What We Don’t Read in the Bible

Do you ever read the bits of scripture that are excluded from our Sunday School lesson manuals?

This week in Lesson 19 on the book of Judges, if you only read the assigned chapters, you would have missed the story of Gideon’s 69 of his 70 legitimate sons (he had many wives) being killed by his 71st son Abimelech, that son of a concubine (Judges 8:30-31, 9: 1-5). Abimelech reigned for 3 years (Judges 9:22), but came to his end in battle. Funny story that: while Abimelech was besieging a walled city, a woman dropped a millstone on his head. Rather than let his legacy be that he was killed by a woman, Abimelech had his armor bearer drive him though with a sword (Judges 9:51-54).

You would have missed the story of Jephthah making a rash promise that resulted in him sacrificing his daughter (Judges 11:31-39), yes, that is human sacrifice, apparently sanctioned because it represents an oath kept. You would have missed the story of the Levite priest for hire and all sorts of idolatry (Judges 17-18).

But mostly, if you only read the assigned chapters, you would have missed what I consider to be one of the most disturbing stories in the Old Testament, a dubious honor in this betrayal and blood drenched book. It is a tale of the gang rape, death, and subsequent dismemberment of an old man’s daughter (pretty much at his urging), the concubine (Judges 19:24) or wife (Judges 20:4) of a Levite. That graphic story ends with the injunction to “consider of it, take advice, and speak” (Judges 19:30). That episode led to intertribal warfare between the children of Israel and the children of Benjamin (Judges 20). After it was all over, none of the children of Israel would give their daughters to the children of Benjamin to marry, so they killed the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, men, women, and children, and took their 400 virgin daughters for the men of Benjamin to marry. That wasn’t quite enough, so they stole the daughters of Shiloh as well (Judges 21).

These are complicated, problematic stories. As histories, they are bare outlines, with references to practices, peoples and cultures that foreign to us. But we can see cause and effect, we can even see the same stories playing out today. But it is so much easier to skip over them than it is to attempt to understand or justify them. So we skip over these strange and hard parts.

This worries me for two reasons. One is that members of our church, after going through seminary in high school and revisiting each of the standard works every four years in Sunday School, will assume that they know the scriptures, when in reality, they are most familiar with the correlated reading of some of the scriptures. We don’t read most of the Bible.

The second fear I have is that, if by chance they happen to read beyond the chapters assigned by the student manual, they will automatically dismiss anything disturbing or confusing in the Bible as “translator error,” and thus never make the effort to engage with difficult texts, never receive that edification that comes of struggling through these accounts of God’s dealings with man that are foreign to our own cultural standards and experience. We live in a world that is messy and complicated, where right and wrong are not always apparent, where people choose to do good or foolish or horrible things, and all of those actions have repercussions for generations to come. We have a text that reflects this world and continues to influence it. How can we not study it?

I’m frankly surprised that some enterprising soul has not yet offered for sale a slim volume called “The Best of the Quad” that only contains those scriptures necessary for the Sunday School curriculum and the scriptures most quoted in General Conference. It would be so much lighter, it would fit so conveniently with the Preach My Gospel and True to the Faith and For the Strength of Youth pamphlets we’re supposed to carry around with our scriptures. And you could read the entire thing so easily! And it would certainly be much more family friendly; no R-rated scripture here.

But the increasing reliance on digital versions of the scriptures makes such a book unnecessary. After all, if you are only looking up certain passages on your smartphone, it is as though the rest of the text doesn’t exist. Those crisp, clean pages of scripture that cling together, untouched and unread, will never taunt you or tempt you or teach you anything.

51 comments for “What We Don’t Read in the Bible

  1. May 28, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Bravo, Rachel–particularly the final two paragraphs, which is a snark of the first order. Well played indeed!

  2. May 28, 2014 at 8:44 am

    great post!

