Tree of Life — literal or figurative?

June 30, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 12:01 am   Category: Life

A brief exchange in a recent thread made me aware of an assumption I have been making that may not be as common as I had thought. For as long as I can remember, I have considered the Tree of Life as depicted in our various Garden of Eden narratives to be completely figurative rather than a literal tree with actual fruit that could make one wise. I had assumed for some (probably unfounded) reason that most Mormons shared that view with me but now I am not so sure.

What do you think? Was there a literal Tree of Life in a literal Garden of Eden on the earth (and could its fruit actually make Adam and Eve wise); or is the idea of such a tree and its fruit entirely figurative and representative of the general concept of the Fall?

99 Comments »

  1. I think the tree is figurative, as well as Adam and Eve.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — June 30, 2007 @ 7:33 am

  2. I think it’s as figurative as the Tree of Life in Lehi’s dream.

    That said, there are some really smart people who believe it to be literal. It shakes me up a bit.

    Comment by Jack — June 30, 2007 @ 8:31 am

  3. I’m open to much of the Genesis story being allegorical. But I’m also open to it being literal.

    Comment by Seth R. — June 30, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  4. I had always thought that the Lehi’s tree was allegorical since it was in a dream. But Adam and Eve – I have always thought of them as literal. JS said he saw Adam and Eve, we are taught that Adam was the first prophet. BiV, how do you see them as allegory? But as far as the tree of life, I’ve always thought of that as literal – just assumed that it was the vehicle or test given to produce the fall. But it could just as easily be allegorical, I suppose, with the fall being brought to pass in another way.

    Comment by Josh — June 30, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  5. Was the adversary really a serpent? Was there really a flaming sword that turned this way and that? Did they really gain knowledge by eating fruit? Ect.

    And for that matter, is the whole of the creation story–which is part of the same narrative in which the garden story is found–to be taken at face value?

    Comment by Jack — June 30, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  6. So far we have two votes for metaphor (not counting mine), one 50/50, and one 75/25 for literal.

    (Not exactly a sufficiently large or random sample to project anywhere though…)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

  7. I am for a literal adam and eve and fall, and not really worried about any of the other details as being 100% exact. I think it matters more in what the story is trying to tell us in our current situation. If it turns out that heaven is some sort of bizarre celestial fruit factory, ok with me, if it turns out otherwise, that’s ok too.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 30, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  8. Brigham Young is on record as believing the fruit was allegorical.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 30, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

  9. If the tree of knowledge was figurative, when why bother with flaming swords (literal or figurative)?

    In other words if the tree was figurative what do figurative notion do the swords represent?

    Comment by Daylan — June 30, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  10. J,

    I was thinking Brigham was on record as thinking just the opposite, can you tell me which quotes you are thinking of? I am thinking of this:

    Adam planted the Garden of Eden, and he with his wife Eve partook of the fruit of this Earth, until their systems were charged with the nature of Earth, and then they could beget bodies, for their spiritual children. (The Teachings of President Brigham Young Vol 3, pg. 361-362)

    Now, this quote is about the ToKoGaE, not the tree of life, so that is why I am interested in your quote (I haven’t studied BY for awhile). Of course, he said the rib part was allegorical, so he seemed to me to have a mixed view (not purely allegorical or purely literal).

    Comment by Jacob J — June 30, 2007 @ 8:16 pm

  11. Wow. I just realized I have been conflating the tree of knowledge of good and evil (ToKoGaE) and the tree of life (ToL) in this conversation.

    (I guess that’s what happens when one thinks none of it should be taken literally…)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2007 @ 8:40 pm

  12. The Tree of Life is generally associated with contemporary species in the subfamily Maloideae.

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — June 30, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

  13. There are actually three major trees here – two in the Garden of Eden, and one in Lehi’s dream.

    I don’t think there is any reason to think that the tree in Lehi’s dream is literal, anymore than the iron rod. Both are explicitly identified as symbols.

    As far as the Garden of Eden trees are concerned, I find the idea that cosmic consequences (even so much as immortality) are attached to fruit trees defies credulity.

    Some authorities have expressed the opinion that eating from the ToKoGaE was sexual intercourse. I tend to think the whole Garden account is an allegory of events on a much larger scale in pre-mortal life.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 30, 2007 @ 9:35 pm

  14. Jacob, I read Brigham as saying the traditional garden narrative is allegorical (including the trees). He explicitly rejects the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which is in some measure stated in your quote, i.e., that Adam planted the garden and that he changed by eating all the food):

    JD 6:274-75:

    they [Adam and Eve] will go into the garden, and continue to eat and drink of the fruits of the corporal world, until this grosser matter is diffused sufficiently through their celestial bodies to enable them, according to the established laws, to produce mortal tabernacles…

    Also from William Clayton’s Journal:

    [Orson Pratt] takes the literal reading of the scriptures for his guide, and maintains that God took the dust of the earth and moulded a body into which he put the spirit of man just as we have generally understood from the scriptures; while Brother Spencer endeavors to substantiate the position taken by President Young viz. that Adam came to this earth with a resurrected body, and became [p.434] mortal by eating the fruits of the earth which was earthy.

    Obviously, this is all Adam-God stuff, but still, he rejects biblical literalism as “baby stories” but preaches that a literal Adam and Eve transformed into mortals by eating mortal food. No tree of knowledge of good and evil, and as they planted the garden, one can assume, no tree of life.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 30, 2007 @ 9:41 pm

  15. J,

    I guess you are interpreting the same statement I was, but in the opposite way. I suppose I can see your point that he does talk about the fruits (plural in JD) of the Earth, rather than specifically mentioning the ToKoGaE, but if we are going to say Brigham came down on the side of the tree being figurative, it seems we must conclude that, according to Brigham, the fruit of the ToKoGaE represented actual fruit from trees in the Garden of Eden. That is not much of a symbol–figurative fruit on a tree representing actual fruits on trees. Ha. For me, that seems close enough to consider Brigham’s position as literal on the ToKoGaE.

    By the way, I believe Brigham’s “baby stories” comment was in reference to creating Eve from Adam’s rib, so I agree that there are parts that he takes figuratively, as I said at the end of #10. I don’t think he actually uses the phrase “baby stories” incidentally, in case anyone is using that as a search term in google.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 30, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  16. The trees are clearly symbolic – even in the unlikely event there also proves to be a literal Tree of Life growing somewhere.

    In my view, Lehi’s Tree of Life is exactly the same tree mentioned in the creation myths, and may have a reference to Christ raised on a tree. The fruit of the tree is the love of God, Nephi tells the angel – and the love of God, the “no greater love,” is expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice. It is roughly analogous to the Fountain of Living Water, as well. There is also an analogy to the “tree that beginnith to grow” in Alma 32:37. In verse 40 we read that if we fail to nourish that tree, we will “never pluck of the fruit of the Tree of Life” which has been slowly growing since the seed of the word was planted in our hearts.

    Cherubim and the Flaming Sword represent the purifying process that we must pass through in order to eat the fruit of the tree. Lehi’s dream would be more complete if those pressing along holding to the Iron Rod also had to “pass by the angels”, ie Cherubim, to eat the Fruit of the Tree (in a full and complete sense.). If it were not for this ‘flame’ – I think of the baptism of fire -it would be possible to eat the fruit of the tree and live forever in our sins.

    *tosses out 2 cents*

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — June 30, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

  17. Some of you may doubt the truth of what I now say, and argue that the Lord could teach him. This is a mistake. The Lord could not have taught him in any other way than in the way in which He did teach him. You believe Adam was made of the dust of this earth. This I do not believe, though it is supposed that it is so written in the Bible; but it is not, to my understanding. You can write that information to the States, if you please—that I have publicly declared that I do not believe that portion of the Bible as the Christian world do. I never did, and I never want to. What is the reason I do not? Because I have come to understanding, and banished from my mind all the baby stories my mother taught me when I was a child.

    … This is “Mormonism,” and it is founded upon all truth, upon every principle of true philosophy; in fact the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true philosophy in existence. There is not one particle of it that is not strictly philosophical, though you and I may not understand all the fulness of it, but we will if we continue faithful.

