Secret Gospel of Mark, Early Christianity, Temple Initiations, and FARMS. Oh, and SSA.

A new book will appear shortly claiming definite proof that Morton Smith invented the Secret Gospel of Mark whole cloth, that it’s a hoax. This may have some significance for LDS scholarship, as it has appeared in several LDS arguments.

Background- Morton Smith was a prominent, competent, but controversial scholar.

He discovered a manuscript at a monastary in Israel, a copy of a letter from Clement of Alexandria with very interesting content. According to the letter-

1)Early Christians knew of a secret initiation ritual only for those being perfected.
2)This ritual came from Jesus himself, and Jesus himself also performed baptisms.
3)The Gospel of Mark as we know it was an edited-down, public version. The true Gospel of Mark was kept secret because it was sacred and had some instructions for this ritual.
4) Nevertheless, the secret Gospel didn’t include everything, as there were some things about this ritual that could not be written.
5) Furthermore, an Elder of the Church who knew this ritual went apostate, and revealed all to Carpocrates, an early Gnostic Christian.

Thus he discovered only the letter itself, not the “secret” Gospel of Mark. Though highly controversial, many scholars came to accept the authenticity of this letter. It has, nevertheless, been widely ignored. (I base this on reading both the popular and technical book on the topic several years ago, and a fairly recent Bible Review (or BAR?) article.)

This letter has popped up in several places in LDS writings. Most notably, William Hamblin uses it in a fascinating paper called “Aspects of an Early Christian Initiation Ritual” which is available off my Temple page. (If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.)

I haven’t read the book yet, and will not be able to for some time, but I assume that part of the motivation in writing it is sexual. Morton Smith himself was homosexual, and interpreted part of this document he discovered to mean that Jesus himself had had a homosexual relationship with the young man mentioned in Mark 14:51-52. The book is coming out of Baylor Press, a conservative Baptist university. I presume that the author wishes to argue against Smith’s interpretation that Jesus was homosexual (as it IS Smith’s interpretation, and a questionable one, IMO) and perhaps that it was Smith’s personal apologia for his orientation. Wikipedia notes that some of his argument is based on handwriting.

One scholarly article summarizing the state of things states, “Clementine scholars have, in the main, accepted the authenticity of Clement’s letter (it is included among the standard texts of Clement’s writings in a 1980 German publication). If it is a forgery, it at least does not appear to be a modern forgery perpetrated by Morton Smith.” Nevertheless, it ” appears to have been discredited and shunted aside, to a great degree for other than scholarly reasons, as is reflected to some degree in the initial negative reception given to Smith’s two books.”

Though I doubt it can be conclusively proven, I imagine some, perhaps many scholars will welcome this supposed evidence against authenticity. If it becomes widely-accepted, any past LDS arguments based on the Secret Gospel will be undercut, and future arguments unwise.

Further readings: Secret Gospel of Mark homepage.

48 thoughts on “Secret Gospel of Mark, Early Christianity, Temple Initiations, and FARMS. Oh, and SSA.

  1. Baptists really have it in for anyone with the last name Smith! Joseph Smith, Ethan Smith, Morton Smith–am I missing anyone?

    What exactly in the letter supports the idea that Jesus had a homosexual relationship?

  2. The text of the letter is here.

    According to Smith, the initiation required a night to perform and the participants were nude. That’s it, IIRC. Of course, other uncontested sources indicate that a baptizee in early Christianity also wore nothing, but there’s nothing inherently sexual about it, just one of those symbolisms of rebirth. Nakedness, water, blood, etc.

  3. That’s what I figured. So the letter really says nothing at all that supports a thesis that Jesus had a homosexual relationship. Thus, Morton Smith’s arguments can be addressed and countered without necessarily offering conclusive proof that the letter itself is a fraud, can’t it?

  4. Although I have no doubt that Jesus was celibate, I also have no doubt that he had homosexual “tendencies” or temptations. The Devil would have thrown everything he had at Jesus.

  5. I wouldn’t disagree with that idea of temptation Russ, as long as we don’t push it to where it overshadows other temptations.

    NAB Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested (tempted) in every way, yet without sin. 16 So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

  6. I’d like to steer away from discussions of Jesus’ marital (edit) status, if we can.

  7. Ben, going to the earlier post, indeed ancient initiates were “baptized” in the nude, but were also blindfolded (again, a baby is born with its eyes closed, which later open). The Persians (Mithraism) actually had a few more things they did to their initiates (besides nude baptism) such as the donning of a golden crown upon exit from the water, special new names, etc. There are even cooler things beyond these. I’ve referenced this book twice today, but really, Everett Ferguson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity 3rd edition is inestimable for stuff like this. Cf. especially pgs. 297-300. BTW — it’s in the biblio that I said I’d prepare for you.

  8. It’ll be interesting to hear what their arguments for it being a forgery are Ben. Any rumors out there as to what it is?

    Morton Smith is interesting for LDS connections in other ways. I personally think that his Jesus the Magician, which saw parallels to Egyptian and Roman magic practices, was in many ways a precursor and perhaps even direct influence on Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. In a way I’ve long thought both texts had many similar flaws as well as strengths.

  9. I’ve always been puzzled by the fascination that other Mormons have with apocryphal or pseudopigraphical New Testament texts. This is for two reasons:

    1. I’ve expressed elsewhere the fact that I find it bizarre that other Mormons are so attached to the notion that some things about their religion are ancient. It’s as though the fact that something is ancient makes it right or good (child sacrifice is also an ancient practice, but that doesn’t make it a good idea). If Joseph Smith said something that was also said by someone else hundreds of years earlier, we say that the man who said it first was using the light of Christ. If Joseph Smith said something that was said thousands of years earlier, that is somehow proves that he’s inspired. I just don’t get it.

    2. Apocryphal or pseudopigraphical New Testament texts are generally less reliable than the canonized New Testament texts (which means they’re darned unreliable). They’re basically all forgeries, the question is simply whether they were forged 100+ years after Christ was supposed to have lived or more recently. And they contain as many things that refute Mormon doctrine as support it. Apologists latch on the items that are suggestive of Mormonism, grabbing what they like and discarding what they dislike. Any religion could use them to support their beliefs this way. But no question is settled, because the problem is not that too few apocryphal or pseudopigraphical books got canonized. The problem is that too many of them did.

    In any case, I don’t see anything at all important hinging on the question of whether there is a “secret Gospel of Mark,” and it is a mistake for apologists to use it to argue on behalf of Mormonism.

  10. Thanks Wm Jas. I’ve corrected it. Sheesh.

    I’m glad you see it that way DKL. But if the Gospel is a restoration, it must be a restoration of something.

  11. Ben, I think that your response begs the question. Specifically, why should we view any Secret Gospel (or other pseudepigraphon) as a restoration in the first place?

    Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that Smith’s letter is not a forgery: Clement of Alexandria is not the most reliable source (e.g., he’s post-apostasy), and he’s just relating tradition in any case. What makes this one statement reliable when there is so much else in Clement that we don’t care to consider definitive? Moreover, it’s pretty obvious to that Mormon apologists take early Christian authors (like the Mssrs. Clement), wring out the parts that put Mormonism in a good light, and then ignore anything that doesn’t–is this something that you actually wish to contest?

    Let’s further suppose that there actually is a lost gospel of Mark (because I, for one, am not willing to accept that there is solely on Titus Flavius Clemens’ authority): Isn’t it just as likely that the Gospel is an embellishment instead of a restoration? The practice of creating things out of whole cloth to create scripture or embellish scripture is entirely within the textual tradition of New Testament textual development both among the canonized books and the pseudepigrapha.

    To barrow an Ira Gershwin lyric: The things that your liable to read in the Bible–It ain’t necessarily so.

  12. DKL — Yahoo! (#11) Man, I am sick, sick, sick of what some of us in the field of Biblical Studies call “parallelomania.” I’ve heard outrageous things like post-restoration period Jews borrowing from Ugaritic Baal cycle stories to formulate the Apocrypha, despite the enormous chronological and geographical problem with that, let alone a theological problem of the “establishment” Jews’ abhorrence of foreign worship practices in that era (Maccabean revolution, anyone?), and other things of that nature. As much as I love the guy and some of his work, John Lundquist’s PhD dissertation is text-book parallelomania. Give it a read if you have the chance, and you’ll see what I mean.

    Oh man, the fascination with the pseudepigraphal works is indeed infectious. I’ve fallen into that trap myself (and sometimes thoroughly enjoy myself while down there!). Most recently I’ve been using the rabbinic commentaries to fortify some of my claims in exegesis papers, and that has also become a new-found potential parallelistic trap, but I think I have a good handle on it.

    Much of the parallelomania I’ve noticed (outside of LDS circles) is merely just the fact that one is comparing apples to apples. For example, it’s natural for most religious systems to have some form of “crisis story” (we would say “exile” or “exodus” for the OT), which recurs in many, many religions. There’s also the need for sacred space (and often some form of “high place”–mountains, ziggurats, temples, synagogues, etc.), and for something written, etc. etc.. And in line with what we’re discussing here, there’s also, (and I’ve had adequate exposure to Roman-Hellenism, Zoroastrianism, etc.) for initiates and “mystery” cults to form their own interpretations of things alongside (or rather, “outside”) the “establishment.” So again, your post was very refreshing. Thank you for your wisdom!

  13. In saying I have no doubt that Jesus was celibate, I was referring to the homosexual sense; i.e. I have no doubt that Jesus did not succumb to temptation and participate in homosexual acts. I was not trying to make any comment on his marital status. Not trying to threadjack — whether Jesus was married is not especially appropriate for this topic

  14. I agree that some have gone overboard with parallels. I also think others have gone overboard in rejecting any and all parallel.

    DKL,regardless of whether you believe it, JS and other church leaders have been fairly clear that the gospel and associated ordinances are a restoration from a previous time. Therefore, when we find something like our gospel or ordinances that is missing from traditional Christianity but present today, one naturally asks what the connection is. Hamblin begins his paper with 5 possibilities.

    1. The parallels are either coincidental or on closer examination prove to be based on false comparisons and strained interpretations.

    2. Whatever valid parallels may exist are due to the fact that human beings frequently express their religious and social solidarity by ritual acts. Latter-day Saint and ancient rituals may be broadly similar but are fundamentally distinct in all significant details. Existing parallels are general and universal rather than specific and historical.

    3. Joseph Smith invented the Latter-day Saint endowment based on readily available early nineteenth-century sources such as the Bible as well as Masonic or magical practices and rituals. Some of these nineteenth-century sources may be tenuously linked back to more ancient ritual traditions, which could account for some of the apparent resemblances.

    These three naturalistic explanations are by no means mutually exclusive. Some combination or variation of them is generally accepted by most non-Mormons as well as a small portion of Latter-day Saints.

    The other two possible explanations are supernaturalistic:

    1. The Latter-day Saint endowment represents an inspired restoration of authentic ancient revealed initiation rituals. The parallels between ancient and modern rituals exist because the ancient rituals are either themselves revealed or are counterfeit copies and corruptions of revealed rituals. Some variation of this explanation is accepted by most practicing Latter-day Saints who have considered the matter. This is the position which I personally believe best accounts for all of the available evidence.

    2. Joseph Smith received the endowment from a supernatural source other than God, such as the devil. Some evangelical Christians and other groups might accept some variation of this proposition.

    I’m not arguing that SGOM is a “restoration” of anything. Hamblin argues that it may provide evidence of secret initiation among some early Christians.

    I’m not big on non-biblical stuff myself, but I also think it’s not as worthless as you two seem to think. I think many view those documents as the uncorrelated scriptures, and they might preserve things that didn’t make it into the orthodox religion. Given the LDS tenet of an apostasy, I don’t see strong reasons why one must accept everything Clement says. Certainly it witnesses to what Clement thought and believed. I see no reason to assume why we must accept everything or nothing of his, since we don’t do it with anything else. His writings may contain both truths and falsehoods he inherited. You just want a different methodology for distinguishing between them.

  15. Ben, I understand the habits of thinking in terms of dispensations and restorations. As you imply, you must start from the assumption that Mormonism restores something, and then go back to inquire about which things may have been restored. This is a fine exercise, but there are two things to keep in mind:

    1. If you get caught in the trap of justifying Mormonism by virtue of the items you find that seemed to be restored by Mormonism, you’re guilty of circular reason. (Hence, my polemic against apologetics)
    2. Howsoever interesting the inquiry may be, it’s not real historical scholarship.

    Regarding the restoration of ancient things, I’m not convinced that Joseph Smith himself knew the source of very much of the LDS doctrine. You’re correct to point out that the leadership tries to give the impression that everything comes from antiquity, but aside from the 6th Article of Faith (which is rather vague) there’s no real official position about the scope of this antiquity–just a confusing morass of claims by the leadership over the years. These things are prone to change. I see no more reason to believe that any part of the current temple ceremony is restored from ancient times than to believe that the various portions of it that have been discarded over the years were. But I wonder: If the 5 points of fellowship were still in the ceremony, how many apologists would be engaged in the folly of somehow “finding” it in ancient pseudo-scripture.

  16. Regarding parallels, DKL, while they certainly are overused – and not just by Mormon apologetics – I also think they have their place. It all depends upon what value you give coherency arguments. If coherency is of no value to you, then parallels are irrelevant. Only direct causal evidence can be presented. However when you do that, you typically remove the vast majority of history which is circumstantial and largely based upon coherency. The amount of past knowledge we can produce direct evidence for is often slight.

    As for the other points, I think some of your claims are simply arising from rejecting by and large all historic claims by Mormons in the era from 1830 – 1850. That’s fine. However surely you understand that for those who aren’t quite so willing to reject restored knowledge of the past that things aren’t quite so simple. These people, even if they can accept the lack of positive evidence, think that some coherency at a minimum ought be there.

    I personally think that the point of view that accepts a pious and perhaps even authentically revealed fiction is the distinct minority among Mormons.

    While I think the value of parallels for convincing skeptics is weak, I think that traditionally apologetics was less about convincing the skeptic and more about showing that the believer is at least rational.

  17. Regarding the SGOM, does anyone know what new “evidence” this new book claims to have? The SGOM has been doubted since its publication, so I am wondering what this author thinks to have uncovered that can add anything to the debate. It sounds like it is just rehashing the old arguments against authenticity. The real problem was the Morton Smith stupidly got it all tied up into issues of Jesus’ homosexuality. For this reason only, people have doubted its authenticity. The problem is that Smith’s interpretation is highly strained! Not only can the text be read in an entirely un-erotic way, but a 2nd c. “secret” tradition in a late 1st c. gospel is hardly evidence of any value for historical Jesus research. Anyway, what I am trying to get at is that Smith’s bad interpretation of the text is actually pretty strong evidence (for me) of its authenticity. If he really wanted to forge a document that supported his own ideas, he could have done a much better job. Besides, one of my Professors was a great friend of Smith’s and he beleives that SGOM is authentic, but also think’s Smith’s intepretatino is wacko.

  18. As for the value of Mormon parallels in antiquity, some day I am going to write a book on it. For now, I can just test drive my thoughts. My general idea is that there is no such thing as “ancient Mormonism”. I have said this before on blogs, but no one has really taken this seriously yet. The basic methodological problems you have are defining what Mormonism is and what it looks like when you see it in antiquity. It has already been pointed out, but there is not a single text in antiquity that can been completely accepted as consistently “Mormon.”
    So is the study of antiquity of no value? David commented that the pseudepigrapha are all forgeries. Fine, but they are still evidence of at least what was going on in the second century and beyond. They are not useless.
    They are evidence of at least two things: first, the development of early Christianity, which (if we can get past our prejudices against apostasy) can tell us a lot about ourselves- how religions develop, what issues they have to deal with, and what solutions to problems worked and what didn’t.
    Second, they are a theological resource for us. JS used the Bible and other materials as resources, or tools for constructing a thoelogy. Just like all historians and theologians, we can look to ancient Christian texts as material in our tradition from which we can do constructive theological thinking. This goes a lot further than simply apologetic aims, and uses the material more honestly and productively.

  19. Well put, Taylor. I take your position seriously, since it starts somewhere close to my own. My issue with pointing out that the pseudopigripha are forgeries is simply to put into doubt their use to establish that there was such a thing as ancient Mormonism. I do think that they are more prescriptive than descriptive, since the purpose of advancing fake scriptures strikes me as more political than spiritual. I agree with you that they remain useful for other purposes, and I think that your idea about using them for sociological analysis of the development of religions has merit.

  20. My general idea is that there is no such thing as “ancient Mormonism”… but there is not a single text in antiquity that can been completely accepted as consistently “Mormon.”

    I have no problem with this, but I also don’t think it’s equivalent to saying that the Gospel is not a restoration of anything. I don’t expect that we should find anything that is “Mormon” in all aspects since so much of that is defined in modern terms. But perhaps that’s not what Taylor meant. Clarification? Further exposition?

