Author Spotlight: David Bokovoy November 15 2017
Can you give us a little background into your education and how you became interested in religious studies/biblical criticism?
I majored in History and minored in Near Eastern studies at BYU. I did my graduate work at Brandeis University, a non-sectarian Jewish institution. I received my MA in Jewish Studies and my PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. I’m currently the online professor in Bible and Jewish studies at Utah State University.
I developed a passion for the study of Mormon history, doctrine, and theology in my late teenage years. This passion continued to develop during my two-year mission for the LDS Church in Brazil. As hard as it was, I would try to wake up an hour early to read the material I wanted, but that weren’t part of the official Mormon Missionary library—things like Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Discourses of Brigham Young, the Great Apostasy, and Doctrines of Salvation. I thought that if I was willing to sacrifice my sleep to read this unofficial material, I could justify breaking the rules a bit. Other than that, I was a very obedient missionary.
I loved my mission, but I longed for the days when I could devote hour after hour to serious Gospel study. When I returned home, I took an LDS Institute class from a teacher who knew a little bit of Hebrew. I knew right away that I had to learn that language to improve my understanding of the scriptures. That study eventually led to the pursuit of graduate work in the field of historical criticism and the Bible.
How can biblical criticism compliment faith?
I have come to believe that a critical approach to scripture is, in fact, an essential part of a spiritual journey. Historical criticism is an effort to read religious texts in their original historical context, independent from one’s own religious tradition. This allows religious readers to understand the way that people from different time periods and cultures understood divinity. Religious paradigms exist in a perpetual state of flux. So, the way we understand God today is not the same way that people in the ancient world understood God. Learning to see and appreciate their approach can provide a religious reader with new ways of appreciating the divine.
Despite its religious merits, scripture should not be seen as an infallible manual to divinity. Instead, scripture is the textual result of a human effort to reflect the divine. Though inevitably flawed by mortal hands, scripture can inspire meaningful spiritual growth. This is true even when a reader encounters a construct in holy writ that she rejects, since that problematic paradigm has caused the reader to define her own spiritual conviction in opposition to the one held by the author. I believe that scripture is not a manual; it is a springboard. And I believe that historical critical analysis can help lift a reader to higher levels of enlightenment. Like Joseph Smith, I believe that Mormonism is a religion that seeks to embrace all truth, let it come from whatever source it may, including historical criticism.
What are you hoping readers will gain from reading your first volume of Authoring the Old Testament?
The first volume was a highly personal work. I had been told by a couple of my BYU professors not to pursue degrees in biblical studies because we had not ever had an LDS person pass through such a program and retain his or her testimony. I wanted to share with an LDS audience how I make sense of my faith in light of my passion for critical biblical scholarship. I wanted to show that one could be a faithful Mormon and a critical scholar.
Can you give us a sneak peek into some of the themes you’ll be exploring in the next volume?
In volume two of the series, I will introduce LDS readers to a critical reading of the prophetic books of the Bible. I hope to show how a critical historical approach to this material can help religious readers make sense of complicated works like the book of Isaiah.
Part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series
“Members of the Church will be introduced to some of the results of over a century of biblical scholarship they’ve likely never heard about.”
— Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Also check out David Bokovoy's chapter contribution to Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics.