Back to Blogging (?)

It’s been on my mind for months now. This change in direction, change in career (and the anticipated change of pace that would come with it) would hopefully give me the time I’ve been craving to get back to expressing my thoughts in writing through blogging. I started this, my first blog, Heavenly Ascents, in 2008, when the Blogosphere was yet young, and blogged here quite regularly for years.

Tonight, when I finally scrounged up the time and courage to sit down at my computer and get onto my old blog, I was more than a bit surprised to find that my last post had been written five years ago. Five years ago? How is that possible? Five years sounds like such a long time. But I also felt a degree of puzzlement to think that I had written several posts that year, with all that I had going on at that time and so long after I had first launched Heavenly Ascents.

Now that my mind has settled a bit after all this contemplating and puzzling, I suppose I am simply content with the thought that I now feel free to express my mind as I wish, with no pressure to please, to impress, to “angle” for employment purposes — it’s just me sharing my thoughts, such as they are, on things that I enjoy talking about.

Let’s rewind a bit here. How do I find myself in my current circumstances — having my mind and keyboard freed up to reopen my blog? And why did I ever stop blogging anyways? I started Heavenly Ascents (if I remember the chronology correctly) about halfway through my Master’s degree program at Marquette University. I was studying Biblical Theology and was super excited to share with the world the amazing things (IMO) that I was learning in my classes — first and foremost, the mind-blowing material I was studying in my Apocalyptic Literature class from Dr. Andrei Orlov. My interest in his writings was one of the main reasons I had chosen to go to Marquette. I found what I was learning to be utterly fascinating and also faith-affirming. Whereas some of my colleagues found the apocalyptic genre to be confounding and essentially useless to their academic goals, I couldn’t get enough of it. Heavenly Ascents became a place to post my class notes, insights from seminars and conferences, and exciting tidbits from things that I was reading.

I continued to blog after I graduated from Marquette and plunged into PhD studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The intense workload of PhD research and writing eventually prevented me from being able to blog so much, although I continued to learn amazing things constantly. I probably owe the fact that I didn’t totally give up on blogging at the time to the great example of my PhD supervisor, Jim Davila, who was (and is) a prolific blogger, a pioneer in the virtual realm of religion/Bible blogs.

After earning my PhD in Divinity/Biblical Studies, I began teaching as an adjunct professor of religion in the Department of Religious Education at Brigham Young University. As I struggled to balance teaching, research, and trying to land a full-time position there, the time I was able to make for blogging increasingly began to wane. I’m sure I’ll write more, at some point, about my struggles to get ahead at BYU as I feel that I have a lot to get out of my system in that regard. It’s sufficient to say now that as fought to figure out what was wanted of me — including what I needed to say or do better, who I needed to please — in that department, to be hired as a full-time instructor, I began to feel that I needed to be more and more careful about what I wrote online, what kinds of arguments and discussions I allowed myself to get into, etc., and even what interests, perspectives, and persuasions I professed. After getting passed up a few times for the position that I had spent years preparing for (and yes, I did make the mistake of essentially putting all my eggs in the BYU basket), I suppose I began to be paranoid about how I was being perceived (but perhaps still not paranoid enough — more on that to come) and that led to me to being more and more conservative about what and how I posted — and I eventually blogged less and less.

After teaching part-time and doing extra research on the side for about four years, I was eventually hired for a full-time position, not as a professor for BYU, but as a research fellow for Book of Mormon Central ( This was in the last quarter of 2015, and by about this time, I had posted my last blog post. I did research and writing for BMC, a wonderful non-profit religious research organization, which I thoroughly enjoyed. But although I loved doing research on the Book of Mormon, a mighty pillar of my personal faith and devotion, my work was often quite distant from the material and interests that got me blogging in the first place. But perhaps more than that, I was so busy and overwhelmed with the enormity of the projects that I began to take on, together with my family (I have five children) and Church responsibilities (bishopric counselor, Sunday school teacher), that I really didn’t ever have time to even think much about blogging. In fact, over the last five years or so, I have virtually withdrawn from participating in any real time-consuming activities on the internet and social media. I felt that my work at BMC and other duties required and consumed any time that could have been spent freely sharing my thoughts about whatever I wanted to online.

