12 Questions for Philip Barlow

February 1, 2005 | 33 comments
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We are pleased to announce Philip Barlow as our next participant in the Twelve Questions series. My initial encounter with Professor Barlow’s work was almost seven years ago as a first year Bible student at Yale Divinity School. One morning, after having been introduced to the documentary hypothesis and source criticism, I was browsing aimlessly in the bookstore trying to clear my spinning head. Truth be told, I was at a loss as to how I might approach these theories about scripture as a faithful Latter-day Saint. Then, quite to my surprise, I noticed a book face out on one of the shelves, entitled Mormons and the Bible: The Place of Latter-day Saints in American Religion. It was one of those Twilight Zone moments. I grabbed a copy of the book, sat down on the floor in the bookstore, and read it cover to cover— paying special attention to chapter 4: “The Mormon Response to Higher Criticism.” There are, perhaps, few books which really change our lives, but Mormons and the Bible was one of those rare books for me.

In Professor Barlow’s widely acclaimed Mormons and the Bible he discusses the variety of different perspectives toward the Bible taken by leaders of the Church, beginning with Joseph Smith. Besides this text, which quickly became a classic in Mormon Studies, Professor Barlow has also written the New Historical Atlas of Religion in America and numerous articles on Mormon topics published in the Harvard Theological Review, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and in compilations by Oxford University Press. He also edited A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars. Professor Barlow received his B.A. from Weber State College, and his M.T.S. and Th.D. from Harvard University where his work focused on Religion in American Culture. Professor Barlow is currently a professor in the department of theological studies at Hanover College and has recently presented papers on the Mormon use of the Bible, the hermeneutics of Joseph Smith, and the place of Mormonism in American Religious History.

Please post questions you would like us to submit to Professor Barlow.

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33 Responses to 12 Questions for Philip Barlow

  1. Ronan on February 2, 2005 at 7:53 am

    Has the Mormon attitude to the Bible changed at all since you published “Mormons and the Bible”?

  2. Taylor on February 2, 2005 at 8:22 am

    woohoo!

  3. Kristine on February 2, 2005 at 10:49 am

    Taylor, can you phrase that as a question, please?

    :) ( and I agree)

  4. Kevin Barney on February 2, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    1. What are your thoughts about the development of university “Mormon Studies” programs?

    2. The overwhelming majority of Mormons simply assumes that the JST is in its every word a literal restoration of material lost from the original texts of the Bible. (Witness the way it is used in SS classes.) Church scholars, some of whom at least presumably know better (i.e., that much of it is more in the nature of a midrashic commentary), have done little or nothing to try to correct this perception. Is this a powder keg waiting to blow up a lot of people’s testimonies due to unrealistic expectations? Or is it more likely that the status quo in precritical attitudes and assumptions towards the JST will simply go on unabated?

  5. Kevin Barney on February 2, 2005 at 1:09 pm

    Do you think the Church will ever abandon the KJV as its official English language translation? If so, how far off into the future do you see such a development happening? And if it were to happen, with what would the Church replace it?

  6. annegb on February 2, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    where do I go to find the answers to these questions?

  7. Kristine on February 2, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    Anne, after people have posted their questions, we’ll edit them and pass them along to Dr. Barlow, then post his answers–usually there are a couple of weeks between the initial call for questions and the posting of the answers. You can see archived 12 Questions posts in the “Other Features” drop-down menu.

  8. Kevin Barney on February 2, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    BTW, Melissa, are you familiar with my article, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33/1 (Spring 2000)? If not, you can read it at the Univ. of Utah Dialogue archive, here:

    http://content.lib.utah.edu/cgi-bin/browseresults.exe?CISOROOT=/dialogue

    I used Barlow’s chapter on the Mormon response to higher criticism (which you mention in your initial post) as an initial framework to examine the DH from a Mormon perspective. A number of LDS grad students in Bible-related fields have told me they found the article helpful to them in dealing with this area from a perspective of faith.

