25 February 2010

Was Eve Beguiled?

Whether earnestly promoted as Christian theology or merely mentioned in tasteless jest, Eve is too often painted in the colors of Pandora, a mythological figure whose unbridled curiosity unleashed a long train of potent ills against mankind. This is not the view of the Latter-day Saints.

In light of the LDS understanding that the Fall was a necessary prerequisite for mankind’s further progression and our rejection of the generally negative portrayals of Eve in historical Christianity, Mormon authors typically emphasize her perceptiveness and interpret her role as ultimately constructive. A few have, however, taken this view to what I take to be an untenable extreme, not only rightfully exonerating her from full accountability for her transgression and honoring her lifelong faithfulness, but in addition arguing that, for various reasons, she was not actually “beguiled” by Satan in her decision to take of the forbidden fruit.

Such a view goes well beyond the settled LDS doctrines that the Fall was an essential part of the divine plan from the beginning and that Adam and Eve did not commit a sinful or otherwise blameworthy act. Though it is easy to see how such views might arise from honest misunderstanding, a careful analysis will show that they should be no more a part of the beliefs of well-informed Latter-day Saints than the notion that Eve was a prototype of Pandora...

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19 February 2010

A Curse for the Serpent and Blessings for Adam and Eve

Jewish pseudepigraphal texts tell of how, after Adam and Eve’s transgression, God’s “chariot throne [descends and] rests at the Tree of Life and all the flowers come into bloom.” Of this painting, Conisbee writes:
The Rebuke of Adam and Eve perfectly illustrates Domenichino’s classical style at the peak of his career... The group of God and the angels is derived directly from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam... and should be read as an homage by the seventeenth-century painter to his great predecessor... Following Italian tradition, Domenichino shows the Tree of Knowledge as a fig tree, rather than the apple tree which was more usual in northern European art. In a clear narrative sequence, God the Father, borne by cherubim and angels, descends to rebuke Adam, who blames Eve, who in turn points to the serpent as the cause of their fall from grace. Animals still roam freely in their earthly paradise, but the lion at the right is already metamorphosing from a friendly feline to an aggressive beast.
The change in God’s initial question from the KJV “Where art thou?” to the JST “Where goest thou?” emphasizes the fact that the Lord is not assessing Adam’s location but rather requesting him to reflect openly on his intentions—in view of the fact that his feet are now pointed toward the exit of the Garden. Dennis Rasmussen observes: “From man God does not need information. Man’s response must be man’s own self.” Umberto Cassuto further explains:
The commentators who consider the question to be aimed at discovering where the man was hiding have overlooked the words “[and said unto] him”... The query... resembles the question the Lord God asks Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” when Abel’s body is lying on the ground beneath the open sky, and no attempt is made to conceal it... We may compare the case to that of a man who comes to chide his little son who misbehaved himself and then hid himself behind the door in order to avoid looking at his father’s angry face; the father who is well aware of the child’s hiding- place, calls out to him, “Where are you?” meaning: Why are you there? Is that where you should be? Come out and face me! [Adam’s] answer is in keeping with this interpretation; he does not reply, “I am in such-and-such a place,” but he explains why he is concealing himself.
God’s call, of course, is not issued as an angry threat, but rather as an invitation for Adam to account for his stewardship of the Garden. To accomplish His objective, God seeks to “draw rather than drive him out of hiding.” Elder David A. Bednar observed that God did not merely lecture Adam, but instead made every effort to help him learn and wisely exercise his agency. According to Chrysostom, God here “demonstrate[s] his own loving kindness, and... invites [Adam and Eve] to make admission of their faults.” ...

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12 February 2010

The False Apron and the Tree of Death and Rebirth

We read in Moses 4:13 that after Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, "the eyes of them both were opened." In other Old Testament instances, this phrase connotes a sudden vision of hidden things. By this change they realize that they "had been naked." The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob equates a "perfect knowledge" of "nakedness" with "guilt" and "uncleanness" while associating the perfect knowledge of the "righteous" with "enjoyment" and "being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness."

Partaking of the fruit of the tree allowed Adam and Eve to begin to experience and distinguish good from evil—the “opposition in all things” described in 2 Nephi 2:11. In demonstration of her new capacity for discernment, Eve immediately “sees through Satan’s disguise of clever hypocrisy, identifies him, and exposes him for what he is.”

Unlike the richly-described, finely-nuanced account of the temptation dialogue, the tightly-coupled chain of verbs that follow it (“took,” “eat,” “gave,” “eat”) “indicate rapid, single-minded action”—nothing more is said, seen, or felt until the moment we are told that the eyes of Adam and Eve are opened. Then, at once, the hurried action restarts (“sewed,” “made”)—all the frantic movements proclaiming loudly, by their silent execution, the anguished undertone of shame and fear—“the physical act... as an expression of an inner state of an alarm.” The desired effect of this economical yet artful mode of narrative construction is to help the perceptive reader understand that the Lord God, Adam and Eve’s benevolent provider, who has been absent from their minds throughout the previous episode, has now reentered their thoughts with painful effect...

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04 February 2010

The False and the True "Keeper of the Gate"

In the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings and revelations, Lucifer is described as "a son of the morning" and "an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God" who "rebelled...and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ." He was jealous, "selfish, ambitious, and striving to excel," and "became Satan" as he wickedly sought that God should give him His "own power."

Consistent with the Prophet’s character sketch of this arch criminal and deceiver, William Blake’s image of Lucifer emphasizes his original glory while subtly conveying his consuming ambition to usurp God’s throne. Lucifer’s overall appearance is inspired from the Latin Vulgate translation of Ezekiel 28:14 that sees him as the “cherub with extensive wingspan.” The orb and scepter symbolize the power and authority from God given him before his fall from heaven.

To highlight Lucifer’s perversity, Blake has conspicuously reversed the hands in which the emblems of monarchy are normally held. For example, in British coronation ceremonies, the sword is meant to be held in the right hand so that it may be used “to stop the growth of iniquity, protect the Holy Church of God and defend widows and orphans.” The Orb—a late replacement for the original symbolism of the incense offering of temple priests in Israel—is to be held in the left hand in order to signify “the domination of Christ over the whole world.” ...

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