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What is a Literal Reading of Genesis? (Part 6 of 8)

Many fundamentalist Christians insist on a literal reading of Genesis.  Ben Spackman says that the meaning of the word “literal” has literally changed over the centuries!

Ben:  The idea of a literal reading goes way, way back to Augustine, actually. He wrote a two-volume commentary on Genesis that he called a literal commentary….When he says, “I want a literal [interpretation].” What he is saying is, “I want to read this according to the author’s intent. What did the author intend this to be?” Augustine’s already a thousand years removed from this Babylonian context. Ben:  He has no way of providing an actual, literal interpretation because he can’t get into the mind of the author. He doesn’t have access to the Babylonian material. He doesn’t have access to any of that stuff. A literal reading, and you can find this in the Catholic catechism as well–a literally reading is a reading that gets at what the author intended. It’s a deeply contextual reading. It requires some expertise. It means reading poetry as poetry, reading fiction as fiction, reading history as history. It doesn’t mean a surface reading without context. It doesn’t mean a scientific reading. It means reading according to the authors intent. So, if I have a poem and I try to read that poem as history, that’s not a literal reading. If I have a history that I try to read as metaphor, that’s not a literal reading. If I have a non-natural philosophy creation account, but I try to read as scientific history, that’s not a literal reading. That’s a misreading.

He also talks about religious populism.  What is that, and how does it relate to a literal reading?

Ben:  our modern idea of literal reading–that I can read it, I can understand it, I don’t need a priest or a pastor, an academic to tell me what it means. It’s part of the populist 19th century, anti-clerical stuff that carries over. It’s not helpful to us. The idea that person “A” reading in English 3000 years removed from these things with no context will understand it the way the author intended, the way the first people heard it is implausible, let’s say kindly.

So how does this fit into LDS history? Joseph Smith had two competing instincts. On the one hand, he was very populist. That’s evident in a couple of places. On the other hand, he studied Hebrew. He did a tiny bit of Greek. He did a little German. He gets asked once, how do you interpret this? And he says, “Well, read it in context.” This is how I would paraphrase. He says, “Well, look at the question, how do you interpret this parable? Look at the question that drew it out, look to context to interpret and understand.” The impulse to context, to Hebrew, to all that kind of thing, I think that kind of died with Joseph Smith. The populism continued. There’s a lot of distrust of experts, of academics, especially academics who have things to say about the Bible, right?

Check out our conversation…

Many Christians support a literal reading of Genesis. But did you know the meaning of "literal" has literally changed over the centuries?
Many Christians support a literal reading of Genesis. But did you know the meaning of “literal” has literally changed over the centuries?

Don’t miss out on our other conversations with Ben!

246: Misreading Genesis 245: Does the Bible Supports a Flat Earth?
244: Did Man Evolve From Apes?
243: Did Joseph Fielding Smith Win the Evolution Battle?
242: Evolution & Bible: Irreconcilable Differences?

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Myth of the Lambing Season (Part 5 of 5)

We’re finishing our conversation with Dr. Jeff Chadwick, a New Testament scholar at BYU.  We’ll talk about what he calls, the myth of the lambing season.  How cold is it in Israel in December?

Jeff:  The average day in Jerusalem in December and January is partly cloudy with green grass and jacket temperatures, nothing like the winters of Utah and Idaho. That brings up another thing and this is what I call the myth of the lambing season.

GT: Oh really?

Jeff:  Yeah, because, you know, the idea that Jesus was born in the Spring, was not unique to Latter-day Saints in the 1800’s. Others were suggesting this as well. Protestant writers in America familiar with freezing North American winters, because they were usually from New England or somewhere like that, couldn’t imagine how shepherds could be in the fields abiding by their flocks in December, “Aww, just much too cold. No shepherd could be out with his flocks in December,” they ruled. So, it must be in the springtime because spring is when the lambs are born and since Jesus was the lamb of God, that’s when he would have been born, too, is in the spring. This, of course, plays in really well with the tradition among the Latter-day Saints that Jesus was born in April. The problem is it’s an entire falsity. The reason why is that shepherds did and still do go out with their flocks all Winter long.

I have stood in the fields outside of Bethlehem on several Christmas Eves because I get to be there from time to time and the shepherds are out there with their sheep and little lambs have been born already in December. They don’t wait. Now here in our climate, just because of the way that the lambs and the sheep bear, they’ll wait until it’s a little warmer and they’ll lamb in March and April. But that’s not the way that it works in the holy land because the climate doesn’t require it. Biology works partially because of its climate.

We’ll also talk about what projects he is working on.  Check out our conversation…

Would shepherds really be in their fields in December?  Isn't it too cold for that?
Would shepherds really be in their fields in December? Isn’t it too cold for that?

Check out our other conversations with Dr. Chadwick!

234: Is Christmas a Celebration of Sun? (Chadwick)

233: How Jesus’s Death Relates to his Birth Date (Chadwick)

231: Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, & Birth of Christ (Chadwick)

229: Was Jesus Born in December? (Chadwick)

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Bickerton’s Prophetic Vision (Part 3)

Following the collapse of Sidney Rigdon’s church, people looked to William Bickerton to lead the flock.  Dr. Daniel Stone tells us more details about William Bickerton’s prophetic vision and call to become prophet of a new church with a Book of Mormon foundation.

Daniel: [Bickerton] says that he was carried away in the spirit and placed on the highest mountain on the earth, he said. In one of the accounts it says that there was just room enough for him to stand on this mountain, and he’s basically told and shown, “Here you are in this mountain. You’re doing everything right.”

You kind of get the sense that he feels like God’s telling him “You’re on the right track.  Stay where you are. Keep going. Keep doing what you’re doing, but if you leave this path that I’ve put you on, you’re going to fall and tumble.” And William Bickerton sees this chasm below. And he says that the Lord told him if he didn’t keep doing what he was doing, that he would fall into the chasm. And he said that the sight was awful at one part. In another account, he says that he would fall and be torn into bits. So, he saw and he felt that he didn’t have any other choice other than to stay on this path because he didn’t want to fall down that way. So, he starts preaching by himself.

Check out our conversation, as well as our other conversations with Dr. Daniel Stone!

William Bickerton had a vision of a chasm where God told him to lead a new church on the foundation of the Book of Mormon.
William Bickerton had a vision of a chasm where God told him to lead a new church on the foundation of the Book of Mormon.

197: Sidney’s Church Falls Apart

196: Rigdon/Spalding Manuscript Theory