In the article that follows, I offer my own critique of Genesis and the accounts of Christ?s death and resurrection as found in the Gospels. I conclude with a discussion of the "canonization problem." Finally, I provide a less than comprehensive list of my sources. They would be helpful to anyone with further questions on these issues. All are basically from a scholarly, rather than a polemical perspective.
The Nature of the Bible Fundamentalists constantly berate the Mormon scriptures for their weaknesses and contradictions. They often point out how LDS leaders have contradicted each other. The search the minutia of general conference talks for material. Whenever a potential contradiction in Mormon writings is a matter of interpretation, they invariably assume an interpretation that favors contradiction or embarrassment. Yet they actually insist that the Bible contains none of these weaknesses!
Some consider us non-Christian because we believe the Bible has not been preserved intact over time. I honestly believe that the bible is the best witness that exists against fundamentalism. If they honestly accept that it has been preserved fully and without error we are going to have to ignore some pretty solid scholarship and make some vast assumptive leaps.
I honestly don't have time to point out all the weaknesses in the Bible. Many books have been written on this subject but I would like to go over some of my main objections to the book. Let's start with the book of Genesis....
SECTION 1: In the Beginning?
I personally accept the bible as beautiful religious document that is full of truth, but do not accept that it has been transmitted to us perfectly over time. As it currently stands, there are a number of contradictions and relatively confusing elements noted throughout the Bible. This is true of the Book of Genesis more than any other book. I submit that this text has been the subject of rather severe editing. This has been identified by various scholars for nearly a hundred years. At least two and probably three earlier editors have been edited together to make a less than seamless whole.
The Joseph Smith translation leaves some of these contradictions intact and, in fact, mutates them into renditions of the spiritual and then physical creation. I do not personally believe that Joseph Smith actually restored the original text. Rather, I consider the Joseph Smith version to be a semi-inspired commentary or "creative improvement." I do believe it makes sense out of the nonsense noted below.
I. The Priestly editor (P)
The editor of the first section of the Bible is often referred to as the priestly editor by biblical scholars. the reasons for this designation are complex and open to question but it is the common designation nevertheless. In Gen. 1:1-24 the editor uses the name Elohiem. This is the plural form of the Hebrew word for God which is "El." The same name appears in the earliest written texts from Sumer. A cognate term "Al" is the root of the Arabic name for God "Al-lah." Only in this first section is the are the pronouns referring to God rendered in the pural--Let US make man in OUR own image, after OUR own likeness. The work of this editor runs throughout Genesis but a few of the more interesting passages of his work appear in the following:
Creation of the world and Man: 1:1-24
Genealogy of Adam to Noah 5:1-32
The Flood: 6:5-22; 7: 7-10
Commands to Noah: 8: 15-19
Another, Editor who uses the word Elohiem exclusively is often identified as the "Elohist." His narrative apparently begins with God's call to Abram and continues through the history of the Patriarchs but my level of experience is not adequate to distinguish between this writer and P.
II. The Yawist (Jehovah) Editor (J)
The Yawist uses the name YHWH (Yaweh) which is transliterated Jehovah. He also used the two names spliced together in this form "Jehovah Elohiem." The name Jehovah is often rendered as the word LORD in the King James Bible. Another word, "Adonai" is also rendered "Lord." You can easily distinguish between them by the fact that "Jehovah" is always spelled in all capital letters. J often describes the same events as E. For example, In Genesis Chapter one J Describes the creation in great detail--he creates man in his own image and likeness etc. Then in Genesis chapter two (2:4-7) the LORD God (Jehovah Elohiem) creates the Earth again. These two accounts could easily refer to first the spiritual creation of the Earth and man by Elohiem then the physical creation by Jehovah. Nevertheless, the extremely different uses of language in the two sections strongly imply two editors (compare Moses 3:5).
