Friday, December 19, 2014

Chanukah

I thought I would take a moment this holiday season and mention a few words about Chanukah. My family celebrates this holiday each year including lighting the nine candles, which for a family of 6 means a total of 54 flames on the last night, in a somewhat nerve wracking display as small children and a puppy take turns trying to set themselves and the house on fire. To most of the Mormon community this holiday remains a mystery and like Christmas, those portions of it that seems to get the most air time are probably the least important aspects of the Holiday. This is my humble attempt to explain what the holiday means to me and my family.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Zion

Beginnings of Modern Zionism

On the 5th of January 1895 at a Paris military school a man is marched out into a courtyard to the roll of a drum. He is wearing his dress uniform and surrounded by guards. He stands calmly and repeats “innocent” and “Vive la France” as his comrade tears from his uniform his medals and rank. They tear his buttons and cuffs and then draw and break his sword. The man's name was Alfred Dreyfus and he stood convicted of espionage for Germany based on falsified evidence. The real culprit had been quickly cleared and evidence was forged framing Dreyfus for the crimes. Dreyfus was a Jew.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hebrews 11:39-40

This post will examine a few verses in Hebrews, specifically

39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:39-40

I was asked recently about the these verses with particular interest in the phrase "received not the promise". What was this promise and why would the scripture state that the Old Testament saints did not receive it? To answer this I will make my usual winding path through scriptural context in an effort to shed some light on it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Acrostics in the Old Testament

One of the curiosities in our Standard works is found in Psalm 119. Open there in a current edition of Gospel Library on your phone or iPad or just go old school and turn there in a hard copy of the scriptures. You will notice the uniqueness immediately. The very long meandering psalm is divided into 22 segments of 8 verses each labeled with a Hebrew letter followed by a bad spelling of its name. If you know some Hebrew you will notice the letters are in alphabetical order and run through the entire length of the alphabet Aleph to Tav (or ALEPH to TAU sic.). What is this all about and why is it arranged this way. Continue reading for a bit more background.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Colossians 2:14 Nailing Smeared Handwriting

 

Today's post is based on another verse by Paul. A friend requested me to have a look at this verse and see if I could parse out any additional meaning from the translation.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Colossians 2:14

The notable word that jumps out from this verse is handwritng. This is the only place in the King James Version where this word is used. I also noted the word ordinances as interesting and probably the reason this verse is cross referenced in the LDS version with Ephesians 2:5. This word occurs only a handful of times in the New Testament.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

On the Symbolism of Girdles

Jeremiah and Baruch by Gustave Dore
This post is an unusual one in its subject as it is a response to a well thought out post I read recently authored by Michaela Stephens at her blog Scriptorium Blogorium In it she discusses an interesting symbolic act by the prophet Jeremiah found in Jeremiah 13:1-11. In this section Jeremiah is told to get an item of clothing and wear it, but not wash it, then bury it in the earth and display its corruption. He then explains several symbolic meanings of the garment and his act.

The garment is translated by KJV as "girdle" which in the English of that day indicated a belt. The Hebrew word is אזור (Ezor) and could possibly indicate a belt or other type of outer wrapped garment but does not seem to mean such here. I find an interesting commentary in the Pulpit Commentary that is worth quoting at length:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Isaiah 12:2

Isaiah by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
I am on a plane right now traveling for business and I thought it might be a good time to jot a few things down for a short post. This post is inspired by a recently returned sister missionary that I heard speak today in church. Isaiah 12:2 was her missionary scripture that had been on her display plaque. The scripture reads as follows

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
Isaiah 12:2

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scripture Challenge

It is sometimes interesting how little we know about our favorite scriptures. I don’t mean the doctrinal interpretation of them. I mean the circumstances under which they were produced and transmitted to us. Try this game to test your knowledge. Brief instructions are given at first then some more detailed examples. Post your scores in the comments.

  1. Pick a scripture you like – 1 point
  2. Can you give the exact book, chapter and verse? – 1 point
  3. Do you know who wrote the scripture originally? – 1-3 points
  4. Do you know what language the scripture was written in originally? – 1 point
  5. Do you know who produced the English version? – 1 point
  6. Do you know who physically wrote (scribed) the scripture? – 1 point
  7. Have you ever read the scripture in a different translation or checked if there are variant readings? – 1 point
  8. Do you know where the scripture was originally given? - 1-3 points
  9. Do you know when the scripture was originally given? – 1-3 points
  10. Do you know a specific document that Serves as the oldest still existing source for this scripture? – 1 point

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Paul and the Law in Romans

St. Paul by
Bartolomeo Montagna
holding traditional sword 
I was asked by good friend for some specific insights on Romans 8:2 and this blog entry is an edited response to this. I realize that thus far all entires I have made on this blog have focused on Old Testament subjects. While I have a very deep love for the Hebrew bible, and my Greek is not as strong as my Hebrew, I felt this was a good opportunity to insert a bit of variety. 

Romans 8:2 reads as follows

2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Joel Ben Pethuel

Rend your heart and not your garments - statue in Yad Shmona
Another post related to the recent Sunday School lesson I taught, this time from the Prophet Joel. This is a very different book from Amos and made for a great compare and contrast during my lesson. Unlike Amos, Joel is not fixed in time and space. While there are explicit references that the story is taking place at the Jerusalem temple, it seems possible these may have been added later as the story could really be applied to any temple or any time. It is the story of a righteous community facing a natural disaster.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Amos

If you mention the book of Amos, every Mormon in earshot will immediately think of 3:7. It is a well used missionary scripture.

The Prophet Amos by Gustave Doré
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
So what does that mean? What was the great secret that was revealed? Who was Amos and what did he prophecy?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What to write about?

Sitting at the stake center thinking as I am waiting for a temple recommend interview. That last series of posts took a bit of time and thought. I am looking into options of things I can write about that will be meaningful and a bit shorter. I was asked to teach Sunday School last week and the week after conference. I prepared a lesson on Joel and Amos. I thoroughly enjoy teaching and had a great time. I am thinking I would like to write up a post on each. I am also thinks it would be great to think up some topics to explore from General Conference.

I am finding getting a group of readers for my blog is going to take a while. I figure I will give it some time then decide if there is a point of publishing to the Internet or if I should go back to just keeping a journal for my family, who have to read my stuff :)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Putting The Creation Stories Together

So now covering the basics of the two great creation stories I would like to write one more post on the subject examining how they fit together.

Jehovah Creates the Earth by Walter Rane
The stories in some ways are complete opposites, yet there are some unifying themes. In both stories Deity forms creation from existing materials. There is no concept of true nothingness even though the concept of uncreation is alternately sea and desert. Both stories place man at a special status markedly different than animal creation. Both stories place emphasis on proper naming of things, even though they portray the names as being given by different entities.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The J Story

In this post I will examine the second creation story that begins in verse 2:4 and continues to the end of Chapter 3.

The first thing to note about this story that differentiates it from the E story is that the name of Deity has changed from the simple Elohim to the compound Yahweh Elohim. Yahweh of course is the Tetragrammaton, or four letters, that make up the sacred name of God, יהוה in Hebrew and is the source of the name Jehovah. Thus, I am calling this the J story. This story is the first usage of this divine name In the Bible. Throughout this story the name Elohim never appears alone as it did in the first story, but all actions here are performed by the compound Jehovah Elohim or LORD God as KJV translates it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The E creation story (cont.)

In this post I will continue the discussion of the first creation account or the E creation story.

Six Days of Creation and Shabbat by Bracha Lavee

Saturday, September 13, 2014

In The Beginning...

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
With these dramatic words opens the scriptural cannon. In themselves they are profound and have inspired volumes of philosophy and debate. Joseph Smith would famously see hints of the divine council in its opening words. Others would see a structured cosmology mirroring that of other Middle Eastern cultures. Some would find reflections of pagan myths of the subduing of chaos in the form of the sea. These opening chapters would be the sharpest contention in the confrontation of Science and Religion.

Grand Architect of the Universe
William Blake's Ancient of Days depicts
God as the Architect holding the Compasses
Modern commentators sometimes too easily dismiss the story as symbolic rather than literal without ever answering the all important question: "Symbolic of what?" What are we to learn from these stories? Why are they so central? Their themes recur repeatedly through the scriptures that follow in every volume of the Standard Works. Joseph Smith would reveal three more major accounts of the stories in these chapters, two in written documents and a third only taught orally in his lifetime in sacred ordinance settings.

In this entry I will take a closer examination of the Genesis account and specifically point out some things that are lost on the casual reader.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Call Me Gilgamesh

Welcome to Scriptural Alchemy. This is a site that will delve into deep and narrowly focused discussions on topics I find particularly compelling. Most importantly this site is for me, but I invite you to join me on my journey. I have a deep love for the sacred writings of mankind. This includes the scriptures that form the standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the histories and journals of the members of that faith, the sacred writings of other faith traditions both ancient and modern, the ponderings of mankind as we grapple with the terrible questions, and the profound beauty that fills the human experience. Alchemy is a great word to describe how I feel about studying these things. It is looking for the purity and gold in the thoughts of mortal men. It is finding the eternal wrapped in the earthly. It is deep symbolism and a search for lost knowledge. It is a science infused with mysticism and magic.

You may call me Gilgamesh. After pondering the pros and cons I have decided it best to use a code name. This is not any serious attempt to hide my identity as it can certainly be learned with a little effort. It is merely to deflect any unwanted publicity to myself and my family. The use of code names has a fine tradition. Joseph Smith used code names in many of his revelations where he was known as Enoch. I have chosen Gilgamesh as he is the central character in what can rightly be called the oldest literature of mankind. Gilgamesh is a hero king who in the course of his adventures looses his best friend Enkidu to sickness and must grapple with his own mortality. Searching for answers he seeks out the wisdom of the ancient Utnapishtim who had gained the favor of the gods. From Utnapishtim he learns methods of attaining eternal life only to be ultimately foiled by his own weakness or a cunning serpent. In the end he must find peace in the joys of this life. Friends, spouse, children, the workmanship of his hands, these are his lot until death. Gilgamesh is the ancient man taking the same journey we all take. All of us are a Gilgamesh, looking for meaning and answers and trying to understand our own mortality.

So come with me on this journey. To Latter-day Saints I hope you will find my analysis of scriptural topics and topics from Church history compelling and useful. To those of other faiths I hope you find my discussion respectful and illuminating. My writings speak for no opinion but my own and I reserve the right to outgrow anything I might write. I welcome civil and uplifting discussion and appreciate a diversity of voices.