  3. Jon
    May 28, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Wow, that was a great read.

  4. Joe Spencer
    May 28, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Fantastic, Rachel.

    Worth noting, and hopefully not just to toot my own horn: The Sunday School lesson I taught this past Sunday in my ward was focused entirely on Judges 19-21, though we took time to mention Jephthah’s tragedy and the slaughter of Abimelech’s sons. We simply worked through the story, bit by bit, and then I posed one question for group discussion for the last ten minutes of class: “How do you make sense of these kinds of stories in scripture?” A beautiful discussion followed, and a dozen people have taken time to thank me since for bringing up such an uncomfortable but necessary topic.

  5. May 28, 2014 at 9:33 am

    It’s not just some of those particularly problematic stories that are glossed over. When only one Sunday every four years is devoted to all of Psalms, for example, there’s little opportunity to see both the beauty and the challenges in that incredible collection of poetry.

    One thing I found interesting when I taught the story of Joshua earlier this month is that the reading assignment skipped right over the account of the prostitute Rahab, who became an ancestor of Jesus and is praised for her faith in the New Testament. I decided to make her one of the foci of the lesson, and we ended up having a good discussion about the perils of judging people and of failing to recognize the goodness that certain people may have. I’m hoping that the new curriculum will give teachers a better opportunity to use some of the stories that are too often ignored.

  6. Jax
    May 28, 2014 at 9:39 am


  7. May 28, 2014 at 9:55 am

    I skip them because I haven’t been taught how to process them. What do I do with my scriptures teaching that God gives concubines and makes women marry their rapists? There is no pattern for me to follow that I trust to not be prooftexting or whitewashing… I often say there’s a reason God has put me in primary the last 6 years, it’s called Gospel Doctrine (esp OldTestament…. and the commenters)

  8. WVS
    May 28, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Fantastic, Rachel.

  9. May 28, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Encouraging thoughts, Joe and Eric. The point about the beauty of Psalms is especially good (perhaps this post would have been a bit nicer if I’d chosen that week to make this rant).

    I think Kristine A makes a very good point: we have no way to process these stories other than to skip them. The story in Judges about the concubine is very similar to the story of Lot and the two angels in Genesis 19. When the men of the city want to know them, as the men in Judges wanted to know the Levite, Lot offered his two virgin daughters to them instead. The only reason they were saved them was the intervention of the angels. So what does this repeating motif tell us? That it is so much worse to rape a man than a woman? That it’s better to throw your own family to the wolves than to allow your hospitality to be broken?

    I suspect these stories have something to do with codes of honor and hospitality and gender roles, but like Kristine, I don’t know the answer. But I do find value in struggling and supposing. And these issues of honor and conduct and gender roles are incredibly relevant today. I doubt most of us in the United States run into situations this extreme, but there are many places throughout the world where a woman’s virtue is a kind of currency of honor for her family, where her autonomy is nothing relative to the desires and honor of the men in her family. In those places, this text, or ones very like it, justify and help perpetuate this social order.

  10. May 28, 2014 at 10:39 am

    You mentioned two worries: “that members of our church…will assume that they know the scriptures, when in reality, they are most familiar with the correlated reading of some of the scriptures,” and “they will automatically dismiss anything disturbing or confusing in the Bible as “translator error,….”

    Another worry is one that I have encountered every single time something sticky like this comes up in Gospel Doctrine class–someone, sometimes many someones, assume that if it is in the Bible, if a prophet or some other higher-up in the church said it or sanctioned it, or did nothing to stop it, then it must be fine with God.

    You would think that adults would be capable of thinking beyond such concrete thought, but I have never been in a Gospel Doctrine, Relief Society, Institute, or any other LDS class where such concrete thinking was challenged. No one, not a teacher, a peer, or priesthood leader conducting has said anything like, “I think God was horrified by the evil these men did in the name of God and he wept at their actions. Yet sometimes God works with what he’s got, because that is all he’s got. What can we learn from this? What does this say about our tendency to hero-worship our leaders, past and present? What does this say about our interactions with God?”

