Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Who were the first apostles of Jesus?

(by Daniel Peterson 7-23-15)

“I am convinced,” wrote Mark Twain, sarcastically dismissing the testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses in his 1872 book “Roughing It.” “I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”

It’s a funny comment, and Twain, a professional humorist, was definitely going for laughs, but his jest scarcely constitutes a serious engagement with the historical data.

However, that hasn’t stopped critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from using Twain’s witticism as if it represented a rigorous and adequate scholarly response. The witnesses to the Book of Mormon, they say, were just too provincial and too closely interrelated to be credible.

Many such critics — as I write, I’m looking at a website that uses Twain’s comment as evidence against Mormonism — are conservative Christians. Unfortunately, they call to mind the proverbial warning about throwing stones if you yourself live in a glass house.

Consider the ancient Christian apostles, for example:

Peter and Andrew were brothers, both Galilean fishermen from the tiny village of Bethsaida, which was also likely the home of the apostle and fisherman Philip. But Peter, at least, had moved to equally tiny Capernaum, about six miles away, where he partnered in a small fishing business with James (sometimes called “James the Greater,” to distinguish him from the other apostolic James) and John, the sons of Zebedee. Certain ancient traditions identify their mother as Salome, a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Matthew, or Levi, was a tax collector in Capernaum. Little is known about James (“the Less”), the son of Alphaeus. But Mark 2:14 identifies Levi also as a son of Alphaeus, so it’s possible that Matthew and James the Less were brothers. Moreover, there is reason to suspect at least some family tie between them and Jude, who is probably the same person as Thaddeus.

Bartholomew, who should probably be identified with Nathanael, seems to have been a friend of Philip, from the small village of Cana in Galilee. He was influenced by local small-town rivalries: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he mockingly asked (John 1:46), when Philip first sought to introduce him to Jesus.

Simon Zelotes, the “Zealot,” so called to distinguish him from Simon Peter,
 probably came from the shore of Galilee. And Thomas, too, was almost certainly a Galilean.

In fact, the only member of the original Twelve who wasn’t from Galilee was Judas Iscariot, and some writers have speculated that estrangement from his 11 Galilean colleagues — including Jesus of Nazareth — may have played at least a minor role in his betrayal of his leader.

Indisputably, ethnic frictions arose within the early Christian movement. In Acts 6:1-6, for example, Greek-speaking Jews from beyond Palestine complain about neglect by their Palestinian Jewish leaders. Significantly, when the apostles responded by choosing seven “deacons,” all seven of them bore Greek names.

Clearly, the first Christian apostles — chosen from a small geographical area along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in a backwater sector of the distant and small Roman province of Judea — were closely bound by kinship and business ties, as well as by previous acquaintance. They had distinctive rural accents (see Matthew 26:73), and, at least as portrayed in the ancient Christian “Clementine literature,” when they preached the gospel in sophisticated places like Rome, they were ridiculed as uncultured hayseeds who talked funny.

And yet — apart, of course, from Judas, who committed suicide just after betraying Jesus, and James the Greater, who was stoned to death in Palestine quite early, around A.D. 44 — these were the men chosen to take the message of Christianity to the world.

Peter was crucified in Rome. Tradition holds that Andrew preached in what is now Ukraine and southern Russia and died in Greece. John preached in Greek-speaking Asia Minor (today’s western Turkey); Philip, too, was martyred in that general area. Bartholomew, Jude, Simon the Zealot and Thomas preached and died in Armenia, Iran and India. Matthew may have died in Persia or Ethiopia. James, son of Alphaeus, probably died in Egypt.

People in those lands might reasonably have asked, “Why are all of the apostles Galilean Jews?” “Why don’t they speak our language?” “Is this a Jewish church?”

Since the Christian message was to go through prophets and apostles to the entire world, it might seem strange that Jesus chose only Palestinian Jews to convey it. Nevertheless, says the New Testament, that’s just what he did.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book of Mormon apologetics and scholarship

(by Daniel Peterson 7-16-15)

Critics of the Book of Mormon often demand its advocates provide the strongest single piece of archaeological evidence — or that they name, say, the top three pieces of such evidence. That, in the judgment of those critics, should prove its historical authenticity to an unbiased observer.

Even though the notion of an “unbiased observer” is problematic by itself, such demands seem to me to fundamentally misconceive the issue. They misunderstand what advocates of the Book of Mormon as history believe themselves to be doing.

Having argued for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon for decades and knowing many, if not most, of those who’ve been engaged in the same project over that period, I can say that I know of no serious writers on the subject who believe themselves able to “prove” it, let alone capable of proving it beyond a reasonable doubt, to the satisfaction of everyone.

Rather, we understand ourselves to be patiently engaged in amassing a cumulative case that will show the Book of Mormon is congruent with what mainstream scholarship is disclosing about the ancient Near Eastern environment from which the Jaredites, Lehites and Mulekites are said to have emerged and about the pre-Columbian American environment in which they lived out their histories.

Sometimes, such a “fit” or consistency is so striking to us that we think it ought to provoke reflection among outsiders, if they’re paying attention. It should cause them some doubts about their doubts. But no single piece of evidence is, or is likely to be, decisive by itself. Nor will three or five or 10 such pieces likely “prove” the Book of Mormon true, overcoming all resistance.

Do we believe there is enough evidence, taking it altogether, to force the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is genuinely ancient? No. We don’t. Do we imagine that the evidence is such that, without the Book of Mormon, scholarship on ancient America and the ancient Near East is left with a gaping and obvious Nephite-shaped hole? No, we don’t.

There was no Olmec-shaped hole in Mesoamerican studies before their distinct historical presence was recognized. And then they were mistakenly thought to be a Late Classic culture rather than an early formative one. Nobody expected the Dead Sea Scrolls, let alone sought them, before a Bedouin boy found them.

The heliocentric model created by Copernicus was built on the same evidence that seemed to support the ancient, geocentric model created by Ptolemy; they were simply different ways of viewing the same data. And, in fact, Tycho Brahe, the greatest observational astronomer of the age, remained largely unpersuaded.

So, do believers see ancient evidence for the Book of Mormon only because they’re already committed to its antiquity on other grounds? In a sense, yes. Does that prove them guilty of pseudo-scholarship motivated solely by irrational (or, at least, nonrational) faith? No, it doesn’t.

It’s true that advocates of the Book of Mormon typically have spiritual convictions regarding it. I know none who don’t. But they also have nonarchaeological evidence for taking seriously its claim to antiquity.

For example, Joseph Smith and the book itself declare that it was written by ancient American prophets. That, in itself, doesn’t prove that it actually was, but it certainly provides a reason to consider the idea. Moreover, independent accounts from seemingly sane, honest, reliable witnesses attest to the existence of purportedly ancient golden plates and other artifacts connected with the record. They were produced by somebody. And they testify to the perceptible involvement of divine beings with the book, which plainly removes it from the realm of simple, ordinary historical fiction.

Furthermore, various characteristics of the book — not limited to its language, the speed of its dictation, the apparent multiplicity of its writers, and its sheer complexity — seem to place its creation beyond the capacity of any 19th century person who’s been plausibly suggested as its author.

These and other such considerations make it entirely justifiable to take the claimed antiquity of the Book of Mormon as a serious possibility. And, so long as that claim to an ancient origin remains unrefuted, believing it to be genuinely ancient is scarcely irrational.

Moreover, this is especially so if, as many competent scholars have argued in hundreds of articles and books over many decades, there are aspects of it that cannot easily be explained except as the result of real antiquity.