Snigmorder

How accurate is the Old Testament?

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I've been reading the book of Genesis (started in chapter 6) and I'm currently on chapter 16. So far my experience with Genesis has been one of a paranoid child walking through the woods at night jumping at every sound he hears.

I'm skeptical of every verse I read thinking to myself "how close is this to the original, how many errors are here?" I know the 8th article of faith but it doesn't answer my question. Its getting to the point where I'm only accepting a minority of what I'm reading. 

For example, the account of Ham's cursing is so vague that, if read literally, Noah cursed Ham for seeing his penis. It's described as "this thing you have done" it's obvious there's something missing in the account.

And for some reason I doubted that Abram had hundreds of servants, imagining him as some kind a vagrant with a small flock. "He couldn't have that many servants back then" (I don't even know what this statement means.)

Apparently certain theological  groups in Judaism altered certain passages of the Old Testament to remove any indication that Yahweh was subservient to the most High God. How prevalent was this practice?

So, basically, here's the question.  Am I reading a great fiction penned by scribes and poachers? Is it a bad plastic surgery? Or is the Old Testament fundamentally accurate in it's rendering of the original text? How should I understand the Old Testament?

 

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8 minutes ago, Jane_Doe said:

You are missing symbolic and figurative language.  Not everything is "this must literally be true or it's in error!".  No no.  

Just let the Spirit guide your reading.  

What did Ham do to be cursed? Someone said it's because Ham stole Noah's priesthood garment. If that's what happened, why isn't it represented in the text? I can't even take it figuratively and arrive at a proper conclusion. :confused:

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Just now, Snigmorder said:

What did Ham do to be cursed? 

There's also a difference between being "in error" and "not having all information", such as in Ham's story.  Figurative/symbolic would play more into Abram having "hundreds" of servants, which was the example I was referring to.  Sorry for not be more specific about that.  

 

 

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1 minute ago, Jane_Doe said:

There's also a difference between being "in error" and "not having all information", such as in Ham's story.  Figurative/symbolic would play more into Abram having "hundreds" of servants, which was the example I was referring to.  Sorry for not be more specific about that.  

 

 

The Scripture says that Abram was well endowed with material things, obviously blessed. In a time of city-states, could Abram live in the plains with large numbers of livestock and hundreds of servants? Is that logistically possible? Does it need to be figurative?

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4 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

What did Ham do to be cursed? Someone said it's because Ham stole Noah's priesthood garment. If that's what happened, why isn't it represented in the text? I can't even take it figuratively and arrive at a proper conclusion. :confused:

The version of that I've read is that he stole Adam's garment - the one made for him by the Lord, which had been handed down to Noah.  The same source indicates this garment gave one great power, and that Esau stole it from Nimrod (and that it's the reason Nimrod was a mighty hunter - the garment had special power in relation to animals - I forget the details).

I think the more important thing is to recognize that Ham did not honor his father, and whatever form that took, it was sufficient for him to be cursed - and curses always come because of the same cause: disobedience to the commands of God.

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Joseph Smith said that we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.

The problem with the Old Testament is, the thing has been translated and transcribed and re-transcribed and superceded many, many times spanning thousands of years.  At least one book should arguably not be in there (the Song of Solomon, with Joseph Smith saying that these are not inspired writings), and that is not even going into the apocrypha.  So, in the case of the Old Testament, of course there are errors in it, probably big ones.  Not to mention, many of the stories are so vague that we barely understand what actually happened (e.g. the Book of Genesis).

I feel that, since the New Testament was not translated, re-translated, re-written, etc. over thousands of years by a people who were in captivity, out of captivity, and shuffled around all the time, the New Testament is about 97% accurate, and great care should be taken when claiming a mistranslation.  (by comparison, the Book of Mormon is 100% accurate, doctrinally).

So what is to be done with the Old Testament?  I think enough remains that you can get a general good sense of the Lord and good versus evil by reading it.  Don't expect to find much doctrine in there (what little there is has been superceded by Christ).  But don't be too troubled if you read something in the Old Testament that just doesn't make that much sense (e.g., that one story about a man promising to sacrifice his daughter in exchange for victory).  The story is probably either incomplete or altered in those cases.

I kind of like the test, if the Savior quoted the Old Testament, it probably happened (e.g. Jonah and the whale).

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19 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

So, basically, here's the question.  Am I reading a great fiction penned by scribes and poachers? Is it a bad plastic surgery? Or is the Old Testament fundamentally accurate in it's rendering of the original text? How should I understand the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is an amazingly, perhaps miraculously, accurate transmission of ancient Hebrew records. It surely represents the most extensive and accurate collection of ancient Near East literature, and perhaps of any ancient literature.

As for the history contained: The Old Testament history of Israel has been verified from many secular sources, and has shown to be exceptionally reliable. Perhaps most impressively, the history is not nearly as hagiographic (laudatory and praising) as pretty much all other ancient histories, but is largely impartial, documenting the faults of Israel and her kings along with the successes.

When it comes to Genesis, I think the same ideas apply. Genesis is a largely accurate transmission of the ancient records surrounding the "creation myth". That "myth" is itself a myth in the sense of being a type or representation of occurrences rather than a strict recording of those occurrences. If we had a more dispassionate record of the creation and events surrounding it, I feel sure that we would not understand either (1) what was happening or (2) why that would be important to us in our relationship with God. So Genesis uses powerful concrete symbols we can understand to tell us the important things that went on. Those things were and are literal, though many of their portrayals in Genesis are symbolic. Symbolic doesn't mean unreal.

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52 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

I'm skeptical of every verse I read thinking to myself "how close is this to the original, how many errors are here?" I know the 8th article of faith but it doesn't answer my question. Its getting to the point where I'm only accepting a minority of what I'm reading. 

If you look at the JST, you begin to realize that it isn't as bad as you are making it out to be.  The KJV is remarkably accurate.  There are only a few exceptions (such as Matt 24).  Most of the "translated" is really referring to "interpretation."  When you take ancient Hebrew and try to translate it to either King James' English or modern English, it is largely a matter of opinion.

Hebrew has such a limited vocabulary that many words have to have multiple meanings.  Add to that the differences in punctuation between languages and time, and you get a bunch of stuff that is highly interpretable (is that a word?).  So, no, don't bother wondering about how much is missing.  Just read it with proper study guides and a lot of research.

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There are many books written about the alleged logical inconsistencies of scriptures, offering probable answers. You can run searches under Old Testament Studies and Biblical Studies, looking for such topics as "Bible difficulties" etc. One of the more interesting ones I came upon is when a group of "children" mocked a prophet for being bald, and he ordered a tiger to maul them. Of course, critics protested the cruelty of this Old Testament prophet. However, research into the likely scenario had this pack of 'children' being older teenagers to early 20s, and that their taunts carried a violent undertone. There are dozens and dozens of these kinds of 'problems' in the Old Testament, for which answers have been available for several generations. I would imagine that BYU and FAIR, and similar resources will provide you the answers you seek. HOWEVER, if you are in fact predisposed to believe the OT problems are real and substantial, and your response to all explanations is, "Yeah, but what about this...and this...and this..." then you'll not likely find any satisfactory answers.

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I always saw the OT as being a precursor to the NT (well duh! Hold on ;) ). A LOT of what we read of in the NT can be greatly expanded on by understanding the ways of the Jews found in the first 5 books of the OT. 

After that we find a TON of prophesies about the coming Christ, we see a lot of situations where prophesies made have duel meanings. It can gives us an idea of the apostasy of the Jews, when compared to the BOM we see the amount that was held from the Jews because of their disobedience (particularly the melkizedek priesthood), and so much more. 

Ya there may be more discrepancies than truths (or not... I don't know), but for the first time reader, it may not matter why Ham was cursed. Later on with deeper study we can find more, but at first it may not matter.

Elder Bednar gives a sweet talk called 'A reservoir of living water' in which he explains that a first time read through of a book of scripture should be done to get an over view of events, characters and plots. Then when we are familiar he suggests we go back and dive deeper.

I personally found this advice amazing as it helped me memorize scriptures and themes faster than any other form of study.

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1 hour ago, prisonchaplain said:

One of the more interesting ones I came upon is when a group of "children" mocked a prophet for being bald, and he ordered a tiger to maul them.

Elisha was a prophet, didn't have no hair.
Nasty children mocked him, 'cause his scalp was bare.
Bratty kids guffawing, pointed barbs and stares --
But they were not laughing when they saw the bears.

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A lot of the Old Testament is accurate.  It is what is missing that is the real problem.  Many plain and precious prophecies of the Messiah were taken out from the Old Testament.  Most of these were restored in the Book of Moses which is contained in the Pearl of Great Price.

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The LDS Perspectives podcast recently did an episode where they interviewed Ben Spackman, an LDS grad student with a lot of OT knowledge, about "genre".  The idea being that the Old Testament is a collection of different books from different genres; and you have to approach each book separately and look for indicators of what genre it is (history? parable? morality tale? poetry?)

I think Spackman goes a *little* too far when he concludes, e.g., that Jonah is a parable with no basis in the experiences of any historical person.  But, I think he makes a decent case that at least *some* parts of the OT are more effective when we don't approach them as a literal history.

