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Saints Unscripted - Bible Genres and Historicity


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Saints Unscripted just came out with a very good video about the historicity of the Bible and how its varied parts are of varied genres:

Some very good points made here.

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

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I enjoyed the video. I must also say there is nothing new in it. It is a review of the first day of the first year of Hermeneutics 101 as taught at virtually any Non-LDS Christian seminary, Bible college, or church. On the other hand it may be new for LDS folks since they seem (in my lived experience) to have a minimal understanding of the extreme importance of Biblical Interpretation which is the science, study, and spiritual work of trying to get to the specific meaning and intent of any specific Biblical passages. If I had a nickel for every time a member of the LDS church has told me that they simply follow the Brethren and the leading of the Holy Spirit to understand a passage, I would have . . . well, a number of nickels in my pocket. 

I also noticed the speaker judiciously avoided asking any questions about the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the POGP and the various interpretations of their various passages. I found that interesting. When I heard a speaker at a Sunstone Conference interpret D&C 1:30 through an exposition of its use of the subjunctive mood, I thought that was amazing! His conclusion was that the use of the subjunctive mood in the passage made it aspirational in its properly understood meaning. And. . . . hold on now. . . . he got a great applause when he was done. Maybe the folks were just happy he was done . . . hence the applause! Hermeneutics is vital and the various moods, voices, tenses of a passage are critical to understanding them. Did I mention I enjoyed the video? Thanks for posting it.

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21 hours ago, smac97 said:

Saints Unscripted just came out with a very good video about the historicity of the Bible and how its varied parts are of varied genres:......................

Some very good points made here.........

Thanks.  A nice video containing a summary of some things one would typically learn in a college class on The Bible as Literature.

Latter-day Saints normally ignore that sort of thing, not because they are anti-intellectual, but because it doesn't fit their normative epistemology:  Inspiration via the Holy Sprit.

Protestants go a very different route, insisting on Scripture being used to interpret Scripture in their circular sola scrlptura.  Most Protestants and Latter-day Saints ignore more sophisticated forays into Scripture, and certainly don't have a clue as to what hermeneutics are.  Protestant scholars and leaders (such as Tom Wright) are often well-trained and very sophisticated -- and one can frequently find their wonderful analyses of Scripture on YouTube.  Latter-day Saints do not normally give such analyses the time of day.  Just a few LDS scholars.

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Now the next thing they need to address is who exactly wrote the books of the bible.  How much of what you read in a book was added by some later writer or changed by a later writer?  What was the motive for including whats in the bible today versus the literally hundreds of thousands of other writings of similar nature?  What changes could have been made from the time actual events occurred literally hundreds of years before the time they were written down?  I think these are much more important questions than what genre  a book is so I hope those are forthcoming.  Genre is the easy topic.

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On 11/25/2021 at 6:33 PM, kimpearson said:

Now the next thing they need to address is who exactly wrote the books of the bible.  How much of what you read in a book was added by some later writer or changed by a later writer?  What was the motive for including whats in the bible today versus the literally hundreds of thousands of other writings of similar nature?  What changes could have been made from the time actual events occurred literally hundreds of years before the time they were written down?  I think these are much more important questions than what genre  a book is so I hope those are forthcoming.  Genre is the easy topic.

There are scholars who devote their lives to examining such questions -- all aspects of such questions -- and they participate in a community of scholarship, which is international and timeless in scope.  They do occasionally write explanatory books for the hoi polloi, and one can find them on YouTube, but their real scholarship is normally deep and inaccessible.  Ordinary people seldom come to grips with such scholarship except at the surface level.      

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On 11/26/2021 at 6:13 PM, Robert F. Smith said:

There are scholars who devote their lives to examining such questions -- all aspects of such questions -- and they participate in a community of scholarship, which is international and timeless in scope.  They do occasionally write explanatory books for the hoi polloi, and one can find them on YouTube, but their real scholarship is normally deep and inaccessible.  Ordinary people seldom come to grips with such scholarship except at the surface level.      

I have read a number of their books.  From a believer's point of view their findings are very disturbing and are almost never addressed to a believing audience.  I am just curious if Saints Unscripted is willing to address the issues that I believe create the biggest problems for anyone prone to view any scripture as "the truth", literal or actually what happened.

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4 hours ago, kimpearson said:

I have read a number of their books.  From a believer's point of view their findings are very disturbing and are almost never addressed to a believing audience.  I am just curious if Saints Unscripted is willing to address the issues that I believe create the biggest problems for anyone prone to view any scripture as "the truth", literal or actually what happened.

There is no unitary, totalist viewpoint on such matters among scholars.  Their opinions run the gamut.  Understanding the nature of literature need not be a threat to any believer.  The real problem usually comes with reading one book or article and supposing that this makes one an expert in the secular area under scrutiny -- typically accompanied by complete abandonment of sound reasons for one's faith.  That flawed approach is either-or, instead of both-and in examining the nuances.

Unfortunately, most adults have never gotten any further than high school English class in acquainting themselves with actual literature.

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Methinks there are at least two important elements in this discussion. The first is academic preparation to understand the ins and outs, ups and downs of interpreting any literature, whether it be Narnia or holy scripture (understanding that for some there is no distinction between the two!). In that sense, there are rules that apply regardless of the type of literature. Some years ago I wanted to understand if there were any significance or meaning beneath the words of the Pooh literature that seems so out of place with much of AA Milne's other literary endeavors. It has also touched many readers. So I bought everything I could read about Milne's life and other writing. It was a fun and very educational effort, that was greatly aided when one of his granddaughters came to work for me. The oral interviews with her helped me a lot. I now have a deeper understanding of each of the characters and their origin in Milne's own life. It was a very personal search, as certainly not many folks are concerned about the source for the Eeyore character! Better understanding Milne, helped me understand his writing.

The second and vital tool in interpreting scriptures are one's understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in their origination, provenance, and maintenance over the years. Of course the unbeliever in the Holy Spirit would not be concerned about such a thing, so in the believer's endeavors the unbelieving interpreter is missing what is most likely the most important piece of the puzzle. Unbelieving academics can still help us develop methods for interpretation of literature, but absent a belief in the Holy Spirit, they are somewhat at a disadvantage when it comes to scripture. So, from my perspective an understanding of the pneumatology - the nature, character, and purpose of the Holy Spirit is an essential part of Scriptural origination, preservation over the years, and interpretation (understanding) of the same. Of course one will bring one's own personal beliefs into the process. For example a faithful member of the LDS church who is convinced the Holy Spirit had a role in the translation of the Book of Mormon will have that as a cornerstone of her interpretive work with the Book of Mormon. If a believer begins with a conviction that the Holy Spirit was not involved in the creation, provenance, or translation of the Book of Mormon he will also have that disbelief as a foundation for his interpretative work. In the same way most of my LDS friends don't seem to believe that the Holy Spirit was a powerful influence in the work and ultimate decisions of the various church councils. So they tend to minimize that Godly supervision of that process. So faith and belief or disbelief play a significant role in any interpretation of literature, especially scripture.

Sometimes  the two mix as well. For example I believe that in a non-scriptural way The Lord of the Rings series is an expression of the religious faith and consciousness of Tolkien. Ditto for Narnia and CS Lewis. Therefore it is interesting and perhaps to someone like me, important to attempt to ascertain the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the author as he or she wrote.

As a personal example, I pray every day for guidance from the Spirit as I write and study for my book on CRT. I want to be accurate, kind, and freed from my own biases as I write. That takes prayer and reliance on the Spirit's work helping me to discern and limit my natural tendencies to say what I think and how I think it ought to be said.

Interpretation is for me very challenging work. I tend to think that the study of hermeneutics (interpretation) is the single most important area of study for a student of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Koran (just examples of sacred writings). Take care.

 

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3 hours ago, Navidad said:

For example I believe that in a non-scriptural way The Lord of the Rings series is an expression of the religious faith and consciousness of Tolkien.

Absolutely. Tolkien said that it is a fundamentally Catholic book. He disliked allegory, so it is not as blatant as the Narnia books, but Catholic themes and theology are quite apparent.

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30 minutes ago, MiserereNobis said:

Absolutely. Tolkien said that it is a fundamentally Catholic book. He disliked allegory, so it is not as blatant as the Narnia books, but Catholic themes and theology are quite apparent.

Tolkien was a wonderful spiritual influence on CS Lewis. He was a very devout Catholic. I may have it a bit wrong, but I think his mother was originally Baptist and a convert to Catholicism herself. He also indicated that the great Scottish theologian and author of children's fantasy literature George MacDonald had a great influence on him. MacDonald himself was quite fascinating guy. Originally a Calvinist, he rejected Calvinism in his later life. It is always wonderful to learn the stories behind some of these great authors. I wish that George MacDonald's children's books were better known!

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It seems to me that the Bible is a compilation of ancient documents that contain a hodgepodge of ancient mythology, beliefs, and stories. Some of it is ancient wisdom. Other parts are ancient bigotry, superstition, and foolishness. It is intellectually and spiritually liberating to accepting the fact that it isn't the word of God, regardless of how correctly it is translated.

The problem for Latter-day Saints is that this is a slippery slope. If you stop believing that the Bible belongs to the genre "word of God" as Joseph Smith believed, you may be tempted to apply the same analysis to the Book of Mormon. What genre is the Book of Mormon? Biblical fan fiction.

 

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38 minutes ago, Analytics said:

It seems to me that the Bible is a compilation of ancient documents that contain a hodgepodge of ancient mythology, beliefs, and stories. Some of it is ancient wisdom. Other parts are ancient bigotry, superstition, and foolishness. It is intellectually and spiritually liberating to accepting the fact that it isn't the word of God, regardless of how correctly it is translated.

It is even more liberating to not accept as "fact" the unsubstantiated say-so of strangers.

Whether the Bible is the word of God is, in the end, a matter of faith. 

38 minutes ago, Analytics said:

The problem for Latter-day Saints is that this is a slippery slope.

Not really.

38 minutes ago, Analytics said:

If you stop believing that the Bible belongs to the genre "word of God" as Joseph Smith believed,

"Word of God" is a "genre" of literature?  Are you sure?

38 minutes ago, Analytics said:

you may be tempted to apply the same analysis to the Book of Mormon. What genre is the Book of Mormon? Biblical fan fiction.

"If."

"May be."

Meanwhile, the Book of Mormon sure seems to present some intractable questions for secularists.  Easier, I think, to just summarily dismiss it with glib taunts.  Doing so is, I suppose, "intellectually and spiritually liberating," but only because the questions are sidestepped and avoided.

Thanks,

-Smac

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10 hours ago, Navidad said:

The second and vital tool in interpreting scriptures are one's understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in their origination, provenance, and maintenance over the years. Of course the unbeliever in the Holy Spirit would not be concerned about such a thing, so in the believer's endeavors the unbelieving interpreter is missing what is most likely the most important piece of the puzzle. Unbelieving academics can still help us develop methods for interpretation of literature, but absent a belief in the Holy Spirit, they are somewhat at a disadvantage when it comes to scripture

Actually, more and more, I see self help gurus recommending opening one's self to "the "Universe" in finding purpose in their lives, etc. To me it is clear they are simply avoiding the "G" word.

But I think it is possibly an opening to bring the secular world back into some level of spiritual awareness.

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On 11/25/2021 at 1:09 PM, Navidad said:

If I had a nickel for every time a member of the LDS church has told me that they simply follow the Brethren and the leading of the Holy Spirit to understand a passage, I would have . . . well, a number of nickels in my pocket. 

I also noticed the speaker judiciously avoided asking any questions about the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the POGP and the various interpretations of their various passages. I found that interesting. When I heard a speaker at a Sunstone Conference interpret D&C 1:30 through an exposition of its use of the subjunctive mood, I thought that was amazing! His conclusion was that the use of the subjunctive mood in the passage made it aspirational in its properly understood meaning. And. . . . hold on now. . . . he got a great applause when he was done. Maybe the folks were just happy he was done . . . hence the applause! Hermeneutics is vital and the various moods, voices, tenses of a passage are critical to understanding them. Did I mention I enjoyed the video? Thanks for posting it.

I fell the same way. 

My bishop in my very fist Ward as a convert in southern CA was a very accomplished scholar in the animal science realm but also a life long student of scripture. He taught me that "the scriptures mean what God intended it to mean to the people it was given then. And today it means exactly the same thing". It has served me well. Nothing makes me cringe like hearing: "this scripture means to me...(fill in the blank)..." Years ago I corrected a brother during a priesthood lesson in a ward in CO on account of such a statement. I reminded him that the scripture means what it means even if he never existed. Crickets....

The revelation of God anchored in scripture was directed at a particular people, at a specific time and it was given for a unique reason or circumstance. And that is fixed in the context. Nephi very eloquently tells us, for example, that he understood that Isaiah was a tough rock to crack, so to speak. But, he gives us the keys to understanding Isaiah: "Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews. Isa. 25:1

Here is the first key: "Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy". v4 (be filled with the Holy Spirit)

Second key: "...I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews." v.5 (Learn about Jewish history, geography, cultural /social mores and values, context)

Third key: "Wherefore, they [the words of Isaiah] are of worth unto the children of men...I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the clast days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.v8 (In due time, knowledge about the distant history of Israel and their dealings with the Lord would be known, shedding greater light into the scriptures. It is already happening)

So, the words of the Lord to Isaiah then were understood by Nephi and he, in turn, passed those along to his people and to us with the intention that it would not be lost. But he admonished us to study diligently so that we may understand what the Lord specifically wanted us to know. It was not and it is not open to interpretation.

Now, application is a different story and I will save that for another post.

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5 hours ago, Islander said:

My bishop in my very first Ward as a convert in southern CA was... a life long student of scripture.  He taught me that "the scriptures mean what God intended it to mean to the people it was given then. And today it means exactly the same thing". It has served me well. Nothing makes me cringe like hearing: "this scripture means to me...(fill in the blank)..." Years ago I corrected a brother during a priesthood lesson in a ward in CO on account of such a statement. I reminded him that the scripture means what it means even if he never existed. Crickets....

The revelation of God anchored in scripture was directed at a particular people, at a specific time and it was given for a unique reason or circumstance. And that is fixed in the context.

Is what you describe the only correct application of scripture?   Seems to me that would limit scripture's usefulness to the scholarly few who know the specific context of a given passage.

Here's an alternative way to apply scripture.  From 1 Nephi chapter 19, verses 23 and 24:

"I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning... liken [the scriptures] unto yourselves..."

Nothing wrong with studying the historical background of a scripture, and I agree that knowing the context can deepen our understanding, but it seems to me one of the advantages of reading the scriptures is that doing so invites the Holy Spirit to speak to us through them even if we do not know the context.  By way of example, I doubt fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith was a New Testament scholar when he read James 1:5. 

Edited by Olmec Donald
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17 hours ago, smac97 said:

"Word of God" is a "genre" of literature?  Are you sure?

My point is that Joseph Smith thought it was. A modern view of the Bible is that ancient scribes wrote down stories, myths, apocalyptical prophesies, poetry, religious teachings, and even some actual history in trace amounts. The writings that had traction among their audiences were then copied and recopied, merged, rewritten, compiled, and eventually resulted in the books of the Bible and the Bible itself. "The majority of Biblical scholars believe that the written books [of the Pentateuch] were a product of the Babylonian captivity (c. 6th century BCE), based on earlier written sources and oral traditions, and that it was completed with final revisions during the post-Exilic period (c. 5th century BCE)." (Torah - Wikipedia)

In contrast, Joseph Smith believed that the original manuscripts of the Bible contained the pure, correct, and unadulterated truth but then were corrupted resulting in the imperfect manuscripts we have today. "The position of the Church regarding the Bible is that it contains the word of God as far as it is translated correctly (A of F 1:8). Joseph Smith taught that “many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.” He also said that the Bible was correct as “it came from the pen of the original writers,” but that “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (HC 1:245; 6:57.)" (Bible (churchofjesuschrist.org))

So yes, according to Joseph Smith, "the word of God" can be considered a genre.  

