Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What the Seer Stone!?! Or, Revelation and Culture

Yep, this is the rock everyone is talking about
For most Mormons, unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve been seeing a lot of one on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Maybe you shrugged your shoulders and scrolled down. Or maybe you totally freaked out. Most, I suspect, are mildly surprised, somewhat curious, and perhaps a little unsettled, but nothing you can’t get over. While not really “hidden” (as some would have it), it is true that we have not really talked much about it as Latter-day Saints. It has not played any real role in our social memory—that is, in the stories about who we are as a community, which we share and perpetuate as a community—so it is understandably unfamiliar to us. Those who dig a little deeper might find that there was a lot of this kind of thing in the early years of the Church. From not simply a historical, but an anthropological perspective, there is really nothing surprising about that the fact that as a community, we have only remembered the things we deemed important and forgot the rest. Still, finding that Joseph Smith’s story of an angel and gold plates can be told—as it most certainly was in Joseph’s early years—in a way that makes it seem indistinguishable from the popular folklore of the day can be a little discomforting.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

“The Fall Thereof was Exceedingly Great”: A Note on the Symbolism of the Great and Spacious Building

A Depiction of Solomon's Temple
A number of scholars have proposed that the “great and spacious building” seen in Lehi’s dream was the corrupted Jerusalem temple of late pre-exilic Israel. Theologian Joseph M. Spencer, for instance, saw the great and spacious building as “a reflection of the corrupt temple of Lehi’s day, from which the wealthy Jerusalem elite would have mocked the wild-eyed prophets who dared to retreat into the wilderness to eat of the fruit of the tree of life.” Thus, Spencer concludes, “Lehi’s dream of the tree of life was at least in part meant to be understood as a critique of the self-satisfied Jerusalem establishment.”[1] Writer D. John Butler expands on this argument by suggesting a number of wordplays. First, Lehi’s comparison to the field as a “world,” possibly ʿolam (עלם; ʿlm), he suggests is a world play on ʾulam (אלם;ʾlm), the term used for the temple porch or courtyard. Second, he notes that the term hekal (היכל; hykl), is often used to refer to the temple, in its most basic meaning is literally “big house,” or, “large building.” Lastly, he notes that the people in the building are dressed in “exceedingly fine” clothing, while in the Old Testament fine is the most common description of the priestly garments. Butler also suggests that the mists of darkness could be the incense from the temple, burned daily by the priests, suggesting that the corrupt Jerusalem establishment was daily leading the people astray.[2]