Jared Ludlow has been at BYU-Hawaii since 2000 and is an assistant professor in the History and Religion Departments. He earned his PhD in a joint program in Near Eastern Religions from the University of California-Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. He is the author of Abraham Meets Death: Narrative Humor in the Testament of Abraham.
I notice that you have lectured on the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls; I am sure you noticed that this month’s Ensign has an interesting article on the scrolls. What do you think the Saints should know about the Dead Sea Scrolls?
I think the greatest importance of the DSS to LDS and others is the fact that they contain the oldest biblical manuscripts we have discovered. They put us several centuries closer to the original texts. They also show us that there were variations in textual traditions and not one monolith text. Scholars used to think that the LXX [Julie’s note: This is a reference to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. More info on it here.] was a little too creative in its translation, but where the LXX differs from later Hebrew Masoretic tradition, we have found Hebrew texts at Qumran that show similar differences. Thus the transmission of the Bible was very fluid during this period, which perhaps confirms what Joseph Smith stated in the Article of Faith about believing the Bible as far as it is translated correctly. Perhaps in using the word â€œtranslationâ€? he also meant the copying and transmitting. I think the DSS are also of interest to LDS because they describe a group of believers who felt that â€œthe establishmentâ€? was corrupt and they were trying to create a community of sanctified faithful that were preparing themselves for the presence of angels and ultimately service in the presence of God. Perhaps we have similar aspirations.
Can you talk a little bit about how Church culture is different in Hawaii than on the mainland?
Thatâ€™s a tough question because I donâ€™t want to offend anyone, and Iâ€™m sure I donâ€™t fully understand church culture in either place, but here are some observations. I have been impressed with the â€œfeelingâ€? that is frequently present in church meetings and bearing testimony here. They donâ€™t seem as concerned about intellectual issues here, and instead the focus is on spiritual experiences. Partly from the gospel and partly from their cultural backgrounds they are very giving and share their love freely. They seem to be less materialistic in their own lives as well as in their dress at church meetings, etc.
What advice would you give a non-specialist looking to have more meaningful scripture study?
I think the simplest way of having more meaningful scripture study is to simply slow down. We usually approach scripture study as a checklist to check off when we have completed something. Scripture study should be more careful and purposeful. Read closely, follow trains of thought/doctrine that interest you, and when needed use study aids and insights from church leaders and scholars. For those who want to dabble a little in the language but donâ€™t have the language training, I think translations that include discussion of word choices in the notes can be very interesting. For example, Robert Alterâ€™s translation of Genesis is very interesting not only for its translation, but also for his notes about why he used some of the words/translations he did.
You have specialized in intertestamental literature [Is this the best way to put it? Should I say apocryphal texts? Pseudepigrapha? Something else?] –a fairly uncommon choice for LDS scholars. What attracted you to this field? In what ways could (or should) what we learn from the intertestamental/apocryphal/pseudepigraphal/whatever literature affect how we read the canonized scriptures? What in it is important for the general membership?
The term â€œIntertestamental Literatureâ€? certainly fits, but it does show a Christian bias. The Pseudepigrapha is a much safer term for a lot of these texts, but it doesnâ€™t include the Apocrypha or Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. Probably the most comprehensive term would be Second Temple literature. It is a fairly uncommon choice for LDS scholars (although not completely unique), but when thinking about the additional scriptural stories we have as part of the LDS canon between especially the Pearl of Great Price and the JST, it actually is a nice complement. I mostly went into this field because after a few semesters of doing Biblical studies I realized that the academic approach is very dependent on theories that can run contrary to my understanding of the gospel. I felt if I wanted to be professionally conversant and active in the field, it would go against some of my beliefs. By focusing on the extra-canonical literature, I could have an active professional field that is related and complementary to biblical studies, but not completely dependent on the same theoretical assumptions. There is also not as much secondary literature to wade through and because not as much work has been done on them, there is greater room for new work. My focus on the Pseudepigrapha almost started as a fluke in an intertestamental literature course, but so far it has turned out well for me professionally. I think there is a lot of information to be gleaned about ancient Judaism and early Christianity from these texts, and although they are not part of our canon, they were considered authoritative by ancient groups. I think itâ€™s interesting to try to see how they might have used these texts and what these stories reveal about their context. Although they might not be as rich theologically (although there are interesting nuggets in them), their creativity and expansion of stories can give us greater insights about the canonical texts we know better.
And–I ask this question every chance I get because I am yet to hear a good answer–why do you think that the overwhelming majority of LDS scholars who specialize do the OT and not the NT?
Good question, donâ€™t know if I have the good answer, but I think a lot of it has to do with the orientation of the teaching of these two languages. Almost all Hebrew is oriented towards the Bible, and other Near Eastern type courses complement the understanding of the background of the Bible. In the case of Greek, however, the focus is more on the classical world and Koine Greek is usually seen as inferior and rarely taught except by those specializing in NT. In addition, the secondary courses may also tend away from the Bible and focus more on Greece and its great thinkers and writers. More LDS students who want to go into Biblical studies seem to get exposed to the Near East and then naturally get led to Hebrew, whereas those who choose NT almost have to swim against the current (focus on Greece) and make the NT their own focus.
For those who go to BYU and have some aspirations of eventually teaching there, sometimes their choice can be guided by what the Religion Dept. perceives as future needs. I know I started more in Hebrew, but then veered towards the NT when the Dept. chair suggested they had more future need in NT.
One last thought: Hebrew is easier than Greek!
You wrote, Abraham Meets Death Narrative Humor in the “Testament of Abraham. Tell us about it.
This book started as a dissertation which started as a seminar paper in a graduate course in Intertestamental Literature. We all had to pick a text from the Pseudepigrapha on which to write a paper and make a class presentation, and for some reason (higher guidance?) I picked the Testament of Abraham. I didnâ€™t do a very good job with the original paper, but I felt there was a lot to the text that I wanted to discuss through narrative theory. As I began working on my dissertation, the narrative focus seemed to unlock a lot of puzzles we had about the text. Itâ€™s an interesting text that describes Abrahamâ€™s approaching death and his reluctance to accept the invitations by heaven-sent messengers (such as Michael) to make a last testament and proceed to death. It seems to actually â€œpoke funâ€? at the patriarch who in the Bible is portrayed as the example par excellence of obedience, but here he is constantly refusing Godâ€™s summons. In some way it picks up the characteristic of Abraham we see when he was â€œhagglingâ€? with God for the inhabitants of Sodom. In the midst of this narrative, Abraham takes a heavenly journey where he sees a judgment scene. The judgment scene seems to have been heavily influenced by Egyptian judgment scenes, thus probably pointing to its provenance in Egypt (Alexandria?). Thus overall it gives us a glimpse at the creativity and expansion Jewish writers in diaspora had with biblical figures.
What are your future research interests?
Although I donâ€™t want to make the Testament of Abraham my lifeâ€™s work, there are still little projects with it that I keep coming back to. Other texts in the Pseudepigrapha also interest me, but probably nothing in as much detail as with the Testament of Abraham. I would like to do more with early Christianity, particularly the transition to the bishops. Paul and Christianity developing out of Judaism is also an interest, but I have yet to really write in this field. I would also like to explore the concepts various Second Temple Jewish groups had of the afterlife.
What do you see happening in the future of LDS scholarship of the Bible?
I think more and more LDS scholars are being well trained in biblical studies, in the languages, context, and theories. I think increasingly they will be participants in dialogue with other biblical scholars of other faiths. However, I still think there will be boundaries where it will be hard (impossible?) to cross fully into all aspects of biblical scholarship without giving up too much of the restored gospel. I know it has derailed some LDS scholars in the past, I would hope it wouldnâ€™t others in the future.
There is a new section at the biblical studies professional association, The Society of Biblical Literature, called â€œLDS and the Bibleâ€? which should be an interesting exploration into how LDS biblical studies might be different from other approaches and what contributions an LDS study of the Bible might make towards the larger field. Itâ€™s brand new, so Iâ€™m not sure exactly how it will turn out, but at least it should prove to be an interesting exploration which should raise some awareness mostly among our own, but maybe a little outside, about what things are unique in our approach to the Bible.
Is there anything you wish I asked that I didn’t?
Perhaps one issue that sometimes comes up is question of the value of scholarly biblical commentaries, particularly non-LDS, to our spiritual knowledge. I think I have learned very clearly, particularly from my grandfather, the importance and preeminence of revelation through the brethren. That is my first source of spiritual knowledge. In addition to that, I find it insightful and helpful to see what others have thought about the Bible and other scriptures. Though not as authoritative, I think commentaries, etc. can teach much, if for no other reason than to get us thinking about things and seeking answers through pondering and prayer. As for non-LDS commentaries, I would say they can also be very insightful. They have studied the Bible for centuries, can be inspired by God, and have tremendous knowledge of the background and context of the scriptures. I think their interpretations need to be measured against the standard of the revealed gospel, but if it augments and does not detract, it could be very useful. I guess I would compare it a little with the hymns in our hymn book. Most of our hymns were written by non-LDS religious people, and we have come to appreciate their insights and thoughts through music. We have been enriched by their interpretations, and subsequently we can build upon them with our own revelations and teachings.