King Josiah

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[NOTE: Nothing about this post is intended to impress your seminary teacher. I'm playing loose with the facts which facts are themselves at best loose. Don't argue the past. The past is not the point. The point is the past.]

[NOTE 2: This post was written under the influence of powerful prescription medication. Glancing through it a day later, hooboy but is that obvious.]

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So King Josiah becomes king and finds the scriptures and he’s like what? Scriptures? That’s cool. And he gets the people to start worshiping the Lord God and doing away with some of the other gods which is mostly good unless you were into Heavenly Mother then you might find his methods a little too thorough but whatever. His scribes start piecing together what words of God are still around and we end up with some weird things like people being created twice but lots of other things would have been lost forever if he hadn’t acted so it’s probably a net gain. Plus we got Deuteronomy now, so that’s pretty great. Even Jesus quotes Deuteronomy. Continue reading

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ReReading Job: Book review by Eric Samuelsen

Below is a review of ReReading Job, a book by Mormon critic Michael Austin, reposted by permission from Eric Samuelsen’s blog.

Michael Austin’s Re-Reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem is a terrific book; smart, thoughtful, funny. I honestly didn’t think a literary scholar’s close reading of the (boring) Book of Job would be so compulsively readable. I didn’t think it would be the kind of book I would find myself unable to put down at two o’clock in the morning. Honestly, I thought reading it would be kind of a chore; that I would trudge my way through it dutifully, seeking a nugget of enlightenment in the mucky stream of turgid prose. Instead, I got all caught up in it.

This isn’t a hard book to recommend – go, now, buy it, read it.  But the task of recommending it requires that I acknowledge some barriers at least some of my friends are likely to put up.  First of all, Austin is openly LDS, and gives Job an LDS reading.  For some of you, that’s a problem. You’re likely thinking, “crap, an apologetic reading of Job. Pass.” But it’s not. It’s not, like, a correlated reading of the text; nothing like that at all.  This is Job from the perspective of a very smart, very well read, first-rate literary scholar, who also happens to be LDS, and whose initial personal history with the text (which he acknowledges), was that of an LDS kid struggling to read a boring book he didn’t understand.

It’s also possible, of course, that some of you might buy the book hoping for a correlated reading of the text, hoping, in fact, for something authoritative and definitive and McConkey-ish.  You won’t find that here either. This is a literary scholar reading a poem, reading it as a poem. An inspired poem, to be sure, but a poem nonetheless, a work of fiction, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a work of fiction. Austin doesn’t know, for example, if Job actually existed. He doesn’t care; he doesn’t think that’s a significant issue with the text. He wants to engage with the text as it stands, and he wants us to engage with it along with him. And what I’m trying to convince you is that you should, go on the journey the text demands of us.

The fact is, most people (most Mormons, but also most Christians) share a particular reading of Job built largely on the frame story found in Job‘s first two chapters, and final chapter.  Job was a wealthy man, who is tested by God (or by Satan, with God’s permission), is remarkably patient despite his afflictions, and is eventually rewarded by God with even better stuff than he had when the whole thing started.

I don’t want to give too much away, but what Austin wants to persuade you is that the frame story, the suffering patient Job rewarded story is the Disney version. And that all the middle chapters are the meat of the poem, and a profound and powerful deconstruction of the frame story. The body of the poem is entirely different from the frame story, different in approach, in style, in language and in intent. And that’s a good thing.

Because the case Satan makes in the frame story is particularly insidious. If God rewards good actions and punishes bad ones, if that’s all that’s going on, then nobody is actually good. We’re lab rats in a Pavlovian experiment based on a sophisticated reward/punishment binary. Is Job good? If he’s only good because he expects to be rewarded for being good, and expects as well to be punished if he isn’t good, then his supposed goodness is entirely illusionary.

