26 November 2013

Science and the Book of Genesis Part 3

Lesson Three: It Is Profitable to Read These Chapters “Literally,” Though Not in the Way People Usually Think About the Word

The Prophet Joseph Smith held the view that scripture should be “understood precisely as it reads.” It must be realized, however, that what premoderns understood to be “literal” interpretations of scripture are not the same as what most people understand them to be in our day. Whereas modernists typically apply the term “literal” to accounts that provide clinical accuracy in the journalistic dimensions of who, what, when, and where, premoderns were more apt to understand “literal” in the sense of “what the letters, i.e., the words say.” These are two very different modes of interpretation. As James Faulconer observed: “‘What x says’ [i.e., the premodern idea of “literal”] and ‘what x describes accurately’ [i.e., the modernist idea of “literal”] do not mean the same, even if the first is a description.”

Consider, for example, Joseph Smith’s description of the Book of Mormon translation process. An emphasis consistent with modernist interests appears in the detailed descriptions given by some of the Prophet’s contemporaries of the size and appearance of the instruments used and the procedure by which the words of the ancient text were made known to him. These kinds of accounts appeal to us as modernists — the more physical details the better — because we want to know what “actually happened” as he translated. Note, however, that Joseph Smith declined to relate such specifics himself even in response to direct questioning in private company from believing friends. The only explicit statement he made about the translation process is his testimony that it occurred “by the gift and power of God,” a description that avoids reinforcing the misleading impression that we can come to an understanding of “what really happened” through “objective” accounts of external observers.


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Science and the Book of Genesis Part 2

Lesson Two: Scripture is a Product of a Particular Point of View

Lesson 2: scripture is a product of a particular point of view. Nibley illustrates this idea:
The Latter-day Saints, [like other Bible readers,] are constantly converting statements of limited application to universal or at least sweeping generalities. To illustrate, I was told as a child that the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians, and the Andes all came into existence overnight during the great upheavals of nature that took place at the time of the Crucifixion — an absurdity that plays into the hands of critics of the Book of Mormon. But what we find in the 3 Nephi account when we read it carefully is a few sober, factual, eyewitness reports describing an earthquake of 8-plus on the Richter scale in a very limited area. Things that appear unlikely, impossible, or paradoxical from one point of view often make perfectly good sense from another.

The Nautical Almanac gives the exact time of sunrise and sunset for every time of the year, yet astronauts know that the sun neither rises nor sets except from a particular point of view, the time of the event being strictly dependent on the exact location. From that point of view and that only, it is strictly correct and scientific to say that the sun does rise and set. Just so, the apparently strange and extravagant phenomena described in the scriptures are often correct descriptions of what would have appeared to a person in a particular situation...

So with Noah in the Ark. From where he was, “the whole earth” was covered with water as far as he could see … But what were conditions in other parts of the world? If Noah knew that, he would not have sent forth messenger birds to explore.
But doesn’t Genesis 7:19 say that “the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered”? Explaining his understanding of this verse, Walter Bradley observes:
The Hebrew word eretz used in Genesis 7:19 is usually translated “earth” or “world” but does not generally refer to the entire planet. Depending on the context, it is often translated “country” or “land” to make this clear … [For example,i]n Genesis 12:1, Abram was told to leave his eretz. He was obviously not told to leave the planet but rather to leave his country… [Another] comparison to obtain a proper interpretation of Genesis 7:19 involves Deuteronomy 2:25, which talks about all the nations “under the heavens” being fearful of the Israelites. Obviously, all nations “under the heavens” was not intended to mean all on planet Earth.

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25 November 2013

Science and the Book of Genesis

Note: This is the first of a six-part series in Meridian Magazine

Part One: Taking the Stories of Genesis Seriously

The book of Genesis has always been a favorite of mine. Since I was a small child, I have read it over and over, relishing its spiritual truths, its literary beauty, and its frank and vivid descriptions of the lives of the patriarchs — intimately entwined as in no other book of scripture with the lives of their immediate and extended families.

While fellow Latter-day Saints will have little problem comprehending my still-growing attachment to the early narratives of Genesis, some of my non-LDS scientific colleagues find it mystifying that I have devoted so much time and attention to a study of what may understandably seem to be no more than a fanciful collection of worn-out fables — one more shard among the dusty discards of the almost bygone religious passage of Western culture. In that regard, it must also be admitted that the central historical claims of Mormonism — and Christianity itself, for that matter — hardly appear any less fantastic to the modern mind than the stories of Adam and Eve. Even in the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens approved as Hannay charged the Mormons with “the absurdity of seeing visions in the age of railways” — simultaneously commending our “immense practical industry” while decrying our “pitiable superstitious delusion.” His conclusion at that time is one that would be met with understanding nods by many perplexed observers of Mormonism in our day: “What the Mormons do, seems to be excellent; what they say is mostly nonsense.”

Given their status as targets of humor and caricature, the well-worn stories of Adam, Eve, and Noah are sometimes difficult to take seriously, even for some Latter-day Saints. However, a thoughtful examination of the scriptural record of these characters will reveal not simply tales of “piety or … inspiring adventures” but rather carefully crafted narratives from a highly sophisticated culture that preserve “deep memories” of revealed understanding. We do an injustice both to these marvelous records and to ourselves when we fail to pursue an appreciation of scripture beyond the initial level of cartoon cut-outs inculcated upon the minds of young children. Hugh Nibley characterized the problem this way:


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In God's Image and Likeness 2 Now Available for Pre-order!

We're pleased to announce that you can now pre-order the forthcoming In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel at Amazon. Several years in the making, Jeff Bradshaw and David Larsen are excited to complete their commentary on the book of Moses.

Just visit this link to reserve one of the first copies. You can also go over to the IGIL2 excerpts page to see a sneak preview of the chapter on Genesis 11 here.

Please don't hesitate to contact Jeff to share your thoughts, as he loves hearing from his readers!

06 November 2013

Symposium on Science and Mormonism

For those who registered for this weekend's symposium, don't forget to come hear Jeff's presentation, "Science and Genesis: A Personal View". For those that weren't able to register, the symposium will be streamed live here.

A summary of the symposium is as follows:
Science and Mormonism have nearly always been on very friendly terms, with Church members sharing the deep conviction that, as expressed by former scientist and apostle Elder James E. Talmage, "within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man, or yet to be made known." Subsequent Presidents and General Authorities of the Church have advanced similar views about the ultimate compatibility of religious and scientific truths and, with notably few exceptions, have maintained markedly positive attitudes toward both the methods and conclusions of mainstream science and the advance of modern technology.

This symposium will feature the personal perspectives of prominent LDS scientists addressing the theme of "Cosmos, Earth, and Man." Through presentations, panels, and interactive discussions, attendees will hear concise and colorful summaries of the state-of-the-art in scientific research relating to these topics and will gain a deeper appreciation of the unique contributions of LDS doctrine to the ongoing conversation.
The full program of the day can be seen here, and, as always, the presentations will be available online afterwards on the official Interpreter site.

17 September 2013

Sneak Preview of In God's Image and Likeness 2

Head over to the main site to take a peek at one of the chapters of Jeff Bradshaw's upcoming book, In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel. The book will wrap up the final chapters and stories of the Book of Moses, and should hit the stores in 2014! Read more about the book here, or head straight over to the excerpts page to see a chapter on the Tower of Babel here.

Feel free to leave comments for the author to let him know your thoughts!

16 September 2013

2013 Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament

Jeff will be presenting "The Tree of Knowledge as the Veil of the Sanctuary" at this year's Sperry Symposium, held on the BYU campus. The all-day event is open to the public, so feel free to stop in to hear his insights. Details are as follows:
Date: 26 October 2013 (10am)
Place: 445 MARB, Brigham Young University (map)
Admission: Free to the public (no registration required)
Consistent with recent scholarship that sees the Garden of Eden as a temple prototype, Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century bishop, called the Tree of Knowledge "the veil for the sanctuary." He pictured Eden as a great mountain, with the Tree of Knowledge providing an inner boundary partway up the slopes. The Tree of Knowledge, Ephrem concluded, "acts as a sanctuary curtain [i.e., a veil] hiding the Holy of Holies which is the Tree of Life.

For more information, visit the 2013 Sperry Symposium site by clicking here. Also, don't forget to register for Symposium on Science and Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth, and Man, which will be held on November 9, 2013, at the Utah Valley Convention Center! Jeff will be speaking there as well. More information on that can be found here.

21 August 2013

Education Week

As a reminder, Jeff is teaching a course at BYU's Campus Education Week, which started yesterday and is going through Friday.
Title: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel
Location: 2254 BYU Conference Center (Link)
Date: 1:50-2:45pm, 19-23 August 2013
This four-part class will be an in-depth study of the lives and missions of Enoch and Noah, based on the teachings of the Pearl of Great Price and modern prophets. The prominence of temple themes in these accounts will be emphasized, and striking parallels to modern revelation found in writings from the ancient Near East will be described. We will also discuss the story of the Tower of Babel in its biblical and ancient Near East setting, and will explore how lessons from the stories of Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel apply to the Saints in our day.

13 May 2013

BYU-ID Forum this week!

Jeff will be speaking at the BYU-ID forum this Thursday. This is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a question-and answer session.

