I was delighted to see the recent issue of the International Journal of Mormon Studies; the table of contents has much to entice the reader. I’ve skimmed a few of the papers and will likely review them as I have time. Here, however, I’d like to make a few comments on John Walsh’s article (PDF) treating the silly criticism that Mormons view Satan and Jesus as brothers. (Note: This is not the John W. Welch who is associated with BYU.)
While I agree with Walsh’s general perspective, the devil is, as we say, in the details. Besides Walsh’s claim that creedal Christians view Jesus’ soul being created ex nihilo at his conception (something that I don’t believe is accurate – see John 1), my basic criticism relates to his strange assertions regarding normative Mormon Doctrine.
My first concern was Walsh’s sources for doctrine; Mormon Doctrine and Doctrines of Salvation are an odd place to look for normative thought in the contemporary Church. After the basic appraisals of Mormon belief, Walsh gets into the nitty gritty of premortal cosmology, which forms the basis of the real titular concern. But Walsh is a partisan of one strand of Mormon thought and asserts it as the only Mormon doctrine, wrapping his entire argument around the position: Tripartite Existentialism. Alas, Walsh wants spirits to have been “procreated” by God the Father (I do think that like Pratt and Young, many Mormons believe spirits were gestated in a celestial womb). Instead of going back to Joseph Smith (“God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all”), Walsh takes Roberts and runs. Bizarrely, he even cites McConkie in his explication of the tripartite cosmology, when McConkie clearly thought the enterprise was rubbish.
Walsh’s key point is that “while it is a Mormon theological dogma that both Jesus and Satan received premortal spirit bodies from the Father, I believe it is improper emphasis to create a brotherly relationship based on it.” While I appreciate and agree with Walsh’s subsequent discussion of the associated belief that Jesus is our “elder brother” (a trend I have occasionally called elder-brotherism), I think that his points are weakened by the emphasis on tripartite existence. Without it and speculations on spiritual procreation, his point would have been wildly strengthened. References to critical editions of source material instead of the historiographically flawed Teachings, and History of the Church would have also added to the article.
I would have appreciated a broader treatment of Satan and his relation to God and Christ in Christian thought. I suspect that despite divergences in ontology, Mormons are closer to their creedal cousins on this issue than most suspect.