We’ve talked a lot about Jerald Tanner, but you may not know very much about his life and his demise. His wife, Sandra Tanner will talk about Jerald growing up, as well as his studies of Mormon history.
Sandra: Jerald was a failure in school. If you looked at his high school records, you would say there is no way this guy would ever end up doing research and writing. I mean, when he went to the University of Utah and I don’t know how he got in. His grades were terrible in high school. It just, I guess it speaks to there weren’t many kids going to university from Utah at that time or something that they would even let him go. But he had to take remedial English, which was best thing that could’ve happened to him because it spiffed him up on a lot of English stuff he needed to know. But no, Jerald had very bad eyesight and as a kid, the doctor said his eyes were failing and told his parents not to encourage them to read anything. Don’t let him strain his eyes or use them for anything.
So he was not encouraged in any way to spend time in books. I mean, his dad was a graduate from BYU. He came from an educated family. The Tanners have been professors at BYU and you know, I mean the family line of the Tanners was an educated family, but he was not given encouragement to read it all. Then when he got to be a teen, well then, well they finally figured out he needed glasses, but his eyes were so bad that Jerald wore the first contact lens and I have them over home. They’re the size of a quarter.
Did you know the Tanners still believed in the Book of Mormon even after they left the LDS Church?
Sandra: As ex-Mormons, we still believed the Book of Mormon for a couple of years there, and our original research was to vindicate the Book of Mormon that the rest of Mormonism. You can believe the Book of Mormon. You don’t have to accept the rest of this stuff. You know, you can scrap Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and all that stuff and just go with the Bible and Book of Mormon. But then we started having people challenge us.
Well, why would you accept the Book of Mormon if you can see that Joseph Smith made up the rest of this stuff. What makes you think you didn’t make up the Book of Mormon? So, then we went into a deep study of American history, American Indians, and sources for the Book of Mormon and archeology and all those things. And so, we finally decided, well, there doesn’t appear to be any historical evidence for the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. So, we can’t keep endorsing that. So, we set it aside, just went back to being Christians and following the Bible.
We will also talk about the end of his life.
Sandra: But then one night we’re watching a Jazz basketball game on TV, and I think it was, well it must have been the end of the first quarter or start of the second or something. And the score was like 28 to 32 and the Jazz were down, and Jerald turned to me and he says, “How much are we down by?”
And it just hit me. My whole world collapsed at that moment. Jerald was an ace on math. Now it doesn’t show from his school records, but he really was. He could do math in his head just perfectly. And to ask me what the difference was between 28 and 32, everything came together of all those little idiosyncrasies, the not remembering things, the misplaced items, and it all came together at that point. I thought, “Oh, my word, he’s got a memory issue. He’s got a problem, this could be Alzheimer’s.”
Given all this information regarding forgeries, I asked her about biblical forgeries, the Documentary Hypothesis, multiple Isaiahs, and several other theories critical of the Bible. Is she a Christian?
Sandra: Yes. I’m a committed Christian….I go a local church here in town, Discovery Christian community. We would just be a standard middle of the road Christian congregation just following the Bible.
Given her background on forgeries, what does she think of these theories?
Sandra: I’ve read critical material on the Bible. I feel there is sufficient historical confirmation for me to accept the record. I mean, there really are Jewish people that live in Jerusalem, and, there really are ancient documents relating to the Bible. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls that show the preservation back before the time of Christ and we have New Testament documents back into, as early as the 130 A.D. We have part of the Gospel of John, so I feel that historically we can show the preservation of the texts and on the New Testament, we are really on strong ground as far as the documents being the earliest record of Christianity. Now one can say, “I don’t accept their story.” One can say, you could say that’s really what the early Christians believed, but did it really happen? So, then it’s a matter of faith whether you’re going to accept Christ’s resurrection.
GT: Well, and even tying this back to Hofmann, because another word instead of a forgery would be pseudepigrapha. We don’t know that Matthew wrote the Book of Matthew, Mark wrote the Book of Mark, Luke wrote the Book of Luke. We have no idea who these authors were. A lot of these early…
Sandra: Well I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. The earliest Christian writers accepted the designations. I mean, they were always known as being written by those guys.
There are some scholars who believe that the Book of Isaiah was written by more than one author, although most scholars at BYU believe in a single-Isaiah theory. What does Sandra think?
GT: …as far as the argument, that the BYU scholars would make that there was just one Isaiah not four Isaiahs, would you tend to agree with?
Sandra: I would be more to their side of view than the critic side of Isaiah.
Are you surprised? Do you agree with Sandra? What are your thoughts on textual criticism of the Bible?
Anecdotally, when I meet former Mormons who grew up in the church and have left, they tend to be agnostic or atheist and have left Christianity altogether. There are a lot of things that don’t hold up in the Bible, but the Book of Mormon and later-day revelations provide an “outside” support “or “witness” that sustains belief in the Bible. The Book of Mormon’s Isaiah quotations for instance support the single Isaiah theory. It’s hard for a Mormon to reject the story of Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice Issac as anything but factual when the D&C has the Lord confirm it in Section 132. When a person loses faith in the Book of Mormon, its usefulness in sustaining the Bible falls as well.
In this day and age, I find Sandra Tanner’s position unusual, though a century ago, when the Bible was considered inerrant by a greater portion of the population, a move from Mormonism to a more traditional Christian denomination would not have been unusual.
I find it strange to do all this research into the Book of Mormon, but not do the same thing with the Bible.
Like she said, there’s evidence of Jerusalem and a Jewish people. The NT books may not have been written by the traditional authors, but they are certainly old texts dating to within a few centuries of the events they record. And there is archaeological data to support some of the later portions of the OT. If the Tanners were willing to hold on to the BofM for so long after rejecting the modern leadership, there’s definitely a strong desire to believe in Jesus Christ. In short, I don’t think it’s crazy for someone to scoff at the BofM yet still believe in the bible. They’ve got a couple thousand years of tradition behind them. However, I agree with Dave C that it’s much more common (especially in younger generations) to go the agnostic/atheist route.