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An Objection To Barker-esque Apologetics


Chris Smith

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A critic on another forum made the following comment:

3. It is my opinion, and only my opinion, that this is a dangerous and slippery slope for an LDS apologist to set out on. It seems to me that you are faced with a choice between supporting Christian concepts or Baalism. Should the choice be to support Baalism, are you willing to put your belief in Jesus Christ aside and accept fertility pantheons, temple sexual rituals (including homosexual acts) and infant sacrifice?

This is precisely the problem with Barker-esque apologetics. They argue that the Deuteronomic reform was concocted by those villains Josiah and Jeremiah, never mind that the Book of Mormon praises Jeremiah and evinces a highly monotheistic/Deuteronomistic bent. They then show that before the D reform certain ideas existed that are similar in some ways to LDS concepts: kings could be deified, there was a council of gods, YHWH was a son of El (prior to whom there were other gods), there was goddess worship, and God was anthropomorphic. So apparently Jeremiah and Josiah "reformed" away all these gospel truths. The problems are twofold: 1) none of these pagan ideas genuinely parallels Mormon doctrine, and 2) there are many more things about pre-reform Palestinian religion that not even ancient Israel's most ardent fans would want to revive.

Consider the following:

1) The idea that there were other gods prior to El comes quite simply from the fact that other gods were worshipped by Syro-Palestinians prior to El. This proves only that El's cult was not always the dominant cult among the groups that inhabited Palestine. These people did not believe that the prior gods ruled over some other world, or that El was a deified man. (Kevin Graham is incorrect when he says on the other board that El was a bull. The Canaanites described him as a jolly old man with a gray beard; the epithet "bull" may refer to strength, virility, or the zodiac sign Taurus. Nevertheless, there is nothing to suggest that El was a deified man.)

2) Yes, El was anthropomorpic. And he had multiple wives. He apparently spied two mortal women by the seashore, got aroused, and married them. And he got drunk all the time. And his sons were morons who went around feuding with each other and fornicating all the time.

3) Yes, there was a council of gods: El's sons, the product of his marriage to the two mortal women by whom he was aroused by the seahore. The sons were a nasty group, as I mentioned above. There is nothing about this "council" that LDS would find worth of veneration.

4) It's difficult to know for sure whether YHWH was originally a son of El or whether the Canaanites integrated him into their pantheon and made him a son of El after their encounters with the Israelites. I think the latter; probably YHWH originated in Midian and was imported to Canaan from there.

5) As Jersey Girl mentioned, there are plenty of things in pre-reform religion that LDS would find objectionable. Temple prostitution, for example, probably wouldn't catch on down the road at the Sacramento temple, even if I pointed them to Kevin Christensen's essays and informed them that this was part of the true ancient Israelite religion. And what about purity laws? Or stoning disobedient children? Or excluding eunuchs from the community? Or animal sacrifice? Call me Marcion, but I don't think any these things are part of the true religion.

Furthermore, if we're going to turn back the clock and take pre-reform religion as authoritative, why stop there? Presumably the further back we go the truer the religion will be, right? Maybe we should return to early Sumerian and Egyptian religion. Somehow I doubt anyone today would be too enthralled with the doctrine of creatio ab masturbatio we find there. Why should we take the pagan religion of Ugarit and early Israel as authoritative? Why not the much older religions of Sumeria, Egypt, or the Neanderthals?

Perhaps the most serious problem with this line of argument is that it's coming from people who claim to believe in continuing revelation. I can understand it from evangelicals, who for whatever reason feel they need to vindicate the early biblical texts in all their pagan splendor. But from Latter-day Saints? Seriously, haven't we been given more light since then? Haven't we moved beyond primitive paganism to a more enlightened, monotheistic belief system? You Saints can have your El, and his sons Baal and Enki an Enlil along with him. I'll hold on to my Jesus, and the qualitatively different religion we find in the pages of the New Testament. I'll take Jeremiah the apostate, King Josiah the apostate, Justin Martyr the apostate, Jerome the apostate, Thomas Aquinas the apostate, Menno Simons the apostate, John Wesley the apostate, and Billy Graham the apostate over Margaret Barker and her "true religion" of ancient Israel any day of the week. Every theologian of the so-called "Great Apostasy" had far and away "more light" than the pagans of Canaan.

In my opinion, the explanation for the parallels (few as they are) between Mormon belief and ancient Israelite belief is simple. Joseph Smith played on some of the more obvious biblical remnants of Israel's early paganism: the name Elohim, the dual titles El and Jehovah, the phrase "let us go down" in Genesis 1, and the Old Testament anthropomophisms.

Blessings,

-CK

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Call me Marcion, but I don't think any these things are part of the true religion.

Furthermore, if we're going to turn back the clock and take pre-reform religion as authoritative, why stop there?

Because it can't be called scholarship when you stop "there". True religion belongs in the church not the academy. We always seem to come back to the same thing....it is LDS out there in the middle of cutting edge scholarship with other liberal scholars while their critics are objecting on the grounds of "authority" and "truth".

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Because it can't be called scholarship when you stop "there". True religion belongs in the church not the academy. We always seem to come back to the same thing....it is LDS out there in the middle of cutting edge scholarship with other liberal scholars while their critics are objecting on the grounds of "authority" and "truth".

Juliann,

I don't have a problem with "cutting edge scholarship." What I have a problem with is the way that Latter-day Saint apologists have appropriated scholarship about ancient Israelite religion in order to bolster certain doctrines taught by the church. Somehow the fact that something halfway similar was taught in pre-reform Israel is supposed to serve as evidence that the church is true. And yet the very ideas the apologists appeal to as evidence are ideas that the Israelites inherited from their neighbors at Ugarit and eventually phased out of their belief system. They are also ideas that carry a lot of pagan baggage.

Let me be very clear about this: I think that the contributions to our understanding of ancient Israelite religion made by the likes of Mark Smith, William Dever, and even David Bokovoy are very valuable. I do not object to their scholarship. I believe, however, that "true" religion has moved beyond the ancient Israelite belief system. We should no longer look to ancient Israelite beliefs as an authoritative source for church doctrine.

-CK

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Juliann,

I don't have a problem with "cutting edge scholarship." What I have a problem with is the way that Latter-day Saint apologists have appropriated scholarship about ancient Israelite religion in order to bolster certain doctrines taught by the church. Somehow the fact that something halfway similar was taught in pre-reform Israel is supposed to serve as evidence that the church is true. And yet the very ideas the apologists appeal to as evidence are ideas that the Israelites inherited from their neighbors at Ugarit and eventually phased out of their belief system. They are also ideas that carry a lot of pagan baggage.

I have never seen a scholar/apologist use any of this as a truth claim. That is what conservative EVs do...that is why they can't get away from the "no evidence for the BOM" kind of stuff. I think everyone would be a lot better off if conservatives also started "appropriating scholarship" however. I think the real problem here is that it has been studiously avoided because it does exactly what you say...show pagan influences and "halfway" doctrines that don't bolster conventional Christianity. This is the problem you are going to run into with Mormons and scholarship. We have little reason to conserve traditional scholarship. That is why Mormons will be seen cavorting with the most liberal of liberal scholars and fitting right in. You are left with arguing what is "true" and "authoritative" instead of trying to understand and analyze what was occuring. Have at it...but don't project that onto us.

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I have never seen a scholar/apologist use any of this as a truth claim.

Juliann,

Take a look at Kevin Christensen's work or the anthropomorphism podcast by Kerry Shirts. Or just read some of David Bokovoy's threads on the divine council. Latter-day Saint apologists most definitely are using pre-reform Israelite beliefs as evidence that Mormon doctrines are true.

You are left with arguing what is "true" and "authoritative" instead of trying to understand and analyze what was occuring.

Actually I have spent a lot of time trying to understand and analyze what was occurring. But I am not interested in scholarship that is divorced from meaning. At some point I have to incorporate this analysis into some kind of big-picture assessment of what it all means. I am reminded of an essay by Richard Bushman in Believing History in which he explored several possible Latter-day Saint paradigms for the study of history. His argument, essentially, was that since Latter-day Saints believe that there is a grand design in history, it is the task of the Latter-day Saint historian to identify the threads of the design and to assemble them for consumption by a Latter-day Saint audience. In so doing, he makes his history more meaningful to his audience. Bushman suggested, for example, that Latter-day Saint historians might try to identify dispensational patterns in world history. I am doing much the same thing here. Since I believe that God is at work in history, I am taking the historical threads that I have come to understand by means of analysis and am trying to assemble them in a meaningful way. One way that makes sense to me is a framework of progressive revelation, in which God gradually reveals more and more light and transforms Israel's original paganism into something radically different.

I am not sure why you object to my trying to figure out what is "true." Do you consider this an unworthy pursuit?

-CK

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I am not sure why you object to my trying to figure out what is "true." Do you consider this an unworthy pursuit?

First, I'd like some examples of LDS scholars using these things to proclaim church related truth unless they doing faith promoting work for insiders. Even FAIR won't get into proving the church true, its a waste of time with outsiders and a sure bet for an ugly unwinnable argument.

