If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to you. That’s what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount somebody’s liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. . . . [W]e have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. . . . We would say: “This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” . . . We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive. -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Mar. 6, 2006. (Source.)
I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this Latter-day work and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these our times until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text, teeming with literary and Semitic complexity, without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages somehow–especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers–if that’s the case then such persons, elect or otherwise, have been deceived. And if they leave this Church, they must to do so by crawling over, or under, or around the Book of Mormon to make their exit.” -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Oct. 4, 2009. (Source.)
When Elder Holland delivered his stinging rebuke to Book of Mormon critics in his General Conference address last Sunday, reactions ranged from “woots” and “double woots” by literalist believers of the Book of Mormon, to disappointment by those who felt Elder Holland was backtracking on his prior statement that Church members who don’t believe the traditional story of its origins should not be considered “unacceptable . . . as a Latter-day Saint if [they] can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” However, after listening carefully to Elder Holland’s address again, I think both camps might be mistaken about what Elder Holland was intending to say, particularly with regard to the “Inspired Fiction” theory of the Book of Mormon.
The Inspired Fiction Theory and Its Scriptural Precedents
For those who may not be familiar with the Inspired Fiction theory, it goes something like this: Scripture is a vehicle that teaches us divine truths through the medium of divinely-inspired stories which are oftentimes fictional. Just a few of the more obvious examples would be the parables contained in the New Testament, or the fantastic stories in the Old Testament (Noah and the Ark, Moses’ divine cursing of Egypt, Jonah living three days in the belly of a whale, etc.). These seemingly obvious examples of divinely-inspired fiction are no less important or valuable as sources of divine guidance than had they been literally true. For example, the stories of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan do not have to be based on literal historic events to have spiritual value. Moreover, the fact that Jesus openly used fictional stories to teach timeless truths establishes an example and a pattern of God teaching his children spiritual truths through stories that are not grounded in literal, historic fact.
Latter-day Saint Apostles and scholars have embraced the notion that scripture may be divinely-inspired fiction. For example, Apostle Parley P. Pratt stated that the Creation story was the equivalent of a child’s fable because humankind has not been intellectually equipped throughout the ages to understand its true origins. (See Temples of the Most High.)
Moreover, faithful LDS scholars who have examined the surviving Egyptian papyri that were in Joseph Smith’s possession (which contain the facsimiles that appear in the Book of Abraham but which date from around 100 – 250 B.C. rather than from Abraham’s much earlier era) have theorized that perhaps the Book of Abraham was not translated from Egyptian papyri even though Joseph Smith said it was, but rather, that the Book of Abraham was a divine revelation that Joseph was able to receive only after his mind was opened and prepared to receive it by examining the Egyptian papyri in his possession. (Source.) In other words, faithful LDS scholars hypothesize that despite Joseph’s claim that the Book of Abraham was “A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt—The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus,” the papyrus merely served as a “catalyst” to inspire a divine revelation that was, in fact, not contained on the Egyptian papyri in his possession. (Source.) These LDS scholars feel comfortable with this possibility because, as one LDS apologetics forum explains: “Joseph used the word ‘translation‘ to mean several things, including the process of receiving pure revelation. (Joseph Smith’s revelations call his revision of the Bible a “translation” (D&C 73:4; 76:15; 90:13; 94:10; 124), even though he didn’t use any Hebrew of Greek manuscripts. Also, D&C 7 is a revealed translation of a lost record written by the Apostle John.)” (Source.) Again, it is worth emphasizing that, according to faithful LDS apologists, Joseph Smith is known to have used the word “translation” to mean “the process of receiving pure revelation,” as opposed to literally translating words in an ancient record from one language to another. (Source.) Thus, faithful LDS scholars have no qualms with the possibility that Joseph may have thought he was producing a “translation” of an ancient record when in reality he was receiving and recording “pure revelation” that was unconnected to any ancient record, even when a physical object such as Egyptian papyri were present. The overall concept is that Joseph’s revelations were divinely inspired even if he didn’t completely understand the process through which those revelations were received.
Resistance to, and Acceptance of, the Inspired Fiction Theory
When it comes to applying this same sort of theory to the Book of Mormon, however, the resistance sometimes becomes fierce. It seems most LDS leaders and scholars are unwilling to extend this same theory to the Book of Mormon, and are deeply disturbed by any suggestion that the Book of Mormon represents anything less than an actual translation of Reformed Egyptian characters into English taken from an actual historical record written by real persons living anciently in the Middle East and on the American continent. It is worth noting that this resistance to the Inspired Fiction theory persists even though LDS scholars now believe Joseph Smith and his contemporary Latter-day Saints were mistaken when they made many statements indicating their belief that the Book of Mormon accounts had taken place over large swaths of the North American continent. (Source.)
In summary, most LDS scholars are comfortable stating that Joseph Smith did not actually “translate” the Book of Abraham and the Bible as that word is commonly understood, and that he was mistaken in thinking that the Book of Mormon accounts took place over large swaths of the North American continent (rather than a relatively small area in Guatemala and southern Mexico), but they are unwilling to allow for the possibility that Joseph Smith also mistakenly believed the Book of Mormon was a translation of an actual ancient record.
Some may ask: Why resist applying the Inspired Fiction theory to the Book of Mormon? Why resist the idea that God inspired Joseph Smith to dictate the Book of Mormon to teach us divine truths through the medium of divinely-inspired stories that are equally fictional but no less valuable than the parables of Jesus? Why resist the idea that Lehi, Nephi and others were divinely-inspired characters in a grand divine novel rather than real persons who actually lived in the ancient Americas? Why resist the idea that Joseph mistakenly thought the Book of Mormon was a “translation” of an ancient record written by actual ancient prophets, similar to his mistakenly thinking he was translating the Egyptian papyri in his possession when he received the revelation that is the Book of Abraham? In a prior interview, Elder Holland explained why he has difficulty embracing the Inspired Fiction theory:
Now, in terms of more modern theories, there are those who say it’s more mythical literature and spiritual, and not literal. That doesn’t work for me. I don’t understand that, and I can’t go very far with that, because Joseph Smith said there were plates, and he said there was an angel. And if there weren’t plates and there wasn’t an angel, I have a bigger problem than whether the Book of Mormon is rich literature. . . . I have to go with what the prophet said about the book, about its origins, about the literalness of the plates, the literalness of the vision — and then the product speaks for itself.
I don’t think we’re through examining the depth, the richness, the profundity, the complexity, all of the literary and historical and religious issues that go into that book. I think we’re still young at doing that. But the origins for me are the origins that the prophet Joseph said: a set of plates, given by an angel, translated by the gift and power of God. . . . (Source.)
However, some LDS scholars, usually those whose conclusions fall outside the “mainstream” of what Church leaders and Church-funded scholars are comfortable accepting, view the Inspired Fiction theory as a favorable “middle ground” position where Latter-day Saints can continue to reverence the Book of Mormon as divinely-inspired scripture without having to believe it is an actual translation of an actual ancient record written by real people, and thereby avoiding the numerous challenges to the Book of Mormon’s historicity that currently keep a team of Church-funded scholars employed to research and respond to. However, as LDS scholar Louis Midgley has explained, such a “middle ground” position is harmful to the Church’s tradition and interests:
Some may ask: why not find a way to reduce the controversy over the Book of Mormon? What harm can such an accommodation do? The reasons for rejecting such compromises seem obvious to me. For one thing, the Book of Mormon is, more than anything else, what keeps the Church of Jesus Christ from becoming just another Protestant sect or social welfare agency. Its existence makes of Joseph Smith something other than a mere quaint or colorful example in a line of Christian primitivists or restorationists. In addition, the Book of Mormon was what witnessed to those who first became members of the fledgling Church of Christ that Joseph Smith wore the mantle of a genuine prophet, as it does to those who are currently believing and practicing Latter-day Saints. And its existence has, more than any other single thing, right from the beginning, distinguished the Latter-day Saints from various brands of Protestant sectarian religiosity. (Source.)
Did Elder Holland Denounce or Carefully Avoid the Inspired Fiction Theory?
Though it is clear that Elder Holland’s recent Conference address denounced all theories that portray Joseph Smith as having knowingly fabricated a book that he knew was not divinely-inspired, it is less clear to me after carefully listening to Elder Holland’s talk whether he was likewise intending to denounce the Inspired Fiction theory that portrays Joseph as receiving and dictating a divinely-inspired but fictional history of Israelites emigrating to and settling in ancient America as a medium for conveying spiritual truths and doctrines that promote the happiness, peace, and spiritual well-being of humankind. As you read the portions of Elder Holland’s address quoted below, it is important to keep in mind the distinction between what Elder Holland personally believes about the Book of Mormon, and what he is comfortable allowing other faithful Latter-day Saints to believe about its origins (as we see reflected in the very first Holland quote above). Although it is clear that Elder Holland personally believes the Book of Mormon is an actual translation of an actual ancient historical record, and although it is likewise clear he finds it utterly unacceptable for any Latter-day Saint to believe that Joseph Smith knowingly, and therefore deceptively, fabricated the Book of Mormon, ask yourself as you read Elder Holland’s remarks whether he allows for faithful Latter-day Saints to believe that the Book of Mormon was divinely-inspired, but that Joseph was simply mistaken in saying it was a translation of an actual physical historical record (as LDS scholars are willing to accept when it comes to the Book of Abraham and the Egyptian papyri Joseph Smith believed he was “translating”). For example, when Elder Holland states that Latter-day Saints are “deceived” unless they believe in the “divinity” of the Book of Mormon, does that mean he feels Latter-day Saints are deceived if they believe it is divinely-inspired fiction?
In my view, Elder Holland selected his words very carefully, I suspect for the purpose of allowing faithful Latter-day Saints to hold a position that he personally does not share: that the Book of Mormon was divinely-inspired, but that Joseph did not recognize its stories as being fictional (again, similar to LDS apologists’ theory that Joseph mistakenly believed the Book of Abraham was an actual translation of an actual historical record, rather than knowingly lying about it, and similar to LDS apologists’ assertion that Joseph was mistaken in believing that the Book of Mormon actually took place over large swaths of North America, rather than knowingly lying about it). And now, without further ado, the relevant portions of Elder Holland’s talk (as transcribed by me from the audio recording):
There is one kind of latter-day destruction that has always sounded to me more personal than public, more individual than collective, a warning perhaps more applicable inside the Church than outside it. The Savior warned in the last days, even those of the covenant, the very elect, could be deceived by the enemy of truth. . . . [Elder Holland then identifies the Book of Mormon as a source of divine guidance in the Latter-days, summarizes Lehi’s dream, focusing on the rod of iron and the mists of darkness, and relates a story of Hyrum reading a Book of Mormon passage to bring comfort to the party on their way to Carthage jail.]
Later, when actually incarcerated in the jail, Joseph the Prophet turned to the guards that held him captive and bore a powerful testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Shortly thereafter, pistol and ball would take the lives of these two testators. As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest and last hour of need, I ask you, would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book, and by implication a church and a ministry, they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?! . . . [A]nd tell me, whether in this hour of death, these two men would enter the presence of their eternal judge, quoting from, and finding solace in, a book which if not the very word of God would brand them as impostors and charlatans until the end of time. They would not do that! They were willing to die, rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
Elder Holland’s choice of words above is interesting. A Latter-day Saint who believes the Book of Mormon represents divinely-inspired fiction would whole-heartedly agree with his remarks about the Book of Mormon’s “divine authenticity,” “divinity,” “truthfulness,” “divine origin,” and “eternal truthfulness,” in the same way he or she would embrace the “divine authenticity” and “divine origin” and “eternal truthfulness” of Jesus’ parables or any number of the fantastic stories in the Old Testatment. Moreover, when Elder Holland uses the word “fictitiously” above, it’s seems he almost certainly means that Joseph would not have knowingly fictitiously created the Book of Mormon, as opposed to his receiving a divine revelation that he did not recognize as being a fictional spiritual history (again, in the same way LDS apologists hypothesize with regard to the Book of Abraham). This line of thought continues in the next paragraph, where he denounces the various theories that portray Joseph as knowingly plagiarizing from other works to create the Book of Mormon, or knowingly fabricating it out of whole cloth:
Failed theories about its origins have been born, parroted, and died. From Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding, to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young, unlearned translator. . . . “No wicked man could write such a book as this, and no good man would write it, unless it were true, and he were commanded of God to do so.” I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this Latter-day work and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these our times until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text, teeming with literary and Semitic complexity, without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages somehow–especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers–if that’s the case then such persons, elect or otherwise, have been deceived. And if they leave this Church, they must to do so by crawling over, or under, or around the Book of Mormon to make their exit.
Again, I do not see anything here that should cause Latter-day Saints who ascribe to the Inspired Fiction theory of the Book of Mormon’s origins to feel as if they’ve been pronounced “deceived” by Elder Holland. While he obviously sees “Semitic complexity” in the Book of Mormon, which he plainly relies upon to support his personal view that it represents literal history, he does so in the context of denouncing those those who deny the Book of Mormon’s divinity. Of course, those who ascribe to the Inspired Fiction are in full agreement with Elder Holland about the divinity of the Book of Mormon, and could further believe that any genuine “Semitic complexity” within its pages was divinely-inspired as well.
Elder Holland then cited as support for his position that witnesses to the Gold Plates, some of whom were later sometimes hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the Gold Plates by the power of God and not the power of man. Thus, Elder Holland plainly believes in the literal existence of Gold Plates, and views them as being the source material for the Book of Mormon, along with “gift and power of God” to translate them. However, there is no plain denunciation of those who believe the Gold Plates could have been an angelically-provided object that served as a catalyst to open and prepare Joseph’s mind to receive the Book of Mormon through revelation, in the same way that LDS apologists posit Joseph received the “pure revelation” of the Book of Abraham after examining the catalyst to that revelation, namely, the Egyptian papyri in his possession. Moreover, this would explain the accounts where Joseph “translated” the Book of Mormon while he gazed into a seer stone placed in his hat, rather than by reading from the characters on the Gold Plates. (Source.)
Elder Holland continues:
Now, I did not sail with the brother of Jared . . . . I did not hear King Benjamin speak his angelically-delivered sermon. I did not proselyte with Alma and Amulek . . . . I was not among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord, nor did I weep with Mormon and Moroni over the destruction of an entire civilization. But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them, I give my name unto the world to witness unto the world of that which I have seen, and like them, I lie not, God bearing witness of it.
I suppose one could read the quote above cynically to mean that Elder Holland said he didn’t do any of these things because they never actually happened, but I don’t believe for a second that was his intended meaning. It seems this passage again demonstrates Elder Holland’s belief that these were actual historic events. But is that the equivalent of saying that those Latter-day Saints who do not share that belief are “deceived”? I personally don’t think so, because when he referred to Latter-day Saints being “deceived” about the Book of Mormon earlier in his remarks, he did so in the context of identifying those who deny the Book of Mormon’s divinity. Moreover, if at any point in his talk Elder Holland intended to say that faithful Latter-day Saints must believe the Book of Mormon is a literal historical account of real people, he could easily have just said so. For example, he could have easily testified to the Book of Mormon’s “historical truthfulness” or “historical authenticity” but instead, he chose to testify of its “divinity” and “eternal truthfulness.”
Elder Holland concluded with his personal testimony of the Book of Mormon:
I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world in the most straightforward language I can summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth, and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the last days. My witness echoes that of Nephi, who wrote part of the book in his last days, “hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, . . . and they teach all men that they should do good. And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day.
Remember this declaration by Jesus himself: “Whoso treasureth up my word shall not be decieved.” And in the last days, neither your heart nor faith will fail you. Of this I earnestly testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen
Once again, a Latter-day Saint who ascribes to the Inspired Fiction theory would have no problem echoing Elder Holland’s testimony that the Book of Mormon is “true” any more than the average LDS apologist would bristle at the suggestion that that the parables of Jesus, or the Book of Abraham or the Joseph Smith”translation” of the Bible, are “true”–even though those are all recognized by LDS apologists as potentially being divinely-inspired fiction and not literal translations of actual historical records in Joseph’s possession.
Finally, I can’t help noting what I feel must have been carefully chosen wording by Elder Holland in saying that the Book of Mormon “came forth the way Joseph said it came forth.” This language struck me because it reminded me of a passage in an official Church text book used in CES Institute and BYU Religion classes, Church History in the Fullness of Times:
Little is known about the actual process of translating the record, primarily because those who knew the most about the translation, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, said the least about it. Moreover, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Emma Smith, who assisted Joseph, left no contemporary descriptions. The sketchy accounts they recorded much later in life were often contradictory.
The Prophet was reluctant to give the details about the translation. In a Church conference held 25-26 October 1831 in Orange, Ohio, Hyrum requested that a firsthand account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon be given. But the Prophet said, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.” Joseph explained in an open letter to a newspaper editor in 1833 the heart of the matter, but he gave few particulars, stating that the Book of Mormon was “found through the ministration of an holy angel, and translated into our own language by the gift and power of God.” (Church History in the Fullness of Times, p. 58, Church Education System, 1993.)
This passage raises some interesting questions: Why did Joseph and Oliver say so little about the method of translation of the Book of Mormon? Why was Joseph Smith “reluctant to give the details about the translation”? When Joseph Smith’s own brother Hyrum, who obviously believed in the Book of Mormon, asked Joseph to give a firsthand account of its coming forth to a Church conference, why did Joseph answer that “[i]t was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon”? Why did Joseph stick to generalities about the Book of Mormon being translated “by the gift and power of God”?
Elder Holland’s fervent testimony that the Book of Mormon “came forth in the way Joseph said it came forth” takes on an interesting meaning when examined in the context of these statements. It seems he too was testifying, in general terms, that the Book of Mormon came forth “by the gift and power of God,” which is a statement that adherents to the Inspired Fiction theory can fully agree with.
So what do you think? Did Elder Holland intend to denounce the Inspired Fiction theory along with all other non-traditional theories about its orgins, or did he, consistent with his words in the first quote above, intentionally and carefully avoid it to provide room within the Church for those for whom the Inspired Fiction theory serves as a lifeline that keeps them tethered to the Church?
Andrew, I agree with your assessment of Elder Holland’s intent and aim in the talk.
Thanks for your comment on my blog 🙂
This is a very interesting post and ultimately I agree with you that Elder Holland is not denouncing those that hold to the ‘inspired fiction’ theory directly. He obviously believes in its historicity and is trying to give others a spiritual testimony and witness of its divinity and historical nature, but I think that he does not deliver open criticism of those hold your point of view. I do think that perhaps you are parsing words to some degree and looking into linguistic nuance where perhaps none exists.
The problem I have with the ‘inspired fiction’ theory is that the work goes itself to so much detail to try to establish itself as history. Each writer speaks about how the words on the plates are true and testifies to that extent. Geneology and recording of these events is a major theme throughout. Moreover, part of the beauty of the book of Mormon is the idea of having two voices separated by a thousand years echoing the same simple theme of repentance and forgiveness. I am not sure that the Book of Mormon itself gives one the option to believe it is ‘historical fiction.’
Thanks again for your comment and I’d love to hear your thoughts/response.
If you use the words “divinity” and “origin” to have the same meaning in his PBS quote as his GC address, then he isn’t really addressing the inspired fiction in the former, because he says there that we do not consider people any less acceptable as Latter-Day Saints because they are accepting of pieces or the idea of the BofM but “not agreeing to its origin, its divinity”.
We compare Holland to Holland, and his own words to his own words. If “origin” and “divinity” are not equated with literal translation in the GC address, then they shouldn’t be in the PBS one either. So, if we agree with your analysis that he’s not addressing inspired fiction last weekend, just who is he saying he loves, accepts and doesn’t want to be smug or insensitive to in the PBS address?
I think he’s changed his mind for whatever reason, and the wooting is reflective of the part of the church that prefers black and white to nuance in its cannon while the criticism is reflective of those who wish for the tent of Mormonism to include the inspired fiction believers.
I thought your defining of an “Inspired Fiction Theory” was well done. I do think it’s a ‘door way out’of a big mess or split within the Church, but I don’t feel this door will be used (?)
I agree with your assessment Andrew but am certain that very few members will have noticed the careful choice of wording. Most people I have heard comment simply heard the literalist viewpoint and will leave it at that.
Thanks so much for taking the time to draft and share such a thoughtful post. When I heard the talk I was struck by the word “divinity” and wondered whether Elder Holland had considered using the word “historicity” in its place. Not that my opinion matters, but I was grateful that he used the word “divinity” because it allows us to continue to believe in the “inspired fiction” theory, or something akin to it.
Andrew, personally I don’t see the BoM as “inspired fiction,” for the reasons mentioned in #2. In addition, it seems great pains are taken by the original writers to show the book’s historicity and to prove it as an actual historical document. However, I think the Church should be accepting and indeed embrace people with such views, and I hope people who believe this can maintain their testimony of the Church. I think you make a good comparison to the Book of Abraham, and many apologists are, as you say, trying to get their arms around the historicity of that document. So, overall a very well-written and well argued post.
Institutionally, the church has done nothing but promote the historicity of the Book of Mormon. As usual, we can find bits and pieces of thoughts that hint at other origins of the book. However, the message of its 50,000-strong sales force to all the world as they present it is that those events actually happened. If the church does not consider the Book of Mormon a historical document, then all of those young men who have decided to give up 2 years of their lives are doing so believing in something that is not correct and converting people on falsehoods. I understand the inspired fiction idea and tried to use it myself to placate my doubts about the book for decades. It no longer works for me. I now look at it as my attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole.
I don’t know why Elder Holland feels those who reject the book need to account for the spiritual impact the book has had on tens of millions of readers when there are probably hundreds of millions of people who have rejected the book.
Thank you, Andrew, for your in-depth look at this issue. My son, who is preparing to leave on a mission in a few months, ate this talk up. I had to leave the room. I am one of the foolish.
Pink, your husband is right, that is no evidence of archeological or DNA evidence in the BM. Also, there is a substantial plagiarized content from the KJV bible and other sources. Many things like animals , plants and metals mention in the BM that did not exist at the time the BM took place (anachronism). The different first vision accounts, polygomy, fail prophecies and many other historical church issues. Why would you have to pray about the BM to get an answer about its validity when is supposed to be historical. You are right about civilizations, there should be plenty of evidence at hill cumorah from the battles that supposly took place. Why is the church not excavating the site for evidence. Are they affraid to be disappointed not to find any evidence? You should listen to your husband and discussed the issues if you really want to find the truth. Remember, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck , is probably a duck, good luck!
If the Book of Mormon is “inspired fiction”, I think the suggestion that Joseph Smith didn’t have that in mind when he wrote/received it is preposterous. It would mean that either Joseph Smith couldn’t tell the difference between inspiration and his own imagination, or that God made the history in the book up out of whole cloth and told Joseph Smith what to write, or that Joseph Smith was translating a fictional book written by someone else.
Either the book is historical or Joseph Smith invented it on the means to an end principle. I don’t think God is above granting inspiration to people who are trying to teach correct principles, but who otherwise are using rather unconventional means to do so. But I don’t believe that God under any circumstances would initiate the creation of a fictional history himself.
I do not believe the “inspired fiction” theory, for numerous reasons. If Joseph was so “mistaken” about so many things (you used the word 9 times), then how can we be sure he was not mistaken about a number of other things in the coming forth of the Church and restoration of the Gospel? I think it brings up a host of questions more than it answers, and turns Joseph into a fool.
Who was the angel who delivered the plates and who called himself Moroni? Did Moroni (or whoever he was) lie when he taught Joseph about the “former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang,” and the gospel that was “delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (JS-H 1:34)? Were there no plates? Was there no angel? Then what did the witnesses see and touch (both in terms of the angel and the plates)? What did Joseph heave around all those days? Did the First Vision really happen, or was Joseph mistaken about that too? When Joseph (and other prophets who followed him) relates that ancient prophets visited him, including Nephi, Moroni, Mormon, Peter, James, John, John the Baptist, Adam, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elias, Noah, and many others, was he mistaken about those experiences? Did they not really happen? And what about those that were with him when he received such visitations? Were they mistaken too? Did he really receive the priesthood under the hands of such ancient prophets, or did he just say he did, somehow thinking he had mistakenly, but not in reality? And what about Oliver Cowdery who was with him? Did Joseph receive revelation from the Lord, or was he mistaken that he had, thinking it up within his own mind? Was he called by God to be a prophet and restore the Church, or did he mistakenly believe he was? This is just the beginning…
When we begin to make Joseph more mistaken than correct about his own reality and experiences, we begin to make him into the “deranged paranoid” that Elder Holland flatly denounced, someone who doesn’t understand his own existence, and is mentally detached from the truth of his own actions. Instead of believing him to be the prophet he said he was, someone who understands his existence and our reality much more thoroughly than not, and thus someone in whose words we can believe and have faith, he takes on the form of a lunatic, misleading people into his own delusions. How can we believe Joseph then? Do we pick and choose when Joseph was speaking eternal truths and when he was utterly mistaken? When we do this, we make out the prophet no better than those who rejected the prophets anciently, believing him to be mad.
In this we are deceived.
Thanks for the great post, Andrew. Seeing as there are so many conflicting opinions about Elder Holland’s talk, it makes me think he was intentionally ambiguous. So, perhaps his fiery delivery caused me to miss what he was actually saying. I need to READ the whole talk carefully, then reevaluate my feelings. Your analysis will be very helpful to me during that process.
As most conference talks do, this one hit different chords with different people. There has been much speculation about what Elder Holland really meant by his talk – which is one of the many ironies here given EH’s apparent objective to be crystal clear.
For me, his talk was troubling and he has me once again has me wondering whether I can maintain even loose links to all the good in the LDS church (which there is so much). EH knows the historical issues, and it is troubling that he would use language such as “pathetic” and “deceived” when he himself knows the depth of complexity involved here. He seems to demand a fair shake for evidence of the BOM that promotes his conclusions, but resorts to name calling when individuals want to look at the totality of the evidence – especially when a rational interpretation of that evidence may not agree with the orthodox view.
I’ve noted how some in the church (myself included) have engaged in mental gymnastics, bad arguments, straw men, and wishful thinking to “crawl over or under or around (problems with) The Book of Mormon” – with the end goal of rationalizing/legitimizing the BOM and staying in the church. It’s ironic that EH seems to insinuate that those who leave the church over the complex BOM historical issues must have done so by twisting the obvious, concrete, logical and rational explanation the church offers – an angel, gold plates, a stone in a hat, and undisputed, divine, literal translation abilities of JS.
Thanks for the analysis, Andrew.
Bryce (10), you ask very good questions. To be clear, I was referring to LDS apologists saying that Joseph was mistaken about the Book of Abraham being literally translated from the Egyptian papyri, and mistaken about the Book of Mormon taking place over large swaths of the North American continent. I think whenever LDS scholars conclude that Joseph was or at least may have been mistaken about such things, the door becomes opened to all of the very valid questions you asked. But to be clear, I am not citing myself in saying Joseph was or may have been mistaken about the process of his own revelations. See the sources I cited in the post.
“As most conference talks do, this one hit different chords with different people. There has been much speculation about what Elder Holland really meant by his talk – which is one of the many ironies here given EH’s apparent objective to be crystal clear.”
Yep. Jury trials are scary.
Bryce, I am believing LDS, my DH is disaffected. I believe the BoM, but my belief is based soley on faith. DH is the kind of person who needs evidence.
So, I ask you, where is the evidence? If the church insists on holding the BoM up as a historical document, then that document should be subject to the same scrutiny as other historical documents. Civilizations leave evidence of their existence. Can you point me toward this evidence? Artifacts?
I ask in all sincerity, because I would love to offer this evidence to DH. I have stopped trying to defend the BoM to him because all I can offer is my belief and the totally lame argument that “It cannot be DISPROVED”, which is really no argument at all.
Excellent post Andrew. I am glad someone tackled this issue. I appreciate the analysis, and I actually agree whole-heartedly. However, what EH meant is really not my concern, but rather the way in which his talk will be received.
I already have serious problems in my family as one who believes the inspired fiction theory. I am surrounded by literal believers. It may very well be that your analysis is correct and that EH specifically danced around the inspired fiction theory being careful not to denounce it. But he also did nothing to validate it (which I grant is to be expected). But the tone of his talk and the delivery was with such emotion, such force, such grandeur, and in a way that confirms what literal believers already believe that I am very worried that this will be further ammunition for other members of my family to even more forcefully wag their heads in a spirit of sorrow that I am one of the elect who are deceived.
Certainly I understand that this is not EH’s fault per se. And certainly EH cannot be held responsible for all the possible interpretations of his words. It might be that if people actually took the time to parse the talk appropriately they may come to the same conclusions you have here. But the truth is, this is not what those who already agree with EH will hear. If EH meant it in a way that gives some validation for the inspired fiction theory, I can only assume he would have done so. He didn’t, in spite of the fact that a careful parsing may reveal that he has left room for this. That’s fine for me, but won’t be for my family.
As I was listening to the talk all I could focus on was when I’m going to get the first email pointing out the follies of my ways and how I’m deceived, and foolish, and must “crawl” around the Book of Mormon as EH has pointed out. For me, his talk in and of itself is not problematic since I choose to parse it as you have outlined here. But, like many other things in this church, the culture that will be created from such a talk will be damaging for many people and their families.
a concerned mormon, I share your concern.
I do want to remain on topic, but I also want to point this out:
Re: 10 Bryce
“Do we pick and choose when Joseph was speaking eternal truths and when he was utterly mistaken?”
I think if you’re anything less than a fundamentalist then you absolutely have “picked and chosen” when Joseph was speaking eternal truths and when he was “utterly mistaken.” There are ample instances of this in current LDS theology and doctrine. Our backing down from the idea that God was once a man as evidenced by statements from recent prophets, and indicated by changes in the Gospel Principles manual is just one instance. Joseph was quite clear, after all, in the King Follett discourse. There are plenty of other examples.
pinkpatent, have you read the work of FARMS and FAIR? Of Hugh Nibley? There is mountains of evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, if you want to read it, that lends credibility to the history of the book. But all of the evidence in the world is not going to prove the Book of Mormon, any more than it would prove the Bible, to be true. Those books will never be proven true via such evidence. It was never meant to be that way. I don’t think God will ever provide conclusive proof of the scriptures’ historicity (he could have done so easily by leaving the plates for scrutiny). The works of God are only understood by the Spirit. God want us to exercise faith in his works.
Bryce, I have no argument with you. I was sincere in my question. I have traveled through Europe and visited the ruins of civilizations that pre-date Christ. I am just asking if there are any archeological sites for the Nephite civilization. I would love information about these sites, if they exist.
Elder Holland is an intelligent and savvy man -its why he is where he is in the church. People heard what he wanted them to hear – the faithful who have been conditioned to accept the BOM as truly historical and inspired regardless of troubling evidence to the contrary heard a resounding defense and apostolic support for their beliefs. To those who see the emerging and repeating pattern of “inspired fiction” as the only tolerable way to justify Joseph’s “translations” without jettisoning him as a pious fraud, Holland spoke in terms they could embrace and not feel too ostracized. The fact is the LDS community in growing numbers is seeing what honest and open RLDS (now Community of Christ) members saw 20 years ago. The preponderance of evidence weighs heavily on the side of the BOM as fiction, lacking in historical, anthropological, linguistic and archaeological support (to the point the church needed to change the intro to the BOM), reflecting 19th century themes, borrowing heavily from New Testament language and concepts that are jarringly out of place in the corresponding Old Testament time period in the Book of Mormon. Hopefully the time will soon come when, within the LDS tradition, as now with the Community of Christ, one need not even affirm belief in the Book of Mormon to be embraced within the Latter-day Saint community.
Pink, if you want to get the most up-to-date BOM research by LDS scholars, just go to the FARMS (Maxwell Institute) or FAIR (LDS Apologetics) websites and you’ll find ample reading there. If you want a couple book recommendations, I can’t recommend highly enough Teryl Givens’ “By the Hand of Mormon,” which provides an excellent and engaging summary of the BOM debate that has been going on since it was first published. If you want to get into more nuts and bolts, a good starter is probably John Sorenson’s “An Ancient Setting for the Book of Mormon” (you can even find it on Amazon). There is also a lengthy six volume work that compiles various theories and findings, but I am embarrassed to say that at this very moment I am blanking on the author’s name.
No, pinkpatent, there are no conclusive archeological sites for the Nephite civilization, but then again, we do not know the indigenous names of any of the ancient Mesoamerican cities or peoples. But if that is the only evidence you are looking for, then I think your search is much too narrow. Volumes have been written about the evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, outside of archeological sites. Have you read these?
Let’s just say, for instance, that evidence was found that conclusively linked a unique Book of Mormon city name with a Mesoamerican site, what then? The Book of Mormon would basically be proven true, correct? Why would the Lord allow this to happen? There would be no more faith in the work, for it would be proven true. Joseph Smith would be proven to be a prophet. The entire earth might as well convert then to Mormonism. I don’t think that will ever happen. Even with the very substantial evidence of the Nahom site in Arabia, there is still enough evidence on both sides to cast doubt, and thus a testimony of the Book of Mormon remains an issue a faith, not proof. It will forever remain so, I believe, at least until the Lord comes.
There are details surrounding the “inspired fiction” theory that really ought to be specified when it is being debated. At a minimum, the theory states that Joseph Smith was inspired to produce the BoM text, but that it does not represent the history of any group of people living in the Americas. Many of the arguments against that theory, however, address details that go beyond the basic theory. Whether proponents of the theory embrace these details, I have no idea. Two examples of such details are the appearance of Moroni (testified to by JS and the three witnesses) and the existence of the plates (testified to by the eight witnesses).
Does belief in the “inspired fiction” theory imply disbelief in the appearance of Moroni? It depends on whether you think the appearance of an angel is a strictly objective experience. I do not, so I don’t think it is fair to accuse, however indirectly, followers of the theory of rejecting the testimony of the three witnesses. But I think a coherent theory would acknowledge that JS and the three witnesses at least subjectively experienced an angelic visitation. That does not place the BoM on any weaker footing than the Bible, which recounts angelic visitations that can be regarded as equally subjective.
How about the existence of the plates? This is actually a much bigger deal than the appearance of Moroni. Nothing in the testimony of the eight witnesses implies a subjective experience–either the plates existed (and were not manufactured by JS or his associates) or the witnesses were lying. So if believers in the “inspired fiction” theory are also rejecting the existence of the plates, I agree with the critics and think they have a real problem. The Book of Abraham parallels persuade me, however, that the existence of the plates is actually an important part of a coherent theory. Just as the papyri supposedly acted as a catalyst for JS’s production of the BoA, so the plates would have served as a catalyst for the production of the BoM.
So to summarize, I wish those propounding the “inspired fiction” theory would be explicit about their assumptions regarding the appearance of Moroni and the existence of the plates, and I wish that the critics of the theory would refrain from attacking elements that are not actually part of the theory.
Andrew, thank you for a thoughtful post.
Some of the instances you cite of Elder Holland’s language appearing to leave the “inspired fiction” door open a crack are interesting indeed.
I do wonder, though, whether (like those who find so much literary and “Semitic complexity” in the Book of Mormon), you are finding hidden meanings that the author or the original text may not have intended.
As an example, I took a Shakespeare class at BYU. I was not an English major, so the ways of that tribe were foreign to me. I was astonished at the “hidden meanings” my classmates kept finding in Shakespeare’s plays. Evidently Will Shakespeare was a feminist-leaning liberal Democrat, who salted his plays with all kinds of red meat for modern progressives. Who knew? The point is that if you look hard enough for something, you are almost sure to find it — even if the original author intended nothing like the meaning you project onto a text.
Lemming, thanks for your remarks. I think you helped focus and move the discussion along.
Thomas, very good observations, and so interesting to me that scripture, and not just Shakespeare and GC talks, can be and is read much the same way. Which begs the question: is the ambiguity and multi-faceted nature of scripture divinely willed as well?
Andrew, Bryce, thank you. I will look into those sources. But, as a HUGE Indiana Jones fan, I would REALLY love an archeological site. Maybe someday.
Bruce (#23) “Let’s just say, for instance, that evidence was found that conclusively linked a unique Book of Mormon city name with a Mesoamerican site, what then? The Book of Mormon would basically be proven true, correct? Why would the Lord allow this to happen? There would be no more faith in the work, for it would be proven true. Joseph Smith would be proven to be a prophet. The entire earth might as well convert then to Mormonism.”
This has always seemed a strange defense to me for not finding more BoM evidence. You can visit hundreds of Old Testament and New Testament sites, read very early manuscripts of these books, etc. Do you really think that a lack of physical evidence is required to have faith? Why would a God not want, ‘the entire earth … converted to Mormonism,’ if indeed that is his desire. God purposefully withholds evidence that would turn a vast amount number of people to his truth? Really?
Pink, last summer while in Belize I visited an ancient Mayan city named “Lamanai”. I couldn’t help but recognize the similarity of its name to Lamonai, the Lamanite king in the Book of Mormon. “Lamanai” means “submerged crocodile”. It was an incredibly vast city, only a tiny fraction of which had been excavated. Was it a lost Book of Mormon city? I’m personally not too persuaded by arguments against the Book of Mormon based on absence of archaeological support because: (1) the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence as a matter of simple logic; and (2) archaeological research in Meso-America is still in its infancy and there is so much under the Earth and jungle that hasn’t been discovered yet. For me, the archaeological challenges to the Book of Mormon are not the strongest ones, so archaeological evidence is not what I’m really looking for (though it certainly would be nice). Keep in mind that archeology is just one slice of the many facets of research into the Book of Mormon (others include linguistics, demographic growth rates, DNA, KJV Bible quotes, pre-Christ Christology, Protestant “emotionalism” in the Book of Mormon, its similarity to the highly evolved Christian theology of Joseph’s day, etc.)
The Book is a stumbling block, among other reasons, because there is just enough evidence in its favor to provide reason to believe for those inclined to do so, but not enough to be overwhelmingy convincing to those inclined to be skeptical. That intellectual draw between those who attempt to muster evidence in its behalf and those attempting to convincingly disprove it has been maintained for some 180 years.
For the believer, the idea that the Book of Mormon is inspired fiction raises more questions than than it answers. 1) It poses the problem of how Joseph Smith could have invented any part of it without knowing that he was doing so. 2) It suggests that God himself invented a piece of fiction and presented it to Joseph as the truth. 3) It offers no better guide to which parts are literally true and which parts are fictional than one’s own personal preferences. 4) It offers cover for all degrees of disbelief and intellectual and spiritual laziness, and acts as an insidious counterfeit substitute for the promise of divine confirmation, based on conformity to what the book teaches.
Confutus, I agree completely with your first paragraph, but I question some of the assertions in your second one.
1. Are you likewise troubled by LDS scholars’ hypothesis that Joseph was likewise unaware that he wasn’t actually rendering a “translation” of the Egyptian papyri when he “translated” the Book of Abraham? Or when he gave his “Joseph Smith Translation” of the Bible? Or when he “translated” a “lost record” (i.e., nothing at all was in front of him) of the Apostle John in D&C 7?
2. When you bristle at the idea that God himself invented a piece of fiction and presented it as the truth, are you likewise troubled that the Bible does the same? There aren’t any disclaimers before we read about Noah building an ark big enough to carry two of every species, and their food, ranging from pole to pole of the Earth to gather penguins to giraffes to polar bears to tigers (not to mention a male and female from every species of bird and insect!). Nor do we get a disclaimer on Jonah, or Job, or any of the legion of fantastic stories the Bible contains, which seem to present a world so very, very different from our own.
3. Again, same challenge exists with the Bible to discern historical fact from powerful metaphor, so why reject that possibility for the Book of Mormon?
4. I strongly disagree that Inspired Fiction encourages spiritual laziness, not only because I know so many spiritually lazy BOM literalists, but because people are generally less motivated to do something when they believe they HAVE to do it (because historical reality compels it), rather than doing something they WANT to do even in the absence of compelling physical evidence.
Andrew, that is so cool. I would love to visit that site.
I am aware of the other issues, DH often reminds me of them. We don’t argue about this stuff because, for me, its a matter of faith. He loves me and respects my beliefs. I just would love to be able to offer him tangible evidence, because that is what speaks to him. He has researched all the things you mentioned and has not been convinced that the BoM is a historical document. I still believe, but respect my husband’s beliefs as well.
Pink, if it’s any consolation to you, I think the absence of evidence, or at least the ambiguity of the evidence, may intentionally exist because God wants us to choose be good because we WANT to be good, and not because we feel physical evidence or historical reality COMPELS us to be good.
Mike (#29), most of the events in the Bible, if not all, cannot be proven via archeological evidence. Even the literal mortal life of Jesus Christ is now questioned, because there just isn’t physical evidence for it. You might be able to visit hundreds of plausible OT and NT sites, but that does not tell you what happened in those locations, just that they are there. Well, Mesoamerica is there too.
Yes, I think conclusive physical evidence for events in the Bible or Book of Mormon is not what God wants. Faith is a hope in things which are NOT seen, which are true. Once they are seen, there is no need to have faith anymore. God wants a faithful people, who learn and know and understand the things of God ultimately in a different way than through our typical five senses. God wants man to be converted to his truth, but not by proof in man-made objects or locations, but by their faithful exercise of his words. It is the age-old requirement of a sign to believe. God does not want that, or he would not have taken back the plates. It doesn’t work that way. It is not true conversion.
Some have posited what would happen if the gold plates were laid out on a table before the skeptics today, and they did, in fact, contain the characters that became the Book of Mormon. What would it prove? That the book is real? I already know it’s real by holding the book in my hand. That it’s historical? I already know that by the many Semitic and Old World complexities within the text, that Joseph Smith could not have possibly known about. Such substantial evidence might lead many to join the Church, but it would not convert them like a witness of the Spirit that testifies of the truth of these things. God will provide enough circumstantial evidence to lend credibility to his works, but he will never prove them via those means. That is work of faith and prayer.
Funny you should say that, because DH is such a happier, nicer person since his disaffection. Not that he was a jerk before, but now it seems like he is following his own instruction to be a good person.
Let’s just say, for instance, that evidence was found that conclusively linked a unique Book of Mormon city name with a Mesoamerican site, what then? The Book of Mormon would basically be proven true, correct? Why would the Lord allow this to happen? There would be no more faith in the work, for it would be proven true.
Gotta love that logic! It’s sort of like the Bible, you know. Imagine if evidende was found that the biblical city of Jerusalem really existed! There would be no more faith in the Bible, and deity would just hate that!
Nick (#37), evidence of a biblical city location does not prove any one religion true. Evidence of a Book of Mormon city might. How’s that logic?
Confutus @30, the Church has declared that Muhammad (another self-proclaimed prophet, who explicitly declared he’d received the Koran from the angel Gabriel) “received a portion of God’s light.
Is it possible that Muhammad, unsatisfied with the religious options he saw around him, set out to build a better spiritual mousetrap — and upon completing the Koran, was astonished at its profundity, and concluded that he couldn’t possibly have come up with it on his own, and decided he must have been angelically inspired?
Muhammad doesn’t have to be a true prophet (PBUH) or an impostor. Neither does Joseph Smith.
Re: 33 AA
I think you have a good point and I think you’re absolutely right that God wants us to do good rather than compelling us to be good. However, I’m not entirely convinced that historical reality, or physical evidence COMPELS us to be good. What we’re really broaching here is the topic of faith it seems to me. Does evidence, or historical reality diminish the need for faith? If Joseph’s claims are taken literally (as they are in mainstream Mormonism) then he is a shining example that indeed it does not! After all, he saw God and Jesus, but certainly still had faith as he claimed it was the main force driving all actions.
I recognize there is probably a fine line here. As science progresses and we use “inference to the best explanation” as our mechanism for determining truth, we, as a society, don’t really believe demons cause disease, or that women are witches. And if there was some major archaeological find, or other “proof” of the BoM if would certainly make it easier to believe Joseph’s claims, but I’m not sure it compels us to. I think it highly unlikely that we would see Muslims abandoning their Quran and converting in large swaths to Mormonism if there were some physical evidence or clear historical reality supporting JS’s claims.
On the other hand, I can also see that with clear, and obvious truth, which is so often manifested by science, that it becomes unnecessary to breech the darkness, and step out into the unknown. I’m not exactly sure where the line would be drawn, but I don’t think that if there was a large archaeological find, or DNA evidence substantiating JS’s claims that it would either diminish faith and compel people to be good, or convert the many anti-mormons.
I think Nick and Thomas’ comments, and other previous commentors here, have demonstrated how there are no simple answers to this mystery:
1. If the Book of Mormon is a translation of an actual ancient record left behind by real people who had a vast civilization on the American continent, why is clear, conclusive evidence of that fact proving so elusive to find? Why are there enough serious challenges to its historicity to keep a team of Church-funded scholars employed to research and respond to them?
2. If the Inspired Fiction theory is correct, why the elaborate story about Gold Plates and the Angel Moroni, not to mention the many “asides” in the Book of Mormon that seem designed to convince the reader that it is an authentic history of real people (e.g., explaining the Nephite monetary system with senines and ontis, etc.)
3. If Joseph Smith and/or others knowingly fabricated the Book of Mormon, how did they do such a darn good job of it, how did they luck out with details that find some archaeological substantiation (e.g., the city NHM on the Arabian peninsula), and how do we reconcile that with the genuine Christian conduct they displayed throughout their lives?
Which of these three alternatives is most likely to be true?
Re: thomas #36
“Is it possible that Muhammad, unsatisfied with the religious options he saw around him, set out to build a better spiritual mousetrap — and upon completing the Koran, was astonished at its profundity, and concluded that he couldn’t possibly have come up with it on his own, and decided he must have been angelically inspired?
Muhammad doesn’t have to be a true prophet (PBUH) or an impostor. Neither does Joseph Smith.”
I am currently reading a biography of Muhammed and I love what you’ve said here. This is my take on it as well. Joseph may not have literally seen God and Jesus (it was a vision), and there may not have been a real person named Nephi who sailed to the western hemisphere and I would still not consider Joseph an imposter. In fact, I would revere him as a prophet, like unto Muhammed.
Actually, AA, you have succinctly outlined why the BoM origins remains a very elusive topic for me. It is one of the biggest reasons I stay, and it keeps my faith alive.
jmb, your comments about Muhammad remind me of the fact that a well-known faithful LDS scholar, Daniel Petersen, wrote a book entitled: “Muhammad, Prophet of God.” Dr. Petersen’s book demonstrates that, in LDS theology, there is no problem calling Muhammad a “Prophet” even if Mormons don’t believe everything Muhammad claimed or said about his revelations.
Can Mormons apply that same reasoning to Joseph Smith?
Joel G re 21.
There’s actually a parallel discussion about how Community of Christ members should view the Book of Mormon going on at “http://saintsherald.com/2009/09/19/the-book-of-mormon-fact-fiction-or-fading-away/”
Back to EH’s remarks: although I love what you’re trying to do here, Andrew, I get the same feeling reading your post as I do when I read apologists’ explanations for the historicity of the BOM. It seems that you are straining to carve out a space in EH’s remarks that allows you to still believe in the modern LDS church and the authority of EH and the other GAs without sacrificing a viewpoint about the BOM as inspired fiction. I don’t blame you for trying, and indeed I agree with your assertion that EH was probably purposefully dancing around the theory, careful not to positively claim a literal interpretation of the BOM as the only possible orthodox way. But in parsing the words, I think our narrow focus makes us forget somewhat what EH was so clearly communicating with his bold, impassioned tone: this Church takes JS’s account of the BOM at face value, and believes that Nephi, Moroni, and all the other individuals mentioned therein existed in history, who actually wrote upon golden plates, and whose words were literally _translated_ by JS (not received, not authored, etc.). Elder Holland seeks to transfer the burden of proof to others (the crawling ones) whose responsibility he sees is to _disprove_ the BOM in the face of an abundance of spiritual evidences (and unspecified internal textual and historical evidences, most of which can be rationally disproven, imo). Of course, neither can be accomplished, so what’s really at play here.
Like others, I think that Elders Holland (and Oaks) used their talks in the recent GC to draw lines in the sand, to encourage those already on their way out the door to hurry it up so the rest of the church can get on with the meeting. I fear talks like those that promote a homogeneity of belief will one day come back to haunt the church that becomes increasingly heterogeneous every day.
Steve, I can understand how you can feel I’m straining to read E. Holland’s talk in a way that leaves room for Inspired Fiction proponents in the Church; unless you’re part of the less than 1% of the Church that makes a hobby out of Church history study, you’re not going to have heard E. Holland’s talk as anything different than what you described.
