Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Misquoting Jesus Chapter 4

The most significant thought I absorbed from the reading of the book Misquoting Jesus was not stated overtly in Chapter 4, but once I learned this principle it permeated the rest of my reading. Bart Ehrman suggests throughout this work that the writers of the Christian books of scripture each have their own perpectives and valuable things to teach us. Textual criticism can bring us closer to the actual words of the authors and help reconstruct their understanding of the Christian faith. (p.14) Previous to my reading this book I approached the New Testament with a "harmonization" tactic, attempting to fit the ideas of the different authors into a cohesive whole. With Ehrman's instruction I see the value of taking each writer on his own terms and discovering their intent in writing. For example, Luke wishes to present Jesus as full of confidence in his divine mission, never losing control, never in anguish over his fate. (p. 143) This portrayal will necessarily conflict with an author such as Mark, who focuses attention on Jesus' agony. Mark emphasizes Jesus' distress and agitation at Gethsemane, his thrice-repeated prayer for the cup to be removed, and his despair on the cross. (p. 142)
Understanding this paradigm opens one up to studying the writers of the New Testament books with a deeper understanding. Their themes and motivations become more clear despite mistakes in transmission and the changes of scribes to try to harmonize the accounts and clarify the doctrine.

Chapter 4 discusses textual variations in detail. Several conclusions can be drawn from the fact that so many textual differences exist. Ehrman mentions three main conclusions drawn from a faith-based perspective:

1. From the tradition of Richard Simon, a French Catholic author: the Christian faith can not be based solely on scripture but requires the apostolic tradition preserved in the (Catholic) Church. (p. 102)

2 From Daniel Whitby's response to Mill's Apparatus: Errors are a result of the frailties of men, but "God would never allow the text to be corrupted to the point that it could not adequately achieve its divine aim and purpose." (p. 85)

3. Errors exist but textual criticism enables modern scholars to reconstruct the original words, so the foundation of faith is secured. A corollary to this view is that errors exist because of he multiplicity of manuscripts, but variations actually help us to discover more correct readings. (p. 105)

I am interested in these three faith-based perspectives, especially with respect to how the LDS church responds to textual variation. There is no attempt by Mormon writers to deny the existence of variation. The 8th Article of Faith states that we believe the Bible "as far as it is translated correctly," with an understanding that much of it has not been transmitted in it's original form. I've seen conclusions #1 and #2 above promulgated in LDS thought. Although we recognize errors in the scriptures, they are not so dire as to lead members away from salvation. Additionally, the Church has an apostolic tradition which will correct deviations which its membership needs to be aware of.

Besides the example of Joseph Smith, I have not seen any attempt by the Church to embrace textual criticism as a method of reconstructing the original autographs of Biblical authors. (Conclusion #3 above) Joseph did do some work in "reconstructing" texts, mainly by revelation and his understanding of what the texts meant to convey. But since that time I have seen little interest by LDS scholars to utilize textual criticism. Mogget's recent post on LDS Biblical scholarship is a point in fact.

Perhaps some of the others following this book discussion might wish to speculate whether the LDS Church might be able to benefit from textual criticism or what holds them back from doing so. (See also this review, which discusses further aspects important to Chapter 4.)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude, Changes in Vocabulary

This is a post I recently wrote for The Cultural Hall. Please leave comments over there.

I joined the Church at age 19, and it took me no time to learn Mormon vocabulary. By the time I left on my mission, no one could tell I wasn't born and raised in the Church. Recently, I've become interested in the reverse phenomenon. When a long-time member's Church vocabulary slowly begins to change, what alterations in their lives does this portend? What does it mean when "I know that God lives" changes to "I deeply believe that the universe was created by a Divine Intelligence?"
When "I know the Book of Mormon is true" changes to "I am convinced that living the principles taught in the Book of Mormon can lead to a fulfilling life?"
When "I know the Church is true" changes to "I have found joy and happiness in participating in the Church organization?"

(Now, I haven't read all of Fowler's Stages, only a synopsis.) So some of you may enlighten me: Did Fowler include a change in vocabulary as signifying entry into a different stage of belief? I'm postulating that all those who examine their faith deeply will begin to express themselves rather differently than with the standard Mormon usage. This includes those who will deepen their faith in the principles of the restored gospel as well as those who will eventually leave or who will come to consider themselves NOM's.

Mormon vocabulary is so distinctive it seems impossible to make much of a change without being noticed in the community. So I have some questions for the readers of this blog.
1. As your beliefs shifted, did you struggle with your use of Mormon language?
2. Did others notice a change in your vocabulary? Did this make you "suspect" in the eyes of traditional Mormons?
3. Have you noticed other Mormons who have transformed their vocabulary away from "Mormonspeak?" Does this generally portend changes in their religious affiliation?
4. What are some specific examples you've heard, read, or changed to? (For example, I no longer begin personal prayers with the phrase, "Dear Heavenly Father.")

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ignored, or Hated?

I read this post by One Dude where he asks the question, "Would you rathar be dumb and happy or smart and bitter?" What a synchronicity, on the bus home from the swim meet tonight we all discussed the question: "Would you rather be hated or ignored?" Most all of the high-schoolers said they would rather be hated because it would at least give them some kind of attention. Interesting. Do you think people's answers to this question might vary as a function of age? Me, I would rather be ignored. But that's just little old(er) me...