Although I don’t yet feel that I have *tons* of time to spend on blogging, there have been some major changes in my life that make me feel that I am arriving at a point where I will have the freedom (of various types) to throw my hat back into the blogging ring. At the end of January of this year, after over four years with them, my managers at BMC let me know that they would not have the funding to continue to employ me. I would have a job until the end of February, but would then have to find something else. Before long, I found that my desperate job search was colliding with a global pandemic that was putting millions out of work and halting hiring processes everywhere I looked. It was quite a scary situation to be in, to say the least. I quickly realized that I had to broaden my job search beyond my chosen career path, beyond academia, and, basically, into the realm of “whatever the heck I can find.” After initially applying to a handful of academic positions, I began to turn to the source that had employed me when I first graduated from BYU, before I went back to school for graduate degrees — the US Federal Government. When so many employers in the private sector had to send people away, the needs of the US government, to a great degree, continued to function and hiring announcements (generally speaking) continued to be pushed through.

In the third month after I had begun my job search, after much prayer and well over 100 applications submitted, I was finally hired by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, as a Legal Specialist in their Benefits Law Group. I would have to pack up and move my family from our home, family, and friends in Utah and make our way to the Washington, D.C. area. But I was grateful to have a good, stable job. I was heartbroken to be leaving the field of religious studies that had been my life for so many years, but also looking forward with hope to new experiences and new adventures that the Lord has in store for me and my family.

Because we decided to settle down in Charles Town, West Virginia, over 60 miles from DC (for various reasons — topic for another day), I knew that I would have a couple of hours each day to read and write as I commuted to work on the train each day. Although that would seem, to some, to be an incredible waste of time, I was excited to finally get some time to read again (whatever I want, which hasn’t been the case for years) and to, perhaps, start blogging again. So far, because the coronavirus is still ravaging the countryside, I have been working from home. I have only taken the train into DC twice in the past month. As a result, my plans for blogging-while-commuting have largely gone unrealized. And with my work schedule plus a myriad of DIY home improvement projects we’ve taken on in our new house, it is only now, on July 20, 2020, that I have found a moment to sit down and create this blog post — and hopefully the first of many to come (although it has turned out to be so rambling and long-winded that anyone who manages to read it very possibly will not be interested in coming back for the sequels). If you have managed to stick with me to the end here, I hope to see you next time. I promise not to make this simply a diary but hope to return to sharing exciting (again, IMO) insights from wonderful things that I am reading and learning. I hope.

Published in: on July 21, 2020 at 6:32 am  Comments (2)  

Updated Temple Studies Bibliography with 8500+ Items

If you have not previously seen the incredible Temple Studies Bibliography put together by Dan Bachman at the Utah-based Academy for Temple Studies, you should seriously take a moment to check it out now.

The Temple Studies Bibliography is incredibly, unfathomably extensive, with over 8,500 items, including some 460 PhD dissertations — all related to the topic of temples.

The bibliography is now located at a new (and very attractive) website:

I highly recommend taking a look (and, even better, conducting extensive research using this site).

You may also want to check out Dr Shon Hopkin’s helpful review of the bibliography: “How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place”: A Review of Daniel W. Bachman,

“A Temple Studies Bibliography”

Congratulations to Dan Bachman, Donald Parry, Stephen Ricks, John Welch, and others who worked hard to put this bibliography together.

Published in: on October 6, 2015 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Another Important New Book by Andrei Orlov, "The Atoning Dyad: The Two Goats of Yom Kippur in the Apocalypse of Abraham"

Prolific author Andrei A. Orlov, Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University, has completed another exciting new book that is to be published by the prestigious biblical studies publisher, Brill, in the near future. (See here for updates on publication status.)

I have to say that I am very excited about this book as it will cover, among other things, two very important topics.

First, it will analyze the development of the atonement rituals of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) that involved the two goats, the one “for YHWH” and the other, the scapegoat, “for Azazel.” Orlov will look at a number of Jewish and Christian texts, following the application of this ritual tradition of the two goats as it is interpreted over time in the form of written narratives, from the story of Cain and Abel to that of Barabbas and Jesus and beyond.

This material will certainly be of interest to those looking to better understand the concept of the Atonement in the Scriptures, including the rituals of the Jerusalem Temple and how these were understood to play out in history and in people’s lives.

The second point of interest, for me, is that of Orlov’s continued exploration of the early Jewish text known as The Apocalypse of Abraham (ApAb). Orlov has been able to glean so much intriguing material from this text in previous publications and this book promises new perspectives and insights. He looks, here, into the imagery presented in ApAb that seems to depict Azazel, the leading demonic being, as the scapegoat, the one that is taken off into the desert and thrown into the abyss, and Abraham as the goat “for YHWH,” the goat that is sacrificed on the Day of Atonement.

Again, this is powerful stuff for those wanting to understand how later Jews understood the mechanics of the atonement rituals of the temple. It is apparent (my thoughts without the benefit of being able to read Orlov’s full research here) that Abraham is being presented as both the sacrificial goat and also the high priest that takes the goat’s blood (which should likely be understood as the high priest’s own blood) into the temple (the text presents Abraham entering into heaven).


Two Great Scholars Speak to Interpreter Gathering

I had the opportunity to be at a gathering for the Interpreter online journal early in August where scholars Margaret Barker and Stephen Webb addressed the group in a Q&A format. It was an intriguing discussion. Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar and founder of the Temple Study Group in England, has become a favorite among many Latter-day Saints for her exciting work on the temple, pre-exilic Israelite religion, and the connections between early Israelite temple worship and Christian theology. Stephen Webb may not currently be as familiar to Latter-day Saints, but he certainly should be. He has done a lot of research on Joseph Smith and, fortunately (I won’t say “surprisingly” because it shouldn’t be surprising that those who study the life and teachings of the Prophet come to admire him), really admires him.

The video is great and I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.

Important New Monograph by Andrei A. Orlov, "Divine Scapegoats"

Andrei A. Orlov, Divine Scapegoats: Demonic Mimesis in Early Jewish Mysticism (Albany: SUNY, 2015) 352 pages, ISBN13: 978-1-4384-5583-9

Divine Scapegoats is a wide-ranging exploration of the parallels between the heavenly and the demonic in early Jewish apocalyptical accounts. In these materials, antagonists often mirror features of angelic figures, and even those of the Deity himself, an inverse correspondence that implies a belief that the demonic realm is maintained by imitating divine reality. Andrei A. Orlov examines the sacerdotal, messianic, and creational aspects of this mimetic imagery, focusing primarily on two texts from the Slavonic pseudepigrapha: 2 Enoch and the Apocalypse of Abraham. These two works are part of a very special cluster of Jewish apocalyptic texts that exhibit features not only of the apocalyptic worldview but also of the symbolic universe of early Jewish mysticism. The Yom Kippur ritual in the Apocalypse of Abraham, the divine light and darkness of 2 Enoch, and the similarity of mimetic motifs to later developments in the Zohar are of particular importance in Orlov’s consideration.


Recent Resources, Books and Articles of Interest for Ancient Studies and Scripture 1/12/15

This is my second post (in what may become a regular series) of recent items (with links) I have been made aware of which may be of interest to those who are into Ancient Studies, Biblical Studies, Archaeology, Philosophy and related topics.


