Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Abraham 5

Rosalynde is out of town this week and asked if I’d fill in for her with a couple of comments of my own about Abraham 5. I’ll see what I can do and hopefully you’ll be able to help pick-up the rest.

vs. 2-3, “And the Gods said among themselves: On the seventh time we will end our work, which we have counseled . . . which we have counseled . . . which they (the Gods) counseled among themselves . . . at the time that they counseled among themselves.

Verses 2-3 bear the mark of some heavily repetitive language, but the repetition seems centered on the verses’ preoccupation with “counseling.” Anyone whose attended any kind of Mormon “counseling” meeting in the past week (and, really, who hasn’t?) won’t be surprised by this, but it’s probably important to have some feel for the novelty of its introduction in this context (and in the context of traditional Christian understandings of creation, God, etc.). Emphatically, these verses remind us that creation is a joint-venture, undertaken with one another for the sake of one another, with all of the necessary consent.

vs. 3, “. . . on the seventh time they would rest from all their works which they (the Gods) counseled among themselves to form; and sanctified it.”

I’m interested here in the connection between “rest” and “sanctification.” First, is there a connection? If so, what is the nature of the connection? In what way might “resting from work” potentially “sanctify” the work already accomplished? Would “endless” or “restless” or “uninterrupted” work be necessarily profane?

vs. 3, “And thus were their decisions at the time . . .”

I find it striking that “decisions” were involved in the creation process. Generally, decisions are only required when a way forward is not immediately obvious. Only a plurality of possibilities (viable or unviable) necessitate a decision. As Derrida likes to put it, only the undecidable requires a decision.

Is this the sense in which the work of creation is genuinely “creative”: it requires some not immediately justifiable decision in light of the constraints of the given, (and not optimal?) material situation? Is the contingency of such a decision what makes it necessary to so emphatically repeat that everyone had been consulted, all the Gods had counseled, and each had come to an agreement?

vs. 6, “But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.”

Note that Abraham here affirms (at least tacitly) a seamless stitching of the two versions of the creation story given in Genesis into one account. The “second” creation is not treated as “second” or as an “alternate” version of the story. I know we have theories about “spiritual” accounts and “physical” accounts, but I’m not sure how they fit in here. Also, the movement from the first Genesis account to the second perhaps punctures the Gods’ claim to have rested. Or, perhaps, it at least contextualizes it as a “break” in the creative process rather than as a kind of “retirement.”

vs. 7, “And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground . . .”

vs. 16, “And of the rib which the God’s had taken from man, formed they a woman.”

Both man and woman are, here, made only out of pre-existing stuff. Can we make any hay out of these verses about “sexual difference” that would not simply repeat a classically patriarchal understanding of woman as being derivatively created from man? Such a possibility seems essential to our questions about the relation of theology to the family.

vs. 13, “Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.”

Abraham bursts back into the narrative in this verse with a comment about time and Kolob. Curious that this is one of the few things about which he explicitly editorializes. Why? I’m tempted (though, perhaps, groundlessly) to connect Adam’s lack of specifically human temporality to his lack of both mortality and self-consciousness (he is not yet capable of “shame” in vs. 19 and has not yet gained “knowledge” from the tree). In order to be ashamed do we need to have a time that “is our own time”?



Blogger Robert C. said...

Some quick thoughts over lunch:

1. Regarding councils and decisions: This BCC blog post has some interesting thoughts on councils. I think there are interesting parallels and implications for the notion of 'family councils'. Although there's a sense in which a father presiding might be viewed as patriarchal, I think it's interesting that, relative to other Christians, God himself becomes much less authoritative in this Mormon, council-focused understanding of God(s?). In fact, the most helpful analogy for understanding the equal-yet-the-man-presides issue in the Proclamation on the family is the Supreme Court "council" where there the presiding member of the Supreme Court still only gets one vote.

2. Regarding the two creation accounts: I take the future tense in verses 1-2 ("thus we will finish our work" . . . "On the seventh time we will end our work") and verse 3 ("thuse were their decisions at the time that they counseled among themselves to form the heavens and the earth") to indicate that chapter 4 is a planning phase and chapter 5 the implementation. Are you challenging this traditional interpretation, Adam, or suggesting something else (that I'm not catching)?

3. Regarding "reckoning": I'm inclined to think about "time" for man beginning as we know it after the fall, and intimately related to the notion of a "probationary space of time to repent."

12:47 PM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

I'm interested in the word "reckon." It isn't at all obvious whether we can infer anything about the Abraham text from biblical Hebrew, but in spite of that let me note something about "reckon" in the Old Testament. Perhaps that will say something about how to think about "reckon" in this context.

The most frequent Hebrew word translated "reckon" is yhs, meaning "to enroll," specifically in a genealogy. However, that meaning doesn't seem relevant to this context. The next most frequently used word is hsb. It has a wide range of meaning, from "think," in the sense of having new ideas, to "account," as in bookkeeping.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


I'm interested in the fact that you are interested in the word "reckon" here, especially in the context of Abraham's story. I'm immediately reminded of the key verse in Genesis 15 that Paul cites in Romans 4 about how Abraham's "faith was reckoned to him as righteousness." The word "reckon" then takes on what seems to me to be an absolutely essential role in what Paul has to say in the rest of the epistle. I don't have my Greek or Hebrew texts with me to check on the original words in Genesis 15 and Romans 4, but I wondered if this very issue was in the back (or front) of your mind in your interest in this word?

My best,

7:12 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

The Hebrew behind Gen 15 is indeed hsb, and Rom 4 uses a derivative of the infamous logos. Rich possibilities here.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

Adam, yes I had Romans 4, with language clearly coming from the world of bookkeeping (including "reckoning"), in mind when I saw "reckoning" in this text. But I'm not sure what to make of the parallel. It may just be coincidence.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

One way to put my interest, a way that makes the connection to Romans: if worldly time is a time for reckoning--for taking account of good and bad and calculating the balance--then what is the role of grace? We know, both from Paul and Mosiah, to name the two most obvious but not the only ones, that the balance will always be negative. Why describe our life in mortality as a matter of accounting without mentioning the necessity of grace?

9:09 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


I tend to read Paul in Romans 4 as deploying the word "reckoning" in a way that turns its "calculative" aspect inside-out. There, Abraham's faith is "reckoned as" righteousness, a righteousness that is not his own (the righteousness is ultimately God's) and that he did not "earn" (otherwise he could boast).

It seems to me that, for Paul, the notion of "reckoning" is always linked to an "as" that indicates that a kind of typological relationship is being established. This typological relationship of "reckoning as" then subverts the way in which one would normally "reckon."

Romans 4, for instance, culminates in a description of how Abraham is a type of Christ (though the word "type" is not explicitly used until chapter 5 where Adam is identified as a type). I'd argue that Abraham is like Christ because he has been reckoned as righteous.

In sum, I guess I would say that Paul's coupling of "reckoning" with a typological "as" turns the calculative dimension of the word inside-out by allowing the "reckoning" to be a vehicle for transmitting grace rather than simply a method for calculating a pre-existent state of affairs.

I'm very interested, though, to hear what you make of this. (Though, as you point out, all of this likely has little to do with Abraham 5:13.)

My best,

7:14 PM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

Adam, I think there is no question that Romans 4 turns reckoning "inside out." My question about reckoning and grace wasn't about Paul, but about Abraham 5. I'm not sure what to make of the reckoning of the Gods.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

I think 'reckon' might point us back to the "prove" and "estate" language of Abr 3:25ff. If there is a trial or proving-process that is going to commence, it seems it doesn't begin until after the Fall (or after the pre-mortal battle in heaven). There, the first vs. second estate distinction might be taken as a planned or preliminary demarcation of time?

11:08 AM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

Robert C, but if it is merely "a planned or preliminary demarcation of time," then isn't it also "simply a method for calculating a pre-existent state of affairs," to quote Adam's response?

That brings up my question again: If existence after the Fall is a matter of reckoning, of proving, then how is grace relevant?

11:13 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Jim, I think you're right that, in light of Romans, this reckoning without any obvious mention of grace is peculiar. In this sense, your mention above of Mosiah 2 is interesting because of the manner of reckoning described there: God pays us with blessings according to our obedience to commandments (v. 24). In the preceding verse our initial indebtedness is described as a result of the gift of creation and life. So, looking again at Abr 3:13, the word "appointed" stands out to me as implicitly gracious (though perhaps in a limited, Mosiah 2 sense):

"the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning."

If God is the one who "appoints" Adam's reckoning, then the reckoning process itself seems to be a gracious gift (this corresponds to point #3 in my first comment on this post: the probationary space of this life is a gift that begins this reckoning process...). Whether we think about this reckoning process as involving grace seems to depend on whether we follow King Benjamin (we are "paid" by blessings for our obedience) or Paul (it's not our obdience/righteousness that is rewarded, but Christ's..?).

Turning again back to Abraham 3, I'm confused about these last few verses describing the first and second volunteers. What are they volunteering for? The context suggests to me that they are volunteering to create the earth or to somehow aid in implementing the proving process--there is no mention of Atonement or agency etc....

12:56 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Robert says:

"If God is the one who "appoints" Adam's reckoning, then the reckoning process itself seems to be a gracious gift . . ."

I really like this articulation of the dimension of grace in relation to the "reckoning." It describes pretty clearly, I think, what I've been aiming at. The appointment of the reckoning is itself the gracious gift.

Allow me to add one further thought: it's my suggestion that the "test" of mortality then primarily consists in how we comport ourselves in relation to this constitutive grace - either we are faithful in confessing it or we shamefully obscure it. Thus, there is no kind of "additional test" subsequently injected into mortality - the grace that is mortality is itelf the test.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

Robert C: I had Mosiah 4 in mind more than Mosiah 2, but you are right to point out that King Benjamin does speak in terms of payment for our righteousness, though his point is that the payment always outstrips the righteousness.

Adam: Let me push you a bit. What is the connection between obedience, which is specifically what is to be reckoned, and constitutive grace that either we faithfully confess or we shamefully obscure?

2:06 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Jim asks: "Let me push you a bit. What is the connection between obedience, which is specifically what is to be reckoned, and constitutive grace that either we faithfully confess or we shamefully obscure?"

This is a great question. My proposal is something like this:

1. Faithfully confessing the reception of grace is tantamount to confessing our lack of self-grounding autonomy.

2. Sin is the fabrication of a self-grounding autonomy prompted by our shame at the lack of any such thing (i.e., at our reception of grace).

3. Obedience is how we, in practice, confess our lack of our autonomy and express our fidelity to the given grace.

In this sense, obedience to the law would never be the construction of a merited autonomy (this is the misunderstanding of the law gives opporunity for sin), but the practice of confessing my lack of autonomy.

I'd read Christ's perfect obedience to the law not as proving that someone can be autonomously righteous ("he did what we could not"), but as proving that the point of perfect obedience is to confess in practice that no one can be autonomously righteous ("he does what we should have been doing all along - 'sinful' or not!").

In a nutshell, the point of obedience is to confess "not my will be done but thine." This confession is a confession or acknowledgment of the need for grace, both grace given and grace hoped for.

I'm obviously still working this out, though. Does anybody buy it?

2:21 PM  
Blogger Rosalynde said...

Adam, I follow you, I think, and I think you're getting at the same idea that has preoccupied me, too. Obedience is sometimes understood as a measure (accounting) of one's moral ability, and thus perfect obedience could be seen to indicate a perfectly able, morally self-sufficient subject; grace, on the other hand, implies that the subject is always morally insufficient, and grace requires a divine encroachment on human moral autonomy. On another view, however, obedience can be seen not as antithetical to grace but rather as a kind of grace itself: obedience requires the surrendering of autonomous will to a higher authority, and thus, like grace, represents an impingement on and interruption of the autonomous self. This disruption of subjectivity occurs in response to the claims of a higher authority, and thus the exercise of authority---of the hierarchical, governing sort described in Abraham 3---is itself a dispensation of grace. And yet it seems to me that this sort of graceful obedience does not leave the abject entirely abject before and dependent on a Lord; there is, indeed, some righteousness "reckoned" to the subject.

(Incidentally, the closest textual referent for the "reckoning" in Abraham 5:13 would certainly be the discussion of astronomical reckoning in Abraham 3: ie, in verse 9, "And thus shall there be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time." This links it up with the ideas of metonymy and authority I've been bumbling around with, and perhaps supports my suggestions about grace and authority.)

BUT, all that said, I think we still have some interpretive problems. The very passage we've been discussing---Abraham's first-person interjection into the creation account---also re-introduces, in the assumptions behind the very idea of a first-person account, the notion of the discrete, coherent, self-sufficient subject. Abraham's account is not a confession or apologia, but something more like an autobiography, it seems to me. And, of course, this goes beyond the merely formal: a major theme of the book is the coherent subjective line of the "noble and great ones." I don't know whether there's some way to reconcile the two views of the subject, or whether they're both present independently, perhaps as traces of the text's various uses in the hands of different groups (a la Kevin Barney's argument that the text represents a Jewish reworking of Egyption sources.)

8:33 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

I've been thinking about this notion of "confessing" that Adam mentions through my Sunday school, "thou art Peter/Christ" in Matt 16:16ff, and Christ confessing the Father in John 8:44ff. So, Adam, I think you are indeed on to an important idea and prominent scriptural theme.

Rosalynde, I really like what you said in your first paragraph (and sorry for not reading your 2nd paragraph before repeating your call back to "reckon" in chapter 3...). However, I'm a little confused about the "two views of the subject" you refer to in your 3rd paragraph. I'm thinking you're somehow getting at the tension between a self that lacks autonomy vs. a self that has autonomy and therefore does something meritorious through obedience (or other acts of righteousness)--in other words, the tension between faith/grace and (meritorious) works....

Although I don't think I'm really understanding Rosalynde's concern correctly, let me try to describe how I think Adam's proposal explains the tension: We find in 3:22 a description of intelligences that are noble and great, without any explanation as to why. And yet, as Adam has emphasized, 3:18 describes all intelligences as co-eternally thrown. We are then given in vv. 24-28 a description of (loosely) a council planning of creation where the purpose for doing so is to "prove them [the intelligences, I presume] herewith," after which a description is given of one intelligence not keeping his first estate, apparently by becoming angry (v. 28). It is this "becoming angry" that I think Adam is getting at in #2:

"2. Sin is the fabrication of a self-grounding autonomy prompted by our shame at the lack of any such thing (i.e., at our reception of grace)."

It seems that the only alternative to this kind of becoming angry is a "surrendering of autonomous will to a higher authority" as Rosalynde put it. So, what am I missing?

Also, as Mormons thinking about this notion of autonomy, I think that two key, background passages which emphasize individual autonomy rather than Abraham-like obedience are: (1)the Lord asking the Brother of Jared what he wants the Lord to do regarding the dark vessels (Ether 2:23, which seems to have interesting parallels with Abraham's petitioning the Lord for Sodom & Gomorrah in Genesis 18...) and (2) D&C 58:26ff (the famous "anxiously engaged" passage...).

9:48 AM  

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