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Useful comments from Ben Spackman


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There have been a number of Facebook posts and blogs recently and in the past from Ben Spackman that have been both interesting and very useful in understanding background of the Old Testament, including how some ideas got stuck into LDS teachings, even official ones. I was putting off posting the material because he is hoping to publish a paper or two on one subject I thought was particularly important (the development of the Genesis part of the OT institute manual), but have decided it is relevant now with this year being Old Testament.  Many may have already studied the Creation in fact. 

Rather than posting a bunch at once, I plan to do one or two if related at a time so as to provide space for discussion.

I decided just to do a thread so I can add to it as I come across his stuff or anyone else can as well.  Please don’t waste time arguing that there is no evidence for anything in Genesis and therefore any believer is deluded, this thread is meant to be about what LDS views were and are, how they developed and what parts are seen as revelation, doctrine, tradition, misunderstandings, etc. and why they should or should not be seen that way within the paradigm of belief.  Since dismissing the beliefs based on lack of belief or lack and perceived lack of scientific has been extensively already, I don’t see that as necessary to a discussion about development of ideas at this point. A thoughtful post might change my mind though, drive bys or one or two liners will not. 

Edited by Calm
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For the first article, one of my recent favorites:

https://benspackman.com/2021/12/the-1980-old-testament-institute-manual-why-you-should-ignore-it-for-teaching-genesis/

Best to read the whole thing as not that long…to get you started:

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When it comes to this manual, I’ve spent dozens of hours in the donated papers of the primary author of the Genesis section. I’ve interviewed the secondary author, who was also the first-level reviewer.2And I know who was serving on the Correlation committee that ultimately approved the draft, with one minor change (discussed below.) I have two articles in preparation that will address this history directly, which I hope to see published in the next year. Because I don’t want to scoop myself, I’m going to call the primary author of Genesis “Gary.” (Edit: A bunch of people have guessed Cleon Skousen. It wasn’t Cleon Skousen, and you probably wouldn’t recognize his name.)

The main problem with this 1980 Institute manual— and when I say “the manual” I really mean the Genesis and creation sections— is that it does not represent Church history, scripture, or doctrine fairly or accurately, much to the detriment of members of the Church. If you are a new convert in Japan, Brazil, Russia, etc., this current (!) manual represents the most detailed, official, accessible commentary in your language, laying out the Church’s supposed balance between science and religion, faith and knowledge.

And frankly, it’s bad.  It quotes Joseph Fielding Smith to force a false dichotomy between faith and evolution. It represents as reliable and good sources for Latter-day Saints a Seventh-day Adventist creationism pamphlet, quoted for nearly 2000 words; Melvin Cook, LDS chemistry professor and young-earth creationist, well known in the broader world of Christian creationism; and Immanuel Velikovsky, fringe Russian/Israeli psychiatrist and catastrophist of the 1950s and 60s.

I am hoping people will read the article and quote parts they find interesting, are new to them, think are important, disagree with and for all of the above explain why. 

Edited by Calm
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On 1/19/2022 at 3:28 PM, bluebell said:

It's amazing how much the OT opens up when you start to learn how the people who wrote it viewed what they were writing.  I love learning all of this.

There is an Orthodox Deacon, Ezra Ham, who has many you tube videos. The one in particular that I am thinking of is John the Mystgogic gospel, a study obviously of that gospel. In particular, what I found fantastic in these seminars is the teaching of Old Testament context, ie you can't separate the gospels from the Old Testament and how it enlightens the gospels. Also you can't separate the NT from the context of its own times and what was happening around Christians then. These seminars are long and there are about 58 of them, but they are tremendously informative. BTW, I am not proselytising here, just sharing what some might find interesting. 

Edited by Orthodox Christian
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I don’t have the focus to dissect Ben’s blogs for now, so just going throw up FB stuff people might find informative…no need for conversation.

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The common narrative portrays the 1911 controversy at BYU as reflective of a quasi-official absolutist policy against evolution. 

In general, see Gary James Bergera, “The 1911 Evolution Controversy at BYU.” BYU’s Mary Jane Woodger agrees with Richard Sherlock that although "this incident is often called ‘BYU’s evolution controversy,’ the real crisis… came over the teaching of higher criticism in which scientific theories were used to explain the development of theological beliefs." Thomas Simpson describes it as the “evolution and higher criticism controversy” Drawing on the official history of BYU, however, Thomas M. Martin, Duane E. Jeffery, and Randy L. Bennett state that the faculty issues were “a matter of personality conflicts and confrontational attitudes perhaps as much as conflicts over basic Church doctrine.” Given my own research, I'm inclined much more towards the latter. Evolution wasn't irrelevant, but it's not all or most of the story, either. 