Edited by Just_A_Guy

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Side note:

I was listening to a radio broadcast here in  Utah about Millenial Mormons and they had with them a bunch of "studies" (and we all know that means it is perfectly accurate ;) ) as well as an active "Millenial Mormon" and an ex-Mormon. The whole broadcast came across as neutral, nothing heard was negative about the church.

ANYWAY!

One thing they talked about was that how Millenials are more likely to read scripture on a weekly and daily basis, and that today's Millennial Mormons are also taking the canonized scripture more literally and factually than previous generations.

But at the same time, Millenials had a harder time taking the BOM as a historical account.

 

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25 minutes ago, Fether said:

Side note:

I was listening to a radio broadcast here in  Utah about Millenial Mormons and they had with them a bunch of "studies" (and we all know that means it is perfectly accurate ;) ) as well as an active "Millenial Mormon" and an ex-Mormon. The whole broadcast came across as neutral, nothing heard was negative about the church.

ANYWAY!

One thing they talked about was that how Millenials are more likely to read scripture on a weekly and daily basis, and that today's Millennial Mormons are also taking the canonized scripture more literally and factually than previous generations.

But at the same time, Millenials had a harder time taking the BOM as a historical account.

That is rather interesting.  It almost seems a contradiction.

As far as the historicity of the Book of Mormon:  I do believe it is intended to be a historical account (as in, the authors of the BoM believed these events actually happened).  But I recall an instance where Pres. Monson spoke in Gen. Conf. back when Benson was Prophet.  He mentioned an urban legend as if it were probably true.  I say probably because the words he used were "We've all heard the horror stories of..."

I then got to wondering -- Much of the Book of Mormon has actual transcribed letters that people wrote.  Much of it was first hand account.  But there are stories shared which were second hand tellings.  Many of the facts and figures and dates, and other things were simply "common knowledge" accounts by the authors.  Well, we know how inaccurate common knowledge can be.  So, things like that must be taken into account when looking at the BoM as a historical document.  

Do we really believe that Alma recited a blessing word for word as indicated in perfect chiasmus off the top of his head while his hands were on the head of his son?  I'm pretty certain that he gave a blessing covering the same topics and then altered them a bit when recording them.

We need to remember that the purpose of the BoM is to bear testimony of Christ.  The teachings of the everlasting gospel are easier to share when shown through story and real life examples.  I absolutely believe that the overall story of the BoM happened as it is written.  But I'd be careful about which details and minutiae are to be held as perfectly historically accurate.  It is more important to hold the eternal truths as true -- not the historical record.

Edited by Guest

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1 hour ago, Fether said:

Side note:

I was listening to a radio broadcast here in  Utah about Millenial Mormons and they had with them a bunch of "studies" (and we all know that means it is perfectly accurate ;) ) as well as an active "Millenial Mormon" and an ex-Mormon. The whole broadcast came across as neutral, nothing heard was negative about the church.

ANYWAY!

One thing they talked about was that how Millenials are more likely to read scripture on a weekly and daily basis, and that today's Millennial Mormons are also taking the canonized scripture more literally and factually than previous generations.

But at the same time, Millenials had a harder time taking the BOM as a historical account.

 

I'm millennial and I am reversed to that study. I find it refreshing reading the book of Mormon due to the fact that it's a transmitted text from the original record. It is an account of an ancient people and I take it as history.

Perhaps the millennials in the study are embarrassed by seer stones and Kolob and have adopted a kind of "BOM as Joe's treatise" so they don't embarrass themselves in front of their college friends.

As for the Bible, see OP

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1 hour ago, Carborendum said:

That is rather interesting.  It almost seems a contradiction.

As far as the historicity of the Book of Mormon:  I do believe it is intended to be a historical account (as in, the authors of the BoM believed these events actually happened).  But I recall an instance where Pres. Monson spoke in Gen. Conf. back when Benson was Prophet.  He mentioned an urban legend as if it were probably true.  I say probably because the words he used were "We've all heard the horror stories of..."

I then got to wondering -- Much of the Book of Mormon has actual transcribed letters that people wrote.  Much of it was first hand account.  But there are stories shared which were second hand tellings.  Many of the facts and figures and dates, and other things were simply "common knowledge" accounts by the authors.  Well, we know how inaccurate common knowledge can be.  So, things like that must be taken into account when looking at the BoM as a historical document.  

Do we really believe that Alma recited a blessing word for word as indicated in perfect chiasmus off the top of his head while his hands were on the head of his son?  I'm pretty certain that he gave a blessing covering the same topics and then altered them a bit when recording them.

We need to remember that the purpose of the BoM is to bear testimony of Christ.  The teachings of the everlasting gospel are easier to share when shown through story and real life examples.  I absolutely believe that the overall story of the BoM happened as it is written.  But I'd be careful about which details and minutiae are to be held as perfectly historically accurate.  It is more important to hold the eternal truths as true -- not the historical record.

When Lehi says there was no death among any of the things which were created before the fall, I begin to wonder if that's prophecy or opinion. I don't know how important that point is to his discourse (I haven't studied it) but that's what he says.

Also, where does Alma recite that blessing?

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8 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

When Lehi says there was no death among any of the things which were created before the fall, I begin to wonder if that's prophecy or opinion. I don't know how important that point is to his discourse (I haven't studied it) but that's what he says.

This is the sticking point between Mormon evolutionists and non-evolutionists.  If there were no death among any of the creatures on the earth prior to the fall, evolution could not have happened.  So, there are some alternate explanations.  But it is a difficult thing to get around.  

This is where the humble follower of Christ says: I don't know.  I guess we'll find out if it's important.

8 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

Also, where does Alma recite that blessing?

https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/36?lang=eng

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9 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

This is the sticking point between Mormon evolutionists and non-evolutionists.  If there were no death among any of the creatures on the earth prior to the fall, evolution could not have happened.  So, there are some alternate explanations.  But it is a difficult thing to get around.  

This is where the humble follower of Christ says: I don't know.  I guess we'll find out if it's important.

https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/36?lang=eng

Maybe Lehi meant "spiritual death", that is to say, sin?

Either that, or maybe there was no physical death inside the Garden of Eden, with Adam only having knowledge of conditions within.

Edited by DoctorLemon

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13 minutes ago, DoctorLemon said:

Maybe Lehi meant "spiritual death", that is to say, sin?

Either that, or maybe there was no physical death inside the Garden of Eden, with Adam only having knowledge of conditions within.

Like I said, there are alternative explanations.  I've done my share of walking through them.  But I don't think this conflict is really resolved.  And it simply isn't important enough for me to care about it too much.  I just take it on faith that things will be made clear to me if it is needful.

I'm more concerned about me being perfect than the theory of creation being perfect.

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16 minutes ago, DoctorLemon said:

Maybe Lehi meant "spiritual death", that is to say, sin?

Either that, or maybe there was no physical death inside the Garden of Eden, with Adam only having knowledge of conditions within.

Here's the exact verse:

"And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end."

I assume all things created includes those things outside of the garden of Eden. If that's true then Adam and Eve are millions of years old. ;)

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39 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

When Lehi says there was no death among any of the things which were created before the fall

19 minutes ago, DoctorLemon said:

Maybe Lehi meant "spiritual death", that is to say, sin?

I'm not really aware of where LEHI said anything like this.  But others have.  And the passages I'm thinking of are about physical death.

3 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

Here's the exact verse:

"And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end."

Oh. Part of this, I take it, was that he was simply reading the account as literal.  I just don't know how literal it is.

Edited by Guest

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44 minutes ago, Snigmorder said:

When Lehi says there was no death among any of the things which were created before the fall, I begin to wonder if that's prophecy or opinion.

Neither. In my opinion, we group prophetic words into the two giant bins "PROPHECY (INFALLIBLE)" and "OPINION (FALLIBLE)". I think there is a third bin: "COMMONPLACE (IRRELEVANT)".

By a "commonplace", I mean something like "common knowledge", something everyone knows. That is, something everyone "knows", so widely accepted that few people would ever even think of questioning it. The sun is overhead at noon. Water is wet. What goes up eventually comes down. You'd be a fool to question such things.

I think such commonplaces are (what else?) common in prophetic teachings. I believe these are not and never were meant as statements of prophecy or even of fact; rather, they are a way of communicating an idea using language everyone understands. So we say "the sun rises", and only the most tiresome pedant would bother to point out that the sun isn't actually going anywhere, but it's the Earth turning on its axis that gives the illusion of solar motion. So someone wrote an introduction to Section 20 using flowery language to talk about the year 1830 as "one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh," with no intent of suggesting that Dionysius Exiguus was actually correct in his early calculation of Jesus' birth year, just that it was the year 1830. So Joseph Smith words a revelatory teaching about "the seven thousand years of the Earth's temporal existence" with no desire to establish the age of the planet or fix the year of the Fall of Adam.

When Lehi speaks of the Fall and related ideas, like there was no death, the point he's actually teaching isn't about death. It's about life, about how we have been given the gift of life and must embrace it with active choices to repent and live. He is illustrating his point using commonplaces that were in place in his family, and largely still are in place in our culture today. I expect that Lehi very literally believed what he was saying on the topic, but I doubt his intent was to establish the commonplace as ultimate TRVTH. He was simply using the facts of creation as he understood them to illustrate his underlying point. Whether the particular commonplace he used is actually a literal fact is as irrelevant as whether the sun actually rises in the morning. (It does.)

Edited by Vort

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