Reading and Writing (Genesis): Books, books, and more books

I have a few things in my way before being able to work full-time on Genesis 1– a recalcitrant article draft, some travel, volunteer work, etc. In the meantime, I’m making slow but good progress. I’m beginning to suspect the most important parts of the book will be the first two sections dealing with groundwork/assumptions and LDS entanglements with Genesis, not the last two sections on the ancient Near Eastern context or the text/translation itself.

I’m interested in a lot of things that are secondary or tertiary to the main thrust of the book, such as the history of biblical interpretation, the history of interaction between science and religion, history of science, and how other religious traditions have handled the challenges to tradition, authority, doctrine, etc. It’s terribly difficult to avoid spending too much time filling out these secondary areas, but I really can’t afford the time to read everything relevant; there is a TON of relevant scholarship. Below are a few things that are on my virtual nightstand that may be of interest, not all related to Genesis.

Amazon is having a Kindle sale on some things of interest, at $2.99.

There is also a Kindle sale on the NIV Application Commentary Series, $4.99 each instead of $20+. As with all series, these are uneven. The approach is generally conservative and Protestant, but includes a section on bridging the gap and applying to modern life, something LDS would find quite useful. I own the Genesis volume by Walton, and Enns (another Protestant scholar I like, recently interviewed by the MI) wrote Exodus. I suspect I would not recommend the NT volumes as much, at least for Paul. Enns has a new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture has Made Us Unable to Read It.  Bhodges reviewed it over at BCC, and it seems to have a more jocular “appeal to laypeople” tone than his other books.

In Mormon-y reading, I have a review copy of the Givens’  Crucible of Doubt  on my nightstand, which I’m slowly reading and will review within a week or so. I generally enjoy their writing, and look forward to Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought- Cosmos, God, Humanity.

I also have a review copy of John Sorenson’s magnum opus, Mormon’s Codex.  This is a book you could slay a curelom with, and it’s gone slowly, in spite of my interest.  Sorenson’s views on the Book of Mormon have been presented in the Ensign (part 1, part 2), and eventually published in the groundbreaking Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Sorenson has written about how the Ensign ended up soliciting his views and the back-and-forth wrestle with Correlation.

Samuel Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple is a slim paperback. I’ve only made it through the introduction, but I’ll go hear Brown speak tonight at a bookstore in Arlington, VA.

Lastly, for the hard-core.

  • The United Bible Society, publisher of the scholarly original-language texts, has released a Reader’s Edition  of the Hebrew Bible. I’ve used this one  for several years, and glad to see some competition.
  • The Jewish Study Bible, often touted and referenced by me, has been updated to a 2nd edition, with more and revised footnotes, updated and expanded essays. This is on my shortlist of recommended OT books.

14 comments for “Reading and Writing (Genesis): Books, books, and more books

  1. I found “The Rocks Don’t Like” by David Montgomery to be an excellent source on “the history of interaction between science and religion”

  2. Ben: Some time ago I gave up the idea of trying to study the historicity of the B of M. (I am an active Mormon at every level.) I just stopped worrying about it and even resisted thinking about it. The Grant Hardy approach to the BoM has been a much more spiritually effective way for me to study.

    However, against my better judgment, I bought Mormon’s Codex. It is hard for me to take it seriously. But I have to admit that I have no background in archaeology or the study of ancient cultures. It seems to me that he is constantly over-reaching. For example, having two words that sound similar across two languages is not always a sign of earlier contact or an interconnection. There are, after all, only a limited numbers of sounds that our mouths can make, and given the thousands and thousands of words, there are bound to be times when a word may be similar when in fact there was no historical basis for that. Thus, I find his language parallels to be unconvincing. This is only once example of almost all of the historical/cultural/archaeological “proofs” of the BoM (for me.)

    The city of Nahom, called out in the BofM has been postulated as a certain match is the old world, and is often seen as a “slam dunk.” However, I don’t find it very convincing.

    Anyway, my question is this: Is Mormon’s Codex the real deal? Or to what degree to you believe that it is “over-reach.” Sorensen identifies with apparently complete confidence the location of specific rivers and cities.

    This doesn’t usually build my testimony. Rather it seems like a lot of conclusions based on miniscule evidence.

    However, I may be cynical and not able to see it for what it is. Do you have an opinion?

  3. SCH, I’m not in archaeology or anthropology either, whether Mesoamerican or ancient Near Eastern. My impression is that MC is a cumulation of nearly everything Sorenson touched over the years, resulting in unevenness. Some arguments are supported by scholarship from the 60s, others much more recent scholarship. It might have been wiser to cull the older or weaker arguments.

    I also suspect that Sorenson is not writing for an audience that has moved past Book of Mormon historicity, but for those who believe it happened *somewhere.* As you know, the best exegesis takes place with knowledge of geographical, linguistic, and cultural context, and I think he was looking for/arguing for those. He certainly knows the internal geography better than anyone (see Mormon’s Map , a popular boiling down of his lengthy sourcebook), and was a respectable scholar.

    TLDR; It is what it is, and some arguments are better than others. From my perspective in Semitics, Nahom is quite good. But I, at least, don’t use this as testimony-building for myself as much as post-testimony-exegesis, if that makes sense. And you may well be cynical, I couldn’t say. Certainly, one’s current beliefs and assumptions affect how we receive new information and arguments.

  4. Ben S. I am in HIGH anticipation of your book and would be happy to assist in any way you might need. In addition to the John Day “From Creation To Babylon” which I referred you to before, I would recommend C.T.R. Hayward’s book “Interpretations of the Name Israel in Ancient Judaism & some Early Christian Writings: From Victorious Athlete to Heavenly Champion”. You likely are aware of this, but I found Chapters 1-4 to be some of the best explanations of how different translations of the ancient versions (MT, LXX, Jubilees, etc.) are affected by the writers and how they interact. As he says, “In the course of our explorations, I shall necessarily have to pay careful attention to details, some of them small, most of them complex and involved.” He then applies this to the stories of Jacob. While your book doesn’t sound quite like it would apply these stories in this way, the method and approach he uses might be something you would find helpful.

  5. I’m reading the Kingdom New Testament right now. Very nice translation, though a bit cheeky at times. Overall, I like it a lot. (I’m probably going to get several of the other books on sale, including the Torah commentary, as the sale is good through the 21st of this month).

    However, Bart Ehrman may be a respectable scholar, but “Misquoting Jesus” was one of the most intellectually dishonest books I have ever read. I don’t have world enough nor time to read everything under the sun, so after that book, I won’t read any more books by him; he has no credibility as far as I’m concerned.

  6. I read Mormon’s Codex last summer. I liked it. Some of the arguments are stronger than others, but it was useful to see Sorenson go through the exercise of matching the Book of Mormon narrative to Mesoamerican prehistory. Mostly, though, I liked seeing how our model of Book of Mormon history and teachings changes when we try to root the book in a specific time and place. Rather than just a limited geography, Mormon’s Codex points the way towards thinking of Nephite prophetic teachings in a localized and much more specific context.

    Ben, will we get a post about recommended NT readings in time for the holidays? I picked up Brettler on the OT last Christmas and have thoroughly enjoyed it.

  7. As one with a PhD in Mesoamerican Archaeology and who holds a firm belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon (and that Mesoamerica is the right place), I admittedly have reservations about Mormon’s Codex as well. There is a lot of good stuff in there (and I do mean a lot), but it is, unfortunately, mired by frequent overreaching, outdated research, and sometimes even misreading of the Book of Mormon itself. Brant Gardner and I are working (albeit slowly) on a review of it for Interpreter. I agree that Sorenson is far too dogmatic in his claims for specific sites being Book of Mormon cities. I am fairly convinced Mesoamerica is the right place (based on things like literacy, cultural complexity, patterns of kingship, warfare, calendrics, etc), but with thousands upon thousands of unnamed, unexcavated ancient cities laying beneath the surface that have been located but never excavated, there’s only so much we can say with confidence about which city is which. Only about 1% of Mesoamerican cities have been excavated, and of those, only about 1% of those sites have seen systematic excavations. There is a lot we still don’t know. But culturally, the peoples of the Book of Mormon would have fit much more comfortably within the larger Mesoamerican milieu than non-experts realize.

  8. Jonathan- see here and here :) I have part 3 in the works.

    Ivan- Ehrman is certainly not without controversy. One positive (a bit like DaVinci Code) is that regardless of his qualities, he has brought lots of discussion into the public square that was previously only discussed by specialists, like textual criticism.

    Mark W- Thanks for stopping by. We know so little.

    Terry H- Thanks for the enthusiasm and recommendations! I’m trying to keep expectations low and failing.

  9. Thanks for the references!

    What are the best resources for someone wanting to learn Biblical Hebrew by themselves? I can’t remember if you already discussed that in a different place or not.

  10. Robert, I wrote this on the question back in 2008, and would do it differently today. (Link at the bottom to part 2.)

    It kind of depends on your exposure with languages. If Hebrew would be the first foreign language, I’d start with something like English Grammar to Ace biblical Hebrew or Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew or How Biblical Languages Work . Hebrew is VERY different, and the better a grasp you have on how languages work, the better.

    Let me know where you’re coming from language-wise, and I’ll be more specific.

  11. Thanks! I don’t have much experience learning foreign languages past secondary school (some French, Latin, and Japanese). Alphabets aren’t too hard, but understanding the advanced grammar and higher level vocab is what hinders me. Very basic probably would be best. I was thinking of seeing if I could take some courses with the Jewish population in my area, but with grad school and work, I might have to go it alone for the time being.

  12. I’d guess your exposure to Japanese and Latin sufficient. (Very different from someone who only had, say, a few semesters of HS Spanish.)

    Start by learning the alphabet (use Psalm 118 in our KJV and

    There are a ton of 1st year Hebrew grammars. I didn’t like any of mine, and many professors are still dissatisfied, and write their own. New ones come out every year, and get reviewed. Most are aimed at a college classroom, memorizing verb paradigms, etc., and may not work well for self-study. I taught an informal Hebrew class last fall, with three students- one a Jewish convert with a little Hebrew, one who translated French/German quasi-professionally, and one with Old English and some other languages. We used a draft of a now-published grammar that isn’t freely online anymore. 90 minutes/weekly, it was a bit of a struggle. New concepts, no cognates, and a different way of thinking about language.

    So, I might recommend something like Hebrew for the Rest of Us and the language/study suggestions in this article.

  13. Mark I look forward to yours and Brants response to Sorenson. I enjoyed it on a broad level (I’m not quite done yet) but am a bit squeamish when it gets too specific.

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