An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

I take the view that messages from God are filtered through human minds and pens before being published as scripture. The Old Testament contains many stories that horrify modern readers: concubines (Jud. 19:1), slavery (Lev. 25:44-46), human sacrifice (Jud 11:29-39), stoning witches (Lev. 20:27), and wholesale slaughter of ethic groups (Deut. 7:1-2, 16). Mormons generally deal with these stories by seeing them as parts of the Bible not translated correctly.

Nearly all OT stories must be interpreted within the context of the time and society in which they originated. From a modern perspective, more than a few of the stories provide an element of humor. My favorite humorous piece is Isaiah 20:2-4. The Lord commands Isaiah, “Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins and put thy shoe from thy foot . . .  like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.”

 Footnote 2a in the LDS KJV tells us that walking naked means “without an upper garment, like a slave or exile.”  It’s hard for me to visualize that to “loose the sackcloth from off thy loins” means taking off an upper garment—unless Isaiah had a most unusual anatomy.  The New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, New American Bible and New Jerusalem Bible all translate verse 2 as Isaiah being naked after removing his sackcloth from his loins. Fortunately, modern prophets have not been called upon to make points in such a graphic manner.

Reading the footnotes supplies some of the humor in the OT. The LDS Bible has a footnote pointing out that the “earrings” which the KJV says the servant of Abraham presented to Rebekah are “nose rings.” Pierced nostrils do not come to mind when most of us picture OT matriarchs.

I really like Deut. 14:22-26. The Israelites are commanded to set aside a tithe of their increase and consume it in the presence of God. If the distance is too great to transport their wine, corn, oil, and animals, they may be converted to money:  “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever they soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thine household.”  Taking verse 26 literally would keep ward activities committees busy and might increase the number of full tithe payers in the church.

I could go on, but I hope I’ve made my point. The OT is a fun study for those who read entire chapters including the footnotes. Newer translations that the KJV clarify obscure passages and a good study guide provides context for the time and place in which the message was given.

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