Defending BYU and LDS Biblical Scholarship

Much has been said in these here parts, both in times distantly past and in recent posts, about the level, quality, and state of LDS Biblical scholarship. In my mind, it is an important discussion that is vital to the advancing of our scholarship and respect in the academic community. To some degree, BYU lies at the heart of this discussion because until recently most LDS Biblical scholars were to be found at BYU. And the ones who got heard and were influential certainly were here. This seems to be about to change with all of the LDS grad students out there and this has the potential to change the dynamic of the way LDS Biblical scholarship is carried out, defined and viewed by LDS and non-LDS people alike.

BYU’s Biblical scholars and Biblical Scholarship has been under the microscope for a little while now and I fell like this is a mostly healthy exercise. Hey, real scholarship requires that we critically examine everything put forward to the group, be it academia or the LDS community in general, and that we evaluate each others work. It’s the only way to get better and it must be done honestly. However, most of the people who seem to be commenting on the issues of the level of LDS (and more specifically BYU) Biblical scholarship are in the position of not knowing all of the facts: many of them have not attended BYU (or at least not recently or not as a student). I feel it is important to say that you all need to know that if you are in this boat that you are in a position of considerable ignorance.

As a current BYU senior in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, I have a unique view of the innermost workings of the Religious Education college here. I have always tended to gravitate to those professors who take a serious and scholarly approach to studying the Bible. Now, with the introduction of the ANES major, I have had even more opportunities to experience the scholarship of an increasing number of people who teach in the broader field of Biblical scholarship. I’d like to share my insights with you in order to educate you all a bit more as we continue our discussion of LDS Biblical scholarship so that it can be a bit more informed.

Let me just add at this time a little note: I realize that this is coming across as an apology. I guess that it is. I do not pretend to know everything that goes on here at BYU and I acknowledge that I have my favorites and preferences. I shall endeavor, however, to give as objective a view as possible so that your inside peek into BYU will be as honest as possible.

First things first: more and better Biblical scholarship is done here at BYU in the classroom than most of you probably suspect. The number and types of publications coming out are in not exceptionally indicative of how these people teach. Favoring, as I do, those who use a more rigorous and academic approach to a study of the Bible, I can honestly say that we students are being better informed about current Biblical scholarship than an outsider might suspect in our religion classes. I admit that sometimes when scholarship is presented by some individuals that it is followed by an assertion that we may disagree with a certain assessment or conclusion as LDS people because of our modern revelations and scriptures, etc. This is not the case with every professor, some don’t feel the need to add that caveat at all. However you view this information I wish to emphasize that we are being exposed to outside Biblical scholarship and that much of it is portrayed in a positive light. I have never had a prof tell me that Biblical scholars and their work is out and out useless, evil, and unnecessary.

The advent of the ANES major has helped to advance Biblical scholarship on campus by an immeasurable amount in my opinion. Where there is a genuine need to be cautious in religion classes here (as some of you well know first hand), in the ANES classes the professors can be much more open in teaching about scholastic methodologies, etc because it is presumed that the class is there for exactly that kind of training. Every one of my professors I’ve had for ANES classes have expressed that they are concerned that BYU students going on to grad school need to be better prepared to live and work in the Biblical scholarship world. That does not just mean that they brace us for the godless criticism that we will experience out there, they are much more concerned that BYU’s graduates are increasingly competitive in the field. There is, of course, some concern that students don’t go out and lose their testimonies but the lion’s share of focus is on actually preparing us academically for the graduate school’s rigorous academic experience.

Now, as some of you may be saying to yourselves, BYU’s classes are not as academically rigorous as you’d find in other schools. This may be true, might even be probably true. The point is that a change is happening and things are dramatically improving all the time. The glass is half full and is still being filled. Be patient.

As my good friend HP pointed out to me once, the title of BYU’s religion department is telling of its purpose. <i>Religious Education</i> has the purpose of spiritually strengthening LDS students’ faith in the restored Gospel. Biblical scholarship is ancillary to this and is only meant to supplement this goal. It is not the end that the Brethren have in mind for these classes. Having said that, I have recently confessed that I am uplifted more, most of the time, by good scholarship and the insights it brings than I am by the typical Gospel Doctrine type atmosphere that permeates most professors’ classes. But I, and anyone else like me, am in the minority. That is part of the reason why the ANES classes are offered. I do think that the religion classes here ought to be more academically rigorous. This is a university after all. But rigor can be found here if that is what you want. Agree or disagree with it, professors decide how rigorous their classes will be and students have so many options that they can find rigor if they want it.

The issue of why the trained professors here do not publish much that is academically rigorous is an important and valid one. It is true that nearly all of the publications from these trained individuals doesn’t even come close to utilizing their full education. There are a few practical reasons for that. As much as LDS people are big into reading and buying books, most of us are not trained and anything published that’s heavy on the scholarship runs the risk of not selling well. It means that you are a lot less likely to get published with Deseret Book this way and publishing with other LDS companies has its political and social drawbacks. Not only is the audience considerably limited for full on LDS Biblical scholarship but publishing with someone like Signature can do more personal harm than collective good.

As for why most of these professors do not publish for audiences outside of the Church, there are also several issues to address. Most of the religion professors here (that I’ve spoken to anyway) came to BYU because they <i>wanted to teach the Saints!</i> Can we really fault them if they are just way more interested in addressing the LDS community than the broader academic one? And can you fault the Church in supporting this? It is also a fact that in most cases that LDS scholars face negative preconceived notions and opinions from people in academia. Breaking through is a very tough job if you are a Mormon even if you leave your LDS biases aside and focus exclusively on things that the community ought to accept. HP has written about this and I’m pretty sure he is right. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it just means that it is very difficult and when you combine that with the desire of most of the professors here to speak to the Saints it leads to very few publications aimed at the academic Biblical world.

I have been assured that the professors here are highly encouraged to get out and publish in their academic fields all the time. It is even beginning to happen. However, it is not required and so most people don’t. And I’m not convinced that they should be required to. Again, doing so is not in keeping with the primary purpose of the Religious Education Department. And serious consideration would have to be taken about what such a requirement would result in. Clearly this is a debatable subject that needs to be had but can any of you expound the benefits that BYU and the Church would experience if this was required? And can you think of any possible negative consequences? I suspect that both would exist.

One other thing that I think merits mentioning is that there are different “schools” of thought among those “properly” educated here at BYU. It is far from a homogenous environment and occasionally students get caught in the middle of the politics this naturally engenders. I don’t mean this in a negative light either. I think that it is quite positive that there are differing opinions and views here; it is intellectually and even spiritually stimulating. It definitely helps to avoid the ruts of only knowing one way to think to a fair degree.

BYU’s atmosphere is far from perfect. Any of the professors here would tell you that. There are drawbacks and compromises all the time. But where would I go where those don’t exist? The benefits of studying under educated men of faith has so many positive effects that they practically explain themselves. What I am driving at is that attending BYU right now is not a bad trade off if you want to learn about the basics of Biblical scholarship. I feel reasonably well prepared to enter grad school (although I’ll get back to you in a year or so about whether I am right or not).

This post was not meant to be an apology of why it is good to attend BYU if you want to be a Bible scholar. I have presented this aspect of it to you so that you can understand that at least some of the professors here really do know their stuff. It has also, I hope, helped to explain why these professors have not published scholarly work at the caliber and venue that some of you would like to see.

I’d also like to add that I am discovering all the time that LDS scholarship on Biblical topics meant for an LDS audience is improving all the time too. <i>Jesus Christ in the World of the New Testament</i> has received some high reviews across the Bloggernacle, and with good reason. It’s scholarship is good, very good for being LDS. A couple of other books come to mind as probably having flown under the radar here: Thom Wayment’s <i>From Persecutor to Apostle: A Biography of Paul</i> is very good. I am currently reading <i>Early Christians in Disarray</i> edited by Noel Reynolds right now and it has been very interesting and surprisingly good on the history, etc. It is a collection of papers by different people on the apostasy, not all from BYU and not all Biblical scholars, but what I have read so far has impressed me. Maybe I’ll do a book report on it when I finish.

I hope that this has all contributed something to the discussion of LDS Biblical scholarship. You all ought to know that I am fairly pessimistic by nature and I b**** about BYU all the time, especially about the religion department, when I am in private conversation and having a bad day (read: finals). But I don’t think that BYU or some of its professors were getting a fair shake in our discussions and I’d hate to carry out a discussion without adding what I know to the equation, especially where it is a view that most of you have probably never had and never will. I’ve tried to address all of the issues I could remember but I’ve probably missed some so feel free to bring them up.

  • http://www.bookwormmama.blogspot.com Stephanie

    Being that I have never attended BYU before, why would there be a belief that BYU is not academically rigorous? Is it too spiritual or something and not interested in facts/intellectual things? I would assume that since it is a University that it would be academically rigorous. I guess I am not understanding this. I have heard others say this before but what are they really trying to say? That the Church does not value academics or anything that promotes independant thinking? That has not been my experience… at least in the church. But most people equate the church with BYU then right?

  • Lxxluthor

    BYU religion classes are notoriously easy for the most part. Most of them are what you’d call an easy A. Teachers that require a lot of their students are used to losing a few students in the add/drop period because students that only want an easy A are likely when they see how much work is required to leave. The atmosphere of many classes is like that of Sunday School, in other words, not very rigorous. You have to look and ask around at first if you want to be introduced to new things every class. Most anywhere else at BYU you can expect academic rigor. In religion, you have to look for it.

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    As a student in religious classes at BYU about 10 years ago, I was rather disappointed in the classes I had. But I felt sorry for the teachers with such a broad range of interests. Whereas I wanted to really dig in and face the more troubling and difficult issues and passages head on, I think most students wanted a Sunday school type of uplifting spiritual experience, with just a gloss over the challenging issues (I remember some of the questions I raised were very much looked down on, more by other students than by the profs), without having to think and work like I was hungry to do (fortunately, I had some very good philosophy and literature cross-listed classes that I felt more than made up for this lack).

    I recently stopped by the Bookstore and picked up a few of the packets for various classes, and I have to say I was quite impressed (Eric Huntsman’s in particular–I thought it was interesting how he had a slide that pretty much stated he would take a more academic approach, and if this isn’t what students are interested in, they should transfer out to a class that was more in line with the approach they wanted; makes a lot of sense to me…). Anyway, LXXLuthor’s description sounds very much in line with the little glimpses I’ve had of things….

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    Also, my sense is that the teaching demand at BYU is much higher than at universities where serious Bible scholarship is being done (my wild guess, partly based on what happens in the Marriott School, is 4 classes a semester or 8+ a year at BYU compared to 3-4 a year at the more serious research schools–does anyone know if this guess is anywhere in the right ballpark, and/or if there are any plans to have “teaching track” vs. “research track” positions in the RE Dept. or the Maxwell Institute?).

