The Evolution of Adam

That’s a book by Christian scholar Peter Enns: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (BrazosPress, 2012). The arguments in the book are directed at Evangelicals, but Mormons can quite profitably read along as well. Given that the LDS Church has “no official position on the theory of evolution” and that evolution is taught as part of the biology curriculum at BYU, you would think evolution is a non-issue with Mormons compared to the trouble it seems to cause Evangelicals. But prior statements of some LDS leaders and certain passages in LDS scripture create difficulties for Mormons that Evangelicals don’t face, so it sort of balances out. For Evangelicals and Mormons alike, the Enns book is an excellent discussion from a believing Christian perspective that attempts to reconcile the apparent tension between biblical and scientific accounts of humankind’s origin, as well as the place of the historical Adam in that account.

In Chapter 1, Enns identifies three 19th-century developments that continue to present a challenge to traditional Christian beliefs: evolution, historical criticism (of biblical texts), and biblical archaeology (in particular, discoveries of ancient texts that were similar to biblical accounts of Creation, the Garden, and the Flood but that were written earlier). In the first half of the book, Enns presents the well-supported hypothesis that the Pentateuch as we have it is a postexilic work. He also shows how the story of Adam (disobeys a commandment and is cast out of the Garden into exile) parallels the story of Israel (disobeys divine commandments and is cast out of the promised land into exile in Babylon). In other words, the story of Adam’s exile helped Israelites process the import and meaning of their own exile.

In the second half of the book, Enns examines in detail Paul’s use of the Adam story to support his preaching of the saving grace of Christ, particularly as described in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:20-58. The thrust of Enns’ argument is that Paul’s primary emphasis was on the saving work of Christ, not the historical story of Adam, and that Paul merely employed the beliefs about Adam prevalent in the Jewish tradition of his day to illustrate and support his primary claim of salvation in Christ.

In the conclusion, Enns presents nine theses that summarize his overall argument. The primary question he addresses: “How are Christians — those who value Scripture as God’s Word and who also accept evolution as the correct model for human origins — to think of Adam today?” As reasonable as that question appears, I suspect that considering “evolution as the correct model for human origins” would rule out serious discussion along these lines for any official LDS commentator. Which is why you, LDS reader, have to read the Enns book if you fit his target audience (a Christian who accepts evolution) and want to read a serious discussion of the issue.

I won’t hit all nine theses (they are listed in this rather critical review of the Enns book) but here are three, along with one sentence drawn from the several paragraphs in which Enns explains each claim:

  • Thesis 1: Literalism is not an option. “One cannot read Genesis literally — meaning as a literally accurate description of physical, historical reality — in view of the state of scientific knowledge today and our knowledge of ancient Near Eastern stories of origins.”
  • Thesis 2: Scientific and biblical models of human origins are, strictly speaking, incompatible because they speak a different “language.” They cannot be reconciled, and there is no “Adam” to be found in an evolutionary scheme. Says Enns: “I support the effort to take seriously both the theological heart of the Adam story and natural science, and to be willing to rethink the biblical Adam in the process.”
  • Thesis 7: A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors — whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis. Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment. “[E]ven the expression of deep and ultimate truth does not escape the limitations of the cultures in which that truth is expressed.”

Enns is quite aware of conservative Christian sensibilities and works hard to frame his proposals in friendly, non-threatening terms. Boiling his ideas down to short paragraphs and bullet points makes Enns sound more harsh and critical than he sounds in the book. Even so, if you sleep with a copy of Man His Origin and Destiny under your pillow, this is probably not the book for you. But if you roll your eyes when you hear an LDS speaker rail against evolution, this book might give you an alternative but positive perspective on the whole issue.

As a final item, let me point you to the most recent official LDS statement on evolution: a two-paragraph article in the October 2016 New Era. In response to the prompt “What does the Church believe about evolution?” the following response is given:

The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.

Before we were born on earth, we were spirit children of heavenly parents, with bodies in their image. God directed the creation of Adam and Eve and placed their spirits in their bodies. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who were created in God’s image. There were no spirit children of Heavenly Father on the earth before Adam and Eve were created. In addition, “for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family.” They fell from that state, and this Fall was an essential part of Heavenly Father’s plan for us to become like Him. (See Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Apr. 2015 general conference.)

Update: After publishing this post, I came across an additional LDS statement related to Adam, the Garden, and life on Earth in the February 2016 New Era. In response to the prompt “What does the Church believe about dinosaurs?” the following response is given:

Did dinosaurs live and die on this earth long before man came along? There have been no revelations on this question, and the scientific evidence says yes. (You can learn more about it by studying paleontology if you like, even at Church-owned schools.)

The details of what happened on this planet before Adam and Eve aren’t a huge doctrinal concern of ours. The accounts of the Creation in the scriptures are not meant to provide a literal, scientific explanation of the specific processes, time periods, or events involved. What matters to us is that as part of His plan for us, God created the earth and then created Adam and Eve, who were our first parents and were instrumental in bringing about the Fall, which enabled us to be born on earth and participate in God’s plan. (See Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Ensign, May 2015, 105.)

62 comments for “The Evolution of Adam

  1. Dave K
    1
    January 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks for the review, Dave. For some context regarding LDS beliefs, I would recommend Michael Ash’s Dialogue Article “The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution” (https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V35N04_33.pdf) and the Pew Research survey showing that LDS member’s beliefs fall closely in line with Evangelicals regarding evolution (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/12/darwin-day/ft_16-02-12_darwinday_640px/).

  2. Ben S
    2
    January 17, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I highly recommend Enns. I think the assumptions he addresses are also found strongly among LDS, though substitute “Lehi” for “Paul.”
    I’ve been blogging a good bit about lds approaches to scripture and evolution. It’s clear that it’s a non-issue for some people and a major issue for others.

  3. Rob Osborn
    3
    January 17, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Yeah, probably wont read that book. I will stick with the prophets.

  4. Ben S
    4
    January 17, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Which one?

  5. Rob Osborn
    5
    January 17, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Moses

  6. Ardis
    6
    January 17, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Which Moses?

  7. Ben S
    7
    January 17, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Ah. What you apparently mean is, “I will rely on (my face-value English-translation post-Enlightenment uncritical-assumption context-free reading of ) Moses.”

    ;)

  8. Rob Osborn
    8
    January 17, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    THE Moses

  9. Rob Osborn
    9
    January 17, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Yep, thats right Ben. Sure beats bending my ear on heresy.

  10. Dave K
    10
    January 17, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    THE Moses the raven from Animal Farm? Sugarcandy mountain is true!

