Monday, March 22, 2010

Who Had a Urim and Thummim?

The Hebrew words urim and thummim (both plural) are typically translated by LDS scholars as “lights” and “perfections,” respectively. This seeric device is generally used for receiving revelations and translating ancient scriptural records written in tongues unknown to the translator. The scriptures are clear that the content of such records can be manifest only as the Lord wills and through his appointed prophet and seer.

As I explained in a previous and related post, the expression "Urim and Thummim" is never used in the Book of Mormon. Instead, the term was likely adopted by the Prophet during or after his translation of the Old Testament once he became familiar with the Old Testament revelatory device known to the ancients as the Urim & Thummim. In fact, the reference to the “Urim and Thummim” found in D&C 10:1 was added in the 1835 edition of the D&C. Prior to that the word “interpreters” was used, which is consistent with Book of Mormon terminology referring to the Nephite interpreters. While it isn’t technically correct, it eventually became common for members of the Church to call the Nephite interpreters the Urim & Thummim.

So, who do we know of that had a Urim & Thummim, and do any of them relate to each other?

1)And I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord my God had given unto me, in Ur of the Chaldees” (Abr. 3:1). A Urim & Thummim was given to Abraham while he resided in Ur, and he was taught astronomy through it (Abr. 3:1-4). “And the Lord said unto me, by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord” (Abr. 3:4). It’s interesting to note that, although Abraham used the Urim & Thummim to receive revelation from the Lord, he also “talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another” (Abr. 3:11). The scriptures are silent as to what happened to Abraham’s Urim & Thummim.

2) Aaron and the priests of Israel also had a Urim & Thummim that was passed down from generation to generation (see Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6; and Neh. 7:65). Although not stated in scripture, it is not improbable nor would it be surprising if this were the same Urim & Thummim that Abraham had. Nevertheless, the scriptures do not indicate how Aaron received the Urim & Thummim.

Though no clear explanation has been preserved for us scripturally, the device used by Aaron likely consisted of ocular objects belonging to the ephod or vestment of the high priest. The Urim & Thummim were carried in the breastplate of judgment, which bore the names of the 12 tribes of Israel on 12 precious stones so as to be on the high priest’s heart when he went before the Lord (see Exodus 28:15-30). Through apostasy, the use of the Urim & Thummim was lost to Israel. Thus, when the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity and they were faced with a tough question, it was agreed to postpone their answer until there should rise up “a priest with Urim and with Thummim” (Ezra 2:63).

3) The brother of Jared received a Urim & Thummim, or "two stones" adapted for interpretation. Atop Mount Shelem, the brother of Jared was privileged to see and record some of the most sacred things ever revealed unto a mortal, including single-handedly parting the veil through his own faithfulness in order to behold the Lord Jesus Christ before he took upon himself a mortal tabernacle. Indeed, “there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared” (Ether 4:4). Because of the sacred nature of his visions, the brother of Jared was commanded to record what he saw “in a language that they cannot be read,” “[f]or behold, the language which ye shall write I have confounded” (Ether 3:22, 24).

In order to provide an interpretation for future righteous generations privileged to read his record, the Lord provided the brother of Jared with “two stones” (e.g., Nephite interpreters) that were to be sealed up with his record (Ether 3:23, 28).

4) King Mosiah I, the father of King Benjamin, translated engravings written on a large Jaredite stone “by the gift and power of God” (Omni 1:20). As understood by LDS, translating “by the gift and power of God” is synonymous with using a Urim & Thummim, or the Nephite interpreters as it were in this case (see D&C 135:3; Introduction to the Book of Mormon). The Nephite interpreters were described as “two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow” (Mosiah 28:13). How King Mosiah I received the stones is not readily apparent, neither is it known who put them into the rims of a bow. The interpreters eventually passed from Mosiah I to his grandson King Mosiah II, who translated the Jaredite record found by Limhi’s people (see Mosiah 8:13-14; Mosiah 28:11-15).