Sometimes the differences between the editors are not so simple. In Genesis 6:16-24 God (Elohiem) commands Moses to take "two of every sort [which] shall come unto thee, to keep them alive." Then Noah does "according to all that God commanded him." Then in Chapter 7: 2-3, the LORD (Jehovah) appears and tells Noah to take seven of the clean beasts and fowls of the air and only two of the unclean. If this actually happened, we can imagine Noah's confusion! It is much more likely that this is merely an editorial conflict between E (Chapter six) and J (Chapter seven). This also accounts for the conflict regarding precisely WHO sold Joseph into Egypt. Genesis 37:27 states that Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. Genesis 37:28 states that the Midianite merchants sold him.
The language in this section shows that J and E have probably been edited
together. Some interesting sections edited by the Yahwist (J) include:
Creation of Man: 2:4-25
The Fall: 3: 1-24
Cain and Able 4:1-16
The flood: 7:1-6, 11-24
As if all this were not enough, there are exactly THREE different versions
of the ten commandments!
and Deuteronomy 5
Anti-Mormons sometimes accuse Mormon leaders of being racist, sexist, licentious or violent. All of these criticism have been true to some degree of some Mormon leaders. But they ignore the fact that the prophets of the Bible were at least as wild!
Noah, in a drunken stupor, collapses naked in his tent. He is seen by Ham in "his nakedness." Thus he curses Ham and all his descendants. (I know some Mormons have believed this literally too, but come on! Give me a break!).
Lot offers his daughters to the towns-people who are lusting after some
angelic messengers. (Gen. 19: particularly verse 8)
Moses commands the Israelites to slay all the Midianites and steal their cattle and take their virgin women as booty, keeping them "for themselves!" (Num. 31:1- 9)
Moses commands the Israelites to keep the best meat for themselves. They can give the rotting flesh to foreigners. (Deut. 14:21)
SECTION 2: The Gospels-is harmony possible?
A. THE TRIALS
1. Where was Jesus taken immediately after his arrest?
a. Matthew, Mark and Luke say that Jesus was taken directly to the high priest (Matthew 26:57, Mark 14:53 and Luke 22:54).
b. John says that Jesus was taken first to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest (John 18:13) who, after an indeterminate period of time, sent Jesus to the high priest (John 18:24).
2. When did the priests and scribes gather together to question Jesus?
a. Matthew 26:57 says that on the night Jesus was arrested the priests and scribes were gathered together prior to Jesus being brought to the high priest.
b. Mark 14:53 says the priests and scribes gathered together on the night of Jesus' arrest after Jesus was brought to the high priest.
c. Luke 22:66 says the priests and scribes assembled the day after Jesus was arrested.
d. John mentions only the high priest no other priests or scribes play a role in questioning Jesus.
3. Was Jesus questioned by Herod?
a. Luke says that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod who questioned Jesus at length and then returned Jesus to Pilate (Luke 23:7-11).
b. Matthew, Mark and John make no mention of Herod. This, in itself, means nothing, but it brings about another contradiction later.
4. Who was responsible for Jesus' death, Pilate or the Jews?
The gospel writers go to every conceivable length to absolve the Romans in general, and Pilate in particular, of Jesus' crucifixion and to blame it on the Jews. The reason, of course, was that Christianity was going to have to exist under Roman rule for many years, which is why the New Testament contains nothing critical of the Romans, even though they were hated for their heavy taxation, and Pilate was hated for his brutality. For the church, the Jews made an appropriate scapegoat because the Jews were a thorn in side of the early church. The Jews, of course, had far greater knowledge of Jewish laws and traditions than the largely gentile church, and were able to call attention to some of the errors being taught by the church. The Biblical account of Pilate's offer to release Jesus but the Jews demanding the release of Barabbas is pure fiction, containing both contradictions and historical inaccuracies.
a. What had Barabbas done?
1. Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19 say that Barabbas was guilty of insurrection and murder.
2. John 18:40 says that Barabbas was a robber.
5. Who put the robe on Jesus?
a. Matthew 27:28, Mark 15:17 and John 19:2 say that after Pilate had Jesus scourged and turned over to his soldiers to be crucified, the soldiers placed a scarlet or purple robe on Jesus as well as a crown of thorns.
b. Luke 23:11, in contradiction to Matthew, Mark and John, says that the robe was placed on Jesus much earlier by Herod and his soldiers. Luke mentions no crown of thorns.
B. THE CRUCIFIXION
1. Crucified between two robbers
* Matthew 27:38 and Mark 15:27 say that Jesus was crucified between two robbers (Luke just calls them criminals; John simply calls them men). The Romans did not crucify robbers. Crucifixion was reserved for insurrectionists and rebellious slaves.
2. Peter and Mary near the cross
* When the gospel writers mention Jesus talking to his mother and to Peter from the cross, they run afoul of another historical fact - the Roman soldiers closely guarded the places of execution, and nobody was allowed near (least of all friends and family who might attempt to help the condemned person).
3. The opened tombs
* According to Matthew 27:51-53, at the moment Jesus died there was an earthquake that opened tombs and many people were raised from the dead. For some reason they stayed in their tombs until after Jesus was resurrected, at which time they went into Jerusalem and were seen by many people.
* Here Matthew gets too dramatic for his own good. If many people came back to life and were seen by many people, it must have created quite a stir (even if the corpses were in pretty good shape!). Yet Matthew seems to be the only person aware of this happening - historians of that time certainly know nothing of it - neither do the other gospel writers.
C. THE RESURRECTION
1. Who found the empty tomb?
a. According to Matthew 28:1, only "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary."
b. According to Mark 16:1, "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome."
c. According to Luke 23:55, 24:1 and 24:10, "the women who had come with him out of Galilee." Among these women were "Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James." Luke indicates in verse 24:10 that there were at least two others.
d. According to John 20:1-4, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone, saw the stone removed, ran to find Peter, and returned to the tomb with Peter and another disciple.
2. Who did they find at the tomb?
a. According to Matthew 28:2-4, an angel of the Lord with an appearance like lightning was sitting on the stone that had been rolled away. Also present were the guards that Pilate had contributed. On the way back from the tomb the women meet Jesus (Matthew 28:9).
b. According to Mark 16:5, a young man in a white robe was sitting inside the tomb.
c. According to Luke 24:4, two men in dazzling apparel. It is not clear if the men were inside the tomb or outside of it.
d. According to John 20:4-14, Mary and Peter and the other disciple initially find just an empty tomb. Peter and the other disciple enter the tomb and find only the wrappings. Then Peter and the other disciple leave and Mary looks in the tomb to find two angels in white. After a short conversation with the angels, Mary turns around to find Jesus.
3. Who did the women tell about the empty tomb?
a. According to Mark 16:8, "they said nothing to anyone."
b. According to Matthew 28:8, they "ran to report it to His disciples."
c. According to Luke 24:9, "they reported these things to the eleven and to all the rest."
d. According to John 20:18, Mary Magdalene announces to the disciples that she has seen the Lord.
V. THE ASCENSION
According to Luke 24:51, Jesus' ascension took place in Bethany, on
the same day as his resurrection.
According to Acts 1:9-12, Jesus' ascension took place at Mount Olivet, forty days after his resurrection.
SECTION 3: The Canon Problem
The process by which the books of the Bible were canonized are totally ignored by most fundamentalists. The Septuagint was the first translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Sometime in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (284 b.c - 246 b.c.), the Ptolemid Greek Pharaoh of Egypt, a group of 72 elders met to translate the Bible into Greek for the Jews of Alexandria. Unfortunately, there was some doubt as to precisely which books, among those available, were actually inspired. Many of the books mentioned in the Bible and noted by many Mormons as "lost scripture" were simply left out. When the final list was compiled, it contained all of the books Protestants consider part of the old testament. This is the version that is quoted word for word by Christ and the new testament authors. So far so good. The only problem for fundamentalists is that it also included what is often called the Apocrypha, the nine books included in Catholic scriptures but left out of Protestant versions. The council of Jamnia, a group of Rabbis meeting in 93 a.d. decided on the 39 books of the old testament as currently accepted by Fundamentalists, but this group should have had no authority with Christians. Surprisingly, The New Testament author who makes greatest use of the Apocrypha is none other that Paul! Paul paraphrases 14 verses of the Apocrypha, the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, and incorporates them into his writings ( Rom. 1: 20-19 c.f. Wis. 13: 5-8, 14:24- 27; Rom. 9: 20-23 c.f. Wis. 12:12, 20, 15:7; 2 Cor. 5: 1-4 c.f. Wis. 9:15). James also makes use of the apocrypha, quoting the Book of Sirach ( James 1:19 c.f. Sir. 5:11; James 1:13 c.f. 15: 11-12).