  11. May 28, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Also, in her play, _Mother Wove the Morning_, Carol Lynn Pearson includes a vignette about the Judges story. Powerful stuff.

    And there is this discussion of the Judges story here: http://www.womeninthescriptures.com/2010/09/concubine-in-judges-19.html

  12. jennywebb
    May 28, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Spot on, Rachel. The cultural and institutional efforts to make the scriptures “digestible” are raising a generation unable to stomach God.

  13. Nate
    May 28, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Rachel, what you say is true, but you speak from a fundamentalist perspective when you accord value to a violent, disturbing story simply because it is in the Bible. The Bible’s bizarre collection of stories and myths came about quite by the random accidents of history, not some kind of divine correlation committee. So it is up to us to sift through the mud to find the many gems available. But it is no sin to throw out anything that doesn’t speak truth to us. We have modern prophets who set the doctrinal priorities they believe God wants us to adhere to when we read the scriptures. We must proof-text. That is our divine mandate as independent souls searching for light and knowledge.

  14. May 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Good point, Nate. Of course, just because I see some value, doesn’t mean that I agree with the story. If anything, I’m a quarrelsome fundamentalist. One of the themes in the Old Testament that I love (and that many of my Jewish friends still adhere to) is the idea of wrestling with God, questioning and arguing and generally not accepting something at face value just because God said so. I think we each have the responsibility to do our own sifting. If we only take the pre-sifted mess, we will miss out on some choice kernels.

  15. Kevin Barney
    May 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I teach a GD class. When I see the reading assignment for the next lesson, I’m always fascinated to see what it was the curriculum committee intentionally excluded. Nice post.

  16. Jax
    May 28, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    I think that there is value in those stories, if for no other reason than because it shows us a different angle, different point of view, of how God interacts with man. We get just a bit more insight into his personality, temper, restraint, etc by learning how/what he does in undesirable circumstances on earth. Our view of Him would be one dimensional if we only knew what He was like when we did the right things.

  17. Kevin Barney
    May 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I should also point out that this used to be somewhat less of a problem. When I first started teaching GD many years ago, the curriculum spent two years on each volume of scripture, not one the way we do it now. You get a lot more coverage of the text when you do it that way. (My understanding is that the cchurch moved to the current schedule because they didn’t like going so long in between BoM years.)

  18. Roger
    May 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Great post and fascinating exchange of ideas. There is much to ponder, I especially liked Eric’s take on Rahab. I have spent time listening to Southern Baptists try to process Judges and they are even more at sea than Erin describes. I don’t often look to Brigham Young for insights, but when I do … I cite, “…I believe that the Bible contains the word of God, and the words of good men and the words of bad men; the words of good angels and the words of bad angels and words of the devil; and also the words uttered by the ass when he rebuked the prophet in his madness.”

  19. Carl Youngblood
    May 28, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Nate, I think the problem is that many others in the Church speak from the same fundamentalist perspective that you legitimately criticize. They assume that the text is much less problematic than it actually is and afford it much more influence than it probably ought. Consider, for example, recent articles published in the Ensign and on lds.org advocating for fundamentalist interpretations of other problematic accounts.

  20. Jared vdH
    May 28, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    We covered Judges 19-21 when I was in seminary 15 years ago. Of course the teacher was my dad who has generally enjoyed engaging in difficult gospel topics as a teacher.

    I find it interesting though that I guessed exactly which story from the Old Testament you were referring to just from the headline.

  21. Walter van Beek
    May 28, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Nice post, Rachel, fitting in well with my treatment of Balaam. Historicity should be considered an extra in the Old Testament, not an a priori. I checked the stories Carl pointed at in the Ensign and lds.org, on Noah and frankly I was apalled at the absolute lack of scientific schooling staring out of those texts. In my Sunday School class I started out with the impossibility that an earth-covering flood so recently in the past, would be undetectable, let alone the amount of water needed. My class reacted very positively when I then went into the messages of this story, and on the reason why flood myths are so widely spread in the world cultures. They thought it added meaning to the story, instead of spending all your energy to prove the unprovable. By the way, the mission president happened to be present and said that this was the way to treat the topic and to use the story in a productive way.
    Yes, Carl is right, too many fundamentalists still around, and they definitely are not confined the Deseret.
    Walter van Beek

  22. Ellie
    May 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    The other problem with skipping this stuff in the Bible (and even the Book of Mormon) is that class becomes *so* boring, especially when the teachers skip straight to the questions they know the answer to.

  23. Martin James
    May 28, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    I think the point is that its pretty much impossible to have a morally consistent understanding of God. One is either self-righteous, or a moral skeptic or both.

    That is why I absolutely love the ordain women discussions because we self-righteous moral relativists can enjoy the spectacle of the less relativisticly self-righteous struggling for supremacy.

  24. Steve Smith
    May 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    “We don’t read most of the Bible.”

    Yes, indeed. So many of the stories in the OT are just utterly horrendous. God commands Moses to stone a man to death for picking up sticks (Numbers 15: 32-36). Moses commands his followers to kill all of the Midianite women and children, except for the virgins, whom they are to “keep alive for” themselves (Numbers 31:17-18). Samuel tells Saul that God commanded him to kill all of the Amalekite women and children (1 Samuel 15:3) and reproves him for sparing the animals. Joshua mercilessly slaughters all of the Canaanites and Amorites (the book of Joshua). Psalms 137:9 expresses merriment at the idea of dashing Babylonian children against the stones. What’s worse is that the OT manual for Sunday School actually includes some of these passages. I distinctly remember reading over 1 Samuel 15 as a lesson about obedience. This is absolutely unconscionable. There is no moral lesson to be derived from killing children. There has never been a time in history when killing children was a moral choice. If you think that there is, there is something severely wrong with you. Much of the Old Testament is evidence that the Hebrews justified savage killing in the name of God. Whether these stories actually happened the way they are described or not, the message is clear: the ancient Hebrews celebrated merciless slaughter of innocents and brutal collective punishment. I will simply not accept that God commanded any of these killings. That is not the God I worship. The God I worship is unchanging, fair, treats all equally, does not have and has never had a chosen people, and is no respecter of persons. There is a stark difference in how the ancient Hebrews conceptualized God and how Jesus and Paul conceptualized Him, and also how the LDS leaders conceptualize Him. The latter two conceptualizations are in no way, shape, or form reconcilable with the ancient Hebrew conceptualization.

  25. Wilfried
    May 28, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Excellent remarks, Rachel. Well chosen examples. As to getting this kind of topics into lessons in church, the main challenge sits with the quality of the teacher. In many wards, in particular in the mission field, I can see the wisdom of having the teacher remain within the present safety net. But different manuals with a broadening scope and more background would definitely help.

  26. natebergin
    May 28, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Rachel: “I think we each have the responsibility to do our own sifting. If we only take the pre-sifted mess, we will miss out on some choice kernels.” This is true. We encounter everything with prejudice. The Bible at least challenges those prejudices.

    Carl, thanks for the links on the fundamentalist reading of Noah on lds.org. I’m trying not to get depressed about it. Human beings believe the darndest things, and not just Mormons of course. So it’s no wonder God works within our gullible and prejudiced mindsets. What else does He have to work with?

  27. Martin James
    May 28, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Steve Smith,

    You had me until no chosen people. Then you went all crazy talk. C’mon that’s most of the fun.

  28. Matt
    May 28, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Excellent post. I wonder how we could accommodate talking about the harder things when we don’t even finish our current sanitized lessons? Personally, I thing it would be nice to have a lesson or two on the harder/nastier things of the Old Testament and how to approach them.

  29. Jeff
    May 28, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    I’m mostly disappointed that we never pay any public attention to the hilariously morbid tale of Ehud and Eglon when we discuss Judges. “And the dirt came out” would make an excellent title for a post on this topic of the Old Testament’s secret stories.

    That being said, a few thoughts:

    –Regarding Eric’s comment (#5): Rahab is included in the teacher’s manual, albeit briefly, and it’s likely most teachers will skip over her contribution.
    “Who were the only inhabitants of Jericho who were saved? (See Joshua 6:17, 22–25; see also Joshua 2:1–15.) What can we learn from the saving of Rahab and her family?”
    –Regarding Rachel’s comment (#9): The JST gives a very different perspective about Lot and his daughters.
    –Regarding the idea of “we don’t read most of the Bible:” this is absolutely true, of Sunday School; ideally class members are doing additional study on their own. There is no way to cover adequately even the “highlights” from the manual in a single 40-minute session every week. I also try to remember that many people have not been in the Church for as long as I have, and even fewer have read the standard works as much as me, and that helps me in the times when I get frustrated at the repetitive nature of the Gospel Doctrine curriculum.

    Worth reading in relation to this discussion: Elder Holland’s take on why the Nephi/Laban account is included in the Book of Mormon.


    (Side note: does anyone know if that was ever reprinted in the Ensign, or a modified version given in General Conference? I remember the talk, but have no idea how I would’ve ever come across it if it only exists as a 1989 BYU devotional.)

  30. Sportzfan
    May 29, 2014 at 12:31 am

    You are responsible for your knowledge of the scriptures. If all you know about them is what you learn in Sunday School, you’re not doing it right.

  31. Craig H.
    May 29, 2014 at 3:17 am

    Very nice Rachel. I think something like this almost every time I prepare a lesson, but you put it into such interesting words. A lot of it can be up to the teacher, of course, depending on circumstances. Recently, when the manual skipped Leviticus, I devoted the whole lesson to it, asking why we skip it and why it’s so important, even to us.

  32. ji
    May 29, 2014 at 5:20 am

    When I’m asked to substitute in Sunday School, I try to teach the scriptures, the stories — we need to know the stories.

    I regret the unkindness here towards those who choose to believe the Noah story. One can dismiss it all away as myth if he or she wants, but there is no need for unkindness among Latter-day Saints for those who don’t.

  33. Carl Youngblood
    May 29, 2014 at 5:38 am

    ji, I don’t see unkindness in the comments about the Noah story. I see concern about the fundamentalism and idolatry required to sustain such a position. The implication from the insistence on the necessity of a literal interpretation is that orthodoxy and adherence to tradition (however recent–after all, this trend towards inerrancy is less than a century old) is more important than trying to reconcile the admittedly imperfect biblical account with the strong contrary evidence we have that disagrees with it.

  34. DQ
    May 29, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Ah, you’re not being unkind you’re just doing a service to your brothers and sisters by calling them out* as extremist idolatrists.

    *calling them out in a way that doesn’t take them gently aside and explain you concerns to them, but just labels their behavior publicly in a forum where you and mostly like minded people can look down on them.

  35. Sheldon
    May 29, 2014 at 11:33 am

    As I read the Old Testament I sometimes wonder if Marcion didn’t have it right.

  36. Anne Lund
    May 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Please remember that the Bible was not only written by prophets, but civic leaders of the time. They included stories of righteousness and wickednesd. As far as I know, its the opinions of the authors of each story, what they think God’s thoughts and actions are. To understand what the authors meant to say you must understand the culture of the day. You must also understand the writing styles of an Oriental/Hebrew stlye of writing, and most importantly, you MUST HAVE THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY.The Revelation 19:10, 2 Nephi 25:4
    I have studied the Bible many times on my own, along with the Institute Manual. It is very in depth on all stories. I admit I don’t underdtand all of it yet. It wasn’t intended for us to understand in one session. Line upon line precept upon precept. The Lord only gives us what knowledge we can handle and be held accountable for at that time. The scriptures were written by people just as imperfect as you and I. What was important for them may not be what was important for God. Read and pray, connect with Heavenly Father daily. You’ll learn what YOU NEED TO LEARN AT THAT TIME. What you’re ready to learn.

  37. Carl Youngblood
    May 29, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    DQ, as far as I can tell, you’re the first one to use the word “extremist.” And I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize what people are doing here as “looking down on others.” From my vantage point, most of the commenters seem to be interested in improving the level of discourse and biblical awareness at Church.

  38. DQ
    May 29, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Carl, if you’re serious that no one equates fundamentalism with extremism, consider me corrected. It would seem every book of synomyms I’ve come across would disagree with you though, as zealot and extremist are always present…It almost sounds like a Baptist telling a Mormon they’re not insulting them by calling them a cultist; “Oh no offense intended, it’s just definitionally, you are a cultist and not a Christian.” Gee thanks.

    The appropriate response when someone is doing something you consider a mistake that is worthy of correction is to approach them directly about the issue. Not talk about it on a forum where they most likely won’t read it (and if they did would feel singled out and insulted based on how you’re doing it).

  39. Carl Youngblood
    May 29, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    DQ, I think it’s possible for people to engage in “fundamentalism” to some degree without being considered “fundamentalists,” which implies a more permanent condition.

    I think you’ve misunderstood what’s going on here. We’re not talking about specific individuals or incidents, so there’s no individual to address in person. We’re making general observations about frequent behaviors that we’ve observed in various church contexts. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I think the general goal that many people have here is to engage in constructive criticism about how we can improve level of discourse in Church, Sunday School etc.

  40. Martin James
    May 29, 2014 at 5:03 pm


    I think the synonym of fundamentalism that fits best with Carl’s use is literalism which seems very different from extremism.

    If one takes issue with a way of thought, say “fundamentalism” it would seem very inefficient to take it up individually with each “fundamentalist” as if they were the cause of their beliefs.

    It seem kinder, gentler and no less effective to discuss it on a forum where they won’t read it. In fact that seems to be one of the main purposes of the forum is to address views where people voluntarily navigate to hear a difference of opinion rather than to take it up personally with someone who may not wish to be “engaged”.

  41. May 29, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    But DQ, Nate called my reading “fundamentalist” and I was able to respond here. Direct approach and response. And if we use Carl’s statement “they assume that the text is much less problematic than it actually is and afford it much more influence than it probably ought” as a shorthand definition for fundamentalist applicable to this thread, then I think we should be fine and not imagine offense to people who aren’t even reading the blog. And to be honest, I know many people who are proud to be called fundamentalist in their literal approach to scripture. The particular fundamentalist friend I’m thinking of would consider this entire discussion to be irrelevant, so please, don’t worry that we might be offending him.

  42. May 29, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    the story of Jephthah is one of my favorites, not for the specifics but for the general lesson as to what we in our enlightened culture/ religion are selling our children for. or for what we are selling our children’s future for, maybe a few gallons of oil a bigger house even the flat screen on the wall … like no future for controversy (Mormons building / burning bridges) what is being sacrificed with that view.

  43. May 29, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Good point, Ray. One lesson my kids have picked up from reading Norse mythology is that it is always a bad idea to make an oath without knowing exactly what it is that you are promising. But we end up doing just that, everyday, in the decisions we make as a country about debts, entanglements, and resource use that may well cost our children their lives. In that case, the moral of the story is not so much about blank checks as it is about short sightedness and the need for immediate selfish gratification.

  44. wm
    May 30, 2014 at 3:42 am

    “As to getting this kind of topics into lessons in church, the main challenge sits with the quality of the teacher. In many wards, in particular in the mission field, I can see the wisdom of having the teacher remain within the present safety net.” – Wilfried, what has geography got to do with the quality of teaching?

  45. May 30, 2014 at 7:41 am

    “I regret the unkindness here towards those who choose to believe the Noah story. One can dismiss it all away as myth if he or she wants, but there is no need for unkindness among Latter-day Saints for those who don’t.”

