Mainstream acceptance of the Mormons’ Easter Story?

Mormon Heretic Bible, book of mormon, christianity, historicity, history, Jesus, LDS, Mormon, Mormons, scripture 21 Comments

Around Easter 2004, National Geographic produced a documentary titled In Search of Easter.  The producers interviewed a wide range of scholars about the Resurrection story of the Easter celebration.  It is an interesting insight into various Resurrection stories found in the Bible.  I am always interested in scholarly opinions on religious topics, and nearly fell off the couch when I heard the following on the DVD.

“Could yet another possibility exist that explains Jesus sporadic appearances.  Is it possible that he did not limit his visits to ancient Israel?  This is the intriguing scenario described in the Book of Mormon.  The book which emerged in 19th century America is revered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as God’s Holy Word.”

Kathleen Flake, Assistant Professor of American Religious History, Vanderbilt University, “The Book of Mormon is an account of a civilization that lived in the Americas between about 600 years before Jesus was born, until about 400 years after he died.  The centerpiece of this story is Jesus’ appearance to them, after he died, and was resurrected.  He comes to the Americas with business in mind.  Jesus will say to these people in the Americas, ‘now I said to the Jews in Palestine “other sheep I have which are not of this fold”, and they misunderstood me.  They thought I meant the gentiles, but no.  I meant you.  I meant you’re the other sheep; I must come visit you, I must manifest myself unto you’ so that you can bear witness to the world about the nature of God, and how to receive a forgiveness of sin, or more to the point, how you can overcome the circumstances of the world and be made one with God.'”

According to the Book of Mormon, the risen Jesus remains with America’s ancient tribes for 3 or 4 days.  He then vanishes and then makes sporadic appearances for an unspecified period of time.  Meanwhile, according to the New Testament, Jesus continues to embrace his disciples in Israel.

The DVD then goes on to talk about a small reference where Paul mentions in passing a visit where Jesus visits 500 people after his resurrection in 1 Corinthians 13.  Has the Book of Mormon gained mainstream acceptance? (For more info about Easter on this DVD, check out this post.)

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Comments 21

  1. Fwiw, there is a belief in one town in Japan that Jesus did not die on the cross – that his brother took his place and died for him. They believe that Jesus couldn’t have died on the cross, since he walked to Japan, married, had a family and died at the age of 106. I first heard about it on my mission, where, of course, the details weren’t known well enough to put the story in proper context.

    It’s based on stories of ancient documents found in the town where Jesus eventually died then seized by the Japanese government prior to WWII and lost/destroyed, so take it for what it’s worth (not much on the surface), but it is an interesting belief in light of this post.

    The basics can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shingo,_Aomori

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  4. Bear in mind that “In Search Of…” is not mainstream science. Although this quote of the professor is a fair statement of what the BofM states, any implication that this implies scientific acceptance of the truth of the BofM claim would be edited totally out of context. The series heightens the plausibility of what the producers regard as exotic in order to boost ratings. For exampole, another episode is entitled “In Seach of Bigfoot”.

  5. firetag,

    Since the resurrection will never be proven as scientific fact. I encourage you to check my blog to see it more in context. I tried to show what they were talking about before and after the quote.

    I noted that the producers did not use any gnostic texts or other exotic sources, such as Ray mentioned. all references were biblical, except for the above quote. have you seen the dvd? I think your characterization of the DVD being exotic is not accurate.

  6. mh:

    I have watched the series on TV and found it entertaining. I also believe in the historical reality of Christ’s visit to America. I just don’t think the former provides much indication of mainstream movement toward acceptance of the latter. It’s all in how the interviews are edited.

  7. In answer to your question, this is hardly evidence that there is mainstream acceptance of the BoM. A religious scholar who focuses on American and Mormon religion explains the Mormon perspective of post-resurrection visits of Christ is all it is.

    The independent film “The Man from Earth” also gives an alternate view of Christ’s post-resurrection activities. (Great movie BTW.) If I summarize those ideas doesn’t mean I subscribe to those theories, I just find them intriguing.

  8. While I don’t expect that the Catholic, Baptist, or any other Christian denominations will adopt the Book of Mormon, I still found it intriguing that National Geographic would even include this reference. Am I the only one surprised by this? Do Firetag, Jose, and L-d Sus think this sort of mention is common?

  9. Here is the quote in context of the documentary. The quote is preceeded by the story of Doubting Thomas, and followed by the visit of Jesus to Peter on the Sea of Galilee. Smith-Christopher also talks about why “mass hallucination” is not a valid theory to Jesus’ visitations.

    The experts quoted below are:

    Luke Timothy Johnson, professor of New Testament and Christian origins, Emory University
    Prof of Biblical Studies, Daniel Smith-Christopher, Loyola Marymount University
    Thomas Sheehan, professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University

    The gospel of John tells us that after Jesus erases Thomas’ doubt, he vanishes once again. Why does the resurrected Jesus continue to appear, and then disappear?

    Johnson, “This odd appearing/disappearing of Jesus, and the appearing accounts has a very important message, and that is the resurrection is not resuscitation. Jesus does not open an office. He’s not there permanently. He’s not there in his former somatic limitedness. He’s a surprising presence. He intrudes, he interrupts, he is not predictable, he is not controllable, and in that sense, he shares the life of the living God.”

    Smith-Christopher, “The appearing and disappearing are kind of moving us towards the reality that we are going to live with for the rest of time, and that is that we don’t have the physical presence of Jesus anymore with us, we have as it were the spiritual presence of Jesus with us. There’s a sense of we’re getting used to the fact that now, the physical presence of Jesus is no longer going to be accessible to us.”

    Could yet another possibility exist that explains Jesus sporadic appearances. Is it possible that he did not limit his visits to ancient Israel? This is the intriguing scenario described in the Book of Mormon. The book which emerged in 19th century America is revered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as God’s Holy Word.”

    Kathleen Flake, Assistant Professor of American Religious History, Vanderbilt University, “The Book of Mormon is an account of a civilization that lived in the Americas between about 600 years before Jesus was born, until about 400 years after he died. The centerpiece of this story, is Jesus’ appearance to them, after he died, and was resurrected. He comes to the Americas with business in mind. Jesus will say to these people in the Americas, now I said to the Jews in Palestine ‘other sheep I have which are not of this fold, and they misunderstood me. They thought I meant the gentiles, but no. I meant you. I meant you’re the other sheep; I must come visit you, I must manifest myself unto you so that you can bear witness to the world about the nature of God, and how to receive a forgiveness of sin, or more to the point, how you can overcome the circumstances of the world and be made one with God.'”

    According to the Book of Mormon, the risen Jesus remains with America’s ancient tribes for 3 or 4 days. He then vanishes and then makes sporadic appearances for an unspecified period of time. Meanwhile, according to the New Testament, Jesus continues to embrace his disciples in Israel. But perhaps the most puzzling story of all is also the most epic. Did the resurrected Jesus really appear before a gathering of 500 spell-bound witnesses?

    One episode in the New Testament’s eastern narrative cries out as perhaps its greatest paradox. Why would Jesus’ appearance before the greatest number of people, be described in the fewest number of words?

    Johnson, “In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul gives a recitation of those who had experiences and appearance of Jesus. He includes a puzzling reference to 500 at one time, some of whom are still around and are able to bear testimony to this fact. The most puzzling thing about this is that there is no story about it in the gospels as such. We would think that if there were such an event, it certainly would be included among the resurrections stories of Jesus, or the appearances.”

    Smith-Christopher, “Now for Paul, he just sort of mentions this in passing. Now of course, when we moderns read that, we want to say, “Stop! Wait! Back up! What do you mean 500 people? Who were they? What were they? Where were they? When did this happen?’ And we’re terribly frustrated about the fact that Paul just sort of mentions it in passing. Clearly, his concerns were elsewhere. He was already arriving at the issue of ‘what does all this mean’? Not, ‘did it actually happen?'”

    Is the resurrection as told in the gospels, history? Or is it meant to convey the internal experience of those living long ago?

    Smith-Christopher, “Often, you hear this idea bantered about, the idea of this massive hallucination, a sort of group perception of what they wanted to see, because they were so overcome with grief. There are a number of problems with this explanation. Psychiatrists tell us that individuals have hallucinations, not groups. For a group to be involved, they had to have seen something. Now they may have misunderstood what they saw, but they saw something.”

    Sheehan, “Those people didn’t have to have a visual experience of Jesus in the room. In a prayer for example, in an ecstatic experience, they could have said, ‘Jesus has been awakened by God’. That’s what constitutes an appearance. Could that have taken place in a dream, could it have taken place in a communal prayer moment? Certainly it could have. When Paul in Galations 1:6 says that Jesus was shown to me as risen, he says, ‘He was shown within me’, that is within his inner consciousness even.’

    Whether visions of the risen Jesus were spiritual revelations, or literal sightings, the gospels differ as to where they took place. Luke places all of the appearances in or around Jerusalem. Matthew sets all his episodes in the northern regions of Galilee. According to John’s gospel, it is here that the risen Jesus leaves the most crucial task of his time on earth-the appointment of a new leader of the emerging Christian faith. According to John, the story of Jesus final appearance begins as the disciples go fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Among them is Simon Peter, still tortured for his guilt for having denied Jesus three times before his crucifixion. As they go about their work, they suddenly notice Jesus, standing on the shore.

  10. Latter Day Saints are hungry for compliments, no matter the source. We are noticed nowadays. For most of my life we”ve been consider odd by most in America, particularly among academics. So when one notices us in a positive sense we get giddy about it.

    I hope we become more popular in America. When I recently learned that the church hasn’t grown in the US for the last ten years I was disappointed. I hope we get more positive attention. We can use it.

  11. MH:

    I do not find it uncommon. However, that may be a cultural characteristic here in the “blue” East Coast states. My wife has a piano studio in our home and her client base consists of students whose religious backgrounds include Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bhuddist, secularists, and every portion of the Christian spectrum. And the most surprising thing that happened yesterday was having two FEMALE Mormon missionaries come to the door.

    People don’t consider any particular believe strange when everyone’s belief is strange to his/her neighbors.

  12. I guess everyone is entitled to their beliefs as to what is considered common or not. But I will say that a nationally televised mention of the Book of Mormon which is not attacking (and generally positive) in nature is pretty uncommon, IMO.

  13. Firetag,

    Can I issue you a challenge? Can you find me a similar BoM reference in a nationally televised show talking about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances that is not produced by the LDS church?

  14. MH:

    I’m not remorely an expert on what’s on television or where to find it. So I’ll decline your challenge, since the sports channels, BBC America, the History channel, the Discovery channel, and the Sci Fi channel aren’t likely to cover the topic.

  15. MH – FWIW, I watch tons of these shows (Nat’l Geographic, History Channel, A&E), and I am pretty excited about this reference. The shows about the origin of Adam & Eve and location of the Garden of Eden, for example, talk about Lilith legends, but never mention the references in early Mormondom to Adam-Ondi-Ahman or to the Book of Moses which adds to the story. It talks about many far more obscure religious and cultural legends than those. Similarly, there are other specials that I’ve seen where a reference to Mormon beliefs would fit nicely with their narrative, but no mention.

    Does this point to mainstream acceptance? Not exactly. But mainstream awareness is good.

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