And yet, when I consider what words Elder Holland easily COULD have used, but that he for some reason chose NOT to use, avoiding the words “history” or “historical” or “historicity” etc., and instead proclaiming the “divinity” and “eternal truthfulness” of the Book of Mormon, and assuming that Elder Holland gave careful attention to his choice of words based on his comments in the PBS documentary interview quoted above, I can’t help but feel he was intending to communicate a passionate defense of the BOM while leaving enough “wiggle room” in referring to the BOM’s “divinity” and “eternal truthfulness” to allow that less than less than 1% of ascribe to the Inspired Fiction theory to feel like they aren’t being shown the door out of the Church.
To make a couple things clear: I don’t personally ascribe to the Inspired Fiction theory; while I appreciate its strengths and practical benefits, I see as many problems with it as the other theories. However, I do hope for a Church where people can view these difficult questions differently and not be made to feel like they’re not welcome. And so I do hope that’s what Elder Holland was trying to do with his careful choosing of the words he did, and perhaps more importantly did not, choose to use.
“…the church that becomes increasingly heterogeneous every day.”
I see the Church becoming “increasingly heterogeneous” overall, in the sense that we’re baptizing lots of Third World converts, but — ironically — more *homogeneous* in North America, as the Holland-Oaks-Callister axis draws your “lines in the sand” and winnows the chaff from the members of dynastic families who could no sooner consider alternatives to Mormonism than they could alternatives to oxygen.
This Conference did seem to me to mark a dramatic departure than the ones immediately preceding. It placed much more emphasis on defending the literal truth of the Church’s unique historical claims. Is a mini-me “Mormon Reformation” underway, like the one in the mid-1850s?
Thomas, although I’m reluctant to join you in a threadjack in my own post, I can’t help but observing that I saw this last Conference as presenting more of a “Tale of Two Cities” phenomenon. I didn’t see the Church moving strongly in one direction at the expense of all others, but rather, saw the Church moving further down at least two different roads: (1) emphasizing the traditional claims (e.g., Holland’s BOM talk); and (2) focusing on universal moral truths that just about anyone, whether they be Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, etc., could agree with in large measure. I’m thinking of Uchtdorf’s talks on Love and Hope, or Pres. Monson’s talk on Anger. I was quite pleased to seem them emphasizing universal messages that would appeal to people all over the world, and not just those born into dynastic clans along the Wasatch front.
New first principles of the Gospel :
First, irrefutable proof of God’s existence validated by peer-reviewed journals
Second, behavioral modifications determined by societal and scientific consensus
I’ve encountered the scholar’s hypotheses about the Book of Abraham, but I tend to favor the theory that Joseph had a scroll and a text to work from, which was a late copy of what Abraham originally wrote, and which was destroyed (along with the one which he claimed contained the prophecies of Joseph in Egypt) in the Chicago fire. I’m not particularly troubled by the Joseph Smith “translation” of the Bible, either, and I’m willing to concede him a somewhat different meaning of “translation” than I would use on, say, a news article written in modern Spanish.
The Bible has a scattering of accounts of various and unknown sources, ages, methods of transmission, and selection criteria, all of which leave a lot of room for the injection of human error. I am by no means a strict biblical literalist.
To note one of the differences between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Nephi and Mormon were both much more careful than the Old Testament’s compiler(s) in describing what written sources they used and how they were composed, transmitted, and selected. I can’t help but be favorably impressed by that little detail. One seldom takes that care with something like poetry or oral tradition, and it seems to leave little room for the idea that the Book of Mormon was or was intended to be taken as fiction.
While I don’t doubt that there are many Mormons who are both intellectually and spiritually lazy, and who merely recite what they read or heard somewhere, the same could be said for many of the critics, especially those who seem to have barely read the Book of Mormon at all and are oblivious to the fact that objections they raise have been answered many times over.
But even an intellectually careful examination of the Book of Mormon, an attempt at investigating and balancing the claims for it and counterclaims against, and attempting to reconcile them is inadequate, and it does nothing for those who are not inclined or equipped for such scholarly-type pursuits.
The spiritual laziness I speak of consists in failing to do what the Book of Mormon describes as the proper process for its verification. (given the intellectual ambiguity) One must read it, ponder it, ask God about it, believe that God is both willing and able to answer, and be willing to conform to what it teaches. Moroni 10:3-5 is oft cited and quoted well known. What is less often recognized is that this is not the only relevant passage and that overall, the process described is not always quick, easy, or painless.
To my mind, an attempt to reconcile the opposing claims of the believers and the critics with an “Inspired fiction” theory is not an effective substitute for revelation from God.
Andrew, the conundrum you so aptly explained in #31 really hit the nail on the head for me. What on earth IS the Book of Mormon? Sometimes I feel like I’ve got one foot out the door, yet the book is such a mystery, it won’t let me go. It won’t fit in a little box. That makes it SO INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING–but kinda exciting at the same time. (On my good days it’s exciting, anyway.) 🙂
“…and are oblivious to the fact that objections they raise have been answered many times over.”
“Answered,” that is, in the sense that a potential defense to the objection has been raised. Whether the defense is convincing varies.
Re: “spiritual laziness,” Moroni 10:3-5, Alma 32, and other passages describing the “proper process for [the Book of Mormon’s] verification” don’t always yield the result they promise. An easy answer is given to that: The people who come away from the experience without the promised result aren’t doing it right. The reply is that this is exactly the same argument advocates of discredited theories like Communism give: “Sure, it’s failed every time it’s been tried, but that’s just because the (Russians, Germans, Cubans, Cambodians, Poles, Vietnamese, etc.) aren’t doing it right!” It’s an unfalsifiable premise. The quasi-scientific language of Alma 32 is intriguing, but not exactly scientific.
I have less of a problem with “inspired fiction,” because I think the evidence is overwhelming that the Bible itself is full of it. Take the Book of Deuteronomy, for instance. Josiah’s religious reformers *just happen* to discover a lost book by Moses while remodeling the temple — which book just happens to support their reformist beliefs.
Andrew @48: I agree, actually. I came away from the Priesthood session feeling spiritually fed. And Elder Christofferson’s address Sunday afternoon was brilliant and universal. Loved the quotations from Fulton Sheen and Ronald Reagan (nyah, nyah to Harry Reid!).
“It would mean that either Joseph Smith couldn’t tell the difference between inspiration and his own imagination” That’s a valid question, not just about JS, but about all of us. Frankly, it’s probably a key question to anyone who claims to be able to receive revelation. Even JS struggled with this and talked about it somewhat openly. That doesn’t mean the BOM IS from his imagination, only that it’s a theory with merit. The only problematic issue is the existence of physical plates, which he either had or didn’t, but something was in that box.
Pink – Bryce cites the NHM site, which is not as substantial IMO as the Stela 5 “Tree of Life” stone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izapa_Stela_5), just more recent – but no theory is proof, and evidence goes both ways. Andrew’s point about Mesoamerica is valid, as well. There are many parallels, but it’s also not a slam dunk. There are also missing parallels, and so much is not yet known about the various early American cultures.
AA – your comment in #40 could be its own post. A follow up poll perhaps?
The wooting is unseemly, IMO. My opinion of EH vs. the inspired fiction theory is that he doesn’t see it as tenable, and that he probably considers it uncommon enough to be beside the point. His talk was about divinity of the BOM and testifying as well as poking at the theories that require JS’s duplicity. If there are two camps, he’s clearly in the first. But it is significant that he was mostly anti-fraud, pro-divinity, and maybe neutral whatever else. If that’s carving out a niche, so be it. I might even be more accepting of the fraud crowd if they’re decent folk who want to be there; I don’t like people to feel left out. I think he hit a nice tone when testifying of its divinity. That’s where his conviction lies.
I too don’t see a problem with the idea that Joseph, like all of us, sometimes had difficulty distinguishing between divine revelation and his own imagination. It seems he acknowledged that when he said that some revelations were from God, some from man, and some from the devil. Or that the prophet is a prophet only when he is speaking as a prophet (the implication being that sometimes he speaks as a fallible man).
Funny you see the Stela 5 “Tree of Life” stone as being more substantial than the NHM find, because I see it exactly the opposite way. Just goes to show how even when you make an archaeological discovery, the debate is far from over about what it means.
I too was not a fan of the wooting; just comes off as poor sportsmanship to me. Anyone can cheer as his team rains down blows on the other side while their arms are tied behind their backs and their mouths are duck taped shut. General Conference is a forum that provides no dialog or response from the other side. If there had been an open-mic Q&A after the address, with all invited to attend, I wonder if as much wooting would have occurred amongst literalists in the ‘nacle, because these are far from easy questions with easy answers.
While I too don’t see the Inspired Fiction camp being a particularly large percentage of Church members, with a Church as large as 13 million members, even less than 1% still constitutes thousands of people, and I’d hate for them to feel like they’re being chased out of the Church because they cling to the Inspired Fiction theory as a coping mechanism to remain active in the Church. I think E. Holland would hate for them to feel that way too, which is why I think he selected his words very, very carefully, focusing his testimony on the “divinity” and “eternal truthfulness” of the Book of Mormon, and strictly avoiding even a whiff of the word “historical”.
“To make a couple things clear: I don’t personally ascribe to the Inspired Fiction theory; while I appreciate its strengths and practical benefits, I see as many problems with it as the other theories.”
You’ve said what you don’t believe, but didn’t tell us what you do believe. Or maybe you don’t want to tell us! Or maybe you have elsewhere and I don’t know about it. Just curious!
“Funny you see the Stela 5 “Tree of Life” stone as being more substantial than the NHM find, because I see it exactly the opposite way. Just goes to show how even when you make an archaeological discovery, the debate is far from over about what it means.”
This was something that drove me crazy. In my naive days (before I made a serious attempt at looking at my own belief system) I thought surely everyone (including all scientists and archaeologists) could agree upon the obvious fact that Stela 5 was the “Tree of Life” dream. I was shocked, then surprised, then disheartened and saddened when I learned it wasn’t so. There is most definitely no clear cut evidence that I’m aware of. Even the NHM evidences, as likely as it seemed, has some arguments against it.
jmb, great question, and I’d love to know the answer myself. Kidding (mostly).
I like to view my “testimony” of the Book of Mormon in the strictest definition of what a “testimony” is, i.e., my personal experience and my personal witness, which I can break down into a few pivotal experiences:
1. I started taking BOM study seriously as a junior in high school. I noticed that as I read it, I felt like a “new heart” was being implanted in my chest, much like the Psalmist wrote. It made me feel better, want to be better, focused my mind on spiritual topics, and made me feel an increased ability to do good.
2. As I prepared for a mission, I felt an urgency to develop a “testimony” of the Book of Mormon in strict accordance with the formula laid out in Moroni 10:3-5, i.e., to read, ponder, pray, and get an undeniable answer. I did the first three steps sincerely and fervently, but never felt a burning confirmation in response to my prayers–even though I did feel “spiritual” every time as I read it. One night, after some pleading with God for a clear confirmation of its truthfulness, the thought came into my mind that God was already answering my prayer every time I read the Book of Mormon through the feelings in my heart and thoughts in my mind. That answer was good enough for me, and sustained and carried me through my mission.
3. After mission and marriage and kids, I spent a spell studying scripture from all different religions of the world. I was astounded by how much truth, wisdom, beauty, and inspiration I found there. During this period, I largely abstained from reading the Book of Mormon, as a sort of experiment to see whether I felt the same way when I read those scriptures as I did when I read the Book of Mormon. After many months, I went back and read (actually listened on CD) to the BOM from cover to cover again, and as cliche as it may sound, it was like water being poured over a parched soul. I had found and felt a lot of spiritual fulfillment in other scripture, but the frequency and intensity of the spirituality I felt as I listened to the BOM again for the first time in a long time really blew me away. I suppose one could skeptically view that experience as proving nothing other than the fact that finally getting exposed again to what I had been conditioned to respond to my whole life was what accounted for my sense of feeling spiritually nourished by the BOM. But it was what it was, it spiritually nourished me.
4. When several friends started seriously questioning or leaving the Church, and I inquired into the reasons why, I embarked on a long and deep search into the challenges to the BOM with an eye toward educating myself so that I could rescue them. The more I studied these issues, and the responses that LDS scholars provided (most of which I found logically or intellectually unsatisfying), the more concerned I became about the seriousness of these challenges. While I found what seemed to be a few supportive pieces of evidence here and there, on the whole the problems or deficiencies seemed to outnumber the support. I don’t want to go into a long list enumerating these problems (they’re openly acknowledged on the FARMS and FAIR websites for anyone wanting to devote brain cells to that), but suffice it to say that I don’t readily dismiss as “crazy” or “deluded” or “deceived” those who have a difficult time believing the traditional story about the BOM’s origins. And I see merit, but also deficiencies, in the alternative theories about its authorship.
Where does that leave a person like me? Someone who has experienced ample spiritual nourishment from the Book of Mormon but also sees there is enough substance in the challenges to the BOM that they cannot be easily ignored or refuted (as evidenced by the sheer amount of time, money, and pages devoted by the Church and Church scholars to address them)? I become less and less concerned about how to answer that question as time goes on. And instead, I find myself gravitating toward this view:
“What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.” – John Ruskin
Some of the objections that various critics raise have been quite convincingly refuted, but still come up, over and over. Others remain problematic.
You aren’t seriously claiming that Moroni’s promise, like Communism, has been discredited and failed every time it as been tried, are you?
“You are’t doing it right” is a perfectly respectable response when, for instance, someone adds 25 to 86 and gettins 112, drills a crooked hole when a straight one is required, or fails to unscrew the bolt by turning the wrench the wrong way, as well when attempting many other more complex, difficult endeavors.
Admittedly, there is a serious shortage of people who are skilled at obtaining revelation compared to those who know arithmetic or can properly handle a drill or a wrench, but still.
Thanks for the candid account of the basis for your testimony.
If I could sum up what you said, it would be this:
You have enough faith in Mormonism for your own salvation, but not so much faith as to consider yourself justified in declaring others’ condemnation.
That’s a great spiritual place to be, friend.
Andrew, I would like your feedback on a thought.
“…They were willing to die, rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
Elder Holland’s choice of words above is interesting. A Latter-day Saint who believes the Book of Mormon represents divinely-inspired fiction would whole-heartedly agree with his remarks about the Book of Mormon’s “divine authenticity,” “divinity,” “truthfulness,” “divine origin,” and “eternal truthfulness,” in the same way he or she would embrace the “truthfulness” and “divine origin” of Jesus’ parables.”
My thought is that “truthfulness” can not be defined as fiction. Either the BOM story is fiction, or it is historic truth. I can see how a “inspired fiction” believer could accept the divine origin concept, but the truthful concept should not be accepted by a true “inspired fiction” believer. As such, I conclude that Elder Holland did indeed denounce the “inspired fiction” theory.
And I am interested in seeing a reply (did I miss it?) to the concept that “inspired fiction” believers reject Moroni, the witness’s, etc. (Post 24, above)
Confutus, I think you missed the point. Addition, drilling holes and unscrewing a screw are all provable tasks, so yes, “you’re not doing it right” is a reasonable response to one who has failed at those tasks. The whole point to which you were responding was that following moroni’s promise and gaining a testimony is NOT provable, so it’s very convenient to never, under any circumstance, be forced to acknowledge that someone may have followed the steps to the letter and still not received the promised results. Your analogies did not address this scenario at all.
Nick (#37), evidence of a biblical city location does not prove any one religion true. Evidence of a Book of Mormon city might. How’s that logic?
Not much better, Bryce. Evidence of a city named in The Book of Mormon wouldn’t prove any “one” religion true, either. Remember, there are a whole lot of churches which claim to originate with The Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph Smith. In fact, it’s entirely possible that every church claiming such origins has drifted far enough to no longer be “the one true religion,” even if The Book of Mormon was proven to be historically accurate.
“I become less and less concerned about how to answer that question as time goes on.”
Man, that’s awesome…..but I’m so curious how you square that with the practicalities of being an active Mormon. It seems like everytime I get somewhere close to your view, there is another talk like Elder Holland’s, another Sunday School lesson on the BOA as “a translation” of Egyptian papyri, or another testimony that emphasizes the mission of JS over the Mission of Jesus Christ. How in the hell do you manage to sit through the grind of historical orthodoxy (specifically as it relates to JS) without having brain cells pop?
