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Arguments Against Documentary Hypothesis (Part 4 of 7)

Not everyone believes the Documentary Hypothesis explains the first five books of Moses.  There appears to be a divide between American & European scholarship.  Colby Townsend will tell us more about the differences in scholarship.  And we will also see what implications this has for the Book of Mormon.

GT:  Alright, so where are we at today? Because it seems like some scholars don’t like the documentary hypothesis, and then we’ve also got the biblical literalists, who I assume would hate it.

Colby:  Right. No, a lot of people really don’t like it still. And there have been a handful of different attempts by more traditionally-minded scholars to come up with new methods and new approaches to explain all of the problems that we’ve been talking about, about the formation of the Pentateuch particularly. So, a lot of people really don’t like it. But really, a lot of the time, there are a handful of scholars that try to say, “Oh, well, this fragmentation of the scholarship obviously makes it so that the documentary hypothesis goes away. And then we don’t have the problem of, the five books being written later.” But none of that goes away.

If you don’t accept the documentary hypothesis, that’s fine. There’s a whole lot of evidence to support a version of the documentary hypothesis. So really the main competing arguments right now within scholarship are what I described. So you can either go with the documentary hypothesis, which tends to argue that the different sources were written a little bit earlier. So maybe the earliest of those would be eighth, ninth century BCE, which I haven’t mentioned yet, is really early for lengthy writing in Hebrew, at least. Because one of the main arguments that really shuts down the possibility of Moses being the author of the Torah, is the fact that written Hebrew didn’t develop until after Moses’ life.

GT:  Moses didn’t speak Hebrew?

Colby:  He would have spoken it, probably a version of it, a much earlier version of it.

GT:  He wouldn’t have written it.

Colby:  But yeah, he wouldn’t have written it, not in the form…. (Linguistic form, I guess is really the best phrase I should have used) that the Torah is written in. It doesn’t develop until after his life. So there are continuing debates about that as well. What does that mean for the writing of it? But really most scholars, pretty much all scholars that are really engaged in Pentateuchal criticism, agree that Moses couldn’t have written it, and that the five books of Moses couldn’t have come together until at the very earliest, the return from the Babylonian exile, which also has other implications for…

GT:  What year is that, approximately?

Colby:  That would have been 530 BCE or so. So toward the end of the sixth century BCE, and so that’s the earliest that they would have been compiled together. That’s more conservative.

GT:  So the Torah would have been compiled, and I’m going to try to put this in Book of Mormon terms. The Torah, the five books of Moses would have been written long after Lehi left Jerusalem.

Colby:  Compiled into five books. Yes.

GT:  And that’s an interesting [point.] That leads into your paper, doesn’t it?

Colby:  A little bit. Yeah, there’s definitely some connections there. Yeah, if we’re shifting gears here.

GT:  Before we go there, I still want to hit this idea of what do faithful Latter-day Saints, and even faithful Christian scholars do? Because it seems like at least in my Sunday School classes, when we do talk about the Old Testament, there ain’t nobody talking about the documentary hypothesis.

Colby:  Yeah, no.

GT:  We’re just going to take it on faith. Moses wrote the first five books, take it or leave it and we’re going to take it.

Colby:  Right, and even if it comes up.

GT:  Yeah, and so, people might get into did the flood really happen? Were Adam and Eve real people? But nobody’s going to spend any time on a documentary hypothesis. And I think most people are going to just say, “Moses wrote all five books.”

Colby:  Probably.

Colby Townsend describes why some scholars don’t like the documentary hypothesis, the divide between American and European scholars, & implications for Book of Mormon.

Check out our conversation! Don’t miss our previous conversations with Colby!

428:  Exodus & Israelite Polytheism

427:  Old Testament scholarship 101

426:  Intro to Documentary Hypothesis

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Lessons for Mormon Leaders (Part 6 of 6)

What are the biggest takeaways leaders of the Mormon Church can take away from the largest public survey of Mormon attitudes?  Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll will give their answers.

GT:  Let’s just pretend that the brethren are here, and you can tell them anything. What would you tell them?

Jana:  You have to have equal representation of women.  You cannot continue having meetings in which decisions are made that affect women’s lives directly without a woman in the room, at least one woman in the room. And not just a little token woman who like, in the leaked video that I was talking about, at the very end, like in the last two-minute Hail Mary pass of the meeting, someone asks for Sister Beck’s opinion.  She gives it. The meeting breaks up, no one even responds to what she said. I mean, it’s entire tokenism to have her there, to ask her opinion and then totally disregard it. So yes, that’s hugely important. It’s important to women.

There are a couple of different narratives that I think we need to keep in mind. The narrative that the church wants us to believe, is what Gordon B Hinckley said, which is “Mormon women are happy, and they’re happy with their role.” Statistically, he’s right. Because most Mormon women who are still in the church don’t seem to have a problem. Younger women are a bit different. But the majority of Mormon women are fairly satisfied, apparently, with their roles in the church. The other part of the story, though, the other narrative that needs to also be told is that women’s roles ranked as the third most common reason for leaving for all women. So, for some women, this was an important enough issue that it was a catalyst to their departure, and we need to keep that in mind as well. We can’t just say that Mormon women are happy with the way things are, because if you weren’t happy, you’re gone.  What would you say?

