On Reading Scripture and Being Human

The Affe mit Schädel (Ape with Skull) by Hugo Rheinhold. (WIkimedia Commons)

The Affe mit Schädel (Ape with Skull) by Hugo Rheinhold. (WIkimedia Commons)

About three weeks ago, David Bokovoy wrote an interesting blog post on historicity in the scripture in which he argued that questions of historicity are unhelpful anachronisms that tend to miss the point of scripture:

It’s important for modern readers of the Bible to recognize that biblical historians were not motivated to write their accounts out of antiquarian interest. The past was far too important a tool for these authors to simply recount what really happened. Instead, biblical authors used history as a tool to convey themes concerning the God of Israel and his relationship to his chosen people.

Bokovoy’s primary target in the article was an essay written by Paul Hoskisson. The main point of Hoskisson’s article was that Mormons are correct to “intuit the strong bond that exists between our faith and historical events,” and that “everything depends upon the historicity of what Elder Bruce R. McConkie called the three pillars of eternity—the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.”

I agree strongly with Hoskisson’s general conclusion (that historicity does matter), and I find his critical analysis of those who believe historicity does not matter to be quite compelling. But when it came time to argue in favor of historicity his arguments seemed slightly circular. As an example, one of them presumed a particular view of what ordinances are and how they work. Since this is largely information that comes from scripture, the logic seemed to reduce to: we know we ought to interpret scriptures in a particular way because we already know what they say.

Bokovoy, on the other hand, relies on the intentions of the Biblical authors (as the quote above shows). I believe this is the right approach. It allows the scriptures, as N. T. Wright puts it in Surprised by Scripture, “to offer their own path; their alternative points of view.” I just cannot convince myself that this point of view is so universally ahistorical.

I may as well point out the obvious: this isn’t my area of expertise. I have no training in ancient languages, culture, or history. I think there are some relevant insights on the question of how to read the Bible that come from far outside traditional fields, however. As one important example, consider Michael Tomasello and Malinda Carpenter’s paper on shared intentionality from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

“Human cognition seems very different,” Tomasello and Carpenter write. “Unlike other animal species, human beings use language, make mathematical calculations, create social institutions, build skyscrapers, use maps, marry one another, form governments, play symphonies, use money, and on and on.” These differences are mysterious precisely because, on an individual genetic and physiological level, there is so little difference between us and close relatives like chimpanzees. What is it about humans, then, that allows us to form culture and all that goes with it (language, art, science, and religion) while chimpanzees and other individually clever animals are stuck at the level of rudimentary tool use?

Tomasello and Carpenter explain: “After a few false starts, we have zeroed in on a suite of social-cognitive and social-motivational skills that may be collectively termed shared intentionality. Shared intentionality, sometimes called ‘we’ intentionality, refers to collaborative interactions in which participants share psychological states with one another.”

To understand just how fundamentally this capacity for shared intentionality differentiates us from other animals, consider this simple observation from Tomasello (quoted by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind): “It is inconceivable that you would ever see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.” No matter how individually clever animals like chimps might be, they lack the social toolbox that allows humans to collaborate. It’s still hard for us to grasp how incredible this mind-sharing ability is precisely because it is so intrinsic element to our nature. Does a fish know it is wet? Neither do humans realize that they are masters of social integration. And yet, “Humans are the giraffes of altruism,” wrote Haidt. “We’re one-of-a-kind freaks of nature who occasionally—even if rarely—can be as selfless and team-spirited as bees.”

Who would have thought, for example, of studying intensely such a trivial act as the gesture of pointing. And yet, as a Slate article summarizes research of Tomasello, Carpenter, and others, pointing is “an astonishingly complex act.”

A group of psychologists there have documented that infants, beginning at around 1 year of age, point and react to other people pointing in remarkably sophisticated ways. Babies point to refer to events in the past and the future. They point to refer to things that are no longer there. They can figure out, when an adult points across the room toward a group of objects, what exactly the adult is gesturing toward (the toy they’ve previously played with, say). They can deduce that, by pointing, an adult is trying to communicate something specific (find that toy hidden in that bucket). And not least of all, babies point because they want to share their experience of the world—that puppy—with someone else.

As incredibly wide as the cultural and linguistic gulf between us and humans who lived thousands of years earlier may be, there is still a deep commonality. “The basis of language,” says Carpenter, “is all right there in the gestures.” And gestures are both innate and unique to human beings.

The Bible, as a text written by humans to be read by other humans, is a gesture. The authors who wrote the story have picked up their end of the log. It’s our job to pick up the other end and carry it with them.[1] Language exists and communication is possible because we are capable of shared intentionality with other human beings, and it is on this abstract but universal basis that I agree with Bokovoy’s attempts to decipher what the Biblical authors were trying to convey to their audience. Since we are not that intended audience our job is harder, but what we’re doing when we read the Bible is not a fundamentally different activity from what we do when we look to see what a baby is pointing at. Sharing minds is the defining attribute of our humanity.[2]

And this is why, although I certainly agree with Bokovoy that “Biblical authors were not historians, at least not in the modern sense of the term,” I find it hard to believe that they were either ignorant of or apathetic towards the question of whether or not an event in the past really occurred. There is no reason why a story cannot be crafted to fit a particular theme or make a particular point without effacing the central events the story depicts. The more a story appears to rely on or emphasize the factual nature of events it depicts, the more we ought to assume that the person conveying the story wants us to believe (or assumes we will believe) that those events really took place. Nothing about this requires any technical or modern theory of history.

I think the strongest example of this in practice is the collection of New Testament stories about the Resurrection. Here I will cite N. T. Wright again:

Christianity appeals to history and to history it must go. And the question of Jesus’s resurrection, though it may in some senses burst the boundaries of history, also remains within them. That is precisely why it is so important, so disturbing, so life-and-death. We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.

Wright’s point, here and elsewhere, is that writers of the Gospels and epistles thought that the reality of the Resurrection was of pre-eminent importance, and that this is evident from within the text itself. This is seen, for example, in the recounting of Jesus eating and being physically grasped and touched by His stunned disciples. The literal nature of the Resurrection (or at least, the fact that everyone was taking it very literally) is also evident from the historical actions of Jesus’ disciples and their antagonists. Moreover, the idea that the Resurrection was symbolic is very difficult to reconcile with the culture of the time since—as Wright points out—it wasn’t really on the theological or cultural map up to this point.[3]

In contrast to the historicity of the Resurrection, Wright argues that the story of the Creation ought not to be taken literally based, once again, on the text itself:[4]

The fact that the animals are created before the humans in Genesis 1 and the male human before the animals in Genesis 2 is a classic literary way, perhaps a classic Hebrew literary way, of saying that these two accounts are signposts pointing away from themselves to a third reality that remains unstated, perhaps unstateable.

