In God’s Image and Likeness: An Interview with Author Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Part III

bradshawbook

This is the third installment of a multi-part interview between myself and Dr. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, author of the recently released In God’s Image and Likeness: Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Book of Moses. For previous posts in this series, see Part I here and Part II here.

Please see the official website for the book for more details: http://www.imageandlikeness.net

Questions for Jeffrey M. Bradshaw on In God’s Image and Likeness (cont.)

[David] In the book, you give us the text of Moses 1-6 along with analysis and commentary. Is this text taken directly from our current version of the Pearl of Great Price or is it derived from other sources?

[Dr. Jeffrey Bradshaw] I’ve taken the version from the published Pearl of Great Price as my base text, while making a point to discuss significant textual variations.

Two recent studies have been particularly helpful. With painstaking effort over a period of eight years, and with the generous cooperation of the Community of Christ, a facsimile transcription of all the original manuscripts of the JST was at last published in 2004 (S. H. Faulring, et al., Original Manuscripts). A detailed study of the text of the portions of the JST relating to the book of Moses appeared in 2005 (K. P. Jackson, Book of Moses). Taken together, these studies allow us to see the process and results of translation with greater clarity than ever before.

[David]In your introduction, you give some words of advice or caution to your readers when using the various extra-canonical (apocryphal, pseudepigraphic, midrashic, etc.) texts that are available to us and that you use in your book. How do you think readers should approach these texts and what caution should be used in weighing their possible authenticity, legitimacy, or level of “inspiration”?

[Dr. Jeffrey Bradshaw] Such sources present a special problem because in so many cases the age and provenance of these writings are uncertain. Moreover, the motivations of the (frequently anonymous) authors, and the historical and prophetic basis of their compositions usually remain in doubt. Stephen E. Robinson, for one, has noted the difficulties in distinguishing between inspired literature (i.e., historical or revelatory writings akin to canonical scripture), inspired fiction (i.e., stories designed to teach doctrinal principles such as Elder Boyd K. Packer’s parable The Mediator), and outright “lying for the Lord” (i.e., pseudonymous forgeries that deceitfully present themselves as authoritative in order to promulgate self-serving interpretations). All that being said, it is always possible that documents of even very doubtful provenance may contain fragments of authentic accounts transmitted from ancient times.

Nickelsburg wisely phrased the careful stance of scholarly ambivalence that must be maintained: “One should not simply posit what is convenient with the claim that later texts reflected earlier tradition. At the same time, thoroughgoing skepticism is inconsonant with the facts as we know them and as new discoveries continue to reveal them: extant texts represent only a fragment of the written and oral tradition that once existed. Caution, honest scholarly tentativeness, and careful methodology remain the best approach to the data” (G. W. E. Nickelsburg, Judaism, pp. 25-26).

In my introduction, I freely admit that I deliberately erred on the side of inclusion in considering these texts for use in the commentary. This was done to make these documents available to a wider set of readers for discussion, and I’m hoping that these evaluations will lead to many improvements in future editions of the book.

[David] A related question: To what extent should we feel comfortable comparing some of these texts, e.g. The Apocalypse of Abraham, The Testament of Moses, 1 Enoch, or The Life of Adam and Eve, to the Moses (or Abraham) material revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith? At first look, these texts would seem to cover similar ground, but from your experience, is there much compatibility between them?

[Dr. Jeffrey Bradshaw] LDS scholars have long noted many similarities between the revelations and translations of Joseph Smith and ancient Jewish and Christian documents. Most of the more difficult work needed to transform these “parallels” into “bridges” demonstrating how related ideas from widely-scattered cultures and diverse eras could have been shared and transmitted has yet to be done.

In assembling this volume, I have also been interested in ancient texts from outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Note that the Lord pointedly told Nephi: “I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it” (2 Nephi 29:12). In light of this fact, it should not be at all surprising if genuinely revealed teachings, promulgated at one time but subsequently lost or distorted, sometimes appear to have survived in heterodox strands of religious traditions the world over. Many of these teachings have served, in the words of the First Presidency, to “enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals” (S. W. Kimball, et al., God’s Love). Nor, it seems, could the Lord’s purposes have been achieved in any other way. As Elder Orson F. Whitney once said: “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people” (O. F. Whitney, Discourse (April 1928), p. 59). Thus, in our search for truth, we must, as Charlesworth expressed, “be attuned critically to all possible sources of revelation,” including “the word from God that has been heard by the great thinkers, inspired poets, and musicians” (J. H. Charlesworth, Protestant View, p. 84).

[David] What are some of the dangers we must be aware of when comparing modern LDS Scripture to ancient documents?

I like what Gary Gillum writes about the dangers of the two extremes of those who either eschew such writings or else develop an unhealthy obsession with them (G. P. Gillum, Bibliography). While recognizing the ease with which any of us can be led astray when our enthusiasm outstrips our understanding, he also argues that “even as we should be prepared and open to personal revelation, so should we be ready and eager to learn from additional truths which may confirm our fundamental beliefs. Perhaps these apocryphal discoveries are mere preparations for more divine writings to be given us later.” Revealing the principle governing his own stance, he writes that “whatever I read as apocrypha, in the very general sense, must not lead me farther afield, but back to the divine word of God.”

[David] This question is purely to satisfy my own curiosity. You mention in an endnote that we do not have all of what Joseph Smith translated for the Book of Abraham. While what we have in the Pearl of Great Price can be read in about a half hour, what Joseph originally translated took about two hours to read. Do you know what happened to the rest of the manuscript Joseph produced?

[Dr. Jeffrey Bradshaw] I’m also very curious about this question. I am hopeful that there may be additional portions of the book of Abraham that may come to light once the relevant volume from the Joseph Smith Papers project is published.

Post Author’s Note: Since conducting this interview, I have spoken to some of the individuals involved in the above project and it does appear that this is indeed the case.  We should have more of the Book of Abraham available to us soon.

To Be Continued…

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3 Comments

  1. Posted December 29, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Very much enjoyed this interview series. I’ve been studying the original Book of Moses texts myself recently, in chronological connection with the revelations in the D&C – The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations volume truly is a revelation in and of itself! In addition, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament volume recently published by Deseret Book is also a fantastic reference (there’s a companion New Testament volume as well) – it notes all key variants between the different manuscripts as well.

    By the way, the news about more Book of Abraham text is VERY exciting! Is there anything else you learned you can share, such as which volume, and when the expected ETA is?

    Again, great site!

  2. Posted January 4, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I just about fell over when I read about the Book of Abraham. Please keep us posted on this.

    • David Larsen
      Posted January 7, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Thank you, David and Walker, for your great comments. Thanks for the references, David. Now that I’m in the UK I’m missing out on some of the more recent titles that have come out, like those you’ve mentioned here. As you can imagine, its slightly more complicated and expensive to get some of these books sent overseas, especially on a student budget!

      About the Book of Abraham — I’ve received a number of questions and comments on my little note. I should have been a little more careful about how I worded that. I did have some personal conversations that led me to believe that we will have more from the Book of Abraham in the not-too-distant future. However, I did not write down the details of what I heard and am now not exactly sure what (or when) we can expect to see. I can’t be sure now if what I was told concerned more of Joseph Smith’s original text of the Book of Abraham, more on his Egyptian Alphabet and related work, or other material related to Abraham in some other way.

      I’m sorry if I got anyone’s hopes up about something specific, but I think that whatever comes out regarding the Book of Abraham — whatever its nature — will be exciting!

      David Larsen

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