I am so thankful that we are gently backing away from a literal understanding of scripture.
Of course, we still have a long way to go. Our student study guide for gospel doctrine states:
“The book of Psalms is a collection of poems originally sung as praises or petitions to God. Many were written by David. This book is like a hymnal from ancient Israel.”
This description implies that many of the psalms collected in the book of Psalms were written by David, but it can also be read as “The book of Psalms is a collection of poems and David wrote many such psalms but not necessarily any of the ones in this collection.”
In our Bible Dictionary entry on Psalms, we get some clarification:
“Seventy-three of the psalms are ascribed to David, and so it was natural that the whole collection should be referred to as his, and that this convenient way of speaking should give rise in time to the popular belief that ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel’ himself wrote all the so-called Psalms of David. Sacred psalmody is ascribed to him in general terms in 2 and 2 Chr., the accompanying instruments also being called instruments of David,’ as in Neh. 23: 35 and Amos 6:5. In some cases in which a psalm is ascribed to David in the Hebrew, it is certain that he could not have written it, and it has been concluded that the Hebrew titles are sometimes inaccurate.”
In the entry on David, it further states:
“A large number of the Psalms ascribed to David were certainly not written by him, but the following seem directly connected with the history of his life…There are others that are possibly of Davidic origin.”
It is possible to stay within correlated sources and arrive at a more nuanced view, and one more in line with scholarly consensus, than a simple belief that David wrote most of the Psalms, or even that David wrote the psalms attributed to him.
Sadly, this more nuanced view is often not transmitted to class. The teacher’s manual has the same introductory statement as that included in the student manual, and I suspect that in more classes than not, the teacher will take that statement at face value and use the first interpretation offered above.
This example of David and the psalms (it could just as easily have been Moses and the Pentateuch) shows the delicate balance the Church has been maintaining in cultivating a simple, straightforward, literal belief in scripture while recognizing the strong conclusions of scholarly consensus.
The latest topic page on the Book of Abraham follows this pattern. It both supports the long cultured belief in our traditional story while opening room for less literal, but equally spiritually powerful understandings. For example:
“Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation. According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.”
I’d like to think that we as a people can be faithful enough to retain our faith as our understanding of scripture becomes more sophisticated. Our spirituality and belief need not fear the truth.