Job’s friends insist that he must have sinned, for why else has he suffered such dreadful misfortune?  But he knows perfectly well that he hasn’t sinned and that the bad things that have happened to him are entirely arbitrary. And he isn’t remotely patient about it. He’s furious, and repeatedly and powerfully curses God for allowing him to suffer so. Job’s suffering is inexplicable, and one of the purposes of the poem is to suggest that inexplicable suffering is part of mortality.  We need to get our heads around that reality.

I don’t want to go on and on. Suffice it to say that Austin writes in a clear, fresh, clean, readable prose blessedly lacking in theoretical jargon or supererogatory turgidity. That I’ve spent more time thinking about this book than any other I’ve read for awhile, and that it made me re-read Job.

I just have one tiny quibble. I don’t think Job‘s a poem; I think it’s a play. That opening scene is theologically weird, but it’s dramaturgically sound; neat way to frame a tale. And most of it’s in dialogue. I have no idea what Job’s performance history might be, if it had one, but it would certainly work as a play, and many of the best literary works that it’s inspired are plays.

But that’s also not a crucial point. This is a great book.  Buy it. Read it. Now.

 

Posted in Literary Views of Scripture | Tagged , | 2 Comments

This Month in Mormon Literature, October 2014

The Church PR film Meet the Mormons opens to good box-office and mixed reviews, while the film 16 Stones received poor reviews. Chris Crowe’s new YA novel is written entirely in haiku verse. There are also new juvenile/YA novels from Amy Finnegan, Becca Fitzpatrick. Jessica Day George, Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (starred review), Jessica Martinez (starred review), and Robison Wells. Also national novels by Brenda Novak and Brad R. Torgersen. Mormon literary giant Douglas Thayer has a new novel published by Zarahemla, and Paul Edwards’ RLDS mystery is published by Signature. There are lots of contest winners and announcements, and blog posts about Mormon super heroes in Marvel comics, and the Osmonds’ rock phase. Mahonri Stewart has a new play. Keep up on the “Wither AML?” posts on this blog. Mormon humor icon Cal Grondahl earlier this year had his status at the Standard-Examiner change. Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Grondahl Sacrament meeting

News, contests, and contest winners

[I messed this up, misreading a Tribune article from January. I am correcting it, but will leave the discussion of Grondahl's work.] Utah cartoonist Calvin Grondahl was one of as many as a dozen newspaper staffers let go in January at Ogden’s newspaper The Standard-Examiner, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Since that time Grondahl has continued to contribute two cartoons a week to the paper as a contractor.  Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 6 Comments

Social Media and AML 2.0

While the blog is still up and running, I want to post briefly about AML’s revamped social media presence. As many of you already know, shortly before General Conference, Christopher Cunningham and I took over AML’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Since then we’ve been posting news and announcements related to Mormon letters to keep existing followers informed and attract new followers to the accounts. So far everything is going well, and we are pleased that people are interacting with the accounts.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow the accounts and let other interested parties know they exist. It’s my belief that some of the most interesting discussions about Mormon literature are happening on social media, and I hope to use these accounts to spur more discussion. I also hope that they will become significant factors in attracting new and long-lost members to the AML fold. Young Mormons especially are on social media, and I believe many of them have much to offer our organization and its future.

Eventually I’d like to set up AML Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine accounts (and maybe Google+ for the five people who use it). For the time being, though, we’re going to stick with Facebook and Twitter—unless someone else would like to take the lead on one of these other platforms. Then I’d be more than happy to help you set it up. (I also have plenty of ideas for what you can do with them!)

Finally, if you know of blog posts, news reports, or announcements that ought to be shared with the AML community, please feel free to tweet them to the account (we’ll retweet them!) or post them directly to the Facebook page (we’ll make sure they get shared!). Also, if you are already connected with us personally on social media, you can direct message items/suggestions to either Christopher or me via our personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. (I think I’m connected with most regular participants on this blog, but if not, feel free to friend me. I promise to flood your News Feed with Enid comics, images of old-timey daguerreotypes, and irony.)

Thanks for following AML on social media. Like many of you, I’m optimistic about AML 2.0 and the ways technology can make it more relevant and accessible to members old and new.

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Positioning AML: Guest Post by William Morris

(Administrator note: This guest post by William has been in the queue for a while, so I’m taking the opportunity to post it now. I hope we can use it to continue/restart the flourishing conversation about the future of AML from a couple of weeks ago. I’d like to also put in a plug for related posts like this one and this one over at A Motley Vision. It’s the AML Moment! Or could be.)

I’m delighted by the reaction to Theric’s post about the dormancy of the Association for Mormon Letters. There have been numerous great ideas and responses posted in the comments to the thread, and I don’t want to dampen that discussion, but I do want to expand on my comments on positioning and think about that and organizational structure in a way that’s parallel to all the awesome specific ideas and feedback taking place.

Brief Aside/Full Disclosure/Credential Flouting
Please note that a few times over the past decade (or more), I have advised several people affiliated with AML on marketing, positioning and organizational structure. Some of that advice was implemented. Most of it was not. I’m not angry about this at all. I understand that change is difficult and the last 10 years, in particular, have been hard on organizations, especially those in the humanities. But this time, I’m going to do this out in the open. Because it seems like we’re at that point. And I also could be wrong about things and this is the best way to find that out. That being said: brand positioning is one of the key responsibilities for my day job as a marketing director for a private, non-profit college. I also serve on the marketing committee and helped with the start up of a classical-education-focused charter school (K-12). Which means I have a lot of experience working with non-profit organizations that are trying to figure out where they fit and what they do and how they operate. Continue reading

Posted in Community Voices | Tagged , | 43 Comments

Peek-a-Boo

Hi. My name’s Elizabeth and I’m an alcoholic… Oh, wrong meeting. Sorry.

The blog was down for a time. I thought it would be as simple as moving WordPress over. It wasn’t. I mean, it was, if I wanted to lose the thousand bits of information buried in this nook and that corner of the site. Which I do not want to do, since it includes every award given since 1977 and every review written since dirt.

There’s no reason to keep the blog down while I dig all this stuff out and put it back together again, and I apologize for keeping it down so long as I worked on back-end stuff.

The blog’s back up in the same place it was before. When I take it down again, I’ll warn you in advance.

An advance warning I can give you now is that you’ll have to change your bookmarks back to plain ol’ mormonletters.org. I’ll let you know when to do that.

Carry on, then.

Posted in Announcements, Blog Business | 2 Comments

The Future of AML: Part One of Numerous

Theric’s recent post led to an outpouring (120 comments and counting) of ideas and speculation on the future of AML, how to get there, and who will take it there. I noted that I would try to assemble said gush of words into something concise and actionable (as in, “ready to be acted upon,” not, “grounds for a lawsuit”). The following attempts to be comprehensive, but I certainly may have missed or misunderstood certain comments. Please feel free to offer further revisions, corrections, questions, gripes, etc.

Alright, then. To business. As suggested by Wm, the following is divided into two parts, “triage” (what needs to be done now) and “ambitions” (what can be done later, once the victim is stable).

NOTE: If your name appears at the end of an item after “Volunteers” do not fret. You have not been locked in. I am just going off of what I gathered from reading the comments, trying to cast a broad net. Hopefully, individual assignments and responsibilities will be finalized in time.

TRIAGE

Website - There seems to be a very solid consensus about this one. If we can get the website back up and running and add as much content as possible (reviews, archives, the history/narrative of AML, etc.), our visibility skyrockets, our relevancy rises, and our community grows.  This also includes coordinating with Jeff Needle and Andrew Hall to better harness and expand their invaluable work. I like Tyler’s idea of helping to further Andrew’s efforts to curate and link to all manner of MoLit related content (the “bazaar” appeal as named by Jonathan L.). The Digital Humanities Now model (as suggested by Tyler) can (should) be adapted for AML. It needs to be a collaborative, sustainable effort. VOLUNTEERS: Elizabeth Beeton, Jonathan Langford, Dallas Robbins, Michael Ellis

Social Media - Facebook and Twitter. To drive traffic. To promote and remind and provoke and display. VOLUNTEERS: Scott Hales

Awards - As many pointed out, getting seriously organized with the awards gives AML standing as an arbiter of quality, brings together writers, readers, and publishers, and sparks thoughtful discussion (as well as controversy!). We need to come up with a transparent and systematic way of nominating and judging. VOLUNTEERS: Theric Jepson, Tyler Chadwick, Wm Morris (publicity), Joe Plicka, Margaret Young

Board/Leadership - We need a board that will meet (on the internet, of course), somewhat regularly. We need a treasurer to keep tabs on our finances. We need a secretary to maintain membership rolls. We need you. VOLUNTEERS: Scott Hales, Jonathon Penny, Joe Plicka, others I may have missed?

Recruitment - We need to court critics and writers who have drifted off, or are up and coming, or have just plain never heard of us. I know a couple people whose interests align with AML but have just assumed the organization was kind of asleep, or not interested in them (as Scott mentioned, some are unsure who AML is for). I hate how this feels like another version of “tell five friends,” or “shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity to hear this glad message,” or, heaven forbid, “SPAM!” (as Mormons, that hits pretty close to home), but we don’t have to don the uniform and grab the bullhorn. Just selectively invite the most viable candidates to participate and let the internet do the rest. Jonathan Langford offered to scour some databases for stragglers who are doing work in MoLit but haven’t connected the dots to AML, and might be persuaded to share their work. Other efforts here could be fruitful.

2015 AML Conference/Seminar/Gathering - This is last under triage, because while it is something that we need to think about very soon, it’s not as urgent as the above. Hawaii is not going to happen until 2016. In the meantime, we could decide to do something this coming spring (or summer, or winter). Much has been bandied about. Should it be an online conference, a small gathering in conjunction with another conference (MSH), or something along the lines of Tyler’s proposed MoLit seminar (and/or creative workshop/seminar)? (In the future or even now, another discussed option was sponsoring a session at a larger conference like RMMLA, Sunstone, or maybe, someday, at MLA or AWP themselves.) If Tyler’s seminar idea gets traction, I would be glad to participate. It sounds like it has the potential to deeply engage a small group of willing but distracted folks and produce something memorable and meaningful that could go right up on the AML website. VOLUNTEERS (includes those who suggested or expressed interest in any of these ideas): Scott Hales, Tyler Chadwick, Joe Plicka, Theric Jepson, Jonathon Penny, Wm Morris

 

AMBITIONS

AML/LDS Writers Workshop Hawaii 2016 - I’m on this. It’s undoubtedly a beast to even think about. It could be incredible. Thank you for those of you who gave me feedback on your desires/abilities to attend. The big question right now is timing. February, May, or July? Then we tackle scope. And housing. VOLUNTEERS: Joe Plicka, Margaret Young, Luisa Perkins

Irreantum (or successor) - This is something I actually feel confident about offering to help with. My experiences with editing and publishing lit journals are not decades deep, but solid enough to stand on. Questions about money (printing, subscriptions) notwithstanding, there seems to be a fair amount of interest in having some sort of AML skin in the publishing game (does that expression make anyone else titter?). We can continue the discussion about format and audience on a future post. A few common themes: broader format, roving editorship and theme issues, online publication (maybe an additional print run). VOLUNTEERS: Jonathon Penny, Theric Jepson, Michael Andrew Ellis, Joe Plicka

 

MORE AMBITIONS/PIES IN THE SKIES

Many more ideas were suggested that sound super dreamy and super awesome (many offered by Randy Astle). Maybe a day will come when AML has the personnel and resources to pursue things like:

MoLit online course (Tyler has led out on this so far and maybe it will become his thing apart from AML, it’s not so much a pie in the sky really, maybe it could even be serialized in Irreantum), AML podcast, smaller workshops/conferences around the country, a MoLit app, a web series, an AML Press (Amazon Fulfillment style)

Okay, so what did I miss? And where do we go from here?

And PLEASE, if you would like to add your name to any of these items, PLEASE let me know. We need as much or as little as you can give.

So far it looks like a smaller group of about half a dozen folks who are ready to pitch in. (And a few who are already doing all they can.) Not sure if that will be enough to carry us, but we’ll start down the road and see who else shows up. In the age of the internet, you never know who will drop by.

Posted in Community Voices | 75 Comments

In Tents #44 He is Risen and Other Texts That Don’t Behave as Textual Critics Think They Do Part VI

And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.

Jeremiah 36:23 

Every writer’s nightmare, that, and a few verses later every tyrant’s nightmare:

27 ¶Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, after that the king had burned the roll, and the words which Baruch wrote at the mouth of Jeremiah, saying,

28 Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah hath burned.

29 And thou shalt say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, Thus saith the Lord; Thou hast burned this roll, saying, Why hast thou written therein, saying, The king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land, and shall cause to cease from thence man and beast?

30 Therefore thus saith the Lord of Jehoiakim king of Judah; He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David: and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost.

31 And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them; but they hearkened not.

Toward the end of chapter 13 of Who Wrote the Bible? Richard Elliott Friedman quotes an ancient tradition, recorded in the Fourth Book of (ca. 100 AD) that the same thing happened to the original Torah scroll, burned with other Bible books “in the fire that destroyed the temple in 587 B.C.,” but “Ezra was able to restore it by a revelation” (224).

Continue reading

Posted in Literary Views of Scripture | 2 Comments

This Month in Mormon Literature, Late September 2014

Be sure to read the discussion about the future of the Association for Mormon Letters in Theric’s Accountability to the little guy post at this blog. This month features: The 2014 League of Utah Writers awards and the Salt Lake City Weekly Artys awards were presented. The Maze Runner, based on author James Dashner’s YA novel, opened to much better box office and somewhat better reviews than Ender’s Game last year. The book is also at the top of the bestseller lists. Publishers Weekly focused on the efforts of Rick Walton as a key part of the success of Utah authors in the children/YA markets, and gave starred reviews to Julie Berry’s middle grade Victorian comic mystery and Craig Harline’s missionary memoir. An update on the plagiarism case. A call for papers from LTUE. New novels from several national YA authors. Two upcoming Mormon movies. And a Robert Lauer/Sam Cardon historical musical opened in St. George. Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Awards

Salt Lake City Weekly Artys awards

Salt City Strangers

BEST COMIC BOOK: Salt City Strangers. Would you believe … the intercontinental railroad was part of a demonic plan to engulf the planet in evil once the final Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Point? Fortunately, a group of heroes called the Salt City Strangers foiled the plot and have fought to keep Utah safe ever since. Chris Hoffman’s sharply detailed comic is steeped in local LDS culture (Deputy Deseret slings Porter Rockwell’s guns; Son of Bigfoot was discovered in Provo Canyon and raised Mormon; and then there’s the Gull), but Salt City Strangers—now two issues in—is ultimately a classic story of Good vs. Evil. If there’s anything Utahns love, it’s a tall tale about the righteous taking on the wrong-teous. Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 2 Comments

in verse #45 : The Power of the Editor

The text of his letter from Liberty Jail was published in Joseph Smith’s lifetime, in Times and Seasons in May and July of 1840, of which Joseph was nominally editor (this was the last transcription Joseph could have overseen). It was also published in the Deseret News and the Millenial Star, about the time it was being edited and excerpted for publication in Doctrine and Covenants in 1876. The latter editorial process interests me most in regards to Section 121, which consists of five excerpts from widely-separated parts of the letter. Sections 122 and 123 are single, coherent excerpts, not the mosaic that 121 is.

The letter begins in what one commentary calls “a high scriptural style,”[i] but it is worth noting that Joseph undercuts that immediately with sarcasm: Continue reading

Posted in In Verse, Literary Views of Scripture, Mormon LitCrit, The Past through Literature, Thoughts on Language | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments