Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Genesis 19

I. Discussion Question

If Abraham’s unconditional hospitality is the very mark of his fidelity to God (to the point that he is willing to personally sacrifice [murder?] his own son when called upon), then what would allow us to distinguish Lot’s own excessive hospitality in Genesis 19 (manifest especially in his willingness to sacrifice the virtue of his own daughters for the sake of the two strangers) from Abraham’s? Or should they not be distinguished?

Are their actions similarly or dissimilarly beyond “ethics”?

II. Some General Notes & Comments

vs. 1-2 “And the two messengers came into Sodom at evening, when Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. And Lot saw, and he rose to greet them and bowed, with his face to the ground. And he said, “O please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house to spend the night . . .”

The structural parallels between 19.1-3 Abraham’s hospitality in 18.1-8 are potentially important. Alter points out that “the whole episode is framed in an elegant series of parallels and antitheses to Abraham’s hospitality scene.” Like Abraham, Lot is waiting outside and meets the visitors at an entrance – though here it is an entrance to a city rather than an entrance to a tent. Is this difference important? The shift from the nomadic to the urban does seems to contribute to a significant inflection in the narrative’s “feel.” For instance, the whole of the chapter manifests an antipathy to the urban: the cities are the site of wickedness/destruction and the angels will try desperately to convince Lot to leave the urban area altogether – though Lot will refuse to do so (see 19.17-22).

Does this antipathy to the urban tell us anything important about the kind of ethics or politics that the text would, perhaps in contrast, be willing to affirm? Is the connection between the urban and injustice essential or accidental? Must real politics be, in some sense, nomadic?

That Lot is sitting at the gate of the city may uncharitably be read as a result of his being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s evening and the public square associated with the city’s gate is not a place a respectable person would want to be found after dark. Though, on the other hand, we could read it more charitably as an indication of Lot’s participation in the public life of the city. Certainly, the fact that he is also so quick to offer hospitality to strangers suggests a more positive motive.

vs. 2-3 “And they said, ‘No. We will spend the night in the square.’ And he pressed them hard, and they turned aside to him and came into his house, and he prepared them a feast and baked flat bread.”

That Lot also insists on the extended hospitality even after its initial refusal, that he leads them back to his home (rather than having them show up on his own doorstep as Abraham did), and that he likewise prepares a feast, all indicate ways in which Lot’s hospitality appears to exceed Abraham’s own. However, where Abraham promises only “a little water and a little bread” and instead prepares a feast, Lot promises “a feast” and instead appears to prepare for his guests only the most common possible meal (baked flat bread). There is certainly a kind of irony at work here in this last juxtaposition. But is the irony sufficient to cancel out the “excess” of Lot’s hospitality over Abraham’s?

vs. 7-8 “Please, my brothers, do no harm. Look, I have two daughters who have known no man. Let me bring them out to you and do to them whatever you want. Only to these men do nothing, for have they not come under the shadow of my roof-beam?”

In one respect, at least, Lot’s hospitality to the strangers clearly exceeds anything Abraham is called upon to give: when the gathered crowd demands to have their way with Lot’s guests, Lot offers his own daughters in their place. The difficulties involved in this gesture may trump any of the ethical difficulties we examined in Genesis 18.

In one sense, the only proper reaction is to be utterly horrified at Lot’s willingness to deliver over his own daughters in place of the strangers. (And, in the end, it may be appropriately impossible to move beyond this horror). Nonetheless, Lot’s willingness to sacrifice the virtue of his own daughters for the sake of the other is also the mark of an extremely excessive hospitality. What could be more excessive? Perhaps only a willingness to allow his daughters to be murdered . . . or a willingness to murder them himself.

Lot’s excessive hospitality plays, I think, as a kind of foil for Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice (murder?) his own son. Both incidents raise very uncomfortable questions. What are the limits of hospitality? At what point must the line be drawn? What would allow us to distinguish between Abraham’s future action as justified and Lot’s action as not justified? How could one tell the difference, in medias re? Should Lot have thrown the two strangers out and protected his own family instead? Is there a correct action in the face of such a situation?

Most simply: is Lot’s hospitality a counterfeit hospitality to be contrasted with Abraham’s unconditional commitment to the Lord (Other)? Or do their actions belong to the same category? Either way, how would we tell?

I’d like to bring my initial comments to a premature conclusion here and reserve some additional comments about the rest of the chapter for later in the week. For now, I wonder if we couldn’t focus our attention simply on this initial difficulty. I’d be grateful for any suggestions, readings, and/or counter-readings. The greater the diversity of opinion and perspective, the better the results are likely to be.


Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Adam: "Must real politics be, in some sense, nomadic?"

This has really got me thinking, especially in terms of Hebrews 11-12. On the one hand, there seems certainly to be something to this. On the other hand, what sense, then, do we make of the centrality of the temple and the eventual city of Zion in the last days?... not that the saints have ever really been settled. At the very least, we've got to reckon with Hebrews 11-12 here, which seems to have influenced Joseph's thinking quite a bit.

Just to complicate things, it is interesting that Lot's "hospitality" will result in one of the more horrific scenes in the OT (the incest business). If Lot offers his daughers early in this story, eventually they are violated (violate themselves). But then, the two sons who result (father of the Moabites and father of the Ammonites) will be wrapped up in the most important questions of hospitality in the post-exilic era (when, say, Ruth was written, etc.), during the ideological battles over the Dtr. laws were being waged.

One further thought. What should be made of the overturning of Lot's offer in the JST? That is, what should we make of the fact that Lot specifically tries to protect his daughters in Joseph's version?

10:58 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Due to our technical troubles, I've posted some of Jim's comments below:

I'm not sure what to make of Lot's hospitality either. Is the fact that he seems to be alone at the gate a sign of his anxiousness to welcome strangers, or is it a sign that the people of Sodom are inhospitable? But the angels are also inhospitable: offered a bed for the night, they refuse. And why are there only two angels here rather than the three who appeared to Abraham? The story begins full of ambiguities and difficulties.

I take verse 3b to be important to understanding Lot and answering Adam's question: in the KJV, "he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread." The Word Biblical Commentary says that the word translated "feast" describes banquets at special occasions. The paradoxical contrast, a feast of unleavened bread, suggests that there is something untrue about Lot's hospitality. I take his offer of his daughters to be similar, proof that Lot doesn't understand hospitality: unleavened bread isn't a feast for angelic visitors; your daughters aren't an appropriate gift to would-be rapists. He gives too little and then too much.

The Sodomites, however, are not at all confused about hospitality. They simply don't have any. They recognize Lot as a guest among them: "This one fellow came in to sojourn" or "This fellow came as an immigrant." In spite of that, they refuse to give him hospitality: "Now will we deal worse with thee, than with them." They threaten their guest, Lot, by admitting that they intended to harm his guests, the angels.

It seems to me that we see three levels of ethics here: first, that of Abraham, who gives perfectly; then that of Lot, whose giving is confused; and finally that of the Sodomites, who refuse to give at all.

Perhaps Lot is an everyman. Perhaps in him we see ourselves, confused about the basic rules of human relation, sometimes giving not enough and sometimes giving too much, Brave in the face of danger, but not wise.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


I like your reading of three different kinds of hospitality being exemplified in chapters 18-19. I especially like the characterization of Lot as the "everyman," never quite sure how to show hospitality appropriately even when he determines to. (That is how I frequently feel, especially a la missionary work.)

But I wonder if we haven't still left the larger question aside. There are some grounds for distinguishing Lot's poor hospitality in Gen. 19 from Abraham's exemplary hospitality in Gen 18 (e.g. the "poor" feast he prepares, the horror of offering his daughters to the mob). The more difficult question, though, seems to be how we would distinguish the horror of Lot's offering his daughters from the horror of Abraham offering his son.

If we frame the issue of hospitality in terms of Abraham's perfect hospitality in Gen 18, then wouldn't Abraham's own actions in Gen 22 also appear as a kind of excessive, inappropriate hospitality? If chapter 18 is the standard for judging Lot in chapter 19 (which seems entirely appropriate), then is Gen 18 still the correct standard for judging what happens in Gen 22? If not, then what reason could we give? Could we give one?

Joe asks an excellent question about the JST changes to Gen 19, but I'd like to bracket that issue for the moment in order to address the above first.

A final note: I agree with Joe that if we want to think of politics as in some way necessarily "nomadic," then we would still have to find a way of squaring that with the CITY of Zion. I don't claim to know how to do that but an off-the-cuff suggestion might be something like the following. The city of Zion is a nomadic city? We all live there but claim no property as exclusively our own? A community of nomads? (Though already the suggestion strikes me as too glib and easy.)

My best,

7:24 AM  
Blogger Jeff J. said...

Here are some (probably bad) reasons that could be offered for seeing Lot's action as bad and Abraham's action as good.

1. Lot's action was in response, not to a divine command, but to a demonic command, one coming from the mob and not from the Lord.
2. Lot's action was wrong because he offered it voluntarily as another course of action when the mob demanded something else. Abraham, while willing to perform his action voluntarily (in a sense), only conceived of the action after it was commanded of him by God.
3. Lot's action was wrong because it was done to accord with prevailing social norms and not with divine instruction. That is, it was wrong because Lot feared man more than God. (I think there are a lot of problems with this response.)

I think that the most promising of the answers is 2. Somehow, we make a moral distinction between someone being willing to initiate an action and someone being willing to go along with an action on the instructions of others. Obviously this doesn't exculpate everyone; there is such a thing as conspiracy and aiding and abetting criminals. But it seems to say something about Lot's heart that this is his first response, whereas Abraham doesn't generate the idea himself. Thoughts?

8:48 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

I think Jeff is onto something with his #2. Doesn't it point towards the interplay between will (to power?) and faith here? That is, Lot's hospitality and offering are characterized by his will (Lot "presses" the angels just as the crowd "presses" Lot at his door to get at the angels; and, as Jeff points out, his daughters are hardly demanded), while Abraham's hospitality and offering are characterized by his faith/hope/charity (I see less and less a distinction to be drawn between these three "terms"), because all he does is a response. In totalized Levinasian terms: Lot is totalitarian (and here we get back to the Aufhebung we encountered in chapter 16), while Abraham offers again and again an infinite response to the call that comes to him.

This might go a ways along exploring the distinction Jim makes between Lot's confused giving and Abraham's perfect giving: Lot's is continually recaptured in an economy (isn't this signified in the way all of his willed hospitality is answered by a kind of payback: "pressed" for "pressed," his daughters raping him for his offering them for rape, etc.?), while Abraham's continually escapes (impossibly, Derrida would say) that economic recapture.

Does this point to the reason for naming this whole stretch of Genesis vyr`, "and he appeared"? Two different kinds of phenomenality are at work here, one that is constantly recaptured by the economy (metaphysics) of presence, but another that outstrips the economy, despite the fact that it appears (idol, of course, versus icon).

I like the developments here, but it leaves me unsure of where to go with the JST....

6:53 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


I'm sorry to take so long to respond but I find your comments extremely helpful (especially in conjunction with Jim's response) and I think they make significant progress in supplying some criteria for differentiating Lot's "excess" of hospitality from Abraham's excess of hospitality.

Joe's expansion of your comments in terms of the economy of Lot's hospitality vs. the infinity of Abraham's are also helpful. This is especially true when it comes to understanding how the incest at the end of ch. 19 potentially unfolds as a kind of retribution for Lot's willingness to offer his daughters to the mob.

Just a general note about incest: psychoanalysts and anthropologists have often treated the incest taboo as the central interdiction around which the rest of the laws of the symbolic order are clustered and arranged. In psychoanalysis, then, passing through the Oedipus complex (especially Lacan's version which is much less "biological" and much more symbolic than Freud's often sounds) is tantamount to an initiation into the symbolic order as such: one enters the symbolic order of society through the acceptance of the incest ban.

In a sense, the original cut of the symbolic order is concentrated in the acceptance of the ban: the incest ban is an imposition of a non-biological difference, a symbolic difference, which opens the possibility of a non-biological/symbolic order, a human (rather than animal) order.

We don't need to worry about all of that theoretical baggage. I simply mean to point out that the dissolution of the urban social world (i.e., the destruction of the cities on the plain) culminates in a blatant disregard for the one law that, in a way, founds the possibility of a symbolic social order. It may (or may not) be useful to connect this progressive dissolution of order that culminates in incest with Lot's own excessive, taboo breaking "hospitality" to the mob.

The key, as Jeff indicates, is to find criteria to differentiate the purely negative dissolution involved in Lot's trangression of social norms (a transgression of social norms that ironically comes as a response to social pressure to break the norm) and Abraham's trangression of the social norm (don't murder!).

I think that Jeff is right to say that the difference is fundamentally tied up in how Lot's trangression bears a very different relation to the symbolic order of social norms than Abraham's. They both transgress it, but not in the same way or for the same reasons.

My best,

1:40 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


Just a note that we've invited our "anonymous" outside commentator (Robert) to join the Seminar.

Welcome, Robert! In the next week or two I'll try to adjust the schedule in order to work you into the cycle as a discussion leader.

My best,

1:48 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Thanks Adam, I don't blame you for not wanting to move my comments here yourself! Since I think most reading this blog have already read my comments on lds-herm, I'll just copy them here sans formatting (for future reference):

Couple thoughts on Gen 19:

First, consider the JST change from two angels to three angels in Gen 19:1 (and the related change in 18:3, 23 where it seems to me Joseph is saying there were three angels and the Lord). In the JST, Abraham's request to save Sodom and Gomorrah is made in the presence of YHWH, whereas Lot's request to dwell in Zoar (19:18, 19:26 in the Inspired Version) seems to be made only in the presence of the three angels (notice the "Lord" in the KJV of v. 18 is not YHWH; the NRSV emphasizes this by rendering it "lords"). Nevertheless, Lot's request is heard and granted, and it seems this is granted apart from any intervention on Abraham's part. That is, if Lot's being spared was a result of righteous Abraham's request (cf. 19:28, "God remembered Abraham," not Lot; "Lot" would be more parallel to 8:1 b/c Noah and Lot were the ones most obviously saved from destruction), this latter request of Lot's seems to be granted because of a direct request made by Lot himself. Lot's request may in fact be betraying a lack of faith on his part, but the request is nonetheless granted (the Word Biblical Commentary notes the parallel with Abraham's request, cf.18:22-33 with 19:17-22). I think this is where the JST change regarding Lot not offering his daughters is interesting b/c it makes the granting of Lot's request more "justified." I think this supports the idea that God extends and confirms the promises given to those who are faithful--line upon line and grace for grace, as Joseph might say. (I think this reading of the Abraham cycle as being progressive depends a lot on reading Gen 22:18 as extending Abraham's blessings, not just restating them; the WBC offers reasons to believe this view is justified.)

I also think the JST supports Jim's reading of Lot as an everyman--if Lot offered his virgin daughters I think this suggests, even to an ancient reader, that Lot was uncommonly heartless.

Also, regarding the Nomadic politics question: Jim's post at T&S regarding the 2nd coming and the Christian-Hegelian view of the end of history caused me to notice the following phrase in Abraham 1:3 as unique in scripture (at least in the KJV of the bible): "the beginning of time." I hadn't really noticed the unique wording of this phrase before, but I think it has interesting implications for thinking about the pre-existence (so central in Abraham 3) and establishing Zion. In particular, I'm thinking that if there is a pre-existence, yet there is a "beginning of time"--made parallel to "the foundation of the earth" in Abr 1:3--then this seems to point to an "end of all things" (D&C 77:12) in a peculiar way, and in a way that I think has important implications in how we think about Zion and the city of Enoch (and a unique Mormon view of "being translated" as being taken outside of time). I'm not sure if this can be tied in to Adam's idea about nomadic politics, but I think it underscores the need for separation between a worldly, in-time political regime vs. an everlasting, beyond-time regime of Zion ("church of the Firstborn" in the D&C?). The wilderness wandering seems such an important temple and Book of Mormon theme that I can't help thinking that Adam is right in suggesting a unique Mormon reading of Abraham-as-nomad. (And Joe, isn't there an interesting triad here? Abraham is first cast out of his father's presence, then wanders in the wilderness, and is then promised a land of inheritance. I'm also thinking about Clark Goble's work on "The Shape of Agency" where he takes up the book of Mormon "state of probation"--typified by the wandering in the wilderness--idea as it pertains to a Mormon view of agency. Again, given the Book of Abraham's emphasis on the "testing" theme, which I see as closely related to agency and hence wandering in the wilderness, I see all of this as particularly relevant to a uniquely Mormon reading of the Abraham cycle.)

3:28 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Joe's response:


Thanks for these thoughts. I would add only one point of clarification: the three angels and the Lord seems to be a question of the three angels visiting Abraham and then leaving, after which Abraham approaches the Lord separately. I'm not sure if this was implied in your words, but it sounded almost as if you meant to say that there were four visitors to Abraham and three to Sodom. I understand the common interpretation of Gen 18 to be such that one of the three visitors was the Lord, and that He stayed behind to discuss things with Abraham while the two went on. The JST changes the story drastically: three angels, all of whom leave, and then Abraham approaches the Lord alone.


My response to Joe:

Joe, you're right, I was thinking of there being 4 visitors to Abraham (acc. to the JST), I simply wasn't looking at verse 2 carefully enough. But how do you read the mention of YHWH in verse 1, and the "yet" in verse 24? Here are the key verses in the Inspired Version I'm looking at:

1 And the Lord appeared unto Abraham in the plains of Mamre. And he sat in his tent door in the heat of the day;

2 And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw, he ran to meet them from his tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, and said;

. . . .

23 And the angels which were holy men, and were sent forth after the order of God, turned their faces from thence and went toward Sodom.

24 But Abraham stood yet before the Lord, remembering the things which had been told him.

I'm inclined to read the "angels which were holy men" in v. 23 as the three angels leaving, and the "Abraham stood yet before the Lord" as YHWH staying behind rather than leaving (assuming that verse 1 is implying that YHWH came down along with the three angels, or something; I understand this could something more like a header to the chapter or something, not necessarily an event that precedes or coincides with the three angels appearance...). As you rightly point out, this makes verse 2 a bit awkward, but I'm inclined to read this all YHWH and three men-angels coming down with YHWH staying at a little distance while the three men-angels approached/appeared in closer proximity.


3:29 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Another exchange:


Yes, I see your point. I would be inclined to read verse 1 as a chapter summary, except for the complication of verse 24. I think the possibility you mention of the Lord being nearby all the while is a good one. I'm still trying to figure out what the significance is of all of this happening while Abraham sits in the door of his tent....



Ah yes, the door. Surely Margaret Barker would take this as a temple reference. I think I read somewhere a chiastic structure suggested to the Abraham cycle with 7 main episodes with Chapter 18-19 as the centerpiece. I'll see if I can't find that reference (I'm likely remembering it wrong). A while ago I posted on the Feast wiki my rather poor summary of Umberto Cassuto's 10-part chiastic structure to the this cycle (here) where chapters 18-19 make up the 7th (Cassuto is very much into the significance of numbers) of the 10 episodes. I'm not sure if his view is a very common one, but I think people usually like to break up the story into 10 parts.

At any rate, the conversation with Abraham occurs in the doorway, then maybe it's significant that Lot leaves the gateway of the city and enters further into the city. Abraham meets the angels on their terms, Lot brings them into the city on his terms. Or perhaps not....


Robert, you've given us a lot of great things to think about in regards to Genesis 19. Thanks very much. I don't have anything to say in response except to thank you for helping me see the possibility of comparing Abraham at the door of his tent and Lot at the gate to the city differently than I have previously.

Abraham is at the door of his home and, presumably, brings the visitors into his home for the feast. Lot, however, brings them into the city (though, of course, he also brings them into his home, which is in the city). Abraham brings them into safety and security; Lot brings them into danger. (The city in the Old Testament is almost always (or is it always?) a place of danger and corruption.)


3:32 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

I had a few other questions regarding Gen 18:19, I'll post them now on the previous post.

3:33 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Timing is a funny thing. I've spent much of the morning reading through a series of articles by Zimmerli, Bultmann, Westermann, Baumgartel, and Wolff. Though many of them vehemently disagree with each other, the underlying unifying theme (something I'm assuming is a kind of foundation stone in German Evangelische Christianity) is Christian life as a tension between the eschatological (non-temporal) and the historical (temporal). I was especially interested by Wolff's contribution, because he frames the question in terms of typology. (For anyone interested, the articles are published in Claus Westermann, ed., Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics.)

Robert's comments, now that I am re-reading them, seem to be particularly focused on this kind of a question. And of course this ties to Jim's discussion of the Hegelian/Christian theme of the "end of the world." And then I think that this broad reading can be connected up with Adam's theme of the interruption of the symbolic by the Real (the eschatological as non-temporal or spiritual interrupts the temporal or historical order of things).

I suppose these questions are becoming more and more central to my own thinking about Abraham for a couple of reasons, if I can speak quite broadly for a moment (and with apologies, of course). For one, I have been trying to think about how to think the nature of the Book of Moses (the very first part of the JST), especially when I take the debates over the mythological status of the corresponding chapters in Genesis (for a fascinating summary of these issues, see Paul Ricoeur's entry "Myth and History" in Mircea Eliade, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion). Whatever is implied by the JST reworking of the first chapters of Genesis, it is quite clear that it will come to bear strongly on whatever a unique LDS reading of Abraham amounts to.

I think this is doubly important when we come to deal with the remarkably "mystical" Book of Abraham. I realize that I'm thinking ahead here, but to what degree is that book historical (over and against the historical nature of the Abraham narratives of Genesis)? And what place does the eschatological play there?

In short, I'm wondering about what part history and the end of history play in Mormon thought, especially because these questions seem to me to be essential to any reading of the Abraham story.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Joe asks:

"In short, I'm wondering about what part history and the end of history play in Mormon thought, especially because these questions seem to me to be essential to any reading of the Abraham story."

Excellent "meta"-questions. And difficult ones as well. A few speculations in response.

I've been more or less consumed with reading Paul's epistle to the Romans the past few weeks, preparing to actually write the portion of the book I'm working on that deals with Paul, and my intention is to read Paul (perhaps very unoriginally) entirely from the perspective of this question (though, hopefully, with some at least mildly original results). The basic Pauline problematic appears to me to be this: how is it possible to think the Messiah has having already arrived despite the fact that the world has not yet come to an end? How do we think the actuality of his accomplished inauguaration of a new world in relation to the obvious continuation of the old one? (A version of this same question explicitly occupies Jim's attention in his T&S post about the second coming.)

Another way to put this is: how do we think the "end of the world" as accomplished despite the fact that the world has manifestly not yet ended? (This is also, I take it, the central question you raise in your paper about Alma's conversion narrative. It is, in a way, the question of whether or not theology is possible.) I think that the answer to this question is crucial. In fact, it strikes me as such an important question that, if we can't at least practice an answer to such a question (I'll leave open the question of whether or not we can think an answer to the question), then it won't ultimately matter if the world did literally end.

Those are some random thoughts about the future orientation of your question. Now for the other direction: the past.

I've also been reading again lately about evolution (a topic that periodically grips me). I'm not interested in debating this here (or anywhere necessarily - in case you happen to disagree), but I find the evidence for evolution absolutely convincing and agree with those who say that it is probably the most well-proven theory in the history of science. The evidence is mountainous.

At any rate, the more that I think about this, the more I'm convinced that Joseph Fielding Smith, McConkie, et. al. were absolutely right in recognizing that accomodating evolution as a scientific fact would require Mormonism, in some essential ways, to re-frame or re-orient or re-read the bulk of what we thought we knew about the history of the world and how Mormonism fits into that history.

We have a relatively clear story about how Mormonism fits into a human history that lasts only 7,000 years. But how would we even begin to retell this story if we framed it in terms of a history that lasts hundreds of thousands or millions (or billions!) or years? (And, perhaps more pressingly, what would authorize us to do so?) The theological "recalibrations" (and, potentially, "capitulations") such a shift in time-scale would require are staggering.

What kind of story would tell in primary? What on earth would we say in Relief Society or Elders Quorum? No wonder we've continued to hedge our bets about evolution, sticking to our tacit 7,000 year framework while nod-nodding and wink-winking that Mormonism certainly doesn't rule out evolution as wholly incompatible.

These questions - the question of our historical scale together with the question of how to think the now of an accomplished/unaccomplished Christ-event - strike me as pivotal both to our understanding of doctrine in general and, more pertinently, to how we would (attempt?) to approach questions about the "historicity" of Genesis, the Book of Abraham, etc. Though, especially in the case of the scale of our historical time-frame, I'm pretty sure I don't have any immediately useful suggestions.

My best,

10:02 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Joe, thanks for the references---I submitted a library request and will likely be able to look at these articles early next week or so. And thanks for the tie-in esp. to Adam's line of thinking---this is a connection I was wondering about but couldn't quite see for myself.

Ever since I read Joe's Alma 36 paper, I've been wondering about this temporal-spiritual distinction that is so common in Mormon scripture. I think this distinction may be key to sorting out the meta-questions here. To this end, D&C 29 seems particularly relevant. It starts out talking about Christ gathering his elect, with what seems to be a spiritual emphasis (vv. 1-7). Then the gathering seems to take on a physical emphasis that culminates in the 2nd coming (vv. 8-11). Then it seems Judgment and the Millenium are described (vv. 12-21) after which it is written "the end shall come" (v. 23), after which there will be "there shall be a new heaven and a new earth" (v. 23). Then, after what seems to be more discussion of Judgment, we have several verses using the words spiritual and temporal: we learn that the Great I AM created all things, both spiritual and temporal, first spiritual and secondly temporal in the beginning of his work, and then first temporal and the spiritual at the last of his work. Then the intriguing disclaimer "speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning; but it is given unto you that ye may understand" (v. 33), followed by verses 34-35 discussing the spiritual nature of all commandments and its relation to agency, which is followed by a discussion about the Fall and the third of heaven being cast out with Satan.

How is any of this relevant?

First, a couple minor thoughts about evolution. I tend to think about the Adam and Eve story in terms of the spiritual beginning of man---sure there might've been humanoids before then, but perhaps Adam and ever were the first humanoids that was given a spiritual commandment, so perhaps it was this event that occurred around 6000 BCE, or at least perhaps that's a good way for us to think about it (even if it didn't "really" happen that way). Also, I think Moses 3:7 is intriguing: "And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word." Might this suggest that the Adam and Eve story is a story about spiritual creation, a spiritual creation that was implemented on top of a temporal order that already existed ("were before created")? I have no clue, but I think there are many possibilities that don't conflict with an evolution view that could be explored here.

What I think is more interesting and relevant is the possibilities of D&C 29:32---how should it be read? My contextual synopsis above suggests that the first spiritual-then-temporal event might be in terms of gathering God's elect, with the second temporal-then-spiritual event describing the Judgment (Christ's 2nd coming in glory and power as the temporal judgment, followed by a spiritual judgment). What I think is more interesting, though it seems less textually justified to me in the context of section 29, but more justified in light of the creation accounts in the books of Moses and Abraham, is thinking in terms of a spiritual creation ocurring first (Adam, or perhaps Christ in the pre-mortal state per Abraham 3:27), then temporal creation (Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden). Then, in the "last of [God's] work," there is a spiritual event first (Gethsamene and the spiritual teachings of Christ?) followed by a temporal event (2nd coming in glory and/or judgment?).

I don't know enough about Paul (1 Corinthians 15:44ff? Romans 5:14? elsewhere?) to know how radical this view is in light of his writings, but this is a first cut at how Joseph might've thought about these issues, and how we might eventually want to approach Abraham 4-5. (I also think there are implications in all of this for how we should read Gen 12-23, but this'll have to wait till I have more time; actually, Gen 20-21 may be a good place to begin discussing this, how Abraham's interactions with family and neighbors might be viewed as a type for how interaction can go from being temporal to spirtual, that is from violence-oriented to an orientation that allows for lasting peace---that is, an eternally-oriented relationship.)


11:52 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Sorry, one more thought. Adam, I think the foretelling of the the Jews crucifying Christ in the BOM has important implications for a Mormon reading of Paul on this issue of 1st vs. 2nd coming of Christ. That is, I think a Mormon view would tend to be much more focused on a "space of time" being given for the the Gentiles to repent (after the Jews reject Christ). So Jacob 5 becomes a key metaphor for understanding why there is a delay between the 1st and 2nd coming of Christ. (I know this sort of side-steps your central philosophical question, but inasmuch as we're considering a Mormon reading of Abraham here, I think these issues might be the first ones we should address....)

12:10 PM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

I wonder now if I didn't open a can of worms a little prematurely. Since I posted that comment yesterday, I've had three experiences that have caused me to rethink this issue radically, and now I've just read Adam's and Robert's comments, which have set me to thinking again. Let me venture just a couple of thoughts, and in the context of the three experiences over the past twenty-four hours or so.

First, because the question was on my mind, my wife and I had an extended conversation about it (walking the kids to the library and back... maybe an hour). We didn't come to anything like a conclusion, but it gave me a chance to sort out much of my thinking.

Second, I continued reworking my Alma 36 paper as a first chapter for my book today, and I figured out quite a bit as I did so, figuring out what I was trying to figure out when I "first" wrote the paper (the last time).

Third, in my on-going attempt to make sense of Lacan, I've been carefully reading Freud's papers on metapsychology, and I spent some time this morning in his paper on the unconscious, specifically where he discusses the mechanics of repression and the peculiarities (unique features) of the unconscious.

All of this makes me think about these things in some new ways. Let me work them out, and then I'll see if I can't bring them back up against Adam's and Robert's comments.

I think Hegel and Heidegger together give us a good way of thinking about the nature of time, as something that begins in Angst (whether that is part of the fight in Hegel or the call of Being in Heidegger). As both Heidegger and Hegel would claim, time (or at least authentic time) begins in that moment of Angst, when we are called/summoned (to the fight, perhaps). In other words, history or temporality begins with the moment of the call/summons. I think that is quite clear (you will note that I am, in the name of Heidegger, simply dismissing the metaphysical or onto-theological accounts of time).

What I found in dealing with Alma 36 today is that all mention of time in the conversion narrative appears only after the call/summons (even to the fight!) of the angel/God. That is, temporality as such comes to be precisely as Alma is summoned to wrestle with the angel. Or rather, it comes to be precisely as Alma flees the summons into a purely mental realm (verses 13-22 are characterized by the interplay of the terms "memory" and "thought"). Alma, in "fear and amazement" (Angst), flees the encounter and is thus put to work in his subservient relation to the angel (the work, I take it, is summed up under the aegis of Alma's "memory"). The angel/Other remains in Alma's experience, despite his retreat, as a trace called "thought" (the "thought of coming into the presence of God" and of "judgment"). As "memory" and "thought" enter into a dialectical (quite literally: chiastic) relation, the fundamental tension of temporality is introduced (between memory as past and thought as future). It is at this point that Alma first mentions the business of "three days and nights."

If temporality comes to be precisely in Alma's flight into subjection, it collapses (as he himself suggests it must in verse 4: "not of the temporal but of the spiritual, not of the carnal mind but of God") as he approaches the moment of his prayer: his memory suddenly remembers something future (the prophecy of a coming Son of God) and his thought suddenly thinks something past (having heard the prophecy). This reversal of the thesis (thought) and antithesis (memory) opens the way to the synthesis that characterizes verses 19-22: memory and thought are both fundamentally changed in their reconciliation. As they come to be "spiritual," it seems to me that Alma's history (begun only a few verses before with his flight) comes to an end. This collapse of the historical in terms of the spiritual is marked by two textual clues. First, Alma sees the pre-mortal/post-mortal council of heaven. Second, he sees this, "even as our father Lehi saw" it (v. 22). That is, the five centuries between Alma and Lehi collapse, or become another kind of temporality, a spiritual-temporality (like Paul's "spiritual body"?). Fascinatingly, Alma then rejoices as he goes about his "labor"....

Though I'm not sure how to think about this yet, it occurred to me while I was reading Freud that Hegel's theme of "flight" could be set in perfect parallel not only to Marx's historical production, but also Freud's repression, and Nietzsche's... something... especially from Birth of Tragedy (which, incidentally, seems to me more and more to be the most important of his works).

The best way I can connect up Robert's and Adam's comments is to point to Paul (I still need to read Badiou's book on this subject... I'm increasingly realizing that it might be vital to much of the book I'm working on). Robert mentioned 1 Cor 15, and I think that is vital for thinking about these kinds of questions, especially in terms of evolution/creation. I understand Paul to be saying, when he says that the natural was first and the spiritual after (1 Cor 15:46-47), that the two accounts of creation in Gen 1-2 are in backwards order, that the sevenfold theme of Gen 1 is liturgical and the more historically sound version of Gen 2 is, then, historical. (I'm not sure whether Gen 2 could, on those grounds, be said to be evolutionary... and I'm not sure how interested I am in evolution at any rate... it seems to be a distraction, for the most part, for my thinking.)

At any rate, I think the way Paul is trying to think about two creations as separately historical and liturgical is significant, and it may give us a way to think about the distinction between the temporal/spiritual tension in the Christian's life (what Bultmann and Zimmerli both call the tension between the historical and the eschatological).

My connecting this back up with Adam and Robert does not seem very fruitful to me yet, and I'm not sure how well I conveyed much of any of this. But it is long enough already, and I'll simply have to respond to the confusion I am sure I'm trying to cause.

At any rate....

3:17 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Joe, I really like this extra bit on Alma 36 that you've done.

I did a little more thinking about 1 Cor 15 and D&C 29 (b/c, again, I think these passages are very important to understand if we hope to make any sense of Abraham 3-5 when we eventually get there). I think my thoughts are clearer on all this all this now, but I don't think it's directly related enough to the ideas we're trying to get at here, so I put my thoughts on the wiki---here's the link. (Notice also there is some commentary on 1 Cor 15:45-46 on the wiki that Joe posted some time ago, but his take on how Paul is commenting on Gen 1 has been edited out by another user.)

6:54 PM  

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