leontopolis, Egypt, with the Pharaoh's blessing. Others chose to remain in Israel and seek to regain the power over the temple. This included the Essenes, led by the 'Teacher of Righteousness.'

The history shows there was a Teacher of Righteousness, that organized the Essene movement. "Essenism is dead. The brittle structure of its stiff and exclusive organization was unable to withstand the national catastrophe which struck Palestinian Judaism in AD 70. Animated by the loftiest ideals and devoted to the observance of 'perfect holiness', it yet lacked the pliant strength which enabled Rabbinic Judaism to survive and flourish. And although its Teacher of Righteousness clearly sensed the deeper obligations implicit in the Mosaic Law, he was without the genius of Jesus who laid bare the inner core of spiritual truth and exposed the essence of religion as an existential relationship between man and man, and between man and God." (Intro).

Leadership-wise, Qumran had a system that is recognizable to Latter-day Saints.

"The highest office was vested in the person of the Guardian, known also as the 'Master'. The Community was to be taught by him how to live in conformity with the 'Book of the Community Rule, and to be instructed by him in the doctrine of the 'two spirits'....'In the Council of the community there shall be twelve men and three Priests, perfectly versed in all that is revealed of the Law, whose works shall be truth, righteousness, justice, loving-kindness and humility. They shall preserve the faith in the Land with steadfastness and meekness and shall atone for sin by the practice of justice and by suffering the sorrows of affliction. They shall walk with all men according to the standard of truth and the rule of the time.'

"These three priests and twelve men are referred to nowhere else, so we cannot be sure of their place in the Qumran orer. Their presence was obviously essential: the Ryle states that when 'these are in Israel, the Council of the Community shall be established in truth.'"

Entrance into the Community at Qumran was a long process, taking at least 2 years. After the first year, the initiate was allowed to partake of the Community meal. After the second year, the novice could then also drink the Community cup. Once fully accepted, the member's properties were amalgamated into the group's possessions. As Vermes notes, "entering the Covenant and entering the Community was not one act, but two." (pg 8). I think it would be similar to steps in the LDS Church - first baptism, then priesthood, and finally temple entrance, with then a focus on consecration.

'Kittim' is a term used in some of the sectarian scrolls for a giant nation that has to be dealt with. Most scholars today believe the Essenes viewed the Romans as the Kittim. "In its primitive sense, the word 'Kittim' described the inhabitants of Kition, a Phoenician colony in Cyprus. Later, the name tended to be applied indiscriminately to those living in 'all islands and most maritime countries' (Josephus, Antiquities I, 128). But from the second century BC, Jewish writers also used 'Kittim' more precisely to denote the greatest world power of the day." (pg 28).

Religion was based on the idea of 'the Covenant.'"Since the key to any understanding of Judaism must be the notion of the Covenant, it may safely be taken as an introduction to Essene religious thought." (p36).

Moses taught about the Covenant, as did Jeremiah and Isaiah. The Covenant was written on the hearts of true followers of God. Vermes notes:

"It was this same Covenant theology that served as the foundation of the Qumran Community's basic beliefs. The Essenes not only considered themselves the 'remnant' of their time, but the 'remnant' of all time, the final 'remnant'. In the 'age of wrath', while God was making ready to annihilate the wicked, their founders had repented. They had become the 'Converts of Israel.' As a reward for their conversion, the Teacher of Righteousness had been sent to establish for them a 'new Covenant', which was to be the sole valid form of the eternal alliance between God and Israel....Their intention was to do according to all that had been revealed from age to age, and as the Prophets had revealed by his Holy Spirit'." (pg 38).

Sound familiar? I don't think a better description could be given of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, either.

Vermes - DSS in English.
The Community Rule (1QS)

The document focused on rules for the cloistered Essenes at Qumran.

"No man shall be in the Community of His truth who refuses to enter the Covenant of God so that he may walk in the stubbornness of his heart, for his soul detests the wise teaching of just laws."
From the very beginning, we see that both Community and Covenant are at the core of the Community Rule scroll. For those who join the Community, they are promised:

"And as for the visitation of all who walk in this spirit, it shall be healing, great peace in a long life, and fruitfulness, together with every everlasting blessing and eternal joy in life without end, a crown of glory and a garment of majesty in unending light." (pg 65)

For me, this reminded me of the promises given in the temple, where we are clothed, promised a crown of glory, and eternal life.

Duality was important to the Essenes, what LDS would call an "opposition in all things." In this case, each person has two spirits within them, good and evil - what we call a battle between the "natural man" and the spiritual.

"The nature of all the children of the men is ruled by these (two spirits), and during their life all the hosts of men have a portion of their divisions and walk in both their ways. And the whole reward for their deeds shall be, for everlasting ages, according to whether each man's portion in their two divisions is great or small." (pg 66)

Their priests descended from Aaron's priest, Zadok. They followed "the authority of the sons of Zadok, the Priests who keep the Covenant....for the Community of the Everlasting Covenant." (pg 67)

A form of Sacramental meal was done daily:

"And when the table has been prepared for eating, and the new wine for drinking, the Priest shall be the first to stretch out his hand to bless the first fruits of the bread and new wine." (pg 69)
Initiates took two years to join the Community. After one year, they could partake of the meal, and after two years were considered full members, able to drink the wine.

"...he shall not touch the pure Meal of the Congregation until one full year is completed, and until he has been examined concerning his spirit and deeds....He shall not touch the Drink of the Congregation until he has completed a second year among the men of the Community." (pg 70)

The leadership was established like this:

"In the Council of the Community there shall be twelve men and three Priests, perfectly versed in all that is revealed of the Law, whose works shall be truth, righteousness, justice, loving kindness and humility. They shall preserve the faith in the Land with steadfastness and meekness and shall atone for sin by the practice of justice and by suffering the sorrows of affliction."
So, goes the Community Rule (1QS).

DSS in English, by Vermes
The Messianic Rule (1QSa)

The Messianic Rule is a short scroll fragment that talks about when the Messiah will come to rule. It speaks much about the sons of Zadok the priest, and the importance of purity.
At its end, we learn what the people should expect at the Messiah's coming.

"He shall come at the head of the whole congregation of Israel with all his brethren, the sons of Aaron the Priests, those called to the assembly, the men of renoun; and they shall sit before him, each man in the order of his dignity. And then the Messiah of Israel shall come and the chiefs of the clans of Israel shall sit before him, each in the order of his dignity, according to his place in their camps and marches. And before them shall sit all the heads of family of the congregation, and the wise men of the holy congregation, each in the order of his dignity.

