D. Kelly Ogden is a Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University.
Through my years of textual study of the Bible (in English and in the original languages), I have encountered an impressive barrage of scholars who, in their zeal to critically analyze the various documents and hypothesize about their origin (“higher criticism”), have made concerted efforts to take prophecy and anything miraculous out of the Bible.
For biblical stories like the meal jar and oil cruise which never seemed to be exhausted, Balaam’s ass, Elijah’s ravens, Jonah’s whale, Lot’s wife, Samson’s jawbone and foxes, the manna and quails and water from the rock, the miracles in Daniel, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the sun and moon standing still—for all these and more the scholars have a tidy repertoire of labels like myth, fairy-tale, folk-tale, saga, and legend. Anything the critic cannot himself understand or that lacks some “tangible evidence” is summarily classified as something which could not have been.
Yohanan Aharoni, one of modern Israel’s greatest archaeologists, regarded the biblical accounts of the Israelite conquest of Canaan as fictitious. He wrote, “The biblical tradition speaks only in legendary terms about the conquest of Jericho and Ai . . . Evidently, these stories are popular aetiological legends faithfully describing the situation in the period of the Judges in which Israelite villages were founded on the ruins of these ancient mounds, but one may not use them to reconstruct the course of the Israelite conquest.”[i]
In A History of the Jews, Abram Leon Sachar wrote of the conquest, “This account, with its miracles and its lessons, is, of course, the romantic fabrication of the Deuteronomistic and priestly historians.”[ii]
The text of the Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible is quite accurately presented by a group of renowned Bible scholars. He who prepared the section entitled “The Prophet Elijah,” however, wrote in rather condescending terms: “The Elijah stories in 1 and 2 Kings are a legendary cycle, weaving together his miraculous adventures and historical events in the time of the Omrides . . . This rough man of the desert fringe—spare, solitary, rudely clothed in hair shirt and leather—seemed to appear and disappear at will, leaving his supporters mystified and his opponents perplexed. . . . In one of the most charming of the Elijah stories, the prophet was said to have been fed by ravens . . .”[iii]
The life of David was recorded in some detail by the biblical historians. There is ample material for the critic to question. Erich Auerbach wrote that “in the stories of David the historical report predominates. Here, too, much that is legendary still remains, as for example the story of David and Goliath . . . Even where the legendary does not immediately betray itself by elements of the miraculous, by the repetition of well-known standard motives, typical patterns and themes, through neglect of clear details of time and place, and the like, it is generally quickly recognizable by its composition. It runs far too smoothly. . . . Legend arranges its material in a simple and straightforward way.”[iv]
In Macalister’s The Philistines – Their History and Civilization, we have the same story disposed of in this curt manner: “The folk-tale of a giant-killing shepherd-boy, coloured by some actual incident of David’s later campaigns, has been substituted for the less picturesque story of the battle . . .”[v] In Bronze Age Civilization: The Philistines and the Danites, author Allen Jones enjoined: “the killing of Goliath at the hands of David was the brainchild of a later writer who added to David’s reputation and fame. By such means legend is born.”[vi]
Some scholars have a host of definitions to which they can resort when labeling the revelatory or prophetic experience. When the man of God foresees the future, the phenomenon is called “hallucination or corporeal revelation,” “imaginary vision,” “autosuggestion,” “platonic madness,” “eccentric, unreasonable, abnormal states of psyche,” “ecstatic stimulation of possession” “Dionysiac frenzy,” “magic,” “revelatory fancies,” or “psychic disturbances and their physical manifestations.”
The Prophet Isaiah foresaw the time when, after the Babylonian exile, Jews would be restored to their homeland with the aid and blessing of a Persian king. As Isaiah envisioned the time, yet two centuries off, he even named the king (Cyrus) in his revelation (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Of course, to some modern minds it is not possible to know and describe something that would happen two hundred years in the future, and besides, all those final chapters of the Book of Isaiah presuppose the Persian time period, so they must have been written by another man living during those events (the scholars thus created a “second Isaiah” or “deutero-Isaiah”).
Latter-day Saints are not bothered at all by the notion that someone could foresee the future. Adam, Enoch, Noah, the brother of Jared, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, Peter, James, and John, and other prophets witnessed by vision many scenes throughout all periods of our world’s history—from beginning to end. Nephi saw two millennia into the future to identify, even by name, the great prophet who would head our dispensation (Joseph Smith – see 2 Nephi 3).
It was the same Nephi who, while envisioning latter-day churches and religious scholars, warned that:
“They shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost [prophecy, revelation], which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God [miracles], . . . they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. . . . wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!” (2 Nephi 28:4, 5, 14, 26; italics added).
Elder J. Reuben Clark, Jr. issued a similar warning:
“There is one group of scholars that work insidiously sometimes, pretending Christianity and a belief in Christ, but nevertheless who subtly teach us things that do not come within what we understand as Christianity. . . .
“Anything beyond the
Elder Clark had good reason to raise the warning voice about some of today’s religious intellectuals. A case in point is the following series of quotations from The Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan: “That the Gospels are in part legendary, is evident, since they are full of miracles and of the supernatural. . . . In a general sense, it is therefore true to say that Jesus was only [a magician] and exorcist in spite of himself. Miracles are ordinarily the work of the public much more than of him to whom they are attributed.”[viii]
And of the “resurrection legend” Renan wrote:
“On the Sunday morning the women, Mary Magdalen the first, came very early to the tomb.