Friday, July 02, 2010

The Book of Mormon and the Bible: Supplemental literature of the originating culture

Continuing a comparison of the Book of Mormon and the Bible. The point of comparison is this: What resources are available to settle a question about the original meaning of a passage? The case-in-point was the question whether the Book of Mormon originally intended to refer to "coins", used as an example of resources for researching the original meaning.

I don't want to stray too far from the coins or pieces of precious metal. In the case of the Bible, we have other vital resources available to us. Sure, the culture that produced the Old Testament of the Bible eventually scattered and eventually took up other languages than the original language of their sacred writings. But they were still a religious and scholarly culture, and did not stop meeting to hear the words of their sacred book, and did not stop writing and discussing their sacred texts. To settle a question about the original meaning of a passage in the Bible, we could turn to other literature produced by the same culture. There were translations and paraphrases of the Old Testament made in the new languages that the people spoke. There were scrolls used for Scripture reading kept in the synagogues. There was the scholarly, encyclopedic work of the Talmud, which preserves a telescoped version of centuries' worth of conversation on the Old Testament texts. You can review how a certain passage was understood, and what its implications were seen to be, even without all the other helps we have discussed. The Talmud preserves what may be trace memories of the Exodus in the living memory of the people, and trace memories of Moses and the beginnings of regular public Scripture readings. It has commentary on how various laws were observed. If you wanted to settle a question about how to understand a passage in the Old Testament – or check on a question about the money – you could likely find several types of help in the copies kept for worship, the translations made for people who had begun to speak other languages, or in the scholarly and legal commentaries on the texts. There is a lot of supplemental literature from the Jewish culture to help us understand the Old Testament.

Problem: with the Book of Mormon, there is no supplemental literature in the ancient world for the Book of Mormon. But beyond that – and in my eyes it at least as large a problem for the Mormons – there is, as yet, no sign that the ancient Americas had any supplemental literature for the Old Testament, even the Torah. If a Jewish culture had come to the Americas, they would have brought the Torah and lived by the Torah. For a Jewish culture, not doing so would have been unthinkable. So for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, it's not merely a question, “Where are the synagogue scrolls of the Book of Mormon?” It brings up the larger question, “Where are the synagogue scrolls of the Old Testament? Where are the copies of the Torah that they were bound by Jewish law to study and accustomed to read whenever they met? Where are the writings of the culture that used the Old Testament in worship and studied the Old Testament in their scholarship? Where have the archaeologists found the mezuzahs containing Scripture that would have been affixed to the doorposts of their houses?” Here the question looms larger: where is there any sign at all that a Jewish culture existed in the ancient New World? Even if the Old Testament were to disappear (God forbid!), there would still be enough supplemental literature to reconstruct it based on other writings from Jewish cultures in the Old World. If the story contained in the Book of Mormon is true, shouldn't we have that same situation in the New World?

4 comments:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I've been reading this with interest since I visited the Mormon "visitor" center about 20 years ago and because daughter #2 just moved to Utah. Her new friend said he was raised Mormon, but had friends from other groups, so he had always had a different perspective on the group. He talked about the coerciveness of the Mormon culture.

Weekend Fisher said...

Coerciveness? Like in what way?

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

The young men are "expected" to go into mission, in a foreign country, usually. The young women, girls really, are taught to expect to marry a man who comes back from the mission, and then they are expected to have babies right away. But he also said that divorce was common.

He also told us that there are so many local "wards", about one every two blocks, that are the local division that is in charge of the neighborhood. I'm not sure if the people worship there, but he did mention that the next larger grouping had a building that was where the groups came and went on Sunday morning for the various worship services. He said that there are strong expectations of attendance and giving.

Weekend Fisher said...

I heard someone say that the Mormons would actually ask you how much you were making, so they could evaluate if you were giving the right percent. But I don't know if they knew that first-hand so I consider that in the "unverified" category.

My son got invited to go to a "church" event with a friend of his, and (didn't know til it was too late) the guy turned out to be Mormon. Sweet kid, don't get me wrong. But yes, while it was a teen party, it was definitely a "recruiting" party. They had Q&A things like "How close are you allowed to stand to someone of the opposite sex" (Answer: stay apart at least the distance of a Book of Mormon.) Stuff like that.

On the one hand, I think the strong expectations of good behavior are why they have so much of it. I just wonder sometimes if it crosses the line to being intrusive.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF