I first learned about higher criticism in the context of the archeological excavation of Jericho. The German higher criticism read was that Jericho never existed and that part of the Bible was a bad gloss. Perhaps if I had gotten the introduction the other way around, I might have had more interest in something that has such a vainglorious name (“higher criticism” – really?).
It did not get much better with my second introduction, when I was doing some research into Ba’l, since the Bible Dictionary reference we inherited for free from the Church of England publishers dates back to the 1800s and is a little wrong.
Ba’l rides on the clouds, he has two hammers, thunder and lightening, he is banished by the summer drought, the pretender to his throne is the god of irrigation and he returns with the winter storms. Regardless of what some Egyptologist thought in the 1800s, he is a storm god, not a sun god, which is why his priests took Elijah’s challenge to call fire from heaven down on a mountain top (lightening tends to hit mountain tops all the time). There is a body of hymns to Ba’l that the higher criticism bunch claimed proved that the ancient Hebrews just stole all of the psalms and other literature from.
Except, if you read the actual parallels, the writing plays off the Philistine literature to highlight the differences, it doesn’t copy. It actually gains meaning if you think of it in context. Thus the emphasis on how God fails not (whereas Ba’l fails on a seasonal basis, every year), etc. Again, my exposure to higher criticism came in the context of another place it was completely wrong.
As for the documentary hypothesis, I actually really started looking at the documentary hypothesis in the context of poetic structures it misses (though I do see how it fits in with LDS theology and provides some useful analysis).
My view of Joseph Smith has similar inputs. When I was in the Hill Cumorah Pageant, we had a number of lessons we taught about Joseph Smith’s human, fallible side. They were drawn from public addresses he gave about himself and his faults. I had not heard the story of Sydney Rigdon daughter until the last month, when I read about it here, but, of course, we have a guest poster (my wife’s cousin) who will probably be addressing it and other related topics shortly. Viz.
“Joseph Smith made affidavit denying authorship of the letter, and Nancy Rigdon herself affirmed it had not come from Smith, “nor in his hand writing, but by another person, and in another person’s hand writing.” Nancy’s father didn’t believe the letter was from Joseph either. Neither copy of the notorious letter has been found to this day. All we know of it is from what Bennett published. “ Of course this time the higher critics could be right.
I have to admit that at present there are many things I do not know about history, facts and reality. What I do know is the witness of the Spirit and the complexity of what seems “obvious” and “undeniable” and “certain” extends from whether Jericho ever existed to whether Ba’l was a sun god whose literature was shamelessly copied by ancient Hebrews to criticisms of Joseph Smith and others.
Sometimes “higher criticism” really isn’t that high. What do you think?