    (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p.6-7, Brigham Young, October 23, 1853)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2007 @ 11:49 pm

  18. Thanks Geoff, I wasn’t aware of that quote and I see that it does, in fact, say “baby stories.” (I stand corrected.) Previously I thought it was referring to this quote:

    Moses made the Bible to say his wife was taken out of his side,–was made from one of his ribs. I do not know anything to the contrary of my ribs being equal on both sides. The Lord knows if I had lost a rib for each wife I have, I should have had none left long ago. ….

    Now about the rib. As for the Lord taking a rib out of Adam’s side to make a woman of, he took one out of my side just as much. “But,” brother Brigham, “would you make it appear that Moses did not tell the truth?” No, not a particle more than I would that your mother did not tell the truth, when she told you that little Billy came from a hollow toad stool. I would not accuse your mother of lying, any more than I would Moses; the people in the days of Moses wanted to know things that were not for them, the same as your children do, when they want to know where their little brother came from, and he answered them according to their folly, the same as you did your children. (Unpublished Brigham Young Discourse
    LDS General Conference — October 8, 1854
    )

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2007 @ 12:21 am

  19. Jacob, I see Brigham as saying that a celstial Adam and Even came to Earth and ate earthly food and became earthly themselves. Consequently, there was no:

    1. Single tree they were commanded to abstain from
    2. Moment of realization of good and evil upon eating anything
    3. Fall of the world

    I’m not sure how the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil could be anything but allegorical to Brigham.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 1, 2007 @ 7:35 am

  20. That’s a good quote too Jacob. Pretty amusing as well.

    Anyway I think Stapley is right. Brigham saw literalistic interpretations of the Garden of Eden narratives as “baby stories” and the equivalent of literally believing into adulthood that “little Billy came from a hollow toad stool”. I don’t see how we could say he saw any of the major trees in the tale as anything but metaphorical based on that.

    Now it is true that the church and later leaders rejected most of what Brigham thought actually happened (that the exalted and resurrected Adam and Eve colonized the earth and became mortal over time by partaking of earthly food), but his preferred alternative to literalism is perhaps another issue since there are all sorts of non-literal readings of the Garden narrative. The main point is that Brigham was not a literalist regarding the Garden narrative and was somewhat dismissive of people who were.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 1, 2007 @ 11:15 am

  21. I am open to the idea that Adam and Eve might be actual people. However, [some of us were taught that] the Adam and Eve story is figurative as far as the man and the woman are concerned. I think it’s much more instructive to look at the whole story symbolically, including Adam and Eve as representative of humankind, the serpent as the influence of evil, the Tree of Life as the possibility of redemption, etc. I think the story was intended to serve as an allegory for us. Passages in the NT about Adam use him as a symbol.

    Some authorities have expressed the opinion that eating from the ToKoGaE was sexual intercourse.

    I’ve always been intrigued by that interpretation. But I believe this is a Protestant tradition, and everything I’ve read from Church sources preaches against it. Has anyone ever seen this advocated from an LDS point of view?

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — July 1, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  22. BiV,

    Good comment all around. In answer to you question, I have never seen this advocated from an LDS point of view (I’m interested to see if someone else has) and I strongly disagree with any association between the ToKoGaE and sexuality. For starters, Adam and Eve were married. Furthermore, we have enough problems regarding sexuality positively without it being set up as the grand sin that brought down paradise.

    By the way, for anyone who missed it and is interested, I recently posted (here) my thoughts on the symbolism of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  23. huh. Good point.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — July 1, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  24. I have always considered the TOL to be figurative and I have also always assumed the TOL in the garden was the same tree in Lehi’s dream. Whether real or not I love the symbol of the tree and in my mind it has always pointed to Christ, and the fruit as His Atonement. Nephi asks the meaning of the tree and is shown the birth of Christ – as stated above Christ is the Love of God. Alma (ch 5) says eating of the fruit is to “eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life” suggesting the sacrament to my mind.

    Though I think they were symbolic its still interesting to me to speculate on what kinds of trees they were…Some apocryphal sources suggests the TOL was an olive tree – who’s oil would be saved for the resurrection which I link to Joseph’s description of D&C 88 as an olive leaf plucked from the tree in paradise. I have also heard it suggested that the ToKoGaE was a fig tree – they plucked the leaves to make aprons. Figs also have lots of seeds and they could have seed after they ate the fruit.

    On the Fruit being sex…I think I have only read from Mormon Doctrine that it definitely wasn’t sex. I don’t think I have read any other apostles or prophets commenting on the subject. I believe with Jacob #22 that Adam and Eve were husband and wife.

    Comment by Greg — July 2, 2007 @ 12:07 am

  25. My take is that the flag of the United States is literal with alot of figurative symbolism attached to it. The birth of Jesus was real but the doubtful nature of the “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t mean that the birth was not real.

    Some stories, based on real events, get an overlay of interpretation and meaning that may not be factual. Those real events may also be reinterpreted symbolically in dreams and visions. And, yes, I realize the difficulty of separating the literal from the figurative as the story gets older, as it gets processed by different individuals and societies.

    For example, the Church magazines do (use to do?) an annual Art & Poetry contest. It’s always been interesting to me that the international entries depict figures in Church History as though they were from the country of the origin of the entry – JS looks Japanese in a work from Japan; Polynesian from a work from Fiji; etc. My point: If Joseph Smith looks Ghanan in a work from Ghana, does that mean that JS was not real because of the anachronistic nature of the work? That’s the conclusion some people draw.

    Even though figuratively expressed, my take is that the characters, objects and events depicted in the Creation & Garden narratives were real. Especially Adam, since he has a role in prophesied events to come. (Dan. 7: 9-14; D&C 116; HC 3: 385-387; HC 4: 207-8.)

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 2, 2007 @ 8:22 am

  26. Sooo… is that a vote for a figurative tree or a literal tree Mondo? Sounds like you are in the figurative camp on the specific trees mentioned. (There is nothing about that vote that makes you give up a literal Adam and Eve if that is what you are worried about — see Brigham’s position.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 2, 2007 @ 9:43 am

  27. Geoff J. (#26):
    My take: a _literal_ Adam, Eve, Garden, ToKoGaE with fruit, Lucifer, ToL with fruit, Angel guarding the ToL, etc. with associated symbolism, meanings, interpretations, allegories, etc.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 2, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  28. Mondo–
    serpent??

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — July 2, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

  29. BiV (#28):

    Do you mean “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (Rev. 12:9) & “that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan” (Rev. 20:2) & “Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ” (D&C 76:28)? That serpent?

    And, yes, for me the serpent _is_ the most figurative character in the story. Moses 4 is the only thing that keeps me from categorically saying “the serpent is figurative.” (“Satan put it into the heart of the serpent,…And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.”) Therefore, I allow that a Mr. No Shoulders may have been the vector for Lucifer in the Garden of Eden. But, maybe not.

    Literally or figuratively, I don’t think it changes what I should be doing.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — July 2, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

  30. Mondo,

    You realize those scriptures in Rev and D&C refer to Satan as “that old serpent” because of the Genesis story, right? I gather from your delivery that you quoted them to make some point, but I can’t tell what it would be.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 3, 2007 @ 1:14 pm

  31. Figurative – the tree and perhaps the entire story. Either way, my basic beliefs don’t change at all.

    As to the sex interpretation, apostate hogwash, IMHO. Right alongside Mary’s immaculate conception – in order to keep Jesus’ birth from being tainted by a mother’s original sin. Sometimes, we mortals think WAY too hard.

    Comment by Ray — July 4, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

  32. Ray,

    You think the immaculate conception is hogwash? That surprises me a little. The point of the immaculate conception isn’t that Jesus conception would be tained by sin, but that Jesus’ literal Father is God the Father. That seems like a fairly central and possibly neccesary doctrine.

    Agree re: the sexual interpretation of the Fall – although misuse of sex is one of the prime examples of the rules that govern a fallen world; it epitomizes, but isn’t the cause.

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 4, 2007 @ 6:17 pm

  33. Thomas, not Jesus’ conception but Mary’s. There is a strong belief among many Catholics and Protestants that Mary’s own birth was “immaculate” – that she was conceived without sex being involved. That’s what I think is hogwash.

    Comment by Ray — July 4, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

  34. Sorry, everyone. I just re-read my first comment and realized why Thomas thought I was referring to Jesus’ birth.

    Comment by Ray — July 4, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

  35. I see the story as allegorical. The facts that “adam” is the word for “humankind” and that the Hebrew word “eve” has “life” as its source meaning are to me a clear sign that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of you and me (and everyone else). Without going into details, I’d also say that the temple presentation reinforces this view of mine.

    I’m open to the idea that there was a literal Adam and Eve somewhere deep in human history, only because the scriptures often speak of him in a literal sense. How that would fit in with the Fall, I’m not sure.

    Comment by Copedi — July 4, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

  36. Ray – Ah! I don’t know that I’d ever heard that. My own inexperience rather than your syntax was the cause of my misunderstanding.

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 4, 2007 @ 10:53 pm

  37. I’ll add my vote for allegorical. In fact I lean toward thinking everything up to Abraham is allegorical or changed in a huge way.

    Comment by jjohnsen — July 5, 2007 @ 1:25 pm

  38. jjohnsen — You’ll be interested in this post then. I said nearly exactly the same thing.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  39. There is overwhelming evidence of humans living throughout the world for tens of thousands of years before Adam and Eve were supposed to have lived 6000 years ago. And hominids such as Neaderthals for hundreds of thousands of years before that. Doesn’t that make the Adam and Eve story an allegory at best? And possibly an attempt by Hebrew scribes to come up with something to compete with the Babylonian creation myths?

    Comment by Sticky questions — October 10, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  40. I’ve thought often on this same subject. My response is more than just a line or two. It can be found at http://thoughtsonlds.blogspot.com/2007/12/thoughts-on-tree-of-life.html

    Comment by Dan Olsen — January 1, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  41. Some semi-random points to quickly outline my thoughts, not connected in any form of organised discourse. Call it creative speculation :-)

    * Adam and Eve were literal people, who lived approx 6000 years ago
    * Adam was the first man to whom the gospel was revealed, but not necessarily the first man, per se
    * Adam is the ancestor of the Indo-European lineage, but other progenitors for other lineages may exist (i.e. the so-called “pre-Adamites”)
    * The Garden and the two Trees are figurative, through they do represent specific ideas and concepts
    * The Garden is largely figurative and symbolic of the Temple and the “temple experience,” especially the Celestial room
    * The Tree of Life is basically symbolic of dwelling in the presence of God, or the Celestial room
    * Angels who “guard the way” of the Tree of Life is symbolic of the Temple Veil
    * The Tree of Knowledge is knowledge, because all rational thought relies on two cognitive facilities: a) the ability to recall/remember past things and b) the ability to reason, and to revisit and research past things–and the structure of the rational thought process is rather tree-like
    * The “fruit” of knowledge is the rational ability to choose a course of action–to “partake” of the fruit is to make a choice and we are repeatedly told that Adam chose his lot with Eve
    * God did dwell in the “Garden” in a proto-Millennialistic manner, perhaps a family of Gods, of which Adam was a part (a digression of my first points, not necessarily compatible, but an option that fits many early church statements about Adam being a literal son of heavenly parents)
    * Side note: a residual memory of the Garden and the Gods that dwelt there may have given rise to the mythology of the Greeks and the legend of Atlantis. But I digress…
    * Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden into the lone and dreary world, but has anyone ever noticed that the lone and dreary world was already there?
    * God and the Garden withdrew to the heavens, akin to Enoch and his people and the return of Enoch will be the return of the Garden (“the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory”

    There are many other points I can make, but this is sufficient for now. If anyone is interested enough to comment, I am happy to elaborate.

    The Bish

    Comment by The Bish — January 1, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  42. Wow The Bish. Lots of speculations stated as facts in that last comment.

    I can buy a couple of them. Several of them seem like utter poppycock to me. (A family of Gods literally on this planet? Good grief. I’m embarrassed for you for spouting BS like that bro. And the Indo-European comment sounds like a painfully racist speculation to me.)

    BTW – See our Before Abraham category of posts here for more discussions related to Adam and Eve, evolution, the Garden, etc.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 1, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

  43. Wow Geoff J. Lots of speculation stated as, ummm… speculation in my post.

    The family of Gods idea may seem like BS to you bro, but there are recorded statements in the JoD and other sources that state clearly God the Father came to earth, with one of His wives and dwelt here long enough that the elements of this world became part of their bodies, and that the natural process of gestation was how the “dust” of this earth was organised into the body of Adam. If this high concept is BS, then I guess I’m in good company. You are welcome to be as embarrassed for me as you like. When I said “family” I didn’t mean God, Goddess and all the little Godlettes.

    And, please explain how the “Indo-European” comment can in any way be “painfully racist.” I’m curious who you think the current descendants of Adam are, as the genealogies in the Bible, not to mention statements by the Lord Himself, are very specific on who Adam’s descendants are. I have come to a forum where the word of the Lord is respected, haven’t I? Or is it all superstition and lies, or mere allegory?

    What seems like “utter poppycock” to you, might on further examination and polite discussion, have more merit than apparent at first glance. Unless, of course, discussion is not welcome here unless it is in the form of insults.

    The Bish

    Comment by The Bish — January 1, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

  44. The Bish: Lots of speculation stated as, ummm… speculation in my post.

    My fault The Bish — I didn’t read your first sentence before jumping into the bullet points. You did indeed clarify that they were speculations up front.

    there are recorded statements in the JoD and other sources that state

    So yes, some of those you mentioned things do seem like total BS to me. This includes the wild Adam-God-related speculations you mentioned. The fact that some former leaders of the church speculated on them doesn’t change that at all. (I’m sure you are aware of some of the ridiculous speculations that flew around in Utah during the 19th century. I generally consider them to be just what they are — uninspired and unrevealed guesses.)

    If this high concept is BS, then I guess I’m in good company.

    I’ll grant you that.

    please explain how the Indo-European comment can in any way be painfully racist.

    Pretty easy really. The implication is that the descendants of Indo-Europeans are descendants of divinity while all other people descended from… what? This is the kind of speculation that lead to all sorts of racist comments even among our people for many decades. I don’t believe any of it.

    I’m curious who you think the current descendants of Adam are

    First, I’m not entirely convinced there was a literal Adam (though I am open to it). If indeed there was, then there is fairly solid proof that every living person on earth is a literal descendant of Adam (and of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob for that matter).

    I have come to a forum where the word of the Lord is respected, haven’t I?

    Yup. Though I hope you don’t include the JoD in with the scriptures when you say this…

    Comment by Geoff J — January 1, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  45. Hi Geoff, thanks for your reply.

    I sometimes walk out on the branches a bit only to find someone hacking away with an axe near the trunk…

    I generally consider them to be just what they are — uninspired and unrevealed guesses.

    Pheee-owwww!! Geoff, these men were prophets of God, they walked and talked with The Prophet and said many of these doctrines came straight from him. I doubt they were liars.

    I do remember Brigham Young saying near the end of his life (I have misplaced the exact reference) that one of his regrets was revealing too much about God and that the saints would not bear it. Well, I guess he was correct about that. They didn’t.

    I also remember Joseph Smith telling the faithful brethren he could not reveal everything to them or they would seek his blood. To which Brigham is reported to have replied, “Then do not tell me, for what I know, I know.”

    The implication is that the descendants of Indo-Europeans are descendants of divinity while all other people descended from… what?

    Pretty easy really. Divinity.

    I’m not entirely convinced there was a literal Adam

    Uh-huh. ‘Nuff said then, I guess.

    If indeed there was, then there is fairly solid proof that every living person on earth is a literal descendant of Adam (and of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob for that matter).

    Yep, and 99% of the world descends from Indo-European stock at some point, which means (by default) that “every living person on earth is a literal descendant of Adam (and of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob for that matter)”. Massa done said so!

    Though I hope you don’t include the JoD in with the scriptures when you say this…

    Only when I’m speculating…

    :-)

    The Bish

    Comment by The Bish — January 2, 2008 @ 12:09 am

  46. Opps, sorry about the capitalised “He” in reference to Brigham…

    Does this forum have an edit function?