  11. Clark Goble
    11
    January 17, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    A few thoughts. One, I really dislike appeals to “literalism” as that tends to avoid what’s really going on. Further it’s simply too easy a way to dismiss certain readings without engaging with why people read that way. This is especially true in Mormon circles where liberal Christian tendency to simply dismiss Adam entirely as a myth don’t work. After all we simply have Adam play too key a historical role.

    Second these ‘literal’ readings are simply more complex for Mormons due to the different texts we have. For instance for conservative mainline or evangelical Christians the fundamental issue is the reliability of the text. For Mormon without protestant sola scirpture theology or anything akin to an inerrancy doctrine that’s not an issue. For us the issue is trying to figure out the meaning of the various texts. That’s why the main point of contention for Mormons is so different from other Christians. For us the issue is the Fall and what was going on. Was the fall the fall of the whole earth and everything in it? Or was it a fall of just Adam and Eve? Or something in between? (Say the fall of the inhabitants of where they were living to an already existing “lonesome and dreary wilderness”) The logic and arguments, despite some similarities ends up being quite different. (Even if proponents have often adopted certain evangelical or Seventh Day Adventist apologetics wholesale)

    Third, the idea that there is an incommensurate language between scripture and more postivist history or science seems an assumption that needs itself to be defended. While I don’t buy certain anti-evolutionary readings of scripture I find the above assumption also problematic. At a minimum it seems a convenient dogma to simply avoid conflict without being willing to apply it universally in scripture. Although of course the move towards allegorization of scripture against history was a common evolution of liberal Christianity. To the point that many even rejected the idea of a real historical Christ in the full sense of the term. It, like what had already been reinterpreted, becomes merely symbolic. For many reasons I don’t think most Mormons are willing to accept that dogma.

    A weaker idea is of course that they are different language games yet have somewhat ambiguous crossover. That seems far more defensible yet simultaneously less useful for debate like this.

  12. Clark Goble
    12
    January 17, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    Dave K, I think Mormons do track somewhat Evangelical responses. I’d argue though that the question is somewhat misleading both due to different theology but also because of signaling. This latter I’ve come to think is more significant. This is akin to the phenomena during an election for people largely ignorant of questions to simply say yes to questions that make their political opponent look bad and yes to questions that make their chosen political candidate look good. I think it’s pretty clear that poll answers on evolution have more to do with signaling than belief.

    Part of the reason to believe that is simply that if you take out the word “human” that Pew or Gallup uses then support for evolution goes up significantly. Now especially for Evangelicals there’s no real reason to accept one but not the other theologically. Yet polls go up by 25 points which is a huge number. So something else is going on.

  13. January 17, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. One observation that did not make it into my post was that the book isn’t really about evolution or evolution vs. science (lots of good books on both topics) — the real subject of the book is scriptural interpretation. How should we read Genesis in 2017? How should we understand how Paul read Genesis in the passages in Romans and Corinthians where he talks about Adam? Mormons at all levels are terribly unsophisticated when it comes to methods of interpretation, or even acknowledging that interpretation is part of any reading of scripture and needs to be expressly addressed.

    Clark (#11), here is a quotation from Enns’ discussion under Thesis 2 that might clarify a bit:

    [S]earching for ways to align modern-scientific and ancient-biblical models of creation — no matter how minimal — runs the risk of obscuring the theology of the biblical texts in question. The creation stories are ancient and should be understood on that level. Rather than merge the two creation stories — the scientific and the biblical — we should respect that they each speak a different language.

    What he’s against is blending a scientific and a biblical model into a hybrid that provides a superficial resolution to the tension between the two approaches, but when looked at carefully is likely to do violence to both the science and the biblical text. The same sort of deficient hybrids appear in other Mormon contexts as well, from Word of Wisdom speculations to archaeology of the Americas to Abrahamic astronomy.

  14. Ben S
    14
    January 17, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Yes, Enns is opposed to extremely common concordist assumptions that Genesis must somehow be speaking scientifically but in veiled terms, because it’s revelation.

  15. Moss
    15
    January 17, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks for the review! I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Enns and will pick this up, too.

  16. Clark Goble
    16
    January 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Dave, I recognize that’s Ennis view. I think it wrong if only because theology can’t be divorced from what it is about. That is while there is that internal consistent language game that is different from other culture’s language games part of that language game involves reference to reality. What Ennis effectively does with this approach is divorce reference from referring to anything not already internal to this game. Therefore for him any translation even of reference involves distorting the game.

    However if religion (even religions we consider false) isn’t merely an internal solipsistic game then this entire approach quickly breaks down.

    For Mormons who think scripture, no matter how high the level of allegory or figurativeness, refers to real things then Ennis’ approach is a non-starter from the beginning. Even basic human considerations like happiness, pain, suffering and the like are excluded from the beginning. Effectively this means that even if we take religion of any community there is never a phenomenological element to it. It does not and can not because of this starting point speak to any aspect of our humanity. Again for Mormons who think religion does and must speak to more beyond the basic human condition this is doubly problematic.

    Now I suspect Ennis would say he doesn’t want to go that far. (I think he actually does say this in a few places in his writing although I don’t have time to look it up right now) But recognize what this recognition concedes. As soon as you acknowledge an overlap of phenomena or condition then you most explicitly can start to translate.

    There’s no doubt (and I would agree with Ennis here) that there’s a lot of superficial and problematic engagement between theology and science. However Ennis’ approach is just as problematic. Put simply it’s completely correct to say Genesis isn’t scientific language. It’s completely incorrect to say it doesn’t speak to things that science can have a say about. That’s true even if you go back to the old structuralist treatments of mythology as purely about structures of human consciousness and unconsciousness. After all the problem then was that such Freudian, Jungian or other structures did themselves come under scientific scrutiny with more careful psychology and sociology. (And typically didn’t fare too well with a few exceptions)

    Now I think it’s fair to ask if Genesis 1-2 is about a historical unfolding of creation. Even the LDS scripture tends to treat it as more complex. Both the JST and other versions tend to treat the transition from 1 to 2 as significant – often similar to Philo’s approach that saw 1 as an intellectual planning and not a historical creation. But of course while Genesis 1 is significant for Evangelical fundamentalists it tends to be the question of death before the fall that is significant to Mormons. There the question is much more about what the reference of the fall is. Is it only a type of what happens to each of us? (Made possible by our theology of pre-mortal existence) Or is it more historical?

    However note that for Mormons this is ultimately orthogonal to Ennis. The question there is precisely the meaning of the text – what the language game actually is. The simply dismiss historicity in any sense from the beginning effectively is assuming ones conclusions.

  17. Ryan Mullen
    17
    January 17, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    “For Mormons who think scripture, no matter how high the level of allegory or figurativeness, refers to real things then Ennis’ approach is a non-starter from the beginning.”

    Clark, I’m a Mormon who thinks scripture (certainly a broad term) refers to real things, and I concur with each of Enns’ theses.

  18. Ben S
    18
    January 17, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Clark, you should read his books before critiquing (it doesn’t appear you have). I think you’re largely missing the point AND consistently misspelling his name. One syllable, Enns, rhymes with pens and Benz.

    “It’s completely incorrect to say it doesn’t speak to things that science can have a say about.” Really? Isn’t this simply asserting that Genesis is about scientific, historical, physical creation? I strongly question that assertion, and that the “intent” of Genesis is to comment on such things in such terms.

  19. Ben S
    19
    January 17, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    IOW, it sounds a lot like an assertion of necessary concordism.

  20. Clark Goble
    20
    January 17, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Ben, that’s a fair criticism although here I’m just criticizing how he’s being presented. His own views may be more nuanced. I have read him before (and I think I alluded to that in one of my comments – I was at work and couldn’t check the book). The position I’m attacking (sorry for mistyping his name – perils of iOS on the go) is a common one even if it doesn’t reflect the nuances of Enns own position.

    Since I’ve not read the book in question I can’t comment if I’m missing his point. However when one places science as something that “cannot be reconciled” (OP) then one is coming very close to what I outline.

  21. Rob
    21
    January 18, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I just call it what it is, his book is heresy. That was easy.

  22. Brian
    22
    January 18, 2017 at 11:22 am

    For those of you who like these sorts of discussions (and believe in both God and evolution), you might enjoy this facebook group: “Mormons Talk | Science, Evolution, & LDS Faith” Please read the description to make sure you can abide by the rules.

    www [dot] facebook [dot] com/groups/201207420296448/

  23. p
    23
    January 18, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Ben S #7 aaaaand BOOM

  24. FarSide
    24
    January 18, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Nice post, Dave. Like Ben S, I, too, am a big fan of Enns, though, as others have noted, it is hard to get many members of the church to give him a fair hearing. Given Correlation and the Church Education System, that isn’t surprising.

    And I share Ben S’s views regarding Genesis: it’s mistake to presume that the authors’ intent was to comment on any subject in scientific or historical terms.

  25. Clark Goble
    25
    January 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    FarSide, I’ll again note I’ve not read this particular book (and in case it came off other than I intended, I’m grateful for Dave doing posts like this to at least raise the issues – even if I disagree I think the broad inquiry along different avenues to be deeply important). That said, I’d simply note my complaint wasn’t saying Enns intended to comment on science but rather than such comments is blocked off from the beginning. That’s an important difference. I certainly don’t think every book or paper need engage with science (although it’s often helpful). I just don’t think we can say science doesn’t apply.

  26. January 18, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    I like Enns just fine, so I’ll put this on my list of possible reads. I’m glad he’s writing on this topic; some years ago Ken Hamm of Answers in Genesis publicly called Enns all sorts of nasty things, so I hope his intended audience will be interested.

  27. Clark Goble
    27
    January 18, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Just to add to my criticism, Enns has a great blog where he discusses these issues regularly. He addresses the point I made in his post on NOMA. NOMA is the idea that science can’t tell religion what to do nor vice versa. They are non-overlapping domains. Most of my criticism above is really just a criticism of NOMA. Quoting from Enns with a bit bolded to highlight the key part.

    From where I sit at the present moment, I think both halves of NOMA are right. I never use the term in The Evolution of Adam, but in retrospect the idea sits pretty comfortably in the background of the whole book.

    The various branches of modern science have made tremendous advances in our understanding of cosmic, geological, and biological evolution. We know a lot. Far from everything, as any good scientist will readily admit, but a lot.

    But when scientists conclude from their work that a higher power does not exist, or that this or that religious tradition is not “true,” they have overstepped their bounds, because spiritual reality is not subject to the rules of scientific inquiry.

    Faith is a different kind of “knowing.” People are free to reject faith, of course, but to do so on the basis of the lack of scientific corroboration for God is precisely the problem NOMA speaks against.

    I think almost everything in that quoted section is wrong. First I think Mormon materialism inherently means that spiritual reality is subject to scientific inquiry. (As a practical matter we might not be able to do it well – but that’s more due to the problem of manifesting phenomena in a controlled way) I also think it wrong to say faith is a different way of knowing. But that’s the reason I’m doing that pragmatism series (I’m behind on).

    Don’t get me wrong. I think rejecting NOMA doesn’t mean embracing the highly questionable apologetics and theology of anti-evolutionists. Nor does it mean embracing the narrow positivism and scientism of groups like the New Atheists. It most definitely does not mean one has to say that both science and the various scriptural creation account authors are playing the same language game. (They most definitely are not) What it does mean though is that they are overlapping to some degree.

  28. FarSide
    28
    January 18, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Jean, I suspect that ANY criticism coming from Ken Hamm will be worn by Enns as badge of honor.

  29. January 18, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Clark (#27), you do realize that employing NOMA is, for many people, a pragmatic method for carving out reasonable space in their worldview for religion and religious claims, right? If you actually forced religious people to choose between the claims of science and the claims of religion, make it an either-or scenario, a good chunk would choose science.

    The problem with chucking NOMA is that, for many religious people who accept the validity of the last few centuries of science, there isn’t a good alternative.

    As far as language games go, as Wittgenstein developed that analysis he was not speaking hypothetically. A language game requires more than simple self-consistency. The “more” is a real-world setting, where real people in real life situations use words, phrases, and a particular vocabulary to communicate about real-world things in their experience and life. The real-life context for the science language game is theories, observations, and empirical testing of claims about the natural world. As Enns sketches it out, the real-life context for religious discussion in Genesis and Paul has to do with group identification, a sense of community as God’s people, and dealing with the trauma of defeat and exile. (Note: In the book, Enns doesn’t use the language game framing to distinguish the two approaches.) I just don’t see how invoking Wittgenstein or language games invalidates Enns’ claim that the two approaches, scientific and religious, are incommensurable. His claim seems to be consistent with the language game approach, and he is rejecting the claim by biblical inerrantists who insist Genesis must be read historically or scientifically.

  30. MDM
    30
    January 18, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    I like Peter Enns’s books. In my work as a bishop and now Stake President, I’ve referred some people to his books “The Sin of Certainty” and “The Bible Tells Me So,” and they have found those books helpful in finding new ways to look at scripture. Our Sunday School is great, but it certainly doesn’t teach scriptures in context or how to really understand what really might be going on. Too many rely on outdated student references written only to back up what certain leaders have said in the past.

    We are commanded to learn from the best books. Joseph Smith said one of the fundamentals of Mormonism to accept truth no matter where it comes from. Recently President Uchtdorf has said something similar (We seek for truth wherever we might find it). I have found much truth recently in many writings from “non prophets”. And it has been very helpful in helping me walk my own path and in ministering to others.

  31. Clark Goble
    31
    January 18, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Dave, a falsehood for ostensibly pragmatic reasons is still a falsehood. If I told people there was no polyandry, no polygamy outside of a tiny group in Nauvoo, etc. it might create a safe space for people for a while. But eventually the nature of the arguments will make things worse off not better off. NOMA ends up doing the same thing for a slew of reasons outside of mere problems accepting evolution. (I recognize NOMA proponents don’t consider it false – I’m just saying that if it is false then arguments about its use don’t matter)

    Further I think in this case it’s unnecessary. Catholics have no trouble reconciling science with creation due to their theology of creation which is simply different from most Evangelical fundamentalists. Likewise with Mormons there is no real inherent conflict despite what folks like Rob may attempt to portray.

    So the whole justification for NOMA is itself predicated upon a false dichotomy.

    For Wittgenstein and language games of course the whole point was there were real human judges that made the game possible and real concerns. Again the problem here is what is being cut off from human consideration. I just used the language of language game as I think it gets at how you can have two incommensurate systems much like football and hockey are in many ways incommensurate. Of course there are language games that are commensurate. Indeed most of them are.

    (Although not everyone agrees — see for instance Richard Rorty’s use of Wittgenstein to argue that say folk psychology and scientific psychology are incommensurate. I think Rorty wrong due to how he handles literal vs metaphoric language games. A problem I think relevant to this topic as well as in many ways to common argument about most of the OT is literal vs. metaphor however problematic that may be. Rorty’s solution I might add is for parties to come to agree to a new language game.)

    Now I’ve not read this particular book as I said, although I think his blog pretty well establishes his views I find problematic. I fully confess I don’t know the details of Enns says motivates judges in these ancient language games. Would you say that the types of concerns someone concerned with historical issues are excluded by him? That is from the beginning he doesn’t allow, even as hypothetical concerns, those issues for the authors or readers? If so, on what grounds could he conceivably make that argument?

  32. Clark Goble
    32
    January 18, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    To add none of this is to deny Enns says lots of valuable things nor I am claiming he doesn’t have valuable insights. Again we have to avoid a false dichotomy. My complaint was primarily with the theses Dave listed in the original post.

  33. January 18, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Ben S. is big on genre, which I think is helpful, but I also think we have a difficult time agreeing on which genre is what.

    The opening chapters of Genesis are rooted in ancient cosmological ideas. Ancient cosmology was not spacial or materialistic (though it certainly had spacial and materialistic concerns), nor was it historical, at least in the linear sense. (The Inuits would begin their stories by saying, “Once upon a time and in the future.”) I keep reading people telling me that those ancient Israelites believed in a flat earth surrounded by a dome of water. Maybe that was true for some, but such modes of thought are more modern than ancient.

    Ancient cosmology was first and foremost ontological—it sought to place man in the cosmic drama for he indeed was an extension of the heavens. In Hindu cosmology the word for universe, loka-dhatu, referred to human life and destiny so much so that “it almost ceased to connote the universe as a spatial entity” (Sadakata 25). The “mytholgical” earth was no flat disc, if indeed we take Plato’s ideas of a True Earth above the material one which was a dome of water in the sense that it was really the Pythagorean cosmos with its circling rivers of planetary orbits (see Phaedo 107d-116a for example). Early Islamic cosmology also saw the Earth as that portion of the universe upon which materiality congealed, and that the Earth was really the dome of heaven with a material nexus (aka that flat disc everyone talks about). In other words, and hang on to your tidy testimonies, the Earth was really the extension of the horizon into visible space (the technical term is celestial equator) which intersected with the ecliptic (the rivers of heaven which churned their planetary orbits) and the Milky Way (finally I should mention the source of those heavenly waters) all of which was the true source of reality of which the material earth was a shadowy reflection (Plato’s allegory of the cave is a very ancient mindset that never gets mentioned in Sunday School, but has more to do with Genesis than Joseph F. Smith’s creationists ideas). Sorry, but I don’t think Enns gets any of this either. (I haven’t read his book.)

    Meanwhile, Exodus 40 gives us the New Years Ritual celebration of Israel, and one can see that the erection of the temple was really a re-enactment of the creation story. (Compare Genesis 1 with Exodus 40.17-34: Temple framework = Day 1; Veil divides the framework = Day 2; Shew bread tables = Day 3; Temple lamps = Day 4; Altar and offerings = Day 5; Priests enter the tabernacle = Day 6; Yahweh’s glory = Day 7). And all that does is remind us that the creation story was just really the cultural-cosmological complex of ideas surrounding the temple rooted in their ideas of the cosmos, which in many parts were profoundly different than ours.

    In other words, stop comparing ancient cosmology with modern scientific cosmology; this is hugely problematic and is mixing genre to the point of parody. Heresy indeed.

    Further, ancient history (from the oral tradition) does not follow the same rules as modern literate history. The creation story and Adam in Genesis is a literate retelling of an oral ontological cosmology. That literate retelling has been pushed through several cultural lenses to the point where I doubt much of what we teach of it is true in the sense that we believe it is. But that does not make it non-historical either.

    Like so many aspects of archetypal history, names tend to be titles and biographies tend to be roles. Last time I went to the temple it turns out I was Adam, and so was the guy next to me. In the words of Eliade, it is not that we doubt these figures are historical, rather their histories do not long resist the process of mythicization (qtd from aging memory).

    Anyway, my rant is over.

  34. Clark
    34
    January 19, 2017 at 11:09 am

    John it’s not that I deny those elements. Far, far from it. The question is whether we can only limit ourselves to those elements.

  35. January 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Clark (34)

    I agree Clark. However, whatever methodology we use should be identified for what it is. You have an armada of Mormons thinking their devotional/literalistic view is THE view, and many of those consider any other view as, at best superfluous, and at worst heretical. This has been the case for so long that it has become a form of methodological ignorance parading as religion.

    I’m just saying, enough of that. Enough. You don’t even have to change your lesson plan, please just begin with an honest one sentence disclaimer.

    :)

  36. Carey F.
    36
    January 19, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    I read Enns book a couple years back, and ever since then I have been playing around with the idea that Joseph did something similar as the editors/writers of Genesis which is to create an origin story of the a covenanted people, but this time the Israelites would be played by the Mormons — with a new Abraham and a new Moses to boot.

  37. Clark Goble
    37
    January 19, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Carey I think that type of typology is true not only of Joseph but doubly so of Lehi and Brigham Young. In the Book of Mormon those connections are pretty explicit in many places with the crossing the ocean being the crossing of the river by the Israelites and the new world as promised land being Israel as promised land. Lots of other parallels many have noted. With Brigham Young you even have the geography of Utah being a type of Israel. (Salt Lake = Dead Sea; Jordan River = Jordan River; Utah Lake = Sea of Galilea; Salt Lake City = Jerusalem)

    For Joseph we have the idea of Jackson County being the site of the new Jerusalem but also the idea of Adam literally coming to the people. Likewise you have the creation of the importance of lineage and sealing making a new family with Joseph at the head who would then be under Adam. It’s really via a combination of sealing as sacred marriage combined with adoption a recreation of the Abraham typology. (Depending upon how you read this the diaspora of Mormons out of Illinois and Missouri parallels the diaspora of Jews into Egypt — or at the time the diaspora out of Missouri to Illinois at Nauvoo being a kind of Jerusalem)

    None of this is that unique. N. T. Wright emphasizes the point that the Jews of Christ’s day tended to retell the classic tales of scriptural oppression and salvation as a strong type of their day under the Romans. Indeed the Zealots (of whom Paul was a member) worked off of that model.

  38. Wally
    38
    January 20, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Rob, you remind me of myself at 19. When I arrived in the mission field, I told my first companion about the Hare Krishna missionaries who tried to give me one of their books in the Chicago airport. I turned them down. One of them said to me, “Maybe when you return in two years you’ll be more open-minded.” I told my companion that I just laughed at them. His response was simply, “You will be.” And I was, but not much. It’s pretty easy to defend simplistic beliefs if you close your mind to any new information. Personally, I find such an approach an affront to the truth and, therefore, to God.

  39. Mars
    39
    January 20, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Wally, you still have room to open your mind further, to accept those who have managed to clamp their minds shut around something solid. You still have room to accept Rob Osborn and his equally dogmatic brethren as those who tend the harbor, and not despise them even if they despise you, for not all ships return, but the harbor remains.

  40. Rob
    40
    January 20, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Wally,
    Not taking Gods word seriously is an affront to God. You really think Adam was figurative and not literal? The heresy in that book is mockery to God. And, Ive thought this way for 20 years studying it everyday!

  41. Mars
    41
    January 20, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Rob, there’s a big difference between taking God’s word seriously and taking it literally.

  42. Clark Goble
    42
    January 20, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    Just my pet peeve again, but it’s not at all clear it’s an issue of “literalism.” Rather it’s an issue of the context and assumptions one brings to the text. The whole “literalism” issue obscures that.

    One can adopt a “literalist” reading by simply first saying that Moses 3:5 implies the creation of Genesis 1 was either an intellectual planning in heaven or a creation of spirits of some sort. Likewise the rest of Moses can be read about the creation of Adam and Eve but “first flesh” can easily be read “literally” as implying it’s his place in the order and not a temporal ordering. (Which isn’t mentioned) Likewise even if Adam is taken to be the first creation the text doesn’t say how long the time was between that creation and the creation of the garden of Eden nor what was going on outside of Eden. “Literally” the Hebrew term for earth is pretty ambiguous too (unlike the meaning of the term in 19th century English where it means the whole globe)

    A completely “literal” reading of this section along with the other creation accounts is that Gen 2-3 and it’s variants in modern revelation tell about what was going on in this special garden but nothing else. I’d add Moses 4:29 has that odd “will send him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken” suggesting a big variance. Finally if one takes the cherubim guardian “literally” there Garden of Eden is still there and hasn’t fallen. Only Adam and Eve are cast out.

    Main argument for “no death before the fall” (beyond Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie teaching it) is 2 Nephi 2. But again note that Lehi presupposes that the garden did not fall (2 Nephi 2:22) thus the fall didn’t affect everything in the garden but just Adam and Eve (2:19) So the “literal” take on the chapter is that it only applies to Adam and Eve and their descendants. (Again verse 22 is pretty specific – it takes a non-“literal” reading to apply it more broadly than Adam and Eve.

    So what the issue is isn’t literalism at all. It’s bringing a new context with associated dogmas (in this case Joseph Fielding Smith’s views along with certain Evangelical and Seventh Day Adventist apologetics) to apply to how one reads the text. But that’s an issue of context, not literalism. Indeed such a reading requires rejecting “literal” parts of the text.

    Don’t get me wrong, people are free to believe it if they want. I’ll side with Talmage who wrote,

    The decision reached by the First Presidency, and announced to this morning’s assembly, was in answer to a specific question that obviously the doctrine of the existence of races of human beings upon the earth prior to the fall of Adam was not a doctrine of the Church; and, further, that the conception embodied in the belief of many to the effect that there were no such Preadamite races, and that there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam’s fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church. I think the decision of the First Presidency is a wise one in the premises. This is one of the many things upon which we cannot preach with assurance and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good.

    I recognize many simply then start proof texting comments by various Apostles who did teach no death before the fall. While I don’t think that’s how doctrine gets established I’d simply say one can “literally” read that there was no death before the fall but that we don’t know the process nor time frame of the fall. That’s “literally” compatible with the text. I could say the Garden of Eden was not mortal and not on earth (thus the need for the angel to prevent going back). I could say that Adam and Eve were then cast out creating the earth over billions of years with them arriving 7000 years ago. That’s “literally” just as compatible with the text and most of the statements quoted as is the idea that Adam and Eve were kicked out and immediately all the life on the earth appeared everywhere from that tiny garden. I should add this is quite in keeping with Brigham Young’s statement that often gets quoted by “no death before the fall” promoters.

    When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man was placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven…. But when man fell, the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system…. This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father, and it will dwell there, and these intelligent beings that I am looking at, if they live worthy of it, will dwell upon this earth.

    So this fall of the earth took place when man fell but was a movement from where God dwells which isn’t necessarily spatially/temporally in this universe. Indeed he says it isn’t. So this “literal” reading of Brigham Young (of course presuming he’s not giving his opinion the way the church requires on his other views of Adam’s fall) requires there be temporal effects of such a fall. So the fall could easily take place and then millions of years transpire before Adam and Eve begin tilling the earth.

    Of course that’s not all Brigham said, if we’re going to be “literal.”

    Adam was made from the dust of an earth, but not from the dust of this earth. He was made as you and I are made, and no person was ever made upon any other principle

    Well what does that mean for our account of Genesis 2 that claims to be the creation on the earth with the dust Adam was made out of?

    That’s not the only reading of course. An other simple way is to simply note that Adam and Eve were created on the earth before they were placed in the garden. It says nothing about what was going on outside of the garden nor what was going on after Adam is created but before being placed in the garden. To simply have the garden fall and become the earth not only goes against what the scripture “literally” says but misses the whole creation planning in Genesis 1.

    You see the problem with all this “literalism” is that it brings in assumptions about temporal order external to the text. Interestingly Abraham 5:13 makes this explicit. “it was after the Lord’s time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.” (13) Reckoning of what? Time.

    Don’t get me wrong I’m not endorsing any of these readings. I think all of them by and large silly because they all require reading into the text a ton of stuff that isn’t in the text. Rather than simply being satisfied that the text doesn’t say anything about these things instead they inject a “literalism” which literally is about what isn’t literally in the text. So the literalism is actually its opposite.

    Further those who choose to bring in teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith or Bruce R. McConkie to trump or at least fill in scripture have to exclude teachings of Brigham Young or others who teach things contradictory to those assumptions.

  43. Rob
    43
    January 21, 2017 at 1:33 am

    Clark,
    Moses chapter three states that until the beginning of the seventh day God had not yet placed any life on the earth. Proof of this is that he had not yet even caused it to rain. You cant have life with no rain.

    5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air;

    Moses then states that Adam was formed and became the first creature on the earth.

    7 And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word.

    God then forms all the animals on the earth and brings them to Adam to see what he will name them.

    19 And out of the ground I, the Lord God, formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and commanded that they should come unto Adam, to see what he would call them; and they were also living souls; for I, God, breathed into them the breath of life, and commanded that whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof.
    20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but as for Adam, there was not found an help meet for him.

    Verse 19 states clearly “every living creature”. This means all of the creations of God that were placed on the earth. Those who argue that there was both creatures before Adam and death on the earth before Adam are stating these ideas wholly contrary to what the scriptures actually teach. The scriptures also plainly teach that Adam WAS the first man of all men on the earth. Ideas relating to a race of men on the earth prior to Adam is also wholly contrary to what the scriptures teach. One can easily cherry pick various prophets and apostles on their own personal opinions of the matter, but none of them opinions trump scripture. It doesnt matter how long Adam was in the garden, how or what animals were in or out of the garden, etc. Adam and ALL creatures created in the creation were present together in the garden to begin with. There was no death yet. The temporal age of the earth according to D&C 77 is 7000 years. Temporal relates to the age of the earth in its fallen condition when death entered the world. There is no birth and death in a world thats not temporal. Temporal refers specifically to aging and death. Once again, scripture trumps all and any opinions by various prophets or apostles. Lehi understood this well when he spoke that

    22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

    It specifically states “all things which were created” would have remained forever without death.

    I dont care what somebody dreams up to try to reconcile worldly understanding with scripture, its contrary to scripture, and scripture trumps all.

  44. Rob
    44
    January 21, 2017 at 1:57 am

    Mars,
    Adam was literal. That is a doctrinal very well established fact. So when I hear some allude to Adam not being literal its pretty much heresy.

  45. Clark Goble
    45
    January 22, 2017 at 12:46 am

    Rob, I certainly don’t disparage the first few points you make. Indeed I alluded to those very points. It’s the “but then God created the animals” that you start injecting things not in the text. Specially assumptions about time. That Adam was involved with creation seems true. But why do you assume none of these animals died? We just learned by your own account that Adam was first and then organized things some things. We’re not told any of those animals were in the garden for instance. We’re just told that God presented them to Adam to be named. We assume Adam was still in the garden but we’re certainly not told they were created in the garden nor that they stayed in the garden. That’s you adding to the text.

    Also note it doesn’t say all animals. Indeed it limits the animals quite a bit to “cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” So you’re expanding this to “all animals” is very non-“literal.” After all fish, whales, sharks, jellyfish and so forth were excluded. Insects don’t seem mentioned. Then there are all those non-field mammals. It seems like a lot of animals are missing from the account if we’re being “literal.” (I should also note it only says he created trees too and not all plants)

    Adam and ALL creatures created in the creation were present together in the garden to begin with. There was no death yet.

    But of course the text doesn’t say that. That’s you imposing in a non-“literal” way on the text. It says some specified animals were created and presented to Adam but that’s it. (And of course Brigham thought this a different planet I should note again)

    Likewise if all the animals were created in the garden (rather than merely coming temporarily to be named) where were the sea creatures? And again, of course it doesn’t say the things you say it says.

    Verse 19 states clearly “every living creature”. This means all of the creations of God that were placed on the earth.

    Actually, if we’re going to be “literal” it says, “whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof.” It doesn’t say Adam actually did name every creature. It just says whatever he called them that was his name. It certainly doesn’t say all of God’s earthly creations. Indeed the next verse lists explicitly what creatures got named. If you think that’s “all creatures” then we have a problem since that means God later has to create a bunch that we see that aren’t listed.

    The temporal age of the earth according to D&C 77 is 7000 years. Temporal relates to the age of the earth in its fallen condition when death entered the world.

    Note it doesn’t say any place there was no death prior to that. (You can check D&C 77 again) Again this is a non-“literal” reading of D&C 77. Read “literally” if temporal means time then clearly before then nothing moved and everything was merely static entities. Of course since you said God brought animals before Adam and he named them, I’m not sure how you can say there is no time. So I think you have a contradiction. If there is change, there is time. Animals went from having no name to being named. So by your interpretation of D&C 77 clearly that must have happened after the beginning of the temporal order. Unless you’re being non-“literal” of course.

    It’s fine to decide that “temporal” actually doesn’t mean “temporal” but means “not dying.” Presumably you’d then say then it’s a metaphor. I’d simply say that is extremely non-“literal” and certainly not in the text.

    There is no birth and death in a world thats not temporal.

    You don’t believe in spirit birth? I’m not saying it’s an essential doctrine although I believe in it. Unless you believe heaven is temporal. Although it seems like D&C 77 goes against that reading.

    Likewise scripture says no where that animals didn’t have birth. It just talks about Adam and Eve. Again a non-“literal” reading at hand.

    It specifically states “all things which were created” would have remained forever without death.

