The Earth Really Isn’t Flat: An Evangelical Critique of K.A. Kitchen

The Earth Really Isn’t Flat: An Evangelical Critique of K.A. Kitchen February 18, 2015

Kenton L. Sparks on Biblical Scholarship

Last month, I wrote a three-part series titled “Don’t Do Bible (but if you do, do it right!). The posts can be accessed here, here, and here. The essays present some of the reasons–and many more could be added–why I find K.A. Kitchen’s work on the Hebrew Bible highly problematic. Recently, my friend Benjamin Spackman has drawn my attention to the following assessment of Kitchen by Kenton L. Sparks. This is a significant indictment of Kitchen’s work from a biblical scholar who shares his same theological and ideological background:

“I RECALL THE MOMENT WELL. I was 14. It was a hot summer evening in the woodlands of Georgia, where I was attending yet another week of Christian service camp. While sitting on a tree stump during the “quiet time” hour, I read these words from Exodus 6: 3: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.” Instinctively, I flipped back through the book of Genesis, ready to observe the black-and-white evidence for this, yet another mystery from Scripture. But what I found was not mystery but rather mystery upon mystery. While Exodus clearly said that the patriarchs did not know the divine name, numerous texts from Genesis seemed to confirm that they surely did know that God was “the Lord.”

“Although I did not realize it at the time, this was my first bout with historical criticism, or at least with the kinds of data that give rise to historical criticism. It would be some thirteen years before an answer for this conundrum was inadvertently presented to me, in a set of study notes from the hand of the evangelical scholar Kenneth Kitchen. It was Kitchen’s purpose to explain why the prevailing notion in biblical scholarship, that Genesis and Exodus were composed from several different sources, was completely wrong.

“The theory was not entirely new to me. I had heard this theory before from my graduate professor at the University of North Carolina, John Van Seters. Van Seters explained that there were two major sources in Genesis and Exodus, one in which the divine name was known to humanity more or less from the beginning of history, and another in which the divine name was revealed to humanity only at the time of Moses. When these two narratives were combined, he said, this produced the odd effect that I noticed on that old tree stump as a teenager. Of course, I did not believe Van Seters. He was not any sort of evangelical Christian, and I had been warned about the deceptive and beguiling ways of the biblical critics. Paradoxically, it was Kitchen himself— not Van Seters— who convinced me that the critics were right.

“I have read numerous books by Kitchen, and though he is a fine Egyptologist, it is my experience that he generally does a poor job of presenting the views of critical biblical scholarship. But in the study notes to which I refer here, Kitchen’s presentation was adequately clear. Indeed, by the time he had fully explained the critical theory of sources in the Pentateuch, I could hardly believe how reasonable and sensible the theory seemed. So I turned to the next page of Kitchen’s notes with great anticipation, looking forward to a robust and convincing rebuttal of the critical deception. Then came the moment of disappointment.

Having already shown me the earth from an orbiting spaceship, Kitchen then proceeded to argue that the earth was flat. For the first time it began to dawn on me that the critical arguments regarding the Pentateuch were far better, and carried much more explanatory power, than the flimsy broom that Kitchen was using to sweep them away. At that moment I began to doubt that evangelical scholars were really giving me the whole story when it came to the Bible and biblical scholarship” (pp. 11-12).

This is an exciting time. Advancements in the fields of linguistic and literary analysis, as well as archeological discoveries have helped clarify the historical background of the Bible. In recent years, mainstream evangelical scholars have begun to successfully appropriate this scholarship into their religious approach to the Bible.

In a world of information accessibility where believers are frequently exposed to academic views, LDS scholars need to follow their example. We can no longer avoid addressing the observations mainstream biblical scholars have made concerning our sacred texts. I look forward to the publication of Ben Spackman’s forthcoming book on Genesis 1. Hopefully, in the future, more will join rather than resist this important effort.

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