Robert L. Millet Blog Posts
Publications Director of BYU Religious Studies Center
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After a long hiatus, the RSC blog has resumed in earnest. Our goal is to provide weekly updates about news such as recent books, material on the RSC website, happenings in Religious Education, and topics of general interest in academia, ancient scripture, or Church history.
Readers in general, and teachers in particular, will enjoy a masterful new book that is drawing praise from reviewers, including Elder Dallin H. Oaks, President Kevin J Worthen, and BYU faculty and staff. The book is titled Called to Teach. The book’s subtitle is The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser, and the book focuses mainly on the educational philosophies that shaped his career and influenced not only BYU but also the Church Educational System.
The RSC’s publishing team thoroughly enjoyed working with the author, A. LeGrand “Buddy” Richards, an associate professor in Educational Leadership and Foundations at BYU. As an educator with extensive experience teaching at the University of Würzburg in Germany, Dr. Richards was uniquely qualified to write this book. In fact, as reviewer Heather Seferovich acknowledges, Buddy’s “great-great-grandfather is Franklin D. Richards, the European Mission president who baptized Maeser; these two families have been intertwined for generations.” She adds that “writing this biography of Maeser was a labor of love for Richards, who spent about a decade finding everything he could on Maeser, and much of this thorough, painstaking research has resulted in new information, especially in the years prior to Maeser’s baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Less well known is the fact that Maeser translated twenty-nine hymns and about a third of the Doctrine and Covenants into German and founded Der Stern, the Church’s German magazine (now called the Liahona).
Early in his teaching career, Maeser embraced the philosophy of Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who believed “that each person has unlimited potential.” Pestalozzi believed “that a whole education required the proper development of the head (rational power), the hand (physical capacities), and the heart (moral dispositions)” (23–24). Maeser shared these Pestalozzian principles with students and teachers he supervised. As the first superintendent of Church Education, Maeser helped found and maintain over fifty academies and schools from Canada to Mexico. He helped develop the public education system in Utah and helped establish the Utah Teachers Association. The students he taught personally included future United States senators and members of the House of Representatives, a United States Supreme Court justice, university presidents, and many General Authorities.
In May 2014, Dr. Richards received a warm letter regarding this book from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and past BYU president: “I was thrilled to learn so many things I had not known about a man I have often called ‘the founding genius of Brigham Young University.’”
At meetings that launched the 2014–15 school year, Elder Oaks took time to share quotes and insights from the book with new university president Kevin J Worthen and with deans and directors. In turn, President Worthen shared several Maeser quotes from the book with faculty and staff in his remarks to them. One of those statements is preserved on a blackboard in Maeser’s own handwriting: “This life is one great object lesson to practice on the principles of immortality and eternal life.” These quotes and stories are just a few examples of how the legacy of Karl G. Maeser continues to shape BYU today.
POSTED BY: Millet
For many years I wrestled with how to take a compliment. I don’t know how many hundreds of talks or lessons I’ve given over the last thirty years, but it’s been a lot. And more than once people have come to the front of the room to thank me afterward. Those compliments have been as varied as the personalities of the people themselves. Some simply say, “Good job” or “Great talk” or “I really enjoyed your message.” The more thoughtful compliments take the form of follow-up questions, requested clarifications, or an eagerness to get a reference or source of a thought or quotation. As a speaker or teacher, I appreciate the fact that they would make the effort to provide feedback.
For the longest time, however, I just didn’t handle such compliments properly. I would often say something like, “Well, not really; I thought it was sort of mediocre” or “Thanks, but I only got through half of my material.” My wife, Shauna, noticed my discomfort and suggested that I might take a different approach: I might try saying, “Thank you.” It actually works quite well.
In recent years, I have discovered another way to handle compliments, even gushy ones about how wonderful and inspiring I am. I find myself saying things like, “Thank you. It was a great evening, wasn’t it? The Lord was good to us” or “There was a sweet Spirit in our midst. I’m grateful I was here.” Those aren’t just handy homilies to me, nor are they insincere. The longer I live and the more I experience, the more clearly I perceive the workings of the Lord; if we have an inspiring experience together, all the glory and honor and thanks ought to go to God.
I can still remember very distinctly the words of President Joseph Fielding Smith at the April 1970 conference, in which he was sustained as the tenth President of the Church. “I desire to say that no man of himself can lead this church,” President Smith affirmed. “It is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ; he is at the head. The Church bears his name, has his priesthood, administers his gospel, preaches his doctrine, and does his work.
“He chooses men and calls them to be instruments in his hands to accomplish his purposes, and he guides and directs them in their labors. But men are only instruments in the Lord’s hands, and the honor and glory for all his servants accomplish is and should be ascribed unto him forever” (in Conference Report, April 1970, 113).
Such words should create feelings of profound humility, feelings of gratitude, of reverence, of resounding praise to Him who holds all things in his power and is the Source of our strength and very being. Elder Gerald N. Lund pointed out that “focusing on the word profit will help us better understand the concept of unprofitable servants. The word implies personal gain or benefit. Profit means an increase in assets or status or benefits.
“That is the crux of the concept of man being an unprofitable servant. God is perfect—in knowledge, power, influence, and attributes. He is the Creator of all things! What could any person—or all people together for that matter—do to bring profit (that is, an increase in assets, status, or benefits) to God? . . .
“That we are his children and he loves us is undeniable, and that situation puts us in a status far above any of his other creations. But we must somehow disabuse ourselves of any notion that we can bring personal profit to God by our actions. That would make God indebted to men, which is unthinkable” (Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation, 120–21; emphasis added).
To the extent that we realize who we are, Whose we are, what we can do, and what we can never do for ourselves, our Heavenly Father and his Beloved Son will do everything in their power to forgive us, equip us, empower us, transform us, and ultimately glorify us. We may not have “arrived” yet, but we’re well on the way when we begin to acknowledge our limitations, confess his goodness and mercy and strength, and learn to embody an attitude of gratitude. In the language of the revelation, we are to “thank the Lord [our] God in all things” (D&C 59:7; see also v. 21). In weakness there is strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; Ether 12:27). In submission and surrender, there is power and victory. Thanks be to God, who grants us that victory through the mediation of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:57).
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Dedication, begins this Friday night at sundown. The Hebrew word Hanukkah actually means “dedication.” The eight-day festival in 2009 runs from Saturday, December 12, to Saturday, December 19. It is a holiday period of considerable significance, both religiously and historically, to Jews the world over. But it should also be of some importance to Christians, including Latter-day Saints, for without the events celebrated in Hanukkah there would have been no Christmas.
Here’s the story: The ancient Jewish people in the land of Israel faced a grave threat when the Greco-Syrian despot Antiochus IV became king of the Seleucid empire in 175 BC. Syria controlled Judea at the time, but the Jews had been treated with tolerance by previous Syrian rulers. Antiochus IV, however, saw himself as a Greek deity in human form (he even adopted the name Epiphanes), and he set a goal to convert all the peoples of his realm to the worship of the Greek pantheon.
Seeking this goal with the Jews, Antiochus had his troops occupy Jerusalem and its Jewish temple, replacing the ceremonies that honored the God of Israel with pagan rites, and converting the edifice into a shrine for Zeus. The temple was defiled. Pigs were slaughtered on its altar by false priests in acts of disdain for the law of Moses and Jewish values.
Jewish religion in general was outlawed. The scriptures (books of what we call the Old Testament) were confiscated and burned. Jewish ordinances and practices, such as circumcision and prayer to the Lord, became capital crimes. The historical book of 1 Maccabees reports that “the women who had circumcised their children they (the Syrians) put to death under the decree, hanging the babies around their necks, and destroying their families and the men who had circumcised them” (1 Maccabees 1:60). Had not something happened to change the course of Antiochus’ program of cultural genocide against the Jews, their religion and identity would have been obliterated within a few generations.
But something did happen. In 167 BC, inspired by an Aaronic priestly family known as the Hasmoneans, the people of Judea revolted against the Syrian occupiers. Their war of independence was led by a Hasmonean priest known as Judah Maccabee. Often called the Hasomonean Revolt, or alternatively the Maccabean Revolt, the insurrection gained strength and was ultimately successful in repulsing the Syrian forces. By the winter month of Kislev (around our December) in 164 BC, the Jewish freedom fighters had recaptured Jerusalem’s temple mount, and liberated the temple from the pagan Syrians. As the war continued, the Maccabean forces eventually drove the Syrians out of the land of Israel.
Having freed Jerusalem, the Jews undertook to cleanse and rededicate their holy temple. According to rabbinic tradition recorded in the Talmud (TB Shabbat 21:b), when the Hasmonean priests entered the temple they found only one jar of consecrated olive oil to light the great seven-branched lamp (menorah) in the temple holy place for a single day. But anxious to rededicate the edifice, the high priest poured the oil into the seven cups on the menorah branches, and lit the lamp. The oil that was only enough for one day burned for eight whole days, enough time for new oil to be pressed and consecrated. This was seen as a miracle and a sign that God had been with the Jews in establishing their freedom and saving their religion and identity. The eight-day dedication period was celebrated by the Jews in Israel, and eventually throughout the world, each winter from that very year until the present, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, and has always been known as festival of Hanukkah, the “feast of dedication.”
Modern Jews do a number of things in their Hanukkah celebrations. The first, and most important, is the lighting of Hanukkah lights. A nine-branched Hanukkah menorah (known in Hebrew as a Hanukiah) is the main instrument of the lighting. Small candles or vials of olive oil are placed in the arms of the menorah, one of which is elevated above the other eight. On the first night of Hanukkah, the elevated candle (known as the Shamash) is lit, followed by one other candle which represents the first day of Hanukkah. On the second night of Hanukkah, the Shamash and two candles are lit, on the third night three, and so forth until the eighth night of Hanukkah, when the Shamash and all eight candles are lit. The lit Hanukiah is placed in a windowsill each night so that all in the community can see that the Jewish family is celebrating the festival.
Other Hanukkah activities include the preparation and eating of foods fried in oil, such as potato latkes (spicey, fried potato pancakes) and donuts known as sufganiot. The frying in oil is a reminder of the miracle of the oil. The old practice of giving children coins to spend at Hanukkah has evolved into a gift-giving tradition for the holiday season. And children often play a game with a small, four-sided top called a dreidel. Sometimes Hanukkah is called a minor festival, but this is only because it is not mandated in the Torah (the scriptural law of Moses). In practice it is a major Jewish holiday period, widely celebrated and loved.
Those who celebrate Christmas each December may find it of interest to know that Jesus, who was genuinely Jewish, traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah. The Gospel of John reports, “It was . . . the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22–23). Jesus honored the Hanukkah festival the same way he honored the Passover and other feasts: he taught the people of his own divine identity and mission.
Christians also ought to consider this: If there had been no Hasmonean revolt, and if Jerusalem and the temple had not been liberated and rededicated—if Antiochus and the Syrians had succeeded in obliterating Jewish religion and identity—then there would not have been a Jewish village called Nazareth, nor would there have been a Davidic Jewish village called Bethlehem. There would have been no Jewish nation awaiting the coming of that Redeemer. The entire setting for the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth would not have existed!
But, thanks be to heaven, there was a revolt, and the Jewish nation not only survived but thrived. And because of these events, the way was prepared for the first Christmas. It seems entirely appropriate at this season that we join in wishing each other “Happy Holidays.” Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all!
POSTED BY: holzapfel
The term Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “appearance.” Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent helps Christians not only to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus Christ but also to look forward to his glorious Second Coming. Although Advent customs may be foreign to many, like so many other seasonal traditions they are a wonderful way to turn our attention more fully to the true meaning of Christmas.
Many Advent traditions come from Germany, where Martin Luther encouraged its continued observance as a way of teaching children and families more about the significance of the coming of Jesus Christ. It came to be celebrated by both Roman Catholics and Lutherans there and has become a common celebration in many Christian faith communities throughout the world.
One of the best known Advent customs is the lighting of the candles in an Advent wreath, a simple or decorated evergreen wreath with four candles placed in the circle and a single white candle in the center. The wreath itself represents the never-ending circle of God’s love, that he is forever the same in his love toward his people. The green of the wreath, as in the Christmas tree, represents the hope of eternal life that comes through Christ and serves a reminder of the freshness of God’s love and promises. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World, that his birth represented the coming of the light into darkness, and that we are called to reflect that light in our lives.
The outer candles are purple, the color of royalty, although customarily the third one is rose or pink. Traditions differ regarding the symbolism of the candles. One is that they represent the hope, love, joy, and peace that come through Jesus Christ. Each Sunday before Christmas an additional candle is lit, creating a beautiful stepped effect as the previous weeks’ candles burn down further. Scriptures can be read and carols sung as part of the lighting, which we do before family prayer. The four candles can also represent the different Old Testament covenants that God made with his servants, beginning with Noah and continuing through Abraham, Moses, and David. The central white candle is known as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and represents the new covenant made possible through Christ.
While formally observing Advent is not part of the Latter-day Saint tradition, individuals and families can often adapt and employ such traditions for their own use. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has spoken positively of the Advent traditions that he grew up with in Germany in a recent First Presidency Christmas devotional, as have other converts to the Church. As my wife and I were developing our own family traditions early in our marriage, observing Advent was one that we found enriched our Christmas season, and in recent years we have found that it is a wonderful way to teach our children, share spiritual experiences with them, and keep them focused on the true meaning of Christmas.
For LDS families, Advent can be adapted by reading not only from the Old Testament and New Testament but also from the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price (see our selection at my Advent site). While not all families may wish to observe such Advent customs, spending time with the scriptures and enjoying beautiful music on the Sundays of Advent can be uplifting and provide meaningful reflection on the season.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Those who are interested in the Doctrine and Covenants need to roll up their sleeves and begin to mine the treasure in the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers, released a little over a month ago on September 22, 2009. This stunning oversized volume, Manuscript Revelation Books (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), reproduces the original revelation manuscripts in actual size and color. The binding and design are excellent. The book is a treasure in itself, but the content is pure gold.
Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper, my Religious Education colleague, edited this particular volume. The introductory essays alone are worth the hundred-dollar price tag.
This week, BYU Studies released its latest issue (48, no. 3), containing excellent essays by the editors and by Grant Underwood (BYU History Department) highlighting the discovery of the manuscript for ”A Book of Commandments and Revelation” (pp. 7–17), a review of the history of the manuscript through publication of the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (18–52), a discussion of the significance the manuscripts (53–66), and a review of how the manuscript can help us understand the “process by which Joseph Smith received, recorded, and published” his revelations (67–84). Added to these four outstanding essays is a response by the former archivist of the Community of Christ, Ron Romig (85–91).
Steve Harper notes, “The Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR) will have an immense influence on the scholarly study of early Mormon revelations” (53). That is definitely true. His work, along with that of his coeditors, will provide current and future historians an opportunity to examine these important primary sources without traveling to Salt Lake City, Independence, or Provo. The publication’s impact on our understanding of Joseph Smith’s prophetic career cannot be fully appreciated now. However, BYU Studies has begun providing the kind of thoughtful consideration of the Book of Commandments and Revelation manuscript that will appear during the next few years and decades. If you own Manuscript Revelation Books, you need to get a copy of the latest BYU Studies—an important and valuable contribution to our understanding of The Joseph Smith Papers.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by Clyde Williams, professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
My recollections of general conference as a young boy take me back to the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse and long lines outside the Tabernacle on Temple Square for the priesthood session. I remember in April 1965 as the aging President David O. McKay attended one of his last priesthood sessions. After he gave a brief greeting and expressed appreciation for the priesthood brethren, all stood in the fieldhouse and the Tabernacle and sang “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” For me the feeling was electric. There came a powerful witness to my heart that he was the Lord’s prophet on earth.
Since those early days, the personal significance and importance of general conference has continued to grow for me. I remember when announcements were made of significant policies, procedures, or administrative changes such as the inclusion of what is now D&C 137 and 138, the new LDS edition of the Bible, the formation of the quorums of the Seventy, the subtitle for the Book of Mormon, the proclamation on the family, President Hinckley’s statements on body piercing and tattoos, and the stand against same-sex marriage.
How do we respond when reminders of principles and practices are given or new policies are announced? Our initial response can be telling or informative. When we are spiritually in tune, we can, like King Benjamin’s people, be blessed with “the manifestations of his Spirit” and thus “have great views of that which is to come” (Mosiah 5:3). We will sense a need for something to be said on an issue, and when it is said we find ourselves in harmony.
A passage struck me as being profound when applied to general conference:
Son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against [meaning near] thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord.
And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. (Ezekiel 33:30–32)
Clearly, Ezekiel here describes a people who think highly of a living prophet but do not heed his words. It is like people speaking highly of President Thomas S. Monson and how good his talks are and yet, when it comes down to it, not following his counsel.
Another trap one can fall into is thinking general conference is like a buffet table. Commenting on this potential pitfall, Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained: “Our relationship to living prophets is not one in which their sayings are a smorgasbord from which we may take only that which pleases us. We are to partake of all that is placed before us, including the spinach, and to leave a clean plate!” (Things As They Really Are [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978], 74).
In October conference in 1975, President Kimball was concluding the conference and spoke of the many uplifting and inspired talks that had been given. I was a bit stunned and sobered by what he said next: “While sitting here, I have made up my mind that when I go home from this conference this night there are many, many areas in my life that I can perfect. I have made a mental list of them, and I expect to go to work as soon as we get through with conference” (in Conference Report, October 1975, 164). Who among the Saints did not feel there were many things we needed to work on? I was moved to tears as I thought about this humble prophet who had given so much of his life and would yet give so much more as he sought to do the Lord’s will.
The seriousness with which President Kimball approached general conference was apparent. He also made it clear as he closed the conference that October afternoon how everyone else should view the conference proceedings:
Well, now, brothers and sisters, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to all who are listening in, we have not been fooling. What we have said to you in these three days is truth, downright truth, and it has a definite bearing upon the salvation and exaltation of every soul that could listen and hear. (click to hear President Kimball’s statement)
As you listened to his voice, you can feel the earnest and affirming power by which these word were said. I believe they hold true for every general conference. I am truly grateful for the profound impact that general conference has had and continues to have in my life.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by David Rolph Seely, professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
The Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur in Hebrew—is the most solemn and holy day of the Israelite calendar. It falls on the tenth day of the seventh month, and this year (2009) it will begin at sundown on September 27. Ancient Israelites prepared themselves by refraining from work as on the Sabbath, repenting of their sins, and fasting. The purpose of this day is described in Leviticus: “For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Leviticus 16:30). The high priest performed a series of rituals, including washing himself, offering sacrifices, and taking blood into the Holy of Holies of the temple, where he sprinkled it on the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. The power of the Lord to cleanse his people was dramatized when the high priest cast lots over two goats. One goat was designated as belonging to the Lord and was sacrificed by the high priest. The high priest took the other goat and transferred the sins of the people to this goat by laying his hands on its head. The second goat, called the “scapegoat” in English, was driven into the wilderness, symbolizing the cleansing of the people from the stain of ritual impurity and sin.
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament teaches the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ through the symbolism of the Day of Atonement. Christians believe that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to cleanse his people from their sins. Just as the high priest on the Day of Atonement, Jesus “by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12). Because Latter-day Saints understand the Day of Atonement was part of the law of Moses fulfilled in Christ, we do not formally celebrate this occasion, but we do regularly take of the tokens of the sacrament as symbols of the power of the redemption of Christ to cleanse us from our sins and transgressions.
After the destruction of the temple in AD 70 the Jews were no longer able to offer sacrifice, and the celebration of Yom Kippur moved from the temple to the synagogue. Today Jews celebrate Yom Kippur as the culmination of the process of repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the seventh month. For nine days Jews engage in personal retrospection and repentance, reaching out to those around them to confess their sins and ask forgiveness. On the tenth day, Yom Kippur, each individual solemnly presents him or herself before God in the synagogue in fasting and prayer seeking for divine forgiveness for their sins and shortcomings. In light of the absence of the temple, the Talmud prescribes the study and recitation of the biblical ritual described in Leviticus 16 on Yom Kippur. The meaning of Yom Kippur is eloquently expressed in Song of Songs Rabbah 6.11: “Just as a nut falls into some dirt you can take it up and wipe it and rinse it and wash it and it is restored to its former condition and is fit for eating, so however much Israel may be defiled with iniquities all the rest of the year, when the Day of Atonement comes it makes atonement for them, as it is written, ‘For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you.’”
One year my family and I experienced Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. There was complete silence in the streets throughout the day as all normal daily activities came to a complete stop. It was a vivid reminder of the need to take time, whether once a year, or once a week, to pause and inventory one’s standing with God and with each other, and to seek to find “at-one-ment” with the Lord through repentance and divine forgiveness.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Jerusalem Center professor of Archaeology and Near Eastern studies, and associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.
Rosh Hashannah is the annual festival holiday marking the Jewish New Year. The Hebrew term actually means “head of the year.” The festival falls on the first day of the first lunar month of the autumn season. In 2009, Rosh Hashannah will begin on Friday night, September 18, and will be celebrated all day Saturday, September 19. In many Jewish communities, a second day of Rosh Hashannah will be celebrated on Sunday, September 20.
One of the most festive of all Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashannah is one of the two High Holy Days in Judaism, the other being the solemn fasting day known as Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which falls ten days afterward. The period between these two High Holy Days is known as “the Days of Awe,” a period when the Jewish faithful consider their trespasses, personal and national, reflect upon the need for repentance, and consider the future. It is significant that such a period is commenced with a festival as joyful and full of hope and anticipation for the future as Rosh Hashannah.
On Rosh Hashannah there are different ways to celebrate. Of course, many Jews will attend the special service for the new year held in their local synagogue. A significant act, stated as a command in Leviticus 23:24, is to blow the shofar (Hebrew for “ram’s horn,” translated “trumpet” in the King James Bible) on the festival day. Combinations of short, medium, and long blasts are blown on the shofar up to one hundred times during the day of Rosh Hashannah. Another practice is to enjoy fall fruits, such as pomegranates, grapes, and apples slices dipped in honey, and to give gifts of apples and honey to family and friends. Apples and honey have become an iconic symbol of Rosh Hashannah, recognized by Jews everywhere as an emblem of the festival.
Jews greet their families and friends and wish them Shannah Tovah (“a good year”) and Ktivah Vehatimah Tovah (“may you be inscribed and sealed for good”), referring to being well inscribed in the metaphoric books of life. The Talmud teaches that “three books are opened (in heaven) on Rosh Hashannah: the book of life of the wicked, the book of life of the righteous, and the book of life of those in between” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 16.b). This passage is interesting in light of New Testament references to the books from which we are judged (see Revelation 20:12) and resurrections to different glories (see John 5:28-29). The Talmud, in its own way, seems to be referring to three degrees of judgment and postmortal reward.
In the Jewish scripture called the Hebrew Bible (Christians call it the Old Testament), the day of this festival is noted as falling on the first day of “the seventh month” (Leviticus 23:24), and is not given a name. The commandment to observe the festival simply directs that day be regarded as a Sabbath and a holy convocation and instructs that the “blowing of trumpets” take place. In early Old Testament times before the Babylonian captivity, the festival was not regarded as the first day of the new year. So how did that designation come about?
While in Babylon, ancient Jews were exposed to an annual count that began with an autumnal new year, and it became expedient for them to adopt that cycle for their practical yearly reckoning. So counting the year from the first autumn month became something of a second, secular calendar for them. Though the biblical spring new year was not forgotten, over time the autumnal new year became more widely observed. And because that day fell on the same autumn day as the festival of trumpeting mentioned in Leviticus 23, the practice of calling it the “head of the year” (Rosh Hashannah) came into being—all before the time of Jesus. And one more interesting fact: it is quite likely that the “feast of the Jews” mentioned in John 5:1 was not Passover (as mentioned in some footnotes) but actually Rosh Hashannah!
So Shannah Tova to all!
POSTED BY: holzapfel
This month’s National Geographic magazine features a fascinating article by Peter Miller (“Before New York: Rediscovering the Wilderness of 1609,” 122–37). The article opens a window to the past—when the first European settlers began to explore and settle the island of Manhattan. Robert Clark provides stunning photographs, and Markley Boyer and Philip Staub add important illustrations to re-create the natural landscape of Manhattan before it changed forever. Certainly native peoples left their footprints on the land as they interacted with the flora and fauna, but European settlement impacted the land in profound ways.
On my next visit to the Big Apple, I am tucking this article in my bag so I can pull it out as I walk around the city to see beyond the concrete and asphalt to a world that once existed in the same geographical location. I am going to visualize New York before Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, looking for hints of that time and place.
The settling of much of New York State was a pivotal time in U.S. history. It witnessed the creation of a new nation (1776–87), the religious revivals known as the Second Great Awakening (1816–26), and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ (1820–30).
This past weekend I invited a small group from BYU to visit New York State to envision a specific point in early Church history: the spring morning in 1820 when Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove. Along with Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of Religious Education, and Brent Nordgren, production manager for the Religious Studies Center, I invited Larry C. Porter, professor emeritus of Church history; Donald L. Enders, senior curator of historic sites; and Robert F. Parrot, Sacred Grove manager, to discuss the history and meaning of the Sacred Grove. During our two-day trip, we visualized that important spring morning when Joseph Smith walked from his family’s log home to a place in the nearby woods to pray. Unlike New York City, the Sacred Grove is closer to the condition it was in when Joseph Smith knelt to pray. The story of the efforts to preserve the grove will be told in a future article for the Religious Educator based on the interviews conducted this past weekend.
Although we do not know the exact spot where Joseph knelt to pray, the woodlands near the Smith home remind us of the event and allow us to connect to the past. Visitors to the grove walk where young Joseph Smith worked and prayed. Such explorations help us place diaries, letters, and histories of the past into their real-world context, allowing us to appreciate the story more fully.
Photo of Sacred Grove by Brent Nordgren
POSTED BY: holzapfel
The Smithsonian magazine featured an interesting article by Barbara Kreiger on King Herod this past month (see “Finding Herod’s Tomb,” [August 2009]: 36–43). Last year, Ehud Netzer, a famous Israeli archeologist, announced that he had found Herod’s tomb (see RSC blog posting for December 12, 2008)—a startling news report that caught the attention of scholars and the popular media.
Archeologists have been looking for this tomb for a very long time. In this latest update of its discovery, Kreiger provides a wonderful word-picture of the Herodium (the fortress-palace of Herod in the Judean wilderness some seven miles south of Jerusalem) and some stunning photographs, including one of the reconstructed royal sarcophagus Netzer found (see p. 39)
In addition to telling an engaging story, the article provides a view of the original mausoleum reconstructed by Netzer himself (pp. 41–42). He estimates that it was a seven-story building located about halfway up the artificial mountain Herod built for his largest palace-fortress. So dominant was the site in antiquity, that the inhabitants of Jerusalem could see it. This is simply amazing!
When I lived in Jerusalem (1997–98) some 250,000 people visited the Herodium each year. We took our BYU students there each semester. I felt like I was walking up the hill myself as I read this article. Kreiger not only captures the lay of the land in her well-written essay, but also captures the tension that permeates the air today: “I see Arab villages and Israeli settlements in three directions” (p. 39). The conflict between Arab villagers and Israeli settlers has virtually stopped all tourism to the site today. “But to the east,” she continues, “cultivation abruptly stops as the desert exerts its authority, plummeting out of sight to the Dead Sea, then rising again as the mountains of Jordan” (p. 39). The conflict between wilderness and civilization is as real as the conflict between to people who claim ownership of the land. Standing at the Herodium and viewing the scene only heightens one’s awe at what Herod did here when he built his fortress-palace and then built his mausoleum.
In the end, no matter what one thinks of Herod, one must surely admit that Herod was one of the greatest builders in antiquity. His tomb and his fortress-place in the Judean desert demonstrate that fact. The work of Ehud Netzer provides us another window into the world of the first century—a world dominated by kingdoms and rulers who had a different vision than that of Jesus of Nazareth.Older Posts »