Abraham: Breaking the Cycle of Child Abuse

The Biblical story of Abraham is an interesting story for me on several levels.  In the past, I’ve talked about different academic perspectives of him, my personal discomfort with how he mistreated his wife Hagar, and I have also compared the Book of Abraham to Islamic texts.  Tresa Edmunds has her own blog, and is a survivor of child abuse.  She spoke with Dan Wotherspoon at Mormon Matters, along with The Mormon Therapist, Natasha Parker.  They discussed how traditional stories of forgiveness may not apply to victims of abuse.  The podcast was interesting in its own right, but I wanted to share Tresa’s discussion of Abraham as both abuser and abused.  I thought it was a unique take on a story nearly all of us are familiar with.

Tresa, “As an adult through my own study, I came to the story of Abraham, and what we have in the Pearl of Great Price tells us that Abraham also is a survivor of childhood abuse through his father attempting to sacrifice him to the god Elkenah.  Once again, the Spirit said, ‘I’m going to take you and move you to a place where you know not.  I am going to remove you from this threat and get you out.’  With that bit of the story of Abraham, I think that it takes the story of Abraham and Isaac in a completely different direction, because then it’s not a story of blind obedience to the point of being willing to kill your child, it’s a story of an abuse survivor repeating patterns and succumbing to those same scripts, and the Lord intervening and healing that behavior, healing those wounds so that he doesn’t inflict that same violence onto his child.  So it’s the story of Abraham as so commonly viewed as either blind obedience or threat of child murder, but I think it can actually be an incredibly powerful story of an abuse survivor healing and breaking that cycle of abuse.”

Dan, “Awesome.  Hey I want to do that some more, and I’m thankful for this.  Before we do it though, there are different ways that story is also heard, and that is, look at how much the Lord knew that he could trust Abraham, this is Abraham in a very righteous way doing it.  How do you two, when I would guarantee you, what you just said Tresa doesn’t ever come up in church.  There’s never-this Abrahamic story is problematic and I know that a lot of people who have really wrestled with things in their lives do see the story of Abraham as problematic.  So before we discuss it as as this wonderful–wow, I’m just blown away right now with what you  said about this pattern of abuse being repeated because I know that in friends of mine who have wrestled with this, how do you guys spin the story on Sunday?  I mean just practical advice? How do you honor the story in some way at all, or can you?”

Tresa, “The story of Abraham specifically?”

Dan, “Right, well in the sacrifice of Isaac yeah.”

Tresa, “Well, I just said how I do it, how I do believe that it’s Abraham–”

Dan, “So you’re able to share that?”

Tresa, “Yeah.”

Dan, “Oh, awesome!”

Tresa, “Yeah, I’m pretty brave Dan!  I don’t keep much to the vest, ok?  [chuckling]  Yeah, I just flat out say it.  But if somebody wasn’t comfortable saying it that way, you know Carol Lynn Pearson has a beautiful interpretation too, that it was just about God needing somebody who could understand him, being a father who was about to sacrifice his son in Jesus Christ.  How God was always going to stop Abraham, but he needed somebody who would understand what he was about to do.  So you know, I like that as an alternative narrative, but to me it’s always about breaking the cycle.”

Dan, “Awesome.  Natasha, do you have any examples?  Have you been able to problematize the story of Abraham successfully?”

Natasha, “No, I’ve usually hated that story, so I’m liking what I’m hearing.  [chuckling]  I’m stealing your stuff, lady!

I’ve had similar thoughts of symbolism as far as Carol Lynn Pearson’s kind of take on it as well, that’s how I’ve thought about it before, as kind of a symbol, but when symbology kind of crosses the line into behavior, you know such as problematic as feeling like you’re in threat, you know by your own father, those are things that I have a hard time making that connect with the god that I worship and believe in, that God would put one of his children in that type of position, so those are things that I wrestle with I think just personally all the time, especially in the Old Testament stories, not just the Abraham one.  There’s many stories that just don’t seem to make sense when I really put it into position.  Now symbolically a lot of things can mean different things, and there can be a lot of beauty in that, so I’m always kind of willing to look at it more from a symbolical position.”

Dan, “Good, well thank you and forgive that sidebar.  I read The Gift of Asher Lev.  I know most people have read My Name is Asher Lev, but the second one, The Gift of Asher Lev is all about this, and that was my experience years ago of really, really starting to wrestle with the Abrahamic story and you know as somebody who still loves the scriptures and you know wants to wrestle with them and stuff like that, I’m comfortable problematizing it the way you are Tresa, but I’m not sure that a whole lot of people–I can imagine the collective sucking in of the breath during a Sunday School thing when it’s not treated in this idealized way and so I always look for practical things.”

Tresa, “Well, I think that there’s still some idealism to be found there.  I don’t think that it’s a character flaw that Abraham to repeat these patterns, because we all do it.  We are all striving to overcome these destructive patterns, wherever we got them, or however they’ve hurt us.  That’s the journey towards growth for all of us, so I don’t think it’s any knock on Abraham and instead what it becomes is a parable of the incredible healing power of the atonement.  Not just the power to heal sin, but to heal these very destructive psychological, behavioral issues that cause such trauma.  The power of the atonement to heal the trauma, that we can experience through issues like this.”

Dan, “Wow!”

Natasha, “Yeah, I really like that.  Because otherwise my other concern that often comes up, and I do share this in my Sunday School lessons.  You know, at what point is our relationship with God, I mean that’s obviously something that’s very personal for every person, but if our relationship with God is going to put somebody else in danger, then do we need to rethink that?

Obviously the time frame of Abraham is very different from our time frame today where you would be locked up as psychotic person if you were going to kill your own son.  It is something that is interesting to wrestle with in our own time and age as far as can these stories have meaning, and I very much appreciate the meaning you have put forth today Tresa.”

What do you think of Tresa’s angle on this story?

32 comments on “Abraham: Breaking the Cycle of Child Abuse

  1. I think that it is being over analyzed. In the case of Ishmael and in the case of Isaac, Abraham was acting at the Lord’s behest. That is something that is being completely overlooked.

    Either Abraham was acting on orders from the Lord, or the story is uninspired rubbish.


  2. Glenn,

    I encourage you to click on the link above about the academic perspectives on Abraham, but here’s an excerpt I would like to quote:

    My personal opinion is that Abraham was misled, and I want to point out some other opinions on the subject.

    Protestant theologian Kierkegaard said, “Though Abraham arouses my admiration, he at the same time appalls me.”

    Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early 14th century) wrote that Abraham’s “imagination” led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes “How could God command such a revolting thing?”

    According to Rabbi J. H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually “rife among the Semitic peoples,” and suggests that “in that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it.” Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent. “Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required.”

    The early rabbinic Midrash Genesis Rabbah imagines God as saying “I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac (using the Hebrew root letters for “slaughter”, not “sacrifice”)”.

    Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach (Spain, 11th century) wrote that God demanded only a symbolic sacrifice.

    In Jeremiah 32:35, God states that the later Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech “had [never] entered My mind that they should do this abomination.”

    In some later Jewish writings, most notably those of the Hasidic masters, the theology of a “divine test” is rejected, and the sacrifice of Isaac is interpreted as a “punishment” for Abraham’s earlier “mistreatment” of Ishmael, his elder son, whom he expelled from his household at the request of his wife, Sarah. According to this view, Abraham failed to show compassion for his son, so God punished him by ostensibly failing to show compassion for Abraham’s son. This is a somewhat flawed theory, however, since the Bible says that God agreed with Sarah, and it was only at His insistence that Abraham actually had Ishmael leave.

    In The Last Trial, Shalom Spiegel argues that these commentators were interpreting the Biblical narration as an implicit rebuke against Christianity’s claim that God would sacrifice His own son.

    In The Binding of Isaac, Religious Murders & Kabbalah, Lippman Bodoff argues that Abraham never intended to actually sacrifice his son, and that he had faith that God had no intention that he do so.

    There is no proof that God commanded Abraham–we have only Abraham’s word. I just find child sacrifice as highly problematic, and I have a hard time (when you look at the history and find that child sacrifice was rife among Semitic peoples) that God would command such a revolting thing. How do you reconcile Jeremiah 32:35 with this story?

  3. NH, I agree that we have no proof that God commanded Abraham. We only have the word of the chronicler of the Book of Genesis. We have no proof that Jesus is the Christ. We only have the words of those who testify of Him. We have no proof that Moses was a prophet. We only have the words of the chronicler of the Books which speak of Moses. Ditto for all of the other prophets.

