It’s Christmas week, so this is going to be a mellow post. I ran across an old 10 Questions (by Kurt Manwaring) interview of Philip Jenkins, a scholar of religion at Baylor. I know Jenkins from reading his book Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (HarperOne, 2010), a very enlightening study of how orthodox Christology emerged from the political and theological struggles of the fourth and fifth centuries. What most summary accounts describe as Christian theological development turns out to be mostly the result of political and power struggles between various Christian bishops and their political allies. A book worth reading.
Most of the interview is about a more recent book written by Jenkins, Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World (Basic Books, 2017). That book looks at the large body of uncanonized religious literature written between 200 BC and 200 AD, variously called pseudepigrapha and apocrypha. Jenkins sees these texts as much more important than is generally understood: “Once you get into those texts, you find they exist in vast numbers, and they had an enormous influence on the gospels and the early church, and on the circle of Jesus and the apostles. The Book of Enoch in particular is a critical text, and immensely influential. You really can’t understand early Christianity without some sense of these Old Testament Pseudepigrapha ….”
But I’m going to look at just one of his ten answers, a response to a question about Mormonism. Jenkins has some familiarity with Mormonism and LDS doctrine, partly from his own research and publishing in American religious history and partly from his own discussions with LDS scholars. Here is the ninth of Manwaring’s ten questions:
I have read a few of your writings in which you are highly skeptical of the historicity of Mormon scripture while also being highly respectful of the Mormon tradition. Could you provide a brief comment on your views?
Jenkins gave what you might call a polite response to the question, certainly appropriate in the context of a friendly exchange with an LDS interviewer, but also a nice example of respectful dialogue. One we could all learn from. I’m going to quote his seven-paragraph reply in pieces below, with some commentary. He starts like this:
You phrase the question very accurately. I have immense regard for the Mormon tradition in so many ways, and in fact believe that it contains a great many lessons for mainstream non-Mormon Christians— about values of community, about the possibility of continuing revelation, and about practical commitment to aiding the poor and dispossessed.
That’s a nice Christmas message: focus on the LDS values of community and commitment to aiding the poor and dispossessed.
If one of my children decided to join the LDS church, I would wish her all good things.
At the same time, I do not believe in the literal historical truth of the Book of Mormon in reflecting any realities in the pre-Columbian Americas, for reasons I have described at length in various blog posts and online debates.
It’s worth considering how many LDS parents could say the same thing, as in “if one of my children decided to join the Lutheran church, I would wish her all good things.” But, finally getting around to the topic of this post, he raises the question of historicity. If one rejects “the literal historical truth of the Book of Mormon,” what is left? Could the average LDS parent say, “if one of my children decided to reject the literal historical truth of the Book of Mormon, I would wish her all good things”?
That does not mean that I consider the book a lie or a forgery, but that I do not think it should be read as literal history or archaeology—and there is a substantial middle ground between those two positions.
He says not just that there is a middle ground between the two extremes, but that there is a substantial middle ground. That’s easy for him to say. Within the Church, leaders seem to push the exact opposite, that there are two choices: it’s one hundred percent literal and historical and true, or one hundred percent not. Within the local church (your ward or branch, or any ward or branch), there really is no defined middle ground that can be expressed in a talk, lesson, or comment. Try dropping this into a talk or lesson and see what happens: “While not historical, the Book of Mormon offers valuable insight into the important doctrine of X …” So where exactly is this substantial middle ground?
I suspect that middle ground exists primarily outside the Church. Perhaps Jenkins’ discussion (in his book, which I haven’t read) of Jewish and Christian apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works helps him see the Book of Mormon as non-historical but also as religiously valuable. So I’ll read the book if I come across a copy.
In 2015, I engaged in what was for me an interesting and intellectually profitable online debate on these issues with LDS scholar Bill Hamblin, a knowledgeable and well-informed historian.
Obviously, people being people, neither of us converted the other to his own point of view!
There is a link in the original post to a list of links to the series of posts that constitute the “online debate” he refers to. It’s worth reading a post or two in that exchange. His reference here to that debate seems quite gracious.
But I learned much from that exchange about critical questions concerning definitions of proof and evidence, the nature of scholarly consensus, and how to establish where the burden of proof lies in any particular debate.
Within the Church, the burden of proof seems to lie with any critic or dissenting member who rejects historicity. For an outsider, that burden obviously lies with the person making LDS claims. Casual apologists accept a lot of “proof and evidence” that an objective reader might not accept. But the whole apologetic or scholarly discussion that revolves around “proof and evidence” is rather foreign to the average believer, Mormon or otherwise.
I don’t have any particular conclusion to add from the discussion. I guess the bottom line I might pull from the question and response is that it’s a lot easier to handle historicity if there is a defined “substantial middle ground” between forgery and literal history. Which is maybe why historicity is such a touchy question within the Church — because there really isn’t a defined middle ground.
Maybe the key historical question to ask is this: Who is the central figure for the church, Joseph Smith or Jesus Christ?
The answer to that illuminates everything else.
My son in charge of one morning’s seminary devotional brought in Grant Hardy’s *Understanding the Book of Mormon* and suggested that Nephi may not have been led by the Spirit to kill Laban. His teacher at the time suggested that my son needed to work on his testimony. The next day, he had printed for every student an Ensign article to refute my son’s heretical position; clearly the only way to read the BoM was to assume Nephi was God’s chosen one. A few weeks after this exchange, we gave my sons permission to drop out of seminary. Sleep was a better use of their time.
The irony of the Church’s binary approach is that there are many nuanced members who are happy with their Church experience even if they don’t believe in a literal historical BOM. These “utility” Mormons would do just fine if they were left alone to enjoy the benefits of LDS membership.
Of course, there are the “validity” Mormons like me who didn’t necessarily love the LDS culture but who stuck with it because we believed it was all true. So then when we discovered it wasn’t we had to leave.
It’s just unfortunate for the Church that they continue to push BOM historicity that doesn’t stand up to basic research. Maybe the Church is pivoting on this. I’m not so sure.
A few years ago, while reading the BoM, I was pondering the question of historicity and felt led to ask myself the question: “How much of ancient scripture do I require to be ‘historical’?” As I let the question roll around in my mind, I concluded that I don’t really require very much. In some way, there must have been some kind of “atonement” action that included Christ being resurrected, but I can be open to that action not happening exactly like (or even anything like??) what the Evangelists describe in their Gospels. I’m comfortable with that for myself (though I do feel a certain discomfort when the Church insists on historicity of ancient texts.
I recall an incident involving Elder Ballard, I believe it was. I cannot recall any of the context, so I cannot find any reference to it, but he was doing a Q&A of sorts and someone specifically asked about BoM historicity. While I wasn’t surprised that he expressed a belief that the BoM was historical, what did surprise was his seeming surprise or disbelief he expressed that someone would even ask the question — almost as if he had never encountered the idea before. It is this seeming unawareness of or unpreparedness to even contemplate these kinds of “nuanced” or “middle-way” questions that sometimes feels the most alienating to me.