  • http://BackyardProfessor Kerry Shirts

    Thanks for the inside insight. I kind of figured that was happening, and yes, I am probably one of the ones you are talking to as I came down kinda hard on some of the BYU profs……. I just think they can do better in print, and ought to. I understand the desire to teach the saints, but Brigham Young would wince if he saw this Sunday school cheap teaching and shallow learning going on compared to what we are capable of. I guess that is my main beef. If its never expected, and never seen, and never read, then we shall be shallow for life. I say to the deep end brethren, to the deep end! GRIN!

    Best,
    Kerry

  • lxxluthor

    Robert: Glad to hear that I’m not the only one who sees things this way. Religion profs are required to teach I think 8 credits or four classes a semester and their class sizes are generally pretty big. Maxwell Institute guys don’t have to teach at all. I know John Gee does but it’s always an evening class and he requests it. Oh, and call me LXX, it’s shorter.

    Kerry: Amen brother, I also say to the deep end. Some of these profs could do better but part of the point that I wanted to make is that they are doing better and not getting all the credit they deserve. I think that I will be posting regularly on articles and books that I find that demonstrate this so that we can all get a better idea about what they are doing and how good it is.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    However, most of the people who seem to be commenting on the issues of the level of LDS (and more specifically BYU) Biblical scholarship are in the position of not knowing all of the facts: many of them have not attended BYU (or at least not recently or not as a student). I feel it is important to say that you all need to know that if you are in this boat that you are in a position of considerable ignorance.

    I think this may be hedging your argument a little more than appropriate. You’ve basically set it up in such a way that you (or a very small number of people) are the only one(s) qualified to be “commenting on the issues”. Instead of labeling anyone that has not been a (recent) BYU student, ignorant of all the facts; why not instead simply say that every assertion should be clearly substantiated?

    Most of the religion professors here (that I’ve spoken to anyway) came to BYU because they wanted to teach the Saints! Can we really fault them if they are just way more interested in addressing the LDS community than the broader academic one?

    Certainly not, but don’t you think they would (in some regards) be more helpful to the LDS communities they serve by keeping in dialogue with the field at large? One of the problems with the way that we (both as a culture, and as scholars) have in the way we deal with religion is the insular nature of the discourse. Mormons talking to Mormons (which is what happens except for a few exceptions) is somewhat of an impoverished coversation.

    Stephanie,

    The complaints of the lack of rigor at BYU is mostly directed to the religious education department. If you are familiar with Institute classes, they are somehwat akin to those (although, granted, a bit more “rigorous”). This mostly stems from the fact that the purpose of the RE department is not necessarily equivalent to other school’s “academic” departments of Religion. The purpose of the RE department seems to be more in line with the goal of the Church Educational System: to provide general knowledge about the “gospel” and foster testimonies of the Church (my words, and not theirs).

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Certainly not, but don’t you think they would (in some regards) be more helpful to the LDS communities they serve by keeping in dialogue with the field at large?

    I’ll second this and add an observation. I have been reading this latest Sperry Symposium on NT composition history. I think I can tell which authors have worked with the topics they’ve written on at a professional level and which haven’t by the excellence of the explanation in the article. The best preparation for explaing an area of Biblical scholarship to a layman is having written and defended it orally in a professional forum because that’s precisely where a scholar must confront the realities of the text and the methodologies.

  • lxxluthor

    Axe: why not instead simply say that every assertion should be clearly substantiated?

    Good call, that was definitely put too strongly.

    Mormons talking to Mormons (which is what happens except for a few exceptions) is somewhat of an impoverished conversation.

    I agree with this somewhat. Most of these professors are reading up on and keeping tabs on the things that outside scholars are saying and are importing them into their classrooms and writings more and more. There may not be conversation with them but their ideas are not going unnoticed and ignored.

    Mogs: Can’t wait for that next post.

  • Ben

    I’ve also been thinking along these lines lately, but my internet access is pretty restricted.

    The ease of a religion course depends heavily upon the teacher.

    “Teachers that require a lot of their students are used to losing a few students in the add/drop period because students that only want an easy A are likely when they see how much work is required to leave.”

    Some of us like it this way ;) Those students who bitch and moan about having to learn are weeded out, and drop the course immediately instead of leaving us bad student feedback at the end of the semester because of their incorrect assumptions about what a class should be like.

    On the first day of the NT class I taught, we ran through the syllabus, learned the Greek alphabet, and they got a Greek assignment involving the library, Strong’s concordance, and BADG/TDNT, and a 1-page paper on what they learned from the experience, due one week later. 5 students dropped, and the rest loved it, so everyone was happy.

    Note the BYU religion dept’s instructions to faculty-

    “Courses in Religion at BYU are expected to be credible, rigorous, university-level experiences in learning, with assignments, examinations, and grading as important elements of that experience….We expect students to study, memorize, synthesize, and be evaluated in Religion, just as we would expect them to do those same things in Geography or Psychology or Humanities. We ask students to learn facts, details if you will, just as they would be expected to do in Zoology or Anthropology or Statistics. In addition, because the accreditation of many programs on the campus depends upon a solid and rigorous curriculum, Religion courses are expected to be as academically challenging as they are spiritually stimulating…. Teaching in Religious Education is to be substantive and inspirational.”

    From http://reled.byu.edu/students.htm

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    The best preparation for explaing an area of Biblical scholarship to a layman is having written and defended it orally in a professional forum

    I think I want to expand a bit here, just in case some readers aren’t familiar with some of this. I’m not saying that everybody has to present in the SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) and publish in the JSNT (Journal for the Study of the New Testament). There are a variety of ways to achieve professional level interactions.

    One very effective way is simply to eat lunch with your colleagues and talk. Some days it’s just talk, but some days it becomes much more. You can also wander down the hall and get someone to read your stuff. It’s good to get one person who has no clue about the subject and another who is something of an expert.

    Another approach is a program of evening lectures. Here at the world-famous Mogget-training University, we have a program of evening lectures scheduled each year. Several are done by grad students, usually those who are ABD (all but dissy). The goal is to have the dean tell you to “polish it and publish it.”

    There’s one by a member of the faculty and one from an outside source of some reknown — we’ve had Luke Timothy Johnson, Roland Murphy, Jan Lambrecht, Carol Osiek, John Collins and couple of others I can’t remember. This costs the university about $500 a year. Not much for what you get out of it!

    And then, of course, there are the more normal venues of regional professional meetings, journals, national meetings, etc., etc. So there’s lots of ways to achieve professional-level interactions. It’s just a matter of working out how to do it and it makes a big difference.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    I have been assured that the professors here are highly encouraged to get out and publish in their academic fields all the time. It is even beginning to happen. However, it is not required and so most people don’t. And I’m not convinced that they should be required to. Again, doing so is not in keeping with the primary purpose of the Religious Education Department. And serious consideration would have to be taken about what such a requirement would result in. Clearly this is a debatable subject that needs to be had but can any of you expound the benefits that BYU and the Church would experience if this was required? And can you think of any possible negative consequences? I suspect that both would exist.

    LXX,

    Did you have any negative consequences in mind? The only one that I could think of was more pragmatic than anything else: being required to publish means that some professors who are great teachers but not very good writers/researchers will be marginalized, and this may be at odds with the goal of a CES-structured department. This of course is built on the assumption that the role of the depatment is to function as an arm of the church (i.e., socialization and general education similar to CES). I imagine the terms would be quite a bit different for profs in the Anc. NES department. Is this along the lines you are thinking?

    I agree with this somewhat. Most of these professors are reading up on and keeping tabs on the things that outside scholars are saying and are importing them into their classrooms and writings more and more. There may not be conversation with them but their ideas are not going unnoticed and ignored.

    Can you provide an example or two for this? I’m sure it happens, I’m just looking for some clarity in an example or two. IMO, the problem has more to do with those whose training is far removed from “religion”. And once again, this should probably be prefaced by saying many of them are fantastic teachers, and having them teach may better serve certain aims of the RE department. However, the issue is that many of these people are not exposed to the larger discourses about religion and in essence know little more than Mormonism. Case in point: While at BYU I took a course in the History department on the Reformation. I was reading a book entitled “Erasmus” one day in the JSB. A religion professor, whom I had a class with and is rather well-respected, walked past and asked what I was reading. I told him it was a book for the class I had on the Reformation. Looking at the cover he asked, “Oh, who’s Erasmus? I never heard of him before.”

    Now, like I said, I really liked this person and thoroughly enjoyed his class, but I was somewhat dissapointed by his lack of knowledge about Christianity. I know this is one small example, and perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of it; but really, can we know Mormonism as Christianity until we know Christianity in its context?

  • bodhi

    I never had especially easy religion classes as an undergrad (with one or two exceptions), but I was particular about who I took classes from. Still, overall, I expect easy classes are getting somewhat harder to find. I say that in part because RE admin has for some time now put the thumbscrews to the faculty to stiffen up their classes. Faculty evals includes review of class grading curves. If someone is passing out A’s like lollipops, they get an earful. BUT, this only applies to regular faculty. Transfer faculty (faculty from other colleges who are assigned a religion class) can do whatever they want and RE has little control over it. They can request that teacher not teach religion classes, but I’m under the impression that it is difficult to get a transfer teacher blacklisted, especially just for poor teaching. I understand they are assigned by their home college, not RE, and they are free to assign duffers. Transfer faculty teach a very significant percentage of RE courses and this drags down the overall quality of religious instruction. RE screams bloody murder over it, but university admin is indifferent. It’s the cheapest way for the university to cover all the religion classes, and gives the tenured deadwood in other depts something “useful” to do–teach core religion classes.

    Religion faculty have the heaviest teaching loads of any faculty on campus. They teach 4-6 classes each semester, or more with extra night or con-ed classes, and class sizes can be very large. Even part-time faculty may have 3 classes, a full load in other colleges. A few faculty teach a whopping 1000+ students a semester. Plus most RE faculty, of course, have families, often large, and most have onerous church callings that seem almost part of their appointment. Add in various committee and admin assignments, and this leaves comparatively modest time for research and writing. With that time, they can choose to write X books and articles for LDS readership or, say, 1/5th of the same for outside publications which may require 5x the research (or more, even much more) for equivalent words in print. Oh, and academic pubs are not weighted much heavier for tenure and advancement. And your colleagues never see them; they just notice you’re not doing as much as they are for the saints.

    There is much more to this than what I’ve related, and generalizations are necessarily inaccurate, but it’s fair to say there are substantial disincentives for RE faculty to publish outside. It comes down to available research time, dept priorities, and how much any given publication is weighted, valued, and appreciated. But things are improving all the time and faculty who have an interest in publishing in outside academic venues are being given more and more support. And many faculty are, in fact, professionally active (at least modestly), in spite of the inherent disincentives. But at the end of the day RE faculty are hired for Gospel instruction, both in the classroom and print, and not for biblical or other religious scholarship.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    But at the end of the day RE faculty are hired for Gospel instruction, both in the classroom and print, and not for biblical or other religious scholarship.

    I wish that we did not so easily find these two things to be separable.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com HP

    Mogget, there is the rub. The RelEd faculty are hired and asked to do theological work, not exegetical work. This is fine for BYU, because we have a long-standing tradition of theological work that isn’t based on careful exegesis. To ask the whole faculty to become Bible scholars would be, to some degree, to choose to ignore the history of acontextual interpretation that the Church values. Furthermore, since the RelEd faculty are primarily asked to do theological work, much of what they do on a class-to-class basis will appear apologetic (and be apologetic), an activity which turns the stomach of many a Bible scholar.

  • Matt W.

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned yet, but one of the issues is that religion courses are required courses at BYU, and are designed to thus be basic courses in religion, and not necasarrily college level academic courses. Thus the courses are geared more toward a practical religion level, designed to be above the level of seminary, but accessable to the general public who have no interest in “higher-criticism”.

    That Said, I think that Wayment, Holzapfel, and that other guy (I always forget his name)have done some great things with their new books, and hope they continue on to work with Paul and hopefully even a solid LDS perspective on the Gospel of Thomas.

  • g.wesley

    “As for why most of these professors do not publish for audiences outside of the Church…It is also a fact that in most cases that LDS scholars face negative preconceived notions and opinions from people in academia. Breaking through is a very tough job if you are a Mormon…It doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it just means that it is very difficult…”

    while this concerm may be relavant to getting into grad school and finding a job outside utah, i don’t think it applies much to publishing since the review process for academic journals is almost entirely blind. from the cover letter, journal editors have the author’s name and contact info, which could give clues to religious afiliation, but i suspect that often they have no idea of the author’s faith, background, or even education, nor do they care (education excepted). for example, i rencentlty emailed the editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies to find out whether he considered submissions from grad students. His response was:

    “We have no rules about the status of authors. Each paper is reviewed on its own merits. In my experience, papers by grad students (and by other people!) run into trouble when they are not based on study of primary sources in the original languages in the critical editions, they do not use the most important scholarship in languages other than English, and they do not advance an argument that is truly original. So you just need to ask yourself (and perhaps a trusted faculty advisor) whether you think your paper gets over these hurdles. All of the papers that I and the associate editors consider potentially publishable are reviewed by scholars who do not know the author’s identity.

    I hope this helps. I’m happy to answer any other questions you have.

    best wishes, David Brakke”

    if ‘lds biblical scholars’ aren’t publishing in academic journals (the situaition could be different for monographs), it’s either because they don’t submit or their submissions aren’t, well, scholarship. i suspect the former to be the primary reason. wayment provides a nice recent case study. there is no doubt that he has the academic pedigree of a scholar and is capable of producing scholarship (and the same could be said of several others at byu), but how often does he do it? the only thing that comes to mind is his jecs article on gospel of thomas and matthew, though i confess that there could be more. if, when you refer to his biography of paul as “very good,” you mean very good scholarship, i cannot agree. in my view it’s somewhere between scholarship and homily.

    brakke’s criteria are most fitting for the discussion of late. i think the problem is in the way ‘scholarship’ is defined. for me, there’s no problem with wayment’s biography of paul or the papers from latest sperry symposium (very generally speaking), when understood as holimetic publications for everyday lds readers. the problem lies in calling this scholarship.

  • bodhi

    I haven’t read all the older threads, but I hope that you all appreciate how tremendously disturbing critical readings of the Bible often are to BYU students and members generally. Those of you who have taught institute or perhaps some classes in RE may have experienced this first-hand. We’re usually teaching students not only lacking critical training, but often even basic critical faculties. They can get turned inside-out with unbelievable ease. Even just a careful reading of the text by students can provoke disturbing realizations, leaving aside the usual critical issues. For example, a colleague teaching a class on Paul had a student come to the realization, independently though his reading for the class, that Paul believed the eschaton was imminent. This completely blew his mind, for predictable reasons. He came and spoke to the teacher, who tried to talk him through it, but he could not be brought around and apparently left the church (that was my colleague’s understanding, at least). It’s well and fine to talk about dosing the church with critical exegesis, even if only as “inoculation,” but a few experiences like this can make one cautious. I’ve faced the same reactions myself, though with less severe results. For the nonce I’m unconvinced there is much to be gained as a church by scholars exploding the harmless textual and historical misconceptions of the faithful, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with it if it can be done sensitively.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    The RelEd faculty are hired and asked to do theological work, not exegetical work.

    Perhaps we have different definitions here, because I’ve never done any exegesis that wasn’t profoundly theological. I have, however, consistently done exegetical work that wasn’t apologetic. As you say, apologetics is usually a stomach-turning experience.

    To ask the whole faculty to become Bible scholars would be, to some degree, to choose to ignore the history of acontextual interpretation that the Church values

    Do we know why the church values the acontextual approach? Could it be that so few have ever experienced a close reading driven by solid exegesis?

    The only other places I’ve ever seen such an attachment to acontextual readings is in fundamentalist approaches.

  • bodhi

    g.wesley: Wayment has also published in JBL and in a recent SBL monograph, and much more is in the pipeline. But you are correct that there is little evidence of religious bias in academic publication, at least in my own experience and that of close colleagues. I also know of no one getting submissions rejected, for any reason. There just isn’t a lot submitted, as you’ve surmised, and even published pieces often go unnoticed (as with Wayment).

  • g.wesley

    bodhi, thanks for the info.

  • g.wesley

    link to wayment’s jbl paper (which mentions byu in the first sentence):

    http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=3&hid=8&sid=5a4218c3-b7ae-4d92-aa4f-da63bd08d369%40sessionmgr8

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    For the nonce I’m unconvinced there is much to be gained as a church by scholars exploding the harmless textual and historical misconceptions of the faithful

    I guess I’m not entirely convinced that an inaccurate appreciation of the timing of the eschaton is a harmless bit of ignorance. Over time, it’s caused quite a stir and I believe that for folks who live in the Independence, MO stake of Zion it continues to do so.

    My take on this is that since the young man in question was not born thinking that Paul thought the eschaton was delayed, we ought to wonder how he got the wrong idea. And if we were to assign “blame” for this, which I’m not advocating, I’d expect that a fair assessment would include the dynamics of whatever organizations or individuals inadequately presented matters of eschatological interest to him.

    So now as I reflect on it for a bit, seems to me that ignorance has something of a history of producing unreasonable expectations with regard to scripture. And I’m not convinced that that’s harmless. It’s far, far easier to teach it right the first time than to correct it later on.

  • bodhi

    I agree that it’s best to “teach it right the first time,” but if we are speaking in terms of properly critical exegesis, that virtually never happens. But then the question is, given that fact, when and how we should introduce correctives, if at all. My thesis is that harmful error should be corrected always, and harmless error corrected when the benefit would outweigh any consequent detriment. This is a subjective evaluative process, of course, and some may disagree with my ethics in the matter. Fine, my own views have changed over time, and may change again. But my experience is that it is easy to underestimate the theological puissance of traditional exegesis. In this case the issue was not how to understand Paul (student and teacher agreed), but how to theologically accommodate the fact that Paul (and other contemporaries) believed in an imminent eschaton. Does this make Paul a false prophet? A mistaken prophet? Is there a difference? How could a prophet be mistaken about something of such overwhelming and immediate significance? If Paul could be mistaken on something so fundamental, what about modern prophets? What fundamentals might they have wrong? Wait, early LDS believed in an imminent eschaton, too? WHAT . . .?

    Now, one could open this can of worms with a class of undergrads and see which one beats it to the dean’s office first. Most RE faculty, I think, would not see this discussion as likely to produce more benefit than detriment for students, never mind the uncomfortable conversations with the dean. How you would introduce this into SS curriculum, I could not guess.

    It’s a fact that sectarian exegesis is protective of distinctives. LDS exegesis protects LDS theological distinctives, or it wouldn’t be LDS. Obviously LDS scholars can engage in non-sectarian exegesis, but to assume it as a baseline for LDS exegesis would never find broad acceptance. It takes you well outside the community of readers. Any teacher employed by the church must, at the very least, accommodate this fact. This is not a problem for most of you, but I hope you can appreciate the dynamic in play here.

  • g.wesley

    on a side note, bodhi, i just noticed a comment you made on the post at urban mormonism: “It [the Mormons and the Bible section of SBL] serves a purpose and a couple of the papers this year were quite good (others quite bad, alas).” i’d be interested in specifics, since i wasn’t there.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Bodhi,

    I think we can agree to avoid harsh judgments about personal integrity and testimony. (Nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses all around…)

    But then the question is, given that fact, when and how we should introduce correctives, if at all.

    Can we agree that if an error is potentially harmful and that error was created by church instruction then the church has the obligation to correct it and the right to choose the time and place?

    I’m trying to consider the matter practically. This particular situation was touched off by personal study. This means that the error was not harmless and that it is not possible to assume that the saints will never find out about it unless some naughty exegete points it out.

    Now where should the error be addressed? What better place than the home of LDS scripture study, the BYU campus? Should we wait until some Christian misionary points it out and then has the opportunity to suggest that this is perhaps not the only false information that has been provided? If all other things are equal, I can’t think of a more logical candidate than the Religous Education department, and especially so if it was church instruction that created the error in the first place.

    To teach certain kinds of erroneous information about the Bible, no matter how piously intended, creates a vulnerabilty. Things like the timing of the eschaton and what it means to enjoy the gift of prophecy to to be a prophet are probably not harmless. And there are many folks who would be quite happy to exploit these vulnerabilities. For BYU to perpetuate that error is to implicitly condone it. This compromises not only the original source of the error, but BYU itself as source of trustworthy information.

    never mind the uncomfortable conversations with the dean

    This rather candid comment suggests that “all other things” are not equal. It sort of boggles the mind that the Dean would make a teacher who corrected a clearly erroneous assumption feel uncomfortable about it. Perhaps I’m overreading the situation, but its seems that CES once again is part of the challenge rather than the solution.

    How you would introduce this into SS curriculum, I could not guess.

    It is, of course, a leadership challenge. Scholars cannot do this sort of thing on their own. This calls to mind Small Axe’s comment about our insular nature. We are not the first denomination to pass through a phase of first contact with critical Biblical study. Much of this, including your report of the reaction of the dean, reminds me the Catholic’s Modernist period.

    That said, the scholarly leadership which is resident at BYU would be a natural platform from which to begin. The dean is, no doubt, a very trusted figure both intellectually and spiritually as well as highly regarded by the general authorities. Since the Catholics made the transition, I am quite sure that the saints can do so as well. But it is a matter of leadership, including both church leadership and scholarly leadership.

    LDS exegesis protects LDS theological distinctives, or it wouldn’t be LDS.

    I think that in order to continue down this line of discussion it would be useful to draw a distinction between LDS distinctives and elements of LDS thought concerning the Bible that are incorrect. In the case at hand, an expectation that a delayed Pauline eschaton is taught in the NT is not correct and so perhaps should not properly be considered an LDS distinctive.

    It takes you well outside the community of readers. Any teacher employed by the church must, at the very least, accommodate this fact. This is not a problem for most of you, but I hope you can appreciate the dynamic in play here

    I do appreciate the dynamic in play so I now want to broaden my remarks from a dialogue with Bodhi to a wider and more general (read: unidentified and unspecified) audience in order to attempt to avoid offense.

    This sounds like a gatekeeper mentality. This sounds like there might be some folks out there who believe that the saints are not ready for the truth. The anti-Mormons would be most gratified to hear this; they’ve been saying for years that if the Mormons would just read the Bible they’d all quit being Mormons.

    It also once again reminds me very strongly of the Catholic’s Modernist crisis. My Greek teacher told us that during his noviatate as a Jesuit, there were a number of books that were kept under lock and key because they were “too dangerous” for the faithful to read. When we enquired the titles, they turned out to be no big deal.

    But be that as it may. If it is the judgment of BYU’s scholarly leadership that the saints are not yet ready to closely study the Bible, so be it. Then the next question that might be posed it to ask what is being done to help prepare the saints to deal with the Bible.

    Now you may ask, “Mogget, why can’t the saints just go on happily to the Celestial Kingdom without reading the Bible?” They can, I suppose, but I think it unlikely. To make this point, I should like to once again draw your attention to an historical example.

    The Bible was not always studied as it is now. There was a time, a very long time, where acontextual readings were the norm and where rational categories were not applied. This began to change around the time of the Enlightenment when [Protestant] folks decided that the study of the Bible needed to be put on the same footing as things like the physical science. As you might guess, this did not turn out too well but that is not the point of this digression.

    What did happen is that lots of really smart folks started to read the Bible very, very closely. They particularly focued on the Gospels for the obvioius reasons. And when they did, they started to notice that it didn’t say quite what they thought it had said. It was this close reading that eventually led to what we now call source criticism as well as the other branches of higher criticism.

    Now have a look at what Elder A. Roger Merrill, general president of the SS said in the 6 Jan edition of the Church News:

    Holding a large print edition of the scripture overhead for dramatic effect, A. Roger Merrill, general president of the Sunday School said, “Above all, use the manual. And this is the manual.”

    The days in which the saints were perhaps not well enough educated to read the Bible closely in its very difficult KJV translation are, I think, passing. They have access to better translations and certainly have a great deal more access to serious commentaries and the like. Should they chose to follow their prophetic counsel and begin to read the Gospels, they will also begin to notice the things that sparked higher criticism because these questions come from reading the text and asking what it means.

    So my point is this: Unless the scripture reading capabilities of the saints are deliberately handicapped, more and more will begin to notice the sort of things that this young man did and to ask questions. And that’s why I wonder what’s being done to prepare the saints for the transition to critical thought about the Bible. I’m not sure it can be stopped.

  • lxxluthor

    Since the Catholics made the transition, I am quite sure that the saints can do so as well.

    Not only can we do it but I think we can do it faster and better. Have less casualties. Although I wonder how much the average Catholic felt the change. And I wonder if more LDS people would feel it by percentage because we have things like Sacrament Meeting talks, Sunday School, and P/RS.

    “Mogget, why can’t the saints just go on happily to the Celestial Kingdom without reading the Bible?” They can, I suppose, but I think it unlikely.

    Here I have to disagree. I think that it is very likely that people will go to the CK without reading or understanding the Bible. Our conception of salvation is way to orthopraxic(sp?) to keep people from salvation if they do all the right things.

    I’m not sure it can be stopped.

    Me neither. We read a lot as a people and our system of Church services is set up to get people to read our scriptures on a regular basis. And it actually happens. Many people begin missions not knowing in an organized way what they believe. As the pieces come together they begin to hunger for more and many a good missionary has read his NT without coercion. People’s interest in this stuff is growing to some degree and the evidence for it is the incredible number of Saints in grad school programs in Bible and related scholarly fields as well as the huge influx of ANES students here at BYU. We have set up a system for people to think critically about the Bible when reading it closely. I truly think the time is nigh.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    Wow, a gatekeeper mentality. Whoda thunk? ;)

    Mogget, I agree wholeheartedly. In a perfect world, our theological duty would be to work out how to deal with the exegetical issues that arise, not to spend time shouting “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. Not that we are encouraged to do that now (we aren’t and I am not implying that we are), it just feels like it some times.

    I had a teacher once ask me how I came to start dealing with critical issues. I didn’t know what to tell him. It wasn’t like someone carefully introduced me to them and brought me slowly along. When I encountered textual difficulties, I just began trying to learn more instead of turning away and saying, “I don’t want to learn things that might shake my testimony” He asked this because, I think, he wanted to show that I was internally prepared, but that not everyone is. My question is: is it appropriate to make critical approaches a litmus test for Mormon belief?

  • bodhi

    Mogget: I now regret precipitating this conversation, at least a little, because I just don’t have time today to address all of the points you’ve made as thoroughly as they deserve. So please forgive me singling out just a couple. Though I’m sure these all will come up again.

    First, at places you seem to treat RE as a single entity, capable as a body of teaching this or that. RE has a huge and diverse faculty, largest on campus, who rarely speak to one another about precisely what they are teaching. Many religion sections are also taught by non-faculty, who have no interaction with regular faculty. Also, the two RE depts teach across subjects, and they have not only different leadership but quite different ways of thinking (even a mild rivalry at points). The faculty are very individualistic and also deferential to each other’s scholarship and teaching. No one tells anyone what or what not to teach. At all. And it would make little difference if they did. Honestly, it’s like herding cats.

    In my hypothetical interview with the dean, the questions would not be so much about what was taught as about the “learning outcome” (the current campus obsession). For all BYU faculty, and especially in RE, enhanced faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ must be a fundamental outcome of instruction. It’s right on all student reviews and emphasized by the brethren and admin continually. If a number of students came to a dean after a class saying, “I’m not sure the church is true now,” that certainly would present an unacceptable outcome, in any BYU college. But in fact, RE admin consistently sides with faculty when students complain (as they constantly do, though much more over grades than curriculum).

    Are BYU faculty “gatekeepers”? Absolutely, categorically. But all faculty at all universities are. First of all, they teach what they are hired to teach, and every university has its curriculum and its taboos. Faculty are not a society of philosophers (even if they like to pretend that), but hired pedagogues. If they don’t do their job they lose it. Even tenure is not a bulletproof vest. Refuse to play by the rules, and if you are not fired outright, admin can fence you in so tight you’ll be desperate to leave. Even to the degree you have discretion (and everyone has much, of course), you are always imparting just a bare fraction of what you know about a subject, glossing over facts not easily explained to non-specialists and committing shameful sins of generalization. How can one possibly avoid being a gatekeeper? Perhaps the question is, is it permissible for curriculum to be defined by one’s employers as well as by one’s own academic and ideological convictions? In part, academic freedom policies determine the boundaries for this. Virtually all schools have them, and all policies are necessarily restrictive.

    As far as teaching the gospel (whether Bible or any other aspect of it), the cardinal rule virtually everyone follows, whether consciously or not, is the principle of the conservation of testimony. This rule (in part) recognizes that all teaching is selective, and maintains that we should select to teach those things which build faith rather than challenge or destroy it. Teaching necessarily entails the selecting, arrangement, and presentation of facts (truths) and, as Elder Packer often says, all truths are not of equal value; those essential to faith and salvation should be privileged. Some truths, in fact, should be held back from the those unprepared to receive them, as per scriptural precedent, lest they be harmed by them (D&C 19:21-22; Alma 12:9). Packer’s “Mantle” address is a modern articulation.

    I understand, of course, that the bare thought of this causes blood pressures to rise. Parochialism! Elitism! Whatever. At the end of the day there is, in fact, little philosophy behind it. Most church teachers just don’t want students leaving the church over what they teach them. That’s just not something they want keeping them up at night. Faculty lacking this concern are either in English, or else they won’t be faculty for long. Since I have a daughter soon to attend BYU, I’m very glad things are the way they are. (Just don’t ask me why English gets to have their own fiefdom . . .)

    Finally, per critical Biblical scholarship, I think you are verging on the “inoculation theory” that is popular in some quarters. Basically, if we faithful scholars don’t expose the saints to these potentially shocking facts–inoculating them–then they will discover them on their own without the benefit of a faith context or, much worse, be surprised and hammered with them by secular humanists, or Marcus Borg, or whoever. I’m fine with this and engage in it myself (many faculty do), but it must be pursued under the governing principle of, again, conservation of testimony. This dictates that the testimony of the many must be safeguarded even at the expense of the testimony of the few. If by broadly teaching the uncomfortable facts of Pauline eschatology I may challenge or destroy the faith 1000 for every 1 soul I inoculate, whereas by not teaching it I may loose that 1 but keep the 1000, then “risk assessment” favors passing over it in class. You may find this sort of calculus offensive or disgusting, but it’s the sort of pragmatism that constantly drives decision making in the church and, yes, even shapes our theology. It’s a rule that remains largely unspoken, for obvious reasons, but it is quintessential to religious conservatism. The unfettered contest of ideas is of course a liberal ideal, but is inimical to hierarchies (precisely why it is liberal), and in nothing more so than to organized religion. And no major religion is more organized than Mormonism.

    For any who might agree with this basic principal, the debate then is just over what aspects or particulars of secular scholarship might impart more benefit than harm to the body of the church. This expresses itself less in classroom curriculum (student reviews determine effectiveness there) than in editorial policy for BYU publications (and of course editors vary). But if you judge BYU by recent NT pubs, I think most would agree there is a very progressive movement afoot. I would also bracket as a separate issue actual challenges to faith from secular scholarship as opposed to potential challenges. Actual challenges of course deserve a vigorous response. I doubt even 1 in 100,000 saints has read Paul closely enough to understand even the rudiments of his eschatology. I don’t think it could be considered an actual challenge to the body of saints. I don’t think anyone is trying to stop these challenges from arising (they’d love to respond to them) as much as they do not want to precipitate them.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    My question is: is it appropriate to make critical approaches a litmus test for Mormon belief?

    In a word, no. It is possible that I have not clearly expressed my thoughts here. I am not suggesting that a critical encounter with the Bible is a theological or spiritual necessity. My thought is that once reading it becomes a priority — and I assume that since the GAs have started to suggest reading the Gospels that BYU will follow — then an encounter with critical approaches is probably something of a practical inevitability. Whether it will be historical-critical or not remains to be seen.

    I’m no expert on the matter, but drawing once again from the Catholic example, the shift to critical approaches seems not to have been monolithic but the exposure to it was pretty universal. From this encounter, a spectrum of responses arose. In addition to the flourishing Catholic exegetical tradition, there are fundamentalists as well as those who simply ignore the whole matter. And so also I expect within the LDS tradition.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    Mogget, how often does the average Catholic really read the Bible? Our church is a church of average joes and janes, most of whom will never give the Bible a close reading, even when they think that they are.

    And now, to argue exactly the opposite point,
    bodhi,
    When I was a kid, the local LDS bookstore contained a couple of Elder McConkie books and was located in a tire dealership. Today, anyone, anywhere can get loads of info on the church, its history, the scriptures, and their history. To assume that what has been the case will equate to what will be the case is either to assume that this chosen generation is either: a. remarkably stupid; b. remarkably uncurious; c. both of the above; d. both smart and curious but unable for some reason to work a computer. It is no longer a lengthy and arduous process to get information about the church’s history. Nor is it all that hard to encounter what the scholars say about the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc. If we are seeking to introduce more rigor into our coursework, it is inevitable that students will encounter this. If we wish to retain students that do, it will our example of understanding, accepting, and believing anyway that will be influential, not our prooftexts and our patched together apologetic solutions. Not that I think you are arguing for this. Last semester, I was slammed by a student because he felt like I was remarkably ignorant of the Book of Mormon. The reason why? I tried to tell the kids that we didn’t understand how some things worked, that the brethren hadn’t clearly made up their mind on the subject, and that no one solution solved all the problems involved (I believe the discussion had to do with how we understand the afterlife). There shouldn’t be anything wrong with saying we don’t know, when we don’t know. The RelEd dept has an (undeserved) reputation of knowing everything (one that is openly acknowledged as undeserved). Nonetheless it preseveres. I once told my students that I was no spiritual giant and I got reviews back complaining about how I was too hard on myself. Students at BYU seem to need the RelEd dept less for what it teaches and more for what it represents.

  • lxxluthor

    It seems to me that RelEd should offer a 300 or 400 level course on NT exegesis and another on OT exegesis. In the Greek classes that I have taken I’ve done a little exegesis, and translation necessarily requires a close reading, but it wasn’t (nor should have been) the primary purpose of the class. Biblical exegesis, even if done in English, should be under the purview of the RelEd department. What would be the problem of having a couple of classes like these that are not GE’s but are required for ANES majors who desperately need the experience. They could be 3 credit classes taught by those who know how on a rotating basis. You’d have people lining up to teach them and enough students to fill a class of 20 once a year. I know it’s not like any of you can do anything about this but is there some inherent flaw in this idea?

  • lxxluthor

    And can anyone tell me why, when I submit a comment at 2:38 it shows up as having been posted at 9:38? Is this blog running on English time?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com HP

    It does run on Greenwich Mean. Also, isn’t that was Seely’s class is supposed to test the waters for?

  • bodhi

    g.wesley: I was impressed by the papers of John Hall and Eric Huntsman. Hall I disagree with on a great deal, but his paper shows that he is putting a lot of time and energy into his commentary project. Someone will have a piece of work cut out in critiquing his volume. I appreciate even faulty arguments when well made. Huntsman not only has great literary sensibilities, he’s really finding his feet with biblical studies. Don’t let his publications to date fool you into thinking he’s just a historian. The other papers were not substantive research efforts, though Draper’s report on the RSC biblical studies database was very interesting. I didn’t even know about it before then.

    HP: I choose “e.” I think this “chosen generation” is very bright and remarkably uncurious, at least with regard to their faith. We here in this group are thoroughly non-representative. With so many competing systems of values and beliefs, which our kids are exposed to constantly, most who make it to adulthood with faith intact have a great capacity for disregarding alternative religious beliefs or challenges to faith. They are also extremely trusting of church teachers and authorities on religious matters. Very, very few BYU students come into a religion class with burning questions. Most just want a seminary experience. Most of their teachers are themselves only equipped with “prooftexts and our patched together apologetic solutions.” Those who are better equipped are still unlikely to introduce any sort of rigor that will challenge their faith. If and when a student independently comes across challenging material and ideas, and consults with a teacher about it, a good teacher will approach it as you suggest. In private. Much can and often should be said in private that is not suitable for a large and mixed group.

    In my experience RE faculty are not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” I’ve heard it often, I say it very often. On the other hand, if you are continuously waffling about us not knowing this or that for sure, students start to squirm. You have to be honest but also project confidence. It’s a highwire act sometimes.

    To hijack your question for Mogget, in my experience some Catholics of course read the Bible devotionally, though few critically. The Catholic modernist controversy took place in the seminaries, not the pews. Your average Mormon probably reads the BoM much more than the average Catholic reads the Bible. But Catholics do receive much more exposure to the Bible through liturgical use, and therefore have an additional lens through which they see it. Traditionally, the liturgical and sacramental understanding of scripture has been very influential on exegesis. One sees it prominently in premodern Catholic commentary, and still very much in contemporary homiletics. Homiletic exposition, the primary locus of Catholic exegesis, rarely has an eye on critical issues.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Finally, per critical Biblical scholarship, I think you are verging on the “inoculation theory” that is popular in some quarters.

    Heheh, no. I’m interested in giving folks a terminal case or at least enough of a lasting infection that they can read Biblical texts on their own. My research interests are twofold: the post-resurrection activitries and testimonies of Christ and how to teach adults to read and appropriate the Bible. For the later, it is almost always necessary to correct mistaken ideas before students can come to appreciate the power and beauty of the text on their own. It’s no secret and it’s as much a fact of life in other churches as in this one.

    (I’m not so into the gritty details of authorship, dating, etc., etc., except as these contribute to understanding the text. That’s why so much of what I post around here has a very narrative-critical flavor. Ideally, I’d like to work myself out of a job.)

    Now, Bodhi, I hate to go on with this…you’ve been an articulate spokesman for your position and quite the gentleman to respond so politely. So if you’re ready to let it go, no problems.

    But having said that…

    And no major religion is more organized than Mormonism.

    Yet the religious education department can be compared to cat herding? It’s not that I doubt you; I’ve seen it. It’s that I find the irony so delicious. Perhaps you can grin with me as well?

    How can one possibly avoid being a gatekeeper? Perhaps the question is, is it permissible for curriculum to be defined by one’s employers as well as by one’s own academic and ideological convictions?

    Of course it’s permissable for an employer to dictate curriculum. I was a physics professor in a college that dictated the entire syllabus and gave standardized tests in core courses.

    So are we saying that there’s a decision that Paul is to be suppressed? Cause if there’s no official suppression, it’s hard to justify cutting out five minutes of Pauline eschatology, just enough to explain that there were some, er, mistaken ideas in the first century just as there are now and then to read his painful acknowledgment of the delay. It’s quite a touching passage, actually. Very poignant.

    Or is part of the problem that it would take far longer than five minutes? I suspect so, which brings me to my next thought:

    the principle of the conservation of testimony

    What is this testimony-thing that it’s so fragile it can’t survive a basic reading of the Bible? Is it that students come to the Bible-at-BYU with incorrect ideas and expectations about it? Did most of them get those wrong ideas in church, or church-related situations?

    select to teach those things which build faith rather than challenge or destroy it

    Are you saying that familiarity with the basic interests of the Bible, such as NT eschatology, wouldn’t build faith? That it would destroy faith? Why do you suppose that is? Do you think that’s the way it ought to be?

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    Hey LXX,

    Did you have any thoughts about the questions I raised in post #12?

    Sorry for the short comment, but I haven’t had much time to work through much else of what has been said, but I certainly will.

  • g.wesley

    bohdi, thanks for the insight on the section of sbl.

  • bodhi

    Mogget: I’ll give this another 15 minutes, then I’m outta here.

    On “organized religion”: Oh, life abounds in delicious irony. But by “organized,” I was certainly not referring to RE. I refer to priesthood hierarchy and all that implies, which RE falls outside of. RE is definitely not correlated and teachers are free to set their own curriculum, within some general boundaries. I could teach anything I want I Paul. Perhaps some teachers spend a week on Pauline eschatology. But I doubt it, since I’m confident there would be student fallout.

    On “conservation of testimony”: I don’t know what precisely you mean by a “basic reading of the Bible.” Students do indeed read the Bible for their Bible classes, at least sections, and given the level of resulting class discussions I’d say their reading was basic indeed. By “basic reading” you must mean “reading without theological assumptions,” which I think is the hardest of readings for anyone whose world view is heavily shaped by theological convictions. These students have no idea what’s in the Bible beyond some sketchy stories and half-remembered scripture chase and bashing verses. They have, in that respect, zero exegetical baggage. But they have ironclad theological assumptions about what the Bible must necessarily say, and challenging those assumptions is often a challenge to their theology. That’s the rub.

    On “NT eschatology”: Your last questions really need a fuller response. The issues are complex. I tried earlier to portray in brief the theological problems potentially raised by Paul’s eschatology. Historical-critical readings of the Bible multiply these questions exponentially. I expect you can in fact see this, even if you do not see it to the extent I do. Is it perhaps more the case that you yourself do not think this is the “way it ought to be,” and therefore resent that this is the way it is? Or are we really disagreeing over how things (well, members) are? I think, really, we agree on how things should be. Believe me, if members had fewer theological sensitivities, my life would be soooo much better.

  • lxxluthor

    HP: I’m not a Hebrew guy, I’m not taking the class and I haven’t asked anyone about it to know anything about it. If he’s doing it for the OT guys then someone needs to be doing it for us NT guys instead of us just getting it from professors who recognize that we need it and teach it out of the goodness of their hearts.

    SmallAxe: To answer your questions from 12: There exists a division of sorts in the RelEd department that falls roughly along the lines of those who come from CES and other non-Biblical scholarship fields (though dominated by CES) and those who have come from Biblical scholarship. I have heard it whispered that the first group feel generally that the second group don’t do as effective a job at teaching with testimony and the Spirit. The second group feels (again generally and thus over generalizing) that the first do not teach enough substance, are not rigorous enough, and focus on fluff too much. How wide this divide I do not know, people around here are reluctant to admit that it even exists. On top of the suggestion you made about CES type profs being marginalized, it could also create a greater divide between faculty here.

    And as for negative effects in the Church, while I’m sure they would be less dramatic than the political fallout RelEd would experience, I think that it is very possible that members and non-members alike might misinterpret what it means when all these BYU religion professors start pumping out ideas not forwarded by the Brethren. They would look radically different than current publications do. While current publications may actually forward ideas not (yet) espoused by the Brethren, the turn to a staunchly academic tone would probably shock people a bit. I dare say that it could look rather Catholic or Christian where the theologians are doing all the work, putting forward all the new ideas, and setting the doctrinal agenda on difficult issues. This doesn’t even take into consideration where their findings could directly contradict what current and past GA’s have said.

    As for your second question about professors here bringing in outside scholars into the classroom I’ll try to give you a couple of examples. Dr. Huntsman uses as one of the lexicons for his Greek NT courses a lexicon by Wallace. Wallace is Protestant (I think) and I know he doesn’t like us Mormons at all. But we still use his lexicon in some of our classes and as any Greek scholar will tell you, your lexicons contain as much commentary as your commentaries do. Also, Margaret Barker, a Protestant but not well looked upon in the academic community, is fiercely debated by a fair number of teachers here about her radical ideas about Judaism, the Temple, and Early Christianity. I also know that several Catholics are well received and used here including Raymond Brown and F.F. Bruce.

    My answers don’t give a good or full picture here about who gets used and how extensive the use is of outside scholars but I assure you that in all of my ANES classes we primarily or exclusively use non-LDS sources. There are flaws in who gets used and when and how (I’m told that we should be moving past and building on Brown, not baptizing him for the dead and making him the new Edersheim) but things are moving forward all the time.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Believe me, if members had fewer theological sensitivities, my life would be soooo much better

    Grins. Let’s call it “good” then. Cause I do think that’s the basic issue right there. Theological sensitivities. That’s a nice way to put the matter.

