Women in The Old Testament

Set forth below is the text of a talk I gave on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2022, in the Sacrament Meeting of the Arlington First Ward, Arlington, Virginia.

      When Margaret was expecting our first child, a colleague of mine asked whether we were planning on a natural, drug-free birth. That was our original intent, I told him, until I learned she wanted me by her side in the delivery room. There was no way I could endure the ordeal of child birth without a couple of really stiff drinks and a valium beforehand. [Pause till laughter subsides.]

      As much as Margaret would love to be the subject of my talk, I have been asked to speak on women in the Old Testament. This is a vast topic about which many books have been written, so I will focus my remarks on the way women in general were regarded in the Hebrew Bible and on experiences in the lives of a few of them.

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A Praiseworthy Rebellion

      In a recent essay, I discussed the many flaws in the “wise choice” explanation for Eve’s decision to partake of the forbidden fruit. In this piece I advance my own explanation of Eve’s actions in the Garden, to wit: when she partook of the fruit, she was engaging in what I call a “praiseworthy rebellion.” Specifically, she made a conscious decision to yield to the serpent’s entreaties because, for her, Eden was no longer Eden. This thesis is not entirely of my own creation, though I do give it my own “Latter-day twist.”

“The Garden of Eden,” byLucas Cranach the Elder
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Jehovah’s Temple Project

      Mormons pride themselves on being “a temple-building” people. Yet we often miss, or fail to comprehend, numerous references to temples throughout the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, a compelling argument can be made that much of the Bible is one long meditation on the subject of sacred space. And it begins at the beginning.

      Contrary to popular belief, the creation story in Genesis does not purport to explain the origins of the universe; nor is it a literal description of how our world came to be. Rather, it is an account of the transformation of the material cosmos, which had evolved over eons, into a place where God can interact with his children. 

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Did Eve Make a “Wise Choice”?

      Humans crave certainty. Puzzles, mysteries and riddles are okay—so long as they have a solution. But when we encounter an enigma that defies explanation, we often sweep it under the rug or concoct a solution based on logic so twisted it would be the envy of a Cirque du Soleil contortionist. And this is especially true when we stumble upon befuddling paradoxes in our sacred texts, such as the story of Adam and Eve.

“The Garden of Eden,” by Thomas Cole (1828)

      The conundrum presented by the third chapter of Genesis—Was Eve’s decision to partake of the forbidden fruit a sin? a transgression? a necessary evil? or something else?—has been the subject of countless books, essays, and debates since ancient times.

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God at the Comedy Club

      In the beginning there was poop. God then molded the excrement into human form, which he then tickled. This caused his creation to laugh and come alive.  

      This is not my lame attempt at humor but rather the creation myth of aborigines of South Australia.[1] And the importance they ascribe to humor in the act of creation is not unique.

      Hactcin, the God of Jicarilla Apache, first created the animals, and laughed at the abundant variety of creatures roaming the earth, each with its peculiar habits and idiosyncrasies. It is said this is why people today laugh at the behavior of animals. 

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Robert Edward Lee

      Never in the history of the United States has public opinion changed so swiftly regarding an historical figure—absent the discovery of new information about the individual’s character or actions—than is the case with Robert E. Lee. 

      Almost instantly after his surrender, he became “universally admired even by those who have no sympathy toward the cause for which he fought.”[1] These sentiments also prevailed throughout the 20th century. Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Regan and countless others held him in high esteem. He was, according, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “one of our great American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”[2] Winston Churchill wrote that Lee was “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived, and one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war.”[3]

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A Massacre That Likely Never Happened

      The majority of biblical scholars believe the infancy narratives found in Matthew and Luke are ahistorical (i.e., not factual).[1] Rather, they are an example of a creative genre of Jewish theological writing known as Haggadah, meaning “narrative.” The author starts from a scriptural text—the Old Testament, in the case of Matthew and Luke’s birth stories—and then improvises liberally, using symbolism, typology and allegory “to create a new story that reapplies the truths, hopes, patterns and meanings of the scriptural past to the present.”[2]

      In an essay I penned last year, I discussed the symbolic significance of the Magi and the Old Testament passages Matthew drew upon to explain how the Savior’s message would be received by the Jews and the Gentiles.  This essay picks up where the previous one left off: the story of the Massacre of the Innocents and the flight of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt. The most common reasons why most scholars believe this account is not historical are the following:

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Posthumous Proxy Baptisms

      Rituals, offerings and supplications on behalf of the dead are hallmarks of many faiths. Followers of the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster chant prayers for the deceased in their funeral ceremonies, beseeching God to forgive their transgressions. The Catholic Church—until the Reformation quashed the practice—offered intercessory prayers and elaborate masses for the departed.[1]

      The Old Testament, on the other hand, expressly enjoins all offerings to the dead.[2] Further, the general thrust of the New Testament and early Christian writings is that all such practices are futile since “death is a boundary beyond which salvation may not be procured.”[3] There are exceptions, however, such as this cryptic passage from 1 Corinthians: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”[4]

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The Louse on Our Bonnet

      The year is 1648 and most of Europe is in tatters. The Dutch War of Independence between Spain and the provinces—what are today the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg—has raged for 80 years, while The Thirty Years War within the Holy Roman Empire has laid waste to much of the continent. The population of Germany alone has fallen from 21 million to approximately 13 million.[1]

      What caused these interminable conflicts? Most historians believe religion played a central role. The publication by Martin Luther in 1517 of his Disputation on the Power of Indulgences planted the seeds for the Protestant Reformation. This, in turn, led to the Counter-Reformation—also known as the Catholic Reformation—and the Inquisition. As Protestantism continued to expand into areas previously dominated by the Roman Church, imperial authority was destabilized, as were the boundaries of kingdoms. And war came.

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“What Do I Still Lack?”

      While en route to Jerusalem for the last time in his life, Jesus is approached by a rich young man who asks him the following question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” The Savior’s response is both clear and concise. “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”[1]

      In Washington, there is a sage piece of advice given to constituents who ask their Senator for a favor: If he says ‘yes,’ the only thing else you should say is, “Thank you, Senator; we really appreciate your help; goodbye.” You don’t linger or say anything more lest you cause him to reconsider or qualify his promise. 

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