"And when they shall gather for the common table, to eat and to drink new wine, when the common table shall be set for eating and the new wine poured for drinking, let no man extend his hand over the first fruits of bread and wine before the Priest, for it is he who shall bless the first fruits of bread and wine, and shall be the first to extend his hand over the bread. Thereafter all the congregation of the Community shall utter a blessing each man in the order of his dignity." ([g 102)

This is reminiscent of both the Sacrament we perform in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.

We also shall see a Coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ to the Church and Saints at Adam-Ondi-Ahman, where a special solemn assembly shall occur, probably including a Sacramental meal as described here.

DSS in English by Vermes
Damascus Document (CD)

This document was written probably around 100 BC, partially due to the fact that it does not mention the Kittim (Romans) invasion of a few decades later. The location of Damascus is believed to actually be Qumran, not the Damascus found in Syria.

It includes a history and a list of laws for the people of Qumran. Medieval copies have existed for over a century, with the Qumran fragments closely following Manuscript A. Manuscript B continues further after A finishes.

It begins with a history, beginning with the fall of Israel by the Babylonians, and the return from exile.

"And God observed their deeds, that they sought Him with a whole heart, and He raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart. And he made known to the latter generations that which God had done to the latter generation, the congregation of traitors, to those who departed from the way....when the Scoffer arose who shed over Israel the waters of lies. He caused them to wander in a pathless wilderness, laying low the everlasting heights, abolishing the ways of righteousness and removing the boundary with which the forefathers had marked outt their inheritance, that he might call down on them the curses of His Covenant and deliver them up to the avenging sword of the Covenant." (pg 83).

We do not know who the ToR or Scoffer are for certain. The ToR clearly was a leading prophet to the Qumran people, focused against the political turmoil of the day, which had replaced the Zadokite priests in the temple with the Maccabee family, and causing them to exile in the wilderness.

God is viewed as a kindly father to the righteous, but terrible to the wicked:

"God loves knowledge. Wisdom and understanding He has set before Him, and prudence and knowledge serve Him. Patience and much forgiveness are wit Him towards those who turn from transgression; but power, might and great flaming wrath by the hand of all the Angels of Destruction towards those who depart from the way and abhor the Precept."

The scroll discusses the history of the Watchers, divine angels/beings who fell from heaven due to iniquity. Often, these Watchers tempted mankind, misusing knowledge to advance music, science, weaponry, etc., in order establish their own order. In some writings, Watchers slept with human women and bore giants (such as the giants in Noah's day).

"Because they walked in the stubbornness of their heart the Heavenly Watchers fell; they were caught because they did not keep the commandments of God. And their sons also fell who were tall as cedar trees and whose bodies were like mountains. All flesh on dry land perished; they were as though they had never been because they did their own will and did not keep the commandment of their Maker so that His wrath was kindled against them. Through it, the children of Noah went astray, together with their kin, and were cut off. Abraham did not walk in it, and he was accounted a friend of God because he kept the commandments of God and did not choose his own will. And he handed them down to Isaac and Jacob who kept them and were recorded as friends of God and party to the Covenant forever." (pg 84)

Then it explains that Israel's children in Egypt disobeyed and were punished, even so that God had to leave them in the desert for 40 years. Those who were righteous, God made His Covenant with them.
"Those who hold fast to it are destined to live for ever and all the glory of Adam shall be theirs." (pg 85)

Many of their laws are then explained, the requirements to being pure and holy. While they are taught by a Teacher of Righteousness at the beginning of this group of Zadokite priests and Essenes at Qumran, they will await the arrival of two Messiahs, one a priestly Messiah, the other a ruler/king of Israel. Another possible reading is the Messiah of Israel could be a Messiah from the lost tribes or from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which no longer existed, but would possibly include a Messiah from the line of Joseph (who led Israel in the Northern Kingdom).

"None of the men who enter the New Covenant in the land of Damascus and who again betray it and depart from the fountain of living waters, shall be reckoned with the Council of the people or inscribed in its Book from the day of the gathering in of the Teacher of the Community until the coming of the Messiah out of Aaron and Israel." (pg90)

The first statutes tell us:
"He shall not swear by the Name, nor by Aleph and Lamed (Elohim), nor by Aleph and Daleth (Adonai), but a binding oath by the curses of the Covenant." (pg 91)

The Name is Yahweh. Using Greek letters (Greek was a major language of the area since Alexander the great conquered it), we get the letter AL for El or Elohim, and AD for Adonai (Lord, often used to replace the sacred name Yahweh).

Interestingly, they had a special regard for the mentally ill and disabled.

"No madman, or lunatic, or simpleton, or fool, no blind man, or maimed, or lame, or deaf man, and no minor shall enter into the Community, for the Angels of Holiness are with them." (pg 92)
A form of purification, very similar to modern baptism was part of the Covenant.

"Concerning purification by water: No man shall bathe in dirty water or in an amount too shallow to cover a man. He shall not purify himself with water contained in a vessel. And as for the water of every rock-pool too shallow to cover a man, if an unclean man touches it he renders it waters as unclean as water contained in a vessel." (pg 94)

At the end of the statues, we read:

"This is the exact statement of the statutes in which they shall walk until the coming of the Messiah of Aaron and Israel who will pardon their iniquity." (pg 99)

DSS IN English by Vermes
War Rule Scroll ((1QM)

No automatic alt text available.

The War Rule scroll envisions the final battle between the sons of light versus the sons of darkness.
"The sons of Levi, Judah and Benjamin, the exiles in the desert, shall battle against them in...all their bands when the exiled sons of light return from the Desert of the Peoples to camp in the Desert of Jerusalem; and after the battle they shall go up from there to Jerusalem" (pg 105)

Here, the Essenes are living in the desert of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. They are in exile, because the wicked among the Jews have cast them out of Jerusalem. They look to the promised day when they shall return to Jerusalem, and return to power in managing the temple and society in righteousness.

"The king of the Kittim shall enter into Egypt, and in his time he shall set out in great to wage war against the Kings of the north, that his fury may destroy and cut off the horn of Israel." (ibid)

The Kittim, in this instance, are the Romans. Essenes view them as being used by God to return them to power. The kings of the North are those representing the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who are representative of the apostates now controlling Jerusalem. Compare this description to what they call themselves: sons of Levi, Judah and Benjamin. The horn of Israel is the power of the Northern Kingdom, even though the Northern Kingdom was destroyed centuries before (721 BC), the wickedness of Jezebel and Ahab are now seen in the rulers of Jerusalem, and so the comparison.

"On the day when the Kittim fall, there shall be battle and terrible carnage before the God of Israel, for that shall be the day appointed from ancient times for the battle of destruction of the sons of darkness. At that time, the assembly of gods and the hosts of men shall battle, causing great carnage; on the day of calamity, the sons of light shall battle with the company of darkness amid the shouts of a mighty multitude and the clamour of gods and men to make manifest the might of God. And it shall be a time of great tribulation for the people which God shall redeem; of all its afflictions none shall be as this, from its sudden beginning until its end in eternal redemption." (ibid)

Essenes anticipated Armageddon, the final battles of destruction in the world. It will be a battle involving gods and men (Biblical Ragnarok?). In the end, after much carnage and death, God steps in to redeem the righteous, both temporally and spiritually.

There are seven major "lots" or events in the battle. Three of these are the sons of light bracing themselves and driving the enemy back, going into battle to "strike down iniquity."
"And in three lots shall Satan's host gird itself to thrust back the company of God. And when the hearts of the detachments of the foot soldiers faint, then shall the might of God fortify the hearts of the sons of light. And with the seventh lot, the mighty hand of God shall bring down the army of Satan and all the angels of his kingdom, and all the members of his company in everlasting destruction."

Note that the number seven is important in the War Rule, as it is in the Book of Revelation. Given both writings discuss battles between light and darkness, and some other similar points, it may be that the apostle John may have been influenced by Qumran writings prior to receiving his vision.
After the destruction of the wicked, the priests and others take their proper places in the temple order, offering sacrifices and performing the other temple ordinances.

The wars of destruction will be during a 35 year period, with six years total of heavy fighting, where all of Israel will be involved. The other years, portions of Israel will be selected for military duty.

The War Rule then details the divisions for war, what trumpet sounds to be used, and what will be written on the standards for battle. The scroll them goes into hymns, praising God and discussing his power in Creation, creating Adam, and how God has protected Israel through His might, giving examples of such protections (David and Goliath, etc). Finally, the hymns reference God for their day:

"Rise up, O Hero! Lead off they captives, O Glorious One! Gather up thy spoils, O Author of mighty deeds! Lay thy hand on the neck of thy enemies and thy feet on the pile of the slain! Smith the nations, thine adversaries, and devour the flesh of the sinner with thy sword!" (pg 117)
God is viewed as the Divine Warrior, the God of Battle. This is very similar to how David views God in Psalms.

Each lot of the war is then described in greater detail, while more hymns are sung for the triumphant Divine Warrior Yahweh.

Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Vermes
The Wicked and the Holy (4Q181)

Many of the scrolls which we'll be dealing with herewith will be fragments. This includes the Wicked and the Holy text from the 4th Qumran cave, the 181st scroll/fragment found (thus, 4Q181).

This short fragment begins by discussing those who join the "community of wickedness", which they will belong to "until wickedness ends." Afterward, it speaks of those who choose to join the holy community:

"In accordance with the mercies of God, according to His goodness and wonderful glory, He caused some of the sons of the world to draw near be counted with Him in the community of the gods as a congregation of holiness in service for eternal life and sharing the lot of His holy ones....each man according to his lot which He has cast for...for eternal life." (pg 159)

Here we see concepts that Latter-day Saints will recognize. Anciently, God (El Elyon) dwelt in his community of gods. Here, even mortals are invited to join Him in the community of gods. We view eternal life as different from immortality. Here they view it as not just dwelling in God's presence, but also being partakers of the community of gods, belonging to the congregation of holiness. How does one share the "lot of his holy ones?" By becoming as they are: gods.

Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Vermes
Songs for the Holocaust (Sacrifice) of the Sabbath (4Q400-407, 11Q5-6)

The fragments of this document deal with heavenly worship.

Vermes notes, "Although often obscure, the poems depict the celestial sanctuary, the throne-chariot, the various groups participating in the angelic liturgy; they also include the words of the benedictions sung by the seven archangels."

The book is inspired by Ezekiel, for the throne-chariot and the heavenly sanctuary. These two things are very important to Israel. Ezekiel was a prophet of the Diaspora. Judah was scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire. Most Jews believed that Yahweh was the God only in the Promised Land, and with the destruction of the temple, He was a God without a home, conquered by the gods of Nebuchadnezzar. Instead, Ezekiel sees God on a divine mobile throne/chariot (Merkabah). Yahweh is able to move with his people anywhere and provide for them (as he does for Daniel and others). But God had plans for a restoration, showing Ezekiel the plans for a new temple - which inspires Ezra, Nehemiah and others to return to build it.

"Praise the God of... the gods (elohim) of supreme holiness; in his divine kingship, rejoice. For he has established supreme holiness among the everlastingly holy, to be for him the priests of the inner Temple in his royal sanctuary, ministers of the Presence in his glorious innermost Temple chamber. In the congregation of all the gods (elim) of knowledge, and in the councils of all the spirits of God, he engraved his precepts for all the spiritual works, and his glorious judgements for all who lay the foundations of knowledge, the people endowed with his glorious understanding, the 'gods' who are close to knowledge...of eternity and from the fountain of holiness to the sanctuary of supreme holiness...priests of the inner Temple, ministers of the Presence of the most holy King...his glory."
"For he founded them for himself as the most holy, who minister in the holy of holies....he has established for himself as priests of the inner Temple, the most holy...of gods, the priests of the highest heights who are near to..."

Here we find key information about the Essene view of the temple. It is the place where God and his council of gods dwell. The Presence being the Shekinah, the holy power and presence of God. The dictionary defines Shekinah as: "The glory of the divine presence, conventionally represented as light or interpreted symbolically (in Kabbalism as a divine feminine aspect)."

In Proverbs 8, the Shekinah is defined as Wisdom/Sophia, and the consort of Yahweh. She was with God since the beginning, and was with him through the Creation and all things since. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees Mary as the Tree of Life, symbolizing Wisdom and the Shekinah, bringing forth the fruit of Jesus Christ (1 Ne 11-15).

The Heavenly consort of God would belong to his council of gods. The priests of the temple serve in the holiest of things before God (his Presence). The priests are established by God, to serve in the inner Temple, the Holy of Holies. Priests and gods work together under God.

