An update and book preview

Wrestling with ideas, writing, organization. Gustav Doré, public domain.

Wrestling with ideas, writing, organization.
Gustav Doré, public domain.

I wrote four draft posts on Saturday, two for Gospel Doctrine lessons, and two on other topics (reading the Bible with children, and one on Chaim Potok, Isaac Asimov, and reading scripture). I meant to get up early and post the next Gospel Doctrine lesson before anyone on the east coast got to Church, but things happen. Now that it’s too late for anyone English speaking today, I’ll finish it later. I still am uncertain what I’ll be doing next year for D&C, but I’m committed to doing something, and I thank you for your comments I solicited a few weeks back.

In the meantime, I was looking at a section of my book I worked on several months ago. It’s always pleasing to return to something you’ve written long enough ago to have forgotten your words, read it, and not hate it entirely. Heck, I was pretty happy with it.

What I quote below is the current introduction and (short) conclusion to section two of my book, which is all about the LDS-specific creation accounts and making sense of them. Some of this language will certainly be tweaked; I don’t like, for example, “solving the problem” or “resolving the problem” because it seems too mathematic and precise, not capturing well the adaptive or creative nature of revelation.

Introduction- <<For Latter-day Saints, any discussion of the early chapters of Genesis is complicated by the existence of the parallel creation accounts found in the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the Temple. A full exploration of these accounts is further complicated by temple covenants of narrow non-disclosure, which is expanded by most LDS into a culture of near-silence. Close attention to these creation accounts raises a number of related questions: if they are all revelatory, why don’t they all agree? Why are they different? What is the relationship between them? Don’t Moses, Abraham, and the Temple supersede Genesis? If so, why focus on Genesis?

In this second part of the book, I examine these three accounts. Although much scholarship exists on Abraham and Moses individually, examining them together with (vaguely and respectfully) the Temple account and how they are different will prove fruitful in explaining why they are different. Moreover, understanding the nature of the Book of Moses and Joseph Smith Translation are the key in unlocking most of these questions.

In producing the JST, Joseph Smith was highly attuned to problems in the biblical text— contradictions, inconsistencies, seams, “bumps,” as well as italicized text in the KJV. Many of the changes he made modified such passages. The very first chapters of the Bible offered a massive bump, which I term the Double Creation Problem. That is, Genesis 1-2:4 offers one creation account, but then Genesis 2:4 seems to start over and create everything again. They are back-to-back creation stories.

Joseph Smith went at this problem in what would become a stereotypically Mormon way, one which also echoes ancient prophetic, interpretive patterns. The JST was “not a simple, mechanical recording of divine dictum, but rather a study-and-thought process accompanied and prompted by revelation from the Lord” (per Robert J. Matthews).  Joseph provided one solution to the Double Creation Problem by embedding new prophetic knowledge (premortal existence) into a reworked text of Genesis, the Book of Moses, which is formally the JST to Genesis. After several more years of revelation as well as studying Hebrew, he provided a slightly different solution in the Book of Abraham, again embedding new prophetic knowledge and reworking the text in a JST-like process. Still apparently wrestling with this problem through study and thought accompanied by revelation, the Temple account resolved the Double Creation Problem in a way distinctly different from, but based on his previous work in Moses and Abraham. The trajectory of Moses and Abraham point to the Temple.

To be clear, I am examining merely one facet of the creation portion of Moses, Abraham, and the temple. I do not think Joseph’s wrestling with the Double-Creation Problem fully accounts for these texts and rituals, but is an important and unrecognized aspect of them. Moreover, framing the Moses, Abraham, and Temple creation accounts as outgrowth of Joseph’s JST mindset and prophetic problem solving greatly reduces the problems that come from assuming they are merely English translations of fully independent ancient revelations to Moses and Abraham. Framing it this way shows what he was doing, namely, solving a textual problem by applying new doctrinal knowledge, not serving as prophetic typewriter for three identical copies of the same ancient revelation.

I begin by examining more fully the Double-Creation Problem, the nature and process of the JST, the nature of Moses, Abraham, and the Temple accounts, and their potential solutions to the Double Creation problem.>>

Conclusion-<< Likely prompted by the command to translate the Bible, and confronted with the Double-Creation Problem found at its beginning, Joseph Smith progressively transformed Genesis 1. From a narrowly-focused, non-scientific ancient Near Eastern account (see Part 3), it became Moses, then Abraham, in the process revealing truths about premortal existence, the council in heaven, and others. The culmination of this progressive transformation was the temple. Therein, Joseph definitively solved the problem of double-creation, simultaneously rendering Genesis into its most modern and scientifically-compatible form while providing the structure and narrative for a ritual of covenant making, priestly initiation, and royal coronation. Such is the modern Mormon interpretive life of Genesis 1, but its ancient Near Eastern biography remains to be told, in the next section.>>

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3 thoughts on “An update and book preview

  1. I thought the version in the temple ceremony was done by Brigham Young and the other apostles shortly before the dedication of the St. George temple.

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    1. Brigham Young was one of those charged with the temple ordinances by Joseph Smith shortly before his death. However, the basics of it, the general outline (and many of the details) go back to Joseph Smith.

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  2. Benjamin…you put a comment in your text I couldn’t resist:
    what he was doing, namely,

    a. untangling the knot of a textual problem, by…
    b. reworking (unraveling) a textual knot by
    c. clearing up a textual knot by…

    Pr Chris

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