Book Review: Early Christians in Disarray

December 21, 2005 | 31 comments
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Can you really understand what the Restoration is if you don’t have your mind around what the Great Apostasy was?

A new book published jointly by BYU Press and FARMS explores the apostasy from a variety of angles and argues that the core of the apostasy was the loss of covenants. While I wish I could engage each essay here, that would create a rather unwieldy post so I’ll stick to brief comments on a few of the essays and then suggest a few general questions about the apostasy.

“What Went Wrong for the Early Christians?” by Noel B. Reynolds
Reynolds presents the general thesis of the book: “LDS scholars today conclude increasingly that the root causes of the apostasy were the abandonment or breaking of sacred covenants by the Christians themselves” and then disputes several LDS myths about the apostasy: that persecution and/or hellenization caused it and that the great and abominable church is the Roman Catholic Church. (I was interested to see that on at least one occasion the NIV–not the KJV–was quoted. But that’s the topic for another post.)

“Inheriting the ‘Great Apostasy': The Evolution of Latter-day Saint Views on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance” by Eric R. Dursteler
If this were any other book on any other topic, this would be a sleeper: you have to review the history of an idea before you explore it, but that doesn’t mean it will be interesting. But in this case, Dursteler has found the third rail and held on tight: he shows that what Church leaders have taught about the apostasy has remained remarkably consistent–consistent, that is, with nineteenth-century scholarship on the issue. He then explains how and why the scholarship has changed, creating a “chasm” between LDS thought and respected scholarship. This, of course, leads him to some rather awkward conclusions and it is only through a very charitable reading that we can believe that he isn’t calling Elder Bruce R. McConkie “half-educated.”

“‘A World in Darkness': Early Latter-day Saint Understanding of the Apostasy, 1830-1834″ by Richard E. Bennett and Amber J. Seidel

“Modern Revelation: A Guide to Research about the Apostasy” by John W. Welch
This is an opening sentence you can’t argue with: “Whatever is taught about the apostasy should be checked against the four standard works.” And I don’t–but I do think that some of Welch’s interpretations are too speculative. He begins with D & C 64:8. This is an interesting little insight into the world of the early Christians (and one that is supported by the picture of the disciples found in the apocryphal gospels), but I’m not convinced of the link to the apostasy. There’s a leap to be made between “being afflicted and sorely chastened” and apostasy, and while that link is certainly possible, it is far from definite. His reading of the parable of the wheat and the tares is, I think, much more useful in attempting to better understand the apostasy and his comparison of the “soft view” of the apostasy in that parable as found in Matthew 13 with the “tougher view” of D & C 86 is engaging and revealing.

“The Concept of Apostasy in the New Testament” by James E. Faulconer
The only thing I didn’t like about Jim’s essay is its overlimiting title; in addition to exploring some NT texts, he does something far more interesting (and something that LDS scholars don’t do nearly often enough): he explores the concept in the OT.

The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity” by John Gee
What’s most fascinating–and revealing–about this topic is tucked into a footnote where Gee writes about his experience with the Secret Gospel of Mark: “When I originally wrote this article, I considered it genuine. When the manuscript repository that supposedly possessed the work denied its existence, I began to have doubts about its authenticity. At the present I simply do not know whether it is authentic or not.” Corruption of scripture, indeed. His article is interesting mostly because it explores what early Christians themselves thought about the (in)errancy of scripture instead of what we suppose today.

“The Introduction of Philosophy into Early Christianity” by Daniel W. Graham and James L. Siebach

“Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God” by David L. Paulsen

Also included are appendices on major early Christian writers and writings, Christian councils, NT prophecies of apostasy, and an annotated bibliography of LDS writings on the apostasy. In the midst of this basic reference matter one item stands out: in collecting scriptures that provide “evidences of first-century apostasy from the New Testament,” as author Noel B. Reynolds puts it, he is guilty of casting his net a little too widely. If he considers fornication commited by church members to be evidence of apostasy (1 Corinthians 5:1 and 6), does that not also implicate the Church today?

Some general questions that this book raised for me:

(1) Why would Jesus establish a Church that would fail within a generation? (By way of comparison, we learn from the Book of Mormon that a Church he established at roughly the same time lasted for hundreds of years.) Should we read the NT–particularly the Epistles–differently knowing that we are watching a train wreck?

(2) How might our thoughts on the apostasy affect how we read apocryphal texts? What (if anything) should the Saints do with the Nag Hammadi texts or the Dead Sea Scrolls?

(3) To the extent that we decide that the Bible is corrupted (whether through omissions or additions, whether of phrases or of entire books), we rather complicate the lives of Sunday School teachers everywhere. It seems we walk a fine line between rejecting 1 Nephi 13:26 and rejecting the Bible. How might we navigate through this dilemma–and (how) should our use and teaching of the Bible be affected by our knowledge that it is corrupted?

(4) While Elder Dallin H. Oaks is quoted as offering a view of the apostasy more in line with modern scholarship, the general impression one gets from this book is that Church leaders past and present have gotten it wrong in their teachings on the apostasy. Our own Nate Oman, in his review of Zion in the Courts, notes that “there is the danger that use of scholarly tools–which requires the privileging of those tools–will breed habits of mind that reflexively privilege secular scholarship over the gospel.” When the topic at hand is the apostasy, the irony should not be lost on us. Is the thesis of this book (which is, to put it bluntly, to allow LDS scholars to offer a course correction to the concept of the apostasy as advanced by over a century of Church leaders) an appropriate endeavor?

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31 Responses to Book Review: Early Christians in Disarray

  1. J. Stapley on December 22, 2005 at 12:55 am

    Why would Jesus establish a Church that would fail within a generation?

    Perhaps for the same reasons, we had New Jerusalem, the Law of Consecration, polygamy, etc.

  2. Clark on December 22, 2005 at 3:04 am

    Looks like several of the articles are reprints of very oft quoted papers. (Siebach & Paulsen’s) Are they the same or have they been reworked?

  3. Jonathan Green on December 22, 2005 at 9:39 am

    Julie, thanks for the review. This is another one I’ll have to read soon. (Does FARMS/BYU Press send T&S review copies? They really should, simply for the sake of the extra sales it would generate.)

    I’m curious about what you call the book’s overall thesis that abandoning covenants led to apostasy.
    It seems like a very individualistic reading of the apostasy, but what about community and institutional factors? That Brother Anastasius went inactive is sad, but the key element has always seemed to be institutional doctrine, organization, and authority.
    Why should early Christians have abandoned their covenants? Are any theories offered?
    Is there any attempt to put a date on it?
    And what direction does the argument run? That is, is it a matter of 1) “Early Christian A, B, and C abandoned their covenants, so this seems like the general cause of apostasy” (which seems hard to prove); or 2) “Apostasy from the church in the 21st century is a matter of individual covenant-breaking, so clearly this was the cause of the Great Apostasy as well”.

    Obviously, I can’t even ask intelligent questions without reading the book first. I’d better go fix that.

  4. ed on December 22, 2005 at 10:16 am

    Here’s what the first missionary lesson has to say about the “Great” Apostasy:

    After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church
    members and killed many of them. With the death of the Apostles, priesthood keys and
    the presiding priesthood authority were taken from the earth. The Apostles had kept the
    doctrines of the gospel pure and maintained the order and standard of worthiness for
    Church members. Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and
    unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances,
    such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to
    interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature
    of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith
    in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or
    forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on
    the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.

    How well does that agree with the book?

    Interestingly, the missionary lesson previously says:

    A few hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, people again fell into apostasy.

    I didn’t know we taught that.

  5. Ryan on December 22, 2005 at 11:38 am

    Forgive me if I scoff at “modern scholarship” while I go reset the timer on my microwave to see how many minutes before the newest “scholarship” conflicts with previously held “facts”.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on December 22, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    “I’m curious about what you call the book’s overall thesis that abandoning covenants led to apostasy. It seems like a very individualistic reading of the apostasy, but what about community and institutional factors?”

    I’d like to hear more about this as well–perhaps when Jim returns to the list after the holiday he could chime in. On the one hand, there seems to be a desire here to recuse “the Apostacy” from an explicit identification with any given doctrinal or institutional transformation, and focus instead on a particular account of what “the church” presumably really consists of: individuals who make and keep their covenants through priesthood ordinances. Losing those is what “apostacy” means, not any given intellectual or political trend amongst the membership and/or leadership. Yet on the other hand, it seems difficult to historically account for not just the Apostacy, but also the historical role it plays in our understanding of the Restoration, if we speak solely of individuals who lost contact with the Spirit and thus abandonded their covenants, because the scriptures are filled with stories of such individual apostacies, simultaneous with stories of the Lord circumventing such. For the church to actually “disappear” would seem to demand something more than accumulated individual decisions. In the BoM, it happened because practically all the believers were killed off: man, woman, and child. Obviously, while many apostles were killed, that isn’t exactly what happened at the end of the New Testament accounts. But if not that, and if not a huge, widespread intellectual or doctrinal delusion, then what? Or might it be that the actual agenda of this book is not just to get us to rethink the historical causes of the Apostacy, but its historical significance as well?

  7. g.wesley on December 22, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    Restraining myself to one comment, I congratulate Gee for honestly admitting (in print) his indicision as to the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark. For those unfamiliar with Morton Smith’s discovery, in 1958, in a fifth-century Christian monastary he found a copy of a letter written by Clement of Alexandria (b. circa 150 AD), transcribed on a few blank pages in the back of a 17th century edition of the writings of another early Christian author, Ignatius of Antioch. Smith photographed the letter, and continued cataloguing the monastary’s holdings. Later, upon futher examination Smith realized he was on to something big, and spent much of his career researching the document and related subjects. He published his initial findings in two books, The Secret Gospel, and, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark. Some (if not many) scholars were agast at the homoerotic tone of the letter and Smith’s (implicit) interepretation. (Smith himself was homosexual.) There has been doubt among scholars about the authenticity of the letter since its publication, and it remains an open question (see Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, pp.70-89; cf. Journal of Early Christian Studies, vol. 11 no. 2). Smith’s photographs are in fact the only hard evidence of its exisitence, as the pages of the book in which he found it are now missing. Smith is dead, and only one person living (G.G. Stroumsa) claims to have actually seen the letter intact in the book. The disappointing part of the story is that LDS authors have cited Smith’s work and the Secret Gospel of Mark in arguements defending the the antiquity of Mormon temple ritual, WITHOUT MENTIONING THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING SMITH AND HIS DISCOVERY, OR THE LETTER’S EXTREMELY TENUOUS MANUSCRIPT TRADITION. Nibley cites Smith half-a-dozen times in Temple and Cosmos (pp.48, 56). William Hamblin’s article, ‘Aspects of an Early Christian Initiation Ritual,’ in By Study and Also by Faith (pp.202-21), is far worse, basing his entire arguement on the Secret Gospel of Mark (note that Gee cites Hamblin’s article, favorably!?!; see ‘The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity,’ p.166 n.4). Personally, I think that Smith probably didn’t forge the letter himself (although he was certainly capable). But even if it isn’t an ancient, mideval or modern foregery, the bottom line is Secret Mark has a horribly weak manuscript tradition: a set of twentieth century photographs!!!!! Even if the seventeenth century transcription were extant and could be authenticated through ink testing, the situation would’nt be much better. The fact is, based on current evidence, Secret Mark is not an ancient text according to the standards of textual and historical criticism, and yet not a few scholars act as if it is. Students of New Testament and Early Christian Studies might as well accept the Book of Mormon as the Secret Gospel of Mark.

  8. john fowles on December 22, 2005 at 1:24 pm

    I am increasingly curious about Noel Reynolds’s views on the Apostasy. I think it undisputable (to Latter-day Saints) that the “Great Apostasy” occurred. Why conclusions that persecution and hellenization, in addition to sin and pride, would now be considered mere “LDS myths about the apostasy.”

    LeGrand Richards wrote in A Marvelous Work and a Wonder that Jesus intended the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to be continuous. Giving Elder Richards the benefit of the doubt that this is true, there must be a reason that things didn’t run smoothly. History is not an exact science; thus, how can it be said that persecution and personal apostasy, as Talmage has posited in The Great Apostasy, did not contribute to the discontinuation of the Quorum of the Twelve after the original twelve were killed off . . . by persecution? The writings of Paul make clear the fight that the early Church was having with the corruption of the key points of doctrine, and the infusion of “philosophies of men” as interpretive guides to the scripture (as yet not collected into any sort of canon outside of the traditional Jewish writings, which were pre-Christian anyway). I understand the need to be diplomatic and conciliatory toward the Catholic Church in this day and age, but it seems to go too far to say that it was not the church of the Great Apostasy. The other Christian churches weren’t even around until very deep into the life of the Great Apostasy. Of course, it can be argued that the Catholic Church itself post-dates the Apostasy and thus cannot be the Church of the Apostasy. This is a good point but the fact remains: even if the Catholic Church was already a post-apostasy institution, its hegemony thereafter still made it the church of the apostasy (at least for the known Western world).

    Here’s a suggestion: perhaps, if we are to be extra generous to the individuals who lived at the time of the Great Apostasy, we can conclude that they were personally righteous and doing their best. The priesthood power itself might have even been with them for longer than we assume. But the keys of the priesthood were no longer on earth once the Apostles had been killed. Without the keys of the priesthood, the ordinances couldn’t be authorized, even if individuals carried the priesthood power within them. They would have been able to give their families priesthood blessings, but not baptize with authority or confer the Holy Ghost, etc.

    Whatever the case, and I understand the impulse toward ecumenicalism that drives us today to revise our views about what the Great Apostasy was and is, I think that people who are enthusiastic about redefining this based on such new writings as this book should also read, at least, Talmage’s The Great Apostasy. Reading this new stuff without having read that first or concurrently seems one-sided.

  9. john fowles on December 22, 2005 at 1:26 pm

    Oops. When I wrote “Why conclusions that persecution and hellenization, in addition to sin and pride, would now be considered mere ‘LDS myths about the apostasy'”, I meant, of course, to complete the sentence.

    Why conclusions that persecution and hellenization, in addition to sin and pride, would now be considered mere “LDS myths about the apostasy,” I find difficult to understand.

  10. Russell Arben Fox on December 22, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    G.–thanks for that rundown on the Secret Gospel. I’ve run up against bits and pieces of the controversy here and there, but never really looked into it–in part because I’d assumed various FARMS authors had. I see now that such isn’t the case, which makes Gee’s admission all the more important in sensitizing LDS scholarship to the problems here.

  11. Taylor on December 22, 2005 at 2:10 pm

    So, Ryan, your point is that the church should continue to hold on to 19th c. theological constructions of early Church history?

  12. Taylor on December 22, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    Gee’s indecision regarding the SGOM (as represented in this post) is unfortunately based on ignorance. Everyone knows that the manuscript was lost by the library as quickly as it was found. This is not a reason to doubt its authenticity. There were other witnesses besides Smith who saw the manuscript and attest to its existence. Sound familiar?

  13. Taylor on December 22, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    g. wesley- according to what standard of text criticism are you referring to that would exclude SGOM? I look in my critical edition of the NT and see lots of readings that are only attested once. Unless you think Smith is a liar, then the text is either a authentic to Clement of Alexandria, or was forged sometime between 200 and 1700. Either way, it still represents a textual variant. I just dont find the argument credible that Smith is a liar.

  14. Julie M. Smith on December 22, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    J. Stapley– Almost doth thou persuade me, but it seems that there is a difference between tinkering with the program and cancelling the whole play, no?

    Clark, I haven’t read the papers to which you refer.

    Jonathan, the tension between individual and institutional apostasy is something that doesn’t get enough attention in this book (see my comments on the appendices). I’m not sure myself how to untangle that knot.

    ed, I’m not sure if you are quoting the old missionary lessons or Preach My Gospel (or if the two are significantly different), but to answer your question, there is some dissonance between what you quote and what Reynolds, at least, argues: remember that he gives as one the myths of the apostasy that it was caused by outside persecution.

    Ryan, My review should make my sympathy to your position clear, but at the same time, I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    g. wesley, I’d like to give you one data point on the SGOM issue. I was a grad student at the GTU in the mid90s studying the NT. All of my profs who discussed the SGOM presented it as genuine with only the slightest teeniest footnote of a question about its authenticity as a sort of hypothetical. It appears (although I’ll admit that I don’t follow the issue very closely) that there is now some question as to its authenticity (but this is complicated by the fact that there are strong motives among inerrantists and others to question it). I don’t know the dates on the Nibley and other work that you cited on SGOM, but I can tell you that they wouldn’t have gotten a second look in Berkeley in the mid90s for writing on SGOM and assuming it to be authentic.

    RAF and john fowles, your very interesting comments also point to the complicated relationship between personal and institutional apostasy that aren’t elucidated as much as I would have liked in this book.

  15. g.wesley on December 22, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    Taylor- Given Smith’s investment in the SGOM I think he was probably telling the truth about its discovery, but that doesn’t authenticate the letter. Like you state it could be an ancient or medieval forgery, and in my mind that is the question, not whether Smith himself forged it. That having been said, strictly speaking the letter cannot be attested before the twentieth century, or the seventeenth century conceding that the transcription was made immediately after Isaac Voss’ 1649 edition of Ignatius. So in other words there is currenly no proof that the letter existed before then. That is not to say that it didn’t; Clement could have writen it, someone could have forged it, etc. The point is, it’s an open question, one that I think Hamblin and Nibley should have at least noted, as does Gee (though as you point out, only as it concerns the dissappearence of the transcript). Contrast this with the Gospel of John for example: its oldest piece of mss evidence is p.52, which most scholars date to the first half of the second century. For this and other reasons (such as citations in patrsitic sources like Irenaeus, flor. 180 AD), scholars know for a fact that (a version) of the Gospel of John was circulating in the second century AD. The SGOM has no such support. As for NT textual variants, it is true that some if not many only exist sinlgy, but as far as I can tell Nestle and Aland do not include any variants in thier apparatus that cannot be attested before the thirteenth century, which would exclude SGOM; the majority of variants in thier apparatus date to a much earlier period, such as the second, third or fourth centuries. Second, the citation of Mark in the letter Smith found is of the Secret Gospel of Mark not the canonical Gospel of Mark, so it wouldn’t be an NT variant anyway. If it’s legitimate, it’s a frament of an otherwise unknown and unattested gospel atributed to Mark by Clement of Alexandria circa 200 AD. As for the Book of Mormon, generally speaking, one of the reasons that biblical scholars are not willing to accept its claimed antiquity is because its oldest ms dates to 1829; there’s no proof. The Book of Mormon could have been written before the date of its oldest extant manuscript, as I and others including you, I presume, believe. But you’re not going to find many if any biblical scholars willing to accept that possibility. The case of SGOM is similar, but different. It’s oldest extant ms dates to the nineteenth or seventeenth century, but for whatever reason some scholars like Smith consider it an ancient document. In my opinion that reflects a lapse in methodology.

  16. mormon fool on December 22, 2005 at 5:01 pm

    Julie,

    I always enjoy your book reviews and I am glad you have selected this one. I wrote my own review (more of a summary, actually), but have failed to get much discussion on it after posting it on both the FAIR boards and the Catholic Answers forums. For those interested:
    Part 1
    Part 2

  17. Lundwall on December 22, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    Thanks for the review. I’m going to get the book for the Dusteler article.
    Ive recently read through the 100 or pages of changes made to McConkie’s 1958 version of “Mormon Doctrine.” While the changes affect dozens of issues, one of the largest categories of change had to do with his removal and toning down of some of his anti-Catholic writings (which today would be called hate speech). As I read items such as McConkie calling Transubstatiation “a sort of religious cannibalism which partakes measurably of the same spirit, and is enshrouded by the same blanket of satanic darkness, as the murderous blood drinking orgies of the most degenerate pagan peoples” I’ve wondered where he picked that up line of thinking.
    Sounds like “Inheriting the ‘Great Apostasy’: The Evolution of Latter-day Saint Views on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance� will have some relevant info.

