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For a while now, President Nelson has been including (ostensible) references to ancient biblical Greek in his talks, such as in his most recent one.

This could be seen as a good thing. If more and more leaders were to study biblical languages, perhaps more and more members would too, and maybe the Church would engage in mainstream biblical scholarship and even develop a viable hermeneutic for the 21st century.

But there are some issues with RMN’s references. Misspellings. Overlooked accent marks. Incorrect grammatical terminology. Questionable definitions. And because his references do not have accompanying citations leading to a dictionary or a grammar book — instead, the citations lead to his own previous talks or simply to passages in the New Testament — there is no obvious indication as to what sources he’s been basing his study on.

Particularly puzzling is his reference to “teleiono,” as found in a conference talk from 1995 and more recently in the current Gospel Doctrine manual, at Matthew 5:48. This is it:

The term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means ‘complete.’ … The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means ‘to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.’ Please note that the word does not imply ‘freedom from error’; it implies ‘achieving a distant objective.’ …

Since “teleiono,” with an “n,” cannot be found in any dictionary or lexicon of ancient Greek, whether classical or biblical, you might suppose that we’re dealing with a typographical mistake.

There is indeed an ancient Greek verb “teleioo,” more properly transliterated “teleióō” (τελειόω). [Sidebar: unlike English dictionaries, in dictionaries and lexica of ancient Greek the lemma for thematic verbs is not the infinitive form/s but the first-person singular of the present indicative active.]

So maybe he was using the right dictionary for the right language but just accidentally wrote or typed the word a bit wrong. Or maybe the mistake crept in during the preparation of the talk for publication by editorial staff. 

That’s not what happened though. For one thing, you can clearly hear him say “teleiono,” with an “n,” in the recording of the 1995 talk (go to the 5:00 mark). And for another, that verb, which cannot be found in any dictionary of ancient Greek, can, however, be found in MODERN Greek dictionaries because it is MODERN Greek.  

Using a modern Greek dictionary to understand the New Testament is like using an Italian dictionary to understand Cicero. And to do that in a public address as a leader of a worldwide organization is what ancient Greeks would call hubris.

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The policy was wrong. They were wrong.

There is no defense. No apologetics can justify. Until we as a people can accept the full implications of fallible leaders, there is no moving forward together as a church.

They were wrong. Period. Full stop.

#TheyWereWrong

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Last week an article appeared that claimed Alonzo Gaskill, (full) Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University (Provo) had repeatedly plagiarized from other publications in his books. Although it does seem that the document underlying the articles, which isn’t even a comprehensive survey of the evidence, reveals a repeated and willful pattern of plagiarism, this post is not about plagiarism. Instead, my purpose is to address an underlying issue: Gaskill’s claims regarding his academic credentials.

As of today, April 2nd, 2019, BYU’s Faculty Directory entry for Gaskill indicates that he has a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, a claim that has so far proven impossible to verify. In light of the current standards for accreditation of an institution such as BYU, as well as BYU’s own published standards, this is quite unusual. In my opinion, these are the questions for which those interested in BYU’s academic accreditation and reputation will need responses:

• Did Alonzo Gaskill in fact complete a PhD, as he claims on his CV? Can he produce a diploma, which says those words? And not “DRS” (Doctor of Religious Studies, which is an unrecognized type of degree in the field)?

• If so, can he show that the institution was accredited by a recognized accreditation body, not, for example, an “acceptance,” that would make his degree legitimate?

• Can he produce the dissertation that he claims to have written, but for which no evidence has been produced? Does it have a standard cover page that reads something like “In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of…”, with the signatures of advisors who approved the dissertation? Were there advisors? Did he study under anyone? For multiple years?

• Can he explain why Trinity Theological Seminary, from which he claims to have a Ph.D., is unable to produce a record of his degree or his dissertation?

• Can he explain why he has produced no record of his degree, either?

• Can he describe the decision-making process that led him to seek a doctoral degree from an unaccredited institution?

These inquiries can be readily met by anyone with a degree from an accredited institution or from a hiring institution’s personnel files. However, I do not expect a response from either Gaskill or a BYU representative who speaks for the hiring process because merely being asked about this sort of information under these circumstances reflects very poorly on both.

Finally, I think that were Gaskill part of an institution other than BYU, he would most likely be terminated. A more merciful option might be to give him a four or five-year unpaid leave of absence to earn the needed degree from an accredited institution. As it is, perhaps the decision-makers hope that in the seven or eight years that remain before another accreditation cycle, Gaskill will retire. Alternatively, he could be temporarily removed from the scene by being called to serve as a mission president, although one wonders about the wisdom and morality of such a utilitarian approach.

In any case, it will indeed be interesting to see how this plays out.

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Leonard Arrington is known for producing some of the most important scholarly work on Mormonism during the twentieth-century, and for being the father or grandfather intellectually speaking of almost every historian of Mormonism over the last several decades. The first academic to be given the title “Church Historian” by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (no one who previously  held the position was a trained historian), he worked in that position from 1972-1982 and was, with many of his colleagues in the history department of the LDS Church, subsequently moved to Brigham Young University to help start the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History. Arrington’s departure from the historical department of the church and move to BYU came after it went public that there were disagreements and some infighting within the church hierarchy over what kind of history should be allowed to be written, who should be allowed to write it, and what kind of access to the historical manuscripts held by the church should be allowed to not only outsiders but insiders as well. This is all well documented in Arrington’s book Adventures of a Church Historian.

One interesting note that I recently came across in Arrington’s papers, that I have not seen mentioned in his diaries or a recent biography, is the possibility that Arrington was spied on while teaching at Brigham Young University in order to ensure that he wasn’t teaching anything too liberal. This is fascinating in light of the fact that at least a few employees in BYU’s Religious Education department had the same experience as recently as four years ago. If it is true that Arrington was also recorded then this suggests a decades-long tradition of BYU professors being recorded and spied on. That maybe this has happened not just every once in a while when a rogue administrator has feelings similar to Ernest Wilkinson’s, but a continuous attempt since Wilkinson to have near complete control over what is presented in the classroom.

The document itself is only a small piece of scratch paper. In Arrington’s hand the document says:

“Acc. to Jay Bell, David Handy was asked to spy on me at BYU class with a tape. 6/12/98”

I have a good idea who Jay Bell is, may he rest in peace. I do not know for sure, though, who David Handy might be. If you know who he is would you be able to share either here or send an email to yakovbentov at yahoo dot com? Thank you in advance for your help.

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