Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12: Genesis 40 onwards

Joseph in Egypt, by Tissot. Public domain, via wikiart.

These chapters carry on the novella of Joseph in Egypt. It’s over 10 chapters, which is a lot of time and space to devote to one story about one person; creation occupies 3 chapters, by contrast. Why so much space? What makes this story so significant that it was told and retold, and eventually merited being written down? Is there anything of doctrinal value, from an LDS perspective? What, then, from the Israelite perspective?I don’t have a good concise answer for that, but it’s a good question to think about. Continue reading “Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12: Genesis 40 onwards”

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 10: Genesis 24-29

Esau sells his birthright, by Matthias Stom. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

  1. One of the aspects of scripture study as commonly practiced by LDS is the idea of applying the texts to ourselves. While we use Nephi’s term “likening” (1 Nephi 19:37) to refer to this, we haven’t really understood what Nephi means by it, which I’m not going to analyze here.
    What we do instead, typically, is to read the scriptures expecting to find one of two things:
    We look for simple models of modern standards of behavior (and then putting ourselves into their situation). This is what Schlimm calls “Searching for Saints,” as this kind of reading “gives readers what they’ve come to expect from the Bible: stories of saints whom they can imitate in their own lives….Some people prefer instead to search for ethical principles that undergird the Bible’s stories. This tactic assumes that biblical narratives are not too far removed from Aesop’s fables.” But then what do we do with these “saints” who don’t act saintly? When the Bible models behavior we don’t want our kids to emulate?
  2. We look for simple doctrinal concepts we expect to be there, which we wish to propagate and emphasize, like “you should marry in the covenant” or “Jesus is the god of the Old Testament.”

Continue reading “Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 10: Genesis 24-29”

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 09- Abraham 1:1, 5-20; Genesis 15-17; 21-22

Caravaggio’s Sacrifice of Isaac. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

This weeks’s chapters are difficult and socially significant like last week’s, which makes them difficult to write on. My approach, therefore, will be to come at it from a few disconnected directions in which I ask questions I don’t really have good answers to. Before moving on, I strongly recommend you read Robert Alter’s literary translation and commentary on chapter 22 as well as my post on why all the chapters leading up to Genesis 22 are important for Genesis 22.

What makes this chapter difficult and uncomfortable? (BTW, if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, I’d suggest you’re either not paying attention, or haven’t really thought about it.) Continue reading “Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 09- Abraham 1:1, 5-20; Genesis 15-17; 21-22”

Lesson 08- Genesis 13; 14:1-2, 8-24; 18:16-33; 19:1-29

I suspect this lesson will be somewhat charged and sensitive, given the variety of experiences and views among LDS. And be aware, due to the nature of the text, some of the discussion below could be traumatic to people who have been sexually assaulted. Note also that  I do not consider what I write in these posts to be “how I would teach the lesson” as much as useful background, details, and resources; I don’t think I would use language this blunt in a class unless I was certain no one would be traumatized by it.

I expect many people will approach the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from one of three perspectives. Continue reading “Lesson 08- Genesis 13; 14:1-2, 8-24; 18:16-33; 19:1-29”

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7- Abraham 1:1-4; 2:1-11; Genesis 12:1-8; 17:1-9

Original mudbrick gate at Tel Dan, dating to the Patriarchal period

First, here’s a Spotify playlist of mine to put you in mind to read the Old Testament. It’s Middle Eastern, foreign, archaic, a little mystical and mysterious. It’s probably not anything like actual Israelite music, but it fits my preconceptions.

Second, let’s establish some basic facts. Continue reading “Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7- Abraham 1:1-4; 2:1-11; Genesis 12:1-8; 17:1-9”

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 6- Moses 8:19-30; Genesis 6:5-22; 7:1-10

A cuneiform fragment of Atrahasis, an ancient Mesopotamian flood story related to Genesis. Public domain.

Reading: Moses 8:19-30; Genesis 6:5-22; 7:1-10

Since I first wrote this four years ago, it has been one of the most-popular, most-read posts, and one I refer people to often, because it was where I laid out my longest argument introducing people to the idea of genre in scripture. Continue reading “Gospel Doctrine Lesson 6- Moses 8:19-30; Genesis 6:5-22; 7:1-10”

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 04- Moses 4; 5:1-15; 6:48-62

Adam and Eve, by Michaelangelo.

Adam and Eve, by Michaelangelo.

Let’s talk about origins. We seem to think origins are important; “where we came from” forms a part of our our identity, helps us understand ourselves. This is pretty deeply embedded and reinforced in our culture in a number of ways.  Superhero movies tend to begin with an origin story. Even Batman movies, as often as we’ve seen it and as much as we know it, typically begin by retelling the trauma of young Bruce seeing his parents shot. Jennifer Lopez sang, “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got; I’m still Jenny from the block; Used to have a little, now I have a lot; No matter where I go, I know where I came from.” Or look at arguments about the importance of Rey’s parentage in the recent Star Wars film (SPOILERS!) Continue reading “Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 04- Moses 4; 5:1-15; 6:48-62”

Genesis 2-3, a New Kinda “Translation”

the-fall-of-man

Adam and Eve, by Michaelangelo.

