Thursday, April 19, 2007

Abraham 4

I'm late, of course. And I'm not quite sure how to deal with Abraham 4 because it is so much like Genesis 1. What follows are more or less random thoughts.

In verse 1, "the Lord" speaks to those Gods who are with him and they go down together to organize the world. If "the Lord" refers to Jahweh rather than Elohim here, then who are "the Gods"?

Whoever they are, it is important to the Abraham account that Creation is a corporate venture. As opposed to Genesis and the Joseph Smith version of Genesis ("JST Genesis," which, interestingly, differs from Genesis in that God speaks in the first person: "And I, God, said"), it is the Gods rather than God who speaks each of the creative commands (e.g., "Let there be light"). Abraham's account is very much in line with Abraham's experience: an individual, he has been promised community in covenant; he has been promised that he will not continue to be merely an individual, but part of something greater. The creation of the covenant community echoes the creation of the world.

I'm not sure what to make of it, but I find it interesting that in Abraham 4, the Gods say (e.g., verse 6), order (e.g., verse 7), pronounce (e.g., verse 10), and they organize (e.g., verse 12), whereas in both Genesis and JST Genesis God either says or calls.

Also, in the Genesis and JST Genesis accounts, God saw that his creations are good, while in the Abraham account the Gods see that they have been obeyed. The last verse of the chapter especially emphasizes this: "Behold, they shall be very obedient." Is this change of focus from goodness to obedience also a reflection of the Abrahamic covenant?

So part of the creation of community by covenant is an account of the Creation. Is this, perhaps, to show us that the covenant renews the world, that it makes a new world for those who enter it? If so, then Abraham not only enters into the Promised Land, he enters into a New World.

The book of Abraham puts this knowledge of Creation prior to the Akedah. In fact, it puts it prior to the full establishment of the covenant as well as before his arrival in Canaan. Read this way, the revelation of the Creation is a revelation of the covenant that is to come, a revelation that the covenant introduces a new world rather than merely a reconfiguration of the old one. (My hobby horse again!)

By the way, I've created a PDF file with Genesis 1, Abraham 4, and JST Genesis 1 in parallel columns. I'm happy to share it with anyone who'd like a copy or, if someone knows how, to make it available as a link.


Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Just a word before I take off to teach today. As for "the Gods," I think the text is actually quite clear: it is picking up from the last part of chapter 3 (this is all one vision). In other words, "they" to whom "the Lord said: Let us go down" are not only "the Gods," but those whom chapter 3 describes as "these souls... that were good," the "noble and great ones," etc.

I can't believe I had never recognized that "obedient" replaces "good"! I'd noticed the presence of obedience, but never that it was a replacement. Wow, that's something to think through.

Jim, how does this experience of running through creation for Abraham tie up with your comments on scripture as enactment? (Or rather, what are your thoughts on the subject, because I obviously have my own.)

11:10 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

If we think of Genesis as the Moses account, then the 'obedience' account would, in this sense, predate the 'good' account, which would seem to make for an interesting--even ironic--reversal: the covenant of grace is given with an emphasis on obedience while the covenant of obedience(/law)is given with an emphasis on grace(/goodness).

Also, I think we might be justified in reading this emphasis on obedience as important context for the Akedah--that is, if the covenant was given to Abraham explicitly in terms of obedience, his trial of obedience seems to make more sense.

6:07 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

A few comments on Abraham 4.

vs 4, “And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.”

This verse introduces a constellation of related ideas that seem important to me in light of Abraham 3 (and, particularly, in light of Joe’s excellent commentary on the Feast wiki on Abraham 3.16, etc). I’m interested here in the string: comprehension-brightness-division-(creation).

The Genesis account, on its own, recounts creation as a series of divisions (light from dark, water above from water below, earth from water, etc.) so that creation (especially creation as “organization”) appears primarily as the work of introducing a difference.

What Abraham seems to add is the connection here between creation and comprehension. The upshot perhaps being that the Gods’ capacity for creation is tied to their capacity to conceptually/symbolically mark or comprehend a difference. There is a kind of pre-existing materiality in play, but the materiality of the symbolic marking of this “stuff” is essential in our relation to it. This dimension of symbolic marking is the dimension of covenant/promise/priesthood? Thus the world is created by the power of the priesthood? The power to create and keep in play relations of difference/order?

What makes this comprehension possible is that “the light . . was bright.” In other words, there is a difference in gradation (a la Abraham 3.16) that allows for the creative organization of the world to unfold. The difference in brightness marks the intervention of a Two (light and dark) and, presumably (though unstated here), the need for a reference to some Third.

In terms of the relation between creation and division/cutting, I’m also reminded of our discussions of circumcision. Abraham needs the “cut” in his flesh (the difference in his body, the division of his own “most proper”) that is the mark of a Third (God) in order to become capable of fathering the promised child.

vs. 27, “So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.”

The emphatic plurality of the “Gods” in this verse gives, I think, much greater weight to the sexual plurality of male and female that is reflected in the creation of human life. It marks with relative clarity that there is a feminine dimension to the group of “Gods.”

vs. 31, “. . . and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and they numbered the sixth time.”

I love that the text explicitly shifts from talk of “days” (Genesis) to “times” (Abraham). I also like that “number” is introduced as essential to the creative process. Numbers, counting, differences, etc.

It may also be worth noting that where Genesis 1 simply juxtaposes “the evening and the morning,” Abraham (a la the introduction of detailed causal relationships in chapter 1) elaborates the relationship of morning and evening as a temporal span (“from morning until evening”).

My best,

9:51 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Adam, great comments, much for me to think about.

I just noticed this post by Jacob at the NCT blog who takes up this change between 'day' and 'time'. In particular, I think it is interesting how he argues that "time" might have more to do with spatial location than we normally think of it, something that reminds me of an idea you bring up in talking about the space between the beginning of a day and the end of the day. I'm not sure where to go with any of this yet, but it strikes me as interesting....

3:20 PM  
Blogger Rosalynde said...

A late contribution here.

I think the word "order" is important in this chapter and in the book of Abraham generally. Throughout this creation account, "order" is used in two senses: to set in order, and to command. See, i.e., verse 7: "And the Gods ordered the expanse, so that it divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the epanse; and it was so, even as they ordered." That the act of ordering is an exercise of authority---and that the order of things indexes degrees of authority---is established in the astronomy material in chapter 3: "And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob ... which is set night unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest."

I speculated with reference to chapter 3 that a metonymical logic is at work in Abrahamic astronomy, that in this trope might lie a way to think both a distinctively Mormon kind of "authority" and a kind of subjectivity that escapes the horns of the autonomous/dependent soul problem. It's my suggestions, I guess, that the cosmological "ordering" of creation in Abraham 4 works on the same principle as the astronomical ordering of Abraham 3.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Rosalynde, I think there is indeed a lot more thinking we should do regarding the interplay between chapters 4-5 and chapter 3 (notice "reckon" is an important key word in 3:4-9, so the discussion of that term as used in chapter 5 should take up these verses more carefully).

Also, notice that Joe has been doing some fascinating work on D&C 85:7 (see here) where the "one might and strong" as described as coming to "set in order the house of God." I'm inclined to read order as a term with very rich possibilities, perhaps like the phrase "put things in their place" which can have both violent and seren connotations....

8:58 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


Can you say more about how the "metonymical logic" of Abraham 3 may help us construct a notion of "subjectivity that escapes the horns of the autonomous/dependent soul problem"? This strikes me as exactly the right kind of thing to say.

Which metonymy exactly do you have in mind and how does a "metonymical logic" assist in breaking the dualism of autonomy/ dependence?

This suggestion may also help us to think the "reversibility of grace" as we see it in the book of Abraham: the movement "from [the reception of] grace to [the giving of] grace."

9:43 AM  

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