« We're All Middle-Way Mormons | Main | Scriptural Skills: What Are They and Can They Be Taught? »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Okay, I found another mention in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, under the Bible section of "Jesus Christ in the Scriptures":

THE HISTORICAL JESUS. Latter-day Saints take the biblical message about Jesus literally (see Jesus Christ: Ministry of Jesus Christ). The historical Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible: the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh, born of the Virgin mary in Bethlehem, baptized by John the Baptist. He performed a variety of miracles, was a teacher of the gospel who occasionally spoke in parables, and "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). He chose twelve apostles, organized a church, gathered many followers, and was rejected by the Jewish rulers. His attitudes toward Samaritans, women, political leaders (e.g., Herod, Caesar), ritual law, and prayer were rather revolutionary for his day. He suffered at Gethsemane, bled at every pore, was crucified, died, was resurrected from the dead, and subsequently ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Latter-day Saints consider both the historical portion of the record of the life of Jesus, and the prophetic portion, to be accurate. The promises that this same Jesus will come again in glory, in person to judge the world, then reign on the earth as King of Kings, are future realities that are taken literally.

Is this post about the The Historical Jesus or is it about the Apocalyptic Jesus? If the former I would say Mormonism is skeptical of the secularism of Historical Jesus research even if it shares anti-Biblical inerrancy and traditionalist views. This makes it difficult to engage in the otherwise noteworthy literature on the subject because of faith issues. Mormonism would have to develop its own approach without rejecting the miraculous. My own blog started with a discussion on the problems and promises of the historical Jesus narratives. I don't think it would be a mix of water and oil, so much as keeping each to a respectable distance.

On the other hand, I know that Hugh Nibley wrote an article about Matthew 24 and Jesus' teachings about the end of the world. He compared the KJV chronology with the JST chronology to argue that it is really about the apostasy and restoration before his return. It might have been in his Pearl of Great Price lectures. I think such a study from a Mormon point of view would be of great worth, but again it would be far more devotional.

Robert Millet has a direct response in Historicity and the Latter-Day Saint Scriptures, from the Religious Studies Center, 2001, an essay called "The Historical Jesus: A Latter-Day Saint Perspective."

Daniel Peterson has occasionally addressed the Jesus Seminarians in introductions in the FARMS Review. It was one of those that prompted me to read Timothy Johnson's books some years back.

Also, the forthcoming BYU Documentary Jesus (starting this Sunday night) is, as I understand, a direct response to the Jesus of History approach.

A chapter in John Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount, "Jesus and the Composition" also addresses such issues. I expect the most recent version, The Sermon on the Mount and the Temple, has a similar chapter.

Also, FWIW, my FAIR essay on "Biblical Keys for Discerning True and False Prophets" has a section called "Jesus and Joseph Smith: Context and Perception" that draws on "Jesus In Recent Research" by John McDade, delivered at the Catholic Theological Association Conference 1998, published in The Month (December 1998), 495-505, citing W.R.Telford, ‘Major Trends and Interpretative Issues in the Study of Jesus’ in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, eds. B.Chilton & C.A.Evans (E.J.Brill, 1994), pp33-74.

One quote from Professor John McDade:

There is then a radical dependence between the reconstructed Jesus and the reconstructed context/model: how the context and social model are understood determines how Jesus is understood. ‘Determines’ is not too strong a word, for one of the problems with this approach is that the grid of social and economic context is such a strong factor it can inhibit responsible handling of the actual textual evidence we have for Jesus.

That compares with Richard Bushman's take on Joseph Smith biographers at the Library of Congress in 2005:

As you can imagine, the context in which he is placed profoundly affects how people see the prophet, since the history selected for a subject profoundly colors everything about it. Is he a money digger like hundreds of other superstitious Yankees in his day, a religious fanatic like Muhammad was thought to be in Joseph Smith’s time, a prophet like Moses, a religious revolutionary like Jesus? To a large extent, Joseph Smith assumes the character of the history selected for him. The broader the historical context, the greater the appreciation of the man. If Joseph Smith is described as the product of strictly local circumstances--the culture of the Burned-Over District, for example--he will be considered a lesser figure than if put in the context of a Muhammad or Moses.

Kevin Christensen
Bethel Park, PA

Thanks for the comments, Kevin. [I added a link to your FAIR post and formatted the quotes.] I'll have to run down a copy of Millet's article.

I've been thinking about the historical Jesus a lot lately, especially as the Christmas holiday approaches. I wonder was he really who the Bible and Book of Mormon say he was or is he a legend? This is mainly because in the last year or two I have gone through this process with the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith / history of the church. My perspective and beliefs have completely shifted.

All I know is the Bible was written thousands of years ago by some Jewish guys. Then their writing was translated into Greek and then translated into English. There are probably lots of words and phrases that changed in that process, and there is a possibility at each translation that something was added to or taken away from the original text.

Do we have any other evidence to go on besides the writings of a few ancient Jews?

Thanks for the comment, A. There are two separate questions. One is regarding the historical existence of Jesus Christ. At one point some scholars attempted to doubt this, but most scholars now accept this without doubts. Very few suggest the story of Jesus is simple legend.

The second question is over what the historical Jesus said and did, as opposed to later exaggerations or even fabrications that were added to the story. [Read some of the uncanonized gospels to really get a sense of exaggeration and fabrication.] Most scholars agree one needs to separate the narrative wheat from the chaff, so to speak, but disagree on the details of what is reliable after that sifting process and what portrait of the historical Jesus emerges from the reliable sayings and accounts.

As noted in the post, Luke Timothy Johnson does a fine job presenting an informed argument defending the traditional view of the historical Jesus of the four gospels.

"Do we have any other evidence to go on besides the writings of a few ancient Jews?"

We actually have more evidence of Jesus, albeit Jewish only, than any other historical figure of his time. The only real question is how accurate or historical are the documents. Still a Jew, but we do have mention of Jesus for a paragraph in Flavius Josephus. Again, the question isn't the reality of the paragraph so much as how much it might have been changed by Christian intervention. There is also a mention of Christians in a letter by Pliny where the existence of Jesus and even his death by the hand of Pilot is mentioned without challenge. However, Jesus' parentage is questioned much like in the New Testament.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2015-16

Mormon Books 2013-14

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 2012

Mormon Books 2009-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07

DMI on Facebook

Blog powered by Typepad