  21. DKL, your prescriptive/descriptive distinction is worth considering. However, I think pretty much all texts are some combination of both, even deliberately forged documents.

    I also think that we need to get past our ideas of “forgery” when thinking about ancient pseudepigrapha. Such a notion is based in a modernist concept of authors and intellectual property. I think that what is going on in antiquity for pseudepigrapha (a broad-based phenomenon happening in all religions and philosophical systems in antiquity) is something more like the codification of traditions, or writing in an author’s name as a representation of a certain beleif or tradition. What I mean to say is that even if it is not written by the purported author (as most of our biblical texts!!), I agree with Pres. Hinckley that they are still of theological merit to us. For me, claiming something is not written by its purported author does not automatically dismiss it as a valuable resource.

  22. Ben, I think that we need to seriously examine what we mean when we say the Gospel is a restoration of something. Of what? Of teachings? Of practices? Of texts? Of institutions? Are these historical claims, or theological claims? I think that if we say that these are historical claims, we are in trouble. If however, these are theological claims about an ideal gospel, though it is never instantiated historically, then we are a little safer.

    I think that my idea of ‘restoration’ as a set of selective insights and utilizations of resources that JS found in antiquity (by means of inspiration) more accurately describes our relationship to antiquity.

  23. It seems to me that while I can sympathize with a lot of Taylor’s points, the problem is that it isn’t clear exactly what, in the details, was restored. Certainly one can see the thorough-going restoration view which sees the Palestinian churchs as pretty much exactly like our own as problematic and highly unlikely. Heavens, even in the last 175 years there has been a lot of change in our own church. Having said that, to narrow restoration down to merely “a set of selective insights and utilizations” seems itself highly speculative and probably problematic. It’s fine if people believe that. But I’m not sure I could accept such a view. My sense is that the truth is somewhere between these two extremes.

    It seems to me that the traditional apologetic view is at least somewhat defendable. Let me lay out what I take to be the central claims: there were elements of LDS ritual and theology which were known at the time of Christ and which were lost in apostasy. The pseudographical and other texts (rabbinacal and early Fathers) found some of these elements surviving. However no apologist, so far as I know, has claimed any of these texts as authentic presentations of non-apostate Christianity. (Well, perhaps excepting the Didiche which I know a few accept)

    So let’s take two texts that I think are the most interesting. The Gospel of Philip from the Nag Hammadi library and 1 & 2 Jeu.

    I defy someone to read those and not come away amazed at some of the parallels. Further some of the parallels are simply so strong that it seems difficult to explain the similarities. Consider the Gospel of Philip where we have a mirrored room off from the Holy of Holies in the temple where marriages are made. Then we have various discussions of deification that sound remarkably similar to the old couplet about deification that Mormons have been quoting since Lorenzo Snow. Likewise Jeu has Jesus teaching about signs and tokens and even garments given to ascend to heaven. (Various Jewish merkabah texts are at least as compelling)

    Now where I think apologists go wrong is in failing to contextualize these texts. For instance the Gospel of Philip is largely embracing the presentation in an allegorical fashion. Their idea of deification is almost certainly closer to the middle Platonistic or hermetic view. The sacred marriage is likely conceived of more in the standard gnostic fashion. But I think it fair to suggest that for something to be given as an allegory, the substrate presented as an allegory is up for grabs. i.e. if this is just something randomly presented as an allegory, why use the obvious Jewish elements of the temple? Why the parallels?

    Now some might argue that the parallels come to Joseph in other fashions out of Renaissance philosophy, hermeticism and the like. Certainly people like Quinn or Lance Owens have made such claims. Yet those claims are themselves largely the result of the same methadological use of parallels that apologists are using. You can’t subscribe to many of those arguments and then criticize apologists for the same thing. (I recognize not all of Quinn’s arguments fall into that category – but many, many do)

    Note that I’m not suggesting that The Gospel of Philip or 1 & 2 Jeu are evidence for Mormonism. Far from it. I am arguing that they provide elements for an argument of coherency that I think it is unfair to simply discount out of hand.

  24. Just to add, I see the primary failure of the kind of apologetics ushered in by Nibley to be the lack of contextualizing parallels. As I’ve mentioned many times, Nibley was hardly alone in that. It was a common feature of the structuralist scholarship in such examinations from the 1950’s through the 1960’s. It’s hard to read Eliadi, Campbell or others without seeing the same flaws. I think apologists ought move on – but at the same time I see the same kind of errors in many naturalistic critics of the church. Including people making the intentionalist fallacy with respect to Joseph Smith.

  25. Clark,
    Your point, and the apologetic approach, seems to be based on a narrative that
    1) parallels between Mormonism and early Christianity exist
    2) these parallels are evidence of the divine authenticity of Mormonism since
    a) JS could not have known about them, and
    b) they are really good teachings/principles/practices, etc.

    It seems that one of the many operative assumptions of this apologetic model is that there was at one point a unity of all of these truths/practices/institutions. Otherwise, what sense does it make to speak of a restoration of truths/practices/institutions that never at anytime existed in one place, cannot be traced to the apostolic age? If it is the case that JS was “restoring” a diverse set of practices from antiquity that cannot be found at the same time or place, why limit it to specific religious traditions? In fact, we don’t. We have several thoroughly platonic notions in Mormonism as well.

    If there was no ancient Mormonism, isn’t Mormonism then a construction, a bricolage? The idea of an orignal unity is the fundamental assumption that I am trying to question, that there is either an essence to “true” early Christianity, (or even an essence to true Mormonism). Rather, I think that we can safely situate both in the context of historicized culture, which demands a certain specificity. There are no universals. This is the problem that we are facing. In fact, I think that Mormonism uniquely prepares us for this and deals with it. This is the truth of the doctrine of continual revelation. We are not simply revealing an ontologically prior truth which we only see in part. Rather, the truth is produced for our time, situation, and historical context. This is what I mean when I say that the past holds a set of strategies that are available to be considered, deployed, rejected, and appropriated. Here, we are on safer historical and theological ground.

  26. That’s not really my argument in the least.

    Rather my argument would entail the following changed/additions.

    1b) these parallels seem so pronounced as to be difficult to chalk up to chance
    2) these parallels are evidence for the coherency of some Mormon claims about religion in the ancient world being the same as Mormonism

    I’d reject 2a) for obvious reasons. Many elements could be discerned in heremeticism/renaissance philosophy as I mentioned. How likely it is that Joseph had access to it is up for grabs. But that’s rather my point. The basis for the parallels, whether they involve extensive esoteric knowledge by Joseph from his environment or some direct or indirect revelation, seems beside the point.

    I’d not made a claim at 2b) at all. I think DKL is arguing along those lines. But it seems rather peripheral to the discussion most apologists make.

    As to the question of whether there was an ancient Mormonism. I don’t think there was an ancient Mormonism because I think Mormonism is largely a modern phenomena. Just like I don’t think Nephite Christian religion was Palestinian Christian religion and neither were equivalent to pre-exilic Judaism, the religion of Abraham nor the religion of Enoch, Noah or Adam. I’m quite open to there being a significant amount of diversity in religion. That’s why I made the point about the two extremes being probably untenable. The idea of an “ancient Mormonism” seems more the naive view of restoration which I put on par with the hemispherical model of the Book of Mormon.

    What I am arguing is that there is a middle ground that neither you or DKL are allowing for.

    As for whether there is an “essence” I think we have to unpack what we mean by that. Are we talking about an essence in the symbols, language and concepts? Or something else. You need to clarify there.

    The question about whether there are or aren’t universals I’m just not able to make sense of. It isn’t clear to me how you are using the words. Clearly there are some universals or at least quasi-universals. The structures of human nature if nothing else.

  27. Clark,
    I think that I am trying to articulate two different arguments, actually.
    First, the apologetic perspectives that I have characterized (not necessarily your own defence of such an approach) is actually too limiting of a view of our relationship to antiquity. It closes off too many options by selectively reading and authorizing certain parts of texts and ignoring others. If we only read these texts to find evidence that there is a certain shared essence between the religion of Adam, the Nephites, and the Mormons, I think that we missing a great deal by ignoring what makes us different.

    Second, the approach which looks to ancient Christianity either as evidence of, or a coherent, ancient Mormonism (if I am properly understanding your argument, which I am not sure that I do), is rooted in ideas of essences and universals which elide the great deal of particularity that we are confronted in such texts. I think the implications of my argument are that it is simply not possible to find “parallels” in antiquity. What does it mean to say that ancient Christians beleived in divinization if the entire metaphysical framework in which they are operating is one that we reject? What does it mean to say that Christians practiced similar ordanances (a highly problematic historical claim) as Mormons if they meant something different?

    However, I am trying to propose a middle ground as well between these two positions that articulate the problems of a certain kind of apologetic. I do not want to say that ancient Christianity is irrelevent to Mormonism. On the contrary, it is highly relevant! Joseph Smith looked here and found baptism for the dead, preexistence, authority, and other tools or resources that solved particular theological problems and created new space for thinking about the universe, the divine, and humanity. Good revelation requires good information. We beleive that we have to study in order to recieve more knowledge. These texts and traditions are not just a scattered pastiche of a lost “true” Christianity, but the resources from which Mormonism creates and is created.

  28. The problem of privileging and repressing elements of texts is a good one to bring up. And certainly apologists including Nibley have done this in perhaps too loose and freewheeling a fashion. To do this we must bring more of a critical eye than merely looking for parallels. We must simultaneously provide reasons for what is privileged or repressed. And I’ve long made a criticism that this is so rarely done. (And critics do the same thing far too often, as I think we often find in such works as Quinn’s Magic World View.) Authors use what has been characterized as the scattergun approach.

    Having said that though, we always find ourselves in the heremeneutic circle. That is, we always find ourselves already in a situation of repressing or elevating various texts and parts of texts. What we then have to do is take that hermeneutic circle seriously and investigate. Inquiry ought be a process continually taken. Far too many start the process but don’t continue the process. (I’m not sure Nibley necessarily fits into that, given his own views on scholarship – but many take old texts of his as the “last word” when they are at best the first word.)

    I’ll avoid talk of essence again, since I sincerely think that is a word that adds more baggage than it removes unless we are very careful with it. Once again we have to unpack what we mean by that. If we merely throw the terms around without providing them with meaning (universals as well) then we aren’t saying anything.

    Outside of your talk of universals and essences, you raise the issue of holism. That is, to what degree can elements be taken out of their context. Yet, in an other sense this happens all the time. Isn’t Constantine’s cross the same cross that is in front of the local baptist church? Elements are different, but it certainly is a cross.

    You raise the issue, which I think is an important one, to ask “what does it mean…” Yet it seems to me that rather than taking the step of trying to answer, you’re merely cutting off discussion. (Perhaps that’s not what you intend to say, but that’s what’s coming across) The problem is that having given up on the question of “what does it mean” you instead turn to the question of “what does it mean to Joseph (or to us).” While that’s certainly an important and useful question, I’m not sure it is all that can be investigated. Nor do I think we can possibly say what something means for either Joseph or me, without also simultaneously engaging with the question of what the things mean.

    After all, when I ask about the atonement, I’m not primarily concerned with my understanding of the atonement. I want to take hold of the atonement itself. When I ask about Jesus or speak of Jesus, I’m not merely speaking of what Jesus means to me. Clearly I mean far more than that. I recognize that my understanding falls short. Jesus is both more and less than what I understand. Less, because many things Jesus means to me are wrong. More, because there are all the things he means that I don’t understand. But clearly it is that Jesus in excess of me that I intend when I speak of Jesus.

    It’s that point that I think you are discounting. It might seem convenient to speak merely of what something means to a person. But no one actually means things in that way.

  29. Taylor, I never meant to put any of the scriptures or pseudopigraphica into a purely descriptive or political category, only to emphasize the political aspect.

    Clark, you never answered my argument concerning circularity. Moreover, you never addressed the perceived folly of the parts of the temple ceremony that were dropped. Let’s take this a little further: Let’s say that we find some text that points to the fact that the 5 points of fellowship embrace was used in ancient ceremonies among early heretical Christians (like those an Nag Hammadi). Is it then a good thing that it was dropped from the endowment or a bad thing?

    Clark, I read the Gospel of Philip several years ago, before it was even available on the internet, because I’d heard about all the freaky parallels. Honestly, I found it no more convincing than the detailed accounts of how “The Wizard of Oz” is perfectly synchronized with “The Dark Side of the Moon.” So there’s a room with mirrors where people get married by early heretical Christians? Early heretical Christians wore magic clothing? Early heretical Christians used Jewish symbolism? Why the parallels? Because people have always been fascinated with mirrors, because people have believed in magical clothing for ages, and because Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism.

    There are just as many odd parallels between the Dionysian festivals, where players ritualistically act out dramas where men sometimes interact with Gods and that define mans place in the universe (e.g., the Orestia), and they do it in honor of the god who is consider the law giver and is the patron saint of agriculture (i.e., the land that is cursed so that it only yields food by the sweat of man’s brow). Is Mormonism a restoration of Greek mythology?

    I conclude that these parallels are indeed too pronounced to chalk up to chance: they can only be the invention of an over-active Mormon imagination.

    Lastly Clark, using the term fallacy to characterize an approach that is never intended to be deductively valid in the first place (as you do with the term “intentionalistic fallacy”) can’t possibly be anything more than a rhetorical ploy.

  30. It seems, DKL, that your circular logic isn’t actually circular logic but a hermeneutic circle that can never be avoided. So I think you got the shape right… (grin)

    If one adopts a thorough-going fallibilism (as I think all rational based inquiry must – and apologetics certainly falls into that camp) then the fact one might be wrong shouldn’t be shocking. So people provide a coherent presentation for the five points of fellowship. It turns out they are wrong. So what? Why is being wrong there worse than any other particular reading of scripture? It almost sounds like you think apologetics that is “just an other scholarly inquiry” is somehow tainted.

    I guess I don’t see what the problem is.

    There is, I think, only a problem if instead of inquiry we have dogma from apologetics. I don’t think that happens – although perhaps there are a few who use Dan Peterson the way some in my Sunday School classes in the late 80’s and early 90’s used Bruce R. McConkie. But certainly I’m not aware of any person writing for FAIR or FARMS who’d fall into that category.

    As for the Gospel of Philip. If you think a mirrored room off the holy of holies in the temple where people get married is no terribly convincing, then what more can I say? As I alluded earlier, I think you raise the standard for parallels so high as to be unworkable. I doubt I can convince you, but I’m sure you’re not going to convince me with that reasoning.

    As for the term “intentionalistic fallacy,” I know you know that I didn’t come up with the term. But it seems odd to me that you’d reject parallels of the sort I mention yet (presumably) defend the kind of parallels that are castigated in literature and philosophy with the label “intentionalistic fallacy.” I’ll not ask how you pick and choose what is or isn’t significant… (grin) BTW – I hope you’re not suggesting that fallacies are all deductive in nature. i.e. merely examples of a formally invalid argument. I’d strongly disagree. It seems all the interesting fallacies involve inductive reasoning.

  31. Clark, you can’t hide circular reasoning behind your “hermeneutic circle.” Let’s look at the following:

    1. If Titus Flavius Clemens says it, and if it reflects well on Mormon practice, that’s evidence that Mormonism is true
    2. If Titus Flavius Clemens says it, and if it disagrees with Mormon practice, that’s evidence that Christianity had apostatized.
    3. If Martin Luther says it, and if it reflects well on Mormon practice, that’s evidence that Luther was acting by the light of Christ
    4. If Martin Luther says it, and if it disagrees with Mormon practice, that’s evidence that Luther was using principles of the apostasy.

    This is pretty tortured stuff, and it all follows from reasoning that begins with the assumption that Mormonism is right about everything and that it restored beliefs from certain times and periods (and not others). Hence the circularity.

    You’re right that I’m not just picking on you when I deride the intentionalistic fallacy. Let’s take the rather common notion that Dickens’ social outlook and life-long financial troubles contributed to his depiction of the poor in (say) Nicholas Nickleby or David Copperfield. This may or may not be correct. But either way, the hypothesis stands on its own. Smearing it with the word “fallacy” is just a cheap rhetorical trick to avoid a serious discussion of the relationship between Dickens’ life and his works.

  32. But DKL, what you present isn’t what I’m arguing for. You completely ignore the whole issue of coherency. That first off entails a lot of pieces of evidence and second that the meaning of any one piece of evidence arises only by its place in the whole. By leaving out the issue of coherency within theories you of course can present it as appearing silly. But that’s because you’ve emasculated the theory and are left only with a caricature.

    I don’t think any modern apologist makes the kind of claims you’re presenting. I think all would agree that they are naive.

    As for the intentionalist fallacy, don’t you see the inherent inconsistency between saying that those evidences stand on their own and aren’t fallacious while the others are fallacious? No offense, but it appears you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too.

  33. Clark, I just don’t follow you on the coherency thing. Perhaps I misunderstand you, but you seem to be either (a) trying to talk about theories of truth in a way that has nothing to do with epistemology or metaphysics, or (b) trying to sneak circular reasoning in through the back door.

    Moreover, the four conclusions I site above aren’t mere straw men. Apologists simply don’t accept the authority of Alexandrian Clement on any doctrine whatever except those where he agrees with Mormonism. Don’t you find this the least bit suspicious?

    And if you seriously see no difference between discussions about Dickens’ background relative to his fiction (on the one hand) and discussions about how early heretical Christian practices relate to Mormonism (on the other), then I honestly don’t know what to say.

  34. DKL, as I suspect you know coherency theories are rather well discussed philosophically. I expect that you might not agree with them since as I recall (and correct me if I’m wrong) you tend towards a more positivistic approach to knowledge.

    Now I’m actually not advocating a formal coherency theory of truth. (I think that extreme an approach has problems and I don’t accept it despite having some sympathy towards it) I am saying that especially in history our knowledge is far more tentative than in many other pursuits. Further we can at best present a model that is consistent with the evidence at hand. But the meaning of the evidence can be discerned only in connection to that model (and related models) and not “independently.”

    You’ll recall in the debate with Dan Vogel from last year that both of us agreed upon that basic approach, despite having very different views of both religion and even philosophy.

    To present the issue as if it were a question of the authority of the texts is, to me, to fundamentally misunderstand the process at work. That’s why to me it is a caricature.

    As for Dickens, yeah, I think the issues are directly related. I’m honestly not sure what to say when you can’t see the similar process underneath. However I suspect that is because of your hangup on the question of authority whereas for me the question of authority is completely irrelevant for the discussion.

  35. Clark,
    I think that I am understanding your argument a little better, so that now I can respond more clearly.
    I object to the contention that the apologetic premises about the relationship of Mormonism to lost Christianities is a coherent view of history, which seems to be rooted in a kind of pragmatism. It is only coherent if one grants a number of assumptions that are not coherent themselves. This was what I was trying to get at in my admitedly unclear discussion of essences and universals on the basis of which such comparisons are made possible. I will drop my language about essences and universals for now, which is a shorthand for my post-structuralist approach to history, but only for convenience.

    My solution to this problem (articulated in my previous posts) is one that is not bound to the positivism assumed by apologists, despite your objections that they are not so naive. I see more clearly now the ground that you are opening up by doing a kind of historiography that is not based on positivism by rooting it in coherency rather than correspondence. However, it seems to me that your position is still dependent on a transcendant in history which connects Mormonism to early Christianity (God, revelation, structures, etc). Is this a fair characterization of your argument?

  36. You’re starting to get too far afield, Clark.

    I don’t see what being a positivist has to do with adopting any given theory of truth. From Carnap’s point of view (e.g., with his methodological solipsism) everything ended up being expressed in terms of coherency–including perceptions (Davidson makes a similar move, but when he does it they call it post-Quinean). I tend to follow Ayer’s move toward Ramsey’s redundancy theory of truth, because it shifts the venue of truth claims from metaphysics to epistemology without the overhead of Carnap’s relativism (and you know how I hate metaphysics).

    In any case, theories of truth have nothing to do with this. Coherence within the realm of truth theory is very different from the common understanding of coherence. As commonly understood, is at best a necessary condition (and not a sufficient condition). An historical novel is good enough to pass the common-sense coherence test.

    Besides, trying to invoke a truth theory at this point begs the question (either that, or it’s a bad joke). It’s as though you asked why I believe the statement “Wabash is a better college than BYU” is true, and I responded by restating the basic formulation of the correspondence theory of truth (i.e., because statements are true when they correspond to reality).

    I don’t much care about the authority issue, Clark. That’s one reason why I make it a point to vigorously disparage the use of ancient texts to prop up Mormon doctrinal positions. If we’re going to (a) dispassionately analyze early Christian works to try to determine what they believed, then we’re doing history. If we’re just going to (b) dig through them so that we can wrest parallels to Mormonism from them, that’s fine, too, but it’s not real history. You and Ben seem to want to do (b), while claiming to do (a).

  37. The positivistic approach to history tends to be more distrustful of coherence approaches to history. That’s all I meant by it. And I was the one suggesting that we didn’t have to turn to philosophical theories of truth.

    I just can’t understand where you’re coming at overall though. I’m afraid that if the authority issue doesn’t matter I just can’t make sense of what you’re asserting now.

    It seems to me that you’re suggesting we can’t discuss parallels as meaningful between Mormonism and early Christianity, but presumably we can between say the Greeks and Italians during the Renaissance. Why the difference? (I can anticipate your answer, but hopefully you’ll see why that difference of opinion is important for us)

  38. Re-reading this thread, it occurs to me that my comments may sound overly serious. Just to clarify: When you see these types of arguments coming from me, you should imagine my fingers galloping across the keyboard while I chuckle to myself about this or that aspect of my or my opponent’s argument. If I weren’t a practicing Mormon, I’d probably have a cigar in my mouth (an Arturo Fuente Hemingway, to be specific).

    It’s not that these aren’t my real opinions. I just get a real kick out the argumentation. Besides that, we’re talking about pseudepigrapha here–how serious can we really be?

  39. Taylor, note that I think the criticisms of positivists by apologists is typically afield. I brought it up for DKL because of some past discussions we had with Dan Vogel and myself. I was confused by DKL’s approach as it seems to me that Vogel and myself are actually in more agreement on history than DKL is. I think DKL wants to only allow parallels where direct causal links can be established, which avoids the question of how causality is established. But I’ll leave that discussion until DKL responds. It’s unfair to anticipate too much as one is wrong so often.

