Sunday, October 29, 2006

The "without a cause" clause

The 35th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium was held on BYU Campus this last weekend (October 27-28). The theme this year was "How the New Testament Came to Be", and I was lucky enough to attend several of the sessions (my husband Bradley sent me while he watched the children). I found two of the Friday night sessions thought-provoking, albeit in very different ways.

Daniel K. Judd and Allen W. Stoddard co-authored a paper (Dr. Judd presented it) entitled "Adding and Taking Away "Without a Cause" in Matthew 5:22".
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say unto his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Although I knew that the JST rendition of this passage removes the phrase "without a cause", I had no idea that among New Testament scholars, the originality of that phrase is debated. According to Dr. Judd's presentation, among the earliest NT manuscripts, both versions are found, but the phrase is missing in many of the very earliest. It doesn't show up in the Codex Vaticanus, an early Greek Bible (c. AD 400), although it does show up in an early Coptic manuscript (I missed the age of that one). Two early Christian theologians, St. Jerome (AD 185-254) and John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) held opposing views on the validity of the statement--St. Jerome arguing against it, and John Chrysostom arguing for it. The phrase is found in the King James Version of the Bible, but many recent versions, including the NIV, omit it.

Dr. Judd and his student have been studying the "Barcelona Papyrus", which is a scrap of papyrus from the first century AD with various passages from the Gospel of Matthew written on it. These passages include the oldest recording of Matthew 5:22, and careful reading by the authors has revealed that "without a cause" is not included.

The addition of "without a cause" fundamentally changes the message and idea behind the Savior's admonition. With the phrase omitted, we have absolutely no excuse for becoming angry with our brethren; with the phrase, we can justify it if we have a cause--and who is to judge what is a good reason or not? It seems very obvious that insertion of those three words makes a higher law into a lesser one.

When I was a child, I remember being taught in school that even though someone "made" me angry, it wasn't okay to act on that angry by yelling, pushing, hitting, etc. At home, though, my parents had a different perspective. Although they acknowledged the reality of those angry feelings, they taught us that no one could "make" us angry, that we didn't have to allow another person to change the way we felt. This isn't to say we were punished for being angry (although we were punished by acting on it, naturally); rather they tried to guide us into following the higher law, while recognizing the shortfalls of the natural man.

This lecture by Dr. Judd brought similar thoughts to my mind, and reminded me of those early lessons. Right now I'm experiencing a fair amount of frustration in my calling. I've had an enormous burden placed upon me by the bishopric, and I feel like I'm getting no support from them--or from the majority of the ward membership. For the past several months I've had a really hard time concentrating on the sacrament, coming as it does right after ward business, in which certain callings are filled with rapidity and my needs are left unfilled. I ever passed on taking the sacrament a few weeks ago, I was that upset. And I've been (mostly) blaming it on the bishopric.

But considering this passage of scripture, and the admonition to not become angry with our fellow men, makes me realize that I have to take responsibility for this situation--not that I can force the bishopric to fill the callings, but that I need to work on my anger. It's not something that is out of my control, it's not something that is "healthy" and "right". It is natural, but we are supposed to put off the natural man. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect myself to change overnight, and I certainly don't think I'll have this concept perfected anytime within my lifetime. But I need to be actively working on it, for it is my duty. There is no "without a cause" clause to get me out of it. Nor should there be.

(An interesting sidenote to this discussion: As I mentioned earlier, the JST omits the phrase. Later in the NT, the JST changes another passage dealing with anger, Eph.4:26. The KJV reads "Be ye angry, and sin not" whereas the JST changes it to read "Can yet be angry, and sin not?"--following the same trend as the omission of the "without a cause" phrase. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith was aware of the question of the authenticity of the phrase; many of the manuscripts cited in the talk had not been discovered during his time.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A non-Mormon author's view of Mormon position on evolution

Perhaps you'll think it too vain, but I'm always interested to hear what people are saying about Mormons. When Mormons are mentioned in a news report, my ears always perk up, especially on a national show. (We end up in the news a lot in the Utah news as you might expect.)

I was watching a video lecture about the junction of science and religion, with the subject of evolution teaching in schools being a prominent part--always a hot topic. After the speech (which didn't turn out to be terribly interesting) there was a lengthy question and answer period which proved to be much more enlightening.

One of the questioners brought up the Mormons and their view on evolution. The speaker was prepared to clarify the Church's official position on evolution. Perhaps you'll be interested to hear what at least one non-Mormon think. The video of the lecture is here and the question occurs at 28:10.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"I don't drink tea, I'm a Mormon"

[UPDATE: Be sure to see the comments following this story for important corrections and corroborations to this telling.]

The following story is based on my recollection of a telling from sometime between 1999 and 2000. Hopefully I won't mangle the details too badly. Those with corrections or additional information are welcome to pipe up in the comments.

Hal[1] worked for a company that sold phone cards. They were looking to try a scratch-and-win type phone card for sale in Indonesia. In this country of 200 million, 86% of whom are Muslim[2], cultural sensitivity was important. The company didn't want to offer the cards if they would be offensive to the religious sensibilities of the Muslim majority which forbids gambling. Hal was sent in to get a read on the situation.

He was told he needed to talk to Gus Dur, the leader or chief cleric of a group of 40 million Muslims, the largest such group in the country.

To speak to Gus Dur, one had to wait his turn in line to see the cleric. Hal found himself in a line of people stretching out the door of a small building. After a wait, he made his way into the house where he saw an old man in shorts sitting on a simple bed. The man was nearly blind. This was Gus Dur, more formally known as Abdurrahman Wahid.

As Hal started to speak to Gus Dur, someone appeared to offer both of them tea. Hal responded without hesitation, "I don't drink tea. I'm a Mormon."

There were any number of ways to demur from sharing in a cup of tea without bringing up the subject of religion. Hal was here on business and it certainly wouldn't do to offend the religious sensitivities of his host. Nevertheless, he was straightforward and unashamed.

"Mormon?" Gus Dur leaned forward. "I know this church. This is a good church."

I don't know what happened relating to the business portion of the meeting, but at least some part of the conversation centered on the Church and on Utah. Hal mentioned the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah Hospital.

As one thing led to another, Gus Dur eventually found himself on a private plane (owned by a prominent Mormon businessman) bound for Utah. The well-regarded Muslim leader was greeted in Utah by several leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the First Presidency.

As Gus Dur prepared for eye surgery, President Hinckley offered to give him a priesthood blessing. Gus Dur agreed, with his characteristic ecumenicism.

In the blessing, a prophet of God blessed him, among other things, that he would return to his country and do a very great work.

Abdurrahman Wahid returned to Indonesia and within a relatively short period of time, was recruited to run for president in the first genuine election in a generation. In a strange electoral twist, he became the president of Indonesia with a political rival serving as his vice president.[3]

Thus it was that the man who become the president of Indonesia, the country with more Muslims than all of the Arabian peninsula together, was one who had received a blessing at the hands of a Mormon prophet.

Gus Dur was a force for religious toleration in Indonesia. Latter-day Saint missionaries do not currently serve in Indonesia, but perhaps the work of Gus Dur during his term in the presidency will prove to have been a key element in the future opening of that work. And to think it all started over a refused cup of tea.

[1] I don't know Hal's full name, or even if this is his real name. The teller of the story never mentioned it. I'm reluctant to associate the name of the teller of the story with my re-telling of it, in case I turn out to have misheard or misremebered any facts. The original teller was serving as an area-authority seventy and recounted the story in a stake priesthood meeting in a BYU stake.

[2] According to the Wikipedia entry on Indonesia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesia

[3] From another Wikipedia entry: "Under the constitution, the new President was elected by members of both houses of Parliament in a joint sitting, with the result that although the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle won the election with 35% of the popular vote, the new President was not that party's nominee, Megawati Sukarnoputri, but was Abdurrahman Wahid, from the National Awakening Party, with Megawati as Vice-President."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Google Earth the Holy Land

I had a good time today playing with Google Earth 4 and some placemarks I downloaded for it that show historical sites in Jerusalem and the surrounding biblical lands. It is a lot cheaper than plane tickets! (But let's not kid ourselves. Keryn and I are still planning to go over there together as soon as we can afford it and life will allow it.)

If you'd like to take a tour yourself over your high-speed internet connection, download Google Earth and install it. After you have it installed, download the placemark files here and here.

I wrote a post a while back where I posted a couple of pictures of the BYU Jerusalem Center for those interested in that angle.

Relics from Herod's Temple

An archaeologist claims that artifacts found in 1960 that were assumed to be Roman, were in fact objects taken from the 2nd Temple before it was destroyed in 70 AD. I'm not sure if I believe his claim, but the facts that are uncovered are worth the journey, even if you don't support the conclusion. If you are a fan of Biblical Archaeology, you'll enjoy the video. The NOVA documentary is titled "NOVA: Ancient Refuge in the Holy Land".

Here is the description of the video from the site:
Will secrets buried in an ancient cave rewrite the story of a desperate time? Nearly 2,000 years ago, a dark, inhospitable cave located in a canyon near the Dead Sea was a secret refuge for Jewish refugees fleeing for their lives from the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. In 1960, archaeologists discovered dramatic letters written by Bar-Kokhba, the heroic Jewish rebel who led a guerrilla uprising against the Romans. Could the cave conceal more historical treasure from that desperate time? Armed with high-tech equipment, a new team led by archaeologist Richard Freund returns to explore a place that has intrigued the experts for decades. With the help of ingeniously improvised devices, they unearth long-lost artifacts and relics that provide tantalizing clues to turbulent times of messianic fervor, oppression, and revolt. The team’s discoveries lead Freund to a radical new theory that he hopes will rewrite Holy Land history--could the treasure concealed in the cave be a long-lost relic of the Great Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans? Join NOVA for a fascinating detective story that will immerse you in the strong currents of archaeological controversy. For more great science stories, tune in weekly to NOVA on your local PBS station.

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