Whichever side of the historicity question (or other difficult questions) one falls on, the main question I often want to ask is, “do you feel like you can consider yourself ‘in communion with’ someone who believes in the historicity/ahistoricity of the BoM?” In many ways, it feels like the old “big tent or small tent Mormonism” question, but it so often feels like many do not want to be in communion with those who believe differently.
I think the Church would pivot toward acknowledging middle ground if it could do so in a way that deals with Joseph’s literal understanding and presentation of Lamanites, gold plates, and Moroni visitations. I am not sure there is a substantial middle ground here. I think “pious fraud” is the most generous model that is possible if you don’t accept historicity. What am I missing?
-I feel bad when I hear that a LDS has become disaffected by historicity, but at the same time, I can’t resist the humor: they are like grown-adults who just learned that Santa isn’t real.
-Because LDS scholars were raised by the images of Joseph Smith transcribing text-for-text, LDS apologists have been trying to prove their childhood images–paintings and illustrations–to be true ever since.
-The Book of Mormon is apocalyptic genre and should be read as such. It was translated by vision, by “active intellect,” by revelation, and not word-for-word as transcription of an ancient text. It was orally-recited in stream-of-consciousness fashion, and was produced quickly.
-I am more comfortable with Joseph “making it all up in his head,” and trying to understand how he could have had the insight to synthesize ancient religion, than I am with the idea of Joseph disciphering ancient text to formulate new religion.
The responses so far all seem to assume that there is no support for the historicity of the Book of Mormon (and the POGP). For years now, Book of Mormon Central’s divisions (see their “Evidence Central” for example) have published literally hundreds of documented pieces of evidence that can only be explained as authentic history. They run the full gamut from textual to archaeological. The weakness of the cultural and anti-Mormon rebuttals to them is telling and serves as one of the strongest indicators that they are spot on. It is the ignorance of the majority of members who fail to engage with these findings that allows such comments as these to be made. It really is an either-or proposition: if the BoM is not what Joseph Smith claimed it to be, then the whole LDS edifice crumbles.
I remember the exchange that Philip Jenkins had with Bill Hamlin on Patheos. During the exchange, Jenkins very articulately challenged the value of NHM/Nahom as an argument for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. A worthwhile read as well.
I’ve long noticed that apologists and church leaders place the burden of proof on the critic. A similar pattern exists in conspiracist circles. In the many exchanges I’ve had with 9/11 truthers, it’s the same story: buildings couldn’t have possibly come down from plane impact, therefore the most plausible alternative explanation had to be controlled demolition. When I ask them where the evidence is for controlled demolition, they just repeat themselves, “well, the buildings couldn’t have come down from plane impact.” And then they insist on evidence that plane impact could bring down a building all the while failing to provide any evidence of a controlled demolition (the collapse of the towers does not resemble controlled demolitions in any form, by the way, this is readily apparent by watching videos of actual controlled demolitions). Circular reasoning.
Similar with apologists. Joseph Smith couldn’t have possibly written the Book of Mormon, so it has to be the only alternative explanation, which is that pre-Columbian American Christians wrote it. When I ask for evidence of pre-Columbian American Christians, the apologists just go back to, “well Joseph Smith couldn’t have written the Book of Mormon,” and then proceed to ask, “how could have Joseph Smith known about this and that?” all the while completely ignoring the much larger and much less-evidenced question of how could pre-Columbian Americans have known about Christianity.
I would love to hear more about the middle ground, as someone far from the academic debate.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
MTodd, your story suggests LDS Seminary and Institutes doesn’t see much middle ground. Even granting that a historical Nephi actually wrote the book and Joseph actually translated it accurately into English text, they seem to insist (at least in your son’s case) that Nephi himself was infallible or that he somehow was incapable of sin or error. Even Joseph Smith didn’t claim infallibility.
MrShorty, the “in communion” question goes right to the value of community that Jenkins admires in Latter-day Saints. That value seems under attack recently, as political polarization spreads to other areas, including religion, including the LDS Church. We should all be more willing to stress community and fellowship, despite political or theological differences.
Warren Aston, thanks for illustrating the “no middle ground” position that many mainstream Mormons and most LDS leaders endorse. You think you are supporting the Church, but you might be weaponizing one slice of the spectrum of faith against others elsewhere on the spectrum. That’s not the right strategy.
Warren Aston, Book of Mormon Central and other apologists have not produced any evidenced arguments for the existence of Pre-Columbian Christians and Jews, period. Their publications mostly look at loose parallels between ancient-world phenomena and the Book of Mormon (all of which are insignificant and weak). They also debunk poorly-made critic arguments (I.e., no evidence of pre-Columbian Pacific sea crossings, there BOM is false, when in fact there is evidence that make plausible the idea that there were pre-Columbian Pacific sea crossings).
Another problem. Apologist papers that directly defend Book of Mormon historicity have no non-Mormon peer review. It is all peer review by other believing Mormons (in other words, not real peer review). The idea that pre-Columbian Americans practiced Christianity or Judaism has zero support by non-Mormon scholars. If this so-called evidence of historicity produced by Book of Mormon Central is so impressive, how come it is not passing muster outside Mormonism?
BOM historicity can’t be argued on merits, period.
Wow. I just looked at the debate reference above. http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/j/p/jpj1/debating.htm In it, Bill Hamblin attempts in every conceivable way to avoid responding to Jenkins’ core challenge: “I offer a question. Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.” It’s painful to read.
Dave B. If maintaining the only position that can be logically maintained for any text claiming historicity is “weaponizing” some church members, then so be it. Perhaps that is what is needed. The latter-day application of the parable of the Ten Virgins comes to mind.
John W. Your comments display an outdated position and demonstrate a high level of unfamiliarity regarding the apologetic work done in recent decades. Yes, of course, there are still things we do not know – as is the case in any field of inquiry – but what we do know is impressive, particularly with Old World matters. There has never been a “knock-out” blow to what the Book of Mormon actually claims, as opposed to our assumptions. And the same is true of the Old and New Testaments, although people with agendas other than finding the Truth likewise continue to argue otherwise. Indeed, to bring it back to the subject at hand, I know of one highly acclaimed non-LDS scholar who commented that the NHM altars are actually better evidence for the BoM than anything we have for the Bible.
I invite any reader to see for themselves by reading the front page of Evidence Central at https://evidencecentral.org/recency for an overview, with links for more details including scholarly sources.
I think the LDS Church over the last 100 years is guilty as an institution (by which I mean to include prominent leaders and also general membership to a lesser degree) of the great sin of pride. Perhaps because many of our highest leaders have been offspring of Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, and numerous other inter-married apostolic family connections, there has been great effort to preserve the literal, historical claims of the Church’s founding and theology. It’s like making sure the family name isn’t dragged through the mud. And those who aren’t of those families but have joined the cause, have put our own reputations and legacies on the line, and so on with our posterity.
So there’s a doubling down on truth claims, because being wrong is embarrassing, it diminishes how we spent our time and money, it makes us feel less intelligent or at least very gullible. We naturally hate to admit those things, and it’s often easier to just keep justifying or finding new reasons to keep our practices and beliefs relevant and meaningful. Thus, a non-existent middle ground.
And it comes to a point (and often still is the point) where the focus is not really on Christ’s message of love and kindness to the marginalized and tearing down institutions or traditions that exist mainly for their own sake, but much, much more on being right, claiming literal priesthood authority, claiming to have a fullness of all truth, claiming to be sealed to each other and God while other people will not have the same blessing unless they acknowledge and yield to the same obedience and authority from our institution. We have, as a verse from the BoM states, “gone beyond the mark.”
I am not sure if the Church will ever be able to completely dispose itself of this great sin of pride. Without the historicity and truth claims, how many people feel compelled to participate? Maybe the best it can do is pivot to emphasize the fundamental teaching of Christ and give members access to implementing such in their daily lives. In other words, make space for that middle ground by taking away from the public gatherings the focus on how we are “true” and others are less than that, focus more on actually implementing Christ’s teachings in our communities and the world. But that is going to take a monumental change to Sunday and temple services, the main programs of the Church, and how it uses its vast financial reserves.
Right now, and maybe forever, Church is an echo chamber where the primary point seems to always be, “do not think for yourself, follow the prophet, do not become enemies of God’s kingdom, and only those who fit the mold can have a hope of full participation and eternal happiness.” Hope I live long enough to see some improvement.
Warren Aston, citing the parable of the Ten Virgins (suggesting those who don’t think about the Book of Mormon just the way you do will be “left behind” or are somehow disfavored of God) is just the sort of weaponizing I was talking about. For a better approach, here’s what Elder Holland had to say a few years ago in his interview for the PBS documentary “The Mormons”:
“If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to you. That’s what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount somebody’s liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. …
“I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: “This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.”
Dave B. I’m well aware of what Elder Holland said in that interview. And I absolutely agree with him 100%. Perhaps tellingly, however, you neglected to quote the very next line from him:
…” There are some things we can’t give away. There are some foundational stones. If you don’t have those, you don’t have anything. So the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, those are pretty basic things…”
So while we should welcome ALL those who can find some value in the Book of Mormon, even if they cannot accept a divine origin for it, the fact remains that its historicity is foundational, in fact, it is the “keystone” of the church. I have trouble understanding why anyone would see this as somehow being in conflict with what he said. It isn’t.
“There has never been a ‘knock-out’ blow to what the Book of Mormon actually claims”
Two matters here: 1) The Book of Mormon claims that pre-Columbian Americans practiced Judaism and Christianity, correct? I don’t see how you could say that that isn’t a main claim or that this is based on a faulty assumption. 2) There is simply no evidence for this claim. Consequently there is no need for a “knock-out blow” to it. That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
“I know of one highly acclaimed non-LDS scholar who commented that the NHM altars are actually better evidence for the BoM than anything we have for the Bible.”
Who? Show me the quote. Phillip Jenkins dwells on NHM at length and makes a very good argument as to why it carries no evidentiary value.
“I invite any reader to see for themselves by reading the front page of Evidence Central at https://evidencecentral.org/recency”
I clicked the link and looked at what Book of Mormon Central claims. None, and I mean none, of these videos provide any evidence of the practice of Christianity among pre-Columbian Americans. These videos overwhelmingly speak to how Joseph Smith couldn’t have possibly known about some literary device that happens to appear in some other ancient texts, which upon closer scrutiny is not that impressive of a literary device, or was copied from the KJV. One of the videos mentions chiasmus as evidence of Book of Mormon historicity. Chiasmus appears inadvertently in a large abundance of texts. That it appears in the Book of Mormon is of little significance. The folks at Book of Mormon Central are simply producing a bunch of nonsense content that may seem scholarly to the layperson, but cannot answer the question of whether pre-Columbian Americans practiced Christianity or Judaism, and are not gaining traction among non-Mormon scholars. Their aim is to produce lots and lots of nonsense. Lots and lots of what I like to call fires, which are easy and quick to start, but take considerable time and effort to put out. And I know of no critics who have the time and money to debunk every last thing that these apologist clowns write. But such is the case with 9/11 conspiracy theories. Lots and lots nonsense literature and videos claiming conspiracies on bad evidence and bad reasoning. But it takes considerable time to go through and debunk all of their bad claims. The guys at Book of Mormon Central are charlatans and pseudo-scholars on the level of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Polls show that over 97% of architects and engineers in the US accept the official explanation for how the Twin Towers collapsed. A&E for 9/11 Truth are nothing but a fringe group of moonbats. And such is the case for Book of Mormon Central. If we conducted a poll (and this desperately needs to be done at this point, but I don’t believe there has been any such poll) among scholars of the pre-Columbian Americas accept that Christianity and Judaism were practiced somewhere in the Americas by some group of people before 1492, I’m quite certain that we would find a virtual consensus of scholars rejecting such an assertion.
Warren Aston, I agree you have trouble understanding the manner in which things like the First Vision and the Book of Mormon are foundational. Plainly, in light of Elder Holland’s remarks that I quoted, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. The canonized 1838 version of the First Vision was once “foundational” for the Church. Since the Church has acknowledged other versions of the First Vision and even published a Gospel Topics Essay on the various versions of the First Vision, it is plainly “foundational” in a different way than it was just a generation ago. The question “what did Joseph experience in his First Vision and what does it mean?” has a much broader range of answers — speaking now within the Church’s own published sources and commentary — than it did previously.
Likewise with the Book of Mormon. Two or three generations back, there was a rather smug confidence on the part of Latter-day Saints and its apologists that if we could just gather more data and do more field work, evidence would emerge supporting the standard LDS account of Jewish Nephites and Lamanites. Just the opposite has happened. A generation ago it was Urim and Thummim all the way (meaning Nephite interpreters, nothing to do with the biblical Urim and Thummim) — now the Church openly acknowledges that Joseph somehow used a seer stone or two and even puts a picture of a seer stone in the Church’s possession on the cover of its magazine. Sure, the Book of Mormon is still at present “foundational” for the Church, but in a much broader sense than in that earlier time. I think you are again reading the “foundational” statement to mean “it’s foundational that other Mormons believe just like I do about the First Vision and the Book of Mormon — and if they don’t, they aren’t really Mormons or aren’t in good standing.” (That’s why I didn’t quote his last sentence — I didn’t want to encourage that sort of thinking.) Now it’s true that some local leaders and some senior leaders probably think that way, the way you do. But it’s the wrong way to think and it’s not the way Elder Holland thought fifteen years ago, although he perhaps feels differently now.
Hey, it’s Christmas. How about a little more “come worship with us, one and all” and a little less “get off my Mormon grass.”
FYI, here is the page at BoM Central with some of Warren Aston’s articles. A Google search will bring up other articles at other Mormon sites and publications.
Thanks for engaging, Warren. You’re plainly quite invested in a very literal take on the Book of Mormon narrative and text. No one is saying that’s not the mainstream LDS understanding. Many LDS leaders think that way as well, although those who don’t obviously won’t let you or me in on their true opinions. Like I said in the opening post, no matter what one’s opinions, no active Mormon is going to state in a talk or lesson, “While not historical, the Book of Mormon offers valuable insight into the important doctrine of X ….”
The problem is that at this point, here in 2021 where genetics is an established branch of biology, probably one-third to one-half of active Mormons question or completely reject Book of Mormon historicity. The Church itself has backpedaled from earlier claims. We want to keep that one-third or one-half attending and contributing, don’t we? If you don’t want to show them the door (or chase them out), then that sort of rhetoric needs to be toned down. We post “visitors are welcome” outside our chapels. Maybe we need to put “members and visitors are welcome.” Really, all members are welcome, which means we have to find a way to *avoid* making them feel unwelcome in talks, lessons, and comments. Hold tight to your literal beliefs, publish your articles, just don’t slam the church door on those who just aren’t as literal as you.
(1) Dave B. is right. Warren, you are not convincing to this particular audience who does not believe in the literality / historicity of the Book of Mormon. If you find meaning and value in your work, great. That’s fine. But continuing to insist that anyone who doesn’t agree with you essentially doesn’t have a place in the Church because you’re right and we’re wrong is *exactly* the problem that Dave B. is pointing out here. So all you are doing here is pushing people away. Seriously. There may be an audience you are helping, but it is not *this* audience. For this audience, you are doing more harm than good unless your objective is to ensure that anyone who does not believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon (even if they still find value in the Book) opts out of Church (by which definition, not sure you’d be willing to share the pews with B.H. Roberts.).
(2) Also agree that it’s so ridiculous to expect people to prove *a negative* about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It’s nearly impossible to prove a negative. Not only that, but guess what? Part of why not a lot of non-LDS people have written about why the Book of Mormon can’t be historical is because THEY DO NOT CARE. It’s so obviously not historical to them that they can’t even be bothered to spend any time on that and who would even fund that research? It would be like a real academic spending time writing about why Dianetics isn’t real. Why would anyone do that? Who would fund that?
(3) Some of the most damning things I’ve read about Book of Mormon history have come to me sideways. Like, it’s one thing to read about something in a specifically Mormon debate where people are invested in making a point. Quite another to be reading about biblical studies, or 19th century Christianity, where someone isn’t remotely talking about the Book of Mormon or Mormonism and then realizing “Oh yeah, these Isaiah chapters happened way after Lehi supposedly left Jerusalem” or “Oh yeah, the Tower of Babel is almost certainly allegorical (hence no Jaredites)” or “oh yeah, this was a central debate in 19th century Christianity that just happened to make it into the Book of Mormon” etc. etc. etc. My favorite was touring some Central American sites recently – *not* with one of those Moroni tour guides – where the guide casually mentioned multiple archeological pointers that contradicted Book of Mormon plot points.
I’m still working through how to deal with the Book of Mormon as not-history and what that “substantial middle ground” looks like. Since there is so much biblical scholarship that embraces that middle ground, it’s easy to find ways to re-read the bible and find value in it. But because not many are taking the Book of Mormon seriously in that middle ground way, at least not openly, there aren’t a lot of resources out there to reframe it.
I never come here, and doubt that I ever shall again. I carefully read through today’s comments, and found zero scholarship. I did find some ad hominems, some bigotry, and some mischaracterizations.
I would have preferred the sort of scholarly exchange we saw back in 2014 when RT held forth on Patheos, seriously questioning the historicity of the Book of Mormon. A very worthwhile discussion. None of that here.
The main point which seems to be wholely absent here is an understanding that LDS leaders (General Authorities) are not normally professional historians, anthropologists, linguists, or theologians, and quite clearly do not base their testimonies upon scholarship. Their testimonies are instead faith-based. Indeed, many Latter-day Saints claim to know that this or that principle of their faith is true based on the Holy Spirit. They are not scholars, and seldom have scholarly opinions of any kind. They have jobs, are busy raising children, and perhaps ministering to their fellow Saints (living and dead). As Elder Holland noted in his 2006 PBS interview, there are many LDS Church members who are not certain about truth claims about Joseph Smith, the Restoration, or Book of Mormon. He saw nothing wrong with that fact, and considered it silly to want to exclude those folks. That is the true middle ground in which we accommodate within the Church a broad assortment of people — some on their way into full fellowship, and some on their way out. That is the most normal thing in the world. It’s called free agency.
Dave B, thanks for linking Warren Aston’s work. I didn’t know who he was, let alone that he is one of the main NHM theory-pushers. I looked at what he has published and sure enough, he has published very little in journals that are peer-reviewed by non-Mormons. What he has published in non-Mormon journals is entirely secular and in these publications he makes no attempts to vouch for the LDS church’s historicity claims. The question is: why? Warren, if you’re willing to push the LDS church’s truth claims so hard in Mormon publications, such as the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, then why not push just as hard in secular presses? My guess is that either you have and have been rejected, or you know that your arguments come off as extreme and lack evidence in a larger academic setting and therefore choose to steer clear of even trying to make case before a secular scholarly audience altogether.
And then you tell us that there are “acclaimed” non-Mormon scholars willing to vouch for LDS church truth claims. I remember Kevin Christensen, another apologist who often comes on here, made the same claim. And who was his “acclaimed” scholar? Well, none other than pseudo-scholar Margaret Barker, who has zero standing in the larger field of Biblical Studies and who has published almost exclusively in Christian presses. I remember Blake Ostler saying that he convinced in a private conversation the museum curator in Turin that the Book of Abraham had validity. This person had passed, so there is no way we could verify this story. So who is this person that is validating BOM historicity claims? Please tell me and I will 1) verify that this person has standing in a larger academic community, and 2) contact this person asking if they are willing to accept on record that pre-Columbian Americans practiced Christianity. Let’s put this to the full test to see if you’re exaggerating what this person is willing to accept as true about Mormonism or if you’re just outright lying.
As far as I can tell, this is a ruse and you know it. You know your arguments that there is evidence for Book of Mormon historicity carry no weight outside Mormonism. You can tell us all about the origins of the Nihm tribe all day and claim that your arguments have validity outside Mormonism (OK, so what?), but saying “the Nihm tribe existed and here are its origins” is a far cry from saying that pre-Columbian Americans practiced Christianity, and you know that. You know that no non-Mormon scholars with any standing in their academic fields accept that pre-Columbian Americans practiced Christianity. So stop with this nonsense of hints and suggestions about how Mormon truth claims are remotely taken seriously by non-Mormon scholars. They aren’t. And you know that until you can convince a good number of prominent scholars in a variety of fields (archaeology, anthropology, history, etc.) that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas that you cannot honestly say that Book of Mormon historicity claims can be defended on their merits. Who cares what other Mormon scholars think. It is all about what the non-Mormon scholars think. Can you convince them? For that is what defending an idea on its merits is all about: convincing a range of scholars at different universities and in different environments that some argument/proposition about truth has evidence. It often follows that this evidence is included in textbooks, taught in universities, shared by major news publications and journalists, cited in subsequent scholarly works, etc. We’re a long ways from there with Book of Mormon historicity.
