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, February 16, 2017

Biblical 'minimalists' and the historical record

Khirbet Qeiyafa

(by Daniel Peterson 2-16-17)

Biblical archaeologists seldom talk or write about “proving” the Bible true. Usually, what they’re seeking to do is to clarify biblical stories, to flesh them out, to provide a background or a context for them.

However, although it’s not typically their goal, sometimes they do prove things. Sometimes they settle disputes.

An example of this may be furnished by the claims of a small but vocal scholarly movement (originating in England and in Denmark) that is sometimes referred to as the “Copenhagen School” but that has mostly come to be called “biblical minimalism.”

Biblical minimalists, focused largely on the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, have argued that the Bible isn’t a reliable guide to ancient Israelite history and that, in fact, the concept of “Israel” itself is historically dubious. The Israelite monarchs David and Solomon, such minimalists contend, are merely fictional characters (created, perhaps, as late as the fifth century B.C.). There was, they commonly say, no kingdom of Israel in the 10th century B.C. But even if some primitive “Israelite” clan organization existed, they argue, its level of literacy was too low in those early days to allow the writing of the chronicles referred to in the Bible.

However, in recent years the minimalists seem to have been proven wrong regarding each of these claims.

In the 1993-1994 excavation season, for instance, a ninth-century B.C. inscription was located at Tel Dan (very near the northern border of both biblical and modern Israel) in which a Syrian king refers to a “king of Israel” and to “the House of David.”

In reply, minimalists allowed that maybe David had existed, after all. But, they insisted, he was probably only a local tribal chieftain, not the head of a centralized government ruling over an extended territory. It’s difficult to imagine, though, why a merely local southern Israelite chief would be mentioned by a Syrian king’s inscription far north of Jerusalem and Judea, near biblical Israel’s disputed border with Syria.

Moreover, archaeological excavations in the city of Jerusalem’s oldest sector have disclosed strong evidence that a centralized government organization existed there during the era of the biblical David and Solomon. Likewise, digs at Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley and at Khirbet Qeiyafa, to the southwest of Jerusalem, seem to confirm the rise of an Iron Age kingdom during the same period. Some minimalists have tried to dismiss the findings by claiming that Qeiyafa wasn’t Israelite but Philistine.

Unfortunately for their dismissal, though, the building styles uncovered there seem plainly Israelite, not Philistine. Similarly, while the Philistines ate non-kosher pigs and dogs, no pig or dog bones have been recovered thus far from Qeiyafa, which suggests that its residents obeyed Jewish dietary rules.

Finally, in 2008 a 10th-century ostracon or pottery fragment was found at Qeiyafa bearing a short and rather difficult inscription that seems to be either Hebrew or something very like it.

Although its interpretation and even its language have been disputed, the text on the ostracon has been interpreted by leading scholars as exhorting its readers to worship God and to treat widows, orphans, foreigners, slaves and the poor well. The inscription also refers to a king, and it may possibly allude to the recent establishment of a monarchy — demonstrating a level of literacy that would most definitely permit the writing of chronicles, just as the Bible says.

Referring to “the setbacks suffered by Old Testament minimalists” in his book “Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), which inspired this column, Craig Evans comments that “they illustrate the danger of asserting the non-existence of this or the lack of historicity of that simply on the grounds that we only possess an ancient story. We must remember that only 5 percent of the sites of the biblical world have been excavated; and most of these sites have only been partially excavated. In any case, must every ancient narrative be corroborated by archaeological discoveries? If we insisted on archaeological corroboration before trusting our literary sources, very little history — biblical or otherwise — could be written.”

A postscript on the Book of Mormon: American archaeology is much less developed than that of the ancient biblical world, which, Evans says, remains 95 percent unexcavated. Archaeologically speaking, Israel is by far the most intensively studied place on earth. For a still-important reflection on that fact, see William Hamblin's “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon” online at


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Unexpected Revelation

In episode three of our Revelations in Context Series, host Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Matthew McBride of the Church History Department about his essay entitled “The Vision.”

In 1832 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon reported receiving a vision at the John Johnson home. Apparently while working on a revision of the New Testament, Joseph had just completed “translating” John 5:29 when the vision commenced.

The early nineteenth century culture was highly religious and most Christian sects believed that the Bible was all sufficient. For Joseph Smith to revise what was already considered to be complete was radical. What he and Sidney saw in vision was even more surprising.

The vision touched on matters dealing with one of the most contentious religious debates of the time: who is saved? Suprisingly, the revelation confirmed the least popular position.

Brigham Young, arguably one of Joseph’s most loyal supporters, struggled with this Universalist position for quite a time. Other members had difficulty accepting this paradigm shift as well.

Matthew McBride uses this historical backdrop to provide a powerful metaphor for modern-day members to use when dealing with doctrine that may be difficult to accept.

This is an episode you won’t want to miss.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why are there two sets of official Book of Mormon witnesses?

(by Daniel Peterson 1-26-17)

Two solemn declarations — “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” and “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses” — have been published with the Book of Mormon since 1830. They’re distinctly different both in their tone and in what they describe.

In the first, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris affirm that they’ve seen the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith. They also claim to have seen the angel who brought those plates and to have heard the voice of God himself testifying to the truth of the volume taken from them and commanding the witnesses to testify of that truth. Their statement is overtly and strongly religious in tone.

By contrast, the statement of the Eight Witnesses is strikingly sober, legalistic (note, for example, the two rather dry references to “the said Smith”), quite reserved (e.g. “the plates … have the appearance of gold” as well as “the appearance of ancient work”) and almost secular in tone. No divine voice is mentioned, nor any angelic appearance. God is invoked, but solely as guarantor of the truth of their affirmation, rather in the manner of courtroom testimony or the pronouncing of a solemn oath. They too claim to have seen the plates; unlike the three, however, they also claim to have “hefted” those plates, and to have “handled” them one by one.

What is the point of having these two distinct declarations? One thing, at least, is clear: They make the task of coming up with a single naturalistic explanation of the witnesses considerably more difficult.

Someone determined to reject the testimony of the Three Witnesses, for example, might argue that their experience was merely “visionary” and, thus — if visions are decreed to be impossible — the product of hallucination. Of course, something experienced by three distinct persons beside Joseph Smith — and, since Martin Harris received his witness separately from Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer — at two distinct times and two distinct locations is substantially harder to brush off.

If their worldview demands it, though, most skeptics are up to the task: “Once you eliminate the impossible,” Sherlock Holmes explains in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1890 story “The Sign of the Four,” “whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

However, although some have sought to dismiss the experience of the Eight Witnesses as merely visionary (which, they insist, means merely imaginary), it occurred in broad daylight and remains stubbornly matter-of-fact. (See Richard Lloyd Anderson's “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses” ; and Steven C. Harper's “Evaluating the Book of Mormon Witnesses.”)

A conscientious unbeliever is required, accordingly, to assume fake artifacts, for the creation of which absolutely no evidence exists — and no sign, among Joseph Smith’s associates, of the required skill. Moreover, as later statements from the Three Witnesses indicate, they saw not only the plates but various other objects (e.g., the Liahona, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim and breastplate) that only an expert metalworker could have forged.

Significantly, too, each of the declarations — of the Three and of the Eight Witnesses — and both together eliminate the possibility that all of this rests merely on Joseph Smith’s imagination, whether that imagination is deemed deranged or deceptive. He didn’t perceive these things alone.

In her “History," his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, records his relief after the Three Witnesses had their experience: “Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, … ‘you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel … and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear.’”

Some years ago while driving through the countryside just north of Kansas City, Missouri, my wife and I saw a number of banners hanging at various Protestant churches, inviting people to join tours to the Holy Land. I lead tours to biblical sites myself; I recognize that visiting such places has enormous spiritual and educational value.

However, western Missouri itself is the burial place of several much more recent eyewitnesses who are, in important ways, comparable to the early disciples of Jesus. They too saw. They too knew for themselves.