Wright, by engaging with the authors of the Bible cooperatively, is fulfilling the uniquely human capacity to share their minds. He might not be getting it perfectly right, but no one ever does. This is true even when we’re talking about communication between spouses who have shared decades together, how could the attempt to communicate across cultures, languages, and millennia not be more error-prone? It is error-prone, but the fact that we’re reading the text at all shows that it is far from impossible. It is, as humans, what we do. The challenge is to do it the best way we can.

Wright’s central point, then, and the argument that I think bolsters Hoskisson’s insistence on the relevance of historicity, is that we ought to care about whether events really happened or not when it appears the writers of the Bible cared. This will not resolve all the issues, of course. Some examples—like poetry or parable—are unambiguously non-historical. Others seem pretty clear to me in the opposite direction, such as the Resurrection. But quite a lot remain stuck in the middle, not least because “the authors of the Bible” (a deliberately vague term) is a nebulous and complex group of people encompassing a sequence of oral transmitters, then initial writers, and then another sequence of copiers, editors, redactors, and translators. Our views of this middle-ground will vary from person to person based on our perspectives, the evidence we have at hand, and the changing landscape of history, archaeology, linguistics, and related fields.

I don’t naively believe that if we all do our best to take the Biblical text as intended we will easily come to the same answers about historicity. But I do hope that the common endeavor will provide a sense of unity even when individuals differ on the particulars. I also think that some historical events are more integral to our faith than others, with the Resurrection being vital for all Christians and the historicity of the basic events of the Book of Mormon and its translation being of particular importance to Mormons.

Lastly, I want to point out that there is a certain danger in attempting to render symbolic what the authors seem to have written in a literal way. If one believes that Jesus is depicted post-Resurrection as eating not to assure readers that His body was in fact physical, but just to give the Resurrection symbol a more potent punch, then one risks violating the contract of shared intentionality. It’s not that communication is never done with a wink and a nod, or sarcastically, or ironically. It’s just that the temptation to believe that one is in on a secret that is designed to manipulate or fool ordinary readers is dangerously, seductively elitist.

This is, for me, the fundamental problem with over-symbolizing the scriptures. As I’ve written previously, I think the tendency is understandable. The more we understand the mechanism of mythology and symbolism (and other religious tools), the more it may seem like a battle between modernistic understanding of mechanics and naïve, pre-modern acceptance of magic. What’s left is a historicity-of-the-gaps, as it were. But there reason to doubt that a God who intervenes in human history could bring about genuine, historical events on which His prophets could build their myths and stories. Why not have symbolism and historicity? To suppose, on the contrary, that symbolism is the opiate of the masses is prideful. Pride is what would would have us believe that Santa Claus myths are required to keep ordinary mortals on their best behavior while we—the enlightened masters of symbolism and textual analysis—have outgrown such childish crutches.

Quoting from my father’s Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism:

Benjamin Winchester, who acknowledged Pratt’s influence, repeated his views in his influentialGospel Reflector. From there, they were reprinted in the church newspaper, Times and Seasons, where they established a quasi-official doctrine of Mormon scriptural exegesis. “It is necessary to establish some definite rule for interpretation,” one article ran. “The idea of spiritualizing the writings of the prophets and apostles” so that “none but the learned can understand them, is certainly repugnant to the word of God.”

The same principle of solidarity that animates, for example, the Word of Wisdom seems to render elitist interpretations of the Bible anathema to the spirit of the Restoration which began with the promise that wisdom is available to all who search for it. I do not doubt the utility and benefit of linguistic, cultural, and historical expertise to the study of scripture. I not only welcome them in theory, but in practice I devour such perspectives eagerly.

I simply believe, along with Wright, that “tomorrow’s world urgently needs to find a way forward that is neither that of secularism nor that of fundamentalism,” that this requires “a fresh integration of different modes and methods of study,” and most of all that:

Jesus is Lord of the world, so all truth is His truth. Let’s go and explore it with reverence and delight. Whether you look through the telescope or the microscope, whether you study texts or traditions, whether oceanography or paleography, you are thinking Jesus’ thoughts after Him.

It’s all the same Truth. Let’s resist the urge to use historicity as a litmus test for faithfulness (especially of non-central events, like Jonah or Job). This is a divisive approach that walls us off from expertise that can enrich our understanding of the scriptures. Let’s also resist the urge to banish historicity from relevance entirely, especially as that temptation to see ourselves as sophisticates who have outgrown the need for scriptural fairy tales violates the Mormon ethos of solidarity and the injunction to approach God in a child-like, trusting way. We ought to all be playing by the same rules and trying, as best we can, to take the Biblical authors as they present themselves.


1. This does not in any way conflict with a divine origin for the Bible. God just speaks through human beings or, even when He speaks directly, in our languages.

2. The fact that communication is better envisioned as sharing rather than transmitting/receiving combined with the fact that communication with God is possible has profound implications for how we see ourselves in relationship to God that I will not delve into farther in this post.

3.  Wright also has an extra-textual argument for the historicity of the Resurrection that is based on his philosophy that “love is the deepest mode of knowing” which I find beautiful, persuasive, and very Mormon, but also outside the scope of this post.

4. This is a point that Ben Spackman has also made again and again, by the way. In one example he writes: “[The h]istoricity of Jonah should be based upon its genre, not our opinion of the probability of surviving in a whale.” In other words: work with author’s own intentions (i.e. genre) rather than imposing an external framework of our own (i.e. the assessment of the likelihood of surviving in a whale or a fish for three days.)

39 comments for “On Reading Scripture and Being Human

  1. February 2, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    This post has my coveted endorsement.

  2. February 2, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    This post needs a thesis sentence.

  3. FarSide
    February 2, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    When discussing the historicity of scripture, it is a mistake to approach the entire Bible with the same mindset. The historicity of the Pentateuch is much more suspect than, say, the description of Paul’s travels in the New Testament.

    Genesis reflects Greek cosmology; it is not a reliable explanation for how the earth was created. Lot didn’t impregnate his two daughters; rather, the author’s objective was to discredit the Moabites and Ammonites, two historic enemies of Israel, by fabricating an incestuous genealogy. As Peter Enns has argued, the principal function of the myths contained in the Torah was to set the stage for the Davidic Kingdom.

    And while the biblical accounts of David’s reign may be factually accurate to a certain extent, it is clear that David’s apologists and spin doctors took liberties with the truth in order to burnish his image. For an excellent discussion of this topic read “The Historical David,” by Joel Baden. And such an approach to writing scripture is not something peculiar to the ancient scribes. Both B.H. Roberts and J. Reuben Clark believed that certain passages in the D&C reflect more the political will of Joseph than the desires of God.

    Openly questioning the historicity of scripture brings us closer to the truth. I agree that we should start from the premise that the prophets old did not follow modern principles of historiography and that there are valuable truths in the stories they tell, just as there are in the Greek myths and Aesop’s fables. But we only tie ourselves in knots when we try to defend as historical something that isn’t.

  4. February 2, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks, Adam.

    Dave, how about:

    We ought to care about whether events really happened or not when it appears the writers of the Bible cared.

    The rest of the post is either framing or reinforcing that point.

  5. Clark Goble
    February 2, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    I think this is right FarSide. I’m a big historicity proponent. Yet I think the OT in particular is has a lot of problems. (The Book of Mormon clearly suggests that as does the history of the compilation of the OT) It appears Joseph Smith thought this as well which is why he kept inquiring of the Lord and producing new revelations collected as the JST.

  6. Josh Smith
    February 2, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Following the discussion.

  7. bfwebster
    February 2, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Great post, great points.

    After participating in a number of Interpreter video roundtables on Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lessons, I became known as the guy who keeps pointing out (as per FarSide) that — thanks to Joseph Smith — we don’t have to take all of the Old Testament literally — and yet I’m a firm believer in historicity (within limits). In fact, one of my personal areas of interest is using the Book of Mormon — which I accept as an authentic ancient document that is, in fact, historical within the context of the writings of its various authors and Mormon’s/Moroni’s editing and shaping — as a reality check against certain Old Testament stories (e.g., the BofM has no swallowing whales, no ‘righteous genocide’, no talking donkeys, etc.). I also think that far more of the history in the OT is real (or, at least, historically based) than is commonly granted by documentary hypothesis (DH) scholars, even though I have no inherent problems with the concepts underlying DH (stop and think about the multiplicity of hands that the book of Ether in the BofM has passed through).

  8. Nate
    February 2, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    In many cases, accepting historicity is an act of faith, not of reason: “blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” But Mormons are generally not content to believe. They want to “know” and if something can’t be known they struggle to place it in their paradigm.

  9. FarSide
    February 2, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    Why should we accept historicity at all? as an act of faith or otherwise? I am quite comfortable rejecting historicity when it comes to the scriptures, and my faith is not diminished in the least. Indeed, the exact opposite is true.

    When I see that the archaeological evidence makes a compelling case that the Israelites did not engage in the wholesale destruction of the Canaanites but that the Old Testament stories of such destruction were simply the way one tribal culture demonstrates its superiority over another, I realize that God did not order the indiscriminate and wholesale destruction women and children. Or cows. And my faith is enhanced.

  10. February 2, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    I think I mostly agree with the thesis of the OP, but Matthew and Luke both seemed to care about the details of the nativity. Yet they seem to conflict, so what to do? And to FareSide’s point, shall I be disappointed if Herod didn’t slaughter the innocents?

  11. FarSide
    February 3, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Herod’s slaughter of the infants is thought by many biblical scholars (and non-scholars such as myself) to be an invented tale. None of the other gospels make reference to this episode, and such an extraordinary atrocity would likely have found its way into some of the surviving historical records (e.g., Josephus). If these scholars are right, then what were the authors of Matthew thinking when they composed their infancy narrative? The answer lies in the rest of Matthew’s story: Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt and then returning once the coast was clear—events which also cannot be found in the other gospels.

    Luke was portraying Christ as a king by contrasting him with Caesar Augustus: The emperor’s arrival may have been hailed with Roman trumpets but Jesus’ birth was announced with a heavenly choir of angels. The authors of Matthew took a different approach: they casted the Savior in the role of Moses, whose life was also threatened as an infant and who led his people out of bondage from Egypt, just as Christ would liberate them from death (both physical and spiritual).

    The principal purpose of these nativity stories was not to provide an accurate factual account of Jesus’ birth; rather, the authors had a more important message: to depict Christ as both of royal birth and as a Savior, a la Moses, to His people.

    Until we forsake the myth of scriptural literalism inculcated in us by CES, we will miss these larger messages. Admittedly, in many instances, we lack sufficient evidence to reach definitive conclusions about what actually transpired. This, however, should not stand in our way of making informed judgments based upon the information currently at our disposal, while leaving open the possibility that further light and knowledge may arrive in the future. And when you open your mind to these possibilities, the spiritual insights are limitless.

  12. February 3, 2015 at 12:43 am

    I’ve had plenty of discussions with Bible believing Christians, about various aspects of the nature of God, but it was only recently did I come in contact with one that was so far to the symbolism side that it really took me aback.
    I just finished reading ‘The Mormon doctrine of diety: the Robert-Van der Donckt discussion” by B.H. Roberts, and while I can’t find the quote exactly, the Catholic Bishop that B.H. Roberts was debating with made the argument that any scriptures which hinted at an anthropomorphic God was simply symbolism so that the dumb masses could kind of relate to what was going on.
    Your line

    while we—the enlightened masters of symbolism and textual analysis—have outgrown such childish crutches.

    really hits that sentiment on the head.

  13. ABM
    February 3, 2015 at 1:01 am

    When people (like me) talk about defending scriptural historicity, I don’t think they are referring to the slaughter of infants or even Mary and Joseph fleeing with the infant Jesus to Egypt. They are more than likely really just defending the idea (and hence their faith) that Jesus existed or that Moses existed, or that Nephi existed, etc.

  14. Jeb
    February 3, 2015 at 1:14 am

    Thank you FarSide. Really enjoying your comments.

    After reading both articles (Nathaniel’s and Bokovoy’s), I can’t help but think that Nathaniel has constructed a straw man. I think Bokovoy wouldn’t have much to object to regarding Nathaniel’s article. It doesn’t seem that anyone is disputing the historicity of the Resurrection.

  15. Jeb
    February 3, 2015 at 1:19 am

    ABM – it seems like Hoskisson actually gives a list of events that he feels are important (a kind of litmus test) such as the Flood, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, etc. This seems to go beyond whether people existed.

  16. ABM
    February 3, 2015 at 2:54 am

    I am not talking about Hoskisson. My point is that your everyday member is going to argue for the historicity of scripture, and even take it on faith, not because they want to defend the events that FarSide has outlined. But because most people believe, quite reasonably I think, that the ancient people that scriptures describe have to have existed for their faith to make any sense.

  17. February 3, 2015 at 6:19 am


    The idea that God did not order the wholesale slaughter of the Canaanites definitely makes the Old Testament easier to swallow. And–cards on the table–I agree that that event is not historical. So if you think you’re disproving my thesis with that, then you didn’t understand my thesis.

    My thesis was that we should consider historical those events which the authors seemed to view as importantly historical. That doesn’t include genocide. Why? Two main facts. First, we know that military victories tended to be vastly overstated by cultures at the time and were used to bolster the glory of the leaders who accomplished them. Second, the Old Testament account has plenty of overt and clear contradictions to the genocidal narratives. Everyone gets killed in one book, and then in the next book people are still there. These are text based reasons to conclude that the genocides didn’t take place. It seems relatively clear (to me, at least, as a non-expert) that the authors of the Bible would have been quite surprised to have anyone try to literalize the conquest account because they were working in a non-literal narrative, a kind of holy propaganda. If it wasn’t intended literally, why should we read it literally?

    But the authors would be equally shocked, I believe, to have someone conclude that therefore historicity never mattered at all. It would be like someone discovering that an 8pm sitcom was non-historical and therefore concluding that the 6:30pm news broadcast on the same channel must have also been ahistorical.

    Joking aside, clearly the news broadcast is supposed to be quite historical even though the sitcom isn’t. Just because they’re on the same channel and only an hour apart (from ending of one to start of the other) doesn’t mean conclusions about one tell you about the other.

    For my part: I think Hoskisson’s list of historical events is too long. But I do think that for Mormons two big issues are (1) the literal resurrection, (2) the idea that Lehi and his family traveled to the New World, and (3) the literal plates that were translated by Joseph Smith. If we render all of that symbolic then I’m afraid we have a strong faith in a symbolic God. I am not particularly interested in a symbolic God and, more to the point, I do not believe that a symbolic God is compatible with the overall message of the scriptures which (to me) depict a literal, personal God who is quite actively involved in the unfolding of personal and collective histories.

    I think these broad contours of a historical foundation for certain key events (not every story, and certainly not fairly tangential stories that have nothing to do with God’s core mission like the Herod story) is supported by scripture (primary importance).

    But the central point of my post is not to debate this or that particular event. As I stated: the unified approach (of trying to take as historical what the scriptures’ authors ask us to take as historical) results in a situation where some events seem ahistorical (I included the Creation account in the post, I would add the genocidal conquest narrative) and some events seem necessarily historical (the resurrection is key) and lots of events are ambiguous, but our primary concern should be in understanding the intent of the authors and letting scripture speak for itself. Not prejudging with an assumption that everything must be literal (misguided fundamentalism) or that everything can be symbolic (misguided spiritualization). I’m arguing against both extremes.

  18. FarSide
    February 3, 2015 at 9:00 am

    “Not prejudging with an assumption that everything must be literal (misguided fundamentalism) or that everything can be symbolic (misguided spiritualization). I’m arguing against both extremes.”

    Nathaniel, it is hard to disagree with your proposition, and I think your unified approach is the right way to go. As I noted in my first comment, while the historicity of the Bible is suspect in certain places, in others there is both textual support for the events described as well corroborating evidence from other sources (e.g., archeology). Where I part company with you and many church leaders is in your list of events which must be accepted as historically accurate if one is to genuinely embrace the Mormon faith.

    Yes, I believe one most accept the actual life, death and resurrection of Christ to be a Christian, let alone a Mormon. And I, too, have no interest in a purely symbolic God. But I do not believe that it is essential for me to subscribe to the notion that “the literal plates were translated by Joseph Smith,” i.e., that the Book of Mormon is a literal translation of what was on the plates found by the Prophet Joseph. Brant Gardner’s excellent work on the translation process—”The Gift and the Power”—makes a compelling case that it was a conceptual, not a literal, translation. And the verbatim insertion of chapters from the King James translation of Isaiah, combined with the presence numerous anachronisms and 19th Century Protestant notions of Trinitarianism (2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44), reveal that this is not strictly an ancient work.

    And I have serious doubts about the historical accuracy of the events described in the Book of Mormon and whether they actually took place in the Americas. But I do believe that it is a work of scripture that contains important eternal truths and that some of the events described on its pages may have taken place in some fashion, at some location, and at some point in time.

    I respect your opinion to the contrary. Sadly, there are many in the church (but I don’t mean you), who don’t respect mine, who don’t believe there is room on their pew for people like me.

    Our church has, all too often, created litmus tests that tend marginalize those who dare to question what the institution has decreed are fundamental tenets carved in stone. Not only does this result in the loss of some very good people, but subsequent events and new revelations sometimes compel us to rethink our core beliefs. When that happens, it’s difficult to edit what you’ve chiseled on that rock.

  19. February 3, 2015 at 9:30 am


    Yes, I believe one most accept the actual life, death and resurrection of Christ to be a Christian, let alone a Mormon.

    That’s the really key sequence of events right there, and I think it’s great to establish that common ground. I think there’s a tendency to sometimes have the folks on either side sort of overstate their case, and that’s not a reference to you, it’s a reference to Bokovoy and Hoskisson. Reading Bokovoy’s article, it seemed as though history was irrelevant in all aspects. I have no idea if that’s an accurate reflection of his beliefs, but it definitely fits the emphasis of his post. Meanwhile Hoskisson’s list seemed not only too long, but it included events that aren’t really clearly defined. Take the Flood. I’m inclined, based simply on the fact that it shows up in so many legends (outside the Bible), to think that there is some historical basis to it, but I’m not really wedded to the idea of a global deluge. So: is my position historical or not in Hoskisson’s view? I don’t know.

    So it’s great to get folks who generally argue for ahistoricity to make a firm claim about the necessity of historical events. And it’s great to get folks who generally veer towards literal interpretations to do concede that non-literal readings of some stories can actually be fully compatible with respect for the source text.

    But it’s less about the quantity of historicity then it is about why it is that we view events as historical or not. And this is where I might differ slightly from you, in that most of your judgments of historicity seem to be about archaeology and other evidence. I think the primary consideration (not the only, but the primary) has to be textual and theological. It’s definitely not either/or, and this is particularly true when the human research sheds light (culturally, linguistically, etc.) on the Biblical record.

    But there’s a difference between (for example) stating that Jonah is ahistorical based on the fact that cultural and historical research suggests it’s satirical (using human understanding to better understand the scriptures) vs. stating that Jonah is ahistorical because a human can’t survive in a whale for three days (using human understanding to restrict the interpretation of the scriptures). How we reach our conclusions is usually more important than what those conclusions are. So the important question for me isn’t what we view historical, but why we view those events as historical, and that’s what my post is primarily about.

    I have the same basic approach when it comes to the BoM. When it comes to something like DNA evidence, I’m more interested in incorporating that to better understand the text (e.g. it moves us from naive pan-hemispheric models to limited geography model) than I am in letting human understanding dictate completely how I interpret the scripture (e.g. abandoning the way the BoM presents itself and was presented by Joseph Smith as historical). I think when we let human understanding work with the text, we get a lot more out of it. We can better understand Nephite culture if we see them as a minority group in a larger setting, for example. When we let human understanding work against the text, I’m afraid that we run the risk of abandoning scripture as scripture and ceding ultimate authority to human wisdom.

    Still, I’m not interested in litmus tests either, and the priority is on Christ. Not gold plates. So I find myself feeling that we agree far more than we disagree.

  20. matt b
    February 3, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Nathaniel, I want to push back against your argument that “spiritualizing” or “synbolizing” the scriptures is inherently elitist. Historically speaking that’s the rhetorical strategy of the fundamentalist movement. (I don’t think you’re intentionally making those moves; I just think that it reflects the permeation of the way conservative evangelicalism thinks about religion through American culture more generally, which causes all sorts of problems.) Throughout the history of Roman Catholicism, for instance, it’s been widely understood that the scriptures can be read in a variety of ways. In the Confessions, Augustine argues _against_ a literal reading of Genesis 1. In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas makes the case that any given passage of scripture might be read in four different ways, only one of which is historical. Neither Martin Luther nor John Calvin were strict historicists. The phenomenon of assuming that the historical way of reading any scriptural narrative is the most “natural” or “foundational” way of reading it is a product of the last couple hundred years or so.

  21. February 3, 2015 at 10:12 am

    matt b-

    Nathaniel, I want to push back against your argument that “spiritualizing” or “synbolizing” the scriptures is inherently elitist…The phenomenon of assuming that the historical way of reading any scriptural narrative is the most “natural” or “foundational” way of reading it is a product of the last couple hundred years or so.

    Point One – That’s the false dichotomy I’m fighting against. We don’t have an either/or of spiritual/historical. The whole idea that we assume what approach makes more sense first and then read the scriptures second is the problem. We should, to the extent possible, read the scriptures and develop our interpretative framework based on what we think the authors intended. Sometimes it will be historical. There is really no doubt that the Resurrection is intended to be seen as a historical event. Sometimes it will be ahistorical (there have been several examples in this thread.)

    The important thing isn’t historical vs. ahistorical. It’s that we let the scriptures speak for themselves as much as we can.

    Point Two – Spiritualizing the scriptures really does tend towards elitism. Noting in your post really counters that. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. All human wisdom tends towards pride. That’s not an argument for ignorance. It’s an argument for caution. Same goes here.

    When the scriptures call for spiritual and ahistorical readings, that’s how we should read them. I gave the example of Genesis 1 and 2 (from N. T. Wright) in my own post. Clearly I’m not opposed to non-literal, ahistorical readings. I just think a word of caution should go along with them.

  22. FarSide
    February 3, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Nathaniel, and for authoring such an engaging post. And I do believe our views on this subject overlap considerably.

    Some in the church find these subjects unsettling and either decline to engage them or openly discourage others from pursuing them. For my part, I love this stuff! Reading the works of Peter Enns, N.T. Wright, Kenneth Bailey, and Bernard Lohfink, among others (such as your parents), and then kicking their ideas around on web sites such as Times and Seasons is both intellectually stimulating and spiritually uplifting.

    Thanks again, Nathaniel, for facilitating this discussion. I anxiously await your next post.

  23. William
    February 3, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Religion demands so much of us and Mormonism seems to demand more than many religions do. It demands a lot of our free time and money. Given this, shouldn’t we look very closely at its claims? If it is based on myth (like you seem to be saying about the creation stories), shouldn’t we welcome the truth that it is myth and apply it as such? Instead, you seem to be claiming that those who believe that the Bible and Book of Mormon are symbolic and myth based are prideful? If Christianity and Mormonism are in reality myth and not based on history, how does knowing the truth make one prideful?

  24. February 3, 2015 at 10:58 am


    f it is based on myth (like you seem to be saying about the creation stories)…

    First: The basis (as in: most important part or foundation of) of Christianity and of Mormonism is the Atonement. Not the Creation. Second: to say the depiction of the Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is not historical doesn’t meant that the Creation is a myth with no basis in reality. I believe that God created the Earth, I just don’t mistake the description in Genesis for a literal account of that Creation.

    you seem to be claiming that those who believe that the Bible and Book of Mormon are symbolic and myth based are prideful?

    Definitely not. There’s a big difference between warning that a particular intellectual position is prone to pride and accusing people there of being prideful.

    If Christianity and Mormonism are in reality myth and not based on history, how does knowing the truth make one prideful?

    See above. You’ve done a good job of articulating why saying “X is prone to Y” is not the same as saying “People who do X are Y” nor of saying “One should never do X.”

  25. February 3, 2015 at 10:59 am


    Thanks again, Nathaniel, for facilitating this discussion. I anxiously await your next post.

    No problem! Thanks for your comments as well.

    I usually post every other Monday, so my next post for T&S should be Feb 16.

  26. February 3, 2015 at 11:39 am

    As always, Nathaniel models a kind dialogic approach as he seeks to map out a middle ground between disparate views within our community. I hold great respect for him and sincerely applaud this effort. But at the same time, I’ll share that in terms of “historicity” and the Bible, for me there simply is no middle ground. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible lacks historicity. Please note, that doesn’t mean that it fails to describe historical events. But I don’t see any evidence that its authors present an accurate scientific analysis of the past.

    In recent weeks, I’ve posted a series of essays that support this statement. And really, in terms of this issue, those posts have only scratched the bare surface (I haven’t even gotten to the Gospels yet).

    Without question, the most important historical event from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible is the Exodus out of Egypt. I refer to this as a “historical” event because I very much believe that it was. But the way the most significant historical event in the entire Hebrew Bible is described lacks historicity.

    The Bible reports that six hundred thousand men left Egypt during the Exodus (Ex 12:37-38 and Nu 1:46). If we add to that number women and children, plus “others” (Ex 12:38), that number would probably exceed two million. Is it reasonable to assume that two million people could leave Egypt (when the population at the time would have been around three million), then wander around the desert for forty years without leaving any archeological trace? Forget the challenge of feeding such a population in the desert, imagine the problem with latrines!

    And what do we do with the fact that the way the Bible describes the event mirrors cosmic battle motifs between gods? In its description of the cosmic Exodus battle, Psalm 77:16 describes the Red Sea “writing” and “convulsing” at the sight of God. This imagery parallels motifs we encounter in the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish where Marduk battles the Sea Monster Tiamat and splits open her carcass. Thus, Psalm 136:13 goes even further with this mythological imagery by depicting Yahweh cutting the Red Sea into pieces.

    But even if we ignore the way the Exodus appears described in the Psalms and simply focus our attention on the historical narrative in Exodus itself, we immediately run into problems. The ten plagues are in fact the result of combining various sources, none of which had all ten. And when we return to the way the event appears recounted in Psalms 78 and 105, we find that these texts list the number and sequence of the plagues differently than what actually appears in Exodus.

    So if we can’t find “historicity” in THE most significant historical event from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible, what does that say about the rest of biblical historical narrative?

    Theologically, I must reject the assumption that because historicity matters to us today, it must therefore matter to God (and by extension scriptural authors). In addition to the fact that this approach would make both God and scripture in our image, after the manner of our own likeness (a theological position I find inherently problematic), I see no evidence in the Bible that historicity was a factor in the production of scriptural texts. None.

    I appreciate Nathaniel’s thesis “that we should consider historical those events which the authors seemed to view as importantly historical.” Nathaniel then specifies that he doesn’t see the Bible’s stories of creation, conquest, and Jonah as conveying true history. While this position sounds logical, the problem we need to address is this:

    What are the criteria for determining when an author considered an account “historically accurate”?

    When it comes to the Bible, we’re dealing with literary genres or forms that are completely foreign to our day and culture. How do we know that Jonah was intended as satire rather than “history”? How do we know that the author of Genesis 1 did not believe that his creation account was historically accurate? Today, we can turn on our TV sets and within minutes know that we’re watching a comedy sitcom, or a teenage slasher flick because we’re familiar with the form. No doubt ancient Israelites could do the same with the stories of Jonah, Job, men meeting women at wells, and, yes, even the Exodus. But we’re not them.

    To identify form and authorial intent we must rely upon the historical critical method, and when we do, the overwhelming consensus states that biblical authors were not producing history as we understand the term.

    As Latter-day Saints, we have to some extent inherited the general Protestant assumption that the Bible is historically reliable. The evidence, however, simply cannot sustain this assumption. This is why Christian biblical scholar Dr. Peter Enns has written, “Protestants must be willing to learn to be comfortable with how the Bible actually behaves rather than presuming how it should behave and then massaging the data to align with that theory.” As I have shared on my blog, I believe that both LDS theology and Mormon scripture itself encourages readers to adopt this approach.

  27. Dave K
    February 3, 2015 at 12:30 pm


    I also appreciate this thoughtful post, including your back-and-forth with FarSide. I too am far from an expert as to historical issues. I find your proposal – to look at the text as the biblical authors would have seen it – to make sense. I am going to give this a try.

    I have a few questions though. First, to what degree must your proposal account for biblical historical facts attested to by modern scripture? For example, in D&C 137:5, Joseph Smith describes Adam as a literal person. In D&C 107:41-52, Smith provides an ordination chronology from Adam to Noah, including the exact ages when each biblical figure was ordained. In D&C 138:39, Joseph F. Smith describes Eve as a literal person. Don’t these verses significantly limit the ability for LDS-faithful scholars to approach the Bible from the viewpoint of its authors? In other words, even if biblical scholarship suggests that the author(s) of the Pentateuch did not literally believe in the lifespans they attribute to Methusaleh, et al., are we (LDS) nevertheless tied to those unbelievable numbers because they are confirmed by Moses Chapter 8?

    Second, to what degree should your proposal account for current doctrines that depend on biblical historical facts? For example, if the flood was not global (something I also doubt), how does that affect our doctrines that the earth was baptized and that proper baptism requires full immersion? It seems that one of those doctrines would have to be dropped. And, relatedly, doesn’t this approach mean that very many of our prophets, seers and revelators have been wrong in their approach to our scriptures? Those with keys have certainly taught as doctrine the historical existence of Job, Jonah, and Abraham’s sacrifice. If we go with your approach don’t we risk compromising our claim to inspired leaders?

    Finally, what happens when your approach is applied to the works of modern prophets – specifically, the Book of Abraham? If we should read Job as the biblical authors intended, then we should also read the BOA as Joseph Smith intended it – as a literal translation of the papyri. Does your approach mean that I can’t believe in the catalyst theory? And if so, how do I square the conflict that (i) Joseph and his contemporaries believed they were translating the actual papyri, with (ii) the BOA is not a correct translation of the papyri (at least the fragments that remain)?

  28. February 3, 2015 at 12:59 pm


    Thanks so much for weighing in! I really appreciate that you took the time to read and reply to my post.

    My concern is that semantic differences over terminology are obscuring more substantive matters. Let me concede, in order to skip us past the linguistic quagmire, that historicity entails “accurate scientific analysis.” In that case, it follows quite easily that “From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible lacks historicity.” To the extent that you identify historicity with a modern genre, the Bible is no more capable of historicity than it is of being a 3-camera sit-com: the genre is a modern innovation.

    The risk of talking past one another emerges once you realize that very few people care about such a technical definition. I don’t think there’s anyone at all who thinks that the 600,000 number in Genesis is scientifically accurate (i.e. not 599,999 and not 600,001). Terms like “man” aren’t even unambiguously quantifiable in our time. Is the age cutoff 18 or 21? What if someone was turning 21 on the day of the Exodus? You see my point: the precise headcount just doesn’t matter very much to anyone.

    There are some small number of people who would assume that modern conventions apply, and that 600,000 would therefore have to fall in the range of 550,000 to 649,000. These might be the same folks that think the Creation entails 6 24-hour periods. I won’t argue that they don’t exist, I’ll just stipulate that nothing Dan Peterson, Ralph Hancock or–most importantly–Paul Hoskisson wrote entails such radical and anachronistic literalness.

    I will also grant wholeheartedly your point that “To identify form and authorial intent we must rely upon the historical critical method.” I said as much in my own post: “I do not doubt the utility and benefit of linguistic, cultural, and historical expertise to the study of scripture. I not only welcome them in theory, but in practice I devour such perspectives eagerly.”

    So far so good: 1) some people do ignorantly impose anachronistic readings on the scriptures and 2) the antidote to that relies on the historical critical method.

    The problem I see is in your assumption that Hoskisson falls into that category. Nothing in his article suggests that he does, aside from his use of the word “historicity” in a way that you reject. That’s a problem, but the first paragraph betrays his real meaning of the term:

    A small group of critics maintain, contrary to Latter-day Saint belief, that it is not necessary to believe in the historicity of central events in the scriptures… For example… Thomas L. Thompson, explains that…“that the Bible does not speak about an historical Abraham.”

    Note that, where you preface your analysis with a bright-line distinction between the terms “historicity” and “historical,” Hoskisson treats them interchangeably. Hoskission is not concerned with “accurate scientific analysis.” The writers and thinkers Hoskisson criticizes are not concerned with “accurate scientific analysis.” I am not concerned with “accurate scientific analysis.” I don’t think any significant number of people are concerned with “accurate scientific analysis.” Even if we grant that your definition of “historicity” is the correct one, we still have the case where everyone is using the word “enormity” to mean “enormousness” and you are relying on it’s true definition (a very great evil) to castigate someone for writing about the enormity of a fundraising drive (or whatever). Terminologically: you win. But substantively, the discussion collapses into confusion.

    I’m afraid your critique of Hoskisson and your subsequent posts may have confused a lot of people who (like Hoskisson) erroneously treat historicity and historical as interchangeable and therefore interpret your statement that historicity doesn’t matter to mean that the historical events of the Bible don’t matter, and your statement that the Bible lacks historicity to mean that the events depicted in the Bible are fictional. (There are examples in this comment thread.)

    I think you and I might be in agreement, once terminology is aside, that the important thing to do is to read the scriptures as the authors intended to read them (and that to accomplish that, human research can be of great help.) Do you think that that is the case?

    EDIT: To clarify, there are lots of other things I disagreed with in Hoskisson’s article. But the central issue of historicity / historical doesn’t seem to be a major difference between your post and his, from what I can tell.

  29. February 3, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Dave K-

    I have a few questions though. First, to what degree must your proposal account for biblical historical facts attested to by modern scripture? For example, in D&C 137:5, Joseph Smith describes Adam as a literal person. In D&C 107:41-52, Smith provides an ordination chronology from Adam to Noah, including the exact ages when each biblical figure was ordained. In D&C 138:39, Joseph F. Smith describes Eve as a literal person. Don’t these verses significantly limit the ability for LDS-faithful scholars to approach the Bible from the viewpoint of its authors?

    Well, they certainly make it harder for a Mormon to dismiss Adam and Eve as unhistorical, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem. Citing N. T. Wright (notably: not a Mormon):

    I do not know when Genesis reached its final form. Some still want to associate with Moses. Others insist it was at least edited during the Exile. But whatever view you take about that, certainly the Jews of the Second Temple Period would have no difficulty in decoding the story of Adam as an earlier version of their own story. Placed in the garden. Given a commission to look after it. The Garden being the place where God wanted to be at rest to exercise his sovereign rule. The people warned about keeping the commandment. Warned in particular that breaking it would mean death. Breaking it and being exiled. It all sounds very, very familiar. And it leads me to my proposal: that just as God chose Israel from the rest of humankind for a special strange demanding vocation, so perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding vocation. This pair, call them Adam and Eve if you like, were to be the representatives of the whole human race. The ones in whom God’s purpose to make the whole world the place of delight and joy and order eventually colonizing the whole creation was to be taken forward. God the Creator put into their hands the fragile task of being his image-bearers. If they fail they will bring the whole purpose for the wider creation, including all the non-chosen hominids, down with them.

    I cited Wright earlier for dismissing a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2, but here is maintaining that Adam and Eve are historical beings, just that the stories about them are a mixture of invention and history. That’s compatible with the D&C verses you quoted.

    Is this the right answer? I have no idea. But the point is to show a model of how we work out the complicated issues of unraveling scripture to try and see what the authors wanted to tell us.

    Second, to what degree should your proposal account for current doctrines that depend on biblical historical facts? For example, if the flood was not global (something I also doubt), how does that affect our doctrines that the earth was baptized and that proper baptism requires full immersion? It seems that one of those doctrines would have to be dropped.

    Well, I think it has an impact, but I don’t think it’s that stark. It may mean, for example, that you decide immersion is an institutional rather than a metaphysical requirement. In other words: we practice baptism by immersion not because it is the one true way, but because having a single, identical practice helps keep us unified and avoid confusion. If that’s true, then the partial flood can still count as a baptism and we can still believe that we ought to do it by immersion. Or maybe there isn’t even a problem: if everything Noah thought of as “the world” was flooded, then the symbol does what it was supposed to do. It’s not a literal baptism of the Earth, it’s an object lesson for Noah.

    I’m not gonna do the third one just ’cause (1) got to get back to work and (2) the real point I want to make is don’t be hasty. A contradiction today might be an insight tomorrow, and if you think everything makes sense (and you haven’t been translated yet), then you know you got something wrong. The important thing is the process of figuring it out, the process of studying scripture, the process of becoming more like Jesus. The important thing is not having the right answers at any particular time.

  30. Clark Goble
    February 3, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    To be clear we probably should note a certain distinction between whether a person existed and whether the accounts about them are accurate. George Washington existed and some things people know about him are reasonably accurate. However many things are not, such as the tale about lying and the cherry tree.

    It’s quite possible for there to be a real Adam and Eve while the OT might well be a very misleading presentation of their actual life.

  31. ABM
    February 3, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Nathaniel, you conveyed the this point to David much better than I did to FarSide and Jeb. Thanks for your clarity!

  32. p
    February 3, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    You can’t draw parallels regarding shared intentionality between a book with verified historical components (Bible) and a book with none – meaning that when it comes to the Book of Mormon, symbolic readings/interpretations are literally all we’ve got anyway. After 185 years of speculating, hoping, digging (literally), analyzing, arguing, misrepresenting and excommunicating can we finally concede that with regard to BoM people and sites, there’s simply no there there (nod to G. Stein)? Yes, the current ontological tap-dance is diverting and sometimes enlightening but it’s not honest or rational and, as a culture, it gets us nowhere. Nathaniel Givens, David Bokovoy, Adam Miller, you know this. You also know that our culture desperately needs a paradigm shift on MANY issues (if you saw Elders Oaks & Christofferson struggling on TribTalk a few days ago this was blindingly obvious). Why don’t you start with some foundational honesty about the Book of Mormon and let’s go from there, damn the torpedoes. A little leadership on this issue would go a long long way, and if not you, who?

  33. February 3, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    I appreciate the “take the Biblical authors as they present themselves” approach and agree that it helps find a middle ground. Of course “as they present themselves” is open to endless discussion and debate (endless because “authors” is not well defined, because whoever they are they are not available, and because authorial intent is not the end of the discussion anyway).

    But it does not end the divisive nature of the historicity discussion, the litmus test that some recognize or feel. Suppose I conclude (however carefully or casually) that none of the scriptures are historical. (If you prefer “historicity” in that sentence, tell me how to make it work grammatically.) Suppose I conclude that there was not an actual human being in historical time who is described as Abraham. That there was not an actual human being anywhere in the Americas any time in the vicinity of 600 B.C. who is the “I, Nephi” of 1 Nephi 1:1. To up the stakes here . . . even that there was not a literal rising from the dead in the resurrection. More precisely, suppose I conclude that while there were people around and things actually happened, it is irrelevant to the authors–that they aren’t even thinking about real people on real mountains seeing burning bushes or three crosses, but are telling a story with purpose that has little or nothing to do with historical events. If my conclusion is that the scriptures are 100% ‘holy myth’ (that that is what the authors intend) then have I excluded myself from the communion, from the count of believers? Does it mean I should not be any part of the conversation?

    To be clear, I am not there yet personally but I find myself looking at that path. More importantly, for those who are on that road already, I would readily accord them a place at the table and in the discussion. To put it bluntly, there is so much power and significance already in the ‘myth’ of the resurrection that I want to hear it fully and deeply, and I’m not sure how much is left to gain from a historicity of resurrection. (I know that’s provocative and many will disagree. That’s sort of the point.)

  34. hope_for_things
    February 3, 2015 at 6:02 pm


    I’m personally on this path that you are describing. I’m studying the scriptures in an attempt to glean value for my personal journey, but I’ve had to accept that I don’t believe much of the bible to be historical, as the evidence is not compelling to me. I also see very little evidence for a historical Nephi as you explain.

    With the resurrection, I find peace of conscience in accepting the idea that it may have never happened. At the same time, I like to hope that it did, but I’m comfortable if it didn’t happen and realize that we can never know for sure. Whether Jesus actually had to suffer for our sins or not seems less important to me, than the very real and personal application that forgiveness and redemption plays in my life. I consider those gifts very real and attribute them to being part of a divine plan for our welfare and growth.

    I see scripture more as a mechanism for explaining theological positions and less as history. I agree with you that many people push back on these perspectives and find them threatening to the lines they draw in the sand around their perceptions of heresy, but I’m feeling more comfortable with my explorations of these paradigms and they are allowing me to hold onto a faith in a higher power within the Mormon community.

  35. Scott
    February 3, 2015 at 7:51 pm


    Thanks for this post – I very much enjoyed it. Like you, I feel like the historicity of the BOM is too integral to my faith to give it up easily. If there were no actual plates, everything becomes so symbolic, deceitful, and loose that I just feel like I have nothing to really hold on to.

    Fortunately, unlike what a lot of young mormon scholars these days seem to believe, I think the evidence in favor of a BOM that is history-based is still reasonably good. While there are troubling aspects and a lot of questions about how the translation worked, I am not swayed by some of the common complaints. For example, Michael Coe – while clearly an expert on Mesoamerica – does not strike me as someone who has thought hard about the BOM or was willing to entertain the possibility that the BOM has some historicity. Being spoon-fed a few anachronistic objects that are in the BOM and then making the obvious complaint that those objects didn’t exist in Mesoamerica to me isn’t enough to show that he has thought through what is a very complicated probability calculation.

    Here is my question for you. What are the 3-4 evidences that you find most compelling in regards to the historicity of the BOM?

    My apologies if you have already answered a question of this sort somewhere else (if that is the case and a link is available, I would love to see it). Given our similarities in belief, I would very much enjoy hearing your response. Thanks!

  36. February 4, 2015 at 11:49 am


    I appreciate your recognition of the fact that my (our) position on the relationship of the scriptures to history is considerably more nuanced than some have appeared to recognize or grant. I’ve been bemused over the past few weeks to see myself represented, essentially, as some sort of hyper-conservative biblical inerrantist. In actuality, my view of historical writing doesn’t differ much across the board, whether the text in question be Herodotus, Gibbon, al-Tabari, Manetho, Tacitus, Mormon, Luke, the Chronicler, or W. F. Albright. I see human limitations, agendas, contemporary influences, mistakes, literary shaping, truths, and, yes, historical facts in all of them. And so, I’m confident, do such other writers on my “side” as Paul Hoskisson, William Hamblin, and John Gee.

  37. February 4, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks Nathaniel for another judicious discussion.
    To those distancing themselves from Christ’s resurrection: Is there new evidence coming in that I’m not aware of disproving the resurrection? Is it somehow less plausible now than it was 1000 or 2000 years ago? Or is the resurrection bound up with religious authority that has been compromised in other ways? Has this once central teaching proved incompatible with emerging insights regarding human dignity?

  38. Blake
    February 5, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I have been exploring non-LDS biblical scholarship written by world-class, non-LDS scholars who believe in the resurrection and the divinity of Jesus, but who also engage with the historical-critical scholarship and who take a more nuanced view of the Bible, e.g., who may be willing to read certain passages as symbolic or mythical (such as Jonah), rather than entirely literal. I’ve loved N.T. Wright and would be thrilled to read works by others of his caliber.

    Any recommendations?

  39. Nathan Whilk
    February 5, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    >38 “Any recommendations?”

    Yes. Change your posting name. It’s sort of taken.

Comments are closed.