Monday, September 22, 2008

Sampling the School of the Prophets

Today I wrote a post for Mormon Matters discussing the School of the Prophets in the time of Joseph Smith and how different our religious education is today. For many years now I have tired of the same 4-year round of scripture pablum which is offered in our Sunday Schools.

Learning the Bible in the original languages is a pastime which has intrigued me and which I have attempted on my own. I've often wished we could include some Hebrew and Greek studies into our Sunday School classes. Lest any think that doing this might prove too hard for the average member, I want to present an example of what this might look like, and get your opinion on whether you think a run-of-the-mill Gospel Doctrine teacher could handle teaching such material. The following comes from Jeff A. Benner's Biblical Hebrew E-Magazine, September 2008, Issue #046.

Biblical Word of the Month - Eleph אלף

The oxen likewise and the young asses that till the ground shall eat savory provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fork. (ASV, Isaiah 30:24)

In the verse above is the Hebrew noun אלף (eleph, Strong's #504) meaning oxen. Oxen are the largest of the Ancient Hebrews' livestock and were most frequently used for plowing the fields, usually in pairs. An older ox would be yoked to a younger one in order for the older one to teach the younger through association. This same noun is also found in Judges 6:15 where it is translated as "family." In a family, the children learn from the parents, in the same manner as the oxen, through association.

The verbal root of this word is אלף (A.L.Ph, Strong's #502) and means "learn," but more literally, to learn through association, as can be seen in the following verse.

Make no friendship with a man that is given to anger; And with a wrathful man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn this ways, And get a snare to thy soul. (ASV, Proverbs 22:25)

As oxen are "very large" animals, the word אלף (eleph) is also used for a "thousand," a "very large" number. (While this is the same word discussed previously, Strong's dictionary has assigned this word the number 505 when used for a "thousand.") From this aspect of the noun, a second verb is formed. Normally, Hebrew nouns are derived out of verbs, however on occasion, a verb is derived out of a noun, this verb is called a demonstrative verb. The demonstrative verb formed out of אלף (eleph) is אלף (A.L.Ph, Strong's #503) meaning to "give a thousand." In summary, the Hebrew word אלף can be;

  1. A verb meaning to learn by association.

  2. A noun meaning oxen, a large beast, which learns through association.

  3. A noun meaning family, through the idea of association.

  4. A noun meaning a thousand, a large number.

  5. A verb meaning to give a thousand.

One other note about the word eleph, it may be the origin of the word elephant, a "very large" beast.


(If you are a Latter-day Saint who does not know what the "Strong's numbers" above refer to, shame on you! Or shame on your religious educators who have not taught you about such a valuable learning tool in gospel study!)

I can picture a very engaging lesson from the previous information, including unique Latter-day Saint teachings such as the importance of the family and the need for good associations. I can also imagine facilitating some interesting discussion on the large numbers of "thousands" of people in the Bible and the Book of Mormon and what the Hebrew meaning of this word might suggest.

I think these are the kinds of things Brother Joseph and his compatriots in the School of the Prophets were learning when they hired Joshua Seixas to teach them Hebrew for ten weeks--two hours a day and five times a week. Just learning the one word "Berosheit" inspired Joseph to redefine the nature of God and the creation account.

What do you think? Could learning a few Hebrew words inspire a bit of prophecy in your ward? Or do we need to go over the importance of the keystone in an arch one more time?


S.Faux said...

Sign me up. I am tired of trying to learn Hebrew and Greek on my own. Whew! Good thing I knew about Strong's Concordance.

Anonymous said...

I think for the vast majority of class members in your School of the Prophets, learning a few Hebrew words would lead to as much understanding of Genesis or Isaiah as learning a few French words leads to an understanding of Moliere or Camus. In your example, it isn't the Hebrew that leads to increased understanding; it's the English explanation, the teaching technique, the lesson material. So we're right back to the need for well-written lessons, skillful teachers, and committed students, which is exactly what we call for in any bloggernacle complain over the state of Sunday School lessons.

I'm changing my name to "Wet Blanket."

Bored in Vernal said...

Not such a wet blanket.
It doesn't has to be Hebrew so much as fresh and interesting ways of looking at the gospel. The Church used to come out with new material every year. Why has this stopped? Ardis, you have connections at the COB--there are good curriculum writers out there--why are we stuck with the same old, same old year after year?

Anonymous said...

I don't have connections. I'm simply a private patron who uses the resources at LDS Archives everyday for my own purposes. I don't want to mislead you there! You need somebody in Curriculum or CES who makes those choices, not the caretakers of the records they ought to be using in their work.

My own subversive contribution is only the finding and publishing of new stories and people they could use to enliven their materials, if they chose to.

Honestly, I think we're going through the same thing we went through 30 years in Relief Society. Somebody had a great idea to write lessons based on sisters in various foreign lands for the Cultural Refinement lessons. But they ran out of distinctive cultures, or at least writers who were creative enough to write interesting lessons on more countries, so we got year after year of tired, uninspiring same-old same-old. Likewise, a few years ago somebody had what was then a creative idea to use Brigham Young's own words for a manual. But the idea has become tired, with cookie-cutter write-by-the-numbers manuals, before we make it through all the church presidents, while they still seem determined to plow through all of them.

On the other hand, a good teacher can make a good lesson with mediocre material as well as with stellar material, while a bad teacher can turn even the best material deadly dull. We need to learn how to teach again.

Ann said...

BiV, I don't think it's possible to over-emphasize the importance of a keystone to an arch. I mean, if you take it out, the whole arch crumbles! That's just what (insert important thing here) is like to the (insert comparison item here.)

Mormon Heretic said...


I wish you were my Sunday School (or seminary) teacher. This is the stuff I love!!! If I heard this stuff in Sunday School, I'd start going again, instead of hanging out in the clerk's office.

Clean Cut said...

Only problem is that I don't want my Sunday School to be taken up with Language learning time. I endorse the idea of a School of the Prophets to learn the languages, but it would have to be another hour. I taught at the MTC for a couple years, and when people ask me what I taught I hesitate between saying "Spanish" or "the Gospel". The Gospel is much more edifying than Spanish.

I am noticing that I'm repeating the same lessons now as a Sunday school teacher that I taught when I was a Sunday school teacher in another ward several years ago. The thing is--I don't mind. I have grown and changed so much in that time, it is hardly the same lesson and the dynamics of the people in the class are so different.

Granted, I have a passion for great teaching and for having really relevant, meaningful, and spirit-filled lessons/discussions. I'm not really into perpetuating same-old, same-old--or just fluff--so I understand the concern. Whenever there is a particular lesson that doesn't particularly jump out at me or seems overdone or less interesting in the manual, I generally spend a lot more time/depth in the scriptures themselves trying to gain new insights as a group.

BHodges said...

I think such a lesson could be really fruitful, and advise you to take over for Pastor Melissa Scott.

Anonymous said...

In Alma 12:9-11, we are told that we must seek after the mysteries of God. Not doing so makes us captives of the devil. This little guidance comes just before Alma expounds on a mystery - the resurrection.

I bring this up because we are all charged to seek out these for ourselves and only share them was prompted by the spirit. What would our meetings be like if they were truly led by the spirit as we are directed in D&C 20:45?

reb said...

We have two Gospel Doctrine classes in my ward and I bounce back and forth between the two. Alma 42-62 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. There is so much to learn. I have noticed a trend over the last few weeks as we have covered those chapters then on to Helaman and 3 Nephi. Both of the teaches tend to focus on telling the stories. The stories are great but I do not think the Lord gave us the scriptures as story books. There is so much doctrine/prophecy/warning in these books one could spend weeks on just a few chapters. Instead, I go to class and listen to the instructor tell me the story. Primary is to familiarize us with the stories so when we get to Gospel Doctrine, we can discuss the doctrine. It is so imperative, especially at this time. The writers of the Book of Mormon saw us and dug through thousands of years of history to pull out what would be most pertinent to us.

BHodges said...

I think God gave us doctrine in stories (through his prophets) for a reason, but my beef is usually that the recounting doesn't really access the ultimate power of the stories and tends to seem shallow.

Bored in Vernal said...

Athena and Hodges, I agree. I have read the scripture block at home. I know the story. I don't want to hear it summarized again, I'd like to dig down and discuss the doctrine with everyone in the room. It is valuable to get everyone's viewpoints. A skillful teacher teaches us something we don't know, then leads the discussion in ways that help us uncover new ideas.

Anonymous said...

Im my ward, which has a number of recent "graduates" from Gospel Principles and those being reactivates, the language teaching might be too advanced. The "milk before meat" scripture comes to mind for them. However, I crave this level of depth and love when my SS teacher goes into depth on the scriptures. As was suggested, the enlightenment of understanding can be explained (in English) rather than the actual learning of Hebrew.

M said...

Have you ever thought about starting an online scriptures study class? I would so come....and yes, I'm being serious.