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#1 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 11:27 AM

Bill,

Your statement that I "don't want to discuss the methodological issues" shows reckless disregard for what I said. I quite clearly said, "I would be happy to discuss your 'parallel' between the earliest accounts of the Resurrection and the earliest accounts of the First Vision, but first, let's decide if these alleged early references to the First Vision really are what LDS scholars and apologists are advertising them to be." If you're going to ignore what I say, what's the point in your responding at all?

If the earliest alleged accounts don't interest you, then the subject of this thread doesn't interest you, because that is the subject of this thread. You are attempting to redirect attention away from the subject of the thread.

Your characterization of my method as inconsistent is also false. You make a number of assumptions that I dispute. But again, this thread is focused on one question, namely, whether any of these alleged early references to the First Vision are such references. My articles do address certain methodological issues that arise from the way the LDS scholars and apologists I cite in those articles misuse historical records to support their preconceived conclusions. So if you prefer to discuss methodological issues, those would be relevant to this thread.


Since Rob doesn't want to discuss his obvious methodological inconsistency in his thread on allusions to the First Vision I'm starting a new thread to deal with the issue.

Edited by Bill Hamblin, 31 January 2010 - 11:30 AM.

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#2 Rob Bowman

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 02:37 PM

Bill,

You wrote:

Since Rob doesn't want to discuss his obvious methodological inconsistency in his thread on allusions to the First Vision I'm starting a new thread to deal with the issue.


How can you claim to have shown that I am guilty of some "obvious methodological inconsistency"? What argument did I present that you quoted or summarized and then critiqued? None, so far. You made some assertions that assumed I presented an argument that you then criticized as inconsistent with what you assume is my stance on another matter (the resurrection of Christ).

Again, I'm open to having my arguments critiqued -- I appreciate good critiques of my arguments -- but you first have to state correctly the argument you are critiquing. So far, that hasn't happened.
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#3 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 08:48 AM

How can you claim to have shown that I am guilty of some "obvious methodological inconsistency"? What argument did I present that you quoted or summarized and then critiqued? None, so far. You made some assertions that assumed I presented an argument that you then criticized as inconsistent with what you assume is my stance on another matter (the resurrection of Christ).

Again, I'm open to having my arguments critiqued -- I appreciate good critiques of my arguments -- but you first have to state correctly the argument you are critiquing. So far, that hasn't happened.


Well, I thought it was obvious. I guess not.

I understood your position to be that the fact that the First Vision occurred in 1820, but the earliest first-hand account of that vision only comes from 1832 was seen by you as undermining, at least to some degree, the authenticity of JS's claim. Have I understood your position correctly? The point of your article rejecting early second-hand accounts of the First Vision was to move the earliest allusions from 1829 to 1832. Is that right?
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#4 Rob Bowman

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 09:28 AM

Bill,

The point of the articles by FAIR, Lindsay, et. al., was to move the date of the earliest reference to the First Vision from 1832 to 1829, right? They thought this was significant, right?

The date of the earliest real reference to the First Vision is only one aspect of the total picture that must be considered in assessing the First Vision story. I would never claim that the chronological gap between occurrence and first written report, in and of itself, in the abstract, proves that the event did not occur. That would be indicative of a faulty methodology, but it is not a fair characterization of my argument or my method. Obviously, if the chronological gap was the only issue, the difference between a nine-year gap and a twelve-year gap would not be all that significant. And of course, if that chronological gap were regarded as evidentially compelling in and of itself, the gap between the Resurrection event and our first written report of it would also be a problem for belief in the Resurrection. But such is not my argument.



Well, I thought it was obvious. I guess not.

I understood your position to be that the fact that the First Vision occurred in 1820, but the earliest first-hand account of that vision only comes from 1832 was seen by you as undermining, at least to some degree, the authenticity of JS's claim. Have I understood your position correctly? The point of your article rejecting early second-hand accounts of the First Vision was to move the earliest allusions from 1829 to 1832. Is that right?


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Rob Bowman
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#5 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 10:38 AM

Bill,

The point of the articles by FAIR, Lindsay, et. al., was to move the date of the earliest reference to the First Vision from 1832 to 1829, right? They thought this was significant, right?

The date of the earliest real reference to the First Vision is only one aspect of the total picture that must be considered in assessing the First Vision story. I would never claim that the chronological gap between occurrence and first written report, in and of itself, in the abstract, proves that the event did not occur. That would be indicative of a faulty methodology, but it is not a fair characterization of my argument or my method. Obviously, if the chronological gap was the only issue, the difference between a nine-year gap and a twelve-year gap would not be all that significant. And of course, if that chronological gap were regarded as evidentially compelling in and of itself, the gap between the Resurrection event and our first written report of it would also be a problem for belief in the Resurrection. But such is not my argument.


Good. Then, in reality, you agree that it doesn't really matter whether the earliest reference is 1829 or 1832. That's precisely why I'm not very interested in the issue.
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#6 Rob Bowman

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 11:14 AM

Bill,

You wrote:

Good. Then, in reality, you agree that it doesn't really matter whether the earliest reference is 1829 or 1832. That's precisely why I'm not very interested in the issue.


No, I didn't say it doesn't matter. It does matter. An issue of fact can matter -- can be of some revelance -- without being decisive in and of itself without regard to context.
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#7 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 11:20 AM

No, I didn't say it doesn't matter. It does matter. An issue of fact can matter -- can be of some revelance -- without being decisive in and of itself without regard to context.


So are you saying this three year gap is somehow evidence against the authenticity of JS's first-hand theophanic claims, but the 20-25 year gap between the Resurrection and the earliest second-hand accounts of the resurrection is not evidence against the biblical claim? Which is it?
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#8 Rob Bowman

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 01:54 PM

Bill,

You wrote:

So are you saying this three year gap is somehow evidence against the authenticity of JS's first-hand theophanic claims, but the 20-25 year gap between the Resurrection and the earliest second-hand accounts of the resurrection is not evidence against the biblical claim? Which is it?


There is no "three year gap" with regard to Smith's claimed First Vision. I have no idea from where you pulled that rabbit.

As I keep saying, the length of the chronological period between the event and the first written reference is not the only issue, and cannot be treated in the abstract. Tell me when you get that point.

The first written reference to Jesus as resurrected comes in either Galatians (if we accept the early dating of c. 49) or 1 Thessalonians (ca. 50). The best date for Jesus' death and resurrection is AD 33 (a date presumed correct in the Book of Mormon, by the way), although many scholars favor AD 30. If we accept AD 33, as I think is correct and as presumably Mormons should, this means that the gap between the Resurrection event and the first written reference was 16 or 17 years. Note, please, that this is not a "second-hand" reference, because Paul claimed that he was one of the witnesses to whom the risen Jesus appeared.

No doubt you will point out that the gap between the First Vision event and the first written reference was 12 years (if you count the handwritten account of 1832) or about 18 years (if you count the official account that was composed in 1838/1839), and that both figures compare well with the 16-17 year gap for the Resurrection. If this were the sum total of the evidence, treating these numbers in the abstract, we would have to conclude that the evidence for both events is comparable. But of course that is not the sum total of the evidence:

(1) Paul's testimony was merely one of many testimonies from numerous individuals who had seen the risen Jesus.

(2) Paul's testimony of seeing Jesus has more explanatory power than the First Vision. Something must have happened to turn the Christian-hating, Torah-zealous rabbi Saul into Paul the Christian apostle to the Gentiles. Almost all historians agree that whatever else one may say, Paul sincerely thought he had seen the risen Jesus. On the other hand, the religious career of Joseph Smith is entirely explicable without the First Vision. We know that his career as translator and prophet began with his project to translate the Book of Mormon, which he reported being shown and entrusted by an angel. The First Vision, real or not, has no explanatory power to account for anything in particular in Joseph Smith's life or work.

(3) Paul's account of the Resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11, according to nearly all biblical scholars, draws upon a confession or early "creed" that Paul says he had received as a tradition and that he handed down to the Corinthians (found specifically in verses 3-5). Most scholars date this pre-Pauline creed to the first three years or so after Jesus' death and resurrection. Thus, if we look at the dating of the earliest source material for the earliest written reference to the Resurrection, the length of time is shortened to three years or less.

(4) Paul's epistles to the Galatians and Thessalonians are not only our earliest written references to the Resurrection, they are our earliest Christian writings, period (with the possible exception of the epistle of James, which implies but does not mention explicitly the Resurrection). That is, we do not have a corpus of Christian writings pre-dating our earliest written references to the Resurrection. By contrast, we do have an abundant corpus of writings from Joseph Smith and his associates between 1827 and 1838 in which one finds no reference to the First Vision.

I could probably add more, but I have an appointment.
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#9 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 01:49 AM

No doubt you will point out that the gap between the First Vision event and the first written reference was 12 years (if you count the handwritten account of 1832) or about 18 years (if you count the official account that was composed in 1838/1839), and that both figures compare well with the 16-17 year gap for the Resurrection. If this were the sum total of the evidence, treating these numbers in the abstract, we would have to conclude that the evidence for both events is comparable. But of course that is not the sum total of the evidence:


I will point it out because you are missing the point. I agree the evidence for the resurrection is stronger than the evidence for the First Vision. That was never the point. (On the other hand, the evidence of the three and eight witnesses is stronger than the evidence for the resurrection, and the evidence for the First Vision is stronger than the evidence for Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. That's the nature of history. Some true events are better attested than other true events, and most true events have no surviving written attestation at all. Historiographically, the most apt comparison with the first vision is Paul's vision on the road to Damascus.)

My point is simple. If the chronological gap between the first vision and the first first-hand accounts of the first vision should in some way be taken as evidence against it's authenticity (which you seem to maintain), then the gap between the resurrection and the first first-hand accounts of the resurrection should likewise be taken as evidence (not proof) against it's authenticity. Do you agree?

PS the "three years" alludes to the time between the alleged 1829 second-hand allusions, and the 1832 first-hand account.
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#10 Rob Bowman

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 03:10 PM

Bill,

The First Vision written reporting gap between 1820 and 1838/1839 (or even between 1820 and 1832, if you prefer) is more significant than the Resurrection written reporting gap between AD 33 and 49/50 for a number of reasons.

1. The First Vision written reporting gap is filled with other writings, at least some of which might be expected to refer to the First Vision but don't. That is, there is a gap between the first extant LDS writings and the first extant LDS writings that mention the First Vision. By contrast, there is no gap between the first extant Christian writings and the first extant Christian writings that mention the Resurrection. Our earliest extant Christian writings (Galatians, 1 Thessalonians) mention the Resurrection.

2. As I have pointed out already, Mormonism is explicable without the First Vision or even the belief in a First Vision; after all, it got started without any reference to any First Vision, and one could easily understand its origins without the First Vision. The conventional story that Smith and others told repeatedly was that Joseph was visited by an angel, the angel showed him the Book of Mormon plates and eventually let him translate them, he published the Book of Mormon and started the Church. The First Vision plays no explanatory role in this narrative whatsoever. By contrast, the beginning of the Christian movement is inexplicable without a belief in the Resurrection. Jesus was executed by the Romans as a traitor to the Empire and with the cooperation or initiative of the Jewish religious establishment, which viewed him as a blasphemer. The cross was proof positive to everyone that Jesus was not the Messiah or even anyone deserving of respect (Deut. 21:23; 1 Cor. 1:18-25; etc.; see Martin Hengel's classic little book Crucifixion). The first people to start proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ must have thought his ignominious death had been reversed. Thus, the gap between AD 33 and 49/50 is really not significant at all, because we know that the first Christians in AD 33 and 34 must already have thought (whether true or not) that Jesus had risen from the dead, or something equally stunning, to vindicate him as the Messiah.

3. As I have also pointed out, the creedal material preserved in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 confirms that the confession of Christ as risen from the dead went back to no more than a few years after Jesus' death.

4. In the case of Joseph Smith, we have good reasons to think that the First Vision story was invented late, not just reported late. In addition to the points already made, Smith did not start telling or writing any version of this story until after he had published the Book of Mormon and started the Church in 1830. This is why, as a matter of fact, it does make a difference that our earliest written reference to anything like the First Vision dates from 1832 and not 1829. These two dates happen to be on either side of the critical turning point in 1830. Evidence that Joseph Smith was reporting the First Vision before he founded the Church would dispel at least one major objection to it, namely, that he seems to have evolved the story after founding the Church and claiming to sit as Prophet and issue new revelations even after the Book of Mormon was published. Furthermore, the differences between the 1832 piece and the 1838/1839 piece fit chronologically into a picture of Smith's evolving theology (one divine being appearing in the 1832 account, two divine beings appearing in the 1838/1839 account). These differences also help to explain why the 1832 account was mothballed and a new account written six or seven years later. By contrast, we have no reason to think that the Resurrection story was invented late and good reasons, already summarized, to think it was being told from the very beginning of the Christian movement.

Again, these comments do not exhaust the subject, but they give some indication of what my reasoning is on this subject.

I will point it out because you are missing the point. I agree the evidence for the resurrection is stronger than the evidence for the First Vision. That was never the point. (On the other hand, the evidence of the three and eight witnesses is stronger than the evidence for the resurrection, and the evidence for the First Vision is stronger than the evidence for Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. That's the nature of history. Some true events are better attested than other true events, and most true events have no surviving written attestation at all. Historiographically, the most apt comparison with the first vision is Paul's vision on the road to Damascus.)

My point is simple. If the chronological gap between the first vision and the first first-hand accounts of the first vision should in some way be taken as evidence against it's authenticity (which you seem to maintain), then the gap between the resurrection and the first first-hand accounts of the resurrection should likewise be taken as evidence (not proof) against it's authenticity. Do you agree?

PS the "three years" alludes to the time between the alleged 1829 second-hand allusions, and the 1832 first-hand account.


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#11 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 03 February 2010 - 05:30 AM

Bill,

The First Vision written reporting gap between 1820 and 1838/1839 (or even between 1820 and 1832, if you prefer) is more significant than the Resurrection written reporting gap between AD 33 and 49/50 for a number of reasons.


This is special pleading again. The number of years between the JS first vision and the first written text (1832) is 12 years. This is less than the number of years between the resurrection and Galatians, which is minimally 17 years by your dating. Many scholars date Galatians to 52-54 rather than 50 as you claim, which would make the difference 20 years.

At any rate, you still refuse to answer my question: Assuming all other things are equal, if a 12 year gap in the JS account is evidence against its authenticity, should a 17-20 year gap between the resurrection and the first textual mention be seen as evidence against its authenticity? Why won't you answer this simple question? I understand it is not proof. I understand there are other factors, and we don't base our decision solely on one piece of evidence. But the question is about the principle of the matter.

(Of course all this ignores the vast gap between, say, the Sinai theophany, and the first written evidence for that theophany. Indeed it is quite obvious that everything about JS is much better documented than anything about the Old Testament.)


1. The First Vision written reporting gap is filled with other writings, at least some of which might be expected to refer to the First Vision but don't. That is, there is a gap between the first extant LDS writings and the first extant LDS writings that mention the First Vision. By contrast, there is no gap between the first extant Christian writings and the first extant Christian writings that mention the Resurrection. Our earliest extant Christian writings (Galatians, 1 Thessalonians) mention the Resurrection.

2. As I have pointed out already, Mormonism is explicable without the First Vision or even the belief in a First Vision; after all, it got started without any reference to any First Vision, and one could easily understand its origins without the First Vision. The conventional story that Smith and others told repeatedly was that Joseph was visited by an angel, the angel showed him the Book of Mormon plates and eventually let him translate them, he published the Book of Mormon and started the Church. The First Vision plays no explanatory role in this narrative whatsoever. By contrast, the beginning of the Christian movement is inexplicable without a belief in the Resurrection. Jesus was executed by the Romans as a traitor to the Empire and with the cooperation or initiative of the Jewish religious establishment, which viewed him as a blasphemer. The cross was proof positive to everyone that Jesus was not the Messiah or even anyone deserving of respect (Deut. 21:23; 1 Cor. 1:18-25; etc.; see Martin Hengel's classic little book Crucifixion). The first people to start proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ must have thought his ignominious death had been reversed. Thus, the gap between AD 33 and 49/50 is really not significant at all, because we know that the first Christians in AD 33 and 34 must already have thought (whether true or not) that Jesus had risen from the dead, or something equally stunning, to vindicate him as the Messiah.

3. As I have also pointed out, the creedal material preserved in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 confirms that the confession of Christ as risen from the dead went back to no more than a few years after Jesus' death.

4. In the case of Joseph Smith, we have good reasons to think that the First Vision story was invented late, not just reported late. In addition to the points already made, Smith did not start telling or writing any version of this story until after he had published the Book of Mormon and started the Church in 1830. This is why, as a matter of fact, it does make a difference that our earliest written reference to anything like the First Vision dates from 1832 and not 1829. These two dates happen to be on either side of the critical turning point in 1830. Evidence that Joseph Smith was reporting the First Vision before he founded the Church would dispel at least one major objection to it, namely, that he seems to have evolved the story after founding the Church and claiming to sit as Prophet and issue new revelations even after the Book of Mormon was published. Furthermore, the differences between the 1832 piece and the 1838/1839 piece fit chronologically into a picture of Smith's evolving theology (one divine being appearing in the 1832 account, two divine beings appearing in the 1838/1839 account). These differences also help to explain why the 1832 account was mothballed and a new account written six or seven years later. By contrast, we have no reason to think that the Resurrection story was invented late and good reasons, already summarized, to think it was being told from the very beginning of the Christian movement.

Again, these comments do not exhaust the subject, but they give some indication of what my reasoning is on this subject.



As I already said, I agree with you that the resurrection is better documented than the first vision. That's not my point.

Let's take an alternative example: Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. We have no first-hand account in any of Paul's writings, despite the fact that we have more primary sources from Paul than any other NT writer. The account of Paul's vision comes from Luke in Acts. And the two accounts differ in some significant ways. So, with the JS first vision we have:

1- Less of a time gap between the event (1820) and its first narration (1832) than with Paul
2- We have first hand account by JS, and a second-hand account by Luke for Paul
3- We have contradictions in Luke's account of Paul's vision
4- We have no mention of the vision in Paul, despite having more first-hand documents from Paul than any other contemporary NT figure.

So, if the problems with the JS first vision narratives are sufficient to dismiss their authenticity, then why are the problems with Paul's road to Damascus vision insufficient to dismiss it's authenticity?

The question I'm asking is not about the veracity of the events. I accept the authenticity of Paul's vision. The question I'm asking is about consistant application of historical methodology. Anti-Mormons consistently apply a hyper-credulous standard when evaluating biblical texts, but a hyper-critical standard when evaluating LDS claims. All I'm asking is that you apply the same standard to both sets of issues.
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#12 Rob Bowman

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Posted 03 February 2010 - 02:07 PM

Bill,

I had written:

"The First Vision written reporting gap between 1820 and 1838/1839 (or even between 1820 and 1832, if you prefer) is more significant than the Resurrection written reporting gap between AD 33 and 49/50 for a number of reasons."

You replied:

This is special pleading again.


You pronounced my argument to be special pleading on the basis of that sentence, which merely introduces my arguments?

You wrote:

The number of years between the JS first vision and the first written text (1832) is 12 years. This is less than the number of years between the resurrection and Galatians, which is minimally 17 years by your dating. Many scholars date Galatians to 52-54 rather than 50 as you claim, which would make the difference 20 years.


1 Thessalonians was written about 50/51, and it also mentions the Resurrection.

You wrote:

At any rate, you still refuse to answer my question: Assuming all other things are equal, if a 12 year gap in the JS account is evidence against its authenticity, should a 17-20 year gap between the resurrection and the first textual mention be seen as evidence against its authenticity? Why won't you answer this simple question?


This is annoying. Bill, I did answer this question, more than once:

"Obviously, if the chronological gap was the only issue, the difference between a nine-year gap and a twelve-year gap would not be all that significant. And of course, if that chronological gap were regarded as evidentially compelling in and of itself, the gap between the Resurrection event and our first written report of it would also be a problem for belief in the Resurrection. But such is not my argument."

"No doubt you will point out that the gap between the First Vision event and the first written reference was 12 years (if you count the handwritten account of 1832) or about 18 years (if you count the official account that was composed in 1838/1839), and that both figures compare well with the 16-17 year gap for the Resurrection. If this were the sum total of the evidence, treating these numbers in the abstract, we would have to conclude that the evidence for both events is comparable."

In a word, the answer to your question is Yes.

Let's get this settled, and I'll try to discuss the Paul-Joseph comparison separately.
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#13 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 01:53 AM

Bill,

I had written:

"The First Vision written reporting gap between 1820 and 1838/1839 (or even between 1820 and 1832, if you prefer) is more significant than the Resurrection written reporting gap between AD 33 and 49/50 for a number of reasons."

You replied:



You pronounced my argument to be special pleading on the basis of that sentence, which merely introduces my arguments?

You wrote:



1 Thessalonians was written about 50/51, and it also mentions the Resurrection.

You wrote:



This is annoying. Bill, I did answer this question, more than once:

"Obviously, if the chronological gap was the only issue, the difference between a nine-year gap and a twelve-year gap would not be all that significant. And of course, if that chronological gap were regarded as evidentially compelling in and of itself, the gap between the Resurrection event and our first written report of it would also be a problem for belief in the Resurrection. But such is not my argument."

"No doubt you will point out that the gap between the First Vision event and the first written reference was 12 years (if you count the handwritten account of 1832) or about 18 years (if you count the official account that was composed in 1838/1839), and that both figures compare well with the 16-17 year gap for the Resurrection. If this were the sum total of the evidence, treating these numbers in the abstract, we would have to conclude that the evidence for both events is comparable."

In a word, the answer to your question is Yes.

Let's get this settled, and I'll try to discuss the Paul-Joseph comparison separately.


Thanks for the clarification.
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#14 Rob Bowman

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 11:13 AM

Bill,

Glad we came to an understanding regarding your question.

You wrote:

(Of course all this ignores the vast gap between, say, the Sinai theophany, and the first written evidence for that theophany. Indeed it is quite obvious that everything about JS is much better documented than anything about the Old Testament.).... As I already said, I agree with you that the resurrection is better documented than the first vision. That's not my point.


One of the factors that I think needs to be introduced into this whole discussion is the greater degree of documentation we will have in general, naturally, for events closer to our own time. This is only partially the result of the fact that those events are more recent. In addition, literacy is far greater for modern times, especially in the West, than for medieval times, and greater for medieval times than for ancient times. On top of that, technological developments made the production of texts increasingly more prolific in modern times. This means that, "all other things being equal" (as you had put it in another post), we would normally expect far more documentation for modern events than for ancient ones. Thus, a priori, we would expect documentation for the Resurrection to be superior to that for the Exodus and documentation for the First Vision to be superior to that for the Resurrection...all other things being equal.

You wrote:

Let's take an alternative example: Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. We have no first-hand account in any of Paul's writings, despite the fact that we have more primary sources from Paul than any other NT writer. The account of Paul's vision comes from Luke in Acts. And the two accounts differ in some significant ways. So, with the JS first vision we have:

1- Less of a time gap between the event (1820) and its first narration (1832) than with Paul
2- We have first hand account by JS, and a second-hand account by Luke for Paul
3- We have contradictions in Luke's account of Paul's vision
4- We have no mention of the vision in Paul, despite having more first-hand documents from Paul than any other contemporary NT figure.

So, if the problems with the JS first vision narratives are sufficient to dismiss their authenticity, then why are the problems with Paul's road to Damascus vision insufficient to dismiss it's authenticity?


The comparison is apples to oranges, for reasons I've already explained (in a different thread, I think).

* Paul's vision is just one of the encounters that many human beings had with the risen Jesus following his death and burial. Paul's vision is significant inasmuch as it adds yet another witness to the long list of witnesses who reported seeing the risen Christ. Each of these witnesses' experience was, in a sense, a private experience. In some cases that was physically and literally the case: Mary Magdalene, Peter, and James all had experiences in which they were alone when they saw the risen Jesus. Oddly, though, everyone keeps bringing up Paul, as though this is a more significant example than Mary or Peter or James. I don't see how.

* The significance of Paul's encounter with the risen Christ was simply that it confirmed the truth already attested by many individuals, namely, that Jesus had risen from the dead, that he was thereby vindicated as the Messiah and Son of God, that his resurrection revealed that his death had been a sacrificial death for our sins and not punishment for any sins of his own, and that in Jesus God had initiated the promised new covenant. We can get all of this without Paul, although Paul provides the most detailed theological resources in the NT for understanding these things. By contrast, the First Vision, if it happened, was an experience unparalleled not only in Joseph Smith's day but in all history (as several LDS presidents and other apostles have rightly asserted) and inaugurated a new dispensation, the Restoration.

* In the first-century culture of Paul, writing played a far lesser role than it did in the nineteenth-century culture of Smith (see above comments on this issue). Thus, we would generally speaking expect a greater gap between event and first written report for any significant first-century event than we would for any significant nineteenth-century event.

The above observations show that even it were true that the First Vision was better attested than Paul's Damascus road experience, we would still have good reasons to reject what the First Vision purportedly means (Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration) even while accepting what Paul's experience purportedly means (Jesus has risen from the dead, is the Messiah and Son of God and mediator of the new covenant). But I also disagree with your arguments for viewing the First Vision as better attested.

* It is not true that "we have no mention of the vision in Paul." Although Paul does not narrate his experience of seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus, he does provide us with the basic facts concerning this event. From Galatians 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 15, written between 49 and 56, we learn that Paul was a zealous Pharisee and persecutor of the Christian church, that he saw the Lord, that what he saw convinced him that Jesus had risen from the dead, that his encounter with the risen Christ took place sometime after all of the other resurrection appearances, that it took place about three years before he met any of the apostles, and that he was in or near Damascus when he saw the Lord. Paul's earliest epistles, written around 49-51, affirm that Jesus had risen from the dead (1 Thess., Gal.). From these two Pauline epistles, then, we can establish the general location, the approximate date, and the essential nature of the experience, as well as how it fit into the stream of Paul's life.

* The Lukan account in Acts 9 and the accounts in Paul's speeches in Acts 22 and 26 agree on all of the essential elements of the story. The only apparent discrepancy is an extremely picayune issue, namely, what Paul's traveling companions did or did not see and hear. Since this apparent discrepancy is part of the same, single text (i.e., Acts), evidently Luke did not see it as a discrepancy. The three tellings of Paul's conversion give no indication or suggestion of any theological development, or of a story that grew with the telling, or anything else of the sort. On the other hand, the differing accounts of the First Vision appear in separate texts produced at different times, appear to have discrepancies of some significance (e.g., whether Smith had already come to believe that all the churches were wrong before he prayed), chronologically fit into a pattern of Smith's theological development, and represent a story that grew bigger with the telling (the Lord in the 1832 account; the Father and the Son in the 1838/1839 account).

I think the above observations negate your reasons for concluding that the First Vision is better attested than Paul's conversion encounter with Christ.

You wrote:

The question I'm asking is not about the veracity of the events. I accept the authenticity of Paul's vision. The question I'm asking is about consistant application of historical methodology. Anti-Mormons consistently apply a hyper-credulous standard when evaluating biblical texts, but a hyper-critical standard when evaluating LDS claims. All I'm asking is that you apply the same standard to both sets of issues.


I hope what I have written here helps you to understand why I do not think I am guilty of the inconsistent methodology you allege.
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#15 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 01:35 AM

One of the factors that I think needs to be introduced into this whole discussion is the greater degree of documentation we will have in general, naturally, for events closer to our own time. This is only partially the result of the fact that those events are more recent. In addition, literacy is far greater for modern times, especially in the West, than for medieval times, and greater for medieval times than for ancient times. On top of that, technological developments made the production of texts increasingly more prolific in modern times. This means that, "all other things being equal" (as you had put it in another post), we would normally expect far more documentation for modern events than for ancient ones. Thus, a priori, we would expect documentation for the Resurrection to be superior to that for the Exodus and documentation for the First Vision to be superior to that for the Resurrection...all other things being equal.


I agree. i never said otherwise.
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#16 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 01:45 AM

I hope what I have written here helps you to understand why I do not think I am guilty of the inconsistent methodology you allege.


I basically agree with your arguments. However, what you wrote is ample demonstration that you use one standard for evaluating the authenticity of the biblical narratives, and another for evaluating JS narratives. In arguing for the authenticity of Paul's vision on the road to Damascus, you allow harmonization, interpretations of vague allusions as references to the Damascus vision, and acceptance of the accuracy of late second-hand accounts as authentic. In the case of JS, you refuse to accept harmonization, allusive references, or the accuracy of late accounts. I think this is patently obvious. If you applied the same hyper-critical methodology interpreting the NT that you apply to JS, you would be a Bart Ehrman today, because that is exactly what he does to the NT. It's funny that I'm sure you can recognize it when Ehrman does it to the NT, but can't recognize it when you and other anti-Mormons do it to LDS scriptures.
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#17 Rob Bowman

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 09:06 AM

Bill,

You're a hard man to please.

With regard to harmonizations, I made no attempt to harmonize the apparent discrepancy in the three accounts in Acts of Paul's conversion. I let the apparent discepancy stand without argument (though I think it can be harmonized) and simply pointed out why this discrepancy is not nearly as significant as the discepancies in the First Vision accounts.

I don't know what you mean by "vague allusions to the Damascus vision." Paul explicitly says that he saw the risen Lord Jesus. He explicitly says that he was a persecutor of the church prior to the revelation of Jesus Christ to him. He explicitly says that after going away for a time he returned to Damascus.

The only "late second-hand accounts" of relevance here are those in the book of Acts. But I don't need Acts at all to establish that Paul was one of the many witnesses to the risen Christ. Nor do I have any reason to dispute the accuracy of Luke's accounts.

With regard to the First Vision, I am not opposed to Mormons offering plausible harmonizations where they can. Have at it. Nor do I deny the possibility of "allusive references" to the First Vision. The only possible such allusive reference of any interest is D&C 20:5, and I think I have presented a good case against it being such an allusive reference. As for late second-hand accounts of the First Vision, they might or might not be accurate, but one thing is clear: any such account would be dependent on the earlier accounts that we have.

In sum, I don't agree that I'm hyper-critical with regard to Joseph Smith but not with regard to the NT.


I basically agree with your arguments. However, what you wrote is ample demonstration that you use one standard for evaluating the authenticity of the biblical narratives, and another for evaluating JS narratives. In arguing for the authenticity of Paul's vision on the road to Damascus, you allow harmonization, interpretations of vague allusions as references to the Damascus vision, and acceptance of the accuracy of late second-hand accounts as authentic. In the case of JS, you refuse to accept harmonization, allusive references, or the accuracy of late accounts. I think this is patently obvious. If you applied the same hyper-critical methodology interpreting the NT that you apply to JS, you would be a Bart Ehrman today, because that is exactly what he does to the NT. It's funny that I'm sure you can recognize it when Ehrman does it to the NT, but can't recognize it when you and other anti-Mormons do it to LDS scriptures.


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#18 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 06:11 AM

I don't know what you mean by "vague allusions to the Damascus vision." Paul explicitly says that he saw the risen Lord Jesus. He explicitly says that he was a persecutor of the church prior to the revelation of Jesus Christ to him. He explicitly says that after going away for a time he returned to Damascus.

The only "late second-hand accounts" of relevance here are those in the book of Acts. But I don't need Acts at all to establish that Paul was one of the many witnesses to the risen Christ. Nor do I have any reason to dispute the accuracy of Luke's accounts.


Alas you miss the point. Yes Paul claimed to have visions, but never in his own words recounted the vision on the Road to Damascus. Many scholars think Luke's account is an elaboration or even fabrication. That is, Paul could have had a vision of the risen Christ, but never one as described in Acts. You make the same argument about JS. Yes, he claimed to have visions, but he elaborated and modified his narratives of these visions as time progressed. Precisely the same argument has been made about Paul.


Bill,

You're a hard man to please.


Logic and consistency are hard task masters.
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#19 Rob Bowman

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Posted 07 February 2010 - 07:53 PM

Bill,

You wrote:

Alas you miss the point. Yes Paul claimed to have visions, but never in his own words recounted the vision on the Road to Damascus. Many scholars think Luke's account is an elaboration or even fabrication. That is, Paul could have had a vision of the risen Christ, but never one as described in Acts. You make the same argument about JS. Yes, he claimed to have visions, but he elaborated and modified his narratives of these visions as time progressed. Precisely the same argument has been made about Paul.


This is sheer equivocation. Paul claimed that he had a vision specifically of the Lord Jesus Christ, a vision comparable to that of the other apostles in providing a witness to Christ's resurrection. Paul's information as to when and where this vision took place correlatesw well with the information in Acts. Paul also tells us that this experience turned him from a Christian-persecuting Pharisaic zealot for Torah into a Gentile-loving Christian zealot for Jesus. Thus, Paul's information matches what Acts says about when and where the vision happened, who Paul saw in the vision, and what its significance was for Paul personally. There is no evidence of Paul elaborating or modifying this story over time. There is no evidence of the story changing to fit changing theological views. The Acts narrative is not written by Paul at all, and again, it offers nothing that varies theologically in any significant way from what we find in Paul's writings. The only difference is that Acts provides more narrative details (Saul had letters; he was traveling with two companions; Luke tells us what Jesus said to Saul; Ananias is part of the story; etc.). That's what one would expect, since Paul was writing letters, not history, and Luke was writing history, not a letter.

Joseph Smith, on the other hand, is the source for several "vision" stories that grow larger in the telling like the proverbial fish story (an angel; Jesus; God the Father and Jesus). The earliest "vision" stories are explicitly stories about Joseph seeing someone other than deity. Joseph's stories develop along a well-known track of theological development from monotheism to plurality of gods.

If I may be blunt, your comparison of Paul's vision story with Joseph Smith's First Vision story is full of holes.
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