There are 12 thoughts on “Sorting Out the Sources in Scripture”.

  1. Excellent commentary on the Bokovoy book, with additional insights that lead me full circle. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to re-think my understanding of translation, even though I have always understood that the concept of inspiration was the major impetus behind the Prophet’s endeavors. This article did a nice job of providing a compendium of previous understanding into congruence with current new insights.
    Thanks for a well-written article.

  2. While I understand the argument that the Book of Abraham could be pseudepigrapha, I don’t understand the argument for the Book of Moses.

    Nowhere does the Book of Moses claim to have been written by Moses. It is given in the first person, but that person is the Lord. There are references to times later than Moses. Joseph didn’t suggest that Moses wrote it and he simply restored what Moses wrote. While it is true that the Book of Moses states that it was a revelation given to Moses, it is in the form of a set of revelations given to Joseph Smith. It isn’t Moses that is passing on his experience; it is the Lord that is doing that. Thus, I think it would be a mistake to think of Moses as the author of the Book of Moses. The preposition “of” is not very precise. It could mean “written by” or “produced by” or it could mean “about.” The Book of Moses, in my opinion, is more consistent with the latter. Something like 1/3 of the D&C was written during the translation of the Bible and probably motivated by that translation. The Book of Moses fits this model.

    The Book of Abraham, on the other hand, claims to have been written by Abraham. Joseph also claimed that it was written by his own [Abraham’s] hand. In this case, I can understand the argument that the Book of Abraham fits the genre of pseudepigrapha. While the Book of Moses seems to fit the model of the D&C where revelations are given to Joseph containing the Lord’s explanation of things, the Book of Abraham fits the Book of Mormon model–it is claimed to be a translation of an ancient document written by real actors (prophets) in the ancient world.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mike.

      What is most at stake for me in resisting the classification of the Books of Moses and Abraham as pseudepigrapha is not whether they pre-existed as written documents prior to Joseph Smith having revealed them (certainly the case seems stronger for this with regard to the Book of Abraham than the Book of Moses, as you point out). Rather, it is whether or not any of the events and teachings related in these books have anything to do with Moses and Abraham as historical figures–a point that seems impossible to establish with certainty from a scholarly perspective, but neither should be preemptively ruled out as ATOT seems to want to do.

      • Jeff, I agree. I should also have mentioned that I enjoyed your article very much and I tend to discount pseudepigrapha claims for both the Books of Moses and Abraham. I just don’t think Moses should even be in the discussion, because the most direct possibility is that Moses did not write it–it doesn’t so claim and Joseph claimed that it was received by revelation over several months with the Lord telling him the story of what the Lord originally told Moses. The argument that we have the story because Moses must have written it down, doesn’t fit as well as it simply being a direct revelation. The Lord certainly on many occasions explained the background of lot of accounts in the Bible.

        Abraham, by contrast, is claimed both in Joseph’s explanation and in the text itself. The main point of criticism of Abraham is that the dozen or so small fragments we have (a few percent of the claimed size of papyri) don’t translate as Joseph said they did; and by implication, it must have been a product of the 19th century and that combined with the claim of ancient authorship makes it–in the critics’ minds–pseudepigrapha.

  3. Excellent article, Jeff. Just a few comments:
    page 258, the title “lad” in 2 & 3 Enoch might be compared with Book of Mormon Alma “Lad, Young Man,” which may be short for hypothetical Hebrew ˁAlma’ ’El “Lad of ’El,” the Ugaritic epithet of King Kirta, ˁlm ’il “Lad of El,” and taking a hint from Mosiah 17:2 “and he was a young man” (Matt Bowen sees a pun).
    page 266 and note 33, re divergent accounts of Creation in Genesis, Moses, and Abraham, please note in addition to your comments that ancient Near Eastern creation stories generally differ in details, but agree in the broad schema — as Speiser shows in his Anchor Bible translation-commentary on Genesis (Doubleday, 1964), 9-13. The same is true of the various Flood & Tower stories, which your note 14 shows you have considered. What would be truly odd would be the lack of divergent accounts.
    n. 156, although Black was at the time a visiting scholar at Princeton, the actual venue for the Thomasson & Black encounter was Cornell Univ., where Thomasson was then a doctoral candidate.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Erik, and I agree with the general run of your sentiments. I am willing to consider a range of possibilities regarding how oral and written traditions may have come together with the revelatory process in order to produce modern scripture. As outlined in the article, and consistent with the study of Brant Gardner of Book of Mormon translation, I think that it is possible that the translation process varied across different parts of modern scripture. But I think it’s important to take a more nuanced view than one that leads to the wholesale ruling out of the idea that material rooted in historic events in the lives of Moses and Abraham is included in modern revelation. I certainly agree that much more work needs to be done on the issues you mention, as mentioned in the concluding paragraphs of the review.