17 hours ago, smac97 said:

Meanwhile, the Book of Mormon sure seems to present some intractable questions for secularists.  Easier, I think, to just summarily dismiss it with glib taunts.  Doing so is, I suppose, "intellectually and spiritually liberating," but only because the questions are sidestepped and avoided.

LOL.

Let me illustrate my point with an example. A story that could pose problematic to a Latter-day Saint is the story of the Tower of Babel. A modern thinker would ascribe this story to the genre of etiological narrative; It's simply a mythological story that was made up to explain why there are different languages. It might be liberating to a Latter-day Saint to realize this and accept this as its genre. However, if one goes down this rabbit hole, how is this reconciled with the Book of Mormon? "For some in the modern world, the historicity of the tower of Babel story, as with the Flood, is often discounted. One modern school of thought considers the account to be nothing more than an “artful parable” and an “old tale.” But Latter-day Saints accept the story as it is presented in Genesis. Further, we have the second witness of the Book of Mormon. The title page of the Book of Mormon explains that the book of Ether “is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven.” The book of Ether itself then tells of when “Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth” (Ether 1:33)." (The Flood and the Tower of Babel (churchofjesuschrist.org))

If the Tower of Babel and the confounding of the languages is myth, how could the Book of Mormon possibly be ancient? Even if you want to theorize that the Book of Ether is some mythological account in its own right, how could that possibly jive with how neatly it fits into the narrative of the rest of the BoM (e.g. Coriantumr dwelling with the people of Zarahemla for nine moons)? Quoting again from Donald Parry, "In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets."

If one has the epiphany that these events didn't really occur and just belong to the genre of myth, "the multiple testimonies of God's prophets" becomes an awfully precarious foundation for belief. Thus the slippery slope.

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4 hours ago, Olmec Donald said:

Seems to me that would limit scripture's usefulness to the scholarly few who know the specific context of a given passage.

And even that would be an interpretation that could be wrong since historians/scholars don’t have those scribes/prophets available to consult for the accuracy and depth of our knowledge, which may be superficial at times…as should be obvious from how understanding of how the original authors understood what God meant scripture to say has changed over time and is even debated.  The scriptures would need to be infallible to begin with and infallible in transmission over the years.  The example of the comma in the Word of Wisdom scripture demonstrates how easy understanding original intent can get complicated.

As long as we understand that our personal interpretation of scripture is to lead us to seek out God and is not a general revelation or the only meaning one can get from the text, I don’t see the issue with how people “liken scripture” unless one doesn’t believe in personal revelation. If one does, why would it matter if it was scripture instead of something else in our lives that creates the time and space to connect to God?

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10 hours ago, Islander said:

that we may understand what the Lord specifically wanted us to know. It was not and it is not open to interpretation.

But understanding what the Lord wants us to know is interpretation itself.  The Spirit of Prophecy doesn’t turn us into puppets that can only say certain words or ideas or fixes understanding at the beginning never to change.  Joseph Smith did not teach the same identical ideas about a scripture verse each time he spoke of them.

Edited by Calm
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1 hour ago, Analytics said:

My point is that Joseph Smith thought it was.

He did?  CFR, please.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

A modern view of the Bible is that ancient scribes wrote down stories, myths, apocalyptical prophesies, poetry, religious teachings, and even some actual history in trace amounts.  The writings that had traction among their audiences were then copied and recopied, merged, rewritten, compiled, and eventually resulted in the books of the Bible and the Bible itself. "The majority of Biblical scholars believe that the written books [of the Pentateuch] were a product of the Babylonian captivity (c. 6th century BCE), based on earlier written sources and oral traditions, and that it was completed with final revisions during the post-Exilic period (c. 5th century BCE)." (Torah - Wikipedia)

I'm familiar with this theory.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

In contrast, Joseph Smith believed that the original manuscripts of the Bible contained the pure, correct, and unadulterated truth but then were corrupted resulting in the imperfect manuscripts we have today.

This is not an accurate characterization.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

"The position of the Church regarding the Bible is that it contains the word of God as far as it is translated correctly (A of F 1:8). Joseph Smith taught that “many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.”

How is this materially incompatible with the "modern view of the Bible" you point to above?

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

He also said that the Bible was correct as “it came from the pen of the original writers,” but that “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (HC 1:245; 6:57.)" (Bible (churchofjesuschrist.org))

Again, not seeing how this is materially incompatible with the "modern view of the Bible."

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

So yes, according to Joseph Smith, "the word of God" can be considered a genre.  

Meh.  This is just you imputing things onto Joseph Smith.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:
Quote

Meanwhile, the Book of Mormon sure seems to present some intractable questions for secularists.  Easier, I think, to just summarily dismiss it with glib taunts.  Doing so is, I suppose, "intellectually and spiritually liberating," but only because the questions are sidestepped and avoided.

LOL.

"The questions are sidestepped and avoided."  Again.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Let me illustrate my point with an example. A story that could pose problematic to a Latter-day Saint is the story of the Tower of Babel.

I agree.  Hence the value of learning more about the Bible and refining and improving our approach to it.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

A modern thinker would ascribe this story to the genre of etiological narrative; It's simply a mythological story that was made up to explain why there are different languages.