Robert F. Smith—
Holy gaslighting my friend! Can you not see and understand that your entire comment proves why middle way folks cannot exist comfortably within the LDS Church as currently structured?
You first complain that there is little scholarship in our comments, accuse of ad hominem and bigotry, and then immediately excuse the leaders because they are not scholars? We have to do the work and engage in that manner but they do not?
And then when we do seek scholarly material that disproves LDS truth claims causing our faith to waiver, you somehow propose that we should still show up each week to listen to correlated lessons and general conference that support those very truth claims without any true scholarship to back them up? Be scholarly! Have faith! Stop reading that stuff! Give Brother Joseph a break! Pathetic.
Well done, sir. You just ensured that many of us will strongly consider NOT returning to church or engaging with our fellow members because there is not room for non-literal believers to fellowship and commune with the (clearly better) faithful members.
“If one rejects “the literal historical truth of the Book of Mormon,” what is left?”
Typically this question is addressed by questioning minds who desire to stay in the LDS church by pointing out the many other wonderful things within the church that promotes families, wholesomeness, etc. But, there is also another question that pops in my mind concerning this question: what if we struggle with the literal historical truth of other canonized books of scripture also? I could – literally (pun intended ) – point out 50 things off the top of my head that call into question the literal historical truths in the Old Testament. I can point out another dozen concerning the New Testament and more that a few in the Book of Abraham. It’s interesting that you point out the pseudepigrapha,
which (again, literally) were written by unknown Gnostics and others, and often attributed to long-dead prophets and apostles in an attempt to deceive. A number of them had success in convincing various Christian communities for hundreds of years after Jesus that they were the real deal. These books were demonstrably non-historical but “faith-promoting” to sections of Christianity. What place, one may ask, does the role of “literal, historical truth” play on the hierarchy of other “truths”?
So, my question is this: if someone has a testimony of Jesus, how important is it, for that person, from wench the testimony came? I really don’t know the answer. What if it came from reading Luke, or Alma, or Abraham, or D&C 76, or Talmage’s Jesus The Christ? What if it came from watching Ben Hur, or The Robe, or Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth; or hearing Handel’s Messiah or Luther’s A Mighty Fortress? Or simply, what if your testimony came from listening to your mom?
As usual, I have no answer of what is left if the BOM is not historical? This question for LDS’s is also wrapped in questions concerning the role of personal revelation, priesthood, the Holy Ghost, and much more. Former Assistant to the Twelve Sterling W. Sill once wrote something to the effect that if all the books in the world suddenly disappeared, it wouldn’t affect the Church in any way because of continuing revelation and priesthood authority. Who knows?
When we gave the six discussions in the 1960’s, they were full of half truths and untruths. It is embarrassing to look back on the experience. The First Vision was foundational, now it appears that there is some question about what really happened. The BofM was a history of the American Indians. Now we don’t know what the BofM is a history of, or if in fact it is a history of anything. And there are questions about the restoration of the M Priesthood. And to make matters worse, I had to defend the Church’s black ban.
I think there are too many patches on the current Church ark. And the BofM is going to result in more patches.
Great post and interesting comments. For me personally, I was never really convinced that the B of M was historic, so this question isn’t really that vexing for me. Having said that, it seems as if many of the comments have veered into the realm of apologists, “truth,” and “proof” of the B of M’s historicity. It is simply a fact, as several, including John W above, have noted, that the “logic” employed by apologists and true believers isn’t logic at all, none of their arguments hold water, and there is not a shred of evidence accepted by legitimate professionals in the field that proves the existence of Christianity in the pre-Columbian Americas. And really, it shouldn’t matter, right? Since all of what we believe is based on faith, not knowledge?
That sort of begs the question, which truly, I ask without a trace of snark: If the truth of the B of M can’t be absolutely proven, what does that really mean on the larger context of a true believer’s faith? If there are no established facts or evidence that definitively prove that the B of M is what the church claims it is, isn’t this all still just a matter of faith? If we believe that many things are yet to be revealed, why do we need to work so hard to “prove” the truth of the B of M instead of just hanging around, trying to be like Jesus and waiting for further light and knowledge to be delivered to us about the B of M?
@rickpowers – I already mentioned this in my comment, but for me there’s a world of difference between treating biblical texts as a mix of history and allegory / story and the Book of Mormon as that.
1 – it’s way more acceptable to do that with the Bible, even among a lot of Mormons. Not at all with the BoM.
2 – we don’t have authority claims that rest on the historicity of the Bible.
3 – the Bible is an ancient text written by many voices describing their relationship with God and understanding why they wrote what the wrote, in the historical context where they wrote it, is fascinating and enlightening. The Book of Mormon was arguably written by one person in the 19th century. It’s just not as rich or interesting as the Bible other than perhaps reflecting Joseph Smith’s conversation with 19th century Christianity.
4 – there is a lot of scholarship to help a person navigate engaging with the Bible in a non-literal way (currently I am reading “reading the Bible again for the first time: how to take the Bible seriously without taking it literally” for example). No such aids for the Book of Mormon. Grant Hardy’s book and the Maxwell Institute’s theological introductions are the closest because I think those are valuable approaches to the text even if you don’t take it as literal / historical.
5 – there is a fair amount of room to criticize what people did in the Bible and say it was actually wrong – again YMMV but I think this is far easier to do with the OT than the BoM (see above example of trying to say that Nephi was wrong for killing Laban).
As for Jesus not being totally historical (I mean some of it was but obviously the gospels themselves contradict each other), I get that argument. What it comes down to for me right now comes from Rachel Held Evans:
The Jesus story – as I understand it (which is not the correlated Mormon Jesus) is a story I am willing to be wrong about. It is a story that inspires me to be a better person and that gives me hope.
The Joseph Smith story is not a story I am willing to be wrong about, at least not to an extent. I am fine to take some lessons from the idea of seeking truth. But for the most part, that story is used to bolster claims that @Counselor did a great job describing above: claims of exclusive truth and authority, a male-only and formerly black-excluding priesthood, elite temple ceremonies, a sad heaven that excludes people who aren’t good enough, leader worship; etc etc etc etc.
The fruits of Mormonism that are good are to me basically fruits of Christianity. The fruits that are bad are from our claims to exclusive authority and one-and-only truth claims. So those aren’t things I’m willing to be wrong about. The truth or falsity of those actually matter to me. Can I still find value in participating? Yes, at least if the Roberts and Warrens of the world will make space for me. But does my participation look pretty different as a non-literal believer? Yes. For one thing, I will never again hurt another person because a prophet told me to. Ever.
So there’s the difference for me (among probably some others I forgot).
Also because Trump and Covid made me realize that facts matter.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Robert F. Smith, thanks for dropping by. I’m sure you recognize that Philip Jenkins is a bona fide scholar, so you no doubt followed the link to his page where he preserved links to each of the dozens of discussion posts in which he engaged in a fairly scholarly exchange with LDS scholar Bill Hamblin. I’m guessing the criticism you throw out here — “Wow, this isn’t really a scholarly discussion, where is your literature review and your footnotes” — is just an easy way to throw a little shade my way. But I’m fairly certain that when the full scholarly treatment is given to a disputed LDS doctrinal or historical point, you don’t reply “Okay, now I’m convinced.” In other words, you allow scholarly apparatus to lend credibility to LDS apologetics and doctrinal/historical defenses, but not to any critique. You throw out “that’s not a scholarly treatment” to any seeming criticism, but not against any of the casual apologetics so widespread in Mormon circles or against any leadership treatments of various LDS issues. You’re not applying your own criteria consistently.
If you had read the opening post with any care, you would have noted that the primary focus of the discussion (once I got the Jenkins interview introduced and rolling) was whether, in fact, there is a middle ground within the Church between LDS full historicity claims and the full rejection levelled by critics (which Jenkins refers to as a “substantial middle ground”). It wasn’t an attempt to produce a scholarly critique of LDS historicity claims or even a summary of other work on that topic. It’s an attempt to find middle ground for those who might be interested in maintaining activity or connection with the Chruch despite doubting or rejecting historicity claims. You have no doubt noticed over the years that LDS BoM historicity apologetics is aimed at (and is only effective for) those who already affirm historicity. It does little to persuade those who already doubt or reject. You don’t seem to understand either the problem (some Mormons doubt or reject historicity) or possible solutions (because throwing historicity apologetics at the problem just doesn’t work).
FYI, for anyone interested, here is Robert F. Smith’s author page at Book of Mormon Central. He has been involved with LDS apologetic scholarship for quite a long time now. (We met at a conference a few years ago, as I recall.)
Sorry Dave B., but you seem not to have gotten the memo: Faith and science are two very separate categories.
There has been a lot of pretending by you and others about science on this blog, and no delivery of substance. You talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.
As to Book of Mormon Central, I am not now and have never been part of that organization. They do archive anything they find available on the Book of Mormon, that is true, and I have written a lot of scientific discussions of related issues. If you feel up to it, I would appreciate any substantive critique of my work.
I agree with the majority of readers here about BoM historicity, but Dave B, I am curious as to how you would back up your assertion that 1/2 to 1/3 of active members struggle with BoM historicity. I get that that isn’t intended as a hard-and-fast statistic, but nothing indicates to me that it’s remotely true. Perhaps among millennials, but the body of the church as a whole? I’m very skeptical.
Robert F. Smith, this is a blog for casual discussion of topics related to Mormonism. Authors here aren’t “scholars” in the traditional sense (although technically what you and other apologists write on Mormonism isn’t “scholarship” in the traditional sense either, but for different reasons: 1) it is apologetic and won’t consider ideas that are antithetical to the teachings of a particular religious organization and 2) it isn’t peer reviewed by non-Mormon scholars), writing only on their areas of expertise, but write to a more lay audience. That being said, I love how you come on here get your feathers ruffled by “ad hominems” (where?), claim you’re not going to read anymore, and then return to lay a couple of jabs at the blog and its contributors.
“[P]retending…about science…, no delivery of substance, you talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.”
Hmm. Pot calling the kettle black here.
The BoM historicity issue is one facet of the church’s larger problem. Let’s call it the “Why Should I Listen to You” problem.
Here’s a sampling of the various institutional responses to that question:
– Because the BoM is a historical book translated by supernatural means by Joseph Smith (debunked)
– Because the church was restored through Joseph Smith who was a true prophet (who manipulated teenagers and other men’s wives into marrying him and lied under oath about it)
– Because we’re led by a prophet who receives Continuing Revelation (recent examples of which are embarrassingly lackluster)
– Because this is the one true church of Jesus Christ (whom we don’t talk about very much and who was way more progressive and egalitarian than we are)
– Because we have the Truth (though we have a terrible relationship with science, history, and transparency)
– Because we show Christ’s love through word and deed (unless you’re LGBTQ+ or a feminist or black before 1978 or have the audacity to question our leaders)
To solve the “Why Should I Listen to You” problem, we’re gonna need better reasons. Here are some suggestions we don’t currently live up to but that we could work towards.
– Because we welcome and accept everyone and encourage you to be true to yourself
– Because we are committed to succoring the least fortunate among us and we have the receipts to prove it
– Because we embrace all truth from all sources, even scientific discovery, and we own up when we’ve been wrong
– Because we disavow racism—even our own past racism and the racism in our scriptures
– Because we let empathy and the realities of life define our moral compass rather than dogma or tradition
– Because activity in the church is inspiring, dignifying, and emotionally healthy regardless of gender, marital status, or sexual orientation
You are right, John W. And I apologize for wasting your time. I was invited by a participant here, but should never have made any comment at all. There is no interest here in science or scholarship of any kind. Just palpable hate and vilification.
“There is no interest here in science or scholarship of any kind. Just palpable hate and vilification.”
I couldn’t think of a more apt description of Mormon apologetics. Thanks for gracing us with your visit. Don’t let your fake victimhood complex hit you on the way out.
I think that until someone can get up in church and talk about the Book of Mormon as a story, we will continue to hemorrhage members. No one wants to call it a lie or forgery, as Jenkins mentions, but but is there a better word than story for it? I wish leaders would stop putting people in a bind.
Elisa, I had read your comment and in part it is what led me to the examination of what is really “foundational” to a belief in Mormonism. No question that to active LDS’s the Book of Mormon is the “keystone” of our religion and the First Vision is central to a testimony of the Restoration. These are the biggies, and to some, the BOM seems to really be the only scripture that is needed. As I pondered as to what is really fundamental, I recalled the comment by Br. Sill that if all the books in the world disappeared, the Church wouldn’t skip a beat. If one follows this logic, then the foundational aspect for the existence of an earthly church is continuing divine revelation and true authoritative priesthood that has efficacy beyond this life; and the foundational aspect of a person’s testimony is the witness of the Holy Ghost prior to baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost afterwards.
This was just a thought experiment and was not meant to challenge in any way the many points that you presented. My use of the phrases “I have no answer” and “who knows” in my remarks were said to convey the fact that I often have no clue as to what I’m talking about. Your sentence “The Joseph Smith story is not a story I am willing to be wrong about” made me sad. I certainly did not mean to go down that path.
For me, this very good post and comments led me first to think about the various ways that people get their testimony of Jesus (i.e. Alma, Jesus of Nazareth, mom, etc.) and then to consider the “what is left?” remark.
@rickpowers that makes sense. I think I interpreted your comment as “if the BoM and Bible aren’t historical than what happens to Jesus” which is a path a lot of people end up on.
