Wisdom (v. 12)
Joe, I think the general Mormon understanding of wisdom is that, in contrast to simple knowledge or learning, it has a connotation of being able to apply what you know to a given situation, i.e. the skill to apply knowledge. I thought it was interesting that the TWOT somewhat corroborates this view by saying:
- Prudence, an aspect of wisdom, is expressed by those who speak with wisdom (Ps 37:30; Prov 10:31), and who use time carefuly (Ps 90:12). This kind of widsom in the practical affairs of life is dreived from the revelation of God (Isa 33:6). (p. 647)
Looking at BOM usages, I don't think this view fits very well. In fact, it seems wisdom in general in the BOM is used in both a positive and negative sense (e.g. "preach unto themselves their own wisdo and their own learning, that they may get gain" in 2 Ne 26:20). I think the pairing "learn wisdom" in Mosiah 2:17 might have bearing here, but a quick look there doesn't help me understand the connotation much better (though it is suggestive that the pairing is followed by a call to service which could be taken as an application of the more abstract principle of love...). --RobertC 17:22, 18 Jan 2007 (UTC)
- I like what you've said here. There is an interesting article on "wisdom" in the Book of Mormon by Dan Peterson (you can read it here). I like what he has to say (perhaps most because it engages Margaret Barker's discussion of wisdom quite seriously). I think a very LDS reading of Proverbs 1-3 opens the way to think about the meaning of wisdom. Margaret Barker's work on Plato and Pythagoras (the last article in _The Great High Priest_) is very helpful too. --Joe Spencer 18:18, 18 Jan 2007 (UTC)
Joe, I reread what you wrote on verse 12 and it got me thinking a bit more about wisdom and reason at play here. Once again Alma 12 popped up, but this time by way of 2 Ne 28:30 which mentions wisdom, but sounds an awful lot like Alma 12:9ff to me. Why is this interesting? Well, first, it suggests to me that perhaps Alma indeed has Nephi's--and perhaps Jacob's--words firmly in mind in his writings. (What are the other reasons for and against believing that someone like Alma had access to the small plates? Regardless, we are again left wondering how heavy Mormon's editing hand was in all of this....) To the extent that we should be reading 1-2 Nephi, I think there is further "reason" to think about wisdom vs. reason, or at least learning (esp. b/c of 2 Ne 9:28, 42; also 2 Ne 27:26 which goes back to Isa 29 so even if Alma didn't have access to Nephi and Jacob's words, the link here with learning wouldn't be weakened...).
Although I noted above that there are positive and negative connotations of wisdom, that's too simplistic. The contrast seems always to be between man's or the world's wisdom vs. God's wisdom. So I think it's suggestive that Alma says that the whole reason it's good that they are humble is so that "ye may learn wisdom"--so all the subsequent talk about faith might be viewed as a teastise on how to learn wisdom, which seems to be importantly related to believing in Christ (cf. Alma 38:9). And the subsequent tree (representing wisdom symbolically) metaphor is about God's word growing. So I think this all has bearing on how we answer the question you've posed for verse 15: Alma isn't explaining to the Zoramites how they can learn wisdom, but how they can learn wisdom, God's wisdom--Alma is to teach them how God's word can grow in them if they are humble enough to let it. (But I'm still not sure how to think about being humbled "because of the word" in v. 14....)
Couple more thoughts in thinking about what wisdom connotes in the larger BOM context:
"Wisdom" and "wise" seem to be used in ways that are importantly related to the future. God's "wise purpose" shows up a lot. I think this is related to the idea of not knowing something before believing it, and trusting in God who knows the future better than we do. Also, somewhat related, when I read Jacob 6:12, "O be wise; what can I say more?", I'm reminded of the post-symbolic idea you've all been talking about with respect to Abraham (esp. as Adam framed it in terms of the gap between the symbolic and the Real: Jacob can't say everything b/c of this gap, so he appeals to wisdom in an effort to cover everything...). If reason, which requires see-able reasons for believing something, is typified by Korihor (can we detect Mormon's hand purposefully placing the Korihor narrative just before this one? we haven't even touched yet on this obvious and rich topic of the sign-seeking, anti-faith rhetoric in Alma 30...), isn't wisdom best "symbolized" by that which is not seen? the hidden things? the mysteries? like hope which is that which is not yet, but which is sure? that which outstrips what the mind alone can see (see esp. Alma 30:13-16; and notice the anti-grace/charity bit in Alma 30:17)? Also, shouldn't we read the prevalent use of "foolish" by Korihor as being the exact antithesis of wisdom? and the "carnal mind" in Alma 30:53? I think the post-symbolic idea has rich implications for we think about faith generally, and how we read these chapters in Alma more specifically (and how we'll read much of Hebrews, chapter 11 most obviously...). --RobertC 18:48, 6 February 2007 (CET)
- Robert, thank you for these thoughts, they've got me rethinking quite a bit here. Let me throw out a couple of quick preliminaries, then. I really think there's something to your connecting up Jacob's "O be wise" with the post-symbolic (religious for Kierkegaard, ethical for Levinas). Isn't something similar implied in Mosiah 2:17: there to "learn wisdom" is to achieve the true ethical in Levinas' sense (one engages the Other as God, and God as Other) as well as the religious in Kierkegaard's sense (to break and just so realize the service of one's fellow beings in the irruption of the Real duty: service of God)? Your connection of 2 Nephi 28 to Alma 12 is also important: the broad pattern is similar, and this seems to suggest a kind of equivalence between "wisdom" in the former and "the mysteries of God" in the latter. Of course the revelation of the mystery (the parting of the veil) is always going to be the most religious, the most truly ethical. And ultimately, isn't this precisely what we mean in general by "wisdom"? Something like: to be wise is to get the big picture (to have been beyond the veil) and yet to be practical enough to dwell here, that is, to have been "beyond" the symbolic and yet to dwell here within the symbolic. (I have some clearer and clearer thoughts about how all of this ties up with the typological, but I won't get into that yet.) All of this plays well into man's wisdom versus God's wisdom as well. The idea being that men who haven't wisdom, who haven't been through the mysteries, will still claim to have wisdom, though they've reduced the Real to the symbolic (perhaps this gives us a very clear way to think about the meaning of the Great Apostasy: the Christian covenant was broken in that the Real disappeared in the exaltation of the symbolic... the Saying was reduced to the Said). And then all of this can be taken back to the OT refrain: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (a phrase Hegel gets a lot of mileage out of in the PhG). The point of the phrase seems to be this: wisdom opens up precisely as I regard the Word and not merely the word. Finally, we might do well to connect all of this back up with Alma 32 via Ps 1:1ff. If we might call the man described there the "man of wisdom," then it is fascinating that he becomes the tree planted by the river, etc. Quite a bit still to think about here. --Joe Spencer 15:47, 7 February 2007 (CET)
[Joe wrote:] "[T]o be wise is to get the big picture (to have been beyond the veil) and yet to be practical enough to dwell here, that is, to have been "beyond" the symbolic and yet to dwell here within the symbolic."
Since I've been reading Barker's Revelation of Christ (on and off), this makes me think about the high priest going into the holy of holies and then reemerging (like in Isa 6). The prophets are called to go forth into the world among the people after an encounter with (call from) God. But, in Hebrews esp., isn't this described as a recurring process for everyone (every high priest) except Christ? If you recall, it's this recurrence (dialectic? in contrast[?] to Alma's singular event of conversion) that was my original motivation for wanting to look at Alma 32 so closely; now I think Hebrews will be a good complementary study of this.... --RobertC 17:48, 7 February 2007 (CET)
- Hmmm, the more I think about this, the more I want to think more broadly about knowledge, esp. as it relates to the Fall and agency--I think I need to think more broadly about these issues in order rethink what might be going on here. In particular, I'll probably be looking at D&C 29 for a little while, I think the temporal/spiritual distinction that Alma later talks about (Alma 36-37) is related to what's going on here in important ways (for the sake of following my train of the thought, the connection to my above paragraph is in terms of the temporal--recurrence for that which is temporal, like faith, as opposed to knowledge which does not seem recurrent Alma seems to contrast faith which can grow with perfect/sure knowledge which does not grow any more; actually, should we even read Alma as implying that such a thing as sure knowledge is possible? looking again, I'm not so sure...). --RobertC 12:12, 8 February 2007 (CET)
Willful humility (vv. 13-14)
Interesting choice of words Joe, since willful has a connotation of stubbornness--what this on purpose? Thinking about why I think this is a poor word choice highlights what I think is at play here (I think, once more...). That is, I think this should be read in light of Alma 7:23: "ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated." "Submissive" and "easy to be entreated" in particular connote what I think is more of a will-less responsiveness than anything "proactively" chosen. "Gentle" is a bit more ambiguous, but I think it is more of an antonym than synonym to willful.
But this brings me back to thinking about love and the link with faith. If love is responsiveness to and acceptance of an Other, it seems very similar to humility. And so I think one way to read Alma's sermon here is as an expounding of what faith is in relation to love and humility, and how agency fits into all of this (sorry to sound so meta-theological, I'm just trying to work out the implication of all these words Alma is using as they relate to my own understanding of these words in light of other related words--ultimately I do want to focus more on words than on concepts or other meta-theologies...). The problem with sign-seeking is that it tries to get the Other to reveal itself (strip the other?) rather than hearkening to the call(/voice/word) of the Other. In the temple as on earth, we (must) hear God's voice(/call) and hearken before we can see God.
And I can't help thinking about my reading of John 3-4 for SS where Nicodemus and the woman at the well who don't really hear what Jesus is saying but only see what he is pointing to--their only understanding is in terms of what they can see with their natural eyes.
(If it's not obvious, it's the "hope for things not seen" of v. 21 that I'm chewing on here....) --RobertC 17:15, 2 February 2007 (CET)
- Thank you for your comments here. I did choose that wording carefully, but perhaps too passionately. I was frustrated with what seems to me an almost blasphemous phrase: "humble yourselves." But my thinking today (in these terribly written paragraphs I've added today) takes me beyond some of those concerns, and so I went back and reworded the points you brought out.
- There is so much richness in this hearing/seeing business, and I'm trying to figure out where to take it up "originarily." Any ideas? Isaiah, perhaps? --Joe Spencer 17:53, 3 February 2007 (CET)
I think you're right in essentially emphasizing in v. 14 "they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word"--it's not a humbling oneself because of oneself, but because of the word. I take the reflexive English construction to be only a subtle shift of emphasis that suggests one can choose not to be humbled by the word, in contrast to being compelled. And so in verse 15 I think the "because of the word" is significant to retain as an implicit qualification to humbling oneself. So, to restate, I think we are called by the word (hearing/hearkening) to humble ourselves, whereas we are compelled to be humble when we see signs. I'm not sure where the best place is to take up seeing vs. hearing. The problem I think in Isaiah is that I doubt we'll find a big distinction like we do here, my sense is that Isaiah uses seeing and hearing more as synonyms (consider this a challenge for you to prove me wrong!). --RobertC 21:22, 3 February 2007 (CET)
- Joe, I was thinking more about the hearing-seeing business--two thoughts. First, I think Moses 6:27ff might be a good place to take this up for various reasons: Enoch is told something very similar to Isaiah regarding herts, ears, and eyes; Enoch is slow in speech and then gains great power in speech; Enoch is the first seer we have record of (I think). Looking at that passage also made me think more about Adam and Eve being cast out of the presence/sight of God b/c of Eve's being seduced by the attractive look of the fruit (so perhaps we should be thinking about all of the Book of Moses...). I also think the "born again" phrase in Moses 6:59 is interesting in terms of Moses 6:27, suggesting a new heart, new ears, and new eyes (which is perhaps the order that Enoch follows, a new heart via the Spirit in v. 26, hearkening and a new tongue in vv. 27, 31-34, 47 etc., and new eyes in vv. 35ff). --RobertC 23:39, 5 February 2007 (CET)
I'm starting to realize how completely pervasive this theme is. Thanks for the x-ref's. I think Enoch is probably relatively close to Alma's thought, in fact. Alma makes reference to Melchizedek in the parallel text of Alma 12-13, and both Joseph Smith (in D&C 76 and the JST of Genesis) and the whole ancient world (see almost any apocryphal work) drew explicit connections between Enoch and Melchizedek (the two heavenly figures who were taken up in apotheosis). It would be well to keep the Enoch business in mind.
A sidenote on Enoch that may or may not be connected. The more I study the Book of Moses, the more I'm convinced that there are very important connections between it and the Book of Revelation. I'm becoming convinced that the book in the hand of the one on the throne (in Rev 4-5) is the book Enoch is said to have written (according to D&C 107), and the one I think is quoted in Moses 6. The way it is quoted makes it a question of seven generations, each generation's representative patriarchal figure living for more or less a thousand years (see the corrections to the ages in the JST manuscripts, which differ substantially from the Moses material: Adam lived 999 years, not 930, for example). Could it be that the seven seals, and so the seven thousand years, are the time from Adam to Enoch. It is certainly interesting that Enoch, as the seventh generation, was the translated millennium. If one takes this idea up, I think it can be read into Moses 6-7 in a fascinating way: the whole plan of salvation suddenly changes in Moses 7, because Enoch pleads with God against the flood (it appears at times there as if God were about to finish things up, but Enoch mediates and turns the flood into a veil of sorts). The JST seems to me to offer something of a corroboration of this view in that it has (in Gen 17) people believing during Abraham's day that Abel was the sacrificed son of God (what might that tell us about some of Brigham's teachings?). Anyway, a couple of thoughts. --Joe Spencer 16:29, 6 February 2007 (CET)
Humbling oneself (v. 15)
Joe, I like how you dealt with this issue of humbling oneself: "[H]umility, it appears, is something that can only be an act of self, a kind of self-abrogation brought about by the self. This is as much as to say that humbling oneself is a paradoxical act: the self asserts itself in its own self-disregard."
For my convenience, here's your question: "the meaning of being 'compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty' becomes somewhat more difficult. That is, because the compelling agent cannot have absolute sway, it is not entirely clear where one should delineate the power of that agent. Where does one draw the line?"
Let me just think outloud on this for a minute--I think most of this is painfully obvious, but it will help clarify my own thinking if nothing else: It seems to me there are 4 possibilities in Alma's words: (1) compelled to be humble but not humbling oneself, (2) compelled to be humble and humbling oneself, (3) not compelled to be humble and not humbling oneself, and (4) not compelled to be humble but humbling oneself. The problem, it seems, is what to make of the word "truly." As a little exercise, let me run through some verses to see how I see different phrases fitting into these categories (or to see if these categories don't really fit the text, or perhaps better, vice versa; as a sidenote, I don't think Alma is necessarily using his terms in a super-consistent fashion--that is, I think in reality he is elaborating on his terms and establishing his meaning as he goes along, so I think this exercise is a bit doomed-to-failure from the get go, but I undertake it b/c I think it will help clarify my understanding of what is and isn't going on here...):
- Verse 6. "[H]e beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation ot hear the word." Here, I see Alma describing the people who are basically at a crossroads between (1) and (2): they've been compelled to be humble, and so they are prepared to humble themselves (by hearing the word--notice that the word still plays a crucial role in the humbling of oneself).
- Verse 7. I take the phrase "truly penitent" here to refer to (2). It might also refer to (4), but in this case only (2) is applicable b/c this readiness (somehow) brought about by external force.
- Verse 8. I take the phrase "lowly in heart" to mean the same as "truly penitent" in verse7.
- Verse 12. "[I]t is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom. . . for it is b/c that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren b/c of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble." This I take as explaining why being compelled to be humble is good: it causes "lowliness of heart" (if so, then this calls into question my reading of verse 8; alternatively, perhaps it only increases the likelihood of lowliness of heart occurring--or, perhaps this should all be read more temporally: one is compelled to be truly humble by the external force, but whether one "stays" in that truly humble state throughout the day is dependent on the individual's agency; for example, I may be humble every time I look at someone who is rich, but all the intermittent moments, I may be proud..?). This is a horribly modern way to phrase this, but I see this as saying that being compelled to be humble is good b/c it increases the likelihood that one will actually humble oneself and therefore remain in a humble state from moment-to-moment. I can't help thinking of a physical analogy: I push a bouyant ball down in the water, but it keeps floating up unless there is some other force to hold the ball down. So, in this example, my hands are "compel" and some other "reflexive" force (i.e. myself) is what is needed to keep the ball down....
- Verse 13. "[F]or a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance." I take this as a very significant move in Alma's defining what being humble should entail. If one is truly humble, i.e. (2) or (4), then he will repent.
- Verse 14. This is the first time a reflexive form of humble is used in this chapter: "[T]hey are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word." I take this as saying that (4) is better than (2). I think "because of the word" has to be the key phrase here, contrasting (4) with (2). The problem in trying to emphasize "truly" here is that truly is used in vv. 6-7 to describe those who were compelled to be humble. It would almost make sense to emphasize "themselves" here, but this would not seem consistent with the wording in verse 25 which describes those who have been compelled to be humble using a reflexive: "you have been compelled to humble yourselves." With the analytic categorization I'm entertaining here, using both the word "truly" and the reflexive "themselves" seems superfluous--it seems Alma uses both of these terms by themselves to describe those who are compelled to truly humble themselves. Perhaps, then, the use of both of these terms is to be emphatic, or especially clear. (In other words, it seems in Alma's language that being "truly humble" and "humbling oneself" describe the same event. On the other hand, it could be that "truly humble" is referring to those who are not compelled to humble themselves, but then this would contrast with the "truly penitent" phrase in verse 7 which is describing those who are compelled to be humble.
- Verse 15. "[H]e that truly humbleth himself . . . the same is blessed--yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble b/c of their exceeding poverty." This would support the last sentence above: "truly humbleth himself" is set here in contrast to those who are compelled to be humble. The contrast seems to focus on the means by which one is humbled, not whether that humility leads to repentance or not. Or does it? This is an important question I'd like to think about more: Why are those who are are not compelled to be humble more blessed than those who are compelled to be humble? I've been reading this in terms of the "likelihood" of repenting (or, I think what I really mean is that it somehow requires "less effort" for one who is compelled to be humble to truly humble himself, whereas one who is not compelled must in some sense overcome more resistance or distance in order to truly humble himself...). But now I'm wondering if there isn't a significant difference in the final outcome: perhaps he who humbles himself b/c of the word w/out being compelled to be humble will be in a qualitatively different state of humility which has important implications, perhaps the repentance will be more sincere and lasting, or faith will grow stronger--what does "more blessed" really mean anyway?
- Verse 16. Again, we see "they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble", (4), being described as blessed. Interestingly, "without being compelled to be humble" seems to be parallel to "without being brought to know the word."
- Verse 25. Alma clarifies that he does not think that everyone has been compelled to humble themselves, some might have humbled themselves "let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might." I generally see this as a distinction between (2) and (4). The potential problem with this verse is that seems to raise the possibility of being compelled to humble oneself. But I think this isn't a serious problem: Alma is addressing those who have already humbled themselves; I think he's just saying that some of these people might've humbled themselves even if they hadn't been compelled to be humble (notice, no reflexive indicator here).
Conlcusions. Hmmm, I think this actually worked a little better than I thought it would--it seems Alma might be more consistent in his use of terms here than I thought. What seems important is for one to humble onself or, (nearly-?)equivalently, to be truly humble, and to repent (though the former seems to facilitate the latter...). What seems textually ambiguous to me is whether being truly humble is the same thing as humbling oneself. I tend to think there is a slight distinction: the truly humble (or "truly penitent") are ready or prepared to humble themselves. I may come back to this later, but I'm probably done with this for a while.
--RobertC 04:03, 13 February 2007 (CET)
- Just muddling through this a little. I really like what you've got here on verse 15. You raise a question that was interesting me greatly, but that became overshadowed in the process of working out the exegesis, and I think it is a vital question. Why on earth are those who humble themselves because of the word more blessed than those who are compelled to be humble? I can't make any sense out of it at all. I've got to think about this more. --Joe Spencer 17:11, 12 February 2007 (CET)
- The more I look at this Robert, the more I think we've got to back to a strict separation between "humbling oneself" and something like "being humbled from outside." And I think this calls for a major revision of what I've written on verses 13-15. It is probably only in light of this major distinction that we can make any sense of the one group being more blessed. I confess I'm not sure yet how even to begin to think about this, but I'd really like to see what comes of it. --Joe Spencer 17:17, 12 February 2007 (CET)
- I think a fruitful approach might be to think in terms of being compelled to be humble by what one sees vs. humbling oneself without being compelled in terms of responding to the call of God's word. Verses 16-17 would be the key verses for this view. --RobertC 04:17, 13 February 2007 (CET)
Place and time (v. 11)
I can't think of anything to add to the commentary, but I think this point about place and time is really a very rich and important idea. To think about the rest of this verse as a here-and-now place for worship, with chapter 33 addressing the question time is a very useful guide for reading these chapters; the notion of "giving place" to the word in this chapter, and the link-in-time to Christ in the next chapter. I don't really have anything coherent to add yet, but it seems that eventually we should be able to really explore this idea quite fruitfully. --RobertC 01:24, 11 November 2007 (CET)
- Agreed. Your comments on "in a preparation" (v. 6) are simply fascinating, by the way. I'm thinking... --Joe Spencer 16:40, 11 November 2007 (CET)