Monday, March 31, 2014

Five Responses to Grant Palmer

Anselmus und die Schlange (1913) by Edmund Schaefer.
[This post is partly a response to this post at Rational Faiths.]

Grant Palmer is an ex-Mormon author who is best known for his 2002 book An Insider's View of Mormon Origins. It's a popular book amongst the ex- and anti-Mormon crowd, and you'll see it frequently quoted by the same people who run to MormonThink for their information on early Mormonism.

Here's the problem, though. The book is a flop. No less than four different highly qualified experts on early Mormon history have panned Palmer's book. They include:

1. Mark Ashurst–McGee, "A One-sided View of Mormon Origins." Mark Ashurst–McGee has a PhD in history from Arizona State University and editor with the Joseph Smith Papers. (Incidentally, I will begin working with Ashurst–McGee as an academic intern at the Joseph Smith Papers beginning the end of next month.) He has published work on early Mormon history, including work that has been won awards from the Mormon History Association. (Link)

2. Steven C. Harper, "Trustworthy History?" Steven C. Harper has a PhD in history from Lehigh University and is an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers. His publications include documentary work on Joseph Smith's First Vision. (Link)

3. Davis Bitton, "The Charge of a Man with a Broken Lance (But Look 
What He Doesn’t Tell Us)." Davis Bitton received his PhD in French History from Princeton University and was one of the founders of the Mormon History Association. He was the co-author of volumes such as The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints. (Link)

4. James B. Allen, "Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant H. Palmer." James B. Allen has a PhD in history from the University of Southern California and was one of the founders of the Mormon History Association. He was Assistant Church Historian and the co-author of such works as The Story of the Latter-day Saints. (Link)

These are heavy hitters in the field of Mormon history, and not to be dismissed out of hand as Palmer's fans have heretofore done.

In addition to the overwhelmingly negative assessments of these scholars, there's also the contribution of Louis Midgley, "Prying Into Palmer." Although Midgley is a political scientist and not a historian per se, he offers important critiques of Palmer, including an extensive discussion of Palmer's misrepresentations of E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1814 novella Der goldne Topf: Ein Märchen aus der neuen Zeit. (Having read Der goldne Topf, and having read both Palmer's and Midgley's arguments, I can affirm that Midgley is correct that Palmer misrepresented the text in his strained attempt to link Joseph Smith's account of Moroni with this fantastical Märchen. If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself.)

Palmer's fans (including such luminaries as John Dehlin) have complained that Midgley's review was unfair, ad hominem, mean, nasty, invasive, and an attempt at character assassination. Actually, it's not. Here's why, as explained by Midgley himself.
I realize that some will complain that, by probing Palmer's background (or beliefs), I offer a diversion from the issues he raises and that what I have presented is an ad hominem attack. This is nonsense. Palmer and his publisher have made his CES career an issue. And his book has a history; he and his book cannot be separated. His book is the product of motivations and sources that also have a meaning and history. In addition, he makes claims about himself. Looking into such things is called intellectual history. It should be noted that Palmer strives to engage in just such a venture by attempting to set out what he thinks were the sources of Joseph Smith's story, the Book of Mormon, and so forth. If my look at Palmer's motivations and his own history of attempting to unravel the faith of the Saints is a personal attack, then the same is true of his treatment of Joseph Smith. But neither Palmer's attack on Joseph Smith nor my treatment of his attack on the Prophet should be dismissed as an ad hominem or as a personal attack. (Midgley, "Prying Into Palmer," 377–378)
So before anyone accepts Palmer uncritically, I'd strongly urge they pursue these reviews.

On the Grotesque Humor of Goethe's "Der Totentanz"

Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1787) by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein.
[This paper was written for the seminar on Goethe that I'm taking this semester.]

Introduction and Summary

Few of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poems have received such sparse and often perfunctory commentary as his 1813 ballad "Der Totentanz." Most scholars offering critical notations in collections of Goethe's works frequently pass over this work with but a few hurried comments that offer little substance.[1] This is unfortunate, as the ballad itself is rich and vivid in its depiction of the midnight revelries of the undead who have come up from the grave to enjoy a quick jig. What's more, besides merely offering a fantastical retreat into the macabre world of the undead, Goethe's ballad prominently features a highly idiosyncratic sense of humor that, above all else, can be classified as grotesque. That is to say, Goethe's ballad plays off the traditional Totentanz legend found in European folklore in a humorous and wonderfully ironic way. But, given that one of the major themes of the ballad is death, this humor can therefore be qualified as grotesque. In this paper I will define this grotesque humor and argue for its presence Goethe's poem.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Art of Brian Kershisnik

I am a fan of the artwork of Brian Kershisnik. If you haven't already, you should head over to his website and check out his work. Here are some of my favorite pieces.

"A Saint Reading"

"Acrobat Lovers"

"Disheveled Saint"

"Lovers Running"

"Lovers with Three Ideas"

"My Ancestors Kissed"

"People"

"She Reads"

"This Splendid Inconvenience"

The Use of Irony in Arthur Schnitzler's "Lieutenant Gustl"

Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931)
[This paper was written for one of my classes on Fin de siècle Viennese literature.]

Introduction

Readers of Arthur Schnitzler's 1901 novella Lieutenant Gustl may, upon first encountering the text, feel somewhat overwhelmed by a seemingly chaotic literary structure filled with run-on and disjointed sentences, frequent breaks, and short focus. Notwithstanding this seemingly troublesome structure, there are actually present in the text a number of subtle literary and narrative devices that add meaning and depth to the story of the young eponymous Austrian officer contemplating suicide after a man from the lower class insults him. One such literary device that spills across almost the entire plot of this novella is the use of irony. From its very first scene to its climax at the end, the text is replete with irony. But how is irony used in Lieutenant Gustl as a narrative device, and what does this potentially tell us about the text's portrayal of Gustl? As I shall argue, Schnitzler uses irony to highlight the follies of young Gustl and turn the entire plot into a farce.

In this paper I shall first provide a review of some of the literature written on both the use of various literary devices in Lieutenant Gustl and the function of irony as a literary device. Then I will briefly look at some of the historical background behind Schnitzler's novella, particularly what the contemporary reaction to Lieutenant Gustl possibly indicates about Schnitzler's use of irony. Finally, I shall provide three of the more prominent examples of irony in the beginning, middle, and conclusion of Lieutenant Gustl that highlight the use of this literary device in the text.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Life of a BYU Ancient Near Eastern Studies Major

Need I say more?


More Conspiracies! More Plots!

The Church's devious attempts to suppress the naked truth of Joseph Smith's fraud and deception continues unabated. For example, next month's New Era includes an article by David A. Edwards titled "True or False." "If you’ve ever taken a test with true-or-false questions, you know it’s sometimes hard to spot a falsehood," begins Edwards. "Likewise, in the big questions of faith, belief, and everyday living, while it is extremely important to be able to tell the difference between what’s true and what isn’t, it’s not always easy." Edwards then proceeds to give examples of how to identify a "simple untruth," a "partial truth," a "false dichotomy," and a "'logical' argument," the latter consisting of "reasonable-sounding but often faulty evidence in order to lead to a specific mistaken conclusion." The example Edwards gives for his category "'logical' argument" is interesting.


Did you catch that? The New Era recommends its teenage readers to go to this article to find out more about the translation of the Book of Mormon. You know, the article that mentions the following.
The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.” As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.
I've heard anti-Mormons on the Internet begrudgingly concede that the Church has addressed this issue, but then quickly follow up with something like, "Well, yeah, but it's buried on some website. It's not being featured on the main LDS.org website or in any Church publications. So Church leaders are still hiding things!"

Leaving aside the fact that the Church now features the Gospel Topics sub-webpage prominently on its home page (see below), I find it ironic that online critics (including no shortage of atheistic critics) have adopted a sort of "anti-Mormonism of the gaps" theory. That is to say, critics immediately assume that any perceived neglect to mention the Gospel Topics essays or the subjects addressed therein to as wide an audience as possible must be proof of Church leaders' dishonesty or duplicity, and not merely, say, the result of the sort of bureaucratic inertia one would reasonably expect in an entity as large as the Church. Problem is, as the subjects addressed by the Gospel Topics essays gain more prominence in Church publications, the critics are quickly running out of space in their gaps to assume sinister motives by Church leaders. What's more, as a friend of mine explains, "The boundaries of criticism for the critics are retreating. They won't be able to surprise people with these things. They will have to argue their position with youth that are already familiar with these issues." This latest example from the New Era squeezes that gap a little tighter for these conspiracy theorists.

Screenshot of LDS.org taken on March 24, 2014. Notice the prominent display for Gospel Topics in the top left.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Two More Photos

Here are two pictures.

The first is from my friend Greg Smith when he found out I am a Dungeons and Dragons fan/player.


This second one comes from my roommate Chris, who snapped this picture of me unawares. This one especially sums up my life.


Flirt to Convert: Joseph and Aseneth

Pictured: an authentic ancient portrait of Aseneth dated to the New Kingdom (circa 1400 BCE).
Today I taught lesson 12 in Sunday School on Joseph in Egypt. One verse I highlighted was Genesis 41:45.
Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt.
I asked the class what they thought about the fact that according to the biblical text Joseph married a non-Israelite. The question of why a faithful Israelite like Joseph would marry a pagan Egyptian was so perplexing to some ancient Jews during the Hellenic period that an apocryphal text called "Joseph and Aseneth" was written to try and explain it. (For a very general overview of this text, see this Wikipedia article. For a more in-depth look, consult C. Burchard's introduction to his translation of the text in Charlesworth's The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.)

The answer posited in Joseph and Aseneth is, of course, that Joseph converted his Egyptian wife-to-be before marrying her.

Here is Joseph's prayer for Aseneth, for example.
O Lord, the God of my father Israel, the Most High, the Mighty One,
Who didst quicken all things, and didst call them from darkness into light.
And from error into truth, and from death into life;
Do thou, O Lord, thyself quicken and bless this virgin,
And renew her by thy spirit, and remould her by thy secret hand,
And quicken her with thy life.
And may she eat the bread of thy life,
And may she drink the cup of thy blessing,
She whom thou didst choose before she was begotten,
And may she enter into thy rest, which thou has prepared for thine elect.
Aseneth then spends several chapters praying and confessing to God as she seeks forgiveness. She is eventually converted to the God of Israel, with Pharaoh then pronouncing this blessing on Joseph and Aseneth at their wedding.
And Joseph got up early in the morning, and he sent away to Pharaoh and told him about Aseneth. And Pharaoh sent and called Pentephres and Aseneth. And Pharaoh was astonished at her beauty and said, "The Lord will bless you, even the God of Joseph, who has chosen you to be his bride, for he is the first-born son of God, and you will be called daughter of the Most High, and Joseph shall be your bridegroom for ever. And Pharaoh took golden crowns and put them on their heads and said, "God Most High will bless you and prosper your family for ever." And Pharaoh turned them towards each other, and they kissed each other. And Pharaoh celebrated their wedding with a banquet and much merry-making for seven days; and he invited all the chief men in the land of Egypt. And he issued a proclamation, saying, "Any man who does any work during the seven days of Joseph and Aseneth's wedding shall die." And when the wedding was over and the banquet ended, Joseph had intercourse with Aseneth; and Aseneth conceived by Joseph and bore Manasseh and his brother Ephraim in Joseph's house.
So for all you single RMs out there looking for a potential wife, don't feel like hope is lost if you fancy a non-member. Follow the example of Joseph of Egypt and flirt to convert!

Mormonism and the Academy: An Interview with Terryl Givens

The new issue of the Student Review has been printed. For this issue I interviewed none other than Terryl Givens on his thoughts concerning the academic discipline of Mormon Studies cropping up at a number of institutes of higher education.

You can read it on pages 8 and 10.

Also, this is really embarrassing, but Givens' name is misspelled in the title. That was the fault of the editor/copyist/printer/whoever, as my manuscript copy of the article has the correct spelling of his name. Sorry for that.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tom Phillips Reacts to the Failure of the October Surprise

You may have seen various "Hitler Reacts" videos on YouTube. They're made from a clip taken from the 2004 German film Der Untergang (one of my favorite films, incidentally). In this scene, Hitler goes bonkers when he's informed that Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner was not able to amass enough troops to break the Soviet stronghold on Berlin.


Well, the Internet being what it is, people have taken this clip and superimposed faux-English "translations" of Hitler reacting to all sorts of things: current events, politics, celebrity gossip, the outcome of sports games, etc.

For example, here is one of Hitler reacting to Home Teaching.


Someone really clever has made a "Hitler Reacts" video involving Tom Phillips and his reaction to the failure of the March Miscarriage October Surprise.


This has to be, I confess, one of the funnies clips I've seen in a long time. It's just . . . perfect.

Also, two things.

1. Ex- and anti-Mormons will, no doubt, use this video as yet another example of those mean, nasty Mormons smearing people they disagree with. Frankly, I don't care what the RfM or Ex-Mormon Reddit people think about this video. I myself have no issue with satirically comparing Phillips with Hitler. Partly because it's a joke, and partly because I have absolutely zero respect for Phillips to begin with.

2. Keep in mind that everything in quotation marks are actual quotes from Phillips himself (save one, which comes from his partner in crime David Twede). (See here and here.)

Enjoy! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Der Jüngling am Bache


Given that today marked the Spring Equinox, I thought I'd post the 1803 poem "Der Jüngling am Bache" ("The Youth by the Brook") by Schiller. It's features some beautiful spring imagery, but also captures some of the poignant emotions that, as with the youth of this poem, are stirring in my heart at this time.

An der Quelle saß der Knabe,
Blumen wand er sich zum Kranz,
Und er sah sie fortgerissen,
Treiben in der Wellen Tanz.
»Und so fliehen meine Tage
Wie die Quelle rastlos hin!
Und so bleichet meine Jugend,
Wie die Kränze schnell verblühn!

By the spring sat a youth
Weaving flowers into a wreath,
And he saw it ripped violently away,
Snatched by the dancing waves.
"And so flee my days
Away like the restless spring!
And so ebbs my youth,
As the wreaths so quickly wither!"

Fraget nicht, warum ich traure
In des Lebens Blütenzeit!
Alles freuet sich und hoffet,
Wenn der Frühling sich erneut.
Aber diese tausend Stimmen
Der erwachenden Natur
Wecken in dem tiefen Busen
Mir den schweren Kummer nur.

"Ask not why I mourn
In the blossoming time of life!
Everything rejoices and hopes,
For springtime has renewed herself.
But a thousand voices
Of awakened Nature
Arise deep in my breast
To me but heavy grief."

Was soll mir die Freude frommen,
Die der schöne Lenz mir beut?
Eine nur ist's, die ich suche,
Sie ist nah und ewig weit.
Sehnend breit' ich meine Arme
Nach dem teuren Schattenbild,
Ach, ich kann es nicht erreichen,
Und das Herz ist ungestillt!

"What shall I then do with the pious joy,
Which the gorgeous springtime now offers me?
There's but one after whom I seek,
She is near, yet eternally yonder.
Longing, I stretch out my arms
After the costly shadow,
Alas! I cannot reach it,
And my heart is un-assuaged!"

Komm herab, du schöne Holde,
Und verlaß dein stolzes Schloß!
Blumen, die der Lenz geboren,
Streu ich dir in deinen Schoß.
Horch, der Hain erschallt von Liedern,
Und die Quelle rieselt klar!
Raum ist in der kleinsten Hütte
Für ein glücklich liebend Paar.«

"Come forth, you precious one,
And leave your proud estate!
Flowers, born of springtime,
Lay I up in your lap.
Hark! The grove resounds with song,
And the spring rings clear.
There is room enough in the cozy hut
For a joyous, loving couple."

Classics vs. Ancient Near Eastern Studies

For many years at BYU the Classics majors and the Ancient Near Eastern Studies majors have gotten together for some friendly competition. This year we're going to play a game or two of "capture the idol," which is like capture the flag but with figurines of Asherah and Athena. My friend Andy Mickelson has made an excellent poster announcing the event.

This poster was just too awesome for me to not post it here. Good work, Andy!

"fraud case thrown out"



From the BBC.

You can read the court decision here. From Judge Howard Riddle. "It is obvious that this proposed prosecution attacks the doctrine and beliefs of the Mormon Church. . . . I am satisfied that the process of the court is being manipulated to provide a high-profile forum to attack the religious beliefs of others. It is an abuse of the process of the court."

Ouch.

I am eager to see the conspiracies from ex- and anti-Mormons at places like RfM and Reddit trying explain how the "TSCC" wiggled its way out this one. No doubt they'll be something along these lines:

"Well, obviously LD$ Inc. is just a powerful, rich corporation that was able to buy off the British courts with savvy, expensive lawyers."

Does anyone want to take me up on a bet that this will be the leading excuse?

But for any ex- or anti-Mormons who are disappointed that their bullying has been halted, never fear. Tom Phillips has assured, "My legal team will leave no stone unturned. . . . I look forward to the day, and it will be soon, when the LDS Corporation is brought to justice."

The best response I've read to this comes from a participant on the ex-Mormon Reddit board. "This release reads like a post Oct 23rd, 1844 Millerite tract."

Phillips needs to learn how to be a gracious loser. Of course he can't, since he has too much emotionally and financially invested in this, but he should.

P.S. remember this post of mine? Well, here it is again.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

My friend Colby Townsend has an excellent post on the Old Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha at Rational Faiths. You should check it out!

If you're looking for good translations of the very exciting texts mentioned by Colby, I'd recommend these volumes.


Time to Take a Hint

"He doesn't seem to take a hint, this guy." – Jango Fett (left) to his son/clone Boba (right) after trying to destroy a pursuing Obi-Wan Kenobi with seismic charges.
The Church has released an official statement on the efforts of Ordain Women to seek entrance into the upcoming Priesthood Session of General Conference. The letter is worthy of being read in its entirety. Here are a few things that stood out to me.

1. The Church views Ordain Women as an "activist group."

2. The Church feels that Ordain Women "detracts from the helpful discussions that Church leaders have held as they seek to listen to the thoughts, concerns, and hopes of women inside and outside of Church leadership."

3. The Church has asked that members of Ordain Woman confine their activism "in [the] free speech
zones adjacent to Temple Square." You know, the same place where these guys are asked to stay.

4. The Church informed Ordain Woman that most women in the Church consider their position "extreme," and that "by a very large majority, [they] do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women."

Here is the official response to this letter by Ordain Women.
We at Ordain Women are saddened to learn that our request for tickets to the upcoming priesthood session of General Conference has been denied. As faithful Mormon women, we are eager to participate in the dialogue on the policy of women’s priesthood exclusion.
As a demonstration of our eagerness for the blessings and responsibilities of the priesthood, we will reverently seek admission to the priesthood session on Saturday, April 5th. We pray that our request will be reconsidered.
Now, like I said in this post, I consider myself a moderate progressive on a number of social and theological issues both inside and outside of the Church. I am not opposed, on principle, to women being ordained to the priesthood, but I first and foremost recognize that it is the prerogative of President Monson and his brethren in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, as they feel so inspired, to make this decision. So, if God reveals to President Monson that women should be ordained to the priesthood, then great. I have nothing against that.

But he hasn't. I won't say whether or not he ever will, but what I can say is that everything the Church has said on the matter so far is pretty clear. This latest letter from the Church is just another example.

I'm sorry, but I think Ordain Women needs to take a hint.

– Update –

Nathaniel Givens has an excellent post here on this topic.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Sacrament According to Moroni and Ištar

A portrait of Esarhaddon on a stele.
You can never tell what neat little things you'll find lying around in ancient archives. For example, the archives of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (who reigned from 681–669 BC) contains a text (Simo Parpola calls it a "Meal of Covenant") that reads as follows.
The word of Ištar of Arbela to Esarhaddon, king of Assyria: Come, gods, my fathers and brothers, [enter] the cove[nant . . .] (Break) [She placed] a slice . . . on the [ter]race and gave them water from a cooler to drink. She filled a flagon of one seah with water from the cooler and gave it to them with the words: "In your hearts say, 'Ištar is slight,' and you will go to your cities and districts, eat (your) bread and forget this covenant. (But when) you drink from this water, you will remember me and keep this covenant which I have made on behalf of Esarhaddon."
(Simo Parpola, ed., State Archives of Assyria, Volume IX, Assyrian Prophecies [Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1997], 25.)