  9. Clark on February 2, 2005 at 10:59 pm

    Kevin, I’m not sure I agree with that characterization of the JST in church lessons. Now I’ll be the first to admit that Provo, with its proximity to BYU, isn’t typical. But I’ve seen a much, much more nuanced view whenever it is brought up. My experience outside of Utah is sadly that people don’t appreciate the JST at all.

    But here’s an interesting question. During the last revision of the LDS Scriptures several extended portions of the JST were added to the Pearl of Great Price. Do you think more will be added in the future? For that matter what do you see transpiring with any new editions of the scriptures? Rumors regarding a revision have been rampant for a few years now.

    A related question would be whether you think there will be a modernized translation of the Book of Mormon done by the church in the next few decades. If so (a big if) then how do you think uniquely parallel theological language between the BoM and KJV will be dealt with? What would this entail with regards to picking a Bible translation?

  10. Jed on February 3, 2005 at 12:06 pm

    Mormonism does not seem to have many scholars who do source criticism of the Bible. We have believing scholars who apply the tools they learn in graduate school toward understanding the text as it now stands (several excellent FARMS publications on Isaiah come to mind), but there seems to be much more reluctance in applying the tools in ways that break apart the texts or question their authorship (see Duane Jefferey’s recent Sunstone article on Noah and the flood). Composite texts are not countenanced and literal readings are encouraged if only by silence. Scripture and apocrypha do not mix.

    What are the implications of this phenomenon? Is it important for Mormon biblical scholars accept the fundamental assumptions of their fellow academic colleagues on this count? Will Mormons feel “left behind” and see themselves left out of important debates? Should Mormons care? Will Mormon views of the Bible become alligned with Christian Fundamentalist readings? Will outside biblical scholars have anything to learn from Mormon biblical scholarship?

  11. Kevin Barney on February 3, 2005 at 12:16 pm

    Hi, Clark,

    1. I can just go by my own experiences. Out here in Illinois, when a GD class member raises his hand and points to the reading of the JST, it is universally with the clear understanding that that is the original reading of the text. I never encounter a more nuanced view out here in the hinterlands.

    And when I was at BYU, my experience was that professors outside the religion dept. almost invariably had an appropriately nuanced view of the JST, but most of the students and religion profs did not. And religion classes were basically no different than what I describe above with respect to our GD classes. On more than one occasion a professor was talking about how to understand a difficult passage from the Bible (forgetting that there was a relevant JST gloss), a student would raise his hand and read the JST gloss, and then the professor would get this sick, crimson look on his face and drop the discussion, the entire issue having been settled. That annoyed me no end.

    2. I’m unaware of additional JST extracts being added to the PoGP in connection with the 1981 edition. Of course, the BoMoses derives from the JST, but AFAIK what we publish post-1981 is coextensive with what we used to publish pre-1981. Do you perhaps mean the JST Appendix to the Bible?

    If so, it is an interesting question whether more JST extracts would be added in a new edition. The current edition only has about 600 extracts and is by no means complete. On the other hand, we have most of the doctrinally significant ones. On the other hand, now that we have a critical text of the JST mss., maybe there will be a motivation to add more. I really don’t know.

    (And I too have heard rumors of new editions of the scriptures, but nothing solid I can wrap my arms around.)

    3. I would be very surprised if the Church were to do a modernized Engl. BoM within the next few decades. Since for our purposes the English is the “original text,” and since there was so much (too much, in my view) negativity towards the English paraphrases (such as the Easy To Read BoM, intended for people with learning disabilities), I think the Church is very sensitive about this and isn’t likely to go down that road any time soon.

    I also think it will be a long time before the Church moves off of the KJV. There are a lot of reasons for that, but to my mind the biggest one is the intertextuality with the BoM, D&C and PoGP. You would probably have to edit all of the scriptures together to avoid losing that intertextuality, and it would be a monumental task that I just can’t see the Church undertaking unless and until it were to become absolutely necessary. For the time being, the KJV is archaic but still readable with a little effort, so I think we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future.

  12. Kevin Barney on February 3, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    Dr. Barlow, how do your colleagues at your school view your interest in Mormon studies? Do they see that as a legitimate scholarly interest, or do they see it as a little bit weird and peripheral?

  13. Christian Cardall on February 3, 2005 at 12:51 pm

    Clark: For that matter what do you see transpiring with any new editions of the scriptures? Rumors regarding a revision have been rampant for a few years now.

    Clark, is it possible these rumors were overblown, and have already been fulfilled with the new end material (photos, maps) that has been out for a couple years now?

  14. Christian Cardall on February 3, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    Kevin Barnery: I also think it will be a long time before the Church moves off of the KJV. There are a lot of reasons for that, but to my mind the biggest one is the intertextuality with the BoM, D&C and PoGP…it would be a monumental task that I just can’t see the Church undertaking unless and until it were to become absolutely necessary.

    I don’t think the leaders would hesitate because of the amount of sheer effort required, if that’s what you mean by “monumental task.” The 1981 edition of the scriptures—with chapter headings, unified footnotes, Topical Guide, and Bible Dictionary—surely represented a “monumental effort,” and I don’t know that anyone would argue it was “absolutely necessary.”

    I agree they would balk because of intertextuality, but I think their primary concern would be the unsettling implications for the typical Mormon’s conception of the nature of Joseph’s revelations. As unfounded as the typical members’ conceptions might be, I just don’t think they’d want to create any unnecessary stumbling-block. There was enough of a hullabaloo from the very minor changes in the 1981 edition.

  15. Kevin Barney on February 3, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    Christian, it’s great to run into you again. We first met on SAMU-L lo these many years ago.

  16. Christian Cardall on February 3, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    These many years ago…Ouch! I guess, though, around here I am a dinosaur at 35.

    Of course I remember Eyring-L and LDS-Hist, but I don’t think I was ever on SAMU-L.

    Sorry about the name misspelling above!

  17. Kevin Barney on February 3, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    Hmmm…weren’t you at SUNY? And didn’t you post a query about Moroni and the Comoros islands? That is my recollection of you from SAMU-L, although it was late in the history of that list and it folded soon after. Your Comoros query sparked a terrific and useful discussion of that topic that still stands out in my mind today.

    (I am on LDS -Hist and was on Eyring-L for a short time, too.)

  18. A. Greenwood on February 3, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    “I think their primary concern would be the unsettling implications for the typical Mormon’s conception of the nature of Joseph’s revelations. As unfounded as the typical members’ conceptions might be, I just don’t think they’d want to create any unnecessary stumbling-block. There was enough of a hullabaloo from the very minor changes in the 1981 edition.”

    I just don’t see how this is the case. I assume you think that updating the language is an acknowledgment that the original language wasn’t word for word inspired, but that just ain’t so. You can update the language on the grounds that the old language s word-for-word inspired but inaccessible just as you can translate the text without taking a position on the mode and manner of its inspiration.

  19. Christian Cardall on February 3, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    Yes, Kevin, I was at SUNY Stony Brook, and that was me. (I’m now at Oak Ridge National Lab and University of Tennessee, Knoxville.) Maybe I just forgot about SAMU-L, or maybe it got cross-listed from LDS-Hist.

    That was one of the most bizarre incidents in my life; it still leaves me scratching my head. For those who care: I came across some anti website that noted that one of the variant spellings of Cumorah in the 1830 edition was Camora (I think), and they had an image of an early 19th century map showing an island off Africa named “Camora”. Their argument was that Joseph was stealing names from available sources. The modern name of the group of islands is the Comoros, and on a whim I looked them up on my Microsoft CD-ROM encyclopedia. The capital of the Comoros, according to Microsoft? None other than “Moroni.”

    I was stunned, of course. What stunned me most was that the anti website hadn’t even mentioned this Moroni connection (it didn’t appear on their map image). I suppose they didn’t know about it; if they had, I can only imagine they would have exploited it for all it was worth.