BYU-Idaho University Forum
"Assistive Systems: Technologies that help people do, sense, and think"

Date: Thursday, 16 May 2013
Time: 2:00pm

Brigham Young University — Idaho
Taylor Building Chapel
525 S Center St.
Rexburg, UT (map)

The abstract is as follows:
One of the central research themes of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) is "assistive systems" - technologies that help people do, sense, and think. From advanced NASA space rovers to robotic assistants, from robotic legs for the disabled to devices that allow the blind to see through their tongue, and from advanced visualization to software agents that help analysts make sense of complex, high-tempo cyber events, Bradshaw will describe how researchers at IHMC increase human performance through technological innovations.
For more information about forums at BYU-ID, go here. More of his upcoming presentations can be found here.

14 February 2013

Conference next week and other events

As a reminder, Jeff Bradshaw will be speaking the upcoming "Enoch and the Temple" Conference. The title of his presentation is "Ancient Affinities with the LDS Book of Enoch". Attendance is free. More information can be found at the Academy for Temple Studies and Mormon Interpreter sites.

Enoch and the Temple Conference
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Time: 4:30-7:00pm

Utah State University
Geology Building, Room 105
Logan, UT (map)
Friday, 22 February 2013
Time: 1:00-4:00pm

Brigham Young University
303 JRCB, Moot Court Room
Provo, UT (map)

If you can't make it to the conference next week, he also has a few other speaking engagements later this year:
  • BYU-Idaho University Forum (Thursday, 16 May 2013)
    "Assistive Systems: Technologies that help people do, sense, and think"
  • BYU Campus Education Week (19-23 August 2013)
    "Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel"
  • 2013 Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament (25-26 October 2013)
    "The Tree of Life as the Veil of the Sanctuary"
More information can be found on his website, and will be posted as the dates approach.

28 January 2013

A Strange Story Explained: Temple Symbolism and the Garment of Noah

A particular story in Genesis seems peculiar to us because we misunderstand it. As we noted in Part 5 of this article, according to a statement attributed to Joseph Smith, “Noah was not drunk, but in a vision.” Now we seek to understand something more about this story.

How do we make sense of Noah’s being “uncovered” during his vision? Perhaps the closest Old Testament parallel to this practice is when Saul, like the prophets who were with him, “stripped off his clothes… and prophesied before Samuel… and lay down naked all that day and all that night.” Jamieson clarifies that “lay down naked” in this instance means only that he was “divested of his armor and outer robes.” In a similar sense, when we read in John 21:7 that Peter “was naked” as he was fishing, it simply means that “he had laid off his outer garment, and had on only his inner garment or tunic.”

Now to verse 22. How do we understand the statement that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father”? Reluctant to attribute the apparent gravity of Ham’s misdeed to the mere act of seeing, readers have often concluded in addition that Ham must have done something. For example, a popular proposal is that Ham committed unspeakable crimes against his mother or his father.

Wenham, however, wisely observes that “these and other suggestions are disproved by the next verse” that recounts how Shem and Japheth covered their father:
As Cassuto points out: “If the covering was an adequate remedy, it follows that the misdemeanor was confined to seeing.” The elaborate efforts Shem and Japheth made to avoid looking at their father demonstrate that this was all Ham did in the tent.
This is consistent with the proposal that the misdeed of Ham was in that he intrusively entered the Tent of Yahweh and saw Noah in the presence of God while the latter was “in the course of revelation.” This idea also fits well with what Hendel, Carr, Mettinger, Oden, and others have identified as an underlying theme throughout Genesis 1-11, namely “transgressions of boundaries” that had been set up in the beginning to separate the general run of mankind from the dwelling place of Divinity. Noah the righteous and blameless (an exception to those in his generation) was in a position to speak with God face-to-face, however Ham was neither qualified nor authorized to see (let alone enter) a place of divine glory.


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22 January 2013

"Enoch and the Temple" Conference

Jeff has been invited to present at the upcoming "Enoch and the Temple" Conference, which will be held in Logan on 19 February and in Provo on 22 February. The working title of his presentation is "Ancient Affinities with the LDS Book of Enoch".

The event is free of charge. More information can be found at the Academy for Temple Studies and Mormon Interpreter sites.

Event details
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Time: 4:30-7:00pm

Utah State University
Geology Building, Room 105
Logan, UT (map)
Friday, 22 February 2013
Time: 1:00-4:00pm

Brigham Young University
303 JRCB, Moot Court Room
Provo, UT (map)

Excerpt from the Academy's site:
The Academy for Temple Studies and the USU Religious Studies Program are very pleased to announce a distinguished co-sponsored program on “Enoch and the Temple,” with a keynote address by George W. E. Nickelsburg, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Iowa, member of the Enoch Seminar, and highly recognized expert on 1 Enoch. Among his many publications on the Enoch traditions is his landmark two-volume Hermeneia commentary on 1 Enoch. The second volume was published in 2012 by Fortress Press.

Please plan to attend. The public is invited. There will be no charge for this event, although voluntary contributions are welcomed.