I think you know that LDS think "truth" is discovered through interaction with the Holy Spirit and not just scholarship. That is another reason why scholarship doesn't particularly intimidate LDS regardless of how it is put together....if it did we would have folded a long time ago when there was a united front with Protestants in the lead.

I find all of this information that is finally being exposed intensely interesting. So do most scholars and it is only going to expand.

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California Kid says:

This is precisely the problem with Barker-esque apologetics. They argue that the Deuteronomic reform was concocted by those villains Josiah and Jeremiah, never mind that the Book of Mormon praises Jeremiah and evinces a highly monotheistic/Deuteronomistic bent.

Who is this they? Certainly not me.

For the record, I do not believe that Jeremiah was a villian, and I think that Josiah was essentially a well meaning figurehead for the "people of the land" who installed him in power. It is clear that the current form of Deuteronomy serves their interests. (See Marvin Sweeny, King Josiah: Lost Messiah of Israel.)

For the record also, before I encountered Margaret's work, the only serious study of Jeremiah and Josiah I had done was to read Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? Friedman does nicely establish that the first edition of the Deuteronomic History was composed specifically to honor Josiah. And he goes on to argue that Jeremiah was the Deuteronomist, with Baruch being involved as the scribe. I had also recently read Noel Reynold's essay in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies showing that Lehi's final address incorporated numerous themes from Deuteronomy. So encountering Barker's arguments in The Great Angel came something as a shock. The fit with the Book of Mormon was obvious, but the fitting with my preconceptions was a different matter.

So I went back, and re-read Friedman, read Doorly's book on The Deuteronomists (he considers them Israel's greatest theologians), and various other things. When I wrote Paradigms Regained, I envisioned the Reform as occuring in phases, with the Book of Mormon benefiting from Josiah's portion of the Reform, and missing the effects of the Exilic phase. I also read several other major studies on Josiah and the Reform, which recently has come under more and more attention as crucial. So I've read Sweeney, Mark Leuchter, and scanned Barrett's The King and the Cemetaries, and several lesser things.

When I read a draft of Barker's "What King Josiah Reform?" she made the observation that "Josiah's changes concerned the high priests and were thus changes at the very heart of the temple." So I went back to Jeremiah, taking a closer look, and found that despite Jeremiah's knowing Deuteronomy well enough to quote or allude to it some 200 times, he directly contradicted Deuteronomy on certain points. These points all had to do with the role of the high priest. Since Jeremiah is from a priestly family, it seemed to me that these contradictions counted for more than any instances of common language or points of agreement on politics, idolotry, other topics. I argue that Jeremiah opposed the Reform on these key matters. It was not his Reform. (This is documented in my essay in FR 16:2, and in the Meridian essays.) NONE of the major studies I read had any comment whatsoever on the key verses, and none of them show awareness of Barker's studies. Hence, while I respect their scholarship, I think they have all missed something important.

Then I noticed that Jeremiah was called the year after the reform began, and the list of people he is called against includes the Kings, the sarim (the city elders,) the priests, and the people of the land. That is, Jeremiah is called the year after the reform begins, and against the very people who are conducting the reform at that time. More recently, I saw that Ezekiel, a younger contemporary of Jeremiah and a temple priest whose views do not fit well with the DH (hence the ban on reading him before one was of age), includes a long tirade against the same list of people in Ezekiel 22. NONE of the major studies on Josiah have any comment on this phenomena either.

I also noted that where Barker used 1 Enoch's decriptions of the blindness in Jerusalem before the destruction of the temple, makes charges that someone is corrupting scripture, and laments the rejection of Wisdom just before the destruction of the Temple, Jeremiah makes exactly the same charges. As do Lehi and Jacob in the Book of Mormon. Again, none of the major studies on Josiah (save Barker) make any use of the Enoch literature.

So, when I read California kid's description, it does not seem to fit with what I have read, argued, and presented. It explains why he uses no footnotes. He's got nothing specific to point to that matches his own description. He's bringing in Baalism as a slippery slope. But I don't see the need to play on that slope.

Be that as it may, it may be of interest to consider why other Christians have been appreciating Barker's work. In an essay that appeared in Jesus In Recent Research, Catholic Theological Association Conference 1998, published in The Month (December 1998), 495-505, the author states, in part:

A very original contribution to these questions of Jesusâ?? religious experience, its connection with experiential patterns in 1st century Jewish religion and the possible value of non-Gospel NT writings for Jesus research has come recently from Margaret Barker: her proposals about these three areas go against the grain of much New Testament scholarship and is therefore worth attention. I can only give an inadequate summary of her complex case. She places Jesus in contact with two religious traditions which she conjectures have have contributed to the form of his self-understanding: first of all, she suggests he may have been in touch with the traditions of mystical, ascending visionary experience of God -- mysticism of the throne of God, â??merkabah mysticismâ?? -- in which Jewish visionaries ascended into the presence of God, were transformed into heavenly beings and given insight into heavenly mysteries. (1 Enoch is perhaps the best known example of this mysticism.)