  5. Thanks for an enjoyable article. It took me a while to get through – especially when reading the 200+ footnotes along with it – but it addresses some of the questions and concerns that I have had about Bokovoy’s conclusions on the books of Moses and Abraham being pseudopigraphic works. Although Bokovoy’s careful presentation did lead me to, for the first time ever, seriously consider the potential of these books really constituting inspired pseudopigrapha (or partial pseudopigrapha), I see much more value in your more nuanced view. Especially to the extent that the inspired pseudopigrapha explanation changes our conceptions of past, present and future as related to the historical reality of the City of Enoch, prophecies about the last days and Second Coming, etc. (Similar reasons I have (among others) for being against a view of the Book of Mormon as mere inspired fiction).

    I do think it a challenge to validate the argument from a historical and critical perspective however. As such, I agree with Loyd on asking the question of whether evidence of similarities with pseudopigrapha demonstrate that the Books of Moses and Abraham are not pseuopigrapha. Most or all of the writings you bring up were written only in the couple centuries before and after Christ. From a historical and critical perspective, the challenge would be to trace such commonalities far enough into the past that the events and ideas presented in Moses and BofA can begin to be viewed as potentially reflecting historical realities or actual events. While you present some impressive parallels with Enoch literature those parallels are only suggestive of reaching back into the actual time of Enoch when a pre-existing oral tradition is assumed. Take the idea of the devil for example: the scholarly consensus, as Bokovoy points out, is that the devil was not at all a part of Jewish religion until well after the Babylonian captivity. The Book of Mormon, in Lehi saying he “must needs suppose” that an angel fell from heaven and became a devil, seems to almost corroborate this. Yet the Enoch parallels and the revealed Book of Moses both draw on the devil in a way that scholars would not consider to have developed until much, much later than Enoch’s time.

    In my mind the things you point to present us with two fascinating possibilities: (1) that the several significant parallels (including ascension motifts, Mahijah, etc.) reflect a common historical core, with pseudipigraphic writings reflecting the traces of that history and the Books of Moses and Abraham reflecting that actual history revealed in modern times and in modern terms. Or (2) that the several significant parallels show Joseph Smith to be a prophet who through the gift of seership reached back to spiritual ideas and influences specifically from the apocalyptic and pseudopigraphic time period of Hellenistic era Judaism and early Christianity. This latter possibility seems odd from a traditional LDS standpoint – since we believe Joseph Smith to have actually reached back into ancient time does it make sense for him to restore a spiritual tradition from this specific time period rather than actual revelation reflecting the yet older time period that these revelations concern?

    Your brief discussion of the nature of oral tradition might point the way and I’d have to look into some of your references to pursue this further. But I would appreciate a response targeting these questions in a more focused way. After all, both Hugh Nibley and Margaret Barker have been criticized for pulling together disparate traditions from different time periods to make a case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, arguments about First Temple Judaism, etc. The real challenge is to go beyond the realm of hypothesis and explore these matters historically. Though perhaps we just do not have enough data about the past to really do that much.

    In other words, I think you make a good case for exploring this further – and theologically it makes more sense to me for Joseph Smith to have restored actual truths and revelations from the time of Moses and Abraham than for him to have merely restored ideas and theology prevalent in Hellenistic period Judaism and early Christianity. But historically I think a case – and connections with older oral traditions – remains to be made.

  6. Just to make sure I understand this correctly: the evidence of the Book of Moses not being pseudepigrapha is that is very similar to pseudepigrapha?

    And: the Book of Moses is not “spurious or pseudonymous writings, especially Jewish writings ascribed to various biblical patriarchs and prophet” because Joseph Smith may have been tapping into ancient ideas and pseudonymously writing them as if written by Moses?

    • I thought the same thing as I was reading the review. I have read most of Bokovoy’s book. Bradshaw seems to be opposed to the term pseudepigrapha since both authors describe a similar process. It would be nice to know what he would call it since this will go a long way to help explain the documents better. The Book of Abraham is consistently brought up as something that drive people from the Church. This includes my neighbor. Bradshaw could have interacted with Ostler’s modern expansion of an ancient document theory for the BOM. That was an important principle in Bokovoy’s writing. The original book and this review were both enjoyable.

      • As Steve point out, the term “pseudepigrapha” can be a confusing one, as it is used in different ways in different contexts.

        As the review points out on p. 225, it would be appropriate to apply the term “pseudepigrapha” (as defined in ATOT) as a wholesale characterization of a source only when a later author has falsely attributed his own writings to an earlier figure. Consistent with the views of Ben McGuire and Kevin Barney, I think it is premature to conclude that the Books of Moses and Abraham do not include material that is authentic to an ancient prophet.

        While not constituting “proofs” in and of themselves, careful comparisons of these books with ancient literature, which may also include authentic traditions (coming to us, no doubt, through a complex transmission process), helps us weigh the plausibility of different hypotheses for the production of the Books of Moses and Abraham.

        Regarding the expansion theory of the Book of Mormon, I concur with the careful analysis of Brant Gardner, who admits the possibility of expansion in some limited cases, but whose study has led him to accept that the translation of the Book of Mormon is closer to the underlying plate text than scholars such as Blake Ostler.

        Apart from these considerations, David Bokovoy and I agree that these books are scripture because they came to us from a modern prophet.

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