Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Another Reason Why the Ancient Covenant Formulary Matters

Some LDS writers have talked about the ancient covenant pattern found in the Near East as possible evidence for the ancient authenticity of the Book of Mormon (where it may be present in King Benjamin's speech) as well as the LDS temple. Regarding its use in the Book of Mormon, see Stephen D. Ricks, "The Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin's Address (Mosiah 1- 6)," BYU Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, Spring 1984, pp. 151-62. Also see Stephen Ricks, "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6," in King Benjamin's Speech, ed. John Welch and Stephen Ricks, Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998, pp. 233-275. For basic information on the covenant formulary and its presence in the Bible, see Jon Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985), p. 23ff, and Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 283-294. [Most of these references were added in an update on April 5, 2016.]

The six-part structure of ancient Hittite treaties, also found in the Bible, was only noted and studied in the 1900s, making it unlikely that Joseph Smith could have known of this or consciously imitated it. Osmosis, luck, and bad LDS apologetics are alternate explanations. But the understanding of ancient covenants is important for an issue of more general interest: the Bible and its origins.

In the debates over the origins of the Bible, a large number of modern scholars have found it fashionable to view the early books of the Bible as late fabrications largely composed after the Exile. The details of Moses and the Sinai covenant, for example, are often presented as a late evolutionary development not grounded in history. However, the presence of such ancient treaty structures, significantly different from known treaty structures in the Near East after the Exile, suggests that the accounts in the Bible have much more ancient roots.
The similarity of the form of the "Hittite" type of treaty with the structure of Exodus 24-Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua 24 directly bears on the question of the dating of these narratives. Many scholars acknowledge the antiquity of these biblical treaty-texts because of the similar structure of the six points of the Hittite treaties. Mendenhall, for example, concluded: "It is very difficult to escape the conclusion that this narrative rests upon traditions which go back to the period when the treaty form was still living." Klaus Baltzer maintained that "it remains, however, a striking and historically unexplained explained fact that the Old Testament texts resemble most closely the highly developed formulary of the Hittite treaties." Kitchen determined that "if we take the nature and order of nearly all the elements in the Old Testament Sinai covenant and its renewals [i.e., Deuteronomy and Joshua 24] ... it is strikingly evident that the Sinai covenant and its renewals must be classed with the late-second-millennium covenants."
Source: James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), Kindle edition, chapter 8, section IV, "Ancient Near Eastern Treaties and the Sinai Legislation."
Hoffmeir goes on to review the attempts of some scholars to dress the Biblical covenant material with much later robes, but the fit is rather poor.

My first introduction to these ancient covenant patterns came while reading Jon Levenson's marvlous book, Sinai and Zion. This aspect of ancient covenants deserves more attention for better appreciating the Old Testament as well as LDS material.

Professor Explains Why Mormons Don't Like Trump (and My Thoughts on Dissent)

I apologize for stepping into political topics in this post, which I prefer to avoid most of the time here. I especially apologize to supporters of Donald Trump, for I do recognize that there are intelligent, faithful people who feel he is right on enough important issues to merit their support. I can say the same about supporters of any other candidate as well, and do not wish to say anyone is a bigot, criminal, or idiot for supporting another candidate, no matter how dangerous and deceitful they may seem to me. Politics is a complex, emotional field and there are many different decisions that good people can make (or, in more cynical words, just as there are many ways to deceive the very elect, there are even more ways to deceive the "very electors," or something like that).  

A reader here at Mormanity asked me to comment on an article that initially resembled (but wasn't) just another critic of Mormons looking for faults in the things Mormons do. A Harvard-trained professor at Emory University, Dr Benjamin Hertzberg, wrote what I consider an unkind piece for the Washington Post deconstructing Utah's rejection of Trump not as a vote for religious liberty but more as a desperate if not deceitful attempt to look mainstream by fearful Mormons who allegedly might not really be so supportive of religious liberty for others. In "Utah’s Mormons rejected Trump and picked Cruz. Here’s why," the professor applies what must be Ivy League mind-reading skills as he explains what Utahans were really thinking as they overwhelming rejected Trump in the recent Republican primary.

First, let me note that Hertzberg does not share the refreshing outlook of Mike Donnelly, the Catholic man who is Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Mike Lee, who finds a community founded on kindness and service in Utah that he believed would thrash Donald Trump on election day (see "Why a Catholic Loves Utah–Especially on Caucus Day" at Meridian Magazine).  Hertzberg also doesn't share the positive response exhibited by Damon Linker writing for The Week with the intriguing title, "The GOP needs more Mormons." Linker lists six reasons why Mormons may not like Trump (these may not apply to all of you, but they fit me fairly well and a majority of my LDS friends and family): (1) we aren't angry people; (2) we object to vulgarity; (3) we generally dislike Trump's "garish lifestyle"; (4) we respect the law and distrust those who might set themselves up as authoritarians above the law; (5) we like immigration reform and have a positive view of immigrants (many of us want more legal immigrants and recognize how much they can contribute to our society); and (6) Mormon's don't hate Muslims.

On that last point, in my small circle of LDS friends here in China, Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric seems to be an especially important factor in their dislike of Trump. You can't just trample the Constitution and deny religious liberty to a whole class of people. Mormons tend to get this. We can easily see that this is dangerous. So I cannot vote for Trump. That doesn't mean I want to embrace radical socialism or any other flavor of Big, Bigger, Biggest Government -- the lessons of China's painful history, especially the Cultural Revolution, have much to teach us about what happens when you stir up a generation to think that progress and prosperity comes by seizing other people's stuff.

When a Muslim worship hall (not yet a full-fledged mosque, as I recall) came to the Fox Valley near Appleton, Wisconsin a few years ago when I was serving as a bishop, I took my older sons with me to attend to the opening ceremony and public house. I wanted them to meet some of my Muslim friends and to appreciate the goodness in this other faith. More recently, on Christmas Day while in Hong Kong, our youngest son actually recommended that we visit a mosque there that we saw on the way, and we had a wonderful and memorable experience there (and I'm looking forward to what will be my third visit the next time I'm in Hong Kong at the end of April, hoping to meet my new friend from Yemen). I was proud of my son's willingness to learn about and respect another great faith. In my experience, typical Mormons generally respect other faiths, including Judaism and Islam.

Such points don't seem to count for much to Hertzberg. What's really driving the Mormon vote — as if all of Utah were just one big Mormon block, acting in lockstep — apparently is fear, coupled with a lack of courage, and certainly not any kind of genuine, principled concern about religious liberty:
As members of a minority religion, those in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are stuck in a Catch-22: They are bound by their well-developed fear of persecution to appear as American as apple pie, all the while preserving their radical religious particularity. It is this predicament, rather than a principled concern for religious liberty, that best explains Utah’s caucus results....
For a minority religious group such as the Mormons, religious liberty is both a necessary condition for their survival and a continuous threat to it. Without it, they could potentially be subjected to coercive restrictions... With it, however, Mormons have to deal with continuous and relentless historical examination of their founding theological claims and the ever-present fear that their youths will either leave the faith or radically reshape the way it is practiced and understood....
It is deeply mistaken to understand Utah’s decision ... as motivated by some principled Mormon concern for religious liberty.

What I see instead is the fearful calculus of a minority religious group that has legitimate concerns about the likely implications of the GOP’s increasingly punitive policies toward the religiously different — but does not have the courage to embrace their particularity and leave the party entirely. To do so would be to admit what is obvious to students of Mormonism: They are radically different from the mainstream of American Protestant religiosity. So instead of proclaiming their own difference, they stay, effectively, in the closet: They support the marginally more respectable Cruz over the brash and aggressive Trump. [emphasis mine]
It is a mistake, he argues, to see Utah's rejection of Trump as a vote for religious liberty since, he argues, Cruz has serious gaps in that area, too, and the lesser known, less liked John Kasich would be the right choice, he says, for a vote actually based on respect for religious liberty. Since Utahan's preferred Cruz, the only Republican candidate with a serious chance to compete with Trump, they must not really be for religious liberty.

I know some of you are going to say that I'm once again way out of my league in criticizing the  political thinking of a Harvard-trained professor of political theory, but when I talk with actual voters about how they vote, I notice that very few of them are willing to "throw away" their vote the way I often do and vote for, say, a third party or a remotely trailing candidate with little chance of winning. To me it seems that a majority of voters will select the lesser of two or three evils in order to support a less objectionable candidate with a chance of winning. That may sound crazy in the halls of Harvard, but it's what I see on the streets of American towns.

