A few weeks ago, a couple of intriguing articles came out addressing some ways to contemplate the origins of different types of text. Some we know to be historical fiction, as the author of such texts plainly declares them so. Others claim to be true and authentic. How can we tell the difference? These articles give some helpful guidelines and insights.
Here are some excerpts:
“When discussing the meaning of scripture, people often raise the question of historicity. Unfortunately, this is a complicated topic with many distinct yet overlapping issues — issues that are frequently misunderstood or conflated. Historicity essentially means that a person mentioned in an ancient text really lived, that an event really happened, that a place actually existed.
Thus, historicity relates to questions such as, did Moses really exist? Was there really an Israelite exodus from Egypt? Was there a Mount Sinai? Alternatively, one can ask, did a historical Gandalf ever live? Was there really a siege at Helm’s Deep? Was there actually a volcano named Mount Doom where Sauron had his forge and workshop? The issue of historicity is thus an ontological question — a question about the nature of reality as reflected in historical texts.”
“It’s important to realize that not all the books of the Bible present themselves as history. The Bible includes poetry, proverbs, moral exemplars, etc. The book of Job may very well be a work of fiction — a parable of sorts, or a proto-philosophical dialogue. But Job doesn’t present itself as history (though some modern readers have assumed it to be such). That is, if Job is a work of fiction, it’s still authentic, because it makes no internal claim to be historical.
Likewise, in the Book of Mormon, the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5 isn’t historical; it presents itself as inspired fiction. The book of Kings, on the other hand, clearly presents itself as authentic history, though it makes no internal claim to inspiration or revelation.”
These two articles present some thought-provoking observations on how we can consider parts of our Standard Works through our careful and prayerful studies.