    But again you are being non-“literal.” I don’t think you really believe that since I imagine you don’t think it applies to God or other creations. So the “all” can’t be universal theologically. Also it doesn’t say “without death” but says, “same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” Again though I suspect you don’t read that “literally” since I assume you think they were able to move, the rivers able to flow. So there was some change. You’re assuming that “same state” is just talking about death. But of course read “literally” that’s not what it says at all. Taken “literally” it means they were unmoving not changing any state like position, temperature or even thinking. You’re artificially moving beyond the “literal” by imposing restrictions not in the text.

    I dont care what somebody dreams up to try to reconcile worldly understanding with scripture, its contrary to scripture, and scripture trumps all.

    I’ll confess I don’t care. But I think you’re being disingenuous to say you don’t care since you’re precisely moving away from a “literal” reading and attempting to reconcile your worldly understanding (no death before the fall, young earth creationism) with scripture when it’s explicitly contrary to the “literal” meaning. That’s fine of course. More power to you if you want to. Just don’t deny what you’re doing.

  46. Mike
    46
    January 22, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Rob, you seem to be taking a position that the Church isn’t willing to take. Don’t you think it’s possible that your interpretation is, therefore, different than the Church’s? And if it is, does that make the Church wrong?

  47. Rob
    47
    January 22, 2017 at 2:48 am

    Clark,
    Honestly, you can think whatever you want. You can believe whatever you want it to mean. I dont wish to debate something I already know and am not going to budge on. Have a great day.

  48. Rob
    48
    January 22, 2017 at 2:50 am

    Mike,
    The church can be wrong on various points. Its okay, wouldnt be the first time and certainly not the last.

  49. Clark Goble
    49
    January 22, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    The point of all that was simply to demonstrate that texts – especially these key texts – are vague. That is they severely underdetermine interpretation. (Things like where the animals were created) Secondly that so-call “literalists” demand certain passages be read non-literally. (Things like temporal not meaning temporal) Finally that time issues get injected (all animals not meaning all the listed animals but all the animals living in the last 1000 years even though the text never says all animals are animals now rather than animals then)

    When people are called literalists they almost never are.

    The second point would be deciding what we bring to the text to lock down meanings (like temporal) or time issues. Then you get into the debate of how they know (why did Joseph Fielding Smith think all animals meant all contemporary animals rather than all animals at the time of Adam in the garden). Finally how you decide to pick one general authority over an other. (Brigham Young gets excluded when he says this creation wasn’t on this earth) Alas Rob decided not to get into those issues.

  50. Rob
    50
    January 22, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Clark,
    I am not getting into it because its a fruitless back and forth debate where neither side is going to give. You read scriptures in context. This doesnt mean one reads it in context to a secular understanding like Ennes does, neither do you read it in context of what one or two apostles opinions were. You set aside the opinions of men and read according to the spirit. The scriptures are actually very clear on Adam being a literal figure and head of our human race and not the offspring of an inferior race. The scriptures are also very clear that until the fall there was no death of any of Gods creations on the earth. The scriptures are also very clear that a worldwide global flood destroyed the earth and killed any people that were still on the earth who were not on the ark. These certain facts are indisputable according to scripture.
    Now, my own personal beliefs, supported in scripture, are that the actual placing of life on the earth in physical bodies did not happen until the seventh day. I also believe, supported in scripture, that Adam was the first living creature to be placed on the earth. Yes, this means man and dinosaur were contemporary and walked the earth together at the same time. So, just like other apostles and prophets I have my own opinions. But, there are certain indisputable facts about our doctrine that are taught officially that LDS continue to deny. Some still deny that Adam was literal. They also deny that there was an actual physical fall of the earth that effected all creations to become mortal. They also deny there was a global flood. Those things can certainly be “opinions”, but it needs to be noted that the items I mentioned are firmly established official church doctrines.

  51. January 22, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    So, wait. Did Noah put two of every animal on the earth on the ark? A boat the size of a football field? Hmmm… well, its scriptural!

  52. al
    52
    January 23, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Evolution is such a fraught word. Modern atheists (material is) define it so that it obviates the need for God. The deride everything else. I can’t go there. god is a creator. I don’t know the details but I can’t abide the materialist approach.

  53. Clark Goble
    53
    January 23, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Al, I agree that the term is misleading as are the way the polls are usually conducted. By and large people want to emphasize that God is involved in things somehow. From my perspective evolution is just a recognition of how feedback loops work in a mechanistic fashion. Evolution says nothing about what God did or didn’t do anymore than the laws of gravity and mechanics do.

  54. January 23, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    “Cosmologies are produced by inductive methods, and as Steven Gimbel has pointed out, “any finite set of data will have an infinite number of mutually exclusive hypotheses that can be inductively inferred from them” (113). That is to say, any finite set of observations can be explained by an infinite number of theories that describe them. Cosmologists will never run out of descriptive fantasy worlds, because, like historians, they will never have enough puzzle pieces. This is why, according to Karl Popper, all scientific discovery “is impossible without faith in ideas which are of a purely speculative kind” (16) and that all scientific observation statements are really “interpretations in the light of theories” (McGee 30).”

    “The Big Bang Theory is an excellent example of this process, as it is a very useful tool to describe several features of the observable cosmos, but admittedly it is also a theory that begins in mid-sentence. Not one modern cosmologist, astrophysicist, or math-theorist can definitively say anything about the where, what, or when of the original singularity from which the universe expanded. Many competing assumptions of a highly philosophical nature must be made before the formulas and schemas begin to apply. What we have with the Big Bang Theory is really not a conception of the origin of the universe, but a statement about the evolution of the universe after the origin already occurred. The same is true for the human microcosm, as biological theoretical-constructs only apply after life appears. Every cosmology begins just one step after “In the beginning,” and this is why all cosmologies are “interpretations in the light of theories.”” (Mythos & Cosmos 114-15)

  55. Clark Goble
    55
    January 23, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    I think all would agree, John, with the interpretive or hermeneutic aspect of scientific progress. I think what most scientists would say that alternative theories have to be judged on the same standards. That is do they explain the evidence, do they make testable claims, how simple are they, and how do they line up with other theories. By and large evolution as a theory has shifted because of that. Evolution today isn’t the evolution of 1870. Science progresses. Alternatives to evolution pushed by some typically have far less explanatory power and often depend upon controversial claims. (Thinking here of intelligence design – although even that isn’t as far removed from standard evolution as some think since it by and large accepts the full theorized history of evolution but simply argues chance and feedback couldn’t produce it alone)

  56. January 23, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    And I agree Clark. I believe in evolution. And I believe in God. I see no contradiction, as in fact the origins of life, the universe, and everything really cannot be explained by evolution or the Big Bang. They are great working theories once the beginning happens. My whole point was all cosmologies are formed on metaphysical foundations. Many secular scientists replace the metaphysics of God with the metaphysics of materialism, but in the end it is still metaphysics at work, and it is good to recognize that you are not choosing between religion and science, but between a velvet miter and a sequined lab coat.

