My Margaret Barker Experience

I first heard about Margaret Barker seven years ago and have watched from the sidelines as LDS scholars have fallen all over themselves after her ideas. However, I have never read her work. My avoidance of her work changed when a friend of mine sent me one of her lectures for comment (this is a great way to maintain a long-distance friendship, btw). It was worse than I imagined. I listened to the 35 minute lecture probably 10 times and just got more frustrated every time. I am slightly embarrassed by this episode of LDS intellectual history. It represents a step backwards in dealing with the contemporary critical evaluation of biblical texts and ANE religion.

The lecture in question is called “What Did King Josiah Reform?” She delivered it at BYU some time ago. The main thesis of the paper is that Josiah’s Deuteronomic reforms were a major departure from earlier Israelite temple worship and that many people strongly opposed these changes. This seems perfectly fine and uncontroversial, and I have absolutely no problem with this argument. The problem is in her imaginative reconstruction of this earlier ritual and other religious themes that she thinks were reformed.

Barker reconstructs earlier Israelite religion as consisting of, among other things: Asherah worship (the temple Menorah was the Asherah), child sacrifice as atonement, the ability to experience a vision of God, the belief that God’s son is the God is Israel, a Melchizedek priesthood, angel worship, that the temple rooms corresponded to the days of creation, and a scattering of true believers who resisted Josiahan reforms and maintained “authentic” worship. It is easy to see why LDS readers are attracted to many of these ideas (though Asherah worship and child sacrifice don’t seem all that helpful). But this is exactly the reason that we need to critically investigate these claims. They are too easy.

There are essentially two problems with her argument. First, Barker’s historiographical method relies on texts and accounts that are far removed from the historical period she is reconstructing, which makes it extremely unlikely that these texts contain reliable historical data. Second, she is working on a number of hidden assumptions about the consistency of interpretation of pre-Israelite religion. She only has two views of this history. There is an “authentic” worship which can be recovered by her, and the Josiahan reform. This assumption masks the rather obvious fact evident in the texts that she is studying that there were numerous interpretations of what the “authentic” version of ancient Israelite religion was. Both of these problems cause her to overlook what is actually interesting about the material that she is studying, namely, that diverse ancient religious parties appealed to an idealized view of pre-exilic religion in order to give their own views authority.

First, the thesis suffers from a series of truly unforgivable historiographical sins. The most obvious is that the majority of her sources for this reconstruction come from many centuries after the fact and from groups who have a vested interest in controlling a particular view of Israelite history. For instance, she uses Christian texts up through the fourth century CE frequently in her reconstruction, which unsurprisingly makes early Israelite religion look like and prefigure Christianity. Further, the texts she uses rarely actually attempt to represent ancient Israelite religion, it is simply her extrapolations. The Christian views are better explained by their own immediate historical context rather than appeals to a secret tradition from a millennium before.

Barker’s use of Jewish texts is equally problematic. She use DSS and Enochic literature to reconstruct what was happening in the First Temple, even though these texts were written hundreds of years after the First Temple had been destroyed. She conflates Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and the Damascus covenant as if they represented a shared view of the temple. But most egregiously, she fails to note that the critiques of the temple in these texts have to do with Second Temple politics, including disputes over priestly families in control of the temple, not with the First Temple at all. Additionally, she attributes the loss of the Menorah and Ark of the Covenant to Josiah’s reforms rather than Babylonian conquest. No ancient texts ever even insinuate this, but it is a major part of her argument. Finally, her appeal to the fictional Recabites (she offers a rather Christianized reading of this text) as evidence for concrete historical information is highly problematic and what she chooses to identify as the historical kernel of that account is arbitrary at best.

When she starts looking to Islamic texts and early 20th century missionary accounts to Tibet, we are in serious trouble. The argument looses even more credibility. The principle historiographical problem with her reconstruction is precisely that it relies on so many different texts from different time periods without any acknowledgement that these accounts are historicized by their own environment. Rhetorically, it appears that she is mounting evidence for her case, but in reality it is smoke and mirrors. There are no texts that include all of these descriptions of ancient Israelite religion. The reconstruction involves taking elements out of context from diverse religious groups in ancient Judaism and Christianity and cherry-picking how those pieces get put back together. For instance, she concludes that since one of the DSS is about Melchizedek, that “Melchizedek must have been a part of earlier religion.” There is simply no reason to make this assumption. The more likely explanation is that 2nd c. BCE separatists developed theologies out the holes and gaps in the biblical text in order to make appeals about new teachings and give them authoritative status. Many of her other ideas don’t even have one text to back them up since she relies on inference or silence to make her claims. In other cases, she starts with her conclusions and then attempts to interpret the texts on that basis. For instance, because 4th century CE rabbinical texts make one statement about the temple symbolism related to the creation, she asserts that all previous Jewish texts about creation must be talking about the temple.

This is the basis of the second major problem: her complete lack of any historical analysis. There is no sense that traditions change and develop over time and that different contexts will provide different interpretations of the past and the present. She doesn’t seem to have any critical evaluation of why these religious elements were changed, or why they were “preserved.” Instead, the narrative theme of the changes is that of apostasy from a pure, original, true worship. While this theme will sound familiar to LDS readers, it represents an unsophisticated view of historical developments. A more responsible historical approach would be to see the multiplicity of claims to authority and authenticity, and that there were more than two views of the temple which survive from ancient Israel. This problem I think is repeated frequently in her historical method, which can best be described as parallelomania combined with vivid imagination. At best, she is simply uncritically repeating the historical imaginations of pious ancient Christians and Jews. At worst, she is producing her own pious imaginations and attempting to attribute them to early Christians and ancient Jews.

The missing link in her evaluation is that the information that she actually surveys really tells you how early Christians, Muslims, second temple Jews, and 20th century missionaries appealed to First Temple Judaism and to ancient Israelite religion as a basis for legitimacy and authenticity. There is no reason to suspect that what they actually said about that has any historical basis whatsoever. In the same way, Barker and many LDS thinkers are engaged in the same kind of project, to appeal to pure “origins” of Israelite religion in order to produce authenticity about contemporary beliefs and practices. Such an approach is necessarily partial and selective. Instead of learning about ancient Israel, we learn about those who are attempting to recount its history. If Barker’s work has any value, it is in the exposure of this theme in various religious traditions up until today.

37 Replies to “My Margaret Barker Experience”

  1. Nice job. As a read your critique I couldn’t help thinking, what’s she’s doing to ancient Judaism is exactly what Mormons do to ancient Christianity; appeal to holes, gaps and controversies and fill in their own pet doctrines and practices.

    I appreciate that about you TT, that you recognize many of the unique doctrines and practices of the LDS church came from the restoration and are not found in antiquity.

  2. I don’t have much to say about Barker. I’ve not read her books and it always struck me as odd how much excitement some had towards here. (Reminds me of the whole secret gospel of Mark controversy from the 90’s in some ways)

    Usual caveats I just have to make to some of the comments above. First off not all apologetics is simply appealing to silence to fill in with ones own pet doctrine. Further one simply can’t discount holes as being nothings. Our knowledge of the ancient world really is very limited. To argue that many of our unique doctrines are purely from the restoration seems to me to be doing exactly what some apologists to. Appeal to an argument from silence.

    If we take ancient history seriously then most of what we perceive as the key doctrines of the restoration wouldn’t have been held in ancient Israel. Period. Perhaps elements would be in various small communities but even there one has to be careful. Many doctrines appealed to (such as pre-existence) are better understood as contamination from other cultures (such as the more abstract Platonic conception of a pre-existence). Never the less while one has to tread carefully there simply are lots of texts that, while not offering perfect parallels, raise many questions. I don’t think either side in the LDS apologetic debate has successfully come to grips with texts like 1 & 2 Jeu (scrambled order and all); the Gospel of Philip; and many others. All too much of the debate is just too superficial to take seriously.

  3. TT says “However, I have never read her work.”

    It shows.

    To cite one important example, I consider her work in The Older Testament and her Isaiah commentary the Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible. It is there that she shows the connections between Isaiah (a First Temple priest) and 1 Enoch (a repository of temple traditions).

    And her arguments about Melchizedek and the First Temple are far more complex then just naive appeals to the Qumran Melchizedek. She’ll be reading a paper on the topic at SBL in San Diego next week. She discusses Genesis 14, Psalm 110, earlier Melchizedek texts that indicate that he had a place in the ancient religion. And the different forms of those texts indicate that his place was rather controversial, and that the claims of Jesus inflamed those controversies.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  4. Thanks for this summary and well articulated critique. I admit that I’ve long since lost my appetite for reading “Mormon biblical scholarship”; I think we need to step back and give some consideration to method and hermeneutical issues before we can proceed on anything like sound footing. It’s too easy to latch onto minor details from disparate textual sources and smash them all together into a religious Mischwesen-monstrosity that bears no relationship to anything so much as it does to that which we were hoping to discover all along. In many ways Mormon scholarship seems stuck at the level of Frazer in the Golden Bough, convinced that details can be denuded of context and plopped into new contexts without altering their signficance, and that comparison obligates us only to observe similarities, and not differences.

  5. Kiskilili, while I’m sure there are many at the Fraser level I suspect one might better see most Mormon scholarship more at the Campbell/Eliadi level (minus the latent Freudianism that he and so many of his ilk seems to have partaken of – although perhaps Nibley can be seen as embracing Platonism rather than Freudianism). I reject the claim that this is all there is or even the majority of apologetics. As I’ve long said (and have said many times today alone) many of the criticisms of Mormon apologetics use the same methodology that is condemned.

    I should also note that while some Mormon apologetics rightfully gets slamed for focusing on general parallels and ignoring individual context, this was typical of a whole class of scholarship. I mentioned Eliadi and Campbell but only because they were the most famous practitioners. But structuralism in general dominated a lot of thinking arguably well into the 70’s. And in LDS scholarship one could argue that it is at least as characteristic of critiques of Mormonism as it is defenses of Mormonism. For instance are Quinn and Nibley really that different?

    What one finds are structuralist arguments put forth arguing for diffusion (either of LDS notions in the ancient world, as with Nibley; or of LDS notions in the 19th or 18th century as with Quinn). Then you have the common psychological view (as with certain classes of Freudian influenced structuralism) or even a quasi-worldmind (as I think some Freudian break offs adopted like certain classes of Jungians).

    In any case there ought be much more focus on context. The problem is that often context is lacking…

  6. FWIW the offending essay is available online, with footnotes, for those who like to see for themselves, here:

    Also FWIW, BYU’s Terrence Szinc devoted three pages of his FR 16:2 review of Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem criticizing her essay. Not all LDS scholars endorse her views. Tt strikes me that my own essay in FR 16:2 serendipitously happened to undercut many of Szinc’s criticisms.

    Personally, I love her work. You mileage may vary. My own response to the “What King Josiah Reformed” essay was to provide Jack Welch with a first cut at footnoting it for publication. Because that essay conflicted with my own preconceptions about Josiah’s reform, I re-read 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah (several times), Ezekiel, the Book of Mormon, Proverbs, and also read several non-LDS academic approaches to Josiah (Sweeney, Leuchter, Friedman, Bright, and a few others). I came away even more impressed with Barker, and convinced she was on the right track.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  7. My apologies, Clark, and thanks for giving me a more informed perspective on the current state of Mormon apologetics. As I said, I rarely read Mormon biblical scholarship because in the past it’s left me frustrated, so my experience with it is certainly not a representative sample.

  8. Oh, let me say, Kiskilili, that I’m more reacting to a general “view” among many than your particular comments. There is often a knee-jerk labeling of FARMS that I find unfortunate. That’s not to say I don’t find some FARMS papers rather problematic. But I often note that a few unrepresentative papers tend to get treated as if they were representative of the whole. I also find that people tend to hold up Nibley as characteristic of Mormon apologetics. Whereas most of Nibley’s stuff was written 40 years or more ago. Further he came out of the intellectual milieu of structuralism. So when folks criticize apologetics in this way all they are really doing is criticizing structuralism as an intellectual fad across the soft sciences from the 20’s through the 70’s. Put an other way Eliadi still is respected as an important historical figure in scholarship even if most of his views and thinking tend to be rejected. Campbell perhaps less so.

    I just think contextualizing Nibley styled apologetics is important. A lot of his approaches are dated but were quite in keeping with contemporary scholarship of his time.

    I think FARMS had an interesting choice since many of Nibley’s published works weren’t even intended for publication (or at least the kind of publication they got). Likewise it’s all very dated. Yet because it is still published by FARMS it’s treated as the state of the art in apologetics sometimes. That’s unfortunate. I’d rather see folks treating the collected works of Hugh Nibley akin to the collected works of any major scholarly figure that scholarship has superceded. (Which is not to say all his arguments are irrelevant – far from it)

  9. [tt, sorry to comment so off topic, but i don’t know how else to reach you. since, way back when in a post at urban mormonism, you were the one to bring to my attention the challenges to the national geographic text and translation of the gospel of judas, i thought i’d pass along the news, assuming you haven’t heard already, that april deconick’s arguments are now published, and she is posting the reviews of new book on her blog as they come in. i mention this, in case you want to do a follow up post, and also because deconick is looking to get as much publicity as possible in her attempt to counter national geographic. i suspect that she would even respond to an interview. whoever’s ‘right,’ the opposing view deserves to be heard, though unfortunately it will most likely never reach the same number of people as the national geographic version has.]

  10. Tim,
    Thanks! It should be remembered that I also think that evangelicalism is a newer religion than Mormonism, and that they certainly don’t have any claims to antiquity either.

    I will agree that not all of my criticisms about Barker’s lecture apply to all apologetics. You have mentioned Jeu and G.Philip before. I promise to blog on these some day. In any case, even if one were to find shared doctrines or practices between Mormons and some early Christians or ancient Jews, I am not sure what that tells you. Obviously, many other groups also make claims to antiquity about their beliefs and practices. How can one adjudicate the meaning of claims to antiquity?