Compare this with the liturgical prayers of Moroni 4–5.
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. 
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
The idea of participating in a ritual meal to remember covenants with a deity is thus not unique to the Nephites of AD 420 or the Latter-day Saints of AD 2014. Also, while it was Jesus that instituted the sacrament amongst the Nephites (cf. 3 Nephi 18), this idea of a ritual meal goes back much earlier.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Relationship Between Faith and Reason

Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952). Elder Widtsoe, an Apostle and a scientist, is a personal hero of mine for his example of one who could commingle faith and reason in a remarkable way.
[I wrote this paper for my history class as part of having recently read Milton Steinberg's excellent novel As a Driven Leaf. Some of my thoughts in this paper come from my article published a few years ago in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.]

At one point in his novel As a Driven Leaf, Milton Steinberg includes a discussion between Elisha, the protagonist of the novel, and his rhetoric instructor Antiphanes. Elisha is a disillusioned Jew who has turned to find meaning in Greek philosophy. At one point the discussion turns to the question of the relationship between faith and reason. A rueful Elisha explains to Antiphanes that he cannot go back to his Jewish belief. "Revelation must either be accepted or rejected," Elisha insists. "I had to choose between faith and reason. I have chosen the latter."[1] While this attitude may be prevalent amongst many, I will argue in this paper that from a Latter-day Saint perspective faith and reason are not adversarial with each other.

There are several scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants that emphasize the importance of seeking truth "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). “Seek not for riches but for wisdom,” admonishes D&C 6:7. “Study and learn and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues and people,” we are instructed in D&C 90:15. “Obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man,” dictates D&C 93:53. The Latter-day Saints, accordingly, have long been keen students of history and cultures, and have tried their best to use both spiritual and rational methods of arriving at truth.

Ideally, therefore, Latter-day Saints should not be afraid of complimenting spirituality and rationality. However, this ideal can sometimes be challenged by very real-world intellectual challenges. Some scientific or scholarly theories seem completely incompatible with key tenets of Mormonism. For example, if atheistic materialists are correct that the human mind is nothing more than the pre-determined collision of atoms acting on natural law, then the Mormon concept of agency, or the ability to choose between right and wrong, cannot be sustained. What, then, is to be done when such conflicts between faith and reason arise?

First, I will briefly address what should not be done. Unlike Elisha, who painted himself in a corner with a very fundamentalist mindset, one should not dogmatically assert that there can only be one right answer, or only one right way of thinking, and that if something else cannot be squared with that one answer or way of thinking it is therefore false. This was Elisha's mistake when he insisted to Manto that "every proposition . . . [must be] proved by rigid logic" similar to that contained in Euclid's Elements of Geometry.[2] This, Elisha incorrectly concluded, is the only valid method of determining whether not only mathematics was correct, but also if "religion, philosophy, and morality" could "be successfully applied" in a real-world setting.[3] In fact, there are multiple epistemologies or ways of determining the truth. Some are sensory, others are intuitive, and yet others are revelatory. From a Latter-day Saint perspective all of these methods of determining truth are valid and can yield different important results. Having differing epistemologies, therefore, is not the same as having contradictory epistemologies.

So if one should eschew the dogmatism of Elisha, what should one do? First, as explained by Terryl Givens, the religion restored by Joseph Smith is not one of final, infallible answers. Rather, it is a faith that is eager to explore and search for new and greater truths to compliment what truth is already known. As Givens explains, Mormonism is a religion that values "the process, the ongoing, dynamic engagement, the exploring, questing, and provoking dialectical encounter with tradition, with boundaries, and with normative thinking [that] should not be trammeled or impeded with clerks and scribes looking for the final word, interrupting a productive process of reflection, contestation, and creation."[4] Said another way, "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Article of Faith 9). Surely, then, as Givens observes, "A study of Joseph Smith seems to always come back to the dynamics of the revelatory process, rather than the finality of a polished product; the structure of his thinking, rather than the end result of his thought."[5]

What does this mean? It means that when contradictions between faith and reason appear to exist, it may very well be that it exists because of our limited understanding of the subject(s) being studied. If God is a source of all truth, both of things eternal and of things earthly, then the problem is not that God is contradicting himself, but rather that we, with fallible, limited human language and reasoning faculties, do not have the capability to fully harmonize or recognize this truth. We can see this in Elisha's distraught ponderings on the creation account in Genesis. From the perspective of his rabbinical training, Elisha was not able to square his belief with the possibility suggested by "some Greeks" that "water was the primeval substance as old as God, [and] that the entire creative word had given to material things not existence, but only form."[6] Nor was Elisha capable of reconciling the plural of Genesis 1:27 with his current paradigm, as he worried over the idea that someone else "was with Him in that awesome moment" of creation.[7] Instead of using this ambiguity as an opportunity to seek more truth and understanding, however, Elisha too quickly concluded that a contradiction in the scriptures means he cannot trust the scriptures. This is a fallacy, and stems not from sound reasoning, but from fundamentalist assumptions.

