Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Joseph Smith Translation Ezekiel 20:30


The Prophet Joseph Smith changed but ten verses in the Book of Ezekiel. None of the changes, except that made to the very last verse in the book, touch upon any of Ezekiel's better known or more challenging places. For instance, Why would the Prophet skip the enigmatic visions of the opening chapters to bother with Ezekiel 20:30? And why that particular verse in Chapter 20, and no other?

The change is a small one--he shifts the interrogative mode to the indicative in the first two opening clauses of the sentence--and the preponderance of Bible translations do not support it. No matter. Joseph Smith finds himself in the best of company: St. Jerome (and thus Wycliffe), Luther, and the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh.

We start with the Authorized Version and then consider the Joseph Smith Translation:

30 Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?

31 For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.

Joseph Smith recasts the two opening rhetorical questions as flat indictments:

Ye are polluted after the manner of your fathers and ye commit whoredom after their abominations.

Faulring, Jackson, Matthews (eds), Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (2004)

The change startles because it suggests an error in the original Hebrew. But several other translators, and let's now add Breuer, Zitterli, and Greenberg to the company, sensitive to the nuances of grammar and of rhetoric, translate in the same way that Brother Joseph does--and no emendation of the Hebrew.

The question that lies at the heart of the complicated sentence is "And will I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel?" All prior clauses, says Rabbi Solomon Fisch, become antecedents going before judgment: "This verse and the first half of the next verse are antecedents to the clause shall I then be inquired of by you?" (S. Fisch, Soncino Bible: Ezekiel, 127). We recall how the elders of the people approached Ezekiel and requested an oracle. The delegation approaches Ezekiel because they know he's the real thing; Israel enjoys the prophetic gifts--and they know it. Yet their hearts simultaneously burst with the plea: Why can't we be just like everyone else (see v. 33)? Israel wants Jerusalem and Idumea all in one breath, and the Divine rebuke of such duplicity is a rhetorical marvel that cuts to the heart.

Rhetorical marvel? There are places in the Hebrew Bible, Gesenius' Grammar tell us, "in which the use of the interrogative is altogether different from our idiom, since it serves merely to express the conviction that the contents of the statement are well known to the hearer, and are unconditionally admitted by him" (Gesenius, Kautzsch, Cowley, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, 473). Such usage therefore supplies us with a rhetoric well suited to Divine decree or decisions at law. Gesenius illustrates the principle with a few one liners. To get to the root of the matter in Ezekiel 20:30-31, we must dig deeper. 

"A widespread phenomenon in Biblical Hebrew," says Christian Stadel, "is the use of an interrogative clause for the expression of an assertion. Such interrogatives are commonly known as 'rhetorical questions'" (Christian Stadel, "Interrogative: Biblical Hebrew," in Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics 2:306-316; 309). Rhetorical questions here labels a technical term Hebraists use to describe a very particular kind of declarative idiom. As is the case with other non-pronominal interrogatives, rhetorical questions begin with a "sentence-initial particle," the clitic-h

Such a rhetorical device, especially in a sentence consisting of two or more clauses, serves "to express a premise or a conclusion in a logical argument. When expressing a premise, the rhetorical question establishes a consensus, or common ground between the speaker and addressee, which is then used to advance the argument;" rhetorical questions thus "have a strengthening function, expressing the implied assertion in a more forceful way then a simple declarative would have done," ibid., 310. 

Usage suggests a clitic-h preceding each rhetorical question in the succession of clauses (or independent sentences). In Ezekiel 20:30-31 only the first clause shows the particle: hbdrk (ha + prep. b "in" + derek "way"). Had Ezekiel intended a series of independent rhetorical questions, he likely would have put the particle at the head of each of them. And would not such stand-alone questions--each to be paused over, as it enters the stage in logical and brilliant arrangement--have made for a stronger declaration? Surely so--yet perhaps not: in Ezekiel 20:30-31 the antecedents fly swiftly on to the final judgment that rings down the curtain on the play.

As we now consider the following translations of Ezekiel 20:30-31, the question to ask is: Which, if any of them, best captures the complicated sentence structure and its sweeping rhetorical force?

It might be best to start with a plain reading (my own), along with simple notes about semantics and grammar:

Therefore say to House of Israel: 

So says my Lord Jehovah--

Ha-in the way of your fathers you make yourselves tameh;
after their shiqqutzim you play the faithless wife;
and in lifting your gifts (to heaven, at the altar),
in making your sons to pass through in the fire, 
you make yourselves tameh in dedicated service to all your ridiculous idols until today:

And I shall be sought of by you for an oracle, House of Israel?