It was not until the Lutheran document "De Connonicus Scripturis Libellus" in 1520, that these books ceased to be accepted by Christians. Between 140 a.d. and 367 a.d. there were many lists of Canonical Christian Books issued by various Churches. The first was issued in 140 a.d. in response to the Gnostic Marcion who had advocated the abandonment of the Old Testament and the acceptance only the Gospel of Luke and the letters of Paul. The church in Rome authorized its own canon list which was very different from the version we have today. It omitted Hebrews, James, 2 Peter and 3 John. The Apocalypse of Peter was included. Origen, Eusebius ,Tertullian and Cyril all took stabs at making a list. They include such books as the letter of Barnabas, the teachings of the Apostles, I Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas (which, incidentally teaches baptism for the dead).
It is not until 367 a.d., in the 37th Easter letter of Athanasius, that we have any canonical list of all the books currently included in the New Testament. Of course, I suppose the fundamentalist could say that God used Athanasius to set things right. The the last "prophet" to the fundamentalists, becomes Athanasius. This, of course presents certain problems of its own. Athanasius was a Neo-Platonist Christian who believed that grace was transmitted through the sacraments not faith alone. He accepted the concept of priesthood as taught in the Roman Catholic church (and, more or less, the same as the LDS church). He put the book of revelation at the end because it was "doubtful." So the last "prophet" of fundamentalism was not, himself, a fundamentalist!
Even if we ignore this problem and just state that the "current" New Testament is inerrant then we have the problem of just which ancient texts to use. I have in my possession a copy of the Greek New Testament "majority text." This text is the basis for all modern Bible translations. It is called the "majority text" because it examine 50 or so early texts of various New Testament books and searches them word for word and prints the word found in the "majority" of the texts. It notes variants in the footnotes. Almost every page is HALF footnotes. Admittedly, most of the variations are minor or are only in a few early texts. A few are major but are found in no really early texts. A few variants are widely divided, the majority wins by a slim margin. It is important to note that only three have even the remotest possibility of dating from the second century and they are fragmentary papyri (P 64, 66, 67).
There are no sets with complete books until we get to the Uncial manuscripts of the fourth century (Uncials "Aleph" and "B"). These are in all capital "uncial" letters--I found it interesting that Jeff once suggested that the twelve were Apostles with a large "A" while Paul was an Apostle with a small "a" Since only capitals were used in these early texts! Perhaps he was only trying to illustrate his interpretation rather than refer to the texts literally.
The problems with Fundamentalist beliefs that I have noted here were not intended to be the final word on anything. They were not intended to mock beliefs other hold sacred. No doubt, certain well informed fundamentalists could twist and turn their beliefs in such a way that they believe my criticism have been answered. They will, no doubt, continue to believe that the Bible is inerrant and that only those who believe as they do are the real Christians. They will further continue to castigate Mormonism for its imperfections. However, I hope that as they do so they will remember my little letter and note that logic and history can be a two-edged sword.
William Barclay, The Making of the Bible, (1961 New York: Abingdon)
Raymond S. Brown ed., The Jerome Biblical Commentary
Fox, Robin Lane, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible
G. Ernest Wright, The Book of the Acts of God, (1960 Garden City N.Y.: Anchor Books).
Kurt Aland et. al. eds., The Greek New Testament
John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark., Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism