Monday, September 30, 2013

Reasons to Look to the Past

Two recent articles highlight how old-fashioned teaching can produce superior results.

In one, Joanne Lipman reflects on how her high school orchestra teacher's methods, which would get him fired today, helped shape his student's successful careers, mostly outside of music. She argues that students need unsentimental honest feedback, memorization, failure. She notes that "strict is better than nice," and "grit trumps talent."

In the other, Peter Lawler reflects on Lipman's article. He talks a bit about the problems of playing up self-esteem:
Real self-esteem--pride as opposed to vanity--comes from pleasurable reflection on real accomplishments, on meeting real challenges, on magnanimously or generously displaying one’s personal greatness. So the best teachers are stingy with praise in order that it really mean something.
Lawler also discusses the problem of trying to teach critical thinking devoid of content:
They know that “critical thinking” or “problem solving” can’t be divorced from the content of who we are and what we do.
Both pieces are thoughtful reflections of the process of learning.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 88:
God has reminded us that it is possible for men to love darkness rather than light. One has to assume that those who do evil hate the light not only because it exposes them, but because they have grown grumblingly used to the darkness.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

John and Jonathan

There are many people who think that John is a shortened form of Jonathan. If that were the case, one might wonder why Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees, had children named both John and Jonathan (1 Maccabees 2:2-5).

John comes from Hebrew Yohhannan and means "Jehovah is merciful." Jonathan comes from Hebrew Yohnatan and means "Jehovah has given (a son)." They are not the same name and were not interchangeable.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From One More Strain of Praise (1999), 34-35:
The satisfying of the requirements of divine justice by means of Jesus' great atonement is central to the Father's plan of salvation, a plan which clearly reflects and is sustained by Jesus' character and atonement, an atonement made possible by Jesus' character. In this happy and merciful situation, the Lord can forgive our sins, yet He "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance," hence the unclean and unrepentant, though resurrected, will not be exalted (Alma 45:16; D&C 1:31).

Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.

And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. . . .

What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God. (Alma 42:13-14, 25; see also D&C 88:40.)

Even divine mercy cannot rob justice! Such, therefore, is the very basic need to satisfy the requirements of divine justice, which are "affixed," and thus "answer the ends of the atonement" (2 Ne. 2:10).

In God's plan of happiness the atoning Christ paid a debt He personally did not owe and at a costly price that we could not possibly pay by ourselves. Unlike the Father's plan, in today's context of indulgent secularism, however, too many insist that mercy "rob justice," and much more than "one whit." C. S. Lewis saw the modern trend coming well before it became more fully blown:

The Humanitarian theory wants simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. . . . Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety. ("The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" [1949], in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1970], p. 294.)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

On the Attack on Religious Liberty

William McGurn has a worthwhile reminder of the importance of religious liberty and the challenges it faces now. These issues not only need to be understood, they need to be acted upon.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 115-116:
When we recognize that what we are really engaged in in this instance is war against evil, the more important the simple strategies are, like occupying and holding high ground, and refusing to go into the swamps simply to see if we could survive. There are simply too many bleached bones lying about the landscape as haunting reminders of the importance of fleeing from the terrain of temptation. Sometimes circumstances may cast up an unavoidable encounter with things we would rather not brush against, but in each of these we have been promised by the Lord that even then he will make an escape passage for us.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Juxtiposition of Two Quotes

Every so often one runs into a quote that makes one think, "I've heard this before." Here is one such, from an article on black-balling in sociology:
Rather than embracing libertarian values that could strengthen the discipline, the self-appointed mind-guards systematically frustrate any attempt to vary the narrative that sociology has developed. By keeping dissent from the classroom, good ideas are censored and good students are kept out of the major. The inclusiveness that is valued extends only to those who do not deviate from the orthodoxy.
The quote it reminded me of is this one, from this talk:
Irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities—when faced with clear alternatives—will make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide.
Sociology does not need to be irreligion, but one can see what irreligion as the state religion would be like by looking at the sociology, or elsewhere in the academy, since such squelching of dissent is not confined to sociology. Ironically it seems to be particularly prevalent among those preaching tolerance.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 39-40:
Those who are grossly selfish are also the same people who, cavalierly, use ends to justify means. For the grossly selfish, once an object or desire has been fastened on, it is very easy for the selfish person to ignore the harm and injury done to others (and to institutions) when he reaches for that object.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Step in the Right Direction?

Audrey Williams June has a nice article on the placement rates of Ph.D. programs. She notes that some graduate programs do not collect data on graduate placement or other vital information that might be helpful to students going into graduate school.

Since I have had to advise prospective graduate students in Egyptology, much of this data is data that have wanted to get my hands on for various programs. These include:
  • How many graduate students does the program accept on any given year?

  • What are the minimum and average scores for candidates admitted over the last ten years?

  • What does the faculty in that particular graduate program look for in their graduate students?

  • What percentage of admitted students in the last decade actually finish their programs?

