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Latter-day Saint scripture/Biblical Figures
Biblical Figures in Restoration Scripture
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- Question: How can a Latter-day Saint reconcile the opinions of biblical scholars who say that certain figures of the Bible are not historical?
Question: How can a Latter-day Saint reconcile the opinions of biblical scholars who say that certain figures of the Bible are not historical?
Introduction to Question
Latter-day Saint scripture mentions several ancient figures from the Bible and mandates their historical existence. Among these are Adam, Eve, Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Noah, Enoch, Melchizedek, Jethro, and others. The historical existence of these and other figures are doubted or otherwise totally rejected by several modern biblical scholars. How can a Latter-day Saint reconcile these opinions? In this article, we aim to lay out some general principles that might help answer that question.
Response to Question
One thing to keep in mind when approaching this question is that the existence of biblical characters can actually never be proven nor disproven. It can only be made more plausible or more implausible. This is the basic notion of historical plausibility.
As explained by John Gee and Stephen Ricks:
Historical plausibility relies on the aggregate of information to provide a consistent picture of events and processes. It assumes that historical conditions at a given time and place are consistent and that change over both time and place are consistent and that change over both time and place varies consistently. That is, documents and artifacts produced at a given time and place have a certain commonality that may vary as both time and place change…Documents also follow certain patterns in layout, language, script, paleography, vocabulary, genre, specificity, onomastics, and cultural referents (including governmental, social, and religious institutions and practices). To the extent that a document matches others in these areas, it is historically plausible.
Thus, what we’re looking for is really only to make the characters of the Bible mentioned in Restoration scripture plausible enough. We can’t prove their existence. Even if there are some elements that biblical scholars believe make the existence of these characters implausible, it doesn’t negate the possibility of their existence entirely.
There are many instances in which trying to validate the historicity of these characters is going to be simply impossible given all of the archaeological and historical constraints. Take Adam and Eve. How are we supposed to verify these people’s existence? Recorded history doesn’t even begin until the invention of writing in the 4th millennium BCE. Do we believe that all of this writing is going to survive deposition for that long?
Modern Revelation is a Valid Source of Knowledge
An assumption that many Latter-day Saints forget (or even deliberately discard) when evaluating these criticisms is that modern revelation is a valid source of knowledge. The majority of biblical scholars do not accept this assumption and operate only on what they can determine from the archaeological record.
Modern revelation offers strong reasons to believe in the historicity of these biblical figures. If revelation mandates that we accept these characters as historical, then we can follow that.
It is the authors hope that these principles will serve productively to buoy Latter-day Saints' faith in the scriptures.
- John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks, “Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study,” in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001), 66.