In Tents #46 He is Risen and Other Texts That Don’t Behave as Textual Critics Think They Do Part VII

The 32nd chapter of Alma has an intriguing story where Alma is preaching on the hill Onidah and a group of poor people comes up behind him and asks where they can go to worship, since they aren’t permitted in the synagogues. Alma turns around and starts teaching them. The story is one of my favorite examples of someone acting out a figure of speech: Alma turns his back on his uninterested listeners and starts teaching the ones who want to listen. (Alma 32:6-7)

Alma teaches the poor people that they can exercise faith anywhere, even if they don’t have a building to meet in and quotes Zenos to that effect, a moving discourse meant to comfort outcasts. So why does he scold them immediately after quoting Zenos? “Now behold, my brethren, I would ask if ye have read the scriptures?” (Alma 33:14). Granted, it’s a mild scolding, but why scold at all? Shouldn’t he be encouraging them to read the words of Zenos rather than scolding them for not reading their scriptures at all? The subtle rhetorical shift in the passage puzzled me for a long time.

At my last big-0 birthday I was working my way through Deseret Book’s 1980 facsimile of the First Edition, and Statebird Book was offering Royal Skousen’s typographical facsimile of The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and parts 1 & 2 of his Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon for half price, or about $80 for all three. With some birthday money I bought them. So, when I got to the bottom of page 317, lines 42-43 in my first edition facsimile I checked it against the original manuscript–yes, extant for this passage–and it reads “these scriptures.” So Alma is not scolding them, he’s asking them if they are aware of the scriptures that can comfort them.

So what happened? Well, here’s 317:42,

Now, behold, my brethren, I would ask, if ye have read the

The end of the line happened, Continue reading

Posted in Literary Views of Scripture | 2 Comments

in verse #46 : Filthiness, flood wood and rubbish

Alright, so I’ve talked about the text of Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail for two posts now, and I’m still not done. But, I hear you saying, haven’t you made your point? Well, obviously not, or I wouldn’t be talking about it still, would I? What are you accusing me of, dragging my feet before leaping feetfirst into Walt Whitman? He is the next logical practitioner of the long line, the next successor to Blake. And he is an editor, as well as a writer, is he not?

My point in lingering longer to look at the segments of the letter that were edited into Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants is twofold: the editing was done skillfully, and shaped to humanize a narrative that would emphasize the abstractions of verses 34-46, give them flesh and breath, and soften the anger driving them. That wasn’t necessary for what became Section 122, nor possible for what became section 123. I discussed in my last post the lines leading into the second excerpt, verses 7-25. Look again at these lines:

and when the heart is sufficiently contrite
then the voice of inspiration steals along
and whispers 7my son peace be unto thy soul —
thine adversity and thy afflictions shall be but a small moment
8and then if thou endure it well God shall exalt thee on high —
thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.[i]

Notice that verse 7 begins in the middle of a sentence, but in Doctrine and Covenants there is no indication of that. Continue reading

Posted in In Verse, Literary Views of Scripture, Mormon LitCrit, The Past through Literature, Thoughts on Language | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The case of the disappearing comments

I’ve reset the spam filters, so the legitimate comments don’t have to be fished out (except if you post more than 3 links).

If you don’t see your previous comment now, it means I missed it in combing through the spam, and I apologize profusely.

Carry on, then.

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King Josiah


[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.]


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

Posted in Community Voices | Tagged , | 14 Comments

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 , | 3 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 | 12 Comments