Agitating Faithfully Summer Scripture Study Series
Lesson #2 – Snakes! Yikes?
I am thoroughly convinced that if Disney ever came out with their own version of the biblical creation story, the snake would come out swinging its hips and singing, “I ain’t so bad after all.”
Recently my husband and I watched the new Noah movie starring Russell Crowe. (*this blog post contains a spoiler alert!) While this film has received endless criticism- and understandably so - I was deeply impressed by one recurring theme – that of the snake skin wrapped around Noah’s arm and the way it was passed down from generation to generation. What is the meaning behind this? It seems there so much is more to this symbolism than meets the eye.
The snake skin symbolism reminded me of the tefilim in Judaism that is bound around the forearm in accordance with the command in Deuteronomy 6:8. In Orthodox Jewish circles, they still continue this practice today.
But why a snake skin? First, we have to keep in mind this was long before the Exodus; long before Abraham, even. And there had to be some ceremonial ritual in place to preserve these traditions- and the Priesthood it represented – from generation to generation. But this still does not fully answer our question.
From the very beginning of the movie, you can tell the snake skin was taken from the Garden of Eden around the time Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. But was the snake itself ever a symbol of evil? Based on the some of the latest research I have conducted – and even based on the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints- the answer is simple. No.
Before it became influenced and possessed by the devil (see Moses 4: 6-7), the serpent was a symbol of all that was holy – both in the ancient Near East and the New World. Perhaps this is the reason Eve initially trusted the serpent and looked to it for the wisdom it offered.
Andrew C. Skinner explains that the serpent would come to exhibit a dual nature, “One role connected serpents to the heavens by having them represent deity, creative powers, and healing. The other linked them with the underworld and associated them with evil, harm, and destructive influences.” (1) Therefore, it would only make sense that the devil would seek to duplicate or profane that which was holy, and in doing so, deceive the first humans.
It simultaneously explains the reasoning behind Moses raising the serpent in the desert - the perfect foreshadowing of Christ. It is also interesting to note that the “Seraphim,” the holiest of the angels found in chapter six of Isaiah, were historically depicted as fiery creatures. In fact the very word “seraph” is similar to “serpent.” Were these winged “fiery creatures” dragon like? If so, the Seraphs certainly meet their match in the book of Revelation as Michael the archangel, the head of the Seraphim, leads them in the great battle against the evil dragon (Revelation 12: 7).
It is this dual nature of the serpent, that as a Mormon feminist and convert to the faith, I find most perplexing. On one hand, the serpent is sly, cunning and not to be trusted. One the other hand, it can be – and originally was – a symbol for all that is pure and holy.
Is it any surprise the serpent is also historically a symbol for the Goddess, who is also mentioned in Revelation 12:1?
And yet, there remains an ongoing creative tension between the woman and the serpent as they struggle against one another to gain leverage (see Genesis 3: 15, Moses 4: 21, and Revelation 12). In the end it will be the woman and her descendants who triumph over the serpent.
And this, folks, is scriptural.
By the way, near the end of the Russell Crowe movie, Noah blesses his two granddaughters with the snake skin – against his better judgment.
(1) Skinner, Andrew C. “Serpent Symbols and Salvation in the Ancient Near East and the Book of Mormon” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2: 2001: http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu
Agitating Faithfully Summer Scripture Study Series
Lesson #1 – “Lest they be Converted”
While teaching a New Testament class last year at the community college where I work, I stumbled upon the following verse in Mark:
“That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” (Mark 4:12)
At the time, this verse struck me as odd. In fact, this verse still strikes me as odd, so I thought with this being our first lesson in our Summer Scripture Study series; this would be a great place to start.
What makes this verse so odd? Well, first it’s found sandwiched in between the parable of the sower and its interpretation (for the disciples’ ears only). Jesus goes from teaching by the sea side, to speaking privately with his disciples like they are the only ones “in the know.”
But it’s not only who he is speaking with; it’s what’s actually being said. “….lest at any time they should be converted….” Does this mean the Gospel is only for a select few? And that Jesus only pretends to care about the rest by speaking in parables they cannot understand? What is really going on here? Is there some secret knowledge being passed on or imparted to his disciples? Or even more importantly, is there a portion of the Gospel that has been “lost” to our time? As Mormons, we would certainly relate to this sentiment!
Many Biblical scholars believe that Mark- the shortest of the Gospels- was written first, and that Matthew and Luke both borrowed material from Mark and added their own material to complete their own unique spins. Matthew was written for the Jewish community, and Luke was written for Greek converts. But who was Mark intended for? If his book truly was written first, does it stand alone? And does it contain its own mystery teachings geared towards a specific audience?
Mark is often noted by biblical scholars for its air of immediacy and secrecy. It seems as if everything that happens in Mark’s gospel happens quickly, immediately ….and then on to the next. Mysterious people dressed in white disappear just as soon as they appear. There seems to be a lot going on in the background of which we are unaware at first glance. And we probably wouldn’t notice it if it were not pointed out to us. Funny how the mysterious and enigmatic pieces of the Markan narrative just completely allude us as they become absorbed into the greater Christ narrative, as it is traditionally taught in Christian circles.
At the beginning of the summer, I read a book by Victoria LePage entitled Mysteries of the Bridechamber: The Initiation of Jesus and the Temple of Solomon (Inner Traditions, 2007). While this book was not an easy read, and yes, the title is somewhat misleading, it did shed light on some of these missing pieces that might offer clues to the Markan mystery. LePage argues that Jesus actually belonged to one of the mystery schools of Egypt, which was popular in the region of Galilee, to the north of Jerusalem.
We have to keep in mind there was a flourishing Jewish community in Egypt, with its own fully functioning Temple and this is most likely where Mary and Joseph took Jesus during the time of his infancy when they fled the wrath of King Herod. Even Matthew 2:14 alludes to this when he speaks of Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt to escape Herod, and then quotes from the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
The priests who ran this Egypt-based temple were members of the Zadokite Priesthood (this name being derived from Melchi-zedek), which was at political odds with the Jerusalem Temple at that time. This would explain why Jesus, a rabbi, was always at odds with the Sanhedrin, who really were nothing more than puppets for Rome. After reading LePage’s book, I am convinced it was this particular religious community based out of Egypt that Mark was addressing – and the reason for Mark’s enigmatic writing style.
Perhaps this is why Jesus speaks in parables, such as the sower and the seed – or even the mysterious mustard seed also mentioned in the same chapter, which concludes abruptly with – “….What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4: 41).
Mark 4:22 says, “For there is nothing hid, which shall not be made manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.” Is not this same sentiment expressed in 2 Nephi 30:17?
But perhaps for me the most enigmatic saying of all is found in verse 17 of this same chapter, “And have no root in themselves….”
In the end, it all goes back to the condition of the heart.
Question for Discussion: What implications does this have for us today as Mormon feminists/progressives? And given all that has happened, where do we go from here? Now it is your turn to add to the conversation….
Introducing the Agitating Faithfully Summer Scripture Study series!
As a child growing up in the Baptist church, one of my favorite pastimes was summer Vacation Bible School. I would always look forward to lining up on the church steps waiting for the VBS bell to ring and spending four or five nights a week engaged in scripture study, music, games and arts & crafts. Now that I’m an adult (and a Mormon) those days are over, but I’ll never outgrow my love for the Scriptures- and my love for summer Scripture study.
Last week, I was feeling overwhelmed with all that had transpired in the MoFem community - as we all were. While I was busy complaining to my husband, he quietly pulled out the Nook and began quizzing me, using an LDS Scripture Mastery game. (rather odd for a man who is not even LDS, right?) He was astounded at how well I knew the Scriptures! At that moment, I was reminded of the hours spent as a kid in VBS and how much I used to love studying the Bible. Since we shy away from using the term “Bible” in the LDS church (see II Nephi 29:6), the idea for a Summer Scripture Study was born.
So what’s different about studying the Scriptures with Agitating Faithfully? First, I read the Scriptures a little differently than most. I hold two advanced degrees in theology (and am hoping to go back for a doctorate soon), so the perspective you will receive will lean more towards the scholarly side. - And I read the Scriptures using a feminist hermeneutic. (that’s a fancy academic term for “interpretation”)- I wouldn’t be running Agitating Faithfully if I wasn’t a feminist, right? In addition, I gravitate towards those scriptures that are not likely to be covered in Sunday school (or VBS, for that matter), so this as a chance to probe into some of the deeper mysteries of the Scriptures. No "light" summer reading to be found here! (ha!)
Oh, and you may also- from time to time- get the input of our official mascot Judson the Parakeet. - He’s becoming quite the opinionated budgie, now that he is learning to talk! - So be on the lookout for our "Judson Says...." additional commentary.
So we hope you enjoy our Agitating Faithfully Summer Scripture Series! Our first lesson will be on Mark 4:12 “Lest they be Converted.”… Stay tuned! We will feature a new Bible study each week, and you are invited to join the conversation!