Historical Criticism: A Necessary Element In The Search For Religious Truth

DAVID P WRIGHT is an assistant professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He received his doctorate in Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1984. He has taught at Brigham Young University and Middlebury College. This paper was delivered at the B. H. Roberts Society panel discussion, "Do What is Right, Let the Consequence Follow: Telling the Truth about Our Scriptures," on 6 February 1992 in Salt Lake City. Sunstone Vol. 16 No. 3 pp. 28-38 September 1992

THERE ARE TWO CONTRASTING MODES OF studying scripture's basic historical aspects-its date and authorship, the historical veracity of events described in it, and the existence of ideas and practices in the periods in which they are claimed to have existed. These are the traditionalist and historical critical modes. They have different ideological proclivities and tend to generate different conclusions and are thus components of discrete research paradigms if not of larger world views. As a consequence of this, movement from one mode to the other is not a simple choice of research strategy. Transition can only really come from a "conversion experience" in which an individual, upon perceiving the deficiencies of one framework and the overwhelming strengths of the other, is catapulted into the perceived stronger mode of thinking.

I had such a "conversion experience." I grew up a traditional Mormon and decided to pursue a career in Near Eastern studies so as to contribute to the "defense of the faith" along traditionalist lines. But during my university preparation I found that many of the traditional historical assumptions that I held did not make sense against the evidence that I was encountering. The process of transformation was slow, but by the end of my graduate education I had come to own the critical framework. Adopting this mode has brought some tactical woes,1 but its benefits in providing an understanding and appreciation of scripture and history have made these difficulties negligible. Criticism has allowed meaning and sense to surface in texts and events which were only partially elucidated in the traditionalist perspective. Above all it has been a spiritual journey and experience of the highest order, one that I would not choose to undo.

In this essay I wish to describe the evidential essence of my pilgrimage to criticism as I experienced it during my undergraduate and graduate educations. I will first summarize the characteristics of the traditionalist and critical modes. I will then describe some areas of evidence and some of the critical considerations that convinced me of the legitimacy of the critical orientation. In this discussion I will also describe responses and perspectives that I developed-i.e., "post-critical apologetics," so to speak-that gave me continuing appreciation of my religious tradition.

The Traditionalist And Critical Mode

BEFORE I actually describe the two modes, I need to make it clear that I am not talking about methods of study, but rather intellectual attitudes and orientations toward texts. The closest I come to speaking about method, below, is in describing what textual evidence is most important in making conclusions about basic historical issues about the text. Still, even in this, I am speaking about something more abstract or at a greater "distance' from the data studied than specific methods. Moreover, while particular methods may be associated with one or the other mode, the modes are not to be equated with these methods. I should also note that in the descriptions that follow I am not distinguishing between the two modes from the point of view of inherent or basic rationality. It is true that those with one orientation may call the other illogical; but each mode attempts to satisfy the demands of reason within its own research paradigm. This is one of the reasons why people do not readily flock from one mode to the other.

The traditionalist mode looks at scripture's historical aspects [29] --its composition, date, accuracy of events, and chronological placement of ideas and practices-in terms of what a particular religious tradition has determined or come to believe to be the case about these matters. The scriptural text is read uncritically: what the work claims on the surface with respect to historical aspects is accepted for the most part as the historical reality. Moreover, in this mode there is little review of what qualifies for evidence in historical study. Sometimes when traditionalist study is undertaken systematically or in depth, certain peripheral traditional views and assumptions are modified to harmonize with or support central tenets.2 Nevertheless, conclusions in many respects are predetermined. All this indicates that the ideology of the traditionalist approach is conservative. It preserves preexisting ideas and practices. (I do not mean to imply here that conservatism is a negative feature.)

In contrast to the traditionalist mode, the historical critical mode ("critical" having to do with proper discernment, not unfair or purposefully negative judgment) determines the historical aspects of scripture through evaluation of the contextual evidence exhibited by a text rather than through surface or external claims. While it acknowledges that these claims may be helpful in formulating hypotheses about the basic historical aspects of the text, it realizes that what a text claims or what external parties claim about a text is not necessarily correct. This leads to a second defining element of the critical mode: a willingness on the part of the researcher to acknowledge the possibility that historical matters may be different from what is claimed by a text and the tradition surrounding it. While research cannot be carried out without some guiding hypotheses, presuppositions, and enabling prejudices, a critical scholar is prepared in the back of her or his mind to modify, even radically, conclusions and hypotheses about basic historical matters. Thus the critical framework, and here is the third defining feature of the orientation, is a mode of open-ended inquiry. No conclusion is immune from revision. Revision comes by continual review of one's own conclusions and the review of others' differing conclusions which the framework encourages and tolerates. Review is also required for assumptions about what counts for evidence and how evidence is to be understood. The requirement of review is related to the notion, mentioned above, that external claims-be they scholarly or nonscholarly-about a text are questionable. In contrast to the conservatism of the traditionalist mode, the critical mode has a liberal or at times even a radical or anarchic ideological tendency.3 But the critical mode can operate within a larger conserving and community-supporting context (my so-called "post-critical apologetics" that I adduce below will suggest something of this).

The main objection of traditionalists to the critical mode is that it requires denying supernatural elements and discounting the evidential value of mystical and emotive-spiritual experience. Theoretically, the critical mode does not require such a humanistic coloring. All it requires is a willingness to subject to critical review all historical questions as well as presuppositions about what counts for evidence and how evidence is construed. But it is true that the critical mode as used, for example, by biblical scholars has resulted in conclusions with a rather humanistic coloring. The question here is whether this is the fault of the mode or whether is it indicative of the truth behind the evidence. I would suggest the latter. This certainly does not mean that there is no divine element, but it may be that it operates differently than what we have come to expect traditionally.4

The main theoretical recommendation for the critical mode is that it is consistent: it treats all media of human discoursesecular and holy-in the same way Scripture, whatever might be said about its inspiration, is a vehicle for human understanding-it speaks to us in our own language-and thus it seems fallacious to exempt it from critical analysis. The traditionalist mode is less than consistent in its tendency to immunize scripture or claims about historical aspects of scripture from critical study.5 It is for these reasons that James Barr, a noted biblical scholar, has argued that historical study is by nature critical; any operation that does not have the critical element is not historical.6

The Shift From Traditionalism to Criticism

THOUGH the critical mode may be more attractive theoretically, this attractiveness will not by itself move a traditionalist to accept this mode of study, especially with its threat of a turn in a humanistic direction and its nonconservative ideological cast. The critical mode has to force itself on a traditionalist by showing that it makes better sense of evidence than the traditionalist approach in several key matters. I want to review here three areas of critical observations that I made during my years of university training which compelled me to acknowledge the validity of the critical approach. I will add some constructive afterthoughts in each case to show that ultimately the critical approach can enrich the religious tradition. What I [30] say here is only a sampling of the evidence responsible for my transformation. Furthermore, though I discuss these matters separately, the different ideas were all developing at the same time and mutually influenced each other.

The "Gospel Throught The Ages"

One of the views that I was drawn to accept was that the "gospel" was not the same in all the ages. I discovered that Israelite and Christian religious traditions as found in the Old and New Testaments were phenomenologically-in fundamental belief and practice different from one another and different from our religious tradition today True, each subsequent manifestation of the tradition grew out of the earlier traditions and, therefore, the subsequent manifestations shared many formal and ideational traits with earlier ones. But the passage of time and the different circumstances in which later adherents lived led to an evolution and change in religious ideas and practices.

One place where this notion of religious difference and development became clear to me was in my study of the biblical cult, i.e., matters pertaining to temple and temple worship in ancient Israel.7 I found that the traditional explanation that Israelite sacrifice typologically represented the death of Jesus did not make sense in view of the complexity of the sacrificial system of the Hebrew Bible and the general purpose of sacrifice indicated by that text. The evidence, found mainly in the priestly legislation of the Pentateuch (Leviticus and parts of Exodus and Numbers), showed that there were several types of sacrifices each with divergent goals: some for praise, some for thanksgiving, some for rectification of the noxious effects of one's impurity or sin on the sanctuary, and some for the rectification of damage done to what is holy The theory or perspective that held these diverse sacrifices together was that they were gifts, specifically food gifts, to the deity to respond to or induce his blessing or to appease his wrath. It was not the slaughter or death of the animal, but the presentation of fat and meat pieces to the deity on the altar as a type of meal that was the focus of the rites.8 This view was corroborated by the fact that cereal offerings accompanied (and sometimes substituted for) the animal offerings-this was the bread portion of the meal. Wine was also offered in libation, the beverage portion of the service (cf. Numbers 15:1-16). Further evidence for this was also found in Psalm 50 which implicitly recognized the fact that sacrifice was a meal by rejecting (and rightly so in the biblical context) a literal understanding of the rite as such.9 This rationale of sacrifice was confirmed in part by the significance of sacrifice among Israel's neighbors, much of which chronologically predates the phenomenon in ancient Israel and suggested, by the way, that Israel came by its practice through its Near Eastern ancestors an neighbors. In the non-Israelite context, offerings were also meal gifts to appease or induce the action of the gods.10 In sum, the ancient Israelites had a different view of the meaning of sacrifice than we did. The view that it represented Jesus' death seemed to be an imposition on the text. Thus ideas about the meaning of sacrifice were not the same in all the ages.

A similar question arose in connection with another aspect of my cultic study, that of ritual purification. When I systematically studied practices of purification in the Old Testament, it became clear that baptism, which Mormon tradition and scripture said existed in pre-Christian antiquity, was no where to be found in that ancient text.11 There were ablutions for removing ritual impurity arising from certain conditions pertaining to death, sexual matters, and disease. And the idea of washing and sprinkling of sinners, based for the most part on the purification of persons from ritual impurity, occurred as a metaphor. But there was no actual sin-removing ablution which functioned as a means of entry into the covenant community Now to say that baptism was not practiced because it was not attested was certainly an argument from silence. But the silence took on significance in view of the fact that the Bible spoke frequently about-even prescribed in detail-other sorts of ablutions. The silence was also significant in that baptism would have had been a major initiatory rite de passage, much like circumcision. But whereas the Old Testament was peppered with clear references to circumcision, it had none regarding baptism. This evidence led me to the conclusion that baptism, for the purposes we supposed, was probably not practiced in ancient Israel. This then provided an example of [31] where Mormon and Christian practice, not just ideas, differed from those of our more remote religious ancestors.12

Confirmation of the notion that religious ideas and practices evolved came through study of Mormon history itself which evidenced a clear evolution of ideas and practices within its short one hundred and fifty (now sixty ) year history it seemed that if there could be an evolution of ideas and practices over a few decades, such as in the identity and nature of God,13 the organization of the Church,14 the practice of baptism,15 in the priesthood and related practices,16 and in temple work and doctrine,17 so there could be-even must be-changes and developments over the centuries of Israelite, Christian, and Mormon traditions.

I developed a post-critical apologetic response to this conclusion so as to be able to observe some sort of continuity and identity between the biblical and Mormon traditions despite their phenomenological differences. My argument was that though these religious traditions did not always manifest identity of practices and ideas in form and content, varying and different practices and ideas in these traditions did manifest some identity in function. In comparing practices or ideas and looking for similarity therein, one was to search for and compare the common goals in the religious traditions and how the traditions achieved these goals rather than to search for exact similarity in practices and beliefs. Thus in the case of Mormon baptism, I compared to it the practice of circumcision in the Hebrew Bible that, like baptism, was a sign of membership in the covenantal community; I compared purgation and reparation sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible that, like baptism, rectify personal evil in some way, and I compared Old Testament ablutions for removing ritual impurities that, like baptism, reflect an interest in purifying moral impurity.18 To the matter of Israelite sacrifice I compared the practice of prayer in Mormon tradition, which has similar goals. Just as in the case of prayer, biblical sacrifice was offered to praise and thank God for blessings, to request further blessings, and to effect repentance.19 Sacrifice was thus a form of concretized prayer. In sum, for me, the continuity of the biblical and Mormon traditions came to lie not in common practices and beliefs but in common goals amid diverse practices and beliefs. Scriptural and religious history began to make much more sense from this perspective. I could deal with the evidence without having to resort lamely to notions of scribal conspiracy or knowledge withholding sin to harmonize the disparity that existed between ancient and modern traditions.


AT the same time that I was rethinking the matter of the sameness imagined to be found in religious phenomena and ideas, I was rethinking traditional assumptions about the phenomenon and nature of prophecy in the Bible and other Mormon scripture. The traditional view was that prophets are able to see far into the future and do so with clarity This did not seem to be sustainable upon critical study.

A good example of what I discovered is found in the prophetic works pertaining to the sixth century B.C.: the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, and Zechariah (chapters 1-8). At the beginning of this century the Babylonians were threatening the kingdom of Judah with destruction. This destruction finally came in 586 B.C. when the temple was destroyed and many Judeans were exiled to Mesopotamia. The Babylonian realm did not endure. The Persians soon came to power in Mesopotamia and the conquering King Cyrus allowed the captive Judeans to return to their land around 538, rebuild destroyed cities and towns, and even rebuild the temple. The prophetic expressions in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, and Zechariah pertain to these historical events and indicated that prophecy had a rather imminent orientation and that its view of the future was not a clear one.

