Jesus the Christ is, in my opinion, a pretty cool book. My question, however, is if it has anything to teach us about biblical scholarship.
Most of us know the story of how it was produced. The First Presidency requested the Brother Talmage write it, gave him a special room in the Temple to compose it, and had it published by the Church itself (not Deseret News Press). It is as close as you are going to get of an extended piece of â€œofficialâ€? scholarship Jesus.
And I think that you can call it scholarship. Talmage consulted contemporary New Testament scholars, he used lots of polysyllables, and provided some really beautifully pedantic footnotes. So if we take Talmage as a model of how we should approach Biblical scholarship, there are a couple of potential lessons that we could take away:
Contemporary Biblical Scholarship is Wrong. This is because most of it disagrees with the sources that Talmage consulted. If we think that he provides an authoritative model as to the substance of scholarship we clearly need to reject all of the stuff that contradicts Farrarr.
Mormons Should Adopt Conservative Biblical Scholarship. Rather than looking to the substance of the scholarship that Talmage consulted, we look at its place along an ideological spectrum. Source criticism of the NT had going along it merry way in NT scholarship for a couple of generations when Talmage penned Jesus the Christ. On the other hand, Q and the rest of the characters in contemporary biblical scholarship were not yet firmly entrenched. Those on the conservative side doubted (or so I understand). Today, I take it, that no one really has a problem with Q. In short, we should aim slightly to the right of scholarly consensus.
Mormons Should Simply Use Good Biblical Scholarship. On this view, Jesus the Christ is important not because of how it engaged biblical scholarship but rather because it engaged biblical scholarship. The point is that we should be eager to use the research of non-Mormons to illuminate our knowledge of the scriptures.
To the extent that we want to ask ourselves about the possibility and content of â€œMormonâ€? biblical scholarship, however, working out the methodological significance (if any) of Talmageâ€™s magnum opus seems like a place to start.