I’m not sure why my Joseph Smith comment makes you sad. For me personally, the belief that there was some super special authority that was restored by some angels to him and gets passed down (to men only) and let’s them be in charge and gives them the authority to tell me what to do, including things like go to the temple monthly (which I’ve never liked) and wear garments (which have given me health problems) and sit for faith audits and get questioned about personal topics by men I don’t know (TR interviews) and expect my kids to do the same and oppose gay marriage and stay home with my kids because that’s my role as a woman … etc etc etc … well, that belief did me more harm that good.
So yes, I’m not willing to be wrong when it comes to being asked to “follow the prophet he knows the way” based on something Joseph Smith claims happened. That belief just isn’t something that helps me. There are other aspects of the JS story and church history that I think can be inspiring – some fact some fiction – but giving space to let go of the things that aren’t helpful by not taking them as history and fact has been quite helpful to me. But did dramatically change the way I interact with the Church. And I’m Church leadership is aware that would happen with others and unwilling to go there.
Thanks for the comments, everyone. It’s been an energetic and wide-ranging discussion.
FYI, W&T tends to have a very light hand when it comes to monitoring comments. We encourage civility and friendliness, but tend to de-list comments only when things get really ugly (personal insults, name calling, excessive profanity, etc.). Disagreements and pointed critique we allow — I mean, that’s pretty much what comments are for. Maybe people who spend most of their time in apologetic echo chambers are used to a different sort of online discussion. Here, if you say something stupid, you don’t get a pat on the back, you get someone saying, “Wow, that sounds kind of stupid.”
Warren Aston and Robert F. Smith (who Warren may have invited to participate in the comments), thanks for stopping by. Please weigh in on other posts if you feel so inclined.
Counselor said, “So there’s a doubling down on truth claims, because being wrong is embarrassing ….” Yes, the Church tends to publicly and visibly double down on this or that claim, then quietly back off from that claim over the next decade or two without ever expressly acknowledging that earlier positions have been abandoned. The Book of Abraham scrolls and translation come to mind, but there are many other examples that could be cited.
rickpowers, I agree that it certainly seems to be the case that it is easier to move biblical episodes and books from the “historical” category to some other category (myth, allegory, pseudepigrapha) without pulling the plug on the entire Bible. The Book of Mormon doesn’t seem to work the same way, but I sort of think that’s just because LDS leaders regularly insist that it’s an all or nothing deal. If we had actual ancient manuscripts in an actual ancient language that could be examined the same way we examine biblical and other ancient manuscripts, perhaps the same sort of distinctions could be made. In practice, mainstream Mormons (and leaders) just ignore parts of the BoM they don’t like anyway, so they don’t really take the “all or nothing” rule seriously. It’s just a tool for shutting down serious discussion about the Book of Mormon.
Elisa, it looks like you made a similar response to rickpowers’ interesting point. That’s a whole ‘nother post, as they say.
Kirkstall, interesting lists. That, too, would make a nice post.
Dave B., I didn’t intend any rudeness by my comment, but I am still curious. Do others agree that up to half of active members struggle with BoM historicity? I just can’t imagine half of the members of a ward in suburban Utah struggling with it. Of course, there isn’t really a church-sponsored venue to talk about these things in public, but that would lead me to assume that the vast majority of members don’t have an issue with historicity, not the other way around.
At any rate, I didn’t mean to come across as excessively harsh. It was just a gut reaction to your statement. I enjoyed the post overall.
Dylan, no problem. Yes, I’m just kind of throwing a number out. A fifth? A fourth? A third? Since those opinions are largely suppressed at church on Sunday, who really knows? But I’m fairly certain there is a significant percentage (pick your fraction) who don’t buy into many of the traditional orthodox doctrinal and historical positions but who don’t advertise it. There’s a good chunk of active Mormons who don’t think God hates coffee, who don’t think the Americas were peopled by ocean-crossing Jews from the Middle East, who don’t think Joseph’s seer stones were translation devices, who don’t think Adam and Eve were historical persons, and so forth. In large part, the Church doesn’t really care, as long as those folks continue to attend, don’t speak up at church, and continue to kick in money from time to time.
It occurred to me this morning (lying in bed trying to talk myself into getting up and starting the day) that this coming year studying the Old Testament is, perhaps, a good opportunity to begin introducing ahistoricity. Most of the discussion has focused on the BoM, but I have sometimes been surprised by resistance to the idea that Job or Jonah might be works of fiction (as many Biblical experts believe). I’m not certain why, but there seems to be a substantial group within the Church that wants all of scripture to be “historical and/or scientific documentary” and does not want to consider or allow others to believe that some parts of scripture might be “inspired fiction” or “creation myth” or other types/genres. The OT, with the many different genres represented in its collection of writings, seems like a good time to introduce the possibility that some scriptural writings can be something other than “historical”.
@ John W said:
“I remember Kevin Christensen, another apologist who often comes on here, made the same claim. And who was his “acclaimed” scholar? Well, none other than pseudo-scholar Margaret Barker, who has zero standing in the larger field of Biblical Studies and who has published almost exclusively in Christian presses.”
Which “larger field of biblical studies” do you speak of? Reference me one biblical scholar who contends with her work, and I can reference a dozen top biblical scholars who cite her work.
Is there something wrong with publishing in “Christian presses?” (T&T Clark or SPCK). How do her methods or thesis constitute “pseudo-scholarship?”
Margaret Barker is well-respected in the field of biblical studies. Her work stands on its own.
“Just palpable hate and vilification” OK, boomer. I just palpably rolled my eyes.
Dylan: I was surprised at the numbers about how many active young Mormons drink coffee on the DL (from Jana Reiss / Benjamin Knoll’s book The Next Mormons). As to the BOM historicity, I don’t know that I would believe a third or more fully disbelieve it has a historical origin, but I’d bet something like that many have doubts and/or aren’t fully convinced. I suspect that many who are fully convinced it is a historical record just haven’t really given it much thought. They find value in it, and it feels like scripture to them, so they are getting what they need from it without going down any faith-shaking rabbit holes.
I hope, as a Baby Boomer, you’re addressing someone named boomer and not using it as a pejorative…
Historicity, or lack of it, matters to the extent that people derive meaning from it.
Hawkgrl’s recent post, a Feminist Critique of Joseph, doesn’t necessarily rely on historicity, but does treat the nativity story quite literally, parsing in rather close detail the specific (king James?) wording of a short passage. A similar discussion can be had without assuming it is historical, but we can see that several of the comments are about whether it really, literally, happened.
Historicity is a more vital topic when it comes to questions of earth stewardship. People who believe in young earth creationism, or a literal world wide flood, or much less likely to be concerned about caring for the earth, or believe the science that says the planet is 4 billion years old and humans have been around for a hundred thousand years.
It matters because people make important decisions based on these assumptions.
Travis, we’ve talked about Margaret Barker before, and I foster no ambitions of changing your mind about her. But a couple of things, which are also relevant to the larger discussion on historicity and apologetics.
1) Margaret Barker’s main claim is that Jesus restored an earlier religion that has been corrupted. In essence she is trying to stake a Christian claim to the Old Testament and acts as an apologist in that sense. Since the LDS church claims sort of the same thing (prophets restoring lost religions), it is easy to see why she is popular among LDS apologists. In fact, the LDS apologist groups appear to be the only outside group giving her writings validity, as such she has welcomed it. She has no standing outside select Christian groups.
2) You ask who has challenged her research. Well, you’re presuming that research stands unless challenged. You’re not recognizing that research has to achieve standing first. And Barker’s work has achieved no standing outside the world of Christian apologetics. Typically acclaimed scholars ignore fringe research. They ignore Mormon apologetics (rightly so) and Christian apologetics as well. Why? Because they don’t want to inadvertently give it a platform that it doesn’t deserve and because there is no debate about its validity in the larger academic world. In other words, most Biblical scholars already consider the research nonsense, the fringe defenders of the research don’t operate on the same playing field of reason as the leading figures in the field and won’t change their minds, so why bother trying to address it.
3) You ask what is wrong with publishing in Christian presses. Nothing. But you don’t get to call someone a leading figure in a particular field if they haven’t published in leading academic presses and have only published in Christian or Mormon presses.
Alice: I’m on the cusp of Boomerdom, probably more likely Gen X, but to clarify, I meant it dismissively toward someone who is employing hyperbole and lacking in self-awareness. #notallboomers
Where do I find your list of biblical scholars who have “standing?” Book recommends? Which authors have the highest standing? I’d like to make sure not to waste time reading scholars without “standing.”
Super-weird to tirade against Margaret Barker, arguably one of the most important female theologians in the world today. I’m also not happy that LDS scholars piggy-back on her work in order to serve a narrative.
Travis, Israel Finklestein, Lawrence Stager, William Albright come to mind. Generally these are people who are known among a community of Bible experts, have published extensively in leading academic presses, have name recognition by other experts in their fields (and often outside their fields), teach at prestigious institutions, attract the best and brightest pupils, lead important archaeological digs, attract grant money for research projects, have many pupils that have studied under them (especially pupils who go on to impress and make a name among other leading experts), win awards, influence the narratives of textbooks, have a profound impact in shaping the general narrative in their fields, publish works that are widely referenced by other experts in their fields, gain the attention of journalists and scholarly publications who feature their findings, get invitations to speak at prestigious institutions, etc.
Margaret Barker is a low-ranking fringe figure. I only know of her because of how much Mormon apologists obsess over her because, hey, here’s a non-Mormon who promotes the fringe idea of restorationism (albeit in a bit different context) just like the Mormon church does.
I had some discussions with Latter-day Saints with university training over the past few years and discovered there is quite a breadth of how they handle BOM historicity. Someone really needs to do a serious survey and get some numbers.
But what I was surprised to find was that a good many simply dismissed any discussion of historicity being presented by apologists. Grant Hardy’s approach of dealing with the nuances in the BOM text seemed to have a great deal of favor. Their use of BOM verses in a religious setting was more connected with it’s usefulness in making a theological point rather than any argument towards historicity. They believe the BOM is “inspired.” These people would greet this discussion with a shrug or an eye roll and simply walk away.
I think there is a possibility that the “middle ground” exists before our eyes, we (the church) just haven’t recognized it yet.
It seems those with “university training” must not consider it interesting or important to consider whether JS’s story about Moroni was fabricated. If it was, does that not call into question other visitation stories on which the entire priesthood authority claim rests? I would love to find some middle ground but I’m finding it very difficult.
@your food allergy I had that very conversation with someone just the other day. I don’t see much allegory in the Moroni story – and I also don’t really see the value of the allegory (because the only symbolism to me suggests that certain special people are privy to knowledge that the rest of us aren’t and we just have to believe on their word … and I don’t think that’s healthy). Anyway, did that happen or didn’t it? And why don’t some people seem to care? Do facts matter? Does honesty matter?
You can take the BoM as a text and get some value of it. But the cold hard facts are that for every other “translation” for which was have the text (kinderhook and Book of Abraham) the translation is bogus. And there is also a pattern of deceit and fabrication with JS. And the Moroni story is crazy talk and riddled with contradiction and legit doesn’t make sense. (Ditto the priesthood restoration account.). And I just don’t get why that doesn’t *matter* to more people.
I remember growing up the explanation of “Moroni had to take the plates back so that we would all believe on faith.” Several years ago I was explaining that to a nonLDS coworker – one of the smartest people I know – who asked out of curiosity where the plates were, and it was one of those moments where as the words were tumbling out of my mouth it dawned on me how utterly absurd they were, and I honestly thought “how would this person trust me to do good work in the future if I just gave him this nonsense explanation when our clients are trusting us to defend them in multibillion dollar lawsuits …” (we worked together at a large law firm). Anyway, he seemed perfectly fine with me after that, but it shook me.
I just finished listening to a street epistemology episode featuring a Mormon couple and some Mormon missionaries. The comments from the apologists here mimic the podcast, which literally had me laughing out loud while listening to it in the gym on my Disney cruise in the Bahamas earlier this week.
Seriously. When the facts fall apart, apologists retreat to faith. But doesn’t the pope have faith? Don’t people raised in a Muslim way have faith? Is the Mormon faith better than these and if so, whose measuring stick applies?
Let’s just be real. For most people, their faith is a product of how they were raised. I now chuckle that I used to think I studied my way into a Mormon testimony when I never seriously considered any other way. And now I don’t care. I try to follow the Dalai Lama and make kindness my religion though I’m not always great at it. Gold plates are so irrelevant now.
Merry Christmas to my virtual congregation here-
I have previously outlined some origins of my faith crisis but the comments on this post make me realize perhaps I have a role to play in recently and reluctantly accepting a calling as Gospel Doctrine teacher. TBM wife probably suspects and respects my feelings but the other new teacher is a 75 year old widow and longtime resident of Utah/Idaho. Last week she bore testimony that the Family Proclamation was prophetic.
I hope to offer a more nuanced view, for example, the outline for Moses chapter 1 has a bunch of questions about overcoming temptation which I am going to skip completely or at least leave until the end in hopes that we run out of time.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Chet, here are a few ideas for teaching a successful adult Sunday School class. (1) Keep a hard copy of the manual conspicuously open in front of you when you teach. Then they’ll think what you say comes from the manual and won’t object. (2) Avoid saying things like “No, that’s completely wrong” or “you probably heard that in seminary, didn’t you?” Use milder forms of response. “There is another way of looking at that scripture ….” (3) Put off all misguided or unwanted commentary from the manual, then add “I’m sorry we didn’t have time to talk about X, Y, and Z, but you can read for yourself at home this afternoon.” No one will ever read it that afternoon. (4) Read Bible quotes from the NIV or NRSV, but don’t tell them that’s what you’re doing.
Angela, that thought occurred to me as well. I’ll completely get behind the idea that 1/2 to 1/3 don’t have a “testimony” of the BoM. I just couldn’t wrap my head around 1/2 to 1/3 actively disbelieving in the BoM as a result of having extensively studied and pondered BoM archaeology, DNA, translation, etc.