That would be one of many possible interpretations, yes.  But far from the most likely one.  See, e.g., here: What Was All the Confusion About at the Tower of Babel? (Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 6C)

Quote

Question: At the beginning of the Tower of Babel story, we read that “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” Later, we are told that “the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth.” But the scientific history of languages tells us that the diverse tongues of the world did not originate from the splitting of a single language. Must we choose between science and scripture?

Summary: To begin with, the Hebrew word eretz used in Genesis 11:1 (and also in the story of Noah’s flood) can mean either “earth” or “land,” and it is impossible to know which except from context. Here, the phrase probably just means that the people in the land where the story took place originally spoke a common language. In addition, despite the chapter’s focus on the confounding (mixing up) of languages, God’s most important concern seems to have been the confounding (mingling) of the covenant people with their unbelieving neighbors. As with other stories in Genesis 1-11, temple themes are woven throughout the account of the confusion at Babel. In this case, the Tower can be seen as a sort of anti-temple wherein its builders attempted to “make … a name” for themselves rather than acknowledging God as the one who gives names to those He has chosen because of their faithfulness. Abraham’s posterity will be separated out from other nations. His great name “will be achieved not in the present through heroic feats and imposing monuments but rather in a divinely promised future through the begetting of numerous offspring.” Though Abraham successfully passed the tests of his day, his latter-day posterity must continue their vigilance, for the project of Babel is making a strong comeback today.

(Emphasis added.)

Describing the Tower of Babel story as an "etiological narrative ... made up to explain why there are different languages" is akin to characterizing the Garden of Eden as a "narrative" about horticulture, or the Great Flood as a "narrative" about bad weather, or the Exodus as a "narrative" about ancient migratory patterns.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

It might be liberating to a Latter-day Saint to realize this and accept this as its genre.

Gotta love how your conclusory opinion is a "fact" to be "realize{d}" and "accept{ed}."

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

However, if one goes down this rabbit hole, how is this reconciled with the Book of Mormon?

Well, the first step is to not reflexively accept the narrative of a skeptical stranger, and to instead let the Latter-day Saints speak for themselves.  A few examples:

Here:

Quote

It is based on the simple fact that most biblical scholars consider the mention of the Tower of Babel in the Bible to be an anachronism since it appears to be a post-Exilic glosse in the Bible.  ksfisher is correct.  Not only does the BofM not mention the Tower of Babel, but the story is much more ancient than the Hebrews.  This is clear from the early story of the confusion of tongues[1] (Genesis 11:1-9 [migdāl] and Ether 1:33-37), recalling the Sumerian “Golden Age” passage in which “the whole universe, the people in unison, to Enlil in one tongue (eme-aš-àm) gave praise,” to be followed shortly by the struggle between Enlil and Enki, lord of Eridu, who “changed the speech in their mouths, put contention into it, into the speech of man that (until then) had been one.”[2]


[1] Sumerian EME.BI.GILIM = Akkadian lišānšunu e-eg-ru (CAD, “E,” 42, citing UET, 1, 146, ili, 7, iv, 7 [Hammurabi]); S. N. Kramer, “The ‘Babel of Tongues’: A Sumerian Version,” in W. W. Hallo, ed., Essays in Memory of E. A. Speiser, AOS 53 (New Haven, 1968), 108-111 = JAOS, 88 (1968).

 

[2] S. N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, rev. ed. (Harper & Row, 1961/reprint Univ. of Penn. Press, 1972), xiv,107 n. 2.

------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

Once again you miss the point, cinepro.  There was certainly a great tower --  the Sumero-Akkadian construction of temple towers (ziggurats) is legendary, but careless reading of the BofM has often led people to erroneously imagine that it was the very Tower of Babel -- a very late form of it..

And here:

Quote

Does science support the idea of a splitting of an original language at Babel? The answer is “no.” The story is an interesting puzzle for scholars and scientists. On the one hand, the details of the Babylonian setting and construction techniques for the tower are believable,[10] even if the time frame for the story is difficult to pin down.[11] On the other hand, in light of what is known about the way languages evolve, the biblical story of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel seems incredible.
...

Could there have been some kind of “confounding” of language at Babel after all? The answer is, possibly, “yes.” Perhaps there is a believable way to understand the “confounding” of language at Babel as referring to a local breakdown in the use of a common, regional language rather than a complete breakup of a single, universal language. Some scholars believe that such a language could have played the role of a lingua franca, enabling cooperative work among people who came together from throughout the empire to execute large building projects. In our times, languages such as English, French, and Swahili similarly allow individuals hailing from different places to do business with one another in a common language.

One candidate for such a lingua franca among the Babylonians is Akkadian.[14] A second candidate is Sumerian. In this regard, a segment of a Mesopotamian epic entitled Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta is of special interest. Although translators differ about whether the story describes a past event when one language became many or a future event when all languages would become one, it may resemble the Babel story in its account of the disruption of languages.[15]

If we take the “one language” of Genesis 11:1 as being Sumerian, Akkadian, or even (as a long shot) Aramaic[16] rather than a supposed universal language,[17] some of the puzzling aspects of the biblical account become more intelligible. For example, “Genesis 10 and 11 would make linguistic sense in their current sequence. In addition to the local languages of each nation,[18] there existed ‘one language’[19] which made communication possible throughout the world”[20] — or, perhaps more accurately, throughout the land.[21] “Strictly speaking, the biblical text does not refer to a plurality of languages but to the ‘destruction of language as an instrument of communication.’”[22]

In summary, Victor Hamilton[23] writes that it “is unlikely that Genesis 11:1-9 can contribute much, if anything, to the origin of languages … [T]he diversification of languages is a slow process, not something catastrophic as Genesis 11 might indicate.”[24] The commonly received interpretation of Genesis 11 provides “a most incredible and naïve explanation of language diversification. If, however, the narrative refers to the dissolution of a Babylonian lingua franca, or something like that, the need to see Genesis 11:1-9 as a highly imaginative explanation of language diffusion becomes unnecessary.”[25]

Are “confounding” and “confusing” the same thing? While modern use of the word “confound” typically expresses the element of surprise experienced by someone when an event runs counter to expectations (“the inflation figure confounded economic analysts”[26]), the King James Bible translators would have been aware of its Latin origin as confundere. This word means literally “to pour together, mix, mingle” (com + fundere = together + to pour).[27] Because “confound” has changed its primary meaning in modern English, more recent translations often substitute the closely related term “confuse.” In modern English, “confuse” is a helpful translation, preserving the basic meaning in Hebrew text of mixing up and mingling.

What seemed to be God’s most important concerns about the confusion at Babel? Hugh Nibley argues that the confusion (mixing-up) of language is necessarily connected to the confusion (mingling) of the covenant people with their unbelieving neighbors — a phenomenon that the Lord condemns elsewhere in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.[28]

Though we should remember that textual and interpretive difficulties present in the version of “Genesis” on the brass plates of Laban could have made their way into Moroni’s summary of the story of Babel,[29] the Book of Mormon provides some helpful perspectives on the confusion of languages and people. For example, while warning that “we need to be cautious of … simplistic readings of the scriptural text,” Hugh Nibley provided this careful analysis of the Jaredite story:[30]

The book of Ether, depicting the uprooting and scattering from the tower of a numerous population, shows them going forth [in] family groups [and] groups of friends and associates[31] … There was no point in having Jared’s language unconfounded if there was no one he could talk to, and his brother cried to the Lord that his friends might also retain the language. The same, however, would apply to any other language: If every individual were to speak a tongue all his own and so go off entirely by himself, the races would have been not merely scattered but quite annihilated.

We must not fall into the old vice of reading into the scripture things that are not there. There is nothing said in our text about every man suddenly speaking a new language. We are told in the book of Ether that languages were confounded with and by the “confounding” of the people: “Cry unto the Lord,” says Jared,[32] “that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words.”

The statement is significant for more than one thing. How can it possibly be said that “we may not understand our words”? Words we cannot understand may be nonsense syllables or may be in some foreign language, but in either case they are not our words. The only way we can fail to understand our own words is to have words that are actually ours change their meaning among us. That is exactly what happens when people, and hence languages, are either “confounded,” that is, mixed up, or scattered.[33]

In Ether’s account the confounding of people is not to be separated from the confounding of their languages; they are, and have always been, one and the same process: the Lord, we are told,[34] “did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded … and the Lord had compassion upon their friends and their families also, that they were not confounded.”[35] That “confound” as used in the book of Ether is meant to have its true and proper meaning of “to pour together,” “to mix up together,” is clear from the prophecy in Ether 13:8, that “the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land; … and they shall no more be confounded,” the word here meaning mixed up with other people, culturally, linguistically, or otherwise.

Neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon attributes the scattering of the people to the confusion of tongues. In Genesis, no explicit cause and effect is described — we are told only that “from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”[36] Likewise, as Nibley describes:[37]

After the brother of Jared had been assured that he and his people and their language would not be confounded, the question of whether they would be driven out of the land still remained to be answered: That was another issue, and it is obvious that the language they spoke had as little to do with driving them out of the land as it did with determining their destination.

Gardner summarized as follows:[38] “The confounding of languages is related to the mixing (confounding) of different peoples in creating this great tower in Babylon. From such a mixing of people who were attempting to build a [counterfeit] temple to the heavens, Yahweh removed some of His believers [e.g., the Jaredites and, at a future point, Abram] for His own purposes.”

Is there any evidence for a confusion of peoples in ancient Mesopotamian building projects? The Tower of Babel was almost certainly designed as a Mesopotamian ziggurat. At the top of a ziggurat was a gate where gods would enter the structure from their heavenly abode. At the bottom was a temple, where the gods would further descend to receive the gifts and worship of the people.[39]

Records are scarce for the earliest ziggurats, but inscriptions describe later reconstructions, such as the rebuilding of temple complexes at Babylon (E-temen-anki)[40] and Borsippa (Eur-me-imin-anki) by Nebuchadnezzar II. Inscriptions relating to these later towers attests the use of “bitumen and baked brick throughout” the structures[41] as described in the biblical account.[42] More intriguingly, we read an elaborate description of how workers were gathered from throughout the empire to execute a ziggurat-building project, recalling the biblical imagery of a confusion of languages and peoples:[43]

In order to complete E-temen-anki and Eur-me-imin-anki to the top … I mobilized [all] countries everywhere, [each and] every ruler [who] had been raised to prominence over all the people of the world [as one] loved by Marduk, from the upper sea [to the] lower [sea,] the [distant nations, the teeming people of] the world, kings of remote mountains and far-flung islands in the midst of the] upper and lower [seas,] whose lead-ropes [my] lord Marduk placed in [my] hand so [that they should] draw [his] chariot.