The collective evidence for this view can be summarized as follows. These prophetic books share the common expectation of an imminent return to the land of Israel and consequent abundant and even enduring blessing after Babylonian captivity.20 The preexilic or early exilic portions of Jeremiah and Ezekiel say that the captivity will not last for long: the book of Jeremiah says seventy years;21 the book of Ezekiel, much of which was probably composed in the Exile, says that their glorious return is "near at hand" (Hebrew: ki qeirevu lavo').22 Zechariah, who lived shortly after the exile, noted that he and his people were living at the end of the seventy-year period.23 These prophets collectively say that after the people's punishment in the foreign land the people-and this often includes other Israelites who had suffered dispersion in earlier political catastrophes-would be forgiven and renewed (e.g., given a new heart) and come back to their land.24 Ezekiel goes as far as to say that the restoration to the land would be total; God was going to "gather [the people] back into their land and leave none of them behind" (Ezekiel 39:25, 28). The four prophetic works contain the expectation that the restoration to the land [32] would begin a period of regeneration when the people would no longer be troubled by their enemies and would have agricultural and economic prosperity.25 Jerusalem would be rebuilt and become glorious.26 The temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Babylonians, would also be rebuilt, and its priesthood and sacrificial worship would be reestablished.27 The last nine chapters of Ezekiel contain the ideal plan and context for such a temple (Ezekiel 40-48). That this is a temple for Ezekiel's own time is seen in the facts that he is the one who was to inaugurate the temple's sacrificial worship, thus functioning something like a second Moses,28 and that the Judeans in Babylonian exile were to be shown the design of the temple so that after repentance they could execute the plan and fulfill its cultic prescriptions.29 Haggai, a contemporary of Zechariah, spoke of the ideal glory of the restoration temple when he said that the building would be adorned with precious things " shaken" out of the surrounding nations.30 With the temple and Jerusalem rebuilt, God would come and again make his abode in the temple (or the city).31 For Ezekiel specifically, God's return to the post-Babylonian captivity temple would rectify his leaving it just before the destruction.32 All the four prophets indicate that the Davidic kingdom would be reestablished in this age of restoration.33 Jeremiah terms the new king a "righteous branch" (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15). Ezekiel calls him a "prince" (nasi') and subordinates him to the priesthood.34

The posterity of this king would continue to rule after him according to Jeremiah and Ezekiel.35 Thus the picture is not of a single king but of a continuing dynasty. For Haggai, the king reinaugurating this dynasty was to be his contemporary Zerubbabel (who was of Davidic descent) who would take his place as the thrones of other nations are destroyed.36 Zechariah also appears to single Zerubbabel out for royal position, apparently calling him the "branch" and thus tying him into the Jeremianic expectation of a Davidic king or dynasty.37 This Davidic king or dynasty according to Jeremiah and Ezekiel would rule over the two houses of Israel that had split apart after the death of Solomon.38

This picture suggested to me that prophecy has the following characteristics: (a) it does not concern itself generally with events far in the future-it has an imminent orientation (the hopes of the foregoing beatific restoration are localized in the sixth century B.C.), and (b) the Vision of even the imminent future is not clearly predicted or known (note that several of the aforementioned expectations did not occur: the propensities of the people to sin remained the same; only some, not all, of the Israelites returned to the land; the Judeans remained dominated by foreign nations; the rebuilt temple and Jerusalem were not as glorious as expected; Ezekiel's ideal temple was not built; the Davidic dynasty was not restored, and Zerubbabel in particular did not become king; this unclear vision of the future is also marked by an apparent ignorance of the vicissitudes of Christian and Jewish history in the years far into the future).

This perception about the nature of prophecy was verified by the sometimes guarded but nonetheless openly expressed expectations in the New Testament that Jesus would return in the time of the first Christians. Paul, for example, said to the Thessalonians: ". . . we [Paul and the living Thessalonians] who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.... we [i.e., Paul and the Thessalonians] who are alive ... will be caught up in the clouds together with [those who have died among the first Christians] to meet the Lord in the air."39 This perspective about prophecy was also verified in the expectations of Joseph Smith. When the Saints were driven from Jackson County in 1833, for example, his revelations expressed hopes of imminent reclamation of the land.40 Mormon tradition has come to read these unfulfilled hopes, like the unfulfilled biblical prophecies of gathering, as matters for the future. This should not obscure the fact, however, that their formulation has an imminent orientation revealing that the prophet had an unclear perception about the denouement of future events.41 (The Book of Mormon did not enter into the evidence for the nature of prophecy since the book was beginning to show itself as a nineteenth-century composition, as I note later.)

The theological reconstruction that I pursued in consequence of these critical conclusions was to see prophetic expressions, not as statements concerning communities and events far in the future, but as statements that concerned their immediate contexts which could be picked up by later communities [33] and reapplied secondarily to their situation as occasion demanded. This was not simply a theological principle, but one based on historical fact. The apocalyptic chapters of the book of Daniel, for example, which were certainly written in the first half of the second century B.C. and not in the sixth-century, understood Jeremiah's seventy years to mean seventy weeks of years. Thus the hopes of Jeremiah (and of other prophets of the time) were reinterpreted to apply to the situation in the second century B. C.42 My response saw the prophecies of old not as announcements of what was certainly to be in the future but as sources of inspiration for creating prophetic vision in a later religious community. But the question was, Who was to "re-vision" these prophecies of old for the present community, particularly our community? I argued that it was to be those who had the same relationship to the community now as those who first spoke the messages had to their communities, i.e., the community's current prophetic leaders. This reapplication of unfulfilled prophetic hopes would itself be an act of prophecy, something only prophets could do.43 My apologetic had one unfortunate corollary: since only prophets could reactualize and reapply this prophecy, fireside speakers and popular writers who were used to tallying the numbers in Daniel and conflating predictions to tell us what was going to appear in next week's newspapers would have to find new acts.

Textual Composition And Dating

MY views also changed about the composition and date of much of scripture. Over time I came to see that some generally accepted critical views about the composition of the Bible were valid and that the "ancient" scriptures produced by Joseph Smith were not really ancient but his own compositions-what applied to prophetic foresight also applied to prophetic hindsight. I will limit myself here to the subjects of the date of Isaiah 40-55 and the authorship of the Book of Mormon.

One of the more challenging critical views about the Bible that I encountered and came to accept was that the last half of Isaiah, chapters 40-66, did not belong to the eighth-century figure Isaiah who was the author of a significant part of the material in chapters 1-39.44 I came to agree with the view that these last chapters were to be divided into at least two subsections- chapters 40-55, called Second or Deutero Isaiah, and 56-66, called Third or Trito Isaiah.45 Second Isaiah is dated to just before the initial return from Babylonian captivity, just before 538 B.C. The date of Third Isaiah is more disputed, but a dating around the end of the sixth century seems reasonable. The main reason for seeing these chapters as sixth century productions, particularly 40-55 to which I will limit myself here, was that their content fits perfectly into the expectations of return from captivity and blessing toward the end of the exile in that century. Specifically, the temporal perspective of the chapters can only be satisfactorily explained by assuming the work was written around the time-perhaps just before Cyrus conquered Babylon. The following basic picture appeared from my study of these chapters: (a) the people have recently suffered (past tense) destruction;46 (b) Mesopotamia is the place of captivity, and the Babylonians are the enemy quickly fading from the picture (present tense);47 (c) the temple and cities, including Jerusalem, have been destroyed (past tense) and need rebuilding (future orientation);48 (d) release from Babylonian captivity is imminent (present-future orientation);49 (e) Cyrus the Persian king is the political leader who will effect the release (present tense);50 (f the chapters look forward to bounteous blessing upon the return from Babylon (future orientation).51

The temporal situation in these described events formed a "hairpart," so to speak, marking the historical standpoint of the writer. Destruction has already occurred, the people are already in Babylonian captivity; Cyrus is the agent effecting release; rebuilding and blessing will occur in the future. The writer, then, was writing from the temporal standpoint of one living approximately 539 B.C. when Cyrus took control of or was about to take control of Babylon.

Another logical consideration also constrained me to believe that these chapters were composed about this date. If eighth-century Isaiah is speaking here, why does his ability to envision matters with specificity extend to only this sixth century date? He gives us relatively precise historical details to this point: Jerusalem is destroyed, the people are in captivity in Babylon, and Cyrus is the one who will release them from captivity. But after this period specifics are wholly lacking, we only have a general prophecy of blessing. Why does the writer not give us the detail of events in centuries to come? This logical difficulty and the temporal perspective led me to conclude that the chapters must have been written in the main around 539 B.C.

My critical view about the last half of Isaiah did not come easily because it meant that the Book of Mormon exhibited [34] anachronism in its citing of five full chapters of Second Isaiah and portions of others.52 Lehi and his family could not have brought these chapters to the New World since the chapters were composed according to the critical view some sixty years after the family came to the new world. Indeed, four full chapters of Second Isaiah are cited in First and Second Nephi which are traditionally dated before 544 B.C. Because in my early university studies I could not accept the conclusion that the Book of Mormon was not ancient, I was very reserved at first about accepting the conclusion that chapters 40-55 were written after Lehi's supposed departure from Jerusalem. But other lines of evidence led me to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon was a work-a scriptural work to be sure-composed in the nineteenth century by Joseph Smith. Some of the evidence pertained to matters listed in other sections above: the book portrayed a relative homogeneity of religious ideas and practices which contradicted the critical perception of the evolution of religious phenomena. And the character of prophecy in it did not accord with that studied in scriptural works and expressions whose date was relatively certain. But the decisive evidence for me was textual anachronism. I will give one other brief piece of evidence.

One of Alma's famous speeches (or speech-discussions), Alma 12-13, upon close analysis depends upon the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews.53 The anachronism consists in the fact that Alma 12-13 are dated traditionally to 82 B.C. while the book of Hebrews is dated somewhere between 60-100 A.D. These Book of Mormon chapters reflect phraseology and ideas from at least five different chapters of Hebrews. The thickness and exactness of parallels alone suggested that these chapters of Alma were dependent on Hebrews. A study of the parallels confirmed this direction of dependence. For example, Alma 13:17-19 and Hebrews 7:1-4 speak about the priest-king Melchizedek. Hebrews begins by paraphrasing Genesis 14:18-20, which speaks of Melchizedek, and then constructs an argument about his greatness. What shows the dependence of the Alma passage on Hebrews is that it has the same elements in the same order as the Hebrews passage and in this reflects the particular argument of Hebrews: (a) both passages refer demonstratively to "this Melchizedek"; (b) they say he was king over the land of Salem; (c) they say he was a priest; (d) they explain his title of king of Salem and king of peace; (e) they mention something about Melchizedek's father; and (f) they note that Melchizedek was "great." The last three elements are not in Genesis 14 and are thus part of the unique argument Hebrews develops. This indicates the Alma 13 passage is dependent upon Hebrews. Another sign that Alma depends on Hebrews is in the former's lack of certain problematic formulations found in Hebrews. For example in Hebrews, Melchizedek is said to be "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" (7:3). This illogical statement does not appear in Alma. Rather, Melchizedek has a father there and the statement about lacking beginning of days and end of life is attributed to the priesthood and to Jesus (Alma 13:18 and vv. 7-9). This seems to indicate that Alma 12-13 has solved problems inherent in Hebrews, which means is it dependent upon it. Much more evidence could be brought pertaining to these Book of Mormon chapters, but it is rather clear from this little evidence that they are dependent upon Hebrews. Hence they and the Book of Mormon at large, to make a generalization supported by other evidence, are not ancient compositions.

The post-critical response that I developed to these conclusions came through observing that the critical approach employed by many non-Mormon biblical scholars in studying the Bible did not lead them to reject the Bible as a religiously valuable document. These scholars were able to distinguish between judgments about historical matters and judgments about spiritual worth. The conclusions that the Pentateuch came from a period much later than the time of Moses and that it did not reflect true history54 or that the gospels of the New Testament were written a generation or more after the time of Jesus and that they contained unhistorical elaborations on the life of Jesus55 did not require the rejection of the text as scripture. These scholars argued, in fact, that the critical method opened up the meaning of scripture and made it more relevant.56

This sort of argument I applied not only to the Bible but to the Book of Mormon and other so-called "ancient" Mormon scripture, which upon critical inspection turned out to be nineteenth-century compositions. Though the date of these works changed, and certain perspectives about the nature of the information conveyed by them changed, they still served me as scriptural works. The Book of Mormon became a window [35] to the religious soul of Joseph Smith. It manifested his own religious questions, his struggle with ideas around him, and his attempts to answer these difficulties. As a place of asking questions and giving answers it constituted the apprentice's workshop in which he became a prophet. Reading it critically unfolded another dimension of Joseph's creative life. His example gave me continued encouragement in my religious searchings. It allowed me to appreciate his intellectual ability and spiritual insight.


I HAVE spoken largely in a past-tense mode to describe how I came to accept the critical approach to studying scripture. But clearly the implication of all this is a recommendation that we in Mormon tradition consider the validity of this orientation and these general conclusions. The critical perspectives about religious evolution, the nature of prophecy, and the composition of the Bible and Book of Mormon are not eccentric, but represent ideas and conclusions shared by critical scholars at large. The apologetic we should be pursuing is not a defense of tradition against the reasonableness of criticism, but the formulation of post-critically revisioned religious perspectives that allow our God-given abilities to think to flourish and a mature faith to grow To require putting aside these legitimate questions, the critical method, and the clear conclusions and evidence generated thereby is to require setting aside our search for and claims about being interested in historical and even religious truth.57

There is another consideration in addition to a search for truth that recommends serious attention to the historical critical approach and its results. I add this despite the risk of being charged with "political correctness." Scripture defines and constructs much of the way members of society perceive and interact with other people and the world around them. Because of this there is an ethical obligation to critically examine the historical nature of scripture to be sure that the attitudes and perceptions it generates are legitimately grounded.

For example, Mormon scripture and tradition teaches that the religion of the ancient Israelites (from the time of Moses) was inferior to Christianity The Israelites were given this form of religion, the tradition says, because of rebellion.58 Critical study indicates that this understanding of Israelite religion is wrong. Christianity was rather a development out of Israelite religion, not the restoration or establishment of a religion which could have been the Israelites' "if they had been righteous." The traditional interpretation grew out of an attempt to explain the differences between Israelite and Christian beliefs and practices. We have the ethical responsibility of examining the validity of this critical perspective seriously and carefully lest we hold unfounded notions that create attitudes that are injurious to the Jewish people whose religious foundation is the Hebrew Bible, the product of ancient Israelite religious experience.

The Book of Mormon teaches that Native Americans received their skin coloring as the result of a sin of their ancestors.59 The book also offers descriptions-negative descriptions-about the personality and character of supposed Native American ancestors.60 A critical study of the Book of Mormon, as I have indicated, shows that Joseph Smith was its author, which carries with it the implication that these perspectives about Native Americans were his own speculations. We have the ethical responsibility of examining the validity of this critical perspective seriously and carefully lest we hold unfounded notions that create attitudes that are injurious to Native Americans.

Finally, scripture and tradition teach that the present order of things is soon to pass away Critical study of the nature of prophecy, however, indicates that the future is not clearly known. Moreover, many in the past-Israelites, early Christians, and even early Mormons-had imminent expectations that were not realized. We have the ethical obligation of examining the validity of this critical perspective seriously and carefully lest we make a mistake of taking a short-sighted view about the future and, by ignoring environmental problems and by the build-up of destructive weaponry, leave to our children and the many generations after them the desolating product of our blindness.61

Our community has a mission, but it cannot be fully realized without the use of all our faculties. The spirit will generate in us commitment to our community, a sense of the relevance of our developing religious tradition, and a perception of the divine in our own and our spiritual ancestors' history But reasoned critical study must be allowed to guide us in our search for historical understanding and matters related thereto.62


  1. On my employment at BYU see the article and my statement in SUNSTONE 12 (May 1988)- 43-44. See also Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 141-42.
  2. See James Barr, Fundamentalism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), 4055, on how a fundamentalist approach to scripture is not to be defined or viewed as strictly literalistic. The fundamentalist view allows modification of literal understandings to support the larger perception of biblical "inerrancy."
  3. A "liberal" tendency refers to the situation where a conclusion or conclusions perpetuate former ways of thinking but with some revision, "radical" refers to the situation where a conclusion or conclusions differ completely from previous ways of thinking; and "anarchic" refers to the situation where each individual differs in his/her conclusions. These terms are used to indicate simply and abstractly the relationship of conclusions to formerly held views. They are not to be construed as referring to larger political alliances and orientations.
  4. One issue that I can only briefly address in this paper, related to the matters just raised, is the evidential value of spiritual experience for historical study. (Note: by "spiritual experience" I include all that a traditional framework would include under this rubric. I have mainly in mind, however, "testimony-inducing" spiritual experience. On another matter, I realize that the term "spiritual experience" may reflect "overbelief" in regard to the phenomenon, My concern is not to examine the complex etiology of such experience [for something on this, see the end of this note]. I share with my readers the given of "spiritual experience" and discuss how this might be understood.)
    I say up front that spiritual experience is one of several avenues of understanding (including "scientific" study, historical criticism, aesthetic experience, intuition, tradition- others could be named). These various avenues do generate knowledge and truth. But it seems to me that these different avenues do not [36] speak with equal force about the same questions. Historical criticism is not going to inform me much about the artful sense of a chapter in the Bible or how I might use its message to better my life. Thus I need some of these other avenues to derive answers to these questions. On the other hand, nonhistorical avenues (including spiritual experience) are not going to tell me much about the basic historical issues surrounding a scriptural text. For this I need historical criticism.
    The problem with the spiritual mode as an avenue of historical understanding is that while tradition represents information obtained by it as unerring and unified, the fact of the matter is that there is great diversity in what people come to know by this route. Witness, for example, the revelations of Hiram Page (D&C 28) and David Whitmer (An Address to All Believers in Christ [Richmond, MO: David Whitmer, 18871 passim but especially p. 27), which contradict the revelations and understandings of Joseph Smith and of other members of the Church. Note also that it is not just Mormons who have these experiences-experiences which often contradict each other and Mormon expectations. See, for example, Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (2nd ed.; London: Oxford University Press, 1950); William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Macmillan, 1961); Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (New York: E. P. Dutton, [19301); and especially Marghanita Laski, Ecstasy in Secular and Religious Experiences (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1961). To define as valid only those spiritual experiences which conform to orthodoxy or a particular person's spiritual experiences does not solve any of these problems, but instead creates an evidentiary uroboros. Because of these difficulties with spiritual experience, the historical critical mode appears to be the most viable approach to investigating historical matters.
    After saying this, I should note, however, that spiritual experience is not to be written off. It is a mode of understanding, as I have said-but more precisely, a mode of self-understanding. It leads an individual to recognize the relevance and meaning of the tradition and community to her or his life. It helps bind the individual to that tradition and community. It helps develop in an individual a positive response to the traditions and community. In this way this type of experience helps cultivate, among other things, a common or community sense of morality (in the broadest sense of that term) and a common or community sense of purpose. This "subjective-relational" sense of spiritual experience rather than the "objective-probative" sense (which is the traditional understanding of most spiritual experience, i.e., spiritual experiences prove an external objectivity) has the virtue of allowing both good scholarship and the religious community to flourish.
    Careful scholarly study of spiritual experience in Mormon tradition is long overdue. This study must be done from phenomenological, historical, hermeneutical, psycho-physiological, and theological perspectives. For study of the phenomenon in Mormonism, particularly emotive "testimony-generating" spiritual experience, one can begin with Laski's book, mentioned above, which shows that many people have "ecstatic" experiences (in religious and secular contexts) that are similar to those claimed by Mormons. For historical study of emotive-spiritual experience in Mormonism, one can begin with R. Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1963), 55-116. These pages hint that Mormonism's notions about spiritual experience have their immediate matrix in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American evangelical and revivalist thought according to which individuals could have access to divine knowledge through emotive spiritual experience without the aid of ministerial or academic training. For hermeneutical study, one can begin with the work of philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method, 2d ed. [New York: Crossroad, 19891) who allows for and describes the manifold ways human beings gain knowledge and understanding. For a beginning to understanding the psychological and physiological factors involved, see Laski and James (above), and well as Bernard Spilka, Ralph Hood, and Richard Gorsuch, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985), 153-256 (and see the bibliography here). For theological understandings, see the last four works in note 57, by Ostler, Hutchinson, Dulles, and Gnuse.
  5. Critical study of other Mormon documents has been undertaken. For works on Joseph Smith's history, see Dean C. Jessee, "The Writing of Joseph Smith's History," Brigham Young University Studies 11 (1971): 439-73; "The Reliability of Joseph Smith's History,"Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976): 23-46; cf. Stan Larson, "The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text," Brigham Young University Studies 18 (1978): 195-208. For a critical analysis of a revelation claimed to date from 1841 used by Sidney Rigdon to support his claim to succession in the Church presidency, see Andrew Ehat, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question" (MA Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981), 220-24. Anachronism is the criterion that is used to show the revelation was an "aftermath reaction to the August 1844 succession of the Quorum of the Twelve" (see 222-23). Such critical approaches must be applied to the Bible and to Joseph Smith's scriptures in Mormon tradition.
    Critical work on the Book of Mormon text has been pursued (cf. Stan Larson, "Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon Manuscripts," Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought 10 [Winter, 19771: 8-30, "Conjectural Emendation and the Text of the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 18 [1978]: 56369; Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Book of Mormon Critical Text: A Tool for Scholarly Reference [Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1984-1987]). Textual criticism is only a small part of the larger historical critical endeavor.
  6. On this point, see James Barr, The Scope and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980), 30-31, Thus from Barr's point of view (and mine) there can be no such thing as traditional (or faithful) history if "traditional" (or "faithful") means uncritically holding to preconceptions about the historical nature of documents and their contents: "traditional" (or "faithful") and "history" are a contradiction in terms.
  7. My dissertation as well as many of my published works have focused on this area. See David P. Wright, The Disposal of Impurity: Elimination Rites in the Bible and Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature (Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 101; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987).
  8. The placement of blood on the altar is also a focal point in the rite. This has various purposes. Sprinkling blood from "sin" (purgation) offerings and placing it on the horns of altars served to purify the locales and sancta in or on which it was used (cf, Leviticus 16:14-19). Dashing blood against the sides of the altar in other sacrifices apparently served to ransom the offerer from bloodguilt incurred through slaughtering an animal (cf. Leviticus 17:3-4, 11), though this may also have some purificatory and expiatory effect similar to the blood rite of the "sin" (purgation) offering. See Wright, Disposal, 147-59.
  9. The sacrificed animals were not substitutes for the people who brought them, vicariously suffering for them, but were presents given to God (see my article, "The Gesture of Hand Placement in the Hebrew Bible and in Hittite Literature," Journal of the American Oriental Society 106 [19861: 433-46). This is comparable to more obvious acts of appeasement where Aaron Stops God's plague with an incense offering (Numbers 17:8-15; English 16:43-50) or David stops God's plague with sacrifice (2 Samuel 24:18-25). Isaiah 53: 10, in a metaphor, is the only place that speaks of substitution.
  10. See A. L. Oppenheim, with E. Reiner, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1977), 183-98; 0. R. Gurney, Some Aspects of Hittite Religion (Oxford: Oxford University for the British Academy, 1977), 25-63; and Wright, Disposal, 31-45.
  11. See David P. Wright, "Unclean and Clean (OT)," Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. D. N. Freedman; 6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992) 6:729-41.
  12. The claim that these inconsistencies can be explained by the removal of data from the Bible does not hold in view of the actual history of the biblical canon or in view of the inability to determine any convincing explanation why such practices or beliefs would be removed in the pre-Christian period. Why would the messianic view of atoning sacrifice be removed when the Hebrew Bible quite openly speaks of a messianic figure? Why would baptism per se be removed when the Bible recognizes a host of other purificatory ablutions?
  13. Van Hale, "The Doctrinal Impact of the King Follett Discourse," Brigham Young University Studies 18 (1978): 209-25; Boyd Kirkland, "Jehovah as the Father," SUNSTONE 9 (Autumn 1984): 36-44 and "Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism and the Bible," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Spring 1986): 79-93; Thomas G. Alexander, "The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology," SUNSTONE 5 July-August 1980): 24-33; David John Buerger, "The Adam-God Doctrine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Spring 1982): 14-58.
  14. See Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1967); D. Michael Quinn, "The Council of Fifty and Its Members," Brigham Young University Studies 20 (1980): 163-97 and "The Evolution of the Presiding Quorums of the LDS Church," Journal of Mormon History 1 (1975): 21-38; Andrew F. Ehat, " 'It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth': Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God," Brigham Young University Studies 20 (1980): 253-79; D. Michael Quinn, "From Sacred Grove to Sacral Power Structure," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984): 9-34.
  15. See D. Michael Quinn, "The Practice of Rebaptism at Nauvoo," Brigham Young University Studies 18 (1978): 226-32.
  16. See "Official Declaration-2" in the Doctrine and Covenants; Lester E. Bush [37] Jr., "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought 8 (Spring 1973): 11-68; Mark L. Grover, "The Mormon Priesthood Revelation and the Sao Paulo, Brazil Temple," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23 (Spring 1990): 39-53; Linda King Newell, "A Gift Given, A Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick among Mormon Women: Changes from Joseph's Time to the Present," SUNSTONE 6 July-August 1981): 16-25 (with responses by D. Michael Quinn and Irene M. Bates, 26-28); and "The Historical Relationship of Mormon Women and Priesthood," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (Fall 1985): 21-32; Melodie Moench Charles, "LDS Women and Priesthood," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 8 (Fall 1985): 15-20.
  17. Gordon Irving, "The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1 900," Brigham Young University Studies 14 (1974): 291-313; David John Buerger, " 'The Fullness of the Priesthood': The Second Anointing in Latter-day Saint Theology and Practice," Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought 16 (Spring 1983): 10-44; "The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (Winter 1987): 33-76. Note also the recent changes in the temple ceremony, see SUNSTONE 14 June 1990): 59-61. One could add here the changes in the practice of plural marriage (see "Official Declaration - 1 " in the Doctrine and Covenants; see D. Michael Quinn, "LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 [Spring 19851: 9-105; E. Leo Lyman, "The Political Background of the Woodruff Manifesto," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 24 [Fall 19911: 20-39). For a brief assessment of developments overall, see Mario S. DePillis, "Viewing Mormonism as Mainline," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 24 (Winter 1991): 59-68.
  18. See David P. Wright, "The Spectrum of Priestly Impurity" in Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel, ed. Gary A. Anderson and Saul M. Olyan (journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 125; Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1991), 150-81.
  19. In fact, even in ancient Israel there was a connection between prayer and sacrifice: if one could not afford to offer a sacrifice, one could offer a prayer. Cf. Menahem Haran, "Temple and Community in Ancient Israel," in Temple in Society, ed. Michael V. Fox (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1988), 23-24.
  20. Differences and details regarding textual composition complicate this picture. This layout allows us to get a fair impression of the basic chronological orientation of the hopes.
  21. Jeremiah 25:.11-12; 29: 10;, cf. the Lime period in Jeremiah 27:7; on seventy years as a standard period of punishment, cf. Isaiah 23:15, 17.
  22. Ezekiel 36:8.
  23. Zechariah 1:12; 7:5.
  24. Jeremiah 16:14-15: 23:3, 8-; 24:5-7; 29:4-14; 30:3; 31:7-11, 15-22, 31-37; 32:36-41; 33:7-9; 50:8; Ezekiel 6:8-10; 11:17-21; 14:10-11; 16:.59-63; 18:29-32; 20:39-44; 24:13; 28:25-26; 34:12-13; 36:22-28; 37:1-14, 21-23; 39:25-29; Zechariah 2:11-13 (English: vv. 7-9); 3:9; 8:7; cf. Ezekiel 13:9; 16:53-58.
  25. Cf. Jeremiah 3:16; 12:14-17; 23:6; 29:11-12; 30:11, 16; 31:5, 12-13; 33:12-13, 16; Ezekiel 28:26; 34:13-15, 25-29; 36:1-12, 29-38-; 47:1-12; Haggai 2:21-22; Zechariah 1:17; 2:1-4 (English: 1:18-2 1); 3:10; 8:10-17; cf. Zechariah 8:20-23; also the prophecies against the foreign nations in Jeremiah 46-51 and Ezekiel 25-32.
  26. Jeremiah 30:18-21; 31:38-40;, Zechariah 2:5-9, 16 (English: vv. 3-5, 12); 8:3-8; cf. Jeremiah 17:25
  27. Jeremiah 27:19-22; 31:14; 33:11, 18, 22; Ezekiel 37:26-28; Haggai (passim); Zechariah 1:16; 3:1-10; 4:11-14; 6:9-14; 8:9; cf. Jeremiah 3:16-17.
  28. Note the second person singular directions in Ezekiel 43:19-25. Ezekiel functions as a second Moses (see W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2 [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983], 432-34; see also pp. 430-31 on the textual problems regarding person). Ezekiel can well perform these functions because he is a priest (Ezekiel 1:3). Cf. the second person singular reference in 45:18, 20; 46:13-14
  29. Ezekiel 43:10-12; cf. 40:4; see also 20:39-44 for the restoration of temple practice after restoration from Babylonian captivity.
  30. Haggai 2:6-9
  31. Jeremiah 3:16-18; Zechariah 2:16-17 (English: vv. 12-13); 3:2; 8:2-3
  32. For God's leaving the temple, see Ezekiel 8-11 (specifically 8:6; 10:1, 3-5, 18-21-; 11:22-23); note that sins drive God from the temple and he goes east into exile. On the return of God to the temple, see Ezekiel 43:1-4, note that God comes back from the east (i.e., to the east gate of the temple); 43:3 specifically connects this return with the vision in chapters 8-11.
  33. Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-27; cf. Jeremiah 17:25; 22:4.
  34. Ezekiel 34:24; 37:25; cf. Ezekiel 21:30-32 [English: vv. 25-271. The subordination of the "prince" is seen in the fact that the priests have access to the inner temple court (44:15-19, 27-; cf. 40:44-46; 42:13-14; 46.19-20) while the "prince" does not (46:1-3, 8, 12).
  35. Jeremiah 33:17, 19-22, 23-26 ; Ezekiel 46:16. The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel are partly concerned with ensuring the righteousness of the new royal line. Jeremiah calls the branch more specifically the "righteous branch" (tsemakh tsadiq) or "branch of righteousness" (tsemakh tsedaqah) and says that he will do justice and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15-; English: vv. 25-27). Ezekiel sees some of the former kings or "princes" as evil (21:30-32). He establishes rules for the prince so that this ruler and his posterity will not act wickedly, especially in regard to the acquisition of land (cf. 45:8-9; 48:21). The prince also has sacrificial contributions he must make for himself and for the people (cf. 45:13-25; 46:4-7). Part of the way Ezekiel limits the king's evil-doing is by subordinating him to the priests (see the previous note).
  36. See Haggai 2:20-23 and compare with Jeremiah 22:24-30 for the context of royalty; cf. also Haggai 2:3-5; see Sirach 49: 11 for a later reflection on this.
  37. This identification is made by comparing Zechariah 6:12, which says the branch will to build the temple, with 4:9 (cf. vv. 6-14), which says that Zerubbabel has founded the temple and will complete it. Cf. also Zechariah 3:8 which connects the branch to the time of Joshua the high priest, a contemporary of Zerubbabel (so also 6:11-13; and cf. 4:11-14)