Several years ago, I was involved in the Mormon Theology Seminar on Genesis 2-3. The conference from that seminar was recently published to good reviews, and contains a paper of mine about translation and the meaning of names in Genesis 2-3. (The short version is, “Adam” and “Eve” here should have been translated not as proper names, but as Human and Life. I also explain why, then, they got translated as Adam and Eve.)

To kick off the seminar, I provided an evocative, expansive “translation” of the two chapters. I put “translation” in quotes because, although I have read this text in Hebrew as well as ancient Greek and Aramaic translation, what follows is somewhat to the right of “dynamic translation” or even “paraphrase.” (If you’re interested in translations, see my article here.) Think of it as an oral impressionistic campfire retelling of Gen 2-3, meant to kick off discussion and pull out a few details we rarely notice. It’s meant to be expansive and evocative and playful.

I also have a near-future post about three of these elements, the “help meet,” the “rule over,” and “beguile,” since these deserve some explanation.


When the curtains reopen in Genesis 2:4ff, we lack the expected full set dressing put in place in the previous chapters. Instead, we behold a rocky barren place. Nothing grows naturally there, nor are there any human-cultivated plants, as there is no human to do any planting. Although there is no rain, arid, it is not. Some kind of water (stream? mist? flood?) regularly comes up from below to water the surface. Into this setting comes Yahweh-Elohim, to form a human from the humus, an earthling from the earth. Once formed, the dull earthing becomes animated by the breath of life.

Poor guy shows up before there’s anything to see, though. God plants a garden, eastward in a land called Eden (so-called for its abundance of water) and places the human there. He causes all kinds of trees to grow in the garden, pleasant both to the eye and tongue. Two are singled out, the Tree-of-Boundless-Life and Tree of Knowing-Good-and-Evil.

As for the land of Eden itself, a river runs through it into the garden, and then divides into the headwaters of the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, and another.

But as we were saying about the human, Yahweh-Elohim put him in the garden, and assigned him to take care of it. He was allowed to eat from all the trees but the Tree of Knowing- Good-and-Evil, on pain of death.

Yahweh-Elohim noticed the human was alone. Not good, he said. So Yahweh-Elohim formed from the ground all the animals and brought them to the human to see what he’d call them. But among all of those he named, there was no equivalent match to him.

So Yahweh-Elohim put him into an unnaturally deep sleep, took one of his sides, and closed him up again. Yahweh-Elohim then built that side into a woman and brought her to the human. He was delighted, “THIS time, finally, my kind of thing! We’ll call her Woman because she was taken out of Man.” (BTW, that’s why a man leaves his family behind, to cling to his woman, and they really become one.)

Both of them were naked, but it didn’t bother them. Now a snake, sharper than any other animals Yahweh-Elohim had made, said to the woman, “so… you eat from all the trees in the garden?”

She says back, “Yep. Except the one in the middle of the garden. We’re not even supposed to touch that one, let alone eat it, on pain of death.”

“What!” says the snake. ” You’re not going to die. God knows it will change you; You’ll know good and evil, like They do.” Now, to be honest, the woman had noticed that that tree seemed edible, and was really pretty to boot. She picked some fruit, ate it, and handed some to her husband who was there with her, who followed suit.

Then, they Knew.

“Um, hello, where are my pants? What are pants, anyway? We can’t…” “No we really mustn’t…” “I can’t walk around like this in public…” So they sewed themselves some really uncomfortable but completely local, organic, biodegradable underwear. About that time, they heard Yahweh-Elohim coming back through the garden, so they hid, there in the middle of the garden. Yahweh-Elohim called out to the human, “where are you?”

Still in hiding, he replied, “well I’m mostly naked, so I hid.”

“Who informed you you were naked? Wait, did you eat from that tree, the one I specifically told you not to eat from?”

“It was the woman You gave me! She gave me some, so I ate it.” Yahweh-Elohim says to the woman, “what have you to say?”

“…I blame the snake.”

So Yahweh-Elohim says to the snake, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You shall be worse off than all other animals, living and eating in the dust. I will drive a wedge between you and them. You’ll snap at their heel, but they’ll crush your head.”

Turning to the women, he says, “As for you, though your pregnancies will be unpleasant, you’ll still turn to your man for more. He’ll lord it over you.”

Turning to the human, he says, “as for you, since you participated too in eating from the tree, things will be unpleasant for you too. No more just plucking things off whenever you feel, you’re going to have to work for it, every single day of your life! Thorns, weeds, you’ll encounter all kinds of nasty sweaty unpleasantness in working the ground for your food, until you return to the earth! You *are* earth, earthling! Dust, and to dust shall you return.”

Then the human named his wife Ḫawwa, Mother of All Life.

Yahweh-Elohim made them some decent clothes of comfortable deer skin, and dressed them.

And as he left them, he sighed, and said, “they Know, as We do. At least, one day they will. They cannot be permitted to continue eating from the Tree of Boundless Life. We will… ” So he drove them out of the garden into the thorny land and assigned sphinx-guardians to the entrance to cut off their access to the Tree of Boundless Life. So they remain, ever watchful over the way into the garden.


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