  18. mormon fool on December 22, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    Clark,

    Some of the essays are indeed found elsewhere in other forms. The Paulsen essay admits that substantial portions have been borrowed from previously published articles. The Reynolds essay is an elaboration of a BYU-I devotional address available online. My review has a link. The Gee essay is an expansion of a FAIR conference address. The Dursteler essay is condensed from a Journal of Mormon History article.

  19. g.wesley on December 22, 2005 at 5:48 pm

    For anyone interested in a brief scholarly treatment of the SGOM, including the (annotated) fragments, with bibliography pro and con, see Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991 English translation) vol.1 pp.106-9. Smith published his books both in 1973. Hesitant, skeptical and outright hostile as well as supportive academic reviews soon followed, i.e. 1974/75, etc. Again, for a more recent treatment of the debate, see Journal of Early Christian Studies, vol.11 no.2 (2003) or Erhman, Lost Christianities (2003), 70-89.

  20. Taylor on December 22, 2005 at 6:07 pm

    g. wesley, thanks for clarifying. I read your original comment too hastily.

    I think that we are agreed that the question is whether or not it was originally written by Clement or forged sometime b/t 200 and 1700 (+/-). However, I just don’t think that this issue can be resolved by an appeal to the late date of the ms. Frankly, the late date only provides us with a terminus ad quem, but it tells us nothing of the terminus a quo. This needs to be decided on entirely different grounds, such as the comparison of the language of the letter to Clement, anachronisms, irregularities, etc. The late date of the ms. doesn’t convince me that the text is also of a late date. As for the BOM, I suspect that there are a lot of reasons that biblical scholars don’t accept it as an authority that are entirely independent of the late date of its ms. tradition. This is because a ms’s date doesn’t tell us anything about when it was originally written.

    Just a point of clarification, according to Clement’s letter, the SGOM is a textual variant of the canonical Gospel, not some “otherwise unknown and unattested Gospel”. He cites the text we have now as coming b/t Mark 10:34 and 35. H. Koester argues in his _Introduction to the NT_ vol 2 that the canonical Gospel of Mark that we have now *is* the Secret Gospel of Mark, minus the controversal text that Clement quotes. As proof he notes that Mt and Lk don’t know of any of the traditions of the young boy that show up in Mark and SGOM.

  21. Taylor on December 22, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    g. wesley,
    yeah! for the JECS issue, you can also see me in F. Bovon’s first footnote!

  22. g.wesley on December 22, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    Julie- I just looked at your ‘Secret Gospel of Mark’ link to the blog at Millenial Star about Stephen Carson’s recent book. Thanks. I was unaware of it. Reading the reviews on Amazon, for now Carson’s arguements appear rather damning. It looks like I spoke to soon about Smith probably not having forged it himself; that possibility now seems more serious.

  23. mormon fool on December 22, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    On to Julie’s questions,

    1) I think the differences between the Nephite culture, Jerusalem culture, and modern culture illuminate why Christ’s church meets varying degrees of success. The Nephites appear to have more distinct prophecies, their visit by Christ was accompanied by more earth shaking events, and they had the community resources to implement a more lasting organization. The Old World church in contrast was much more persecuted early on, didn’t have temple resources, and was caught in a cross-fire of competing philosophical currents. I would attribute the success of the modern church because of its abilities to mirror, in many ways the conditions of the Lehite church through gathering into a community. I think that God allowed the church to apostasize, because it was optimal way to bring about the salvation of man. Less truth available means less accountability, but maintaining some level of gospel truth can serve as preparation to the higher law. I think the Mt. Sinai apostasy is the most apt metaphor here.

    2) I think LDS should continue to reconstruct early Christianity and Messianic Judaism from the texts. Our ideas on the apostasy and in being a restoration should make us wary of engaging in parallelomania. Still I think we find things in those texts that ultimately add respectibility to LDS truth claims. Should all LDS be interested? Only if they are up to taking the D&C 93 challenge.

    3) I don’t think admitting the scriptures have been corrupted really complicates things for LDS. Ultimately I think it ends being an advantage because whatever unreliability is introduced in the texts is largely compensated for by having modern prophets. This might help us establish that there is a need for multiple and modern witnesses to establish gospel truth in our missionary efforts to educated investigators. Sunday School lessons concentrate on “likening the scriptures” to ourselves and less about textual criticism.

    4) Another example of an LDS GA that is staying current on the latest apostasy scholarship is Alexander B. Morrison, who has a 2005 book out. The way that we have explained the apostasy in the past has heavily borrowed from Protestant literature and out-dated literature at that. Our ability to dialogue with those in the Catholic faith is hampered if we can’t present a more up-to-date realistic picture for them. The new LDS scholarship has a better chance of getting a fair hearing and we see more articles are getting published in respectable venues. I think this is worth the risk of undercutting previous work by respected authorities.

  24. Taylor on December 22, 2005 at 6:33 pm

    g. wesley, after reading the reviews, I think that Carson adds little to the debate. If the entire argument that it is a forgery is based on “handwriting analysis” and the concession that it is “too good to be true”, then I am not holding my breath. There may be some legitimacy to the handwriting analysis, but I find it hard to beleive that he is the first person to look at this in the last 30 years. I suppose we’ll have to see how the professional reviewers treat it. I would have hoped to see it published by a more reputable academic press without the sort of ideological interests that Julie points to. I just don’t think that he would lie about it.

    It should be noted that though his first reviewer on Amazon notes that Carson doesn’t accuse Smith of forging the document *because* he is a homosexual, the review doesn’t have any problem with implying it. Funny.

  25. g.wesley on December 22, 2005 at 7:00 pm

    Taylor- Please excuse my ignorance, but I don’t understand your reference to JECS vol.11 no.2. What did I miss? Not that it matters, but the way I read Clement’s letter, which also seems to be the way Ehrman and Smith read it, Mark wrote two gospels, one that circulated publicly and another that was more ‘spiritual,’ guarded under lock and key in Alexandria, the very existence of which Clement instructed the addressee of his letter to deny even under oath; the citation in the letter is from the latter gospel, not the former, although Clement did explain to Theodore at what point the citation from the SGOM (with which Theodore was unfamiliar) would fit into the exoteric Gospel of Mark that he knew, the same gospel that I would assume is in the NT. So it wouldn’t be an NT variant. If you want to contend that SGOM somehow supplanted its predecessor, exoteric Mark, all the while shedding its esotercism, to finally become canonical Mark, as apparently Koester does (in which case the citation would be an NT variant), I suppose you can. But it seems problematic to me.

  26. Taylor on December 22, 2005 at 8:13 pm

    g. wesley, maybe we are defining variant differently. I am arguing that a variant is an addition to or subtraction from the textus receptus. I don’t have Ehrman in front of me, but it seems from the text that Clement doesn’t know of any other differences between canonical Mark and Secret Mark other than the ones that he mentions. From my pov, it would be hard to argue that from a text critical viewpoint an additional pericope in the gospel constitutes an wholly other Gospel. It seems to me that the Carpocatians told the story of a different “secret” gospel in order to explain this single textual variant, but that doesn’t mean that it was an entirely different gospel that only had superficial resemblence to canonical Mark.

  27. Clark on December 23, 2005 at 12:32 am

    Thanks, “Mormon fool.” I should point out that all the essays I’ve read (at least in their earlier forms) were very worth reading. Especially the Paulson and Seibach entries.

    One more question. I wonder how John Gee views the Didiche. I know back when he was my roommate we discussed it a lot. He thought then that it was a very early document and accepted it as largely accurate. It’s an interesting point since there are clearly huge differences between the Christianity of the Didiche and that expressed in say the early chapters of Moroni. What differences in practice constitute apostasy?

  28. Taylor on December 23, 2005 at 8:53 am

    Julie,
    Thanks for the summary of this book. I am really eager to read it myself. I am mostly interested in the first two essays which give different models for the apostasy. I think that one of the limitations of most of these models is that they assume that there existed an ancient church that shares some essential component with our own (priesthood, correct teaching, or more dubiously Reynold’s argument that the pre-apostasy saints were more righteous than the post-apostasy saints).

    The biggest problem that I see is that this kind of historical positivism ignores a major part of our doctrinal heritage. We simultaneously believe in Restoration and Revelation, where the old and the new come together. We are in conversation with the past, not mechanical imitation.

  29. Jim F. on December 23, 2005 at 8:25 pm

    Taylor (#28): What do you mean when you refer to “this kind of historical positivism”? I see neither how the book is historically positivist in any strong sense nor how it deals with the past by means of mechanical imitation.

    John Fowles (##8,9): You wonder “why conclusions that persecution and hellenization, in addition to sin and pride, would now be considered mere ‘LDS myths about the apostasy,'” but I that seems to be based on a misrepresentation or a misunderstanding of what is in the book. To say that Latter-day Saints have not thought in very nuanced ways about the apostasy is not to say that there wasn’t one, nor that there wasn’t persecution, hellenization, etc., and no one I know of in the collection in question says otherwise.

    Julie and Russell (#6): Responding to Julie’s question in her post, Russell says “For the church to actually ‘disappear’ would seem to demand something more than accumulated individual decisions.” The question is how individual apostasy and Church apostasy were related. Since I dealt only with the question of what apostasy means in the New Testament (in either case, I believe), I’m not in a position to answer that question without a good deal more thinking and reading. But my tentative response would be that covenants are not merely individual things. God’s covenant with Israel was a covenant with the people Israel, not merely with each individual one-at-a-time. It doesn’t follow that individuals don’t make covenants as individuals, but that covenant-making isn’t merely individual. I assume that our contemporary covenants are of the same sort: we make them as a people–specifically in this dispensation as families–as well as as individuals.

  30. Julie M. Smith on December 23, 2005 at 8:44 pm

    Jim F. writes, “You wonder “why conclusions that persecution and hellenization, in addition to sin and pride, would now be considered mere ‘LDS myths about the apostasy,’â€? but I that seems to be based on a misrepresentation or a misunderstanding of what is in the book.”

    The lead essay, by Noel Reynolds, outlines in bold print the following:

    “Myth #1: The apostasy happened because of outside persecution.

    Myth #2: The apostasy was caused by [italics in original] the hellenization of Christianity or the incorporation of Greek philosophy and the culture into the teachings of the early church.

    Myth #3: The Roman Catholic Church specifically is the great and abominable church spoken of in Nephi’s vision”

    Reynolds prefaces this list by saying, “The authors identify several common myths and misconceptions that Latter-day Saints have about the apostasy and help us understand the falling away from Christ’s church more accurately and completely.”

    While in an essay collection I wouldn’t expect every author to think identically on every issue, I’m not sure how one could walk away from Reynolds’ essay thinking that that what John Fowles cites (with the exception of the clause about sin and pride–I’m not entirely sure how that entered the discussion) is, as you say, “a misrepresentation or a misunderstanding of what is in the book.”

  31. Jim F. on December 24, 2005 at 12:11 am

    Julie (#30): To say that the apostasy happened because of outside persecution is quite different than saying that there was no outside persecution. I may have misunderstood what John was saying, but he seemed to me to be saying that the book, as a whole, denies that persecution occurred. It doesn’t. Instead, it denies that persecution was the cause of the apostasy. Likewise, to deny that the hellenization of Christianity was the cause of the apostasy is not to deny that hellenization occurred.

    One LDS myth is that the Church fell away because of outside persecution. Since the major persecutions occurred after the apostasy, it isn’t difficult to deny that claim. Another (more recent?) is that the Church fell away because of hellenization. Siebach and Graham do an excellent job of showing the problems with that claim. As I am sure that you know better than I, based on what we know about NT history neither of those seems to have been a significant cause of the apostasy. But it does not follow that there was neither persecution nor hellenization, nor does it follow that persecution and hellenization are completely irrelevant.

    Thus it seems to me that John has misunderstood what the book claims, taking its claims to an extreme that isn’t in the book. However, I may have misunderstood what John was saying. Looking back at his post again, I can see how that is possible. If that’s what happened, I apologize for my misreading.