    As I noted in my first post, the events happened pretty much as described, or the Bible is uninspired rubbish.

    My take on this has always been similar to Tresa’s report on Carol Pearson’s interpretation: “God was always going to stop Abraham, but he needed somebody who would understand what he was about to do.” I have never felt that God intended for Abraham to actually follow through, and, if you are to believe the Biblical account, He did stop Abraham. (Genesis 22:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”

    This is not the same as Jeremiah 32:35 where God is saying that He did not command the children of Israel to sacrifice their children to Molech. In Genesis, God is telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him, to God, as test of Abraham’s faith.

    I appreciate the time you have taken to check what some Jewish theologians have imagined about the episode. Now, it might be helpful to reread what prophets called of the Lord have said concerning Abraham. Have any of them called Abraham out? Did Jesus call out Abraham in any of His teachings? PauL? Did any of the Nephite prophets call out Abraham for attempting that sacrifice?

    How about any of our modern day prophets? Have any of them suggested that Abraham was remiss in being blindly obedient to God? Have any of them suggested that Abraham maybe was making some of the stuff up?


  4. On Carol Lynn Pearson’s point, why would God “need” Abraham to understand him?

    I agree that God stopped Abraham at the right moment–that is the miracle and the best point of the story, but Abraham doesn’t inspire great confidence for me. He sent a wife and son to die in the wilderness (though an angel appeared and saved them as recorded in Genesis), he attempted to repeat the pagan sacrifice that his father had done to him… I just don’t believe God would command ANYONE to kill in his name. Self defense is one thing, but not child sacrifice. It is absolutely abhorent to me, and I find modern tellings of the story as incredibly naive. Abraham would be jailed today.

    Sure maybe he was better than the culture around him, but I’m sure sure he is an example we should be following today. Dan and Ron Lafferty did the same thing, but there was no angel to stop the murder of Brenda Lafferty.

  5. MH, Why is it naive to believe that story, since ancient and modern prophets have held Abraham up as a model of faith? Have you had a revelation that trumps the collective knowledge and revelations of the prophets down through the ages?


  6. Glenn, I have followed the admonition to’study it out in your mind’, and I feel that if any man lacks wisdom, he should ask of God.

    Now I don’t know any LDS prophets that have studied the cultural, archeological settings of Abraham. Only Joseph Smith has had any sort of revelatory scripture. The rest seem to be relying on traditional protestant understandings of Abraham, which do seem naive and don’t properly appreciate the ethical dilemmas of the story. As such, these interpretations are suspect, IMO.

  7. MH, Although studying something out in your own mind has its place, that is not a substitute for the revelatory process. It is supposed to part of the revelatory process. That is why I asked you if you have received a revelation that trumps all of the prophets that have spoken of Abraham over the centuries.

    Since none of us were there, the scriptures, the testimonies of the prophets, and our own personal revelations are what we must look for to guide us. Do you know from personal revelation that God did not command Abraham to offer his son Isaac up as a sacrifice? If not, then we really have nothing we can debate on the topic. We both have already offered our opinions, and not surprisingly, we disagree a bit.


  8. Amen.

    I am curious why you think God “needed” someone to understand.

  9. “I am curious why you think God “needed” someone to understand.”

    That was not my comment.


  10. But you stated you agreed with it. Do you not agree?

  11. I included the needed someone to understand from a comment by Tresa. I do not subscribe to that particular part and should not have included it. What I was actually referring to was the point that God never actually intended for Abraham to go through with the sacrifice.

    Glenn (wish we could edit our posts)

  12. Ask not what your god can do for you, but what you can do in support of god the father as viewed through the eyes of your sons.

  13. @Mh
    No, I do not agree that God needed Abraham or anyone else to understand anything. As I noted, I included that part of the comment without thinking about it. My only point of agreement was on the idea that God never intended for Abraham to actually complete the sacrifice.


  14. I think we all agree that God stopped Abraham. It just seems rather odd to me that God would give conflicting commands “Kill your son”, and then quickly after, “don’t kill your son.” The 2nd seems more in line with “Thou shalt not kill” (and gives a bit of insight into the possible child sacrifices common to Semitic people than simply “Don’t murder”).

    Agreeing with Carol Lynn Pearson that God intervened seems rather unremarkable, as nobody disagrees with her on that point. To me, the unusual aspect of Pearson’s alleged comment is God needing someone to understand. I don’t know why God would need that. If you and I agree that God didn’t need someone to understand, then at least we can hang our hat on something.

  15. @Mormon Heretic
    MH, I think you missed the point. The point that Pearson was making and with which I was agreeing was that God NEVER INTENDED for Abraham to go through with the sacrifice in the first place. It was a rather rigorous test of Abraham’s faith.


  16. No Glenn. I didn’t miss the point. Are you aware of anyone that claims God intended to have Abraham kill Isaac?

  17. @Mh
    At this point in the discussion, I don’t really know what your beef (“I have a hard time (when you look at the history and find that child sacrifice was rife among Semitic peoples) that God would command such a revolting thing.”) about the episode is. If you already understood that God never intended for Abraham to actually have to follow through with the act that God had commanded.
    Maybe we have been talking past each other again.


  18. My beef with the story is the idea that God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac. I just don’t think that happened. Yes Genesis 22:1 says “God did tempt Abraham”, but doesn’t it seem strange for God to tempt? Wouldn’t it make more sense that God allowed Satan to tempt Abraham?

    Exodus 9:12 says “the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh”, but we know from JST that scripture is a mistranslation. Why couldn’t we assume that Genesis 22:1 is also a mistranslation? Joseph never fully completed the JST…

  19. @MH
    MH, I do not think that we can safely assume anything about the scriptures, and that we cannot safely assume that all of the prophets past and present have missed that and left it up to us individuals to decide what has been mistranslated and what should be read as is.

    Joseph picked up on a lot of little details that many people have just blithely passed over, after Genesis. For example, in the KJV, Amos 3:6 reads “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”

    That verse would make the the actual source of all evil done in a city, (doesn’t say anything about the countryside). That does not make sense to say that God is the source of good and evil. The JST substitutes the word “known” for the word “done”, which makes a lot more sense.

    I would expect that Joseph would have caught that if it had been in error. But, in fact, we have modern day scriptures which affirm the account that Abraham gave, or rather, that the chronicler of Abraham wrote or maybe abridged. Check out D&C 101:4, 132:36, and 132:50. Those statements state succinctly that the God actually did command Abraham to offer up Isaac. I think that from this, we can trust that Genesis account. Unless you have had a revelation that would bring those scripture into question????


  20. Glenn, why would God tempt?

  21. @MH
    Why would God “tempt” Abraham. The Hebrew word used in this text is transliterated as “nacah” which means to test, try, or prove. And that is exactly how the story plays out.

    Would you care to comment on the references that I noted from the Doctrine and Covenants?


  22. Glenn, interesting verse in Amos. I do believe that Israelites had a more primitive view of God than we do. They viewed animal sacrifice as godly, whereas today we would view it quite differently. I do think that we need to move beyond primitive views of God. Let’s not forget that they lived among polytheists that also practiced animal sacrifice. Such displays of piety would have seemed normal to both monotheists and polytheists, yet they seem grotesque to us. I don’t want to go back to primitive beliefs. They might view our modern views as apostasy, while we view them as violently primitive.

    Now to answer your questions in the D&C, please remember that I am a heretic, so I don’t expect you to agree with what I have to say. Let’s look at the context of D&C 101. The preface says (and I’ll shorten for brevity),

    Revelation given to Joseph Smith … at Kirtland, Ohio, 16 December 1833… At this time the Saints who had gathered in Missouri were suffering great persecution. Mobs had driven them from their homes in Jackson County…

    In this context, verse 4 states Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.

    As we look at what happened in Jackson County, WW Phelps had just published a newspaper article welcoming blacks to a slave state. Gentiles were in an uproar, tarred and feathered Bishop Partridge, the press had been destroyed, and tensions were high. Joseph was trying to understand why God’s people were persecuted. Utilizing the traditional understanding of the story, I can see God using Joseph’s understanding of the story as a means of explaining that difficult trials were still ahead. So I can understand this symbolically, but I don’t take it literally. God speaks to us according to our knowledge, and he doesn’t correct things immediately sometimes (look at the holocaust of WW2 for God’s inaction with the Jews.) I don’t understand why. If I were God, I would intervene, but God’s ways are not my ways.

    Anyway, this is not an exposition on the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, but more of a pep talk to endure trials and enduring terrible trials. So I don’t think it is a literal representation of what happened in Genesis. It’s just more of protestant contamination.

    Now to D&C 132. I don’t know if you’ve read my perspective on polygamy, but suffice it to say that I have MAJOR problems with this doctrine. The way we read D&C 132 today, we emphasize the sealing ordinance, and pretty much ignore the polygamy parts. Once again, the context is polygamy, and I have just as big of a problem with Abraham’s polygamy as I do Joseph Smith’s. I think Abraham’s polygamy is poor justification for Joseph’s polygamy, so I have real problems with section 132 anyway. In that context, section 132 is using Abraham to justify polygamy, it is not an exposition on the subject of Abraham’s sacrifice. Verses 36 and 50 are symbolic references to the sacrifice of Isaac, not an exposition on the story of the sacrifice.

  23. @MH
    So, you do not think that the Doctrine and Covenants is inspired scripture and that the verses I cited were not God speaking but Joseph Smith fraudently claiming to be speaking for God?


  24. Read the link on “my perspective on polygamy” so you can understand my view of prophets. Needless to say, I do not have an orthodox view of prophets or revelation, but I do believe in prophets and revelation.

  25. @Mormon Heretic
    I have read your perspective on polygamy. Would it be safe to say that you accept Joseph Smith and the other prophets as long as they (the revelations) conform to your world view and reject revelations that do not conform to your world view?
    I am not disparaging your opinions, just trying to understand where you are coming from.


  26. I suppose that’s pretty good. I mean if we follow Alma’s experiment and the seed is good, then we know it is true doctrine. If the seed is not, then it is not.

    I think far too many Mormons are guilty of hero worship of the general authorities. We don’t study it out in our minds, because it’s easier to not think and expect the GA’s to simply give it to us. Brigham Young said “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.”

  27. @Mormon Heretic
    MH, I do not have a problem with anyone seeking their own confirmation of revelations. That is what we are taught to do. The verses that I quoted on Abraham are part of that established canon. That canon was not established blindly. There was much spiritual effort and prayer, first in Joseph Smith receiving the revelations that he had recorded which became our Doctrine and Covenants, and then in selecting those that were to be canonized.

    It is difficult to have a fruitful discussion if there is no standard by which we can agree. World views are hardly a standard because no two people will have exactly the same. If I quote scriptures and you do not accept them because they do not coincide with your world view, I can never make a point, unless the scriptures I quote do happen to coincide with your wold view. But if that is the standard, then I would run into a similar problem if I were to quote those scriptures to another person with a different world view.

    If the leaders of the church were to be selected according to popular vote in accordance with world views, it would lurch to and fro spiritually much as the Untied States does politically as the citizens elect leaders based upon differing and changing world views. It would slide into irrelevance within a generation (my opinion).

    There are things in the Bible which do not coincide with with my world view. A view that has been molded by my own personal experiences, by the teachings of the church (and not just the ones I heard in Sunday School), and by my personal studies. When I read something in the Bible that does not sit right with me, I do some cross checking in the other scriptures, including the Joseph Smith Translation in order to come to a better understanding.
    Long before I had access to the JST, I felt very badly about the story of Lot in the city of Sodom when some of his neighbors found that he had visitors from “out of town” and called upon Lot to send them out so that they could “know” them. In all of the different Biblical accounts I have read, Lot tells the crowd not harm his guests, but offers to send out his daughters in their stead. I had often wondered how Lot could be seen by Paul and other apostles as a righteous man if he were willing to let his daughters be ravaged and brutalized. It was great feeling of relief to me to find that the JST did not follow that lead, but described a scene where the crowd was calling for Lot’s visitors and his daughters and Lot was unwilling to do either.

    I really have never had a problem with the Abraham story because my understanding of it from my very youngest hearing was that God was only testing Abraham’s faith and never meant for Abraham to actually carry the command to fruition. The fact that the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants affirm that it was indeed the Lord that commanded Abraham in this, that it is not just a fairy tale. I am more inclined to accept the testimony of the two additional scriptural witnesses rather than the world view of another human, no matter how sincere the person may be.

    I agree that maybe some people follow the General authorities or even local leaders too blindly. If more people had stood up for what the teachings of the church actually were around Parowan, Utah in 1857, the Mountain Meadows Massacre would never have happened.


  28. Glenn, it’s been interesting talking to you, but for me to accept the story of Abraham as the traditional story is told, then that also brings up some real hard issues. We are often told that God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Well, if that’s true, why does God act so inconsistently: “Kill your son”, “No, I was just testing you.” This is really an inconsistent god, that can’t seem to make up his mind. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, destroys cities, floods the entire earth at his whim–come to think of it, sometimes the god of the Old Testament seems just as temperamental as Zeus.

    So, if we are to take God as consistent (the same yesterday, today, and forever), why does the god of the Old Testament behave so strangely? To me, it is much easier to reconcile that man is inconsistent, and man misunderstands God, and man makes God appear inconsistent. That’s a much easier pill for me to swallow than a God that sends a flood upon the whole earth, or turns a woman into a pillar of salt, or kills people for steadying the ark. That god is cruel to me, not a loving, merciful god.

    Ancient people weren’t too sophisticated. They thought that killing sheep pleased God. Certainly God allowed those sorts of things, but I think we need to be careful assigning Zeus-like characteristics to God, or we truly don’t understand the being we worship. Anytime someone attributes Zeus-like characteristics to my god, I am just skeptical. Though Zeus isn’t worshiped anymore, I think his influence (as well as Baal, Molech, and many others) is still felt.

  29. MH, I think I understand your position a bit better now. Of course I will continue to disagree with the world view trumping scriptures.
    I actually think that God has acted pretty consistently through the ages. The Lord is thew same yesterday, today, and forever, however the situations on earth and man himself do change. The Lord changes how He does some things in accordance with man’s situation. I can give you some specifics if you should desire.

    I do not shut down my brain when reading the scriptures. As I have noted, there are passages in the KJV that I have had problems with. Some of those have been assuaged by the Joseph Smith translation. I still have a problem with the story of Jephthah in the Book of Judges, Chapter 11. Here Jephthah actually sacrifices his daughter to fulfill a vow he had made to the Lord. yet he is accounted a righteous man by Paul. There is nothing in the JST to help me with that series of events.

    The verses in Exodus in the KJV where it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart also used to give me problems until I read the JST version where Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

    Curiously, you cited that clarification to me in an earlier post, yet now you are using the KJV version to bolster your belief that God acts inconsistently.

    I will continue to use the pronouncements of our current prophets along with the scriptures and my own personal revelations for my guidance. I have a lot of faith in those scriptures and in the Lord as the head of the LDS Church.


  30. Well Glenn, I’m not exactly sure what to make of the JST. I think most everyone agrees that it is not an exact translation, but more of a commentary like a Midrash. See http://en.fairmormon.org/Bible/Joseph_Smith_Translation/As_a_restoration_of_the_original_Bible_text where it says

    “much of the JST is probably better understood as a kind of midrashic commentary on the text [rather than] mechanically preserving some hypothetically ‘perfect’ Biblical text [or] conversion of text in one language to another. But, Joseph used the term in a broader and more inclusive sense, which included explanation, commentary, and harmonization. The JST is probably best understood in this light.”

    So while the JST account of Lot offering his daughters to the violent men outside might sound more politically correct to our modern ears, I’m not sure that it has any historical validity to it. Women were often seen as possessions to be purchased with a dowry. It could very well be that the original version is correct as written, though I sure hope that the JST is correct. At this point, I’m open to either, and I’m taking the JST as a possible interpretation. I’m not aware of any discoveries (such as Dead Sea Scrolls or Nag Hammadi scrolls) that support Joseph on this or any other JST points. I do know that in some cases, Joseph changed some of the Isaiah verses for clarity. While it did improve clarity, it also broke the rules of chiasmus that were there. As you know, many trumpet the chaismus in the BoM as proof of its authenticity. But then Joseph breaks the chiasmus in the O.T. versions of Isaiah, so I’m not sure what to make of that.

    As for my use of JST “pharoah hardened his heart”, I’m up in the air on that. The JST makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it’s a much more theologically accurate translation. But I have a feeling that the original writers wrote it as “God hardened pharaoh’s heart”, and I suspect that ancient Jews believed it as written. So it’s a bit of a can of worms to me. I can see those verses for and against JST. It’s definitely a paradox that I don’t know how to resolve consistently, but the JST makes a lot of sense to me whether the original documents were written that way or not. Certainly JST holds no sway with other Christians who believe it as written. See http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aiia/aiia-pharaoh.html

  31. MH, I’m inclined to believe that the JST or Joseph’s clarifications are historically valid. (Of course I am a TBM. ) I believe that the Bible is the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly. I believe that the items that Joseph changed, clarified, or whatever, were not originally written as we have them today.

    The opinions of the Jews, ancient or modern, or modern Christians do not trump what I feel to be inspired work on the part of Joseph Smith.

    As I have noted, I tend to have more faith id Joseph’s powers of prophecy and translation than you. Which probably explains many of our differences of opinion.

    The opinions of the Jews, ancient or modern, or modern Christians do not trump what I feel to be inspired work on the part of Joseph Smith.


  32. Mormon Heretic :
    On Carol Lynn Pearson’s point, why would God “need” Abraham to understand him?
    I agree that God stopped Abraham at the right moment–that is the miracle and the best point of the story, but Abraham doesn’t inspire great confidence for me. He sent a wife and son to die in the wilderness (though an angel appeared and saved them as recorded in Genesis), he attempted to repeat the pagan sacrifice that his father had done to him… I just don’t believe God would command ANYONE to kill in his name. Self defense is one thing, but not child sacrifice. It is absolutely abhorent to me, and I find modern tellings of the story as incredibly naive. Abraham would be jailed today.
    Sure maybe he was better than the culture around him, but I’m sure sure he is an example we should be following today. Dan and Ron Lafferty did the same thing, but there was no angel to stop the murder of Brenda Lafferty.

    1. Abraham did not send Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness to die. God sent them into the wilderness, promising Abraham He would make of Ishmael a great nation. Which is what happened. God sent an angel to guide Hagar and Ishmael and gave them divine protection. This idea that Abraham just sent Hagar off into the desert to make his home life easier is totally erroneous. Rather he did so trusting in God to keep His word, which He did.

    2. Abraham didn’t just decide to murder his son one day. In fact my reading of text does not reveal a man who was repeating the sins of his father willingly. The text reveals God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Not how you choose to apply that is up to you. One of the best things about the scriptures are their applicability. And I don’t find the idea that God was teaching Abraham what it meant to truly sacrifice, what it would mean to be a god, to give His only son, and to also help him heal from his childhood trauma to be contradictory. All these things could have been taking place. But that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac isn’t a question. All revealed texts, ancient and modern, in addition to the revealed words of the modern prophets testify to this fact.

    3. As for God being the same yesterday, today, and forever, its got to do with God’s perfection. In specific regards to God being the commander of life and death, and ordering some people to death, the Prophet Joseph said this:

    “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be and often is, right under another. God said thou shalt not kill,—at another time he said, thou shalt utterly destroy. This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

    What you are seeing is not “inconsistency” it is revelation adapted to the times and place God finds His people. God is not accountable to our judgment because we cannot see the end form the beginning and the purpose behind His commands. Also, remember to not apply every command that we are under to God. Remember God said, “THOU shall not kill” not “*I* shall not kill.” That God never changes from perfection to imperfection means we can trust His judgment, even when we do not understand it.

    4. As to the words of scholars, including FAIR and the Maxwell Institute (so Mormon scholars as well) they are nothing more than scribes using the worlds knowledge to try and grasp at understand God’s revealed words. In many ways what they offer can help bolster faith. But they do not labor under the Spirit of revelation from God and can make many many many errors, and do. The scribes have often been wrong through history. Just look at the scribes in Christ’s day and how He treated them. As for other Christians and Jews, those lost in apostasy are not going to be able to elaborate great truths when they have lost the ability to even understand the basics. Revelation from God trumps all the scribes’ words. So don’t just swallow their words whole and accept them. For example the chiasmus thing -completely pointless. So Joseph broke the chiasmic structure of Isaiah. Perhaps it wasn’t written that way originally to begin with, but later scribes altered it to make it more enjoyable when read orally to a congregation. Perhaps it was simply unimportant. As for the JST considering we took the JST of the first chapters of Genesis and canonized them as the Book of Moses, should indicate the authority the JST holds. The D&C speaks of the JST as being a revealed translation, from God to Joseph, of the Bible. To relegate them to be the equal of uninspired, unrevealed rabbinical sayings is simply foolish.

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