    “Believing” the noah story entails a judgment about what *kind* of story it is. Most of those who assume it’s a history have no real basis other than tradition for doing so, and are largely unaware of the counter-arguments.

    “Believing” implies that it’s primarily a history, which creates a dichotomy that one either simply accepts the facts or “dissmiss[es] it all away as myth.” Reading Gen 6-9 as “myth” does not entail “dismissing it.”

    My take on the flood and fundamentalism at


    I also wrote an 8000 word response to a flood article at Meridian that expands on both of these. They expressed interest in running a counter-perspective, liked the final submission… and then went radio silent. No response to anything.

  46. May 30, 2014 at 7:42 am

    We have a lot to do in terms of scriptural literacy in the Church, which doesn’t just mean knowing the canon, but being a competent reader, aware of historical, literary, and cultural context, being able to identify different genres and read them as such. We have a long way to go there.

  47. Jared vdH
    May 30, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Ben S,

    We have a long way to go as a species on pretty much everything you mentioned. Most of humanity is not “a competent reader, aware of historical, literary, and cultural context, being able to identify different genres and read them as such” with regular literature, never mind a scriptural text such as the Bible.

  48. Anne Lund
    May 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Oriental/Eastern literature teaches through figurative or pictures and has multiple meanings. Occidental/Western literature is fact and histiory based. The Bible is and Oriental book. Christ and the prophets taught in parables to protect those who were not prepared to learn what they taught. We must be patient and learn what we need to learn. I like the comment above about Jephthath by Samuel. There is something to learn from that story. You’ve obviously studied enough to be ready for that lesson. :-)

  49. May 30, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Most of humanity may be that way, but is it too much to ask that the manual writers/approvers be somewhat oriented in that direction? It has been discouraged in the past. (Dan Peterson tells the story of writing some of the historical background of Isa 7 for the manual, and they objected.)

  50. MTN
    June 1, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Rachel, I’m sharing this post with a couple of our SS teachers with whom we’ve joked about how much of the OT we DON’T read.

    In Stephen Robinson’s book HOW WIDE THE DIVIDE (co-written with an evangelical intellectual named Craig Blomberg) he says in the introduction: “We accept the Bible (KJV) as the inspired word of God – every book, every chapter, every verse of it – as revealed to the apostles and prophets who wrote it.” In light of Judges (and lots of other places) that seems either careless or ignorant or intractably fundamentalist. Of course, he’s writing to an evangelical readership, but I’m uncomfortable with that statement nevertheless. I prefer something like Nate’s view (in comment 13 on this post).

    Also, I think the way the SS manuals are arranged, it’s the inverse of Nephi’s “liken the scriptures unto us” so that we now “liken” ourselves unto the scriptures. In this way, all the Israelites are proto-Mormons, the patriarchs are in fact bishops or stake presidents depending on the verse, all gatherings in scripture are actually general conferences, Aaron is Moses’ first counselor…. I think the “strange” passages do not reinforce LDS doctrine, so we ignore them rather than admit that the Israelites were very different from us. What is there for our profit and learning – Nephi’s words – if it challenges the orthodox view?

    I like the idea of wrestling with it. Our Sunday School is more like a catechism where the teacher puts us on a passage and inquires about its meaning and some life-long Mormon gives THE answer, as if there is only one meaning to each passage. I wish I wish I wish the culture of our Sunday School was more like school – discuss, contemplate, consider, wonder, dialogue…..wrestle.

    I have a friend who’s a professor at BYU that used to wrestle in high school. He has cauliflower ears to this day. He loves the story of Jacob wrestling with God.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  51. Roger
    June 1, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Folks, I just finished Texts of Terror, a group of essays written by Professor Phyllis Trible, dean of the Wake Forest School of Divinity. I would come back to a Sunday School class that featured her take on the stories of Hagar, Tamar, the Levite’s concubine, and Jephthah’s daughter. Those would be classes where our hair would be on fire instead if us wondering whether everyone else is either silently meditating or just dead.

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