An inscription from Borsippa tells us that the ziggurat had been left unfinished and that, prior to the reconstruction by Nebuchadnezzar II, it had fallen into ruins — a reminder of the uncompleted structures of the biblical Babel:[44]

I built É-temen-anki, the ziggurat of Babylon (and) brought it to completion, and raised high its top with pure tiles (glazed with) lapis lazuli. At that time E-ur-(me)-imin-anki, the ziqqurrat of Borsippa, which a former king had built and raised by a height of forty-two cubits but had not finished (to) the top, had long since become derelict and its water drains were in disorder. Rains and downpours had eroded its brickwork. The baked brick of its mantle had come loose and the brickwork of its sanctum had turned into a heap of ruins.[45] My great lord Marduk stirred my heart to rebuild it.

Quite a bit of substance here. 

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

"For some in the modern world, the historicity of the tower of Babel story, as with the Flood, is often discounted. One modern school of thought considers the account to be nothing more than an “artful parable” and an “old tale.” But Latter-day Saints accept the story as it is presented in Genesis. Further, we have the second witness of the Book of Mormon. The title page of the Book of Mormon explains that the book of Ether “is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven.” The book of Ether itself then tells of when “Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth” (Ether 1:33)." (The Flood and the Tower of Babel (churchofjesuschrist.org))

From Robert F. Smith:

Quote

The problem, as you may notice, is that the Book of Mormon doesn't actually say "Tower of Babel." It says "Great Tower." The word "Babel" is considered by most biblical scholars to be an Exilic or Post-Exilic glosse on the original story about a great ziggurat somewhere in Mesopotamia. Thus, in this and many other cases, the Book of Mormon eschews the reediting of Scripture which took place during the Babylonian Exile or shortly thereafter. What actually took place at that ziggurat and what happened to the Jaredites (Hebrew* Yordim "Those-who-descended [-from-the-tower]") is another matter.

* Jared = Hebrew Yared "He-who-descended."

I find much richness and substance in Latter-day Saint thought on these topics.  

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

If the Tower of Babel and the confounding of the languages is myth,

"If."

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

how could the Book of Mormon possibly be ancient?

All sorts of ways.  From Jeremy Smith:

Quote

"All the stories are fictions. What matters is which fiction you believe." -- Orson Scott Card

History is not "what really happened." It's the translation of a particular interpretation of a series of events from biased and uninformed witnesses to even more uninformed readers, severely limited by the constraints of linear language and severely shaped by unquestioned inherited cultural presuppositions. We can only write down a ludicrously tiny amount of what we experience, and the very selection of events we choose to record is predicated on the unconscious moral weight we attach to what is "good" to remember. All causal assertions are post-facto fictions; that they might be useful fictions does not alter their fictiveness. All science is fictions that we tell ourselves until they scrape up against the witnessed "reality" of newly observed phenomena and need to be revised with that "continuing revelation"; in the meantime, the inherently-incomplete fictions are useful enough that we can build our rocketships and fly.

I think the underlying events in the Book of Mormon really happened. Those events were not "fictional". A small group of people from the Middle East crossed an ocean and came to America. They mixed with the others who were already here, and then their party split into devastating civil war. The story of the Book of Mormon is one for our times because it shows the effects of dividing the human family into warring factions rather than taking part in the At-One-Ment taught by the Anointed One who Speaks on behalf of the Divine Council, the rest of the family in the Heavens. The fulness of the Gospel is taught in the Book of Mormon: we had a premortal existence before this world was founded with Intelligence, the Plan of Salvation was voted on, and we can live again after this life.

But the transmission of that story can be handled any number of ways. What we have now in the Book of Mormon has been, at the very least, quadruple-filtered through the conceptual, linguistic, and cultural biases of the Middle East/Egypt, Mesoamerica, 19th-century New England, and the interpretative biases and limitations of our current day. That's thousands of years of history. That's records of memories of records of memories of records of memories of dreams and visions and hopes and sorrows, all funneled through Joseph Smith's brain and translated into the limited idiom he was familiar with. The story is just a construction we're all building in our minds in order to have enough common experience that we can bind each other into intergenerational communities. The Book of Mormon is a tool, not some word-perfect compendium of Unbiased Absolute Self-Interpreting Perfect Truth. There is no such thing; everything is interpretation and personal experience. If Nephi didn't say those exact words to his brothers, does it really matter? The lessons we find in the Book of Mormon are as true as we make them.

(Emphasis added.)

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Even if you want to theorize that the Book of Ether is some mythological account in its own right, how could that possibly jive with how neatly it fits into the narrative of the rest of the BoM (e.g. Coriantumr dwelling with the people of Zarahemla for nine moons)? Quoting again from Donald Parry, "In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets."

If one has the epiphany that these events didn't really occur and just belong to the genre of myth, "the multiple testimonies of God's prophets" becomes an awfully precarious foundation for belief. Thus the slippery slope.

I see this sort of unearned bravado all the time in litigation.  An attorney will assert, sans substantive evidence / reasoning / citation to legal authorities, that his interpretation of the facts and/or the law is definitive.  That there is no room for principled / reasoned / evidence-based disagreement.  To disagree is to be ignorant or stupid or dishonest.  And in that situation we're talking about disputed events that are only a few months or years old.