    I do, in fact, know the challenges that Pauline eschatology presents to an LDS world view, not least because I had to work through it on my own and then explain it about a dozen times to others. I have a set of ideas about how to teach it that I’m dying to try out. I may blog on it later but too many people are too open to new thoughts around here. It’s not a very good test.

    Been nice chatting. Be assured that we shall have LXXLuthor severely beaten for starting this thread that has consumed so much time and effort.

  • lxxluthor

    Gee thanks Mogs. At least I can say that I got HP to come out of his shell. And never you mind how you did it your last three post, y’hear?

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    A fascinating and very educational read for the rest of us though, thanks!

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    And never you mind how you did it your last three post, y’hear?

    Me? Stir things up?! I beg to differ. I am a very agreeable person. Nice chaste Mogget-kisses all around. ;)

    I merely want to make clear that there’s no problem with reading and confronting the Bible. It’s those dratted theological sensitivities… sniff.

    I do remain convinced that mistaken ideas about the timing of the eschaton need correction and that there is, in fact, an obligation to do so. But in the end the folks on the ground have to do it their way.

  • lxxluthor

    Mogs: Not that you stirred things up but that you brought HP out of hiding. Perhaps he’d been ashamed of us before that? :)

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    For the nonce I’m unconvinced there is much to be gained as a church by scholars exploding the harmless textual and historical misconceptions of the faithful, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with it if it can be done sensitively.

    I think pragmatically I agree, but doesn’t this position basically take the stance that we don’t care what the texts really have to say? Or to put it as positive as possible, we only care about the text inasmuch as it supports what we already believe. In some regards, I think one may be able to create a defendable “Mormon” position from the view: We are not a religion that is “founded” on the Bible. The viability of Mormonism is built on revelation which may or may not be in response to Biblical interpretation (and if that interpretation is false, the revelation still holds true—although this of course may become complex). In short as I Mormon I agree with the Bible inasmuch as it agrees with me and I have little to no responsibility to conform myself to it. I do not think may members take this position (and for the most part I am not taking this position myself), but I think much of it is implicitly there. Could scholars of the Bible somehow play on this position to create room for “critical” work without fear that we are undermining the testimonies of the “faithful”? On the other hand, is this demeaning our own task by disassociating it from the “faith”?

  • bodhi

    (Sheesh, I’m back. I have no discipline.)

    smallaxe: Your questions tap an undercurrent I see in many posts here, the whole problematic of hermeneutics. Steve Robinson curses hermeneutics, and I think I know why: it undermines our ability to read and discuss texts with certitude, or even just assertively, which is theologically problematic. A discussion for another day, I guess, but it goes to the question of, what do texts have to say, or better, do texts say anything? There was a pretty good thread on this recently on LDS-Phil, if you can dig it out (don’t know if they archive).

    Mormons of course care what scripture has to say, but we also assert that its meaning can only be determined authoritatively through revelation to priesthood authority. Joseph Smith observed, “a man can play any tune on the Bible,” and his theology took account of that problem. That means anything I say as a scholar about the Bible is necessarily non-authoritative. As long as LDS scholars acknowledge that fact and are respectful of authoritative declarations on the Bible (there are not many), I think there is a lot of room to work. The bigger problem is that intangible bramble of theological sensitivity with which most members are encumbered, and which also must be respected. But as long as you aren’t (1) dissing the church and its teaching, or (2) twisting members’ knickers, I think the brethren are pretty indifferent to what you say about the Bible. If you look at scholars who fall out with the church, it is always because of these two things. The presentation and effects of exegesis is usually important than its precise content. Two scholars can say basically the same thing in different ways, and one will be pilloried and the other praised. I’ve seen it.

    Your postulate suggests or implies that, in effect, with living prophets it doesn’t really matter what the Bible says, since modern revelation trumps it anyway. One may therefore believe and say about the Bible whatever one likes. I think this would render AoF 8 meaningless; if we accept the Bible as God’s word, what it says is of the highest consequence and, incidentally, it must also accord with God’s living word, the teachings of the living prophets. The better course for LDS scholars is to distinguish between prophetic utterance in the Bible and the contingent remainder (which is most of it). Brigham said the Bible contains the words of God, man, the devil, and an ass rebuking a prophet in his madness. LDS exegetes should define the first and treat it with respect; they can play all they want with the last three. The problem with secular methodologies, for LDS, is that those methodologies presuppose that only the second is found in the Bible, and any LDS exegesis that is exclusively secular in methodology will therefore never be acceptable.

    This last point is one I find of critical importance. Perhaps other threads here have formally discussed it already. But the tendency I see here is to want to secularize sacred exegesis rather than sacralize secular exegesis (that’s a mouthful). I think those are two different things, and the latter is far more difficult than the first. As a colleague once put it, it’s easier to dissect an animal to see how it works than to put it back together and make it breathe.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    bodhi,
    Offhand, I operate from a position that it is NOT the role of scholars to sacralize anything. The truly sacred survives scholarly attempts at dissection in any case. That scholars can take things apart is nothing remarkable and it constitutes the whole of their job. Those who can put together and make breathe are prophets, not scholars.

    “Your postulate suggests or implies that, in effect, with living prophets it doesn’t really matter what the Bible says, since modern revelation trumps it anyway. One may therefore believe and say about the Bible whatever one likes. I think this would render AoF 8 meaningless; if we accept the Bible as God’s word, what it says is of the highest consequence and, incidentally, it must also accord with God’s living word, the teachings of the living prophets.”
    I am having a hard time figuring out the distinction you are making here. It seems like you are repeating the same idea that you found in SmallAxe’s comment.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    I’m not sure I’d characterize what I normally do as secularizing the text. I’m not worried about confessional issues, but that’s usually a strength, not a weakness.

    What sorts of things distinguish between this sacralizing approach and apologetics?

    That said, I’d be interested in reading more about it.

  • klbarney

    LXX, thanks for this interesting post and the thread it generated, which I just found. I attended BYU in the early 80s. I am very happy with the education I received there, but I gained my critical reading skills as a classics major more than in RE itself. Classics was a “safer” environmnet for learning how to read an ancient text carefully than RE would have been at that time. But even then, you could find some of the good stuff in RE if you talked to people and knew who to take. I ended up working as a TA for Kent Brown for a couple of years, who is as classy a scholar as BYU has ever had.

    My impression (from afar) is that things have improved substantially in RE over the years since, for which I am grateful. But undoubtedly there is more progress that can and should be made.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/ David J

    Bodhi, I’m with Mogget and HP here. You create a false dichotomy like I’ve never seen before. The best exegesis I’ve ever read has been denominationally or confessionally opaque, it trusts the text where textual integrity is established, doubts the text where it is not, and leaves the reader with more information to understand the text’s formation, message, and implications. That to me is holy ground. Good exegesis, to me, transcends any insight or commentary a “living” prophet could possibly attempt to convey. But the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive – that was my point.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    David J.,

    So do you believe that good exegesis can be both denominationally opaque and sacred? Also, is there more to “understanding” a text than exegesis as you’ve defined it? In other words, if you are able to correctly interpret Paul’s Christology, have you really “understood” his Christology?

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    So do you believe that good exegesis can be both denominationally opaque and sacred?

    Although you didn’t ask me, I think that my answer would be “yes.” But what do you mean by sacred? There’s lots of theological (about God) insight, but it can be unaligned with the theology of a particular denomination.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    I use ‘sacred’ in the sense that it was implied in David J’s comment and in context with Bodhi’s other message. In other words, it’s not necessarily my term. Although, I could have possibily over-assumed that it was implied.

    But since you consent to such a unity opaque and sacred (in doing exegetical work), what do you mean that something can be theological without denominational? I understand what you mean if you define “denominational” as differing Christian sects (things like this would be general statements about God), but what if we were to expand the term to “religion” at large. Can you do exegetical work that provides “insight” about God without being aligned with the theolog of a particular religion?

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    I understand what you mean if you define “denominational” as differing Christian sects (things like this would be general statements about God),

    I am using “denominational” to capture the idea of differing Christian sects. But I am, in turn, not sure that I agree that what results is best described as “general statements.”

    Can you do exegetical work that provides “insight” about God without being aligned with the theolog of a particular religion?

    Hm. At some level, I feel the need for more and better definitions. It would seem to me historical-critical work on the NT gives insight into the religious situation of the time and place according to the authors involved. They certainly thought of themselves as being aligned with the theology of a particular religion and able to distinguish themselves from others.

    I also know of work among folks who characterize their interests as “ecumenical.” They sometimes try to find common ground in the NT that would apply to all (or many) of the world’s religions. e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. These folks do, generally, work with very general statements. It is my impression that the “rub” lies within the person and work of Christ but as I did only one short paper on it in an intro theology class, that about exhausts my insight.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    Mogget,

    I’m sure you have mentioned this recently somewhere in the series of threads, so I appologize for making you restate…

    Do you believe exegetical work can be “a-theological”? Here using the term not in a technical sense but simply meaning “non-valuative”. In other words is good exegesis value-free (i.e., an interpretation of the facts and not a valuing of them)? You state above that there are many theological insights gained about God in doing exegetical work, but I think what you have in mind is a recounting of the theology of a text (which is supposedly value-free) and not the exegete actually doing theology herself. Is that correct?

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Yes, I think a “recounting of the theology of the text” seems good to me. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the value of some passage but in practical terms I agree with Raymond Brown’s thought that that sort of thing limits an exegetical work. There are, for example, large sections of G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation that I have never read closely because I have no interest in the Evangelical dogfight over pre- and post-trib raptures.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    Would you say then that the work of the Mormon Bibilical scholar is to do non-valuative work? In other words, she/he understands the text by means of recreating the argument. She/he gets at the author’s meaning by adding as little or no personal evaluation (taken as “valuing”) as possible. The exegete is the storyteller, but does not embellish, pass judgment, or create a new story.

    I guess what I am pushing toward is a comment you made earlier about the difficulty of combing the goals of BYU’s RE dept. and the goals of a scholar. The RE dept seems more concerned about maintaining a certain valuative reading of the Bible (i.e., students should come out having a stronger “testimony”), rather than providing a scholarly reading. I guess my question is, if you believe the above statment to be true about the work of the scholar, then how can the scholar ever do work in the RE department? How do you reconcile the two?

    Bodhi,
    I think this would render AoF 8 meaningless; if we accept the Bible as God’s word, what it says is of the highest consequence and, incidentally, it must also accord with God’s living word, the teachings of the living prophets.

    Except we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is “translated” correctly. In this statement, however, I think you actually unintentionally agree with what I was saying: “it must accord with God’s living word…”. That was precisely my point–one position that could be taken is that the Bible accords with us, we don’t accord with it.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    guess my question is, if you believe the above statment to be true about the work of the scholar, then how can the scholar ever do work in the RE department?

    Are we once again at the point of asking why there always seems to be a false dichotomy between testimony and scholarship? Because I must say that I don’t think that’s the case and I seem to remember that you agree.

    I guess I’d like to pose the question “A testimony of what?” Perhaps it is fair to suggest that the NT has great potential to engender testimony of God and Christ–at least that is what the authors tend to think they’re trying to do. In this case, why not use it for its strengths? IOW, teach it for what it attempts to teach and “get at” what it attempts to teach through exegesis. All things being equal, the Spirit should testify to the truth as it is taught and that should “increase testimony.” For doctrines not clearly found in the NT, use another source.

    I really do think that’s how it’s done in most places. Around here, the little Catholic kiddies are taught their scripture by either exegetes or theologians and the courses are grounded on a solid exegetical foundation. The Catholics do maintain items such as the triple concupiscence (geez, sp?) of Adam, but they do not expect to find that in Genesis.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    Sorry, I do remember getting to this point before, but we didn’t pursue it further.

    I think however we may be talking about resolving different dichotomies. I understand that you want to assert little to no distinction between testimony and scholarship… the text itself will illuminate the truthfulness of itself; but are you affirming another dichotomy in the sense that the scholar is one who creates truly “opaque” non-valuative interpretation opposed to theologically tinged evaluative material?

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    The historical-critical exegete creates readings that seek to illuminate what the orignal author might have intended to convey to his audience. If you want to hear the testimony/thoughts of the orignal authors as they tried to communicate with their own audiences, you ask an exegete. If you don’t value 1st century insights, you have no need for an exegete. If you want to know the “truth” of that 1st century author’s message, you ask God. But how do you ask God if something you read is true if you have no idea what it says?

  • Bodhi

    I’ve been offline, but return to find this exchange interesting enough that I hate to break the flow. Still, I might to attempt to clarify a couple of my points and reply.

    First, I was responding to Smallaxe’s question about creating theological ground within the church for “critical” or secular exegesis. I think, with his clarification (apologies if I misunderstood), that we probably agree on my central point, that Mormon exegetes must affirm that the Bible is God’s word and interpret that affirmation in a sense acceptable to the church generally. This is, I think, a fixed theological touchstone for exegesis intending to be acceptable to BYU students and the LDS mainstream, but if that is not one’s goal or target reader-community, you’re probably not interested in this thread anyway. I was not forwarding any criteria for “good” or “bad” exegesis, but simply attempting to assess the probable parameters of acceptable exegesis vis-a-vis standard-issue, correlated Mormon orthodoxy. One can only describe “good” or “bad” exegesis relative to an agreed evaluative standard, and we clearly have several different standards at play in this thread.

    HP: Your position is certainly the norm in secular academic settings, but the context for this thread generally, and certainly for my comments, was the confessional academic setting of BYU and CES, which must of course respect the values of their confessional sponsor. You know those confessional values, I think. Do you believe your position is consistent with them, or did you misunderstand the context of my remarks? Or are you just disagreeing with those values? You also comment, “The truly sacred survives scholarly attempts at dissection in any case.” I could not disagree more, if by that you mean something like, true religion and religious truth are not explicable as cultural products. All religion is explicable in terms of culture. I wish I were wrong on this point, but I doubt it.

    David J: I’ll hazard that you could care less about mainstream Mormon acceptability or correlated orthodoxy, or perhaps you are not LDS. I assume you put “living” in quotes with reference to prophets because you believe there is no such thing. At any rate, if you believe “living” prophets are categorically incapable of good exegesis, at least your own evaluative standard in that regard is transparent and my observations are most definitely inapplicable to you.

    Smallaxe: FWIW, I do not believe non-valuative or non-theological exegesis (or non-ideological, same diff) is possible at all, actually or even conceptually, if by that you really do mean an exegesis that “does not embellish, pass judgment, or create a new story.” Isn’t exegesis by definition an evaluative and value-creative process, a quintessential “discursive practice”? What else could it be? I sense that some here might wish they could pursue it as (ideally) a purely descriptive practice, but, at least in the postmodern era, I assume no one would seriously try to maintain that old positivist, wie es eigentlich gewesen schlock. I confess that I too am occasionally guilty of sentimental rhetoric, but we do all agree that the standards for “good” and “bad” exegesis are purely communitarian, don’t we?

    Mogget: Your last post (#61) just came through. I know that you know many biblical scholars disagree that what you propose is even possible. I recognize that old-school historical criticism is still a popular species of biblical criticism, but it’s just one player on a crowded field. Marcus Bockmuehl, Heikki Räisänen, and others have for some years described contemporary biblical studies as so fragmented that (as Bockmuehl says) a scholar of 50 years ago would no longer recognize it as his own discipline. Even oldschoolers (who may recoil at the merest shadow of Theory) are becoming increasingly self-aware of how thoroughly their culture shapes their “purely descriptive” scholarship. I heard a harrowing paper by Wayne Meeks at SBL about 10 years ago where he traced how anti-semitism had exhibited pervasive influence on the TDNT (many contributors were Nazis). When asked in Q&A what he had learned from this exercise, Meeks said he learned chiefly to despair of producing any work that was not, at base, an expression of his personal bias and culture. Bart Ehrman, Dale Martin, and one other scholar (I forget whom) all gave papers along the same lines. Traditionalists groaned. PoMo’ers shrugged.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/ David J

    David J: I’ll hazard that you could care less

    I’ll hazard that you meant “couldn’t care less…” :)

    about mainstream Mormon acceptability or correlated orthodoxy, or perhaps you are not LDS.

    I am LDS, but my trust in anything correlation is low or non-existent. I dislike unity, consensus, or indivisibility in most everything, for I believe that it removes the element of autonomy and freewill (eventually). This is the main reason I don’t recite the pledge of allegiance when given the opportunity (I think “indivisible, with liberty” is oxymoronic; besides, it was written by a socialist). “Because the prophet said so” is an answer I always challenge. When asked if I sustain the brethren in my recommend interviews, I always respond “When they are right I do.” The interviewer usually just moves on. But I wouldn’t expect anybody to glean that about me from my comment above, so good on you for asking.

    I assume you put “living” in quotes with reference to prophets because you believe there is no such thing.

    I believe there can be such a thing, but my definition of “prophecy” is not the church’s definition of it. Our “prophets” don’t prophesy under what I believe to be the biblical paradigm for prophecy, which I think the church was built on when it set out to define itself as a prophetic institution. So the burden is on the living prophet, I think. Now, if we define “living prophet” like the church today does (ie, a leader of a people/dispensation regardless of his/her prophetic abilities), then yeah, I guess there are living prophets.

    At any rate, if you believe “living” prophets are categorically incapable of good exegesis…

    If I did, would my opinion have some merit? I believe it would because I’ve observed that living prophets avoid exegetical measures, which in turn leads to cavalier interpretations of the text. For example, if one places Jeremiah 1:5-6 in context, one would most likely glean much more from it than concluding that it’s a proof-text for pre-existence and move on like our leaders do. That’s just one example among many.

    So do you believe that good exegesis can be both denominationally opaque and sacred?

    Most definitely. I said before: “The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” What I’m saying is that for me, sound exegetical method and clear interpretation, not tied or built as a plug for any particular theological bias, is the most profound and uplifting. But perhaps that’s just the Bible Dork (or is it Nerd?) in me. Certainly my views on exegesis and modern/continuing revelation/prophecy are suspect among a crowd of (non-suspecting) Mormons, but that’s natural given the education that I’ve received in these things.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    What I’m saying is that for me, sound exegetical method and clear interpretation, not tied or built as a plug for any particular theological bias, is the most profound and uplifting.

    How is any exegetical attempt a-theological? And I don’t think denominational opaqueness necessarily means the reading is atheological.

    The historical-critical exegete creates readings that seek to illuminate what the orignal author might have intended to convey to his audience. If you want to hear the testimony/thoughts of the orignal authors as they tried to communicate with their own audiences, you ask an exegete.

    So I take this as a “yes” you are affirming a stance where the scholar illuminates the factual nature about the intent of the author and God (perhaps in some cases, individually, or through his representatives, i.e., institutions and those in authority in those institutions, which we would say “the Church”) gives value to the findings. The scholar in this paradigm of course could be both a scholar and a believer; for the work he/she has produced is not a product of his faith but of an objective methodology.

    My point is, why do we think the work of the exegete is value-neutral? Responding with notions of “opaqueness” are not necessarily going to resolve the issue. There is an implicit valuing of questions that goes into every exegetical venture.

  • Bodhi

    David J: Thanks for the courteous reply (ahem, I’ll ignore your pointing out my typo). I guess I assume that all religious authorities are necessarily motivated exegetically by other concerns than the need for historical-critical rigor. I’m never surprised, or even disappointed, at their theological reinterpretations of scripture, which of course biblical authors also engaged in constantly. And also all other interpreters of the Bible until the last couple of generations, and most interpreters of the Bible today. Historical-critical exegesis, rigorously practiced, has never been much more than a narrow, modern academic exercise. My pastor buddies tell me that, not surprisingly, those seminars on Q are useless in preaching and parish work. I know Gordon Fee and many others have tried to bridge the relevance gap (as we are right here), but it’s fearsome hard and to date is largely a failed effort. That suits me fine. That failure is feeding emerging fields like reception history and Bible and culture, and the fascinating phenom of the evangelical Ressourcement (less interesting than its Catholic prototype, but still a wonder). I find these more academically interesting and personally relevant, in part because they don’t dismiss theological and devotional use of the Bible as ignorance or malfeasance, but as a compelling and (in the West) universal form of cultural and religious expression. But hey, this is why SBL has a zillion sessions. Somebody has to give those riviting papers on why 826 should excluded from f13 minuscules, orality and arthrous/anarthrous nominal patterns in pMt, etc.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Traditionalists groaned. PoMo’ers shrugged.

    Grin. So they do. Cracks me up everytime. And I have read the authors you cite and understand their criticism. The TDNT is not alone in its infamy and were this not a public forum we might go into other aspects of German Biblical scholarship.

    But…I see no reason to stop the conversation because it seems to have no resolution. There are readings and insights that can be ruled out; other errors that we will learn about in the future. It’s open ended and full of opportunity for self-reflection and interpersonal interaction and I’m happy about that.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    The scholar in this paradigm of course could be both a scholar and a believer; for the work he/she has produced is not a product of his faith but of an objective methodology.

    Not quite. It’s an attempt to avoid a confessional bias or to force something that did not exist in the 1st century onto an ancient text.

    My point is, why do we think the work of the exegete is value-neutral?

    Perhaps what this discussion suffers from is lack of a joint lexicon. I don’t think that an exegete brings nothing to the enterprise, but that what is brought is not necessarily aligned with any denomination.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Small Axe, Bodhi,

    Let me offer an example of what I do — or what I understand that I do — in hopes that we can leave off the cross-examination in favor of other modes of dialogue.

    Six months ago I had a conversation with the temple president about some aspects of the saints as kings. As a result, I began to look at how Revelation handles the ideas of sovereignty WRT to God, the saints, and other humans.

    I used standard methods; I did not try to find or support the LDS perspective. And I didn’t. In the end, I read a paper on it to a group of Biblical scholars from a number of denominations. There were no problems with the question, no problems with my methods, and no problems with my results.

    In a bit I’m going to let the temple president read that paper. He’s going to be quite pleased with it, despite the fact that John probably doesn’t say what the temple president thought he said. The reason he’s going to like it is because he’s going to find out that what Revelation actually has to say on the subject is very, very, profound and that his thoughts are something of a “lesser” included element. Had I tried to find or support the LDS view, I would surely have missed what I found.

    And this very much what I do with my “scholarship” when I interact with the saints. I don’t explode their “theological sensitivies” (love that term) because that’s a dangerous and uncertain approach. I just gently exchange things that are less adequate for things that are more firmly grounded in the text and therefore very often more profound. I let a little air out of the ballon, I put a little air back in… I let the results speak for themselves.

    Now I surely brought something of myself to that question and surely something of what I am is LDS. But it didn’t totally govern my thinking — others who do not share that LDS background could agree with my results. And the temple president, who does share my background, will undoubtedly find more in it than did my colleagues. And all of this quite pleases me, regardless of how it plays out in our philosophical dialogue.

    Now I hate to seem rude, but I’ve got to be gone for a bit because there’s something that requires my undivided attention for a couple of days…

  • Bodhi

    Mogget: I like very much to see terms like “conversation,” “self-reflection,” and “interpersonal interaction” characterise the field. They acknowledge its dialectical character and contingency, and that’s probably behind several of my comments. I’m uncomfortable with any view of biblical studies that implies the absolute value of any particular methodology it may employ or any particular result it may produce. That would be wildly unrealististic and naively totalizing, and I expect few of even the best scholars believe their work will outlive them very long. I had dinner a few years ago with a “superstar” NT scholar (I won’t name drop, but you all would know his work). He was just finishing his magnum opus, which has been rightly hailed as a masterwork. But I was intrigued by his own assessment of his work. He said he knew that even the most most erudite study was just a momentary item of conversation, when perhaps your partners in conversation pause and give you a minute to speak your mind, but then you all move on. A found that just a little depressing, but not him. He said he just loves the conversation and is thrilled to be a part of it. Participating in it is the whole aim of scholarship, but no one gets to have the last word, on anything, or even gets anyone’s attention for long.

    I really do understand your perspective and am very sympathetic to it. I was schooled in an interconfessional environment and most all of my professional work is interconfessional. But this thread was treating confessional scholarship, and I can do that too, and I’ve slowly learned to enjoy it and value it for what it is. I’m a little vexed that its very existence and legitimacy has to be defended at all. To me, if nothing else, it’s a fact that must be dealt with, and how to deal with it is a vital topic of discussion.

    But especially from your last post I am starting to appreciate in what way you (Mogs) are interested also in practicing confessional scholarship, at least after a fashion. If we’re not on exactly the same page, we’re at least reading from the same book. Most trained BYU bible people do what you do, though they are much less averse to employing familiar theological tropes. That doesn’t mean making nonsense of the text. Steve Robinson says (privately) that he is always chipping away at LDS misconceptions of the Bible, etc., sometimes using a sledgehammer, sometimes using a dental pick. More often that latter than the former. For the LDS public, raw academic historical criticism is one helluva big hammer. And (to switch metaphors) when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I just hope that is not the case here.

  • LXXLuthor

    I know that I left this conversation long ago (it’s been over my head to some degree for quite a while) but I want you all to know that I’m following up on what you say and am way too proud to have initiated such a substantive conversation.

    I’m a little vexed that its very existence and legitimacy has to be defended at all.

    Very well said, bother. Amen.

    For the LDS public, raw academic historical criticism is one helluva big hammer. And (to switch metaphors) when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I just hope that is not the case here.

    LOL, great analogy. I am convinced that with Mogget, HP, and myself (there are others I just won’t name them all) this is not the case. A lot of what is being dicussed seems to stem from our disappointment with the devaluing and even disparaging of this work which has shed so much light on the subject of the Gospel for us by those whom we think ought to receive it with open arms. There is so much to learn and gain spiritually from an exegesis of the Bible! This is our personal experience with Biblical scholarship. And everything about Mormonism, in theory, should accept and even embrace what we are finding (collectively, not specifically) and yet the resistance and aversion to it by so many is discouraging. So I anticipate that most of us who are or have learned this stuff will continue to find ways to introduce our fellow Saints to this until we are happy with the place it takes in the Church. May there be less hammers looking for nails than specialists looking with dental picks is my hope.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com HP

    “Your position is certainly the norm in secular academic settings, but the context for this thread generally, and certainly for my comments, was the confessional academic setting of BYU and CES, which must of course respect the values of their confessional sponsor. You know those confessional values, I think. Do you believe your position is consistent with them, or did you misunderstand the context of my remarks? Or are you just disagreeing with those values? You also comment, “The truly sacred survives scholarly attempts at dissection in any case.” I could not disagree more, if by that you mean something like, true religion and religious truth are not explicable as cultural products. All religion is explicable in terms of culture. I wish I were wrong on this point, but I doubt it.”

    bodhi, I don’t have a clue as to what you mean here, so I must be misunderstanding you. It seems to me that when scholars take it upon themselves to sacralize scripture (or other literature), that they are usurping the ecclesiastical role of prophets and apostles. It certainly isn’t my job to tell anyone else what to consider sacred. The best I can do is to try and occasionally demonstrate why something declared sacred should be so considered.

    For that matter, you yourself have talked about the lack of oversight regarding religion classes at the Y. I don’t really know what confessional points I am meant to make. My position is consistent with my confessional values, in that is any consolotaion.

    Finally, no. I didn’t mean that cultural explanations are not possible for some religious phenomena (although I think you may be painting with too broad a brush there (as you acknowledge)). I meant that the sacred inspires us regardless of what academia has to say about it. Going back to my earlier assertion, they inhabit separate spheres and this is a good thing.

  • bodhi

    HP: I , too, expect we are talking past each other, so I’ll try to at least clarify how I understood you and what I meant. When you said, “it is NOT the role of scholars to sacralize anything,” I understood that to mean that they should not assign the Bible the value of “sacredness” or assume any concomitants that would make it “inspired,” “revealed,” “God’s word,” etc. This is of course the position of secular biblical studies: the Bible is an inherently profane document that is wholly explicable as a human cultural product. It’s “sacredness,” “inspiration,” etc., are only cultural values traditionally assigned to it. Scholars of faith may personally believe otherwise, but their exegesis must be methodologically agnostic. I understood you to affirm this as the only legitimate position for a scholar to hold, LDS or otherwise, and that only a prophet should, can, or may affirm or assign or find “sacredness” in the biblical text. My position is, as I said before, that it is a confessional requirement of teaching in the church to affirm AoF 8, which states that the Bible is God’s word. That confession may be (and is in AoF 8 itself) qualified, but it may not be denied by affirmation or by exegetical method. Any secular methodology that either denies such as a precondition to exegesis, or excludes it by nature, is confessionally unacceptable. That’s why I said, “any LDS exegesis that is exclusively secular in methodology will therefore never be acceptable.”

    Or do you regard “sacredness” as an inherent property of scripture? That’s orthodox, but are you then saying that only prophets have, or should even attempt to have, “eyes to see and ears to hear” the Bible as the word of God? And that only they should teach it as the word of God? That’s what I’m understanding you to say, which is fine, but I think most LDS would consider that position thoroughly heterodox.

    My (fuzzy) reference to sacralizing secular exegesis was meant to express the need to adapt secular methodologies to meet confessional requirements, which means, permit them to view the text as sacred and inspired. Many scholars have taken a run at this, resulting in movements like “canonical criticism.” This isn’t necessarily a formal methodological issue as much as a matter of the exegete’s confessional assumptions and theological disposition, which is where I find your position problematic. A quick pull from Brevard Childs, a foremost proponent of “canon crit”:

    I have always objected to the term “canon(ical) criticism” as a suitable description of my approach. I do not envision my approach as involving a new critical methodology analogous to literary, form, or redactional criticism. Rather, the crucial issue turns on one’s initial evaluation of the nature of the biblical text being studied. By defining one’s task as an understanding of the Bible as the sacred Scriptures of the church, one establishes from the outset the context and point-of-standing of the reader within the received tradition of a community of faith and practice. Likewise, Scripture is also confessed to be the vehicle of God’s self-disclosure which continues to confront the church and the world in a living fashion. In sum, its content is not merely a literary deposit moored in the past, but a living and active text addressing each new generation of believer, both Jew and Christian.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com SmallAxe

    I really do understand your perspective and am very sympathetic to it. I was schooled in an interconfessional environment and most all of my professional work is interconfessional.

    Where do you teach?

    Any secular methodology that either denies such as a precondition to exegesis, or excludes it by nature, is confessionally unacceptable. That’s why I said, “any LDS exegesis that is exclusively secular in methodology will therefore never be acceptable.”

    Or do you regard “sacredness” as an inherent property of scripture? That’s orthodox, but are you then saying that only prophets have, or should even attempt to have, “eyes to see and ears to hear” the Bible as the word of God? And that only they should teach it as the word of God? That’s what I’m understanding you to say, which is fine, but I think most LDS would consider that position thoroughly heterodox.

    I think HP’s position is that an exegete’s belief should play as little a role as possible in interpreting a particular text. He/she may have certain personal beliefs but these factors should be minimalized in attempting to understand the intent of a text. A good exegete does not determine the norms of belief. While he/she may hold certain beliefs it is the role of the prophet (perhaps here implying a “theologian” in the loose sense of the term, who has institutional authority).

    I think the assumption in this theory is, if a text is truly sacred, a secular methodology cannot desacralize it. IMO you mis-characterize secular methodology as one which views the Bible as “profane”. Perhaps from the position of the believer, if the text is not sacred it is profane, but for a “secular” theology, shouldn’t the text be taken as neither sacred nor profane?

    Now, the question becomes whether such an approach could/should be tolerated at a “confessional” institution such as BYU, Well, the reponse HP seems to be pushing toward is that the same type of openness that is given to others pursuing things-as-things, such as biologists, should be given to the exegete. The biologist’s object of study is life and the planet, the exegete’s object is text.

    please correct me where I’m wrong.

  • Bodhi

    I understand what you are saying, but we may be reaching the point of more heat than light. I’m not sure I can say much more on this topic without just being repetitive. It’s been great fun, and I’ll drop by FPR again sometime, but like Mogget I’m going cold turkey for a while. Blogging won’t get me tenure.

  • http://urbanmormonism.blogspot.com TrailerTrash

    Hey all, I have been away for a few days and just discovered the last 20 or so comments in this thread. Great comments all around. I suppose great minds think alike since I just wrote a post this morning that dealt with many of the salient issues.
    http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2007/02/14/african-american-feminist-and-mormon-biblical-studies/


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