Archaeology, History, and Scripture Part 2: The Four Schools of Old Testament Historicity

In my previous post I mentioned that there are four major schools of thought when it comes to how much of the Old Testament is historical. By schools of thought I am describing approximate ranges of thought, not fixed positions.

One caveat, all dates are BC (BCE).

Maximalists

Maximalists believe that for the most part the Old Testament is historical, hence the name of the school of thought. However, this doesn’t mean that they believe that it is all historical. As a group Maximalists tend to think that the historical parts of the Old Testament begin around Genesis 12 with the story of Abraham. They base this on the following:

  • Maximalists see convincing parallels between the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East (ANE) in the 2nd millenium BCE.
  • For the era of the patriarchs they see parallels between legal and economic texts of the greater ANE and those found in the book of Genesis.
  • They also see parallels between the era of Ramses II in 19th dynasty Egypt and the account in Exodus.
  • Finally, people like K.A. Kitchen tend to read the book of Joshua differently than most biblical scholars. By reading it differently, K.A. Kitchen is able to show to his satisfaction that the book of Joshua is in harmony witht the archaeological record of 13th century.

However, the maximalists are not monolithic, nor are they literalists. One area of disagreement is in the dating of Abraham. K.A. Kitchen dates Abraham to the 18th or 17th century based on parallels in the ANE and a straightforward reading of the years in the Bible itself (the exodus is pretty securely dated to the 13th century, so it’s just a matter of counting lifespans backward from there). Gary Rendsburg, another maximalist, puts Abraham in the 14th century. This again is based on counting backward from the exodus, but using more reastic lifespans for the patriarchs. On Rendsburg’s account the period of Israelite slavery was only abut 100 years, not the 400 years in the Old Testament. Neither Kitchen nor Rendsburg takes literally the Old Testament account of 600,000 Israelite males (2-3 million people total) leaving Egypt in the Exodus, and both put the numbers leaving Egypt as a couple of thousand.

Moderate Critical With High Chronology

Those in this school tend to see the historical parts of the Old Testament beginning in 1 or 2 Samuel, with some historical material in Judges. They base this on the following heavily summarized body of data:

  • The Merneptah (also Merenptah) victory stele lists Israel as living in the region of Palestine in the late 13th century. Egyptian chronology is widely accepted as being very accurate, so somebody calling themselves Israel had to be in Palestine by that time.
  • The beginnings of “monumental architecture” in the 10th century in Palestine. This coincides with the period of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon.
  • The Tel-Dan inscription which dates to the 9th or 8th century and contains the phrase bytdwd or “House of David.” Hence someone important enough to have his own house named David
  • The Mesha stele which mentions the “House of Omri.” Omri was an important king in Israel in the 9th century and is mentioned in 1 Kings.
  • Various synchronisms from the 8th century on. Israel begins to be mentioned in Assyrian and Babylonian annals from this time period on.
  • Analysis of material culture such as pottery, statues, idols, etc.

They reject the Bible as being historical before this time based on the following data:

  • The book of Genesis has several anachronisms which at best show late editing, at worst late authorship. These anachronisms are: mention of Chaldeans, mention of Phillistines, domesticated camels, established desert trade networks, etc.
  • Beyond the anachronisms in Genesis there is no real context into which you can place the patriarchal narratives. The reason maximalists can put Abraham all over the timeline is that none of them really fit.
  • No evidence of any Israelites ever being in Egypt
  • No evidence of any exodus from Egypt.
  • The destruction patterns found in archaeological digs do not correspond to the destructions found in the book of Joshua.
  • The settlement patterns in 13th century Palestine do not reflect the account in the book of Joshua.

Moderate Critical with Low Chronology

This school and the High Chronology school agree with the data as presented in the High Chronology section. However, they date it and interpret it differently. Because of this they see 1 Kings as the time when one begins to see history and the Old Testament converge. They modify the High Chronology position as follows:

  • They downdate most of the finds in early Iron Age Palestine by 50-100 years. By downdating the finds they have the first signs of monumental architecture starting in the 9th century.
  • They note that the monumental architecture and widespread writing in the north (Israel) predates that in the south (Judah) by around a century.
  • Becuase of the previous two points they reject a United Monarchy ruled from the south. They don’t reject the presence of a ruler named David (the Tel-Dan inscription prevents this), but posit that he was more of a tribal chief than a ruler of an empire. If there was a United Monarchy it was ruled from the North by the House of Omri.
  • They point out that the dating of material culture in Iron age Palestine has been circularly dated, hence it does not allow for stratigraphic dating of finds correcly. The stratigraphic dating schema for Iron age Israel needs to be recalibrated by lowering the dates, hence the reason this school supports a “low chronology.”

Minimalist

Here I am following Lemche, the most reasonable representative of the Minimalist school. This school would put Ezra/Nehemiah as the earliest possible historically accurate part of the Old Testament. Some in this school would go so far as to say that none of the Old Testament is historical. They accept all of the evidence for unhistoricity of the previous two schools and add the following:

  • The Merenptah stele does not specify where nor who Israel is. This could have been a small tribe, not a large united people.
  • The Tel-Dan (bytdwd) inscription, though mentioning “House of David,” is fragmentary and the reconstruction is subject to different interpretations. In any case “House of David” may or may not refer to a united polity.
  • The Mesha stelae clearly mentions Omri, but to what extent was his kingdom “Israel”?
  • The difficulty of unambiguously differentiating Israelites and non Israelite Canaanites. The material culture of Palestine is pretty uniform, as is the language. There is no real way to identify a polity called Israel or Judah without referring back to the Bible, which is circular reasoning.

My Thoughts, Your Thoughts

The previous may have been too abbreviated to follow; I hope it wasn’t. It has taken me quite a while to assimilate and process this information. If you have found it hard to follow, the take home message would be the following:

  1. Maximalists: History begins with Genesis 12
  2. Moderate Critical with High Chronology: History begins with 1 or 2 Samuel
  3. Moderate Critical with Low Chronology: History begins with 1 Kings
  4. Minimalists: History begins with Ezra/Nehemiah

Where do I stand on the issues? In my opinion the maximalists and minimalists are not viable schools of thought. I know of no practicing archaeologist, who digs in Israel, who subscribes to either of these schools. Those who know the most reject these schools. Maximalism is a religious position masquerading as an archaeological position, and minimalism is a political position masquerading as an archaeological position. My opinion is that only one of the moderate critical schools is correct, though I don’t know which one. My hunch is that further archaeological discoveries will vindicate the low chronology school, but I have no evidence for this.

However, in one sense I really don’t care which of those schools wins out. Neither is conducive to belief, at least not belief as defined by any of the more conservative religious traditions (of which Mormonism is most definitely a member, notwithstanding the blips of Sunstone and liberal Mormons). Put simply, if they are correct, almost none of the really good stories in the Old Testament are historical. And, since I am being pessimistic here, I think that the standard Mormon defense of “as far as it is translated correctly” doesn’t work for a variety of reasons. More on that later.

What do you think? Can a believer espouse a moderate critical position? Should a believer hold out for a maximalist position? Can a believer just say that since the moderate critical positions are not absolutely 100% correct they can safely be ignored by a believer? At what point does a body of empirical evidence become so overwhelming that a believer must stop rejecting evidence and begin re-evaluating beliefs? What part should any of this affect how one reads the scriputres?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.com Nitsav

    Excellent summary! I find myself somewhere between moderate critical and maximalist, but I’m no archaeologist.

    I recognize that my thinking doesn’t fit within mainstream Mormonism, but then mainstream Mormonism hasn’t exactly interacted with this information much.

    A general comment- to some extent, I think that expecting “history” to be the prime purpose or raison d’etre of these records is a misguided and anachronistic misreading. Holding them to some kind of historical test which they then fail is a bit of a modern strawman.

    Said Nahum Sarna, a PhD in Hebrew Bible who also happened to be a rabbi, “the biblical writers were not concerned with the objective recording of details or even with the processes of historical change, as a modern historian would be. The biblical writers were not consciously engaged in what we would consider history writing, or historiography. Their concern was with the didactic use of selected historical traditions for a theological purpose.”

    That’s not to say that certain stories don’t have a historical kernel. But we also shouldn’t think that this or that story is recorded as some kind of documentary.

    Again, excellent summary.

  • http://phdinhistory.org Sterling Fluharty

    Thanks for the overview. It made a lot of sense.

    I think we may be stuck with the desire to historicize. This seems to be one of the irreversible changes in scholarship wrought by postmodernism. At the same time, I think it is fair to ask about the level of historical consciousness possessed by ancient scriptural writers. I don’t know enough about the degree to which they had access to documents/records and individuals/angels that were created or lived previous to their lifetime. Making these determinations might be the first step in figuring out the extent to which ancient scriptural authors recognized and understood agents/forces of historical change and change over time in general. It would also be helpful to know whether the ancient scriptural writers ever discussed or analyzed the veracity of old records or if they took everything at face value. I am reading Brant Gardner’s Second Witness right now, hoping to find the answers to some of these questions for the Book of Mormon authors. I can’t provide a good answer for how the ordinary Mormon negotiates these issues vis-a-vis their belief in scriptural stories, since I am an academically-trained historian who takes these kinds of methods and questions for granted. For me, the hard part is figuring out why the Lord, who presumably knew the absolute truth about the history of scriptural peoples, allowed ancient scriptural authors to consciously or unconsciously to write some scriptural stories in a way that modern generations would reject as non-historical.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    Nitsav and Sterling,

    You both make excellent points about applying our modern historical criteria to the content of the scriptures. My next post in this series is going to be focused on the historicity question. I think this is perhaps the most important question for Mormon scholars to deal with in this generation. And, I think the answer will need to have a distinctly Mormon answer, because of our unique theology. Other groups/denominations have answers that work for them, but I don’t think Mormons have produced a viable answer for Mormonism. However, we’re not alone in this, I don’t think the Evangelicals have a viable answer for themselves yet either.

    I have no delusions that my next post will answer this question, but at least it will be part of the conversation.

  • Clinton Bartholomew

    Thank you for this summary. This is a good summary of the different views. I agree that there is currently no Mormon consensus on how to interpret this data and that it provides additional difficulties for the Mormon audience. When I first began to examine the historicity of the Book of Mormon I was extremely fascinated by the subject and these studies bled over into my study of the the Old and New Testaments. I was fascinated to find that that the Old Testament had anachronisms like the BoM. The questions raised by Documentary Hypothesis were, to me, fascinating and gave me new and insightful perspectives on the Old Testament. The archeological information was equally as intriguing. Personally I find these data compelling and that they greatly add to my understanding of the Old Testament.

    >>Can a believer espouse a moderate critical position?
    Most definitely. However, it requires a reexamination of the definition of scripture.

    >>Should a believer hold out for a maximalist position?
    No … To do so is building a testimony on something other than a rock. This is IMHO a VERY dangerous position to take and causes more cognitive dissonance than rationally looking at the facts.

    >>Can a believer just say that since the moderate critical positions are not absolutely 100% correct they can safely be ignored by a believer?
    He of course can say this but this would be intellectually dishonest.

    >>At what point does a body of empirical evidence become so overwhelming that a believer must stop rejecting evidence and begin re-evaluating beliefs?
    Accepting a belief without data is dangerous in the first place. A believer should build up his beliefs based on data not visa-vera. Faith and belief should NEVER be static.

    >>What part should any of this affect how one reads the scriputres?
    It should definitely affect how one reads the scriptures, why one reads the scriptures, what one expects to get from the scriptures, and what one sees within the scriptures.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    DK: I doubt that I fit into any of these supposed schools — which seems to me to beg the question as if these were discrete options and the only ones available. I doubt that there is any of what we call “history” anywhere in the OT — and very little in the NT for that matter. I suppose you’ll address that in your next post.

    Like the maximalists, I believe that there are “historical” remnants or echoes of historical events in the tradition that has been received. That Abraham met a priest names Melchizedek who worshiped a God name El Elyon in a city known as Jereusalem just seems to fit the archaeological and textual sources from Ugarit too closely to be regarded as “mere myth” or wholly non-historical. The narrative isn’t history, isn’t historically verifiable and isn’t written to give some historical narrative. But it seems quite reliable as evidence of pre-monarchic Jerusalem and those who inhabited it and the deities that they worshiped.

    I also believe that the form critical evidence of treaties suggest a consistent tradition of cutting a covenant and the form such legal documents took during the second millennium. Does that make me a maximalist? Hardly. I simply find the evidence to be compelling for this particular claim.

    I don’t believe that there was a violent advent of Israelites into Palestine as the Bible records. I don’t believe that even in Kings we get anything like history — although verifiable historical events like the fall of Lachish to the Assyrians seem to be more or less accurately reported from an Israelite perspective. Does that make me MCLC? Hardly.

    I suppose you’ll clear this all up in your next post on what “history” is?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    Blake,

    I doubt that I fit into any of these supposed schools — which seems to me to beg the question as if these were discrete options and the only ones available. They are approximate ranges of thought, not fixed positions.

    About the Abraham/Ugarit parallels, the problem with these types of parallels are many. First, one can find these parallels in many different times and places. Albright found many convincing parallels in the Middle Bronze age for Abraham. Speiser found many parallels with the finds at Mari, which puts Abraham in the middle of the Late Bronze age. The Ugarit parallels you point out suggest the end of the Late Bronze age. Which is it? Second, one has to rule out these same kinds of parallels in 8-6th century BCE time periods, otherwise it could simply be persons writing in that time frame recording oral legends with no knowledge of what happened earlier. Third, one has to deal with the anachronisms which tend to be the shoals upon which these parallels ground themselves. Finally, while there may be remnants of historical events, that doesn’t really help one in reading and contextualizing the texts themselves, which is what I am really interested in.

    About the covenant/treaty parallels. Yes, there is a consistent pattern of treaty making in the 2nd millennium, which continued on into the the first millennium, especially in the Assyrian sources (which would be contemporaneous with the writing of the Bible). The problem is again showing the parallels to be unique to a particular time and place.

    I don’t believe that even in Kings we get anything like history I was probably confusing on this point. When I point out that the MCLC starts with 1 Kings as being historical, I don’t mean to say that those subscribing to that school would think all of 1 Kings is accurate, they would still point to much of it being theologically rather than historically driven, and hence unhistorical from a modern perspective. That’s just the place where they would start seeing history rather than legend.

  • Clark

    Can we (should we) distinguish between accuracy and historicity? That is we might say that both the tales of Abraham and Moses are wildly inaccurate in the narrative but that there really is an Abraham and Moses.

    Of course from a scholarly POV we can’t make such a distinction since we are left with the question of what we can decide from archaeology. But I suspect theologically things are a bit more open. I get the sense that perhaps you are conflating the two issues? Or should we conflate them?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    Can we (should we) distinguish between accuracy and historicity? That is we might say that both the tales of Abraham and Moses are wildly inaccurate in the narrative but that there really is an Abraham and Moses.

    Yes, we can distinguish between them. However, this way lie dragons! What you are saying is that the narratives refer to two people, namely Abraham and Moses. However, nobody knows them, so only way to make sense of those references is through the narratives. But since you have already said that those are inaccurate the references can’t possibly make sense (using Frege’s sense and reference distinction). In programming terms you have just dereferenced a null pointer and your program just crashed.

    But more to the point, this is precisely what I don’t want to do, I want the scriptures to have actual content, so the references better make sense. As an aside, this is 90% of what is wrong with FARMS, they are so concerned to make sure that the references exist, that they are willing to make a total hash of the sense of the scripture. Absolutely the wrong way to go about it in my opinion.

    I get the sense that perhaps you are conflating the two issues? Or should we conflate them? I hope I am not, but they are very much related.

  • Tom D

    Is there room for a mostly maximalist who thinks that though there is much missing or garbled in the Bible it is still the word of God? I tend to view all scripture as being primarily about making and keeping covenants with God. I wonder how much the Bible was changed to conform with various peoples understanding (or misunderstanding) of the covenants?

    Most of these scholarly discussions seem to assume that everything was transmitted orally until ~700 BC when it was finally written down with only a sketchy relationship to what actually happened. I agree that there was a very strong oral tradition, but that does not mean that written records have not been kept from antiquity or that they are garbled beyond usefulness. I am rather intrigued with Margaret Barker’s theories about the Deuteronomist Reformers and their “revision” of the Law. We need to be careful ourselves not to rationalize the Bible out of existence.

    I am very grateful that God has given us the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. They add a lot to the understanding of Bible historicity. I personally find many fascinating tidbits in the Book of Mormon including (1) the two different traditions concerning Moses’ death/ascension in Alma 45:19, (2) the Jaredite’s version of Genesis 1-12 mentioned in Ether 1:3. The overall tone and background of the Book of Mormon is also fascinating to compare with the Old Testament.

    I am unsure what to make of the historicity of Adam and Eve, except that I believe that they were and are real people that God made critically important covenants with. The existence of Abraham seems difficult to dispute and not very controversial even among non-LDS scholars.

    Exactly how is FARMS making a “total hash” of the “sense” of the scriptures? I’m sorry if this sounds confrontational. I don’t mean it to be (well not much), but mostly I’m just writing down my thoughts. I have a hard time seeing how we can discuss Bible historicity meaningfully without the contributions of modern revelation and translation. I must admit to being a Nibleyophile.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    Is there room for a mostly maximalist who thinks that though there is much missing or garbled in the Bible it is still the word of God? Room where? In the LDS church? Sure, that’s probably the default position of most Mormons. In the maximalist camp? I don’t know, it would depend on what you consider to be garbled and if you have a good methodology for identifying what is garbled and what is correct.

    but that does not mean that written records have not been kept from antiquity or that they are garbled beyond usefulness. True, oral tradition does not preclude written tradition. However, Israel Finkelstein makes a good case that there was not widespread literacy in Judah until the late 8th century BC. Arguments based on lack of written records are based on just that, lack of written records in the archaeological record, not based on theoretical oral/written dichotomies.

    Exactly how is FARMS making a “total hash” of the “sense” of the scriptures? FARMS wants so badly to place Mormon scripture in an ancient context that they grasp at any parallel as evidence and misread texts to harmonize them with archaeological evidence. Never mind that the parallels are misleading at best and in some cases actually prove the opposite of what they want it to show.

    I must admit to being a Nibleyophile. I was too.

  • http://mormonmonastery.org Nitsav

    Could you provide a link or two to an example of the latter @ FARMS?

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    What you are saying is that the narratives refer to two people, namely Abraham and Moses. However, nobody knows them, so only way to make sense of those references is through the narratives.

    Actually I’m not sure I’m saying that. One could, for instance, completely distrust the Adam accounts as anything beyond a ritualistic setting of cosmology. That is as analogous to our endowment. But not see it as historical in any normal sense. But simultaneously see there as being a real Adam, a real garden and so forth because of other theological needs. (i.e. by taken the prophecy of the meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman as real, by accepting the appearances of a real physical Adam, etc.)

    Does that make sense?

    I’d probably disagree with you somewhat with regards to FARMS. I think what FARMS is doing is putting forth hypothesis for historicity but I think most take a skeptical position towards any particular theory. Further most I know are pretty open to the models being wrong. I think the portrayal of FARMS as grasping at historical vines to avoid falling down a cliff is just wrong.

    I think where I disagree with you is that you want the narrative to be most important. I’m pretty skeptical of that for the same reason I’m skeptical of a lot of historical accuracy. If the history is inaccurate why should we somehow trust the narrative? That is it presupposes a master narrative writing a coherent whole. But I think that thesis, despite being frequently argued for, is just as problematic (esp. in the OT) as the thesis that it’s all highly accurate history.

    Maybe I’m misreading you here. It seems like the issue is over reference and what you are doing is replacing one sense of reference (to history) with an other reference (to a master idea of an author).

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    Nitsav,

    A parallel that pushes it to the point of undermining itself. Scroll down to the “Joseph’s Garment” section and then read the fourth paragraph. Problem #1, the Book of Jasher is so late (13th century AD) that it could not possible know anything about the story of Joseph. Problem #2, what you have here is textbook apocryphal story making. A clear pattern in apocryphal literature is to pick a story or person from the Bible and then start filling in missing details. People will be more likely to believe it because it’s connected to a canonical story, yet it is “value added” to use a modern parlance. This is what Jasher is doing here. By drawing the parallel to Joseph Tvedtnes draws attention to the fact that Alma 46 also follows this pattern of filling in the details, thus undermining the argument that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text. This article has further examples, such as Talmudic references to Moses not dying somehow confirming the same story in Alma.

    Link to misreading the Book of Mormon to fit archaeological evidence. Here somehow reformed Egyptian is somehow related to Mayan glyphs. I know of no study that links the two in any way. Yet, Sorenson somehow says, “How remarkable that the record keepers of the Book of Mormon allude again and again to their [the Maya] writing systems and, even more remarkable, that the Book of Mormon statements fit so well with what we know about the primary type of script in use in early Mesoamerica.” The only way to conclude this is to assume that when the Book of Mormon authors say “reformed Egyptian” what they really want you to understand is that they are using characters that are logographic which somehow relates to ancient Mayan languages. I don’t see how this follows.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    Clark,

    Does that make sense? I think so. Sort of a Mormon version of Siger of Brabant’s two truths theory? Except now you have the historical Adam and the theological Adam? I don’t find that route appealing, because I have to ask how that helps me read the first four chapters of Genesis any better.

    About FARMS, see #13 for examples of my complaints.

    As for the rest of your comment, my next post should deal with some or perhaps all of these issues. If it doesn’t, please let me know and I will try and address the remaining issues.

  • Clinton Bartholomew

    I am looking forward to your post on this subject. I have to agree with you on FARMS and Nibley. While a bit less problematic, I find similar problems with Nibley’s use of the Enochian literature to substantiate the PoGP amplifications of the Enochian. According to everything I have read, the Sepher Ha Enoch was written at earliest ~200 BC by the offshoot branch today known as Enochian Judaism. While this group may have older roots, I think it unlikely that the Sepher Ha Enoch is an accurate portrayal of Enoch life, if such a person actually existed. Nibley has to frankly jump all-over the book of Enoch, a large book by apocryphal standards, to find parallels which are much weaker when read in context than Nibley suggests. Finally, Nibley fails to adequately explain why the ancient Enochian account revealed to Joseph Smith fails to resolve the problem of the drastically different lineages portrayed in the Genesis account as shown by the DH.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    (Sorry for the delay answering)

    Regarding Sorenson, I think this is a misreading of his claims. I don’t think he’s saying in the least that Mayan and Reformed Egyptian are the same. I’ve not had time to break out the passage in question, but going by memory I think he’s arguing that the textual phenomena in Mayan approaches to writing parallels the Book of Mormon. I suspect he overstates his case, but I don’t think that is misreading BoM texts to fit archaeological evidence. The key paragraph for Sorenson’s thesis is:

    The expression Moroni used to label the Nephite script, “reformed Egyptian,” applies typologically to the glyphic writing used in Mesoamerica by the Maya and other peoples. (At least half a dozen distinct scripts of this kind, perhaps descended from a common ancestral form, were used at one time or another in that region.) Scholars have shown that indeed the early Mesoamerican hieroglyphic writing shared its essential characteristics with Egyptian and other mainly logographic scripts of the Old World.

    To take an explicitly stated typological point as a referential point is just misreading his text. Further he does footnote non-Mormon scholarly studies making the structural point.

    Regarding Tvedtnes argument, I agree that medieval texts aren’t too telling for ancient beliefs. Although his argument is that it collects “earlier Jewish stories.” One can dispute that take on the text of Jasher. (I tend to see it as a late midrash) But it seems a valid approach, albeit one that he needs to defend (and doesn’t). However I think his point is that these traditions wouldn’t have been known by Joseph. While one can make sophisticated counter-arguments the basic idea that the Book of Mormon reflects old Jewish traditions is fair. Whether those are of late antiquity or medieval doesn’t seem to change the argument much. (After all even late antiquity is after the Book of Mormon separates)

    Your take on this seems to be odd to me. I think we might agree it is expansive. Now one has to accept that the common expansion might be coincidental. If it isn’t coincidental though then that seems fair evidence for some connection between the Book of Mormon and the ancient world. The only other line of reasoning is to say that Joseph had access to these traditions. (And of course there is a line of argument there – such as some of Quinn’s arguments)

    Key to your argument seems to be the idea that “filling in details” means something isn’t an ancient text. Which makes no sense at all. Ancient texts clearly do this. The issue isn’t the “filling in” but rather the particular narrative which is filled in.

    But overall the approach you take (not that example) towards FARMS is odd. No one is arguing that FARMS doesn’t make mistakes or that there isn’t particular parallels poorly thought out. Heck, I guarantee I can find far more egregious errors than you managed to find. The question is whether this is typical or characteristic. Lots of people assert that it is. But I just don’t see it. Most of that errors I see in FARMS are characteristic of the type of writing I see in any scholarly subfield. (With a few exceptions – there were a few really egregious book reviews I’ve encountered, but then it’s not hard to find egregiously bad book reviews via a quick JSTOR search either)

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    To the point I was making. I’m certainly not embracing a “double truth” movement. Neither that of the Averroists nor its modern incarnations among figures like Strauss. All I’m saying is that if your sense of the meaning of a text is caught up in a pure dichotomy between authorial meaning in fiction and pure reference then that’s just bad hermeneutics. It’s always a matter of being between those two poles. You’re just throwing out one extreme for the other.

    To draw an analogy we can take the story of George Washington and his cherry tree and recognize it as myth. We shouldn’t say, therefore, that Washington doesn’t exist nor that any claim about Washington misses the meaning of the cherry tree story.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    To draw an analogy we can take the story of George Washington and his cherry tree and recognize it as myth. We shouldn’t say, therefore, that Washington doesn’t exist nor that any claim about Washington misses the meaning of the cherry tree story.

    Bad example, since we know much about George Washington that is not mythical. If the only information we had on George Washington was that one story, which is mythical, then we wouldn’t know anything about George Washington. Sure you could argue that somebody, sometime, somewhere was named George Washington, but what would you know about him? Nothing! You can’t infer history from myth. However, you can interpret myth once it is properly contextualized in a historical reality, either a real historical context (like the George Washington example) or the context or the author (such as when Athenian playwrites wrote myth). Edit: While you still have a nice story, what do you do when certain Mormon doctrines depend on certain stories and persons being literal, but through historical and literary analysis you determine that the story is mythical?

    All I’m saying is that if your sense of the meaning of a text is caught up in a pure dichotomy between authorial meaning in fiction and pure reference then that’s just bad hermeneutics. It’s not. I want as much of both as possible. The sad truth is that when dealing with ancient texts you take what you can get, and many times that’s not much.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    To take an explicitly stated typological point as a referential point is just misreading his text. Further he does footnote non-Mormon scholarly studies making the structural point. I am not misreading his text. I just don’t think he has a point at all. But, he wants to get all hand wavy and suggest that these typological similarities show something, which they don’t. His point is that logographic scripts in the new world share some commonalities with old world logographic scripts. Which ones? What are the similarities? Can these logographic similarities be purely a product of functional constraints of writing technology and human vocal production? (My bet is that they can). The underlying subtext is that one is supposed to see some parallel between Egyptian script and Mayan script. However, this involves misreading the Book of Mormon text because 1) we have no idea what reformed Egyptian is (so how can you make a comparison) and 2) we have to see Nephi communicating that he is using a particular logographic script in a particular way (the typology) which he isn’t and finally 3) we have to conclude that somehow the Mayan script is related to what Nephi used (which we can’t). So yes, I think he is reading into the text, otherwise he wouldn’t have a point. As it is, I don’t think he does because I don’t think there is any connection between Mayan script/language and Egyptian script/langauge.

    While one can make sophisticated counter-arguments the basic idea that the Book of Mormon reflects old Jewish traditions is fair. Whether those are of late antiquity or medieval doesn’t seem to change the argument much. When you are grasping at any straw you can find, it doesn’t. The point I am making is this, apocryphal writers tend to follow a pattern of expanding ancient sources by adding details. In fact, some go to great lengths to add a dizzying array of details. So, just by statistical probability and by squinting hard enough, you can find all kinds of parallels. There has to be a method and a criteria for deciding when parallels are spurious and when they are consequential, which nobody at FARMS, including Nibley, ever does.

    Heck, I guarantee I can find far more egregious errors than you managed to find. I have no doubt about that, but if you are so sure of that then why are you arguing with me? When I went hunting for them I had two requirements: 1) It had to be online so I could link to it and 2) I had to be able to find it in under 30 seconds.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    since we know much about George Washington that is not mythical. If the only information we had on George Washington was that one story, which is mythical, then we wouldn’t know anything about George Washington.

    But isn’t that precisely my point? Genesis 2 isn’t the only way we can learn about Adam. You seem to be making the point I made earlier now.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    But isn’t that precisely my point? Genesis 2 isn’t the only way we can learn about Adam. You seem to be making the point I made earlier now. I don’t know which point you are refering to.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    My initial comment was:

    That is we might say that both the tales of Abraham and Moses are wildly inaccurate in the narrative but that there really is an Abraham and Moses.

    The response you gave to the example of George Washington and the cherry tree is exactly the point I initially made that you considered a double truth.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    I agreed earlier with that assessment, that one can separate the existence from the narrative. I just don’t think it buys you anything. I tried to make an analogy from programming, it’s like creating a null pointer. Sure, you can make one, but what are you going to do with it?

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    Once again sorry for the delay.

    I reread the post and comments David and I think I see where we differ in our hermeneutics. (I think, I’m not sure) You would agree that, for example, external narratives might tell us something about Adam that Genesis 2 doesn’t. (Say a vision of his existence) But you are saying that the only information we have comes from those external narratives and Genesis 2 tells us nothing if we can’t ground it historically. (That is nothing about existential or historical claims)

    Despite how I come off I’m actually fairly sympathetic to that claim. Where I think I differ slightly is that I think once we know that a person is historical (say Adam or George Washington) that this then affects how we interpret the other narratives. So to return to my cherry tree example I think one is justified in thinking that George Washington had a reputation for honesty historically even if we judge the cherry tree story to be mythic. That’s because there are historic causes that led the myth to take the form it does.

    Now where I’m similar to your position is that I think this weak evidence rather than strong evidence. That is we ought be careful with such claims. But I don’t think it entails no justified belief, which is what I take you to be claiming with your “null pointer” analogy.

    So relative to Genesis 2 I tend to see it as not historical narrative. I also see it as what “survived” and was included by scribes writing thousands of years after the purported events. But I think that the external narratives about Adam (say visionary claims among leaders of the restoration) entail that we can’t simply discount it all as purely fiction. We may be unable to tell what we ought trust. But that’s a different situation from reading it purely as fiction with a message.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com David Clark

    Clark,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I think your #24 is a good summary of my position on the matter.

    In theory the visionary revelations and claims of restoration leaders should give us more information about ancient prophets. I think the issues we need to deal with are the following. First, there really isn’t that much extra information concerning Old Testament prophets. Second, the information that we do have I would characterize in most, if not all cases, as more midrashic than anything else. I think that’s the consensus of most scholars who have looked at the JST, that it’s more of a midrashic expansion than a restoration of text and/or data. Third, if we are going to make truth claims about this information than we had better make hard fast doctrinal claims about them. The problem there is that we Mormons tend to want to leave the door open to further revelation. That’s fine, but then it’s hard to claim that the new information represents historical truth.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    I think that’s why I see it as so complex David. The problem is that each individual narrative itself has to be judged. (Say the account of the Missouri statements by Joseph, the altar and the carbon dating of the altar, Adam-ondi-Ahman, etc.) And the way we judge each individual narrative depends upon how we judge the others. Further our judgments are informed by our own presuppositions, experiences and so forth. It makes it complex and typically there won’t be one obvious answer.

    There’s also the problem of how to judge writing of other prophets. (Say Lehi) Are they being midrasic, attributing historicity to creative midrasic expansions, being inspired, or so forth) There’s just not enough overt evidence to really lead one to fixed conclusions (IMO).

    Regarding the JST, I think most agree it best parallels midrashic expansions but that just speaks to the textual question and not the historical question. Which is the more interesting one.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/ Clark

    Just to add, a thought that came to me when reading the post on newness. While much of the JST is midrashic some doesn’t quite make sense as such. Say what we have as Moses 1. There are other additions which seem to go well beyond midrash and more into what most would call pseudopigrapha.


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