Benjamin:  So I suppose in addition to that which I agree with, would be that all humans are subject to our cognitive biases and the way we see the world. We tend to take our experience as the norm and project it on to everyone else’s experience. Good faith people who are in leadership positions, of course, don’t intend to do that, but often times do it. And I’m just as guilty like everyone, that’s what we do, right? That’s what human beings do. One thing that this research offers is an opportunity to hear about what the experience is like from people who don’t match your own experience. And that’s really hard, and I like that some church leaders, like Patrick Mason wrote in his book Planted, he’s like, “I get it.” Right? From a leadership position, this worked for you your whole life. You’ve always felt happy here. Why could anyone possibly be upset? Or why would they not want to be here?

There’s just a lack of awareness on their part, not through anyone’s fault, but just simply because we all have different lived experiences. Could we take things from here and incorporate those kinds of messages, and carefully consider them non-defensively and think, “Okay, my experience might not be this, but this is experience that maybe not a majority, but that a critical mass of membership are experiencing. What could we do to create spaces where they feel like they’re fitting in better, even if that means that we perhaps need to change what we emphasize, or give greater room for those kinds of voices to be represented in both decision making, as well as scriptural interpretation? Or how we’re applying the stories about what it means to be a Mormon in today’s world or Latter-day Saints, etc.”  Things like that, that would be one of the pieces of advice I could humbly and constructively offer.

Find out what else they had to say, and find out who our next interview is with!  Check out our conversation….

Dr Jana Riess & Dr. Ben Knoll discuss their beliefs opinions about things Mormon leaders can do to improve.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Jana and Ben!

300: Why Mormons Leave

299: Out of the Box Mormons

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Responses

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons

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Out of the Box Mormons (Part 4 of 6)

There has been a slowdown in growth for the LDS Church recently.  I asked Dr. Jana Riess what the Church can do to halt the slide, and I was a bit surprised at her answer.  Is there a problem with “out of the box” Mormons?

GT : Is there anything in your book that you think that leaders can use to keep people in?

Jana:  Yes, and no. {Chuckling} So that’s my wishy-washy answer. The Yes, part is yes, there are things. For example, backing away on LGBT issues can only help. It certainly would help if the church did a better job of incorporating more Millennials into things that they care about, rather than indexing genealogy or things that the church cares about, but that are not necessarily driving attendance for people in their 20’s. There are a lot of things like that.  We could have better architecture. I have a whole list of those things.

Jana:  But the no side, which I think is just as important, and I’m speaking here as a historian. When we look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in American religion, more generally, Mormons and ex-Mormons are so tunnel-focused on what the Church is, or is not doing, that is driving this problem that they miss the bigger picture that Mormonism is not an island. We have, throughout our history, been buffeted by the tides of whatever is going on in American religion. In the 1950s and 60s, when religion was thriving in the United States, we were also thriving. And in the 70s, and 80s, when conservative religions, in particular, were thriving the United States, we were thriving.  Now we’re in a period where everyone is suffering, we are also suffering. So in that context, particularly because we are less than 2% of the population, there’s not a lot we can do.

Mormonism is really good for nuclear families, but it can be a tough place for singles, divorced, LGBT, widowed, or other members who may not have the ideal Mormon family.  In our next conversation with Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll, we’ll talk about non-traditional families, and how we can make church culture better for others.

Jana: There is one area where I see church leaders really trying to change this outcome. And it’s in the hammering of marriage and having children. Recent talks by certain church leaders have emphasized this. And that’s not to say it hasn’t been an emphasis all along, but the stakes are much higher. We’re looking at a scenario where married church members, according to the church’s own leaked statistics, married church members in their 20s are twice as likely to be active, as single church members in their 20s of the same age. So, the Church says, “Well, let’s just get everybody married,” right? And the people who are most active in the church are the people who have children of school age and are in those programs right now. “Well, let’s get people to have children,” right?  And of course, that plays into the eternal message of the gospel, that marriage and children are part of your exaltation forever. So, it’s not like this is just a cynical, sociological move that we need to up our activity rates. They truly, I think, earnestly believe that this is also contributing to people’s eternal salvation, but they have got to be worried about marriage among Millennials as a whole in this nation. Millennials are delaying marriage Millennials are having fewer children or not having children at all. And in terms of religiosity that is a concern, not just for Mormons, but for all organized religions. Because those young parents are the mainstay. They are the bread and butter of religious activity and tithing and programs, the success of the programs. So that’s where you’re going to see them trying to change that narrative.

GT:  To be more friendly to singles, is that what you’re saying?

Jana:  No. I’m afraid not.

GT:  That’s too bad.

Jana:  To be telling singles, “Just get married already,” which seems to be the message that comes up again and again.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation….

What can LDS Leaders do to encourage “out of the box” Mormons to stop leaving the Church?

Don’t miss out other conversations with Jana and Ben!

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Response

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons