Except by Prayer…and Fasting!

There is a somewhat strange episode in the Gospel of Mark (okay, so all of Mark is strange) where a father brings his son who has a spirit that makes him unable to speak and causes him to fall on the ground foaming and grinding his teeth (this sounds like epilepsy, but it is misnamed as such since we are dealing with an entirely different disease etiology in the text). The problem is that Jesus’s disciples are unable to cast out the spirit and so Jesus does it himself. Leaving aside the issue of demonic possession and medical diagnoses, the strange part of the story is the saying of Jesus that concludes the passage.
Continue reading “Except by Prayer…and Fasting!”

Strange Bedfellows: Fundamentalism and Historical Criticism

Fundamentalist Christianity grew up around the turn of the 20th century, primarily as a reaction to liberal Christianity, critical biblical studies, and scientific challenges to religion. Though it is often characterized as an opposite to these three cultural trends, numerous studies have show how fundamentalism is actually very much rooted to Enlightenment rationality. This same paradigm is also operative in critical biblical studies. A brief comparison shows how both fundamentalism and critical biblical studies actually share a number of assumptions:
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Ugaritic! Huh! What is it good for?! Absolutely everything…

The texts from the city of Ugarit and the language they were written in (Ugaritic) are far more important for understanding the Old Testament than the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the DSS hog all the press.
Logos is about to publish an electronic Ugaritic library. Instead of writing a lengthy post of my own, let me link to one of Logos’ academic staff, Mike Heiser, who explains why Ugaritic is so important. (See also this demo video for usage examples)

Incidentally, Mike is an Evangelical who wrote his dissertation on the Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible, and maintains www.thedivinecouncil.com, where he takes some unusual positions for an EV, uch as arguing that the Israelites were not pure monotheists.

He recently presented a paper, “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism’s Use of Psalm 82,” at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. David Bokovoy (at Brandeis) has prepared a 44-page response, and summarizes Heiser’s paper and his response thereto on this board. (Might need to be logged in to see it.)

According to Bokovoy, “Heiser provides a list of sixteen points outlining his position regarding Psalm 82 and the divine council. Hesier divides these views into eight points with which many evangelicals would disagree, but concerning which ‘many Mormons would likely agree,’ followed by eight points ‘with which many Mormons would probably disagree, and with which many evangelicals would likely agree’.”

Good stuff.

A tentative list of general LDS biases in approaches to the Bible

Scholars have a tendency to operate on shorthand and stereotype whenever they feel like they can get away with it. It is a somewhat ironic tendency, in that they general also insist on a more detailed and topic-specific discussion if it is something that they care about.  Of such are life’s paradoxes, no?  (That one’s for you, Frank) Continue reading “A tentative list of general LDS biases in approaches to the Bible”

The Incoherence of the Flood

It’s been too long since I posted anything controversial so I guess I better start living up to my villain namesake. Actually, this discussion has probably already been done to death on the ‘nacle so feel free to ignore this post. It’s just that it’s one of my favorite heresies and never fails to stir up some conversation.

I’m a moderate Mormon, which means that I meet a lot of fellow LDS that think that I’m a flaming liberal because I’m not exceptionally conservative like they are. Trust me, there are some flaming liberals at this blog and yours truly is not one of them.

As an example, when I’m speaking with such people, I like to use the Flood as an example of how coming to see things taught within the Church from a different perspective has actually led me to receive greater insights and a stronger testimony. So lets dis the Flood, open our minds a bit, and walk away even happier with God. Continue reading “The Incoherence of the Flood”

Mormon Hermeneutics: A Modest Proposal

I have recently argued that Mormon biblical studies needs to be more critical of its hermeneutical stance rather than emphasize exegetical proof-texting if it is to be successful in the wider academy. I think that success is measured by overall interest by outsiders and the amount of interest it generates in me :). I have also suggested a set of models (feminist and AfAm) that have gained a great deal of respect from many scholars, which blend the skills developed by modern historical-critical biblical studies as well as the insights that hermeneutics have shed on ‘situated’ readings of the text. What these approaches have in common is an ethical lens that is used to measure the value of any particular text or interpretation. These approaches have brought ethics in the study of the Bible to the forefront. I would like draw upon these models’ use of an ethical framework for how the world should be as an example of how Mormons could produce a useful hermeneutic.
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African-American, Feminist, and Mormon Biblical Studies

Recent discussions here and elsewhere have focused on the role of contemporary critical biblical studies and their relationship to Mormon biblical studies. Many have questioned not only the methods of a “scholarly” Mormon biblical studies, but also its possibility. In some circles, the dominant model for appropriation of contemporary scholarship is denominational, and the Catholic experience is taken as emblematic. I have been critical of such a model here. As a result, I hope to suggest an alternative model for what Mormon biblical studies might look like.

Modern academic biblical scholarship focuses on exegesis. Such an approach has transcended denomination boundaries by attempting an “objective” accounting of the text’s own theological position. Such a view is grounded in the idea that the text says something on its own that the careful reader can discern. This view often implicitly assumes that there is a single correct reading of the text that corresponds to the “author’s intent.”

African American and feminist biblical scholarship has critiqued this view, primarily on the grounds of hermeneutics. The idea of there being a single meaning to a text, not only at the time that it was written, but through its history of interpretation, has been abandoned long ago in the philosophy of interpretation, yet the guild of biblical studies often continues to cling to such a view. There is no objective lens and the supposedly objective methods of biblical scholarship have their own history. Further, the quest for the “original” meaning is rooted in a kind of impluse for truth that makes the fundamentalist Christians and professional biblical exegetes look a lot alike. The hermeneutical framework is largely the same; the only difference are the details.

As an alternative, African American and feminist biblical studies have made “ethics” into a central interpretive lens. Questions of liberation, justice, and power have become the framework for interpretation. Such an approach looks at how different communities have interpreted the text and considers these legitimate, even though, for examlple, African American slave hermeneutics were largely developed by illiterate people who only heard the text, but never read it. This approach further recognizes that all interpretations are selective, choosing to highlight some aspects of the text while ignoring others. As such, these hermeneutical approaches are not concerned with the mythical “author’s intent”, but with the possibilities that are produced by the text.

I propose that Mormon biblical studies follow a similar model. As far as I am aware, such an approach does not yet exist within Mormonism. For Mormon biblical studies, the task is to read Mormons who have written on the Bible and the derive a set of hermeneutical principles that are at work in their interpretations. This is somewhat of a task suited for anthropology. However, for scholarly Mormon biblical studies, the goal would then be to situate these principle as they speak to the “Mormon experience.” This is not a universal reading, but a historically situated reading of Mormons. The goal is not to point out that the text doesn’t “really” say what they think it says, but to demonstrate the principles on which it is based and to cull from it larger reflections about ethics and Mormon experiences.

As I have argued previously, the only important divisions in the feild of biblical studies are hermeneutical, not doctrinal or denominational. While these approaches I think are dying or irrelevant, feminist and African American hermeneutics have become centrally important, often taught even in introductory level courses. We have to give up on the idea that the text is going to resolve doctrinal or denominational disputes. Instead, the hermeneutical divisions rest on whether there is a single meaningful meaning to the text. The opposition I think rightly questions the possibility of such an “objective” understanding of the text, its utility, or both.

Mormons and Biblical Scholarship II

Over at FPR, there is an excellent discussion of Mormon biblical exegesis. I am very interested in this topic, but what I wanted to say was more than a comment’s worth, so I just decided to post on it. The discussion centers on a recent Church News article by Prof. Kent Jackson at BYU who lays a brief foundation for the principles of Mormon Biblical Studies. I am certainly interested in the examination of the possibility and dimensions of this idea, but I am more interested in what are taken to be the models.

Inasmuch as Mormon Biblical Studies tries to model itself after Catholic, Evangelical, and Jewish biblical studies, I think that it is doomed to fail. There are two reasons why. First, denominational biblical studies are routinely ignored by everyone outside of that denomination. Denominational biblical studies are not properly in the field of biblical studies. They are simply parasitic works that reproduce biblical scholarship in a repackaged, often apologetic, way for their audience. There is nothing new or interesting that comes out of these hermeneutical approaches. If Catholics want to translate biblical studies for lay Catholics, and Mormons for Mormons, that is fine, but this is not biblical studies. The result will be a continued marginalization of Mormons from the larger field and simply reinforce and reproduce stereotypes of Mormons who fail to truly engage the broader world.

The second reason that this approach will fail is because is doesn’t really represent the nature of the field of biblical studies. Denominational lines are essentially meaningless when it comes to evaluating the quality of other scholars’ work. Instead, the fault lines in biblical studies are drawn around ideology and theology, secular and faith-based approaches. You will find all denominations on all sides of these debates. That is to say, there are no real denominational lines in contemporary biblical studies, so why are we trying to enter the field in a partisan way that doesn’t map on? We would be better off dealing with the actual ideological tensions in the field rather than creating a new party that has no allies.

That said, the comments at FPR are correct in saying that Mormon Biblical Studies cannot survive outside of BYU. But I think that the reason is not simply the intellectual problems, but because the very model of denominational biblical studies is outdated and seriously flawed. Mormons who do biblical studies are better off engaging the broader field. I do believe that at some point in their careers they have the obligation of translating the wider world of biblical studies for their Mormon kin, but this is not the same as modeling oneself after another set of irrelevant biblical scholars.