Take 2: Blumell, New Testament History, Culture and Society

Review of Lincoln H. Blumell, ed., New Testament History, Culture, and Society (Provo and Salt Lake City: RSC and Deseret Book, 2019).

In a recent blogpost (May 26, 2019), Kevin Barney published a favorable review of Lincoln H. Blumell, ed., New Testament History, Culture, and Society (https://bycommonconsent.com/…/review-of-blumell-nt-history…/), that was contextualized by its application to Kevin’s Gospel Doctrine teaching experiences and needs. I would like to offer a different perspective on the volume that seeks a context within a larger academic narrative and probes the quality of the book. This is not because the editor explicitly sought out such a context, but because of the fact that much of what comes out of Religious Education parades as scholarship and takes advantage of a receptive and believing community that wants support for its theology, practice, and belief. Many readers are not aware of the inner workings of Religious Education at BYU-Provo and its Ancient Scripture department, and many will be surprised to know that the department and indeed the college itself are cannibalizing its own believing scholars. The timing of this volume is particularly important because the editor of the volume is asserting pressure on the department of Ancient Scripture to eschew academic discussions in the classrooms as a type of blind devotion to faith tenets. The department has launched a series of lunch discussions that have as their intent an interest in defining orthodox positions on topics like the authorship of the New Testament, the tripartite authorship of Isaiah, the historical foundation of the biblical narrative and other topics. This editor is poised to leave a lasting imprint on the LDS community by presenting us with mostly underinformed historical discussions that avoid current academic work and withhold information in the hopes of presenting a faith-affirming narrative

     Formally, the book is 836 pages long with a two-page introduction by the editor that lays out how the book is divided into seven section. Following the editor’s lead, it appears that the book was meant to be similar to the Oxford handbook series, “it is more of a handbook that readers can consult topically.” Unfortunately, the editor does not situate the work within already existing LDS scholarship on the topic nor does he gesture towards academic interests or indebtedness.

     This book is a wake-up call to the Latter-day Saint community, and it has caused me more than a moment’s reflection and pondering. At its most basic level the book is deeply dishonest in its approach to the New Testament, its history, culture and society, and when painted in its most positive light the book should serve as a clarion call to ask religious education to stop publishing this type of work without careful review. The book appeared in print in 2019 after having been rejected by two other major Latter-day Saint publishers. It was then submitted to the RSC, which did an expedited review after having communicated to the author that the book had been accepted for publication! I know because I have emails from the editor to prove this claim. This is perhaps not a major issue for some, and I acknowledge that publishers all have their own needs and audiences and so the issue was perhaps one of fit. However, the expedited review and publishing efforts led to dozens if not hundreds of typesetting and typographical errors that could easily have been fixed. In one instance, Hebrew text is printed in reverse direction. But why quibble about minor issues. The larger issue is that the book lacks a cohesive and unifying interest.

     The book itself is a testimony of sorts to an absolute embarrassment of riches. In chapter 3, Tyler Griffin published an article describing his virtual tour of Jerusalem and its environs. What the unsuspecting reader does not know is that this project has a price tag well into six-figures and may have well passed into seven-figures. The work is based off the for-profit Ritmeyer Archaeological Design efforts with almost no reference to academic work on the temple mount and not even a single archaeological report. The author, who holds a Ph.D. in instructional design according to his own bio, has no archaeological training or expertise and yet he has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into a project that is deeply flawed in its reconstruction and approach (see some of the specific notes below).

     A second issue is that the articles are lazy in their academic efforts. For example, David Seely, Dana Pike, John Welch, Andrew Skinner, Robert Millet, Noel Reynolds, Lincoln Blumell, Gaye Strathearn, and Frank Judd put together articles that are much simpler and less thoughtful than previous articles they had earlier published on the same topics. Skinner and Millet cite almost no academic sources written in the past twenty years, while Pike and Seely offer meandering surveys that would have been better had they simply said, “See my other work on this topic.” Kent Jackson cites only his own work, apparently unwilling to recognize any other studies on the topic of the JST. In these same articles, Latter-day Saint authorities are cited as academic sources for history, culture, and society as though that would not further confuse the LDS community in the long run.

     The most disconcerting item, however, is the academic dishonesty on display. The articles on authorship by Frank F. Judd Jr., Lincoln H. Blumell, and George Pierce lend the impression that the authorship of certain biblical books is a simple matter of assertion and that they do not need to engage the scholarship on these topics. This almost utter rejection of academic conversation occurs throughout the book in chapters by Daniel L. Belnap, David Rolph Seely, Matthew L. Bowen, Avram R. Shannon, John Welch, Andrew C. Skinner, Robert L. Millet, Eric D. Huntsman, Noel B. Reynolds, Gaye Strathearn, and others. The authors may assert that they are simply supporting faith and building the kingdom by offering faith-positive discussions, but they are in reality obscuring evidence that has the chance of surprising the faithful when they come in contact with it later and in other contexts. Poorly executed faith-leaning scholarship is as destructive as intentionally misleading scholarship. There is no reason to hide behind laziness, pre-conceived answers, and apologetic interests. Our community deserves better, it deserves quality peer-review, and if our message has a foundation in truth then it should also move beyond the echo-chamber of BYU campus publishing. As a parent, I am tired of poorly thought out responses being given to the genuine questions of faith my children have raised. I want their questions treated honestly and openly, even if the answers are historically sound but simultaneously disrupting. Hiding information is a poor long-term strategy.

I offer here some more specific review notes that preserve the highlights:

Matson, chapter 1
This is a solid survey and it serves the purpose of inviting the reader into the inter-testamental period. The maps and diagrams are helpful and make the contents more accessible to the reader. For academic readers, there is some concern that this chapter is almost entirely a synthesis of Josephus, but for the stated audience this is perhaps okay. I believe that the editor should have demanded more from this chapter and author by pressing him to situate his reconstruction within LDS discussion of this topic (some authors are cited in the suggested readings) and within the larger academic discussion of these topics. Several good introductions to this topic already exist, and it felt like this short one did little to move the discussion forward. Rather it was a re-introduction to an already introduced topic.

Belnap, chapter 2
     This chapter has potential for the LDS reader, but it is construed in a way as to make its value almost irrecoverable. The author sets the stage by placing the Mosaic law in the context of early Christianity, as an object of Jesus’s narrative interest, and as a single idea that could be critiqued and judged separate from the larger concept of Mosaic law(s). The author then hits his mark by dissecting the law as a composite concept that grew up over time, a discussion that is informed by text critical issues. The author then concludes by returning to the law. The confusion is that the paper fundamentally misunderstands Galatians 3:24–5 and frames the entire discussion as if everyone in the NT saw the law of Moses as a “schoolmaster” that would lead them to Christ. The author fails to follow through with the issue of divergent views in the NT, how NT authors treated the composite parts of the law of Moses differently, and how sacrifice ceased and was then subsequently deemed emblematic of the cessation of the law. The author seems unaware of the challenge of supercessionism, two covenant theology, and the simplicity with which the Book of Mormon frames this issue. Overall, the author’s descriptive work is quite competent, but it remains unclear to this reviewer why this paper would be included in a NT volume without real engagement with the NT. In the end, however, the NT section was confusing, and the author seems to assume that all Christians viewed the law as a gentle, positive teacher that would bring them to Christ.

     Note, 20 The “law of the gospel” (cited by the author) is not a NT term. The term is placed in juxtaposition against the Mosaic law as though one could entirely replace the other. The author notes that the Mosaic law prepared people as a disciplinarian, but the author sees replacement theology as the only reasonable option. This is followed in the conclusion (31) where the author seems to see the law as functioning only as a “schoolmaster” (KJV) without dealing with what that term really means. Schoolmaster is a poor word choice, and the author is completely unaware that Paul was criticizing the nature of the law when it disciplined the adherent. The author should be applauded for citing divergent views on the documentary hypothesis and for nodding towards the neo-documentarians such as Baden.

Griffin, chapter 3
     This is a highly unfortunate chapter that promotes a project that has costs hundreds of thousands of dollars that is designed by a person who has absolutely no training in Bible, archaeology, or the ancient world, and who has produced a product that can be used by wealthy Latter-day Saints who can afford this product or the means to view it. It is unfortunate that BYU Religious Education would pour so much money into a project that has no truly qualified collaborators and that seems underinformed in so many details.

     Note, 40 The author states that John 5:4 is “absent from all early manuscripts of the New Testament.” I suppose that Codex Alexandrinus, one of the most important NT witnesses” does not qualify as an early manuscript! One would have thought that the general editor (Prof. Blumell) or the RSC review would catch such misstatement.

     Note, 50 The author declares, “There could have been other tombs in the vicinity of the Garden Tomb, however, that were newly carved by Joseph of Arimathea.” And just like that the author has offered an apology for a site without evidence and against the existing archaeological record. The editor should have struck these from the book.

Chapter 4, Seely
     This chapter is thorough, well-written, and based on primary and secondary literature. The author is certainly qualified to be publishing in this area. Readers will note that the article lacks a thesis and is in reality a summary of the Herodian temple, a subject which the author has published on previously. Unfortunately, the author has not engaged the larger question of how this information fits into the overall book project, although the author does gesture towards NT texts at times. This chapter does not include a further reading section, which is peculiar given that the other authors have done so.

Chapter 5, Hatch
     The discussion offered here is informed and detailed in new ways for an LDS audience. The author offers a post-exilic date for Daniel, engages the notion that messiah is a royal term rather than religious, and at times seems willing to think of the Hebrew Bible as offering diverse opinions regarding a messiah. The author polls several punches, arguing that anachronistic Book of Mormon concepts about the Messiah are “revealed” (73) or that there was such a thing as a belief in a “premortal, divine figure.” The author does a commendable job reading several New Testament passages in light of the conversation he has offered. The author ended the discussion abruptly without fully dealing with NT nuances regarding a Messiah. One gets the impression that the category of Messiah was the most important way to believe in Jesus and to fail to see him as the Messiah would be catastrophic to belief. I appreciate the quality of sources the author has used in offering this survey.

Chapter 6, Bowen
     This article engages the text of the New Testament directly by analyzing the sayings of Jesus and other NT authors using Hillel’s so-called rules of biblical hermeneutics. The effort is productive for the author who can pick and choose a saying at random to interpret while not engaging the larger questions of whether any NT author consistently adopts a pharisee approach, whether the sayings of Jesus consistently adopt such an approach, or whether any author does. They each, according to the author, use various hermeneutical strategies in deploying their messages, but what this means for the overall text is left unanswered.
     Some assertions are particularly troubling for the unsuspecting LDS reader. The author states that “Mark was one of Jesus’s early disciples, an early church leader, a possible tradent and interpreter of Peter, and probably a Jew.” Unpacking such an assertion with its problematic claims is beyond the scope of a single review, but evidence for his early discipleship is confusing unless he means that Mark is present in the first Acts-described Pauline mission, what is meant by an “early church leader” is foundationally askew since there is no such tradition in the NT and what is meant by “church” is an issue, and finally, does the author use “tradent” to mean what NT scholars mean by this term or does he simply mean a Petrine translator-advocate similar to Eusebius. I wish that the editor and reviewers would have forced the author to engage what has been implied in sentences such as this. The author concludes the chapter by asserting that his discussion has helped us be “better prepared to appreciate and understand the intra-Jewish debates and discussions not only ongoing throughout Jesus’s mortal ministry, but also present in the texts of Acts, Revelation, and the New Testament epistles” (104). This is a fine conclusion to make, but I’m not confident after reading the chapter that it has done anything like that. It has helped us identify a methodology or hermeneutic strategy, but the paper has done nothing to situate NT texts within a hermeneutically rich environment.

Chapter 7, Pike
     Like the chapter by Seely (chapter 4), this chapter has no thesis and is effectively a summary of matters that can be found in any competent introduction to the scrolls and also by this author himself in earlier publications. The author flirts with the old hypothesis that John the Baptist was an Essene preacher, but he fails to offer an opinion or deal with why this thesis has been abandoned by many. I’ve read the other introductions to the Dead Sea Scrolls by this author, and this one is short and lacking in the depth and clarity of his earlier publications. Perhaps, however, another general introduction to the topic was needed.

Chapters 15–16, Skinner and Millet
     One can only be embarrassed by Andrew Skinner’s footnotes. Apparently current and modern weren’t matters of emphasis in this volume. He even cites the whole “little dog” or “puppy” nonsense. Apparently, Millet doesn’t know there is scholarship done on the idea of Mediator apart from a few evangelical friends of his and some early 20th century sources.

Chapter 25, Blumell, Judd, and Pierce
     This chapter is academically unsound while absolutely avoiding any larger discussion of current issues. There is almost no awareness of the differences in the quality and style of the epistles 1 and 2 Peter, nor the differences between 1–3 John and the Gospel of John. The authors give the impression that these letters can easily and reasonably be assigned to their traditional authors. This is an almost embarrassing assertion given the wealth of scholarship on these topics, and these authors should and do know better. It is misleading to not at least work through the issues of authorship rather than simply assert that there aren’t any real obstacles to traditional authorship. The same challenges arise with Judd’s treatment of Ephesians and Colossians and the Pastorals.

Chapter 38, Blumell and Martin
     Before listing 50 errors in the KJV translation, of which there are many more, the authors state “While the translation appearing in the New Testament of the KJV is mostly accurate, perhaps at time even exemplary….” So, 50 errors makes a translation exemplary. This list, BTW, doesn’t even deal with textual issues.

Chapter 40, Jackson
     This chapter is a summary of work that Jackson has done elsewhere. In fact, he cites only himself and Matthews in his footnotes, apparently unaware that others have worked on the JST. It’s disingenuous to say that the JST provides “a great portrayal of the Master” without evidence. It’s a tired assertion that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The author seems unaware of the challenges his own study faces, such as why Matthew 24 and Mark 13 were revised in the same ways, but Luke 21 (the same discourse) was left untouched. The author seems to be wholly unaware of challenges facing JST researchers, such as a forthcoming work on the parallels to Adam Clark, and seems to want to live in a 1980s cave where no one is asking hard questions about the construction of scriptural text within the LDS tradition.

10 Replies to “Take 2: Blumell, New Testament History, Culture and Society”

  1. I’d love to hear more specifics regarding the numerous bombshells the author drops in the paragraph “Many readers are not aware of the inner workings of Religious Education at BYU-Provo and its Ancient Scripture department…”

    Can we here more specific details re these claims? My impression from the outside was that BYU was hiring more and more actual Biblical scholars…

  2. Though I share serval of DT’s concerns, for my part I would like to go on record saying that in the end I was given the scholarly autonomy to be just about as academically critical as I wanted in my chapter on Greco-Roman religion and the NT, despite however much Lincoln and I may see things differently. I appreciate that.

    Also, I would like to point out that the blame for the Church’s overall failure to grapple with mainstream biblical scholarship does not only lie with the choices of this or that Rel Ed faculty, of course, who may be at least partially bound by their need to keep their job. The college, the board of trustees, CES leaders and other general authorities are just as responsible, if not more so. And, ultimately, we would not be in this tight spot if it weren’t for Joseph Smith. His intentions in the Book of Mormon et cetera were sincere and noble, but when it comes to challenges from biblical criticism, we have been living on borrowed time for a couple hundred years now. In my opinion, it would take a coordinated effort, from the top down, just to begin to create the space and latitude necessary to sketch out some ways forward.

  3. Were only LDS authors selected for this book? If they were going to select LDS authors like g.wesley who think Joseph Smith was a pious fraud, why not select non-LDS authors?

    1. Hi Nathan,

      Just want to point out that ‘pious fraud’ are your words not mine. Fraud implies a knowing misrepresentation, and I’m not sure we can say JS knew the BoM was his composition. In fact, I don’t think he did know, at least not fully, given the complexity of the nature of religious experience.

  4. Another Take on Take 2

    Oh my, a negative review from an anonymous reviewer skulking in anonymity! In fact, I would not have expected anything less given the venue and the cloak of anonymity. The reviewer clearly has an ax to grind with Religious Education and is looking to find fault everywhere (and has perhaps left their discernible fingerprints in a few places!). While there is little point fully engaging with this anonymous reviewer whose overt animus is present in a number of places, I will indulge with a few observations and counterpoints.

    • Despite the reviewer’s claims, there is a unity and cohesion with the volume even if it treats a wide variety of topics. As stated, the volume was not put together with a view to be read cover to cover sequentially, but rather topically as the reader would like more information on a particular subject.

    • When the ms. was submitted I noticed that all of the Hebrew got flipped, so I informed the publisher to have this rectified and did my best to ensure it. So, if there is only one example of this I am rather relived (even if I wish all of it could have been correct).

    • CHAPTER 3: While the reviewer is highly critical of this chapter, it needs to be kept in mind that matters dealing with the archaeology of Jerusalem can be highly contested with different models being offered. While the reviewer apparently does not agree with the model put forth in this chapter, or at least certain parts of it, this can only be taken from inference as the reviewer rarely makes any specific arguments but simply resorts to ad hominem attacks on the author that are then extended to Religious Education and the virtual reconstruction project that is the main focus of the prolonged tirade. Here the reviewer is simply misinformed and their caustic comments have no basis whatsoever. In the reviewer’s tirade they claim about the virtual reconstruction project that it can only “be used by wealthy Latter-day Saints who can afford this product.” This is patently false. The virtual reconstruction is FREE!!! Anyone can have access to it; it costs nothing to download and anyone, anywhere has access! Here I invite the reviewer, or anyone else reading this blog for that matter, to go and download the Virtual New Testament App: https://virtualscriptures.org/virtual-new-testament/. It is a remarkable tool, but do not take my word for it, see for yourself.

    • CHAPTER 7: The author was asked to provide a general introduction for an LDS readership on the DSS and its relationship to the NT. To that end the author provided a useful chapter that summarized the issues; the chapter was responsible and warned against fringe theories and tenuous connections.

    • CHAPTERS 15: The purpose of the chapter was never designed to give an overview of the “historical Jesus” that detailed all the trends and the “quests” of Jesus of Nazareth. While the reviewer complains that the footnotes are not “current and modern,” this is an overstatement. While every chapter could have certainly included many more references, this is not damming like the reviewer would have one believe. Finally, the reviewer quips: “He [author] cites the whole ‘little dog’ or ‘puppy’ nonsense” (cf. Matt 15:26; Mark 7:27). If the reviewer had bothered to look at the Greek they would realize that the word for dog is in the diminutive (κυνάριον vs. κύων). In fact, in the BAGD (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early [sub verbum]) it expressly makes the same distinction that the author of the chapter is making! Thus, while the reviewer laments the lack of modern scholarship in this chapter, I would encourage the reviewer to familiarize themselves with what modern lexicons are saying about this term.

    • Chapter 16: Yes, chapter 16 was more devotional in tone and purposely so. But I personally felt that it was a fine chapter based on what it was trying to do. Here the reviewer’s summary dismissal of the chapter missed the point and reveals far more about the reviewer’s bias than it does about the chapter at hand.

    • CHAPTER 25: While the reviewer rages that the authors did not give proper attention to issues of authorship in the general NT epistles, in fact, it was expressly stated multiple times in the chapter that the authorship of every letter treated in the chapter was contested in scholarship. It is true that the authors did not attempt to address or even work through every issue surrounding authorship, but to do so would have occupied the entire chapter without ever getting into the letters themselves. As stated in the chapter, the focus was on the content of the letters.

    • CHAPTER 38: The reviewer complains about the list of the 50 translations errors in the KJV NT pointed out in this chapter by saying that there were “many more.” NO DUH! As we pointed out in the chapter, we only focused on a selection of the more significant ones. Likewise, the reviewer laments that we did not take into account textual issues along the lines of textual criticism. Why then did the reviewer not address the TWO chapters that dealt explicitly with NT textual criticism and the text of the KJV that also included lists of textual variants?

    • CHAPTER 40: Among other things the reviewer complains that this chapter did not take into account a forthcoming article showing parallels between “Adam Clark” (it is actually spelled Adam Clarke) and the JST. This is true; however, the author of the forthcoming piece on Clarke and the JST was approached and understandably did not want to circulate the article in advance of its publication. I therefore think it unfair to criticize a chapter for not engaging with scholarship that has not yet been published or is available.

    • On a more general note, the reviewer insinuates that many authors were “dishonest” and seems irritated that it proceeded with certain assumptions about the New Testament that are not shared in contemporary biblical scholarship. In full disclose there were certain assumptions in the volume, for example, as the editor I proceeded with assumptions like there was a literal resurrection, there were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and that some eyewitness testimonies are preserved in the New Testament, to name just a few. So, if this came through in various chapters I do not apologize.

    • One final point I find troubling with the review (besides its overt animus) is a fundamental lack of critical self-awareness by the reviewer as it relates to scholarship and the field of biblical studies (broadly speaking). Among other things, it leaves me with the impression that the reviewer sees the field as monolithic and anyone who does not agree with their view is either dishonest or incompetent. Here I would be willing to engage with the reviewer at a more substantive level; please email me if you would like: lincoln_blumell@byu.edu

    • In other news, I had a book just published with Brepols last week. Here is the link: http://www.brepols.net/Pages/ShowProduct.aspx?prod_id=IS-9782503583709-1
    I wonder if the reviewer will be similarly troubled by the fact that I think that Didymus the Blind was the author of this text even though certain NT scholars have speculated that it might actually be Ps.-Didymus. If the reviewer would like to review this book, please send me an email and I would be happy to send you a complimentary copy for review.

    Lincoln H. Blumell
    Department of Ancient Scripture

  5. I posted this review at the BCC thread on Blumell’s volume several months ago. I re-post it here since it bears on the discussion.

    Lincoln Blumell’s new edited volume, New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament, is as ungainly as its title portends. Weighing in at 836 pages, 43 chapters, and nearly 4 lbs, it is a lot to deal with. The collection of contributors range from the legitimate biblical scholars actively publishing in their fields to glorified youth ministers that are employed in BYU’s College of Religious Education to grad students writing on topics sometimes centuries or millennia from their curriculum of study to people with no relevant graduate training at all. This scatter shot approach ends up being a come one come all block party (let’s call it inclusive for the sake of charity).

    And yet many Mormon biblical scholars are curiously missing. One wonders why. At any rate the effect is a whiplash inducing volume where one chapter is a solid, insightful review of relevant scholarship, sometimes offering new contributions to the field, and the next is something that your local HP “scriptorian” could put together with his KJV, bible dictionary, and a shelf full of Deseret Book volumes authored by people as amateur as himself.

    With 43 chapters, nearly enough for two for every document of the NT, overlap is to be expected. And there is so much overlap. You will be amazed at how many chapters end up discussing the passion narratives, often harmonized. And with one editor for 836 pages, infelicities are to be expected. So many infelicities. Like how embarrassing is it to print Hebrew backwards? At least the editor himself got the Hebrew going the right direction for the dedication to his parents.

    If you go in for historical-critical method, you might want to sit down. Choose a chapter at random and you will likely find the author using restoration scripture to establish text critical readings in say, Luke, or using the JST to clarify what Mark meant. If critical/literary theory is your ballgame, I have good news and bad news: bad news is you won’t find it, good news is you won’t find someone with a degree in Instructional Technology butchering it.

    There are chapters to praise, and these are universally written by trained and active scholars and scholars in training, though, it should be pointed out that training doesn’t guarantee that a piece is any better than you might expect to hear at Education Week. It is depressing to see a contributor with a PhD in NT from a premier graduate program treating all letters attributed to Paul as authored by Paul and not even mention in the text or notes that there are, you know, issues. Or how many PhD trained Religious Education professors does it take to argue for traditional authorship of the Catholic epistles? Three. Let that marinate for a moment. It is hard to know what in the world Blumell was hoping to accomplish with this volume. It’s a real doozy though.


  6. Dear Lincoln Blumell,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond in print. As you are aware, anonymity in this case is necessary because there are no LDS outlets that will publish a critical review of your work. Certainly BYU Studies, the Religious Educator, Interpreter, and other venues will not publish strongly worded reviews of LDS-oriented works, and if they were to do so, the authors of those reviews would face reprisals such as alienation from colleagues, denial or limiting of research funding applications, and ostracizing from the BYU community of LDS religion scholars. Graduate students would forfeit the opportunity to apply to Religious Education and possibly even BYU. So, I continue to believe anonymity is required.

    I appreciate also your willingness to bring up your published work on Didymus. I’m not troubled at all that you believe that Didymus was the author of the text, and although I have not read your work, I assume you didn’t omit entire swaths of scholarship on Didymus as your contributors did in their chapters. Academia does not accept the explanation that your purpose was not to be straightforward and balanced in dealing with the evidence. Also, I suspect, but don’t know, that your work on Didymus was peer-reviewed by experts in the field with careful attention to detail and fairness. The same cannot be said of this book. Congratulations on your publication of the Didymus text. I wish that you had given this RSC-DB book the same attention you gave Didymus. There is broad awareness that your student TA’s did much of the editorial work on the New Testament volume, which indicates some of the sense of importance you gave this project. One of your TAs claimed that he/she heard you often quip that your TAs could write better essays than many of the ones submitted. Maybe you should keep a lid on that next time. The internet is an unforgiving space.

    Here is one of the challenges for me with your book: your response is sarcastic and dismissive as though any criticism of your work is pointless, uninformed, and written with bias or an agenda. You consistently imply that academic work was not your purpose, and you can shift between devotional and non-devotional discourse when it suits you (although you imply that your academic work on Didymus is unassailable). I would, however, state for the record that the LDS community is my community as well as yours. You don’t own it, and neither do I, but I believe certain types of work are deceptive and damaging. It is troubling to watch the mass exodus of believers who are disturbed by Church history and social positions, anti-LGBTQ+ statements, misrepresentations of our shared history, and other related matters. I agree with gwesley above that “we have been living on borrowed time for a couple hundred years now” with respect to the Bible, its history, and current conversations about it. I anticipate that the Bible will become at some point in the future the next pivot point for an exodus from the Church, in part, because we have rejected relevancy and current work on the Bible. I get the impression that you view academic work on the Bible as a confrontation to traditional faith and rejection of it comes across as a faith position, but perhaps I’m wrong about that. I don’t view it as a monolith as you accuse me of doing, but I do believe it is dishonest to reject it out of hand as hostile to faith and belief. Your readers will become aware, or are likely already aware, of academic discussions about the Bible and when they realize the proclivity in your book to withhold information it will be difficult to explain why you did so.

    One of the challenges I find in your response is on display in your reply to my concerns about chapter 15. You cite BDAG (pace that you wrote BAGD) as though that is a solution to my criticism. My real concern is that the pause-provoking gender discrimination on display in Matt 15 is dismissed or lessened because Jesus spoke of a little dog or puppy and not a full-sized dog, a position the author of the chapter adopts. But whether Jesus said little dog or full-sized dog is largely hermeneutically irrelevant, and we have passed by on an opportunity to discuss gender in early Christian discourse. For you it’s simple enough to dismiss the criticism or as an error in lexical awareness, but the reality is that the chapter would have been much more beneficial to the LDS community if Skinner took the time to ask whether such a negative portrayal of a Gentile woman (i.e. a “little dog”) could initiate a conversation about our own assigning of gender roles to men and women and whether such attitudes have been destructive or productive for believers.

    Your response to chapter 38 is also highly sarcastic “NO DUH!” and you attempt to dismiss the criticism of the chapter, but you are the one who stated “While the translation appearing in the New Testament of the KJV is mostly accurate, perhaps at times even exemplary….” without nuancing such a claim based on the other chapters in the collection. It appears the readers were supposed to assume that by “exemplary” you meant “text-critically deficient, translationally challenged exemplary.” Your positive claim about KJV exceptionality is uninformed and your list is the one that is deficient, not my characterization of it. If you’re going to go on record calling the KJV “exemplary” then you should nuance your claims with evidence, even if that evidence is in other chapters in the book and in doing so help an English-speaking KJV-exclusive community understand its limitations.

    I don’t wish to argue about each of your responses, although they are overly reductionistic and simplistic. T. Griffin’s paper is defended by you as being freely available online, which was not my concern at all. My concern is that tithing, BYU, or donation monies were used to produce a product at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. That product is made available for free, which is morally necessary given the money used to produce it. But here is the problem: the author has no training to do what he did, and the product he created is like creating an accessory for a personal jet. It may be free, but only those with jets can take advantage of it. That product targets people with electronic devices that are typically owned by wealthy members with time on their hands to consume such products. Such extravagant use of funds needs further internal review, careful oversight, and quality control. The author, like the editor, is targeting this work to a very narrow swath of the LDS community, one that has access to the virtual NT App. I know that it is free, but it is free to the elites. You also seem to state that because there is academic disagreement about Jerusalem archaeology that an unqualified author can enter the discussion without concern or recourse to academic sources.

    Returning to my major concerns, which did not come through as readily as I had hoped. I continue to feel that your book is mostly unaware of a rich LDS history of publishing on these topics, you’ve made things like authorship, the KJV, virtual NT Apps, eclectic readings of scripture, general descriptions of already well discussed topics a central focus of your work. I contend that a book like this pushes the LDS community to look inward to itself, to reject the larger Christian world, to belittle academic conversation, and to shout down questions using old answers and scholarship. You’ve created a hermeneutically starved, artificially bounded, borderline dishonest product that had no external review (please don’t perpetuate the myth that the RSC did an external review. It was accepted before it was sent to review). I don’t believe this is healthy for Mormonism or the saints. It accepts history as a vitally important, nay necessary, lens through which text must be read, it adopts a position that when difficulties arise in scholarship or interpretation that we move into a devotional space, and it marginalizes the millions of other Christians who are wrestling with faith and who are attempting to grapple with the text in academic ways. But perhaps isolation is what you feel is necessary to preserve our shared faith. I do refuse to buy into that concept.

  7. When I read the first, and then the second review of the Blumell volume I could not help but feel discouraged. Only an anonymous reviewer could denigrate other authors so wildly and with such malice. Any creditable reviewer would, at the very least, begin with comments about the strengths of a work, and acknowledge the painstaking labor that went into creating it. This is a common courtesy that is found among those who actually attach their name to what they say. If a person can’t put their name to their work, then they haven’t taken the time to make sure their arguments will stand up to the normal scrutiny that any honest work should receive. Honest disagreement stated fairly is not in danger of reprisals that the “reviewer” is so sure would be heaped upon him/her.

    Perhaps the most insidious problem with both of these reviews is the blatant disregard for the author’s stated purpose: “While employing academic scholarship, this wide-ranging collection by more than three dozen specialists is written for readers who are nonspecialists.” Since Blumell has clearly stated that this work is for “nonspecialists,” it is academically dishonest to “review” the book from a specialist point of view. False arguments are set up to air grievances unrelated to the work at hand.

    Most troubling is the sort of “insider” information that the first reviewer seems to want to insidiously put out as factual. Frankly, I cannot respect a person who merchandises in gossip, and it certainly has no place in any serious review. Obviously, the “reviewer” has “spies” or is a “spy.” Do we really give credence to this kind behavior? Does this forum really accept this kind of information as creditable and worthy of a place in the public eye? Anonymous writing is a scourge on integrity.

    So let me say who I am. My name is Jane Allis-Pike. I am married to the man who chairs a department that does things that will make your hair curl. I have seen to a real extent the inner workings of the Religious Education department. Well, that is assuming that my husband of 43 years hasn’t been holding out on me. Who knows what the reviewer knows that has been kept from me for so long. What I do know is that I am biased. I have watched Dana M. Pike, as Ancient Near East Coordinator, Religious Studies Center Associate Director, Associate Dean and current chair of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, work tirelessly and with integrity for the good of the school and most especially the students. I pity the anonymous writers who deal in innuendoes and insinuations.

    Finally, I would like to express appreciation to Lincoln Blumell for undertaking such a monumental project. I am not qualified to review his work, but I am impressed that he would conceive of and work to create a volume that will be helpful to every day readers of the New Testament. I would like to thank him for taking the time and making the effort to recruit so many capable people for this project. I couldn’t help but notice that the first “reviewer” felt free to call out and name so many of the authors. There is power in naming. It’s as if the “reviewer” felt like she/he was trying to get on the same playing field with them. It’s a good aspiration.

  8. Since I am an outsider to BYU who happens to be completely objective :), I’m going to tell it like it is. Seriously, though, in real life you tend to agree with some points a person makes, and disagree with others. I wish more of the commentators here would acknowledge good points their interlocutors make. Everything is not black and white. To prove it’s possible to agree with someone about some things and disagree about other things, read on!


    Thumbs Up (I agree with you about these things…)

    1. DT James’ review lacks minimum levels of courtesy and professionalism. The rhetoric is deliberately inflammatory, and DT’s points often lack sufficient supporting evidence (e.g., “… because of the fact that much of what comes out of Religious Education parades as scholarship and takes advantage of a receptive and believing community.”). There are numerous instances of these problems (e.g., “cannibalizing its own believing scholars,” “blind devotion to faith tenants.”) “Merchandis[ing] in gossip,” as you eloquently describe the author’s behavior, is inappropriate in a book review. Thanks for calling this out. I find the gossip more egregious in the comments section, even given the lower standards one expect in, well, a comments section. Whether Dr. Blumell said that his TAs could write better essays than those in the book, such information is worthless (e.g., Did he say it in jest? Are his TAs absolutely brilliant? Etc.).

    2. You hit a HOME RUN in quoting the author’s stated purpose and stated audience. This is not a book written for scholars and should not be judged as one. (Nor will it. I doubt that legitimate, academic journals or forums will devote attention to this book.) Given its intended audience of interested LDS lay persons, I am not troubled by the inclusion of material that would not normally be included in academic works (devotional material, harmonized accounts, etc.).

    3. Anonymous writing can lead to many problems (but see below).

    4. Thank you for your candid disclosure of your identity and unavoidable bias as the spouse of the department chair.

    Thumbs down:

    1. To the extent that the book holds itself as presenting academic scholarship, it becomes problematic if the presentation of material is done very selectively, so as to avoid disturbing LDS preconceptions. If you are going to represent academic scholarship, you need to do it fairly and include some of the major competing viewpoints, whether or not they harmonize with LDS theology. I am not in a position to judge whether or not the work (i) held itself out as presenting scholarship; or (ii) did so fairly.

    2. I disagree strongly with your contention that “honest disagreement” does not need to hide behind anonymity; there is a long track record of intellectuals facing reprisals for views (even those which represent mainstream scholarship) that do not conform to LDS orthodoxy. To the contrary, anonymity is, sadly, quite necessary. Lincoln himself makes a thinly veiled threat towards the reviewer (“and has perhaps left their discernible fingerprints in a few places!).”).

    3. Telling us about your marriage, how long you’ve been married, etc. is not appropriate for this venue. It’s about as suitable as bearing your testimony that you know Lincoln’s book is a good one. Yuck. There are ways to do things, and ways not to. I understand you want to defend your husband and the department. But who cares what people at Faith Promoting Rumor think, right? There are about a dozen people who read this blog, and quite frankly, most of us are apostate in various ways. Who cares what we think.


    Thumbs up:

    1. Many of your instincts seem right to me. I think you are probably right that the RSC has publications that “parade as scholarship.” It wouldn’t surprise me at all that BYU is not a bastion of intellectual freedom with respect to biblical studies and academic scholarship. The publication process was not ideal. Academic scholarship should be fairly represented, etc.

    2. In the comment section, you seem a little less inflammatory than in your original post. Kudos.

    Thumbs down:

    1. See my initial paragraph on courtesy and professionalism. Don’t you realize that by including questionable inflammatory rhetoric that you will ultimately undermine your credibility and your review? Here we are, talking about your book review – rather than the book. You will be more effective if you exercise some discipline and restraint. If you are going to go conspiracy theory/gossip column on us, do it in a separate blog post.

    2. You seem obsessed by the cost of the virtual Jerusalem app, in a way that does not reflect favorably on you. There are a lot of things in this world that are a waste of money. The church wastes money in many ways (and tries to save it in others that we all find annoying – cue bathroom cleanup). There could be numerous ways to value the worth of a project like this, including the know-how that comes with undergoing a project and making mistakes. You are not in a position to judge the project or its cost-effectiveness, since you are not privy to all the goals of the project. Moreover, the money to fund the project might be from donors who would have wasted their money on something even less desirable. We have no way of knowing. The argument that only rich people can access this project was a losing one to begin with. Lincoln easily beat you down here. But instead of conceding he was right (and maintaining credibility), you doubled down. Your argument is incoherent:

    “It may be free, but only those with jets can take advantage of it. That product targets people with electronic devices that are typically owned by wealthy members with time on their hands to consume such products. Such extravagant use of funds needs further internal review, careful oversight, and quality control. The author, like the editor, is targeting this work to a very narrow swath of the LDS community, one that has access to the virtual NT App. I know that it is free, but it is free to the elites.”
    Do I need to belabor the absurd inconsistency of your position? Here you are, on a recondite BLOG (in an electronic medium), criticizing a 850 page book for academic deficiencies of interest to 0.000001% of the human population, criticizing a FREE app because someone would need to own an electronic device to use it. Just let the issue go, or even better, concede defeat graciously.

    3. Your ideas often seem disjointed. Here’s one example: Your interjection, while talking about biblical scholarship, that you don’t enjoy “the mass exodus of believers who are disturbed by Church history and social positions, anti-LGBTQ+ statements, misrepresentations of our shared history, and other related matters.” Where in the world did this come from? It’s totally off topic.


    Thumbs up:

    1. Your assessment that the reviewer seems to have an axe to grind with RelEd seems spot on.

    2. Pointing out the absurdity of his Jerusalem app argument.

    3. Thank you for providing more context and information about some of the chapters.

    Thumbs down:

    1. You don’t seem to acknowledge the validity of anything that the reviewer writes. This undermines your credibility – you don’t come off as a straight shooter. Surely there are SOME things that the reviewer mentions that ring true, no? We have a 2nd reviewer from BCC also making similar points about unevenness of the chapters.

    2. You don’t address the allegation that there was no external review. Was there? Seems like it would be easy to say so if there was. If not, it’s a shame.

    3. You don’t address the allegation that the review was expedited, and that the book was published in a hurry. True or false? I hope that publishing this “New Testament” themed word during the “New Testament” Sunday School year wasn’t the reason for the hurry. Was this the issue?

    4. “Despite the reviewer’s claims, there is a unity and cohesion with the volume even if it treats a wide variety of topics.” Seems like a stronger rebuttal would be to identify points of unity and cohesion, rather than just telling us the other person is wrong.

    5. You get in the mud with the reviewer in terms of tone, to some extent.

    6. You taunt the reviewer for being anonymous, ignoring the obvious reasons why people choose to be anonymous. See above. Your veiled threat about knowing the reviewer’s fingerprints proves the reviewer’s point.

    7. It appears that all of the authors (or almost all) are LDS. Given that this is an academic-ish book on a subject where most competent scholars are not LDS (and where the best scholars are in fact NOT LDS), why not get people from outside the fold to write? It makes your project look less about presenting the best information out there about the New Testament, are much more about making a statement – “Look, Latter-day Saints have New Testament scholars too!” Some of the authors have very thin New Testament credentials, so it certainly would have been possible to find more accomplished authors outside the fold, if any desire to do so existed. The apparent absence of such desire and such effort could be the most disheartening thing about this project and the state of the greater LDS scholarly community.

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