  • How long, on average, has it taken for graduate students who have finished in the last ten years to finish their degrees?

  • How many graduates in the last ten years have jobs in the field?
Here are some of the things that the article mentioned that I had not thought of before:
  • How many years did it take for a graduate to get a tenure-track job?

  • Why do admitted students leave the program?

  • What are the completion rates of various advisers in the program?

  • What are the placement rates of various advisers in the program?
This information is very difficult to come by. Part of that is that the picture is anything but rosy.

Other relevant data for prospective graduate students to consider includes:
  • How much is tuition at the school in question?

  • What is the average annual percentage tuition increase over the last ten years?

  • How much are the other fees at the school?

  • What is the average cost of living in the area?

  • What is the crime rate in the area?
This information is easier to come by but some of it is buried in the university's website and not always easy to find. The University can say that it is publicly available but they do nothing to make it accessible. I remember being surprised to stumble across one University's report of athletic expenditures buried on its police department website (and it disappeared after about a month). All of this information could help prospective graduate students. After all, most people do not enter a Ph.D. program in Egyptology so they can work in a travel agency or play minor league baseball (two actual careers); they go into the programs because they think they actually want ot work in the field. So efforts by the Chronicle of Higher Education to gather this information in its Ph.D. Placement Project should be applauded. Unfortunately, all the links that I could find on the site to the Project are dead. It is still a good idea.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 32-33:
No one who understands the purposes of God can, therefore, refuse to take his own responsibility for a portion of history. In such a context, little wonder that the doctrines and teachings of God matter so much. It is most unfortunate that in the surge toward secularism those who have ignored the teachings of God about the purpose of life and this planet have been so heedless; the Christian's response involves more than merely replacing the doctrinal divots on the fairway that the secularists have torn up. Even worse, as secularism has pushed out Christian thought, it has developed its own powerful dogmas it defends and, in a sense, "has turned against its own basic ideal of truth-seeking." In this regard, secularism is increasingly orthodox and is very harsh on heretics.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Charity and Grade Inflation

In this article, George Leef makes a number of cogent arguments about how contributing to grade inflation harms not only those grades are inflated but also those whose grades are not inflated.

There is another way to think about this. Giving students inflated grades is a way of puffing them up. Since "charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up" (1 Corinthians 13:4), are we showing charity by puffing other people up?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 33:
The king in the Book of Mormon who was deeply impressed with the generosity shown by Ammon knew that he had experienced someone who was special. This generosity can only exist in the context of selflessness. Just as fire requires oxygen, so generosity and mutuality require significant selflessness. We are accustomed to reading about the challenges of spiraling violence and spiraling inflation, and these are very real; but spiraling selfishness is at the very center of all the other spiraling challenges of today.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ranking Fourth

BYU has placed fourth in the rankings of the top ten most high-strung schools. This ranking comes ultimately from College Magazine. Their reasoning for this ranking is:
Brigham Young is high-strung because of its straight-edge nature. Its strict honor code, modest form of dress and rules against drug and alcohol only add to the stress.
But that is not the worst:
Not only can you not find drugs or alcohol, but you also can’t even buy caffeine on campus. 
(They forgot to mention that beards are against the honor code too.) If BYU's honor code is a cause of stress, more colleges should be stressed out.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Lord, Increase Our Faith (1994), 69:
In 1829, especially while translating at an average rate that would produce seven to ten printed pages a day, Joseph would not have fully or immediately comprehended all the powerful and enhancing verses that were passing through him. One example of these is Alma 7:11-12, which represents a powerful addition to our understanding of Jesus' suffering and of His atonement and how it is that His empathy for each of us is perfect and very personal. Jesus understands the full range of human suffering. These and other insights were beyond Joseph Smith in 1829.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Early Christian New Testament Reading

What sort of New Testament books were the most popular in Early Christianity. I will look at two time periods using two different methods of analysis. For the early second century, we have quotations in Church Fathers. For the third and fourth centuries, we can look at attestations of various books when they circulated as separate books and not as complete New Testament codices.

For the second century we have, in order of popularity:
  • Matthew (32)
  • 1 Corinthians (16)
  • 1 Peter (13)
  • Romans (8)
  • Luke (6)
  • Acts (4) 
  • Galatians (4)
  • 1 Timothy (4)
  • Hebrews (4)
  • John (3) 
  • Ephesians (3)
  • Philippians (3)
  • Titus (3)
  • Mark (1)
  • 2 Corinthians (1)
  • 1 Thessalonians (1)
  • 2 Thessalonians (1)
  • 2 Timothy (1)
  • 1 John (1)
  • 2 John (1)
  • Revelation (1)
For the third and fourth century we have, again in order of popularity:
  • Matthew (17)
  • John (16)
  • Acts (7)
  • Luke (6)
  • Hebrews (6)
  • Romans (5)
  • Revelation (5)
  • Ephesians (3)
  • 1 Thessalonians (3)
  • James (3)
  • Mark (2)
  • 1 Corinthians (2)
  • 2 Corinthians (2)
  • Philippians (2)
  • 2 Thessalonians (2)
  • 1 Peter (2)
  • Jude (2)
  • Galatians (1)
  • Colossians (1)
  • Titus (1) 
  • Philemon (1)
  • 2 Peter (1)
  • 1 John (1)
Granted, two different measures are being used, but the results are interesting. In the early second century 1 Peter and 1 Corinthians were much more popular than they were in the third and fourth centuries. The gospel of John and the Revelation, on the other hand, were more popular in the third and fourth centuries than they were in the second. Matthew was, for all this time, the most popular of New Testament writings.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 82:
The early universities (Paris, Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard) had Christian religion at their core. The University of Paris, for instance, stood at the heart of the spiritual life of its age, but such universities, wrote Richard Hofstadter,
"were scarcely less important as agencies of practical life, whose work was as relevant to the ecclesiastical and political life of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as the modern university is to the scientific and industrial life of our time."
The 1650 charter for Harvard College spoke of "the advancement of all good literature, artes and Sciences," "in knowledge: and godliness."

Edward Reynolds, a Puritan author, correctly observed:

All truth must by definition come from God, and all knowledge of truth be ultimately knowledge of Him; but we must recognize that "there is a knowledge of God natural in and by his works and a knowledge supernatural by revelation out of the Word; and though this be the principal, yet the other is not to be under-valued."
Reynolds also wrote affirmatively of such education and how "Sanctified Wit beautifies Religion, sanctified Reason defends it, sanctified power protects it, sanctified Elocution perswades others to the love of it."

Many once church-related institutions, however, have long since become indistinguishable from other universities and colleges, keeping the ceremonial robes without the theology, the pomp without the purpose.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Early Christian Scripture Reading

Judging by what they quote, the earliest writers of the Christian church after the New Testament really liked the following books of scripture:
  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Psalms
  • Isaiah
  • Matthew
  • 1 Corinthians
As I look at reconstructions of early Christianity, they tend to reflect the modern scholars' preferences rather than the ancient Christians.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 119:
Yet we must always realize that in a perfect church filled with imperfect people, there are bound to be some miscommunications at times. A noteworthy example occurred in ancient American Israel. Moroni wrote two times to Pahoran complaining of neglect because much-needed reinforcements did not arrive. Moroni used harsh language, accusing the governor of the land, Pahoran, of sitting on his throne in a state of "thoughtless stupor." (Alma 60:7.) Pahoran soon made a very patriotic reply, explaining why he could not do what Moroni wanted. Though censured, Pahoran was not angry; he even praised Moroni for "the greatness of your heart." (Alma 61:9.) Given the intense, mutual devotion of disciples, discussions as to how best to move the Lord's work along are bound to produce tactical differences on occasion. Just as in this episode, sometimes scolding occurs that is later shown to be unjustified.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sacred and Secular Histories

The third chapter of John Sorenson's new book, Mormon's Codex provides a completely secular view of Nephite history. This is not the first time such a thing has been done. One can look at contributions by John Sorenson and John Welch in the book Warfare in the Book of Mormon and they do the same thing.

This is a remarkable thing as both Sorenson and Welch are believers, not secularists. Secularists do not write secular histories of Nephite civilization, only believers do. On one level this seems counter-intuitive; on another level, perfectly obvious.

It seems counter-intuitive because ancient histories in general are deeply religious. Thus secularists routinely write secular histories of ancient societies that strip away the religious element of ancient histories. Egyptologists routinely write about Egyptian history and discuss such things as Sesostris I raiding Nubia without saying that Osiris commanded it. Assyriologists also write about the conquests of the Sargonid kings without noting that they claimed to conquer by the command of Assur.

The Book of Mormon is different. One has to be a believer in the first place to consider it ancient history. Only when one considers it real history can one write a secular history of the civilization.

One does not have to be a believer to talk about Book of Mormon theology, in fact it is usually easier to talk about Book of Mormon theology when one is not a believer. Theology is a systematic ordering and attempt to derive knowledge of divine things by human reason alone. Believers tend to think that knowledge of divine things need to come by revelation. Originally, theology was lies told about God to manipulate simpletons for political ends. Believers do not engage in such actions but non-believers do.

So non-believers will find it easy to produce Book of Mormon theology, but only a believer will produce Book of Mormon history.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:

Isn't it ironical that some of those who are most vigorous in taking the American family apart are also among those who are the first to complain because, then, the family does not work? Isn't it ironical that in an age when we are learning almost feverishly about what is most ecologically sound, what are the most efficient and economic ways to produce energy or protein in order to help other human beings, that we should be so incredibly blind—because like ancient Judah, we are "looking beyond the mark"—when it comes to pursuing those processes which are best for the production of good human beings? The relative spiritual, as well as the physiological efficiencies of systems are a justifiable concern. Beef cattle foraging on a poor range require twenty pounds of food in order to produce one pound of gain. Chickens with a good balanced diet produce one pound of gain for every two pounds of feed. One approach is many times more efficient than the other, just as (so far as human goodness is concerned) the social and spiritual sum of our political, educational, and economic institutions is usually not sufficient to offset the deficits in the home.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Words and Deeds

Since there is little point in merely complaining about something that you can actually do something about, I have compiled a scriptural index to John Sorenson's Mormon's Codex and posted it over on Ether's Cave.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From For the Power Is in Them (1970), 32:
Just as trust and love between individuals frees us to listen, human nature also makes it easier to listen to the "critic" who really loves that which he criticizes. My experience in the Church is that the devoted, committed member is listened to (he may not find his counsel followed, of course) because his caring (which underlines his complaint) manifests itself in specific ways which remove any doubts about his devotion.
Hugh Nibley was like that. Many would listen to his sometimes blistering criticism of certain practices of Church members because no one had any doubt about his commitment to the Gospel or the Church. His criticisms were about Church members not actually following the Gospel.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Is This a Coincidence?

Looking through P. Mil. Vogl. III today, I noticed a series of demotic contracts from Ptolemaic Egypt where various women appear to be selling themselves into slavery. In every single case the name of the woman's father is listed as "I don't know."

In modern times there is a clear connection between a lack of fathers and poverty. Is this ancient evidence for that same phenomenon?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From For the Power Is in Them (1970), 8:
It is clear that even when we let our light shine without ostenation and with no thought of doing deeds "to be seen of men," there still can arise situations in which our example—per se—goads others. Nephi's righteousness and his father's frequent citations of Nephi's spiritual superiority to his older brothers did not go down well with Laman or Lemuel, (and Lemuel was clearly Laman's unwavering psychological satellite. See 1 Nephi 3:28.)

That others may be so offended is not reason for us to reduce such righteousness as we have.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On History and Records

K. A. Kitchen notes:
We do not actually need firsthand namings of the patriarchs in ancient records; plenty of other historical characters are in the same case. The tombs of Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Canaan have yielded countless bodies of nameless citizens of Canaan; but their anonymity (no texts!) does not render them nonexistent. (K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 2003], 372.)
Whether events were written down they still happened. We, as mortals, are still accountable for our acts whether or not anyone wrote down a record.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), xi:
Whether one is newly baptized, reactivated, or already about his Father's business, he faces two challenges: remaining true to the decisions and covenants that have brought him thus far into serious discipleship, and then, both progressing and enduring in his discipleship.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Flaw in Mormon's Codex

I regret to announce a flaw in John Sorenson's new book, Mormon's Codex.

This flaw is not Sorenson's fault. I do not blame him for it.

The flaw is that the book has no scriptural index. It needs one. Any 800 page book carefully analyzing passages from another work needs one.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 9:
Among the hard realities about societies is the reality that liberty, if it is abused too much, will destroy itself. A society that continually permits anything will lose everything. To be sure, drawing lines is admittedly difficult, but once society shrinks from drawing any behavioral lines simply because to do so is difficult, it has surrendered. To confuse tolerance with permissiveness can be fatal, since it is like not knowing the difference between a mushroom and a poisonous toadstool.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Abomination of Desolation

The English phrase "abomination of desolation" comes from the King James translation of Matthew 24:15. The Greek phrase is τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως. As Jesus says, it appears in Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 11: 31. It also appears in 1 Maccabees 1:54.

Daniel 9:27 uses the concept after mentioning that it will occur after the Messiah is cut off (yikkaret; Daniel 9:26).

Daniel 11:31 says that it will come after the sanctuary of the temple is polluted and the daily sacrifice is taken away.

The mention in 1 Maccabees 1:54 is perhaps more interesting because the use of the phrase is not a prophecy but rather in a historical text. The situation described is clearly depicted as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel. (Jesus projects it as still in the future.) Prefaced to this use is a description of the actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Antiochus wanted a unified populous (1 Maccabees 1:41) and wanted his empire to go in a new direction, therefore he commanded "each to abandon his customs" (1 Maccabees 1:42). As a consequence, "many from Israel were happy to serve him and they sacrificed to idols and violated the Sabbath" (1 Maccabees 1:43) and "to follow the customs of the heathen" (1 Maccabees 1:44). They stopped the sacrifices (1 Maccabees 1:45), and "polluted the holy things" (1 Maccabees 1:46). They built altars to idols (1 Maccabees 1:47), "so that they forgot the law and changed all the judgments and whosoever would not do according to the command of the king was put to death" (1 Maccabees 1:49-50). Furthermore, they set up overseers (ἐπισκόπους, "bishops" although "spies" might be a better translation in the context) to insure that everyone followed the new way of thinking. "Everyone who abandoned the law and did evil in the earth" was promoted into positions of responsibility (1 Maccabees 1:52). And then, "on the fifteenth of Chaseleu, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, an abomination of desolation (βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως) was established at the altar" (1 Maccabees 1:54).

This passage shows the processes that led the authors of 1 Maccabees to decide that the prophecy of Daniel had been fulfilled. Polluting the sanctuary and cutting off the daily sacrifices are both mentioned to draw the reader's attention that the conditions had been met. But following the Gentile customs and doing things their way. Covenants and the law were both abandoned. Spies were put in place to report and insure that everyone behaved the way that the new regime wanted them to. And "they burned the books of the law which they found" (1 Maccabees 1:56). It was, after all, important to rewrite the history and make the previous orthodoxy disappear.

This description from Maccabees supplies an understanding of what Jesus was predicting for the future of Christianity before his death.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
A little experience with federal and state bureaucracies has taught me that such bureaucracies are inhabited by basically good civil servants, onto whom voters have pushed too much power for their good or ours. What we unwittingly court in such circumstances is learning again, painfully, that "almost all" men can't handle authority without abusing it. Whether or not the American people, regardless of party, can tame their governments is yet to be determined, but sunset laws alone will not do it. If citizen appetites, once aroused, merely look to a new agency to do what a disestablished agency once did, it won't be enough. Addicts can always find new pushers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Matthew 24:13

After listing the various bad things that will happen, Jesus says:
ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται.

He who endures to the end, that one will be saved (Matthew 24:13).
It is the one who endures, or remains steadfast, to the end, through the suffering, the famines, the earthquakes, the plagues, the wars, the afflictions, the false prophets, the false Christs, the hatred, the persecutions, the betrayals, the assassinations, who will be saved. Jesus tells his followers that they can expect rather dreadful times and rather dreadful treatment. And yet, at the end they will be saved.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1972), 29:
God's power can only be controlled by the principles of righteousness. No mortal constitutions can safeguard access to secular power as firmly. God only shares his power with those who will not abuse it, nor use it to cover their sins, gratify their pride, ambition, or control other men.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sorenson on Geography

Not everyone agrees with John Sorenson on Book of Mormon geography. Some people would rather locate the Book of Mormon in the Mississippi valley, or in the Great Lakes area, or in Peru, or around the isthmus of Panama, or on the Baja Peninsula, or in Malaysia, or in any number of other places. Everyone should, however, agree with this point Sorenson makes on geography in his new book:
Heretofore the study of Book of Mormon geography has mainly consisted of making more or less random guesses as to one modern location or another where events portrayed in the Book of Mormon supposedly took place. For the most part such unsystematic studies have been undertaken after examining only some of the 600 references to geography found in the text. That is, a typical investigator peruses a map of the Americas, finds what he or she intuits to be a correlation, then proceeds to select from the Book of Mormon statements thought to support his correlation of choice. But a valid geography must do more than this. In order to have a realistic hope of establishing a real-world location for Book of Mormon events, one must reconcile everything the text say or implies about geography. (John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 17.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From But For a Small Moment (1986), 18:
Individuals and settings of obscurity are not unusual to the Lord's purposes. Meridian-day Christianity was initiated on a very small geographical scale and with comparatively few people. The larger, busy world paid little heed to it. Likewise with the Book of Mormon peoples. Whether located in Meso-America or elsewhere, they were one people among many peoples on this planet and perhaps even on the western hemisphere. Lack of knowledge of and communication with others was the factor here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Real History and Fake History

Those who think the Bible was written in the Persian period (and, of course, a couple of works actually purport to have been written then, but those are not the work that those making the claim are talking about) or later in the Hellenistic period have not spent much time looking at actual documents from that time purporting to be earlier histories. There is a wealth of difference between apocryphal accounts of Israelite history and biblical accounts.

Consider the apocryphal versions of Israelite history in Judith or 1 Esdras. Esdras actually garbles Persian history, putting the kings in the wrong order. Judith garbles the capital of Babylon. 1 Kings and 2 Kings, on the other hand, get their Near Eastern history correct. If these accounts were written when the apocryphal accounts were, how did they manage to get things right when the apocryphal accounts get so much wrong?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Patience is not indifference. Actually, it means caring very much but being willing, nevertheless, to submit to the Lord and to what the scriptures call the "process of time."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Sorenson Quote

John Sorenson is not a polemicist. But he has carefully and systematically sifted through immense amounts of material. Therefore, his careful assessment carries some weight with those who know him. I was thus intrigued by the following quote from his new book:
Critics have their own justifications for denying the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but rarely are their doubts based on reliable facts. (John Sorenson, Mormon's Codex [2013], 6.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Men and Women of Christ (1991), 27:
Reflection too is required in order to assimilate all of our on-rushing experiences. Unless the lessons from our past are humbly harvested, our storehouses of memory will contain too few relevant remembrances. Patience facilitates such pondering and reflecting. Pondering sorts things out, rearranging some of the furniture of the mind while giving place for new furnishings.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Apology

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Today's Maxwell Quote

From Men and Women of Christ (1991), 26:
A true disciple will not listen to the voices that deny the divinity of Jesus or of His latter-day work, that deny the apostolic foundations of the Restoration, or that suggest compromising with the world.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Matthew 24:12

So, continuing with the prophecy, what happens after all of the betrayal and hatred?
καὶ διὰ τὸ πληθυνθῆναι τὴν ἀνομίαν ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν.

And because of the spread of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12)
The increase in iniquity correlates directly with the freezing of love. The betrayal, hatred and deception all feed into the iniquity and to the lessening of love.

Betrayal certainly saps the love that might be extended as it is difficult to love someone who has stabbed one in the back.

Hatred, particularly open displays of it, does not foster love.

Deception, causing others to err because they have been given false information, also does not engender love.

In general, the spread of iniquity does not foster love. It reminds one of the tautology of the "hate crime." How often does one commit a crime against someone because they love them? The mere fact that someone was willing to commit a crime against someone is evidence that the perpetrator hates the victim. Someone who has been made a victim is usually not well-disposed to the perpetrator.

So, it really is not much of a surprise that iniquity does not foster love.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
It may well be, as our time comes to "suffer shame for his name" (Acts 5:41), that some of this special stress will grow out of that portion of discipleship which involves citizenship. Remember that, as Nephi and Jacob said, we must learn to endure "the crosses of the world" (2 Nephi 9:18) and yet to despise "the shame of [it]" (Jacob 1:8). To go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow at us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by Father Lehi, which is the "pride of the world," is to disregard the shame of the world (1 Nephi 8:26–27, 33; 11:35–36). Parenthetically, why—really why—do the disbelievers who line that spacious building watch so intently what the believers are doing? Surely there must be other things for the scorners to do—unless, deep within their seeming disinterest, there is interest.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Matthew 24:11

Following the betrayals of Matthew 24:10, Jesus adds:
καὶ πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐγερθήσονται καὶ πλανήσουσιν πολλούς·

and many false prophets shall arise and shall deceive many (Matthew 24:11)
False Christs were mentioned earlier. False prophets would be individuals who claimed to speak for God but did so falsely. Many would be deceived by their claims. So the argument from popularity (i.e. that something is good because it is popular) is not necessarily a valid argument. These prophets also follow and supplant the disciples who are killed in the previous verse.

Earlier in Matthew, Jesus talks about false prophets:
Προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῶν ψευδοπροφητῶν, οἵτινες ἔρχονται πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐν ἐνδύμασιν προβάτων, ἔσωθεν δέ εἰσιν λύκοι ἅρπαγες. ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς· μήτι συλλέγουσιν ἀπὸ ἀκανθῶν σταφυλὰς ἢ ἀπὸ τριβόλων σῦκα;

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing  but inwardly are rapacious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits: They did not gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles. (Matthew 7:15–16)
This whole section follows from Jesus castigating the Pharisees because they said one thing and did something else. Those who do not bring forth good fruits are false prophets and do not speak for God. They should not be followed. Nevertheless, many will be deceived by them and follow them in spite of their never producing good fruits or good works.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Meek and Lowly (1987), 53-54:
However "large and spacious" that building may be, it is a third-rate hotel whose occupants are all dressed up but have no place to go. (1 Nephi 8:27.) Thus, one day He who was raised on the third day will raze this third-rate hotel.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Matthew 24:10

Jesus, discussing future events, says:
καὶ τότε σκανδαλισθήσονται πολλοὶ καὶ ἀλλήλους παραδώσουσιν καὶ μισήσουσιν ἀλλήλους·

And then many will be offended and they shall betray each other and shall hate each other. (Matthew 24:10)
The Greek term σκανδαλισθήσονται means not only to be offended, but is the source of our English term to be scandalizedm and is actually stronger than merely taking offense. This taking offense, whether or not offense was intended, will serve as an excuse for people to betray and hate each other. Offense, hatred and betrayal often go together.

In Jesus's prophesy, these events follow the betray and murder of the disciples. The implication is that first they betray the disciples because they hate them (because they hate the Lord of the disciples) but the hatred and betrayal does not stop there. Having betrayed the disciples, they then proceed to betray each other proceeding in a vicious cycle. This cycle can be seen throughout human history. It is a sure sign of ill times.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Meek and Lowly (1987), 54:
Dissenters and defectors even have a special form of pride, losing so quickly their appreciation for what they already have.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Which Work is This?

