Exploring Mormon Thought: Of God and Gods by Blake Ostler (part 1)

Blake kindly sent me his third book in his Exploring Mormon Thought series.  I have the first two books on my shelf. 

So far, I have read the preface and the first chapter of this third book.

Blake opens up with a clear, succinct ambition in his preface (dated February 9, 2008):

My project has been a rescue operation to save the heart of God’s revelation to the Hebrews from the Greek mind (ix).

He critiques “the tradition”.  And what is it?

The tradition is defined by the commitment that there is only one possible being who is God because God created everything that is not God out of nothing (2).

Did the founding LDS prophet, Joseph Smith, accept “the tradition”?

Joseph Smith expressly rejected both the view of creation out of nothing in which this web of metaphysical commitments is grounded and the logical conclusion that follows that there can be at most one God who creates everything else.  Thus, Joseph Smith rejected the tradition’s most foundational claim or what I shall refer to as “metaphysical monotheism” (2).

Joseph Smith clearly declared a number of propositions near the end of his life.  Explained by Blake, here is the first religious claim:  “The creation occurred by organizing the world not “from nothing” but from preexisting matter.” 

In the first major section in chapter 1, “Creation by Organization of Matter”,  Blake shares an excerpt from the preaching of Joseph in the King Follett Discourse:

The word ‘create’ came from the word BARA; it does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize, the same as a man would organize materials to build a ship.  Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos–chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. . . .

And in building groundwork or fortifying this audacious claim, Blake utilizes at least a dozen sources:  (1) James Atwell – “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1“, (2) E. A. Speiser and the Enuma elish, (3) Rashi, (4) Luis Stadelmann and his book The Hebrew Conception of the World, (5) Umberto Cassuto, (6) Harper’s Bible Commentary, (7) Bernhard Anderson, (8) Ronald Simkins, (9) Robert B. Coote and David Robert Ord and their book, In the Beginning: Creation and the Priestly History, (10)  evangelical Paul Seely (and to think that Blake has on the same page an illustration from the book, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals: The Case Against Evangelical Rationalism by the famed University of Idaho philosophy professor Nicholas F. Gier),  (11)  Jon Levenson, and (12) ANE creation accounts.

Read Paul Copan.

Read FAIR.

Read Lehi’s Library. (To both FAIR and Lehi – Isn’t it James E. Atwell?)

Read James Patrick Holding of Teckton.

And read The Yellow Dart with his ongoing series.



  1. Hi Todd. No, I am not James E. Atwell. I’m just a young Latter-day Saint trying to keep up with LDS scholarship!

    I am enjoying Ostler’s 3rd volume as well, it has been a great read so far.

  2. Welcome James to HI4LDS. My engagement with this book might be throughout the year. I am slow. Just ask the yellow dart.

  3. Creation from preexisting matter

    Second Question(s): Why does Blake say that in light of the ancient Near Eastern texts, this is the “scholarly consensus regarding the most ancient Israelite beliefs”? Scholarly consensus of all? Which scholars are considered to have the authority and rights to Genesis truth claims?

  4. Background Sidenote: Northern Idaho Fireworks on Trinitarianism

    Unitarian Nicholas Gier has had his skirmishes with conservative evangelical Doug Jones . . .


    and Doug Wilson. But evidently Blake likes the libertarian philosophy of Nicholas and how he argues that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo charges God with malicious evil.

    But we will get into Trinitarianism in upcoming posts on this book.

  5. Third Question: Blake argues for Genesis 1:1 to be in the temporal construction. On page 9, he writes, “The closest parallel account to Genesis 1 is Genesis 2. It shows that the temporal clause is precisely the structure used to begin creation accounts in the Hebrew mindset.”

    Blake claims that “God created by organizing a preexisting chaos.” At the bottom of page 9, he quotes Umberto Cassuto on the “arrangement of chaos.”

    But did Umberto Cassuto believe that Genesis 1:1 should be translated as a temporal clause and not standing independent? And if he didn’t, what would be his arguments contra Blake’s notion that the traditional view is wrong?

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