Throughout my many travels I'm frequently asked by persons who don't know much about Mormons, Are Mormons Christians? With a smile I always give the same answer, "Yes we are, very much so."

Mormons quite often are referred to as Latter-Day Saint Christians due to the official name of the church which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But it's more than just a name, Latter-Day Saints strive daily to live the life of Christ and abide by his teachings and those of his apostles.

The Bible tells us the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:26) The word Christian means “a follower of Christ" but the word disciple means “student” or “pupil.” Hence a true Christian is not someone who simply says they believe in Christ but rather someone who ardently follows and studies the Savior their entire lives. Mormons do exactly that, therefore we are very much Christian in the truest sense of the word.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The history, power of the pioneer-era Nauvoo Temple


(by Susan McCloud deseretnews.com 2-28-16)

It was the temple Joseph Smith had been commanded to build. He had seen the Nauvoo Temple of the young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a vision.

He often gave the workers counsel, such as the following: “In the afternoon, Elder William Weeks (whom I had employed as architect of the temple) came in for instruction. I instructed him in relation to the circular windows designed to light the offices in the dead work of the arch between stories. He said that round windows in the broad side of a building were a violation of all the known rules of architecture, and contended that they should be semicircular — the building was too low for round windows.

“I told him I would have the circles, if he had to make the temple 10 feet higher than it was originally calculated; that one light in the center of each circular window would be sufficient to light the whole room; that when the whole building was thus illuminated, the effect would be remarkably grand. I wish you to carry out my designs. I have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the pattern shown me” (see “The Nauvoo Temple,” from “Temples of the Most High” by N.B. Lundwall).

It was the temple that was in the beautiful City of Joseph, as Nauvoo, Illinois, was known.

When Joseph Smith, the first president of the LDS Church, died in Carthage Jail in June 1844, Brigham Young, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and later the second president, and the grief-stunned Saints were left to carry the vision into reality, and to do so in the midst of ever-increasing persecution, insecurity and loss. It was theirs to keep the faith.

This was a course they had long pursued, and their bodies, wills and hearts were fit for the challenge.
John Pulsipher, an early member of the LDS Church, wrote in his diary: “The teachings of the Twelve was to build the temple and finish the work Joseph had begun. The people were obedient to counsel … our enemies continued their depredations … drove our brethren from their homes … in about two weeks they burned 200 houses to ashes. A great amount of grain and property was destroyed … many … died from exposure after being robbed and driven into the wood. But the Saints gathered into Nauvoo, labored and toiled to finish the temple” (see Lundwall's “Temples of the Most High”).

The practical was never divorced from the spiritual in Brigham Young’s mind. There was nothing he could not tackle with a will, and his example was a great strength to the weary Saints.

In an article printed in the Deseret News, March 13, 1861, and as recorded in "The Nauvoo Temple," Brigham Young had this to say: "Every time we put forth our ability to do good and build up the Kingdom of God … we shall receive tenfold, and, as Joseph said, an hundredfold. I will mention one little circumstance. When we were finishing the temple in Nauvoo, the last year of our stay there, I rented a portion of ground in what we called the church farm, which we afterwards deeded to Sister Emma. Brother George D. Grant worked for me then, and planted the corn, (and) sowed the oats. They called for teams to haul for the temple, and could not get them. Says I, put my teams on the temple, if there is not a kernel of grain raised. I said I would trust in God for the increase, and I had as good corn as there was on the farm, though it was not touched from the time we put it in to the time of gathering. I proved the fact; I had faith.”

On Jan. 19, 1841, the revelation to build a temple was received; on April 6 the cornerstone was laid. On Nov. 8, Brigham Young dedicated the baptismal font, and the Saints no longer had to perform baptisms for their dead in the river; the first baptisms for the dead in the font were performed on Nov. 21 (see Improvement Era, Vol. 28, p. 191).

The first meeting was held in the still-uncompleted temple on Oct. 30, 1842. As the months and years progressed, the Saints continued their struggle, and every day seemed an exercise in endurance and faith.

Despite increasing persecution and hardship, despite bending every effort to build wagons and gather food and supplies for a journey away from their loved city, the building of the sacred edifice had progressed far enough that by October 1845 the general conference of the LDS Church could be convened there. This was the last conference in Nauvoo.

In January 1845, the Nauvoo Charter was revoked, leaving the entire community without support of organized law.

Once endowment work in the temple was begun, the response was overwhelming. Brigham Young’s journal is peppered with such statements as: “I officiated in the temple until midnight”; “officiated in the temple until 3:30 a.m.”; “my son Joseph A. remained with me in the temple all night” (see “Journal of Brigham” as quoted in “Brigham Young, an Inspiring Personal Biography).

At one point when President Young suggested taking a Saturday off to wash the robes and garments used in the ceremonies, the workers became very distressed, and offered to wash clothes during the night "that the work might not cease” (see “Journal of Brigham” as quoted in “Brigham Young, an Inspiring Personal Biography").

As the dangers of persecution increased, the temple seemed the only place of refuge. On more than one occasion, the Saints gathered there to celebrate weddings, to praise the Lord in song and dance, enjoying the sweet fellowship, free from fear.

“The spirit of dancing increased,” the prophet wrote, as recorded in “Brigham Young, an Inspiring Personal Biography," “until the whole floor was covered with dancers, and while we danced before the Lord, we shook the dust from off our feet as a testimony against this nation.”

By the beginning of the new year in 1846, he recorded in his journal, as published in “Brigham Young, an Inspiring Personal Biography": "One-hundred and forty-three persons received their endowments in the temple. I officiated at the altar. Such has been the anxiety manifested by the Saints to receive the ordinances, and such the anxiety on our part to administer to them, that I have given myself up entirely to the work of the Lord in the temple night and day, not taking more than four hours sleep, upon an average, per day, and going home but once a week.”

February was the month. On Feb. 2, 1846, the official decision to move out was made; on Feb. 4 the first families crossed the Mississippi and left Nauvoo, and President Young stayed behind to complete the last endowments given in the temple.

Each day became crucial, and the Saints little knew how short their time was!

On Monday, Feb. 9, 1846, a stovepipe ignited drying clothes and caught the roof on fire (see "Nauvoo Temple Milestones, 1840–1850," Ensign, July 2002).

But bless Brother Brigham for his down-to-earth insight and faith.

“I saw the flames from a distance,” he wrote, “but it was out of my power to get there in time to do any good towards putting out the fire and I said, 'If it is the will of the Lord that the temple be burned, instead of defiled by the Gentiles, amen to it'” (see “Journal of Brigham” as quoted in “Brigham Young, an Inspiring Personal Biography,”).

Another fire in October 1848, allegedly set by Joseph Agnew, destroyed the building, except the walls, according to "Nauvoo Temple Milestones, 1840–1850."

How can we even imagine what was in the hearts of the Saints?

Today there are 149 operating temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, four are being renovated, 16 under construction, eight announced — a total of 178 from Nigeria to Argentina to Ukraine, and dotted all over the United States. That number includes a rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

But in those days of Nauvoo, it was the hearts of the people responding to the heart of the Lord — not knowing what glories and blessings the great, unknown future would hold, but knowing what had to be done.

Reporting on the October 1845 conference, it was written: “Through the indefatigable exertions, unceasing industry, and heaven-blessed labors, in the midst of trials, tribulations, poverty, and worldly obstacles, solemnized, in some instances by death, about 5,000 Saints had the inexpressible joy and great gratification to meet for the first time in the House of the Lord in the City of Joseph. From mites and tithing, millions had risen up to the glory of God, as a temple where the children of the last kingdom could come together.

“Brigham Young opened the services of the day with a dedicatory prayer, presenting the temple, thus far completed, as a monument to the Saints’ liberality, fidelity, and faith — concluding: ‘Lord, we dedicate this house, and ourselves unto thee.’

“(We are) offering up the gratitude of honest hearts, for so great a privilege as worshipping God, within ... an edifice whose motto is ‘Holiness to the Lord.’” (see "Times and Seasons," Vol. 7 as quoted in Lundwall's “Temples of the Most High”).

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865648762/The-history-power-of-the-pioneer-era-Nauvoo-Temple.html?pg=1

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Mormons on Mount Scopus

BYU’s Jerusalem campus hasn’t unleashed a wave of missionaries. But it hasn’t opened much interfaith dialogue, either.


BYU Jerusalem Center - artwork by J Kirk Richards

(by Yair Rosenberg tabletmag.com 5-15-15)

In 1986, ultra-Orthodox pop star Mordechai Ben David released a single titled “Jerusalem Is Not for Sale.” From its name and overwrought opening stanzas—“Jerusalem, her holiness crying, defiling her dearest location”—one could be forgiven for thinking it is a religious protest song against dividing the city in a peace deal. But then comes the chorus:

Jerusalem is not for sale!
Voices crying, thundering throughout our cities.
You better run for your life, back to Utah overnight,
Before the mountaintop opens wide to swallow you inside.


Far from an anthem against encroaching Palestinians, the song is actually a call to arms against Mormons. It is a relic of the explosive debate that engulfed Israeli society over the construction of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem campus, which marks its 27th anniversary this week. The incendiary affair brought thousands to protest in the streets of Jerusalem, precipitated a no-confidence motion in the Israeli government, and led hundreds of U.S. Congress members to intervene in the Jewish state’s internal politics.

(for the rest of the article please click link below)

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/190863/byu-jerusalem-campus


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Southern Baptist foreign missionaries drop by nearly 1,000

(by Adelle Banks religionnews.com 2-25-16)

One out of five Southern Baptist missionaries overseas — or nearly 1,000 total — have volunteered to leave their posts to help the denomination’s mission board deal with its financial straits. That’s in addition to the departure of a third of the staff of the International Mission Board, also mostly through a voluntary program.

“Obviously, this number exceeds what we needed,” said its president, David Platt, at a trustee meeting Wednesday (Feb. 24). But he said the departure of 983 missionaries means the mission board will be in improved financial health.

In August, leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination announced that the board would need to cut up to 800 employees, after spending a total of $210 million more than it had received since 2010.

The number of missionaries now stands at about 3,800 and there are about 300 staffers, said IMB spokeswoman Julie McGowan. In August, there were 4,800 missionaries and 450 staff. Officials had said the missionary force needed to be reduced to 4,200 to balance the budget.

Platt said that although “these brothers and sisters will be missed,” it is time to turn to the future and the board’s goal of taking the gospel to those who have not heard it.

In addition to remaining the largest missionary-sending organization of its kind, Platt suggested that the current full-time foreign missionaries can be augmented by Southern Baptists ranging from students to retirees who spend time overseas.

Southern Baptists, along with other Christian denominations, have seen a decline in membership, dropping from 16.3 million in 2003 to just under 15.5 million in 2016.

Two prominent Baptist state conventions — in Texas and North Carolina — have set aside $1.5 million to help provide jobs to missionaries returning to the U.S. McGowan said the funds would be used specifically to evangelize immigrants in those states.

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http://www.religionnews.com/2016/02/24/southern-baptist-missionaries-drop-by-1000-with-volunteer-departures/

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Major Announcement: Omanis Grant Permission to Dig at Nephi’s Bountiful


During the month of February a team of archaeologists, scholars and divers, headed by Dr. F. Richard Hauck, will be at Nephi’s Bountiful on a dig to find answers to some critical questions about conditions there in 600 BC. Representing Meridian, the Proctors will be there as well to give our readers day-by-day coverage of this spiritual and archaeological adventure. Come with us to the edge of the Arabian Peninsula and the edge of our ancient scriptural history.

The Khor Kharfot Foundation, headed by Clyde and Karen Parker, Mark and Lori Hamilton and the Proctors, sent teams of archaeologists, botanists and scholars twice in 2013 and again last year to do reconnaissance and analyze the site. Now the work expands.

(by Scott and Maurine Proctor ldsmag.com 2-10-16)

It seemed impossible that the government that rules the devoted Muslim country of Oman on the southeastern cap of the Arabian Penninsula would grant permission for an archaeological team, headed by a Latter-day Saint, to dig at the isolated beach called Khor Kharfot which is not just the most, but probably the only viable candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful.

Not only have the Omanis granted permission, they are willing to be our partners, facilitate the work, allow samples to be taken out of the country to be analyzed and more. These are Muslims graciously supporting a very Mormon project—to know everything we can about Nephi’s Bountiful.

How that came to be is the remarkable story we will tell here, but to understand why this is breathtakingly significant requires some context.

In describing Bountiful where he built the ship, Nephi gives us specific details, including that it is a place on the seashore accessible from the high desert, directly east of Nahom, a place of much fruit and honey and a place with significant timber. It must have a supply of fresh water, iron ore to make tools, flint to make fire, a mountain close enough that he can go there to pray often, and cliffs by the seashore since his brothers threaten to throw him in.

The location of Nahom has been discovered in Yemen, a place called by that name long before Lehi trudged that way in 600 B.C. So what directly east of there could possibly fit these many criteria specified or suggested in Nephi’s story?

Frankly, Nephi’s Bountiful just doesn’t fit the dry, barren, treeless expanse of Arabia. His Bountiful would be as distinctive as a diamond in the sand in that landscape. What is tree-covered and verdant in Arabia? Only a few possible candidates—and all of them miss in several ways. Only one place meets every criterion—an isolated beach near the border of Yemen called Khor Kharfot.

Warren Aston discovered this place more than 25 years ago and a small string of Latter-day Saints have found their way to this beach ever since. What was clear is that though it is totally unoccupied now, at least two waves of people have lived in this small area in the past and have left their archaeology behind as mute witnesses that they were here.

A lagoon of fresh water divides the beach and on both sides is a rich network of archaeology. Long, double lines of stones stretch across the beach. Enclosures and the fallen remains of buildings scar the landscape. A large mound that was once some kind of tower stands on the east. An overhang protects ancient graffiti. Walls direct what was once run off from mountain springs. The archaeology at Kharfot is pristine, untouched and unstudied, but it begs to be.

If this is Nephi’s Bountiful, questions leap immediately to mind. How was the vegetation different then? What trees were growing? How about the lagoon which is now stopped by a sand bar from flowing into the sea? Did its water once flow directly into the sea and was, therefore, a perfect place to build a ship?

What was the date that the first settlers came, and then left this place? Did Nephi and Lehi arrive at a place with abandoned dwellings, so that as the Lord had promised, every needful thing was prepared for them, and they only had to occupy this place?

The Most Important Question

The question that matters most of all is almost too tantalizing to ask. Did Nephi and Lehi leave anything behind that can indicate that they were here? At first, the answer would seem to be ‘no.’ They were here perhaps two to four years preparing all things and building this ship, not long enough it seems to have left their mark.

That’s what we all assumed, but when Warren Aston gave Richard Hauck a drawing of the remains of one particular structure on the western side of the Khor, he was thunderstruck. Hauck had extensively studied Solomon’s Temple, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, and similar structures in Central America, so he recognized immediately what he was looking at. He had eyes to see what no other casual observer could have noticed.

What was drawn was the outline of a sanctuary for worship with an architectural footprint and a layout that correlated directly with Solomon’s Temple. It appears in every way to be the remains of a Hebrew sanctuary. In that trip and the ones to follow to Khor Kharfot, Hauck carefully studied the specific site where this drawing had been made.

He could see from the remains left behind that the structure, which had once been there, employed the sacred concepts in measurement and design that had been built into Solomon’s Temple. In fact, he found 14 correlations that lined up with not only Solomon’s Temple, but two temple sites where he had worked on site in Central America. (Meridian will feature an article tomorrow from Richard Hauck talking in detail about the sanctuary site.)

As an archaeologist, Hauck found himself moving from thinking that Kharfot was a possible site for Nephi’s Bountiful, to believing it to be probable. Who but a prophet would have built a sanctuary for his family’s worship that so specifically incorporated all of the sacred concepts evident in Solomon’s Temple?

What was also intriguing was that, despite the extensive archaeology, at Kharfot that indicated another Muslim population had been at this site some time in the last several hundred years, the sanctuary site was untouched. The sanctuary’s locality is in the most favorable spot at Kharfot, being up on a ridge that catches a continuous ocean breeze that alleviates the heat present everywhere else.

It would have been a likely place for someone else to build, thus obscuring the sanctuary that had been there, but the springs that fed the site had dried up over the centuries, and no one else had chosen to build there—a boon that made the outlines of the sanctuary clear.

Now, the next step to learn more about this sanctuary site and to answer all the other questions was to dig—to do that careful, patient archaeological work that reveals the past to the present—but that required the Omani’s permission.

The Khor Kharfot Foundation members had often talked about what we would do when we got to this juncture. We were not certain that in this devout Muslim country that a project from Mormons about the Book of Mormon would be much appreciated. We were not certain, in fact, that they wouldn’t exclude us altogether from Kharfot moving forward.

Hauck gathered a sophisticated team of archaeologists, none of whom happened to be LDS, but each with specialties that were important for the work, and created an archaeological research design for the site.

 The design would answer all of the questions we had about Nephi’s Bountiful as well as much more. It was time to take it to the Omani government to get permission. The archaeological research design stood on its own, without the need to explain our dearest motivation—to learn more about Nephi.

The Plot Thickens

On Nov. 8, 2015, Hauck and archaeologist, Kimball Banks, met in two meetings with Omani officials. In the first were key people to approve the dig, Dr. Said Alsalmi, the Director General for the Advisor’s Office for Cultural Affairs and Hassan Al-Jaberi, the Director of Archaeological Sites. All of the Omanis, of course, were dressed in their traditional Omani garb, white robes and head wraps.

Hauck and Banks gave an overall presentation about the archaeological importance of the Khor Kharfot region to the cultural history of Oman. They went over various research factors and the Omanis agreed that each one was important.

They said the final decision about the permit would not drag on into the future, but would be made that very day and all looked favorable. Then came a surprise when Said said they would shortly be meeting with the Sultan’s Advisor, His Excellency Al Rowas.

Just as they were leaving for this meeting Hassan asked a question, which totally dumbfounded Hauck. He said he had some confusion about whether there was actually one or two prophets. Were Nephi and Lehi two prophets or one? This couldn’t have been more of a surprise since the Book of Mormon hadn’t come up at all as a topic of discussion in their meeting.

That was all about to change.

His Excellency’s first question was something to the effect, “What is it you wish to accomplish in coming to Oman?” Hauck began to give him the overview of the Khor Kharfot Archaeological District, evaluating Paleolithic, Neolilthic through Bronze and Iron Age occupations in the Middle East.

His Excellency was clearly not pleased and said that Hauck had really not answered the question he had asked in several ways. “You have not come all this way and expense to study frankincense trade? We know what has been happening at Khor Kharfot. If you do not respond to this question our interview will be immediately terminated.”

Hauck wrote, “As I realized what the advisor was asking for, I immediately concluded that I should give him what he sought even though it might cost us our opportunity for obtaining permission to work at Khor Kharfot. I knew that explaining to them the Mormon connection to Oman—that Khor Kharfot is a viable candidate for the lost land of Bountiful where a ship was constructed by ancient Book of Mormon prophets—might even get us kicked out of the country. Concluding that being transparent about our research intentions was the only chance we had to be successful in this endeavor, I dove into the seething cauldron.

“Taking a deep breath I stated, I am a Mormon. but Drs. Kimball Banks and Linda Cummings are not Mormons and therefore they are not interested in the Mormon connection at Khor Kharfot.” I continued by stating that because of this fundamental but necessary difference, we, as professionals work in two layers. One layer is the general overall research plan that needs to be undertaken in order to understand the temporal and spatial cultural context for the KK district. And the other layer, which as Mormons we superimpose over the first, relates to the purpose we Mormons have for wanting to do archaeological and environmental research at KK.

“I went on to outline that Lehi’s small extended family fleeing oppression trekked from Jerusalem southward along the Frankincense caravan route to Nahom in what is today Yemen, and then they turned directly east and continued to the coast of the Arabian Sea in the present state of Oman. That heading brought them directly to the Khor Kharfot area. I mentioned that for a short period, estimated from two to four years, that they were there on the Omani coast building a ship which was used to carry them across the sea to the Americas.

“I concluded by relating how Nephi, in his writings continually refers to the journey of his family from their certain destruction in Jerusalem to freedom in the Promised Land of the New World and likens that trek to the mass movement of Moses and his people from bondage in Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land of Palestine.”

This is what the Advisor to the Sultan wanted to hear. Then he asked another key question. Hauck said, “He wondered whether we had found any actual evidence of the earlier Book of Mormon visitors to Khor Kharfot? The Spirit was very strong and I knew that I should go-for-broke.

“I replied saying, ‘Yes, we do have some evidence that might relate to the short period Lehi and Nephi resided at Khor Kharfot.’ While making that statement, I extracted the plan view drawing of the Sanctuary Site and laid it out before the Omanis. I explained that this structure appeared to represent a place of worship. Its architecture and its measurements both being completely consistent with those of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and also with several other ancient temple complexes where I have worked in Central America.

“All three Omanis listened very carefully and seemed to be completely open to everything I related. The Sultan ’s Advisor then stressed to us that his office was completely unbiased and open to all peoples and religions and beliefs and that he and his staff would respect our interests.”

His Excellency brought out a front-page article from that very morning’s newspaper containing an article about the Sultan’s address to UNESCO 38th General Conference in Paris where he stressed the need for creating and maintaining brotherly relationships among all nations and people, he decried the violence that exists in the Middle East, and he uses his own country and government to demonstrate the applicability of such open and all-embracing friendships.

In what to us was an absolute miracle, the Omanis gave full permission for our archaeological efforts at Khor Kharfot and will be our partners to facilitate the work.

Now, we will see what we find.

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http://ldsmag.com/major-announcement-omanis-grant-permission-to-dig-at-nephis-bountiful/

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Remembering the history of the LDS Church on the Hawaiian Islands

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 2-18-16)

In September 1850, Charles C. Rich of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called 10 young elders to leave Northern California and commence missionary work in the Sandwich or Hawaiian Islands. After a rough month at sea, they reached Honolulu in December; within days, Elder George Q. Cannon and two others were assigned to the island of Maui.

Mid-19th-century Hawaii bore little resemblance to today’s modern American state. The Maui elders lived first in a grass shack in Lahaina. Later, a generous woman named Nalimanui offered to move in with her daughter to allow the missionaries to use her home.

Eventually a counselor to four LDS Church presidents, President Cannon has acquired legendary status in Hawaiian Mormon history, partly because of his miraculous command of the native language.

On one occasion, while praying in a garden behind Nalimanui’s home, President Cannon received a powerful divine manifestation so sacred to him that he seldom mentioned it in public and never supplied details. Later, though, he recorded that God “revealed himself to me as he had never done before. … Many things were revealed to me during those days, when he was the only friend we had to lean upon. A friendship was thus established between our Father and myself, which I trust will never be broken or diminished. … He condescended to commune with me, for I heard his voice more than once as one man speaks with another.”

On his deathbed in 1901, President Cannon assured his son that he knew that God lived because he had heard his voice. However, there is more: During an 1893 meeting in the newly completed Salt Lake Temple, he testified that he had “seen and conversed with Christ as a man talks with his friend,” “face to face.”

“I know that God lives,” he wrote in the Deseret Evening News on Oct. 6, 1896. “I know that Jesus lives; for I have seen him. … I testify to you of these things as one that knows — as one of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Lahaina, on Maui, may have been President Cannon’s personal “sacred grove.”

In March 1851, he traveled via the Iao Valley from Lahaina to Wailuku, where he met and baptized a prominent Hawaiian judge named Jonathan (or Jonatana) Napela. Together, they eventually translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian.

With Napela’s help, President Cannon established himself in Pulehu, a settlement in the Kula district on the volcanic slopes of Haleakala, where, under his leadership in 1852, the already rapidly growing LDS community built a one-room chapel that is older than the Salt Lake Tabernacle and still stands today. Its importance for Hawaii compares to that of Wilford Woodruff’s Gadfield Elm chapel for England.

Later, during an 1869 trip to Utah, Napela became the first Hawaiian to receive the ordinances of the temple. Unfortunately, his wife, Kitty Napela, was diagnosed in 1873 with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, and was sent to Molokai’s famous leper colony at Kalaupapa. Courageously choosing to accompany her, Jonathan Napela devoted the remainder of his life to the colony’s Mormon membership and, working closely with the Belgian-born Catholic priest Father Damien, to serving the entire settlement. Both St. Damien — canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI — and Jonathan Napela themselves ultimately died of leprosy.

However, Hawaiian Mormonism didn’t die. President Cannon returned to North America in 1854, but more young missionaries arrived in the islands that September. Fifteen-year-old Joseph F. Smith, a future president of the church, was assigned to Kula, where, within just three months, he had mastered the local language and been chosen to preside over more than 2,000 members on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

In 1854, the island of Lanai, easily visible from Lahaina, was chosen as a “gathering place” for the Saints. By 1865, however, Laie, on Oahu, was selected to replace it. Fifty years later, while making his fourth visit to Maui, President Joseph F. Smith also dedicated the site for a temple in Laie. He died before it was completed, but in 2000, a second Hawaiian temple was dedicated in Kona, on the “Big Island.”

In 1921, then-Elder David O. McKay visited the Pulehu chapel with a small group of Saints. While praying there, Elder McKay and others said President Cannon and President Smith, both years dead, joined them.

Maui is famous for its whale watching, snorkeling and sunny beaches. However, it should be famous, too, for its sacred history.

In memory of David J. Cannon, a descendant of President George Q. Cannon and my first senior companion in the Switzerland Zurich Mission, who died, far too young, on Feb. 13.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865647914/Remembering-the-history-of-the-LDS-Church-on-the-Hawaiian-Islands.html

Monday, February 22, 2016

Unearthing the World of Jesus

Surprising archaeological finds are breaking new ground in our understanding of Jesus’s time—and the revolution he launched 2,000 years ago

 
(Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Bethsaida was a day’s walk from Nazareth. When Jesus returned to his boyhood hometown to preach, the Gospels say he was rejected by a mob.)


(by Arial Sabar smithsonianmag.com 1-16)

As he paced the dusty shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, Father Juan Solana had a less-than-charitable thought about the archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority: He wanted them to go away.

Everything else had fallen into place for the Christian retreat he planned to build here. Just up the road was the “evangelical triangle” of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida, the villages where, according to the Gospels, Jesus mesmerized crowds with his miraculous acts and teachings. Across the modern two-lane highway was a small town Israelis still call Migdal, because it was the presumed site of Magdala, the ancient fishing city that was home to Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s most loyal followers.

Solana is an urbane, silver-haired priest with the Legionaries of Christ, a Catholic order founded in Mexico. By that summer of 2009, he’d already raised $20 million for his retreat, which he was calling the “Magdala Center.” He’d bought four adjoining parcels of waterfront land. He’d gotten building permits for a chapel and a guesthouse with more than 100 rooms. Just three months earlier, Pope Benedict XVI had personally blessed the cornerstone. All that remained now was an irksome bit of red tape: a “salvage excavation,” a routine dig by the Israeli government to ensure that no important ruins lay beneath the proposed building site.

The IAA archaeologists had mucked around on Solana’s 20 acres for a month and found little. “Almost done?” he’d ask, emerging in his clerical robes from a shipping container that served as a makeshift office. “I have a budget! I have a timetable!”

In truth, the archaeologists didn’t want to be there either. Summer temperatures had ticked into the 100s, and the site prickled with bees and mosquitoes. They’d say shalom, they assured the priest, as soon as they checked a final, remote corner of his land.

It was there, beneath a wing of the proposed guesthouse, that their picks clinked against the top of a buried wall.

Dina Avshalom-Gorni, an IAA official who oversaw digs in northern Israel, ordered all hands to this square of the excavation grid. The workers squatted in the mealy soil and dusted carefully with brushes. Soon, a series of rough-cut stone benches emerged around what looked like a sanctuary.
It can’t be, Avshalom-Gorni thought.

The Gospels say that Jesus taught and “proclaimed the good news” in synagogues “throughout all Galilee.” But despite decades of digging in the towns Jesus visited, no early first-century synagogue had ever been found.

For historians, this was not a serious problem. Galilean Jews were a week’s walk from Jerusalem, close enough for regular pilgrimages to Herod the Great’s magnificent temple, Judaism’s central house of worship. Galileans, mostly poor peasants and fishermen, had neither the need nor the funds for some local spinoff. Synagogues, as we understand them today, did not appear anywhere in great numbers until several hundred years later. If there were any in Galilee in Jesus’s day, they were perhaps just ordinary houses that doubled as meeting places for local Jews. Some scholars argued that the “synagogues” in the New Testament were nothing more than anachronisms slipped in by the Gospels’ authors, who were writing outside Galilee decades after Jesus’s death.

But as Avshalom-Gorni stood at the edge of the pit, studying the arrangement of benches along the walls, she could no longer deny it: They’d found a synagogue from the time of Jesus, in the hometown of Mary Magdalene. Though big enough for just 200 people, it was, for its time and place, opulent. It had a mosaic floor; frescoes in pleasing geometries of red, yellow and blue; separate chambers for public Torah readings, private study and storage of the scrolls; a bowl outside for the ritual washing of hands.

In the center of the sanctuary, the archaeologists unearthed a mysterious stone block, the size of a toy chest, unlike anything anyone had seen before. Carved onto its faces were a seven-branched menorah, a chariot of fire and a hoard of symbols associated with the most hallowed precincts of the Jerusalem temple. The stone is already seen as one of the most important discoveries in biblical archaeology in decades. Though its imagery and function remain in the earliest stages of analysis, scholars say it could lead to new understandings of the forces that made Galilee such fertile ground for a Jewish carpenter with a world-changing message. It could help explain, in other words, how a backwater of northern Israel became the launching pad for Christianity.

But on that dusty afternoon, Solana had no way of knowing this. He was toweling off after a swim when an IAA archaeologist named Arfan Najar called his cellphone with what seemed like the worst possible news: They’d found something, and everything Solana had worked and prayed for these past five years was on hold.

“Father,” Najar told him, “you have a big, big, big problem.”


(Possible Jesus trial site, found in 2001 in Jerusalem's Old City, the site - thought to have been a part of Herod's palace compound- aligns with descriptions from the Gospel of John.)

The 19th-century French theologian and explorer Ernest Renan called the Galilean landscape the “fifth Gospel,” a “torn, but still legible” tableau of grit and stone that gave “form” and “solidity” to the central texts about Jesus’s life—the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Renan’s somewhat romantic views were not unlike those of the tourists whose gleaming buses I got stuck behind last summer on the road to places like Nazareth and Capernaum; pilgrims have long come to these biblical lands hoping to find what Renan called “the striking agreement of the texts with the places.”

Modern archaeologists working here, however, are less interested in “proving” the Bible than in uncovering facts and context absent from the texts. What religion did ordinary people practice? How did Galileans respond to the arrival of Greek culture and Roman rule? How close did they feel to the priestly elites in Jerusalem? What did they do for work? What, for that matter, did they eat?

The Gospels themselves provide only glancing answers; their purpose is spiritual inspiration, not historical documentation. As for actual firsthand accounts of Galilean life in the first century, only one survives, written by a Jewish military commander named Josephus. This has made archaeology the most fruitful source of new information about Jesus’s world. Each layer of dirt, or stratum, is like a new page, and with much of Galilee still unexcavated, many chapters of this Fifth Gospel remain unread.

The ground in both Galilee and Jerusalem, has disgorged a few stunners. In 1968, a skeletal heel nailed to a board by an iron spike was found in an ossuary, or bone box, inside a first-century tomb near Jerusalem. The heel, which belonged to a man named Yehochanan, helped settle a long-simmering debate about the plausibility of Gospel accounts of Jesus’s tomb burial. Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for the dregs of society, and some experts had scoffed at the idea that Romans would accord anyone so dispatched the dignity of a proper interment. More likely, Jesus’s remains, like those of other common criminals, would have been left to rot on the cross or tossed into a ditch, a fate that might have complicated the resurrection narrative. But Yehochanan’s heel offered an example of a crucified man from Jesus’s day for whom the Romans permitted Jewish burial.

In 1986, after a drought depleted water levels in the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a lake), two brothers walking alongshore found a submerged first-century fishing vessel with seats for 12 passengers and an oarsman. The wooden boat made headlines the world over as an example of the type Jesus and his disciples would have used to cross the lake—and from which, according to the Gospels, Jesus famously calmed a storm.

Such discoveries were thrilling, but limited: one boat, one heel. And many blockbusters—notably an ossuary inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”—have been so fraught with questions of provenance and authenticity that they have produced more controversy than insight.

The ultimate find—physical proof of Jesus himself—has also been elusory. “The sorts of evidence other historical figures leave behind are not the sort we’d expect with Jesus,” says Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University and a leading authority on Galilean history. “He wasn’t a political leader, so we don’t have coins, for example, that have his bust or name. He wasn’t a sufficiently high-profile social leader to leave behind inscriptions. In his own lifetime, he was a marginal figure and he was active in marginalized circles."

What archaeologists have begun to recover is Jesus’s world—the beat of everyday life in the fishing villages where he is said to have planted the seeds of a movement. The deepest insights have come from millions of “small finds” gathered over decades of painstaking excavation: pottery shards, coins, glassware, animal bones, fishing hooks, cobbled streets, courtyard houses and other simple structures.

Before such discoveries, a long line of (mostly Christian) theologians had sought to reinterpret the New Testament in a way that stripped Jesus of his Judaism. Depending on the writer, Jesus was either a man who, though nominally Jewish, wandered freely among pagans; or he was a secular gadfly inspired less by the Hebrews than by the Greek Cynics, shaggy-haired loners who roamed the countryside irritating the powers that be with biting one-liners. 

Archaeology showed once and for all that the people and places closest to Jesus were deeply Jewish. To judge by the bone finds, Galileans didn’t eat pig. To judge by the limestone jugs, they stored liquids in vessels that complied with the strictest Jewish purity laws. Their coins lacked likenesses of humans or animals, in keeping with the Second Commandment against graven images.

Craig A. Evans, an eminent New Testament scholar at Houston Baptist University, says that the “most important gain” of the last few decades of historical Jesus research is a “renewed appreciation of the Judaic character of Jesus, his mission and his world.”

The discoveries solidified the portrait of Jesus as a Jew preaching to other Jews. He was not out to convert gentiles; the movement he launched would take that turn after his death, as it became clear that most Jews didn’t accept him as the messiah. Nor was he a loner philosopher with an affinity for the Greek Cynics. Instead, his life drew on—or at least repurposed—bedrock Jewish traditions of prophecy, messianism and social justice critique as old as the Hebrew Bible.

What archaeology is still untangling, as the professors John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed put it in their book Excavating Jesus, is “Why did Jesus happen when and where he happened?” For many of the devout, the most meaningful answer is that God willed it so. But archaeologists and historians are searching for the man of history as much as the figure of faith, and in the Fifth Gospel they’re finding a clearer picture of how first-century Galilee may have set the stage for a messianic figure—and for a group of people who’d drop everything to follow him.


(A fourth-century glass plate, unearthed in Spain in 2014, is engraved with one of the earliest depictions of Jesus, framed by two apostles.)

The ruins of Bethsaida lie atop an oval-shaped, 20-acre mound of volcanic earth. Flowing all around are the hills of the Golan, which plunge through stands of eucalyptus and across plains of mango and palm groves to the Sea of Galilee.

Bethsaida was home to as many as five apostles—far more than any other New Testament town. It was where Jesus is said to have healed the blind man and multiplied the loaves and fishes. And it was the target of his notorious curse—the “Woe” saying—in which he lashes out at Bethsaida and two other towns for their failure to repent. And yet how could it be both the wellspring of devotion and the victim of curse? The Scriptures are silent.

A more practical problem for centuries of pilgrims and explorers was that no one knew where Bethsaida was. The Gospels allude to it as a “lonely place,” “across the lake,” “to the other side.” Josephus said it was in the lower Golan, above where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee. And after the third century, most likely because of a devastating earthquake, Bethsaida—Aramaic for “House of the Fisherman”—all but vanished from the historical record.

Its strange disappearance was part of the allure for Rami Arav, a Galilee-born archaeologist now at the University of Nebraska Omaha. When he returned home after getting his PhD from New York University, he told me, “I looked at a map and I said, What can I do that has not been done so far? There was one site with a big question mark next to it, and that was Bethsaida."

In 1987, Arav conducted digs at three mounds near the lake’s northern shore. He concluded that only one, known as et-Tell, had ruins old enough to be biblical Bethsaida. (The State of Israel and many scholars accept his identification, though some controversy lingers.)

Arav’s dig is now one of the longest ongoing excavations in all of Israel. Over 28 summers, he and his colleagues—including Carl Savage of Drew University and Richard Freund of the University of Hartford—have uncovered a fisherman’s house used in Jesus’s day, a winemaker’s quarters from a century earlier and a city gate from Old Testament times.

What I had come to see, however, was a discovery that made Bethsaida an outlier among the stops on Jesus’s Galilean ministry. At the apex of the mound, not long after he’d begun digging, Arav unearthed the basalt walls of a rectangular building.

Was it a synagogue? To judge by other finds, Bethsaida was a majority Jewish town. But the rudimentary structure had no benches or other hallmarks of early synagogue architecture.

Instead, the archaeologists discovered evidence of pagan worship: bronze incense shovels similar to those found in Roman temples; palm-size votive objects in the shape of boat anchors and grape clusters; terra-cotta figurines of a woman who resembled Livia (sometimes known as Julia), the wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus and mother of Tiberius, who succeeded Augustus in the year A.D. 14.

At first, it didn’t make sense. Arav knew the Romans regarded their rulers as both human and divine, worshiping them as deities. But Herod the Great and his sons, who ruled the Land of Israel as Rome’s client kings, had been sensitive to the region’s Jews. They built no pagan structures in Galilee and kept the faces of rulers off local coins.

But Bethsaida, Arav realized, lay a hair over the Galilee border, in the Golan, a region just to the northeast that was home to gentile villages and was ruled by Herod’s son Philip, the only Jew at the time to put his face on a coin. (Galilee was ruled by Philip’s brother Antipas.) In the year 30, according to Josephus, Philip dedicated Bethsaida to Livia, who had died the year before. In his eagerness to endear himself to his Roman masters, might Philip have built a pagan temple to the emperor’s mother? Might he have done so in precisely the period when Jesus was visiting Bethsaida?

On a sweltering morning, amid the buzz of cicadas, Arav led me past the fisherman’s house to the temple site. It doesn’t look like much now. Its waist-high walls enclose a 20- by 65-foot area, with small porches on either end. Strewn among the weeds inside were fragments of a limestone column that may have graced the temple’s entrance.

As some scholars see it, the pagan temple may be a key to why so many of the apostles hailed from here—and why, all the same, Jesus winds up cursing the place. The early first century brought new hardships to the Land of Israel, as Rome’s tightening grip fueled bitter debates about how best to be a Jew. But the Jews of Bethsaida—unlike those at other stops on Jesus’s ministry—faced an additional indignity: Their ruler Philip, himself a Jew, had erected a temple to a Roman goddess in their very midst.

“It’s ultimate chutzpah,” Freund, a Judaic studies specialist who has co-edited four books with Arav about Bethsaida, said as we sat on a picnic bench beneath the temple ruins. “It cannot but affect your spiritual life to every day go out and do your fishing, come home and try to live as a Jew, eat your kosher food, pray inside your courtyard house and then at the same time you’re seeing these plumes of smoke rising from the temple of Julia, and you’re saying, ‘Who are we? Who are we?’”

The city’s accommodation to its pagan overlords may explain why Jesus damns the place. He’d performed some of his greatest miracles here, according to the Gospels: He’d healed a blind man; he’d fed thousands; from the top of Bethsaida, the site of the Roman temple itself, people would have been able to see him walk on water. And yet in the end, the better part of them did not repent.

“Woe unto thee, Bethsaida!” Jesus rails in Matthew 11:21. “For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon”—gentile cities on the Phoenician coast that Jesus perhaps invokes for shaming purposes—“they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

Still, some of Bethsaida’s fishermen—among them Peter, Andrew, Philip, James and John, soon to become apostles—may have gazed on that pagan temple and said, Enough. Perhaps, at just that time, a Jewish visionary came along, offering what looked like a clearer path back to the God they loved.

The discovery of Jewish and pagan relics in so important a stop on Jesus’s ministry shows that “there was more diversity in Jewish life” than is sometimes acknowledged, says Savage, the author of Biblical Bethsaida, a 2011 book about the Jesus-era archaeological finds. The conventional view is that Jews had split into a small number of competing sects. “But it may be more complicated than just three or four poles.”

On my last day at Bethsaida, Savage spent the morning grappling with a more practical question: how to hoist a quarter-ton boulder off the floor of an ancient villa so his team could start in on the stratum beneath. Dust-caked volunteers lassoed the rock in a canvas sling. When Savage yelled “Roll it!” they tugged on a tripod-mounted pulley, inching the boulder over the side of a low embankment.


(Synagogue discovered in 2009)
 
If Bethsaida is the outer bound of Jesus’s Galilean world, Magdala, ten miles southwest, is in many ways its geographical center. A two-hour walk north of Magdala is Capernaum, where the Gospels say Jesus headquartered his ministry. It would have been nearly impossible for Jesus to travel between his boyhood home in Nazareth and the evangelical triangle without passing through Magdala.

But the Gospels reveal almost nothing about it. Was it mere chance that Mary Magdalene lived there? Or might something have been afoot in Magdala that helped turn her into one of Jesus’s most devoted acolytes—a woman who funds his work out of her own wealth and follows him all the way to the cross, and the tomb, in Jerusalem, even as other disciples abandon him?

On a blazing morning in late June, I turned off Galilee’s shoreline road into a dirt lot of wind-bent palms and tent-covered ruins. A small sign outside said, “Magdala. Open to Visitors.”

I found Father Solana in the kitchen of a small rectory. As his assistant poured coffee, Solana told me that his interest in the site went back to 2004, when the Vatican sent him to the Holy Land to revive the Church’s majestic 19th-century guesthouse near Jerusalem’s Old City. On a road trip through Galilee soon after he arrived, he noticed that pilgrims there were badly underserved: There weren’t enough hotels or even enough bathrooms. Thus his dream of a Galilean sister site, a place he called the “Magdala Center.” (The name reflects both its location and one of its missions—women’s spirituality.)

Solana told me he sees the showstopping archaeological finds now as “divine providence,” a sign that God had bigger plans for the project.

In 2010, he brought in his own team of archaeologists from Mexico. He wanted to excavate even those parts of the church’s property that he wasn’t legally required to study—the 11 acres he had no plans to build on. Working with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Mexican archaeologists, who have been back nearly every year since, found a first-century treasure trove: a full-blown residential district, a marketplace, a fishing harbor, four Jewish ritual baths, and unusual plastered basins where residents appear to have salt-cured fish for export. The site, it turned out, had been home not just to a synagogue but to a flourishing community, one that was a near match for ancient descriptions of the bustling fishing port of Magdala.

The ruins were so well preserved that Marcela Zapata-Meza, the archaeologist now leading the dig, started calling Magdala “the Israeli Pompeii.” Josephus, the first-century historian, wrote that the people of Magdala eagerly joined the Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66. But the Roman legions crushed them, turning the lake “all bloody, and full of dead bodies.” The city, it seems, was never rebuilt. (Three coins were found at the synagogue, from A.D. 29, 43 and 63, but no later.) Except for a mid-20th-century stint as a shabby Hawaiian-themed resort, Magdala appears to have lain undisturbed until IAA shovels hit the synagogue wall in 2009, less than a foot-and-a-half beneath the surface.

“It looked like it was waiting for us for 2,000 years,” Avshalom-Gorni told me.


(Bearing one of the earliest-known carvings of the temple's menorah, the stone block, some scholars believe was an altar in a first-century synagogue where Jesus may have preached.)

On an ancient street beside the synagogue ruins, Zapata-Meza pointed to a barricade that appeared to have been hastily assembled from fragments of the synagogue’s interior columns. As the Romans descended on the city 2,000 years ago, the Magdalans seem to have scuttled parts of their own synagogue, piling the rubble into a chest-high roadblock. The purpose, Zapata-Meza says, was likely twofold: to impede the Roman troops and to protect the synagogue from defilement. (Magdala’s Jewish ritual baths, or mikvaot, also appear to have been deliberately hidden, beneath a layer of shattered pottery.)

“In Mexico, it’s very common: The Aztecs and Mayans did it at their holy sites when they expected to be attacked,” says Zapata-Meza, who has excavated such areas in Mexico. “It’s called ‘killing’ the space.”

Another oddity is that although ancient synagogues are normally at the center of town, the one in Magdala clings to the northernmost corner, the spot closest to Jesus’s headquarters in Capernaum. Measuring 36 by 36 feet, it is big enough for just 5 percent of the 4,000 people who might have lived in Magdala in Jesus’s day.

“We know from the sources that Jesus wasn’t in the mainstream of the Jewish community,”

Avshalom-Gorni told me. “Maybe it was comfortable for him to have this gathering house at the edge of Magdala, not in the middle.”

Her hunch is that no synagogue so small and so finely decorated would have been built without some kind of charismatic leader. “It tells us something about these 200 people,” she says. “It tells us this was a community for whom walking to the Temple in Jerusalem wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They needed more.”

The stone block found in the sanctuary is one-of-a-kind. In none of the world’s other synagogues from this era—six of them in Israel, the other one in Greece—have archaeologists found a single Jewish symbol; yet the faces of this stone are a gallery of them. When I asked how this could be, Avshalom-Gorni told me to go to Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, and talk with an art historian named Rina Talgam.

I visited Talgam in her small campus office a few days later. On her desk was a stack of plastic-wrapped copies of her new book, Mosaics of Faith, a phonebook-thick study that spans five religions and a thousand years of history.

The IAA has given Talgam exclusive access to the stone, and she is at work on an exhaustive interpretation. The paper isn’t likely to be published until later this year, but she agreed to speak with me about her preliminary conclusions.

The stone, she says, is a schematic, 3-D model of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. Whoever carved it had likely seen the temple’s highly restricted innermost sanctums, or at least had heard about them directly from someone who had been there. On one side of the stone is a menorah, or Jewish candelabrum, whose design matches other likenesses—on coins and graffiti—from before A.D. 70, when the Romans destroyed the temple. The menorah had stood behind golden doors in the temple’s Holy Place, a sanctuary off-limits to all but the priests. On the other faces of the stone—appearing in the order a person walking front to back would have encountered them—are other furnishings from the temple’s most sacrosanct areas: the Table of Showbread, where priests stacked 12 bread loaves representing the 12 tribes of Israel; and a rosette slung between two palm-shaped columns, which Talgam believes is the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, a small chamber only the high priest could enter and only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

On the side opposite the menorah—past reliefs of columned arches, altars and oil lamps—was an engraving that left Talgam dumbstruck: a pair of fire-spitting wheels. Talgam believes they represent the bottom half of the chariot of God, an object seen as one of the Old Testament’s holiest—and most concrete—images of the divine.

“This is really shocking,” Talgam told me. “One is not supposed to depict the chariot of God, even its lower portion.” She believes the stone’s designer etched it on the rear of the stone to symbolize the temple’s backmost room, the Holy of Holies.

Most experts think the stone, which rests on four stubby legs, served in some fashion as a rest for Torah scrolls, but its precise function is still a matter of debate. Talgam’s study will dispute earlier reports that it is made of limestone, in widespread use at the time for decorative objects. Though scientific tests are pending, Talgam suspects the Magdala stone is quartzite, an extremely hard rock shunned by most artisans because of how difficult it is to carve. The choice of material, she believes, is another sign of its importance to the community.

For Talgam, the stone suggests another fault line in Jewish life at the time of Jesus. After the Assyrians conquered Israel seven centuries earlier, Jews lived under a succession of foreign rulers: Babylonians, Persians, Greeks. They tasted self-rule again only in the second century B.C., when the Maccabees vanquished the Greeks in one of history’s biggest military upsets. But autonomy was brief; in 63 B.C., Pompey the Great sacked Jerusalem, yoking the Land of Israel to Rome.

The Romans venerated idols, imposed heavy taxes and dealt ruthlessly with the meekest of Jewish rabble-rousers. (Antipas beheaded John the Baptist on the whim of his stepdaughter.) Even more galling, perhaps, was Rome’s meddling in what had always been a Jewish perquisite: the appointment of the temple’s high priests. Among those selected by Rome was Caiaphas, the high priest who would accuse Jesus of blasphemy and plot his execution.

A sense of siege deepened the divisions among the Jews, who decades earlier had splintered into sects. The Sadducees became collaborators with the Roman elites. The Pharisees, who clashed with Jesus, according to the Gospels, believed in to-the-letter observance of Jewish law. The Essenes, dissident separatists, withdrew into caves above the Dead Sea, where their writings—the Dead Sea Scrolls—would be discovered 2,000 years later. Another group, whose slogan was “No king but God,” was known simply as “The Fourth Philosophy."

In Talgam’s view, the Magdala stone expresses yet another response to a Judaism in crisis: an emerging belief that God doesn’t reside in Jerusalem, that he is accessible to any Jew, anywhere, who commits to him. And that may explain why some of Magdala’s Jews felt free to do the once-unthinkable. They appropriated the great temple, including its Holy of Holies, and they miniaturized it, setting it within the walls of their own provincial synagogue.

This shift, Talgam says, is in many ways a forerunner to New Testament themes of God’s kingdom being not just in Heaven, but also on earth and inside the human heart. “We know that at that time people like Paul and the Jewish philosopher Philo started to say, God is not particularly in Jerusalem. He’s everywhere. He’s in Heaven, but he’s also within the community and he’s within each of us,” Talgam told me. “That’s also the basis for an approach that we see in the New Testament: That we should start to work God in a more spiritual way,” tied more closely to individual devotion and less to where the temple is, who the high priests are, and who the emperor happens to be. It’s not a rejection of Judaism or the temple, she says, but “a kind of democratization.” In the Old Testament, as in the temple in Jerusalem, the divine is visible only to the elect. In Magdala, the stone offers “a concrete depiction,” she says, “visible to the entire community.”

Talgam believes that the leaders of the Magdala synagogue would have been predisposed to give a visitor like Jesus a sympathetic hearing—and maybe even, as Avshalom-Gorni suggests, a chance to preach to the congregation. They, too, were exploring new, more direct ways of relating to God.

But what of Mary Magdalene? The Gospels say that Jesus purged her of seven demons, an act of healing often interpreted as the spark for her intense devotion. But they leave out a key detail: how she and Jesus met. If Talgam is right about this synagogue’s reformist leanings, Jesus may have found his most steadfast disciple within its very walls.


(Archaeologists digging at Bethsaida)

The archaeological finds upended Solana’s plans—and raised his costs—but they have not deterred him. He opened the spirituality center—an oasis of mosaics, intimate chapels and picture windows overlooking the Sea of Galilee—in May 2014. The guesthouse, with a new design that skirts the ancient synagogue site, could welcome pilgrims as early as 2018. But Solana has decided to set aside the better part of his property as a working archaeological park, open to the public. He sees the Magdala Center now in a new light, as a crossroads of Jewish and Christian history meaningful to people of every faith.

“We didn’t find any evidence yet that says for sure Jesus was here,” Solana acknowledges, taking a break from the heat on a bench inside the synagogue. But the sight of archaeologists fills him with hope now, where once there was only dread.

“To have scientific, archaeological evidence of Jesus’s presence is not a small thing for a Christian,” he tells me, looking up and thrusting his palms toward the sky. “We will keep digging.”

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http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/unearthing-world-jesus-180957515/#5W6hR5X0xbsurafB.01

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Book of Mormon wasn't what they expected

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 2-11-16)

Even before publication of the Book of Mormon in March 1830, most people knew what to expect from “that spindle shanked ignoramus Jo Smith,” as Abner Cole would shortly describe him. And opinions didn’t change after it actually appeared.

When Samuel Smith placed a copy with him in the summer of 1830, the Methodist preacher John P. Greene quickly dismissed it as a “nonsensical fable.” It was a “miserable production,” sniffed the Ashtabula (Ohio) Journal in 1831.

On The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ first birthday — April 6, 1831 — the editors of the Brockport (New York) Free Press pronounced the Book of Mormon “a fiction of hobgoblins and bugbears.” The volume is “a bungling and stupid production,” said the Religious Herald in 1840. And, in their 1841 "Historical Collections of the State of New York," John W. Barber and Henry Howe described it as “mostly a blind mass of words … without much of a leading plan or design. It is in fact such a production as might be expected from a person of Smith’s abilities and turn of mind.”

In 1842, Daniel Kidder found it “nothing but a medley of incoherent absurdities,” and J.B. Turner called it “a bundle of gibberish.” In 1930, the literary critic Bernard DeVoto declared it “a yeasty fermentation, formless, aimless and inconceivably absurd.”

Most, though not all, of the early reactions to the book cited above are discussed in Jeremy Chatelain’s “The Early Reception of the Book of Mormon in Nineteenth-Century America,” in “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder."

From the beginning, however, others responded differently, and the Book of Mormon has been ranked among the most influential books in American history (see "Bible, Book of Mormon make list of top 50 influential books"). Merely hearing the term “Gold Bible,” said the early 19th-century religious seeker Solomon Chamberlain, “there was a power like electricity (that) went from the top of my head to the end of my toes. The Lord revealed to me by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost that this was the work I had been looking for.”

“As I read,” Parley Pratt wrote of his own experience, “the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists.”

John Greene’s wife, Rhoda, convinced him to give the book another chance, and, between his 1832 baptism and his death in 1844, he served 11 missions for the restored church. That same copy of the Book of Mormon brought Heber C. Kimball, a future apostle and counselor in the First Presidency, into Mormonism, along with the Young brothers — Phineas, Lorenzo, Joseph and Brigham. After two years of careful examination, Brigham recalled, “I knew it was true, as well as I knew that I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers, or be sensible of the demonstration of any sense.”

For the Book of Mormon is demonstrably neither “gibberish” nor “aimless.” (Grant Hardy’s Oxford volume “Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide” has recently destroyed that claim once again.) Many critics have, in fact, faulted the Book of Mormon not for what it actually is but for what they assume it must inevitably be.

As the Catholic sociologist Thomas O’Dea quipped in 1957, “the Book of Mormon has not been universally considered by its critics as one of those books that must be read in order to have an opinion of it.”

“It is a surprisingly big book,” remarked Hugh Nibley, “supplying quite enough rope for a charlatan to hang himself a hundred times. As the work of an imposter, it must unavoidably bear all the marks of fraud. It should be poorly organized, shallow, artificial, patchy and unoriginal. It should display a pretentious vocabulary (the Book of Mormon uses only 3,000 words), overdrawn stock characters, melodramatic situations, gaudy and overdone descriptions, and bombastic diction.” However, Nibley continues, “Whether one believes its story or not, the severest critic of the Book of Mormon, if he reads it with care at all, must admit that it is the exact opposite. … It is carefully organized, specific, sober, factual and perfectly consistent.”

While they’ll discount his obvious assumption that it was composed in the 19th century, believing Latter-day Saints should appreciate the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Daniel Walker Howe’s judgment that “the Book of Mormon should rank among the great achievements of American literature.”

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865647428/The-Book-of-Mormon-wasnt-what-they-expected.html

Friday, February 12, 2016

Kansas City teacher astonishes with $2 million gift to Jesuits

Pope Francis celebrates a mass with the Jesuits in Rome's Jesus' Church, January 3rd, 2014
 
 (by Sally Morrow and David Gibson religionnews.com 2-9-16)
 
Even people who knew Anna Kurzweil well wouldn’t have guessed she was a millionaire.
She grew up on a farm outside of Kansas City, the youngest of eight children, and entered the convent for a few years but spent most of her life as a schoolteacher. She earned less than $20,000 a year, cared for her elderly mother and eventually retired — on a pension of less than $1,000 a month. She died in 2012, just shy of her 101st birthday.

Kurzweil was “just a plain, ordinary person,” Ina Jane Bryan, who worked at the local bank, said recently of the customer who patronized what was then called Farmers Bank on Main Street in Grandview, Mo.

Kurzweil never married, had no children and lived simply and unpretentiously — she wore modest clothing and drove an old car — splurging only on travel abroad.

So when it emerged that the teacher had left a bequest of nearly $2 million to the local province of the Jesuits, nobody could believe it — not her neighborhood acquaintances, not the Jesuits, not even her surviving relatives.

“Even the bank wanted to know how she got the money,” John Van De Vyvere, the trustee on his aunt’s estate, said in an article in the quarterly newsletter of the Jesuits’ Central and Southern Province, which first reported news of the bequest last fall. “They were surprised a schoolteacher had that much money.”

The Rev. Luke Byrne, a retired Jesuit priest who knew Kurzweil in the 1970s while serving as pastor at her neighborhood parish, St. Francis of Xavier in Kansas City, admitted he was taken aback when he heard about the gift to his order.

“Well, that is something else!” Byrne recalled thinking at the time.

“She didn’t come across as a woman who wanted to be treated special, she wasn’t thinking of any special recognition for what she was doing or would in the future,” he told RNS.

Some of Kurzweil’s relatives were astonished by the extent of her estate, though they weren’t completely surprised that this independent-minded woman did what she wanted with it.

“She was a jolly person — kind of strong-headed. She had to have things pretty much her way. She didn’t care to hear anything else,” Van de Vyvere said in an interview with RNS.

Indeed, Kurzweil’s surprising bequest revealed not just an unknown fortune but also a remarkable life that is a tale as rich as her financial legacy.

‘All things ended. I suffered greatly’

She was highly educated, earning a Life Teaching Certificate from what is now called the University of Central Missouri, a Bachelor of Science from Avila University and a master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

According to her obituary — which she wrote herself — Kurzweil attended school in Alaska and Europe, and she spent six weeks working at a leper colony in New Guinea during the summer of 1972. She traveled around the world — went to Europe, Egypt, Australia, and the Holy Land multiple times.

She also worked at Pratt & Whitney — a plant that manufactured plane engines — during World War II.

But her life’s work was education and helping others.

Besides teaching fourth- and fifth-graders for 25 years, she volunteered at a shelter every Saturday for 14 years and for more than a decade helped coordinate classes in an intensive writing therapy program popularized by the late Ira Progoff that aims to help writers get in touch with their true self.

Yet it was Kurzweil’s own inner life, and deep sense of spiritual longing, that animated her — and only emerged in the reams of diaries, poems and other writings discovered after her death.

It is Kurzweil’s poetry in particular that reveals a thoughtful person with a deep spirituality and devotion to God. She was a life member of the International Society of Poets and was elected into the International Poetry Hall of Fame Museum.

In an undated poem titled “My Balcony,” she wrote: Sitting on my balcony, Focusing on the beauty of nature, Realizing all life is sacred, Responding to the call of duty, Knowing my peace is in His Will.

To be sure, her Catholic faith was the golden thread that ran through her life.

She sang in the church choir and, as she noted in her obituary, was a lifelong member of various parish clubs and sodalities even as she later grew fascinated by more esoteric fare like mandalas and the Enneagram. She also became a devotee of Anthony de Mello, an Indian Jesuit and psychotherapist known for his unconventional spiritual writings.

“I have a deep hunger for prayer, and my thinking on the spiritual life has changed drastically,” she wrote in an undated diary entry, according to the article in the Jesuit newsletter.

As a young woman in 1935, she apparently had her heart broken by a fellow teacher.

“It ended. All things ended. I suffered greatly,” she wrote in her journal many years later.

“Then,” she added, “I made my commitment to live for God.”

She seemed to finally fulfill that commitment 13 years later, joining the Sisters of Loretto, a teaching order, in 1948. She took the veil and a religious name, Sister Frances Vincent Kurzweil, and professed first vows two years later.

But in 1954, before taking final vows, she had to leave the order to care for her aging mother, Bertha, who died in 1964. (Her father had died during the war, in 1944.) Kurzweil seemed torn between her loyalty to her mother and her love of religious life, and confessed in her diaries to her deep conflicts, but never shared that inner turmoil.

“It was a very private part of her life,” her niece, Linda Kurzweil of Freeman, Mo., told the Jesuit newsletter. “Maybe she had some regrets” about leaving the convent, she said.

‘When I am dying, how glad I shall be … ‘ The other mystery, of course, is how she managed to save all that money.

Relatives said she did inherit a small nest egg left after the family’s three farms were sold and divvied up among the children. Then, basically, she did it the old-fashioned way: saving and not wasting. “She had good investors. She saved her money — wasn’t a big spender,” said Van de Vyvere.
She left just $5,000 to each of her nieces and nephews, but the Jesuits certainly appreciated her generosity.

“Ms. Kurzweil has exemplified the power of planned giving,” John Fitzpatrick, provincial assistant for advancement of the Society of Jesuits, Central and Southern province, wrote in a statement to RNS. He said her gift was “unrestricted,” which means the Jesuits can “apply this gift where it is most needed.”

When asked about possible reasons why Anna chose the Jesuits to benefit from such a generous gift, Van de Vyvere explained that when his aunt was taking care of her mother, the priests from Rockhurst University came every day give her mother Communion. Kurzweil did sell her house to Rockhurst for a dollar.

“It was a nice surprise that both she had the resources and that she wanted to give it to the Jesuits for their youth and ministry,” said Byrne, her longtime pastor. “She wanted to be a good teacher and do what she could for her students.”

Her legacy will certainly live on, thanks to her bequest — as, perhaps, will curiosity about her own spiritual journey. It was one marked by hidden sadness that many can relate to, but also, it seems, faith in an ultimate happiness for which many also long.

As she wrote in a poem titled “Rabboni,” which Kurzweil had printed on her funeral program: When I am dying, how glad I shall be, That the lamp of my life, has been burned out for Thee! That sorrow has darkened the pathway I trod, That thorns, not roses, were strewn o’er the sod.

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http://www.religionnews.com/2016/02/09/kansas-city-teacher-astonishes-2-million-gift-jesuits/

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Finding the first use of the name Christ in the Book of Mormon

(by Taylor Halverson deseretnews.com 2-8-16)

Some years ago while teaching a Book of Mormon class at Brigham Young University, I discussed with the class titles and names for Jesus Christ used throughout the Book of Mormon. As is well known, the Book of Mormon is saturated with references to Jesus Christ.

We reviewed some of the names for Christ used early in Nephi’s record: Messiah, Holy One of Israel, Lord, God, Lord God Almighty, God of Israel, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, Savior, Redeemer and Son of God. It was clear that many of these titles originated in an Old Testament religious context.

We also discussed the frequency of use of the name Christ, which appears nearly 400 times throughout the Book of Mormon.

As we studied this topic further, I had the following exchange with the students, trying to invite them to read the Book of Mormon more carefully, looking for details, asking questions, and seeking answers:

TH: “Where is the first use of the name Christ in the Book of Mormon?”

After some searching, and especially with the help of electronic devices, the students responded: 2 Nephi 10:3.

TH: “Great find. Now, if Christ is the central figure of the Book of Mormon, why isn’t the name Christ used until 78 pages in to the Book of Mormon? We are nearly 15 percent through the Book of Mormon and this is the first time that the name Christ is used. Why is that?”

The students, practicing careful reading, responded: “Because Jacob explains in 2 Nephi 10:3 ‘for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name.’”

TH: “Excellent. But this raises other questions. Why didn’t Jacob know Christ’s name before that time? For example, why didn’t Lehi or Nephi teach Jacob Christ’s name or title? Why did it take an angel to reveal this to Jacob? Shouldn’t Lehi and Nephi have received that revelation as the prophet-leaders? Shouldn’t they have already known the name of Christ?”

The students were stumped by the questions.

TH: “I’ll provide some context that may help answer these questions. The word Christ is Greek. The same term in Hebrew is Messiah, which Nephi uses on a number of occasions.”

The students began to comprehend: “Oh, Nephi and Jacob didn’t know Greek. They would not have used a Greek word to talk about him when they came from a Hebrew speaking culture. They would have used other names for him from their own language and culture.”

I explained further: Exactly. That is why other phrases, familiar in the Old Testament world, were so often used by Nephi. Nephi didn’t know Christ’s name in Greek. So Nephi used a title from his Hebrew background that referred to Jesus Christ — “Messiah.” It wasn’t until Nephi’s younger brother Jacob received revelation about the name “Christ” that suddenly Old Testament world phrases like “Messiah” fall out of use in the Book of Mormon and “Christ” becomes one of the primary terms used to name him.

In fact, the Hebrew term Messiah is used 28 times by Nephi (not including his quotes of Isaiah) before Jacob’s revelation about the name Christ. But after that Nephi only uses the term Messiah 10 more times. And it is striking to note that Jacob never uses the term Messiah. After the death of Nephi, Messiah is used only three times in the remainder of the Book of Mormon.

Before Jacob’s revelation, Christ is never used in the Book of Mormon. After Jacob’s revelation Christ is used nearly 400 times with the highest percentage going to the writers Jacob, Mormon and Moroni.

We can learn something from Nephi as well. Even though he was the older brother and the prophet-leader, he was willing to learn from his younger brother. Nephi did for Jacob exactly what Nephi’s two oldest brothers never did for him. Nephi listened to Jacob. Nephi encouraged Jacob to receive revelation. He then encouraged Jacob to teach and preach what he shared. Nephi was not bent on total rulership as were Laman and Lemuel. Nephi had the humility to listen and learn from his younger brother Jacob. He did not use his position, his authority, his influence, his experience, or his own access to revelation to be beyond learning truths great or small from those around him.

Finally, the way that Book of Mormon writers use names and titles of God underscores that the Book of Mormon is ancient scripture.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865647065/Finding-the-first-use-of-the-name-Christ-in-the-Book-of-Mormon.html

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dieter F. Uchtdorf Recounts Childhood Refugee Ordeal


LDS Church donates additional $5 million to refugee crisis; President Uchtdorf shares refugee experience

(by Lindsey Williams deseretnews.com 2-7-16)

In an article released Thursday by Mormon Newsroom, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shared experiences from his childhood. As a child, President Uchtdorf was a refugee.

The Uchtdorf family went to East Germany from Czechoslovakia when President Uchtdorf was 4. When he was 11, the family left East Germany and went to West Germany.

“Within those few years, we lost everything twice,” President Uchtdorf said in a video associated with the article.

In the video, President Uchtdorf said that through these experiences, he learned to never label people. President Uchtdorf asked LDS Church members to do the same through a Facebook post.

“We are all children of Heavenly Father and therefore brothers and sisters,” President Uchtdorf wrote. “Let us look for opportunities to help wherever we can. Let us open our eyes and see the heavy hearts; let us notice the loneliness and despair; let us feel the silent prayers of others around us; let us be an answer to those prayers; let us be instruments in the hands of the Lord.”

The LDS Church is donating an additional $5 million to help in the European refugee crisis, according to Mormon Newsroom.

“We don’t want to focus all our efforts on one single refugee activity,” President Uchtdorf said in the video. “We want to use our talents which we have as a church to bless the lives of individuals through all phases as a family, as individuals, in seeking to become self-reliant to help them to learn to help themselves.”

Elder Dale G. Renlund, a new member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also has a connection to the refugee crisis. His father was a European refugee.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865647172/LDS-Church-donates-additional-5-million-to-refugee-crisis-President-Uchtdorf-shares-refugee.html

Saturday, February 6, 2016

RISEN Official Trailer - In Theaters Feb 2016



This is an interesting concept for a movie, Roman soldiers looking for the body of Jesus after the tomb was found empty.

Although not really based on fact, I don't think the Romans sealed the tomb with wax and a royal seal, etc., it is still an intriguing idea.

First Presidency Statement on the King James Version of the Bible


(ensign magazine August, 1992)
 
Since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the King James Version of the Bible for English-speaking members.
 
The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts. ‘We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.’ (A of F 1:8.)
 
Many versions of the Bible are available today. Unfortunately, no original manuscripts of any portion of the Bible are available for comparison to determine the most accurate version. However, the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter-days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.
 
While other Bible versions may be easier to read than the King James Version, in doctrinal matters latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations. All of the Presidents of the Church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, have supported the King James Version by encouraging its continued use in the Church. In light of all the above, it is the English language Bible used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 
The LDS edition of the Bible (1979) contains the King James Version supplemented and clarified by footnotes, study aids, and cross-references to the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These four books are the standard works of the Church. We encourage all members to have their own copies of the complete standard works and to use them prayerfully in regular personal and family study, and in Church meetings and assignments.
 
Sincerely your brethren,
 
Ezra Taft Benson
 
Gordon B. Hinckley
 
Thomas S. Monson
 
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