Monday, March 2, 2015

The Significance of Daily Scripture Study

This morning found me in the waiting room of the NC Children's Hospital waiting for my son to go into surgery. I have the habit of reading a chapter from the Book of Mormon every morning, but this particular morning I had not yet read a chapter. Lately I have gotten up to 3 Nephi and yesterday I had read 3 Nephi Chapter 16 so while sitting in the waiting room surrounded by children with various afflictions waiting to go in for surgery I opened up the Book of Mormon and began to read 3 Nephi Chapter 17.

I learned long ago that God is the Master Planner and knows how to plan all things for the benefit of those who believe, and there in the waiting room of the Children's Hospital I knew, again, that He had planned this. He had planned for months so that I would read that chapter in that place. Many things had to happen so that I would, but God knew.

This is the significance of daily scripture study. It is a tool in the hand of God so that he may use it in the right place at the right time to answer questions, to give reassurance or comfort, or to teach.

3 Nephi 17:
1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand. 
2 I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. 
3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. 
4 But now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them. 
5 And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them. 
6 And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you. 
7 Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy. 
8 For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you. 
9 And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him. 
10 And they did all, both they who had been healed and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him; and as many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears. 
11 And it came to pass that he commanded that their little children should be brought. 
12 So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him. 
13 And it came to pass that when they had all been brought, and Jesus stood in the midst, he commanded the multitude that they should kneel down upon the ground. 
14 And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel. 
15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him. 
16 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; 
17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father. 
18 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome. 
19 And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise. 
20 And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full. 
21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. 
22 And when he had done this he wept again; 
23 And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones. 
24 And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them. 
25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Samaritans and The Jews

[This comes from a comment I left on another blog a while back. The topic was the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the work of Ezra and Nehemiah in restoring the temple.]

The Samaritans considered (and still consider) themselves to be direct descendants of the people of the Northern Kingdom. When the Jews came back to to Jerusalem the Samaritans were happy to help because they were helping their cousins. That is until Ezra came to town and told the Samaritans to take a hike. Also keep in mind that the Jews (from the Southern Kingdom) never really considered the people from the Northern Kingdom to follow the “true Church”. So the Jews thought that just about anyone from the North was apostate even before the Jews came back from Babylon.

So the first Jews who came back to Jerusalem got there and were like, “Great! More Israelites to help us!” But Ezra shows up and says, “But they are from the apostate North. And they can’t prove their lineage so we are just going to assume that they intermarried with other people and are therefore not ‘pure blooded’ Israelites.” The standard thing that is usually taught in our Sunday School classes, Institute and Seminary, is that the Samaritans were people brought in by the Assyrians or Babylonians who may have intermarried with any remnant Israelites who survived. This is partially true.

The city of Samaria (capitol of the Northern Kingdom) was largely depopulated by the Assyrians. We don’t really have a good idea on how the surrounding towns and villages were affected. I have seen articles saying that the entire north was depopulated and others say that there is no break in the archaeological record in some of the Israelite towns around that time. From what I have read there may have been a non insignificant population of real, true blooded, Israelites still living in the north when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. There was also a significant population of refugees from the north living in Jerusalem at the time . For example, Lehi and his family were from that population of refugees. Either Lehi’s grandfather or great-grandfather were among the original refugees from the north.

The Assyrians also brought in other people to populate the city of Samaria and it is with these people the remainder of the Israelites in the north may have mixed. So the Israelites/Samaritans who wanted to help build the temple may have been pure blooded Israelites, mixed blood Israelites or even non Israelites. For the pure blooded Israelites (or even those who thought they were pure blooded, because we all know how sometimes we just don’t talk about (great-)grandpa’s second, or third wife or uncle Bob who married….her) to have Ezra then come in and say “Y’all ain't real Israelites.” would have been perceived as “He’s just spreading rumors to cut us out of the work being done on the temple.” (Read: He’s giving preferential treatment to his family and business cronies for all that cash flowing in from Persia).

So from stuff that I've read the Samaritans perceived it as a smear campaign based on baseless rumors (“Because, like who are they to talk. I mean, they’re all the ones coming in with their Babylonian (and Chaldean! Scandalous!) wives and dirty half breed children. Our linage is pure I assure you.”)

In response to this the Samaritans argued that the Jews who came back were not pure blooded Israelites since they intermarried with Babylonians (as evidence they would point to the Jews who had Babylonian sounding names). So accusations of infidelity and interbreeding abounded and in the end the Samaritans were kicked out off of the temple project. The Samaritans responded by going north to Mount Gezirim (you know the one where Joshua put the tabernacle after they crossed over the Jordan, except the Jews went back and edited Deuteronomy to have him putting it on a different mountain, but the Dead Sea Scrolls agree with the Samaritans on this one), and built their own temple. This one was larger and more impressive than the one in Jerusalem and got more patronage and monetary support from the Persians which is something that the Jews don’t like to mention. They don’t like people to know that Artaxerxes spent more money building the temple on Mount Gezirim than the one in Jerusalem. Also they don’t like people knowing that a Jewish/Israelite governor was also appointed in Samaria and also resettled Babylonian Jews there.

The Jews were a little jealous of the larger and more spectacular temple in Samaria and thus it was rather scandalous when the eldest son of the high priest (i.e. the next high priest) was persuaded by the Samaritan governor to come be the high priest for the temple in Samaria. Keep in mind that priesthood authority was transmitted father to son so this would have been viewed as a legitimate transfer of authority from the temple in Jerusalem to the one on Mount Gezirim. Ezra and Nehemiah were quite upset and promptly excommunicated him (and anyone else associated with him). So the Jews (and Ezra and Nehemiah) were trying to establish their legitimacy in Jerusalem while many Jews (and their money) just stayed in Babylon (“We’ll just stay put until you get your priesthood authority issues worked out.”).

The Jews considered themselves to be vindicated when Alexander the Great came through and destroyed the city of Samaria (but not the temple on Mount Gezirim), but left Jerusalem untouched. Afterwards the Jews rebelled against the Greeks and fought a few wars with them (cf. Maccabees). The Maccabees were upset that the Samaritans were getting along with the Greeks and sort of formed a tenuous alliance with a bunch of upstart warmongers from a city that no one had ever heard of called Rome. In the process the independent Jewish king took it out on the Samaritans and destroyed their temple and killed a bunch of them (like a non insignificant part of their population). They (the Samaritans) were rather upset and never forgave the Jews. So when the Romans came tromping through a few years later looking to be paid for helping the Jews out against the Greeks, the Samaritans gleefully supported the Romans and helped bolster the new “independent” and “Jewish” king named Harod, for which the Jews never forgave them.

So when Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well (literally at the foot of Mount Gezirim), “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain [Gezirim], nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” He meant that it didn’t matter who was right or wrong in the Ezra-Samaritan dispute because by then neither one (Jew or Samaritan) was in the right or had the authority.

So the story of Ezra is perhaps one of the more under appreciated and historically messy stories from the Bible. It is a story about priesthood authority and how that authority is transmitted correctly. History sure is a mess. And even more so when you hear every side to the story.

For anyone who is interested here is some further reading:

Who Were the Samaritans? by Taylor Halverson.

The Dating of the First Phase of the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim in Light of the Archaeological Evidence, by Yitzhak Magen, found in Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E.