In this thread we are speaking about events that occurred, or did not occur, thousands and thousands of years ago.  Events that may, or may not have, involved divine involvement in them.  Events that may, or may not have, resulted in recorded recollections that were transmitted down through millennia via very imperfect means (as Jeremy Smith put it: "records of memories of records of memories of records of memories of dreams and visions and hopes and sorrows...").  

I recognize that there is plenty of room for reasoned disagreement about the verity and accuracy of these records.  But your approach does not seem to allow for that.  In your view, the lack of verity/accuracy is a foregone conclusion.  A "fact" to be "realize{d}" and "accept{ed}."  The rest of us are just rubes who have not yet experienced an "epiphany" sufficient to enlighten us to accept your conclusory opinion about disputed events that happened (or did not happen) thousands of years ago.  

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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Earlier I wrote:

5 hours ago, Olmec Donald said:

Seems to me that would limit scripture's usefulness to the scholarly few who know the specific context of a given passage.

To which Calm replied:

59 minutes ago, Calm said:

And even that would be an interpretation that could be wrong since historians/scholars don’t have those scribes/prophets available to consult for the accuracy and depth of our knowledge, which may be superficial at times… as should be obvious from how understanding of how the original authors understood what God meant scripture to say has changed over time and is even debated.  The scriptures would need to be infallible to begin with and infallible in transmission over the years. 

Yup!  That's why I used the word "know", because there is almost inevitably some uncertainty about the specific context even among scholars, so hopefully "knowing" the context isn't what matters most. 

59 minutes ago, Calm said:

As long as we understand that our personal interpretation of scripture is to lead us to seek out God and is not a general revelation or the only meaning one can get from the text, I don’t see the issue with how people “liken scripture” unless one doesn’t believe in personal revelation.

Imo the wording used by the brother who was "corrected" during a priesthood lesson - presumably a version of "this scripture means to me...(fill in the blank)...", may well have been his way of carefully not over-claiming the applicability of what the Spirit said to him through that scripture.  

Edited by Olmec Donald
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@Analytics I agree that Parry's Ensign article is a good example of the kind of "Christian Fundamentalism" and/or "Biblical Literalism" that was present in the 20th century in the Church (perhaps especially among BYU's Rel Ed faculty, CES, and many on the correlation committees of the time). However, especially here in the 21st century, there are plenty of active, believing Latter-day Saints (some even on this board, it seems) who do not believe in Parry's fundamentalism. One notable example that I'm aware of is Ben Spackman who specifically took Parry's article to task: https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2014/02/mormon-appropriation-of-fundamentalism-and-its-outcomes/

For me, the problem isn't so much that articles like Parry's exist, but that the Church is so reticent to ever explicitly disavow these things. I expect it is the same kind of attitude that was expressed by (I think) Pres. McKay when Elder McConkie published Mormon Doctrine. In spite of the issues that the top leadership had with McConkie's book, they opted to not publicly disavow what he said for fear that such a disavowal would reduce Elder McConkie's influence among the members. It seems to me that the best thing the Church could do with Parry's article (and some other publications) is explicitly state that such is/was the belief of many Church members, but the Church does not officially believe such and such and that members are free to adopt other beliefs (including non-literal beliefs, allegorical beliefs of scriptural stories). But I'm not holding my breath for such a statement.

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10 minutes ago, smac97 said:

He did?  CFR, please.

See the 8th Article of Faith.

10 minutes ago, smac97 said:

How is this materially incompatible with the "modern view of the Bible" you point to above?

Very incompatible. Believing that the Bible is a compilation, interpretation, and partial harmonization of even more ancient myths--many of which contradict each other--is different than believing that it was "correct as it came from the pen of the original writers."

10 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Well, the first step is to not reflexively accept the narrative of a skeptical stranger, and to instead let the Latter-day Saints speak for themselves. 

To be clear, you can believe whatever you want. You have my permission. I am sincere about that.

My point is simply this. Historically, Mormonism took a the Bible pretty-much at face value. The creation, fall, flood, etc. are all historical events that happened in the way the Bible describes. The Book of Mormon dovetails perfectly in all its details into that narrative of the world. From that literalist viewpoint, it all fits together very nicely.

When you get sophisticated about it and try to understand what the Bible actually is, what was actually written, what the strengths and weaknesses are of the KJV translation, etc., things get more complicated. The more you understand the truth and reality about the Bible, the more obvious it becomes that the BoM is based upon a simplistic 19th-century American interpretation of the KJV, not upon ancient pristine truth that was "correct as it came from the pen of the original writers."  

10 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Again, gotta love how your conclusory opinion is a "fact" to be "realize{d}" and "accept{ed}."  The rest of us are just rubes who have not yet experienced an "epiphany" sufficient to enlighten us to accept Analytics' say-so.

Maybe I just don't have the intelligence to do the mental gymnastics that you do.

In any case, let me restate my original point.

"Biblical scholars see the Book of Genesis as mythological and not as a historical account of events." (Tower of Babel - Wikipedia) I agree with them. The story is myth.

And I think the Book of Mormon is best classified under the genre of fan fiction of the bible.

So here are my questions to you:

1- What is the genre of the story of the tower of babel?

2- What genre is the Book of Mormon in general and the Book of Ether in particular?

3- How do you reconcile #1 and #2 with each other and with what we know about actual world history?

4- As you get more sophisticated in how you interpret the story of the tower of babel, does that make it easier or harder to believe the Church's orthodox position on the Book of Mormon?

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