    Sadly, that may be a more interesting discovery than any I may make in my entire physics career! ;)

  20. Christian Cardall on February 3, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Adam: I totally agree with you that the grounds for updating the language would be reasonable. But I think the argument is a bit subtle for the typical member, and that it would prove quite unsettling (even disturbing) for many. If I had to guess, I would imagine it would be a shock of the same order as those who lived through the manifesto; or if not quite that severe, maybe the inclusion of the Word of Wisdom in the temple recommend questions.

  21. Jonathan Green on February 3, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    For Philip Barlow:

    Is the Book of Mormon, which declares itself a Jewish and pre-Columbian historical document, amenable to textual criticism similar to that which gave us the Documentary Hypothesis? Does the 19th-century English text of the Book of Mormon offer a basis for that kind of inquiry, or does having only a translation preclude it altogether?

    Just because a historical record is accepted as authentically ancient does not mean that its account of history is true. Is there any room to accept the Book of Mormon’s antiquity but also to probe below the surface of its history? How much room?

    The Book of Mormon describes itself as a compilation from various sources and with multiple redactors, much as the Documentary Process treats the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. But could textual analysis discover a Book of Mormon editorial history that was significantly different than the editorial history it gives itself?

  22. Jed on February 3, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Clark and Kevin Barney:

    I think some of your questions can be answered in the introductory essay to the massive critical edition of the JST recently published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center. I don’t remember the exact title, but the editors are Scott Faulring, Robert Matthews, and Kent Jackson.

  23. Clark Goble on February 3, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    Kevin, I was thinking of JST Matthew which is now in the PoGP. I’ve long wondered if the Melchezedek stuff now largely unread in the appendex to the Bible gets put in. (I think it would)

    I do tend to agree that rumors in the late 90’s regarding the scriptures being redone were overblown. (Obviously since nothing happened) A lot had to do with the extra materials for the D&C in Spanish editions. (I don’t think those made it into recent English editions but I may be wrong in that) I do think that lots of updates are necessary though. Some of the chapter heads need fixing. The Bible Dictionary has some problems and ought be made into a general reference for all LDS scripture. I suspect the proclamation on the family will be included as well.

    Regarding the recent JST commentary. I’ve not read it. Could someone summarize what it says?

    Regarding use of the JST in Provo – I’ve just never seen that. Indeed my complaint is that it is so rarely used. At BYU I confess most of my religion classes were taught in the honors department. So there’s a definite bias there since most were FARMS people. My classes from the religion department though tended to ignore the JST though, as I recall.

  24. Kevin Barney on February 3, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    Clark,

    I thought the JS-M was also in the pre-1981 PoGP. But I must confess that was so long ago I don’t remember anymore.

    Jed,

    You will note that the editors of the JST critical text cite me–negatively–in the footnotes to that introduction. This is high irony, since they go on and take essentially the same position I took in my Dialogue article on the JST (an earlier article than the one on the Documentary Hypothesis I cite above). I have long been an advocate of what I call the Matthews paradigm. It’s a long story, but essentially Kent Jackson just plain doesn’t understand my position; he just had a bad (and superficial) reaction to it since an edited version of my Dialogue article was republished in the Word of God by–oh, the humanity!–Signature Books.

  25. Clark Goble on February 3, 2005 at 6:30 pm

    JSM was originally a flier designed to fit into ones scriptures. It was made part of the D&C initially along with the additions there. When the new edition of the scriptures came out it was put in the PoGP. (Where I think it makes more sense, truth be told)

  26. "Anne" on February 3, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    I am excited that Brother Barlow, one of my old Institute of Religion Instructors, is on “Times and Seasons” to accept questions. I loved his book, “A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars”. This book was a godsend to me as I have been a skeptic … perhaps a “Liahona Mormon” since my teen years.

    With 2005 being the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birth, the church’s curriculum seems to be especially focused on the restoration. Over the years, I have noticed that much of the official church curriculum includes very bland histories. A quick glance at the materials available for teaching in church this year reveals a similar pattern.

    Recently, I have read “Mormon Enigma” about Emma Hale Smith and “In Sacred Loneliness” about Joseph Smith’s plural wives. I found these books fascinating and felt they portrayed early LDS women as strong, faithful, and multi-dimensional. These books also detail aspects and perspectives of Joseph Smith’s life that are never mentioned in church sponsored classes. As I continue my personal study, I find that there appears to be more books (“New Mormon History”) and publications available to the college-aged student. The explosion of the Internet has also made different views and perspectives available instantaneously. As an example, as an undergraduate, I had to go to my university’s library to look through the back issues of “Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought”. Today, I can look for an article on a topic of interest on the “Dialogue” website and then read the back issue through a link to the U. of Utah collections link.

    As I have read ME, ISL and Dialogue articles, my response has been continued skepticism of church lessons… thinking … what’s not being included in the lessons ? I have had over 20 years to deal with my skepticism. I’m concerned that a young person who comes upon all this stuff at once will be completely disillusioned with the church …. Perhaps concluding that the church and its leaders have been hiding its history.

    That said .. my question(s) to Brother Barlow is (are) :

    Young LDS students have the ability to access “New Mormon History (NMH)”. How can we as parents and adult leaders incorporate NMH with church-sponsored lessons to create an environment of thoughtful discussion and learning ? Is this even possible given the climate in the church following the recent disfellowshipment of Grant Palmer ? Do you have examples of young people who were able to discuss NMH alongside official church history in a thoughtful manner ? What were the results ? What would you recommend in terms of a church curriculum given the recent scholarship of NMH ?

  27. Jason on February 8, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    If I remember right, a footnote in _Mormons and the Bible_ discusses the rare/anomalous instances when Mormon biblical or related scholarship was praised/well-respected/taken seriously as scholarship and not overt apologetics (Nibley was one that passed this test). In your view, how are things looking these days for rigorous biblical scholarship by Latter-day Saints?

  28. Ben H on February 8, 2005 at 7:56 pm

    What are some research projects you would like to see taken up by Mormon scholars in the near future?

  29. Last_lemming on February 9, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    Clark,

    I think your memory is a little off. The flier contained the two visions canonized as part of the PoGP in 1976. Those two sections were moved to the D&C in the 1981 edition. Joseph Smith- Matthew was in the PoGP prior to 1981, although under a slightly different name (which I don’t remember).

  30. Johnna Cornett on February 9, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    The D&C, PofG, and BofM are intertextual with the KJV Bible, but lots of us don’t realize it because we don’t recognize the Biblical phrasing as quotes and miss the dialogue between the books. Particularly we don’t give much time to the New Testament epistles in our curriculum, which is the part of the Bible with the strongest connections to Book of Mormon an D&C. Has the emphasis on reading the Book of Mormon in the last 20 years resulted in a weakness in knowing the Bible, which undermines our understanding of all scripture?

  31. Ben S. on February 9, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    What advice would you give to LDS graduate students in the field of religious/biblical/ANE Studies?

  32. Dave on February 9, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    A question for Prof. Barlow: Many books that apply academic perspectives to LDS history or doctrine get sucked into the apologetic debate and get labelled a notorious book, sometimes criticized by one side and championed by the other or even sometimes attacked by both sides. Mormons and the Bible, however, somehow escaped that fate. Like Melissa, I just stumbled across this gem of a book one day at my neighborhood Borders bookstore, in the general religion section. Do you share the feeling that the book somehow slipped in under the radar, and if so why didn’t your detailed account of how Mormons use or misuse the Bible strike a more responsive chord among Mormon readers and scholars?

  33. Shawn Bailey on February 9, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    A sub-part to Kevin’s question in #5: whether or not the church eventually rejects the KJV as the official English language translation of the bible, from the Mormon perspective (your Mormon perspective?), what are the strengths and weaknesses of the other major English translations of the Bible currently available?