  57. Carey F.
    57
    January 24, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Clark — As an avid reader of your posts, and comments, here at T&S I just wanted to say I appreciate your patience, diligence and engagement with these issues. I find your approach both validating to the more traditional views, while still creating the necessary space for those that have adopted alternatives ways of making sense of evidences.

  58. Clark Goble
    58
    January 25, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I’m pretty open to wide readings when not a lot has been revealed. While I definitely have my own biases, I try and best I can think of the original contexts in which they were written. Yet I also recognize that especially revealed texts transcend the understanding of the utterer. So I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to how I imagine Enns reads them. Likewise I suspect that in their current form they reflect the Babylonian exile. I’d love to have the form the texts were in that were on the brass plates. I’d bet there are significant differences from Gen 1-2.

    My main concern is the problem of reference. As soon as you refer with a text that’s an indexical relationship which means the textual meaning can’t be locked down to author or audience understanding. For example if I talk about horses I mean real horses not merely by understanding or familiarity with horses. That should affect how we read texts, although not everyone follows that hermeneutic principle. My concern with NOMA really falls out naturally of how I conceive of semiotics.

    There’s always an essential tension in a text between objects referred to and how the text represents those objects. Effectively this focus on ‘literalism’ is the recognition of that problem. No one really reads literally precisely because of how reference comes to play in how we read texts. An other way of thinking of the issue is by thinking of the contrast between dictionaries and encyclopedias. “Literalism” so called is the idea that hermeneutics is just a matter of looking at each word in a traditional dictionary and selecting the meaning (which is a very short sentence largely indicating synonyms). Yet the way we really read is by words tied to these large, long encyclopedia entries where things are much more vague. Further, since we often index real objects these entries can change. (This isn’t my idea – the idea comes from Umberto Eco’s work on semiotics)

  59. Noel
    59
    January 26, 2017 at 5:29 am

    Recently read and reread The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and watched William Devor on Youtube. It seems that the exodus and conquest mentioned in the Bible do not correlate with the archaeological evidence.

  60. Felix
    60
    January 26, 2017 at 11:07 am

    I have started this book but haven’t finished it. I skipped to the nine theses at the end and find them very appealing. As the author of this post notes, Latter-day Saints have other scriptures that seem to indicate that we should take the Garden of Eden story (GOES) as one describing a historical event and not as an allegory. I think it is out of the question to take the GOES literally as an account of historical events.

    I don’t have a problem with taking the GOES story as recounted in the BOM or the PGP as just a repetition of the allegory. But the repetition of the GOES in the D&C (as well as references to Adam as the father of all humans) makes it more difficult to take these references as referring to an allegory. I have been unable to find any LDS author who has spelled out exactly how Latter-day Saints can reconcile the D&C with an allegorical interpretation of the GOES. Various people have said it is possible or might be possible in general to reconcile LDS theology with an allegorical interpretation of the GOES, but no one ever proves it (as far as I can tell). I have my own opinion about how to do this, but has anyone already tried? (Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding by Trent D. Stephens, Jeff Meldrum, and Forrest B. Peterson takes the GOES literally as a historical event and not as an allegory).

  61. Clark Goble
    61
    January 26, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Noël it’s important to remember that the Old Testament as we have it was compiled out of an unknown number of sources after the return from exile. Jewish religion had changed a lot in that time even compared to Nephi. And Nephi’s brass plates were of unknown composition themselves likely written and compiled well after the return from Egypt. I’d be shocked were the exodus described in the OT were extremely accurate. Recall the warnings Nephi’s vision gives of the Old Testament. It’s worth reading the OT with somewhat skeptical eyes precisely because it wasn’t necessarily compiled by inspired figures but (according to most scholars) competing often antagonistic movements within Judaism. Often the text reflects their trying to achieve political aims by what got included and in what form.

    Felix, I think we have to be careful. There are reasons to require Adam to be an historic figure. There are reasons not to dismiss Gen 1-2 and its variants as merely myth or ritual. However I think we have to careful assuming that means the text’s primary aim is historic and that it’s accurate historically. I’m fine if people choose to read it that way, but I think there are compelling reasons to be skeptical of that way of reading it. The ways leaders in various periods of history have read the Adam and Eve story has varied a considerable amount. I’ve brought up Brigham Young’s readings not because I necessarily agree with them but just because they are so much at variance with how we typically read it today.

  62. Ondi
    62
    January 27, 2017 at 5:51 am

    Brigham is awesome in so many ways. But we’re afraid of it because it’s so far out there.

    “Adam was made from the dust of an earth, but not from the dust of this earth. He was made as you and I are made, and no person was ever made upon any other principle
    —-
    Well what does that mean for our account of Genesis 2 that claims to be the creation on the earth with the dust Adam was made out of?”

    I always like to read every GA’s statement on it’s own terms and consider the idea in my mind as it’s own truth without dwelling on rejecting it. Maybe I’m like Obi Wan willing to accept multiple truths “from a certain point of view”… But I don’t see much value in rejecting what a prophet said, especially since I can’t sit here and converse with them and give them the liberty of expanding on their thoughts. Other people will judge prophets just like they judge any other statement in a book or thesis. I’m more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Which brings me to my point about the above quote. If I wanted to harmonize Brigham’s words it’s pretty easy. Adam lived on another world before, he died, and was resurrected. Where and how was he resurrected if not “from the dust” of where he died. As an immortal, he helped organize the world, and with his eternal companion, he was placed in the garden and a veil was placed over him. Eve fell, and his eternal companion, followed her so they could be together, which was always some degree of the plan anyway, so that you and I might be brought into a fallen mortal existence and learn to choose for ourselves.

    I’m happy with that line of thought, and I see no reason that the church or anyone should teach it. Because it’s not being taught by anyone in authority. But a creatively faithful member can read that and let Brigham’s teaching exist on its own terms without setting it to war against McConkie. It’s strange out often the progressive becomes the fundamentalist, and the conservative embraces nuanced open mindedness. It use the futility of labels.

    Perhaps as Lehi said there is liberty when we choose God or captivity when we choose the devil. If you know whose side the prophets are on why chose another?

Charitable Comments Welcome