In a previous interview with Dr. Thomas Wayment, Thom showed how Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke’s Commentary to correct various passages in the New Testament. Biblical scholar Colby Townsend says it isn’t just the New Testament, and we talk about how Adam Clarke affected Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
GT: Hmm. Well, and I know you spend some time talking about Adam Clarke’s Commentary, and I know Dr. Thomas Wayment has done that, which was really fantastic. Yeah. Because it seems like Joseph used a lot of Adam Clarke’s Commentary.
GT: And it was interesting to me as I read your paper to see how Adam Clarke was reacting to this documentary hypothesis.
Colby: So in Thom and Haley’s paper, they discuss some of the possible ways that Joseph Smith could have gotten Adam Clarke’s Commentary for the New Testament revision, because they show about 300 or so different revisions that Smith made to the New Testament that come directly from Clarke. When you have that preponderance of evidence, there’s no denying that. So what I’m doing in my chapter is essentially just showing that Adam Clarke was really important and really significant. But showing also that the scholarship from Britain that was really directly affecting the Americas was shielding the Americas from some of the more specific points. So Adam Clarke didn’t name any of the scholars. He didn’t engage directly with any of their theories. He didn’t say who was arguing that Moses didn’t write it. And it really wasn’t until about 1805-1810 that a lot of scholars started saying, yeah, “Moses didn’t write this. Deuteronomy had to be written far later.”
So, in my thesis, at least, that’s what the only time that I really touch on Clarke’s Commentary just to show that. Clarke was really just not specifically saying why any of those scholars thought that way. He wasn’t rebutting any of their specific arguments. He basically just used the timeworn argument, that they don’t really accept revelation and so therefore, forget them.
GT: And so is that basically the argument that Joseph Smith adopted was Adam Clarke’s argument? Forget them. Moses really did write this. Is that right?
Colby: Pretty much. I mean, we can’t know, because he never really specifically said but if you look at Moses 1, I have a paper coming out this coming fall. That one will be in the Journal of Mormon History. [It will be] on the composition of Moses 1:7 and the idea of translation as a modern expansion on ancient sources. I argue that Blake Ostler’s theory doesn’t really work for the Book of Mormon. I don’t really show why. I just say that it doesn’t really work there necessarily, but it does work for the Bible revision. The text of the Bible is the ancient source. And then there are modern expansions, [such as] Moses 1 for example. Moses 1 is fascinating because it’s a totally new addition to the text of Genesis. And in a sense, it reframes and recontextualizes the text of the Torah. It portrays the beginning of Genesis as if it’s a revelation directly from God, to Moses, and Moses commanded to write it down. In my paper, I show that the first half of Moses 1 is dependent on the language and structure of Matthew 4, and a handful of other very specific arguments. I show that both Moses 1 and Moses 7 were composed in the 19th century.
When people engage the scriptures from a scholarly approach, many lose faith in the scriptures. We’ll first talk about how to reconcile Nephi’s story of obtaining the Brass Plates with the idea that the Torah didn’t exist in 600 BC. Is there a way to reconcile biblical scholarship? I asked that question to Colby Townsend and was a bit surprised by his answer.
GT: So, do we try to reconcile that? Do we say, oh, maybe Lehi left later? I don’t know.
Colby: I don’t know. That’s one of those things where I alluded to earlier where a lot of times people will [say,] “Okay, you’ve just come in and smashed up this this wall. Now you need to put it back up together for me.” Yeah.
GT: How do we pick up our pieces of faith knowing all this stuff?
Colby: Right, so that’s where I say that coming as a historian into this study, I can’t really do that for you. That’s really up to individuals. There are a handful of other scholars. Joe Spencer is a good friend of mine. And I’ve always suggested, go to him. He’s a good theologian, and he’ll help you go through and figure some of that out. But you know, coming from the outside, really as a historian and trying to study and understand the history of the texts that you have, that’s just not something that I really do.
GT: So you can’t help us out?
Colby: Yeah, sorry. Yeah, for me, I think that Bill Davis has really done a good service recently in his book.
What are your thoughts? Is it possible to faithfully reconcile biblical scholarship?