    With regards to the “transcendent in history.” I’m afraid I don’t quite know what that means. If by that you simply mean there is a causal connection – either direct or indirect – between early Christianity and Mormonism, I think one can offer that as a tentative hypothesis, construct models, and test their coherency with the facts. Then one uses that model, if successful, to reinterpret that facts, and so on through the hermeneutic cycle. If as one continues to inquire into the matter, looking for flaws, it survives, then I think one has at least some reason to accept ones hypothesis.

    Now does this reject competing hypothesis? Not at all. Thus I certainly don’t mind if say Dan Vogel uses the same process to make guesses as to the objects of Joseph’s assertions all coming from his environment and the folklore about the native indian ruins of the region. I have a few problems with Vogel’s taking texts like the Book of Mormon as an insight into Joseph’s subconscious. Thus the intentionallist fallacy. But that’s simply because I think such texts are produced in such varied ways that it is simply unlikely that events in fiction illustrate life unless there are very compelling extra reasons to assert it.

    And, to draw the parallel out that seems obvious to me but not to DKL, I can understand why naturalist critics would argue that the supposition that there is a connection between early Christians and Mormons is as problematic as the supposition that there is a connection between Lehi’s vision and Joseph’s homelife.

  40. Clark Goble: It seems to me that you’re suggesting we can’t discuss parallels as meaningful between Mormonism and early Christianity, but presumably we can between say the Greeks and Italians during the Renaissance. Why the difference? (I can anticipate your answer, but hopefully you’ll see why that difference of opinion is important for us)

    There are several differences, but the primary difference is categorical, and it is as follows:

    The Greek cultural influences are arrived at by a dispassionate analysis of what was known about ancient Greece during the Italian Renaissance. Art was often being made for the express purpose of mimicking Greek culture, even if it resulted from a misunderstanding of Greek Culture. (e.g., the invention of Opera).

    Something that falls into this category in Mormonism would be the Book of Jasher as an influence on the Book of Abraham, since there are obvious similarities, and since Joseph Smith was known to have read the Book of Jasher and seems to have thought highly of it. Books that Joseph Smith had no way of knowing about simply don’t fall into the same category as possible influences upon doctrine and beliefs.

    Clark Goble: I think DKL wants to only allow parallels where direct causal links can be established, which avoids the question of how causality is established.

    I’m happy to allow parallels in the absence of direct causal links. My gripe (stated several times) is that you misconstrue the nature of the parallels that you find. If you’re looking for parallels absent any plausible causal link, you can’t then say, “Aha! This parallel points to the fact that such and such a practice has been restored in Mormonism!” Because all it really means is that somebody somewhere did something vaguely similar to what we do, and (in my opinion) the Greek Dionysian festivals bear as much resemblance to Mormonism as any pseudepigraphon (or even all the ones that I’ve read combined). After all, the portion of religion that involves rituals or conversing with God is very limited in scope, and thus the possibility for overlapping practice among disparate groups is much higher than for behavior in general.

    As far as Vogel and the intentionalistic fallacy: his speculations about Joseph’s inner thoughts based on the content of the Book of Mormon are never presented as anything more than speculation, and he studiously notes where he disagrees with Anderson’s interpretation. He never puts anything forth in this regard as anything but speculation, and I have a hard time labeling non-argumentative speculation as somehow fallacious. Bushman wants to say that Joseph arrived at the eternal family unit partly due to his idealization of his own family in reaction to its disfunctionality. But I don’t hear the folks at FAIR or FARMS shouting “fallacy!” over that one.

    As far as the parallel you propose with Lehi’s dream, if Joseph wrote Lehi’s dream, then it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to have drawn upon his personal experiences in composing it. By the same token, if we understand Lehi’s dream to be related by Lehi (and recorded by Nephi), it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to have drawn on their own experiences. Margaret Barker, for example, says that the Tree of Life is a prominent symbol in pre-exilic wisdom literature (Old Testament pseudepigrapha), and there’s no problem in using such a fact (provided she’s correct) to argue for ancient authorship of the dream episode. Likewise, if the Tree of Life were an anachronistic 19th century invention, one might reasonably use this fact to argue for modern authorship of the dream episode.

    I find Vogel’s speculation about Joseph’s family life to be problematic when considered as arguments against the Book of Mormon, because they’re far too open to interpretation. When considered as sheer speculation (which is all he ever offers it as–he’s just trying to have some fun with the details), it’s quite interesting. Again, what makes them problematic (or not) is the purpose to which they’re put.

  41. DKL: My gripe (stated several times) is that you misconstrue the nature of the parallels that you find. If you’re looking for parallels absent any plausible causal link, you can’t then say, “Aha! This parallel points to the fact that such and such a practice has been restored in Mormonism!”

    But DKL, I think I’m arguing that this isn’t typically what is going on. At least not in what for lack of a better term I’ll call the mainstream professional apologetics of the last 15 years or so.

    I’ve not got to that part of Bushman yet. Who knows, maybe I’ll bring up an intentionalist fallacy there in the reading club. (Looking forward to your comments)

  42. Just to add to the above, I’ve not read yet Vogel’s biography. (Although it is on the “to do” list) My comments on the intentionalist fallacy in his thought come more from conversations with him and his discussion at the FAIR forum on the topic. (Commented upon here by me at my blog)

  43. Not that it matters much but, somone here stated that babies are born with their eyes closed. If that person was referring to human babies, as one could only assume since they went on to talk of baptizing the baby, then it would serve them, and us, well to know that babies are in fact born with their eyes open, technically anyway (they might be a bit sleepy during birth and close them due to exhaustion).

    In fact, babies’ eyes open around the first week of the seventh month, week 28.

    In week 33 (eighth month) a babies eyes will begin to constrict, dilate and detect light.

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