This is a bit like the common "science vs religion" narrative talking about Galileo vs. the Catholic Church. That oversimplification owes more to the 19th century "warfare" framing of science and religion than the fact that Galileo was a jerk (among other facts.)


https://www.facebook.com/bspackman/posts/10102579370951760

Also video on evolution that I think may have been posted elsewhere already, but if you missed it…

 

Edited by Calm
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Flood, the claim it was the baptism of the earth, and most important the nature of scripture and how faithful believers don’t need to impose their own traditions on it to view it as true.

 

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I was never a global flood person and tended towards local flood ideas. But, I may actually be siding with Ben Spackman with it being a "cosmological flood".
I didn't watch the video so much as read the transcript (impatient) but the basic idea is that 1) plenty of other cultures had flood myths, 2) their versions didn't have very nice motivations from the dieties, and 3) the Israelite version co-opts the stories and creates an alternate myth with a truer version of God (one who is merciful, who weeps, who is motivated by saving humanity and not destroying humanity). In some ways the flood story becomes a missionary tract for the world (but, they really didn't do missionary work) or a Sunday School lesson for its people.

PS: While there is some evidence of catastrophic local flooding near Mesopotamia (e.g. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/evidence-for-a-flood-102813115/), the timing and locality seems to be off. Nonetheless, if knowledge of a catastrophic flood gets passed down then various cultures could, even would, have created their myths to explain it. Accurate details would be unavailable and optional.

Edited by Nofear
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5 hours ago, Calm said:

Flood, the claim it was the baptism of the earth, and most important the nature of scripture and how faithful believers don’t need to impose their own traditions on it to view it as true.

 

I loved this episode.  I continue to be impressed with Saints Unscripted.  

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5 hours ago, Calm said:

Flood, the claim it was the baptism of the earth, and most important the nature of scripture and how faithful believers don’t need to impose their own traditions on it to view it as true.

 

Good stuff. I like Ben Spackman. 

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Kind of addicted to it right now, lol.  He is pulling together lots of stuff I read over the years into a more coherent narrative and presenting how it can fit within an LDS framework. Very satisfying. Like finding missing puzzle pieces to a favorite puzzle. 

Edited by Calm
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14 hours ago, Calm said:

I don’t have the focus to dissect Ben’s blogs for now, so just going throw up FB stuff people might find informative…no need for conversation.


https://www.facebook.com/bspackman/posts/10102579370951760

Also video on evolution that I think may have been posted elsewhere already, but if you missed it…

 

I love that.  I love learning new things and it's amazing how learning new history can impact how we view the present.

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Like a lot of Spackman's stuff. Today's favorite after listening to the "Noah's Ark" video, is the idea of a "cosmological" flood -- not local or even global, but cosmological. That maybe the story of Noah is more of a complete recreation myth (and I will add that I like what Spackman says about the meaning of myth in this context) than something as mundane as "history".

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More flood stuff today if you don’t want to watch the video.

https://benspackman.com/2022/01/lets-talk-about-the-flood/?

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I start from the position of someone who affirms, with King Benjamin,1 the existence  of God and his knowledge and power to do all things. My arguments here don’t come from doubting scripture or God, but reading it literally, in context, trying to understand it the way ancient Israelites would have.

In my view, a literal reading of Genesis 6-9 reveals that its primary doctrinal teaching and purpose is no more to teach the historical reality of a “global” flood than Jesus’ intent was to teach the historical reality of a good Samaritan.2 Moreover, scripture itself suggests that we are not supposed to read Genesis 6-9 as a documentary, as modern journalistic history.

What was the point then? Summarized, Israelites knew flood stories from surrounding cultures. In one of these stories,3 the gods (plural) were arbitrary and uncaring. The reason for the humanity-destroying flood was.. humans were too loud and the high god couldn’t sleep. The high god was annoyed and casually went for a  “kill’em all” response to the problem. The lone family surviving the flood only survives because a low-level trickster god violates divine secrecy and reveals the plan to kill all humans where he knows a human can hear. (In the Finkel video below, this is the line starting “reed wall, reed wall!”) Compare that with Genesis. One God vs many gods. The reason for the flood on the one hand is annoyed and callous divinity, whereas in Genesis, God is mourning for the constant human corruption and violence on the earth. (If I were writing a manual, I might insert a Mormon-like “And thus we see, the God of Israel is just and caring, not petty and callous.”) And God himself chooses to save the best specimen of humanity to try again, instead of humanity surviving because of a rebellious trickster god.