    The Bish

    Comment by The Bish — January 2, 2008 @ 12:10 am

  47. The Bish,

    Yes, I’m aware of the tendency of 19th century leaders to attribute their (sometimes bizarre and ridiculous) personal musings to Joseph. That’s why I like to stick to the original sources on Joseph’s thoughts and words. I doubt they lied most of the time when doing so; I suspect they were just extrapolating where they thought/assumed he was heading. And don’t get me wrong — I have some popular 19th century speculations I am fond of too. For instance I think there is some merit to the idea of multiple mortal probations. But I have learned to not get too excited just because someone like Brigham said or believed something. He was convinced that Adam was our God and the Father of Jesus after all. Turns out he was totally out to lunch on that speculation. So I can totally understand him being regretful about “revealing too much” about his personal guesses on theological and metaphysical matters. People took his wild guesses more seriously because of his particular assignment in the church.

    As for the Indo-European thing: If Adam was divinity and the ancestor of only the Indo-Europeans and all others were here from evolution then the implication is that Indo-Europeans were divine stock that somehow mingled with the near-animal stock already here right? First, I think that is totally false. But second, I hope you can see why that kind of speculation is racist when it comes to Africans and most Asians etc…

    And where do you get the 99% number in that last comment? The research indicates the lineage number would be 100% in any case.

    Regarding your other question about edits, no, unfortunately blogs don’t have a self editing function. This sort of format is a little different than the Board format.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 2, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  48. Opps, sorry about the capitalised “He” in reference to Brigham…

    Fixed.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2008 @ 11:11 am

  49. I think there is no reason why all of this can’t be both literal and figurative. I have a hard time with the notion that it’s all figurative, else at what point in the scriptures do we decide that it switches from symbolic to literal (Adam and Eve fall, they have children, they teach their children, the whole Cain and Abel thing, etc.)

    I have no problem with also looking at the story of the fall to learn about my own personal spiritual journey.

    I think I fall under where Mondo Cool is in 27.

    Comment by m&m — January 2, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

  50. m&m,

    I think there is no reason why all of this can’t be both literal and figurative.

    It depends what you mean by “all of this” being literal. If you mean every aspect of the story being literal, then I do see some reasons for concern. For example, you would need to tell me how you harmonize the story with evolution.

    If you are saying that a snake really did speak to Eve and she ate a literal fruit which caused the whole downfall, the problem is that it seems implausible, expecially in light of the fact that the text itself seems to suggest the story is meant to be understood as an allegory. Consider, for example, the parables that Jesus told. There is no reason why the parables could not be both literal and figurative. However, I believe that they are not literal because the text leads me to believe they are simply parables. I feel the same way about some elements of the creation story, they strike me as being intended as allegory only, so I don’t feel any inclination to literalize them and I don’t see what would be gained by that. The parables are mostly realistic anyway, but as a second example for comparison, take the Revelation of John. We could take parts of that literally, but why would we when it is obviously figurative.

    That is why I don’t sign up for “all of this” being literal. I understand why people are concerned about saying Adam and Eve didn’t even exist, but I don’t see why we would want the whole story to be literal either.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

  51. If you are saying that a snake really did speak to Eve and she ate a literal fruit which caused the whole downfall, the problem is that it seems implausible

    Just for fun, I’m going to ask why it’s so implausible? What about it is implausible?

    As to evolution, etc. because we don’t really know what happened to time during the fall, I have no problem at least considering the possibility of literal everything and suspending specific concerns about how time played out in creation and the fall. Remember, time is a mortal measure, and mortality didn’t start until after the fall occurred. (So, as a possible consideration, the process of the fall could have caused millions of “years” of change.) I think we should be careful about putting mortal bounds on what is plausible, because so much of what we are talking about likely surpasses mortal standards and realities and measures and processes.

    Comment by m&m — January 2, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

  52. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see anything lost by the possibility of a literal tree and literal fruit, just as you say you don’t see there is anything gained by it. In a sense, I’m not sure it really matters.

    But if the Garden was an actual place, why would it not have trees and fruit, for example? This is some of what I have been thinking about.

    Another thought as I mull is the parallelism with the two gardens in the plan of salvation. What happened to the Savior happened in a literal place. He was surrounded by the creations of His hands, including trees and fruit. The symbolism of the fruit of the olive tree plays into what happened in that Garden, and so there is much that is not literal. What He partook of (the cup, as it were) was symbolic, so perhaps that would be an argument that partaking of Adam and Eve was symbolic, too.

    But in the end, I see nothing lost to consider that they might have actually eaten a fruit, consumed something literal, that had a spiritual and temporal effect on them.

    We do that when we partake of the sacrament, no?

    I have no set feelings on this, if that isn’t obvious. I think it’s interesting to consider different possibilities, rather than shut the door on one or the other. I feel there is more potential to learn if I don’t shut doors on things we don’t really know for sure.

    Comment by m&m — January 2, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  53. m&m: In a sense, I’m not sure it really matters.

    We get comments like this a lot around here. If it doesn’t matter to you then why are you wasting your time reading and commenting on it? Why not just leave us in peace and let those who do care about it discuss it?

    So the problem is that most people do consider parts of the Garden narrative to be purely allegorical. The differences are in where people draw their personal line. When you say “why all of this can’t be both literal and figurative” I suspect you don’t mean that Eve was literally created from a rib taken out of Adam right? Or that the earth was literally created in seven days. Or that Adam was literally created from dust. I’d venture to guess that you think those things are allegories.

    If so then you draw your literal-allegorical line where you are comfortable placing it just like all other believers do.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 2, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

  54. m&m,

    What He partook of (the cup, as it were) was symbolic, so perhaps that would be an argument that partaking of Adam and Eve was symbolic, too.

    Precisely. If there was someone who was adamantly committed to the idea that the cup is literal and it is heresy to suggest otherwise, I would wonder if that position was distracting them from getting the intended message from the story of the Gethsemane. Indeed, understanding that this element is figurative seems necessary to understand the true significance. I have the same reaction to people who seem overly committed to the literalness of every aspect of the Eden story (not accusing you of this, but others on the thread and elsewhere). I worry that this strong committment bespeaks a lack of understanding of the true significance of the story.

    But if the Garden was an actual place, why would it not have trees and fruit, for example

    Just as we have a sense that something as significant as the atonement must deal with significant moral issues, something real and intrinsically important, I have the same sense about the fall. The atonement wasn’t about drinking some literal drink from a literal cup. To say the fall was due to Eve eating a piece of fruit doesn’t qualify as a significant moral issue, something real and intrinsically important.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

  55. We get comments like this a lot around here. If it doesn’t matter to you then why are you wasting your time reading and commenting on it? Why not just leave us in peace and let those who do care about it discuss it?

    Good grief, Geoff. You’re getting a bit defensive. I said that on one hand, but yet, here I am, no? I wasn’t trying to tell you not to talk about it. No need to react as you did. I could have gone without saying that, and I’m sorry about that, but I wasn’t trying to dismiss the whole conversation, as should have been obvious by my other comments that I put some time and thought into myself.

    I worry that this strong committment bespeaks a lack of understanding of the true significance of the story.

    Interesting. I guess I see the same risk by assuming too adamantly that it’s simply implausible. I can understand trying to logically suggest it’s likely figurative stuff, but to dismiss it as implausible seems like too far of a jump to me, because we have nothing definitive that declares that, so the option of both is always there, no?

    So, for example, you say: “To say the fall was due to Eve eating a piece of fruit doesn’t qualify as a significant moral issue, something real and intrinsically important.”

    And I say, ok, maybe taking a bite of fruit itself is not intrinsically moral, but because of all that surrounded that act (be it literal or figurative), there are a lot of lessons that can be learned, whether or not the fruit was real. And lots of connections to consider, whether or not the fruit was real. Why two gardens? Why are trees central to religious themes? If it was real fruit, what kind was it? Olive, for example? Do you see where I’m headed? Eating fruit itself has no isolated meaning, but in the rich context of the whole gospel, which is a complex combination of literal and symbolic, I find no reason to dismiss the entire story as without any potential for or reason to be literal as well. Even the serpent has its place in the fabric of gospel symbolism. Why else would Moses raise a serpent on a pole?

    That said, I want to make it very, very clear how strongly I feel about the significance of the fall, too, and I would never reduce it just to chewing on some fruit and leave it at that. But as you can see, I am enjoying chewing on many different possibilities, consider the options of both literal and symbolic. And even in the past couple of days as I have revisited this, allowing for the possibility of a literal has opened up some interesting thoughts and insights, which are meaningful to me regardless of what the Right Answer may be.

    So, I wonder, is it possible that perhaps knowing the specific answer to this question is less important that the exercise of pondering it all with some effort and thought and willingness to look beyond the well-known story itself? Again, for Geoff’s sake, let me make it clear that this is not a ‘it doesn’t matter so don’t think about it’ comment but rather more an ends vs. means thought. Should the end of the exercise be to know for sure whether the trees, fruit, serpent, etc. were literal or figurative, or more to have learned more and gained more from the process to chew on the narrative and learn things along the way regardless of what the answer might or might not be? I’m leaning toward the latter, which is why I like blogging…because it makes me think and study and ponder differently than I would often do on my own.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me think out loud.

    Comment by m&m — January 3, 2008 @ 12:05 am

  56. m&m,

    Your comment seems to be in conflict with itself. You acknowledged that taking a bite of fruit is not intrinsically moral, but then go on to say how it might be very significant if we explore the symbolism associated with that act. You keep trying to sneak in “whether or not it was literal” but in the end the significance of the things you are talking about always relies on the figurative meaning. For example:

    If it was real fruit, what kind was it? Olive, for example?

    If it was an actual literal olive, that is not at all meaningful outside of the symbolism associated with olives/olive trees/olive oil elsewhere in the scriptures. The literalness of the olive would add nothing to the significance. Let’s assume for a moment that it is both literal and figurative, which is what you are driving for. We agree that there is figurative significance. My question to you is, what meaning is added by it being literal? To draw on my example from my previous comment, would Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree be more significant or have additional meaning if it was literally true? If so, what would the additional significance be?

    If someone was arguing that all the parables are plausible and could have happened so we should assume that they are both literal and figurative, what would your response be? Wouldn’t you be at all confused at why the person even cared to argue for their literalness? The whole point is the symbolism, so why even bring up that there really could be a person who had a fig tree and didn’t find any fruit on it?

    This is why I disagree with this comment:

    I guess I see the same risk by assuming too adamantly that it’s simply implausible.

    I don’t see the parallel. If you want to convince me that demanding-the-talking-snake-is-figurative holds the same dangers as demanding-that-it-is-literal, you need to show me the potential significance of the snake being literal. I don’t see it. On the other hand, I absolutely see the potential significance of the symbolism (you seem to agree when you say “Even the serpent has its place in the fabric of gospel symbolism. Why else would Moses raise a serpent on a pole?”).

    So, we lose a lot if we miss the symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t seem like we miss anything if we say the talking snake is figurative.

    Also, it seems Geoff is onto something when he asks “I suspect you don’t mean that Eve was literally created from a rib taken out of Adam right?” Are you really committed to literalness on every element, or just on some. If it is just some, then why are those ones important while the rib is not?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 3, 2008 @ 11:53 am

  57. Ah, I think I understand where you are coming from and I actually agree with the core of what you are saying. The value of anything in the gospel and life — if we are trying to understand how everything testifies of Christ — ends up being symbolic. Birth, eating real food every day, sleeping — all of these literal things really are symbolic teachers. Symbols are everywhere in our existence. I don’t dispute any of that for a second. I wasn’t trying to argue for inherent meaning in any of this being literal. But I don’t see that we lose anything if we consider that some of it might have been literal. I agree, though, that in the end it all goes back to the symbolism.

    So again, I think we really don’t disagree that much (if at all)? I suppose that maybe I didn’t quite get what you were saying, and/or I didn’t really express myself well enough.

    It seems you are addressing those who will ONLY take it all literally, and thus miss the symbolism. Am I getting that right? If so, I’m NOT one of those folks, so you can rest easy there. :)

    Comment by m&m — January 3, 2008 @ 2:00 pm

  58. HM. I still sound confused, don’t I?

    Let me take the serpent, for example. Let’s consider, for a minute, that the serpent was actually a talking serpent. A literal serpent that got Adam and Eve to fall and to need the Savior. The serpent got them, and they then needed to act in faith to be rescued.

    Fast forward to Moses’ day. The Lord sent (allowed) serpents to bite the people. Now, I’m gonna assume these were real serpents of some kind. Moses put a serpent on the end of his pole. This serpent was symbolically in direct contrast to the serpents that bit them.

    Maybe it really didn’t make a bit of difference to the people that it was a serpent. Maybe the fact that they were bitten by serpents didn’t make any connection in their minds to the story of the fall and the need for an atonement. And maybe it shouldn’t make any difference to us. But I think it’s interesting to consider that a real serpent caused Adam and Eve to need faith and the power of the Atonement, just as the children of Israel had the effects of a real serpent that got them needing faith in the Savior. Of course, in the end, the connection and meaning is all symbolic. But is there something to the serpent that could teach us? Is there something about serpents in particular, whether all symbolic or a mixture of literal and symbolic, that has significance?

    Whether it’s all symbolic, or symbolic or literal, I think it’s interesting that the Lord chose serpents in these instances as the creature to represent what He wanted to represent. Why not some other animal, or even an inanimate object? Why did He send serpents to bite them in this instance? Why was the Savior also represented by a serpent if that was what the devil was in the garden (either literally or symbolically)? Are we certain that there isn’t some inherent reason why the Lord chose a serpent to be the literal or figurative element in these stories? Were they supposed to intertwine or is that all just happenstance?

    What about the fruit? Why not use a vegetable or meat at the thing that was ‘eaten’? Isn’t it possible that there is something about fruits that are significant (whether the fruit was literal or literal-symbolic)?

    Am I making any sense at all? Maybe it doesn’t matter if it was literal because it’s all symbolic teaching anyway, and maybe we end up asking the same questions, you and I.

    Comment by m&m — January 3, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  59. m&m,

    I think we are pretty close on this. We agree about the value of the symoblic meaning; we seem to be asking the same kind of questions (i.e. questions that explore the symbolic meaning of the story and its elements); we agree that some of the elements of the story (previously I mentioned the literalness of Adam and Eve as an example) may be literal.

    Let me try ask a question to see if there is still some area of disagreement which might be interesting to explore. The post asked specifically about the tree of life and whether that is literal or figurative. I am getting the impression from your comments that you are mostly concerned about the symbolic meaning of the tree, but that you want to hold on to as much literalness as possible. Would you be uncomfortable saying the tree was entirley figurative? If not, why not? What is the advantage of trying to have as many things be literal as possible?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 3, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  60. Jacob,
    I’m not ignoring you…just haven’t had time to respond.

    I guess I just don’t see any need to dismiss that possibility of literalness. Perhaps it’s in part because we talk so literally about it in our doctrine (“Adam and Eve fell after partaking of the fruit,” etc.) that I think it would be interesting if it all really was literal. But I wouldn’t be crushed if it wasn’t. I just don’t see the need to dismiss that possibility, since I look at the symbolic anyway.

    Here’s how I see it. There is plenty in the gospel that is just symbolic. But, there is plenty in our lives that is also literal. I love the literalness of the sacrament, because the literal experience of consuming the bread and water has its own symbolism to me. I love the literal reminder of the temple covenants and experience. I could continue with this list of literal representations of symbolic truths in my life and in the scriptures. I don’t feel I lose anything from that literalness, and in fact, because things like this are a tangible part of my life, they have meaning to me.

    I know that for us whatever did happen to Adam and Eve is symbolic, whether or not the trees or fruit were real. But I guess I am left wondering if the Lord did give them some literalness in the symbolic journey, just as there is so much literalness woven into other symbolic journeys in the scriptures (think of the exodus themes, that were very literal experiences, while holding great symbolic significance for the participants and for us). Perhaps because the Lord often uses this combination of literal and symbolic to teach leaves me thinking that it’s at least a possibility, and because I search for the symbolic anyway, I see nothing really lost in keeping that option open.

