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Being a tourist among Old Testament culture

Elder Holzapfel's perspective changed when Italian food and sighteseeing replaced burgers and basketball.The young Mormon missionary planned to spend preparation day shooting hoops and eating at Wimpy's Burger, but his senior companion had other ideas. We can do that in America, he was told.And with that, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel began to understand the people he was serving in Italy.\"I was interested in their world,\" he said. \"When you understand their world, you actually end up appreciating them more.\"Years later, Holzapfel applied that experience to his study of a vastly different place.The Old Testament is full of complex language, jarring stories and cultural unfamiliarties. There are tyrants, wild beasts, blood sacrifice, slavery and prostitution.It's a world unto itself, and not an easy one to comprehend. But it is possible to understand and even love the Old Testament, and those who dismiss it deny themselves a gospel perspective unique to this ancient text.\"The Old Testament is a foreign country, and to go there you have to know a few things,\" Holzapfel said.__IMAGE1__Being a polite tourist means understanding the people and the world they live in, Hozapfel says.And for the people of the Old Testament, life wasn't easy.They lived under totalitarian rule and labored from morning to night six days a week. There were roaming wild beasts, famine and drought. They lacked basic medical care and experienced high infant mortality rates. Slavery was widespread.Holzapfel describes these hardships in a book he recently co-authored, \"Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament.\"The book also details another aspect of Old Testament life that is foreign to modern North Americans — worship through blood sacrifice. For people who buy their hamburger at a grocery store, it's difficult to imagine a temple looking like a slaughterhouse, Holzapfel says. But sacrifice is under the surface of every line of the Old Testament.\"It's a completely different sense of how you worship God,\" said Holzapfel, a professor of church history and doctrine at BYU.Accounts of sacrifice, killing, deception, incest and punishment can make the Old Testament difficult to grapple with. But ancient history and culture provide context for understanding the events and the gGod of the Old Testament, says author Jeffrey M. Bradshaw.\"The more I've learned and really understood the culture and the history of that period of time, the more it's come home to me that this is the same God and the same Jesus Christ that's acting in the New Testament,\" said Bradshaw, who wrote a 1,000-page commentary on the Book of Moses called \"In God's Image and Likeness.\"It's also important to remember that \"ancient Israelites and their contemporaries were real individuals,\" Holzapfel's book reads. \"They had similar emotions, hopes, dreams, romantic desires and concerns as modern people here.\"As different as the two worlds are, we can relate to the people of the Old Testament.\"It's not just stories about grand landscapes of peoples and events, but really stories of families and how they managed the problems that came up in their lives,\" Bradshaw. said. \"We ought not to dismiss these stories as being simplistic and naive. ... There is a true literary and spiritual power to the scriptures.\"James Ferrell understands why some people neglect the Old Testament.It's complicated, technical and full of old words. The organization isn't always chronological. And the book's thickness doesn't translate well to the texting age.He once felt the same way.\"I think I was afraid of the book or intimidated by it,\" Ferrell said.But a simple church calling changed all that. Not only does he now love the Old Testament, Ferrell is a bestselling author of books inspired by the ancient text.In December 1997, Ferrell was asked to be a gospel doctrine teacher for the upcoming year. The course of study was the Old Testament.\"In a way, it forced me into a book that I had too long avoided, and it transformed me,\" he said.Ferrell immersed himself in Old Testament study and discovered that the text was brimming with similitudes of Christ — Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedek, Joseph, Moses and all the way down the line. He saw the Savior's story foretold through the entirety of the text.By asking the right questions, he uncovered new layers of meaning.\"(It) lit my soul on fire,\" he said. \"I've never really been the same since in terms of my passion for the gospel.\"Ferrell would study, teach every other Sunday, then go home to his computer and type up everything that \"captured\" him. His writings eventually inspired \"The Peacegiver,\" a Deseret Book best-seller, and the recently released \"The Hidden Christ.\"The Old Testament gave him a gospel foundation.\"That experience transformed my understanding of the gospel at the deepest levels,\" he said. \"It's like someone lifted up that house and put a foundation beneath it while I was in it. And it was a foundation I didn't realize I was missing. (It) strengthened every board in the house, every joint in the house, and then it sort of rebuilt the house in all kinds of amazing ways.\"\"I'd never understood how much I was missing.\" If we dismiss the Old Testament, we miss a lot.The ancient text teaches about the Creation, Fall, Atonement, covenants, patriarchal order, temple ordinances, priesthood lineage and the origin of the law that defines modern Western democracies.Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were swimming in the Old Testament, but modern Mormons sometimes don't get near the water, Holzapfel says.\"We have moved away from that, and it's not necessarily good news,\" he said. \"We are biblically illiterate.\"Both the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are \"saturated with Old Testament phrases,\" Holzapfel says. Readers can miss nuances in those scriptures if they're not familiar with the Old Testameant.In the Book of Mormon, Nephi references the Exodus. The Savior chastens the Nephites for not reading Isaiah. Book of Mormon authors wrote as if readers were familiar with the Old Testament record, Holzapfel says.\"The Lord assumes that you have been part of this dialogue,\" he said. \"I think it's a dangerous proposition to say the Book of Mormon is all I need when the Book of Mormon assumes you're reading the Old Testament.\"Holzapfel calls the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt the \"quintessential story from the past that shows how God can intervene in our lives.\" He also says the Old Testament concept of everyone being equal before the law is among ancient texts. Even kings were criticized for unrighteousness.\"That's the gift that the Israelites gave the world,\" he said.In ancient times, a scroll of scripture would have cost between two and six months salary for the average laborer. Owning one would have \"never entered their minds,\" Holzapfel's book reads.For us, a copy of the Bible is inexpensive and available — about $8 at distribution centers.Holzapfel recommends stepping away from the distractions of this world on occasion and acquainting ourselves with the \"amazing treasure of stories\" in the Old Testament.\"With so many competing voices ... a chance for us to stop for a few moments, unplug the headset and contemplate these timely but timeless stories that have been preserved, gives us a chance to get our bearings again.\"