"In the glorious name of God, the first of the sovereign Princes shall bless all the... with seven wonderful words blessing all their councils in his holy sanctuary with seven wonderful words, and he shall bless those who know the everlasting things."

The seven archangels or Princes each provide seven sacred words to those who enter into the Holy of Holies. These blessings vary with each Prince, the 2nd blesses "all those who exalt the King", the 3d blesses "all who are lifted up in knowledge", the 4th "He shall bless all the gods close to true knowledge", the 5th shall bless "all who eagerly to his will." The 6th blesses with 7 words "all who are mighty in wisdom." The 7th blesses "all the holy founders of knowledge." Seven is a special number, the number of completion or fulfillment. They are the seven sacred words that makes one complete.

"Praise the most high God (El Elyon), O you high among all the gods of knowledge....For he is the God of gods, of all the Princes on high, and the King of kings of all the eternal councils. By a discerning good-will expressed by the words of his mouth all the gods on high come into being."
As the Princes used special words to bless the holy ones, God uses special words in Creation. So, in Genesis 1, we see God speak and things come into being. Within the temple, God speaks through his priests and Princes and creates the gods. For me, this is reminiscent of Abraham 3, where the council of gods is formed by God.

"The sovereign Princes of the wonderful priesthood...the seven priesthoods in the wonderful sanctuary for seven councils of holiness...the Prince, the angels of the King in the wonderful dwellings. The knowledge of their understanding is for seven...Prince from the priest of the inner Temple."

Here we see there is more than one priesthood. Whether this means priesthoods, or offices in the priesthood, I cannot say for certain. Regardless, the Latter-day Saint view of three major priesthoods (Aaronic, Melchizedek, Patriarchal - all technically a part of the Melchizedek), or the offices: Deacon, Teacher, Priest, Bishop, Elder, High Priest, Patriarch, 70, Apostle, show levels of priesthood power and authority. For the Essenes, these are found within the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Councils were important to the Essenes and God, even as they are in LDS theology today.

"The gods praise him when they take up their station, and all the spirits of the clear firmament rejoice in his glory....When the gods of knowledge enter by the doors of glory, and when the holy angels depart towards their realm, the entrance doors and the gates of exit proclaim the glory of the King, blessing and praising all the spirits of God when they depart and enter by the gates....The fear of the King of gods is awe-inspiring to all the gods, and they undertake all his commissions by virtue of his true order..."

There are doors and gates in the Temple. Praises and special sayings given as the people/gods enter and exit the Holy of Holies. To me, it is reminiscent of the school of the prophets, placed in a holy building akin to a temple:

"129 Therefore, he shall be first in the house of God, in a place that the congregation in the house may hear his words carefully and distinctly, not with loud speech.
130 And when he cometh into the house of God, for he should be first in the house—behold, this is beautiful, that he may be an example—
131 Let him offer himself in prayer upon his knees before God, in atoken or remembrance of the everlasting covenant.
132 And when any shall come in after him, let the teacher arise, and, with uplifted hands to heaven, yea, even directly, salute his brother or brethren with these words:
133 Art thou a brother or brethren? I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant, in which covenant I receive you to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever. Amen." (D&C 88).

For the Essenes, the Temple was much more than just a place to offer burnt offerings and sacrifices. It was a place for the council of gods to meet with God and discuss Creation. It was the place for mankind to join the council as equals, being priests and princes to God. There, they would receive the special words of blessing and knowledge that would prepare them to become part of the god council.

Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes
Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen)

This scroll fragment discusses the early years of the descendants of Adam. Vermes explains that the Genesis Apocryphon discusses the miraculous birth of Noah, "whose father, Lamech, suspects that his wife has conceived by one of the fallen angels (Watchers). Her denials fail to convince him and he asks his father, Methuselah, to travel to Paradise and obtain reassurance from his own father, Enoch."

"Behold, I thought then within my heart that conception was due to the Watchers and the Holy Ones...and to the Giants."

The Watchers were believed to have been angels that were fallen. They fell in love with the women of earth and mated with them, their descendants being the giants that would challenge Enoch and Noah. Various scholars see this in different ways. Hugh Nibley suggested the Watchers were humans that took the secrets of God (from the Temple) and used them for their own purposes. This would include music, metal working, and clothing fashion (note in Genesis that these were some of the skills developed by the children of Cain). Other scholars suggest these were literally angels who fell to earth, similar to our belief that Satan and his followers were cast down.
Lamech adjures his wife "by the Most High, the Great Lord, the King of all the worlds and Ruler of the Sons of Heaven...."
to tell him the truth about Noah's conception.

Here we see the belief that God has created many worlds, and that there are a Heavenly Host or Divine Council that the ancients are aware of, with El Elyon/Elohim (Most High) at the head.
In another fragment, consisting of another chapter, Abraham speaks in the first person (as he does in the Book of Abraham):

"And I said, 'Thou art.....until now you have not come to the Holy Mountain."
It seems that in Abraham's time there also was a holy mountain where God dwelt. High places and holy mountains are important in Latter-day Saint theology, as holy spaces where man can see God face to face.

The Book of Abraham notes that Pharaoh was a descendant of Ham. In the Genesis Apocryphon, we also see the same belief:

"We passed through our land and entered the land of the sons of Ham, the land of Egypt."
While in Egypt, Abraham tells everyone that Sarah is his sister. The Pharaoh takes her to himself. The Pharaoh is scourged by God.

"The Harkenosh came to me (Abraham), beseeching me to go to the king and to pray for him and to lay my hands upon him that he might live, for the king had dreamt a dream.....So I prayed for him...and I laid my hands on his head; and the scourge departed from him and the evil spirit was expelled from him, and he lived."

Laying on of hands for healings is a pre-Christian belief.

Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes
The Testament of Amram (4Q Amram)

This highly fragmented scroll tells of events occurring in the life of Moses' father, Amram. He must deal with the Watchers (the fallen angels that oppose God), and is commanded by the chief Watcher, Melkiresha, to choose which of the Watchers he would worship.

Vermes notes that Melkiresha "also addresses the leader of the Army of Lifht, whose name has disappeared in one off the many lacunae (fragments). But it is highly probable that one of his 'three names' is Melchizedek, as will appear presently from the reading of the Melchizedek document."
IOW, Melchizedek (literally King of Righteousness) is one of God's names. This should be compared to the chief Watcher's name, Melkiresha, which means "King of Wickedness."

"I saw Watchers in my vision, a dream vision, and behold two of them argued about me and said....,'We have been made masters and rule over all the sons of men.' And they said to me, 'Which of us do you choose?'

As with Moses in the Book of Moses, when he looks upon them, he does not see glorious beings. Instead he describes them as vipers (like the snake in the Garden of Eden), with multi-colored garments (rather than white), and being very dark (rather than beings of light and glory).

The Watchers leave, and God comes to Amram. Amram then speaks with God. The fragmented scrolls tell us:

"And I said: 'My Lord, what...'
And He said to me, '...and all his (Malkiresh) paths are darkness, and all his work is darkness, and he see. And he rules over all darkness and i rule over all the light."

For me, this was very similar to Moses 1, where Moses sees Satan and the devil commands him to worship him. Moses does not see any glory or light in him, and rejects him. God then returns to Moses and explains the event. So, it seems that both Moses and his father had similar experiences.

Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes
The Heavenly Prince Melchizedek (11Q Melch)

Vermes notes this as a "striking first century B.C. document" that discusses the proclamation of liberty to the captives in the last days (Isaiah 61:1).

Vermes adds, "The heavenly deliverer is Melchizedek. Identical with the archangel Michael, he is the head of the 'sons of Heaven' or 'gods of Justice' and is referred to as Elohim and El."

"And this thing will occur in the first week of the Jubilee that follows the nine Jubilees. And the Day of Atonement is the end of the tenth Jubilee, when all the Sons of Light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek will be atoned for....For this is the moment of the Year of Grace for Melchizedek. And he will, by his strength, judge the holy ones of God, executing judgement as it is written concerning him in the songs of David, who said, Elohim has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement (Psalms 82:1)."

Here, Melchizedek is compared to God and that, like God, he will judge the righteous at the last day (symbolized by the 10th Jubilee). Note that Elohim has a divine council of gods, which includes Melchizedek as one of the heads.

We find out the following about the devil:
"Satan and the spirits of his lot who rebelled by turning away from the precepts of God....And all the 'gods of Justice' will come to his (Melchizedek) aid to attend to the destruction of Satan."
So Melchizedek is compared to Michael, who elsewhere is the one to destroy Satan.

"This is the day of Peace/Salvation concerning which God spoke through Isaiah the prophet, who said, 'How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who proclaims peace, who brings good news, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion: Your Elohim reigns.' (Isaiah 12:7). Its interpretation; the mountains are the prophets...and the messenger is the Anointed one of the spirit, concerning whom Daniel said, 'Until an anointed one, a prince (Daniel 9:25).'

Similar to the interpretation that Abinadi gives in the Book of Alma on this same passage by Isaiah, he also notes the prophets and Christ (the Anointed One) are the ones proclaiming peace.
"And your Elohim is Melchizedek, who will save them from the hand of Satan."

The name, Melchizedek, means "King of Righteousness." The prophet/king Melchizedek is a symbol of Jesus Christ. Melchizedek took a wicked people and made a holy city of peace (Salem) that was translated up to the city of Enoch (JST Genesis). Even today, Latter-day Saints call the priesthood after Melchizedek, even though its official name is the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. The prophet/king and the Prophet/King, both anointed and saviors of the people. For this purpose, Melchizedek is both symbolically and literally Elohim (God).

The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, by Geza Vermes
The Blessings (1QSb)

This scroll was originally attached to the Community Rule and Messianic Rule scroll.

Regarding this fragmented scroll, Vermes gives this explanation:
"The Blessings were to be recited by the Master or Guardian, and were, as it seems, intended for the Messianic Age, and perhaps for the ceremony of the institution of the new Community. It is however possible that they were actually used during the course of some liturgy anticipating and symbolizing the coming of the Messianic era. All the members of the Covenant are blessed first, followed by someone who seems to be the priestly head of the Community, the Messiah of Aaron. The next blessing is addressed to the sons of Zadok, the Priests (and Levites), and finally the Prince of the Congregation, the Messiah of Israel, is blessed. The rest of the document is lost."
A rite that focuses on two levels of Messianic priesthood/kingship. This is focused on the Messianic Age, or for us, perhaps the last days.

"The Blessing of the Prince....
May the Lord bless you from His holy Abode; may He set you as a splendid jewel in the midst of the congregation of the saints! May Me renew for you the Covenant of the everlasting priesthood; may He sanctify you for the House of Holiness! May He judge all the leaders by your works, and all the princes of the peoples by the words from out of your lips! May He give you as your portion the first-fruits of all delectable things; may He bless by your hand the counsel of all flesh!...For He has chosen you to...and number the saints and to bless your people...the men of the Council of God by your hand, and not by the hand of a prince....May you be as an Angel of the Presence in the Abode of Holiness to the glory of the God of hosts...May you attend upon the service in the Temple of the Kingdom and decree destiny in company with the Angels of the Presence, in common council with the Holy Ones for everlasting ages and time without end; for all His judgements are truth!...May He consecrate you to the Holy of Holies! For youa re made holy for Him and you shall glorify His Name and His holiness...."

Other blessings are also contained, promising strength to various leaders of the Congregation and for the Congregation as they remain holy.

Monday, December 24, 2018

2019 Come Follow Me Sunday School Intro

2019 Come Follow Me Sunday School Intro

By now, each of you should have received your Come Follow Me (CFM) for Families and Individuals. This will be the main study guide for members to prepare for the Sunday School classes.

Study for Chapter One begins next Monday, Dec 31! So now is the time to consider the preparation suggestions given in the manual.

Under the Introductory materials, it first establishes the key purpose for the new program. "Conversion is our Goal." While the in-depth research of scripture, history, science, and other fields are very important, none are as important as the things we can do to be fully and truly converted to Jesus Christ and his Restored Gospel and Church.

This is especially true in the current era we are entering. The American (and much of the world) view of things is increasingly pessimistic, doubting, and narcissistic. People are doubting the existence of God and Christ. People question the Restoration. For our children, it is a time of decision, as they must choose this day whether they will follow God or the gods of the world. More and more, we are losing many members of the Church to worldly issues that oppose prophetic teachings.

Worse, many of our traditions that are not actually doctrine, or may be symbolic teachings that may not be historic, are leading our children astray, because we insist on everything being literal. For example, the Creation story in Genesis 1 is based on ancient tradition of a flat earth created in 6-24 hour periods. If we insist on such a reading, then our children must decide what to believe, based on false assumptions. First, if one insists on a 6000 year old earth, then one must also accept the rest of the Creation's explanation are literal: a flat earth, surrounded by waters, with pillars that support a heavenly dome in which the Sun, moon and stars are set at the same distance from the earth.

We cannot save ourselves and our children anymore through mild efforts to know the gospel. And yet, WE are responsible for learning the gospel, not our Sunday School teacher. Sunday School teachers are a mixed bag, anyway. Some may be lucky enough to have Ben Spackman or Daniel Peterson as their teacher. Most, however, have someone who is as scripturally illiterate as the rest of the members sitting in the classroom.

Fortunately, there are many resources for actually learning to understand scripture, including this FB board, Mormon Interpreter, FairMormon, and several other free offerings. I posted several years ago on the old New Testament Sunday School lessons, and will provide links to some of those lessons as needed, as well.

The CFM manual offers some great suggestions to increase our scriptural knowledge, spiritual insight, and conversion. Here are the 11 suggestions, with my comments.

1. Look for Truths about Jesus Christ.
How can we follow Jesus, if we do not know him? The more we know, the better we can emulate him.

2. Look for Inspiring Words and Phrases.
Occasionally, we all need some inspiration.

3. Look for Gospel Truths.
In looking for gospel truths, I find more and more. Did you know that many of the great truths, covenants, and teachings of the endowment are found in the Book of Mormon, the Book of Revelation, and elsewhere?

4. Listen to the Spirit.
We've been promised the Constant Companionship of the Holy Ghost. But have we received him, as we were commanded to do at confirmation? How constant do we have him with us? Conversion requires that we learn to listen and recognize the Spirit's voice.

5. Liken the Scriptures to Your Life.
What good are the scriptures, if we cannot apply them in our own lives? They then are no better than a cheap romance novel that keeps our interest for a moment, and then are of no more use to us.

6. Ask Questions as You Study.
This is very important, otherwise you won't learn from the scriptures, how to liken them to your life, or learn new truths from them. Ask tough questions and then search for them. If you need help on this, perhaps the best books available with deep questions ready for your use are from James E. Faulconer, New Testament Made Harder -  (he has books for each of the 4 scriptures).

7. Use Scripture Study Helps.
One great study help is the LDS site: Feast Upon the Word, which has links to posts on the previous Sunday School lessons by several scholars (and me here at Joel's Monastery).

8. Record Your Thoughts and Feelings.
Perhaps one of the best ways to learn to listen to the Spirit is by stopping on occasion and recording the impressions the Spirit gives you as you pray, study scriptures, ponder, etc. You will find the CFM manual and other newer Church manuals have spots for you to stop, ponder, and write down your impressions. A new and popular thing is to have a personal or family study journal. It is like your daily journal, except this one is only for writing down spiritual impressions as you ponder.

I discuss this in more detail on my blog from a Sacrament talk I recently gave on the Holy Ghost.

9. Study the Words of Latter-day Prophets and Apostles.
This one may anger some of those who oppose our modern prophets and their teachings, but it is excellent advice. They can give us a modern prophetic view of our ancient scriptures and beliefs. We are a Church of continuing revelation, which means that modern revelation will move us forward, erasing past mistakes, and refining and expanding previous knowledge and understanding.

10. Share Insights.
I find that as I ponder the gospel, and then share it with others (family, friends, here on FB, etc), it increases my faith and conversion, as well as forces me to think and ponder that much harder on these things. I want to share quality ideas, which means I must learn to consider the things I learn from all sides. What I believe today is often very different from what I believed and understood when I joined the Church 43 years ago, or even 5 years ago. Why? Because God is expanding my understanding continually. Sharing with others allows them to share their thoughts back, and often I gain greater insight from seeing things from their point of view.

11. Live by What You Learn.
"Scripture study should not only inspire us—it should lead us to change the way we live. Listen to what the Spirit prompts you to do as you read, and then commit to act on those promptings."

So, buy yourself a study journal, read the introductory material, and get ready to share your spiritual insights that you gain from Come Follow Me and the New Testament in 2019!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Sacrament Talk: Roles of the Holy Ghost

The Roles of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost has many roles. Among these are:  Witness Member of the Godhead.

In a day of pessimism and disbelief, it is so very important for the Holy Ghost to bear witness of the Father and Son. To Nephi, the Spirit of God bore this witness:

“And the Spirit said unto me, Nephi: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?   I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.

“And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.” (1 Nephi 11:4-6)

As with Nephi, the Holy Ghost introduces us to the Father and Son. By knowing him, we get to know all of the Godhead.

Thirty years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson warned us about ignoring the Book of Mormon. Without it, we would fall under a curse. I believe that curse is a loss of belief and faith in Christ and his restored gospel. So many people seek for political and cultural solutions today, to problems that can only be solved by surrendering ourselves to the Lord.

In the Book of Mormon, both Nephi and Jesus teach us about the “Doctrine of Christ.” This doctrine is that the Godhead is one, and for us to be like them, we must become one with them. We do this by developing Faith in Christ, Repent, Receive Baptism and the other Ordinances, and Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. 

The Holy Ghost then promises to be our Constant Companion, as we stay pure and worthy of his friendship. But how do we learn to recognize the Holy Ghost in our lives? Of course, the main answers are prayer, fasting, scripture study, Church attendance and service. However, it isn’t just quantity, but also quality that counts. Members can attend Church weekly for decades and still slowly die spiritually sitting in the pews. 

So then, why do so many of us fail to have frequent spiritual experiences? Why is it so difficult to recognize the Spirit’s voice? The answer may be found in pondering these questions: what are we doing to have spiritual experiences with the Holy Ghost? How can he be a companion that is not only constant, but one that we see, feel, hear, and experience daily?

In the Church’s new programs, including the Come Follow Me program, we’re invited in each chapter to get to know the Spirit better. For example, in January's second lesson of the Come Follow Me family manual, it begins, “As you read and ponder Matthew 1 and Luke 1, record the spiritual impressions you receive. What doctrinal truths do you find? What messages will be of most value to you and your family?” It then provides several blank lines for us to record the impressions the Spirit seeks to give us. 

This process of learning, pondering and writing down the impressions the Holy Ghost gives us are also found in the Self Reliance courses, and other newer programs the Church is developing. I know of many members who are beginning to use a “study journal” to assist them to listen to the Holy Ghost, as they pray, study the scriptures, and listen to talks in Sacrament and General Conference. 

This is not a new idea. Nephi wrote for many years in what are called the Large Plates of Nephi. He included the wars and ordinary events of the people in them. But then he began writing his Small Plates, which only included the more spiritual and precious things of God. In these small plates, he recorded some of his father Lehi’s greatest revelations, as well as his own. When the Lord answered his prayers, he wrote those answers down.  When Isaiah’s words inspired Nephi, he not only wrote down Isaiah’s words, but he wrote down his impressions. He likened Isaiah’s prophesies to his own life and people. When he learned the Doctrine of Christ, he wrote about what it meant to him.
We can do the same thing. Instead of a daily diary or social media entry that details what we ate for breakfast or the movie we watched, we can spend a few minutes every day pondering the things of God, and allowing the Holy Ghost in to teach us what God would have us know and do every day. In pondering and writing such impressions down, we invite the Holy Ghost to be our constant companion, and learn to recognize the still small voice.

Since becoming prophet less than a year ago, Pres Nelson and other General Authorities have reminded us several times that we are nearing the Millennium. We truly are in the last days. As such, the prophecies state men’s hearts will turn cold as they listen to evil spirits. Our testimonies cannot survive the not so subtle temptations and loud voices on social media, television, and elsewhere. Our previous mild efforts towards spirituality may not be sufficient to carry us through the last days. We have prophets inviting us to fast from social media, read the Book of Mormon daily, and refocus our efforts on having the Holy Ghost with us.  

The Spirit is the great Gift Giver, as well. The scriptures note many of the gifts available from the Spirit, including revelation, miracles, healings, tongues, and prophecy.

Brigham Young’s counselor, George Q. Cannon noted this about the gifts of the Spirit:

” We find, even among those who have embraced the Gospel hearts of unbelief. How many of you, my brethren and sisters, are seeking for these gifts that God has promised to bestow? How many of you, when you bow before your Heavenly Father in your family circle or in your secret places, contend for these gifts to be bestowed upon you? How many of you ask the Father, in the name of Jesus, to manifest Himself to you through these powers and these gifts? Or do you go along day by day like a door turning on its hinges, without having any feeling on the subject, without exercising any faith whatever; content to be baptized and be members of the Church, and to rest there, thinking that your salvation is secure because you have done this? I say to you, in the name of the Lord, as one of His servants, that you have need to repent of this. You have need to repent of your hardness of heart, of your indifference, and of your carelessness. There is not that diligence, there is not that faith, there is not that seeking for the power of God that there should be among a people who have received the precious promises we have.....
“I feel to bear testimony to you, my brethren and sisters, ... that God is the same today as He was yesterday; that God is willing to bestow these gifts upon His children.... If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections. If I am an angry man, it is my duty to pray for charity, which suffereth long and is kind….So with all the gifts of the Gospel. They are intended for this purpose. No man ought to say, "Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature." He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. If a man lack wisdom, it is his duty to ask God for wisdom. The same with everything else. That is the design of God concerning His Church. He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose He gives these gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth, notwithstanding their many weaknesses, because God has promised to give the gifts that are necessary for their perfection.” (Millennial Star, 23 Apr. 1894, 260)

We must fervently seek the intense baptism of fire and the Spirit on a daily basis. Read, pray, and ponder the things of God.  The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, promised to us as a constant and trustworthy companion, if we but develop that relationship with purpose and effort.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Book Review: The Expanding Canon

Book Review: The Expanded Canon, Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts

Edited by: Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, and Boyd J. Peterson

The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts

This is the first in a planned series of volumes, looking to expand our understanding of the LDS canon and related documents. For those familiar with the Joseph Smith Papers Project will understand, the development of modern scripture is quite complex – even in Joseph Smith’s day. We often do not know the underpinnings that create or influence the documents we hold sacred, including the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and the proclamations and official statements made by the First Presidency and Twelve over the almost 200 years of the Church’s existence. We will see that the Expanded Canon, vol 1, takes a hearty stab at expanding our understanding of events and actions that impacted our perception of sacred scripture today.

The Expanded Canon consists of the following chapters:
  1. The Triangle and the Sovereign: Logics, Histories and an Open Canon, by David Frank Holland
  2. Beyond the Canon: Authoritative Discourse in Comparative Perspective, by Brian D. Birch
  3. On the Literal Interpretation of Scripture, by James E. Faulconer
  4. Reading Women Back into the Scriptures, by Claudia L. Bushman
  5. The Book of Mormon as Post-Canonical Scripture, by Grant Hardy
  6. Reading from the Gold Plates, by Richard Lyman Bushman
  7. History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Gold Plates, by Ann Taves
  8. “The Book Which Thou Shalt Write”: The Book of Moses as Prophetic Midrash, by David Bokovoy
  9. The Ascendancy and Legitimation of the Pearl of Great Price, by Brian Hauglid
  10. Pivotal Publishing Moments for the Book of Mormon, by Paul C. Gutjahr
  11. Relishing the Revisions: The Doctrine & Covenants and the Revelatory Process, by Grand Underwood
  12. Spiritualizing Electronic Scripture in Mormonism, by Blair G. Van Dyke
  13. The Art of Scripture and Scripture as Art: The Proclamation on the Family and the Expanding Canon, by Boyd J. Peterson and David W. Scott
  14. Patriarchal Blessings in the Prophetic Development of Early Mormonism, by Gordon Shepherd and Gary Shepherd
Among Latter-day Saints, we find that the terms “Doctrine,” “Canon,” and “Scripture” do not always stand for the same thing. Canon is scripture, but is scripture always canon? So the editors note in their well thought-out and developed Introduction:
“At present, Latter-day Saints relate to their canon in ways similar to other traditions. It is carefully regulated within the confines of ecclesiastical structures, and there is a clear line of demarcation between the Standard Works and other authoritative texts within the Church. However, canon and scripture have been neither synonymous nor co-extensive within LDS discourse.”
An example of this is the Proclamation on the Family. Yes, it is considered scripture, but is it canon (like the Standard Works)? The editors give the example of President Benson’s “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” They note that President Benson noted that “the living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.” Meanwhile, other leaders, such as Elder Bruce R. McConkie and President Joseph Fielding Smith, taught that the teachings of apostles and prophets must be viewed from the strict confines of the Standard Works. Meanwhile, George Q. Cannon and others insisted that all teachings of the leaders must be confirmed by the Holy Ghost to each individual. Which holds precedence?

Other issues are noted within the Introduction, such as Joseph Smith’s translation process. Today we find the term “translation” does not fit the activity very well. They explain that scholar Kathleen Flake suggested it being more of “an interpretive response to the text.” In many instances of Joseph Smith’s translating, he “appeared more interested in preserving the meaning of the revelation rather than the language.”

In chapter one, David Frank Holland explains the triangle of authoritative power that exists in Christian religion. Which has greater power: the scriptures, the living representative of Christ, or the Holy Ghost’s inspiration? For Protestants, who do not have a prophet or Pope to guide them, they generally claim the authority comes from the Bible.
However, for Catholics and Latter-day Saints, the issue becomes more sticky. Holland notes that for Catholics there is a continual struggle between the infallibility of the Pope on doctrinal issues, and what the scriptures say. Most often, scripture tends to win out.

For Latter-day Saints, there is a continual tension between the three elements of the Triangle. Never is there a time when one element always trumps the other two. Talks from leaders (as noted in the Introduction) speak authoritatively about gaining ones own testimony through the Holy Ghost, or always following the living prophet, or having the scriptures as the foundation for all revelation. At times it seems one wins out. Holland shows how the balance works in the Latter-day Saint Church, as even prophetic statements can only be canonized (made part of the Standard Works) by a sustaining vote of the people, who are expected to gain their own witness through the Holy Ghost.

In “Beyond the Canon,” Brian D. Birch discusses what constitutes binding scripture. He notes historically the views of other religions, especially of the Catholic faith that believes in private versus public revelation. All revelation regarding salvation has been received, but people and the Pope may receive inspiration on all other matters.

Birch notes that not all revelations in the Church are written down and canonized, that the Church is continually receiving revelations for the direction it may go day by day. Not every statement by a General Authority is doctrine, as Elder D. Todd Christofferson noted in 2012, “A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.”

We learn that even when mistakes enter into the Church, the blessing of continual revelation tends to eliminate those errors eventually. Birch gives the example of the priesthood ban. “It is clear that many leaders of the church agonized over these issues, and there is evidence of considerable disagreement within their ranks.” He notes that President McKay wanted to overturn the priesthood ban in the 1950s, but the leadership could not reach a consensus on it, leaving it for President Kimball to successfully attempt it again two decades later.

James Faulconer is one of my favorite living philosophers. In his chapter, he proclaims, “My thesis is that all scripture should be read literally, perhaps only literally.” He then goes on to explain exactly what he means by this: “we have to ask what we mean by the word ‘scripture’….it isn’t obvious what it covers and what it does not.” This does not mean we are forced to believe in an earth that was created in only 6 days. But in reading it literally, we understand better what the ancient people believed. He begins to unpack the term “scripture” and then does the same for the word, “history.” An excellent discourse that can help all readers learn how to critically examine the sacred texts.

The only chapter that disappointed was Ann Taves’ attempt to redirect historian claims regarding the Gold Plates. Taves briefly notes previous attempts by mostly non-LDS historians to explain the Gold Plates, notably Dan Vogel’s efforts to call Joseph Smith a “pious fraud.” He claimed that Joseph believed in his message so much, he was willing to commit fraudulent acts, creating the plates himself and using mass hypnosis to convince others of his claims.

In her article, Taves seeks to smooth out the claim that Joseph was a fraud. She still insists he created the plates, but for different reasons. She notes a couple statements by the witnesses of the gold plates that suggest the experience was not a literal/material experience, but only a spiritual event. In doing this, she conveniently ignores the dozens of statements that are very clear that the witnesses touched the plates, turned the pages, hefted them, and knew they were real. They saw they were made of gold, or some similar metal, not the brass that Taves suggests. Interestingly, Professor Daniel C. Peterson recently posted a very strong witness that Martin Harris shared with a friend, showing it was both material/literal and spiritual.

Taves attempts to compare Joseph’s experiences with the Catholic mass, where the bread and wine literally turn into Christ’s body:
“Smith’s logic, however, may have been less like an adept deceiving his subjects and more like a Catholic priest making Christ present in the Eucharistic wafer. In the first case, the adept knowingly misleads his viewers, albeit for their own good. In the second, a priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
“Comparison of the golden plates and the Eucharist allows us to consider the possibility that Smith viewed something that he made–metal plates–as a verhicle through which something sacred–the ancient golden plates–could be made (really) present.”
In such a twist of logic, she doesn’t explain how the priest manages to have Christ’s body (or a relatively good replica of it) suddenly appear in place of the wafer as the person partakes of it. She makes Joseph a sincere, but still, pious fraud.

My favorite article was by Claudia L. Bushman, “Reading Women Back into the Scriptures.” She notes the dearth of information regarding women in scripture. There’s a little on Eve, Ruth, and Sariah, but not much else. The New Testament also mentions women as missionaries and leaders of the early Church. Bushman asks,
“But where are the letters of Priscilla and Phoebe? Did they write letters of encouragement to the members in far-flung branches? Could they write? Were their letters lost? Were they not preserved as Paul’s were? Why did the Christian women not write, and if they did, where are their letters?”
Thankfully, many pioneer women did write. Bushman encourages us to look at their diaries and journals as new forms of scriptures, written by amazing women. She shares a laundry list of women writings that should be elevated to greater use and acclamation by all Church members, including the Relief Society Meeting Minutes, Eliza R. Snow’s poetry (including her hymn, O My Father, that testifies of a heavenly Mother), and Lucy Mack Smith’s history of her son, Joseph Smith.

Perhaps Bushman’s greatest notion is a challenge she makes to all modern Latter-day Saint women: create new scripture. Their lives, actions, thoughts, spiritual experiences, and beliefs should be recorded and shared with family and others, so that their words may impact generations to come. 

This was very welcome to me, as I recently re-read my 4g-aunt’s history of her father’s family joining the Church in Canada and joining the saints in Nauvoo, just in time to cross the Great Plains. Reading her words is like hearing an inspiring symphony, at times bringing me up to exalted heights, only to plunge me into tears at tragedy. I welcome such a challenge as we receive from Claudia Bushman.

I highly recommend the other articles, as well. They are thoughtful, discussing interesting and important things we do not normally consider, such as: how Joseph used a team of trusted members to organize, update, correct, and sometimes even rewrite portions of the revelations going into the Doctrine and Covenants, as long as the meaning of the revelations stayed intact.
You’ll learn to appreciate the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and other proclamations, as you see how the “translation” process is followed by efforts to make better the revelations that came from the Spirit, often not as words, but as pure heart felt meaning.

I have no doubt that as this series continues, it will become a classic set for families to read and discuss, helping them to better understand the actual texts they study in their daily routine as Latter-day Saints.

Now Available at:
Greg Kofford Books