I just wanted to point out a couple of items I think would be worth your time to check out.

James Carroll, a PhD student at BYU, has done a lot of wonderful work on the temple and ancient scripture. He has a blog called Amateur Scriptorians that I recommend taking a look at. Most recently, he has done a couple of great posts on “The Language of Symbolism” (here and continued here).  James explains that the meaning of a symbol can change from one period to another, from one group of people to another, from one religion to another, etc.  For example, he cites the common complaint that Mormons employ “pagan” or even “satanic” symbols on their temples (esp. Salt Lake Temple).  When some see an upside-down star (pentagram) depicted on the temple, they automatically see it as an evil symbol, and conclude that we must secretly be devil worshippers, despite our protests to the contrary — and if we are not intentionally worshiping Satan, then we are “accidentally” worshiping him because of the true occult nature of the symbol, despite what benevolent significance we may attach to it. James points out that although in modern times the pentagram may have become linked to evil imagery, it wasn’t necessarily so in the past — the pentagram was used in mainstream religion and was even as a symbol for Christ.

Icon of the Transfiguration by Andrei Rublev (1405), now located in the Moscow Annunciation Cathedral

Icon of the Transfiguration by Andrei Rublev (1405), now located in the Moscow Annunciation Cathedral

Does the above image portray a secret belief in the occult? Of course not.  James’ point is that “symbolism is flexible” and only means to those using the symbol the meanings they attach to it.  You can’t be “accidentally” worshiping the devil by using a symbol that some link to him if that is not your intention. In the continuation of this first post, Br. Carroll goes on to cite many further examples of God’s people apparently utilizing pagan symbols.  Many of the religious objects and symbols we see may see as uniquely Israelite from our reading of the Bible (the Ark of the Covenant, Solomon’s Temple, etc.) have very close parallels in the “pagan” nations that surrounded them. Does this diminish the authenticity or sacred nature of these symbols when it appears that the Israelites “copied” them from unbelievers? James does a great job of answering such questions in his post.  I recommend taking a look at it.

The other matter I wanted to call your attention to is a short series of posts by James R. Davila, Head of the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews, on his blog at www.paleojudaica.blogspot.com.  Starting on June 12, 2009 and ending June 20, Davila made several posts covering his trip to Naples, Italy to participate in the Enoch Seminar. The biennial conference was put together this year by (chairman) Gabriele Boccaccini of the University of Michigan and my former advisor at Marquette University, Andrei Orlov.  The Enoch Seminar is a prestigious, by-invitation-only, academic conference which convenes to discuss topics relevant to the study of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins — Enoch is a recurring figure in the literature of this period, hence the name given the seminar. This year’s meeting focused on the current state of research on the book of 2 Enoch. Both Dr. Orlov and Dr. Grant Macaskill (University of St Andrews) are experts on 2 Enoch, of which there are very few in the world. One of the most exciting pieces of news to come out of the conference was a report on the discovery of  some new Coptic (Egyptian Christian) fragments of 2 Enoch, which has previously been known only from Slavonic manuscripts (which only a handful of scholars are experts in). Also, new fragments of the Aramaic 1 Enoch have been found on the antiques market and are now in the hands of scholars.  To read more on the proceedings of the Enoch Seminar, take a look at Professor Davila’s site (you will have to scroll down a bit to see the June 20th post and go down from there).

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