Live I--statement of my Lord Jehovah--
if I shall be sought of by you for an oracle!

The initial interrogative marker is the sole such marker in the sentence; the final question is only implied. And note how the third and fourth clauses show the preposition be (in, in acting), not ke (when, as). To "be sought of by you" (with preposition le, for) signifies to be sought of for a revelation. Tameh signifies to "become (cultically) unclean: it is for the once faithful bride to play the prostitute by following after the detestable (cultic) practices and silly idols of Canaan (William L. Holliday, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament). 

What it all means is beyond us, though the lexicographers' insistence on cultic pollution can miss the point: by adopting cultic practices, Israel perforce adopts all cultural practices as well. The first thus nicely serves as metaphor for the second. One wonders whether the verb for crossing ('br), in "passing through the fire," is intended to stir the memory of another crossing, the ancestral crossing which qualified Abraham an 'ever (Hebrew)? By causing their own sons to cross through fire--whatever that meant literally or symbolically to Ezekiel--do these faithless sons of Abraham reverse the pilgrimage of Father Abraham and unmake his sons Hebrews? Do Ezekiel's auditors maintain, or do they break, the generational chain of covenant?

As Ezekiel's contemporary, Nephi, says, "the manner of prophesying among the Jews" can be "hard to understand" without careful instruction. It is enough to know, he says with a shudder, that "their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations" (2 Nephi 25: 1-2). Given that works and doings signal technical terminology for cultic activity, Nephi's careful choice of words show how tellingly cultic works and doings reflect the general societal and cultural darkness.

The Soncino Bible: Ezekiel (Rabbi Solomon Fisch)

Wherefore say unto the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord God:
When ye pollute yourselves after the manner of your fathers, and go astray after their abomination, and when, in offering your gifts, in making your son to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, unto this day; shall I then be inquired of by you?

JPS Tanakh 1917 (see Bible

Wherefore say unto the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord GOD: When ye pollute yourselves after the manner of your fathers, and go after their abominations, and when, in offering your gifts, in making your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, unto this day; shall I then be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you;"

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer, The Book of Yechezkel, 172 

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer likewise translates the rhetorical questions in the opening clauses as positive indictments, though also he nods to the interrogative particle, ha, which opens the sentence:

Therefore say to the House of Israel: Thus has my Lord spoken, God, Who envelops His loving kindness in justice: What? You defile yourselves upon the path your fathers trod, and you are faithless in that you seek after their horrors; And by lifting up your offerings, leading your children through the fire, defiling yourselves through your idolatries to this day--and I should let Myself be sought of you, house of Israel?"

Rav Breuer, as truthful translator, does well to remind us how God, though everlastingly loving, cannot "rob justice": "God, Who envelops His loving kindness in justice" (see Alma 42:25: "What, can ye suppose that mercy can rob justice?")

The Douay-Rheims translation (as does Wycliffe) attests the Vulgate of St. Jerome:

Wherefore say to the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord God: Verily [certe], you are defiled in the way of your fathers, and you commit fornication with their abominations. And you defile yourselves with all your idols unto this day, in the offering of your gifts, when you make your children pass through the fire: and shall I answer you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not answer you.

Moshe Greenberg, The Anchor Bible: Ezekiel, 362

Say, then, to the house of Israel: Thus said Lord YHWH: You defile yourselves in the manner of your fathers, you go whoring after their loathsome things; you defile yourselves by the offer of your gifts and by delivering up your sons to the fire--your idolatries of all sorts--to this day; shall I then respond to your inquiry, house of Israel? By my life, declared Lord YHWH, I will not respond to your inquiry!

Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel. A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24, I: 402

Thus has [the Lord] Yahweh said: You are making yourselves unclean with the behavior of your fathers. In following their abominations you are committing their immorality. And in offering your gifts [in making your sons pass through the fire] you are making yourselves unclean for all your idols right up to the present day. Shall I then let myself be questioned by you, house of Israel? As I live, says [the Lord] Yahweh, I will not let myself be questioned by you."

Of these, I favor the translations of Rav Joseph Breuer and the JPS Tanakh. The JPS Tanakh insists on an artificial and impeding when-then construction for the sentence, with non-finite when clauses, but the translation yet delivers a powerful rhetorical punch. (We can now see how turning opening clauses into interrogatives, breaking one sentence into several, would slow things to an unbearable pace.) Rav Breuer may add poetic refrains to the text and drop the familiar English technical ritual expression to inquire of in favor of a literal reading of the Hebrew drsh (seek); he nevertheless conveys--and clearly--in a single sweeping sentence, something of the rough, near staccato oracular idiom of a desert tribe. And are these various readings not rhetorically superior to the clumsy literalism, if that, of the Authorized Version?


One may ask: Do you propose to show the inspiration of Joseph Smith, when you claim his translation has such substantial support?

I take that inspiration as a given. To range at will through the pages of scripture revealed through the Prophet Joseph is to see "all things appear divinely new." One need not be a partisan nor a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to see the "marvelous work and a wonder" that is the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the New Translation of the Holy Bible, and the Pearl of Great Price. Neither does the Divine Treasury of Restoration Scripture remain the exclusive property of Latter-day Saints--it belongs to you and it belongs to me, for it rightfully belongs to God.

Joseph Smith belongs to the world. Then let the world consider him, read him, write of him and ponder, debate, and sort out his revelations and translations and papers how and when and where it wishes. As for Latter-day Saints, we need to stop popping out of our seats anytime someone belonging to another faith or another community writes a thoughtful essay or book about Brother Joseph's prophetic and scriptural contribution. 

Joseph Smith deserves more of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ than a knee-jerk reaction. Nor need we tend him or his message, as if some fragile thing.

Sometimes we "pop" in wild-eyed naivete; other times we "pop" in haste to criticize or to discredit. We can promote truth, correct misinformation and obvious error, and even and ever defend the Prophet's good name, but we should also let others think, write, "call on the Lord, and ponder. . .in their hearts. . . for a little season." In other words, we can afford others the room to breathe and to discover the good news of the Restoration for themselves in their own way and in their own time. Such allowance to others, at least "for a little season," becomes another special way, among so many other marvelous ways, by which the divine promise comes to fruition: "I will hasten my work in its time" (Doctrine and Covenants 88: 71-73).


Speaking solely for myself, I wonder whether the best question to ask about JST Ezekiel 20:30 would be Why did the Prophet Joseph choose to turn our attention at all to Ezekiel Chapter 20? 

The subject of divine indictment is not a pleasant one. Haunting is the Lord's refusal by the mouth of Ezekiel to the hapless elders of the people: And will I be inquired of by you? Ezekiel 20, with its long and careful recital of covenants broken and opportunities lost, as generation succeeds generation throughout the entire course of Israel's history, makes up one of the most stunning moments in all scripture: 

Here we are, O Lord. 

No, I will not hear you. Look over the record of your past. The day of your probation has ended.

To avoid the tragic outcome of losing the privileges of revelation, and the nurturing daily guidance and comfort flowing therefrom, we should compare ourselves with the people whom Ezekiel served. In refusing to show His divine favor, the Lord indicts the people for polluting both themselves and even their hapless children. Did they not love their own children sufficiently to teach them the ways of righteousness, freedom, and happiness? "Such 'pollution,'" Rabbi Fisch teaches us, "creates a barrier between them and God which makes impossible the achievement of their desire, viz. enlightenment from Him on what the immediate future holds in store," 128. For instance, to "greatly pollute" God's sabbaths not only bars enlightenment, it even prevents the holy offering of the sign of the covenant, the bond of fellowship between God and His people. 

We might ask ourselves, turning the indictment back into a question: Are we polluting ourselves after the manner of the world? Is that the road (derekh) we walk? Do pollutions, idols, and abominations "create a barrier" between us and God? And how is it with the rising generation? Are their feet set on a proven course? or, bearing no moral compass to guide, do they pass through the fire of untested, untried, and strange roads--roads of anger, roads of hatred, roads of sloth and self-indulgence, branching tri-vial roads, roads of immorality? In fine, are we sufficiently clean and pure to inquire of the Lord, to offer up the sign of the covenant, that is, "offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day," or to hear the words of his living prophet, Thomas S. Monson? (See Doctrine and Covenants 59:9).

What Ezekiel was not permitted to say to his insincere inquirers, his oracular contemporary, Jacob, was commanded to reveal to a straying, though yet more righteous branch of Israel. His message (2 Nephi 9) might have once brought hope, enlightenment, and deliverance to the elders of Israel. It can still cleanse us today--making us "clean thereby."

Significantly, the closing talk of the last General Conference of the Church also refers to Ezekiel Chapter 20. Elder Russell M. Nelson cites Ezekiel's teaching of an eternal covenant between God and His people to hallow the Sabbath Day (20:12, 20). As we keep the Sabbath, we may "more fully keep" ourselves as well, including keeping ourselves and our families "unspotted from the [pollutions of] the world" (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9). God is, thankfully, not slow to hear our prayers. Here is counsel from a living apostle for you and for me ("The Sabbath is a Delight," Conference Report, April 2015). 

Ezekiel Chapter 20 suddenly takes on relevance and urgency.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Joseph Smith Translation Ezekiel 19:10: The Living Prophet Renews Scripture

The Prophet Joseph Smith changed many verses in Isaiah and Jeremiah; Ezekiel received a light touch. He pronounces Ezekiel's first 13 chapters "all correct." Starting with Chapter 14, he, here and there, updates the usage (sith becomes since; that that becomes that which; turn yourselves and live ye is now turn ye and live); he even attends to what appears to be a typo in his Bible (Arvan should be Arvad). (JST Ezekiel 35:6; 36:36; 18:32; 27:11)

See Faulring, Jackson, Matthews (eds.), Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts.

Of the ten changes to Ezekiel, only six stand out as being, in any way, substantial. By substantial, I mean a change in the English of such a nature that we can ask a) whether the received Hebrew text may be in error or incomplete or b) whether the meaning of the Hebrew text has been long misunderstood and, perforce, also lost in translation. Because changes in Ezekiel 23:17, 22, and 28 apparently serve to iron out such a misunderstanding of a presumably correct underlying Hebrew idiom and text, we are left with but five small changes to a book of 48 chapters. Of these, then, a mere four require a reexamination of the Masoretic text. Yet while one of the four suggests that a rhetorical question should be recast in the indicative: Ye are . . . and ye commit (20:30), the shift does not require adjustment in the original Hebrew. Indeed some translators, sensitive to the complicated sentence structure and the intent of the Hebrew, also recast the "question" as accusation. Because these few make for good company: St. Jerome, Luther, Wycliffe, and the JPS Tanakh, Ezekiel 20:30 is a bull's-eye for Joseph Smith. Three remain.

So what prompted the prophetic mind to zoom in on a particular verse?


Consider Ezekiel 19:10, where a very strange phrase is crossed out:

Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.

Like a vine in thy blood--that's about as faithful to the Hebrew as it's possible to get, and just about as odd an idiom as can be.

Entire chapters of Ezekiel jar modern sensibilities and baffle understanding, so why this verse? Was Joseph Smith merely searching, now and again, for a bit of clarity in a scroll of obscurity?

We picture Joseph and his associates reading Ezekiel aloud chapter by chapter, marking changes along the way. Did he read aloud the first fourteen chapters and then state "all correct?" Or did he so pronounce, without the need of reading? We can imagine the furrowing of the brow when 19:10 was read, but, if we study changes elsewhere made in the Biblical text, there were several choices available to him. He might choose to ignore the strange reading, add to the text so as to clarify meaning, rearrange words or even sentences in a meaningful way, or consider the marginal notes found in his own Bible. The Prophet solves the difficulty by simply deleting the phrase--a single word in Hebrew: bdmk--"in thy blood." Was he so prompted? Latter-day Saints believe he translated under the spirit of inspiration.

The Joseph Smith Translation of Ezekiel 19:10 accordingly reads:

The mother is like a vine planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.

Who is to say the change is insignificant? According to Professor Zimmerli, the prophecy embraces the destiny of the "entire Davidic royal house" of whom the "mother" is symbolic (Walther Zimmerli, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. Chapters 1-24, 397).


We start where all students must, with text critical editions of the Hebrew Bible, e.g., the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) and the Hebrew University Bible.

Two Hebrew manuscripts show, not bdmk (in your blood), but krmk (in your kerem, an orchard or vineyard). To understand the underlying scribal tradition for these manuscripts, we must recall how b/k and d/r make up two pair of consonantal confusables. A little adjustment to the bifocals, and you could see "like a vine in your kerem"--just where a vine ought to be.

These textual apparatus now take up the Greek Septuagint, the ancient translation of the Bible into Greek.

The Septuagint, however, yields no orchard but a single vine and a single tree: hos ampelos kai hos anthos en hroa (like a vine and like a flower on a pomegranate tree). Did an "original" Hebrew be-rimmon prompt the Greek translation of en hroaon a pomegranate? (See notes in Hebrew University Bible: Ezekiel.) Or might the notionality of blood have been confused with the redness of the pomegranate flower?

The BHS further suggests the possible emendation bakerem (in the vineyard). What about "your"?

We turn now to the Great Rabbinic Bible, Rashi's commentary on Ezekiel, and other commentators. The popular Soncino Bible, for instance, follows the rabbinic interpretation:

Thy mother was like a vine, in thy likeness, planted by the waters
Rabbi Solomon Fisch, Ezekiel.

