I suspect the FPR folks will accuse me of poaching a post from them, but this has popped up twice now in my email account, and I think it’s interesting. It comes from an interview with biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, who grew up as a biblical literalist, went to bible school, and after years of studying the differences in the variant manuscripts of the New Testament, embraced agnosticism. In the interview, Ehrman mentions Mormons:
Do people contact you, e-mail or send you letters, and say, I really wish I’d known this? Do they say they’re going through some doubt themselves? Do you get personal response like that?
Tons. Just before you came, I read about six letters from people. Here’s one from a guy who had a very similar experience to what I had, went to Moody Bible Institute and then went to a Presbyterian seminary and lost his faith and became an agnostic. And he’s written me a four-page hand-written letter. He left his e-mail address. Frankly, I don’t answer snail mail because I just don’t have time, but I get dozens of e-mails every day and I answer just about every e-mail except for e-mails that are antagonistic I get a lot of people who have a similar spiritual journey who are interested in hearing somebody speak out about it. I get people who tell me they’re sad to hear that I’ve lost my faith and they want me to change my mind. I get a lot of e-mails from people who agree with me, with what I say about the New Testament, but if I would just join their religion I wouldn’t have these problems. Those people tend to be either Muslim or Mormon. [Laughs.] A couple days ago I got something from somebody who was Baha’i who thought I should join the Baha’i faith.
I assume Ehrman is referring to Mormons who write in saying that we as Mormons believe in the bible as far as it is translated correctly (ergo, there can be differences in the manuscripts, but that’s explainable), but as a friend of mine who is both Mormon and a Hebrew Bible student at TCU mentioned to me recently, contemporary Latter-day Saints seem to be moving more in the direction of literalism at the folk level. I seem to recall that Mauss argued similarly in The Angel and the Beehive. I also remember that Robinson made some statement about how he believes all of the bible literally, but matt b. will have to help me out there.
Am I reading Ehrman right? Or are there other ways to interpret what he’s saying? Judging from the anecdotal evidence that we have, are Mormons just paradoxical in our approach to the bible, vacillating between seeing the text as literal and seeing it as flawed, depending on the context?
For the complete interview, click here.