The author summarizes some of her arguments from The Risen Lord: The Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith,

If so, then, she says, â??what Jesus believed about himself was identical which what the young church preached about him, even though he had been imperfectly understood at times. It makes Jesus himself the author and finisher of the faith, rather than the early communities, a supposition which has been fashionable for some time. The great message of atonement was not just a damage limitation exercise on the part of a traumatized group of disciples who could find no other way of coming to terms with the death of their leader. The sources do enable us to see how Jesus understood his own death, if only we listen to what they are saying and do not sit in judgement upon them with preconceived notions of what could and could not have been the case. The predictions of the Passion were made by Jesus himself, even though the details may have been added later.â??

This, I notice, is what attracts a lengthening list of Christians who approve of Barker. In contrast to much Jesus research that proposes a Jesus who was merely a revolutionary peasant or a misunderstood Rabbi, or a deluded apocolyptist, or an itinerant magician, she offers a Jesus they can have faith in. This seems to be why her book Temple Theology, is up for the Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing.

http://www.michaelramseyprize.org.uk/books.php

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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Kevin Christensen:

This, I notice, is what attracts a lengthening list of Christians who approve of Barker. In contrast to much Jesus research that proposes a Jesus who was merely a revolutionary peasant or a misunderstood Rabbi, or a deluded apocolyptist, or an itinerant magician, she offers a Jesus they can have faith in.

Kevin, you have said something of high interest to me here. I kind of had to sit upright once it struck me why this resonated. I have wondered in the past year or more since I have been so very much enjoying reading Margaret Barker's materials, as to why so many appear to me to be so negative, and almost mocking of her work. When I read her I do feel that I have used my time well. I have never read something of hers that has failed to stimulate me and cause me to think, "hey! I wat to look into that!" That to me is very close to what you are saying that she offers a Jesus folks can have faith in, yet at the same time, there is something incredibly, interesting new here!

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CK,

I consider Margaret Barkerâ??s work to be some of the most significant Biblical studies scholarship to emerge in the past several decades. However, I have been largely reticent on those topics related to her work, since Kevin Christensen is quite capable of carrying the load. One thing that I think you fail to appreciate, CK, is that when LDS get excited about the kinds of things Barker has uncovered, itâ??s not because we think that Asherah images should be re-enshrined in the our temples; not because we are anxious to insert into our Sunday School manuals graphic descriptions of Godâ??s sexual potency; not because we desire to add an orgiastic element to our temple ceremonies; not because we want to glorify the capriciousness and overtly paganistic attributes of some manifestations of ancient Near Eastern objects of worship.

Not hardly.

The simple reason we are so enthusiastic about these things is because we are able to filter away the obvious adulterations to see what lies underneath! We recognize the elements of the ancient Gospel manifest in these things. Frankly, I think you understand that. And therefore I find many of your hypothetical queries rather disingenuous.

You ask:

Why should we take the pagan religion of Ugarit and early Israel as authoritative? Why not the much older religions of Sumeria, Egypt, or the Neanderthals?

To which I respond with your own words:

Presumably the further back we go the truer the religion will be, right?

Exactly!

And if we could get back to the actual words of Abraham, Noah, Enoch, and even to Adam, then we would find true and pure doctrine.

Of course, thatâ??s why we call it â??The Pearl of Great Price.â?

It is no mistake that it is the books of Moses and Abraham that are vindicated by this old stuff that has turned up in the past hundred years. That is precisely what we would expect. And that is precisely why we get so charged about each new thing that comes to light that confirms to us, once again, that Joseph Smith knew what he was talking about.

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Hello CK,

Let me be very clear about this: I think that the contributions to our understanding of ancient Israelite religion made by the likes of Mark Smith, William Dever, and even David Bokovoy are very valuable.

Thanks for throwing me into that important group of which I certainly deserve the â??and even,â? remark and then some. The truth is that I'm really not shooting for any sort of recognition along those lines.

I am a long time student and fan of Mark Smith and William Deverâ??s published work/lectures. While I am grateful and certainly acknowledge Smithâ??s important contributions to furthering the discussion concerning ancient Israelite religion, my own views are really quite different from Smithâ??s.