    Comment by m&m — January 6, 2008 @ 11:38 pm

  61. m&m,

    Who in this thread dismissed the possibility of literalness?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 7, 2008 @ 12:27 am

  62. Geoff, I was responding specifically to Jacob’s question to me in 59, not making a general statement about the thread or anyone else’s comments on it.

    Comment by m&m — January 7, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  63. I see nothing really lost in keeping that option open.

    Fair enough, we obviously won’t end up seeing eye-to-eye on that. Earlier you said:

    Remember, time is a mortal measure, and mortality didn’t start until after the fall occurred. (So, as a possible consideration, the process of the fall could have caused millions of “years” of change.)

    It seems to me that holding to strict literalness forces a person into positions like the one above which I find to be untenable, so it doesn’t work for me. I don’t think time is limited to mortality. I don’t think every animal can fit on an ark. The solution of just assuming there is some explanation outside of human experience is not palatable to me so I find it much more believable (read: faith-promoting) to read some stories (especially the ones crying out to be interpreted symbolically like the Eden story) as having some entirely figurative elements. But if you are okay with the idea that the fall invalidated scientific dating of the earth and the universe, then I see that you can keep your options open with your approach.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 7, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

  64. But if you are okay with the idea that the fall invalidated scientific dating of the earth and the universe, then I see that you can keep your options open with your approach.

    I just keep options open, because I’m not convinced that we should have to try to make the gospel fit into what our mortal minds comprehend and measure. Human experience to me is not all-inclusive in my mind, so I don’t expect everything to ‘make sense’ based on human measures and experience. But that’s my approach and, so, yes, I suppose that may be why the literal possibility doesn’t seem problematic. I think I understand better why you do. Thanks for engaging with me here.

    I do want to make it clear that I am not dead-set on literalness. I’m not one who insists that we can’t look at the flood in any other way than literal, or at the fruit or the trees, etc. I’m fascinated by geology and considering how that all might work with the creation story, and I’m not going to insist that it all had to fit in some specific way based on a literal interpretation of the scriptures. I’d be ok if the Garden story, or the Noah story, for example, ended up not being literal. As you noted earlier, I enjoy most considering the symbolic teaching of things anyway, so I actually don’t spend a lot of time or energy with the literal per se. It just ends up being part of my “mulling and musing” as I explore different lines of thought and study and learning.

    This has been an interesting discussion for me. Thanks.

    Comment by m&m — January 7, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

  65. I personally believe there was a tree, but that it symbolised something else, much like the sacrament. Its not the bread and the water that physically renew our covenants with God but our inward comittment. So too the Tree of Life symbolised a greater meaning

    Comment by Laurence — May 7, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

  66. Is there a useful method of deciding whether something in the scriptures is to be taken literally, figuratively, or both? Or is one left only with the method that everyone seems to use, namely, “I don’t believe it really happened, so it must be figurative?” It seems that if we go far enough down that road we eventually get to the point where everything in the scriptures is figurative. A little farther still and we get to the place where the scriptures don’t matter because they’re just a bunch of stories anyway. Farther still and we get to nihilism. The end of the road would be where we don’t believe there is any true reality, that we define reality in our minds (a sort of Buddhism, if I understand it correctly). I would like to see a thoughtful discussion on how one can draw the line in deciding what to take literally and what to take figuratively in the scriptures. Is there already some post on this blog that attempts to thoughtfully answer this question?

    Comment by Bill B. — November 6, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  67. I think it is safe to say there is no universally accepted method of deciding whether something in the scriptures is to be taken literally, figuratively, or both.

    The slippery slope argument you raise is the most common objection to ever moving toward figurative interpretations. Then again, hyper-literalists are pretty easy to dismiss as wackos too.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 6, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

  68. Is there some method that would make sense to most rational people? Something better than, “I don’t believe it really happened, so it must be figurative?”

    Comment by Bill B. — November 6, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  69. Sure there are plenty of methods. Not all are universally accepted but they are out there. As I’m sure you know, most Biblical scholars prefer to focus on the questions about who the actual authors of a text were and what the intent of the authors was.

    Of course some things will never be settled fully by historians and scholars.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 6, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

  70. Bill B,

    I don’t necessarily agree that everyone uses the “I don’t believe it really happened, so it must be figurative?” standard (depending on who you mean by “everyone”).

    People who spend their time thinking about exegesis will have a better answer than me, but some obvious methods come to mind. Here is a link to a post about Jonah which gives a great example of the kind of analysis that is persuasive to me:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/08/31/jonah-gently-raise-the-sacred-satire/

    Notice that the argument is much more substantive than “being swallowed by a whale doesn’t seem plausible so I don’t believe it.” What do you think?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 6, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

  71. Jacob J,
    Thanks for the response. To me this discussion of Jonah seems like a rationalization for, “If I don’t believe it really happened, it must be figurative.” Are you seeing something in it that I’m not seeing?

    Comment by Bill B. — November 9, 2009 @ 7:05 am

  72. Bill B.,

    The BCC post Jacob linked to looks at the text of Jonah and argues (fairly persuasively in my opinion) that it reads more like a satire than some sincere historical account. The idea is that the authors intended it to be a satire from the beginning.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 9, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  73. Geoff,

    I’m sorry, but I honestly do not see anything satirical in the story of Jonah, including the eight “red flags” raised in the post on the story of Jonah (with the exception of the second part of number 7). I could just as easily pick out eight red flags in the story of Hitler and then claim that Hitler never existed. Here they are:

    1.Hitler believed he would rule the world.
    2.Hitler had six million of the Jews, God’s chosen people, asphyxiated in ovens.
    3.In the end Hitler ruled nothing and committed suicide by burning himself up (as in an oven).
    4.One of Hitler’s top people liked to dress in women’s clothing and give dinner parties.
    5.Hitler hated the Jews and blamed all the evils of the world on them. Now we blame all the evils of World War 2 on Hitler and use him as a personification of evil itself.
    6.Hitler promised his subjects that they would all soon be driving around in volkswagers (the people’s car). But very few were ever built, that is until after his death, and then an awful lot of them were built.
    7.Hitler encouraged his followers to believe a strange pagan religion with him at its head. One of his beliefs was that ancient artifacts were endowed with magical power, and that if he could collect enough of them, he would indeed be able to rule the world.
    8.No one knows for sure whether Hitler was actually burned to death or whether he moved to Argentina, where he has lived to a ripe old age on all the gold that he extracted from the gold fillings of the teeth of the Jews’ that he executed.

    Obviously the story of Hitler was meant to be satirical. It’s just a story meant to scare little children. “Be good kids, or Hitler will get you!” It could never really have happened.

    My apologies if this cavalier list has offended anyone. The point I’m trying to make is that the story of Hitler looks extremely unlikely and can be told in a way that makes it sound satirical. I could have picked even better “red flags” than these, but they would have been even more offensive to some, so I didn’t. So, it’s a story that sounds satirical. Yet, we all know it happened. (Okay, almost all of us know it happened; a few are living in denial.) Yet someone can pick out eight “red flags” in the story of Jonah that are no redder than the red flags that I picked out in the story of Hitler and make the claim that the story of Jonah is not literally true. This is why I see the post on Jonah as nothing but a rationalization to support someone’s a priori belief that Jonah’s experiences never happened.

    Comment by Bill B. — November 9, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

  74. Bill,

    You are free to take literally whatever you want. Knock yerself out bro.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 9, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  75. Bill, your #73 reads a lot like satire to me, so I am going to read it that way. As such, I see that you get my point and you have moved on to making fun of people who don’t understand literary concepts such as genre. Well done.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 9, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  76. My point is that we choose to believe what we choose to believe, and we usually do not let counter evidence stand in our way. Our brains have a brilliant talent for rationalization and for filling in the blank spots in our knowledge with imagination. In other words, we can never really “know” anything. We can only choose to believe. Even when we want to swallow the red pill, we often end up swallowing the blue pill without realizing it.

    Comment by Bill B. — November 11, 2009 @ 7:41 am

  77. I might take you seriously Bill but I don’t believe you actually exist. You see, I am really a brain in a vat and you and the rest of the world around us are simply figments of my imagination.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 11, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  78. Well, we each have a somewhat different view of ourselves and the world Geoff.

    Comment by Bill B. — November 11, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  79. I would agree with you Bill if you actually existed. But since you are only a figment of my imagination I guess I agree with myself…

    Comment by Geoff J — November 11, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  80. PS — I am just yanking your chain by taking the skepticism road further down the path.

    Obviously these epistemological issues you are bringing up are not new. We all must ultimately choose which evidences to accept and which to reject when it comes to truth claims.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 11, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  81. Exactly right, Geoff. We choose which evidence to accept, based on no incontrovertible set of rules for doing so. This is why we should always remain open minded (always continue looking for the next red pill, even if we may never find it), because we have no way of knowing for certain that we used the correct rules to get to where we are now. This is why I claim there is no such thing as knowledge, only belief. I think we all have a tendency to be less than open minded when we’ve collected a certain weight of corroborating evidence for our views. That is reaching for the blue pill without being aware of it. It sounds to me from your post on the scriptures that you still have a red pill/blue pill decision that has to do with what I believe you referred to as the question of the “validity of the scriptures”. It will be interesting to see which pill you choose…

    Comment by Bill B. — November 11, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

  82. I’m afraid I have no idea what your red pill/ blue pill line is supposed to mean in that last comment Bill (and I have seen “The Matrix”). As far as I know I don’t have any big decisions looming regarding scriptures. I have personal interaction with God and God tells me that following the teachings of the scriptures will lead to my happiness so I exercise faith in God and do that. No big decisions pending there. I don’t really care how many of the ancient stories are literal or history or not — I simply exercise faith in what God is telling me here and now.

    BTW — With your rather extreme views on knowledge how are you avoiding being a nihilist? (Assuming you aren’t a nihilist of course…)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 11, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  83. And your choice is … blue pill. That’s perfectly understandable.

    I agree that most people would consider my views on knowledge to be extreme. Since you asked, I’ll tell you why I’m not a nihilist. I believe there is truth, and the more closely I am able to live in harmony with it the happier I’ll be in the long run (not a surprising claim, since I am a member of the church). However, I understand that my methods for identifying truth are imperfect. That doesn’t stop me from doing the best that I can. It simply means I try to be aware of the very real possibility that there is more that I do not understand, and that anything I currently believe may be wrong. I have no intention of arguing with any method that you or anyone else may use for identifying the truth, because as I said, mine are imperfect. I’ve read enough of your blog to realize that the method you outlined above is not the only method you use to find the truth, even though for all I know it may be the one you feel is most reliable. But I am curious about one thing. Given that Joseph Smith was from time to time led astray by this method (for example, when he felt he was directed to sell the copy write to the Book of Mormon), why do you feel that this method is 100% reliable? That is, if you believe it is 100% reliable–I’m not trying to put words in your mouth. I’m not disagreeing with your position or trying to talk you out of it; I’m just curious about why you put as much faith in it as you do.

    Comment by Bill B. — November 12, 2009 @ 7:01 am

  84. Bill,

    What on earth does “blue pill” mean to you? You keep bringing it up but I don’t remember from the movie what that saying is supposed to mean.

    I believe there is truth, and the more closely I am able to live in harmony with it the happier I’ll be

    This is inconsistent with your earlier comments. Based on your previous statements you have no way of ever knowing if you are becoming more closely aligned with truth or not.

    Also, no I don’t think Joseph Smith was infallible. I’m all for epistemological humility.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 12, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  85. Sorry Geoff, I thought you were being sarcastic again when you said you didn’t know what the blue pill meant. The blue pill is the decision to believe what is pleasant to believe, so that we can continue to live in our illusionary world where we are happy (at least where we think we are happy). The red pill is the decision to accept the truth (or at least to look for it), even though it may cause us pain and in the short term at least take away our happiness.

    You said my statement was inconsistent. I suppose it would be pointless to get into an argument with you about whether that is true, but I will explain briefly that the key word in my statement was “believe”. I hold the position that I live by faith, not by knowledge. And I believe you are correct that I have no way of knowing whether I am getting closer to it or not. All I have is hope.

    So, now that I’ve answered your question honestly, how about explaining to me why you have chosen to put your faith in the method of obtaining the truth that you have chosen? (Or point me to a post where you have already explained your position.) If you would prefer not to, just say so, and I’ll accept no answer.

    Comment by Bill B. — November 12, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  86. Bill B: And your choice is … blue pill. That’s perfectly understandable… The blue pill is the decision to believe what is pleasant to believe, so that we can continue to live in our illusionary world where we are happy (at least where we think we are happy). The red pill is the decision to accept the truth (or at least to look for it), even though it may cause us pain and in the short term at least take away our happiness.

    Ok thanks for the explanation. And screw you too you weasel. (But of course I mean that in the nicest possible way).

    Of course I’m still always seeking truth.

    how about explaining to me why you have chosen to put your faith in the method of obtaining the truth that you have chosen?

    Sure. See here and here and the rest the posts related to personal revelation here. I think I have explained my methods for seeking truth pretty clearly over the years.

    It will come as no surprise that my positions on these subjects has gained some nuance over the years so I am more than happy to concede that by some definitions we all live by faith and not by knowledge. It seems to me that you are hung up on the rather banal issues of semantics when it comes to faith vs. knowledge subject. Perhaps someday you can be mature enough to get over such trivial definitional hang-ups and focus more on the real issues of truth seeking.

    (Isn’t this insulting one another thing fun?)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 12, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

  87. Bill, honest question here: where did you get the idea that Geoff or I or anyone else on this blog thinks that our methods of getting at truth are 100% reliable (as you claimed in #83)?

    You started here by asking if there were any methods other than arbitrarily deciding what seems plausible to us for figuring out what in the scriptures should be taken literally. I offered a post that suggested genre and historical context as methods for figuring out when some things are not literal. You countered that genre and historical context are just smoke screens for someone’s a priori pre-conclusions.

    I don’t know how we got from there to you thinking we don’t understand our epistemelogical limitations.

    Let me ask you this: You have been arguing that we believe whatever we want and ignore all contrary evidence. What evidence do you have to support that point of view? Or is it just the thing that you believe because you want to despite any contrary evidence?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 12, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  88. Geoff,
    Sorry, I’m not trying to insult you. Thanks for the links to your posts. I’ll look at them carefully. I think you are right that there is a semantics issue. It is true that I’m using a different definition of knowledge than the vast majority of people use. I assumed you understood that. I guess I should have stated it clearly.

    Jacob J.,
    I didn’t claim in #83 that Geoff was 100% sure of his methods. Nor did I say the two of you believe whatever you want. I assumed that because Geoff appeared to be ignoring my comment about the “question of the ‘validity of the scriptures’” that he was ignoring the issue (choosing the blue pill). I shouldn’t have assumed. I never said you didn’t understand your epistemelogical limitations. That’s one of the things I was trying to determine. Sorry if you felt you were being insulted. That was not my intention.

    Thank you both for answering my questions.

    Comment by Bill B. — November 12, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  89. You’re welcome Bill.

    Any offense taken was washed away with my characteristically acerbic comment #86.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 12, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

  90. Bill, I wasn’t offended, no worries. It’s true you did qualify in #83 that you weren’t trying to put words in Geoff’s mouth, so I was too strong in saying you claimed that. My apologies. I was getting the impression you thought that *we* thought we could be 100% certain of things. That is definitely not the case and I couldn’t tell where we gave that impression. Thanks for the good natured exchange.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 12, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

  91. Goeff,

    Having read more of your posts on personal revelation, I now feel I have a better understanding of where you are coming from. I am sure I am oversimplifying by trying to summarize your position in one sentence, but it seems that you are basically saying that we start out unsure of how to identify and interpret the revelation that we receive, but that we can get better. I cannot argue with that. I appreciate your encouragement to us to make the effort to get better.

    I find myself in many ways identifying with Glenn in your post, Personal Revelation: Where to Start. But there are differences. I do not have Glenn’s worries about a few people “abusing personal revelation”, as he puts it. I have long ago accepted that phenomenon as an inescapable part of human nature and decided not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Glenn said, “I value the role that both the skeptic and the believer play in my life, but it really is a struggle to keep them from ripping each other’s heads off.” My skeptic and believer have signed a truce and are now happily working together for me. I have through a long process of patiently and fairly (honestly) examining both their views nursed my believer into admitting that he does not “know” anything (by my definition of the word “know”) and my skeptic into admitting the same. I do not make decisions anymore without consulting both, and the three of us seem to make a pretty good team for discovering the truth. (But of course, how would I know? That’s a joke—partially.) I decided to call for the truce and let them both have their say from then on, because like Glenn, I finally realized the value of both of their views, but apparently, unlike Glenn, (no criticism of Glenn intended) I realized that I can chose which one’s viewpoint to blend into my view of reality at any given time without having to silence the other. And no view that I synthesize has to be permanent. As with every other issue of faith that I can think of, in the case of personal revelation, my skeptic and my believer both have valuable insights. They both deserve to be heard.

    Thanks for your interesting and thought-provoking blog, Geoff.

    Comment by Bill B. — December 4, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  92. Thanks for the comment Bill B. The belief-making process you describe for yourself sounds similar to the process I use as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 4, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  93. So far we have two votes for metaphor (not counting mine), one 50/50, and one 75/25 for literal.

    Just for statistics sake.
    . Eden – figurative
    . Tree of Life – figurative
    . Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – figurative
    . Cherubim and a flaming sword – figurative
    . Adam and Eve – literal
    . Adiaphotos(Cain) and Amilabes(Abel) – literal
    . Serpent – figurative
    . Lucifer – literal
    . Protestant preacher – figurative
    . Pre-mortal Peter, James and John – figurative
    . Tree of Lehi – figurative
    . Dream of Lehi – figurative

    Comment by Manuel — December 4, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  94. The Bish,

    Either I have spoken to you in person or I have spoken with someone with the same school of thought. You gave me the coolest dejavu!

    Geoff, I believe all of the points made by The Bish have legit roots. He’s not making this up. (and by legit, I don’t mean doctrinal, rather they are a legitimate part of certain schools of thought some of which were shared by the early brethren.)

    Comment by Manuel — December 4, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  95. It is literal and changed humankinds very DNA by eating of the fruit. The serpent however, is figurative.

    Comment by Marilee — January 15, 2012 @ 11:11 am

  96. Well thanks Marilee. I’m glad we finally have an authoritative answer to this question that has been lingering for thousands of years…

    Comment by Geoff J — January 16, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

  97. There is a specific problem in taking the Adam and Eve as literal. Unless you are willing to suspend the assumption that 5-6 thousand years is the time duration between now and then you are sort of stuck. Biblically and Mormonically, the time line of the world and future events is based on a millenial system, this is why the teaching exists that this is ‘the last dispensation’ (though this is a general consideration that this is either the last 1000 year period or the one prior to the last in which Christ will rule the earth) but regardless, this dicatates and has been widely accepted up until the 20th century that the earth is built upon this millenial cycle and thusly is only 5000+ years old, or better stated that only 5000+ years have passed since the Adam and Eve lived. This is a stumbling block for historians and literalists and for good reason. There is very little debate that early civilized man emerged on the scene no sooner than 10+ BC… which severally skews your date ranges. Immediately, we have people living and predating the timeline for Adam and Eve. Now you might find or create your own logical loop holes to support this like “oh the bible doesn’t say that no one else lived … or maybe those people weren’t god’s people ect.” But now you’re self interpreting the written account and have already suspended aspects of the literal argument at hand. So it is important if you are going to accept the literal that you accept it as is and without spicing it with your own notions, otherwise you don’t really believe the account as is.
    To compound that, historical evidence shows that Africa and the Middle East were the roots of earliest man and the earliest civilizations, giving way to eastern (eurasian) exploration much later which traveled through the baring straights to populate the americas. This is why DNA evidence shows asian/eurasian heritage in the Americas and not jewish ancestry. I bring this point up because in order for Eden to be in Missouri we would have to revisit almost all of accepted anthropological evidence and change its findings thusly. Now, I am the first to admit the vulnerability of scientific research and findings, so their is always a chance that some sort of evidence discovered that causes the history books to be rewritten. But again, if you are literalist you must accept the accounts and evidences as is, otherwise you are not actually taking it literally but figuratively. For Missouri to be the nest of human civilization or the place of the garden we have some severe barriers to overcome which cannot without suspending logic and the evidence and inserting in our own notions.
    In my opinion, it is more advantageous and a safer course (one that requires less defense) to take nearly all the scriptural accounts we have as figurative over factual, glean what parables you can and live your life accordingly. The likelihood of proving the questioned notions are not likely, and the more we learn the more we understand that humankind (communicable and socialized man) has existed for much longer than the bible/book of mormon, and his patterns don’t match up closely with two paternal guardians who gave birth to all of civilization.
    My last word would be to remember, Belief is that which is felt to be true or real but cannot be proven to others, knowledge can be. Let knowledge help you to form your beliefs, and in order to do that, you must first accept that your notions and preconceptions are wrong about everything. Just a few thoughts and since they are my own I accept that may be challenged and parts may be found erroneous. I only leave my comments as this is topic that is highly interesting on several levels. Thank you for making this an open forum.

    Comment by Brian — July 24, 2013 @ 8:30 am

  98. Brian:

    The Garden existed in Missouri, but Adam and Eve were kicked out to the East because the guardians were placed on the east side of the garden to keep them out. Apparently they were kicked out FAR to the east, from what is now North America all the way to Asia (the Earth was one land mass then). Modern scripture is clear that the earth, including all of human history, is limited to a mere 7,000 years. As of yet there is nothing we have to resolve the paradox between this idea and the apparent age of the earth.

    Concerning the topic, the garden story is both literal and symbolic. Literal in that the events and major features of the setting were real and actually occurred, but symbolic in its significance. For example, partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil may be symbolic of learning through experience in mortality, but a real act of sin/transgression was necessary to institute the fall to begin with. Why not set up that transgression to be something as trivial as eating a restricted fruit? The Lord associated this transgression with a more significant spiritual meaning. It’s like how the Lord used the actual sacrifices of a REAL animals to teach a greater lesson about the atonement of the Savior. Likewise, while the Garden of Eden represents the paradisaical state of the Terrestrial Earth, it was also the a real place ON that Earth where Adam dwelt.

    The Tree of Life is very real and its fruit tastes great!

    Comment by Eso — July 24, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

  99. By reading the writings of JS, BY, JT, WW, …
    we can get a more accurate picture of what happened …
    This earth was created near Kolob – a Celestial Sphere. Micheal brought all the plants and animals to this earth from another world(all plants and animals only multiply after their own kind – it is the only way)
    Michael brought one of his wives to this earth and they and the earth passed through the veil and moved to the Terrestial Sphere. Micheal and his wife became known as Adam and Eve (these being more roles than names – first man and mother of all living) Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit thus causing the fall to a Telestial Sphere and introducing disobedience, decay and death to the world. Adam and Eve partook of the fruits of this telestial earth, their bodies thus becoming mortal – their offspring ‘s bodies being created from the dusts of this now telestial earth, are mortal having the seeds of decay and death within them. After Adam and Eve’s time was up on this earth (having fulfilled their mission here) they returned to their home, A celestial world and partook of the fruits of that world thus purging their bodies of the seeds of decay and death and returning them to their immortal state. And yes, Micheal, the archangel (meaning the head resurrected being) is indeed the sire of Christ’s spirit and physical body. But he is not the figure Elohiem in the Garden. Elohiem is a word that means the committee or council of gods, or the one that represents such council. And in his case, the individual is Micheal’s father, Christs grandfather, who was the “Adam” of the world that Micheal and his wives now live on. Just as this is the world that Christ and his wives will live on. And he will choose his son to create a world that he will populate as an Adam. And his son will then redeem it. And the pattern will repeat, one generation of time or one eternal round after after another.

    Comment by Doug Hale — July 26, 2013 @ 8:11 am

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