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FPR posted Religion 100, some related thoughts on the LDS institutional approach to religious education.

Here's a quote from Millet's article: "I candidly admit to caution rather than eagerness when it comes to applying many of the principles of biblical criticism to the Book of Mormon." That sounds like part of a general approach applying critical thinking to biblical texts and history but not to the texts and history of LDS scripture. Or applying critical methods to other Christian denominations, but not to Mormonism. That sort of bracketing doesn't do much to advance religious understanding.

So is the gist that Millet may not be a historicity Nazi but is still willing to drive the church into a dead end? I wonder how much of his bible he's ripped out as worthless? This reminds me of those who would drive the church into an anti-evolution ditch.

Dave,
This is a perfect blog post. Nothing more to add.

I guess what Dr. Millet needs to realize is that while the "historical fiction" approach may diminish the authority and sacredness of the BOM in his eyes, the all or none approach has real consequences.

If you are going to say there can be no middle ground, then when your Grandson grapples with tough historical issues that come to his attention in college, and then becomes virulently anti-Mormon, He is really just following what he was taught to its logical conclusion.

It seems they are saying if you can't believe in the historicity, then leave. The church is a fraud, and if you stick to your convictions you will fight the Church hard, exposing it and rousing persecution.

The sad thing is I am saying this as one who does hold to a basic view of BOM historicity. You are correct, what are we to do about seeming anachronisms or evidences of use of the KJV in parts of the translation? Millet's POV destroys any possibility of navigating these issues. The middle road also make the line between apostasy and faithfullness uncomfortably gray I suppose. Maybe that is what is behind it.

I think that part of the question has to do with how willing we congregants are to accept a version of God who engages in pious fraud. The early stories about the world seem to be written in a language heavily reliant on mythological speech and context(ie. it was never meant to be taken as objective history). The parables are explicitly described as parables. It is when God says that he is writing history, and the document is making broad claims about being a divinely directly history, that you start to get into problems regarding "pious fraud".

For me personally, I have become a light expansionist, but I find myself unwilling to believe that God is willing to engage in pious fraud. So, I am having to play one side of the other for a time while I work out my beliefs regarding what is original and what isn't within the Book of Mormon.

Your last two questions in paragraph two . . . these are good. If one believes in the absolute historicity of the Book of Mormon, he or she must conclude that I am not a Christian. BYU prof. Don Parry, whom I heard last week, logical concludes that I am believing false teaching.

Yet if one believes in the full historicity of the Bible, it should be obvious the tension that would be created in believing the full historicity of the Book of Mormon.

And sometime, I will need to get back with you on biblical cosmology.

Have a good weekend, Dave. Stay warm. We are living in snow here in southeastern Idaho.

"Joseph Smith... was influenced by nineteenth-century American culture in rendering its message...

"It is likely that Joseph Smith expanded the Book of Mormon... Some doctrines in the book's pre-Christian sections are simply too developed and too characteristic of the nineteenth century...

"The expansion theory of the Book of Mormon has far-reaching implications... The model of revelation I propose here is that of creative co-participation... What we have therefore is neither an ancient document nor a translation... Joseph Smith imposed an interpretation on the text which was foreign to that ancient text...

The Book of Mormon reflects the influence of Joseph Smith's earliest belief structure... largely derived from... nineteenth-century Protestantism... Later revelations, however, necessitated so much revision... that the assumptions... reflected in the Book of Mormon were largely abandoned..." (Blake T. Ostler [LDS], Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1987, page 66-67)

Todd, can you come up with a clear historicity issue in the Bible that, if accepted, would lead one to reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon? I am sure that they are there; it is just that most LDS people operate from a position where they believe that they accept the historicity of most of both books. It would be instructive to look at something that you consider contradictory.

Aaron,
you realize that Blake's theory implies both the actual existence of an ancient text and divine involvement in translation, right?

I don't see how linking to Blake's theory helps your cause.

Aaron, thanks for the excerpts. HP, I don't know whose cause the expansion theory helps. No one except Blake is really excited about it, but everyone keeps talking about it.

Dave, to be fair, the problem of bringing up parables is the issue of what is grounded. Parables work because they are teaching a point. But they don't ground the point. At best they bring to clarity and memory a principle we already accept or get us to think about an issue so as to find answers elsewhere.

Historicity is important precisely because it grounds certain events and actions. Thus if the resurrection of Jesus in Palestine somewhere around 33 AD is a myth then a lot logically falls out of that.

The issue of the OT is more problematic simply because Mormons already have good reasons to distrust it. We have Joseph's actions in the JST. But also the prophecies of Nephi and so forth. Add in the late date when it was compiled, ample evidence of bringing in disparate sources, and (from a LDS POV) the lack of prophetic oversight in the compilation and it makes the entire project somewhat distrustworthy.

That doesn't make it unvaluable. But it does change our stance towards it.

There is, however, a big difference between acknowledging historic inaccuracies - perhaps even grave ones- and saying it's all fiction.

As to the OT and historical grounds. What is of necessity grounded in the OT? Well probably Abraham to make sense of the Abrahamic promise. If you accept prophecies of the last days then the return of the City of Enoch seems to pre-suppose such a city. However both of those are grounded in later LDS scripture.

So one has to ask what essentially is grounded in the OT for Mormons? I can't think of much.

Contrast this with say the D&C or the Book of Mormon where a lot was grounded. If, hypothetically speaking, there was no Joseph Smith and the D&C was all written around 1894 by Wilford Woodruff surely that would change how we view our faith. What is odd to me is that some don't see the parallel of this with the Book of Mormon.

The issue isn't inerrancy of course (which no one in the debate accepts), or even our evidence for historicity (obviously there's a lot more for the D&C than the BoM) but rather the issue is the logical implications of historicity. Something I think many want to avoid.

I think that part of the question has to do with how willing we congregants are to accept a version of God who engages in pious fraud.

I agree completely. If one is willing to treat the BoM as fiction yet give it theological prominence, exactly how far away are we from young earth creationists who say God created the world in 7 days but simply made it appear like evolution took place.

Clark,
I'm surprised at your position. IMHO, Genesis is the most valuable book and yet is filled with allegory. Seems to be G-d's way. Is the symbolic nature of temple instruction bogus too?

While I lean towards BofM historicity, what's the setting? Malaysia? Central America? Upper NY State? It seems BKPesque to risk driving the church into a brick wall that will leave only a few irrational blind faithers if the BofM turns out to be 100% allegory.

Steve, note I didn't say unvaluable. I said, "that doesn't make it unvaluable. But it does change our stance towards it."

Dave, this is a great post. I'd be curious to hear or read somewhere what your views on BOM historicity are. If not literalist all-or-nothing, if not Expansionist, then what? Pious Fraud? Or the opposite, Honest but Deluded? Con-Artist?

"I think that part of the question has to do with how willing we congregants are to accept a version of God who engages in pious fraud."

This is an impossible proposition. How then does one distinguish between God's fraud (good) and regular fraud (bad)? I'd be far more willing to accept a version of men/prophets who engage in pious fraud. If both sides of the veil engage in fraud (Man and the Heavens), how can there be *any* hope of discovering any kind of truth?

Matt, I don't have a short answer to the historicity question. Does anyone?

Personally, I'm inclined to see historicity as a separate, self-contained issue rather than as one that should be used as a lynchpin on which hangs the Church as an institution or one's personal religious convictions. Just because Paul didn't write Ephesians doesn't make it a "pious fraud." That Matthew borrowed (plagiarized?) freely from Mark and Q doesn't make Matthew a defective or phony text. Why should the Book of Mormon be any different?

I know that many LDS commentators make Book of Mormon historicity the LDS equivalent of biblical inerrancy. I think they're making unwarranted assumptions. They've done this before and been wrong. Plural marriage was once thought to be an essential doctrine. Priesthood restrictions were once thought to be an essential part of LDS doctrine. So I think history shows that one shouldn't go around making statements of the form, "X is an essential LDS doctrine."

Actually, in some ways, an Ephesians by a non-Pauline author is a pious fraud. The issue is that this doesn't lessen its value to us.

However, if the Book of Mormon, which explicitly says it is the work of ancient men and spends a good deal of time engaged in explaining the mechanics of ancient men and which was then translated solely by divine revelation, turned out to be a pious fraud, what would that make the God we worship?

I think that there has to be a core of Book of Mormon historicity, much as I think there has to be a core of Biblical historicity. That said, I don't have a particular need for the telling as we have it to be accurate to reality, much as I don't expect the Bible to provide us with the same.

I actually combined two things in my comment #15 -- opinions relative to BOM historicity (i.e. "Literalist: or "All or Nothing") and opinions relative to Jospeh Smith (i.e. "Pious Fraud," "Honest but Deluded," "Con-Artist"). Although "pious fraud" could, I guess, be applied to either a person or a text like the BOM. Maybe religious fiction or spiritual fiction is a better description of the BOM than pious fraud or honest but deluded.

I think most Mormons (and I'd guess, General Authorities) see historicity as inextricably tied with not only personal testimony but also the truthfulness of the text. Maybe not the "lynchpin" per se, but *not* a "separate, self-contained" issue either.

However, I think for a minority of Mormons (and I expect the number or percent to grow over the coming years), a separate/self-contained approach to the BOM (separating historicity from, say, doctrine, or spiritual message) is just the kind of model one will need to adopt if one wants to remain an active and fully engaged member of the Church. There are certain things one can personally let go of (i.e. quietly disbelieve) and still remain "Mormon," but the Book of Mormon is not one of them.

This discussion reminds me a little bit of an interesting Sunstone Symposium session last summer where John-Charles Duffy talked about a modernist vs post-modernist approach to the Book of Mormon. His post-modernist approach is similar to your separate/self-contained approach and an olive branch for conflicted and/or hurting Mormons raised on an all-or-nothing approach to the BOM who can no longer ignore what they believe to be materially significant historicity issues.

Comment #8

HP, coming back to this thread, I noticed your comment. Because of the lack of time, let me just quickly ask, do you believe that in history Jesus personally baptized people? Joseph Smith crossed out the “not” in John 4:2. Therefore, do LDS believe the “not” in the verse is a historical inaccuracy that needs to be removed in order to bring about Bible and LDS doctrinal compatibility?

Secondly, I don’t know how well liberal scholarship today accepts the historicity (is this for real?) of the “whistling for bees” among the eighth century B.C. Assyrian empire that I have been reading about in Isaiah. But Isaiah, in analogy, speaks of God hissing, whistling for the Assyrians. Yet the BoM in contrast speaks of hissing for the house of Israel.

I am sure there are reams of paper written on both of these topics. But Joseph’s translation swirling around the Bible verses that I am studying, come the quickest to my mind. Thanks for asking. Sometime in the future, you ought to do a post on Bible and BoM historicity.

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