Hermeneutics of Biblical Theology, History of Religion and the Theological Substance of Two Testaments,” by Eckart Otto

New Reviews on Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Solomon in Chronicles and Ben Sira: A Study in Contrasts

“‘Biblical Studies: Fifty Years of a Multi-Discipline’, Currents 13:34-66,” by Philip Davies

“A Biblical Nota Bene on Philosophical Inquiry,” by Dru Johnson

“Jericho as Jubilee: Ritual Symbolism in the MT of Joshua 6, Draft Version,” by Raymond Van Leeuwen


Published in: on January 12, 2015 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Harold B. Lee Library Resources for Ancient Studies, Ancient Scripture and Philosophy

The BYU Harold B. Lee Library has some great study guides and links to resources that are very helpful for anyone pursuing Ancient Studies, Ancient Scripture, Medieval Studies, Philosophy, and other related topics.  If you have not seen these online study guides before, you should definitely check them out.  The BYU Library has all kinds of online resources that you may not be aware of.

HBLL Subject Librarian Ryan Combs has put together these resources in one place that you can find here:

Published in: on January 5, 2015 at 8:29 am  Comments (1)  
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Recent Resources, Books and Articles of Interest for Ancient Studies and Scripture

A list of recent items (with links) I have been made aware of which may be of interest to those who are into Ancient Studies, Biblical Studies, Archaeology and related topics.


Robert Hinckley, Adam, Aaron, and the Garden Sanctuary

Yona Sabar, The Book of Daniel in a Neo-Aramaic Translation

Clinton Chisholm, “The Bible, Scholars, and Scholarly Crap”

Dieter Roth, Chris Keith, Mark, Manuscripts and Monotheism: Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado

Chris Mooney, “Science Explains Parting of Red Sea”

Benjamin Ivry, “Reconsidering Louis Ginzberg’s Legendary ‘Legends of the Jews'”

James Charlesworth, “Has Lost Gospel Been Found Proving Jesus Married Mary of Migdal?

R. Timothy McLay, The Temple in Text and Tradition: A Festschrift in Honour of Robert Hayward

Qumran/Second Temple Judaism:

Michael Stone, Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: New Developments and Insights

Annette Yoshiko Reed, “Revealed Literature in the Second Century B.C.E.: Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Qumran, and the (Pre)History of the Biblical Canon”

Annette Yoshiko Reed, “Interrogating ‘Enochic Judaism’: 1 Enoch as Evidence for Intellectual History, Social Reality, and Literary Tradition”

Pieter B. Hartog, “Pesher as Commentary”

Annette Yoshiko Reed, “Heavenly Ascent, Angelic Descent, and the Transmission of Knowledge in 1 Enoch 6–16″

Andrei A. Orlov, Divine Scapegoats: Demonic Mimesis in Early Jewish Mysticism


Published in: on January 2, 2015 at 12:57 am  Comments (1)  
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Ancient Jewish Traditions Concerning Angels (Draft for Ensign)

I recently posted on Facebook regarding a small contribution that I made to December’s Ensign magazine.  I had been invited a number of months ago to contribute to an article on angels that has now been published in this issue as “Angels We Have Heard.” The section based on information I provided is “Angels in the Bible and Jewish Tradition” towards the end.

As I explained on Facebook, the small section that appears in the Ensign is actually just a small part of what I originally wrote in my first draft.  There were sections of this first draft that probably would have been too foreign or confusing in such a summarized format to have been helpful for most readers.  I am glad that at least some of the info I provided was found to be useful.

For those who expressed interest in seeing the whole draft, I am posting it here.


The 2014 Temple on Mt Zion Videos Are Here!!

For any of you who were not able to make it to the Temple on Mt Zion Conference held on October 25, 2014 at BYU, and have not yet seen these videos posted on the Interpreter website (they put them up earlier this week), here is the link to see them:

Here is the video of my own presentation.

If you saw the slides from the presentation, which I posted recently, you will see that I don’t get through even half of them. Oh well, a full, written version of my ideas will eventually be available in the published proceedings of the conference.

Published in: on November 30, 2014 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment