The January 6, 2007 edition of the Church News contained an article entitled “Sacred Study” by Professor Kent P. Jackson of the Brigham Young University Religious Education Department. In his article, Professor Jackson attempts to define the requirements of LDS Bible scholarship. In this process, he fails to adequately distinguish between a much-sought but not yet achieved tradition of LDS Biblical scholarship and the wider practice of Biblical studies by LDS exegetes and others in related disciplines. Should it be institutionalized, this deficiency may have some significant repercussions.
Professor Jackson’s thesis is that LDS Biblical scholarship must be different from the Biblical scholarship of others. He opens his argument by asserting that those who practice this approach must seek out and apply the best of modern scholarship’s training, methods, and evidence. But the key point is that LDS Biblical scholarship must also go beyond this, so that it always “embraces revealed sources and uses them at every stage in the process of understanding and interpreting the words of scripture.”
This is a methodological description. Evangelicals do much the same thing when they call for exegesis that “takes seriously” the seven great councilor decrees of the post-NT world instead of accepting that these formulations are not found in scripture. Similarly, Roman Catholics sometimes express interest in an exegetical approach that imparts a high degree of authority to the opinions of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. In seeking a uniquely LDS approach to the Bible that gives high priority to interpretation via secondary sources uniquely valued by them, the Saints are not breaking new ground.
The right Mogget-eyebrow starts to go up, however, when Professor Jackson writes that “Latter-day Saint Bible scholars have a mission different from that of their peers in that they both embrace and use in their research the information obtained through modern revelation.” This raises a significant question: What does Professor Jackson mean by the expression “LDS Bible scholar?”
As Professor Jackson has defined it, LDS Biblical scholarship can probably be practiced only at LDS institutions. Is status as an LDS Biblical scholar limited to those who practice within Professor Jackson’s nascent LDS Biblical scholarship tradition? Or can an LDS exegete working within a more conventional approach to the Bible also refer to him- or herself as an “LDS Biblical scholar?” There are about eighty LDS students in graduate programs in the wider field of religious studies. They cannot all work at BYU
And then there’s the matter of how Professor Jackson characterizes the practice of this uniquely LDS form of Biblical scholarship in his closing paragraphs. I think that there are expressions other than “true discipleship” or an act of “worship and consecration” that can be pressed into service for the occasion. Discipleship, worship, and consecration in exegetical studies probably depend upon far more than a specific choice of secondary sources and hermeneutics. (N.B. In HP’s case, I’m all in favor of the true discipleship thing, however. Wouldn’t question that for the world.)
So…the proof’s in the pudding as they say. Over time, we’ll see if an LDS Bible scholarship tradition as defined by Professor Jackson produces readings that compare favorably with those achieved by more conventional means. But perhaps the first indication we’ll have of its power to move and motivate top-notch scholarship will be how those who work outside Professor Jackson’s as yet untested scholarly conventions are regarded by those who work within. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
42 Replies to “A House Divided”
I think Professor Jackson is merely holding onto the idea that those who pursue this field hopefully will be “true to the faith” and find opportunities to espouse the doctrine of mormonism. Many believing Lutherans, Catholics, etc, successful do this at “secular” schools. I do not see why you as a member of the Church would be unable to.
I wonder how similar this problem is to that of historians of Mormonism who also happen to be LDS. As is well known, certain General Authorities have made a similar claim – that Mormon history should be written with “modern revelation” in mind – and the struggles over how possible this really is, given the nature of current historiographical methods, have left a long and rather bloody trail.
I wonder if, as Mormons increasingly move into Biblical scholarship, similar struggles might take place. It strikes me that despite our commonplace literalism, most Mormons might be less wary of challenges to traditional interpretations of the Bible than of those to our sacred historical narrative. Am I wrong?
Is scholarship that “embraces revealed sources and uses them at every stage in the process of understanding and interpreting the words of scripture” still scholarship? For example, if an LDS scholar uses the methodology suggested by Professor Jackson, and thereby concludes that certain biblical passages constitute allusions to LDS temple ordinances, or teach the doctrine of preexistence, or priesthood sealing power or any other uniquely LDS doctrine, is he still engaged in scholarship or has he moved into another realm entirely? If one cannot make the case using conventional scholarly methodology, then there is really nothing to discuss with the scholarly community.
Of course, if Professor Jackson is suggesting that the conclusions of LDS scholars reached using his suggested methodology are of great benefit to their fellow members, he may be right. However it is difficult for me to see how anybody outside of the LDS community will ever take those scholars seriously. But I am not a scholar, so maybe I don’t know what I am talking about.
For example, if an LDS scholar uses the methodology suggested by Professor Jackson, and thereby concludes that certain biblical passages constitute allusions to LDS temple ordinances, or teach the doctrine of preexistence, or priesthood sealing power or any other uniquely LDS doctrine, is he still engaged in scholarship or has he moved into another realm entirely?
Gary, as one of the 80 (or so) students that Mogget mentioned, I can say the answer to your question (a good one, btw), for me anyway, is that he/she has moved into something else. Mormonism is terribly suspect in the field of Biblical Studies, and if there exists a Mormon hermeneutic (another post idea for another day), I’ve found it’s generally presented as the standard of what not to do. D.A. Carson’s wonderful book, Exegetical Fallacies uses Mormonism a couple of times, and rightly so, to illustrate poor exegesis (or good eisegesis, depending on one’s viewpoint). In fact, he even uses an issue you mention above – pre-existence in Jeremiah 1:5-6.
I would agree with Mogget and even add that for a Mormon to make a name as a Biblical scholar would be problematic and paradoxical. Our views of the Bible are terribly erratic and irreverent in the eyes of our (expert) peers in other faiths. (Personally, and those who know me well know this is true, when conflict arises between Mormonism and the Bible, I side with the latter. Mormonism allows me to do this because there really is no systematic approach to faith and doctrine, and the church is more concerned with my orthopraxy than it is my orthodoxy). For example, I think JS wrote the BofM by his own hand and that it’s not an ancient document but they never ask me about that when I’m interviewed for recommends.
The BYU is facing a watershed, I think. Guys like Jackson sadden me because they went to Ivy league schools, wrote killer dissertations (Ammonite grammars, graded temple holiness space, etc.), but once they get a job at the Y, they drop off the face of the earth academically, so to speak, and are never heard from (in a serious way) again. Just ask John Gee what it feels like to try to live in both worlds. It’s tough, and often it means expulsion and/or derision from former peers. Moreover, plugging the church correlation consensus machine and trying to keep the SBL crowd happy is difficult without living a double life. Now, I call it watershed because a lot of the professorship at the Y and related schools is nearing retirement age, and there seems to me anyway somewhat of a generation gap going on. Who will fill the vacuum? It probably won’t be me (for one, I’m not Ivy league, and for two, I’m too liberal theologically and politically, and for three, I want to be tenured some day). But others will fill the vacuum, and it is my hope that they will not sell out to the correlation machine, or whatever it is that takes them away from the academic training they received before working there. I’ve seen guys with educations I would (almost) kill to have who go to the BYU only to turn into something that would probably be unrecognizable by former peers and/or graduate school advisors.
It will be interesting/exciting to see how it all shakes out, and what the future generation of professorship at the BYU will be like.
I just filled my posting quota for the year. David J out.
I am under the strong and growing impression that BYU could be headed to some sort of showdown with the growing number of traditionally trained people it is hiring into its Religious Education department. I’ve spoken in person to some of you about this and I’m a little worried that I might get caught in the middle of this should I ever be hired at BYU. Not a fun thought. I’m speaking, of course, about the potential for those professors working there who are traditionally trained to decide to produce work that would be rigorous enough to be respected by the Biblical Studies community in general.
What I hope happens is those people will gradually move in that direction and begin to demonstrate in a non-threatening way to the LDS community at large that honest, rigorous Biblical scholarship yields results that are non-threatening to our theology (as ill defined as it may be). Should I ever be lucky enough to work there this is what I think I will try to do.
My experience in this field is severely limited at the present time but I fail to see how, or rather why, Biblical scholarship is so threatening to LDS people. My experience so far is that my faith and testimony has grown as I’ve studied and learned new things. Where the study has taught me something uncommon in the general sphere of LDS theology or history (which is clearly not the same in all respects as our fellow Christians view it, Biblically speaking) I find my understanding expanded and my view of the world a little wider. It hasn’t yet destroyed anything even remotely resembling an essential doctrine of the Church. Why can’t these two coincide? If it works for so many of us LDS grad students (I realize that I am presumptively including myself in this group), why not everyone?
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Please do not prove to be a prophet in this. I don’t want to be a casualty in the purging that would certainly follow.
A very interesting discussion. David J., I didn’t know you were so liberal 🙂
Is this a shorter version of the article Jackson published in the most recent Sperry Symposium volume?
I haven’t read Bro. Jackson’s piece and cannot comment on it directly. I will say that in many ways Mormons will always be treated with suspicion in the greater academy because there are some things that Mormons must believe beyond the Bible is a very interesting book to study. Should we ever achieve wide academic acclaim, it will be in the same mold as Evangelical scholars and certain Orthodox Jewish scholars who are treated outwardly as equals but always especially scrutinized for irrational assumptions and aberrant conclusions. This means that (as has long been the case with minorities and women in general) any active Mormon who wishes to do well in the biblical studies or religious studies world will have to be the very best in his or her field. That is simply the way it is. The only place for the mediocre LDS scholar is at BYU (which isn’t a commentary on past, current, or future scholarship there; rather it acknowledges that BYU is the only place where one would be able to find a range of LDS scholarship).
The only place for the mediocre LDS scholar is at BYU
Well! It’s time to break that glass ceiling. I’m going to be the first mediocre LDS exegete outside of BYU! Or die trying! 😉
More later…gotta keep moving for now but thanks for the comments.
With Holzapful, Huntsman, and um… that other guys new Testament books, I think positive strides are being made. I only have the pretty coffee table one, but have been impressed by it’s content (Which is pretty close to an LDS view on an Ehrman introduction to NT book) if disappointed at it’s absolute lack of references.
The Life of Christ serious is supposedly of even better caliber. And all from Deseret Book.
So, in my opinion, this is a positive sign.
Ben, yeah, I’m a liberal. There, I said it. A huge burden (or “splinter in my mind”) was lifted when I came to the conclusions surrounding the BofM that I currently hold. I’m happier now.
Matt W: I wish it were so, but I don’t think that Professor Jackson is really trying to encourage an up-to-date temple recommend. I do agree, however, that there are some signs of a more critical approach. And the third guy you’re working on is Tom Wayment.
Matt Bowman: Yes, the resemblances between this and the furor over New Mormon History have some parallels.
My experience is that one’s initial brush with modern Biblical scholarship can be tense. The outcome depends very much on the teacher. A teacher who is competent in the methods and confident of the results produces students with similar attitudes and testimonies. Naturally the converse also holds true. This, then, argues that to produce students capable of interacting with the Bible via both testimony and study, teachers who can do so are critical.
David J.: is it your experience that a dissy in, say, an archeological or grammatical topic, has a negative affect on the willingness to confront the tough historical-critical issues? I have my own thoughts, but less experience with OT for obvious reasons.
LXXLuthor: This is quite an indictment:
the potential for those professors working there who are traditionally trained to decide to produce work that would be rigorous enough to be respected by the Biblical Studies community in general
Rhetorical questions: Why is it only a potential? Why must it require a future decision? Why isn’t it simply the standard?
should I ever be lucky enough to work there [BYU]
No offense, man, but the best thing that you and the others who graduated from there could do for the institution is NOT return. There is such as thing as a real lack of intellectual diversity and one of the ways it comes is through students who return to teach at the institution from which they graduated. And then there’s the extraordinary level of kinship among members of the religion faculty…
Biblical scholarship is so threatening to LDS people
As I told Matt Bowman, the general populace won’t really be a challenge. Convince the religion faculty and the rest of the world will follow. The English dork adds that this hesitation to critically engage the Bible with modern methodologies probably indicates a lack of faith and some insecurity about the Restoration. And I expect that’s probably right. Like you, I’ve had a very positive experience with it.
Ben: I believe it must be an abridgement although the CN article does not so state.
HP: I would settle for outward treatment as an equal. Scrutiny of our work is probably no problem. The difficulty will be for folks who have BYU on their transcripts. Will they even get an initial level of consideration?
Do you think that this situation would be quite so problematic if there were members of the religion faculty who were actually respected as a result of work presented and published in serious professional venues?
“teachers who can do so are critical.”
I think this is very true. Unfortunately, the Church doesn’t seem particularly interested in using them.
Here’s another curveball: In my own experience, pointing out that the KJV version of, say, Isaiah 7:14 might not be as clearcut as we tend to think it is (both in linguistic and historical-critical senses) tends to go over without much trouble.
However, many Mormons are much less forgiving when we apply similar tools to other of our standard works. The same Sunday school teacher who had no problem with Isaiah’s virgin bristled when I suggested that there may be similar problems with the Isaiah portions of the BoM. Similarly, I know several Mormons who insist that Job was in fact a historical figure because he’s mentioned in the D&C. Is the Bible somehow more fair game than these other texts?
David J.: is it your experience that a dissy in, say, an archaeological or grammatical topic, has a negative affect on the willingness to confront the tough historical-critical issues?
I’m not sure, really. One would think that a dissy in those types of things, especially the former, would give the student more ability in confronting tough historical-critical problems, but from my experience, virtually all of them, regardless of their research topic, go extinct (academically) after they move to the BYU, regardless of the dissy topic. I would think, however, that a grammatical topic might yield a professor that is more naive regarding history or archaeology, and therefore more inept in confronting tougher historical-critical issues. But there are exceptions, of course.
Mormons are much less forgiving when we apply similar tools to other of our standard works
Oh oui! I’ve been thinking about this over the course of the day. There are times that I have to tell myself not to hold modern prophets, modern revelation, or the BoM to higher standards than I hold the NT.
I think it’s a matter of distance and naivete. We hear that there can be “burps” in the Bible all the time. But when was the last time somebody got up in Sacrament meeting and reminded everybody that the modern prophets make mistakes, etc., etc.?
Far less often, I wager. Mostly we hear that “follow the prophet” line without caveat.
I like to think to myself “follow the prophet… when he’s right.”
I don’t mind the intensivized scrutiny either, but we need to acknowledge that it happens.
Regarding the application of exegetical methods to other works, I pointed out to my that the Book of Mormon doesn’t approach Christ or baptism in a way similar to Christological readings of the OT. That went down well. Do you think I should share with them (when we get to Isaiah passages) my theory that “the waters of baptism” is a Nephite gloss?
the Book of Mormon doesn’t approach Christ or baptism in a way similar to Christological readings of the OT.
Yeah? Tell me more, tell me more!? Are you talking methods or facts?
“the waters of baptism” is a Nephite gloss
TT says that this one is a JS gloss. Here’s his comment from a few months back:
But it would be too kewl if you did find a few glosses and then wrote on the theological interests of the glossolator!
(I love that word. It’s almost obscene, you know!)
Mogs: Why wouldn’t I want to go back to BYU? For starters, as you and HP already pointed out, by having studied here I have almost no chance at ever getting in anywhere else. And for seconders:
A teacher who is competent in the methods and confident of the results produces students with similar attitudes and testimonies. Naturally the converse also holds true. This, then, argues that to produce students capable of interacting with the Bible via both testimony and study, teachers who can do so are critical.
Don’t we want people teaching our future leaders and GA’s being instructed by these kinds of teachers? Do I even need to say that in order for this to happen we have to have LDS grad students trained in these methodologies wishing or at least willing to return there?
Convince the religion faculty and the rest of the world will follow.
This is the sort of change that if it’s ever going to happen has to happen from the inside out. I don’t see anyone else having enough clout to do it. I don’t know how much I should say publicly but the elephant in the room at BYU’s Religious Education department is that everyone knows that the best and most upcoming scholars there are several individuals who everyone else sees as BYU’s best chance at having scholars that the academy respects. These people have the best chance of changing the minds of the more established people there. If it’s going to happen these people will lead the way and I’d like to be a part of that when my chance comes.
My question is how much of the opposition to all of this is coming from the fellow faculty members of the Religion department and how much of it is coming from the Brethren above it. If the opposition is strictly within the department then I’d dare suggest that the change is just a matter of time. If it comes from the top too or exclusively from the top then I have no idea when or if it will ever change. I don’t have a pulse of any kind on that circle obviously.
Kent absolutely hates me, which makes me sad. He went to Michigan and studied under David Noel Freedman. We ought to be friends.
My theory is that when he came to BYU he was under a major cloud of suspicion for his substantive Ph.D., and has had to spend his career justifying his Mormonness to his peers in Religious Education. I well remember the ideological battles in RE between the scholarly types and the types with master’s degrees in counseling or education.
I may be wrong about this, and he may have always had this conservative streak that gives preference to (in general incredibly weak) Mormon secondary sources. But my working assumption is that spending his career in BYU RE drove a lot of the scholarly instinct out of him a long time ago.
Great discussion everyone! I’ve been really enjoying these threads. I had some thoughts about this so I put them into a post over at urban mormonism.
Do I even need to say that in order for this to happen we have to have LDS grad students trained in these methodologies wishing or at least willing to return there?
Dude, I feel your pain and the more so because with BYU on your transcripts it is going to be hard to get a fair shot. But most universities do not hire their own grads for very good reasons and those that do take some other steps:
1) Visiting professors. How about an honors class on Romans with Joseph Fitzmyer? And then we get John Collins in for some apocalyptic. And how about R.T. France for the Gospels? Or whoever.
2) Require grads who wish to return to go elsewhere first. And I don’t mean elsewhere for the Ph.D or to another BYU campus. I mean seriously elsewhere, hired through a normal hiring process, and well on the way to tenure.
3) Ensure the teachers that do teach the Bible have Ph.Ds within an appropriate field because it’s that little Ph.D comps experience, followed by sojourn in dissy-hell that makes such a difference.
So no, I don’t think that we need graduates of BYU to fill every position. I think it’s an outdated, parochial model built on fear…fear of finding out that “something” is not so. (Not saying you’re afraid cause I know from experience that you’re not.) But until we get more grads who don’t do BYU as undergrads, it’s not going to happen.
And I think that the fact that all you guys are sooooo willing enables certain aspects of the situation. The first time about three of you say “No thanks,” and go elsewhere, some light bulbs are going to come on. And when those that do go elsewhere start to critique what comes out of BYU on its scholarly merits, so that folks can’t plausibly argue that the gentiles are out to get us or some other weird thing, it’s gonna be a great day.
But LXXLuthor, if it were up to me, you’d be in like a flash!
I confess a certain curiosity about how a dissy on an Ammonite grammar made from sixty or so fragments and amulets could possibly invite suspicion. I had to do a diachronic grammar of Greek for a History of Greek class. It featured highly controversial topics like confusion between “e” and “i” or just where all those final “nu”s go when they disappear of fthe end of words. Perhaps the Ammonite semi-vowels were just too sexy or something…
Nice new digs!!
Mogget, of course you are correct that Kent’s dissertation itself would not have invited suspicion. That is not what I meant.
In the atmosphere of Religious Education in the 70s and early 80s, there was a great divide among the faculty between those with actual Ph.D. degrees in prestigious, secular religious studies programs and those with terminal degrees (whether Ph.D.s or Master’s) in subjects that were not directly religious (such as counseling or education), many of whom had come up to BYU through the CES ranks or by “knowing” the right people in SLC. Anyone with advanced secular learning in religious topics was considered prima facie suspect, because that person might have more loyalty to the thought of the secular academy than to Bruce R. McConkie or whomever.
The intradepartment politics between these two groups could be fierce, and institutionally it seemed that the non-secular degree types held the upper hand of perceived orthodoxy at that time. Therefore, if you had a real religious studies degree you kind of had to prove yourself, that you were really Mormon enough to teach at BYU. If you went around saying things like Paul didn’t write Hebrews, you could find yourself to be out of a job.
My understanding is that the environment has improved substantially, and real religious scholarship is not met with the same automatic suspicion it used to be. But that wasn’t the case back in the day. (I saw some of this from pretty close up.)
I think that opening other standard works to the same level of scrutiny will have positive (not necessarily apologetic) effects, if for no other reason than that people will be reading the texts.
I do think you’re a little too optimistic about Isa 7:14. (There’s a post on this over at urbanmormonism).
I have a friend (an actual friend, not myself) who was teaching a Book of Mormon class at BYU, who suggested that the “Mountain of the Lord’s House” and the “nations flowing unto it” is not Salt Lake City. There was a BYU prof, who is now prominent in leadership in the Ancient Scripture Dept, observing, and gave this teacher an earful after the class was over. This, and I’ve also heard from the most reputable of sources (which I cannot name) that the Dean of the College was infuriated with the recent article by Pike and Seely on the “Ships of Tarshish”, published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Thankfully, deanships don’t last forever, and neither will these dogmas.
And, to add my own experience, I’ve had many experiences in Sunday School, even in the most liberal areas of the country, where I’ve taught and commented on things like Isa 7:14 and the so-called “Wisdom” of Solomon, where I’ve only used exactly what the text itself says, and I’ve been met with strong opposition.
In my opinion, when we get people actually reading the texts of the OT and NT as texts and not as prooftexts, we’ll be able to start moving into the other standard works. It wasn’t until people started paying attention more to the content than to the ‘doctrine’ of OT and NT that more sophisticated views of composition (”documentary hypotheses”) began to appear, and, in my opinion, there began to emerge a clearer picture of some of the problems of ancient understandings of God. (This reflects my assumption that a clearer picture of the historical process will tell us much about how revelation works and will allow us to dismantle some of the problematic and damaging constructs that have arisen. I realize that I myself am probably too optimistic here.)
With respect to your example about Job in the D&C, I think it’s analogous to Nephi’s mention of the “(five) books of Moses” (1 Nephi 5:11; 19:23), but does this prevent us from subscribing to academic theories that prevent their having being written by a single author? I think not. Either a) it is reflective of Joseph Smith’s translation of a concept of “pentateuch”, b) Nephi used a titular phrase known to people in his time but is not necessarily a prophetic statement about the composition of Genesis through Deuteronomy, c) Nephi assumed Moses wrote them, (but could still be wrong), or d) Nephi used a phrase we’d understand (I think this is the least likely). I think you could say the same things about Job in the D&C, “Isaiah” mentioned by Christ in the Book of Mormon, etc. But we’re not going to get anywhere until people start reading.
In general, I think that the way Jackson sees things is impossible. Until he produces an actual LDS scholar who has done what he describes, I’ll believe it’s possible. I think, as has been said in a number of ways here, it’s foolhardy and contrary to the way scholarship works (or should work) to start with the LDS tradition and to go looking for academic backing for it. An LDS scholar, in my view, is one who looks at what the text/evidence says, takes what she or he thinks to be the best approach or conclusion, and then if s/he wants, creates an interface with LDS thought/belief/practice. This can be done outside BYU (though not without the expected difficulties). It can’t work the other way (for the “scholarship” part of the equation to remain intact).
Methinks Jackson has been too long gone from his field to be believable on this.
I have heard that Jackson’s thesis was an outstanding one, as was his dissertation, and since then he hasn’t ever used his training and linguistic expertise. What he writes, appears to me to be watered down Mormonism, and now he wants *this* elevated to a scholarship status? Even if in LDS circles? Ridiculous.
I have always admired Kevin Barney’s approachs, and have tried to emulate Nibley’s in the linguistic, serious historical areas without worrying about trying to “Mormonize” everything. BLECH! But Jackson’s approach appears to be just that, to Mormonize history – how that can ever be done is impossible to know. Is this a subtle way of writing “sanitized” history now, as we have supposedly done with doctrine? It’s worthless in that case.
This isn’t meant to be an place where we rip on Bro. Jackson. Please keep it to a discussion of his ideas.
a great divide
So I had heard. I wasn’t doubting, just saying that I found it amazing.
You’re right. And I should clarify.
I realize that this was the vein my comment was pointing toward (an ad hominem attack) in the last line, but I didn’t intend it to be a rip. I actually mean that I think Jackson’s absence from the field has clouded his judgment on what is possible in the non-BYU academic world. It’s not a judgment–the man can do what he wants with his life and career. But still, you’re right.
the KJV version of, say, Isaiah 7:14 might not be as clearcut as we tend to think it is
Yeah, this one seems to be something of a watershed. I taught it last year in GD. The stake YW president, bless her heart, wanted to know how a baby (Christ) born six hundred years later was going to convince anybody of anything. So with the stake president sitting right there, I got to explain that in context that baby is not Christ.
I also did some talking about how Christianity re-interpreted the OT to support their understanding of Christ, etc., etc., as well as the specifics of Matthew’s fulfillment citations. The only person who had a problem with it was the husband of a young lady who used to be a CES teacher. He’s never been back to class. I’m sorry it bothered him, but there was just no way to avoid the issue.
FYI, I’ve been told that Jackson’s article is just an abridgment of his Sperry paper: “Asking Restoration Questions in New Testament Scholarship,” in How the New Testament Came to Be, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (SLC: Deseret, 2006), 27-42. Church News also published abridgments from the Sperry Papers of Alexander Morrison and Gaye Strathearn. More of the same may be forthcoming. I doubt any of them abridged the papers themselves, but in any case, for full context you need to see the original.
The abridgment of Jackson I still haven’t seen, but I just read the original. I found it mostly conventional, though intentionally liberalizing on a few issues (traditional authoriship, ipsissima verba, inerrancy). But there is also some conservative pushback on literal resurrection and the implications of the acceptance of predictive prophecy (theologically necessary for Jackson) for dating. Overall, though, I think Jackson is becoming more progressive in time, not less. But of course, no one would seriously expect a church-employed religion scholar to deny things like the resurrection of Christ and predictive prophecy.
His central contention (very unpopular here, apparently) is that LDS biblical scholars have “evidence not available to anyone else” and should use it. This has been discussed, but I found interesting his contention that responsible scholarship demands it:
But he concludes also with an appeal to the requirements of faith: “And to ignore evidence made uniquely available by means of the restored gospel is to be unfaithful to the Restoration and its blessings” (p28-29).
Another point, though, following close after this, is quite progressive, given the context:
I think this addresses the concern some have expressed that anything ever written by any GA on the Bible may constitute “Restoration insight” that an LDS exegete should respect. The key theological issues Jackson addresses are in fact very basic and fundamental to LDS theology and scripture: bodily resurrection, predictive prophecy, historical apostasy.
Finally, I don’t see anything in this that indicates Jackson’s view of purely secular biblical studies. Some here may be unhappy with this comment: “Their [“LDS Bible scholars'”] research, therefore, is not merely a work of avocation or profession but, indeed, of worship and consecration. And unlike many of their peers who set the agenda for religious discourse in their denominations, Latter-day Saint Bible scholars hold allegiance to the Church as an institution and welcome the continuing guidance of those whom the Lord has called to preside in it.” But I think this signals that Jackson’s concern is for scholarship within the church, not within the academy. He’s not saying that biblical scholarship cannot be an “avocation or profession,” which would of course require proper adherence to professional norms, but rather that, for believing LDS, it is not “merely” that within the context of the church. That would also accord with what I believe to be Jackson’s personal opinion.
(Sorry for the length!)
I doubt any of them abridged the papers themselves, but in any case, for full context you need to see the original.
On the chance that Professor Jackson’s work was not adequately represented in the Church News, I ordered up a copy of the published papers of the latest Sperry Symposium on Saturday. I’ll post again when I’ve read the original article. I will also look at the other papers in light of Professor Jackson’s proposal.
I am surprised to learn that the authors did not do the abridgment themselves but this helps explain why Professor Strathearn’s article was so, um, strange. (And that relieves me, cause I kinda like her.)In any case, we’ll be back up on the matter once we’ve given it a better look, had some time to think, etc., etc. Hopefully, we can even make Small Axe a happy tool…(evil Mogget-grins)…although I think he’s got a false dichotomy in there…
Anyway, nice, chaste, Mogget kisses all around and if you want a snail mail copy of Professor Jackson’s article, email moggety at gmail dot com. (I guess that falls under fair use???!)
If you can’t wait for it to arrive, you can watch or listen to it here.
My comment was meant descriptively rather than prescriptively. In other words, I don’t think such a dichotomy actually exists–what is helpful is breaking down such a notion (i.e., demonstrating that an “academic” hermeneutic is actually faith creating). My point was rather that we need to be sensitive to the fact that much of this discussion is still taking place where the dichotomous paradigm is assumed to be the norm.
I think you may have interpreted my vagueness incorrectly; I share your pain. I skipped Sunday school more than I usually do last year because our teacher spent all of the Isaiah lessons pointing us to various prooftexts and asking which ‘latter-day’ events they ‘prophesied’ – ‘voice from the dust,’ ‘desert as a rose,’ ‘top of the mountains,’ etc. Now, this sort of thing in my experience tends to be due to simple ignorance rather than willful hostility. Generally people at least try to assimilate, like Thomas Aquinas – “Well, the child in 7:14 could be referencing both maybe Hezekiah and Christ, right?” Probably less than half of the time I get hit with outright hostility.
I agree that the best solution to all of this is to force people to read the Bible in context. Isaiah wasn’t a Mormon.
I think it is childish to skip Sunday School because you don’t like what is being taught or how it is being taught. Aren’t latter-day saints supposed to be patient and have charity. With a higher education I’m sure all of us could sit for forty-five minutes and show some respect to the teacher.
“Joseph Smith commends their intellectual efforts as a corrective to the Latter-day Saints, who lean too far in the other direction, giving their young people and old awards for zeal alone, zeal without knowledge—for sitting in endless meetings, for dedicated conformity and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom. We think it more commendable to get up at five A.M. to write a bad book than to get up at nine o’clock to write a good one—that is pure zeal that tends to breed a race of insufferable, self-righteous prigs and barren minds.” –Hugh Nibley
It seemed appropriate.
HP: Source for the Nibley quote?
It’s Approaching Zion, CWHN 9:75.
Thanks. Odd, this is Nibley’s most popular book (in sales volume) but one I’ve never had much interest in. (I’ve not had much interest in most of his work, honestly.) But just for this quote I may be persuaded to pick it up and read it.
I’d love to see a poll or discussion here sometime of Nibley and his influence on the current generation of young scholars.
Approaching Zion is mostly social criticism, but very well done social criticism.
Hi Mogget, I am working my way through your series for the first time. Could you identify for me the “seven great councilor decrees”? I don’t know if they have been my source for proper hermeneutics in biblical theology.
Secondly, do any of the BYU religious profs admit glosses in the BoM as what I see discussed here in the thread? I am just getting started in my Isaiah studies.