Thursday, October 31, 2013

Matthew 24:14

Throughout his prophecy of what will happen, Jesus has repeatedly told his disciples that certain things were not a sign of the end. Wars and rumors of wars, for example, are not signs of the end (Matthew 24:6). Plagues, famines and earthquakes are just the beginning (Matthew 24:7-8). Afflictions, offenses, hatred, betrayals, persecutions, false prophets must all be endured before the end (Matthew 24:9-13). Finally, Jesus gives his disciples a sign of the end:
καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the civilized world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
The end comes only after the voice of warning goes to all nations.

Two questions, however, remain unanswered in the passage. What is this gospel that must be preached? The end of what? Each of those questions needs to be considered.

Matthew uses the term gospel four times (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 26:13), three of them in the phrase "the gospel of the kingdom." But for all that, he never tells us what it is, probably because he and his original readers already knew what it was. Probably the closest we get to understanding it is the final charge in Matthew 28:18-20, but that is probably a summary statement.

What end Jesus is referring to also needs to be considered. Many assume that the end is the end of the world. Some assume that it refers to the end of things as we know them. Hugh Nibley, in an unpublished manuscript entitled "The End of What", argued that it was the end of the Church. Another way of looking at the matter is to consider that τὸ τέλος means the end in the sense of the goal. So the goal is to have the gospel preached in all the world. The initial question was about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the appearance of Jesus, and the end of the world. It would appear that if Jesus took those questions in order (and they do not refer to the same thing), that the end in question is the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. This would seem to be supported by the next verse which talks about the abomination of desolation.

Whichever it was, the preaching of the gospel was the key prediction.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
The day the Prophet Joseph ended his bondage in Liberty Jail, 6 April 1839, involved yet another significant event. Heber C. Kimball recorded in his journal that on that day

the following words came to my mind, and the Spirit said unto me, "write," which I did by taking a piece of paper and writing on my knee as follows: . . . "Verily I say unto my servant Heber, thou art my son, in whom I am well pleased for thou art careful to hearken to my words, and not transgress my law, nor rebel against my servant Joseph Smith, for thou has a respect to the words of mine anointed, even from the least to the greatest of them; therefore thy name is written in heaven, no more to be blotted out for ever, because of these things." [Words, p. 18]

Note how much importance the Lord attached to our being loyal to his servants! It is no different now.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Some Older News Finally Makes the Headlines

Two recent reports (here and here) talk about how the so-called Affordable Care Act (apparently Congress is exempt from truth in advertizing laws) is making life as an adjunct instructor in colleges, which was already abysmal, even worse. In response to the claim that adjuncts are now in purgatory, John Rosenberg claims:
More recent data suggests that the adjuncts and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly transported to a much hotter location. - See more at:
More recent data suggests that the adjuncts and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly transported to a much hotter location.
Perhaps this realization is just hitting some colleges and universities (and thus media outlets), but my friends who are adjuncts were hit by the problem a long time ago (also noted here back in April). Several of them were dropped and those who were not have had their hours severely curtailed. Yet for all that, university administrators are behaving in a strictly rational manner. I do not fault them. (I do think there are individual instances where one could make a case that productive adjuncts have been dropped when unproductive employees were retained.) It seems that universities that have relied heavily on adjuncts will either have to hire more of them to do less work, or rely more on full time faculty. Either option exacerbates the problem for adjuncts.


e recent data suggests that the adjuncts and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly transported to a much hotter location. - See more at:
More recent data suggests that the adjuncts and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly transported to a much hotter location. - See more at:
More recent data suggests that the adjuncts and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly transported to a much hotter location. - See more at:
More recent data suggests that the adjuncts and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly transported to a much hotter location. - See more at:
More recent data suggests that the adjuncts and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly transported to a much hotter location. - See more at:

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 34:
One of the great qualities Jesus had was his ability to demand of his disciples quality in thought and action, which, while temporarily uncomfortable, finally produced a cohesive kind of loyalty based on a sense of accomplishment which all followers very much need to have. One wonders if the tolerance of unnecessary mediocrity in others isn't at some deep level of consciousness, a way of protecting ourselves or excusing ourselves for our own personal mediocrity. In human relationships there are too many tacit, silent deals in which one person agrees not to demand full measure, if the other person will agree to mediocrity when excellence may be possible. In any event, the unwillingness of most leaders to set standards, to administer feedback when standards are not met, to praise clearly when standards are met, stands in the way of the development of excellence on the part of followers with inevitable loss in follower effectiveness and follower satisfaction. The leader who makes no demands of his disciples cannot really lead them at all. The sense of new excitement and new challenge generated by the gospel will be blunted by leaders who shield followers from the full demands of followership.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Solutions that Do Not Work

A recent article by an economist on a particular problem have wider application. I would like to highlight a couple of proposed solutions that she says will not work because they have wider applicability than the particular problem she is discussing.

The first of these is denial:
For those of us who are not Jedi warriors, refusing to admit it when something has gone wrong usually makes the problem worse, not better. Once people understand that you’re willing to lie to them about how well things are going, you lose a lot of the support that you’ll need to fix the mess you’ve made.
The second of these she terms blamestorming. This neologism has a particular meaning:
it describes the tendency of an organization in which things have gone wrong to waste a lot of time looking for a scapegoat rather than, say, fixing the problem.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
The ecology of effectiveness in human affairs suggests, for instance, that concentrating on the quality of life in the home is, ultimately, the best way to raise the quality of life in society. A concern for justice in the home—experienced and discussed—could do much to assure concern for the underprivileged, which could undergird wise legislation or even make legislation unnecessary. One of the best ways to replicate love, trust, discipline, and concern is for children to experience these, to know their fruits, and to refuse to be satisfied with a world devoid of such qualities.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Some Useless Trivia

In honor of my one year anniversary of blogging, I look back at the most popular posts with some notes:

11. A report on the resignation of a university administrator. It is not often that people publicly tie their actions to repentance, even rarer that people will repent of their improper actions relating to someone else's crime.

10. The debunking of a certain malicious rumor.

9. A report on book burning at San Jose State. The irony of someone opposed to carbon emissions deliberately burning something is both astounding and hypocritical.

8. A response to the accusation that I believe the Book of Abraham is pseudepigrapha.

7. A memorial about some great people that I have been privileged to work with. These were and are really great people.

6. A report on an article discussing a bullseye from the Book of Abraham.

5. A report on Syvia Nasar's lawsuit against her own university for misusing the funds of her endowed chair.

4. A retrospective on Hugh Nibley's famous (or infamous) talk on Leaders to Managers. This talk was one of Nibley's more popular talks but was very unpopular in certain quarters. Nibley's reading of the Book of Mormon was usually very careful, but I think he distorted it a bit here to make his point.

3. A report about an archaeologist claiming to find the city of Abraham. There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about this particular site.

2. The survey of things that Elder Maxwell had to say about doing ancient scholarship.

1. The day's Maxwell quote back on March 29th. From this quotation we know exactly what Elder Maxwell would have thought about one issue because he directly addressed it.

A number of people enter my blog through the very first post, so I do not count that one.


Those were not necessarily my favorite posts. Some of my favorite posts, in no particular order, were:

One can find some very strange practices in the apocrypha. This one from Tobit I find amusing.

There is a different way of looking at the Christmas story in Luke which would probably dramatically rewrite your typical Christmas pageant.

Looking at leadership and management among the Vikings. In many ways I think the earlier Vikings had the right idea. The earlier notions of leadership may have worked better than the later ones.

You would not normally think about foreign relations between the Roman and Chinese empires, but there was some ancient Chinese influence on Roman economic policy. The ancient world was much more interconnected than many of those of us who study it would like to think.

I have always found the notion of Coptic Buddhism amusing, but it actually exists in a way.


All told I have published 758 posts in the past year on this blog, averaging just over two a day. Originally I thought that I would be putting out about one every two weeks.


One of the constant themes in this blog was expressed by Screwtape in C.S. Lewis's book, The Screwtape Letters (chapter 27):
Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so.
Old books should be read by more than just the learned. Things in old books enlarge the memory of people (Alma 37:8) and seeing their mistakes might help us to avoid those same mistakes (Mormon 9:31). Perhaps that is being too optimistic.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 58-59:
One reason the Church can stand with comparative independence is that it is founded upon the truth about things as they really are. Though the "way of truth shall be evil spoken of," and though such "pillars of the truth" are a temptation to some who want to try to pull them down, the living Church will stand. A dying civilization can, of course, be annoyed by the living Church. People who are cut to the very center by the truth, the laser of our Lord that emanates from the living Church, will gladly "turn away their ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:4); it is so much less painful.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Singing Hymns in 1 Maccabees

After a big battle, the Maccabees sang a hymn:
καὶ ἐπιστραφέντες ὕμνουν καὶ εὐλόγουν εἰς οὐρανὸν ὅτι καλόν ὅτι εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ

And they returned singing hymns and they praised heaven: "For he is good and his mercy endureth forever" (1 Maccabees 4:24)
The line "For he is good and his mercy endureth forever" is actually the name of the psalm that they sang. It was Psalm 118 which repeats the line a number of times during the course of the psalm. It is also said to have been sung in 2 Chronicles 5:13; 7:3; and Ezra 3:11. It appears to have been one of the more popular of the psalms. It seems to be less popular in modern times.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 45-46:
The revelation of 1830 in which Christ said that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" (D&C 1:30.) . . . was, and is, a designation so significant that the key words contained within it must not be passed over lightly.

The word only asserts a uniqueness and singularity about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the exclusive ecclesiastical, authority-bearing agent for our Father in heaven in this dispensation.

Had the Lord said the Church is a true and living church (or if the name given had been A Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), this would have implied there are other fully acceptable alternatives available to man. Thus what was said by the Lord in 1830, not surprisingly, was consistent with the instructions given in the grove to Joseph Smith in 1820; the answer to Joseph's prayer about which church to join was, "Join none of them."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Euphemisticly Speaking

Academia loves both jargon and euphemisms. It probably loves jargon more, but the two are closely related because both are a means of avoiding plain talking. Arthur Henry King used to emphasize to his Shakespeare classes how little plain speech there was in Shakespeare because the characters were more interested in affectation and impressing others.

So, a piece by Charles Krauthammer on the subject of euphemisms this week caught my attention. He is talking about politicians; I will excerpt a few quotes that I think apply to academia and elsewhere as well.

Krauthammer lists a number of recent cases of egregious euphemisms and asks why they should be used.
After all, famously declared Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?

Well, it makes a difference, first, because truth is a virtue. Second, because if you keep lying to the American people, they may seriously question whether anything you say — for example, about the benign nature of NSA surveillance — is not another self-serving lie.

And third, because leading a country through yet another long twilight struggle requires not just honesty but clarity.
Euphemisms, Krauthammer argues, lead to confusion.
The confusion of language is a direct result of a confusion of policy — which is served by constant obfuscation.
And whither does this obfuscation lead?
The result is visible ambivalence that leads to vacillating policy reeking of incoherence. 
In academia obfuscation is often used to mask muddled thinking and incoherent arguments.
The wordplay is merely cover for uncertain policy embedded in confusion and ambivalence about the whole enterprise.
I understand the need for disciplines to have specific jargon. Sailors, for example, have a name for every rope on the boat. Apprentices were required to "learn the ropes" (the origin of that phrase) so that they would then "know the ropes" (the origin of that phrase) so that when an order to do something specific with a certain rope was given, the sailor would know exactly what to do, which could mean life or death for the whole ship in some situations. From an outsider's perpective, all that nautical terminology is jargon; from an insider's perspective it is necessary specificity. But the advantage of knowing the ropes, is that in calm seas you can teach someone else the ropes. Too often in academia, obfuscation is used to obscure the fact that you really do not know what you are talking about. As Hugh Nibley once said, "If you cannot explain it to a five-year old, you probably do not understand it yourself."

Euphemisms are often failed attempts to candy-coat a policy reeking of incoherence.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Wonderful Flood of Light (1990), 6:
Words that are harsh-sounding and uninviting to moderns are woven into the fabric of the gospel—words such as repentance and obedience. In his "careful" conditioning process (see 2 Nephi 28:21) the adversary has seen to it that words like these give religion a bad name. In a world with a marketplace orientation such words have no soothing or appealing "marketing" dimension to them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Blessed are the Meek, for They Shall Inherit the Earth

Visiting grade schools occasionally one cannot help notice the prominent displaying of posters about what a child should do when he or she is bullied. I cannot imagine that these measures would have been effective when I was in school. The very presence of these sorts of posters (which were not around back then) makes me wonder if bullying is more common now than then. When I see these posters, I also wonder how effective the advice that they give actually is. My guess is, not much. Two reports out this week confirm my hunch.

In the first one, it is noted that
what’s really changed is that real bullies don’t face consequences anymore.

It used to be that bullies had something to worry about. The bullied kid might catch them alone and beat them up. These days, that’s hardly a risk at all. We’ve become a society that views physical force, even in self-defense, as unacceptable.
This is not just idle talk:
Across the country, there are stories of bullied kids who fought back . . . and were promptly suspended or expelled. Last year, 9-year-old Nathan Pemberton of Colorado Springs fought back after his bully physically attacked him. He was suspended.
Last week in Stafford, Texas, a bullied girl who was getting beat up by her tormentor dared to not just take it. She was promptly expelled despite the fact that this was a modern sort of fight — that is, caught entirely on cell-phone video. Is the official policy to just quietly surrender when you’re being pummeled?
Though we often talk about blaming the victim, this is actually punishing the victim. The author notes that two teenage girls, who bullied a classmate so much that she committed suicide and then bragged about it, are unlikely to receive any punishment for their actions.
The bullies of our youth could be stopped with a surprise punch. The ones of today have protection from that, thanks to our zero-tolerance policies. We’re raising a generation of superbullies.
The other story is about what happens when schoolyard bullies grow up and enter the workplace. If "between 30 and 37 percent" of people "have been bullied at work," then there certainly is a problem there as well. Reportedly
workplace bullying can lead to psychosomatic illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and increased medical expenses, not to mention reduced productivity.
One would think that the reduced productivity alone would be sufficient reason to be concerned about the problem.

The article cites Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik who
calls the worst workplace bullies "high aggressives."

"They don't have a well-developed sense of empathy," she says. "They are high on narcissism."

They are horrible one second to a target, she says, then perform beautifully with smiles for a supervisor.
the way bullies treat others has a lot to do with perceived social status. People above them get treated well, those "below" not so well.
Lutgen-Sandvik says that bullies
target anyone perceived as a threat. Bullies fear losing their place of power. Driven by fear, she says, they don't care about others' feelings. 
Bullies are concerned mainly with themselves.
"Bullies target kind people," [Sam] Horn says. "Popular people. People others respect. Bullies see such people as threats. Bullies feel intimidated and target their victims to diminish them — thinking that if they shrink their victim it will make them taller."

Because the victims often have high senses of empathy and morality, Horn says, they are confounded by the bully. "They can't believe that someone would act this way," she says. "Because they are people of integrity, they question themselves and ... feel powerless."
 The common advice is to confront the bully. That advice might not be the wisest.
[Gary] Namie says confrontations or reporting the incident to a boss or human resources officer may only increase the bullying as the bully feels threatened and retaliates. A study by the institute says 69 percent of victims have confronted the bully and 93 percent of those confrontations failed to stop the bullying.
When the odds are one in fourteen, you have better odds at craps. The problem with several recommended strategies in dealing with bullies is that they work only in exceptional cases.
[Sam] Horn admits, however, there is no one right way to deal with bullies.
Other proposed strategies also do not work.
It may be, however, because of his position in the company, the bully won't be cowed, reprimanded or fired. In cases where the victim was required to go through mediation with the bully, 33 percent of the time the victim was fired or quit. The perpetrators were fired only 3 percent of the time.
So working through mediation or human resources has only half the success of confrontation. And in a third of cases, it is the victim who is punished. Any strategy that is eleven times more likely to punish the victim rather than the perpetrator is not an effective strategy for justice.

In the end,
a company has to tolerate bullies for them to exist [in the workplace].
This is why I am not sanguine that a program or push by a politician, no matter how well intended, is going to stop bullying in the schools. If there are no effective methods of stopping bullies, then good intentions alone will neither prevent nor stop bullying. One could legislate that the tide should not come in and that might be as effective. Such well-intentioned efforts are even less persuasive if the politician in question resorts to bullying himself. Some of them do not even realize the irony or the hypocrisy.

Historically, there have always been bullies. If the conventional wisdom is that rewarding behavior generates more of it, then we should expect bullying to increase.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Men and Women of Christ (1991), 59:
Lest we worry overmuch that our meekness might be an open invitation for others to abuse us, it is well to note some of its less-understood features. For example, meekness may not always "win", especially in worldly matters or in the short run; but in the long run the meek will inherit the earth. And meekness is not the acceptance of imposition; it can still be firm, still insist on fairness, even reprove with sharpness on occasion. Meekness also can ask inspired, piercing questions. Meekness impels us to speak the truth in love. Meekness brings its own compensatory blessings, especially that of an enhanced direction from the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reading Between the Headlines

This news story tells about the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the Liberty Jail visitor's center. This is the list of speakers for the two day event:
  • M. Russell Ballard (member of the Quorum of the Twelve)
  • Robert C. Gay (member of the First Quorum of the Seventy)
  • Karl Ricks Anderson (local historian from Kirtland, Ohio)
  • Donald Keyes (president of the Missouri Independence Mission)
  • Alexander Baugh (professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU)
  • Susan Easton Black Durrant (professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU)
  • Daniel C. Peterson (professor of Islamic studies at BYU)
I have heard rumors that say that Professor Peterson is not in the favor of Church leaders in Salt Lake. I have a hard time squaring such rumors with the fact that he was invited to speak on such an occasion. I suspect that the rumors are wishful thinking on the part of those circulating them.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 81:
Sometimes opposition is undeservedly intimidating simply because we do not know of or use the resources available to us with which to deal with that challenge; we lack the perspective necessary to place that challenge in proper perspective. It was G. K. Chesterton who asserted that the humble man often sees big things because, first of all, he strains his eyes more than the average man in order to see what other men miss. Second, the humble man is both genuinely overwhelmed and uplifted by his adventures in wider perspective. Third, the humble man is apt to record such remarkable experiences (in his mind and for others) more accurately than if he were processing these experiences through proud, perceptual screens.

One cannot read of Moses, though raised in a royal court, still being described in the scriptures as "very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3), without pondering the importance of meekness, since the meek shall inherit the earth.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Replicating Research

Two recent pieces discuss endemic problems in research, one from a general perspective (from which I will quote), and one from a specific case (warning: unnecessary crude language). The problem is replication of results.

In scholarship findings should, in theory, be able to be checked. In epigraphic disciplines, one should be able to collate the texts. In historical disciplines, one should be able check the footnotes. In experimental disciplines, one should be able to reproduce the experiment. For years I checked Hugh Nibley's footnotes. I developed a sense for how accurate he was based on how much time I spent finding things. Then I decided to actually count the percentages. My guesses were wrong. I spent much more time looking for problem footnotes and so overestimated the number of them that there were.
Analysis of a random chapter showed that of its almost seven hundred citations, Nibley was completely accurate 94 percent of the time, and in more than half of these remaining forty cases, one could explain the problem as a typographical error. (CWHN 16:xx.)
Checking footnotes is very time consuming and can be quite expensive. It is thus rarely done. I concluded that for Nibley it was probably an unnecessary expense. My recommendations were ignored, in part because many individuals had unfairly accused Nibley of faking his footnotes. (I remember checking the footnotes of someone who accused Nibley of faking his footnotes and found that a third of the footnotes of the accuser were wrong.)

But the sciences ought to do better at this, right? Well, not necessarily:
A few years ago scientists at Amgen, an American drug company, tried to replicate 53 studies that they considered landmarks in the basic science of cancer, often co-operating closely with the original researchers to ensure that their experimental technique matched the one used first time round. According to a piece they wrote last year in Nature, a leading scientific journal, they were able to reproduce the original results in just six. Months earlier Florian Prinz and his colleagues at Bayer HealthCare, a German pharmaceutical giant, reported in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, a sister journal, that they had successfully reproduced the published results in just a quarter of 67 seminal studies.
So only about one in nine to one in four key drug experiments were replicated. Nibley was a lot better than that.

But peer review is supposed to catch errors. Unfortunately, it often does not.
The idea that there are a lot of uncorrected flaws in published studies may seem hard to square with the fact that almost all of them will have been through peer-review. This sort of scrutiny by disinterested experts—acting out of a sense of professional obligation, rather than for pay—is often said to make the scientific literature particularly reliable. In practice it is poor at detecting many types of error.

John Bohannon, a biologist at Harvard, recently submitted a pseudonymous paper on the effects of a chemical derived from lichen on cancer cells to 304 journals describing themselves as using peer review. An unusual move; but it was an unusual paper, concocted wholesale and stuffed with clangers in study design, analysis and interpretation of results. Receiving this dog’s dinner from a fictitious researcher at a made up university, 157 of the journals accepted it for publication.

Dr Bohannon’s sting was directed at the lower tier of academic journals. But in a classic 1998 study Fiona Godlee, editor of the prestigious British Medical Journal, sent an article containing eight deliberate mistakes in study design, analysis and interpretation to more than 200 of the BMJ’s regular reviewers. Not one picked out all the mistakes. On average, they reported fewer than two; some did not spot any.
And there are other problems with peer review:
As well as not spotting things they ought to spot, there is a lot that peer reviewers do not even try to check. They do not typically re-analyse the data presented from scratch, contenting themselves with a sense that the authors’ analysis is properly conceived. And they cannot be expected to spot deliberate falsifications if they are carried out with a modicum of subtlety.

Still, these things get corrected eventually. Perhaps not:
Academic scientists readily acknowledge that they often get things wrong. But they also hold fast to the idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further. Evidence that many more dodgy results are published than are subsequently corrected or withdrawn calls that much-vaunted capacity for self-correction into question. There are errors in a lot more of the scientific papers being published, written about and acted on than anyone would normally suppose, or like to think.
The trouble is that few scholars check their colleagues work, especially when there is pressure to continue publishing one's own work. Furthermore, pointing out your colleagues' errors is a good way to make enemies (academics often have extremely thin skins), so most people will not publicly point out when their colleagues write garbage even if they recognize it to be such. Besides, one would like to think that one can trust one's colleagues. In such cases (which may be more prevalent than one would like to think) collegiality is the enemy of academic progress.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Even As I Am (1982), 81-82:
Modern prophets in our day, like the Galilean fishermen, utter truths that many people are not able to bear. The establishment in the meridian of time was not threatened by the exalted Beatitudes of Jesus, but by the direct and clear testimonies of the exalted role of Jesus of Nazareth. Sufficient unto each dispensation are the stumbling blocks thereof!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On Religious Studies and the Death of the Humanities

Se-Woong Koo, a lecturer at Yale (poor fellow), recently wrote about the death of the humanities in Inside Higher Ed. Here are some highlights:

In all those years I was pursuing a Ph.D. in religious studies, thee [sic] question of what my profession really stood for rarely came up in conversation with fellow academics.
So those in religious studies rarely discuss what the discipline is really up to. Critical thinking apparently is something applied to others, never themselves.
I saw my teachers and peers struggle against the tide of general indifference aimed at our discipline and succumb to unhappiness or cynicism. It was heartbreaking.
So the practitioners of the discipline are unhappy and cynical and the public is apathetic. This matches my experience too.

The author went to teach in Bangladesh.
My new students came from 12 different countries, and many of them had been brought up in deeply religious households, representing nearly all traditions practiced throughout Asia. They, however, knew about religion only what they had heard from priests, monks, or imams, and did not understand what it meant to study religion from an academic point of view.
So the intrepid author was ready to teach these poor benighted rubes about what religion really is about. After all, he had a degree in religious studies.
But what was meant to be a straightforward comparison of religious traditions around the region quickly slipped from my control and morphed into a terrible mess. I remember an early lesson: When I suggested during a class on religious pilgrimage that a visit to a Muslim saint’s shrine had the potential to constitute worship, it incited a near-riot.

Several Muslim students immediately protested that I was suggesting heresy, citing a Quranic injunction that only Allah should be revered. . . . Instead of provoking a thoughtful discussion, my idea of comparative religious studies seemed only to strike students as blasphemous.
So here was someone who knew a little about a bunch of different religions trying to teach a group of students about their religions about which he knows a little and they know a great deal. He did not know enough about their religion to know that some of the things that he was saying were deeply offensive. In other words, he knew a little, but not enough.

I have found that, in general, those in religious studies do not understand blasphemy very well. They have no visceral response to it, whereas those who are actually religious usually do. Practitioners of religious studies also do not understand that the basic ideas of religious studies are largely blasphemous. (A kindly man once pointed out to me that my calling his faith a religion was, itself, offensive; I changed my paper accordingly.)
With my early enthusiasm and amusement depleted, I was ready to declare neutral instruction of religion in Bangladesh impossible. But over the course of the semester I could discern one positive effect of our classroom exercise: students’ increasing skepticism toward received wisdom.
Increased skepticism is a positive effect? I think his earlier conclusion was wiser. Religion is not neutral ground. Anyone who thinks differently does not understand it.

The author continues his narrative and came to the conclusion that:
The humanities is not just about disseminating facts or teaching interpretive skills or making a living; it is about taking a very public stance that above the specifics of widely divergent human ideas exist more important, universally applicable ideals of truth and freedom.
Yes, some things are more important than others and it is important to be able to articulate what they are. Specifically,
humanistic endeavor is meant to make us not only better thinkers, but also more empowered and virtuous human beings.
When scandal befell his institution (which involved appointing someone to fill an administrative post without proper academic credentials--in this case any academic credentials), most of his colleagues advised him to do nothing.
Several of my colleagues on the faculty, though wonderful as individuals, demurred from taking a stance for fear of being targeted by the administration for retribution or losing the professional and financial benefits they enjoyed.
Neal A. Maxwell once wryly observed:
Professors of philosophy often discuss the reality of reality, sometimes with great intensity and sometimes with bemused detachment-but they always cash their paychecks.
(Things As They Really Are, footnote to chapter 1)
While some faculty, at least those who are not cynical, might still have some devotion to ideals, administrators tend to have no vested interest in being virtuous or promoting virtue, and are often petty tyrants.
It was simultaneously flummoxing and devastating to hear a humanist say that when called to think about the real-life implications of our discipline, we should resort to inaction.
 He notes that his students
gave up and succumbed to cynicism about higher education and the world, seeing many of their professors do nothing to live by the principles taught in class, and recognizing the humanities as exquisitely crafted words utterly devoid of substance.
 So, the author too concludes:
I can only conclude, with no small amount of sadness, that most humanists are not, nor do they care to be, exemplary human beings.
And so,
the humanities will always appear irrelevant as long as its practitioners refrain from demonstrating a tangible link between what they preach and how they behave.
It seems to me that Koo has provided two interesting insights, one intentionally and one unintentionally. The first insight, which was unintentional, is that the branch of humanities that he studied, religious studies, is a blasphemous parasite on the religions it studies. (This is not to say that it has to be that way or should be that way, but that mostly it is that way.) The second is that the humanities has failed to make people better people. It fails as a religion. Hugh Nibley recognized this more than half a century ago in a discussion of his own education:
Typical was the committee's rejection of my first subject for a thesis: I wanted to write about the perennial phenomenon of the mob in the ancient world; the the committee found the subject altogether too unreal, too irrelevant to the mood and spirit of the modern world, to appeal even to normal curiosity. How could you expect such men to be aware of the desperately lonely and unhappy young people all around them, seething with resentment and building up to some kind of an explosion (which occurred in the sixties), frustrated at every turn as they asked for the bread of life and got only processed academic factory food served at an automat? (CWHN 17:13).
Those searching for the bread of life will not find it in the humanities, much less in religious studies.

Time after time, scholars note that various ancient cultures have no word for religion. (Notice that English has to use a loan word from another language.) Religion was just what one did because of one's relationship with God. Religious studies, as presently practiced, does nothing to improve behavior and neither does the humanities. They are a poor substitute for religion or faith itself.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Even As I Am (1982), 76:
Power and authority and position, as Jesus taught and showed us, are not to be misused by us for personal gain or self-gratification. Almost all—not just a few—succumb to this particular temptation. Jesus was the enormous exception. Gloriously, Jesus did not succumb. Our opportunities to do selflessly likewise will occur more than once in our lives, and we are much more likely to do likewise if we are meek and humble.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who Would Have Thought We'd Make the Top Ten

A rather unusual entry speculates that in the future there will only be ten universities, and BYU is on the list. Of course, we are listed tenth out of ten, below three universities that actually do not exist yet. But I notice that UC Berkeley, Claremont, Yale, Utah State, and University of Virginia did not make the cut.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From The Smallest Part (1973), 32:
Verity in theology makes for accuracy in action, while doubt and disbelief lead to disjunctive action. Secularism has even drawn some churches behind it with the result noted by Samuel Callan, in which: ". . . the church will wed herself to the culture of the day and be a widow within each succeeding age. . . ."

Where men reject absolute truths and legitimate authority, there are subsequently no criteria for decisions, no direction, and no brakes, while an ever-present sense of hurrying moves such individuals forward to "catch the fashionable insanity." All too often we see a "perversion . . . become a convention."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Accepting the Will of Heaven

At the end of a rousing speech urging the defense of the temple, Judas Maccabees tells the people:
ὡς δ' ἂν ᾖ θέλημα ἐν οὐρανῷ οὕτως ποιήσει

Whatsoever be the will in heaven, so it will be done. (1 Maccabees 3:60)
This, of course, is echoed in the Lord's Prayer:
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς.

May thy will happen, as in heaven, so also on earth. (Matthew 6:10)
The hope is that the will of heaven will happen on earth, which does not seem likely to be the case most of the time. This life is a time when terrible things happen on earth. Men do terrible things to each other. Sometimes these terrible things are feigned to be the will of heaven. I have a hard time believing that firing a single mother who has done nothing wrong, for example, and leaving her without means of support is really the will of heaven. (James 1:27 argues against such a perverse notion.) What this means is that after two thousand years the Lord's Prayer is still valid.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 93-94:
So very much of pure prayer seems to be the process of first discovering, rather than requesting, the will of our Father in heaven and then aligning ourselves therewith. The "Thy will be done" example in the Lord's Prayer reached its zenith in the Savior's later prayer in Gethsemane and in His still later submittal on the cross: "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39.) ‎When we do conform to His will, God will pour forth special blessings from heaven upon us, as was the case with Nephi, the son of Helaman. Of him the Lord said, "And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will." (Helaman 10:5. Italics added.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Salvation as Politics

When Judas the Hammerer went to war against the Persians, he began to have success against them. The account in 1 Maccabees says of his military victories that
εὐοδώθη σωτηρία ἐν χειρὶ αὐτοῦ

salvation prospered in his hand (1 Maccabees 3:6)
So the idea that salvation could be a political or military matter was certainly attested in ancient Judaism. The ancient notion of salvation incorporates political and military success, but includes much more than those notions. It also encompassed ideas of healing, and of eternal life.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 42:
How tragic it is that so many mortals are mercenaries for the adversary; that is, they do his bidding and are hired by him—bought off at such low prices. A little status, a little money, a little praise, a little fleeting fame, and they are willing to do the bidding of him who can offer all sorts of transitory "rewards," but who has no celestial currency. It is amazing how well the adversary has done; his mercenaries never seem to discover the self-destructive nature of their pay and the awful bankruptcy of their poor paymaster!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Prophets After Our Own Hearts

My friend and colleague, Ralph Hancock, has a very thoughtful piece in First Things (of all places) about one-sided openness to new revelation. His considered commentary should be carefully read.

It seems to me that lobbying for a revelation to support things that we want leaves us vulnerable to a particular vice the Book of Mormon warns us against:
24 Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.
25 And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
26 Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. (Helaman 13:24–29)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 38-39:
The living prophets, if they seem monotonous, are simply reporting what they know from the living God. The fact that it is essentially the same message from dispensation to dispensation merely confirms the truth of such utterances. Monotony does not lessen verity. We may grow tired of hearing that the earth is round, but our boredom will not change its shape.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Story of Trust

I am struck by a passage in an article about why it is a waste of time to get an MBA if you are over 40:
As a floor trader, you learned you could trust people’s word.  Off the floor, you really can’t trust anyone.  You have to verify everything, and people will stick a knife in your back.  Write things down, record things, have witnesses if possible.  People will lie, make things up, and change history to fit outcomes that they want.
It is nice to know that there are some places where people are honest and trustworthy. I find it interesting that many academics would be inclined to think that the trade floor would not be one of those places.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 35:
Others believe their morals are superior to God's. Because he does not adopt their issues or jump the hurdles they wish him to jump, they are not going to extend themselves in worship of him. The Lord describes such individuals as "walking in darkness at noon-day." (D&C 95:6.) The living God will not be disregarded.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Further Thoughts on the Latest Pseudo-Scholarly Theory

I pointed the other day to a theory making the rounds that Jesus was the invention of the Roman government. This does not pass the smell test.

(1) The earliest mention of the Christians by a Roman author is Tacitus who holds a negative attitude toward the Christians.

(2) He mentions the persecution of the Christians by Nero, who obviously did not think highly of them either.

(3) The next mention is by Pliny, who has just tortured some of them and put them to death.

(4) Pliny's mention is in a letter to the emperor Trajan, whose reply says that anyone stubborn enough to continue to adhere to Christianity is certainly worthy of death.

If the Roman government were pushing worshiping Jesus, why were they then killing the people who actually did what the government purportedly wanted them to do? Does any of this sound like the Roman government invented Christ for their own political purposes?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 24-25:
There have been those who have failed or who have been treasonous to their trust, such as David, Solomon, and Judas. God foresaw the fall of David, but God was not the cause of it. It was David who from the balcony both saw and sent for Bathsheba. But God was not surprised by such sad developments.

God foresaw but did not cause Martin Harris's loss of certain pages of the translated Book of Mormon; he made plans to cope with that failure over fifteen hundred years before it was to occur. (See Preface to D&C 10 and Words of Mormon 1:6-7.)

Thus foreordination is no excuse for fatalism or arrogance or the abuse of agency.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Goals are for Losers"

Scott Adams is famous for being the creator of the cartoon strip, Dilbert. Dilbert is an irreverent and cynical look at the foibles of white-collar life. Recently, Adams wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal which contained a few of his pointers for success. I highlight three that I liked:

(1) "Goals are for losers." Adams elaborates a bit: "One should have a system instead of a goal."
Throughout my career I've had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals. In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better.
(2) "Forget about passion." Adams notes that in his own case, "Success caused passion more than passion caused success." If you are in the business of making loans,
the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet.
Hard work is more important than zeal (especially zeal without knowledge).

(3) As Adams puts it:
there is no such thing as useful information that comes from a company's management. Now I diversify and let the lying get smoothed out by all the other variables in my investments.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Even As I Am (1982), 63:
We are often overly concerned, for instance, with our acquiring or holding turf when, in fact, we are urged instead to let go of the things of the world. Any possessiveness for the things of this world is a wasted effort, for it is obviously on a collision course with reality. One's claims to turf will have no legal status in the kingdom of heaven anyway.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Doug Bush (1947-2013)

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Doug Bush last week.

I got to know Doug Bush because he used to play the piano at the Christmas parties. I think that it says something about him that in those settings, he did not draw attention to himself. Here was a world-class organist, sitting at the piano to accompany a bunch of amateur singers and the only thing you really noticed about him was he was competent (very competent). But he did not draw attention to himself or how good he really was. He just played and made it a joy to sing.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Even As I Am (1982), 48:
In the city of Enoch, we also observe the Lord producing a particular kind of people—a righteous people "of one heart and one mind" who had no poor among them. It was the outcome that the Lord has always desired and that has been achieved (and sustained) only this once in human history.

Yet it all began with a meek lad who was slow of speech and who was disliked by the people.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Even As I Am (1982), 43-44:
Submissiveness involves an invitation to come to grips with reality—to come into harmony with "things as they really are." Only then, proceeding from where one now is, can genuine spiritual progress be made. This is not mysticism, but realism; the acceptance of the truth of things as they were, as they are, and as they will become, as God's purposes for individuals and mankind unfold in the universe. Refusing to look at these realities or shielding our eyes from them—these are signs of immaturity, whereas looking with wide-eyed wonder but with eyes of faith is an act of high intelligence.

On Constancy Amid Change

A recent post points out that despite all the talk of change, and wishing for some things to change, that people who hope certain laws, like the law of gravity, are going to change anytime soon are engaged in wishful thinking at best. The post is well worth the read.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

From the Mailbag

A reader writes the following:
I read your Forn Spoll Fira blog from time to time.  I know this isn't really worth an entry, but I saw this article, and thought I would pass it on.  I'm scratching my head as to why it was written in the first place.  It's like giving a megaphone to a drunk transient who just took a hit of LSD, but it's interesting to see just how stupid some people can be.  In the same way you can't look away from a train wreck.

What can I say after that?

[See also here.]

[Link fixed]

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 14:
When people are wrong they are reinforced in their wrong by being part of a like multitude. Perhaps it is the seeming anonymity. Perhaps they somehow feel less responsible. It was irritating and unsettling to Herod to have an articulate John the Baptist around who would not practice "if you want to get along, go along." But plain people as well as prophets irritate incorrect majorities. No wonder there is scorn and shame heaped upon those who will not go along with that which is wrong, especially when evildoers become rigidly proud of their patterns of living.

Friday, October 11, 2013

For Fans of WordCruncher

For those, like me, who are fans of WordCruncher (I have been using it since 1985), may have noticed that updating one of the more recent versions deletes the files loaded from LDS View. You will need to update both versions to get use of all the files.

For those of you who are not yet fans of Word Cruncher, please visit and become one.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Even As I Am (1982), 47-48:
When we think of the Savior's mercy, we should remember how often mercy requires patience. And what is patience without time for people to change? Esau's heart was not softened toward Jacob (nor Jacob's toward Esau) the next weekend after their disputed transaction, but only years later when their caravans rendezvoused in the desert and when there was brotherly tenderness and mutual generosity.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are (1978), 13-14:
Father Lehi said of the great multitude who entered into that large and strange building, "after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not." (1 Nephi 8:33.) Yet while Lehi noticed the finger of scorn pointed at him (because he was doing that which was right), his response was not one of resentment; he "despised the shame of the world."

Readers will recall that in Nephi's interpretation of that vision, the great and spacious building was "the pride of the world." (1 Nephi 11:36.) Nephi described the fall thereof with this sobering note: "Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the lamb." The differences between the legions representing the pride of the world and those who prefer the Lord's way are irrepressible differences.

One could scarcely expect a proud world to understand, let alone approve of, those who refuse its ways. Hence the scorn and the shame that we must all come to "despise," or care so little for, that it does not deter us from doing that which is right.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reasons to Revolt

There are only a few good reasons to rebel, and no good reasons if one is rebelling against God. One rationale for rebellion might be supplied in 1 Maccabees.

The Seleucid ruler, Antiochus, wanted a united empire and decided to unite the empire under worship of his gods and thus required all to sacrifice to his gods. Here is the setting for the revolt:
καὶ ἦλθον οἱ παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως οἱ καταναγκάζοντες τὴν ἀποστασίαν εἰς μωδεϊν τὴν πόλιν ἵνα θυσιάσωσιν

And those who were compelling the apostasy came from the king to the city of Modein so that they might sacrifice. (1 Maccabees 2:15)
Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees, was approached, as a priest and leader in the community to set the example for everyone else and sacrifice like a good citizen.
καὶ ἀπεκρίθησαν οἱ παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως καὶ εἶπον τῷ ματταθια λέγοντες ἄρχων καὶ ἔνδοξος καὶ μέγας εἶ ἐν τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ καὶ ἐστηρισμένος υἱοῖς καὶ ἀδελφοῖς
νῦν πρόσελθε πρῶτος καὶ ποίησον τὸ πρόσταγμα τοῦ βασιλέως ὡς ἐποίησαν πάντα τὰ ἔθνη καὶ οἱ ἄνδρες ιουδα καὶ οἱ καταλειφθέντες ἐν ιερουσαλημ καὶ ἔσῃ σὺ καὶ οἱ υἱοί σου τῶν φίλων τοῦ βασιλέως καὶ σὺ καὶ οἱ υἱοί σου δοξασθήσεσθε ἀργυρίῳ καὶ χρυσίῳ καὶ ἀποστολαῖς πολλαῖς

And the messengers from the king said to Mattathias answered, saying, You are a leader, and notable, and great in this city and are supported by sons and brothers. Now go first and do the command of the king as all the nations and the men of Judah and those who have left Jerusalem have done, and you and your sons will be friends of the king and you and your sons will be glorified with silver and gold and many gifts.
This would have been a tempting moment for those who wish to go along and get along. What could be so bad about obeying the direct order of the king?
καὶ ἀπεκρίθη ματταθιας καὶ εἶπεν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ εἰ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τὰ ἐν οἴκῳ τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ βασιλέως ἀκούουσιν αὐτοῦ ἀποστῆναι ἕκαστος ἀπὸ λατρείας πατέρων αὐτοῦ καὶ ᾑρετίσαντο ἐν ταῖς ἐντολαῖς αὐτοῦ
κἀγὼ καὶ οἱ υἱοί μου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί μου πορευσόμεθα ἐν διαθήκῃ πατέρων ἡμῶν
ἵλεως ἡμῖν καταλιπεῖν νόμον καὶ δικαιώματα
τῶν λόγων τοῦ βασιλέως οὐκ ἀκουσόμεθα παρελθεῖν τὴν λατρείαν ἡμῶν δεξιὰν ἢ ἀριστεράν

Mattathias answered and said with a loud voice: Even though all the nations which are in the dominion of the king of kings obey him and each apostatizes from the worship of his fathers and delights in his commandments, I and my sons and my brethren will walk in the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to abandon the law and ordinances. We will not obey the word of the king to turn aside from our worship to the right or to the left. (1 Maccabees 2:15–22)
Mattathias's answer is that covenant with God trumps the command of the king. Obeying the law is good, but the law of God takes precedence over the law of man.

Maccabees frames the issue of apostasy, which is rebellion, as rebellion against God rather than rebellion against the king.

So Mattathias started a rebellion that eventually succeeded in liberating Judea from the Persians. But the justification for the rebellion was rooted in covenants with God made and kept.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 115:
We should not be dismayed if our words are reacted to as the words of earlier leaders were reacted to in Old Testament times. We read this searing indictment with regard to the insensitivity of earlier inhabitants: "But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, . . . till there was no remedy." (2 Chronicles 36:16. Italics added.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

News on Artifact Fakes

Every so often someone brings an archaeological artifact to me for authentication. Most of these end up being fakes, which is a good thing for those who bring them in since there is no law against owning a fake.

This artifact made the news recently.

Experts are calling it a fake. I am not an expert on this particular country, but compared to what I have seen I would be inclined to agree. The hindquarters do not look right to me. You can read all about it here. It is telling that this article did not appear in a media outlet in the United States.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 27-28:
So many prospective disciples of Jesus spend their lives in this middle world, confused about which camp they belong to and which cadence they are to march to. It takes real integrity to see this middle world clearly, and the new disciple must not pause in it lest he become confused and remain in that realm.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 8/4-5

Do not do something you have not first researched. Researching it is your good fortune. (P. Onch. 8/4-5)
The demotic term šn basically means to ask and thus to inquire, investigate. It is used in the sense of a inquiry or investigation into criminal acts. In a scholarly sense it would include to research. It is also used for inquiring of god for an oracle, which might be through a vessel (e.g. P. Mag. 21/1) or a lamp (e.g. P. Mag. 6/1). The noun form is also used for the result of such an inquiry, i.e., a report, or news.

This is similar to the saying of Jesus recorded in Luke:
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. (Luke 14:28–32)
Estimating whether it is possible to accomplish something before beginning is generally a sound practice. Failure to properly do your research ahead of time often reveals hidden costs which should have been counted but were not.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From The Smallest Part (1973), 21-22:
Precisely because of the force of his conscience, the Christian knows the adversary is "jamming" the signals from conscience, hoping we will drift into "mainstream" and away from the "strait and narrow" course. Satan also sends out his own signals and seeks to put an unchaste society on guard against prudery; to warn a relatively idle people about being overworked and exploited; to alert a permissive society concerning the dangers of authority precisely as that society is rushing headlong into anarchy; to prod alienated souls (who hunger for belonging and the sense of being useful and needed) to abandon the family and to avoid parenthood; to induce those wishing to be more "free" to build around themselves higher and higher walls of sensuality; and to tout "honest" books, movies, and dramas, but to avoid being honest with themselves.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Katuwas, Son of Suhis

Even most specialists of the ancient Near East have probably not heard of Katuwas, son of Suhis. He was the ruler of Carchemish about the end of the tenth century BC. Katuwas was one of the rare rulers of the ancient world to admit to defeats and setbacks in an official inscription, this one on the city gates no less. He begins his inscription with a short genealogy noting that his father was Suhis and his grandfather Astuwalamanzas. He emphasizes his justice, but then notes:
But my relatives(?) revolted against me, and therefore they caused the lands to break away from under me. (Karkamish A11a, translation from Annick Payne, Iron Age Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptrions [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012], 68.)
Katuwas then states that in spite of the loss of the lands and revenue, he was blessed that the lands still under his control were able to bring in surpluses so that he could build a temple.

Katuwas was a Neo-Hittite ruler. As the Hittite rulers before him, he learned that greedy relatives (or subordinates) are only too happy to usurp power and wealth. Fortunately, he also knew how to count his blessings.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From The Smallest Part (1973), 10:
One would think it folly, for instance, if Holland spent a significant portion of its citizens' time and money destroying the dikes that hold back the sea; it would seem even more absurd if the Dutch people stood by cheering the wrecking crews! Yet, so much of what we are doing currently in our own culture is the equivalent of breaching the dikes, of removing tried and proven safeguards.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

General Conference

Today is the second day of General Conference. Please pay attention to the proceedings.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 26-27:
There is so much that the Church stands for that will, more and more, be confronted by and coexist with evil—cheek by jowl, wheat by tares—until the end comes. Our time will become a calendar of contrasts in which the forces of evil will not only attack righteousness, but will do so with an ersatz enthusiasm and plastic nobility as they do the devil's work. By relentless pressure the adversary will seek to pull all he can into his "outer darkness" forever. It is so like him to direct our attention away from our gravest dangers. Can't you just about hear the preachments against prudery in Sodom and Gomorrah?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

General Conference

Today is General Conference. Please watch or attend.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From One More Strain of Praise (1999), 69:
One important way, therefore, in which the Church is to be "independent" involves distancing ourselves from the philosophies and persuasions of men, and from the encompassing and enveloping ways of secular societies (D&C 78:14). Secularism recruits so easily, because so many mortals "will not endure sound doctrine," but come to prefer the easier and more fashionable "commandments of men" (2 Tim. 4:3). But, of course, the fashions of the world will pass away. (See Matt. 15:9.) It will be interesting to see, for instance, how long America can sustain an inspired and constraining Constitution, if more of the people it governs become persistently permissive. Will what is now the "lesser part" reach a critical, negative mass? (See Mosiah 29.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dolls and Idols

A couple of decades back I attended a lecture by Raphael Patai on Israelite figurines. Patai argued that female figurines found on excavations in Israel were representations of the goddess Asherah, whom he identified as a female fertility goddess. He noted that the figurines were about ten inches high and made of clay. None of the figurines were labeled.

After the presentation, I asked why these figurines might not be dolls. He replied that the figurines had exaggerated sexual characteristics and that Barbie dolls did not have exaggerated sexual characteristics. At that point all the women in the room burst out laughing.

I did not ask the question to make fun of Professor Patai, whom I greatly respect. I simply wanted to hear a good argument about an alternate hypothesis. I still would.

William Dever makes the same argument that the figurines represent the goddess Asherah in his book Did God Have a Wife? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, 2005).

In discussing the archaeological context of the figurines, Dever says,
there is no obvious "pattern" of distribution that would help to specify just what these figurines signified or exactly how they were used. They were certainly not "toys" (below). (p. 181)
So Dever has promised to argue why these female figurines were not toys. A bit later in the book he fulfills his promise after a fashion. His argument is:
A few even go to the absurd extreme of declaring that the figurines are merely toys --- which I call the "Barbie-doll syndrome" (p. 188).
As effective as this mockery may be rhetorically, it is not an argument. It does not state why these figurines need to be figures of Asherah and not dolls.

Unfortunately, Dever provides some evidence that undermines his argument.

Dever notes that the figurines are found
in all sorts of contexts, nearly all domestic: in houses; in cisterns, pits, and rubbish heaps; and in debris of all kinds. But they are relatively rare in tomb deposits, as well as in clear cultic contexts (p. 180).
He continues:
context is fundamental to determining the meaning of archaeological artifacts, so we are led to conclude that the female figurines have more to do with household than with community cults, more with ongoing life events than with death and funerary rituals (pp. 180-81).
All of this fits nicely with the view that these figurines are dolls rather than idols. The Hebrew Bible mentions Asherah several times, and usually in the context of a cultic installation (e.g. Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3; 16:21; Judges 6:25-30; 1 Kings 14:23; 16:32-33; 18:19; 2 Kings 17:10, 16; 18:4; 21:3, 7; 23:4, 6-7, 14-15; Isaiah  17:8; 27:9; Jeremiah 17:2).

If the figurines were Asherah images we should expect them in the context where we usually do not find them and not in the contexts where we do.

So the question remains: Why can't these figurines be dolls?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From One More Strain of Praise (1999), 63:
Mercy, even so, is not naiveté. Nor is it uncaring indulgence. Nor is mercy to be mistaken for today's standardless and indulgent tolerance. Divine mercy has its fixed divine standards intact. When Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," He was mercifully and forgivingly acknowledging what was, nevertheless, an ignorantly induced but terrible wrong! (Luke 23:34.)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On Egyptian Apocalyptic Literature

Recently there has been an increase in interest in Egyptian apocalyptic literature. The Egyptian apocalyptic literature "creates the picture of the evil into which Egypt has fallen" (Roberto B. Gozzoli, The Writing of History in Ancient Egypt during the First Millennium BC (ca. 1070-180 BC) (London: Golden House Publications, 2006), 301.) In Roberto Gozzoli's treatment of the subject, he notes the following features of the genre:
Glorification of pharaohs immediately preceeding a foreign invasion, or fighting against an invader.
Demonisation of any foreign invasion.
The pharaoh's return
The glorious warrior of the past. (Gozzoli, The Writing of History in Ancient Egypt, 302-304.)
He observes that
it was unbelieveable for the ancient Egyptians to accept that their country might have been occupied by foreigners, unless the political situration in Egypt was weakened by some misconduct of a bad pharaoh. (Gozzoli, The Writing of History in Ancient Egypt, 303.
Yet for all its emphasis on the rottenness of the situation in Egypt, Egyptian apocalyptic literature is not necessarily dreary:
The destruction of a country and in this particular case, Egypt, is never an end, but only a representation of a fallen reality which will be some day restored to the pristine glory, once the original conditions of religious respect will be reinstated. (Roberto B. Gozzoli, The Writing of History in Ancient Egypt, 304.)
 In that sense, apocalyptic literature could actually be described as hopeful.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 83-84:
Access to the Spirit can also give us the extra wisdom in tactical situations where we might otherwise be swept along with the herd. Just because some among us today are pleading and cajoling for more and more freedom to drive themselves mad, those who do not wish to join any such march of the lemmings should not have to. But that happy decision to resist being steered along with the herd will need constant reinforcement, and the Spirit can give such to each of us.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Disappearance of the Chaldeans

From time to time it is worth taking stock of how we know what we know, or what we think we know. Sometimes certain obvious facts need to be pointed out lest we take them for granted, or worse, assume they are not true.

An example of this is the Chaldean origin of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It is generally assumed that the Nebuchadnezzar, who sacked Jerusalem and took the Jews captive into Babylon, was part of a dynasty that was Chaldean in origin. Thus the Jews were captive in Babylon, in Chaldea, and the Chaldeans were another name for the Babylonians. That may not be the case though. As Paul-Alain Beaulieu points out in a recent article:
Not only do we find no ancient claim for the Chaldean origin of the dynasty, but the term Chaldean does not appear even once in late Babylonian cuneiform documentation. (Paul-Alain Beaulieu, "Arameans, Chaldeans, and Arabs in Cuneiform Sources," in Arameans, Chaldeans, and Arabs in Babylonia and Palestine in the First Millennium B.C., ed. Angelika Berlejung and Michael P. Streck [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013], 33.)
Beaulieu points out that there are over 60,000 late Babylonian sources (ibid., 31). The Chaldeans did exist; they appear in Neo-Assyrian sources. Apparently, in Neo-Babylonian times, though, they no longer thought of themselves as Chaldeans. Another alternative is that Chaldeans may have always been an outsider designation (by Assyrians, Jews, Greeks, Romans).

This has some implications for those who would argue that Abraham's Ur of the Chaldees was located in southern Babylon based on the fact that the Neo-Babylonians thought of themselves as Chaldeans. As far as we know, they didn't.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From One More Strain of Praise (1999), 9-10:
Praise be to God, because the gospel permits us to see even more clearly "things as they really are, and . . . things as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13). If things are not seen with such gospel clarity, so many mortal lives end up being consumed by such puny purposes. Otherwise, too, without gospel perspectives human capacity can be so under-employed and improperly focused that it is like using the huge telescope on Mt. Palomar merely to study nearby Catalina Island. The grand Restoration is not only a crucial and needed restitution of "plain and precious things" but it is also a refutation of various prevailing and incorrect views of life, including the view that life is merely a meaningless brevity.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Kudos to my friend and colleague, Matt Roper, whose work, originally published here and then corss-posted here, was cited by Elder D. Todd Christofferson at a devotional at BYU-Idaho last week.

Roper is a very good scholar of the Book of Mormon. I am not surprised that his scholarship is worth looking at but am pleased that someone else thinks so.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 102:
As Wendell Johnson has warned, “. . . nothing fails like failure. . . . The tears which it produces water the soil from which it grows ever more luxuriantly.” (People in Quandries, New York: Harper Brothers, 1946, p. 12.) Some of us are simply too busy irrigating!