We currently teach the Sunbeams, which means that our “lessons” are mostly eating snacks and sitting backwards on your chair, but the teacher (protip: I’m in charge of snacks, not content) does sometimes use Church videos to captivate these three-year olds’ attention.
This week, they watched a video in which Jacob works for 7 years to “earn” wife Rachel, but is tricked by his father-in-law to marry the heavily veiled Leah instead. One of the girls was SCANDALIZED, reader. She looked like she was watching Real Housewives of Ancient Israel. And it IS a scandalous story. Everything about Jacob is sus, as the youths say. But you wouldn’t know it from watching these Church videos. Instead, he’s portrayed as always morally right, the righteous victim. I’m sure someone in CES fretted over how to make this story more bland, but there’s only so much you can do with the source material.
Just to be clear, the Church’s version is not a nuanced, scholarly interpretation of Jacob, and if you’ve ever read these stories from the actual Bible (not from some dumbed-down Church lesson), you know what I’m talking about. Jacob is sketch as hell, making morally dubious decisions down the line. Loki has nothing on this guy. He’s a manipulative usurper, constantly struggling against his older twin brother, and he doesn’t play fair. Being tricked by his father-in-law is frankly a comeuppance, and he totally gets even later anyway. And Rachel’s hardly above the fray either. She steals, she lies, she sabotages others, she is also tricky. They are a match made, well, somewhere. His parenting skills are so bad that his sons are ready to commit fratricide and actually sell their own brother into slavery. He’s not great, but he’s interesting. He wrestles with an angel who grabs him by the nuts, for crying out loud. That’s one of those weird Bible stories we don’t hear a lot about.
When we taught the story about Jacob tricking Esau out of his birthright, a boy in class was appalled at Jacob’s behavior when his brother asked for some of his stew. He gasped, “He didn’t share!” I think that kid got the nuance despite the video trying to make it sound like Jacob was above reproach.
So why does the Church portray Jacob as if he’s above criticism? For whatever reason, it feels like a temperament issue that is common in conservatism, particularly in our culture war embattled current day. We have to portray people as black and white, heroes above reproach or villains beyond redemption, and there’s no middle ground, no shades of gray, no situational ethics. We can’t teach accurate history in schools because it might make people see that we should quit revering human beings and recognize the pain people cause each other. We are terrified that people will start questioning authority. The problem is that it’s completely unrealistic and unhelpful to view things in this flat manner.
The Church video also blames God for Jacob’s polygamy in a completely apocryphal interpretation of the Bible that is not fooling girls, whether they are three years old or fifty-three. The Bible does not give any justification for Jacob having multiple wives because none was needed; polygamy was not only socially acceptable, it was a status symbol and cultural norm in that very ancient society. Why does the Church decide to claim that God specifically authorized it when the Bible doesn’t say that? Well, we all know the answer to that question. Since people don’t actually read, the makers of these videos (CES, I assume) can pretty much claim anything they like without being challenged, and in fairness, it’s doubtful most of them even know better.
Additionally, the Church video glosses over the fact that wives were property being bought in that culture as if that’s a morally neutral thing to do. It’s as if it never occurred to anyone writing or editing these videos that some of the viewers will be girls and women who might find a neutral stance on that to be unsettling compared to our own self-perception as sentient human beings with agency. Fine, don’t make the lesson about that, but can we not agree that sexual slavery is not morally neutral?
Years ago, Carter Hall did a post comparing fans of Superman with fans of Spiderman, explaining that older generations preferred a perfect hero, one with godlike powers who was impenetrable, but younger fans wanted a hero who was relatable, with personal troubles, who made mistakes and had to work things out. It seems that maybe those fanbase temperaments coincide with culture war preferences: some prefer that we paint people as impossibly perfect heroes to look up to, while others consider everyone flawed but relatable and want students to discuss moral quandaries more deeply, realizing it’s up to us to do better because we know better. While that may not map perfectly onto political groups, it does parallel preference trends as revealed in some of our current public debates.
While a video for Primary children may not need to go into these thorny details with a flawed so-called “hero” like Jacob (the Joseph Smith martyrdom video was probably even worse), I hope the adult curriculum at least addresses some of the questionable aspects of his personality, but I suspect that maybe it’s all Superman comic books all the way down.
- Do you find the Old Testament curriculum to be a useful discussion or not?
- How would you tackle thorny issues such as “heroes” who do terrible things but are still blessed?
- What would you do to explain outdated cultural norms that are incredibly bad like genocide, slavery, incest and sexual violence?
I’m so glad you wrote this. I read all the Jacob chapters the last few weeks and couldn’t believe what a conniving guy he was. Probably my favorite part was when God asked if Jacob would serve him and Jacob was like “yes IF I get everything I want.” Literally nothing in the account at all suggests that he’s like, a good person or a good father or a good husband. He is incapable of fostering family harmony. How Abraham and Jacob are used to justify polygamy is beyond me because they make it seem awful, AND as you note God literally never commanded it.
I also find it really gross that apparently he did not know Rachel well enough to realize it was Leah he was sleeping with? So like, had he ever bothered to listen to either of them speak?
How do we tackle people who do bad things and are blessed? Sometimes I think the answer is “you don’t have to be perfect.” And sometimes I think it is, “this is an account designed to make a claim that a particular people are special or blessed. That doesn’t mean they actually were.” So much of the OT is about the Israelites claiming Canaan is their birthright (hence they are OK to destroy all the Canaanites) so this might just be a nationalistic falsified history to try to make that claim.
How do we explain outdated cultural things? Probably just the way you put it – by saying these are outdated cultural things and on the one hand we can’t judge people by current standards but on the other hand we can say “that is not ok.”
Those probably do not help for Sunbeams …
You’ve hit on what really bugs me about our curriculum. I’m also teaching Primary now but it’s the same problem in the curriculum for youths and for adults. We look at evil and call it good because for some reason we have to pretend that the patriarchs were perfect and did no wrong. Because they’re the patriarchs, I guess. And we don’t want to give our people the idea that God blesses people who are not perfect? I truly don’t get it.
“So why does the Church portray Jacob as if he’s above criticism?”
To be quite frank, the members read Genesis but completely miss the message. We read it like it was a movie or TV show from the 50’s, with good guys who don’t make mistakes and bad guys who do. You usually find out in the first scene who you are supposed to root for. Genesis teaches a completely different story. The writers begin with the fall of Adam and Eve and even though LDS’s spin the story much more positively than others, everyone agrees that “the fall” introduced sin and death into the world. From that point on, each and every character is carnal, sensual, and devilish. Genesis teaches us that there is only one good guy – only one hero – and that is God. Now, for some reason, God decides that he really likes Abram and is going to make a “chosen” people from his loins to bless all the nations. And all Abram and his descendants are required to do to hold on to this favored status is to worship only Him and don’t lean on their own understanding. Basically nothing else is required, no word of wisdom, no family history, nuthin’. But it’s the part about leaning on their own understanding that they struggle with, which leaves God having to bail them out continually.
Notice the pattern: 1) God says he’s going to do something, like make a great nation of Abram’s seed. He does not require them to do anything to bring this about, just sit there and he’ll take care of everything. Just have a little faith and try not to do too much stupid stuff. 2) They don’t just sit there, they do a lot of stupid stuff, attempting to manipulate situation after situation to their own carnal and devilish advantage, 3) they pay a price for their actions, and 4) God steps in, bails them out, and puts His original plan back on track.
Let’s look at some of the situations. Please note that God does not command any of these situations to come about:
.Abraham and Sarah go to Egypt. Abraham does not trust that God can protect him so he makes a decision: to protect my life I will lie to Pharaoh and turn my wife over to him to become his concubine and perform the “duties” required of Pharaoh’s harem. Time for God to step in, curse Pharaoh, and put things back in order.
.Sarah, who knows of God’s promise to Abraham about his posterity, decides that she is too old to give them a child, so she takes her slave Hagar and has her sleep with her husband so that Sarah will then have a child through her ownership of Hagar. Again, not God’s plan. Hagar has Ishmael, who is the son of Abraham. Things don’t work out as planned, as Ishmael bonds with his real mom and not Sarah. So, Sarah commands Abraham to take his son Ishmael and Hagar and cast them out into the wilderness with little provisions, effectively sealing their torturous deaths. Again, God steps in, saves the life of Hagar and Ishmael, and putting the plan back on course. Hagar’s story is one of the saddest in all of scripture but is completely overlooked because she is not perceived as a “good guy.”
.Let’s jump to Rebecca and Jacob, the deceiver. The SS lesson makes a big deal about Esau giving up his “birthright.” In all honesty, I don’t think the writer of the lesson manual even knows what a birthright was among the Hebrews; under the law of primogeniture, it means that the oldest one gets a double portion of the inheritance. It’s all about the Benjamins. The birthright plays no part a generation later, as we see Judah getting blessed with the lineage of the Savior, Levi getting blessed with the priesthood, and Joseph and sons receiving special blessings. None of them had the birthright. And, contrary to the lesson writers, there is no reason to believe that Esau was anything other than that he was on the verge of death. This, and the other deceits of Jacobs are discussed well in this blog. Suffice it to say that God stepped in and put the plan back in place each time, with Jacob paying the price in servitude to Laban and Rebecca living much of her adult life having estranged one son and cutting herself off from her favorite and all of her grandchildren. Again, the redeeming lesson in the Christlike forgiveness shown by Esau is lost on most Christians.
I’ve talked enough, and you could still go on with the atrocities and murders committed by Jacob’s son, the supposed Princes of Israel. In each case, there was a price paid for not leaving things in the hand of God, and God then rescues and puts the plan back in place. The message, then, of Genesis is that Abraham and family “just keep making really bad decisions that mess up their lives and puts God’s promises in jeopardy. However, God remains faithful to them. He keeps rescuing them from themselves and reaffirming His commitment to bless them and bless the nations through them.” -Tim Mackey
@rickpowers thank you! Love Tim and love those examples / interpretation. That will be super helpful when I’m going through his with my family.
And you’ve hit on something so important – we want to turn *people* into heroes and act like we are supposed to learn something about how to be like the people, when in reality God is supposed to be the hero and we are supposed to learn something about God.
American society right now is very much a clear-cut good guy vs bad guy mindset. It’s 100% one way or the other. How else can you explain that according to a recent poll, only 3% of Republicans believe Biden is doing a better job leading the USA than Putin is leading Russia. The guy bombing innocent children and the elderly, even while they’re trying to escape to safety. The guy arresting anyone who dares to question his actions.
This hatred of the “other” whether it be a political opponent, immigrant, or someone with a different skin pigmentation is all-too-easily bolstered by a skewed reading of the OT. That’s why teaching children OT stories can be a dicey proposition. You have to teach in such a way knowing that eventually the kids will grow up and not only question the story but the storytellers, as well. Maybe some stories just aren’t appropriate for the little ones (and older ones, too).
This is why I love the OT. It’s full of really sh*tty people (like us) and asks really hard questions for which there are many possible good answers, all of which require thinking and tolerance for ambivalence.
So no, our manuals usually aren’t very helpful.
Here are questions I am asking myself as I re-read the OT. I don’t claim they’re any good:
-What cultural norms do I claim are God’s will that are, in fact, harming others (or harming me)?
-What do I feel entitled to as a parent? (Protip: I’m probably not entitled to that.)
-Why does the label “chosen” matter so much to people? In what ways do I think I’m “chosen” and is that label ever accurate or just a guise for entitlement?
-What are the qualities and characteristics of the people in the text that our faith holds up as prophets? What should I make of that? Why do we sometimes lionize the wrong people? Or is it wrong to hero-worship anyone? What false ideas (good or bad) might I have about specific people in my life or people generally?
-Who do I find myself admiring in the text and why?
Elisa: thank you. That’s very kind.
You are lamenting that the curriculum presents a positive image of someone who was certainly more complicated. And you mention an example in which God is thrown under the bus in order to maintain this positivity. Well, Mormons gonna Mormon. That’s how we roll. I’m having flashbacks of those Teachings of the Prophets (I think they were called) manuals.
My wife and I were talking the other day about how messed up parts of Genesis are (we had just read the chapter about Judah and his sons sex lives). This last Sunday at church, about a third of the time in Sunday school was spent talking about how the class felt sorry for Leah. While I don’t want to belittle the sorrow Leah would have felt for having a husband who didn’t really like her, I was a bit more disturbed about the slave girls that the daughters of the rich guy forced to get pregnant with their husband because of their sibling rivalry. But, that part never came up in the discussion.
rickpowers, I love your reading of the text, and it’s a very tantalizing reading of Genesis. It certainly provides an alternative to reconciling the bad behavior of the Patriarchs (at least it does to the extent that we ignore the JST and Pearl of Great Price revisions that place the onus on the LORD God for directing at least some of that behavior), but it also gives the LORD God a huge pass for some terrible actions. If He’s the good guy and perfectly capable of intervening physically, directly, and miraculously, why can’t He accomplish his ends without having to drown the planet or wipe out an entire city or command genocides? (I’m ignoring the obvious historicity problems in posing that question.) I know that’s a modernist reading of the text, but the God I worship doesn’t drown or burn little babies simply because they happen to live next door to bad people (and it appears He doesn’t do much smiting of the wicked anyway nowadays – I can think of a few occasions over the last thousand years where it would have been be nice if He had). There are certainly lessons to be learned from the Old Testament, but if what you’re saying about God is what we’re supposed to take away, it still leaves me with very mixed feelings about God, and I don’t think the editors/compilers of the Old Testament meant for that to be the takeaway.
I enjoyed this post and completely agree. In the church we need a lot of CBT (critical bible theory.) I have given up on the CFM curriculum and rplaced it with the Yae Intro to the Hebrew Bible on Youtube.
What bothers me most is that what Rick Powers did above (engage and interpret the text) has been done for centuries by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Most Latter-day Saints refuse to engage with the text. They want a CES instructor (with no experience in history or ancient languages) to tell them what it all means, but God refuses to let us get away with such laziness. Do we have any reason to be surprised that members, even the writers of curriculum, run with hero worship of the patriarchs and prophets?
My heart always broke for Leah. Even when I was a child. I never liked Jacob because of what happened to her.
Years ago I read a book about why we *dont* want the OT to be any sort of moral guide for today. I wish I remembered the title. The book relied on a translation of the OT that made it clear that our very own Israelites engaged in all types of atrocities. War crimes, killing women and children, slavery. The people that we hold up as Gods chosen were terrible.
I have no way of justifying people like Jacob as a prophet. Just like I can’t in good conscience consider JS an upright person worth emulating. All I can say is that the common accepted definition of a prophet is not my definition of a prophet and hasn’t been since my faith transition.
The best religion class I ever had at BYU was not taught by CES. It was Bible As Literature, taught by the English Dept. As Margie aptly says, there’s something compelling about the ancient Israelites who present their forebears as morally dubious weirdos doing all kinds of crazy things. These stories aren’t white-washed. They are thorny and knotty and weird, deliberately. It’s kind of impossible to effectively white-wash them, honestly. That’s why the sunbeams are seeing right through these lessons to the real lessons (you should share! you should know who you are marrying! selling women isn’t OK!).
Jacob (who is later called Israel) can be seen as a type of the Israelites; they are ALL usurpers, wandering in someone else’s territory, convincing themselves that God wants them to inherit what rightly belongs to someone else. And they own up to it! That’s no different than modern-day Christians who have done the exact same thing. Mormons for sure did it, one reason there was an extermination order against them, and why they took over native lands in Utah. Religious people believe they have a mandate to inherit the earth and subdue the non-believers. Tale as old as time. But Jacob lays it bare for all to see.
IOW, Angela, the OT is basically Darwin with a patina of the divine.
I taught this lesson in Youth Sunday School. I took the “Critical Bible Theory” approach mentioned by a commenter. Many of my students (14 and 15 year olds) take a real interest in the lesson if the stories are open to different interpretations. It was also fascinating to hear students explain how their seminary teachers or parents justified these stories about Jacob. I heard things that started with phrases like, “Well my dad says that technically…” That seems like trouble waiting to happen. For me, I began to really enjoy reading my scriptures when I realized that none of the characters were good guys or bad guys. Unfortunately, too many of the characters are guys. There is an opportunity to read these stories and think critically about what can be learned from them. Also, every lesson manual and all scriptures produced by the church that contain stories about women being “taken as wives” should have giant disclaimers on the top. This neutrality around treating women as commodities that are traded amongst the men impacts the way people treat women in the church today. When I was a young woman in the church, youth leaders and mission presidents talked about young women like we were a carnival prize that would be passed out to the most faithful of missionaries.I am not that old and I still hear that garbage today.
As Old Man alluded to above, I think the need to whitewash Jacob and make him look like a good guy is tied to the reverence we are supposed to feel towards patriarchal leaders. We’re taught to be obedient to the Brethren and follow their example, which is easier to do if they’re good guys. They have to whitewash Jacob, because if they admit that a prophet or patriarch in the Old Testament was a shady character, then that calls into question if we can still have shady and morally ambiguous prophets today, or 150 years ago. The Come Follow Me approach is to reinterpret everything a leader does as correct. They’re training church members how to think about current church leaders. And pioneer church leaders too for that matter. If we can recast Jacob as a good guy, then surely we can recast Brigham Young’s racism (for example) to also be fine. If we start criticizing Jacob, then does that mean we can criticize other leaders?
Jacob was a trickster and deceiver who colluded with his mother to deceive his blind father into giving him an inheritance. I have heard many of the more libertarian types in Elder’s Quorum talk about how Esau chose to give away his birthright all for a simple meal and praise Jacob as the more knowledgeable one for being more prepared. Jacob was more cunning as well in that he was quicker to slaughter an animal, a goat from his flock, than Esau, who had to go out and hunt for a beast, in order to prepare a meal for his blind father. Many libertarian LDS folks, who think that everyone can just do it themselves and that no one owes anyone else anything, almost seem to use this story to justify skeevy, unethical business tactics as well.
Of course, it isn’t just libertarian types, Russell M. Nelson himself lauded Jacob and his coercion of Esau. In a 2016 Conference talk entitled “The Price of Priesthood Power,” Nelson said, “Why would any man waste his days and settle for Esau’s mess of pottage6 when he has been entrusted with the possibility of receiving all of the blessings of Abraham?”
I have heard interpretations that the Jacob Esau story was used by Israelites to justify dominating their neighbors, giving them bad land, and taking all the good land for themselves, viewing Esau as the inferior one who sold his birthright away.
It is truly unbelievable how people try to derive morality from OT stories.
I think that’s the same video that glosses over Jacob wrestling with God and says something like, “Jacob prayed all night. The Lord visited Jacob and blessed him.” *eye roll*
I do not find the OT curriculum to be helpful. I preview the primary topics so I can prepare my kids for lessons based on literal interpretation (moving beyond “did this really happen” to “what can this teach us about God”- At Last She Said It podcast has an episode that covers this well), try to highlight (female) characters that are completely ignored (Hagar), and strength their shame resiliency with discussions about how no one is all good or all bad. Honestly, it’s insulting to children to only show the heroics.
Great post. As Old Man, Janey and others have already noted, Mormons have a distressing tendency to paint everything with the broadest, most simplistic brush when it comes to morality and people, real or fictional. The problem is that it’s not only insulting to children (as Laura notes) and not only condescending to adults; the real problem is that most narratives, even scripture, are designed to show the complexities and difficulties of being human and, if we whitewash them to make them into simple stories of obedience, good vs. evil, etc., we’re never going to develop the kind of moral and ethical sense that is needed to steer through a complex world. So by oversimplifying every scriptural story, we’re actually doing the exact opposite of what the stories are supposed to do. I was at BYU around the same time as Angela C (’86 – 91) and, indeed, the English department (I was a major) seemed to have a pretty good sense of just how difficult it was to untangle all of these narratives. If we make complexity and nuance the enemy, we’ll never gain any insights at all into what the scriptures are actually trying to tell us. And when we run across people like Jacob or the war-mongering Captain Moroni, the very last thing we should be doing is inventing excuses for them. Same thing, as Not a Cougar notes, with God.
Housekeeping issue: I count 15 comments above that now have exactly one thumbs down. I wonder who it is that is so negatively inclined.
I enjoyed this post, also I agree with the prior comments. lets have some fun with the story in to post. I would suggest that you go to Genesis chapter 24 and compare that story involving the arrangement of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah to that of Jacob and Rachel. There some differences but also some similarities. Notice that Laban was involved in arranging both marriages. Another thing to look out for in the future in the OT is there other stories that involve similar physical surroundings so keep your eyes peeled.
I found it really useful that our Sunday School teacher used the whole story to communicate that God is willing to covenant with people who make a mess of their lives, and that Jacob was an example of this. Very helpful in making sense of a tragic story all round.
Whoever they are, Josh, I’m guessing they’re not wearing crocs or sweats, or hanging out at honkytonks, 7-11s, or, worst of all, the dreaded Dairy Queen.
@Angela C: I took that class too! Not in-person but via independent study (for fun mainly). It was one of my favorite college classes, and was my first foray into critical reading of the scriptures.
Great post. I’ve also been frustrated with how we interpret the Hebrew Bible.
I love the Tim Mackey quote above. If we’re going to make sense of the Bible, we have to look at the bigger picture and story arc. We tend to treat it like a quote book and break it into episodic morality tales and we miss the narrative sweep and the point the author is making. And I think we don’t allow the text to be what it is. For instance- we try to insist that some things were commanded by God- like Abraham giving Sarah to pharaoh- instead of letting it be a terrible mistake. And when we do this, we insist that certain puzzle pieces don’t belong and try to include our own and then we can’t complete the puzzle and wonder why. Many of these problem puzzle pieces were added by the JST to smooth out these problems because people think they will fit better. But these problems make the picture come together- they’re part of the puzzle, part of the point the author is making. The JST makes the Hebrew Bible harder to understand, not easier.
James Kugel calls the story of Jacob and Esau a “schematic narrative”: it is a story of ancestors and it explains why their descendants (who were contemporaries of the authors) are the way they are. I teach my kids lots of the Genesis chapters as a etiological or schematic narrative when I read it with my kids. A lot of it describes a later reality (Davidic Monarchy through Babylonian Exile) using stories from the deep past. And I skip lots of it, too. But I lean heavy on ‘this is set in an ancient culture and they are telling us how they understood God and their relationship to him’. I can’t imagine what they are saying in their Sunday School classes.
I think it is very illustrative to compare how the name Israel is traditionally interpreted by our Jewish neighbors (wrestles with God) vs the definition President Nelson gave(let God prevail) which has become the One True Definition in LDS circles. Wrestles with God is an acknowledgement of the messiness, the struggle, and even the give and take involved in being the people of God. It’s expected that you’re going to struggle. ‘Letting God Prevail’ smooths all that out- it’s a whitewashing and bulldozing of all the messiness, doubt, pain, and human frailty that is supposed to be there. It’s a rewriting of what we saw with our own eyes- Jacob absolutely did not let God prevail.
No problem with the downvotes. I think someone is just trying to help us all stay humble. I was feeling a bit prideful, so went up and added another to my own post. Keep up the good work!
I taught this lesson in all its glorious messiness to my 10 y/o class. The girls were horrified and kept saying things like, ” you can’t do that anymore.” One of the boys asked in a puzzled voice, “Whose the good guy here?” Smart kids.
Not A Cougar: I absolutely thought about God’s depicted genocidal behavior – from the flood, to the first-born, to the ravaging of Canaan – but I chose to focus just on how Genesis portrays God’s relationship to the Abraham/Isaac/Jacob clan in relationship to His covenant with them, since that was the topic of the discussion. God’s frightening behavior to all of His children in the O.T. certainly deserves it’s own discussion.
With tongue only partially in cheek, Wired.com ran an article entitled “Old Testament Murder Count – God vs. Satan” in which they depicted God as having killed 2,038,344 people in the O.T. and Satan killing 10 people. The irony of this article was that the first thing that popped into my mind on seeing the numbers was “who were the 10 that Satan killed”?
The problem is that the current church’s modus operandi is prophet worship. We deny it and pay lip service to the idea that the prophet is just a man, but we also say that every time he opens his mouth, he’s the same as if Christ was talking. Elder Bednar apparently told a little kid who asked him if he’d seen Jesus that he hears the voice of Jesus every time President Nelson speaks. That is in no way distinguishable from saying that RMN is Jesus.
So if this is the template, the scriptures have to be retconned to pretend that this has always been the template. The problem is that the OT refuses to cooperate. The early patriarchs are a complete moral train wreck, which is actually the point of the story that Mormons deliberately miss.
Two problems I see that I don’t think were mentioned already specifically:
1. The way that Joseph Smith “restored” the gospel including OT practices (polygamy, tithing, patriarchal order), arranged dispensational leaders, and either “translated” or revealed new scriptures basically deifying these patriarchs and attempting to solidify their historical reality, we have no possible way to be critical or truthful about the biblical narratives without discrediting JS’s words and work.
2. Any scripture must be read from the proper perspective, which is that it is a biased, flawed man-made text, and not God’s approved narrative from his point of view. Mormons frequently assume the latter in both ancient and modern prophetic stories.
The questions I’ve been asking since I was 11 is “Why does God need/have a chosen people? Doesn’t he choose them all? Did God send all the Good Guys to live in geography A and all the Bad Guys in Geography B? What did those Not-Favored kids do to deserve not being chosen.”
If those are good questions to ask about OT times, aren’t they good questions to ask about our time?
rickpowers, I totally understand why you would want to compartmentalize that for the purposes of contrasting God as the hero and His chosen people who can’t help but meddle and make things. There’s a lot to take away from that exercise. It’s just that I personally have a hard time separating the heroic qualities and the genocidal acts.
“… make things [worse].”
Elisa says, I also find it really gross that apparently he did not know Rachel well enough to realize it was Leah he was sleeping with?
Good question. The chapter, which CFM doesn’t exactly encourage you to read, indicates that they had a rockin’ wedding feast, at which one may assume (this being a few thousand years before the advent of the WoW) that a great deal of alcohol was consumed. My suspicion is, and I expressed this as the Gospel Doctrine teacher in my ward, that Jacob was simply too inebriated to realize whom he was, um, “knowing” that night. (I might have used the term “beer goggles.”)
At any rate, this chunk of Genesis is Jacob’s Hero Quest, it’s the story in which he mimics Abraham (retracing his steps backward and then his return to Canaan) and in which he is kind of a type of the messiah, going into exile under threat of death, as it were, and returning in triumph to rule. All of this is doable without having to think of Genesis as literal history, or of Jacob as morally upright and decent by current standards. It isn’t and he wasn’t. He was, in fact, a mythical Trickster, and Loki is a great parallel.
I am treading a fine line with this class, and they may fire me – but by gosh they will learn some Old Testament before I go.
“BeenThere”. . .I’ve been thinking or and asking about the reason for “chosen people” since I was 12 or 13 years old. I’m much older now and still don’t have an answer. I has wondered why the author of the documents talking about who the “chosen people” is are is from the same group that has been “chosen.” Am I correct about this??? Please correct me if I’m wrong. Why were Asian populations never “chosen?” I would really appreciate some insights. Thanks.
^ When I was a kid reading about religious myths from other traditions (various indigenous American traditions, various ancient peoples on the Mediterranean coast, various east Asian traditions) I always thought it remarkable and a bit parochial that they usually saw themselves as the chosen people, their land as the chosen land, their sages and prophets as the ones truly in touch with the divine. After all, the Bible says it’s the people of Israel in the land of Israel who are the chosen people, and I don’t have a problem with them being long ago and far away, I don’t need to be a part of that to feel validated by God. Then as I got older I realized that very parochial emphasis on my people, my land, my leaders being the true story fit the LDS church to a tee. You ask why were Asian populations never chosen? They were, in their own traditions. But the Bible is the story of the Jewish people and their gods, as transmitted through western Europe because it needed to be kept as a foundation for the Jesus story. Only the Jewish people is chosen in the Bible because it’s only the story of the Jewish people, and that’s all there is to it as far as answering your question, IMO. Likewise, why did the Restoration happen in New York seemingly choosing 19th century frontier Americans as the chosen people and the chosen place? Because 19th century frontier Americans were telling the story. Why are the Dine people and Canyon de Chelly chosen in their stories? Because they’re the ones telling the story. The difficulty for every human being, I think, is realizing that the world is so much larger than whatever parochial religious or irreligious tradition you grew up in, and reconciling the sense of being special you get from that tradition with the understanding as an adult that people everywhere are generally good! Hence the tension between universalism and exclusivity in Mormonism and in Christianity and other religions in general.
I too had that same class it BYU! Much earlier than you. It was the first time I experienced a satisfying critical reading of passages of scripture, and I loved learning the contextual information. Still have the non-KJV bible that was our required text.
Your small pupil has terrific instincts, I’m impressed.
I enjoyed many of the comments, and I agree with the premise that, in our church, we are conditioned to worship our prophets, and that’s part and parcel of why they get a pass for rotten behavior..
I also read the comments for any mention of my personal hobby horse whenever the tales are told of Jacob and the origins of the house of Israel. I admit I’m the only one who I know that raises questions about Dinah, and where in the Sam Hill she fits in the house of Israel. Who’s Dinah, you ask? Jacob and Leah had a daughter, her name was Dinah. Jacob had 12 sons and a daughter. She dominates the narrative of Genesis 34, a classic account of misogyny and abuse, and out-of-control bad behavior by her male relatives, including lying and murder. When studying the OT, we glide through this chapter so effectively that she’s been erased from everyone’s knowledge. But I can never get past Dinah and wonder about all the unanswered questions — that are also unasked.
I’ve also found the curriculum to be less than great.
Genocide, slavery, incest, and sexual violence are not outdated. Those evils are all alive and well in our modern society. The way we discuss scriptures could be a whole lot better to help members see how they might be contributing to these ugly realities. I can see myself in the way Sarah treated Hagar because some of the people who help feed and clothe me are in bondage. This post deals with some alternate ways we *could* teach the story of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham:
I’ve also found the curriculum to be less than great.
Genocide, slavery, incest and sexual violence are not outdated. These evils are all alive and well in our modern times. We could do a much better job of teaching the scriptures to help members see how they may be contributing to these problems. I can see myself in Sarah’s role because some of the people who help feed and clothe me are in bondage. I talk more about this and other ways we *could* teach the story of Sarah/Hagar/Abraham here:
I promise to do better while teaching Gospel Doctrine – this time I had just returned from vacation so I mostly threw out softball questions with casual reference to the chapters Gen 24-33. Props to the lady who defended Esau in our class comments. But I did make a point to skip the section titled “Covenant marriage is essential to God’s eternal plan.” This post and comments would have been very helpful for our lesson on March 6th…
We also discussed hope and faith and I shared the story of my late mother asking to be forgiven (granted) by an uber-judgmental old lady in the ward.
Maybe if we actually read the scriptures, instead of just the video/flannel board highlights we wouldn’t have such unrealistic expectations of our prophets in this dispensation. Maybe God called people then and now that were incredibly flawed and needed Christ/redemption even more.
Such a disservice to gloss over anything uncomfortable.
I had the chance to sub the Noah lesson and we went straight into assumptions (like a global flood, where earth meant a planet vs. dirt).
Also read the P and J verses separately and talked about each authors biases and acknowledged the contradictions in the bible that can only be explained by the textual criticism of the Documentary Hypothesis that CES seems to be so afraid of for some reason.
(I got away with this because it was a youth class, they tenses to engage much better than their parents would have no doubt who don’t want their preconceived notions disturbed).
I teach the older kids. I suppose I went for the middle ground, giving the kids a sort of “Marshmallow Test” to drive home Esau’s bad trade — while admitting he could have actually been starving, and here he was hunting for food for his family when Jacob refused to help him like a brat. I gave some focus to the graciousness of Esau in forgiving Jacob. But the next week I had a bit of a smirk watching my co-teacher center the lesson on lying being bad — because Laban, not Jacob.
Back when I was a lot more Mormon, I was excited to show my son the Living Scriptures version of Isaac, his namesake. I was appalled how they portrayed Hagar as maliciously negligent of Isaac’s life in order to make the story more black and white. Not Church produced, but shown all the time in primary classes when I was growing up in the 90s.
New Iconoclast —
They may fire me – but by gosh they will learn some Old Testament before I go.
This is my new mission statement for primary teaching.
By the time they get to this story, they will have already read about a son raping his father (Noah), attempted angel rape (Sodom), daughters raping their father (Lot), and other sordid stories. So by the time they get to Jacob / Israel, they will be ready to read about his gay sex with God at Peniel.