  38. Jeremiah 3:18; 23:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:15-27; cf. Jeremiah 30:3; 31:1, 27-28; 50:19.
  39. 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17 (and note the caution in 5:1 -11); for expression of the imminent coming of Jesus, see Matthew 10:23; 16:28; 24:33-34; Mark 14:62; Acts 1:6-7; 1 Corinthians 1:7-8; 7:29-31; 15:51-53; 16:22; Philippians 1:6, 10; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10;, 5:1-7, 23; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1; 1 Timothy 6:14; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:8-9; 2 Peter 3:3-4, 9-10; 1 John 2:18-19; Revelations 1:1, 3, 7; 2:25; 3:3, 11; 22:7, 10, 12, 20. By the way, the understanding that various New Testament passages refer to a general apostasy requires modification in view of these expressions of Jesus' imminent return.
  40. Cf. D&C 101 and 103.
  41. On other prophetic expectations in Mormonism, cf. Grant Underwood, "Millenarism and the Early Mormon Mind," Journal of Mormon History 9 (1982): 41-51, and "Seminal versus Sesquicentennial Saints: A Look at Mormon Millennialism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 (Spring 1981): 32-44; Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1989), and "Quest for Refuge: An Hypothesis as to the Social Origins and Nature of the Mormon Political Kingdom,"Journal of Mormon History 2 (1975): 3-20; Keith E. Norman, "How Long, O Lord? The Delay of the Parousia in Mormonism," SUNSTONE 8 (January-April 1983): 48-58; Anthony A. Hutchinson, "Prophetic Foreknowledge: Hope and Fulfillment in an Inspired Community," SUNSTONE 11 (July 1987): 13-20 (this discusses Joseph Smith's "Civil War" prophecy).
  42. Daniel 9;24; that this refers to Jeremiah's seventy years is made clear in Daniel 9:2. See Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Book of Daniel, Anchor Bible 23 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1978) 244, 246-50.
  43. I imagined that since this was a reapplication of prophetic hopes, not every old prophetic hope would need to be taken up-only those that fit the needs of the later religious community. I also imagined that there would be no need for literally holding to the hopes of the older prophets.
  44. Critical scholarship also recognizes that sizeable portions of chapters 1-39 do not come from Isaiah. On the critical issues in general, see the commentaries: Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12 (Old Testament Library; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972) and Isaiah 13-39, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974); Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969); Christopher R. North, The Second Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964); Edward Kissane, The Book of Isaiah, 2 vols. (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, Ltd., 1960, 1943); John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah, Anchor Bible 20 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1968), For the argument of dating Second Isaiah, see in particular North, 1-4, and Kissane, vol. 2, xi-xxvii.
  45. "Isaiah" in these expressions refers not to a prophet named Isaiah but to sections of the book of Isaiah.
  46. Isaiah 40:1-2; 42:22-25; 43:26-28; 47:6-15; 48:3-4; 49:14-21; 51:19; 54:7-8.
  47. Isaiah 43:14; 47:1-15; 48:14, 20.
  48. Isaiah 40:1-2, 9-11; 41:27(?); 44:26-28; 45:13; 49:8, 14-21; 51:3, 17-3; 52: 1-10; 54 passim.
  49. Isaiah 43:5-8; 45:13; 48:20; 49:9-12, 22-26.
  50. Isaiah 44:28-1 45:1-13; implied in 41:2, 25; 46:11; 48:14. [38]
  51. Isaiah 44:1-5; 48:17-19; 49:20-23-; 54:1-5 (and passim). See particularly 54:9-10, 14 for the enduring character of blessing.
  52. Isaiah 48 (parallels) 1 Nephi 20; Isaiah 49 (parallels) 1 Nephi 21; Isaiah 50 (parallels) 2 Nephi 7; Isaiah 51 (parallels) 2 Nephi 8; Isaiah 53 (parallels) Mosiah 14. Partial citations or parallels include: Isaiah 40:3 (parallels) 1 Nephi 10:8; Isaiah 55:1-2 (parallels) 2 Nephi 9:50-51. These portions, by the Book of Mormon's own story, would have had to been available at the end of the seventh century B C. Other citations of second Isaiah include those by Jesus: Isaiah 52-:13 (parallels) 3 Nephi 20:32-45; Isaiah 54 (parallels) 3 Nephi 22.
  53. For a full discussion, see David P. Wright, " 'In Plain Terms That We May Understand'; Joseph Smith's Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12-13," forthcoming in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, forthcoming).
  54. See, for example, A. Malamat, "The Proto-History of Israel. A Study in Method," in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of his Sixtieth Birthday, ed. C. Meyers and M. O'Connor (Philadelphia and Winona Lake: American Schools of Oriental Research and Eisenbrauns, 1983), 303-13-; R N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 53 (Sheffield, England: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1987); J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 25-119.
  55. See the recent book by John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Volume One. The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Anchor Bible Reference Library (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1991).
  56. See, for example, James Barr, Scope and Authority and Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983); Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York: Paulist Press, 1984); Raymond E. Brown, The Critical Meaning of the Bible (New York: Paulist Press, 1081); Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979).
  57. The only way for individuals to decide if the historical critical mode and its conclusions have validity is to study the critical literature for themselves. For critical work on the Bible, see the new Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; D. N. Freedman et al eds. [New York: Doubleday, 1992]), the older Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols. plus supplement; G.A. Buttrick et. al., eds. [Nashville: Abingddon, 1962 & 19761) and the commentaries in the Anchor Bible (Doubleday) and the Old Testament Library (Westminster Press). For a good and fairly recent introduction to the Old Testament for nonscholars reflecting the work of critical scholarship over the last generation, see Berhnard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (4th ed.; [Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1986]). This has a good bibliography with the majority of books listed having been produced by critical scholars. This introduction might be the best place to jump in for those unacquainted with critical scholarship. Also see the works in notes 2, 28, 42, 44, 54, 56. For some critical work on Mormon scripture, see Edward Ashment, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham; A Reappraisal," SUNSTONE 4 (December 1979): 33-46; Anthony A. Hutchinson, "The Joseph Smith Revision and Synoptic Problem: An Alternate View," John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 5 (1985): 47-53 and "A Mormon Midrash? LDS Creation Narratives Reconsidered," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 21 (Winter 1988): 11-74. And see the papers forthcoming in Brent Metcalfe's New Approaches to the Book of Mormon. Cf. also Anthony Hutchinson, "LDS Approaches to the Holy Bible," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Spring 1982): 99-124. Blake T. Ostler's article, "The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 [Spring 19871: 66-123) argues that the Book of Mormon has an ancient core which has been augmented with many nineteenth-century additions and is one direction the critical approach could take. For me, however, his conclusions about the Book of Mormon text pose severe theoretical and theological inconsistencies. Nonetheless, his "Preliminary Theology of Revelation," (108-15), contains important considerations for those trying to make theological sense of historical critical conclusions. For similar considerations, see Hutchinson, "Prophetic Foreknowledge" (in note 41), On models of revelation that take historical critical views into consideration, see Avery Dulles, Models qf Revelation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983); Robert Gnuse, The Authority of the Bible: Theories of Inspiration, Revelation and the Canon of Scripture (New York: Paulist, 1985).
  58. Cf. JSR Exodus 34:1-2-; D&C 84:23-28.
  59. See 2 Nephi 5:21-23; Jacob 3:5, 8, 9; Alma 3:6-9; 3 Nephi 2:15, The attempt to reduce the geography of the Book of Mormon peoples which might be thought to alleviate much of this ethical problem cannot be accepted. (See John Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City/Provo: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 19851.) Sorenson's theory is a partially critical attempt to make sense of the Book of Mormon's lack of concord with general ethnological, linguistic, and other cultural evidence from ancient America. See also critiques in several of the essays in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon.
  60. Cf. 2 Nephi 5:24; Enos 1:20; Alma 3,5; 22;28 43;20- 44:18;
  61. Recent relaxation in international tensions should not lull us into thinking that all henceforth will be well in Zion or in the world.
  62. I need to add here at the end that in my view the conclusions given in this paper cannot serve as a reason to move to some other religious tradition, especially conservative Christianity, since other traditions and especially conservative Christianity have similar historical problems (see Barr in note 2 and Barr and Brown in note 56).



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