Monday, January 9, 2012

mhm's review of W. Cleon Skousen's "Thousand Year Series".

Okay, this is old LDS commentary on the Old Testament. Skousen started work on it back in the 1930's. It reads like an Institute of Religion instructor's notes. Each chapter has discussion questions at the beginning, footnotes at the end, and each book has a lengthy index.

In "The First Two Thousand Years", Skousen covers the Creation through the life of Abraham and includes excerpts from the LDS scriptures The Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrine and Covenants to cover what has been revealed about God's Plan of Salvation and the time before the Earth was created when Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven. A couple of assumptions Skousen makes did not set well with me, mostly because the scriptures are not clear on them and thus I put them under the category of speculation: e.g., that Adam was very picky about who was given the priesthood after Cain murdered his brother Abel. Skousen says Adam waited to see who was worthy and often didn't ordain future sons and grandsons until they were well into adulthood. I think our account of Genesis is by no means exhaustive and we may only have the record of those sons/grandsons of Adam who not only had the priesthood but also had leadership callings. Certainly nothing worth quibbling about, but just a word to those who want to use Skousen's commentary that praying for knowledge and confirmation of the truth are essential to any scripture study effort.

Because Skousen wanted to go through Biblical history chronologically, he also included a brief portion to the account of the Jaredites found in the Book of Mormon, since their people left the Tower of Babel at the time God confounded the language of the people building it. So although Skousen focuses mostly on the Bible, he inserts the history of the peoples of the Book of Mormon where their stories intersect with those of the Bible.

In "The Third Thousand Years", Skousen covers the life of Abraham's son Isaac through the life of Moses. Here much of the book is devoted to explaining the Mosaic law, it's sacrifices, it's statutes and how spiritually immature the Children of Israel were when coming out of slavery in Egypt. You would think that seeing the Red Sea part for you would be enough to convince people that Moses was who he said he was and God was serious about raising up a righteous nation. Just proves that miracles don't mean a thing when it comes to changing one's spirituality.

In "The Fourth Thousand Years", the time of Joshua's leadership of the Children of Israel in the Promised Land until the final prophets of the Old Testament is discussed. We hear about the rise of Israel and the problems that come from mixing idol worship with the true religion. We see how Israel went from judges to kings to being subjugated by foreign powers because of slothful attention and preparation on the part of the leaders and the people. This was in a way, the most useful volume, because it helps to sort out all the political leaders and wars so that one could actually differentiate between one era and another. The pattern was boringly familiar, (Israel is righteous for a time with a righteous king, another king comes to the throne that starts idol worship, the people follow the king into sin, there are wars with neighbors or civil wars, prophets predict calamity, sometimes calamity is averted but most times it is not, the people repent when they hit bottom and it starts all over again) but at least it's a little easier to keep things straight. Skousen uses references from the Biblical scholars of his time to fill in other parts so the reader understands what was going on elsewhere in the world (Assyria and Bablyon, Egypt and Greece, and so on.) As long as the reader remembers that Biblical scholarship has changed quite a bit since the series was published, then some of the more speculative notions can be weeded out.

For those who struggle with the Old Testament, this series might be sufficient to help sort things out, but there are probably other commentaries that might be more accurate when it comes to the more historical/archealogic research that could be considered when making a deep study of the Bible. Parents don't have to worry too much about teens wanting to read this stuff. It's dry. It's about the scriptures. Even though the sexual exploits of King David and some of the gruesome details of idol worship are briefly discussed, there is nothing terribly graphic. It's not light reading as far as the number of pages is concerned but it is meant for the adult who wishes a clearer understanding of the Old Testament beyond all the "begats". Of course if you just need something to cure insomnia, the series will do just fine.

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