Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Goodbye Kolob, I leave now bound for other stars. Your concern is misplaced, I shall return at some (unspecified) future time. I will be at Slightly Moderated Stream of Consciousness if you need me. Thank ye.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

autobiographica, 1 Nephi 1.2

check out Savage Chickens why dontcha

where we've been:

Nephi's parents were rich, which afforded him advanced educational opportunities.

where we are and where we're going:

Before the Da Vinci Code begins we are informed that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." would it have been so popular without such a bold truth claim to start with? We can (almost) say in all honesty that it would not have been as precisely popular (maybe more, maybe less, but I'm guessing less) as it is or was without its provocative introduction. Joseph Goebbels famously said "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." The Da Vinci Code is less accurate or true with respect to the secret organizations that it references than its preamble may have lead us to believe (according to one thing I read once on the internet somewhere, my scholarship is almost as good as what I'm accusing Dan Brown of here). I'm not saying that the BoM is the greatest fraud to be perpetrated on the American continent. That accusation has been levelled several times through the years. I'm not looking to lend my voice to that chorus.

What I am saying is that claims of the magnitude that we're talking about always tend to attract an audience. The BoM goes much further than the Da Vinci Code ever did and the results have been nothing short of controversial. People want to know is it real? Could it be real? It's comforting to think that there's something bigger than us out there. The central conceit (I use this term loosely) of the Book of Mormon is that there is a God, his name is Jesus, and he's got contacts all over the earth, sometimes they even write about him. This is the Latter-Day Saints reply to perhaps the most important question ever asked: Is there God? 

Skeptics would have us believe otherwise, Scottish philosopher David Hume offered this rhetorical series of questions as an answer: "Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is he evil?" casting doubt on the benevolent Deity concept all together. Nephi acknowledges that the whole God thing is a mysterious enterprise. But he's here for us, ready to unravel some of that mystery. Point number one I suppose is that there is no correlation between being favoured of God and avoiding suffering (As the Buddha reminds us, as if we could forget "life is suffering"). We are assured that this account is true that it is not a work of fiction and that it will elucidate the true nature of God. Imagine a religion where their sacred text consisted of one question and one answer. Is God real? Yes! Things just aren't that simple. How can you have a God without metaphysics? I'm sure there will be plenty on offer here. So, the journey begins in a very simple way, a rich boy, Nephi, writing in his journal about his life, which will teach us, according to the author, about God. Teach on teacher.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

dear diary, Nephi 1.1

This is like tearing out my own nails with a rusty pair of pliers, or it could be that I'm just in a bad mood. I haven't even started and I'm already burnt out. Where was I...

When you meet someone for the first time it's polite to introduce yourself. Apparently barbaric ancient societies weren't above this obligatory kindness. Nephi gets us started with something in this vain and proceeds to tell his life story. Brace yourself. The whys, the hows and the what fors are all accounted for in the first few verses. It's probably helpful to remember that the book was not written in verses originally, as a point of fact, neither was it written in English, the soup of the day was reformed Egyptian. Don't get me started (prepare yourself for a post about this lost language very soon).

Who was this Nephi and what gave him the right to go around making up his own languages? Well, if we cheat and skip ahead we find that Nephi was the son of a well-to-do "visionary" man, who had a joyous surplus of gold, silver and precious things stashed away. A popular children's song in the LDS faith proudly proclaims that we like Nephi of old are "born of goodly parents." I have a feeling that the song is assessing the moral character of his (and our) parents and not their financial status, while I'm almost certain that the former is what Nephi had in mind when he carved out his freshly concocted characters on metal sheets. This embarrassment of riches allowed for an education in the "learning of his father", which included, but was not limited to "the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians", confirming the truism that free education only occurs in Europe. Given the extra time afforded by being uber rich, with a dearth of drugs, TV, and other less than constructive recreational options, I too would probably make up a lot of stuff and/or write in my journal.

More tomorrow. If you're lucky and I'm good...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The BoM: Title page, paragraph 2

"An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ." -- Moroni or Mormon

Hold the phone there's a third group that make an appearance, the people of Jared, an off-shoot of the famed tower of Babel debacle. We get a light sprinkling of their dealings with God and each other. Take a look at the table of contents, and unless my math is wrong which is often the case, of the 531 pages in the BoM, 31 are dedicated to the Book of Ether (which is an abridged record of said peoples' history). That's roughly 5 percent, not the largest morsel on offer, but still important enough to garner a special mention on the title page and hopefully tasty all the same.

The account of the people of Jared then, no matter how sparse, requires special consideration, then again so does the entirety of the BoM as the final sentences of this paragraph goes on to explain. You've got to love the vagaries of the English language "which is to show" (highlighted above) functions as an indexical here and like all bad indexicals it's not immediately obvious what it is referring to (or maybe I'm just being obtuse). It could mean that the record of the people of Jared, or the confusion of languages at the tower of babel, but most likely that the record which constitutes the Book of Mormon is or was written to illustrate that Jesus is God (an interesting idea that will be explored in another post) and the anointed of God and that He will manifest this fact to the world.

I am therefore left to use the discernible intent of the author as the lens by which I go about my (for lack of a better word) deconstruction/commentary/annotation of the BoM. Moroni's purpose was to show the divinity of Jesus and His interactions with the people in the BoM. Lets see where that takes us.

Friday, March 27, 2009

BoM title page 1.1 dead prophets complex

There was a time when giants walked the earth and men lived close to a thousand years. Those days are gone. Literalists may see this as a natural consequence of a fallen world. There are alternative scientific explanations, of course, for why the aforesaid may or may not have occurred, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. The supernatural displays of power in the bible are legion, take for instance the Hebrews who were delivered out of Egypt by Moses on the back end of a series of miracles sponsored by God. Was the record that made it down to us documented in "real time" or was it simply the product of Mythic Imagination? In other words was the parting of the Red Sea a current event (something that could be recorded for the local news if they had cameras back then) or was it more of a dream time story. The answer is left to the faith and disposition of the reader.

To keep things interesting let's say you opt for: it's true. A bold move. In my heart of hearts I like to think so too. The difficulty is that nobody sees, as far as we are aware, the frequent violations of the laws of nature in our modern/post-modern world on the grand scale that they did in ancient times. Why the disparity in Acts of God between then and now? A number of factors could account for this (remembering that we're assuming the miracles reported happened):

  • This is a sign seeking and/or adulterous generation
  • The collective level of faith today is insufficient to draw upon the powers of heaven
  • Our faith is so strong that we don't need miracles as often anymore (it always seems like a cop out when people tell me this)
Lets explore each...

next: in 1.2 the contextual faith of groups, myth: a game of bait and switch (sacred then crazy now), no faith=no miracles.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

BoM: title page 2, paragrah 1

I sit at my computer, do I really want to be doing this? I'm working Tabula rasa, zen mind/beginners mind. Still I indulge my past memory of the text ever so slightly. Starting from a complete blank is impossible, I know English after all, and the Book of Mormon is written in English after a fashion. Often, this will not be fun, this will be a wrestle. Me as Jacob, the BoM as the angel,  God as Vince McMahon. O.K. deep breath, "Oh God, if there is a God, and if thou are God wilt thou make thyeslf known unto me." The exegesis begins.

This is the Nephites abbreviated love (lets say Philos or maybe even Agape love) letter to the Lamanites. Both 'ites' are a portion of left overs from possibly the Diaspora, but definitely the house of Israel. The Nephites generosity doesn't stop with the Lamanites though, they cc in the Jews and Gentiles as well, covering just about everyone. I'm concerned with the scalability of distribution. The authors' intent when writing was for everyone to have a copy, every author who's ever lived has probably desired the same thing for their work, the question is how? Moroni exhibited a mansized portion of faith by hiding the record away and leaving the rest in God's hands. The purpose for writing aside from the above is that to do so was a commandment (that is, God-delivered-instructions that were taken seriously in ancient times),  the actual act of writing was directed by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation. It's contents then were constructed with future consumption in mind, prophecy lends itself to future prediction I suppose. The target audience was but a distant imagining, within the logic bubble that Moroni was operating in trust in the end game of the Lord was paramount. He left the plates in their hiding place assured that one day a Gentile, led by the same spirit which guided Moroni, would be directed to the record and interpret them on behalf of all those that they were intended for. 

At a Glance
  • Written by Nephites
  • For Lamanites, Jews and Gentiles (everyone)
  • Writing was a commandment
  • Writing was influenced by the spirit of prophecy and revelation
  • Hidden by Moroni
  • With the hope that one day the Gentiles would find them and interpret them by God's power
If I was reading this for the first time I would ask who/what are the Nephites and Lamanites and Jews and Gentiles and any of the bullet point subjects above? But that's enough for today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BoM: The title page 1

"I wish to mention here that the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; …and that said title-page is not…a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation" -- Joseph Smith (HC 1:71.). 

The Book of Mormon has been a source of controversy since before it was even made available for sale back in 1830. There are numerous theories which attempt to explain its origin. Did Sydney Rigdon help Joseph write it? Did Joseph fabricate the entire thing, pulling it figuratively out of a hat while literally doing the same? Did he just plain plagiarize its content, borrowing heavily from the Old Testament, the contemporary text, The View of the Hebrews, and/or others? Ask the man himself and he would have told you that he was lead to a collection of plates, buried in the side of hill near his home in Palmyra New York, by an angel named Moroni, and that those plates were translated into what we know as the Book of Mormon today (with a thousand or so minor changes). 

As origin stories go it is certainly fantastical, and skepticism is understandable. For those who believe in the bible, dismissing the BoM because of the miraculous circumstances surrounding its  translation/creation are probably less warranted. There were plenty of angels floating around during biblical times, why can't they do the same now? Before I expertly eviscerate any further arguments against the truth claims of the Book of Mormon I will move on to the text itself which is the whole point of this study anyway, leaving the apologetics to more qualified organisations and individuals, the attacks are too vast and varied to address in this post. Suffice it to say, wow, an angel and gold plates, you just don't see that kind of thing everyday. 

The angel in question is the resurrected version of the final contributor and assistant compiler of the Book of Mormon: Moroni himself, who was the son of the book's name sake, one Mormon of ancient America. Let's get into what Mormon says the Book of Mormon is about, examining the title page: The Book of Mormon's mission statement, if you will...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

blogging the BoM

Here's how it is. Every general conference or so we are encouraged to do three basic things everyday: Study, pray, and serve. Sure we could tie everything up neatly in the large unwieldy bow that is KTC (Keep The Commandments), but if we ever want to get anywhere we need to rip that parcel open and start unpacking what we mean; take one step out from KTC toward specificity and we have what those Commandments are: Love God, Love others, and Love ourselves. Love is not the easiest thing to qualify on earth, it can get irrational and complicated, so it's nice that we're given simple practices to keep us in the right state day-to-day (hopefully) to start spreading the love like purple dinosaurs. 

Can it really be that simple? Do those three basics and everything starts falling into place? I don't know. I've rarely sustained all three together for prolonged periods of time. Service: Does self-serving count? Prayer: do it most days, but I allow myself to get too mechanical too often.
I'll hold off discussing these two for now (and dream of tomorrows that may never come), lets talk sticks. The scriptures are meant to give us direction not just by what they say, but by opening us up to the promptings of the spirit. It's some obedience thing right. IF you study the scrips, THEN you get the spirit. Sounds like a fair trade.

All told that gives us well over 2000 pages to chose from. That's a lot of light reading. Where to start? Talk to most modern Apostles and they'd recommend the Book of Mormon. If called upon to rank the canon in order of most interesting to least interesting to read, my list would look something like this:
  1. The Old Testament
  2. The Doctrine and Covenants
  3. The New Testament
  4. The Pearl of Great Price
  5. The Book of Mormon
For some reason I've never been super excited to read the BoM (well I don't really get excited about scripture study in general, but I have my moments, the OT gets me going sometimes  and tops the list because some of it is just so bizarre). Recently I came across an interview on NPR with David Plotz, semi-practicing Jew, who'd lost touch with the Good Book. After incidentally encountering the tale of Dinah's rape and her Brothers reaction at his cousins bat mitzvah, he decided that there was a lot he didn't know about the Bible and subsequently went on to blog about his adventure of reading every word (which is now a book). 

What a brilliant idea. After years of going through the motions in my scripture study, I think I'll follow David Plotz's lead and blog my study of the Book of Mormon (and maybe even the Old Testament). Heaven help us.  Making religion real for me, that's what it's all about, not just empty ceremony, not that ceremony is necessarily empty, it's just how I respond to it often.

Check out A. J. Jacobs in the video above, he's taken things to the next level by actually doing what the Bible says. I'm not quite ready to leap into an entire year or even an entire month yet of complete dedication by strict obedience. I'll start reading consistently, then I'll worry about living the stuff. Still I can't help but be inspired by these men, it's amazing what a little internet surfing can do for you spiritually.