Any thorough LDS discussion of the early Genesis chapters must do several things.
- Must wrestle with the ancient Near Eastern context (other creation accounts), the Israelite views (both expressed and implied) in Genesis and the relationship between all of them. How are they alike? Different? Is their relationship one-way, literary, polemical, dependent? How univocal are these texts?
- Must wrestle with the nature of revelation and prophethood as creative, participatory, and reinterpretive. How much do prophets adapt and rework the past for the present? Does affirming “inspiration” or “revelation” imply anything about genre or “correctness” within a field of study? What is the relevance and nature of later reappropriations, comments or quotations (e.g. Paul on Adam, D&C on Adam-Ondi-Ahman, etc.)
- Must wrestle with the nature and relationship of Moses, Abraham, the temple, and Genesis, including the production and textual history of each of these accounts. Are these history, science, “myth,” other? How do we know, and what does that mean? Are LDS accounts independent witnesses? Who wrote these accounts, when, in what context? What were the sources or traditions they worked from, or within? What were their purposes in writing? Were the texts edited and reshaped for a different purpose later?
- Must deal with each of these sources (Bible, ancient Near East, LDS) and their interpretations in the original languages and texts; in other words, close reading of Hebrew, Akkadian, and Ugaritic, not KJV English; Words of Joseph Smith and manuscript histories, not Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith or the History of the Church. Translation often obscures important connections or smooths over difficulties, or misleads even.
- Lastly, if they want to have any impact, the discussion must be framed and presented in such a way that does not poke the average LDS in the eye, or strike them as so non-traditional as to be “outside” status. Most people don’t respond well to being insulted or talked down to. One must respect LDS tradition and sensibilities while also explaining why traditional LDS treatments or views fall short. In other words, you’re not going to change anyone’s mind by beating them over the head, but by “persuasion…love unfeigned…and pure knowledge.” (D&C 121:43-44). Lay it all out carefully, respectfully, non-dogmatically, and if they don’t come to agree with what’s presented, they will at least understand the argument.
These are complex sources and complex questions with lots of entanglements, and the amount of data is vast.
I once taught an Institute class, made up mostly of RM PhD students in hard sciences, who wanted to know how I as a faithful Mormon PhD student in Semitics, read Genesis. We spent about 10 hours of class on Genesis 1-8. (David, an Evangelical PhD student was in my Institute class that that time said it “significantly alter[ed] [his] views of scripture and in particular the Old Testament.”)
Since then, I’ve done a lot of reading on Genesis and wondered if this is a book project I’d like to take on. I think there’s a real need, and I’d like to see it filled. On the one hand, I feel underqualified in several ways, and I’m apprehensive about my ability to be sufficiently thorough and clear, and walk a fine line (too critical? Not critical enough? Too “scholarly”? Not enough?) On the other hand, I certainly have some of the relevant training and experience, and feel comfortable in both the academic and lay LDS worldviews, and “translating between them.”
Is something better than nothing? Will anyone else ever be bold (foolish?) enough to take up the challenge? What other issues need to be considered? And does anyone care, or in other words, is there a market?