I feel it is plausible that the Nephite interpreters used by Kings Mosiah I & II were likely the same interpreters (i.e., two stones) used by the brother of Jared. Mormon explained that the interpreters had “been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord” to translate the brother of Jared’s writings (see Mosiah 28:15), and Moroni indicated that Mosiah II received (and likely translated/read) the brother of Jared’s account (see Ether 4:1). While the scriptures do not specifically state this, it may be reasonable to assume that whoever brought Mosiah I the Jaredite stone to translate also delivered to him the brother of Jared’s interpreters.

On the other hand, if that were the case, why didn’t these individuals also grab and deliver up the brother of Jared’s record to Mosiah I, which was specifically sealed up with the stones? Why did his record not come forward until Limhi’s people found it? Unfortunately, there is no explanation given in the scriptures. Regardless, the scriptures are clear that Mosiah II had interpreters in his possession when Limhi’s people presented him with the Jaredite record. Whether his interpreters were those had by the brother of Jared, we cannot be certain, but a reasonable argument can be made to that effect.

5) Alma received the Nephite interpreters from King Mosiah II (Mosiah 28:20). The interpreters were then passed from one record keeper to the next until Mormon gave them to Moroni who was commanded to seal up the interpreters (specifically, the brother of Jared’s interpreters) in the Hill Cumorah (Ether 4:5). Since there is no record of Mormon or Moroni receiving any other interpreters besides those coming through Mosiah I & II, and we know it was the brother of Jared’s interpreters that were sealed within the Hill Cumorah (see point 6 below), I again feel it plausible that Kings Mosiah I & II used the stones had by the brother of Jared.

On a side note, we also know that Moroni was privileged to read the brother of Jared’s record (see Ether 4:4), which would have required him to translate it using the two stones. Also, there is a good possibility that the righteous generations spoken of in 4 Nephi were privileged to translate and read the record (see Ether 4:1-2).

6) The Prophet Joseph Smith unearthed and used the brother of Jared’s Urim & Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon (D&C 17:1). The Prophet described the Urim & Thummim as “two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate” (History of the Church, 4:537). Lucy Mack Smith was able to inspect the Urim & Thummim the morning after Joseph had obtained them from the Hill Cumorah. She stated that she “took the article in [her] hands and, examining it with no covering but a silk handkerchief, found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows connected with each other in much the same way that old-fashioned spectacles are made” (History of Joseph Smith, 1996, p.139).

7) The planet on which God resides is also described as being “a great Urim and Thummim,” and the earth itself in its “sanctified and immortal state,” will also be a Urim & Thummim (D&C 130:8-9).

Finally, the white stone given to each inhabitant of celestial glory will be a Urim & Thummim “whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known” (D&C 130:10; see also Revelation 2:17).

Feel free to comment if I missed something.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Of Priesthood(s) and Casting out Devils

A recent article gave an interesting look into exorcism as practiced within the Roman Catholic Church. According to Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist, the unfortunate sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church is proof that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican." Astonishingly, Father Amorth indicated that he participated in around 70,000 exorcisms during his 25 years as a Catholic exorcist. For any of you who are counting, that's a claim of approximately 7.5 exorcisms per day, for the last 25 years!

While Father Amorth's description of satanic possession seems quite graphic, from at least one personal experience I can affirm that a good portion of it is fairly accurate. I previously wrote about Satan's power and influence in a related post.

Without delving into the controversial sex abuse scandals or trying to figure out how Father Amorth has time to sleep or eat with his busy exorcist schedule, I'd like to discuss priesthood authority and its connection to rejecting satanic presence. Particularly, is Christ's true priesthood required to command Satan and his subjects? Can the faith of an individual (or the combined faith of those present) be used in an exorcism instead of invoking or wielding the true priesthood authority?

The apostle John once remarked to the Savior that "[the apostles] saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us" (Luke 9:49-50)(emphasis added).

Does this mean that those without Christ's true priesthood authority are able to command and cast out devils as much as one with authority? Commenting on the phrase "he followeth not us," Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
"He was not one of the Twelve to whom the express power had been given to cast out devils (Matthew 10:8); he was not one of the inner circle of disciples who traveled, ate, slept, and communed with the Master. Luke has it: 'He followeth not with us'; that is, he is not one of our traveling companions. But from our Lord's reply it is evident that he was a member of the kingdom, a legal administrator who was acting in the authority of the priesthood and the power of faith. Either he was unknown to John who therefore erroneously supposed him to be without authority or else John falsely supposed that the power to cast out devils was limited to the Twelve and did not extend to all faithful priesthood holders. It is quite possible that the one casting out devils was a seventy.
"Only righteous men who are members of the Church, who hold the priesthood, and who are keeping the commandments, have power to perform miracles.... Our Lord had many faithful followers who had power by faith to cast out devils" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:417)(emphasis added).

To be clear, I do not believe the Catholic Church wields the true priesthood of God. Consistent with LDS theology, I believe Christ's true priesthood was lost to the world at large during the great apostasy. However, I also do not believe that Catholic exorcists, such as Father Amorth are followers of Satan. (See Matt. 12:25-26) Notwithstanding, is it possible that exorcisms can still be effectuated by individuals lacking the priesthood through an exercise and display of faith?

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth" (Lectures on Faith, 1:13)(emphasis added). Indeed, it was faith that was invoked to frame the worlds (Heb 11:3), and it is through faith that all created things exist. "[Faith] is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things.... And if the principle of power, it must be so in man as well as in Diety" (Id. at 1:16, 18)(emphasis added).

When the Twelve were unable to cast a devil out of a "lunatick," they queried the Savior on how He was able to finish what they could not. Christ then proceeded to teach them doctrines of faith, not of priesthoods. "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:20-21)(emphasis added). Thus, since prayer and fasting doesn't have any effect on whether one possesses the priesthood but instead affects one's level of faith, it appears that exorcism relies more on the principle of faith than on one's authority.

Admittedly, I have not taken part in or seen a Catholic exorcism (apart from what Hollywood concocts). I have, however, taken part in a handful of LDS exorcisms and can attest that one's faith plays an enormous role. Still, I am not certain of the extent that God's priesthood plays in such instances. Is the pristhood required simply to keep order? Yet, if an individual lacks the priesthood but has sufficient faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, can that individual command evil in His name? And, if that is the case, does Father Amorth truly exorcise evil spirits during his claimed frequent encounters?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Trading Your Book of Mormon for Porn?

A group of atheists at the University of Texas in San Antonio is trying to tempt college kids into trading religious texts for pornography. It's part of a program called Smut for Smut sponsored by the student organization called Atheist Agenda. See article here.

It sounds like a ploy for attention, but what really bothers me is the insistence on the part of some of its members that religious texts are as detrimental to society as pornographic material is. The prophet Isaiah spoke of times like these:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20)

While some in the Atheist Agenda admitted that pornography can be bad, it astounds me that those same people can assert that the Bible and similar other texts can be just as bad. Really? I understand that many arguments and wars have been fought in the name of the Bible, but when weighed against all the good that it has provided to the human race, the Bible is hands down better for humanity than pornography ever will be.

Mormon also provided a few words on this subject:

For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him” (Moroni 7:15-17) (emphasis added).

It would be interesting to hear how the Atheist Agenda would argue that pornography invites individuals to “do good,” or “persuade to believe in Christ.”

Our world is arguably much better because of the introduction of the Internet. However, with this great power came with it an accelerated and more private means of accessing adult material. Because of the effect pornography has on the individual and those closest to the individual, the Internet has also arguably made our world a bit worse.

Interestingly enough, one of the prophecies of the last days is that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). I believe that with the influx of increasingly accessible iniquity, such as pornography, we have become more desensitized and cold to the human emotion. Is it any wonder that Alma urged his son Shiblon to “bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love" (Alma 38:12)? This counsel applies equally to all of us. The more our society indulges in iniquity and accepts it as normal, the colder we become.

Atheist or not, I don’t think anyone can make a case of a wise trade in exchanging religious texts that promote love of fellow man and repentance for pornography that destroys the souls of men.