Preface to "How Often Would I Have Gathered You"
During 2002, while reading the Old Testament as part of the [LDS] Church’s four-year scripture-study schedule, I was impressed that it would be very helpful to members of the Church if the wonderful stories from that great book of scripture were available in a simple, straightforward style consistent with the Latter-day Saint perspective. As this impression persisted, I felt inspired to undertake the project myself. And I can truthfully say that it has been a marvelous and exciting adventure.
Before I began writing, I thought there might be perhaps fifty or sixty good stories, but before I was through, I had written 229 stories, and I know that several more could have been found. Someone will surely ask why this or that story was not included, just as some will ask why some stories were included. In response to the latter question, I can only answer that every story was included because it is part of the Old Testament mosaic and provides important historical perspective, and not necessarily because of its inspirational or spiritual value. I trust that the overall effect of this collection of stories will be both inspirational and educational.
My stories are based on the King James Version of the Bible. And, insofar as possible, they are arranged in chronological sequence, beginning with the Grand Council in Heaven and continuing down through the return of the Jews from their Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem. Some of the books of the Old Testament—notably the literary writings and the books of the prophets—are not included in the scope of these stories merely because they do not contain stories.
During the writing process, I was blessed with abundant inspiration. I received critical and profound insights important to the various stories from unexpected sources. It was amazing how the project unfolded and progressed.
Most of the stories are quite short (with some notable exceptions, such as the stories of Job and Esther). In some cases, such as with the life of Samson, I took what could have been one very long story and created two or three shorter ones. I have made every effort to keep the stories simple, straightforward, and free from fictionalizing and embellishment. I have also tried to tell each story as the scriptures tell it while, at the same time, eliminating redundancy and cumbersome (and sometimes sordid) details. I have also chosen not to draw any morals or lessons from the stories, but rather to let them speak for themselves.
Where appropriate, the stories contain dialogue, seeking to be faithful to the scriptural message while carefully using modern expressions rather than the cryptic language of the seventeenth-century King James Version translators. The old-style pronouns (thee, thy, thou, and thine) relating to people are replaced with modern equivalents. However, the old-style pronouns have been retained and capitalized when they relate to Deity. Along with these, I have also retained the old-style verbs (wilt, shalt, canst, dost, goest, sayest, couldest, etc.) to match the pronouns. After careful and agonizing deliberation, I chose not to capitalize the pronouns he, him, and his as they relate to Deity, for I discovered early on that trying to do so was very confusing. No disrespect is intended.
Because the King James translators replaced the name Jehovah with “the Lord” (with Lord in small caps, as you see here), I have chosen, in most cases, to reinsert the name of Jehovah into my stories. One exception (and there are some others) was in the phrase “the house of the Lord” in reference to the temple. I kept this wording because the usage is so familiar. In some cases (such as in the Ten Commandments) this usage may seem strange to you, but I think you will also find it enlightening.
Because many people struggle with the pronunciation of biblical names and places, a pronunciation guide (with suggested pronunciations) is included in the back of the book. Maps are also included to help provide perspective. Two indexes are also included: a name index and a subject index. I believe these indexes enhance the value of the book as a reference source.
Where various weights and measures are included in a story, I have given metric equivalents (mostly in footnote references) for the benefit of readers outside the United States.
One area of interpretation that I did not attempt to deal with relates to numbers. When large numbers—especially as they concern the sizes of armies or populations—are found in the Old Testament, they should be viewed with some skepticism. Though the numbers used in these stories are exactly as they appear in the scriptures, you should remember that there was a tendency among many Old Testament writers to greatly exaggerate.
I have used footnotes extensively in these stories. Though many of these notes are not essential to the understanding of a story, I have tried to provide insights and salient background information. Because the individual stories were intended to stand on their own, the same footnotes (or similar variations) are repeated in several stories; there are also many footnote cross-references to related stories.
To enhance understanding, I have—in addition to the King James text—relied heavily on the study helps contained in the Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures, including footnote references, the Bible Dictionary, and the Joseph Smith Translation. I have also used the modern scriptures (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) to provide additional understanding and insight, where applicable. Some of the stories were taken entirely from these other scriptures—such as the stories relating to the Grand Council in Heaven, the council at Adam-ondi-Ahman, Moses’ vision on the mountain, etc.
I wish I could say that these stories are perfect, but I cannot. Unfortunately, the biblical record is not always clear. There are cases where the record is incomplete and many pertinent facts are missing so that the events seem illogical. But I have full confidence that at some future time, when our understanding is perfected and the full story is known, the truth will be clear and enlightening. In the meantime, I have attempted to fill a few such gaps.
Another source of possible imperfection in my stories is the case where separate accounts of an event were included in the writings of more than one Old Testament writer. Because some of these duplicate accounts differ in their details, I have made interpretative decisions in order to write the stories. However, I have tried, in most cases, to give footnote explanations for my interpretations. I have also tried to explain my reasoning (in the footnotes) when my conclusions differ from traditional interpretations. Wherever my interpretations may prove to be inaccurate, I take full responsibility, as I do for everything else you find here.
I do not intend that this book should replace or upstage the scriptures in any way. I hope, rather, that these stories will introduce the Old Testament, enhance the scriptural experience, and help you gain greater appreciation for the Old Testament canon. Where many of our friends of other faiths consider much of the Old Testament to be myth, the Latter-day Saints hold a different view. We believe that the Old Testament accounts are essentially literal and accurate, insofar as they are translated correctly (Articles of Faith 8).
I am grateful to all who have offered encouragement, insight, and help. They kept me on track and provided the impetus for me to complete it. Thomas G. Chapman, director of the LDS Institute of Religion in Santa Barbara, California (now in Boston, Massachusetts), was one who offered continual encouragement. Another person who had an influence on the project (though he did not know it) was S. Michael Wilcox. He gave me many significant insights as I attended his Old Testament class. Dana Pike provided useful information about pagan deities.
I express appreciation to Brad Burgon, the editor assigned by American Book Publishing to work with me in pulling everything together. His careful scrutiny and helpful suggestions have added much value to the book. I also appreciate the painstaking efforts of Bonnie Schenck Darrington, my copy editor, for urging me to clarify some important issues, and to Jana Rade for her magnificent book cover design.
I would also be remiss if I did not thank Net Ministries for granting permission for me to use their phonetic system in my pronunciation guide, to Abigdon Press for allowing me to use their Old Testament maps, and to Owen Richardson for his illustrations.
I have special appreciation for the two women in my life—both of whom have been English teachers. My first wife, Peggy, before her passing in 2003, read most of an early draft and offered valuable suggestions. My present wife, Patty, read and offered suggestions on a later draft.
And lastly, I am grateful to you, the reader, for your willingness to look at another view. I hope you will find it refreshing and the effort rewarding.