Scriptural historicity: not taking it too literal

In Gospel Doctrine and Essentials classes, we are discussing Creation, Falk, etc.

Fundamentalist Christians, which includes some Mormons, insist on literal historicity of all scripture,, including the early chapters of Genesis. This causes clashes with science on various issues, including creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing), evolution, and the age of the earth.

I have no problem with people have personal beliefs regarding any of this. For me, the problem lies in picking and choosing what will be taken literally/historically and what isn’t.

For example, many Young Earth Creationists (YEC) demand we believe in a 6000 year old earth, with dinosaurs dying in the Great Flood or a deception placed in the soil by Satan. Most of the YEC are not consistent, however. Genesis 1 is based on a flat earth, domed above by an expanse of water, with the lights (Sun, moon and stars) planted into the revolving dome. Surrounding the land are the oceans. Below or underneath, one finds another expanse of water and Sheol. All of this was supported on great pillars connecting earth and sky.

If we are to reject a 14 billion year old earth, evolution and other science because of a literalistic view of Genesis 1, should we not also reject a round earth that revolves around a Sun that revolves around a galaxy of 200 billion stars (many of them billions of years old), etc.?

Shouldn’t we question the claims that men have walked in space and on the moon, and sent Voyager I outside our solar system, beyond the thin expanse of sky and into the great waters above, according to ancient belief?

Do we ignore the consistent dating given by science via various methods of measurement? What about living trees that exceed 6000 years of life (ring counts) by thousands and even tens of thousands of years? Did Satan plant those trees, as well as dinosaur bones in order to deceive us? Where exactly in scripture does it teach us about such deceptions? Or is it all speculation based on a poorly understood teaching God gave to ancient peoples, not to teach them history and science, but to give them a symbolic beginning.

The Creation describes God’s creation of a cosmic temple. Ancient temples, whether Solomon’s, Baal’s, Zeus’, or of any other god, represented the cosmos and Creation. Many ancient cultures had a sacred Year Rite, where the king (sometimes also including his people) would be enthroned in the temple as a divine son of God. Some enthronement psalms suggest the Israelites also practiced the Year Rite.

The focus was not on a literal history, but on important symbols that connected man with God.

I believe much of the Bible to be based on historical peoples, though the stories may be based on myth and symbols, rather than actual history. I believe the same of the Book of Mormon, knowing Mormon was writing on things that occurred centuries before, and seeking to make sense of things unknown to him personally (would Mormon’s Book of Lehi contain many Hebrew culture ideas and views, vs Mesoamerican cultural understandings)?

It is good the LDS Church has no official position on evolution, creation, dinosaurs, etc. It allows each of us to determine for ourselves what we choose to believe. The scriptures can hold greater spiritual power for us, as we focus on what is spiritually important. And we don’t have to pick and choose on the exactness of historicity of scripture – forcing us to believe in a flat earth simply because ancient traditions held them.



Ancient Mayan cities uncovered with laser technology in Mesoamerica

Mesoamerica is a possible location for the Book of Mormon.   (Reminder:  the Book of Mormon does not say where in the Americas it takes place, and faith in the Book of Mormon should not depend on one physical location or another).  But, interestingly, scientists using laser technology have discovered massive networks of Mayan cities.

Researchers have found more than 60,000 hidden Maya ruins in Guatemala in a major archaeological breakthrough.

Laser technology was used to survey digitally beneath the forest canopy, revealing houses, palaces, elevated highways, and defensive fortifications.

The landscape, near already-known Maya cities, is thought to have been home to millions more people than other research had previously suggested.

The researchers mapped over 810 square miles (2,100 sq km) in northern Peten.

Archaeologists believe the cutting-edge technology will change the way the world will see the Maya civilisation.

“I think this is one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology,” said Stephen Houston, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Brown University.

Read the story and come to your own conclusions.


Finding the Lost 116 Pages

I adore Don Bradley. His scholarship is precise, his efforts are extensive, and he has been generous to me personally. Don is currently completing his Master’s Degree at USU.

Today’s LDS Perspectives podcast allows us to hear from Don Bradley regarding his work on Joseph Smith’s translation efforts and what we can know about the contents of the lost 116 pages (or more accurately, the lost pages that contained information corresponding to the first 116 pages in the original Book of Mormon as published).

I’ll come back later and expand this post to include pretty pictures and stuff, but for now, go to LDS Perspectives and listen to Don.

Brigham Young on the Word of Wisdom

This post is thanks to a comment from Zander Sturgill on other social media.

An interesting quotation attributed to Brigham Young that I had never seen before: “Some of the sisters and some of the brethren will say that tea and coffee is not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom, but hot drinks. As if this doesn’t refer directly, perfectly, absolutely, definitely and truly to that which we did drink hot. What does it allude to? What did we drink hot? Tea and coffee. When we made milk porridge, it was food. We couldn’t wash it down red hot the way we drank down tea. It alludes to tea and coffee or whatever we drank. I said to the Latter-day Saints at the annual conference of 6 April that the spirit whispers to me for this people to observe the Word of Wisdom. Let the tea and coffee and tobacco alone, whether they smoke, take snuff and chew, let it alone. Those that are in the habit of drinking liquor, cease to drink liquor.” Brigham Young Tooele in 1867 (Reported by Gerrit Dirkmaat on LDS Perspectives podcast, PhD in history in 2010 from the University of Colorado. He worked as a historian/writer for the Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSP) from 2010 to 2014. He was coeditor of Documents, Volume 1 and lead editor of Documents, Volume 3. He is now an assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU)

What “tea” could BY be referring to in the 19th century?  In those days, there really was only one kind of tea, and that was from the camellia sinensis plant, which produces black tea, green tea, white tea and yellow tea.

Teas that do not come from the camellia sinensis plant are presumably not part of the word of wisdom.  For example, mint tea comes from a different plant, as does chamomile tea.

(This post is not intended to tell anybody else how they should practice the Word of Wisdom.   That is between you and God.)


The Book of Abraham with John Gee

Kurt Manwaring and respected Egyptologist John Gee sat down to talk about the Book of Abraham in an interview posted on Kurt’s website today. Kurt has allowed us to cross post a portion of that interview here at M*.

John Gee is author of An Introduction to the Book of Abraham. Gee is Mormon and shares his thoughts and experiences regarding the intersection of faith and scholarship. (Image of John Gee courtesy of BYU Religious Studies Center)

Kurt Manwaring: Welcome. Before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got interested in Egyptology?

John Gee: I had never heard of Egyptology until I got to college. My freshman year, my brother and I stumbled across a book in the bookstore on learning hieroglyphs. There were two copies and so we each got one. I read it and got interested in the subject. He read it and went into something more useful.

Kurt Manwaring: What role did your Mormon faith play during the pursuit of your doctorate at Yale? Did it ever cause problems or open doors?

John Gee: In certain cases, being a faithful Latter-day Saint opened doors. More often it has caused problems.

For example, when I first got to Yale, it took me a while but I finally found a place to stay. After about a week, the fellow who owned the apartment, one of the Yale faculty, found out I was a Latter-day Saint and kicked me out for that reason.

A couple of weeks later I got a letter. Just before going to Yale I had participated at an international conference. My paper was decently received but the letter was from the editors of the proceedings volume rejecting my paper on the grounds that I was a member of the Church.

Such attitudes are still prevalent in academia and I still encounter them with some frequency.

Years ago, Elder [Neal A.] Maxwell warned that “the Saints—meaning you and I—must not make the mistake of assuming the existence of any truce between the forces of Satan and God. To believe so, . . . is a very great delusion, and a very common one.”

Given my own experience and Elder Maxwell’s warning, I do not think this kind of thing is going to go away.

Kurt Manwaring: Did you work with Hugh Nibley? How would you describe him to those today who do not know who he is? Continue reading