As Jason Olson returned from his mission, he was still conflicted on whether to date Jewish or Mormon gals. He decided to return to BYU to finish his studies, and studied Hebrew. He discusses some heated discussions about Israel-Palestian relations, and decided to continue his studies at Brandeis University. Check out our conversation…

Navigating LDS/Jewish Dating

Jason  03:51  Because I had dated a Latter-day Saint girl in Israel. And, it had gotten a little serious. We talked about, “Hey, whenever you get married one day, where do you want to get married?” We were just trying to be unserious about it. I was like, “Well, I really want to get married in the temple. I’m very committed to that. I want to make the covenants in the temple. I’ve been endowed. I’m a returned missionary and I want to. That’d be the next step.”

Jason  04:45  And, she was like, “Why is it such a big deal for Mormons to get married in the temple?”

Jason  04:54  And I was like, “You’re a Mormon.!” Do you know what I mean?

GT  05:00  “Why are you even asking the question?”Jason  05:02  Yeah, that really, really bothered me and I was sick to my stomach; not sick about her. She’s wonderful. She’s a wonderful person, but I just realized my priorities shifted. Well, I think my priorities were always the same, but it made me wake up to what were my priorities here?

Jason  09:51  I told him the story and we broke up. And I was sad and, and then Aaron was thinking about returning to Judaism and becoming an Orthodox Jew. Because I think his mission was so traumatic. And he just felt like there’s this underlying anti-Semitism maybe in the church or, in some members of the church that he couldn’t shake. So why don’t you date an Orthodox girl?

Jason  10:33  And I was like, “Oh.” What should I do? What am I supposed to do? And so, anyway, yeah, we have an interesting scene where I met an Orthodox Jewish girl on a bus. She had clearly shown some interest and then I had this moment of dilemma. Should I ask her out? Or, you know, because if I go down that road, then what about the temple? Because, for me, it was Latter-day Saint temple,

GT  11:07  It will be Temple Beth Shalom or something instead.

Jason  11:10  That’s right. That’s right. So, anyway, I made up my mind. And I can’t go down that road. Despite how covenant keeping these Jewish people are. They’re keeping their covenant and I respect that and support them. But I felt what God had obligated me was to pursue what I call the Cumorah covenant. Right? You’ve got the Sinai covenant. And you’ve got the Cumorah covenant. And, to me, they’re both true. They both lead you to God. And, I’m surrounded by Jewish people who were committed to the Sinai covenant, but I had through my story that now, I had committed myself to the Hill Cumorah covenant that came through the Book of Mormon and the restoration. So, so that was the underlying spiritual and religious tectonics.

Return to BYU

Jason:  They were also there back at BYU. So you know, the band is all together, all these high school buddies and I start going to church. And that’s where I meet my wife, Sarah, just a couple of weeks after. After I go back to BYU, and we’re in the same Ward,

GT  20:17  Is this one of those typical BYU engagements where it was like two weeks and you were married a month later?

Jason  20:23  Not that quick, but pretty quick. Yeah, I think we, we got married about six months after we met.

Religious Studies at BYU

Jason  27:25  But to study at BYU with scholars who dedicated their whole professional lives to understanding the Bible, in its context, I mean, they get it. So, what obligations do I have under the Sinai covenant? And what obligations I have under the Cumorah covenant? These are questions that they’ve actually thought about. They can actually help me sort through, not that we’re going to agree on everything, but at least I can ask my questions and learn and fill out my belief system. And so that was really good. The Hebrew Bible major is really small at BYU, very small. I mean, I think we, I had, like, 20 people graduate with me. People that in my view build their entire lives off of Abrahamic covenants. I mean, that’s pretty sad, actually, that so few people would want to major in that.

Jason  32:27  But I also wanted to see what BYU was teaching about modern day Israel. And there was only one class about that at the Provo campus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And, as I’ve already mentioned, I was hyper-concerned about Iranian and Hamas and Hezbollah missiles. Because I was there, and I met people who had to hide in bomb shelters, right. And I’ve already expressed how I felt about it. And so I went in this class. Most of the students were the modern Middle East Studies, Arabic Major people. And now obviously, I’m very fascinated with the Middle East. I had lived in the Middle East, on my own. And the narrative of the class was that Jewish people, they’re these white European settler colonialists, who did experience a tragedy in Europe in the Holocaust, and they came to Palestine. But when they came to Palestine, they stole the land from the indigenous inhabitants. And so, Palestinian intifada/Palestinian war against Israel is justified because the Palestinian cause is trying to liberate and eject the colonialists from their land.

Jason  34:19  For me, that was a completely false narrative number one, because I knew and felt that Jewish people are  also indigenous to the land of Israel, you know what I mean? Now, I’ve already explained like I believe in Palestinian human rights and I would go on a limb to say that Palestinians are indigenous to the land as well. But if you know Jewish history, there are four, holy cities: Jerusalem, Tiberius, Hebron, and Safed. Those four Jewish holy cities have been continuously inhabited by Jews. So we have this myth as Christians in general, that those evil Jews. They crucified Jesus and their punishment was they all got exiled from their land. It’s not true. It’s a myth. Archeology, history can prove it, We can literally go dig into the earth and we could see that Jews have always lived in at least those four holy cities, ever since the time of Jesus until today. Jews have always been in those cities. So they’re indigenous. Even if you’re complete secular person, Jews are indigenous. They’ve been an indigenous minority, but indigenous, so for that narrative to say that Jews just came in and they have no connection is extremely offensive and false.

GT  36:11  Where do you hear that? Because I don’t hear that. Is that like an Arab talking point or something?

Jason  36:18  That was the Caucasian Utah, BYU Professor point of view.

GT  36:26  Really?

Jason  36:26  Yes.

GT  36:29  I’m not familiar with that even though I’m in Utah.

Jason  36:33  Well, it’s the majority paradigm of modern academic Middle East Studies. We could go into that more, if you’re interested. I guess I have expertise in both but modern academic Middle East Studies, that is the paradigm. It gets worse because we started talking about Hamas rocket attacks. Right. You already know how sensitive I feel about that. I mean, I was there living with Latter-day Saints who have to hide in bomb shelters. Okay. And then, the professor starts talking about Hamas rocket attacks. From that angle, Hamas is just trying to frighten the Israelis so that they leave so that they can liberate their land. It’s justified, right? Because, after all the Palestinians are indigenous. The Jews are not indigenous. And it’s just the natives are trying to force out the colonialists. I obviously completely disagree with that. But then the professor asked for a raise of hands of how many students after all, this course narrative, believe that Hamas rocket attacks are justified. And almost all the students raise their hand.

GT  37:55  This is a BYU?

Jason  38:07  This is at BYU.

GT  38:09  Really?

Jason  38:10  Palestinian Israeli conflict class, my senior year in 2009. So I am just getting livid, an angry Jew. And I tried to get out of my little chair, my little desk. I’m fumbling around. And I finally stand up. And I’m angry. And I look at the professor and all my fellow classmates. And I say, “I am disgusted with you. How could you support terrorism?” And then I sat down.

Jason  38:51  And everybody’s like, “I have never experienced this at BYU.” This is what contention feels like. But I was just [disgusted.] I couldn’t believe it. I was just like, Jews are human beings. You know? They’ve always been in the land. You can’t just use old anti-Semitic Christian teachings that the Jews rejected Christ, so they shouldn’t even be there.

Since Dr Jason Olson is a religious studies major, I couldn’t wait to ask him some Bible questions. Is he a literalist? Where does he stand on issues like the Documentary Hypothesis? We’ll also talk about the rise of anti-Semitism. Check out our conversation….

Religious Pluralism

Jason  00:34  I’ll say here that I am in full support of what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is doing in religious pluralism. If you read “The Burning Book,” (you have Rick,) you know I am I’m a religious pluralist. I literally served as a as a chaplain in the United States Navy ministering to people of all faiths. Right?

GT  00:57  Do you have any kind words for Bruce R. McConkie and Mormon Doctrine?

Jason  01:02  I don’t. I wrote about it in “The Burning Book.” Go to the book where you could see it. Yeah, I’m a religious pluralist, I think what we’re doing with Islam is wonderful. We’re reaching out the hand of religious pluralism and acknowledging Muslims in their own faith tradition. What I ask for, and I think people like Trevan and certainly I definitely feel the brethren feel this way with. They just invited Rabbi Ari Berman, who’s the president of Yeshiva University, to speak at BYU. I’m just so thrilled to see that we’re reaching out the hand of religious pluralism to Judaism. Right? Because there’s a history where of Jewish-Christian relations where we have not acknowledged Judaism for it’s on its own terms, that Judaism is its own religion, that is legitimate and valid. Right? But I mean, I’m thrilled to see that we’re doing that. Trevan has always been that way. But there’s, there’s definitely Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars who have not thought that way, like J Reuben Clark and McConkie.

Rise of Anti-Semitism

GT  07:05  Well, can you comment on the broader movement? If I remember right, it was at Charlottesville, where we had all these guys with Tiki torches. “Jews will not replace us.” I mean, it seems like anti-Semitism, especially over the last five years, 10 years has gotten worse. It seemed like it was going a lot better. And now we’re having a backlash. Do you have any comments on that?

Jason  07:36  Yeah, I mean, so I think about the far right wing and the far left wing anti-Semitism. So when you talk about Charlottesville, and “Jews will not replace us,” that comes right out of the white genocide theory and this anti-Semitic belief/conspiracy that that Jews are trying to dilute or destroy the white race.

GT  08:09  Because Jews aren’t white, apparently. Right?

Jason  08:11  Because Jews are not white. But then you got the people on the far left who say that Jews are the worst white people because they are the colonialists and the white supremacist. I’ll give you one quick tangent when you look at Sdrot, which is where those in those days were most of the Hamas rocket attacks, they didn’t have rockets that could reach Tel Aviv yet, right in those old days. But Sdrot was built mostly by Moroccan Jews and other Jews from the Middle East. So if you have this paradigm that Jews are white people who are colonialist, taking Palestinian land, and the Palestinians are the brown people where Hamas is firing rockets on the poor towns that are built by the brown Jews, the Jews that are from Arab countries. So you know what I mean. So, to think in those terms is ridiculous because it’s literally brown on brown violence. Right? Brown Hamas Palestinians firing rockets on brown Moroccan Jews, and why did they leave?

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

GT  14:36  Do you have anything to say because I know one of the big things, well, I think two big issues in Israel right now are annexing Palestinian territories and Israeli settlements. I think that’s one issue. And then the other one is, my understanding which may not be good, there’s basically two Palestinian areas, and sometimes you can’t even [travel between them.] I think you mentioned this in your book. A Christian living in a Palestinian area couldn’t even get to church because of the Israeli checkpoints. And so there’s no freedom of movement. I mean, is there a problem? Could the State of Israel handle that issue and settlements in a better way?

Jason  15:27  Well, it’s a tough question. The policies have become what they are for a reason. And I am in complete support that it’s fair to criticize policies and to try to get try to get better policies. Right? I would say the fundamental paradigm that I look at all of it is, Jews are human beings, deserving of a life of dignity. And Palestinians are human beings, deserving a life of dignity. So, religious freedom for Palestinians, freedom to worship, freedom to move, freedom to be, to have dignity. To me, I subscribe to a branch of Jewish interpretation that affirms all of that. And going back to Abraham Joshua Heschel as a fundamental I’m actually in touch with one of the best Israeli scholars who’s trying to bring Heschel’s teachings to Israel, and he’s translated. I mean, I’ll give him a plug. His name’s Dr. Jawbone D, if anybody wants to look him up, but he’s trying to bring Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teachings to Israeli culture. The way that Abraham Joshua Heschel looked at black people in America, could that be translated to the way Israeli Jews could view Palestinians? Right?

Jason  17:27  Now, it’s tricky, because there’s a war. That’s something that we have to acknowledge. A lot of times it’s a Cold War. Right? There’s not open hostility. But as you see, every couple of years, there’s a war between Israel and Hamas. So it’s complicated. And, Israel’s war with Hamas is not a war that Israel wants. If you go to Israel, and you just go and talk to most everyday Israelis, and I met a lot of Israeli soldiers. I mean, I went on the birthright trip with them, but I kept in touch with them. And I went to the beach with them in Tel Aviv. They don’t want to be patrolling in Palestinian territories. Now, who wants to do that? If you’re 18, 19,20 years old, you don’t want to be patrolling dangerous streets where the people don’t want you there. They don’t want to be there. They want to go to the beach, and hang out with their family and their friends, and play games and go to school and live their dreams. Have a family. They don’t want to be running a military administration in Palestinian territories. I mean, just from my own human experience, that’s the big the most important thing. And the Palestinians, they don’t want the Israeli soldiers patrolling their streets either. So, why can’t it just end? I think both sides really want that to end. But, technically as a scholar, and I didn’t have these tools when I was at that BYU class in 2009. I just had emotion. Right? “I’m disgusted with you.” But I have scholarly expertise now. The Oslo Accords, which I very much believe in that whole process. I mean, it’s very old now. But

GT  19:54  It was under Bill Clinton, in the 90s.

Jason  19:56  Yeah. But the Oslo Accords, personally, I’m only speaking for myself. I’m not speaking for the U.S. government. I’m not speaking for anybody, but my own scholarly opinion as someone who got a doctorate in the field. It’s my academic opinion, so let me preface that. But, the Oslo Accords was trying to manage the situation and you have area A, which is Palestinian security controlled and Palestinian civil control. And so I don’t have all the percentages off the top of my head, but those area A portions of Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, depending on your political leanings. Those area A Palestinians have a degree of self determination. Right? They can they have their own police their own law enforcement. They have their own judges, judicial system. They have their own mayors. And so those area A portions, I mean, obviously, I think Israel should respect those and that’s what was agreed. Sometimes there’s terrorist problems and and terrorists are going in and killing is Israelis and Israeli military has to go into area A, and that’s very tragic. But if there’s a terrorist problem, and you’re trying to stop it, you’ve got to sometimes go into territories you don’t want to go into, and and solve the problem.

Jason  21:54  In area B, there is Israeli security control, and Palestinian civil control. So, Palestinians still have their own judicial system, and they can go to their own judges. They have their own political leadership, their own mayors and whatnot. But the Israeli law enforcement or Israeli military is still present in area B. And in the area B are majority Palestinian territories. The way I look at it is, I am an American democrat in the sense of lowercase d. I believe you should have democracy. Right? And so, if there’s Palestinian majority, the Palestinians should have some self-determination. So I do hope, that Area B Palestinians will have more self-determination over time, and that they’ll be able to have security control over area B in time. They’ll be able to live lives of dignity, and not have Israeli police or Israeli military there so that they can just live their lives.

Jason  23:29  Area C is really complicated, really complicated. Area C does not have a lot of Palestinians. But it does have all the Jewish settlements, Israeli settlements in Area C. Under the Oslo Accords, I think that Israel was able to do that. it was unclear because Israel has both security and civilian control of Area C. That was agreed in the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. So Area C is complicated, and I personally think there are some good security arguments why Israel wants to have military bases and presence in the Jordan River Valley. I mean, this is getting into very technical stuff, but Israel’s fought a lot of wars. Countries from the east have invaded it and tried to destroy it. So, Israel wants to have what’s called some strategic depth to have at least some military control of territory to be able to protect its its borders, and protect itself from invasion. You can read in the news that Iran, which is to Israel’s east still wants to destroy the State of Israel and wipe it off the map. So, you can understand why Israel might be hesitant to give up its control of any military control of any eastern territories, especially by the Jordan River, because it still get invaded from the east.

Jason  25:37  So purely from that even just totally secular point of view, the state exists in a way to prevent another holocaust. When you’ve got Iran threatening a second Holocaust, it’s a little complicated. But all that said, Area C is complicated. And I’m not going to take a position on that, because it’s just not in my purview. But all I would say is Israel’s trying to keep the status quo for a reason. But all that said, I do want a future, especially for the majority of the Palestinians. I think it’s 2.8 million Palestinians are in Area A and Area B. And I do believe and support a future where the Palestinians could have as much self-determination, have as much autonomy, have as much human rights, freedom, dignity, as absolutely possible. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. But I certainly want Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state. Right?

Biblical Literalism

GT  35:53  The flood, was it a worldwide flood? Or was it just a large, localized flood? Do you have an opinion on that?

Jason  36:04  Because there’s other flood traditions, Enuma Elis. And there seems to be a human memory of floods in other civilizations. I believe that yeah, that it was a global flood, and Noah started over. I mean, yeah. I guess I lean pretty orthodox. I mean, I would have

GT  36:39  How about the book of Esther and Ruth? Job is another one. I’ve heard a lot of people believe those three books are fiction. They never happened. There are anachronisms. Would you agree or disagree with that?

Jason  36:55  Well, I’m open to the idea of biblical fiction that you could create a fictional character in order to illustrate divine truth. We have had General Authorities that wrote books of fiction.

GT  37:19  Paul Dunn comes to mind. Are you familiar with Paul Dunn?

Jason  37:23  I am familiar with him. I don’t think I’ve read much of his stuff. But, I mean, for example, like The Work and the Glory. Right? It’s teaching.

GT  37:33  But that’s historical fiction. I mean, Paul Dunn, I remember when he spoke. I was young. I can remember having tears. And he would just tell he was a minor league baseball player, which wasn’t really true. He was in the army, which wasn’t really true. All the stories he told in General Conference [were embellished.] Then he got released. And there’s a book by Lynn Packer, I think, that talks about all the lies basically, that he represented in General Conference. He was one of the most famous, most emotional speakers ever. And then he kind of [fell from public grace.] All the yarns came undone and he’s kind of like, “Oh, Paul Dunn, he’s a bad guy.”

GT  38:24  So, I mean, The Work and the Glory, that’s marketed as fiction. I mean, you get Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites. That’s marketed as fiction, but I mean, here’s the issue with Esther and Ruth. A lot of people want to say those are fiction, but supposedly David and Jesus, their ancestors were Ruth and Esther. So, if you say, well, the stories didn’t exist, why is Jesus related to two fictional characters? I mean, that’s the question.

Jason  38:56  Well, yeah, I mean like I said, I lean towards biblical literalism. So I’m not offended if people have a different opinion. But I just believe that the biblical writers were serious people. And were prophets. We could get into authorship and all those things. But you know, I tend to believe that the biblical writers were honest, and they were trying to convey to their people, the record and the truth, and what actually happened the best as they knew it. I don’t believe that the biblical writers were trying to deceive anybody. Could they get something wrong or misunderstand history? I mean, are we saying that the biblical writers were historians? That’s not their purpose. They’re not. They were prophets. A prophet and a historian are two different things.

What are your thoughts? Is anti-Semitism on the rise? Is it a bigger problem in or outside the LDS Church? Do you have opinions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? What are your thoughts on figures like Esther & Ruth? Do they present problems if they are not literal characters? How do you think the LDS Church is doing with regards to religious pluralism?