I think it's a good idea to examine what we mean when we say that the scriptures are "inspired." If the original writings were inspired, does that mean that they are inerrant? Does inspiration in the original preclude tampering during the process of transmission?
While we're working to answer these questions, I think it'd be good to keep in mind some ideas that Brigham Young expressed very well:
Every true philosopher, so far as he understands the principles of truth, has so much of the Gospel, and so far he is a Latter-day Saint, whether he knows it or not. Our Father, the great God, is the author of the sciences, he is the great mechanic, he is the systematizer of all things, he plans and devises all things, and every particle of knowledge which man has in his possession is the gift of God, whether they consider it divine, or whether it is the wisdom of man. [...] A fact is a fact, all truth issues forth from the Fountain of truth, and the sciences are facts as far as men have proved them. [...] "Mormonism," so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to "Mormonism." The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belongs to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. "Mormonism" includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it us bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods."
So please, let's stop using anyone's affiliations as marks against them. It doesn't matter
if Dever is an atheist or a secular humanist, if Barker is a Methodist, so long as their arguments are sound.
When we look at the D&C, there are plenty of revisions and edits; it suggests that scriptures are merely one way
of putting down the inspired information into words. Joseph Smith's editing on the Book of Mormon shows that if he found a better way to express the same information, he had no qualms about revising it. There's no such thing as a perfectly equivalent translation which preserves every nuance of the original. As the Book of Mormon says: "If we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record" -- meaning, in other words, that there are
imperfections in the record!
I keep D&C 91 in mind as a general principle when dealing with scripture:
"There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; there are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. [...] Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; and whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom."
The Book of Mormon is itself only the "most" correct book. If it's only "most", that implies that even the keystone of our religion is not 100% accurate. And how does the Bible fare?
Joseph Smith said that "from sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled." I agree with that opinion very much.
He goes on to say: "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.
" After discussing some of the translation issues he finds (some of which I do not
agree with), Smith then says "If any man will prove to me, by one passage of Holy Writ, one item I believe to be false, I will renounce and disclaim it as far as I promulgated it." He doesn't care about preserving some imagined pristine orthodox view of the scriptures. He wants truth
, regardless of where it comes from.
The point is: we should not use the Bible as the criterion by which we measure it in a circular attempt to remain pious. The scriptures are not somehow immune to a wider context. We are perfectly free to judge whether the principles contained within are in accordance with the laws of justice. Insofar are they are not
, they cease to be worth upholding. For instance, if the only correct view of God is the one which tells Joshua to slaughter innocent children, then I am either an atheist or a heretic, because I refuse to worship that view of God.
As Brigham Young so brusquely said, "you can write that information to the States, if you please -- that I have publicly declared that I do not believe that portion of the Bible as the [traditional] Christian world do. I never did, and I never want to."
As Joseph Smith said, "I am now gong to take exceptions to the present translation of the Bible in relation to these matters. Our latitude and longitude can be determined in the original Hebrew with far greater accuracy than in the English version. There is a grand distinction between the actual meaning of the prophets and the present translation." (He then goes on to discuss Revelation -- a discussion which contains many things I personally disagree with, because we've learned more about the context since the 1830s.)
It wearies me when exegetes try to harmonize the disparate texts into one flawless inerrant univocal whole. Smith again: "This learned interpretation is all as flat as a pancake! 'What do you use such vulgar expressions for being a Prophet?' Because the old women understand it -- they make pancakes. [...] The whole argument is flat, and I don't know of anything better to represent it. The world is full of technicalities and misrepresentation, which I calculate to overthrow, and speak of things as they actually exist."
But "is not the canon of the scriptures full?"
"If it is, there is a great defect in the book, or else it would have said so."
2 Nephi has some of my favorite stuff on this theme (and see also Nibley's "New Light on Israel and Her Neighbors"):
Many people "shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. [..] O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.
Couldn't the folk tradition of Asherah be part of what has been "cursed" and "hated" by the people who claim they already have enough Bible?
"Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also."
"Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written."
For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it."
"And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews."
"For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."
"Because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God -- because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble."
For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn't matter which particular
plain and precious truths that have been taken out of the book he's talking about; what matters is the principle
he's outlining here, i.e., the principle that the Bible is not inerrant
, that there can be things wrong with it. (And if there are things which are not true in the Bible, we'd better start getting to work on finding out what they are.)
In other words, we need to be absolutely open to the idea that God spoke to others besides those who compiled our current scriptures. All the nations of the earth!
That means that when we find commonalities between our scriptures and the stories of the Canaanites and Egyptians and Babylonians and Greeks and Hindus are we justified in discounting them without a moment's thought because they are clearly detestable pagan abominations, mere "primitive myths" with no claim to our exalted status of Real Religion? Nope. The gospel was known from before the foundation of the earth, and we're all part of the same human family.
(Are we somehow above worshipping "fertility gods"? Then why do we make such a big deal out of God making his promise with Abraham concerning his seed and the fruit of his loins, that they should continue as innumerable as the stars or the sand of the seashore? The predictable tactic of dismissing Asherah as a mere "fertility Goddess" -- as if that's a bad thing!