The following line looks like it could have come from the mouth of Jesus:
Despise wealth; save your soul!
It certainly sounds a lot like something out of Matthew 16:24, or Matthew 19:21, or Luke 17:33. No, this line comes from Atrahasis III i 23-24:
makkura zêrma napišta bulliṭ
This is the warning to Atrahasis, the Babylonian Noah, that a flood is coming. A few notes on the passage are in order. The Akkadian term makkuru is the equivalent of Sumerian nig-ga (as in the famous lexical text nig-ga makkuru) and means property in a general sense. It is what Babylonians strove to acquire. Wealth in Babylon was actually tied to property, to concrete physical objects. If your whole world is going to be wiped out by a flood, your property is pretty worthless. The term zêru is usually translated to hate. In the Code of Hammurapi a woman who hates or despises (zêru) her husband is allowed to divorce him. The term napištu is cognate with Hebrew nepeš, "soul" though in Akkadian it usually means something more like "life."  The verb balaṭu means to live; the D-stem used here means to make one live or save a life.

Atrahasis is faced with a rather stark choice, dictated by a mysterious voice heard through the wall of his reed hut. He needs to tear down his hut and build a boat from it. He needs to forget the wealth that he and everyone around him is acquiring and save what he can. Not just anyone would obey such a disembodied voice, yet Atrahasis did and saved his family. Perhaps there is a reason that the name Atrahasis means "exceedingly wise."

Today's Maxwell Quote

From For the Power Is in Them (1970), 20:
Our task is to react and to notice without overreacting, to let life go forward without slipping into the heedlessness of those in the days of Noah. It has been asked, and well it might be, how many of us would have jeered, or at least been privately amused, by the sight of Noah building his ark. Presumably, the laughter and the heedlessness continued until it began to rain—and kept raining! How wet some people must have been before Noah's ark suddenly seemed the only sane act in an insane, bewildering situation! To ponder signs without becoming paranoid, to be aware without frantically matching current events with expectations, using energy that should be spent in other ways these are our tasks.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sweet are the Uses of Education

Anne-Marie Maginnis has some very thoughtful observations about the uses to which an education can be put. Somehow it does not seem to me that Maginnis is wasting her education, whatever others might think.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From The Promise of Discipleship, chapter 3:
Man's choices do have consequences! Never mind that some mortals foolishly think they have both the freedom to choose and the freedom from any adverse consequences. So it is that family, neighbors, and friends so often suffer innocently from the toxic waste of another's sins—be these a betraying husband and father, a mother enticed from the nest, rebellious offspring, or the lust for riches, power, and dominance.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lost in Translation

Hugh Nibley liked to point out that historical texts cannot be adequately analyzed in translation. Here is an interesting example of that phenomenon, a unique document, part of whose uniqueness is lost in translation.

To date, only one letter survives from the Old Hittite empire. It is from the Hittite king Hattusili I (the famous one is Hattusili III) to his vassal Tunip-Teshub, the ruler of Tikunani. Letters from Hittite kings to their vassals are standard fair. We have dozens of Hittite letters from kings to their vassals. The letter starts in a common enough way:
Say to Tuniya, my servant: Thus speaks Labarna, the Great King (translation from Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., Letters from the Hittite Kingdom [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009], 77).
This is all pretty standard. Nothing in the translation betrays how strange this document is. Hattusili requests his vassal's assistance in the war that he is fighting. Again, nothing seems particularly unusual about the request.

If I reproduced the entire letter here, nothing in the translation would tell how strange this document is. The reader might be struck by Hattusili's vivid animal metaphors, but they are common in Hattusili's other surviving records. War accounts from the ancient world are fairly standard fair.

What is so unusual is apparent to anyone who reads the original. This letter, the earliest Hittite letter known, the only one to survive from the Hittite Old Kingdom, is not in Hittite at all; it is in Akkadian.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), ‎78:
Caring enough to complain is often evidence of deep and loving feelings. In fact, expressing our feelings of disappointment may be more helpful to others than to present an antiseptic, intellectual analysis of failure. The latter can be challenged and rationalized, but honest statements of feelings can make the reprover and the reproved feel enough concern to focus on what needs to be done.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


R. L. Siddall (The Reign of Adad-Nirari III [Leiden: Brill, 2013]) discusses the role of the Assyrian official, Nergal-erish, during the reign of Adad-Nirari III. (I am dropping the diacritics from the quotations.)

Nergal-erish was a governor (p. 106), not a military man (p. 108), and has been "characterised as a conniving, murderous aspirant" (p. 107). After all,
If Ninurta-kudurri-usur's account is accurate, then it is possible that Tabnea had previously been treacherous and Nergal-erish was ordered to murder the governor of Suhu. (p. 110).
Some have noticed that some of Nergal-erish's inscription have been erased.
Scholars have suggested that the erasures could have been undertaken because Nergal-erish was disgraced and thus removed from the royal administration, or that his rebuilding project was a failure. (p. 111).
Some have suggested that
the magnates' unwillingness to relinquish their political authority created a power struggle at the expense of the empire. (p. 103).
These suggestions are difficult to evaluate so many millennia after the fact.
What is indicative is that Nergal-erish alone suffered erasure of his name from monuments. (p. 111).
If Nergal-erish was the only official whose name was defaced from monuments, then it is more plausible to postulate that he was disgraced and his career was removed from the public royal monuments. (p. 112).
One also notes that
The stability of the Middle Euphrates region seems to have come to an end soon after the close of Nergal-erish's term. Following his probable removal, the Middle Euphrates region fell from Assyrian control. (p.118).
Or, perhaps, Nergal-erish was responsible for the collapse of the Middle Euphrates region and so was removed from office and had his name defaced from the monuments. At this remove it is too difficult to tell on the scanty evidence whether Nergal-erish was responsible for holding the region together or tearing it apart. He may have done both.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 80-81:

One of the most intricate challenges facing us as human beings, as well as those circumstances where we are playing a leader's role, is to avoid intellectualizing our faith, so that it is divorced from feeling. In his excellent book, The Devil's Advocate, Morris West has this counsel for a discouraged cleric:
". . . the problem is that . . . we have reduced the faith to an intellectual conception, an arid assent of the will, because we have not seen it working in the lives of common folk. We have lost pity and fear and love. We are the guardians of mysteries but have lost our awe of them. We work by canon and not by charity." 
Faith which operates in open human relations where there is an atmosphere of challenge and candor is not likely to become an "arid assent."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Impact and Impact

Impact factor is what some academic institutions use measure whether their research is useful. Impact factor uses algorithms to determine how often something is cited. Being quoted (for good or ill) is the equivalent of having an impact.

Then there is actually having an impact on real life. Academics seem to prefer the approval of others in the great and spacious building to having an impact on real life. You can read more about this here. (Yes, there is an academic scandal involved, but the larger issue is whether having an impact within the walls of the ivory tower or one outside is more useful.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Lord Increase Our Faith (1994), 61:
Given its unique importance, it is not surprising that ever since the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 disbelievers and detractors have preferred any explanation of its coming forth to the real one! This disdain was foreseen by the Lord, who consoled Joseph: "Behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you" (D&C 5:7).

Apparently, even if skeptics had been shown the Urim and Thummim and the plates, it would not have convinced them.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Assyrian Ideology

Mario Liverani usually has an interesting way of looking at the ancient Near East. His Marxism is prominent but he tends to think things through carefully and uses real data which sets him apart from many other Marxists.

In his classic article on Assyrian ideology and propaganda he explains the rationale for ideology:
In the case of imperialism it [ideology] has the aim of bringing about the exploitation of man by man, by providing the motivation to receive the situation of inequality as "right", as based on qualitative differences, as entrusted to the "right" people for the good of all. (Mario Liverani, "The Ideology of the Assyrian Empire," in Power and Propaganda, ed. Mogens Trolle Larsen [Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1979], 298.)
One might be inclined to think, as many of my colleagues see to, that purveyors of ideology and the propaganda associated with it are simply cynically concocting and promoting it for their own selfish reasons, as a justification to the benighted subjects for their exploitation. Liverani, however, points out that such is a mistake. The ideology is for the exploiters to justify their exploitation to themselves:
The authors of the ideology and beneficiaries of the imperialism (i.e., the Assyrian ruling class), also need to be ideologically motivated. It is not that they do not have sufficient motivation in terms of power and economic benefits (they are the only ones to have them). . . . What I mean by this is that an effective, victorious, enduring imperialism is generally a self-convinced and even fanatical imperialism. It is anything by an ordinary criminal set-up deliberately prompted merely by practical motives. (Liverani, "The Ideology of the Assyrian Empire," 299.)
So, in an empire that seizes and exploits the resources of others, the exploiters fanatically believe they are justified in their exploitation.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Lord Increase Our Faith (1994), 63:
However, the attacks on and efforts to undermine the Book of Mormon will doubtless continue. Those who cannot explain the book will try to diminish it in any way they can. Sad to say, a few seek to redefine the Book of Mormon in order to believe in it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Matthew 24:9

Approaching this verse, Jesus has just warned his disciples that famines and plagues will only be the beginning of their problems:
τότε παραδώσουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς θλῖψιν καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν ὑμᾶς, καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου.

Then they will betray you to suffering and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations because of my name. (Matthew 24:9)
Disciples should expect betrayal and to be hated. While the individuals hating the disciples is clearly "all the nations" or "all the Gentiles" the antecedent to the verbs for betraying and killing is less clear. The last previous plural personal noun mentioned in the chapter is back in verse 5: the πολλοὶ  ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου "many who will come in my name" (Matthew 24:5). It would appear that those who claim to represent Jesus will be those who will betray the disciples and attempt to kill them. This is not a pleasant prospect.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
On the sixth of April, 1845, the Twelve Apostles issued a proclamation which included these words:

As this work progresses in its onward course, and becomes more and more an object of political and religious interest and excitement, no king, ruler, or subject, no community or individual, will stand neutral. All will at length be influenced by one spirit or the other; and will take sides either for or against the kingdom of God. (Messages of the First Presidency, p. 257)

Such audacity! Except for apostles. Such presumptuousness! Except for prophets. That prophecy is underway.