For several years when I was involved with the old Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, known as FARMS, and its successor, BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, we sponsored a booth at the largest annual academic gathering for scholars of the Bible, comparative religion, Near Eastern archaeology and related subjects. In it, we displayed our recent publications, which focused principally on the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, as well as on medieval Islamic, eastern Christian and Jewish texts.
Once, while I was sitting at the booth, a professor who had been examining our display asked me a question that has haunted me since: “Aren’t you interested in the Bible?”
The undeniable fact was that our booth featured few if any examples of Latter-day Saint biblical scholarship. Why? Not because we weren’t interested — our exhibit was unwittingly sending an unintended and misleading message — but because, at that time, we effectively tended to “outsource” the production of biblical scholarship. Our limited energy and resources were focused, not unreasonably, on scholarly work that non-Latter-day Saint academics were unlikely to do.
The situation, however, is changing. Genuine Latter-day Saint biblical scholarship is coming into its own.
A prominent example is furnished by Thomas Wayment’s annotated “The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints.” I discussed it in my previous column (see "A major new Latter-day Saint resource for New Testament study," published Jan. 24, on deseretnews.com).
Another example is the project to create a Brigham Young University New Testament Commentary (see byunewtestamentcommentary.com for information), which has just published its latest volume, Julie M. Smith’s “The Gospel according to Mark” (see byustudies.byu.edu/content/new-testament-commentary-gospel-according-mark). Previous publications include “Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians” and “The Revelation of John the Apostle,” both by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes; “The Testimony of Luke,” by S. Kent Brown; and a companion volume by Brent J. Schmidt titled “Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis.”
Each commentary volume includes a substantial introduction, followed by the King James Version translation, a fresh “New Rendition” from the original Greek in a parallel column, and detailed notes drawing on both mainstream modern biblical scholarship and uniquely Latter-day Saint sources.
Smith’s newly published commentary on Mark’s gospel weighs in at nearly 1,000 pages, with extensive explanations covering the entire text. Although it cannot be dismissed as a work of merely feminist scholarship, one of its welcome contributions is to provide a woman’s perspective on Mark and, thereby, on Jesus.
A case in point comes in a section titled “Jesus Heals a Woman and Raises a Girl” (pages 336-370) where Smith gives insightful and sensitive attention to the famous account in Mark 5:25-34 of the woman with “an issue of blood,” a story that, as she points out, “requires male audience members to relate to and sympathize with uniquely female concerns” and “suggests that Jesus shared these concerns.” Moreover, she says, “The intertwined stories of the bleeding woman and Jairus’s daughter may be Mark’s most intricately plotted and symbolically rich text.”
According to Jewish law, the bleeding woman’s touch should have made Jesus ritually unclean. However, it doesn’t. Or, if it does, he appears not to care. This, says Smith, “is a commentary about Jesus’ relationship to the law of Moses.” Moreover, discussing Jesus’ question about who had touched his clothes, Smith remarks that “A Jewish audience may have thought that Jesus wanted to know who had touched him so that she could be rebuked for transmitting impurity.” But “the story plays out very differently.”
“Mark,” Smith observes, “had introduced the woman by calling her a woman with ‘an issue of blood.'” She had no name, no relationships, no geographical location; her disease is the sole marker of her identity. But in this verse (5:34), Jesus gives her a new identity marker: she is his daughter.
I cannot begin to summarize or even outline the richness of Smith’s discussion of this episode, which includes fascinating parallels and contrasts with Zechariah 8:23, 1 Samuel 1, Jeremiah 8 and, intriguingly, Genesis 3.16 comments on this story
And space permits me only to hint at the intriguing suggestions that Smith offers about the women witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection and the possible role of women in the transmission of Mark’s gospel itself. Read the book! Or its e-book!
For an earlier example of Smith’s approach to the story of the bleeding woman that is accessible at no charge online, see her article “A Redemptive Reading of Mark 5:25-34,” in “Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship” 14 (2015): 95-105; online at mormoninterpreter.com/a-redemptive-reading-of-mark-525-34/.