The scholarly panel discussion of the Book of Mormon as literature was held Wednesday evening in Salt Lake City. Write-ups about the conference (prior to) are at DMI, Mormon Metaphysics and also The Deseret News. A Motley Vision has a very nice write up on the post conference from Eric Russell who was lucky enough to attend.

The Daily Herald also has a nice write up here. Highlights include:

Robert Price considers the Book of Mormon fiction. Richard Bushman wants to separate the text of the book from the beliefs of individual members of the LDS Church about Joseph Smith as a modern-day prophet. Phyllis Tickle is an “absolute literalist” who believes the book was divinely inspired, but as an Episcopalian doesn’t necessarily accept it. Robert Rees and Mark Thomas, both Mormons, believe many of the best insights into the book, which lies at the core of their faith, come from people who are not LDS.

This is an interesting observation from Robert Rees and Mark Thomas. During the conference Rees noted that LDS members tend to read the Book of Mormon more superficially while non-members tend to read it more in depth–food for thought for us to be certain:

Robert Price considers the Book of Mormon fiction. Richard Bushman wants to separate the text of the book from the beliefs of individual members of the LDS Church about Joseph Smith as a modern-day prophet. Phyllis Tickle is an “absolute literalist” who believes the book was divinely inspired, but as an Episcopalian doesn’t necessarily accept it. Robert Rees and Mark Thomas, both Mormons, believe many of the best insights into the book, which lies at the core of their faith, come from people who are not LDS.

The most curious of the panelists was Robert Price:

Price, a humanist, New Testament scholar and member of the Jesus Seminar — a group of scholars who study the historical Jesus — was least like the other panelists in that he rejects the book as the word of God and believes it amounts only to literature.

He is an Episcopalian who was converted as a youth, goes to church frequently and puts the Bible in the fiction category as well — stories, doctrine and all.

“I consider myself a Christian, but I’m not even sure Jesus ever existed,” he said. The uncertainty doesn’t keep him from worshipping, and he benefits by participating in the drama of religion, he said. “I love all the religions. I no longer believe literally the stories or the doctrines of any of them.”

Now, from Price’s status as a non-member, scholar, and a humanist I can understand his position and rejection of the Divinity of Book of Mormon; but, I am at a loss about how he claims to be Christian yet not be sure Jesus ever existed–and also how he classifies the Bible as fiction. I assume such a position is supposed to give him as a scholar and intellectual greater credibility? I think such a position is inconsistent with a professed Christian. Either you are a believer or you aren’t. I guess I’m just a simple bloke as I explained Ronan on a different thread. Guilty as charged! Bushman as always has great insights:

Bushman, a historian at Columbia University whose ancestors have been LDS for five generations, said his experience as a Mormon historian has taught him to appreciate the doctrines; but he looks at the text. In an academic study the Book of Mormon, the text needs to be considered on its own, he said.

“Great documents frequently are embedded in a story that in some way becomes more important than the document itself,” he said. He added that the both doctrine and the view that the Book of Mormon is an endorsement of Joseph Smith as a prophet muddies the study of the book.

“That complicates the study of the text because always in the background is his authenticity as a prophetic figure,” Bushman said.

Some of the most profound insights from the Book of Mormon for these scholars include its message of care for the poor and downtrodden and the evils of war–both of which I would agree–but probably include a few of my own: Testimony of Jesus Christ as Savior and Reedemer of all mankind; Concept of open canon and continuing revelation among others. I would liked to have been able to attend–but alas most of these types conferences seem to take place far away from California’s Central Coast.