The metaphor of the Urim and Thummim glasses is exactly parallel to Paul's characterizing glossolalia not as a human language unknown to the speaker, an indefensible and absurd claim, but as the ecstatic "tongues of angels" which sing the glories "which man may not utter. But this is closer to interpreting omens or dreams nonverbal than it is to translating a text. Apollo's oracle at Delphi, overcome with volcanic sulfur fumes, would mumble on in ecstatic gibberish, which an interpreter standing by would render roughly into human conceptuality.
To imagine glossolalia as a translatable language, as many Pentecostal defenders of the practice do, is to bring the practice into needless discredit, since linguistic analysis has more than once demonstrated that there is no syntactical structure among the glossolalic sounds. Pentecostal literalists fear that, if they admitted that glossolalia is simply the inspired product of the Spirit-energized glossolalist, rather than the tongues-speaker being a stenographer taking divine dictation, the divine quality they attribute to the sounds would be gone.
Likewise, we fail to grasp the metaphor of the Urim and Thummim if we imagine Joseph Smith was simply using something like a translating program on a computer. If we have ears to hear, we will recognize the Urim and Thummim tale as a metaphor for Smith looking at America through the lenses of the Bible, and at the Bible through the lenses of the American experience.
- Prophecy and Palimpsest (2002).
- Constructing Prophetic Divination!
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- Islam, Nationalism, and the West: Issues of Identity in Pakistan (St. Antonys Series).
- PROPHETS AND PROPHECY.!
The Book of Mormon was the inspired result, not an ancient text merely translated, but a creative extended metaphor. To defend the notion of a genuine ancient manuscript merely being translated from an imaginary "Reformed Egyptian" language, for fear that the Book of Mormon will otherwise forfeit its authority, is like the poor Pentecostals trying to convince themselves and others of the literally miraculous character of their speaking a genuine ancient language unknown to themselves.
In both cases, the proof of the pudding would seem to reside in the eating, not in the package design and advertising slogans. Why defend a metaphor as if it were a literal fact, when factually it is manifestly false, while symbolically it may be profoundly true?
Tongues-speaking is not speaking a genuine foreign language. The Book of Mormon never existed as a set of golden plates in a foreign language, either. Neither is the point.
But speaking mysteries in the spirit is genuinely revelatory, and so is a book which translates the frontier heritage of America into the language of the Bible. Even the designation of the supposed original language of the Book of Mormon can be taken as a clue to the real state of affairs: the term "Reformed Egyptian" carries resonances, first, of the biblical exodus of Israel from Egypt. Americans from Benjamin Franklin onward have seen it as a paradigm for the journey of American colonists and immigrants to freedom on these shores.
And of course Joseph Smith and his followers repeated the story of the Exodus in their own experience as they moved from the hostile East to the Promised Land of Utah, where they could sit in peace, each beneath his vine, and where, delivered out of the hand of their enemies, they might worship without fear. Like Moses, Joseph Smith was not destined to enter the land with them, and at the same time we cannot help but be reminded of "Joseph in Egypt," the persecuted young visionary despised by his contemporaries but called to great things.
Second, the enigmatic term "Reformed Egyptian" signifies the new start Christianity was making in America under Smith's own leadership.
Smith had begun what he regarded as a new Reformation in Protestant Christianity. It was no more a genuine but unknown ancient language than Pentecostal glossolalia is, but it was every bit as much a super-verbal metaphor for new inspiration. To say the Book was rendered from "Reformed Egyptian" was, then, to carry both the foundation myths of biblical Israel and Protestant Christianity into the modern America of the early nineteenth century. It was to say that that great epic of salvation history was far from over, that it continued to unfold here and now.
And a powerful image for this is the discovery in one's own time of an ancient bible of American revelation. But an even more potent image for the same thing is the writing of a new chapter of the biblical epic in modern America! And this is just what Joseph Smith did. There are not two authorities vying for priority in Mormonism, Joseph Smith's prophecies versus the letter of the inspired text of the Book of Mormon. No, there is only one authority: the divinely inspired prophecy of Joseph Smith. And the Book of Mormon is the fundamental prophecy of Joseph Smith.
Specifically, the Book of Mormon conforms to the genre of "the Latter Prophets" rather than that of the "Former Prophets. The Latter Prophets, on the other hand, are a series of edifying and usually semi-legendary histories written from the moralistic standpoint of the prophets: when the people are faithful to God, God's reward follows them.
But when the nation is unfaithful, they have only God's wrath to look forward to. Since the experience of the Babylonian Exile made it clear that the prophets had been quite right about all this, the exiled scribes and priests of Judah compiled what we call the Deuteronomic History Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings according to the prophetic philosophy of history.
They assembled many historical stories, sagas, and legends, welding them into one overarching unity. All victories were made into deliverances by God, all defeats and oppressions made into divine scourges. When a king goes against God's Word, he is terribly punished, while the faithful kings are honored by God. Another book of this kind in the Bible though written too late for inclusion in the "Prophets" category is the Chronicler's history Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles.
It is clear that the Book of Mormon belongs with these works. It is a sort of Deuteronomic history of ancient America, illustrating its preachings with object lessons of the fates of wicked Lamanites and virtuous Nephites. It represents an artificial effort to extend the biblical histories of Israel and Judah up nearer our own day.
It may help to remind ourselves what sort of book the Book of Mormon is not. For one thing, it is not a Gospel, does not even contain a Gospel, even though Jesus Christ appears as a character in the Book of Mormon. He appears there almost in passing, just as the Deuteronomic historians found space for several long and short episodes of Elijah and Elisha and their miracles and disciples.
Constructs of Prophecy in the Former and Latter Prophets and Other Texts - Ghent University Library
There are epistles, at least letters, but these are embedded or "imbricated" -- Roland Barthes in the surrounding narrative, playing a role analogous to that of a Greek chorus in a play, commenting on the action as it moves along, so the reader can keep up with the flow. Luke uses such letters throughout the Book of Acts.
Luke has much in common with the Old Testament Deuteronomic History, as recent scholars have noted. And so does the Book of Mormon. The ancients erroneously supposed that the stories of the Bible were historical reports recorded by witnesses to the events. Once scholars recognized the absurdities entailed by this premise and cast it aside, they simply put a bit more distance between the supposed original events and those who recorded them. Scholars surmised that those who wrote down the stories were just fixing in writing the substance of oral traditions.
This would allow for considerable legendary development and other difficulties which had ruled out eyewitness authorship. But in recent years some scholars have questioned even this presupposition. There seems to be less and less need to posit a traditional basis for biblical narratives, or rather perhaps, one may minimize the extent to which the biblical narrators were dependent upon any prior sources they may have used. In the latter event, the biblical authors would have simply derived ideas from traditional stories but retold them entirely from their own standpoint, just as one finds today comparing Hollywood Bible epics with the underlying Bible stories.
It may be, say scholars like Randel Helms, Thomas L. Brodie, and John Dominic Crossan, that the Gospel writers did not so much employ oral traditions of Jesus as the basis for their work as they have perhaps rather taken Old Testament texts, disregarded the plots, and reshuffled various descriptive details and narrative sequences abstracted from the larger story to use as building blocks for their own new stories, which are then provided with a definite biblical ring, and yet without recalling a particular story.
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- What Is Biblical Prophecy?.
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Helms, Brodie, and Crossan all break down numerous Gospel stories into various phrases and motifs derived from this and that Old Testament story. Crossan isolates all the Old Testament passages which the Gospel Crucifixion narratives cite as prophetic predictions of the death of Jesus and proceeds to demonstrate how the Gospel stories seem to have been composed, not from historical memory of the events, but by connecting the dots provided by the Old Testament passages.
Mark does not even refer to Psalm 22 as a prediction. It begins to appear as if Mark possessed no traditional story of Jesus' death, only the bare preaching that Jesus had died on the cross. The rest he had to fill in. As his material he used the collection of Passion "testimonia" drawn by early Christian preachers from the scriptures, especially the Psalms. Brodie, to take but a single example, derives Luke's story of the anointing of Jesus Luke from the tales of Elisha in 2 Kings , the episodes of the widow with the vessels of oil and of the Shunammite woman.
The sinful woman who anoints Jesus is a character combining traits of the Shunammite woman and the widow of the guild prophet who, at Elisha's direction, pours out the self-replenishing oil to pay her creditors.
The Prophetic Imagination
The two creditors in Jesus' parable of the two debtors contained in the anointing story were suggested to Luke by the creditors of the prophet's widow who threatened to take her two children as collateral for her debts. Simon's invitation to Jesus was derived from the Shunammite's invitation of Elisha to stay with her. Her miraculous conception of a son led Luke to imply Brodie thinks that Simon the Pharisee had a change of heart, a sort of rebirth.
The debt of the sinful woman is a moral one, while that of the guild prophet's widow is a financial one. Both debt crises are mediated by the prophet, Jesus in the one case, Elisha in the other. Thus the Jesus story has been derived from the two Elisha tales, while not actually modeled upon them. Helms concentrates on the Gospels, but here is an example of his work on another biblical narrative, one from the Acts of the Apostles. Ezekiel has a series of visions which teach him what he will have to endure as a prophet of God.
In the first one Ezekiel Ezekiel sees heaven opened enoichthesan hoi ouranoi , while in Acts Peter also sees "heaven opened" ten ouranon aneogmenon. In a second vision Ezekiel is shown something a honeyed scroll and told to eat phage it Ezekiel , while Peter is shown a great sheet of sailcloth containing all manner of animals, including those deemed unclean by Leviticus.
He, too, is commanded, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat phage! He retorts to God: "By no means, Lord! It is hard to resist the conclusion Helms reaches: Luke has invented the episode of Peter's vision based on the series of visions in the beginning of Ezekiel. Luke didn't even have to read very far into Ezekiel to find enough details to mix together into a new story.
While this sort of cannibalizing of old texts to fashion new ones may seem arbitrary to some readers, we must note that the technique is not merely the product of modern theory, as if modern scholars had simply inferred that the Gospel writers must have been doing something of the kind. These practices of recombining bits and pieces from this and that separate passage to create, in effect, a new Bible verse have long been familiar as a standard exegetical procedure of the old rabbis.
I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Notice the effect produced by the silent juxtaposition of the three verses. Mark's "my messenger" comes from Malachi The citation of Isaiah , reemphasizing it to make it say "a voice crying in the wilderness, [saying] 'Prepare the way of the Lord" instead of, as originally, "a voice crying, 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,'" denoting the preparation of a clear path for the Jewish exiles from Babylon back through the desert to Canaan also occurs in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
None of the three passages originally meant anything like what Mark makes of them in combined form. We might question whether this sort of treatment of the biblical text even counts as exegesis, but in fact it was characteristic of Mark's time and of esoteric Jewish exegesis for long afterward. The presupposition was the distinctly un-Protestant notion that, being a divinely inspired book, the Bible was susceptible to all manner of clever manipulation. Whatever one might make it seem to mean, it meant, since it could be no coincidence that the text should yield up such fortuitous recombinations.
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