    I think you are absolutely right. As for Clark’s reply, I don’t think that Nibley and other apologists are structuralists, unless one takes a broad definition of this term. I don’t see any of them relying upon structuralist thinkers. I think that Clark’s term “diffusionists” is a better characterization, but this is not structuralism since it posits a historical connection between different peoples as a exaplanation of these practices. If Clark is right that the influences on current LDS apologetics comes from Eliade and Campbell, then I think we need to update ourselves. Campbell is simply an extension Frazer, if not worse. Eliade is still read, but I don’t really think that people in Religious Studies take him seriously. The move to hermeneutics and historicism prevents one from making the ahistorical claims that he offers about what “religion” is. Further, he has to ignore competing views in order to make his claims, which is something that many LDS apologists do. I do agree with Clark that this methodology is at work in many scholars who counter Mormon claims, more Brooks than Quinn in my view, but I am not sure that this proves much more than the fact that some scholars need more sophisticated views of history and culture. In any case, whatever one thinks about the state of apologetics, I stand by my more limited characterizations of Barker here.

    I appreciate your enthusiasm about Barker’s work, but it strikes me that you are a little too confident given that she holds a very small minority opinion. That said, I don’t really see you offering any substantive answers to my arguments here, which are primarily methodological. Why exactly are you convinced of her argument given the historiographical problems?
    You jump on the Melchizedek example. I am still not convinced that one can conclude on the basis of literally two verses in Gen 14 and Ps 110 what role Melchizedek played in ancient Israel, and since I think that on principle one cannot use the DSS to make this reconstruction, she definitely can’t tell you very much about it.
    As for Isaiah and 1 Enoch, again, I think that this comparison suffers from some serious methodological drawbacks, namely, that these texts are written centuries apart. Perhaps she can show that Isaiah influenced 1 Enoch, but so what?

  11. How can one adjudicate the meaning of claims to antiquity?

    I’m not quite sure how to take this. Arguably nearly all religions do this in one way or an other. If we take what you say at face value it is almost as if the connection between a modern believing community and the meaning of the religious texts in their original context is irrelevant. I know some argue this but I admit I can’t understand that mentality. (Note: I’m not saying this is your view)

    Meaning of any text is often underdetermined. Add in a fragmentary at best preserved context and the text becomes even more open. What then counts, I think, is the quality of defenses to a particular reading one can make. But this also means that there won’t be a way to adjudicate in a satisfactory fashion competing meaning claims. But I’m not sure why this should be troubling since this is the usual status quo in scholarship. The (unfortunate in my view) difference is that in scholarly circles there will be fads and then dominate positions that are often such because of political influence rather than real solid argument. One sometimes wishes scholarly communities were a tad more open to what is or isn’t underdetermined more. (Of course bemoaning intellectual fads is probably futile)

    I will eagerly await your discussions of Jeu and Philip though. I should note that I am aware of the more Platonic context for both of them. I don’t think this affects the main apologetic use of either though.

  12. As for Clark’s reply, I don’t think that Nibley and other apologists are structuralists, unless one takes a broad definition of this term. I don’t see any of them relying upon structuralist thinkers.

    It’s more the general approach Nibley takes. In terms of style of argumentation it is very much the same approach Eliadi and Campbell take. I’m surprised you don’t see the similarities. The weaknesses are basically identical as well. (The overlooking or even repressing of local context in preference to large global structures crossing communities and eras) Eliadi, as I suspect you know, even talked quite favorably about Nibley. (Wish I could find quickly the exact discussion of Eliadi and Nibley but I can’t right now) More significantly the educational milieu in which Nibley was brought up was profused with structuralist assumptions. Both diffusionists and psychological “universalists” (i.e. so called myth criticism) can adopt very similar structuralist approaches. What differs tends to be how the data is marshalled. (i.e. are we talking about universal psychological structures or arguments regarding influence) But what counts is the approach which is to find common global structures and analyze them in general terms.

    Note that I’m not saying this is true of modern apologetics. Far from it. Indeed my point was the people read Nibley and think that is modern apologetics. When it isn’t. Nibley is extremely old and dated. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t the occasion gem in there. But apologetics has long moved on. One could perhaps criticize someone like Quinn in Magic World View for maintaining that same methadology long after it’s expire date had passed. But that’s a different debate.

    Now I’m not saying parallels aren’t used in apologetics. However I think we have to separate more “professional” apologetics from perhaps lower quality lay stuff. Likewise we have to ask how common such approaches are. (Since I’m sure someone will find some entry in Review of Books that makes use of a generic structuralistic approach)

  13. Clark 13:

    I think that you are missing the point of my comment, which is really an extension of the overall claim in the entire post. I am not saying that it is impossible to make claims, even convincing ones, to the antiquity of one’s beliefs and practices. What I am saying is that such claims are rooted in a rhetoric of authority on the basis of those claims. This appeal to authority is what I am questioning. Origins do not equal truth. Antiquity does not equal correctness. In the end, your point that all religions engage in this is evidence of the fact that one is always confronted with competing, convincing, claims to the antiquity of different beliefs. Even if one can find all of Mormonism’s doctrines scattered across antiquity, it doesn’t mean that they are true. The same can be said for any other religion’s claims to antiquity.

  14. Clark,
    I acknowledge that a “broad definition” of the term ‘structuralism’ would permit one to classify Nibley, Eliade, and Campbell as such, but I think that such a broad definition obscures more than it illuminates. In reality, Campbell and Eliade are doing something radically different, and so is Nibley. As I mentioned, I think that diffusionism is a better way to categorize Nibley, but this doesn’t apply to Eliade or Campbell. None of these thinkers is really close to classical structuralism, such as that of Levi-Strauss. Traditional structuralism is more about the semiotics of culture as a system of signs, like languages, not just finding shared concepts and symbols across cultures.

    You’ve returned to this issue of good and bad apologetics. I am no disagreement with you here, but that you’ve brought it up again leads me to believe that you are trying to bring this back to Barker somehow. Can you explain?

  15. Certainly that’s true that antiquity doesn’t entail truth. If that was your point then I apologize for missing it. I thought you were arguing something stronger. However it does seem that at least many traditional claims within Mormonism demand that some degree of equivalence in the ancient world exist for truth to exist. Put more technically it seems a necessary if not sufficient requirement for truth.

    Regarding structuralism I think that in effect Nibley, Campbell, Eliade and others are doing just that kind of semiotics. Perhaps this is less obvious in Nibley (although I’ve attempted to argue for it in his particular view of Platonism) but I think it is there. Certainly all the mythic analysis I’ve read is basically doing a structural analysis of linguistic/cultural structures. Now the problem is that these structures are perceived as being in a kind of world-mind conceived of either in terms of variations of Freudianism or a more generic psychology (or even sometimes a full bodied neo-platonism). Nibley I think is doing this in that he thinks many structures arise out of a kind of subconscious “remembrance” of our pre-mortal life or via a kind of broad revelatory experience in which God exists as a subconscious influence. (As such I think Nibley moves strongly into a kind of Platonism that isn’t that far removed in methadology from the mythic analysis – there’s just some metaphysical differences)

    Where I think one can debate the structuralist label is over the issue of time. So when you read Eliadi on Levi-Strauss the main criticism I read between the lines is that Levi-Strauss neglects a diachronic analysis of history in favor for a purely synchronic one. I’m not sure that’s a fair reading of the structuralists of the early 20th century. Although I suppose one could argue that both the myth-criticism folks and even Nibley to the degree diffusionary change is neglected (as it usually is) are all engaged in a kind of pure synchronic analysis of structures in a shared social-linguistic setting.

  16. Let me add that one could also see in Eliadi a kind of phenomenology of religious experience. However the intertwining of phenomenology and structuralism have been well discussed over the decades. (Indeed one can see this as the prime focus of Derrida and other so-called post-structuralists)

    The main criticism I read of these figures (and perhaps this would carry over into problems with certain classes of Mormon apologetics) is that they are insufficiently descriptive preferring instead to delve into meaning. It is perhaps not at all a coincidence that what Eliadi praises in Levi-Strauss is the exact reversals of this. A move from pure “descriptive history” into an engagement with meaning. The difference between say Eliadi and Frazer is that Eliadi must be somewhat empirical. That is he must engage with the historical documents. But the criticism of mythic analysis is always that this is done insuffiently. (I think this quite true of Campbell who, in my experience, plays fast and loose with the original sources – probably Nibley at times too)

    However when ones focus is patterns in comparitive religion, I just can’t see how one can escape doing structuralism to some degree. The big debate ends up being to what degree we are doing an empirical historicism or to what degree we are doing a kind of phenomenology that can be pejoratively dismissed as a kind of personal mysticism. And indeed all those I am here calling structuralists have been dismissed with that mystic label.

  17. (Sorry for the multitude of posts – I sort of break things down into digestible parts and post when I have a moment)

    You’ve returned to this issue of good and bad apologetics. I am no disagreement with you here, but that you’ve brought it up again leads me to believe that you are trying to bring this back to Barker somehow. Can you explain?

    Just that I think Barker has to be taken on her own merits but that the drive to use Barker really can’t tell us much about apologetics. Since I’ve simply not read her I can’t debate that. I suppose strong proponents like Kevin are the best fit for that. I’m more just reacting to asides that I see relating to the apologetic issue. But if that is too much of a thread-jack I apologize.

  18. Clark,
    I appreciate these explanations. I think that you offer a nice way of situating these authors. I am not sure that I agree with some of your descriptions of each author’s intellectual milieu (I think there is more Jungianism than Freudianism at work), but I see what you are getting at by invoking structuralism.
    There are post-structuralist comparative religionists, but to be honest the critique of structuralism really made it difficult to do ahistorical comparative religion, as you seem to note. Very few people defend such an approach anymore. Even fewer defend the kind of diffusionist model that Barker advocates here, and I suspect that those who do are simply ignorant of the critiques.

  19. “Nibley, Campbell, Eliade and others are doing just that kind of semiotics. Perhaps this is less obvious in Nibley (although I’ve attempted to argue for it in his particular view of Platonism) but I think it is there.”

    They shared an era.

  20. TT says “I appreciate your enthusiasm about Barker’s work, but it strikes me that you are a little too confident given that she holds a very small minority opinion.”

    My own method has never been to take a straw poll to find an apparent majority view on a given topic and then uncritically join the cheering. Maybe it’s a character flaw.

    What I have done is to read all of her work (11 books and many essays) test her claims and extend my own reading as far as I can. I personally found it very useful to test her claims against the Book of Mormon, but I’ve also read non-LDS scholars taking other approaches to her topics, read 1 Enoch, looked things up, re-read the Old and New Testaments, and checked footnotes where I can.

    Regarding 1 Enoch, for example. The Enoch texts as we have them were written down during the second temple period. No one argues that the Bible books all date to the time of the oldest written texts. Why suppose that is true with Enoch? She’s not arguing that Isaiah influenced Enoch. She’s arguing that they both describe the same temple world view, the same mythology. She has a whole chapter on one divine title, “The Holy One,” first looking how it is used outside of Enoch and Isaiah, before commenting on the significance of its use in Enoch and Isaiah. She shows places in First Isaiah that refer to the 1 Enoch mythology. So just because the Enoch traditions were employed to criticize the Jerusalem temple priesthood in the second century BC, that doesn’t mean that the tradition, the mythology being employed to do so, is not older. (I’ve argued that Mosiah and Alma use allusions to the Enoch mythology to help readers interpret the story of Noah’s wicked priests as like Enoch’s fallen angels. An older mythology can be applied to a contemporary situation.) She describes the Enoch tradition as dynamic. Her detailed arguments on that front are in The Older Testament, Lost Prophet, and her Eerdman’s Isaiah commentary. There is much more to her method and argument than you can see in one oral presentation for a BYU devotional audience.

    The single observation in What King Josiah Reformed that most impressed me was her observation that “Josiah’s changes concerned the high priests and were thus changes at the very heart of the temple.” I did most of my own reading and re-reading in other sources and approaches to check that out. I noticed that everyone agrees that Jeremiah’s language is much attuned to Deuteronomy, and that despite that, Jeremiah’s relation to the reform remains controversial and problematic. And something else. I noticed that Jeremiah contradicts Deuteronomy on exactly the issues that Margaret sees as key to the reform. All of the differences have to do with the role of the high priests. Margaret notices that the sacred calendar in Deut 16 fails to mention the Day of Atonement. She cites Milgrom’s work showing the antiquity and centrality of the rite. I notice some passages in Jeremiah that presuppose the Day of Atonement. None of the commentaries I have seen noticed any of this. Now, granted, this is not the majority view. But I can’t pretend that the evidence on that score does not exist just so I can stand with the majority and be popular and approved, and fashionably cynical and skeptical.

    TT says “I am still not convinced that one can conclude on the basis of literally two verses in Gen 14 and Ps 110 what role Melchizedek played in ancient Israel, and since I think that on principle one cannot use the DSS to make this reconstruction, she definitely can’t tell you very much about it.”

    In her first book, The Older Testament, when describing her methods, she actually addresses many of the concerns you raise about method. You might not be convinced, but she does address the issues directly.

    Regarding her use of the Qumran Melchizedek, in The Older Testament, she observes “The role of the ancient kings was that of the Melchizedek figure in 11QMelch. This accounts for the Melchizedek material in Hebrews, and the early Church’s association of Melchizedek and the Messiah. The arguments of Hebrews presuppose a knowledge of the angel mythology which we no longer have.” (The Older Testament, page 257.)

    She considers a great many sources on the Day of Atonement rituals, and the roles of the ancient Kings leading up to that simple observation. But once made, the connection between 11QMelch and very ancient tradition does hold up. She is not just arbitrarily deciding that 11QMelch is a window into the old traditions.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  21. “But I can’t pretend that the evidence on that score does not exist just so I can stand with the majority and be popular and approved, and fashionably cynical and skeptical.”

    Behold, the violence inherent in the system!

  22. I think there is more Jungianism than Freudianism at work

    I see Jungianism as a variant of Freud. Albeit one with more of a quasi-Platonism at work. But the differences are far slighter than between say modern psychology and Freud or even the kind of psychology one found in the United States as developed by James and others with much more empiricism. So when I said Freud or its variants I was specifically thinking of Jung.

    There are post-structuralist comparative religionists, but to be honest the critique of structuralism really made it difficult to do ahistorical comparative religion, as you seem to note.

    I think things end up far trickier once one invokes the poststructuralists. After all there is roughly the empirical or historicist critique (which I don’t think really ought be called post-structuralist even though many do) Then there is the post-structuralist proper (even though many key figures like Derrida obviously have problems with that). Allow me to return to Eliade’s phenomenology. He can, for all his structuralist tendencies, be read in terms of post-structuralism. Eliade can be seen as looking for invariant structures that are found within the history of religion. The Sacred being one of the obvious “universals” he famously discusses. Yet one can also see poststructuralism as searching for universals that transcend structuralism. That is the critique is not the rejection of universals but rather a rethinking of the nature of universals. In Derridean terms these would be “categories” that resist deconstruction. For Derrida the focus was always on ethical terms like Justice although he also worked on religious terms like Gift, Faith, and so forth. Now the degree to which Eliade (or I suppose Nibley) is doing this is debatable. But I think one can find it there.

    The point being that I think one has to be somewhat careful. Further I don’t think the poststructuralist challenge necessarily merely returns us to a naive historicism or empiricism. Far from it. I think even diachronic analysis in terms of history are open to deconstructive readings that demonstrate a structuralist foundation. Even if it isn’t done in the fashion of a Levi-Strauss or Hegel.

  23. To add, I’m not saying that Eliade is a post-structuralist. I don’t think he is if we only consider his style of argumentation. What I am saying is that I don’t think we can simply discount the project as being irrelevant given poststructuralist attacks on structuralism. A subtle but important difference I probably didn’t make clear.

  24. Regarding Baker, noting the caveat that I just haven’t read her, I will say that I think one big issue is any historicism is that so much of history and even dating is conjecture. What was known when? So when one moves to viewing comparitive structures – however one critiques them – what counts is the nature of the argument. Now if there is a mainstream view that is itself based upon fairly weak inductive reasoning I don’t think we can discount the figure out of hand. That does, from my superficial view, appear to be what is going on with Baker.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, not having detailed enough information on the particular arguments regarding dating of Melchezedek and so forth. From the texts (not Baker) I have read on the topic and on topics like 1 Enoch, it does seem that one has to invoke a kind of hermeneutic circle in which diachronic analysis and synchronic analysis each feed off of one an other. Yet this circle, given the role of induction, seems rather open to many readings. So when someone discounts an other on the basis of historicism I think that the situation is much more complex than it first appears. Often, in my view, what one has is the tyrrany of the majority. A majority view based upon reason but not a reason that can sufficiently close off other reasonable readings of the data.

  25. Dang, rereading that this afternoon I see that I drifted way off into techno-babble speak. All I’m saying is that the assumptions in any argument are themselves the result of argument. Often out of very few facts. And this means that many more readings are possible than the consensus would suggest. Consensus in these matters is often herd-thought rather than reducing what is reasonable and rational.

  26. I read your interesting post, TT. And I remember only vaguely somewhere you talking about the beginnings of evangelicalism (#12). When did you think the fundamental concepts of historical evangelicalism began again? Thanks.

  27. Kevin (23),
    Thank you so much for your desire to engage me on this issue. I appreciate that you have read much of Barker’s work and I look forward to you providing some insights. I want to address some of your points.

    1. On the fact that Barker holds a minority view. I did not say or even mean to suggest that one must discount Barker’s arguments simply because they are not widely held. Rather, I offered a series of substantive arguments about why I think her argument in the lecture that I listened to is problematic. What I had asked was for some humility with regard to Barker’s arguments. You had made some, in my view, unnecessarily condescending remarks about me personally. I don’t think that this is appropriate in any case, but especially not for someone who holds a minority view. I only invoke Barker’s argument as a minority argument in asking for humility, not consent. I never suggest that one “uncritically” join the masses. I won’t reduce your arguments to wish fulfillment if you won’t reduce mine to being “fashionably cynical and skeptical.” Agreed?
    2. You have read much of her work. I am pleased that you may be able to offer some correctives or perspective on her oeuvre, but this doesn’t really constitute an argument for why she is right or why she does not make the methodological mistakes that I point out.
    3. On the dating of 1 Enoch. You raise the issue about why we must assume that a text’s ideas do not go back earlier than the text itself. First, I should note that the dating of 1 Enoch is not done on the basis of manuscript evidence. This provides only the terminus ante quem. The arguments for dating the text to the second or third centuries BC has to do with internal arguments to the text. The text seems to be responding to issues about the Second Temple, among other things. But why not say that these ideas are older than the text itself? This is an important point, and one of the primary methodological issues that is at stake. Historians don’t do this as a matter of professional standards regarding valid scholarship. First, he reason is that there is no way to determine what is older and what is newer without some other evidence. Source criticism was developed in biblical studies to help deal with this problem, but increasingly critics have noted that the methods for ferreting out the “earlier” material, ideas, ideologies, etc, were essentially circular. The second reason is that historians make it a matter of practice to understand the meaning of a text in the time in which is it produced. I agree that an “older mythology can be applied to a contemporary situation,” but how do you distinguish what is the older mythology? For instance, what “democracy” means in a text written today is not what it meant 400 years ago, when women, peasants, slaves, and others were not considered a part of “all men being created equal.” While our notions of democracy undoubtedly can be traced back to centuries before our time, it would be historically naïve at best to assume that we can know something about 400 years ago simply by reading 21st century descriptions about the founding principles, mythologies, and legends of democracy. We often appeal to the democratic ideals of the founding fathers, but it would be a grave mistake to assume that those appeals tell us about the founding fathers’ beliefs. Rather, they tell us, as I have argued, about our own appeals alone. Again, I have not read Barker’s specific arguments regarding 1 Enoch and Isaiah, but I am confident that professional historians would not agree with her basic methodological premises.
    4. Josiah’s changes versus Deuteronomy’s account of the priesthood. I have no opinion on this matter. I don’t think that it is possible for Barker to be wrong about everything, so I grant that she could have uncovered an interesting point. I don’t really care to research it now to verify it either way, but your description sounds interesting. One of the things that I notice is that this argument is based on looking at roughly contemporaneous accounts, which is a good methodology.
    5. On her method in The Older Testament. I took a look at the readings that you suggested. Even given that the book is several years old, I find her methodology problematic even for its day. For starters, she completely misreads Patterson and Koester’s important methodological contributions in their seminal volume Trajectories of Early Christianity. For instance, she frequently assumes that there is such a thing as an “original teaching” which can be discovered. The whole point of the methodological revolution that Patterson and Koester highlight is that such a search of a pure, original is completely imaginary. Instead, we only have interpretations of interpretations. Barker’s belief that she is somehow uncovering the “original,” instead of just another interpretation, is problematic. Further, she is working on an assumed division between “Greek” and “Jewish” ideas in the NT, and that the Jewish ideas are original and the Greek ideas are a “second layer.” Now, this idea has been more seriously criticized since the writing of her book, but inasmuch as it informs her methodology, her ideas need to be seriously questioned. The same can be said for her artificial division between what is “Jewish” and what is “Christian,” especially with regard to Paul. Ultimately, this chapter lays out not so much a method, but a theory. She explains, “Our task is to reconstruct a background quite independent of New Testament considerations, appropriate o the world of Jesus’ first followers, and known to exist as a single set of ideas which threatened the Law…the scheme whose strength was the claim to being the true heirs of the ancient Palestinian tradition” (6, her emphasis). Her, she assumes that there is an “original” and “single set” of ideas with unbroken continuity to the past. She posits lost portions of the evidence, and a theory that there are multiple layers of tradition in the early Christian texts, but never explains how she will uncover those layers or how she is able to fill in the gaps of evidence. This is what permits her to see what she wants to see in the texts, and ignore alternative readings. She humbly admits, to her credit, “I have tried to reconstruct the invisible mass [of the iceberg] from its effects which are perceived. Thereby I have left myself open to the charge of going beyond the evidence….Whether or not this is an acceptable method remains to be seen” (6). I submit that this is not an acceptable method, it is simply a theory without a method for verifying it at all. You’re right, I am not convinced even though she tries to directly address this issue.
    6. As for Melchizedek, suffice it to say that there are very good reasons, which I have already offered, for explaining the presence of Melchizedek in Hebrews and 11QMelch (and very different reasons at that!) without recourse to an otherwise secret tradition from pre-exilic times. This is where her argument is just wrong. Again, in order to explain why American democracy allows for women to vote, I don’t have to assume that at the origins of democracy must have also allowed women to vote, as Barker’s method insists. Instead, I can think about historical development, intervening circumstances, and new needs to reauthorize one’s ideas as reasons for these changes.

    Kevin, I really am thankful for your response and interested in seeing some substantive arguments regarding her methodology. I know that these are short posts, so I don’t expect too much, but if you’re willing, I am interested.

  28. Todd,
    Given that “evangelicalism” is a particularly difficult issue to define, I should have been more precise. People generally date American “fundamentalism” to the turn of the last century.

  29. I had hoped for something substantive in your post but your lack of reading in Margaret Barker’s oeuvre makes your observations more those of the knee-jerk reactionary than a genuine respondent to her ideas or her methodology. As her scholarship gains traction in many denominations, it will be interesting to see how many feel the need to blog from substantial ignorance and absolute fear.

  30. Siobhan,
    Thank you for your comment. As my post explicitly explains, this is a response to ONE lecture, not her entire oeuvre. My comments relate specifically to the methodology and ideas in this article. I would be pleased if you could demonstrate my “substantial ignorance” or “absolute fear” rather than simply assert it. As she gains disciples, it will be interesting to see how many are able to defend these ideas or methodology with actual arguments instead of accusations.

  31. Just goes to show the futility of seeking religious authority for any religion on historical grounds. Guess it’s still interesting to look around in it. But really, how many people would believe in Christ simply because his body hasn’t been found? How many would doubt if His body (or what is purported to be) is found?

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