Monday, January 16, 2006

Reply to Carr on Mormonism

Carr: Anonynous is correct.

The miracles in the New Testament can be treated to exactly the same analysis with which Christians treat the stories in the Book of Mormon and the Koran.

See my article Miracles and the Book of Mormon at

VR: The fact that Mormons claim that the angel Moroni revealed the book of Mormon to Joseph Smith on gold plates is not sufficient to condemn their doctrine. The Mormons believe a bunch of stuff that is contradicted by the evidence, and this is something that goes over and above the mere fact that their doctrine commits them to the miraculous. For example, if they are right, we should expect a DNA similarity between Native Americans and Jews, but there is none, if Mormonism is true we should expect Native Americans to have developed wheel technology enough to have chariots, but they don't, etc. Accepting the Christian story involves accepting divine intervention, but it doesn't commit me to the sort of conflict with the facts that Mormonism requires.

I am providing a link to an old post of mine on Mormonism, which makes essentially these points.


Steven Carr said...

I don't understand this posting.

My article on Miracles and the Book of Mormon never mentions any angels or Golden Plates.

The only thing I use on Mormonism are Christian analyses of the stories.

The article shows that techniques used by Christians to analyse the stories in the Book or Mormon and the Koran can also be used to analyse the miracle stories in the NT.

Granted there are other problems with the Book of Mormon, but then there are other problems with Christianity.

My article simply shows that sceptics don't single out Christian scriptures for special treatment.

Anonymous said...

Right, Steven.

Scholars use the same standards for evaluating the Biblical texts as they use for any other ancient text.

Seems Victor would like to insist that they have to adopt the Christian belief system before their critical analysis can be taken seriously.

Ed Harbin said...

But take Thucydides. Like the Gospel of John, it has ideological content. It also clearly builds artful speeches into the mouths of actors Thucydides may or may not have 1st person witnessed. Scholars take these into account in evaluating Thucydides as a historian. After all, they're what historians can't help doing. But there's a certain cast of mind that _uses_ the equivalent to put the Gospel in the docket, rather than treating it as orthogonal to the overall veracity of the work.

Anonymous said...

Most scholars believe the gospels are referring to some actual historical event(s). Just like they think Thucydides is also referring to some actual historical events.
One peculiar problem they have to deal with in analysing the gospels is all the contradictions to be found when they are compared to each other. Not to mention that the Jesus as portrayed in John seems quite different than the Jesus in the synoptics. Really doesn't have as much to do with whether or not one believes in the supernatual, as Victor keeps trying to claim.
Also, Steven does a good job on his web page of noting some of the peculiar similarities between Jesus' life and passages from the old testament.

You echoed Victor's rather broad claim that historians treat the Bible differently than other ancient texts. But I didn't see you providing any support for your claim. The fact that historians realize that the speeches in Thucydides were made up actually undermines your claim. Contra your claim, all ancient texts receive a fair amount of critical scrutiny.

By the way, I'm the anonymous who posted above you. I finally figured out how to post without having to give a web page!

Ed Harbin said...

Randy, -

It's partly a matter of tone. As a non-fundamentalist, I read John's portrayal of Christ as Thucydidean, - reflective of what the writer believed, and presumably respecting an oral and written tradition in his community, but not stenographic. I think that's more or less mainstream biblical scholarship, including that of believers.

I wouldn't expect a non-believer doing neutral scholarship to take the miracles as history; and their presence would certainly render the text as a whole more suspect. (Even as a believer, I recall a priest telling me, if you don't sometimes doubt this stuff, you don't understand the problem.) However, one reads e.g. Plutarch, miracles and all, as reflective of what Plutarch read about an underlying history, and one looks for the truth he intends to tell. I get a sense that Edward Babinski, on the other hand, is reading John just to score points on the opposing team.

But if I mistake him, I regret the lack of charity in saying so.

Anonymous said...

I believe the original point had to do with how biblical scholars were treating the text of the Bible. Were they somehow using special rules that they wouldn't normally apply to other ancient texts.
Victor said, "a treatment of biblical texts which differs from the way in which other texts from the same time period are treated by scholars."
I've yet to see any evidence to support that claim.

You are correct in pointing out that non-believrs can take a more critical look at the Bible and aren't restricted to relying on scholarly methodologies.
Also, your point about trying to understand the message the ancient writer was trying to convey is very important.

Ed Harbin said...

Randy, -

On reflection, I'm talking through my hat - responding to the asperities of the skeptic vs fundy stuff on the Internet, which isn't necessarily reflective of anything scholarly, with bad faith to go around. Not to say Victor isn't right, but my acquaintance with Biblical scholarship being mostly at second hand (except a little Raymond Brown and the like), I should be more modest...