-- is only consistent if we dismiss Yahweh as well as El, the Begetter of Heaven and Earth. We are no different
than any other people who are concerned about the functioning of our lingams
So why should we face some crisis of faith when the Deuteronomist propaganda tells us that those abominable folks in the rural parts sacrificed their children? It very well might not have happened, and if it did
happen, then they were wrong to do so!
We don't need God to tell us that killing children is wrong, and if it says it's right
in the Bible, then the Bible is no better than any other scrap of paper. I frankly hate a lot of what goes on in the Old Testament. Does that mean it's not a valuable book? Not at all. It just means it's not a flawless
(It really disturbs me, for instance, when we use the story of Abraham and Isaac as some sort of faith-promoting thing -- the traditional interpretation, in which Abraham is a Good Guy because he's willing to sacrifice his own son
just because God told him to is deeply
disturbing to me. I far prefer the interpretation in which Abraham knows the entire time
that a lamb will be provided, and therefore the story is part of a ritual reenactment of the Savior's sacrifice for others
The vital thing, here, is to be able to separate the spin
in the Bible from the actual events
it records. If the author of the text asserts
that Hezekiah or Josiah or Hilkiah or whoever is righteous and those who oppose them are "detestable", do their actions
as recorded support
that assertion? There's a difference between what God says, and what people have said
He says. And we're perfectly justified in using our own brains to determine whether the Reforms were a Good Thing. Personally, I think they were a Horrible Thing, and always have, ever since the first time I read through the Bible. "What," I asked myself, "is wrong
with planting trees for Our Lady?" The answer I came up with then and now is "Not a thing."
That's why I find Lehi's journey so interesting; the way I read the Book of Mormon, these folks agreed
with my view of what has come down to us as much of the historical sections of the Old Testament! From the very first page, we have Lehi the Visionary Man, seeking Revelation from the Pillar of Fire (itself quite possibly a Goddess symbol), trying to preserve a place for the Healing Serpent and the Holy Spirit of Wisdom -- the Tree of Life to those who hold Her
-- after they'd been banished from the Great and Spacious Building of the Temple.
It's also worth pointing out that I am not an "acolyte" of Barker's. I find her views fascinating, but I don't agree with every last one of them. More to the point, I came to my conclusions about Asherah completely independent of her and Dever; when I read their work (and others) it comes as a welcome confirmation. This is how I have always
read the Bible. I have never seen the reformers as The Good Guys.
It's also worth noting that while both critics and some members have focused their ire on Daniel Peterson's brilliant essay on Nephi's Asherah, as if he's the only one to have made the connection, they're curiously silent on Nibley's stuff which says essentially the same thing. I don't know which portions of his Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri
were included in the first edition way back when, but in the second
edition, at least, he has extremely detailed information in Part 4: The Garden Story, commenting in such sections as The Lady in the Garden, The Lady and the Tree, The Noble Ished
-Tree and Other Sacred Trees, The Ritual Garden, The Lady Offers Fruit, The Sacred Marriage (Hieros Gamos
) in the Garden, etc..
The Lady is often identified with a tree, and in the vignettes to the Book of the Dead, she appears in different degrees of incorporation with the tree, the concept varying to suit the fancy of the individual tomb owner. As Ludwig Keimer explains it, "the dead in his voyage in the other world was received by a good goddess who gave him food and drink. She usually bears the names of Nut, Hathor, and Isis but is often simply called 'Lady of the Sycamore,'" the sycamore being a type of fig tree. Though she is first depicted as being actually incorporated in the tree in the Eighteenth Dynasty, her identification with it goes back to prehistoric times. The life-giving sycamore recalled the biblical tree of life to Eugene Lefebure, who identified it with the mfk3.t (turquoise)-tree, the tree of the Lady of the Land of Mafek that grew in the Field of Reeds. The tree that receives the travel-weary Osiris into its arms performs the function of the Lady, who is so often identified with that tree. W. M. Flinders Petrie noted that in Palestine holy trees are still called "Our Lady." It has often been suggested that the sycamore was the original form of Hathor herself, whose proper function as Lady of the Tree, whatever name she may go by, is to receive the newcomer to a strange land with refreshment after an arduous and dangerous journey. (287)
Hathor ... who was Qudshu ... who was Asherah.
The tree-goddess gives birth or rebirth, the archaic Hathor of the southern sycamore being herself the "birth house of the king." Let us recall that our Breathings texts were found in "fourteen coffins, on each of which was placed a bunch of sycamore branches." (288)
Note also that in Facsimile 2
, Joseph Smith shows that Figure 7 is "revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove."
The Queen of Heaven = Asherah = Lady Wisdom/Tree of Life = The Holy Spirit of Wisdom = The Dove Goddess = The Keyword of the Priesthood
Which brings us to D&C 121
, in which knowledge will be given by the Holy Spirit of Wisdom about the Gods of the Divine Council
and all their principalities and powers. And D&C 88
, the Olive Leaf plucked from the Tree of Paradise promising the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. And Moses 6
, where Adam ('adm
, humankind, "Many") learns that we must all be Born Again (certainly a feminine conception) and "brought forth" out of the amniotic waters of Baptism by the Spirit, who carries the record of heaven; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
Edited by JeremyOrbe-Smith, 02 July 2012 - 07:30 PM.