Why "in thy likeness"? Because the Hebrew verb damah (to be like, resemble; n., dimyon, dmy, likeness) much resembles dam (blood). Yet "in thy likeness" but poorly echoes the Hebrew construction and nuance. Rav Joseph Breuer tells us the particular verbal form represented by bdmk is a qal infinitive (a verbal noun), dmyt, with preposition, be. He translates: "But your mother was (also) like a vine--you were like (it)" (Breuer, The Book of Yechezkel, 159).

And how can a vine be in thy likeness, when thy mother is also like that vine? It's a matter of likeness, of riddling, of bloodline--and of Hebrew poetry packing it in.

Jacob 5, quoting an ancient Hebrew prophet, evinces comparably dense doubling: "I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard" (5:3; cf. Doctrine and Covenants 88:61: "Therefore, unto this parable I will liken all these kingdoms"). It's all here: to liken thee like unto; the tame olive-tree ("in thy quietness" for "in thy blood," Heb. dami, quiet, rest); took and nourished (Eichrodt: "transplanted by the water").

Yet Rabbi Fisch also notes that "in thy blood" suggests in "thy natural vigour," the vigor of both vine and bloodline; as far as that goes, bkrm would place the vine in its "natural setting." Marginal notes in Brother Joseph's own Bible prompted: "or, in thy quietness, or, in thy likeness." And divines of the day held to the reading "in thy blood" or "in thy quietness" and interpreted accordingly, creatively, and variously (cf. the examples found in the online Bible Hub, including KJV Translator's Notes).

Addressing "the puzzle of bdmk," Moshe Greenberg concludes: "The word remains a crux," (Ezekiel 1-20, The Anchor Bible, v. 22, 1983), 353.

Walther Eichrodt, as does BHS, prefers emending the text to bkrm, which could signify either bakerem or bekerem (in the vineyard or in a vineyard):

"Your mother was like a vine [in a vineyard], transplanted by the water."

Eichrodt yet concludes of bkrm: "A completely uncertain emendation of the unintelligible 'in your blood,' in the text," Ezekiel: A Commentary, 250 note J.

The toy parade of the scholars marches true to form:

"The reading of MS ken 356 krmk, which is graphically close, creates difficulties due to its suffix. Toy, Holscher, Hesekiel, Bertholet, Fohrer would read kbrm [how richly ironic: a typo in Zimmerli for bkrm!], whilst Cornill, Ehrlich, Randglossen, following MS ken 399, 421, would simply delete bkrm," Walther Zimmerli, A Commentary on Ezekiel, 397.

I poke fun at the scholars, but their words and their ways remain

Things beyond my ken. Before we can get in step with Cornill, Ehrlich, Fohrer, Toy, we're going to have to track down ken 356, 399, 421, we're going to have to tilt at Kennicott's Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum cum Variis Lectionibus. . . How easy it would be at this juncture to shrug shoulders and to say: We have Joseph Smith's translation of the verse, why bother with the manuscripts?

Zimmerli never yields the game. His own tentative conclusion? "Masoretic 'in thy blood' is certainly not original." "Already Rashi and Kimhi favor a derivation from dmh [to be like], which is probable," but only after further adjustments: "Should we then read a participle ndmh or a perfect ndmth, which has been written incorrectly as in [Ezekiel] 27:32?" (Zimmerli, 390).

Without Zimmerli's "probable," "unintelligible" and "certainly not original" would remain the latest words on the "puzzle of bdmk." After Zimmerli's emendations we arrive at: "Thy mother is like a vine ndmh planted by the waters," which signifies "Thy mother like a vine (who) is likened (being made like unto, comparable) planted by the waters." I marvel at the poetic complexity of the thing--but how to translate into plain English? Zimmerli's adoption and adaptation of the rabbinic reading only brings us back to Joseph Smith:

Thy mother is likened to a vine planted by the waters,

or simply,

Thy mother is like a vine planted by the waters.

I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive tree.

Given such a baffling word in an otherwise clear text, and chary of erudition, some modern translators simply ignore bdmk. Scribes might have lost sight of some infinitive or participle attached to the mother-vine long ago; yet we lose nothing in our understanding of the poem thereby.


Some lessons may be drawn from such prophetic correction--or cancellation. (And I'm speaking solely for myself, and to myself, here.)

We learn a vital lesson about prophetic authority and guidance: the living prophet, who holds the keys of the kingdom, can change scripture. He can add, expand, delete, and interpret as a living oracle, a living fountain of Scripture. The Prophet may even authoritatively modify, as did Joseph Smith, his own translations and revelations. Consider the versions of the visions of Moses and of Enoch in Old Testament Manuscript One and compare these to what appears, some months later, in Old Testament Manuscript Two. The reader of the Pearl of Great Price, which follows OT 1, will be startled to see familiar, even beloved, words and phrases crossed out and recast. Startled is not strong enough a word, it shocks.

How could the Prophet do such a thing to this or that poetic expression? But he can and he does--and we're here to learn. Here is new scripture, if you will. I had never seen these changes before 2015 or thereabouts (I had noticed, yes, but just couldn't handle them a year or so ago. . .)

Just so, Brother Joseph's contemporaries responded startled, shocked, thrilled, scandalized--you name it--to what they saw in 1830 and thereafter. Imagine the shock of the Creation account in the Book of Moses (1831); an even greater jolt comes with Abraham's take on Creation, or rather, "Organization" (1842).

The living prophet, who struggles to make truth "plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men," not only restores "many plain and precious parts" of scripture (1 Nephi 14:23; 1 Nephi 12:34), he also takes away the unplain and the unprecious--even down to the detail. The deletions require as much inspired attention as do the expansions or the changed word. Each new day breathes new light into a living prophet of God. Will we keep up?

The change in Ezekiel 19:10 prompts a few final insights.

Who is to say the wee change is insignificant? The mother, after all, represents "the entire Davidic royal house." The promised "taking away of [our] stumbling-blocks" of scriptural error, enables us to consider the allegory anew (1 Nephi 14:1).

After passing through the Prophet's hands, new life is breathed into an ancient prophecy, and we receive a pressing invitation: "when [Ezekiel's] record I unfold, all things appear divinely new." Any attention paid by the prophets of our day to Ezekiel, including and especially the focus on Ezekiel 37 and the Book of Mormon, urges us to "Come, let us anew our journey pursue" through this ancient book of prophecy.


There are Hebraists a-plenty among the Latter-day Saints, and doubtless many have mulled over the text history of Ezekiel 19:10 in light of Brother Joseph's changes to the text. At the same time, it's fascinating how such wee changes in the JST never figure in articles or books. Many Latter-day Saints cut our teeth on Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible (Herald Publishing, 1970), which sets everything in parallel columns. Ezekiel 19:10 is nowhere to be seen in either that volume nor in the official LDS Bible. The latter notes that "in your blood" should be understood, in light of the Hebrew, as "in your likeness." This is to rely on the KJV Translator's Notes: "or, in thy quietness, or, in thy likeness" (see Bible Hub online) or on Rashi. The recent publication of all the manuscripts of the Joseph Smith Translation heralds a new day. 

Copyrighted by Val H. Sederholm, June 2015

Monday, June 15, 2015

Enforcing Priestcraft in London: Anjem Choudary and the Book of Alma

I have sworn upon the Altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man (Thomas Jefferson)

And thus they were prepared (Alma 2:12)

The Book of Mormon sounds the warning. Alma Chapters One and Two have the answers.

Alma, in his secular role as Chief Judge of the Nephites, a free people, pronounces the following judgment upon Nehor, a religious extremist who silences anyone who gets in his way:

"And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction" (Alma 1:12).

"Therefore thou art condemned to die, according to the law. . . acknowledged by this people" (v. 14).

A decade or so ago we would have strained to "liken this scripture unto ourselves."

Alma 1 in east London?

"Producer Randall Joyce. . . tells 60 Minutes Overtime that seeing extremists on the streets of London, trying to impose Sharia law on total strangers, was 'a very strange experience. You keep kind of looking around to remind yourself where you really are'" (60 Minutes Overtime, "Recruiting for ISIS,"

You no longer know where you are. You are not in fact any longer anywhere you know.

A proselyte to extremism from Hinduism--we will not say a convert to Islam, which is a religion of peace--a certain Abu Rumaysah, together with "his associates" "have set up so called 'Sharia patrols' to go out and discourage behavior that they deem un-Islamic." Rumaysah soldiers east London armed to the teeth with "hard speeches," even against non-Muslims (see Doctrine and Covenants 124:116). Two youths, lazing by their bikes and drinking a beer, politely nod, as they manage to mumble a submissive: "Okay, okay." A young woman, subjected to his seething anger, as he shouts and afflicts her "with all manner of words" (Alma 1:20), bristles: "It's Great Britain! We must have rights." "It's not Great Britain!" he shouts back. Abu Rumaysah has big plans for the UK, though today he lives in Islamic State controlled Syria. There Sharia patrols enforce by the sword.

"Walking through London with Rumaysah you experience an alternate reality where there is no compromise and all conversations are one sided." "Okay, okay." Assertiveness--"great boldness"--was Nehor's trademark: it's what garnered all the attention, popularity, and cash. He was a large man, "noted for his much strength" and for bold, sweeping theological declarations about universal salvation and the rejoicing and freedom which that good news surely must bring--a certainty for which he stood ready to kill (v.2). He could charm or intimidate on a moment's notice: "bearing down against the Church" or against anybody else holding to a different view about the nature of liberty or that lacked poise, status, or money (v.3).

Strolling to his church to preach had the feel of a Rumaysah patrol. The moment Nehor chanced upon Gideon, pathetically "stricken with many years," though yet famous for his defiance of a royal despot, "he began to contend with him sharply" just to draw an audience. When Gideon, as a member of a free society, expressed his own views about the "words of God," Nehor, moving from sharp words to sharp sword, cut him down at once (v. 7-9). He justified the act, pleading "for himself with much boldness" (v.11). Others, obviously, were to blame for insisting on holding to their own ideas about religion in his presence. Gideon represented the old-fashioned norms of morality and valour. How foolish of them--bigots and sinners all--not to change their ideas in the face of Rights, Rightness, and Righteousness.

Within five brief years, the burgeoning followers of martyr Nehor had become sufficiently powerful and organized to attempt control of the government. When they failed, through intense persuasion, to a) win the "voice of the people," they naturally b) turned to the sword. The "Order of Nehor" lost the gamble, but many died on both sides (Alma Chapter 2).

Alma knows the "awful arithmetic" of freedom: "In one year" "thousands and tens of thousands" perished; "the slain were not numbered, because of the greatness of their number;" "Now many women and children had been slain" (3:2, 3, 26). Just so, "in one year," the "Order of ISIS" has swept through the Middle East and North Africa.

Abu Rumaysah, speaking to CBS reporter Clarissa Ward in October 2014, tells us five times what he wants to see, that is, what he wants to see in your future and in mine.

"Rumaysah: Ultimately, I want to see every single woman in this country covered from head to toe. I want to see the hand of the thief cut. I want to see adulterers stoned to death. I want to see Sharia law in Europe. And I want to see it in America as well. I believe that our patrols are a means to an end" ("Recruiting for ISIS," CBS News 60 Minutes).

This is "to contend sharply." The manner of speech, "verbal jihad," is best exemplified by Anjem Choudary, the leader of the east London extremists. Choudary, following a pattern common to many extremists--Osama Bin Laden is the foremost exemplar--pursued a dissolute life before converting the entire world to an unendurable legal straitjacket (see Graeme Wood, "What ISIS Really Wants," The Atlantic Monthly, March 2015). The sinner, cloaked now in piety, from head to toe, but never able to shake the past or atone for his own sins, strikes out at millions in a fruitless attempt to suppress the irrepressible. If you mean to stop a Nehor, that's where you need to strike--his Achilles' heel is guilt. And what is yours? Guilt is also the card he so studiously plays against you.

But enough of the human condition. Ms Ward wishes to interview Choudary for CBS 60 Minutes, but Choudary will not be put to the question. He accuses Ms Ward of lying and of inciting murder overseas. "You have blood on your neck," he oddly declares. No argument is necessary and he summons no evidence. That's laughably passe. His gushing words--"afflicting them with all manner of words"--constitute neither conversation nor debate. And, sadly, his steamrolling works best on those who play fair and thus "are not proud in their own eyes" (Alma 1:20).

Of course, such verbal dicing works best when the slicer notes how very low the would-be interlocutor measures-up on the scale of violent arrogance, where one cheats to win. To argue with him at all, says Ward, would be at once to lose the game. She is right, according to all tenets of civilized behavior--and she is stunningly wrong. A pose of fairness and a show of restraint--biting the lip--only readies Choudary for an endless "verbal jihad," as he himself labels his studied rhetorical technique. "Verbal jihad" best describes Choudary's open disregard for the religious and civil rights of others, including most Muslims, and his triumphant crowing about how even the winds and the seas play on his side. Here is no journalistic encounter. Any encounter with Nehor leaves either both dead or one exasperated, and thus on the borders of conversion. Alma shows a deft psychological touch in these telling verses.

To so afflict "with all manner of words," says Alma, is cruel and unrelenting religious "persecution" (Alma 1:20). If indeed persecution, then does it not ultimately amount to an injurious and illegal violation of others' religious and civil rights? So it is--consider the wording of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen--but even Alma says it must be borne with patience, for "a strict law among the people of the Church" forbids any member to "arise and persecute" anyone (v.21). The humble followers of God's words and ways, though never silenced, must bear all. We "share our personal witness with conviction and love" and do not contend (Elder Robert D. Hales, "Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom," Conference Report, April 2015). Such restraint in the face of provocation proved impossible for many hardfisted Church members in Alma's day, but the leaven of sober steadiness inevitably promotes civil discourse everywhere. Should he find you by the way, Nehor has the right to say what he will. Heroic Gideon "admonished" him "with the words of God" (v.7)--and what else could one say in the teeth of such biting winds?--and the admonition proved prophetic, that is, after Gideon's own sudden death.

As for every "proud" soul else, to "contend warmly," then "to smite one another with their fists" and, ultimately, with swords, will be the inevitable result anyhow (Alma 1:22). This is what Choudary would "like to see." This is what ISIS really wants. Should you find yourself among the many "proud," seething with righteous indignation, Uncle Choudary wants you! Come and fight with us. Such all-encompassing recruitment embraces all, partisans and unbelievers alike. By means of the media interview, Choudary inexorably recruits us all. There is no escape for the red-blooded soul, and Choudary knows it, and he knows it triumphantly. When we cannot "withstand" him--and we cannot--we must then stand with him. We stand and fight with him, for him, by him--the semantic niceties matter not at all. Meaningfulness is suspended in the world of apocalyptic extremism (see Graeme Wood, "What ISIS really wants," The Atlantic Monthly, March 2015,

Choudary grants interviews neither to explain himself nor to debate but as an occasion to dominate. He condemns no act of persecution no matter how cruel or unusual. The word games seem churlish and childish, but the will to dominate seeks out a weakening individuality. Ward describes his fast-talking manner as an attempt to dominate her from the beginning. Just so with Abu Rumsiyah who demanded, in violation of Ward's own rights and values, that Ward "cover up!" Ward "withstood" Abu Rumaysah, after a fashion: "That's absurd!"; but there is no withstanding Choudary, a past master of verbal shaming--never mind who he addresses and never mind his inadequate English. Choudary puts blood on your "neck" with stunning equality of opportunity.

Should the United Kingdom allow Sharia patrols or like public and ritualistic verbal domination and shaming? Should such be broadcast on television or, worse, on the Internet? Where will it lead? Just how large has Choudary's audience become? (Or, in hopes of radicalizing children and teens, how small?) Is not his every word an act of recruitment for multitudes of enforcers? And what are his financial resources? Forget al-Baghdadi, Choudary, safe in free London, is the face of religious persecution today, afflicting by word and promising the sword. Should you find yourself a humble believer in God, pure in heart and committed to serve your fellowman, that sword is first meant for you.

We cower easily of late. Choudary's move "to take the law into his own hands is deeply frightening to most British people." We have forgotten Jefferson: "I have sworn upon the Altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." We should swear a spot of eternal hostility today. If not to protect the mind from tyranny, from trampling and from patrolling, of what value remains law? Where is our moral courage?

Alma promises but one outcome to allowance of a domineering and inevitably enforced priestcraft: the tension and agony so generated will, one way or another, "prove [the] entire destruction" of any free people. Entire leaves little room for imagination. Alma's answer? Priestcraft is neither shari'a nor din (religion). Choudary incites enforcement of priestcraft by word, by blow, by sword. He entices to violent crime at home and abroad. His path leads to the Wasteland not to the Well.

Authorities detained Anjem Choudary soon after the Clarissa Ward interview "on suspicion of being a member of a proscribed or banned organization. . .and encouraging terrorism" ("Recruiting for ISIS"), but he walks free today. Law must stop Choudary now.

We move on to Alma Chapter 2.

Like the Nephites, we must be "aware of the intent" of those who wish to "deprive" us of our "rights and privileges" today (Alma 2). Then we will be "prepared to meet them." Like the Nephites, we can reaffirm our laws and rights "by the voice of the people," "every man according to his mind" (see Elder Hales, Conference Report, April 2015). Alma, ever the realist, knows such assemblies and voting perforce bring out "much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another." Such have their due place in a free land: even "wonderful contentions" in organized assemblies and polling, held by the lawful voice and will of people "throughout all the land," trump the private battles of fists he so roundly denounces.

So determined in unity, with "every man" knowing his rights and "his mind," "throughout all the land," we will then "be prepared to meet" whatever else those with "intent to destroy" may offer, whether babblings, or riot, or terror, or war. We will have leaders, awake, "aware," and "prepared," "to lead [us] to war." The scriptural promise is: "they began to flee before them."