Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: sex (page 1 of 2)

D&C Lesson 10 (Emma Hale Smith)

“This Is My Voice unto All”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 25

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.


This lesson is about Emma Smith Hales, Joseph Smith’s first wife (but not the first one he was sealed to).

In the church days of my youth, we didn’t talk much about Emma. I’d heard that she didn’t follow the Saints west, married someone else, and joined the Reorganised Church. So that sounded a bit shady. On the other hand, she had helped act as scribe for the Book of Mormon, even showing a remarkable lack of curiosity when she allegedly saw the “gold plates” left unattended, wrapped in a tablecloth.

The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.” (The Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; spelling modernized.)

By the way, isn’t this kind of odd? I was always told that evil people stopped at nothing to get their hands on the plates, and that the plates had to be moved about all the time. But no, they’re just over there on the table.

So who was Emma Smith? Co-conspirator? Wronged woman? Infidel? What a fascinating range to choose from! But talking about her in church was fraught with peril — who knew what would come out from under that rock if you lifted it a little?

Well, for this lesson, the church constructs a much more wholesome image for her, and one that’s much more in line for what the church wants its female members to be: Emma as loving and supportive spouse.

Remember how I said that the Doctrine and Covenants really only makes sense if you think of it as Joseph Smith telling everyone what God wants them to do for Joseph Smith? This manipulation is evident in Section 25 — though, as we’ll see, this is not the most manipulative section. Not by a long shot.



Emma married Joseph in 1827, over the objections of her father, who saw Smith as a dishonest character. From Mormonism Unvailed:

When we arrived at Mr. Hale’s, in Harmony, Pa. from which place he had taken his wife, a scene presented itself, truly affecting. His father-in-law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: “You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money — pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.” Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false.

Let’s see what the manual has to say about the happy couple.

In July 1830, the Lord directed a revelation to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 25). Display a picture of Emma Smith. Explain that this lesson focuses on three themes from the Lord’s revelation to Emma.

1. Husbands and wives should support and comfort each other.

D&C 25:5 And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.

Joseph says that God says to be nice to Joseph.

The manual again.

The Prophet taught husbands, “It is the duty of a husband to love, cherish, and nourish his wife, and cleave unto her and none else; he ought to honor her as himself, and he ought to regard her feelings with tenderness” (Elders’ Journal, Aug. 1838, 61).

What a shame that he didn’t keep this advice. Somewhere between 1833 and 1835, Joseph Smith  diverted his attention to Fanny Alger, who had worked for Joseph and Emma as a maid. William McLellin alleged that Joseph and Fanny had been caught by Emma in flagrante delicto.

“Again I told her [Emma] I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story too was verily true.”

– William McLellin, 1872 letter to Joseph Smith III, see In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton, p. 35

Oliver Cowdery spoke of the…

dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger’s … in which I strictly declared that I had never deserted from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself.”

Oliver was excommunicated in 1938, apparently for not shutting up about it.

The church essay on this topic  tries to paper things over.

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.

Calling it a “marriage” seems a stretch. Fanny moved on and married Solomon Custer in 1836, which is kind of what you do when you’ve had an “affair”, not a “marriage”.

On all of this, the Gospel Doctrine manual simply says:

Joseph and Emma Smith were a great support to each other during the many times of affliction they faced.

Not a word about Joseph’s sexual predation on other women.

(h/t: Redditor Juggler_Vain)

Activity: If you are in a real Gospel Doctrine class, please let us know if the instructor mentions the other women without being prompted by class members.


Here’s a theme that will be of no surprise to those who have read the Book of Mormon.

2. We should be meek and avoid pride.
The Lord commanded Emma Smith to “continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride”

Read the following verses with class members:

a. D&C 23:1 (to Oliver Cowdery): “Beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation.”
b. D&C 38:39 (to the Saints in a conference of the Church): “Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.”
c. D&C 90:17 (to the First Presidency of the Church): “Be admonished in all your high-mindedness and pride, for it bringeth a snare upon your souls.”
d. D&C 98:19–20 (to the Saints in Kirtland): “I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland; For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness.”

Ask: Why did Joseph Smith tell so many people to avoid pride?

A major threat for a movement’s leaders is that people lower in the hierarchy will usurp them. You have to teach them to know their place. Convincing those people to be humble can help to tamp that down.

So many things about the church seems calculated to instill into its members a sense of docility and timidity in the face of unquestionable authority.


Here’s point 3 in the manual:

3. We should rejoice and be of good cheer.
The Lord admonished Emma Smith, “Lift up thy heart and rejoice”

Well, it does say that, kind of. But let’s read the whole verse.

D&C 25:13 Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.
14 Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.
15 Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.

So what it actually says is: rejoice. And be meek, humble, love your husband, or else!

No idea whether being threatened like this made Emma feel joyful. Guessing not.

The picture that I get from this lesson is: Joseph Smith was gross. If God didn’t pick a womanising conman as his chosen prophet, he certainly showed a startling disregard for the fact that his chosen prophet looked an awful lot like a womanising conman.

Additional lesson ideas

A better world?

D&C 25:10 And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.

Horrible advice. This life is the only life we’re sure that we get. But the church tries to convince us to use up our life in the service of perpetuating itself, and furthering its cause. Don’t worry, they say; you get another life — if you give us this one.

This is one of the more evil beliefs in the church. The only better world that we’re ever going to see is the better world that we create ourselves right here, and it’s not going to happen if we’re ignoring it in favour of an illusory afterlife.

Did Emma try to kill Joseph?

There’s a story about how Emma tried to put poison in Joseph’s coffee. Steve Benson dismisses this as Brigham Young’s paranoia, and I tend to agree.

There is such a thing as justifiable homicide, and if she had succeeded — or more effective still, if someone had smothered an infant Joseph Smith in his cot — it would have spared her the lies and deceit of her philandering guru husband, and perhaps spared the world the dreary, dishonest, and self-serving religion known as Mormonism.

BoM Lesson 29 (Alma’s fatherly advice)

“Give Ear to My Words”

Alma 36–39

LDS manual: here


To encourage parents to give better parental advice than Alma does


There’s a bit of a lull in the action for this reading. Time for Alma to give one of his trademark fatherly chats! He speaks to his three sons — Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton — and gives really terrible advice. Let’s see how bad it gets.

Main ideas for this lesson


In his chat with Helaman, Alma explains that God’s love is unconditional… but with conditions.

Alma 37:13 O remember, remember, my son Helaman, how strict are the commandments of God. And he said: If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land — but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence.

Ask: Would a good parent cast off children for not doing everything they say?

Musical number: Sing this song with the class. (CW: language, possible casual misogyny)

Free will and divine hiddenness

When you ask a theist why God doesn’t resolve his apparent lack of existence by just appearing to everyone, a common answer is that God wants people to believe in him in faith, without needing evidence. If God were to prove his existence, it would essentially force us to believe in him and remove the need for faith.

But what about Alma and his friends? They saw an angel, and that didn’t remove their free will.

Alma 36:5 Now, behold, I say unto you, if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself.
36:6 For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
36:7 And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.

But Alma’s certain that God will resurrect him. He’s just as certain as he is about the Exodus, and the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea… which also didn’t happen.

Alma 36:28 And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever, for he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea; and he led them by his power into the promised land; yea, and he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity from time to time.


And if you say that Alma is dumb for believing in fairy tales, then he has an answer for you. His belief makes him smarter than wise people.

Alma 37:6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
37:7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

So what does all this mean for Helaman? It means that when he writes about how wicked everyone is, he’s supposed to hold back on information.

Alma 37:29 Therefore ye shall keep these secret plans of their oaths and their covenants from this people, and only their wickedness and their murders and their abominations shall ye make known unto them; and ye shall teach them to abhor such wickedness and abominations and murders; and ye shall also teach them that these people were destroyed on account of their wickedness and abominations and their murders.

In the LDS Church, there’s a pattern of incomplete disclosure. The church is cagey about its finances. It tells only one side of its history. Its higher-level ordinances (like the endowment) are not explained to people who have not already accepted a series of commitments — and who are therefore less likely to disengage from their investment.

Ask: What kind of organisation relies on incomplete informational disclosure to “protect” its membership from facts?
Answer: Check out Steve Hassan’s BITE model, under “Information Control”. While this model is not well-accepted by psychologists, it is interesting to see how many of the LDS Church’s practices it describes.

1. Deception:

a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member

2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:

a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
b.Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking

3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines

a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b.Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when

4. Encourage spying on other members

a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
b.Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group

5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:

a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
b.Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources

6. Unethical use of confession

a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories

Ask: If the church is true, why would it need to roll out unpalatable information carefully?

There’s a scene from the Australian TV show Offspring that describes this situation.

***SPOILERS AHEAD for season 5***

Also don’t mock me for watching Offspring, I have a wife.

Here’s the short version:

In Wednesday night’s explosive episode of the popular Network Ten series Nina, played by Gold Logie-winner Asher Keddie, is confronted with the fact her new lover Thomas (Ben Barrington) is not only married, but had been cheating on his heavily pregnant wife.

His secret came out when a birth complication forced Thomas and his unknowing wife to Nina’s hospital instead of the maternity ward they had planned.

Quite a scene: Nina attends what she thinks is a routine delivery, and finds… her new boyfriend acting as birth coach to his wife.

When Thomas speaks to Nina later, he claims that his wife was actually his ex, and defends his lack of disclosure, saying:

Would you have started something with me if you knew my ex was pregnant?

Nina responds:

Well, shouldn’t that have been up to me?

And there it is. Maybe members would bail if everything were public. Maybe investigators wouldn’t like it if they knew that Joseph Smith had 30 wives, some as young as 14. But isn’t that up to them? How are we supposed to make good choices if the facts aren’t available?


Shiblon’s the middle child, so nothing interesting happens in his chapter. Alma tells the same conversion story that he just told Helaman, tells him to keep being good, yada yada yada.



We all know Coriander because he’s the only character in the Book of Mormon who got any sex. This was, of course, with the legendary harlot Isabel™, who is one of only six women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, and the only one with an occupation.

Alma 39:2 For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
39:3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron, among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.

Trivia: Who were the other five women? Answers are at the bottom of this post.


Observation about two names in the Book of Mormon: Corianton. Morianton. Discuss.

Alma’s parental counsel is terrible on so many levels. Let’s list them.

Alma blames Isabel.

Alma 39:4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.

Why, that scheming hussy!

Alma wigs out, blowing sex all out of proportion

Alma 39:5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?

Mormons say that sex is “the sin next to murder”, and this verse is why.

Fancy that: a bit of casual boinking — even when pursued responsibly and consensually — is almost as bad as murdering someone. This is a kind of — excuse the gendered term — hysterical anti-sex attitude that turns the concept of morality upside-down. Sex harms no one when it’s done well, but it can be awful when done badly. Ironically, it’s this kind of attitude that causes it to be done badly. You cannot have a normal sexual life with priorities as screwed up as this.

A lot has been said on the futility of teaching abstinence. It does not prevent kids from having sex, but that’s only part of the problem. It also promotes rape culture.

Purity culture and rape culture are two sides of the same coin. Prior to marriage, women are instructed that they must say no to sex at every turn, and if they do not they are responsible for the consequences. This method of approach—“always no”—creates situations in which women are not equipped to fully understand what consent looks like or what a healthy sexual encounter is. When the only tool you’re given is a “no,” shame over rape or assault becomes compounded—because you don’t necessarily understand or grasp that “giving in” to coercion or “not saying no” isn’t a “yes.”

That’s from the girl’s perspective. From the boy’s side, you never learn what’s okay and what’s not okay because nothing is okay. Consent is a subtlety that doesn’t make the curriculum. This is not to excuse failure to obtain informed consent — you might have your own ideas about what’s twisted and what’s not, but they’ll have to be your own ideas; you won’t get them from the wider culture. Or you will, but it will be mixed up with a lot of other stuff.

This unrelenting sex-negativity is one of the most harmful things about the church. It fills people up with shame for their innermost desires. It tampers with who they are on a basic level.

For a better way, check out what I teach my kids about sex. I wrote this lesson a couple of years ago, and in the meantime, my youngest boy started dating. So I told him, “That means I have to tell you the things.”

“No,” he said, “you don’t have to tell me the things!”

“I do have to tell you the things, because it’s my job to tell you the things.”

So I told him the things, and afterward he said, “That wasn’t too bad.”

That’s how I broke the curse.

Alma blames Coriander for his own lack of success

Alma 39:11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.

Oh sure, it’s not because Alma’s selling a shit product. It’s Coriander.

Why would Coriander’s actions have this effect on the Lamanites? They weren’t even Christians yet, and therefore unlikely to be puritanical ninnies.

Testimonies are not good evidence

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual asks:

• Alma 36 contains Alma’s testimony as expressed to his son Helaman (see especially verses 3–5 and 26–28). Why is it important for children to hear their parents bear their testimonies? In what ways have your parents’ testimonies influenced your life?

I can tell you. My father told me lots of good things, but probably the worst information I got in life was given to me by him. It was when he sat me down, and very earnestly told me that if I had a question about anything, I could ask my Heavenly Father in prayer, and get an answer. And I believed him.

That was the worst thing anyone ever told me.

Rather than understanding that knowledge comes through careful, controlled observation, he taught me that knowing something was simply asking a deity and then sorting through your feels.


Knowledge doesn’t come from feels. Basically he turned me into an an amateur intuitive. And that leaves people vulnerable to scammers and charlatans. Goodbye, critical thinking; hello, mysticism.

What parent tries to disable their child’s brain? Who tries to defeat their kid’s truth-finding mechanism? That’s not normal, but on religion it is.

I’m raising my kids with the Latin phrase nullius in verba. I’m telling them, “Don’t believe anything just because someone says it’s so — including me, because I could be wrong. Don’t believe anyone’s testimony.”

Additional lesson ideas

How to share?

The Gospel Doctrine manual asks:

• Alma counseled Shiblon to continue teaching the word of God, being “diligent and temperate,” using “boldness, but not overbearance” (Alma 38:10, 12.) How can we follow this counsel as we share our beliefs with others?

In fact, overbearance isn’t such a big problem, but backfire effect is. Telling someone correct information they don’t like can make them believe incorrect information more.

To avoid this, check out the Debunking Handbook by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky. It’s a must for anyone who needs to communicate ideas.

Answer: Mary, Eve, Sarah, Sariah, Abish, Beyoncé.

BoM Lesson 12 (Polygamy)

“Seek Ye for the Kingdom of God”

Jacob 1–4

LDS manual: here


At this point in our story, the Nephites are becoming wealthy. And you know what that means: wickedness.

Jacob 2:13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

I don’t think that wealth makes a society worse, though I do think that inequality of wealth can bring a whole lot of problems. But why does the church promote this story? It’s pretty baseless; I can’t think of a society that became more wicked as it became more prosperous.

I can think of lots of societies that became more secular and/or atheist as they became more prosperous, though.

The world’s poorest nations are also some of its most religious – but does that mean religion can’t flourish in a prosperous society?

Gregory Paul doesn’t think it can. After constructing a “Successful Societies Scale” that compared 25 socioeconomic indicators against statistics on religious belief and practice in 17 developed nations, the Baltimore-based paleontologist concluded in a 2009 study that “religion is most able to thrive in seriously dysfunctional societies.”

There’s no situation where you have a really highly religious nation that’s highly successful socially.”

Ask: If you served a mission, were your most successful areas the wealthy ones, or the poor ones? Why might that be?

And that’s the rub. The church mistakes “people rejecting it” for “people being wicked”.

Religion doesn’t really have anything to offer someone who’s doing pretty well, but it has a lot to offer someone who’s miserable. So it follows that religions would benefit from increasing the amount of misery as much as possible.

There’s a lot of stories in the Bible of Jesus being generous and prescribing that his followers give up their possessions to the poor, but the Christian right is good about ignoring those verses and digging around for one or two to argue that actually, Jesus was on their side about the importance of starving the poor out. When Republicans were trying to cut the food stamp program and Democrats pointed out how that runs against even the most basic reading of the Christianity they claim to hold so dear, Rep. Stephen Fincher petulantly quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

On the other hand, Jacob does have some pretty good ideas about what to do with wealth.

Jacob 2:19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good — to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

Main ideas for this lesson


Polygamy is one of those funny areas for the church. No matter how much time has gone by since the Salt Lake church practiced it, and no matter how remote the issue seems to most Mormons, it’s still the one thing anyone knows about the church. “Oh, wow! Do you have a lot of wives?”

Serves the church right — there’s been so much double-talk surrounding this issue that I hope the church gets saddled with it for the duration of its existence. Mormons steadfastly deny polygamy, but secretly think it’s coming back one day.

Brother Jake explains.

So let’s see what Jacob has to say about it.

Jacob 1:15 And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.

Jacob 2:23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
2:24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

Really? The Lord never said anything about David’s and Solomon’s wives and concubines before.

1 Kings 15:5 Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

As far as the Bible was concerned, it was all G, so this is a bit of an innovation.

Jacob 2:27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
2:28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.

Delights in the chastity of women, says nothing about the chastity of men. God’s a huge sexist.

Jacob 2:29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
2:30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

Ask: Under what conditions is polygamy acceptable?
Answer: To raise up seed.

So that means that polygamy was a really good way to increase the population, right?


But scientists have now uncovered an odd fact about 19th-century Mormons: the more women in a household, the lower the average birthrate. In other words, the more sister-wives a Mormon woman had, the fewer children she was likely to produce.

“Although it is great in terms of numbers of children for successful males to have harems, the data show that, for every new woman added to a male’s household, the number of children that each wife produced goes down by one,” said biologist Dr Michael Wade, of Indiana University.

Did God not know this?

What about Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy? We now know (and the LDS Church has had to admit) that Joseph Smith married up to 40 women, including women who were married to other men at the time.


When I bring this up, Latter-day Saints tell me that these marriages were simply symbolic or “dynastic”.

First up, this is untrue in many cases. While there’s not enough evidence that Smith had sex with all the women he was married to, there are loads of heart-rending accounts confirming it. For example:

Lucy Walker: “I gave myself up as a sacrifice, for it was not a love matter, so to speak, in our affairs, at least on my part it was not”

Helen Kimball: “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.”

See more in curious_mormon’s amazing post on this.

Second, even if that were true, and Smith had the need to marry all those women for some symbolic reason, doesn’t the Book of Mormon say that this is an abomination, unless it’s for “raising seed”?

Dark skin

Jacob 3:8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
3:9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.

Ask: Is it acceptable to consider skin colour a mark of sin, even as a metaphor?


Jacob 3:11 O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death.

I’m putting Jacob down as a believer in literal hell with fire and ouches.

Side note: I did a radio interview with a priest recently (cool guy, BTW), and he wasn’t a believer in hell. All metaphorical, he said. How about that.

The problem there is that, if you were looking for evidence in the Bible either way, you’d find six or eight scriptures where Jesus says Hell is a place of torture with fire, and he says it with a totally straight face. But you’d find exactly zero scriptures where Hell isn’t described that way. Jesus never says, “I was just kidding about the fire. It’s totes metaphorical.” So I think this priest has rather an uphill battle trying to make that case.

The Book of Mormon partakes in that tradition, while modern Mormonism does not.


Jacob 3:13 And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings.

They “began to be numerous”. That’s an understatement.

One of the big problems with the Book of Mormon narrative is the improbably explosive population growth. To go from a group of perhaps 30 in Nephi’s day to the (perhaps) hundreds of thousands or millions in 600 years requires a heretofore-unheard-of level of fecundity, or some pretty creative explanations. We’ll consider this in a later lesson, but let’s just bookmark that for now.

Did Nephites keep the Jewish laws?

Jacob 4:3 Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents.
4:4 For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
4:5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.

A puzzling thing about the Book of Mormon is that the Nephites were supposed to have “kept the law of Moses” with all its ceremonies, sacrifices, and ordinances — while never mentioning anything about them. If they were doing all that stuff, they sure were vague about the details. Perhaps Moroni didn’t think those things were important, and filtered them all out. Too bad. It would have been interesting to hear about their spin on Jewish traditions.

If they’d existed, I mean. Which is very unlikely given the lack of any Hebrew writing, Jewish iconography, or anything Hebraic in the ancient American archaeological record.

Additional lesson ideas


As Jacob is talking about sex, the LDS lesson manual has some words to say about “immorality”. I hate how they use that term to apply almost exclusively to sex, which of itself is not moral or immoral (although the motivations of those who engage in it can be), while ignoring all kinds of immorality that the church engages in (like lying to people, concealing facts, wielding authority over people, and so on). But here it is.

• What must a person do to be forgiven of immorality?
President Ezra Taft Benson suggested five steps to be forgiven of unchastity (“The Law of Chastity,” in Brigham Young University 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1988], 53–54). Discuss these steps with class members:
“1. Flee immediately from any situation you are in that is either causing you to sin or that may cause you to sin.”
“2. Plead with the Lord for the power to overcome.”
“3. Let your priesthood leaders help you resolve the transgression and come back into full fellowship with the Lord.”
“4. Drink from the divine fountain [the scriptures and words of the prophets] and fill your lives with positive sources of power.”
“5. Remember that through proper repentance you can become clean again.”

I just want to take a second and reiterate something I said in a previous lesson. There’s something extremely inappropriate that Mormons do. Because they’re a religion, they fill each other up with sexual guilt. That’s more or less expected, and sadly it wrecks people’s lives. But even worse, parents allow their children to undergo closed-door interviews with adult men. In these meetings, the young people are encouraged to disclose details of their sexual experiences — including masturbation, sex, and everything in between — without parents present.

From a article in The Exponent:

In my LDS upbringing in Utah, these “chastity interviews.” as they were called by my bishopric, were conducted every six months between the ages of 12 and 18. I and my fellow youth were interviewed by the bishop or one of his counselors about our adherence to the law of chastity. The leader may feel inclined to define chastity further in these interviews and question the youth about genital exploration or self-arousal and romantic and sexual practices with others. This created a norm beginning in the sixth grade for children to talk to untrained older men about sexual practices, a type of behavior that is grooming the child for abuse.

This predatory grooming behavior of interviewing children about sex behind closed doors is alarming. Minors (age 18 and under in Utah) cannot legally consent to sex. Because all sexual relations under the age of 18 are defined as non-consensual under the law, chastity interviews are completely inappropriate screenings of the sexual experiences of children. They are also ineffective for detecting any sexual abuse experienced by the child interviewed as they violate protocol for how trained professionals interview children where suspected abuse has taken place, including side-by-side positioning and placing the child in a higher position than the interviewer. The clergy member, attired in business uniform and sitting across a desk creates a physical position of power, which can convey a feeling of shame to the interviewee, even one who has very little sexual experience to discuss with this lay leader.

If we are serious about protecting children from abuse, we must stop all private interviews of minors by lay clergy behind closed doors. As members, we must demand that the Church stop interviewing children about their inherently non-consensual sexual experiences and mandating repentance.

Indeed. Bad enough that they think they have a right to pry into the sexual behaviour of other adults, but to do this to kids is unconscionable.

Ask: Why does the church conduct interviews of this nature?

I think it’s to facilitate intrusion. If you want an animal or a pet to be compliant and easy to handle, you have to handle them a lot when their young. Make them think that this kind of intrusion into their private business is normal. Then for the rest of their lives, they won’t mind any other kinds of intrusion. Having given them the right to know about your sexual self — that innermost part of you — what other information would you deny them?

This is in part why Mormons have a really terrible sense of boundaries. It makes Mormonism absolutely toxic, as religions go.

If you agree that this practice should be stopped, refuse to let your children take part in these interviews unless you’re present. Join (or revitalise) a Facebook group. Say “no more”.

NT Lesson 2 (Mary)

“My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord”

Luke 1; Matthew 1

LDS manual: here


To explain why the gospel accounts are not reliable, and to remind readers that God is pretty much a rapist.


We’re starting to dip our toes into the origin story of Christianity here. However, as we’ll see, there are reasons to think that the story has been contaminated by earlier texts, as well as popular notions about gods, virgins, and the sex between them.

Main ideas for this lesson

The where and when of the Gospels

As a believer, I had a rather naïve view of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). I always thought that they were each written by a single author, more or less at the time of the events they described. You know, plus or minus a few months.

I should have known better, especially after reading these words from Luke:

Luke 1:1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
1:3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
1:4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

Notice that the writer of Luke says that at this point in history, many people have written their own histories of Jesus. In writing his version, Luke is just mopping up.

So when were these accounts of Jesus written?

To answer this question, let’s start with this video featuring Matt Dillahunty, answering a question from a caller.

Ask: What points does Matt make?

  • The Gospels were written decades after the events they discuss
  • Conservative scholars habitually date the Gospels early
  • It’s not a debate we even need to get into because even if someone had written the gospels down at the time, it wouldn’t mean that the events actually happened.

In the video, Matt mentions this site, earlychristianwritings.com (which is not offline; it’s still going strong).

Class activity: Browse the front page of earlychristianwritings.com. Which books came before the first gospels?
Answer: Most of the Pauline epistles. It’s almost as though the effort for the first half of the century went into administration, and putting the story of Jesus into writing was an afterthought. This is striking to me, because we’re eventually going to see the same pattern for Joseph Smith’s “First Vision”, which didn’t seem to be a part of early church mythology, and didn’t see a coherent write-up until much later.

Ask: According to the website, when do the four gospels appear?

  • Matthew: 80–100 CE
  • Mark: 65–80 CE
  • Luke: 80–130 CE
  • John: 90–120 CE

Wikipedia’s page on the gospels doesn’t differ significantly on timing. (Notice that Mark is the first gospel to be written. Current thinking has it that whoever wrote Matthew and Luke were copying from Mark. Check out the Wikipedia page for Mark, in particular the Two-Source Hypothesis.)

That’s right; it’s possible that the gospels could have been written down a full century after the events they were describing. How reliable does this make them?

Stories can grow up very quickly. As I write this, the Islamist attack on the cartoonists of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo is still news, and predictably, conspiracy theories have already grown up around the event. In the last decade and a half, the body of ideas known as 9/11 Trutherism has grown up, reached a kind of apex, and dwindled back down to background levels. It doesn’t take long for these movements to coalesce.

So when we read these gospels, it’s important to remember that these documents were not written by eyewitnesses in any traditional sense. The writers had time to confabulate, and borrow whatever legends were current among the people. Christianity had a long time to get its origin story straight.

Is eyewitness testimony reliable?

Luke also says that he is an eyewitness of the events in the Gospels.

Luke 1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

For many Christians I’ve talked to, this is the key to the whole thing. The gospels were written by eyewitnesses who saw the whole thing, and for them this is very convincing.

But eyewitness accounts are not all they’re cracked up to be. Here’s Sam Harris explaining why.

Starting at 3:14.

Consider Christianity. The entire doctrine is predicated on the idea that the Gospel account of the miracles of Jesus is true. This is why people believe Jesus was the son of God, divine, etc. This textual claim is problematic because everyone acknowledges that the gospels followed Jesus’ ministry by decades and there is no extra-biblical account of his miracles. But the truth is quite a bit worse than that. The truth is even if we had multiple contemporaneous eyewitness accounts of the miracles of Jesus, this still would not provide sufficient basis to believe that these events actually occurred.

Well, why not? Well, the problem is that firsthand reports of miracles are quite common, even in the 21st century. I have met literally hundreds at this point of Western-educated men and women that think that their favorite Hindu or Buddhist guru has magic powers. The powers ascribed to these gurus are every bit as outlandish as those ascribed to Jesus. Now, I actually remain open to evidence of such powers. But the fact is that people who tell these stories desperately want to believe them. All, to my knowledge, lack the kind of corroborating evidence we should require before believing that nature’s laws have been abrogated this way. And people who believe these stories show an uncanny reluctance to look for non-miraculous causes. But it remains a fact that yogis and mystics are said to be walking on water, and raising the dead, and flying without the aid of technology. Materializing objects, reading minds, foretelling the future. Right now, in fact all of these powers have been assigned to Satya Sai Baba the South Indian guru, by an uncountable number of eyewitnesses. But he even claims to have been born of a virgin, which is not all that uncommon a claim in the history of religion.

The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has done decades of research investigating the reliability of memory. A famous experiment showed how language can influence our memories of events we’ve seen.

In this experiment, participants watched a video of a car crash. They were then asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed / collided / bumped / hit / contacted) each other?” Some subjects got the version of the question with the word ‘hit’, others ‘smashed’, and so on. What Loftus found was that the subjects’ estimates of the cars’ speed depended on the verb they’d heard — contacted v hit, for example.

Loftus also found that when people were asked the ‘smashed’ version of the question, they were more likely to imagine that they’d seen broken glass, when there was none.

These experiments and others should serve as a caution to us when people come with ‘eyewitness testimony’. People can be mistaken, people can be wrong, and people can lie. And when the stories don’t even come from eyewitnesses, but are written decades after the fact — as is the case with the gospels – this gives us even less reason to believe the extraordinary claims therein.

Female consent is not a high priority for God

The worrying thing about the story of Jesus’ conception is that Mary’s consent is not required. It starts when as angel informs Mary that God’s going to do her:

Luke 1:30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

Valerie Tarico writes a great piece in the IEET called It’s Not Rape If He’s a God — Or Thinks He Is. She gives a laundry list of gods who have had sex with human women (allegedly), and comments:

But these encounters between beautiful young women and gods have one thing in common. None of them has freely given female consent as a part of the narrative. (Luke’s Mary assents after being not asked but told by a powerful supernatural being what is going to happen to her, and she responds with language emphasizing the power differential. “Behold the bond slave of the Lord: be it done to me . . .”)

Who needs consent, freely given? If he’s a god, she’s got to want it, right? That is how the stories play out.

Yes, it is, and this should bother us a lot more than it does. The low priority assigned to female consent goes hand in hand with other ways in which Christianity promotes rape culture. This includes the cult of modesty so prevalent in Mormonism; young women are encouraged to take responsibility for the sexual thoughts of young men — don’t become walking pornography. How will Mormonism (or Christianity) ever be able to encourage men to take consent seriously, when their god is running around boffing teens? How can sexual abuse be addressed, when there’s a sexual relationship with a huge power differential written right into Christianity’s origin story? It starts here.

Additional lesson ideas

Born of a virgin?

Christians find justification for the virgin birth story in the alleged prophecy of Isaiah:

Isa. 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Let’s ignore the fact that Jesus was never called Immanuel in the NT. The real problem is the mistranslation of the Hebrew word almah ‘young woman’ as ‘virgin’. Paul, writing before the gospels, doesn’t mention a virgin birth, and this might mean that the idea hadn’t taken yet. The book of Matthew contains the first reference to this notion, but Matthew’s a bit of an outlier. Other books don’t make reference to a virgin birth — check our Bart Ehrman’s blog and Valerie Tarico’s article in Alternet for some interesting explanations for this.

Did God have sex with Mary?

Mormons seem to have settled on a peculiar angle on Jesus’ conception: that God and Mary knocked boots. Or at least, this is a point that non-Mormon Christians seemed eager to dredge up with me as a missionary. I was always open to the possibility myself, not being particularly sex-negative. If you go with the Mormon idea that God is a literal man of humanoid form, white skin, about 6’2″, with a godly dong, then godly sex is not out of the question. On the other hand, I thought the question bespoke a kind of inappropriate curiosity.

And yet, as recently as the 80s, the Gospel Doctrine manual used this quote from Ezra Taft Benson, which stops just short of saying, “They totally did it.”

I am bold to say to you, … Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. He was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!

There you go, folks. God is Jesus’ father in the most sticky, sweaty, slippery sense.

I have a funny memory of teaching this Gospel Doctrine lesson as a missionary (I don’t think that was a normal thing, but I tried to serve where needed), and reading this quote out. I figured at the time that it was a coded reference to coitus divinus, and maybe I wanted to see who knew what was what. Let them who have ears to hear, and all that. And who do you think connected with it? The mission president’s wife. Yep, she caught the reference, and nodded sagely. She was into it. Odd.

If you want to see a list of references from the semi-official Mormon canon, here it is. Caution: Christianity, Web 0.9 design, animated gifs.

Be that as it may, the coital liaison between God and Mary did make for awkward dinner parties.

The idea of gods having sex with human women is incredibly popular throughout history. RationalWiki has a big list. You must admit, it’s a tempting option for a girl in trouble. In the Amazon, a girl has (or had) the option of blaming dolphins who turn into men.

Tribal elder: Who’s the father?
Girl: Um, a dolphin!
Tribal elder: Sounds legit.
Every guy in the tribe: Phew!

There are a number of closely-related cartoons that mine the humour of this situation. Here they are.

 This one’s so popular, it comes in two varieties.

Where’d Joseph get a typewriter, anyway?

This one is my favourite, though.

Now I’m definitely going to hell.

Conference Break (Song of Solomon)

It’s Conference Sunday!

Which normally means no lesson. But it seems like this would be a good opportunity to address a gap in the church curriculum. There’s no lesson for the Song of Solomon. Never gets addressed.

Maybe that’s because Mormons have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon. Joseph Smith didn’t care for it much, saying

“the Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings.”

Joseph Fielding McConkie, a one-time professor of scripture at BYU, and owner of the most Mormon name ever (or even possible), said this:

Notwithstanding the inordinate efforts that have been made to make the light of the Spirit shine through it, the Song of Solomon does not give forth light nor is there a single spiritual truth to be found in it.

And an apostle, Mark E. Petersen, stapled the pages of the Song of Solomon shut in his bible so he wouldn’t look at it accidentally. During his life, he was an advocate for no nudity in marriage, and was tireless in his denunciation of enjoyment as a concept.

Here are all the naughty bits of the Song of Solomon, at least as far as my gutter mind could discern.

1:1 The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.
1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

Almost forgot: let us start with an opening hymn. This is the finest song ever to have been inspired by the Song of Solomon: Kiss Me by Stephen Duffy.

Be sure to check out his band ‘The Lilac Time’, if you care to.

We start out mild, with boobs.

1:13 A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.

Things get hot pretty quickly; as they always told us, light petting leads to other things. In this case, it’s oral sex.

2:3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

2:16 My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

He describes parts of her body.

4:1 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

See how far that one gets you.

4:2 Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
4:3 Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
4:4 Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
4:5 Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.

More oral.

4:16 Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

Is this what I think it is? It can’t possibly.

5:4 My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.

A bit of a lull here.

5:6 I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself,

Boobs again.

7:2 Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.
7:3 Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.
7:7 This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
7:8 I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;

There’s a sibling thing going on. That’s odd. Maybe she’s complaining that, because they’re not siblings, they’re not allowed to be together. I dunno.

8:1 O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.
8:2 I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.
8:3 His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.
8:4 I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.

A comparison of breast size between her and her sister.

8:8 We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?
8:9 If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.
8:10 I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.

On that note, our closing hymn.

See you next week.

OT Lesson 36 (Proto-Isaiah 1)

The Glory of Zion Will Be a Defense

Isaiah 1–6

LDS manual: here


Now we’re into Isaiah. Many people are accustomed to thinking of Isaiah as one person. These people may be in for a surprise, as the Book of Isaiah was written by three people (or groups of people) at different times. There was Proto-Isaiah in chapters 1–39; Deutero-Isaiah, in chapters 40–55; and Trito-Isaiah, a committee who wrote chapters 56–66.

How do we know Isaiah was three people? By the science of forensic linguistics, the basis of which is that language offers us choices. Everyone has their own way of speaking, their own verbal tics and habits. Do you say that you “start” to do something, or do you “begin” to do something? Do you write ‘Internet’ with a capital I, or not? These stylistic choices are largely outside of our control, and can be used to identify us by our writing.

In the same way, each of the three sections of Isaiah show different characteristics, as though different people wrote it. Proto-Isaiah says “The Lord, Yahweh of hosts”, “remnant”, and “to stretch out the hand”, whereas Deutero-Isaiah never does. He does, however, say “all flesh” and “chosen” a lot, which Proto-Isaiah never does.

The idea of Isaiah as three people writing at different times will come into play a couple of lessons down the road, where we’ll see that Joseph Smith and friends blithely placed Isaiah’s words onto Nephi’s plates, without realising that Nephi wouldn’t have had access to them.

For this lesson, we’re in the domain of the first Isaiah.

Main point from this lesson

How to understand Isaiah

A Gospel Doctrine lesson is likely to offer some tips for understanding Isaiah. That’s what I did anyway, when I taught this class in Sunday School. I had two tips that I was very proud of, and that I thought were rock-solid at the time. They were:

1. It’s difficult to understand what Isaiah is prophesying about until after it happens.
2. Isaiah’s prophecies can have multiple fulfilments, both temporally and spiritually.

No, I’m serious, those were the tips. I swear to Zeus, I said that to a room full of grownups and nobody laughed. They all just swallowed it down. I think someone might have taken notes. I should have been embarrassed, and the members should have been rolling their eyes. But no, everyone nodded sagely.

Here’s why I should have been embarrassed. A prediction needs to be specific in order to be any use. I mean, it’s not much of a prediction if you can’t tell what it refers to until after it happens, is it? There’s no point in predicting that (say) a war will happen, but not giving a specific time or place. Wars are always happening, and it would be easy to point to some war, and claim a fulfilment of prophecy. There’s no point in predicting it will rain, but at some indefinite point in the future, and then claiming fulfilment when it eventually rains. Seriously, what wouldn’t count as a fulfilment of prophesy using that principle? “The cat sneezed. Isaiah was right again!” You could drive a truck through that.

So on point 1, of course it’s easy to tie some event back to a vague and poetic prophesy by Isaiah after the fact. But this is meaningless. And point 2 — allowing for multiple targets — just makes it easier for the believer to claim a hit.

So now I have one tip for understanding Isaiah, and every other prophet: They’re all either con artists, or they’re people with real problems. The problem is that people believe them.

Additional teaching ideas


Isaiah 6 describes angels with wings. Six of ’em.

6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
6:2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

Mormons really hate the idea of angels with wings. I suppose it’s because in the Mormon universe, angels are always human in origin. No wings on them.

There are two kinds of beings in heaven who are called angels: those who are spirits and those who have bodies of flesh and bone. Angels who are spirits have not yet obtained a body of flesh and bone, or they are spirits who have once had a mortal body and are awaiting resurrection. Angels who have bodies of flesh and bone have either been resurrected from the dead or translated.

But that wasn’t the view of the writer of Isaiah.

Funny story: I used to be Stake Music Director, and I directed the Stake choir. That was my favourite calling ever. I loved putting musical programmes together. I used to pick classical songs with lots of Latin, which got me in a bit of trouble sometimes. Members used to grizzle about it a bit, but the Stake Presidency had my back. They were cool guys, really.

For one musical fireside, I decided to have the choir and soloists doing musical numbers about the Atonement, but with relevant artwork projected on the wall. And for the Resurrection, I used The Resurrection (1873) by Carl Bloch.

And I got complaints. Why? You guessed it — angels with wings. Couldn’t believe it.

And it looks like the dear members in Dianella Stake aren’t the only ones who have a problem with this Bloch painting. When the painting was used for an Ensign cover, the wings got ‘Shopped out. Here’s the before and the after.

Ask: Can you spot the differences?

There’s more to this Photoshop job than just wings. Check out the shoulders.

Yep, they’ve covered the bare shoulders. Apparently, there’s a war on bare shoulders in the church these days. They’ve always preached about modesty, but this is something new, just in the last ten or twenty years or so. I don’t remember people haranguing little girls about their shoulders when I was growing up in the church. Call it hypermodesty.

Ask: People sometimes caution against sexualising children. In what way does a focus on modesty itself sexualise children?
Answer: By training children (especially girls) to be especially aware of their clothing and how they look, instead of allowing them just be kids, hypermodesty is actually training kids to think along sexual lines. Instead of preserving innocence, it removes it.

OT Lesson 26 (Solomon)

King Solomon: Man of Wisdom, Man of Foolishness

1 Kings 3; 5–11

LDS manual: here



This chapter certainly starts off with a bang: Kind David is old and cold, so they throw a girl into bed with him. Her name is Abishag, or as it is sometimes rendered — rather amusingly, given the situation — Avishag.

1 Kings 1:1 Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat.
1:2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
1:3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
1:4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.

Davi e Abisag by Perdo Américo, 1879

All kinds of questions here. What does cherishing involve? Was Abishag kind of a hot name for a girl back then? Was the past tense of get really gat?

But we do know that the word shunamitism derives from this practice, meaning ‘throwing a young girl into bed with an old man to extend his life’. Believe it or not, it was encouraged in the 1800s.

In the 17th century, Francis Bacon approved King David’s practice, suggesting, however, that puppies might serve as well as young virgins.

Puppies? Forgive me, but this — while very cute — hardly seems an appropriate substitute. On the other hand, let’s have a moment of sympathy for this Shunammite girl, tossed into bed with a dusty old man. She probably didn’t want to be there.

Succession woes

The young Abishag, for her part, finds herself at the centre of a succession struggle, wonderfully summarised here.

David’s son Adonijah wants to be king after David dies, but Bathsheba wants the throne for Solomon. The prophet Nathan’s on board — Adonijah’s not that into him. So Bathsheba and Nathan bring David around.

1 Kings 1:29 And the king sware, and said, As the LORD liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress,
1:30 Even as I sware unto thee by the LORD God of Israel, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead; even so will I certainly do this day.

Meanwhile, Adonijah and his friends is celebrating his accession to the throne.

1 Kings 1:9 And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fat cattle by the stone of Zoheleth, which is by Enrogel, and called all his brethren the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah the king’s servants:

But when they hear the news that David has backed Solomon, all of Adonijah’s friends bail, like Bob Alexander’s campaign event at the end of the movie Dave.

1 Kings 1:49 And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way.

Adonijah knows he’s in trouble, so he heads to the temple and grabs the horns of the altar. That’s a safe zone.

1 Kings 1:50 And Adonijah feared because of Solomon, and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.

Solomon tells him to knock it off; he’s not going to kill him.

1 Kings 1:52 And Solomon said, If he will shew himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die.

Now you’d think Adonijah would lie low after this, but no, he decides he wants to marry Abishag the Royal Hottie.

1 Kings 2:17 And [Adonijah] said, Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king, (for he will not say thee nay,) that he give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife.

Even Bathsheba thinks this is uncontroversial.

1 Kings 2:18 And Bathsheba said, Well; I will speak for thee unto the king.

But Solomon is a little smarter than your average bear, and sees this as a power play. If Adonijah marries Abishag, who was in a way the last partner David had, it could be a claim to his legitimacy to the throne. Sorry, Adonijah, but you have played the game of thrones badly.

1 Kings 2:23 Then king Solomon sware by the LORD, saying, God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah have not spoken this word against his own life.
2:24 Now therefore, as the LORD liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day.
2:25 And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.

In killing Adonijah, Solomon is only following in the ways of his father David, who used his last moments to settle some old scores. He commands Solomon to kill Joab and Shimei.

1 Kings 2:1 Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying,
2:2 I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man;

2:5 Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet.
2:6 Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace.

2:8 And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword.
2:9 Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.

Dispute over a baby

This is the story everyone’s familiar with, but even my highly educated never-Mo girlfriend/wife had never heard it! So here it is.

Two women — sex workers — live together and have a baby each. In the night, one baby dies, and so now both are claiming the same live baby. Solomon considers, and instructs a nearby minion to cleave the living baby in twain, and distribute half to each women. Before the axeman can carry out this eminently fair proposition, one of the women bursts out, telling Solomon to keep the baby alive and to give it to the other woman.

1 Kings 3:26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.

King Solomon halts the proceedings, and delivers the baby to the mum that wanted to keep it alive.

1 Kings 3:27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.

Everyone’s really impressed.

1 Kings 3:28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.

It’s even more impressive when you realise that it doesn’t matter if the woman was the real mother. The child would do best with whichever woman wanted it to be alive, regardless of maternity.

Since I can never resist a bit of Twain, here’s Huckleberry Finn and Jim arguing over this story. Please excuse the n-word as a product of language use at the time.

“WELL, den! Warn’ dat de beatenes’ notion in de worl’? You jes’ take en look at it a minute. Dah’s de stump, dah — dat’s one er de women; heah’s you — dat’s de yuther one; I’s Sollermun; en dish yer dollar bill’s de chile. Bofe un you claims it. What does I do? Does I shin aroun’ mongs’ de neighbors en fine out which un you de bill DO b’long to, en han’ it over to de right one, all safe en soun’, de way dat anybody dat had any gumption would? No; I take en whack de bill in TWO, en give half un it to you, en de yuther half to de yuther woman. Dat’s de way Sollermun was gwyne to do wid de chile. Now I want to ast you: what’s de use er dat half a bill? — can’t buy noth’n wid it. En what use is a half a chile? I wouldn’ give a dern for a million un um.”

“But hang it, Jim, you’ve clean missed the point — blame it, you’ve missed it a thousand mile.”

“Who? Me? Go ‘long. Doan’ talk to me ’bout yo’ pints. I reck’n I knows sense when I sees it; en dey ain’ no sense in sich doin’s as dat. De ‘spute warn’t ’bout a half a chile, de ‘spute was ’bout a whole chile; en de man dat think he kin settle a ‘spute ’bout a whole chile wid a half a chile doan’ know enough to come in out’n de rain. Doan’ talk to me ’bout Sollermun, Huck, I knows him by de back.”

“But I tell you you don’t get the point.”

“Blame de point! I reck’n I knows what I knows. En mine you, de REAL pint is down furder — it’s down deeper. It lays in de way Sollermun was raised. You take a man dat’s got on’y one or two chillen; is dat man gwyne to be waseful o’ chillen? No, he ain’t; he can’t ‘ford it. HE know how to value ’em. But you take a man dat’s got ’bout five million chillen runnin’ roun’ de house, en it’s diffunt. HE as soon chop a chile in two as a cat. Dey’s plenty mo’. A chile er two, mo’ er less, warn’t no consekens to Sollermun, dad fatch him!”

I never see such a nigger. If he got a notion in his head once, there warn’t no getting it out again. He was the most down on Solomon of any nigger I ever see.

The temple is built and dedicated

Solomon wants to build a temple. This is a positive sign: instead of war and conquest, Solomon is channeling the Israelites’ efforts into architecture. Not only would this be very beautiful, but also a sign of stability besides.

1 Kings 5:2 And Solomon sent to Hiram, saying,
5:3 Thou knowest how that David my father could not build an house unto the name of the LORD his God for the wars which were about him on every side, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet.
5:4 But now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent.
5:5 And, behold, I purpose to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house unto my name.

Old habits die hard, though; the opening ceremony involved the slaughter of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. How long would that have taken‽

1 Kings 8:63 And Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the LORD, two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD.

Whatever. I’m just glad that Mormons don’t sacrifice animals anymore. Instead, they just wave handkerchiefs around in an awkward and slightly dorky way.

Solomon marries foreign women

There has to be some conflict here, and it relates to Solomon’s choice of wives.

1 Kings 11:1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites:
11:2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

That sounds great. That would have meant that the formerly warring kingdoms were integrating. But Jehovah/Jesus isn’t happy with that. He sees his monotheistic hold slipping away.

1 Kings 11:11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.
11:12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.

The real lesson manual chastises Solomon for the sin of — having lots of wives? no — interfaith marriage, equating it with ‘turning away from God’.

How did Solomon’s choice of wives show that he had turned away from God? (See 1 Kings 11:1–2. He married out of the covenant.)

Ask: How do members in part-member families feel about this?

Main points from this lesson

Did Solomon’s temple exist?

We’ve seen a bit of a pattern here in the Old Testament. We read about the Flood — and then see that there’s no evidence for it. We read about the Exodus — and then find that there’s no evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt at all.

And by the way, while I’m thinking of it, did you catch this bit of the church’s terrible new Book of Abraham essay?

But even this evidence of ancient origins, substantial though it may be, cannot prove the truthfulness of the book of Abraham any more than archaeological evidence can prove the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt or the Resurrection of the Son of God.

Comparing the Book of Abraham with two other fictitious events. That’s cute.

Anyway, while it may have been a bit of shock to find that these Bible stories have no evidentiary basis, it’s equally surprising to find that the trail of evidence never really gets started the further you go. And so it is with Solomon’s temple. The book of 1 Kings was written way after the fact — about 400 years after the temple was allegedly built — and no evidence for it exists.

Could Solomon’s temple have existed anyway? Well, much of 1 Kings is taken up with very specific detail that gives the whole thing an air of verisimilitude. Then again, fiction can be very detailed. Some works of fiction even come with their own constructed languages (which you can hear me talking about in Episodes 161 and 162 of my language podcast Talk the Talk).

Skeptic Brian Dunning, for his part, feels that we should believe the Solomon’s temple story until it’s disconfirmed

Since we can’t verify that the temple existed, we certainly can’t say that the Holy of Holies did, and we can’t say that there was an Ark inside of it. However, there is a wealth of non-empirical evidence supporting the idea that Solomon, his temple, and the Ark within probably did exist. Historians going back through ancient Rome, such as Josephus, and ancient Greece, such as Herodotus, have all provided accounts that are generally consistent with the Biblical history of Solomon’s temple. I believe it’s fair to say that the existence of Solomon’s temple, and a gilt wooden ark hidden inside of it, are the null hypothesis. We’ve no compelling reason to doubt it.

…but it doesn’t work that way. Unspecified ‘non-empirical evidence’ might be okay for ordinary propositions, but I think I’d like a bit more before I sign off on this.

I feel the same way about Solomon’s temple as I feel about Jesus. It’s fine with me if it existed, and if more details come to light that confirm their veracity, I have no problem with that. On the other hand, I’m not holding my breath, and if the LDS Church wants people make important life choices based on this elaborate narrative, then it needs to support it with publicly verifiable evidence.

Temples, Solomon, and Freemasonry

Just about every Latter-day Saint has heard unflattering comparisons between Freemasonry and the Mormon temple ceremony, with the implication that Joseph Smith ripped off the Masonic ritual and incorporated it into the endowment.

While I’d always heard talk of such things, it wasn’t until I read a leaked copy of the Master Mason Degree ritual (PDF) that I fully understood the extent of Joseph Smith’s plagiarism (a representative slice is at right). I went through the LDS temple for the first time before the 1990 changes, so I remember the penalties and the Five Points of Fellowship, and they’re all there. It’s a wholesale transplant. What a spin-out. I found myself thinking, “Was there anything original that Smith did?”

See also Richard Packham’s convenient chart.

How do Mormons explain away the similarities? One common line of reasoning involves Solomon’s temple. The argument goes something like this:

  • The LDS temple ceremony was practiced in Solomon’s temple.
  • Solomon’s temple was built by stone masons, who had access to the temple ceremony.
  • Those same masons formed Freemasonry.
  • They therefore pilfered the temple ceremony from Solomon’s temple, and used it for their own.

As a believer, I accepted this explanation for a while, until I became aware that Freemasonry does not go back to the time of Solomon’s temple, supposedly about 900 BCE. In fact, organised Freemasonry starts in the 1700s, and probably goes no farther back than the 1200s or 1300s. Even that might be a bit generous — Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope pegs it at the 1500s. By the way, Uncle Cecil’s description of Masonic handshakes might raise a tremor for an endowment holder.

In shaking hands, for example, a Master Mason will press his thumb between the other guy’s second and third knuckles, thereby identifying himself to initiates while leaving others clueless.

And more handshakes and drawings here. Beware, though: evangelical Christianity.

To say that Freemasons borrowed the temple ceremony from proto-Mormons is to get it exactly backwards. It was Joseph Smith that remixed the Masonic ritual into what is now the LDS temple endowment.

Additional ideas for teaching

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba: Is it true about those two?

The book of 1 Kings has this little subplot about a powerful woman — the Queen of Sheba — who came to visit Solomon.

1 Kings 10:1 And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions.
10:2 And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.
10:3 And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for this supposed meeting; it sounds like a meeting between two intelligent people who found an intellectual kinship. And when people bond in this way, things can get… well… a little bit hot.

1 Kings 10:13 And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.

So… did they have a thing?

Certainly film and artwork have had no trouble filling in the gaps in the narrative.

At this point, we need to look back on the Bible and see the two similar stories we’ve run across: David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Boaz. In both of these, the Bible is maddeningly circumspect in its details. But are we to believe that nothing went on there? Were these rough and semi-barbaric people secretly the inventors of Victorian morality? Even though the text doesn’t explicitly sanction such a reading, you have to look at this and say, come on.

Another thing: when there’s no sex, as with David and Abishag, the text specifically says, “He knew her not.” If that’s not there, some bets are off.

So my take, as Gospel Doctrine for the Godless teacher: They totally did it.

pi = 3

As we all know, the value of pi (π) — the ratio of the circumference of a circle and its diameter — is 3.141592… and on and on and on.

And if you didn’t know the value of π, just remember this sentence: “Boy, I wish I could calculate pi.” The number of letters in each word corresponds to each digit. Science moment of the day.

But a common atheist criticism is that the Bible puts the value of π at just plain 3. How so? Well, 1 Kings 7 gives some measurements of the ‘molten sea’, which was a vessel of some kind.

1 Kings 7:23 And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

That makes π = 30/10, or just plain 3.

I actually think this is not a good argument against the Bible. Remember, π is a transcendental number, so the flow of digits never stops and never repeats. That means that any value of π given in the Bible could be considered insufficiently precise to anyone who decided to think so. Bible says 3? That’s not accurate. Bible says 3.1? Also inaccurate.

So this is on my list of Arguments Atheists Shouldn’t Use.

And yet… this is a bit of a missed opportunity for Jehovah/Jesus. He could have stuck an easter egg in the text, something like “The number thereof never endeth.” That way, when people found out more about π (and it wouldn’t have taken long), they could have been amazed by the Bible’s accuracy, instead of patting the ancient Hebrews on the back and saying, “There, there; you weren’t to have known about geometry.” Too bad.

OT Lesson 24 (David and Bathsheba)

“Create in Me a Clean Heart”

1 Samuel 18–20; 23–24

LDS manual: here


For today’s lesson, we’re blasting through all of 2 Samuel, and that means it’s all about David. In terms of kingliness, David was the apex. Israel had never seen anything like him. Imagine if John F. Kennedy, in addition to being a handsome president and a war hero, was also a rock star who wrote his own songs. That’s David for you.

And predictably, David collected a harem of women. Chapter 3 starts off with six of them.

3:2 And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
3:3 And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
3:4 And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
3:5 And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.

It wasn’t all slippery intercourse for David, though. There was also murder.

4:12 And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron.

He wasn’t too keen on lame and blind people.

5:8 And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind that are hated of David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.

But he did like the women.

5:13 And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.

And one point, he danced — perhaps even cavorted — while not wearing very much.

6:14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

Saul’s daughter Michal thought David was showing more of his body than was proper. So she complained at him.

6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

6:20 Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!

So David cursed her to be childless for the sin of sarcasm.

6:21 And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.
6:22 And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.
6:23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.

Except she did have children. But David took care of that by killing them. More on that later.

He killed off two thirds of the Moabites, and took the rest as servants.

8:2 And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.

We saw in the last lesson that the Israelites had a saying: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” When you get a reputation like that, you have to keep it up, and David does, with the murder of tens of thousands of people — with Jehovah’s explicit encouragement.

8:5 And when the Syrians of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David slew of the Syrians two and twenty thousand men.
8:13 And David gat him a name when he returned from smiting of the Syrians in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand men.
8:14 And he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all they of Edom became David’s servants. And the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went.
10:18 And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, who died there.

And now the famous story of Bathsheba. David sees her bathing, and invites her over for a bit.

11:2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
11:3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
11:4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

But whoops, she’s pregnant. Now David has to invite Uriah back, to establish plausible paternity.

11:5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
11:6 And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.
11:7 And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered.
11:8 And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.

“Wash thy feet.” After the story of Ruth and Boaz, I’m wondering if this means feet, or if it means feet.

But Uriah frustrates David’s plan by refusing to sleep with his wife. Twice! Curses!

11:9 But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.
11:10 And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?
11:11 And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.
11:12 And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow.
11:13 And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.

So David gets Uriah killed by stratagem.

11:14 And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
11:15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

11:26 And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
11:27 And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.

Instead of reading all this, you can just listen to the Pixies song, “Dead”, which is a micro version of David and Bathsheba. The song is something of a miracle of economy, conveying the frenzy of David’s adultery, with each chorus pounding in a single word — dead — conveying the emptiness of the whole tawdry affair. Notice also how the rhythmic structure is built around groups of 3, and not 4. I think this makes the song more unresolved and unsettling.

You crazy Bathsheba, I wancha
You’re suffocating, you need a good shed
I’m tired of living, Sheba, so gimme,


We’re apin’ rapin’ tapin’ catharsis
You get torn down and I get erected
My blood is working but my
My heart is,


Hey, what do you know?
Your lovely tan belly
Is starting to grow

Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper

The prophet Nathan chastises David in epic fashion, with a particularly scorching metaphor.

12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
12:2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
12:5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
12:6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
12:7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

He explains that David’s wives will be given to other men, who will have outdoor intercourse with them.

12:11 Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
12:12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

The child of their union dies.

12:15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

12:18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died.

But Solomon springs from their loins. More about him in future lessons.

12:24 And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.

Now a subplot about Absalom. Apparently, he was a handsome guy, with hair that weighed 2.2 kilograms.

14:25 But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
14:26 And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year’s end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king’s weight.

Absalom conspires against his father David.

15:10 But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.
15:11 And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.
15:12 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.
15:13 And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.
15:14 And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.

and even goes in unto his father’s concubines.

16:21 And Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Go in unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong.
16:22 So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

Absalom is killed in battle with David, when he’s devoured by a hungry tree.

18:8 For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

Well, no, the tree didn’t kill him, but he got stuck in one of its branches. And then run through with a dart. Very GoT.

18:9 And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.
18:10 And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.
18:11 And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.
18:12 And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.
18:13 Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.
18:14 Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.

David’s grief is “characteristically intense“.

18:33 And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

And the concubines? David punishes them by keeping them under house arrest for the rest of their lives.

20:3 And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.

For all this, David sings about how righteous he is.

22:21 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
22:22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22:23 For all his judgments were before me: and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.
22:24 I was also upright before him, and have kept myself from mine iniquity.
22:25 Therefore the LORD hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eye sight.

Main points of this lesson

God punishes people for arbitrary things that they haven’t even done

There are loads of things in these chapters that deserve punishment — murder being the main one – but as usual, the god of the Bible chooses to punish people, when the blame more properly belongs to someone else.

We’ve already seen how Jehovah/Jesus kills the baby of David and Bathsheba for his father’s sin.

But later, there’s a famine, and Jehovah/Jesus blames the famine on… David? No, Saul, who’s already dead. Why is he punishing people for the actions of a dead man? Who can fathom the divine mind?

21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

So David asks the Gibeonites what he can do for them. Answer: kill the supposedly non-existent sons of Michal from chapter 6.

21:6 Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them.

21:9 And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.

And then God punishes Israel for taking a census — that he moved David to take!

24:1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

24:9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
24:10 And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

God hates stats.

So what’s going on? I think there’s something we can learn here about the way religious people attribute causation. When something bad happens, like a famine or a death, it’s normal for us to try and figure out why it happened. That might help us avoid the problem. But we humans, with our monkey brains, have trouble attributing causality.

I know a voice teacher who tells everyone to gargle with zinc when you get a sore throat. Every time she gets the first sign of a sore throat, she’s hitting the zinc. And she always gets better — or at least she hasn’t died yet. Is the zinc helping, or is she getting better by herself? Well, in the absence of a carefully designed experiment, it’s hard to say. She’s certainly convinced. But she could be falling for a very compelling illusion: the placebo effect.

Theism adds another layer: When you believe in a mysterious being who does things for his own reasons, and who isn’t directly available to answer questions, it’s easy to pick up and use the supposed motives of this being as an explanation for everything. This makes people think that:

It’s a very convenient form of reasoning. The cause of the trouble is always something the religious person doesn’t like.

Thomas Gilovich has an interesting case from Israel in his book, “How We Know What Isn’t So“.

“A flurry of deaths by natural causes in the northern part of the country led to speculation about some new and unusual threat. It was not determined whether the increase in the number of deaths was within the normal fluctuation in the death rate that one can expect by chance. Instead, remedies for the problem were quickly put in place. In particular, a group of rabbis attributed the problem to the sacrilege of allowing women to attend funerals, formerly a forbidden practice. The remedy was a decree that subsequently barred women from funerals in the area. The decree was quickly enforced, and the rash of unusual deaths subsided — leaving one to wonder what the people in this area have concluded about the effectiveness of their remedy.”

Religious reasoning. It’s not for nothing that they think God is the answer to everything, because to them it is.

Steadying the Ark

Here’s the story of Uzzah, who Jehovah/Jesus killed because he tried to help. Unfortunately, helping in his case meant trying to touch God’s favourite piece of furniture.

6:6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
6:7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.


This is the way the god of the Bible works: kill tens of thousands of people, and you’re a hero; try to keep the Divine Toybox from tipping, and you’re dead.

Uzzah’s death seems unnecessarily harsh, even to Mormons, who have to explain why it was actually okay for God to kill him. For Latter-day Saints, Uzzah’s story is most often employed as a cautionary tale about not correcting the leaders of the church. It’s always seemed odd and self-serving to me that leaders of the church warn against correcting or criticising leaders of the church.

Brian Ricks’ symposium talk about Uzzah is fairly representative of the Mormon view and the Mormon arguments:

We live in a day when we are bombarded with temptations to leave the path of obedience to follow the path of good intentions. There are those who criticize the Brethren, thinking this loyal opposition will help the Church.

This interpretation of Uzzah’s death worked its way into the Doctrine and Covenents:

85:8 While that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.

The real Gospel Doctrine manual skips Uzzah, but the D&C manual says,

In modern revelation the Lord referred to this incident to teach the principle that the Lord does not need the help of men to defend his kingdom (see D&C 85:8). Yet even today there are those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. There are those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, those who would extend some unauthorized blessing, or those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. These are ark-steadiers. The best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s plan.

Yes, let’s talk about women being treated fairly in the church, shall we?

For decades, the LDS leadership has engaged in double-talk regarding the role of women in the church. They’re equal. But separate! Which means “not equal”.

And while there’s a lot of sexism in our society, we don’t tend to take kindly to ‘old boys clubs’, of which the LDS priesthood is a glaring example. Every male from the age of 12 gets the priesthood, and no woman does.

It was inevitable that there would be a movement to ordain women, and lawyer and feminist Kate Kelly spearheaded just such a movement. Her subsequent excommunication has opened up a huge problem for the LDS Church. With more and more people resigning, converts down, and alternative communities becoming more available, the LDS Church can ill afford to alienate half of its membership. If I cared about the church, I’d be very concerned right now.

And yet it’s the same old story: when you think you speak for a god, it often means you’re not good at listening. Mormons think the church will never fail, and overreach is impossible. And so, predictably, LDS leaders and members are throwing up Uzzah’s ark-steadying story as a way of shutting down the discourse.

The leadership of the LDS Church wants to convince people that they know what they’re doing, it’s all under control. But as the church lurches from PR crisis to PR catastrophe, this becomes harder to believe.

Additional ideas for teaching

The manual conflates premarital sex and sexual assault

We’ve already seen in Deuteronomy how rape is just another way of getting a wife. This lesson tells of the sexual assault of Tamar by her brother Amnon.

13:1 And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.
13:2 And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do anything to her.

13:10 And Amnon said unto Tamar, Bring the meat into the chamber, that I may eat of thine hand. And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
13:11 And when she had brought them unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister.
13:12 And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly.
13:13 And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.
13:14 Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.
13:15 Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
13:16 And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.

Amnon pays with his life.

13:28 Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant.
13:29 And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded.

A very sad story. But now here’s the kicker: the real lesson manual takes the story of this sexual assault, and uses it for a discussion about extramarital sex.

2 Samuel 13 contains the story of David’s son Amnon and David’s daughter Tamar. Amnon was attracted to Tamar and forced her to commit fornication with him.
• 2 Samuel 13:1 says that Amnon loved Tamar. How did Amnon’s feelings for Tamar change after he had sinned against her? (See 2 Samuel 13:15.) Why does hatred, rather than love, often result between people who violate the principles of morality?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “I heard Elder John A. Widtsoe . . . say,
It is my observation that a young man and a young woman who violate the principles of morality soon end up hating one another.’ I have observed the same thing. There may be words of love to begin with, but there will be words of anger and bitterness later” (“True to the Faith,” Ensign, June 1996, 5).

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that rape is not the same as sex. But the lesson manual conflates them. This is inexcusable.

Lest we think this is isolated, let’s remember the story of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and was forced to live and travel with the rapist. She commented on why she didn’t try to escape:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.” Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.” . . . Smart says children should be educated that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

I heard the ‘chewed gum’ analogy growing up in the church, and it was designed to induce sexual guilt, but in the context of consensual sex. It’s awful that this gets rolled into rape. This attitude harms people, and this part of the manual needs to be retracted immediately.

Interesting language note

This passage caught my attention:

17:29 And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.

What’s with the word kine? It’s a rather unusual plural because it shares no letters with its singular companion, cow. How did it get to be this way?

Back in the early days of English, there were a lot of ways to pluralise things. There was the occasional plural -s that we know so well, but there was also a lot of vowel-raising going on, too. For this, you would swap the vowel for one that was higher in your mouth. That’s why we have

  • manmen, or 
  • tooth → teeth.

But there was another method, and that was to put an -n on the end. That’s how we get oxen and brethren. Some people still say eyen for eye.

For its part, cu appears to have gotten a double shot of plurality: both the vowel raising and the -n on the end. But nowadays, we find it much easier to just put a plural -s onto cow.

If you’re curious about English plurals, you can hear me talking about them with Ben Ainslie on my podcast ‘Talk the Talk’, episode 158.

I also found this construction to be a little unusual: “The people is hungry”. While in American English usage, collective nouns like team or organization are considered singular (as in ‘the team wins’, not ‘the team win’), the noun people is almost always plural. This verse is evidence that, at least in the Jacobean English of the 1600s, people could take a singular verb. A singular observation, to my way of thinking.

OT Lesson 21 (Samuel)

God Will Honor Those Who Honor Him

1 Samuel 2–3; 8

LDS manual: here


This lesson’s about the beginning of the life of Samuel. Israel is going through some upheaval; it’s still fighting its wars of conquest and there are still Philistines to be smote, but now Israel’s trying to join the developing world and move from religious theocracy to something a bit more secular and regal. Jehovah’s gonna be ticked.

There are some things in this lesson you’re not going to believe (because who would?), so let’s get to them.

Ch. 2: Would you give your child to a priest? Samuel’s mom does. Here’s the cover of the real LDS lesson manual, and it sets off some creep alarms for me.

The old dude is Eli, the high priest. He has a couple of sons who abuse their office as priests. When it was sacrifice time, they’d nick off with Jehovah’s tastiest treats.

2:12 Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.
2:13 And the priest’s custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand;
2:14 And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites that came thither.
2:15 Also before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw.
2:16 And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force.

And they’d seduce women at the door of the tabernacle.

2:22 Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

Smile, boys!
Darned if I don’t see them making a thumbs-up with those hands, somehow.

Eli, like a good father, tells them to knock it off, but they aren’t having any.

2:23 And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people.
2:24 Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD’s people to transgress.
2:25 If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.

You might remember that parents can have their disobedient children stoned to death, but for some reason Eli doesn’t avail himself of this mechanism. Not killing his sons is what the manual calls ‘honor[ing] his sons above the Lord’.

Then a ‘man of God’ comes and tells Eli that, despite his attempts to correct his sons, everyone in his family will die.

2:31 Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house.
2:32 And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever.
2:33 And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age.

Ch. 3: A cute story. Samuel’s an imaginative child who hears voices in his head. He thinks the voices are Eli calling him, so he asks what Eli wants. After the third time, Eli thinks maybe it’s God, and tells Samuel to ask what it wants.

In my Gospel Doctrine teaching days, I used to say that many of us have spiritual gifts, but we sometimes need someone to help us recognise them. Now I’d say that childish fantasies are harmless until some god-addled adult gets a hold of us and funnels our youthful imagination into their cookie-cutter religion.

Anyway, what does the Lord tell the child Samuel? Something truly disturbing.

3:12 In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.
3:13 For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.

In the morning, Samuel tells Eli. The old man seems shattered.

3:18 And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.

Ch. 4: It all comes to pass; Eli’s sons killed in battle. Even worse, the Ark — Jehovah’s favourite furniture — is captured.

4:10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.
4:11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

Eli is so surprised by this that he falls and breaks his neck.

4:16 And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son?
4:17 And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.
4:18 And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

Hm. He seemed unfazed by the deaths of his sons; it was the news about Ark that finished him off. Forget what I said about Eli being a good father.

Ch. 5: Now the insanity starts. And you know this part’s good because they left it out of the official reading. So sit down on your special donut-shaped pillows, children, and I’ll tell you a story. Even though other people have probably told it better.

The Philistines put the Ark in the temple of Dagon the fish god. Mysteriously, the statue of Dagon falls over.

5:1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. 5:2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.
5:3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.

Dagon falls again the next morning. And breaks. They don’t make gods like they used to.

5:4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
5:5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.

Think someone could get me one of these for my car?

Dagon: the original fish god.

But God’s not done yet. Whoever has the Ark, he smites with emerods. What’s an emerod? It’s a haemorrhoid.

5:6 But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.

That’s right: whenever they move the Ark to a new city, everyone in that city gets haemorrhoids. In their secret parts.

5:9 And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.

Haemorrhoids are painful, certainly, but I’m trying to imagine haemorrhoids so bad that you could die from them. All I can imagine is everyone in the Philistine cities running around with blood pouring out of their asses, screaming. It must be true; it’s in the Bible.

So what to do with the Ark? Send it back!

5:11 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.
5:12 And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

Ch. 6: But when you’re sending back an ass-sundering poison Ark, you can’t just return it like nothing ever happened. You can’t just show up with blood all over the seat of your pants and say, “Uh… here — I found this.” No, in this situation, etiquette dictates that you make an “I’m very sorry I took your Ark” offering. And in this case, the Philistines have a very appropriate gift in mind.

6:4 Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.

Yes, they made golden versions of their inflamed rectal polyps. And golden mice, which makes some people think that the emerods were actually the bubonic plague, which was spread by rats. But do you get bubonic plague in your ‘secret parts’ specifically? I’m not an expert, but I’m sticking with haemorrhoids.

You know how most of the sentences we say are one-offs that no one’s ever said before and no one will ever say again? I’m realising that “I’m sticking with haemorrhoids” is probably one of those. I’ve never typed it before, and I never plan to again.

When the Ark arrives, it’s still not great news because some of the Israelites take a sneaky peek into the Ark. I’m guessing they wanted to look at the golden haemorrhoids. I’d be curious to see what one looked like, wouldn’t you? I’d be checkin’ out those haemorrhoids.

Because they peeked, God killed 50,070 men.

6:19 And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.

THEM’S MAH POLYPS, MOFO. You don’t just open the Ark to look at Jehovah’s polyps! What were they thinking?

So it seems that the Ark was just as bad for the Israelites as it was for the Philistines, even if the Bible writer blamed it on curiosity.

Since you’re probably curious too, here’s a picture of what a golden haemorrhoid probably looked like. Now your curiosity can be assuaged — ah, le mot juste — and you don’t have to die.

Ch. 7: After years of bumping around with judges, Samuel comes to take control. But he’s a strict Jahwist. He’s what we’d call a hardliner.

7:2 And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.
7:3 And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.

Samuel firmly takes the reins, and offers a sacrifice. Finally, Israel has a priest-leader again.

7:7 And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.
7:8 And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.
7:9 And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him.

Ch. 8: Israel, up to this point, has been trying to free itself from the shackles of religious ledership. They’ve flirted with integration and multiculturalism, and now they want a secular king.

8:4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
8:5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
8:6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us.

Jehovah/Jesus isn’t too happy about it either.

8:6 And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
8:7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

Can you guess why a priest would hate the notion of a secular king? Right — because there goes his gig. So every time the people want this sort of thing, the prophet or priest gets very grumpy and threatens them with punishment from god, and blames them when they lose their battles of empire. And very often the people believe him and sink back into the morass of theocracy. (Not that monarchy is great or anything, but secular leadership is a least a step in the right direction.)

Well, this time, the people refuse to capitulate, and persist in demanding a king. So Samuel rather sourly tells them what to expect.

8:11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
8:12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
8:13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
8:14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
8:15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
8:16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
8:17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

Wow, the king is going to take a tenth of their stuff? That’s a weird criticism from a priest. “Hey, you guys! If you have a king, you’ll have to pay him a tenth! You don’t want that; that’s really terrible! And by the way, some of you are falling behind on your tithing.”

8:18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

Jehovah can be so pissy sometimes.

The king v priest conflict is going to come to a head in the next lesson, so we’ll leave it there for now.

Main points from this lesson

God punishes Eli’s family for his sons’ sins

In this story, Eli’s entire family was killed for the actions of Eli’s adult sons, even though Eli took them to task, and was unsuccessful in bringing them around.

I want to take this opportunity to address what I think is a very damaging aspect of Mormon parenting: the idea that God will hold parents responsible for their children’s behaviour.

Okay, yes, if children are little ratbags, then sometimes we can trace it back to inexpert or neglectful parenting. But I’m talking about something a bit different: a parent’s tendency to
control their children’s activity in the church, and
blame themselves if their children ‘go astray’; that is, grow up and leave the LDS Church.

In one particularly rank example of my experience, the father — a bishop — attempted to choose his children’s habits, friends, activities, and information inputs, in the belief that his god would hold him responsible for things they did before adulthood.

I think having a successful family requires something called differentiation, and that’s the idea that we’re different people, we may have different views, but we work together as a family, and we deal with our differences respectfully. In this model, couples try to have a bit of breathing space, not depending on each other for their good feelings. Parents can allow their children to have different views and grow into their adult status, without feeling threatened.

Compare that to the view promoted by the lesson manual, which asks:

In what ways do we sometimes honor other people more than God?
We fail to correct family members or friends in their wrongdoing because we want to maintain good relations with them.

Correct family members or friends in their wrongdoing? Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly advice, but is it our job to ‘correct’ our friends? I don’t think this is a case of unfortunate wording; this is the view held by people who truly think they know better.

Differentiation is near impossible in a family where

  • only one set of values is considered true or moral
  • those with divergent views or values are marginalised
  • there’s a strict hierarchy of control, and 
  • respect toward the ones in power is expected because of their position in the hierarchy, and not because of their human qualities.

The model promoted by the Eli story (and the murder of Achen’s family), practiced by many Mormons, is one in which it’s very difficult to be a differentiated person because you’ll suffer the consequences of other people’s choices. And spouses or children who deconvert or question can’t have their views respected because they may cause damage to the family unit or the family members themselves (in Eli’s case, bodily).

And there’s something else that this lesson beings into the mix: the idea that Jehovah/Jesus always comes first. The stated purpose of this lesson is:

To help class members understand the blessings of honoring and pleasing the Lord above themselves, others, or the world.

So you have to prioritise Jehovah/Jesus — or should I say his earthly representatives — before your family, before other people, and even before yourself. It’s why I say that the LDS Church doesn’t try to support the family; it attempts to supplant the family.

My parents were wonderful people who did a great job in parenting, despite some really terrible assumptions. But when I look back on my own childhood, what strikes me is how much unnecessary suffering my parents went through with me over ordinary issues like dating, card playing, music, friends, and clothing. They really agonised over this stuff, when really I was doing fine.

Now that I’ve realised that there’s more than one way to live, it’s made my job as a parent a lot easier. There are still things I caution my children to avoid, but I no longer buy into the idea that my children will suffer eternal isolation for failing to obey the arbitrary commandments of a murderous bronze-age deity. They’re responsible for their own actions, and my job is to help them understand the consequences of those actions, and get practice in the little choices, so they’ll be good at the big ones.

Additional ideas for teaching

God’s responsible for the bad stuff, too.

Modern believers tend to give their god all the credit for the good things that happen to them, but if something bad happens, that’s something else. Satan, possibly, or themselves.

Ancient Israelites didn’t feel that way. Remember, they hadn’t invented Satan yet, so everything that happened, they put it all down to God.

So when Samuel’s mom gets pregnant with Samuel, she sings about it:

2:6 The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.

Isn’t that a more honest view? After all, if you’re going to give the credit to the guy who set this whole thing up, you’ve got to blame him for the bad bits.

What if theists had this view today? Hymns might be different, for one thing.

Of course, Samuel’s mom gets no bonus points for noticing that God kills people; he’s only been doing it for the entire book up to this point.

Does the earth rest on pillars?

Samuel’s mom continues.

2:8 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and he hath set the world upon them.

Believers sometimes claim that the Bible (or the Qur’an) contains accurate information about the earth that predates its scientific discovery. While it is possible to cherry-pick isolated scriptures and find a match for this or that fact, this strategy counts the hits and ignores the misses. This verse about the earth’s pillars is dismissed as ‘metaphorical’ or ‘poetic’, but other nearby verses are accepted as factual predictions because they happen to match observable reality.

Anyway, everyone knows it’s really turtles all the way down. Let’s have a closing hymn.

OT Lesson 20 (Ruth)

All the City… Doth Know That Thou Art a Virtuous Woman

Ruth; 1 Samuel 1

LDS manual: here


After the last few blood-soaked lessons, we now arrive at the Book of Ruth. You could be forgiven for checking to make sure you’re still reading the same book. The Book of Ruth was supposed to have been written at the same time as Judges, but there’s no murder or bloodshed anywhere. There is, however, a scintilla of seduction, as we’ll see.

It’s a very short book. It’s also a very nice book. That’s the one thing about Ruth; she’s nice. She’s known for her loyalty, and for being the first convert to Judaism. Here’s a little photo collage of Christian materials about Ruth, that I got from an image search for “book of ruth”. See if you can catch any themes.

Wow — people market this like it’s a romance novel. Which, for the Bible, I suppose it is. It’s kinda hot stuff. I mean, it’s not the full-frontal Adam and Eve thing; it’s far more circumspect. Which means it’s perfect for modern Christians.

This is not to say that there’s no sex about it. Ruth is a bit of — if not a scheming little hussy — someone who keeps her eye on the ball and knows what kind of man she wants to nab.

I think this Christian treatment is a bit more on point, even though it’s a little less delicate.

The summary for Ruth doesn’t take long:

Ruth, Ch. 1: We meet Naomi. Famine has carried off her husband and two sons. She’s left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah (whose name you always have to read twice) and Ruth. With limited options for them, she tells them to scram; she can’t give them husbands. Well, she could, but it would take too long.

Ruth 1:10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
1:11 And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
1:12 Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;
1:13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.
1:14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.

Ruth, Ch. 2: Boaz comes on the scene. He notices Ruth gleaning (hence all the wheat imagery above). One of the nice bits of the Mosaic law was that you weren’t supposed to harvest every single grain from your fields; you were supposed to leave some for poor people to glean. He notices Ruth, and tells her to stay in his field. He even tells the workers to drop some of the wheat on purpose. Nice guy. But can you base a relationship on gleaning?

Ruth, Ch. 3: Now Naomi instructs Ruth in the Art of Getting a Man.

Ruth 3:2 And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.
3:3 Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
3:4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.

Sounds a little smutty, but this is essentially a marriage proposal.

Ruth 3:5 And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.
3:6 And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.
3:7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.

He wakes up at midnight, and whoa! A woman at his feet.

Ruth 3:8 And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
3:9 And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.

Bit of a sub, that Ruth. With a foot thing.

Boaz is amenable.

Ruth 3:10 And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
3:11 And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.

Ruth, Ch. 4: There’s a bit of horse-trading. There’s someone more related to Ruth than Boaz is, so he has the right of refusal. Which he does. Boaz says:

Ruth 4:10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.

And so Boaz and Ruth are married, and have seed.

The lesson manual also runs through the first bit of Samuel. God’s being a bit of a prat again, shutting up women’s wombs for the lulz.

1 Samuel 1:4 And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:
1:5 But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.

Hannah says, “How about we make a deal, Jehovah — if you give me a son, I won’t cut his hair.”

1 Samuel 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.

She really knows what God’s into.

1 Samuel 1:20 Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.

Main points from this lesson

So, did Naomi and Boaz do it on the first date?

Let’s get into this.

Naomi knows Boaz will be alone on the threshing floor, and she tells Ruth to “go in, and uncover his feet”. And work your way up from there. The salacious connotation isn’t hard to spot.

It becomes especially interesting when you learn that some versions translate feet as legs. Feet is sometimes used as a euphemism for genitals; for example,

Judges 3:24 Surely he covereth his feet

is sometimes rendered

He is only relieving himself

Also consider: Boaz tells her to stay until the morning.

Ruth 3:13 Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.

On the other hand, she seems to leave without doing the deed.

Ruth 3:14 And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another.

All the same, he wants to keep the matter covered up.

Ruth 3:14 And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.

So? Did they or didn’t they?

Well, I’m sorry to do this, but it’s kind of ambiguous. Many biblical scholars pooh-pooh the notion, but I think the text leaves an opening for Ruth and Boaz to have had slippery intercourse. The uncovering of the ‘feet’, the spreading of the ‘skirts’ — how else would you say it in a book like this?

These are supposed to be models for LDS women

I confess that I’ve had some trouble finding the point in this lesson, and I’m glad I’m not alone. It seems to me that whoever wrote the real lesson manual had the same problem.


How did Naomi show love and concern for her daughters-in-law when they offered to return to Bethlehem with her? (See Ruth 1:7–13.)

By telling them to go away.

What can we learn from Naomi’s concern for her daughters-in-law that can help us in our family relationships?

Make sure that you give them good advice vis-a-vis man-ensnarement.


Naomi counseled Ruth to perform a ritual that she hoped would result in the marriage of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 3:1–5). By lying at the feet of Boaz, Ruth would be, in effect, proposing marriage to him. What did Ruth’s obedience to Naomi’s counsel reveal about her feelings toward Naomi?

She was willing to perfume up and shag a relative.


What promise did Hannah make to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:11? What can we learn about Hannah from this promise? (She was a woman of great faith; class members may suggest additional answers.)

That she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a child, no matter how arbitrary or unrelated. Including giving him away to a priest, which we’ll see in the next lesson.

Seriously, that’s the lesson. Sorry, Mormon women. You can have a whole book of the Bible named after you, but it’s all about getting a man or becoming a baby-making machine. Like so many books, the Book of Ruth fails the Bechdel Test.

Additional ideas for teaching

Ruth clave unto Naomi

The folks at Would Jesus Discriminate think that there might have been a Ruth/Naomi thing going on, based on the use of the word clave.

The same Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt about Eve (and how spouses are supposed to feel toward each other) is used in Ruth 1:14 to describe how Ruth felt about Naomi. Her feelings are celebrated, not condemned.

Right, because words can only mean one thing.

Except they don’t. My copy of Strong’s renders this verb any number of ways, including following closely, staying with, and so forth.

So no, I can’t give it to them. Love your work, folks, but this is really stretching things.

Although now that I’ve seen this image of Ruth cleaving, I’m no longer so sure.

Even Orpah’s like, “Hmm…”

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