Episode 183: Bible Geek Bob Price

Clay Painter talks with Robert Price about ways to interpret scriptures and their validity. Bob Price is a theologian and the author of Latter Day Scripture which was discussed in ME Episode 169, as well as many other books. He also has a podcast called, “Bible Geek.”

Episode 183

20 comments on “Episode 183: Bible Geek Bob Price”

  1. Hermes Reply

    This is how I have seen Mormonism for the last 2-3 years: we are clearly part of the Abrahamic tradition of prophetic authority backed by pseudepigrapha.  Thanks for saying that so that every one can understand, much more articulately and deliberately than I have managed to (as yet).

  2. Caitlin Sticco Reply

    I’m not usually a fan of Dr. Price, but I loved him on this podcast. Great job, and very interesting thoughts.

  3. Oz Poof Reply

    I have to disagree with Dr Price about the history of Joseph Smith not mattering as long as  people get something out of the LDS church today. 

    The legacy of Joseph Smith doesn’t stop with families kicking up at least 10% of their income and a higher percentage of time to a religion led by compulsive liars. Joseph Smith is responsible for everything that came from his lies. The epidemic of depression, gay suicides, poverty among families who make poor choices as far as birth control, the habit of lying and feeling morally superior about it, all stem from the fraud this man began and other men of equal infamy continue.

    You also should include the inbreeding among fundamentalist polygamists that leads to very high child mortality and deformity rates; expendable women, child brides, and lost boys are all social ‘evils’ stemming from Joseph Smith manufacturing polygamy as a revelation from God when he was caught having sex with 16yo Fanny Alger.  

    This man’s self indulgence, sexual appetite, thirst for power, and gigantic ego have left generations of miserable tithing slaves with distorted morals and priorities, sexual dysfunction, physical ailments amongst polygamists, guilt, fear, apocalyptic thinking, hatred of outsiders, love of servitude and hate of freedom. Children born with fumaric aciduria (polygamist’s Down’s), Alport’s syndrome, nephritis, cystic fibrosis, biliary artesia, albinism, short stature, blindness, deafness, and other terrible conditions suffer because of Joseph Smith’s sexual appetite and his creation of polygamy.

    Dr Price is an atheist, yet it seems he would let Mormons who are unaware of the truth about their religion and its founders fumble around in the darkness of lies and superstition as some kind of religious anthropology study. Who cares about the type of man Smith was? I’m sure there are millions who would care, if they were not told they risk their eternal lives if they dare to research the man. Comparing Smith to Martin Luther King Jr was offensive to me. King fought for equality. Mormonism opposes equality every time the question arises. King’s legacy is one of hope and respect for diversity. Smith left generations of genetic problems, dishonesty, and hypocrisy as his legacy.

    The statement about being true to the stories despite the stories not being true was not a “bingo”. It’s disgusting. It’s fanatical and dishonest. If the Book of Mormon is not factual history, it should not in any way and for any reason be taught as factual, true history. Lessons can be learnt from fiction, but religious fiction is usually poisonous.

    There is nothing……NOTHING positive that Mormonism offers which cannot be found elsewhere, but the negatives are profound.

    If Mormonism disappeared the planet would be a far happier place. If Joseph Smith had been killed sooner by people he stole from or hurt in other ways, there would not be those malformed kids, girls married to old relatives and boys made homeless prostitutes in St George.

    The Book of Mormon has so many linguistic errors and so much plagiarism that it should never be taken so seriously.

    Just saying.

    • Hermes Reply

      From a pragmatic standpoint, we have no indication that history would have given us anything better than what we have had there been no Joseph Smith.  He was by no means the only wacked-out religious nut who came out of nineteenth-century America.  If he had not succeeded in doing what he did, then someone else would have done it.

      People are gullible, and back in the day, when information was much harder to come by, they were more so.  People want to be led, and back in the day, they were at least as eager for a prophet as some of them still are for an imam.  People create religious fiction and share it, often with appalling consequences, and they show little indication of stopping (if you look at the whole world).  Those of us raised in proximity to Mormonism see the human bad and good that is out there through a Mormon lens, but what we are actually seeing is humanity, not Mormonism (which is just one more thing created by humanity, one more thing like Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, etc.).

      It is easy to imagine that everything would have been so much better if only Joseph Smith had never existed.  Too easy.  It is facile and naive.  Revulsion at homosexuality is not a uniquely Mormon trait (though letting people choose suicide rather than forcing it on them might be: other homophobes are often worse than Mormons in pushing their poison).  Polygamy is not a uniquely Mormon trait (and Mormon polygamy is not the only kind with lots of problems).  The vast majority of bad (or just dumb) things Mormons do are not uniquely Mormon: they are just human.  If our narrow-minded, fanatical, bigoted fathers had not latched onto Mormonism, they would have found or created something just as bad.  If we are not careful, we may wake up one day to find ourselves doing the same thing.  So I cannot hate Joseph Smith with a really pure hatred.  The man was an animal, but so am I (and I mean no disrespect to animals).

      • Oz Poof Reply

        Really? You’re using the argument that if Smith had not created his lies to facilitate his lust for power and women, someone else would have anyway, so we should accept Smith as the inevitable? 

        If you take a look at Scandinavia today, you can see that mass subservience to religious lies is not inevitable. Most of their populations have transcended religion, and their society has not fallen into barbarism and anarchy. They’re human too. Humans don’t need to follow megalomaniacal sexual predators as a human trait. Smith knew this, which is why he lied to everyone.

        Joseph Smith was dangerous in that he told just enough sweet sounding fairy tales to encourage followers, while he engaged in a secret and hypocritical second life. He only claimed a revelation about polygamy when it got too big to hide – many years after he began practicing it.

        Our narrow-minded, fanatical, bigoted fathers founded all societies. The problem with the society Smith founded is that it thrives on lies, control, guilt, and a perpetuation of an ‘us and them’ thinking. While Young and others added to this mentality, it all began with Smith.

        I don’t accept that the flaws of Mormonism (most of which began with Smith) that also exist in some other societies are inevitable. Smith was killed by people who saw through him. Those killers also existed in Smith’s time. Who knows what type of society Utah would be today if those heroes who killed Smith had not acted when they did.

        • Hermes Reply

          If those “heroes” hadn’t killed Smith, maybe the church could have died in his lifetime, smothered by his incompetence (like the Kirtland Safety Society), instead of falling into the capable hands of Brigham Young (who planted Mormonism deep in the culture of the western United States).  We can also thank those “heroes” for giving us the Danites (who justified their depredations by the militia violence employed against them) and for perpetuating the stupid conflict between Mormon and anti-Mormon that continues to this day.

          Scandinavia has plenty of things to answer for in its own history.  The Vikings were not nice people, and in our own times, some of their descendants were Nazi collaborators.  Like the rest of the human race, they have learned (and continue to learn, e.g. Anders Breivik) from their own human savagery and idiocy.

          If you look long and hard enough at any society, you will see that it includes some horrible atrocities.  My own American society was founded on freedom for all humans (except slaves, women, and “scary” minorities).  The British empire was an enlightened commonwealth (set up to provide outlets for overstuffed prisons and to make profits off of poor or soon-to-be-poorer natives).  I could go on, at obscene length, but you get the picture.

          There is a good reason Plato talks about “the noble lie” in the Republic: every single society on record has one.  There are no great societies of record that are not also terrible.  There is no freedom that is not also slavery (at some point).

          This does not mean that we don’t lament the mistakes that were made, or that we don’t try to do better in future.  But it does mean that we cannot safely assume that the worst is behind us or that it wears a big red target on its back.  (People loved Joseph Smith, Adolf Hitler, and Osama bin Laden.  They were the good guys, the ones everyone looked up to with awe, except for slimy foreigners and local derelicts.)  And we should not ignore how the butterfly effect applies in spades to history.  Just think, but for a serious of fortuitous accidents, you might have been born a woman in Sudan or Saudi Arabia — and you would pray every night that you had been born a male Mormon in the USA, even a gay one (at least you would have the priesthood dangling between your legs, giving you some right to control your own life). 

          Wickedness is relative, the same way righteousness is.  Joseph Smith was a cad, but there are other cads out there, and some of them are worse than he was.  And modern Mormonism is certainly not the worst religious trap to fall into.

    • Anonymous Reply

      I really liked what Dr. Price had to say in the interview.  He discusses religion like I like to – in a very non-religious sort of way,  I really like his anthropologist approach, it relieves us all of the testimony bearing and bosom burning.  The problem that Dr. Price doesn’t fully add to the equation is that most TBMs live in such a black and white world
      ( I don’t totally blame them; they have been rigorously conditioned by Mormon leaders). To the Mormon faithful, doubting the alpha prophet is the same as discrediting the entire faith.  They can’t accept Mormonism without buying into all that was revealed: gold plates, angels, son and father appearing, polygamy, temple rites borrowed from the Masons, etc.
      I have a more personal story about this very subject.  As a young man, I was summoned to speak to a Mormon Bishop. During the course of the interview he basically told me, “either the Book of Mormon is totally true in all it claims to be and came to be just as Joseph Smith said it was or Joseph Smith was the biggest con man of the 19th century.” I thought about what he had just told me for a moment and said “Bishop, you are absolutely right”.  My church activity ended that day, haven’t really been back since. That was 1966, can’t say I missed it much.

    • Anonymous Reply

      That is definitely a “Hitchenesque” view of things.  Even though I am an atheist, I feel like reality is much more nuanced than what you outline above.  Furthermore, even as an atheist, I feel like religious experience is really complex.  It is a “real” phenomena, even if it is just brain chemistry.  To reduce religious experience and religious phenomena to simple fraud is just too easy, in my mind, and does not accurately depict the nature of the human experience.

  4. Anonymous Reply

    Thank you for this interesting podcast.

    One question that I wish Dr. Price had addressed is this: What is the difference between, on the one hand, pseudepigrapha as an acceptable literary practice and, on the other hand, simple fraud? For example, why didn’t Mark Hofmann’s lawyers argue that the Salamander Letter was perfectly acceptable, and that Hofmann’s attribution of its authorship to Martin Harris was merely pseudepigraphic?

    I think that the answer has a lot to do with time, place, and culture. Sure, there are lots of ancient works that are pseudepigraphic, including many parts of the Bible. This appears to have been an acceptable practice in ancient times, especially in the middle east.

    But we don’t live in the ancient middle east. In the post-Enlightenment world, we write and read in a much more literal and non-poetic fashion. Our culture has no place for the type of anceint pseudepigrapha to which Dr. Price compares the Book of Mormon. I think he’s letting Joseph Smith off too easily.

    • Hermes Reply

      Or we are letting the Deuteronomists off too easily.  The best frauds go entirely undetected as people accept them without reserve.  For some reason, many older frauds find a much more credulous public than our newer ones.

  5. Anonymous Reply

    The original idea for this podcast was to make this part 1 and the book review part 2.  For whatever reason, we failed to follow through on getting an interview with Bob.  Thanks Clay for doing this as I find Price interesting, even though I don’t agree with him on some things.

    But I think he is simply barking up the wrong tree in thinking that LDS, Inc is structured in a way to tolerate his liberal takes on the Book of Mormon.  I think he is taking a cue from Christianity which does seem able to support a group of liberal theologians and this is most likely from the fact it’s such an old religion.  Mormonism, due in large part to the structure of authoritarian gerontocracy, will always, in its current form, be intolerant of such liberal views and be fundamentalist in its theology.  There is no space for open expression of liberal or enlightened views and no community I know of outside the church that has formed that is made up of liberal but still believing Mormons (although Dehlin is trying).  These people have only two choices, leave or stay under the condition of keeping quiet about their true feelings.

    I often wonder how much longer the church can keep such a tight grip on the intellectual freedom of its members in light of this new age of information.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Randy – I don’t think that Price thinks that the LDS church is structured in a way to tolerate his liberal takes.  I just think that he feels like it is sociologically and intellectually stimulating to critique the BoM for what it is, and he invites all those that are willing to do so to follow suit.

    • Elder Vader Reply

      I wonder the same thing Randy. I don’t think the church is going to succeed, but I think they’re going to try.  The Hinckley strategy of public relations is too far entrenched.  At this moment in time I don’t see any way out of it for the church.  They’re just going to dig their hooks in further.  

      I was just in a conversation tonight with some friends from church.  The conversation started out with him telling me about a biology class lab he is doing where he is spooling DNA.  He described it to me in detail.  A couple of conversation bounces later I floated my latest approach to saying I disagree with x, y or z in the church.  [The approach is to grow it out of the old testament.  Church members have no problem completely rejecting stuff out of the old testament like women not wearing pants.  There are things today we know are just rubbish, like ‘Man His Origin and Destiny’.  Lets reject those things too because they are rubbish.]  — Didn’t work too well.  

  6. Scott Reply

    As some other people here have mentioned, I can’t see how the bulk of the Mormon membership would go along with a ‘Yeah, JS seems to have lied about the origins of the Mormon scriptures, but some good things came out of it and we like going to church so let’s just roll with it’  view. True, some people could and do hold that view, but I think most Mormons who honestly confront the history of the church tend to go through the exact progression from ‘liberal belief’ to complete rejection that Price himself went through with his own Christian beliefs.

    The whole concept of ‘prophetic authority backed by pseudopigraphia’ is tough for me swallow. Is that really the way a god would choose to send divine instruction? It sounds like a future episode of Mr. Deity.

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  10. Spotify John Reply

    Great job Clay – getting Dr. Price. I really enjoyed this. One thing you hinted at but I think should have explained more of, is the Ex-Mo concept of “integrity” (aka nihilism). That is to say if the historical record doesn’t match up to our 21st Century American way of viewing the world – there’s no baby – all bath water. Throw it out. 

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