Talk:Alma 32:17-25

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Verse 16[edit]

I have several questions about this verse. First what is the relationship between it's two main parts?

1) blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble;
or rather, in other words,
2) blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.

I'm thinking of 4 possibilties: a) 2 is what Alma meant to say all along. When Alma realized he didn't say quite what he meant in 1, he says what he means this time using the words 2. (Or you can think of Mormon in place of Alma as he is summarizing Alma's work.) b) 1 and 2 are two ways of saying essentially the same thing that Alma means. c) 2 is a generalization of 1. 2 applies broadly to living correctly; humility is one example. d) 1 and 2 are different. Alma is connecting them to make a point.

I lean toward d but I haven't made sense of that yet.

Question 2: What does 2 have to do with these people? Aren't these people already baptized?

Question 3: Isn't it backward to say "without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe"? Wouldn't it make more sense for this to read "without being compelled to know the word, or even brought to know it, before they will believe." Is it purposeful that this is reversed from what we would expect and if so what does it mean?

Question 4: Does blessed here mean "virtuous" or "fortunate" or something else? In the beatitudes I like to think it means something like "fortunate"--that is how I understood the Portuguese translation I had on my mission and suddenly it made sense for Christ to say that those that mourn are actually fortunate because they will be rewarded later. Whereas if you read blessed there as something like virtuous--that we should mourn--then you have to reinterpret each of the qualities in those verses so you aren't actually recommending people try to be depressed and you come up with (what to me seem like) crazy definitions for "poor in spirit," "meek" and "mourn." Now back to Alma... If we read blessed here as something like fortunate then instead of reading Alma as saying you should believe without even knowing the word of God (think of Brigham Young's conversion in contrast), Alma is just saying that you are fortunate if you are someone who just naturally believes. (That all said Alma 32:25 seems to argue for the "virtuous" reading for blessed in this verse. But I'm not sure what to make of verses 24 or 25...)

--Matthew Faulconer 04:19, 10 Jan 2007 (UTC) PS in re-reading through my questions they seem sort of familiar, like maybe I have read some of them somewhere else, especially 3. Anyway, I make no claim to originality here.

Matthew, here are some quick thoughts:
Question 1. I think the ambiguity is unavoidable and the same that exists in almost every paralellism in the scriptures. I think that, as with most parallelisms, here there are two slightly different ideas being used synonymously to make a point, basically a combination of your (b) and (d).
Question 2. I think this is a good and important question. I'd like to see this fleshed out some more. What kind of case can be made either way? If they have already been baptized, isn't there precedent in the BOM for re-baptism? Either way, I think the discussion of baptism must be read as a reminder, either of an ordinance they've ceased practicing, or as an ordinance they haven't understood.
Question 3. You're asking why is brought used before compelled instead of vice versa, right? I don't know, but it seems in vv. 12-13 the word order is the same, brought before compelled. My guess is that Alma is using brought first b/c that's something his listeners would readily agree with, and then compelled is used to make a point to his listeners, perhaps something to the effect of: "Look, you're humble, and it's largely b/c of your circumstances, so there's a sense in which you haven't really exercised your agency to be humble. Thus, it's good that you're humble, but since you've basically been compelled to be humble, you need to recognize that you're vulnerable to the possibility of not being humble when your circumstances change."
Question 4. Interesting, and something I think that will be timely to discuss for the NT SS lessons (Beattitudes are in a couple weeks or so I think). I tend to think blessed means a bit of both, that is you are both looked favorably upon by God ("virtuous") and God will reward you for it (though possibly not until the next life; "fortunate"). But I guess your point is that if there's a virtuous connotation, then we should read this as an admonition. I don't have a good argument to back this up, but I do read this as an admonition. And so with the Beattitudes, I tend to think of the mourning phrase in the same light as phrases about rejoicing/being blessed when others afflict you (usually followed It hink by "for my name's sake" or something). So it's not that you should go looking for reasons to mourn, but when hardships come to us--as they inveitably do to all of us--they are actually blessings from an eternal perspective (cf. Heb 12:5ff and the idea of a Father chastening his child...).
Perhaps not super-helpful, but these are my thoughts for now. --RobertC 13:32, 10 Jan 2007 (UTC)
on 2. I am aware of rebaptism in the early Church but nothing comes to mind in support of this in the Book of Mormon, except when Christ comes. That might be sort of a special case since you are doing away with the law of Moses at the same time.
on 3. maybe there is no answer but I'm not sure how to interpret "even"--it seems like it should modify the less extreme case. For example, I might say "he didn't help when I asked, not even when I begged for help." It is odd to say "he didn't help when I begged, not even when I asked." I'm not sure if my point is clear here.
on 4. I agree that this probably means both--in some cases more of one and in some cases more of another. --Matthew Faulconer 06:19, 12 Jan 2007 (UTC)
Q2. Hmm, not sure why I thought rebaptism occurs in the BOM. Perhaps when Alma the elder is baptized after Abinadi's preaching (the curious passage where he goes under with he whom he's baptizing...).
Q3. Thanks for clarifying your question in terms of the placement of "even," I agree this is curious—I don't have a good answer. --RobertC 18:42, 12 Jan 2007 (UTC)

I just read something on the beatitutdes which referenced Gen 30:13 using the same "blessed are" grammatical construction. I hope to look into this more carefully sometime (I want to check the LXX in particular). I think this supports the fortunate interpretation of blessed as opposed to the virtuous interpretation. --RobertC 16:58, 23 Jan 2007 (UTC)

On q2. I wonder if "even" in this context means something like "especially." --Matthew Faulconer 21:13, 4 February 2007 (CET)

Matthew, I think you've made a good case that Webster's definition #4 doesn't seem to work here. I think your "especially" suggestion might indeed be the best route. Perhaps this would accord with definition 3 in Webster's 1828, "Likewise; in like manner" as in "Here all their rage, and ev'n their murmurs cease." --RobertC 05:27, 5 February 2007 (CET)

Maybe I'm just being hard-headed, but are #3 and #4 different? Wouldn't the example "here all their rage, and ev'n their murmurs cease" work for with definition #4 too? Rage is more expected to cease, where murmuring is less expected to cease. I'm wondering if the fact that this is all in the negative makes it so that depending on how you look at it you can think of either one as on the less side. (Does that make any sense?) Just as a double negative could in some cases be interpreted as either an emphatic negative or a positive. You'd want to look at the context to decide which makes most sense. --Matthew Faulconer 06:14, 5 February 2007 (CET)

"Know of a surety" (v. 17)[edit]

I think this is a very interesting issue for Alma to address at this stage of his sermon. I'll try to write up some exegesis on this soon, but for now my unorganized thoughts are as follows: Why is faith such a necessary stipulation in life? I think there are many atheists who don't believe in God simply b/c they think it silly to believe that if God exists (esp. in any sort of tangible form) that he wouldn't just let us see him. Why does God make it so hard to believe in him? I think the answer to this question must be in terms of faith. It seems that developing faith is absolutely crucial to our development. Why? Well, this is where I think Laman and Lemuel, as sign seekers, might be good examples (types) of why this wouldn't work: faith must be developed or we can't become faithful.

I think this view opens the door to a link I've wondered about between faith and love, viz. how it can seem that the emphasis in the NT on love comes out of the blue. The Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that "the Qal form [of `aman] never means "believe" but expresses the basic snese of the root "to sustain, support, carry" (2 Kgs 18:16)." This carrying/sustaining connotation is very interesting to me. If we think in terms of our relationship with God or our relationship with others, there's a sense in which we need to accept the Other on the other's terms (i.e. take seriously others' requests) in order to have a sustainable relationship. (I think this is what Marion is getting at when he talks about God-as-love being more fundamental to God-as-being.) This seems to link the two in my mind: if having faith in an other person is sustaining that other person, then it seems love and faith are very similar concepts. So, taking the phrase Joseph Smith was fond of repeating (I think), that love begets love, we have a close connection here where Alma seems to be teaching that faith begets faith. --RobertC 06:21, 31 January 2007 (CET)

Robert, I think your comments posted today on verses 17-19 represent the best we've come to so far on Alma 32, and I really like the thoughts you've articulated here on the discussion page as well. I think this opens onto the possibility of thinking carefully about the interrelated roles of seeing and hearing in the chapter, and they are severally connected with faith and knowledge. You might want to look at the ReadingAbraham post for this week (mine on Gen 16), where I'm exploring something of a similar theme there. Onward. --Joe Spencer 19:01, 1 February 2007 (CET)

Verse 19[edit]

"More cursed"[edit]

This reminds me of Alma 14:11 but I can't quite make sense of the connection. It seems there's some underlying notion of accountability at work in both passages. I think 14:11 is a challenging passage to read and make sense of in any theological sense. I think how we read 14:11 will have an important impact on how we read 32:19. I 14:11 is importantly related to Isa 6:9ff b/c both passages seem to portray God's will (via prophets) as damning of the wicked, something that doesn't square with a simplistic notion of God as loving, forgiving and always ready to give us second chances. Instead, it seems that the vengeful, justice side of God is at work here in a way that make us modern readers who have inherited a NT-focused Christian heritage uncomfortable. Thinking about this more, I think the more interesting implications may go the other way--how we make sense of 32:19 will have interesting implications for how we read 14:11 and Isa 6:9 (and Mark 4:12 etc.). --RobertC 15:53, 4 February 2007 (CET)

"Cause to believe"[edit]

I've only got spurts of time to think and write this morning, sorry for the disorganization and half-baked thoughts. I'm starting to feel a bit stuck in my thinking on this chapter, but this "cause to believe" bit keep calling to me for more attention, as though it might be a phrase that will upon climbing will lead to new vistas of understanding. One idea is that "hearing the word" is in and of itself a cause to believe. So if we don't hearken to the call of the word, then we already start to fall under some condemnation, though it is a much milder form of condemnation than that incurred by those that see a sign. --RobertC 15:59, 4 February 2007 (CET)


I didn't understand this sentence...

This may describe a degree of stubbornness analogous to the possibility that Alma suggests with the word "sometimes" in verse 13 ("for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance").

Robert? --Matthew Faulconer 20:39, 4 February 2007 (CET)

Sorry, I'm often half-distracted while trying to comment here. What I mean is that there seems to be something like stubbornness being described in verse 13 where someone may be compelled to be humble but only sometimes does this lead to repentance. So stubbornness would describe someone who is compelled to be humble but doesn't repent. Reading about the followers of Zerahemnah who refused to enter into a covenant of peace reminded me of this kind of stubborn-looking behavior. --RobertC 22:29, 4 February 2007 (CET)

parallel of v 16.[edit]

I just changed the wording on how the parallelism in v. 16 works. Here's my reading:

A blessed are
B they who humble themselves
C without being compelled to be humble;
or rather, in other words,
A blessed is he
B that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized
C without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.

Is that the same way you see it? If not, maybe I need to change back my edit. --Matthew Faulconer 22:46, 4 February 2007 (CET)


Yes, thank you Matthew. I don't have much practice trying to discern the structure of passages, but here's how I'm thinking about it now:

A blessed are they
B who humble themselves
C without being compelled
B' to be humble;
or rather, in other words,
A blessed is he
B1 that believeth
B2 in the word of God,
C and is baptized without stubbornness of heart,
C yea, without being brought
B2 to know the word,
C or even compelled to know,
B1 before they will believe.

Hmmm, I'm not too satisfied with this, esp. the end where the use of know seems to figure in somehow that I doesn't fit jive too well with the above, but perhaps my thinking here can help someone else (like Matthew's outline has helped me...). --RobertC 05:13, 5 February 2007 (CET)

How about this?

A blessed are they
B who humble themselves
C without being compelled
B to be humble;
or rather, in other words,
A blessed is he
B1 that believeth
B2 in the word of God,
B3 and is baptized
C without stubbornness of heart, (or is this part of b3?)
C' yea, without being brought to know the word,
C'' or even compelled to know
B1' before they will believe.

In this outline I purposefully chose not to show "know the word" in C' as parallel to believe the word (B1 & B2). Here's why. Alma is saying that we are blessed if we believe without being first compelled to know; Alma is, therefore, contrasting belief and knowledge, not making them parallel. --Matthew Faulconer 05:59, 5 February 2007 (CET)

Good point, I like this. It suggests, at least to me, that "knowing the word" is like being brought to stand in God's presence when you'd rather hide in the rocks (Alma 12:14--Joe, yet another reason to look more closely at Alma 12). We believe the word in order to know God himself, when the word will no longer have to mediate between us...? --RobertC 14:38, 6 February 2007 (CET)

Belief and knowledge (v. 16)[edit]

Joe, first I just wanted to say thanks (again) for working through this so carefully. I kept bugging you to, and then I haven't put in nearly the amount of effort and care you have. Frankly, part of the reason is that I'm not very skilled or practiced in thinking about scriptures to the extent that you are doing so here. Having thought about these issues somewhat carefully, but then seeing the things you pull out of this is very, very helpful in my continuing education of how to read scripture more attentively. --RobertC 05:05, 17 February 2007 (CET)

Joe, impatient as always, let's see if I can't get a sense of where you might be going, or at least start thinking for myself about the implications for the rest of the chapter of what you are saying. Something that isn't explicit in your writing is what belief and knowledge are in relation to (or "with"): the word, right? I think the vagueness of "the word" is important, and will become even more important later in Alma's yea-nay discussion of perfect knowledge. My inclination would be to say that it is not possible to be brought to an unqualified perfect knowledge, rather it is only possible to be brought to certain (limited) kinds of knowledge. In fact, I think this is very related to the issue BrianJ brought up on the blog on the "Secrecy in the Gospel of Mark" post, esp. as pertaining to Alma 12:10ff. BrianJ was discussing how it might be possible to lose what you once learned as these verses seem to imply. This seems tied up with how and what one actually knows. If you simply know the word is good, well it seems you can lose this knowledge--like losing a testimony as BrianJ says.

Ugh, I've got to run soon, so this probably won't come out well--nevertheless: I think there may be at play here a bit of a distinction between the finite nature of knowledge without faith vs. the infinite nature of faith which leads to more knowledge. So, if one is brought to knowledge without first exercising faith (symbolically partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?), then the knoweldge will be forgotten, or at least not allow for more knowledge. But, by faith, one can become self-sufficient in terms of obtaining more knowledge--or, better, able to nurture the word that will lead to more and more knowledge.

Oops, I've gotten too meta-theological here and away from the text. What I think might be at work in the text is an interplay between the finite and the infinite/eternal--this will manifest itself later in the chapter more explicitly via the "perfect knowledge" verses, but I think the seeds (...) of it are already being sown here in the very idea of knowledge coming before belief. (I think I expressed something very similar to this before in terms of temporary vs. a lasting humility...). --RobertC 01:54, 18 February 2007 (CET)

May your impatience prevail, Robert! Let me first say in response: I have no idea where I'm going! I come to the text every day and take a look at it so as to let it redefine all of my thinking about things. So who knows where this is headed.
That said, you're absolutely right that this question of the word, and its relation to belief and knowledge, remains ambiguous for now. And it's not even a question I've yet asked myself, principally because the text has not yet forced me to ask it. But since you are forcing me to ask it, let me do a little bit of impromptu thinking here.
One of the difficulties/wonders of putting anything in terms of the word/Word is that it automatically draws us into the questions raised by deconstruction, or at least or Derridean deconstruction. The very nature of the word, if I understand Derrida correctly, is such that anything like an "unqualified perfect knowledge" is impossible. That is, because a word differs/defers, any knowledge one might seek is, by the nature of the thing, lost in the play of differences and in the space of deferment between signifier and signified. One might gain a kind of practical or scientific knowledge (which is what I'm assuming Alma is referring to when he says that "your knowledge is perfect in that thing"), but once the word has been spoken, knowledge itself becomes problematic, impossible. A major theme in Derrida's thinking about this is the question of philosophy, of metaphysics, of phenomenology, of systematics, of economics. That is, "knowledge" immediately subjects us to the realm of the philosophical et al. In trying to know, we attune ourselves to the world in a kind of systematic way (theoretical, economical), because we are trying to systematize the world in thought. And a system is, by definition, closed, limited, finite.
So I think that your way of putting it is important. Once we are trying to make everything systematic, or, if you will, a question of knowledge, we have already finitized things, and hence, we have banished God--or for Derrida, and perhaps for us as well here--the Other. Anything the Other/God does can only show up within the system as a trace, as a translated mark or sign, but the Other/God has been ignored, belittled, marginalized, exiled, etc.
The question, however, is what happens if we abandon knowledge for faith. Does that not crack open that economy? To give ourselves sans reserve, without reservation, to something (hence, in complete trust, in complete faith), is to sacrifice knowledge in the name of faith, of hope, of love. And then we just might find ourselves in the infinite, in the eternal ("Now abideth..."). (You will note how close all of this is to Kierkegaard.) What is fascinating about all of this is that both faith and knowledge are related to the word, but in very different ways. If we take up the word within a philosophical system, then we have totalized it, making it a sign(ifier) that systematically refers to the signified, some thing in the world. But the systematic word is the word subject to differance, and so we are always finitized in an impossible knowledge. Over against this is the Word, the word that speaks a petitioning word, that calls us to work, that summons us to a task. If differance still holds sway (and I'm not sure yet how to think about this), it doesn't matter because we give ourselves without reservation to this petitioning Other, to God.
A brief example, just to belabor the point. Yesterday in Sunday School, our class was discussing faith and miracles, and of course a kind of formula was suggested: faith of healer + faith of to-be-healed = healing. That led inevitably to the question of why some people aren't healed, then, when both kinds of faith are there (though I'm not sure I would agree that this happens very often at all). What was fascinating to me was that the answer was inevitably phrased in terms of knowledge: "Well, we know then that God had some reason to take so and so, though we may not know the why." (Notice here that knowledge is necessarily incomplete, necessarily fragmented.) After a few such comments, I finally raised my hand (I was feeling a bit under the weather, and that lowered my inhibitions a bit) and said something like: "Does there even have to be a why? There was a fall, and people get sick, and many of them die. That's part of the way of the fallen world. That something ever happens otherwise, that God ever turns things around in a healing is a miracle in that He has contradicted the order of things, undone the way of the world. But that's not a question of faith at all. Faith is simply: 'If death, then death! If life, then life! Whatever comes, I'm in because I'm his!'" (Notice here that faith is necessarily completely, necessarily whole.) I said it with more a tone of disgust than was probably customary, and perhaps for that very reason it changed something the tone of the classroom/lesson. Anyway, I think it illustrates the point well. --Joe Spencer 17:16, 19 February 2007 (CET)

Signs (meta-discussion)[edit]

Wow, Joe. You've really gone all out on your semiotic discussion on the commentary page. One of the problems with this kind of discourse is that it can become almost unreadable rather quickly. I'll have to give it some thought before trying some editing. One question--how far do you think we should take this whole semiotic discussion on the main commentary page? It seems like such a huge issue, I'm wondering if it should have its own page that we just point to? Anyone else have any thoughts on this?--Rob Fergus 20:26, 22 February 2007 (CET)

I think we're going to need to discuss some meta-issues again at some point. As I'm sure is obvious, I'm thoroughly enjoying the commentary Joe is posting, and I really appreciate this excursus on semiotics. I don't have particularly strong feelings about where things are posted, though I understand the concern Joe expressed some time ago about the deemphasis and confusion created when breaking up material into several pages. On the other hand, I worry that Joe's Continental-flavor of writing is turning away potential contributors (as hinted at by some blog comments, but only mildly so I think...). I'm truly torn b/c on the one hand it's hard for me to see any other way to really open up the text of scripture without this kind of writing and thinking that Joe is doing. On the other hand, perhaps more people would get involved if the wording on the wiki looked more like traditional (analytical, historico-critical) commentaries and wasn't so complex or "intimidating."
Without addressing these larger questions, it's hard for me to have an opinion here. As things currently stand, I'd be inclined to leave the excursus as is b/c I'm dying to to see where Joe goes with this. On my reading, he has carefully tried to include only the bare minimum of what he is needed in order to really get into the text. Nevertheless, it's not all that hard for me to think of ways to move part of this to a subpage without doing too much violence to what Joe's written.
Also, I'm inclined to continue as things are unless/until there is clear evidence that "censoring Joe's style" would significantly change the level of interest on the wiki. Perhaps one way to address these larger issues about the wiki is to look more carefully at the suggestions and comments on that blog-vs.-wiki post that Matthew posted a while back and then do some sort of follow-up.
Oh, one more thought: it's very hard for me to edit Joe's writing (which is why I used "censor" above). I could muse at length as to why this might be. I don't have problems editing others' writing perhaps b/c I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what others write. But Joe's writing is rich enough that I think I worry I will lose the opening in the text that Joe has carefully constructed if I start to edit and reduce his writing back to something that is more within my grasp. In other words, I don't have confidence in my ability to discern between writing that is rich vs. writing that is organized, clear, concise, etc. (and I think this lies at the heart of the so-called Continental/Analytic divide, and my sense is that the antipathy is one-directional: Continentals are happy to read analytic writing, but analytic philosophers snub their noses at the Continental style which is viewed as disorganized, undisciplined, wordy, etc.).
I know I'm not being very articulate, but I think you all understand all of this pretty well already. (Also I trust that, although I doubt Joe will disappoint by not having a strong opinion, we can discuss these things frankly without anyone getting offended--my biggest fear is that Joe will take his marbles and go home to work exclusively on writing books, and my impatience would make drive me crazy!) --RobertC 03:45, 23 February 2007 (CET)

I don't keep up with everything Joe writes because I don't have time. For me it sometimes takes a lot of work to keep up on any particular thread. However, when I do put the work into it, I find it very enlightening. For some of the same reasons Robert mentions, I find it very difficult to edit what Joe writes. Supposing instead of editing, I actually summarized. By that I mean I took a few of the main points, wrote them up as a summary and linked to a subpage where I then included more detail. This also would be hard work, but at least it would have this advantage--I wouldn't feel like I was cutting stuff that was actually valuable. To be honest, I wouldn't have a lot of time for summarizing either. But for cases where I do have time and I am interested in doing it, is it a good thing to do? I think so. When it came up before though Joe seemed to think it was a bad idea. But I never understood why. In my mind, sub-pages on commentary pages allow the site to offer different people different things. People who want to dig into a particular item can do so easily. People who don't want to, just read the couple of sentences and move on to the next topic. Therefore, I support sub-pages. Joe, what are your thoughts on this? --Matthew Faulconer 05:40, 23 February 2007 (CET)

That's me: always forcing identity-crises for the wiki! My thoughts, just briefly...
Everyone knows, I imagine, that any answers I give depend, all over again, on whether the wiki is to be understood as a resource or as a community. If it is a resource, then I think sub-pages, alternative structurations, etc., are wonderful. If it is a community, then I think such complex organization frustrates the wiki's purpose. And I think everyone is aware of my own leanings on this distinction: I much prefer a community over a resource. At times I wonder if it would be possible to work up some program that could make pdf's of each page of the commentary and compile them as a separate site, so that there could be a "resource" site and a "community" site. Or even two wikis, or something. Who knows. I just wonder whether the focus on presentability (tied to the idea of the wiki being a resource) too often stifles work in progress rather than pressing it forward by encouraging community discussion. Of course, all of these ideas are so complex and so involved that I doubt anything quite like them would be practicable.
On the more relevant side of things, then, perhaps what happened with Isaiah 6 was what we're really trying to accomplish. We had several people working through the chapter (given, it is a much shorter chapter than Alma 32), and eventually, we worked through the whole chapter. The comments that resulted were a mess, and we had volumes of material on the discussions pages. But then, as the community's work was coming to an end, several people went back through and edited the material up into a rather presentable thing. Up to now, I think Isaiah 6 is the best commentary on the site because it serves both the community aspect and the resource aspect of the site. Might this be a model? We work together in trying to think through a particular passage/chapter/whatever as a community, and when interest has waned, or when we have finished things up for a time, we take a few days together and edit, rework, and make it presentable as a resource until there is reason to return to it as a community. Maybe then we can capture the sense of a transfer from the community stage to the resource stage (like the abridged Book of Mormon, but only after so many plates, and the abridgement can be linked to fuller discussion on subpages, etc.). But I think that while the work is underway, we've got to allow for the clutter of the construction site, or else nothing substantial will ever be built. The will to presentability must be suppressed until the will to community has had its full sway. Or so it seems to me.
I think, in the above, I just gave my name to the desire to set up subpages. But let me be absolutely clear that I think this can only come after all the work of the community is finished for a time. And then I think they should be linked within, not a summary, but an abridgement: let the commentary that replaces full discussion be a working together of snippets of the subpaged material rather than a retelling with a link to so-and-so's discussion. That is, I think we need to be very, very careful not to make subpages a place for profound discussion and the main commentary pages a place for light or trivial discussion (thoughts that any thoughtful reader of the Book of Mormon could generate if she took three minutes to look seriously at a verse). Rather, the main commentary page still needs to be a place where serious work is done, albeit abridged.
I don't know who could do abridgement well. I'll confess that I think Rob F. does the best editing work as far as my own contributions go (I think everyone does a good job editing in general, but Rob tends to simplify my wordiness in such a way that what I'm working through comes out clearer, rather than not at all). But this is an idea that perhaps deserves some careful attention.
One more note, specifically on semiotics. Robert is right that I tried to keep the discussion as minimal as possible to open onto some real discussion of the meaning of the verse. But Rob is right that it is nonetheless pretty heavy. I'm not sure how possible it is to get around it (I can simply make a reference to Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Derrida or even more broadly to structuralism and post-structuralism, but I don't know that anyone would be able to follow what I draw from that). It might be worth trying to raise some of these points on the blog, but I have to confess that I'm quickly losing confidence in even our own blog as a place for serious discussion of the texts. The SS threads seem to be the only ones that get any of that, and they seem to be threads within threads that only last for two or three comments, generally.
Anyway, I've said quite a bit here. I hope this helps us to find some way to "supersede the moment" that we have come to again and again since I first showed up and started causing trouble. Thoughts? --Joe Spencer 17:43, 23 February 2007 (CET)

Joe, I think I agree with almost everything you said, but you tell me. You made many points but I want to highlight 3. First: 1) subpages are good so long as they are used correctly and 2) we shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to clean things up (sub-pages are an example of a good structure to use for cleaning things up).

I certainly agree with both of these. I think that often our work will fall into two phases a) generating ideas and working through them and, b) cleaning things up. And I agree that we don't want to force cleaning up too soon. I see these a & b as roughly parallel to the distinction you make between wiki as community (a) and wiki as resource (b). Further I believe that what distinguishes the wiki from blogs where the purpose seems to be the discussion itself is that we believe in (b). (There are blogs where the original posts are really the work and the comments are more of a side-note; but, especially in the bloggernacle, the discussion often seems to become the point of the post.) That isn't to say that blogs with the purpose is the discussion are bad, it is just to say that we are aiming for something different here. In the example of our own blog we want to take the good ideas that are generated and work them into the wiki commentary pages. If we aren't going to do that, in my view, we may as well rename the blog and just have it be one more blog in the bloggernacle.

On a side note: In reality b is community oriented. It is just not the small community of a (the here and now familiar community). Instead it is the larger and longer lasting community of saints who are or will be interested in this topic but who, at least for this particular problem, weren't part of a.

I also understood you to say 3) that you think it would be bad if the real work ended up being done on sub-pages versus the commentary pages, where it is done today. If I recast this in my own words (though I realize I'm probably not doing justice) then I read "real work" as corresponding to the category a I have explained above. I think there are lots of possible good ways the community could organize itself for distinguishing between a & b and I don't think it couldn't be that one good way would be to have a-type activity happen on deeper sub-pages (as the pages mature) and only touch the main commentary page with updates when we are in more of a clean up mode. (eee... watch out for the convoluted double negatives in that last sentence.) Of course, I see lots of alternatives. In fact, maybe the problem is that there are too many alternatives. We could think of the blog as becoming our main point of a-type activity. Or we could think of our discussion pages as being this. (Another side note: when you said you have wondered about having 2 wikis--one for community and the other for resource, I thought to myself, don't we have that today if we want it, ready and at-hand? If we wanted that the most natural way to achieve it is to use the discussion pages for community and the commentary pages for resource.)

But back to the main point... though I disagree with your point 3, given that there are so many good ways the site could end up working out, the point isn't all that important to me. As I see it, even if we affirm 3 there are still lots of other good ways the site could work out.

But now then, if we all agree that we should use sub-pages at times, then I have a few technical notes.

First off, just fyi, in the true mediawiki sense of the word sub-pages aren't currently allowed in the commentary pages of this site. What that means in practice is that you can create a page that looks like a sub-page but it won't be recognized by the software as such meaning that you will have to fully qualify it on the main page to get there (no short-cutting out the current page name) and on the sub-page there is no automatic link added at the top back to the main page. If none of that made sense to you don't worry. This is really just a long way of saying that I still need to flip a switch to make sub-pages easier to work with on this site if we are going to have them in the commentary (i.e. main) namespace.

Second, unlike wikipedia you have to be an administrator to create any page in the commentary namespace (sorry for the technical words here) including sub-pages. All this means is that I have to setup anyone who wants to do this as an administrator or back out the modification to allow only administrator to create pages in that namespace. (As for why that modification is in place anyway, that's another discussion.) And since I am willing to setup anyone who wants as an administrator (assuming they have been at the wiki a bit and are generally agreeable) this isn't a big deal. Joe, I'll set you up as one right now--though you may not notice any difference right away. The main difference will be that you can block people from the site and that you can create pages in the commentary namespace.

--Matthew Faulconer 07:21, 24 February 2007 (CET)

I think you're right that we agree on most everything here, Matthew. But, so that I can't say I never stated this concern from the beginning, let me explain one thing that worries me about your point number 3.
Though many seem to be happy with a lot of the scripture (read: Bible) resources on the web, I have to confess that I am yet to find anything I consider really helpful. Most resources are, at the very best, lists of notes, alternate translations, dictionaries, etc. There is, ultimately, very little critical engagement online. Even full commentaries that are posted (Dr. Constable's comes to mind) are really still very surface level work. What I see as so wonderful about the wiki is that it allows for some very serious engagement with the scriptures, and so it presents something very unique on the web. With a few of the warning signs posted that Nanette has mentioned, I think this wiki can come to offer something to be found no where else online at all.
That said, one of my concerns about subpages is that they will hide the wealth the site has to offer. If I were coming to the wiki for the first time, and I went to, say, Isaiah 6, and I found nothing there I couldn't find in the footnotes of HarperCollins Study Bible on the main commentary page, I would be very unlikely to click on any subpages. I would simply abandon the site (obviously, the community aspect hooked me, but if I weren't interested in the community aspect, only in the resource aspect). That is, unless there is something unique being offered here--and obviously so--I doubt it will ever draw a whole lot of attention. The tendency that I can already imagine being ours is this: by relegating the real heavy discussion to subpages, we will make the commentary pages into a kind of list of simple questions, dictionary definitions, obvious ways the text can be read broadly, and links. And that, I think, will have no lasting impact, because anyone who is serious about engaging in the conversation will be gone before they've had a chance to stay.
I hope that makes sense. At any rate, the question it makes me want to ask is simply this: how do we avoid this problem? Is there some way to do the commentary pages such that they are still critically engaging the text (my "abridgement" idea was an attempt to begin thinking about this), or at least such that they make it quite clear that there is some serious critical engagement going on on the subpages? What can we do here?
A couple of thoughts, anyway. In the meanwhile, can you give me some instructions on how to create subpages, now that I have risen to power? --Joe Spencer 15:26, 24 February 2007 (CET)

I pretty much agree with everything said. A slight quibble with Joe might be with his notion that we won't attract a lot of attention if we become merely a resource without making a serious contribution. I worry that there might be a bit of a tradeoff, that the more complicated the ideas become, the greater chance we'll turn many readers away. But the more I hear this discuss, the more I'm convinced that those are the readers who are least likely to make a contribution, esp. (esp. esp.) a significant contribution, so I'm more and more persuaded that Joe's approach is the best. Perhaps my original response to Rob's question had more to do with the fact that I believe that doing the type of editing that Rob has done on Joe's writing would indeed be an improvement on the site, but I don't really want to actually do the somewhat tedious task of editing. I recognize that now and may try to do some editing (please, please, please tell me if I hurt the ideas expressed in my attempt to edit, like I said, I don't think I have Rob's deft touch of the pen--or keyboard I guess; and, to be sure, I'll still be doing this with selfish motivations, to force myself to reckon with Joe's ideas on a deeper level...). --RobertC 15:56, 24 February 2007 (CET)

Thanks for the confidence in my editing (I am less confident--this is my fifth edit of this minor comment!). I hope I can find some time to work through all the good work that has happened on this chapter. Maybe then I'll be able to better reconsider my thoughts about subpages. I think I actually had two thoughts originally in looking at the current commentary. One was--wow, this is pretty heavy going. The second was--this topic of semiotics will have a much broader application than just to these verses. I think my thoughts on creating a subpage had as much to do with the second thought, as the first. Regardless of how much editing the comments might need, I was hoping that if we come up with something really good here, we'll want a way to integrate it into other passages and commentaries. We can do that by linking back to this commentary page, or perhaps it might be cleaner to link it back to an expansive subpage that become the large pages to which one is directed from the redacted smaller commentary pages. Perhaps its too early to make a call here and what I really need to do is jump into Alma 32 and the commentary here and see what happens. I look forward to seeing where this is all going.
On a metablogging sidenote, as per Joe's thought above, I am curious as to how we can get more discussion going about actual scriptures on the blog. Maybe one idea is to throw out one of our meatier topics (maybe from Isaiah 6, or the latest thoughts on Hebrews) and use that as a springboard to discuss what echoes of that we might find elsewhere in the scriptures. See where that leads us. If that generates some good links to other scriptural passages, we can come back to the wiki and make those links in the commentary pages. At least to me, feasting entails digging in deeply and looking for cross-curents of ideas through multiple passages. I know we get some of this in the discussion of the lesson materials, and I guess I'd just like to see more of that.--Rob Fergus 18:10, 24 February 2007 (CET)

Rob, interesting idea regarding subpages that can be referred to by many other pages. One challenge I'd foresee is that each time that subpage is referenced the links to it might have to be edited also (at least for major revisions). But I think this is a manageable problem to deal with.

I think this also reraises a question/suggestion that was brought up some time ago about the possibility of having Topical Guide or Bible Dictionary type of entries--or, as I would prefer to think about it b/c of the less theological connotations, "word study" pages. Although I think there are many dangers in doing something like this, it might make the site more attractive to more people--after all, I think most members tend to think of in-depth scripture study in terms of finding and reading cross-references (which I think has its place, after all, I have a tendency to do a lot of this here, but it too often becomes a proof-texting exercise...). Again, I can see many cons to this approach and only a few pros, and these probably aren't worth hashing out in any detail here, but I thought I'd throw the idea out in case we want to seriously consider it at some point. --RobertC 21:34, 24 February 2007 (CET)

Hmmm... I have a lot of thoughts related to all this.
Joe writes:
If I were coming to the wiki for the first time, and I went to, say, Isaiah 6, and I found nothing there I couldn't find in the footnotes of HarperCollins Study Bible on the main commentary page, I would be very unlikely to click on any subpages.
one of my concerns about subpages is that they will hide the wealth the site has to offer
It is good to point out this concern so that as we write the links to the subpages we do it in such a way that the link is not hidden. I agree that your idea of an abridgment will work well to avoid this problem.
Also, whether a new person will abandon the site in disappointment or click on a link to get at something interesting depends a lot on what they expect. I see no reason why someone new to the site would, a priori, expect to find the meat of the discussion on the commentary pages we use now for that purpose. They might just as likely abandon the site because we don't have a meaty discussion on Enos 1. Currently all that is there is a list of links.
Robert writes:
I worry that there might be a bit of a tradeoff, that the more complicated the ideas become, the greater chance we'll turn many readers away. But the more I hear this discuss, the more I'm convinced that those are the readers who are least likely to make a contribution, esp.
But are we less interested in what readers who don't contribute think? If we compare this project to writing a book together, imagine what it would be if the authors of the book were only interested in what the other authors thought. That said, I don't mean this as an argument for discouraging complicated ideas on this site. I do agree that complexity turns off some readers. But I think the key is organization--which includes among other things the proper use of subpages. I see no reason we cannot have all sorts of good things which appeal to different readers so long as we organize properly so people can get to what they want. (If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy related to the scriptures, we seek after these things.)
In the meanwhile, can you give me some instructions on how to create subpages, now that I have risen to power?
Joe writes:
You bet. See here. Note that the instructions will become similar to the instructions for creating user subpages once I make a change to the site to allow true subpages in the main namespace.
--Matthew Faulconer 07:44, 27 February 2007 (CET)

Joe, what do you mean by "real" (v. 16)?[edit]

I was rereading the exegesis of this section and wanted to ask you, Joe, what you meant by the word "real" in the exegesis to v. 16. I'm guessing there is some philosophical connotations to this word, and although I vaguely remember reading about this sometime somewhere, I can't for the life of me remember. --RobertC 14:51, 7 March 2007 (CET)

I feel like Nibley to say that I won't be held to anything I wrote more than three days ago. But seriously, reading through it again, I think I meant to allude to Lacan's usage, where the "Real" refers to the non-symbolic. Usually, however, when I think the word "real," I also have Heidegger's discussion of its etymology somewhere in my head (and here I think it fits nicely):
"To be sure, the Old High German word thing means a gathering, and specifically a gathering to deliberate on a matter under discussion, a contested matter. In consequence, the Old German words thing and dinc become the names for an affair or matter of pertinence. They denote anything that in any way bears upon men, concerns them, and that accordingly is a matter for discourse. The Romans called a matter for discourse res [the Latin word behind the English "real"]. The Greek eiro (rhetos, rhetra, rhema) means to speak about something, to deliberate on it. Res publica means, not the state, but that which, known to everyone, concerns everybody and is therefore deliberated in public.
"Only because res means what concerns men are the combinations res adversae, res secundae possible. The first is what affects or bears on men adversely, the second what attends many favorably. The dictionaries, to be sure, translate res adversae correctly as bad fortune, res secundae as good fortune; but dictionaries have little to report about what words, spoken thoughtfully, say. The truth, then, here and elsewhere, is not that our thinking feeds on etymology, but rather that etymology has the standing mandate first to give thought to the essential content involved in what dictionary words, as words, denote by implication.
"The Roman word res designates that which concerns somebody, an affair, a contested matter, a case at law....
"But the decisive point now is not at all the short semantic history here given of the words res, Ding, causa, cosa, chose, and thing, but something altogether different, to which no thought whatever has hitherto been given. The Roman word res denotes what pertains to man, concerns him and his interests in any way or manner. That which concerns man is what is real in res. The Roman experience of the realitas of res is that of a bearing-upon, a concern. But the Romans never properly thought through the nature of what they thus experienced." (Martin Heidegger, "The Thing," in Poetry, Language, Thought," 172-3)
Does that help some? --Joe Spencer 15:20, 7 March 2007 (CET)

Yes, very helpful, thanks. I esp. like Heidegger's modest phrasing of his claim that "the Romans never properly though through the nature of what they thus experienced." I'm having a hard time thinking about his positioning of baptism between belief and knowledge, and at the very moment that belief and knowledge are introduced. Here are a couple quick thoughts to get me going, thoughts I'd like to follow-up on later sometime (and, as always, welcome others' thoughts), and possibly incorporate into the existing commentary if anything comes of them. For now I'm just sorting out some thoughts, probably without saying anything new.

The state of humility seems to be described as being achieved by means of an outer force, either a compelling force or the word of God. However the word of God might act on us, it apparently doesn't compel us to be humble. And, although Alma later disclaims that he is assuming this of all his listeners, circumstances apparently can compel us to be humble. I'm inclined to see the difference in terms of an ability to resist. That is, the word might impicitly invite me to be humble, but I can ignore the call of the word to be humble, and remain unhumbled. On the other hand, it seems the circumstances of the Zoramites compel them (though not necessarily all) to be humble and to be brought to know the word of God. Regardless of how I am humbled, it seems this humility will (or at least might) lead me to get baptized, but the trace of the means by which I was humbled remains in the degree of stubbornness that remains in my heart when I am baptized. Notice, by the way, that the usage in Alma 42:27 of the word stubornness occurs in the context of agency, desires, repentance, etc., which I think makes the repentance in vv. 13 and 15 reverberate here, so we might think of a compelled repentance vs. a repentance without stubborness of heart. But repentance isn't mentioned again in this chapter--why is that? Is baptism the new proxy for repentance? Is the word-seed analogy only after repentance and/or baptism? Can sign-seeking not be framed in terms of repentance? Are faith and knowledge not issues that pertain to repentance?

--RobertC 21:23, 7 March 2007 (CET)

Temporal vs. spiritual knowledge[edit]

Joe, this is all getting very complicated for me to think about, so I'm probably be to need to do a fair amount of meta-thinking on all this. Here's the thought I'm wrestling with now (obviously based on the commentary you've posted):

Consider knowledge as a momentary event (I have Bergson in the back of my mind here, his distinction between discretized moments vs. continuous flux, elan vitale). If that momentary event is not learned from, it becomes "cut off" from my being-in-the-present, I am cut off from past knowledge-events (i.e. history), and I am therefore cut off from the future in the sense that whatever happens will not be connected (will not correspond, to use von Rad's phrasing) to the future. It is in this sense that I think I become an anti-prophet, not able to see or account for anything that occurs in the future b/c I do not see the interconnectedness of anything in the past with anything in the future, and so everything that occurs catches me by surprise. In this sense, my agency becomes impotent--b/c I do not see what is beyond myself, I lose the ability to inter-act on things, and become subject to other things acting on me without any ability to act on them.

So, the word comes to me and invites me to see things more clearly, what has been, what is, and what is to come (esp. as it relates to Christ). But the word is only an invitation, I am not compelled to respond to the word. And the invitation is to believe in a version of things past, present and future. If I do not respond to the word, then the future will come, precisely in the way that the word prophesied, and it will force me to know that that's what the word had said would occur. But unless I humble myself and believe without stubbornness, then, although I will have undeniable/historical knoweldge of what just occurred, I will still be cut off from how this relates to the past and the future (and therefore I won't really be able to understand the present in any sort of past-or-present context).

Am I in the same ballpark as your thinking in terms of scientific/historical/temporal knowledge vs. spiritual knowledge? --RobertC 18:34, 8 March 2007 (CET)