For example, in his book The Memoirs of God: History, Memory, and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel, Smith sets up his approach to biblical theology with the statement:

â??Monotheism developed in monarchic Israelite religion or at least in segments of its populace, and eventually it became normative for the authors of what became the biblical texts.â? (pg. 87).

Anyone who has followed my writings on the topic of monotheism knows that I have real issues with Smithâ??s position. It is important, however, for anyone interested in Smithâ??s perspective to read through his entire book(s), since Smithâ??s description of monotheism is not the same description that many traditional evangelical/catholic Biblicists would present.

Concerning Barker. The only thing other than the brief article in the Worlds of Joseph Smith collection that I have ever read is Kevinâ??s helpful summaries and application of her views to an LDS audience.

I do not object to their scholarship. I believe, however, that "true" religion has moved beyond the ancient Israelite belief system. We should no longer look to ancient Israelite beliefs as an authoritative source for church doctrine.

As a Latter-day Saint, I too believe that true religion has moved beyond the ancient Israelite belief system and that we should no longer look to ancient Israelite beliefs as an authoritative source for church doctrine.

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Yes there are many "Slippery Slopes" that members of the Church have to be wary of.

Why is "Mother in Heaven" doctrine seldom discussed? Well because we don't want members praying to her or losing sight that it is only through Christ that we are saved.

Why do leaders stress the importance of personal revelation? Well because it would become easy for saints to get complacent and, like people of old, expect the leaders of the Church to do all the "dealing" with God.

Why do leaders stress the importance of regular gospel and scripture study? Well because it is easy, in a personal revelation based Church for false doctrine to creep in and get established based upon somebody's "personal revelation". This is also the reason that the Prophet/President's position as the only one through whom revelation for the whole Church is stressed.

All of these issues and more have to be guarded against, all the more reason why we require modern oracles of God, apostles and prophets.

I like the writings of Margaret Barker because the provide EVIDENCES of early truths that were lost and restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, not because I want us to start setting up groves to Ashera.

-SlackTime

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Gentlemen,

Thank your for the replies and for the clarifications with respect to your own views. All your posts were well-thought out; better thought-out than my own, in fact. I'm still a little unclear on Kevin's perspective; I understand it insofar as he expressed it, but I very much got the impression from reading some of his past postings and the one or two of his essays I've read that he thinks Margaret Barker's reconstruction of pre-reform Israelite religion somehow corroborates LDS truth claims. The way Will expressed it is basically what I understood to be Kevin's view. I should point out, though, that while I singled out Barker and Kevin in the OP, this thread was actually catalyzed by Kerry Shirts' anthropomorphism podcast, in which he contends that archaeology proves that God has a body.

David:

I feel that you have somewhat avoided the point of the OP, but probably because I didn't state it very clearly. So allow me to restate. The "divine council" with its plurality of gods was borrowed from a neighboring pagan culture, brought a lot of pagan baggage, and was gradually phased out of Israelite religion, all of which suggets that rather than being part of the special revelation given to Abraham and the ancient patriarchs, it was in fact subverted over time by special revelation. So it seems to me that pointing to the divine council and suggesting that it corroborates the Latter-day Saint plurality of gods view is problematic at best.

Kerry:

I still find your contention that archaeology proves God has a body really unacceptable. Archaeology has proved only what ancient cultures believed about God's body, and as I expressed to David, it seems to me that those ideas existed among the Israelites only as pagan imports that were phased out over time (though admittedly they persisted in gargantuan size in the early Kabbalah). Your podcast especially emphasized God's virility, which in late Israelite religion does not feature as one of his prominent aspects; there he is portrayed as being married to Israel, not to Heavenly Mother(s).

Will:

One thing that I think you fail to appreciate, CK, is that when LDS get excited about the kinds of things Barker has uncovered, itâ??s not because we think that Asherah images should be re-enshrined in the our temples; not because we are anxious to insert into our Sunday School manuals graphic descriptions of Godâ??s sexual potency; not because we desire to add an orgiastic element to our temple ceremonies; not because we want to glorify the capriciousness and overtly paganistic attributes of some manifestations of ancient Near Eastern objects of worship.

Not hardly.

The simple reason we are so enthusiastic about these things is because we are able to filter away the obvious adulterations to see what lies underneath!

I understand that, but I doubt very much that you can make the case that the distasteful aspects of ancient religion are "adulterations" whereas the aspects you feel corroborate your faith are true principles. My point is that I don't think you can separate these things. They are inextricably intertwined.

You ask:
Why should we take the pagan religion of Ugarit and early Israel as authoritative? Why not the much older religions of Sumeria, Egypt, or the Neanderthals?

To which I respond with your own words:

Presumably the further back we go the truer the religion will be, right?

Exactly!

And if we could get back to the actual words of Abraham, Noah, Enoch, and even to Adam, then we would find true and pure doctrine.

I am skeptical that the people you named even existed. And all of them are said to have lived in relatively recent history, whereas the religion of the Neanderthals, for example, is much more ancient. It seems to me that the history of religions inevitably leads us back to a plethora of very ancient animistic tribal/folk/fertility cults. I doubt very much that anything of value from the original religion, whatever it was, could have been preserved for thousands of years only to crop up in Ugaritic myth and ritual.

-CK

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Heh, when I read the title of this thread I thought you were referring to Bob Barker, on the Price is Right, and the "Come on down" announcement that a lot of preachers use at the end of their sermons for those who may want to convert after hearing them.

Oh well. I guess I learned something new today.

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CK:

I am skeptical that the people you named [Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham] even existed.

Well, then.

I guess this explains our profound difference of opinion in these matters.

You see, Latter-day Saints really do believe that Adam and Eve were real people; that Enoch was eminently real (and will soon return to the earth along with his city that was separated therefrom); that Noah did build an ark to save his family from a flood, and that Abraham was a very real man with very real notoriety that stretched throughout the ancient Near East. And we believe that each of them left a record of the gospel of Jesus Christ that was delivered to them in their day and age. And we believe and teach that the pure principles of that gospel were, in each case (after many years), lost and/or corrupted â?? thus necessitating a subsequent restoration. And, of course, we believe that ultimately these things have been restored one last time in our day.

We are, therefore, not surprised to find remnants of gospel principles dispersed throughout the extant literature of the ancient world.

But now I think I comprehend better why you simply cannot see things in this fashion. Are we then to understand that, for you, the Old Testament (and presumably much of the New) is simply a collection of tribal fables and old monkâ??s tales, with no real basis in actual events? If I believed that to be the case, I would cease all pretensions to religiosity and assume the full-fledged posture of an agnostic or atheist.

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Are we then to understand that, for you, the Old Testament (and presumably much of the New) is simply a collection of tribal fables and old monkâ??s tales, with no real basis in actual events? If I believed that to be the case, I would cease all pretensions to religiosity and assume the full-fledged posture of an agnostic or atheist.

Uh. What is their posture, pray tell?

Do they not stand upright, and sit up straight, like other men and women?

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But now I think I comprehend better why you simply cannot see things in this fashion. Are we then to understand that, for you, the Old Testament (and presumably much of the New) is simply a collection of tribal fables and old monkâ??s tales, with no real basis in actual events? If I believed that to be the case, I would cease all pretensions to religiosity and assume the full-fledged posture of an agnostic or atheist.

No, just the first half or so of the book of Genesis. Most of the rest of the OT has at least some basis in actual events, IMO (save perhaps Daniel, Esther, and Job).

EDIT: Out of curiosity, Will, how old do you believe the world is? Do you believe in evolution? A worldwide flood?

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CaliforniaKid writes:

I'm still a little unclear on Kevin's perspective; I understand it insofar as he expressed it, but I very much got the impression from reading some of his past postings and the one or two of his essays I've read that he thinks Margaret Barker's reconstruction of pre-reform Israelite religion somehow corroborates LDS truth claims.

To be clear, I think that Barker's reconstruction is impressive and important by itself, and to me, very persuasive and exciting. I can readily see a notable like the Archbishop of Canterbury (among others) is taking notice. I can see why she was elected as President of the Society for Old Testament Study. Reading her approaches in comparison to such well grounded studies as those by Marvin Sweeny and Mark Leuchter and William Dever, I notice that she considers many sources they don't, and she see things in their sources that they overlook.

I also find it amazingly enlightening in comparison to the Book of Mormon. I find that her case decisively undercuts numerous specific claims offered by Book of Mormon critics, ranging from Alexander Campbell, through David Wright, Melodie Charles, George D. Smith, Fawn Brodie, and others. I also notice that it does away with the need for most of Blake Ostler's expansion theory. All these critics had complained that the Book of Mormon is too Christian before Christ.

I find it remarkably serendipitous that not only does Barker's work point directly back to the appropriate time and place (Jerusalem and 600 BCE), and a specific set of historical processes and figures, but that the action in the Book of Mormon is consistent with her emerging picture to an amazing degree, down to very fine details. Margaret herself is both surprised and amazed by this. She had no idea until I contacted her and sent her a copy of Paradigms Regained early in 2002.

And personally, I think that the prophecies in the latter part of 1 Nephi 13 are remarkably consistent with Margaret's reconstruction. Personally, I think the prophecies are specific to her work, and I have argued this case in some of my essays (e.g., the first Meridian essay).

All that said, I know enough about how paradigm choice is made to know that anyone who wants to can sneer or shrug and say "So what?" to all of the forgoing. But it's a lot easier to ignore than to explain. Kuhn talks about "accuracy of key predictions," comprehensiveness and coherence", "fruitfulness", "simplicity and aesthetics" and "future promise" as factors. And all of these kinds of things function in my comparisons. I make this explicit at the end of "Paradigms Regained" and it is implicit in everything else.

Objections I have seen have been based on such arguments as "have any of the rulers, or of the scribes believed on her?" As poor as an argument as that is, it no longer works. Some complain that she does not teach the orthodox scholarship, as Paul Owen did in The New Mormon Challenge. That is true. She doesn't. If a paradigm is a "group licensed way of seeing," she has been accussed of "seeing without a license." But it's another question entirely than to genuinely assess the validity of her work. License or not, she is seeing things that others have not considered, and used sources that others have overlooked.

Some might want to dismiss the convergence as coincidental, and some try to accent percieved differences. Personally, I see the differences diminishing as we do more work. Alyson Von Feldt has some amazing work coming out, in her forthcoming Occasional Paper, and a review of Dever's Did God Have a Wife?

Some will argue, since there is no God, there can't possibly be anything to it. You can start from that premise to dismiss it all if you want, but that explains exactly nothing about the convergence.

Is that clear enough? FYI, I am speaking to the Miller-Eccles Study Groups around LA and Orange County on Margaret Barker on May 18-19.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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FYI, I am speaking to the Miller-Eccles Study Groups around LA and Orange County on Margaret Barker on May 18-19.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

Does she know that you're running around to strange lands and talking about her? Any juicy rumors for us holy types on MADB? :P<_<

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Haven't we moved beyond primitive paganism to a more enlightened, monotheistic belief system? You Saints can have your El, and his sons Baal and Enki an Enlil along with him. I'll hold on to my Jesus, and the qualitatively different religion we find in the pages of the New Testament. I'll take Jeremiah the apostate, King Josiah the apostate, Justin Martyr the apostate, Jerome the apostate, Thomas Aquinas the apostate, Menno Simons the apostate, John Wesley the apostate, and Billy Graham the apostate over Margaret Barker and her "true religion" of ancient Israel any day of the week.

That's interesting CK. So did God first decide to First reveal "true religion" at the time of Josiah and Jeremiah?

Why did he wait so long? Was Israelite religion before that time just bunk?

I don't know anything about this stuff, it just seems like that is what your saying.

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That's interesting CK. So did God first decide to First reveal "true religion" at the time of Josiah and Jeremiah?

Why did he wait so long? Was Israelite religion before that time just bunk?

I don't know anything about this stuff, it just seems like that is what your saying.

Hi John D the First,

My answer is that yes, Israelite mythology before Josiah and Jeremiah was mostly bunk, but no, Israelite religion was not entirely lacking authentic spiritual experience. I'm sure that God was at work in Palestine prior to Josiah and Jeremiah.

And yes, some of the "true religion" was revealed at the time of Jeremiah, but no, it wasn't all revealed at that time. For a full understanding we must look to prophets, sages and philosophers in all times and places, and must also seek God to the best of our ability in the present place and time. I am even more of a fan of Seneca, Zarathustra, Nanak and Kabir than of some of the Israelite prophets.

When you consider that I self-identify as an evangelical, attend an evangelical church, engage in evangelical ministry, and find meaning in the evangelical faith, my beliefs are something of an anomaly. I am strongly inclusivistic and I believe that God has revealed and is in the process of revealing truth to all human cultures. I also believe that human cultures that strive to find God through reason and various spiritual disciplines (asceticism, meditation, prayer, etc.) will find him to one degree or another. And, finally, I believe that we all have a long way to go.

-CK

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CK:

Out of curiosity, Will, how old do you believe the world is? Do you believe in evolution? A worldwide flood?

-- I donâ??t know how old the earth is. Do you? Does anyone?

-- I am persuaded of some elements of â??evolution.â? I have seen credible evidence presented of the reality of â??evolutionâ? within certain limited parameters. I am not persuaded of all the tenets of what is probably best termed â??pure Darwinism.â? I believe (and this is consistent with my statement on â??Biblical literalismâ? to which I shall refer below) that the current inhabitants of this earth all descend from two common parents â?? Adam and Eve. I am cognizant of the alleged import of DNA analysis, but I am not completely persuaded of the conclusions that are typically drawn from that data. In short, I do not have enough information to confidently conclude that all life on earth â??evolvedâ? from lower orders to its present diversity. If it did indeed happen in that fashion, it would not affect my sense of faith in the truths of the revealed Gospel of Christ, as I understand them.

-- I am, by and large, what I would term a â??Biblical literalistâ? in terms of import, if not in terms of details. For example, I believe there was a literal man Noah, who literally built an ark per the commandment of God, and thereby saved himself and his family from a flood that destroyed everyone he knew and everyone he knew of. I believe in a literal man Enoch who gathered a people, superintended their progression towards holiness in the years preceding the â??flood,â? and who was then, with his city, literally and physically removed from the earth, and that he and they will one day return. I believe that, in a manner and according to a â??scienceâ? unknown to us, this same Enoch had the power to speak and rivers were literally turned from their course and mountains were literally moved. I believe that there was a literal man Jesus who was the literal son of God and who literally healed the lame, the blind, the sick and raised the dead; who was put to death, and on the third day following reinhabited his physical body, healed it of its mortal wounds, and literally â??roseâ? again as a living, resurrected man â?? never again to suffer the physical dissolution we call death. I believe that He continues to live as a corporeal being, the same as His Father, and all â??Godsâ? who have gone before them. I believe that through His power, all mankind will one day be resurrected from the dead and that:

Alma 40

23 The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.

Does that clear things up?

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Thanks, Will. That does give me a better idea where you're coming from. As for the age of the earth question, I was thinking in terms of generalities. In other words, do you believe in a young earth (thousands of years) or in an old earth (millions or billions of years?). As I'm sure you know, many people who consider themselves Biblical literalists place themselves in the former category, whereas secular scientists tend to make the earth about four and a half billion years old. If you don't have an opinion one way or the other, that's fine. I was just curious.

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Thanks, Will. That does give me a better idea where you're coming from. As for the age of the earth question, I was thinking in terms of generalities. In other words, do you believe in a young earth (thousands of years) or in an old earth (millions or billions of years?). As I'm sure you know, many people who consider themselves Biblical literalists place themselves in the former category, whereas secular scientists tend to make the earth about four and a half billion years old. If you don't have an opinion one way or the other, that's fine. I was just curious.

I will simply say that I subscribe to the standard LDS viewpoint that the earth was created during six creative periods, not necessarily "days." I believe God possesses powers that would astound the naturalistic "scientists" of the 21st century. But I don't really adhere to any specific belief concerning the creation, nor consider very important the issue of whether the earth is 6000 or 600,000,000,000 years old. Indeed, I think time, as we understand it, is largely a construct of this particular existence, and may not have any correspondence outside its bounds.

Edit: Probably my favorite Star Trek - TNG episode of all time is The Inner Light, where Picard is transported, as it were, to an alien planet of 1000 years previous, lives an entire lifetime there, and when he reaches the point of death (as it were) he returns to the bridge of the Enterprise, where he discovers he has only been "absent" for 20 minutes. That illustrates pretty well what I believe about the construct of time, as we live through it.

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Kevin Christensen:

Kevin, you have said something of high interest to me here. I kind of had to sit upright once it struck me why this resonated. I have wondered in the past year or more since I have been so very much enjoying reading Margaret Barker's materials, as to why so many appear to me to be so negative, and almost mocking of her work. When I read her I do feel that I have used my time well. I have never read something of hers that has failed to stimulate me and cause me to think, "hey! I wat to look into that!" That to me is very close to what you are saying that she offers a Jesus folks can have faith in, yet at the same time, there is something incredibly, interesting new here!

Yes, Kerry. I think this aspect of her work (the Jesus of History is the Jesus of faith) is starting to sink in. The shortlisting of her work by a commitee working for the Archbishop of Canterbury is an important step for her. It will be harder to dismiss her as "radical" or "not mainstream."

Kevin Christensen

Bethel Park, PA

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Thanks, Will. That does give me a better idea where you're coming from. As for the age of the earth question, I was thinking in terms of generalities. In other words, do you believe in a young earth (thousands of years) or in an old earth (millions or billions of years?). As I'm sure you know, many people who consider themselves Biblical literalists place themselves in the former category, whereas secular scientists tend to make the earth about four and a half billion years old. If you don't have an opinion one way or the other, that's fine. I was just curious.

CK , have you considered the possibilty that both the young earth and old earth theories are correct? The old earth theory can be correct in that the material from which God organized the earth could be billions of years old. The young earth theory can be correct in that the aged material could have been organized by God into our earth only thousands of years ago. This would account for the testing of the earth's geologic material resulting in an old age and for the biblical account of a young earth. What say you?

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