So yes, perhaps Kasich might be a better choice to make a statement on religious liberty for a well-informed voter (do they still have those these days?) willing to simply vote for the best candidate on the list. Actually, more Utahans voted for Kasich than for Trump, but many more supported Cruz, the only Republican candidate with a chance of beating Trump. Kasich has only won his home state, nothing else, and is a distant fourth behind Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. Is it implausible that making a "practical" vote for someone with a chance to stop Trump was an important factor for many voters? To portray the overall outcome in Utah as the result of a perverse "fearful calculus" to make Mormons look mainstream without actually being very tolerant people strikes me as the kind of harsh bias and skewed mind-reading  we often find in anti-Mormon writings, where everything Mormons do can be cast in negative light and precious little credit given for what others can readily see as good.

At that point I had to wonder about Hertzberg. What makes him tick, or rather, what makes him so ticked about Mormons? In Googling him, I was quite surprised to see that he had been a professor of political science for a couple of years at BYU. In fact, he's LDS, which surprised me. Then came a critical insight. Very shortly after the LDS policy on children in gay marriages came out, he published a harshly critical piece on CNN.com in which he boldly states that he must stand against the Church. In "Mormons' unChristian policy on LGBTQ," published Nov. 13, 2015, just a few days after the policy was published, he declares that Mormons should "loudly and publicly object to the policy and demand its immediate retraction," and calls the Church's explanations for the policy "disingenuous." He urges dissent, and declares that he's doing it out of love for the Church and as means of sustaining its leaders:
Some will think that by publicly dissenting from the new policy I am not sustaining the First Presidency and the Twelve. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I dissent because I love Mormonism, and I cannot bear to see its leaders cause so much unnecessary suffering and harm. I dissent because obedience now costs too much, to my moral integrity, to the church, and to the families of Mormons whom I love.
This is certainly his right. Many of us struggled with the policy when it came out. Some have waited patiently to understand it and to better understand what the Church's concerns are. Some have reacted too quickly and harshly, in my opinion, and Hertzberg's prompt reaction of loud public dissent may be an example of that, though I am confident he is genuine and that he views his actions as loving and courageous.

Of course, we have to make our own personal choices in these difficult matters. I fear, though, that his anger or frustration over the same-sex marriage issue may have led him to become too critical. This has happened to many I know when they become frustrated or critical on one issue, that can then affect their approach to other issues as well.

Regardless of where Hertzberg is in his attitudes, which may be more benign that I gather from his interpretation of Mormon voting, I wish now to speak of the general issue of disagreement and dissent. 

I have a little experience in dealing with Church leaders and decisions from above that I object to. What I have learned over the years is that I rarely do wrong when I am charitable, when I assume that those in leadership positions with whom I may disagree are not acting out of vile hatred, fear, ignorance, and other evil motivations. This took some time for me to learn as I dealt with some painful circumstances when I served in some past leadership positions, but it has been a vital lesson for me.

We are rarely wrong when we take some time and consider that there may be reasonable thinking behind the actions of our mortal, fallible leaders, and that while they may sometimes be in error, the error is usually not because they are idiots and mean-spirited bigots, though few men are free of the many errors in thinking that can pervade human society in every generation. We are rarely wrong when we keep our objections, however well founded, and even anger to ourselves and wait for an appropriate opportunity to discuss concerns with our leaders. We are rarely wrong to be patient. And we are rarely right when we take our indignation to the public, however righteous we think we and it are. There's something about the psychology of going public and all the encouragement and attention that it brings that makes it very easy to step over the threshold from good-faith feedback to "kicking against the pricks." There's a reason for Christ's wise counsel: "in your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19), and I urge caution to those who want to stand as loud and critical dissenters. That's my view, anyway. 

It is common for dissenters to claim that their public criticism and denouncements are done to help the Church (though calling it a manifestation of actually "sustaining" our leaders is a bit unusual). It is common for them to call it an expression of love for Mormonism. They probably mean it. But while the GOP may need more Mormons, as Damon Linker suggests, sometimes we Mormons could use a little less love.

I hope members who feel a need to publicly criticize their Church can apply patience and faith rather than becoming vocal critics. I also hope that America will learn the lessons of history and come to its senses in preserving not just religious liberty but the many precious liberties meant to be preserved by the Constitution which gave us a small, weak Federal government, with vast powers reserved to the States and to the People, not in the hands of an autocratic executive (and his appointed cronies) able to launch wars, change or ignore laws, spend at will, and do thousands of things our Founders sought to prevent. May the blood they spent in bringing us liberty not be for naught. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

An Annoying but Beautiful Passage: Isaiah 55:8-9 ("My Ways Are Higher...") and Its Link to Continuing Revelation

Isaiah 55:8-9 may be one of the most annoying passages in scripture. Not because it isn’t true and beautifully expressed, but because of how it has been abused for centuries. Thousands of people have had serious questions about some of the most fundamental issues of their faith. Questions like, “If God and Christ are the same being, why does Christ pray to the Father? Why does he say 'my Father is greater than I'? Why does he say “not my will but thine be done?” In response, they may be told that it’s a mystery, it’s not supposed to make sense, and is something we cannot even hope to understand because God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, so please quit asking such things.

Isaiah 55:8-9 has been used to shut down inquiry and to stop seekers from seeking answers. The abuse of this scripture is rooted in the false, man-made notion that revelation has ceased, that everything we need to know has been revealed and there are no more revealed answers to be obtained. So please stop seeking.

How grateful I am for the Restoration that reminds us of the ancient, biblical truth that God does speak through his prophets and apostles, and that there are more prophets and more words of God to come (e.g., Matthew 23:34 “behold, I send unto you prophets, … and some of them ye shall kill and crucify”; Rev. 11:3-12, speaking of two future prophets in Jerusalem; Amos 3:7; Joel 2:28-29; etc.). How grateful I am for Isaiah, the great prophet and poet who understood that the living God does not wish to seal the heavens but invites us to seek, to learn, and to feast upon the knowledge that He wishes to share and reveal.

Let’s consider Isaiah 55:8-9 in its context.

Isaiah begins with an invitation to drink deeply and feast, not to starve. The Lord is offering abundance:
1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
This feast comes by listening to what the Lord will speak and by participating in his covenant:

3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David….
We are commanded to seek the Lord, which is to seek more, and not to be satisfied with where we are and what we have already:
6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
This abundance of guidance and revelation for those who seek requires that we draw close to the Lord and repent of our sins:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
We need to repent that we might receive His words and revelation, because:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Through seeking his ways, his thoughts, his words, and his revelations, we will receive the life giving waters he offers and experience the spiritual abundance He promises and the joy that God's word and guidance can bring:
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
An excellent companion passage is Jacob 4, verses 8 and 10, from the Book of Mormon:

8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God....

10 Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works. 

There are mysteries that are impossible for us to learn and understand--on our own. The Lord's response is not to say, "so quit asking," but rather to explain that the only way to get knowledge of those mysteries is through revelation. We are thus to treasure revelation, not to despise it. That includes revelation already given in the scriptures, personal revelation given to individuals, and revelation given to the Lord's servants, the prophets and apostles.

We should cherish revelation and ever seek to understand more. There are mysteries, but the Lord wants us not to give up and assume His higher ways are unknowable, but to come to Him and drink deeply of the wells of wisdom He offers. He pleads with us to accept His revelations so that we can learn from Him and see things as they are. He wants us to seek, not to shut down inquiry. Humbling welcoming and feasting on continuing revelation from the Lord is ultimately at the heart of Isaiah's message in Isaiah 55.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ready for Negative Interest Rates?

On a temporal note (the theme "provident living" being my excuse), here's a heads up on one of the craziest things on our economic horizons: negative interest rates. Desperate governments in Japan and Europe are turning to this ultimate expression of fiscal insanity in a bid to stimulate stagnant economies that haven't been stimulated enough by the massive market distortions created by artificially low interest rates. So now they want to force people to use their money to spend, spend, spend by essnetially taxing money saved in the bank. A negative interest rate means you pay the bank for the privilege of using your money. It's a vicious new tax on savings that no government should be able to impose on its people, disguised as just another carefully considered banking policy allegedly within the ever expanding powers given to the Federal Reserve Bank.

Negative interest rates haven't worked for Japan, and are likely to be a failure for Europe. So naturally, I expect the US to follow suit. The head of the US Federal Reserve bank, instead of mocking the insanity of such a move, recently said it was on the table for the Fed.

But won't negative interest rates just drive people to take money out of the bank and hide their cash somewhere? Yes, which is why some cynics think that it will be followed by a war on cash itself, making cash harder to use, so that everyone has to keep money in electronic form. In a world where thieves break through and steal with more power than ever before, that may very well be on the table also for our future monetary policy.

How do you prepare for a world with that kind of fiscal insanity? Turning some of your electronic bits into food storage is one way. Keeping cash on hand for now is also a very good idea, especially in light of the ability of hackers to wipe out accounts. I also think that it's smart to have some of your savings in precious metals such as silver or gold. I think over the long term these will grow dramatically in value, but make sure you are buying or investing in real physical metal and not just paper that someone claims represents gold. For retirement accounts, one vehicle that I like is the Central Fund of Canada (NYSE: CEF) where shares are backed by real gold and silver bullion.

Or you can just not worry about the future and trust someone else to watch out for you and your posterity. Your call!

Monday, March 07, 2016

The Chain that Veils: A Word Play in Moses 7:26?

As I'll explain in more detail in the near future, an important verse in considering possible connections between the ancient brass plates and the Book of Moses is found in Moses 7:26, which refers to a vision of Enoch:
26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.
Tonight as I was writing about this verse, I was curious about the imagery. How could a chain veil the earth? Chains aren't especially opaque. Fortunately, Hebrew is. So I used my Blue Letter Bible app to search for "veil" and "chain" in the Old Testament. The first hits I found for both gave me these words:
  • Candidate for "chain": Strong's H7242 (רָבִיד), rabiyd, a neck chain or collar according to Gesenius's Lexicon, used in Genesis 41:42 (Pharaoh gives Joseph "a gold chain about his neck") and Ezekiel 16:11 ("I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put ... a chain on thy neck").
  • Candidate for "veil"/"vail": Strong's H7289 (רָדִיד), radiyd, a "veil" in Song of Songs 5:7 and "vails" in Isaiah 3:23, a word which means something spread, a wide wrapper or large veil, or, in Gesenius's Lexicon, "a wide and thin female garment, a cloak."
Bring me down to earth on the problems with these proposals, please, but for now, I quite like these possibilities. If these words were actually used in a Hebrew document (say, on the brass plates--more on that later), then Satan's chain, a rabiyd,  wouldn't necessarily be something that looks frightening, but is something ornamental and attractive, the kind we might gladly receive and wear around our necks with pride, only to realize too late that, like the golden handcuffs we speak of in the business world, it limits our freedom. Satan's pretty chains are chains of slavery. They connect us to his crushing yoke and lead us captive into bitter servitude. And we like fools are happy to clasp them around out necks. "Wow, thanks, it's so shiny!"

Second, the veil as some form of radiyd would seem appropriate, for it would be a cloak, spread out widely over the earth. And what a nice word play with rabiyd. Four letters, three of which are identical, and the "b" and "d" sounds aren't that distant phonetically. To me, it sounds like a winner as far as Hebraic word plays go. But I really don't know, so I welcome your feedback. Of course, the Book of Moses has "veiled" as a verb, not a noun, but perhaps "veiled" could be translation of a construction literally meaning something like "to act as a veil." Let me know if that is a problem.

If this could be a legitimate albeit speculative word play in Hebrew that someone has already noticed and written about, either regarding Moses 7:26 or some extant Hebrew text, I would appreciate a reference to cite. I'm working on an article where it might be helpful to cite such a reference. In any case, I think that Moses 7:26, word play or not, has some significance for the Book of Mormon that I hope to discuss more fully as part of an article I'm working on. If the word play is plausible, it would add a little more intrigue to the beauty of the LDS scriptures.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Recommended Resources for Dealing with the Extremes of Biblical Criticism

For students of the scriptures who are interested in understanding modern debates over the Bible as history as well as the impact of Higher Criticism on the Book of Mormon, there are several resources I wish to recommend:
  • Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, 2nd edition (New York: HarperCollins, 1997) — a widely read, popular work that has introduced many people to source-criticism, the branch of Higher Criticism that examines the text of the Pentateuch especially to determine the origins of different hypothesized documents that were assembled together into its current form. Friedman offers arguments for a priestly source composed in the days of Hezekiah, well before Nephi, for those who have encountered arguments against Book of Mormon plausibility because of its heavy Exodus content, much of which is said to derive from the Priestly source, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, a source that has been given a late date by a number of scholars. Friedman's book carefully explains why Julius Wellhausen blundered in reaching that conclusion. Friedman is a strong advocate of the Documentary Hypothesis, which is still a subject of debate, but an important paradigm to consider. 
  • James K. Hoffmeir, Israel in Egypt: The Evidences for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition, (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996) — an extremely thorough examination of the plausibility of the Exodus in spite of the absence of clear archaeological evidence (from regions where it is unreasonable to expect the kind of evidence some critics demand). Hoffmeir, a significant scholar, provides a credible and wide-ranging case against the claim that the Exodus account was largely created after the Exodus. His approach has some lessons in methodology that are relevant to Book of Mormon studies.
  • James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) — a book that build on his previous case for the reality of the Exodus, now exploring what we can learn of Sinai and Israel's era in the wilderness. He shows that archaeological evidence, textual material, geography, place names, and personal names all combine to create a reasonable case for the historical reality of the wilderness tradition. He also updates some of his proposals made in his earlier Israel in Egypt to reflect more recent discoveries. Hoffmeir provides evidence, for example, that the wilderness itinerary in Numbers 33 has support from the 14th century B.C., in contrast with the widespread view that it must be from the so-called Priestly source of much later origin.
  • K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003) — an extensive and colorful, if not sometimes overly passionate response to the many critics who minimalize the Old Testament. Based on abundant data, Kitchen concludes that we can firmly reject the hypothesis that the Old Testament books originated as late as 400 to 200 B.C., as many minimalists maintain, and that we have strong evidence for the reality of the Exodus from Egypt and a Sinai covenant that must have originated between 1400 to 1200 B.C. Kitchen's work is also useful in showing weakness in the methodologies used to downplay the biblical text, many of which may resemble some of the techniques used against the Book of Mormon.
  • James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, editors, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014). Relevant highlights in this compilation include Richard E. Averbeck, “Pentateuchal Criticism and the Priestly Torah” and Robert B. Chisholm Jr., “Old Testament Source Criticism: Some Methodological Miscues.” Chisholm critiques traditional source-criticism (the Documentary Hypothesis) by exploring the two most famous "parade cases" from source-criticism, the Flood story and the account of David in Saul's court. He challenges the reasons given for viewing these as a patchwork from contradicting original documents and goes on to show that their literary design and coherence points to either a single source or a masterful blending if multiple sources were used. He condemns the arrogant attitude of many scholars who seem to say that "if the text does not fit my idea of what literature should look like, it must be flawed," when in fact a more careful reading can resolve alleged problems and reveal that the Hebrew author was more knowledgeable and skilled than the critics admit. I also recommend Richard L. Schultz, "Isaiah, Isaiah, and Current Scholarship," with important information relevant to the presence of allegedly late Isaiah material in the Book of Mormon, and James K. Hoffmeir, "'These Things Happened': Why a Historical Exodus Is Essential for Theology," which provides a good review of the rise of biblical minimalism and the devaluation of the Bible as a text with historical content, with a clear review of high vital the Exodus theme is throughout the Bible.
In addition to the above books, many shorter articles and papers could be cited. A few of note include:
  • Joshua Berman, "Was There an Exodus?," Mosaic Magazine, March 2, 2015 — a fascinating recent contribution looking at long overlooked evidence from Egypt in support of the reality of the Exodus. This publication in Mosaic Magazine includes responses from other scholars, both for and against.
  • Yosef Garfinkel, “The Birth and Death of Biblical Minimalism,” Biblical Archaeology Review 37/3 (May/Jun 2011): 46–53, 78 (subscription required for the full online article). This is a bold critique of the biblical "minimalists" and their panicked response to compelling archaeological evidence for the reality of the House of David. The application of his insights to the Book of Mormon was appropriately made by Neal Rappleye and Stephen Smoot in another highly recommended work directly related to the Lehi's trail, "Book of Mormon Minimalists and the NHM Inscriptions: A Response to Dan Vogel," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 8 (2014), 157-185.
  • Kevin L. Barney, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33/1 (Spring 2000): 57–99 — a thoughtful and frequently cited essay from a faithful LDS scholar who explores how Latter-day Saints may respond to widely accepted scholarly theories on the origins of Bible documents.
For those of you who find value in the Bible beyond its literary value (i.e., recognize that it is more than just pious fiction), do you have any favorite resources that have been helpful to you, say, in understanding the agenda and distortions of biblical minimalists, or in understanding the limitations of the Documentary Hypothesis?