Thoughts from “Opposition in All Things: Mormon Perspectives on the Fall” (a Mormon Theology Seminar Conference on 2 Nephi 2 and Genesis 2-3)


There was another Mormon Theology Seminar Conference this past weekend. The organization has held 6 of these seminars so far: one on Alma 32, one on 2 Nephi 26-27, one on D&C 42, one on the book of Revelation, and now this double-seminar (one on 2 Nephi 2 and one on Genesis 2-3), with the conferences held back-to-back. This last conference was unique (and very productive!) that way. Friday was dedicated to Genesis 2-3 and Saturday to 2 Nephi 2, but in each session there were respondents and/or questions from those who had studied the other text. The questions brought out connections or complications that generated very interesting and productive conversation. And Micah and I got to be there to see it all! 🙂 (Someday I’ll buy him a copy of the books so he can know what it was he was there listening to and clapping for. 🙂 )

Like I do in many meetings, in this conference I started out mostly let the ideas make me think (and I was also focused on Micah), but I wasn’t taking any notes. I was just letting the ideas change my thinking, or simply just enjoying the experience. Then, for whatever reason, maybe b/c Micah was asleep (or because I was sleepy and needed to do something to stay focused), or maybe it was because some idea thing struck me more than others had and I wanted to remember it… but whatever it was, I started taking notes. And then, as is my habit, once I start taking notes, I keep taking notes and I took notes the rest of the time. So my notes here really start in the afternoon of the first day, but since I thoroughly enjoyed that morning as well, I’ll write a few things from my memory.

The first paper by Julie Smith deconstructed the “Wise Choice Theory” – the idea that Eve knew what she was doing when she ate the fruit and did it completely on purpose for good intentional reasons. It was a good paper with lots of careful reading and good insight. I was trying to keep Micah quite and didn’t write down a thing! But it was very interesting.

The next paper was by Ben Spackman, and he did an excellent job of showing how and when the word “Adam” should be translated not as a proper name. Where it isn’t a proper name, what is it? Dirt, human-kind generally, a member of the human family, etc. He provided a chart as well to show how a dozen different translations over time have handled that question. Very well done, very helpful to someone like me who doesn’t know Hebrew, and very engaging presentation style. Plus, he was skyped in from Spain so that was a novelty too. 🙂

The last paper that morning was by Rosalynde Welch, and I’m going to quote her title since it will tell much more than I could about her topic: “Creation, Localism, and Appetite in the Garden World of Wendell Berry.” Interesting piece with some insights, but mostly I needed to know more about localism and Wendall Berry for me to be able to respond to her thesis. It was great to finally meet Rosalynde, though. She blogs at Patheos and does a fantastic job writing intelligent and faithful posts relating to all sorts of Mormon issues.

Now for a list of some of my insights, mostly – as usually here on this blog! – for me to archive some of my thoughts and use them in future studies.

From Jim Faulconer’s “Chaos and Order, Order and Chaos: The Creation Story as the Story of Human Community,” responded to by Julie Smith:

  • Eve got knowledge individually and not communally
  • She saw tree as good. It was, but she went outside the community.
  • How are the “curses” really grace? (My answer: note Eve still bears children, and Adam still eats food from the earth. Now both are coupled with sorrow, but they still are allowed to live out the life God gave to them in the garden.)
  • leaving garden = creation of community, relying on each other
  • “ashamed” of nakedness. Lots of possible readings. They are now “like God” but not like God. Jim suggested it one reading: they were a priest and a priestess without priestly clothing
  • God creates humans on the Sabbath. That was rest?
  • Julie asked, How do Mormon cultural ideals of self-reliance, independence, and punishment line up with the community theme that Jim as brought up?
  • (Here, but in earlier papers too:) Christ kept scars on His hands. Will the earth have scars from us that it keeps, too?
  • (From comments): There are not many examples in scripture of communities being positive. We usually read all the bad things that a society is doing. But perhaps if we had more details of how Zion was created, with the Nephites for example, we would be tempted to simply take that as a blueprint and try to imitate it, which would be a disaster. I thought, Perhaps this keeps us on our toes, hopefully forcing us to listen to the Spirit, which Brigham Young says is what Zion is all about anyway. 🙂
  • Question from the Hebrew: might Adam be present when the serpent and Eve talk?
  • Jenny: We think of Zion as “inclusive” but was Adam and Eve’s problem that they didn’t cast out Satan? How does that change our image of Zion?

Notes from Candice Wendt’s paper, “Environmental Education in Zion,” responded to by Jenny Webb – one of my favorite people 🙂

  • Eden was Adam’s “ecological education.” He was naming animals, eating fruit, tilling ground
  • Knowledge = fruit. Why?
  • “earth’s flesh becomes our flesh”
  • her general idea is that all fruit brings knowledge. So forbidden fruit could represent that b/c they had already had gained lots of other kinds of knowledge (of the earth, eating, animals, each other, etc) – what made this knowledge – this fruit – so different?wisdom?
  • “Ashamed” – there was already a gap between them and God, but still now ashamed (me: Ether 12:27?)
  • Enoch the place to think about community.
  • Jenny: Marcus Nash recently presented on taking care of the earth but he focused on how we have a responsibility to take care of the earth for future generations. Adam too passes on knowledge of the earth to his children
  • Jenny: think also about Alma 32. Your own tree…
  • I wondered – serpent was most subtle can be translated most naked. Can we translate Adam and Eve of being ashamed of their subtle way of eating the fruit?
  • Kim and I wondered – serpent naked, but in temple Satan has unique clothing?
  • Animal feeds man, shouldn’t man feed animals?
  • clothed with skins means they experience death, and then they wear it!
  • but of course it also teaches about sacrifice and Christ’s atonement. Still, they are wearing death, as it were. A corpse of an animal. They are humans now marked as humans that will someday die. Interesting!

Adam Miller’s paper:

  • Does Christ save us from death or from dying?
  • Adam makes his own garden – he is being/becoming like God
  • bowels remind us that we are bodies of dirt, we produce dirt – earth comes in, earth goes out
  • bodies pass air in and out, light passes into eyes, sound passes into ears
  • passing, repetition – that is living, that is life
  • Book of Mormon – “it came to pass” – events in life come and then go, they came (in order to?) pass
  • Comment: Why biologically repulsed by that which passes from us? Adam: it’s for the earth, for others. We are not self-sufficient creatures on this planet.

Rico:

  • Question: is Adam’s punishment mortality itself, or death in that day?
  • D&C 29 an interesting place to go looking. Spiritual death in that day?
  • Does Lehi use Isaiah 14 to get his understanding of Satan (2 Ne 2:17)
  • Not a tree of knowledge for Lehi – just forbidden fruit. Why use that name? What is he focused on?
  • I wrote down at this point: I wonder if Lehi had any idea that thousands of years later, people would so carefully work to understand every sentence in a discourse he  gave on the fall and atonement.

Jenny:

  • Jacob is Lehi’s first-born in the wilderness. If we read as a whole, could be that Nephi saw Jacob as the spiritual leader for the family.
  • Now map “flesh” discussion (running through all of 2 Nephi 2) onto this – mortal = Jerusalem? resurrection = promised land?
  • Lehi’s words in 2 Nephi call US to listen to Jacob.
  • Adam: flesh = spirit and body oriented to death, soul = spirit and body oriented to eternal life
  • Candace/Jenny: spirit and flesh opposed in 2 Ne 2
  • Sort of a “Last Will and Testament” but of spiritual traces rather than material traces

John Hilton:

  • Alma 42 quotes Geneses 3 (provided a chart – it’s very clear!)
  • Alma 42 quotes 2 Ne 2 (also very clear!)
  • In both Alma 42 and 2 Ne 2 a prophet is teaching a son
  • John charted the pattern in Alma 42:11-23 and 2 Ne 2:10-14 (I didn’t copy it well, but things like: Christ, opposition, God would cease to be God, not the case…)
  • (me:) Why “if no punishment” or misery, then God would cease to be God? Why at that point?
  • (me:) Why is THAT the key part of the list? Makes God a King or Sovereign?
  • (me:) or, b/c justice means not going back on decrees given to Adam and Eve? words always fulfilled, and punishment was one of those decrees?
  • “affixed” shows up 6 times in Book of Mormon: 3 in 2 Nephi 2, and 3 in Alma 42!
  • “affixed” implies not inherent, someone had to affix it.
  • affixed, chosen, given the law (who affixes punishment? no subject given for that)
  • (me:) having punishment and happiness affixed allows us to choose? how agency created? or am I barking up the wrong tree?
  • How did Alma quote 2 Ne 2 (and so seems to have had small plates) but also unsure of timing of Christ’s visit?
  • Could be Lehi’s message in 2 Ne 2 was also on large plates
  • But why then would not the important info of the timing of Christ’s visit also be on those plates?
  • Lots to learn from the way Alma teaches here.
  • (My favorite:) Alma cuts past the behavior, and even scriptures on that behavior, and gets to the misunderstood doctrine (of Christ)
  • Alma carefully reads – no prooftexting! 🙂
  • Note where Alma 12/13 are different (as gods…)
  • (my question in the Q&A:) how often do we use this very discourse to talk about chastity, when Alma himself doesn’t use scripture that way to help teach his son! Are there other examples in scripture where we see someone cut past the behavior to teach about Christ or another fundamental doctrine and then we see how that was really what was needed?

I realize now that I must have been taking care of Micah during Joe’s paper. I thoroughly enjoyed it (and I’d heard it before). But one of the most interesting parts of his presentation was Rosalynde’s creative description of Joe’s general presentation style. How Joe is like someone taking us down a busy road in downtown NYC and pointing out this and that to us. Or a biologist who slices something smaller and smaller and looks at it under a microscope. Etc. It was a complimentary and creative response to Joe.

Also, Deidre gave a paper in the afternoon that I failed to comment on here. I think I remember feeling like I needed to know a lot more about feminism to really appreciate what she was getting at. She did a great job, but I have a lot more to learn about feminist theory and feminist theology.

But a wonderful, wonderful conference! Every paper and every response gave me things to think about. Every lunch or dinner conversation was enlightening and fun. I don’t desire the attention and work that comes with presenting at a conference, but I think I’ve almost talked myself into writing up and submitting papers to these sorts of things (like MSH) just so I can have the excuse to go and be around the people and the conversations during these conferences.

Thanks to Sue, again, who offered to watch our kids so I could go both days! It was a great experience.

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