To apply this principle to my own field of study, I am currently grappling with the ideas of the Documentary Hypothesis and my acceptance of the Pentateuch as inspired scripture. Briefly put, the Documentary Hypothesis argues that the first five books of Moses in the Bible are not the composition of a single prophetic author (Moses), but rather the result of centuries of redaction of disparate sources. As a Latter-day Saint who is majoring in ancient Near Eastern Studies, I am trying to think critically on how I can accept or harmonize these two seemingly contradictory positions. I am aware that different Mormon scholars have proposed different ways of dealing with this issue, but I still do not have an entirely satisfactory answer for myself.[8] I am, however, optimistic that the Documentary Hypothesis can be compatible with my Latter-day Saint paradigm. There will probably have to be some give and take on both sides of the issue, and I don't know that any one person (certainly not I) has fully articulated such compatibility, but I think it's possible. I try to mend my attitude, then, to not be one of dogmatism (like Elisha's), but instead one of curiosity and open-mindedness.

In conclusion, I cannot help but summarize my thesis (that Mormonism welcomes both faith and reason) by reiterating Akiba's retort to Elisha when the presumptuous young scholar accused him of "accept[ing] doctrines on blind faith."[9] "By what right," Akiba responded, "do you presume to call my attitude blind? Belief need not be unseeing. Is it a darkening of counsel to admit that truth is not a matter of the mind alone, but of the heart and experience also? Since it cannot be obtained by reason unaided, faith is indispensible both as a base on which thought may stand, and as a checkrein when logic goes astray."[10] This is fundamentally my attitude towards the entire faith vs. reason debate. I believe it is highly misguided to try and pit the two against each other, as the two need not be intrinsically contradictory. As a Latter-day Saint I am willing to accept what I do know, but also be patient in anticipating future truths and humble in acknowledging that I don't know everything. I am also not willing to lose faith in what I do know because of what I don't know. Nor do I believe any Latter-day Saint should either, as our religion is capable of harmonizing faith and reason. A broken Elisha himself, at the end of the novel, comes to see the truth of this. "Faith and reason are not antagonists," a dejected Elisha finally admits his servant Meir. "On the contrary, salvation is through the commingling of the two, the former to establish first premises, the latter to purify them of confusion and to draw the fulness of their implications."[11] It is thus my hope that we, as Latter-day Saint disciple-scholars, like Elisha, will "go seeking now, through faith and reason compounded, the answer to this baffling pageant which is the world."[12]



[1] Milton Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, (Springfield, New Jersey: Behrman House, 1996), 305.   
[2] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 296.
[3] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 296. Elisha himself would be humiliated and defeated when another Greek philosopher, Charicles, would disprove Elisha's dogmatism with the very logical tools Elisha was convinced had proved his own proposition. See Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 460–468.
[4] Terryl Givens, “Joseph Smith: Prophecy, Process, and Plentitude,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library Congress, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2006), 59–60.
[5] Givens, “Joseph Smith: Prophecy, Process, and Plentitude,” 60.
[6] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 186.
[7] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 186. Incidentally, no Latter-day Saint should have a problem with the issues in Genesis that plagued Elisha, as Latter-day Saint cosmology explicitly acknowledges that God fashioned the universe from pre-existing matter and that the creative process was carried out by the heavenly host that make up God's divine council. See my article "Council, Chaos, and Creation in the Book of Abraham," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 28–39.
[8] See, for example, Kevin Barney, "Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 57–99; Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Dana M. Pike, and David Rolph Seely, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2009), 144–145; David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014).
[9] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 243.
[10] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 243.
[11] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 473.
[12] Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf, 475.