For students of the scriptures who are interested in understanding modern debates over the Bible as history as well as the impact of Higher Criticism on the Book of Mormon, there are several resources I wish to recommend:
- Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, 2nd edition (New York: HarperCollins, 1997) — a widely read, popular work that has introduced many people to source-criticism, the branch of Higher Criticism that examines the text of the Pentateuch especially to determine the origins of different hypothesized documents that were assembled together into its current form. Friedman offers arguments for a priestly source composed in the days of Hezekiah, well before Nephi, for those who have encountered arguments against Book of Mormon plausibility because of its heavy Exodus content, much of which is said to derive from the Priestly source, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, a source that has been given a late date by a number of scholars. Friedman’s book carefully explains why Julius Wellhausen blundered in reaching that conclusion. Friedman is a strong advocate of the Documentary Hypothesis, which is still a subject of debate, but an important paradigm to consider.
- James K. Hoffmeir, Israel in Egypt: The Evidences for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition, (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996) — an extremely thorough examination of the plausibility of the Exodus in spite of the absence of clear archaeological evidence (from regions where it is unreasonable to expect the kind of evidence some critics demand). Hoffmeir, a significant scholar, provides a credible and wide-ranging case against the claim that the Exodus account was largely created after the Exodus. His approach has some lessons in methodology that are relevant to Book of Mormon studies.
- James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) — a book that build on his previous case for the reality of the Exodus, now exploring what we can learn of Sinai and Israel’s era in the wilderness. He shows that archaeological evidence, textual material, geography, place names, and personal names all combine to create a reasonable case for the historical reality of the wilderness tradition. He also updates some of his proposals made in his earlier Israel in Egypt to reflect more recent discoveries. Hoffmeir provides evidence, for example, that the wilderness itinerary in Numbers 33 has support from the 14th century B.C., in contrast with the widespread view that it must be from the so-called Priestly source of much later origin.
- K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003) — an extensive and colorful, if not sometimes overly passionate response to the many critics who minimalize the Old Testament. Based on abundant data, Kitchen concludes that we can firmly reject the hypothesis that the Old Testament books originated as late as 400 to 200 B.C., as many minimalists maintain, and that we have strong evidence for the reality of the Exodus from Egypt and a Sinai covenant that must have originated between 1400 to 1200 B.C. Kitchen’s work is also useful in showing weakness in the methodologies used to downplay the biblical text, many of which may resemble some of the techniques used against the Book of Mormon.
- James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, editors, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014). Relevant highlights in this compilation include Richard E. Averbeck, “Pentateuchal Criticism and the Priestly Torah” and Robert B. Chisholm Jr., “Old Testament Source Criticism: Some Methodological Miscues.” Chisholm critiques traditional source-criticism (the Documentary Hypothesis) by exploring the two most famous “parade cases” from source-criticism, the Flood story and the account of David in Saul’s court. He challenges the reasons given for viewing these as a patchwork from contradicting original documents and goes on to show that their literary design and coherence points to either a single source or a masterful blending if multiple sources were used. He condemns the arrogant attitude of many scholars who seem to say that “if the text does not fit my idea of what literature should look like, it must be flawed,” when in fact a more careful reading can resolve alleged problems and reveal that the Hebrew author was more knowledgeable and skilled than the critics admit. I also recommend Richard L. Schultz, “Isaiah, Isaiah, and Current Scholarship,” with important information relevant to the presence of allegedly late Isaiah material in the Book of Mormon, and James K. Hoffmeir, “‘These Things Happened’: Why a Historical Exodus Is Essential for Theology,” which provides a good review of the rise of biblical minimalism and the devaluation of the Bible as a text with historical content, with a clear review of high vital the Exodus theme is throughout the Bible.
In addition to the above books, many shorter articles and papers could be cited. A few of note include:
- Joshua Berman, “Was There an Exodus?,” Mosaic Magazine, March 2, 2015 — a fascinating recent contribution looking at long overlooked evidence from Egypt in support of the reality of the Exodus. This publication in Mosaic Magazine includes responses from other scholars, both for and against.
- Yosef Garfinkel, “The Birth and Death of Biblical Minimalism,” Biblical Archaeology Review 37/3 (May/Jun 2011): 46–53, 78 (subscription required for the full online article). This is a bold critique of the biblical “minimalists” and their panicked response to compelling archaeological evidence for the reality of the House of David. The application of his insights to the Book of Mormon was appropriately made by Neal Rappleye and Stephen Smoot in another highly recommended work directly related to the Lehi’s trail, “Book of Mormon Minimalists and the NHM Inscriptions: A Response to Dan Vogel,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 8 (2014), 157-185.
- Kevin L. Barney, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33/1 (Spring 2000): 57–99 — a thoughtful and frequently cited essay from a faithful LDS scholar who explores how Latter-day Saints may respond to widely accepted scholarly theories on the origins of Bible documents.
For those of you who find value in the Bible beyond its literary value (i.e., recognize that it is more than just pious fiction), do you have any favorite resources that have been helpful to you, say, in understanding the agenda and distortions of biblical minimalists, or in understanding the limitations of the Documentary Hypothesis?