This is all very similar to some of the lessons taught in the creation chapters. Whereas Mesopotamian creation frameworks portrayed humans as the mud-slaves of the lowest class of gods, and creation sucks, and then you die, Genesis 1 teaches repeatedly at the end of every creation day that Creation is Good, that Humans are Very Good, and that all Humans are in the Image of God, not just the king.

Israelites knew those stories from their neighbors but WE don’t.  So, we focus our orthodoxy and our lessons on scientific conflict which would have been quite foreign and meaningless to Israelites. Did Israelites believe there probably had been some catastrophic flood in the distant past? Probably. Was there actually a “global” flood c. 3000 bc? No ( and it’s certainly not a first-hand account.) But that’s not the lesson of the flood. For much more detail on this, including a handout comparing flood stories, see my post here.

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But also, especially in the last 70 years, deep and serious Seventh-day Adventist and Fundamentalist influence on how LDS read scripture, which encouraged very wooden “literal” understandings and elevated them to “orthodoxy.” (Y’all know I don’t like that use of “literal.”) This kind of influence and thinking is quite evidence in this 1998 Ensign article on the flood. I wrote a response to it here, and have since acquired a lot of information and backstory on it as part of my dissertation research. I also note that that article has never been cited or listed as a part of any Church curriculum or lesson I’ve ever seen.5 The reading of the flood as a worldwide historical event in 3000BC owes at least some of its staying power to these fundamentalist “philosophies of men.”

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This idea, loosely, is one we inherited from Protestants and then expanded on, like the “curse of Cain” being black skin and slavery6, and the Catholic Church as the great and abominable Church.7 This idea started with the assumption of a worldwide flood, which then lent itself easily to the image of baptism. But you can’t then turn around and argue that the flood MUST have been worldwide, because the earth needed baptism. That’s both circular and illogical. Why does the earth need baptism, but animals and such do not? See this article from BYU’s Religious Studies Center on this topic. See also this popular follow-up from one of the authors.

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Genesis doesn’t present or conceptualize this as a flooding of an earthly globe as much as a wiping away of the entirety of creation. It is *de-creation* or un-creation, followed by re-creation, with Noah as the new Adam who is to “multiply and replenish” (Genesis 9:1) just as Genesis 1:28 had it.

 

Edited by Calm
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On 1/25/2022 at 7:24 PM, Calm said:

I don’t have the focus to dissect Ben’s blogs for now, so just going throw up FB stuff people might find informative…no need for conversation.


https://www.facebook.com/bspackman/posts/10102579370951760

Also video on evolution that I think may have been posted elsewhere already, but if you missed it…

 

Love his stuff, but it's pretty much evolution

And the church cleared all that up in Feb 2016, in New Era.  Bottom line, no problem, religion is not about science.

A&E were the first of God's children of the covenant..  That's it. Straightforward 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2016/10/to-the-point/what-does-the-church-believe-about-evolution?lang=eng

Edited by mfbukowski
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Not just evolution. His cosmological flood stuff has nothing to do with evolution, rather he points to it as a series of creation (giving a form/function and name which creates order from the primordial chaos) and releasing chaos (the primordial waters) again to provide a chance for recreation because Man should not live in a violent, corrupt, and inhospitable community, Noah being the new Adam commanded to multiply and replenish.  This is a myth teaching a caring God in opposition to the myths of the surrounding nations that tell of capacious gods who are only disdain of mankind, created to provide food and sacrifice and who choose to destroy mankind because they got too many and too noisy.  God the Father otoh, wants a world where man is involved in the ordering, the giving of function and only resets when men chose to act chaotic, losing their purpose. 

Edited by Calm
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Just now, Calm said:

Not just evolution. His cosmological flood stuff has nothing to do with evolution, rather creation (giving a form/function and name which creates order from the primordial chaos) and releasing chaos again to provide a chance for recreation because Man should not live in a violent, corrupt, and inhospitable community, Noah being the new Adam commanded to multiply and replenish. 

Names create purposes, and the savior IS the Word. Adam (mankind) gets naming delegated to him and creates all through language, and God is a human as well

Humans create reality as humans see it (tautology)

Yep.

Straight W. James and L. Wittgenstein, with a good dose of Joseph's stuff, like Alma 32.

Pragmatism.  Yummy

:)

 

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21 minutes ago, Calm said:

Not just evolution. His cosmological flood stuff has nothing to do with evolution, rather he points to it as a series of creation (giving a form/function and name which creates order from the primordial chaos) and releasing chaos (the primordial waters) again to provide a chance for recreation because Man should not live in a violent, corrupt, and inhospitable community, Noah being the new Adam commanded to multiply and replenish.  This is a myth teaching a caring God in opposition to the myths of the surrounding nations that tell of capacious gods who are only disdain of mankind, created to provide food and sacrifice and who choose to destroy mankind because they got too many and too noisy.  God the Father otoh, wants a world where man is involved in the ordering, the giving of function and only resets when men chose to act chaotic, losing their purpose. 

Sounds like Taylor and Tyler also.

Will check it out

Try this:

 

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2 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

Names create purposes, and the savior IS the Word. Adam (mankind) gets naming delegated to him and creates all through language, and God is a human as well

Humans create reality as humans see it (tautology)

Yep.

Straight W. James and L. Wittgenstein, with a good dose of Joseph's stuff, like Alma 32.

Pragmatism.  Yummy

:)

 

I think you may be in danger of reading modern philosophy into the Israelite conception of the cosmos and other things. 

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3 hours ago, Calm said:

I think you may be in danger of reading modern philosophy into the Israelite conception of the cosmos and other things. 

Yes, that is the point.

I'm surprised you say that because that is exactly what Spackman does!

You can't believe in evolution and think like an ancient Israelite!

If we want to make the gospel relevant for today, we need to make it so.

If I am doing that then so are all the writers I quote. I have no problem with that, I don't have a time machine to try to think like an ancient middle easterner.

The operative word for several writers is "reconstruction" which I think goes well with "restoration".

We have no choice to NOT be "postmoderns".

Perhaps it should just be called the Postmodern Gospel.

The ancients did not distinguish between science and religion and never dreamed there might be a perceived conflict.

This is why no one looks to religion nowadays to find meaning in their lives, they are too busy saving the whales, fighting global warming or immersing themselves in politics.

Those are good causes, but do not provide answers for the ultimate questions because science itself refuses to answer "WHY" questions 

We are supposed to "restore" the gospel, not try to dust off ideas that may have worked 2000 years ago and plug them into our age. 

And it's all there for us, revised by Joseph only 200 years ago.  W. James was a hair's breadth from joining the church. Rorty's wife was LDS, and the kids were raised LDS. Parley P. Pratt's "Key to Theology" is pure Pragmatism and was written years before W. James. There are "reconstruction" movements in Judaism and Catholicism all based on Pragmatism.  Wittgenstein attended Catholic churches occasionally, and what he DID write about religion was sympathetic, but anti-dogma due to problems with linguistic ambiguity.  His main translator into English and dear friend was a devout Catholic.

Jewish writer Mordecai Kaplan founded a reconstruction movement based on Pragmatism.

So thanks for your concern, but I think I am on VERY solid ground! :)

https://www.religion-online.org/article/empirical-theology-a-revisable-tradition/

 

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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9 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

I'm surprised you say that because that is exactly what Spackman does!

You can't believe in evolution and think like an ancient Israelite!

True, but you can try and identify the differences, what an ancient Israelite would have thought given the context of their time…which does not include theories of evolution.  It will be an approximation, but as long as that is recognized, what is the issue?
 

When Ben teaches that the Israelites saw the world as a disk mounted by a solid dome surrounded by the primordial waters, he is not teaching the belief that he possesses that the earth is a globe. While he will no doubt judge the Israelite belief based on his own belief, he can try and teach what they believe as separate from his own beliefs as much as he is aware of the separation.

Thus when he teaches of the Israelite idea of creation as assigning a function, he is not forcing a connection to the theories of evolution anymore than he is somehow forcing the disc of the Israelite world to be morphed into meaning the same thing as our modern belief in a globe.
 

Edited by Calm
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11 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

I'm surprised you say that because that is exactly what Spackman does!

Are you saying Ben is reading modern philosophy into Israelite belief?

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On 1/19/2022 at 8:28 AM, bluebell said:

It's amazing how much the OT opens up when you start to learn how the people who wrote it viewed what they were writing.

Which should be our starting place when possible…

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Latter-day Saints are very practical. We tend to be interested in what scripture means for our beliefs and our actions. But sometimes, we jump the gun and end up misreading or misunderstanding scripture because we want to get there so quickly! We fail, in effect, to gather the necessary data before interpreting it. Part of that impulse might be the idea that "scripture was written for our day"... except it wasn't. (And that's a reductionist reading of the Book of Mormon too, but that's for another post.)

Here are three very basic stages of scripture study, taking this into account.

 

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Stage 1) Ask, "what does the text ACTUALLY SAY?" Don't jump to application, don't jump to quotes from Church leaders or the manual. Start with making sure you are reading the scriptural words on the page. Look at the textual context, the sentences before and after. If you're at the beginning or end of a chapter, look at those too. (Chapter divisions are 99% a later artificial imposition on scripture to make it easier for us, and didn't exist as such in ancient manuscripts.) This stage might involve looking at different translations, or in the case of modern scripture, the critical editions which explain textual differences.

 

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Stage 2) Ask, "What did the text MEAN to the author(s) who wrote it? To the audience who first heard it?" This takes us beyond textual context to historical, cultural, and literary contexts (i.e. genre. What KIND of thing is this text?) These are the kinds of contextual information that make sense of a lot of things in Genesis, like the days, the purpose of the accounts, various details about ages of the patriarchs, etc. This stage thus often involves, as Elder Ballard has talked about, expertise; Ballard said he (and by implication, Apostles in general) are not experts! They consult experts! So for this stage, we might look to study Bibles, legitimate, trained, and recognized LDS scholars, commentaries, etc. This is the stage where Hebrew or Greek is useful. It's still a data-gathering stage.

In some ways, this is trying to put things in their right category, keeping separate things separate, e.g. what the temple says is not what Genesis say; should we impose the temple back onto Genesis? John is not Mark; should we impost Mark on John? Elder McConkie is not Joseph Smith; should we impose the former on the latter? Gather all the data, and take it into account for what it is, don't try to blur it all together into one thing.

 

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Stage 3) Once those two are out of the way, once we have gathered all the data, THEN we ask, "what is this text's significance to US, here, today in a very different time, place, culture, and circumstance?" This is when we are looking for current doctrinal meaning, personal application. This tends to be when Apostolic statements and manuals have the most utility; it's what the latter are explicitly written for.

Now note, #2 and #3 don't have to say the same thing! They don't have to match 100%! Ancient people could have very different doctrinal ideas, cultural ideas, values, etc. Israelites, for example, wrestled constantly with the attraction of polytheism and much of the OT addresses that. Genesis addresses that. And with both the principles of progressive revelation, and that God adapts his commandments to the setting, we don't need to to see a disconnect between #2 and #3 as problematic! We don't need to make ancient scripture seem like it teaches every modern principle. Ancient Israelites were not 2021 Latter-day Saints.

 

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I think if we teach students to separate these three stages of scriptural study and understanding— to try to understand BEFORE we apply— we can avoid some future problems of faith crisis. Also, sometimes reframing certain problems makes them much less problematic.

https://www.facebook.com/bspackman/posts/10102577067672550

Edited by Calm
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5 hours ago, Calm said:

Are you saying Ben is reading modern philosophy into Israelite belief?

No, I am saying what I said, and that way of seeing it is foreign to me.

None of us even really knows exactly how ancient cultures thought, so what you suggest, imo, is impossible.  Our milieu is so different we cannot possibly think that way.

You seem quite adamant about it all. I see nothing wrong with Ben's work, he is translating for our age.

Have you ever translated anything?

There is no such thing as equivalent meaning between languages, especially when we are talking about 3000 years.

It helps if we use quote boxes.

 

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To be fair, he is self aware of what he does. His guide to scriptures have three items:

1) what does the text actually say
2) how would the contemporary audience have interpreted the text
3) how can we apply the text to us today

And he points out, rightly so in my opinion, that 2) and 3) need not be the same. Indeed, that forcing view 2) on 3) or 3) on 2) is, in his opinion as I understand it, both unnecessary and improper. Most of us don't have the wherewithal to do 1) or 2) properly and that's ok too. We ought simply to be cognizant that there can/will be differences and gather the good we can get from approach 3).

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