It would be much easier to practice what you preach if Elder Holland, the Sunday School teacher and the rest of the active Mormons alike weren’t so in my face about my “pathetic views.” I fear that with this talk…..I’m further away from being able to sit through the chalkboard scratching sounds of “my way or the highway – evidence be damned” orthodoxy that seems to dominate the mainstream church.
“You have enough faith in Mormonism for your own salvation, but not so much faith as to consider yourself justified in declaring others’ condemnation.” This should be embroidered on a pillow somewhere.
Dubya – “My thought is that “truthfulness” can not be defined as fiction.” Fiction is a great source of truth, and a great way to find opportunities for personal growth. For example, the following “truths” are taught in the book Pride & Prejudice:
– that virtue outweighing passion is not a good foundation for marriage
– that people should be judged on their merit, not the size of their income
– that it might be better to kindly yield to a friend’s persuasion than to proudly stick to one’s convictions
– that accomplishments are not an adequate substitute for kindness, sincerity and wit
And many many more . . .
“You have enough faith in Mormonism for your own salvation, but not so much faith as to consider yourself justified in declaring others’ condemnation.” This should be embroidered on a pillow somewhere.”
UGH…it’s WAY to long to for a pillow Hawk. Maybe wall art? 🙂
I didn’t woot, but I did declare the talk to be a grand slam. I can’t say why the wooters were wooting, but a good portion of the reason I saw a grand slam was because he very clearly set aside the issues of historicity, DNA, horses, and the like, and forcefully declared his faith in the *divinity* of the book.
So I’m a bit puzzled as to why we seem to be assuming that everyone who liked the talk, did so because they somehow thought he was affirming historicity.
All kinds of objections might be raised against the Qur’an, but nobody can dispute a Muslim’s direct declaration of faith. I think Mormons (in some circles, at least) have been been reticent to declare the obvious fact that we accept the Book of Mormon simply because we believe it to be divinely inspired, regardless of what objections others might raise. I see Elder Holland’s address as a reaction against that reticence. That’s why he emphasized the divinity of the book, and didn’t say a word about historicity.
Thanks for responding, AA. I appreciate your comment (#58), and see some parallels in my own experience (although I’ve more often had that “nourished” feeling while reading the New Testament and Psalms, and not so much by reading the BOM).
I’ve recently been reading a book on the subject of restoring faith in Christianity in a post-literal/factual paradigm of scriptural texts. Marcus J. Borg’s The Heart of Christianity is one of the most spiritually-satisfying books I’ve read in quite some time, and I highly recommend it to everyone who feels disjointed from religion, Christianity, or God in general after losing faith in core teachings of a conservative religion like the CoJCoLdS. I’m still working on applying Borg’s thoughts to an LDS context, valuing BOM stories and sermons for their metaphorical and sacramental values instead of viewing them as literal historical events. That’s not as hard as trying to understand modern revelation using the same methodologies.
Dubya (61) do you likewise have a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus’ parables are fictional and yet are filled with “eternal truthfulness”? I think the answer to that question answers the question you asked me.
Aaron, he didn’t say it would be easy, he only said it would be worth it. I’m kidding there (cuz he actually did say “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light). Maybe he wants us all to lighten up? 🙂
Left Field, it’s interesting to me that you saw E. Holland’s talk as a simple but powerful affirmation of the divinity right off; I must confess I didn’t see him making that narrow a point when I first heard it.
SteveS, amen on the nourishing value of the NT, and thanks for the Borg recommendation. I’ll have to add that to the three stacks of books on my nightstand still begging to be read. 🙂
Ahmadinejad of Iran argues there was not holocaust. Those who argue the Book of Mormon is inspired fiction seem to have some common thought processes with him.
This is WAAAAY after the fact, but in my comment above, when I referred to Andrew’s comment #31, I meant #40.
From your use of the term “falsifiable”, it sounds as if you are attempting to apply a particular theory of scientific philosophy (Karl Popper et. al. ?) to matters of faith, and apply standards that are suitable for controlled scientific experimentation to subjective religious experience. I believe such an approach is mistaken, but I’m not properly qualified or prepared to debate the subject.
However, there are hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions (considering all Mormons) of people who have followed the steps outlined by Moroni, and who are willing to testify that have been answered. Unless you consider them deluded and dismiss their testimonies, you cannot reasonably assert that Moroni’s promise, like Communism, has failed every time it has been attempted.
That does leave a problem of accounting for those who have attempted to follow those steps and apparently not received an answer.
I certainly don’t deny that such people can or do exist, because for years, I was one of them. I had actually been receiving a spiritual confirmation for some time, but because it hadn’t come in the form I was looking for, I didn’t recognize it.
That doesn’t make me qualified to diagnose the spiritual condition of those who have sought and not (yet) found. All I can do in those cases is to recognize that, as I said before, the process is not always quick, easy, or painless, and encourage persistence.
My last should have been directed to Thomas, and also davinci, not Andrew. My apologies.
Yeah, silly me. Taking this stuff so seriously…..I feel so pathetic, foolish and deceived! 🙂
No wonder that Elder Holland said “Failed theories about its origins have been born, parroted, and died. From Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding, to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young, unlearned translator.” In the Testimony of Joseph Smith recorded in the Pearl of Great Price (Joseph Smith History 1:34-35) and also in the Introduction of the Book of Mormon, we read the following: “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted Seers in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.” It is clear for us to know first what Joseph Smith actually said about the origin of the Book: an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, not only its divine origin but it is an actual account of the former inhabitants of the Americas. It is Pure History and Divinely Inspired. Now with that, failed theories, failed studies, failed interpretations will be born of Elder Holland’s testimony of the Book of Mormon but just like for the Book of Mormon, they will parrot and die because there no other answer that can be received except the one given by the Lord Almighty through the Holy Ghost! It is pure History!
I never really subscribed to the “inspired fiction” theory because there is simply not enough really evidence to support it. In fact, to me, the overwhelming evidence support Joseph’s version of the origin and translation of the Book. There are way too many people involved in the process for all to be deceived, I think.
As for evidence, it is hard to be open-minded about “proof” after one has taken a position. Usually, there is never enough evidence to convince someone, or enough contrary evidence to dissuade a true believer.
I think that is where faith kicks in, doesn’t it?
RE: #76. Was anyone here informed beyond what they had already studied, by Jean Ely Joseph’s comment above? Did anyone feel more strongly drawn to literal historicity of the Book of Mormon by this approach? Does the tone and mental approach of such a comment best exemplify what readers of Mormon Matters find informative, edifying and motivating?
Just wonderin’ . . .
Interesting post and discussion!
Joseph Smith’s own account and the text itself, as #76 and others have mentioned, make the interpretation of the BOM as inspired but ahistorical a difficult path to follow. Only those who are highly motivated to do so will go that route.
What I find interesting is the variety of responses to the challenge to faith posed by the improbable. In my own case, the question of BOM historicity caused more cognitive dissonance than any other aspect of belief. Ultimately, I wasn’t able to adopt the view of inspired fiction as a fallback, but not everyone is like this. I’ve talked to others who acknowledge the historical problems but are not bothered by them. Still others (including the more TBM members of my family) dismiss the issues entirely. What causes these profound differences of approach? Temperament? Social circumstances? This is the real mystery for me.
I don’t have the answer, but I’m going to conjecture that the most of those who see the BOM as inspired fiction have to deal with spouses and family members who have orthodox, literalist beliefs.
Re: 78 Rick
At MM we have a policy of open, honest, civil discussion. We don’t moderate much. We try to keep the discussions on topic, constructive, edifying, and thought provoking. But despite our best efforts, from time to time we will all have to deal with commenters who don’t contribute much to the discussion. In such a case, our refusal to moderate does not indicate that a comment “best exemplifies what readers of Mormon Matters find informative, edifying and motivating” but rather that we want everyone to have a voice that wants to (within reason and common decency). If you don’t find Jean Ely Joseph’s comment constructive or useful feel free to ignore it.
#80. Ah, communication is so difficult. I confess that when I posed my questions in comment 78, I had a lot of angst and even some vague agenda to elicit defenses of other commenters’ intellectual dignity (which I thought comment #76 utterly disdained or disregarded – as if no one had said anything of substance until that moment). But I only wanted to draw people out without forcing any agenda. No thought of being critical of the blog “Mormon Matters” itself was on my mind. I was referring to Mormon Matters as a community which I respect much more than I think the other party did. I felt that way so intently that it simply did not occur to me that a moderator would take it as an attack on the blog.
The parallel to unfalsifiable defenses of Marxism is inexact, but still useful. Focus on one single given person’s experience with Moroni 10:4 — as if his experiment upon the Word is equivalent to the whole world’s experiment with Marxism. (In a sense, each of us *is* a kingdom unto himself, as far as our relationship with God is concerned; each soul is unique, and the contest for each soul repeats, on a small scale, the whole drama of human history from the Fall to redemption or damnation. That sounds more pretentious than I mean it to; if someone can edit out the pomposity, feel free; I just can’t explain what I’m trying to say here any other way.)
So focused, it *is* true that Moroni 10:4 is unfalsifiable, as there is always an “out” to explain away the person’s failure to Mormon-launch. He’s not honest, not sincere, not righteous enough, “the Lord has his own timetable” (an argument that would have the poor guy strung along for his whole threescore and ten on the faint hope that doing the same thing would finally yield a different result). You seem to acknowledge what I’m trying to say — that there’s nothing truly scientific about any of this; that it’s a matter of “subjective religious experience.”
And that solves the “problem” of people’s different reactions to the Book of Mormon for me completely. Subjective religious experience is, well, *subjective.* It varies with the individual. Some people catch on fire with Mormonism; others have mystical experiences in connection with Catholicism, evangelicalism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, etc. There’s no accounting for taste.
Which is why I look cautiously upon arguments that God judges people based on what they believe. What people believe, based on ambiguous religious evidence or subjective religious experience, says little if anything about their character. I can not in good conscience say that a Mormon’s faith in Joseph Smith makes him better than a Muslim’s faith in Muhammad. Switch the circumstances in which the universe has randomly placed us, and our beliefs would likely be reversed, too.
What matters is what we *do* with the understanding we receive.
Jean Ely, thanks for quoting from JSH. I believe you’re quoting what Moroni said to Joseph, rather than what Joseph said himself about how he accomplished the translation. That’s where the ambiguity comes in, because as LDS apologists have informed us, Joseph Smith used the word “translate” to mean many different things, including receiving “pure revelation”.
Moroni’s quoted words do not settle the matter because of the accounts we have from people assisting Joseph that don’t have him using the Urim and Thumim mentioned by Moroni, but rather, have him using a seer stone in the bottom of his hat, or sometimes using nothing at all (see the Church art above with Joseph and Oliver). Of course, that begs the question, if Joseph could receive the revelation of the Book of Mormon though a seer stone in his hat, why did Nephi go to the trouble or beginning the plates, why did Mormon go to the trouble of editing the Gold Plates, why did Moroni go to the trouble of burying them, why did Joseph have to go through all the trouble of hiding them, why did special interpreters have to be prepared, if Joseph could have, and did, ultimately just drop a seer stone into the bottom of a hat and “translate” the Book of Mormon. So I think Moroni’s words that you quoted above, as dictated by Joseph almost 20 years after they would have been spoken, are unfortunately the beginning and not the end of the confusion.
Moreover, if there was a simple answer, i.e., what you quoted above, then why didn’t Joseph just say so when his brother asked him to explain to a Conference of the Saints how the Book of Mormon was brought forth? And I also wonder why the official Church History in the Fullness of Times CES manual doesn’t just recite that language from Moroni in connection with its discussion about how the Book of Mormon was brought forth by Joseph. Instead, it concludes along the same lines as Elder Holland:
“Clearly, the most important feature of the translation, as the title page of the Book of Mormon states, is “the interpretation thereof by the gift of God.”
So in summary, the reason I was struck by the words that the BOM came forth the way Joseph said it did is that we don’t have a lot of consistency in the accounts about that (see the quote from the Church History text book I inserted into the original post), other than his repeated statements that it was done “by the gift of God”.
But this is not the only instance where the official Joseph Smith History conflicts with earlier, contemporary, and later accounts of what he did and saw and heard. If you are someone who has studied Mormon history, and I assume you are, then I am sure you are aware that JSH was written around 1838, which would have been almost 20 years after this conversation between Moroni and Joseph took place. Is it possible he did not remember accurately? Is it possible that, 20 years later, he recollected Moroni telling him things 20 years earlier things that he actually came to believe much later? When we examine the differences between Joseph’s first account of the First Vision in 1831, the only one he ever wrote in his own hand, and the official 1838 version of his history, it seems pretty apparent that his memory changed with the passage of time. Could it have likewise changed with regard to what Moroni told him?
Finally, I’m curious as to how you reconcile the fact that Joseph got seemingly clear instructions from Moroni about the nature and content of the Book of Mormon as a historical record with the fact that LDS apologists are now telling us that Joseph was mistaken when he made statements indicating that the Book of Mormon action took place over large areas of North America, and that the Book of Mormon action must have been narrowly confined to a small area in southern Mexico and Guatemala? Is it possible that he had the inspiration to translate Reformed Egyptian and had lengthy conversations about Moroni and the ancient inhabitants and knew enough to regale his family with lengthy accounts of the customs and culture of the ancient inhabitants (according to his mother), and yet was mistaken about where this all took place?
So again, I’m afraid the words from Moroni do not end the questions, but rather, only serve to expose the tip of an iceberg of questions for me.
@71: “Ahmadinejad of Iran argues there was not holocaust. Those who argue the Book of Mormon is inspired fiction seem to have some common thought processes with him.”
Er…right. Because the evidence for the Book of Mormon is just as extensive as the evidence for the Holocaust.
On the one hand, we have a book, in which people who go looking for literary quality and “Semitic complexity” can find it. We have the crown jewel, “NHM,” and a sprinkling of other interesting coincidences. Balanced against that is a number of apparent anachronisms with the book’s purported setting, and *at least* as much Yankee Protestantism as Semitic complexity. The book is attested to by witnesses; however, the historical record is murky about whether they saw the plates with their physical or their “spiritual” eyes; a skeptic would question whether a spiritual “vision” ought to be received into evidence. The creator of the book went to his death without denying it; on the other hand, it’s arguable that although Joseph knew he was in grave danger going to Carthage, he wasn’t expecting *certain* death; he did say “IF I am killed…,” after all. Joseph was arguable a total rube who could never have written a book; on the other hand, we have his mother’s testimony that Joseph would make up detailed stories about ancient America. Maybe he wasn’t quite as ignorant as he’s made out to be. Writing the Book himself would be an astonishing achievement, but those do happen from time to time. Argument, counterargument, rebuttal, ad infinitum.
On the other hand, we have an event barely half a century past, attested to by hundreds of thousands of credible witnesses who saw the evidence with their physical eyes. There are large numbers of people with numberers tattooed on their arms, with mutually confirming memories of the atrocity. The gas chambers, and the blueprints for them and the instructions for their operation, still exist. There seem to be quite a few fewer Jews in Europe than there should be if something awful didn’t happen in the 1940s.
No comparison whatsoever. Jared, that post was grossly offensive.
General Conference talk transcripts are now available, including Elder Holland’s – http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1117-28,00.html
Part of me also thinks that since there are so many dogmatists who are incapable or uninterested in understanding the nuances (even the ones that are gaping holes), maybe the BOM’s historicity just serves to reveal what kind of person we are and how we approach spiritual questions.
I tend to agree with Jeff Spector that a conspiracy seems unlikely due to the number of people with differing motives who never revealed such a conspiracy, even through their extreme disaffection. And I find it also compelling that people caught up in a magical worldview are prone to take some things literally that may have been either spiritual or even imaginary.
#84 and Jared, There is a big difference between the evidences provided by history and the physical evidences. Having been at Auschwitz, it is difficult, if not impossible to deny. Unless of course, one believes in intense conspiracy to de-fraud, which has the Germans placing themselves up to the scorn, condemnation and scrutiny of the entire world. The eyewitnesses still living, the photograph and physical evidences,etc.
The Book of Mormon evidences are less certain. But still compeling for the reasons that Hawk (85) listed above. All it would have taken is one of the key witnesses to admit it was a fraud, explain how it was done and guess what, party over. It is somewhat remarkable to me and somewhat unexplainable that they didn’t ever do that just because they had a falling out with Joseph. Their experience must have been too pround to allow even that.
“too pround” That should be “too profound.”
I come back to two statements Elder Holland made:
“None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.” (italics in original, bolding added)
“I hope I have a few years left in my ‘last days,’ but whether I do or do not, I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the latter days.” (bolding added)
It seems to me that Elder Holland was saying a lot about the origins of the Book of Mormon, particularly, that the way Joseph said it came forth (i.e. translation from gold plates given to him by the angel Moroni, recounting the history of an ancient civilization on the American continent (Joseph Smith-History)) is the only answer for the origins of the book – “there is no other answer.” I do not believe he was sidestepping any other theory that may exist as to the origins of the book, and I think he tried to make that absolutely clear.
How some can misunderstand, or say that he was being purposefully vague regarding some theories, is beyond me.
86: You’re assuming the witnesses believed it was a fraud. They believed in magic and had a very different world view then we do today.
I’m sure many, if not all, believed Joseph was a prophet, and the gold plates were real. That belief does not create reality.
AA, (#83), I think the biggest problem with these questions of Joseph Smith-History is that the book is part of our canon. Joseph Smith-History is scripture to the LDS Church. As such, it is accepted by the membership of the Church as official and binding word of the Lord. None of the other quotations, references, sources, second-hand or third-hand witnesses, or even first-hand statements from Joseph Smith, about the translation process or origin of the Book of Mormon have the same weight of importance and validity as JS-H and the Book of Mormon themselves. These are scripture, and should be treated as such.
BTW, it would help the comments not get misnumbered, and also validate jmb275’s comment in #80 about moderation and open discussion, if my comments were not moderated. Either that, or you could just ban me completely. It’s your choice.
I hear you on the fact that they had a different understanding of how the universe operated that included a much higher degree of intervention and apparition of angels, spirits, not to mention the use of folk magic. And it’s true that belief doesn’t create reality.
At the same time, however, we convict people and send them to jail and even to the gas chamber or electric chair based on what witnesses believe they saw. Granted, it’s an imperfect system, and interestingly, when DNA evidence was later used to re-open old cases to determine whether it would confirm the guilty verdict rendered by the juries, the number one type of evidence that was found to have resulted in convicting the wrong person was eyewitness testimony. So eyewitness testimony is not the most reliable for of evidence, however, in many cases, it’s the best form of evidence we have, imperfect as it is.
Re: 81 Rick
“Ah, communication is so difficult.”
Indeed. Even more so through writing. Excuse the misunderstanding. Carry on!
Re 91 Bryce
“BTW, it would help the comments not get misnumbered, and also validate jmb275’s comment in #80 about moderation and open discussion, if my comments were not moderated. Either that, or you could just ban me completely. It’s your choice.”
I assure you no one is banning you or moderating you. Sometimes the spam filter acts up and starts holding comments in there until we unleash them. Sometimes multiple people post at the same time and the software is playing catch up. Sometimes connections are just slow.
#94 – No, I assure you, I’ve been permanently moderated. Every one of my comments goes into moderation. It wasn’t like this when I began commenting at Mormon Matters. But, someone got upset at something I said once (I think I quoted a General Authority or two… the audacity!), and boom, into moderation I went.
Oh good. I’ve finally been taken out. Thank you.
Yikes, this stuff makes my head spin. Its no wonder people become disaffected.
My DH has said to me more than once, “If it were just one thing, like BoM historicity, then I could more readily believe. But, when its one thing after another (Book of Abraham, polygamy, polyandry, different versions of First Vision, etc etc etc) it becomes like a jigsaw puzzle that has lost too many of its pieces. I just can’t make a sensible picture out of it.”
I understand where he is coming from. Yet, at the same time, I cannot bring myself to not believe in the divinity of the BoM. I also cannot reconcile the idea of some kind of fraud being perpetrated and none of the perpetrators ever “breaking ranks”. I cannot deny the spiritual power that I receive when I read it. It makes me want to be a better person. It really does increase my faith in Jesus Christ. So,regardless of whether its an historical record or inspired fiction, I love the BoM.
I think you make a good argument that when we’re trying to understand what E. Holland meant when he said the BOM “came forth the way Joseph said it came forth,” that even in the presence of various different accounts, the JSH account from 1838 should be considered THE authoritative account of “the way Joseph said it came forth”. And as Jean Ely pointed out, Joseph says that Moroni told him (around 20 years earlier) that the plates contained an account of “THE former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.” If we approach it that way, I can certainly see how you read E. Holland as saying we must view it as literal history.
Unfortunately, that answer only creates more questions, at least for me, because the language from Moroni quoted above is what the Church relied on for so many decades to tell the world that the Book of Mormon was an account of “the PRINCIPAL ancestors of the American Indian.” We get that “PRINCIPAL” idea from Moroni’s words that the BOM contains a record, not only of “THE ancient inhabitants of this CONTINENT” but also “the SOURCE from whence they sprang.” Add to this the statements that Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders gave, and which are also still reflected in D&C, where they have the BOM action taking place all over the North American continent, and D&C references every contact with American Indians as representing contact with “the Lamanites.” All of this, starting with Moroni’s words in the authoritative JSH, down to the authoritative words in D&C referring to North American Indians as “Lamanites” supported the Church’s representation to the world that the BOM contained an account of the “PRINCIPAL” ancestors of the American Indian, and an understanding by Church leaders and members that the BOM action took place all over the American continent. Further, the idea that the BOM contained the record of “THE ancient inhabitants of this CONTINENT” further supported the idea that the BOM peoples were THE only peoples on the American CONTINENT in ancient times.
This brings us 2009, when the official Introduction to the BOM has been altered to remove the claim that the BOM contains an account of the “principal” ancestors of the American Indian. Furthermore, just about everything published these days by FARMS/Maxwell Institute, which is now an adjunct of the Church owned and operated BYU, and apologetics articles on the FAIR website, tell us that the BOM action was actually confined to a very small area in southern Mexico and Guatemala (i.e., not the whole American continent), and furthermore, that the BOM peoples were not and could not have been “THE ancient inhabitants of this continent.” In fact, a full-length movie produced by FARMS a few years back starts out by setting the stage by having all the LDS scholars say that there must have been other inhabitants already on the American continent when the Lehites arrived, and that the Lehites were just a tiny drop in the bucket of the peoples that lived anciently in the American continent. In light of that, it’s pretty difficult for me to understand Moroni’s language that the BOM was a record about “THE ancient inhabitants of this CONTINENT”.
But since Moroni’s language in JSH is binding and authoritative as scripture, maybe it’s FARMS and FAIR that have some “splaining to do”? If we’re supposed to take Moroni’s words in JSH at face value and accept them as binding scripture, somebody better run that memo over to FARMs and FAIR right quick. 🙂
I think on the Introduction of the Book of Mormon which was obviously written by the Leaders of the Church, we can read the following:
The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.
The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.
From this, we can see that the Leaders of the Church agree on this point: that the account given in the Book of Mormon was in fact History!
Now, Joseph Smith did not have to say with his own words that the Book of Mormon is indeed ‘History’ since Moroni who delivered unto him told him that. And Remember this: Moroni was Joseph Smith’s mentor in preparing to become a prophet of God. He had to believe the words of his Mentor.
But the most important message is that: … it puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come… [it is] a new and additional witness that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that all who will come unto him and obey the laws and ordinances of his gospel may be saved. It is indeed an Historical Account with divine Inspiration!
Personally, it feels like literalist believers who insist on history and seem to live and die by every word coming from JS’s mouth and the mouth of the Brethren really paint themselves into a corner, and ignore any arguments. To me there are just too many holes, problems, conjectures, and speculation to interpret each claim literally. Unless one is a fundamentalist I can’t see how you can otherwise not acknowledge that we “see through a glass darkly.”
I admit and see there are holes in the critics remarks, and many theories are certainly pathetic. And indeed, to me, one would have to ignore some evidences or otherwise “crawl around” the BoM to dismiss it completely. But I simply cannot for the life of me understand the insistence on one extreme or the other.
Surely God does not want me to abandon all reason, logic, or the brain He gave me in order to believe whatever I am told. And yet He clearly requires faith from me to accept things I as yet do not understand. But why must I choose one, at the expense of the other, to satisfy a culture that, in the past has gotten it wrong from time to time, and will yet again. Surely we don’t, as Mormons, believe that we have a monopoly on perfect truth, or that ALL truth is contained herein!
Jean Ely, thanks for quoting the language from the Introduction that the BOM “is a record of God’s dealings with THE ancient inhabitants (i.e., not just a relatively small group of a larger whole) of the AMERICAS (i.e., not just a relatively small area of land in southern Mexico and Guatemala”). This is in complete agreement with Moroni’s words in JSH, which you and Bryce have pointed out are “authoritative scripture.”
That being the case, can you please help us understand why faithful LDS scholars, many of which are funded and employed by the Church, are now telling us that the Book of Mormon does not actually represent a historical record of THE ancient inhabitants of the AMERICAS? Are they disregarding scripture?
I ask that, not simply as an exercise of playing devil’s advocate or “gotcha,” but because it’s pretty apparent to me that if your argument is correct, it seems that it’s not just Inspired Fiction theorists who are “ignoring scripture” as you see it, but Church-employed scholars as well, and I can’t help wondering why the former is unacceptable but the latter is acceptable.
Would you please provide the Link or give the references! Sometimes we just misinterpret others opinions or views! If you are indeed quoting from a source, please provide the link or the Reference!
What’s interesting is that the questions and arguments are about a document that is NOT part of the canon. The “Introduction to the Book of Mormon” is not part of the scripture any more than the chapter headings are part of the scripture. It is fully possible that many General Authorities misunderstood what was said in Joseph Smith-History, and wrote the introduction incorrectly with a couple stray words, which has now been changed.
But to apply that reasoning to the entire sentence in JS-H, no, the ENTIRE book of Joseph Smith-History, is stretching much too far, imo – “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants…” (JS-H 1:34).
If Moroni really didn’t exist, and really didn’t tell him about a book deposited, and there really wasn’t gold plates, and they didn’t really account for former inhabitants of the continent (I don’t see “THE” bolded or underlined in the verse), and they really didn’t tell where they came from, and if the fulness of the everlasting Gospel wasn’t really contained in it, and it wasn’t really delivered by the Savior to those ancient inhabitants, then Joseph Smith is a liar, by default. He gave us these words under a full conscious understanding of what he remembered happening, and that he was telling the truth (v. 25). I don’t think he could have somehow gotten ALL of that detail wrong with the passage of time, or somehow been mistaken about the ENTIRE experience contained in Joseph Smith-History. If he was, then he is the “deranged paranoid” of which Elder Holland testified he wasn’t, or he was lied to by God, which he wasn’t (Ether 3:12).
If what you’re saying is true, not only would the Book of Mormon have to be “inspired fiction,” but Joseph’s entire history! (Not to mention the Doctrine and Covenants which mentions Book of Mormon characters, events, and origin! You’ve already taken care of the rest of the Pearl of Great Price, no thanks.)
“it feels like literalist believers who insist on history and seem to live and die by every word coming from JS’s mouth and the mouth of the Brethren really paint themselves into a corner”
the difficulty is that the “establishment” don’t really seem to support the literalist either.
It is worth taking a literal line, but be willing to be flexible to the spirit or your conscience. polygamy, priesthood ban and DNA evidence has proven that dogmatic obedience must give way to truth at some point. I see the BOM being literal I see little reason to doubt its authenticity but I willing to concede as reason and my conscience dictate.
Jean has asked for quotes and citations from LDS scholars where they back away from the claim that the BOM is a record of THE inhabitants of this CONTINENT” [i.e., the American continent]. My original post above links to sources where LDS apologists are stating that the BOM actually took place in a “limited geography” (southern Mexico, Guatemala), and that the BOM peoples were just a small few of the inhabitants of the American continent. However, to help you see what I’m zeroing in on, I’ll copy and paste them in a comment to follow.
Because Bryce has questioned the authoritative nature of the Introduction language that Jean quoted (which I find odd because the Introduction merely restates what Moroni said in JSH), I’ll stick to contrasting what LDS scholars are now telling us with what Joseph says Moroni told him as recounted in JSH, which you gents have pointed out as being binding, authoritative scripture. Just give me a little time to do it.
The fact that the authors of the Introduction to the Book of Mormon were not precisely specific about “the ancient inhabitants of the Americas,” and which has not been changed in 2009, is not a huge factor of scholarly disagreement, imo. A small group of people in southern Mexico and Guatemala are still “ancient inhabitants of the Americas.” We need a Venn diagram here.
JMB said “Surely God does not want me to abandon all reason, logic, or the brain He gave me in order to believe whatever I am told. And yet He clearly requires faith from me to accept things I as yet do not understand.”
JMB, you appear to be an intelligent guy with a lot of questions about church history and church doctrine. But you will never, in my opinion, come to any logical conclusions if you always retain both of those huge assumptions when you consider these issues. It seems to me that you are very open minded inside the box of “God gave me my ability to reason and God requires faith from me to understand things that do not make sense.” If you only think of things inside that box you really aren’t that open minded and you won’t get to the logical ends of issues. You will just come up with new apologies for the church and for the BOM.
This was my experience. Until I was able to truly evaluate these issues witho zero assumptions, nothing made sense. It was difficult to get to that point, to truly be able to honestly accept that maybe there is no god. But until I did that, I would just find new ways to justify the BOM and everything else despite the lack of logic I had to employ. I’m not suggesting you assume there is no god. That is your choice. I am simply saying it was a very difficult thing for me to do, so I understand it may be difficult for others to do.
But I can also say from my personal experience that a logical approach made without any assumptions finally made things clear to me. Inspired fiction gets it half right. Anyone who believes the BOM is inspired fiction must do so in the face of thousands of quotes from church leaders, including JS, which say the opposite. The whole theory of inspired fiction seems like an attempt to have your cake and eat it too. It is admitting the BOM is not true while at the same time claiming JS is still a prophet and propelling the work to go forward. If one has come that far to think it is fiction but still wants to believe it was from God and that JS is a prophet I think they are desperately clinging to something they should let go of. If you cannot believe the BOM is true, then don’t believe it. But producing or supporting a theory which weakly claims to be from God while also being complete fiction is nonsense, since it was claimed as the “most correct” of any book on earth.
Bryce, yes, a relatively small group of people living in a small area of southern Mexico and Guatemala would be “inhabitants” and they certainly would be located on the American continent. However, would a record of their dealings truly constitute “an account of THE former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang,” as the binding and authoritative JSH has Moroni saying?
Even considering Venn diagrams and their usefulness in this discussion, if I were to hand you a history of the Mormons concentrated in Utah and branching elsewhere into some of the Western states, and represent it to you as being “an account of THE former inhabitants of this CONTINENT” would you find that to be an apt description?
My point is not to say Moroni or Joseph lied, but again, simply that what LDS scholars are now telling us about the Book of Mormon peoples and where they lived seems to disregard what Moroni told Joseph in JSH. There is some picking and choosing of which scriptures of focus upon. And my point is simply that it’s taking place on both sides of the debate. The point I am making to you is that it’s not just Inspired Fiction theorists who have to disregard scripture to make their theories work, so I find your condemnation of them for ignoring scripture to be a bit partial in its application.
107 Dexter: As someone pointed out above, the LDS scholar Daniel Peterson has written a book, “Muhammad, Prophet of God” in which he appears to at least consider the possibility that Muhammad was genuinely inspired by the Lord.
Many aspects of the Koran cannot be reconciled with Mormonism, or Christianity generally.
If we are willing to call Muhammad a “prophet,” notwithstanding that we reject the notion that the whole Koran was, as Muhammad declared, recited to him by the angel Gabriel (who presumably would not have revealed false doctrine, since God can’t lie — either directly or by delegation, one assumes), then if we can have our falafel and eat it too, why not have our green jello and eat it too?
It is Mormons like Peterson, in fact, who are trying to have their cake and eat it too: They want to be irenic, and so reject the notion that Muhammad’s account of his revelation must be 100% accurate for him not to be a charlatan — but refuse to apply the same logic to Joseph Smith. There is no good reason for this.
Dexter – I’m sorry but Logic is not the answer to everything, there are Gaps in logical theories which require faith to continue the study of the issues, there are also oppositions in natural laws eq, some forms of Altruism are simply illogical especially when we don’t have all the facts.
P.S., Bryce, you’ve got me a little worried with your statements above in #103. Hang in there, bud, those extremes aren’t the only ones available. I don’t want to be the witness of another fundamentalist-turned-anti nosedive. The way I see you thinking in #103, the Inspired Fiction theory may end up being your best friend. 🙂
Jean Ely, inasmuch as our discussion is getting a bit afield from the original post, and inasmuch as I don’t really want this thread to devolve further into a discussion of what Moroni said about the BOM versus what LDS scholars are now saying about the BOM, I’m going to email to you the quotes from LDS scholars that I had in mind when I mentioned above that it seems LDS scholars have to ignore scripture, specifically, Moroni’s words to Joseph in JSH, to make their limited geography theory work for the Book of Mormon.
And again, my only point in raising this fact is that you and Bryce came out pretty strongly against Inspired Fiction theorists for “ignoring scripture,” and my point is simply that folks on both sides of the debate have to ignore certain scriptures to make their respective theories work. So I think condemning Inspired Fiction theorists alone for ignoring scripture is being a bit partial.
Andrew (#108), I do not condemn LDS scholars for what they are doing, and I do not believe they are ignoring scripture. It is great that they are trying to determine precisely where and how these things took place. But, imo, they are trying to get very specific about details that we do not have definitive revelation about, and as such, their work is informative and interesting at best, but hardly conclusive. Furthermore, the location and size of the group of people in the Book of Mormon is NOT the premise of the book, so why would an apt description of those details be necessary in the introduction, or in Joseph Smith-History? Indeed, Joseph may not have even known those details, but may have been giving his opinion on the subject at times.
I don’t see anything in Joseph Smith-History that contradicts what the LDS scholars have been working on. The very definitive details are lacking in the JS-H, yes, but that may have been intentional. Would it have been better for Joseph to say “some former inhabitants” instead of “the former inhabitants”? If that is the case, then the semantics of a word are in play here.
92: ..boy things are moving along.
AA, I think you would conceed that before executing someone based on a witness, proper due process would be served. Statements taken, cross examination done. Such is not the case with the witnesses to the BoM.
On that basis I think equating the two meanings of ‘witness’ is not entirely valid.
Indeed, calling into question Joseph’s selection of a couple words in one verse of Joseph Smith-History seems to be in violation of several of your rules that every Mormon needs to know. Minor scriptural imperfections or fallacies are a long shot away from complete fiction. It seems you are saying that because of a few word choices in JS-H, that LDS scholars are ignoring scripture to come to their conclusions. I find that very hard to swallow.
Dexter, JMB, Thomas, and Andrew: maybe we’re stuck on an incomplete definition of “prophet”. Certainly, the LDS church has a definition that it promotes (not surprisingly it looks just like what a president of the Church looks like, even though that image differs from the prophet par excellence of the dispensation, Joseph Smith), but there are various ideas about who a prophet is and what he or she does in other religious traditions, as well as in religious scholarship. IMO, a prophet among Jews as described in the OT is significantly different than what the BOM depicts in its prophets, than what JS claimed for himself, or even how present Church leaders operate in the 21st century. If we look at the concept of a prophet more expansively, we make room to allow JS to remain a prophet even if we claim divine fiction for some or all of JS’s revelations from God, just as we allow for Muhammad or Buddha or other religious founders ability to receive valid message from deity.
Bryce, do I hear you correctly in #115 that you believe Moroni’s words to Joseph may be “minor scriptural imperfections or fallacies”? If that’s the case, perhaps now you can understand why Inspired Fiction theorists don’t feel bound by the words of Moroni in JSH that you were previously citing against them.
Imperfection: “86: You’re assuming the witnesses believed it was a fraud. They believed in magic and had a very different world view then we do today.” I didn’t say anything about the witnesses, nor was I thinking about them when I wrote that. Just that people tend to take spiritual experiences literally rather than figuratively, even when (and maybe especially when) those experiences are their own. For example, someone might have a dream that they forget to feed their child. Many would become fearful as if the dream portends some actual negative event will occur that will impact their child, as if the dream world is literal. But they don’t realize that the dream is about them, and their child represents their inner child. Just as dreams don’t always speak the same language as real life, spiritual things can sometimes be misunderstood. This is a human tendency to think in terms of “real life” not “spiritual life.” It’s not natural to most to think about things in a non-literal manner, especially if you have a magical worldview and you expect the spiritual world to manifest in a physical way.
Bryce – you are quick to defend JS-H as the word of God and somehow infallible, yet we accept the Bible as canon while still stating that we believe it to be the word of God only “insofar as it is translated correctly.” Since God hasn’t actually written any of it, it is all in the realm of humans interacting with the divine. It seems a little facile to give JS-H the stamp of approval, when JS didn’t even give the Bible that same stamp. Mormon canon is simply not as straightforward as that. We also believe Gen Conf to be scriptural, and yet there have been things stated in conference that contradict other things said in conference (to varying degrees). It’s clear that there is some human mixed with the divine in this. I don’t think God would have it any other way, honestly. But let’s be careful about elevating it all to the divine when it may not bear that heavy load.
Well, what exactly does it take to make the notion of a MesoAmerican setting of the BofM consistent with a statement that the BofM tells of the ancient inhabitants of the continent and from whence they sprang?
Clearly it has nothing to do with Lehi, but the BofM doesn’t just contain stories about the Lehites. In fact, if you think about it, about all it requires is that the Olmecs are descended from the first group of humans to cross into America (hard to avoid in any event!) and that the first part of Ether contains a later written telling of the oral traditions of the crossing.
I find that to be surprisingly plausible, once you give up the chronology of the crossing as occurring around 3000 BC.
Note that the Book of Mormon ties the crossing to an event – the flood and resulting migration up the Babylonian river valleys – not a date. The date comes from a Bible chronology, which makes the chronology a BIBLE problem, not a Book of Mormon problem.
(Note that we already acknowledge this in Biblical studies when we date the destruction of Jerusalam according to Babylonian historical records; the Jewish chronology recorded in the Bible has the date almost a century and a half after its occurence.)
There is pretty wide agreement in the secular community that legends of “megafloods” are widespread in human history because they were pretty memorable events associated with the rise in sea level after the end of the last ice age.
The location of “Babel” and directional clues within the Bible itself (i.e., the migration to Babel came out of the east) suggest the “megaflood” of interest is the flooding of the Persian Gulf, which is estimated to have occurred from 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. The coming of this post glacial era is also known to have been accompanied by the development of vast lakes across the southern edges of the ice sheets in both North America and the Russian plain, which also fits the Book of Mormon account of having to cross many waters before you get to the ocean where you pause for a few years. This is, interestingly, long enough to boost your population for the ocean crossing by having a bunch of children with the population already in the area — a highly clever way to pack maximum bodies into a fleet with minimum demand on supplies.
Archeology also has first humans showing up in America along the West Coast in the 12,000 to 15,000 BCE frame and spreading along the entire coast very quickly, consistent with the possession of boats. And the DNA evidence says that the bulk of the population is descended from peoples who first show up in Eastern Asia and Siberia 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, with another small component made up of a haplotype that originated in the mid-East and then also spread rapidly from there shortly after the ice sheets melted. Again, no show-stopper in the Book of Mormon account there.
There’s also an interesting twist in Ether itself. The beginnings of the Book contain a sequence of geneologies of 8-11 kings each, always in the form of A was the son of B, who was the son of C, etc.
Every so often, the language switches from “son” to “descendent”, and then the next geneology starts. There is indeed room for a few thousand years of oral history to be lost in that word “descendents”, and plenty of time for the peoples to fragment into diverse tribes and spread over the hemisphere. Indeed, that whole portion of Ether reads like some later dynasty of the Olmecs trying to tie itself to the mantle of the ancient prophet who led the people to the new land.
Also notice that the only prophet named in the Book is Ether himself. The dynastic kings generally don’t appear as sacred types. Perhaps the great prophet who had the archetypical experiences with God is always called only “the brother of Jared” because Jared was written into the story later by a dynastic king trying to justify the dynasty, but who had no clue what the name of the prophet actually was to be called.
Joseph Smith is not just a prophet in the same sense as President Monson or members of the 12. He is THE Prophet of this dispensation. All others come to testify of his work and lead the church in modern times. but you won’t find them repudiating the doctrines taught by Joseph. Practices, yes, doctrine, no.
Having said that, if the BOM is not what Joseph claimed that it was, originated as he said it did, it seems to me that all bets are off regarding the very organization and authority of the Church itself.
Logic and knowledge never converted anyone to the Gospel without a healthy dose of prayer, faith and spiritual witness. I’m not sure why anyone would think you can think reason your way back into the church if you couldn’t reason your way into it.
Andrew (#117), the inspired fiction theorists have to go a long long way beyond minor scriptural imperfections or fallacies to arrive at their conclusions. They are in a different galaxy. They don’t believe Moroni even existed, let alone may have been quoted incorrectly!
Sorry hawk, the numbering got messed up, that comment was not in respone to yours.
FireTag, does the account at the end of Ether that has the Jaredites battling themselves into extinction affect your theory at all about the Jaredites being the “source” from which “the inhabitants of this continent” sprang?
Bryce, I think you’ve incorrectly asserted that Inspired Fiction theorists don’t believe the angel Moroni ever existed. But I think your last comment is a good ending point for my part in today’s discussion: I agree that the disregard of scripture by Inspired Fiction theorists and LDS scholars is a difference of degree rather than a difference in kind. Thanks for the discussion today, to you and all.
I don’t see what practical difference it really makes. If the BOM is what everyone “testifies” that it is, so what? Anyone who has read the book knows it is written in the first person by many authors who were writing their own, personal journals: private thoughts, opinions, experiences, and perspectives. That fact does not mean their writings are “true” or “infallible” any more than Brigham Young’s or Wilford Woodruff’s or Gordon B. Hinckley’s personal journals are “true and infallible”! In short, Nephi, Lehi, Mormon, Moroni, and all the others could be WRONG, no matter what you believe about the origin of the BOM!
The Church has posted on its official website a caution about LDS Doctrine titled “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” that clarifies: “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.”
This applies not only to Church leaders today, but to those “Church leaders” in the Book of Mormon.
Finally, I am intrigued by Elder Holland’s argument. Though passionate, it is fallacious. Consider how the same argument can be applied to other books:
“I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this Islamic work and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these our times until he or she embraces the divinity of the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 114 suras (chapters) of a heretofore unknown text, teeming with literary and Semitic complexity, without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages somehow–especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Allah and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now billions of readers–if that’s the case then such persons, elect or otherwise, have been deceived.”
I guess we should all join Islam, eh? Elder Holland?
Re: 116 SteveS
I think you bring up a great point, worthy of its own post. In addition to what you said, Mormonism has the additional qualifying characteristics for prophets of priesthood keys. In fact, far be it from a minor difference, this is THE difference in Mormonism. This is exactly what separates Muhammad (PBUH) from Joseph Smith, not merely a book, or revelation, etc.
I have a very loose definition of the word prophet, so I have no problem calling JS, Muhammed, Thomas S. Monson, Elder Holland, my bishop, Einstein, Galileo, Martin Luther, MLKJ, etc. etc. all prophets. This is, exactly as you pointed out, what could allow me to claim divine fiction for the BoM (if I so chose). This is, for me, the concept I would respond with to Dexter’s post. I think we have a tendency to assign a correlation of 1 to JS’s prophethood, and the BoM historicity, and the one truthfulness of the church, etc. and either accept or reject all of it at once. Certainly there have been past statements the promulgate this line of reasoning. But that need not be the case IMHO. It might be that the correlation is much less than 1 (though I certainly wouldn’t assign a number to it).
Jason — Well of course the Koran would be “teeming with Semitic complexity,” seeing as Arabic is a Semitic language.
Now if it were teeming with *Polish* literary complexity — say, lines remniscent of Adam Mickiewicz — that would be interesting.
But I get your point.
Hawk: “But let’s be careful about elevating it all to the divine when it may not bear that heavy load.”
On the other hand, you need to be careful, when conducting spiritual remodeling, that you don’t take out a load-bearing concept.
Jeff S: “Having said that, if the BOM is not what Joseph claimed that it was, originated as he said it did, it seems to me that all bets are off regarding the very organization and authority of the Church itself.” It certainly does change the odds on the betting, although I’m not sure I’d go quite this far. I’m not in the Inspired Fiction crowd, though – just wanting them to feel welcome to stay in the church rather than having to crawl out. I assume you would agree with that sentiment.
Bryce: “They are in a different galaxy. They don’t believe Moroni even existed” Sorry, but this just made me LOL. It reminded me of John Hamer’s post from 18 months ago: Planet Kolob to Mormons: It’s not our weird beliefs, it’s our credibility. Have we really come full circle? Sounds like you and John Hamer are coming to the same conclusion here. To wit, it’s not our weird beliefs, it’s our discomfort with our weird beliefs that creates our lack of credibility. In any case, you do realize how crazy it sounds to say “They don’t believe Moroni even existed” as if every person alive should recognize that fact. 😉 Also, I’m not sure that all the folks in the Inspired Fiction camp are 100% fiction. I think there’s some room for question in there. Inspired Fiction, IMO, is the opposite of a dogmatic orthodox approach in that it’s really just a working theory parading as exactly what it is – a guess.
And by the way, as regards the infallibility of the Prophet Mohammed’s revelations, have you ever heard of “the Satanic Verses” and the ordeal of Salman Rushdie? The same question arises for Joseph Smith’s revelations. At what point can we be certain he was receiving “revelation” from the right source? Were his “revelations” on polygamy from the right source, or was he deceived by Satan and his own pride and lusts? The Book of Moses (cf. the Apocalypse of Abraham) begins with a story of Moses having the WRONG deity answer his prayer. Joseph’s account (the official one) of the First Vision reports a satanic encounter. And what about Nephi assassinating Laban – NOT because God himself revealed it, but some unidentified “angel” told him to! What that an angel of darkness or an angel of light? There is no record of Nephi “testing” the angel to ensure it was the right one. Somebody needs to be the Salman Rushdie of Mormonism and write “The Satanic Verses for LDS”!
Yes, and Holland is essentially saying the same thing: “Well, OF COURSE the Book of Mormon is teeming with Semitic complexity” – because it is an authentic ancient text and you can’t ignore it if you want to dismiss the Church or get out of it!”
Jason, I know what you’re saying. It’s true that some Muslims use the *exact same argument* to prove that the Koran’s divine authenticity is self-evident, as Elder Holland used: Muhammad was too illiterate, ignorant, etc. to produce something as profound as the Koran by his own efforts.
This presents the potential spectacle of Mormons and Muslims getting into an argument over whose prophet was the greater ignoramus (ignorance being offered as evidence of authentic prophethood).
“Oh yeah? Well *our* prophet was MILES AWAY more of a rube than yours!”
“I’m not in the Inspired Fiction crowd, though – just wanting them to feel welcome to stay in the church rather than having to crawl out. I assume you would agree with that sentiment.”
Absolutely true! If that’s what it takes to keep them in, I can handle that. It is nothing more or less than ” I have not yet received a testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon.” I’d prefer that to the inspired fiction route. mainly, because I don’t know how one get to that conclusion based on the story of how it came to be.
“I guess we should all join Islam, eh? Elder Holland?”
Since he wasn’t coming from that premise or POV, why bother? You and I both know exactly where he is coming from.
I don’t think so — Ether saw all the Olmecs he knew about battle themselves into extinction. Nothing says he knew everything going on everywhere on the continent. In fact, the Olmec territory extended to the jade mines south of what we generally think of as the strip of wilderness separating the Land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla.
The BofM tells us when the Nephites/Mulekites met up with the Olmec ruins. What if Laman and company met up with and absorbed Olmec survivors first? That may have been the population edge that gave them power to drive the Nephites away from the land of their first inheritance and would account for how quickly and (amazingly to the Nephites) decisively the Lamanites’ physical type seemed to change. The physical type was already in MesoAmerica and just needed new kings.
It is still a fallacious argument on Holland’s part.
“And our prophet was a rube for hundreds of years longer than your prophet!”
“My prophet can beat up your prophet!”
You crack me up.
And what about Nephi assassinating Laban – NOT because God himself revealed it, but some unidentified “angel” told him to!
Didn’t a voice tell him to do it?
To Andrew (if you’re still there),
I have a question about your explanation of the Inspired Fiction theory. It sounds like it could come in two flavors:
1. The fiction was created by Deity, and transmitted/revealed to Joseph Smith who himself was unaware that it was not fiction.
2. The fiction was created knowingly by Joseph Smith, with the approval of Deity.
Is that a fair description? And if so, which flavor do you think is more persuasive? (I don’t agree with the inspired fiction explanation myself, but I’m trying to understand clearly what you’re talking about.)
“It is still a fallacious argument on Holland’s part.”
The real fallacious argument is using the Satanic Verses as any comparison. The Satanic Verses episode was a situation where the Prophet Mohamed took back verses in the Koran and said he was under the influence of Satan when he wrote them in spite of the fact that he was attempting to curry favor with the citizens of Mecca and wishing to convert them to Islam against the politics of other Islamic groups.
I do not see how it compares at all. The closest thing I could come up with was the New and Everlasting Covenant, defined at the time as Eternal Marriage and the Plurality of Wives and then re-defined as just Eternal Marriage. But no scriptures were declared as coming from Satan instead of God.
I just ran across an argument that according to studies of population genetics, if Lehi left any descendants at all, after some 2500 years, nearly everyone in both North and South America could probably claim him as ancestor.
Given the “innumerable” Lamanites in the last battle and some 1100 years of intermarriage among tribes up to the time of Columbus, practically everyone in the Americas could easily have had Lamanites in their ancestry, whether those were their only ancestors or not. The concepts of a limited geography for the original peoples and the idea that all the American Indians of Joseph Smith’s day were (at least in part) descendants of the Lamanites don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Yes, I think it’s fair to say the Inspired Fiction can come in those two flavors. As for which is more convincing, I have a hard time deciding because, as I said before, I don’t ascribe to the Inspired Fiction theory (either flavor) because I don’t find either convincing. I think the second possibility you mentioned is the most intriguing to think about. On the one hand, I think most would bristle at the idea that God would commission a Prophet to knowingly create a fictional work. And yet the fictional aspects of the Bible don’t prevent us from calling it “the word of God.”
Another way of looking at it is: do we, as parents, ever engage in deception by telling our children fictional stories or threatening fictional consequences? Little white lies that steer our children in the right direction? I think most if not all parents do. Is it therefore outside the realm of the possible that God does the same?
I say possible. Convinced? I’m not sure.
And perhaps the word “fiction”, although not incorrect, isn’t the best fit in regard to religious texts. “Allegorical”, “metaphorical”, or “mythic” language are used to communicate truths about the world, our relationship to God, etc., and the reader understands that despite a story not being literally true, it can still teach profound, correct principles and promote positive change in a person’s life.
The greater trouble of the BOM being accepted as religious metaphor or myth, of course, comes back to its origin. Whereas the mythic stories of the bible were composed, rewritten, compiled, and canonized over millennia by scribes, kings, priests, bishops, and others, the BOM comes to us through the mediation of a single person, Joseph Smith. Whereas Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, etc. are foundational stories that relate truths about God, our place in the world, and our strivings for a better existence, their formulation occurred in an oral tradition that eventually translated into a written tradition. Stories of Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni, if they are to be understood in a mythic or inspired fiction context, don’t have anywhere near the same degree of communal crafting and authority derived from millennia of interaction with the stories. Does that make them less true in their potential for spiritual impact? Probably not, but it makes it harder for people to accept a myth that was created by one person rather than a myth that has been developed and passed down the ages. And given the frame which JS constructed about the artifactual origins of the BOM in a modern, increasingly-scientific world (golden plates, swords, breastplates, Zelph, Cowdery’s mission to the “Lamanite” Native Americans west of the Mississippi, etc.), it makes it difficult to portray the BOM as anything but a literal-factual historical document.
Still, it is the inconsistencies in these very circumstances relating to the appearance of the BOM that make me and others question whether the BOM could possibly be an historical document. Nevertheless, we find in its words some sense of spiritual truth therein, which teaches us ways that can help us find purpose to our existence in this world, and hope for a life with God now and in a world to come. I see the BOM as a work of modern religious genius. I’m not sure of JS’s claims about its origins, but I am certain that JS was an exuberant, prophetic religious genius, whose willingness and ability to speak on God’s behalf are remarkable in the modern age.
Consider a potential Old Testament counterpart to the Book of Mormon as “inspired fiction”: The Book of Deuteronomy.
Now, Deuteronomy is arguably THE most influential book of the Jewish Testament. It contains the Shema — “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” — the definitive statement of Judaism, and contains the most influential codification of the Law and the most extensive explanation of the covenant relationship between God and Israel.
Deuteronomy has an interesting backstory. Although the conservative religious view is that Moses wrote the book (as the book itself declares), the dominant scholarly view is now that Deuteronomy was the “lost book of the Law” discovered during a remodeling of the temple during the 7th century B.C. reign of King Josiah — and that it was a “pious fraud,” composed by Josiah’s reformers to support their Yahwist reforms.
If this is true, then all of Judaism (and Christianity, to the extent that Christianity takes up the theme of covenant theology and runs with it) is based largely upon a document whose actual provenance may be different from the official story.
God is a God of truth, who cannot lie, so I would not go so far as to say that God expressly instructed perpetrators of a “pious fraud” to misrepresent the truth. On the other hand, it may be that God knows that fallible human beings are all he has to work with — both as prophetic mouthpieces, and their listeners. He knows that human beings are prone to embellish, to add “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative,” as Gilbert & Sullivan would put it.
And so he inspires religious visionaries to express truth through the embellished vehicles they were going to use anyway.
Now, this may be how God works, and maybe not. I’m only saying, I can’t call it impossible.
#142, “the dominant scholarly view is now that Deuteronomy was the “lost book of the Law” discovered during a remodeling of the temple during the 7th century B.C. reign of King Josiah — and that it was a “pious fraud,” composed by Josiah’s reformers to support their Yahwist reforms.”
Not sure I would call this a dominant view, but certainly a “considered” one. This view is nothing new and has been around for many hundreds of years. But no closer to being accepted as true as when it was first proposed. Frankly, the scholars don’t really know but they speculate based on circumstantial evidence. There is no doubt that the Babylonian captivity altered the course of Judaism forever and, perhaps was a significant reason why Jesus was not accepted as the Messiah. Scriptural transmission could have been interrupted and changes made based on current practice rather than God-transmitted practice.
Ihe big issue with the Book of Mormon for me is not what it says, but the testimony of Joseph about it’s transmission. if he received as he said, he is a Prophet, if not he’s a liar and a fraud. No amount of good words in the BOM can make up for a false story of its origin and translation.
“If he received as he said, he is a Prophet, if not he’s a liar and a fraud.”
Maybe that’s what I’ve been responding to in my most recent comments. I think forcing this into a binary either/or relationship doesn’t do anyone favors, and only serves to alienate and polarize opinion on the subject. I’m arguing that there’s a possibility that JS was a little of both: a prophet and a fraud. He was a man that was able to communicate profound spiritual truths and inspire faith and devotion to God and Jesus Christ, but the manner in which he did it has serious inconsistencies. Sure, we don’t know all the circumstances surrounding JS’s history, and history is subjective and incomplete, yada yada yada. But sometimes JS’s actions, even when acting in God’s name, were deplorable and wrong, no matter how you cut it. Does that make him less of a prophet? Only if your definition of a prophet includes a moral infallibility as a prooftext of his divine calling. If a prophet can at once be a forthteller of divine messages and full of imperfections, complexities, and yes, even sins of willful commission, then I think you’re getting closer to what JS thought of himself, and to the model for prophets that you find in the OT.
“if he received as he said, he is a Prophet, if not he’s a liar and a fraud.”
Who isn’t? (I’ll confess first: That fifteen-minute makeout with the most popular girl in the senior class got embellished to a full hour in the retelling.)
Seriously, who has never told a lie in his or her life?
Why should one sin (if such it was) discredit Joseph entirely, and make him unworthy of being listened to?
I would just add (for anyone following this conversation) that Thomas’ comments about Deuteronomy in #142 are not some zany theory. In fact, you’ll find that same information about Deuteronomy presented and commented upon favorably in the most recent FARMS Review.
“I would just add (for anyone following this conversation) that Thomas’ comments about Deuteronomy in #142 are not some zany theory. In fact, you’ll find that same information about Deuteronomy presented and commented upon favorably in the most recent FARMS Review.’
I hope I didn’t imply that it was zany, but yet an unproven theory.
Thomas, I agree with the idea of your comment, but I’m curious: what is the “one sin” of JS to which you’re referring?
Jeff S., I know you weren’t implying they were zany. I just thought I’d indicate to any readers who haven’t picked up the latest FARMS Review that it seems to support what Thomas was saying about Deuteronomy (some people are more willing to credit a theory if someone they trust, like FARMS writers, have spoken favorably about it).
The story of the woman taken in adultery is not found in the earliest texts of the NT, and is known to be a later addition. The ending of the book of Mark is also a later addition (yes, the resurrection part). The word poem at the beginning of John is later. Because they weren’t written by the original authors and we don’t know who wrote them and added them and why, their motives in adding them are suspect. They might have added them to bolster their own version of the gospel. They might have added them because they were inspired. They might have been part of an oral tradition that was based on actual events but hadn’t been originally recorded. Despite their nebulous pedigrees, they get trotted out with regularity in GC as evidence of various gospel principles. While I don’t like the poor scholarship that implies, maybe that’s why this is all beside the point in a church that relies on all members being open to revelation and inspiration. The messages of the gospel are written in the human heart, not just in the scriptures.
Dylan — The argument is that if the Book of Mormon was translated in a manner other than that described by Joseph, he’s a liar and a fraud whose entire body of teaching we can reject out of hand.
My question is — why? There is strong evidence that this was the case for the Book of Abraham. Why is Joseph given a free pass in embellishing the nature of his translation with one book, and not the other? For that matter, would it necessarily discredit all of Joseph’s preaching completely if *both* translation accounts turn out to be embellished?
Thomas Jefferson probably had an illicit affair with a slave. That doesn’t discredit his thoughts on consensual government. Martin Luther King was probably an adulterer. Doesn’t discredit the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Does it really make sense to dismiss a person’s entire body of work because of (alleged) flaws in one aspect of his character?
Thomas, I interpret SteveS’s comment to be referring to the numerous other “deplorable” actions and chracter flaws of JS unrelated to the production of the Book of Mormon.
“Does it really make sense to dismiss a person’s entire body of work because of (alleged) flaws in one aspect of his character?’
Not neccessarily, but if that “flaw” is a principle on which the whole thing is based, I think you need to consider that. Martin Luther King never denied he was an adulterer or that God gave him those women. Jefferson never admited, nor was asked, as far as I know, whether he had a black mistress, who had his children. I am not sure it is a fair comparison. To me, that is a whole different morality discussion.
Thomas said: “Does it really make sense to dismiss a person’s entire body of work because of (alleged) flaws in one aspect of his character?”
Or, conversely, does it really make sense to say that a person must have had a near flawless character to be capable of producing some amazing divinely-inspired works?
I think Jefferson’s credibility on the slavery issue is certainly called into question by his actions. Not to threadjack.
Yes, inconsistent behavior by Jefferson on the slavery issue damages credibility on his statements about the equality of man. But does that undermine the inspirational quality of the Declaration of Independence and other inspired documents he helped author? The question was not whether a person’s inconsistent actions undermine his credibility, but whether a person must possess nearly flawless character to be capable of producing an amazing divinely-inspired work.
Many have long assumed that one must possess nearly flawless character to be capable of producing amazing divinely-inspired works, hence the fierce resistance to any biographical treatment of the Founding Fathers or others that casts them as being anything less than that. The question is: Why? Is the assumption correct that one must possess nearly flawless character to be capable of producing an amazing divinely-inspired work? Are there examples of people who have had seriously flawed character who have nevertheless produced amazing divinely-inspired works? Can human character be simply and readily categorized as either obviously and completely “righteous” or obviously and completely “wicked,” or are human beings complex creatures that simultaneously harbor within themselves both the seeds of divine genius, thereby empowering them to produce amazing divinely-inspired works, and the seeds of pride, lust, greed, etc., thereby simultaneously making them capable of great hypocrisy and evil?
AA – Personally, I think that things like Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings are relevant in a limited capacity. That is relevant to his views on slavery, equality, and even women’s rights. But it’s just one piece to the puzzle. I think we’d be hard pressed to call him pro-slavery. There’s a gamut of variation to one’s stance on slavery. But IMO, it’s mostly irrelevant to his credibility on other topics.
I don’t require perfection of my predecessors (and certainly not my contemporaries) in order to view their contributions to society as valuable. Ghandi was a crappy father. His views on family responsibility should be taken with his own fatherhood in mind. BY was a polygamist living in a sexist time. His statements about women should be understood in that context. For me, he has little credibility on that topic as a result.
Character traits relevant to JS’s claims about the BOM would be honesty, self-awareness, his worldview, etc. Those are a little tougher to assess because they are for the most part self-referential.
I would think someone who is (or claims to be) a prophet would be held to a higher standard of living than a political activist. Jefferson’s personal indiscretions don’t really change the fact that he had a lot of good ideas. But if he claimed to be a pure vessel and mouthpiece for god then his personal indiscretions become more consequential. That’s not to say prophets are (or need to be) perfect but it’s a whole different ball game. So I agree Hawkgrrl that Jefferson’s personal life is relevant to his views on slavery, equality, and women’s rights.
But for JS and BY or anyone else who claims to speak with and/or for god, everything comes into play. So for JS, I do not agree that only honesty, self-awareness and his worldview come into play. If you are going to announce that you spoke with god and that you brought forth the last dispensation and re-established the true church onto the earth and that you did more save Jesus only for the salvation of mankind then everything you do should be looked at under a microspope. And if a person who makes those kinds of claims has some dirty, filthy affairs they are extremely probative in my opinion.
“Does it really make sense to dismiss a person’s entire body of work because of (alleged) flaws in one aspect of his character?”
The issue isn’t perfection of character, it is relevance of behavior to specific works. In most cases I can think of, the “flaws” we think of in re JS are inextricibly woven into our canonized restorational history. Polygamy…flaw or doctrine? BOA….scripture or fraud? Treasure seeking….JS’s excentric past time pre-cursor to divine revelation? It’s not about character flaws, it’s about whether behavior is relevant. In the case of JS, much of what some of us would like to dismiss as flaws in character have been treated as revelation or canon….thus making them absolutely relevant, important and sometimes, actually, a hinge of our faith.
Elder Oaks tried to use a similar argument in his PBS interview:
“I’m talking about George Washington or any other case. If he had an affair with a girl when he was a teenager, I don’t need to read that when I’m trying to read a biography of the Founding Father of our nation.”
Fine. But what if the girl later became the scribe who kept many of Washington’s personal notes used for the biography? What if the relationship with her became relevant to the birth of our nation in some other way like polygamy, or the BOA, or treasure seeking is to our story? Then it’s not simply a matter of reading fodder on our nation’s first president, but crucial context to our history….and how it came to be. Surely Elder Oaks sees that.
The issue isn’t perfection of character, it is relevance of behavior to specific works. In most cases I can think of, the “flaws” we think of in re JS are inextricibly woven into our canonized restorational history.
Aaron, I couldn’t agree more. Let’s say for the sake of argument JS had an affair (and I know it’s far from established that he did). In and of itself, it would be unfortunate–but I’m not that would “prove” he’s not a prophet. However, IF he invented the doctrine of polygamy to justify adultery, THEN I think it casts serious doubts on his prophetic calling.
These are the questions I grapple with, anyway. And how do you say for sure?
So JS can write (or translate) the BOM where it states that adultery is the worst sin once can commit except for murder and yet if he did it, it has no reflection on whether he was a prophet?
Declaring the truth, and living the truth, are two different things.
I’ve always said that if — heaven forbid — I’m ever caught *in flagrante* with multiple Laker Girls, what I have said apropos that subject (that family men ought to avoid that kind of thing) remains true.
The truth in (for example) D&C 121 remains true, regardless of whether Joseph Smith kicked little puppies and rooted for the Red Sox, or engaged in any other gross character flaws.
Of course, you can only accept this kind of argument if you classify the “appeal to authority” as a logical fallacy. Which Mormons aren’t necessarily equipped to do….
Let’s not get too far off track here. The issue has to do with whether Joseph told the truth about the real origin and translation of the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion. If the keystone was not what its purported to be, while I may have many good things about it, many of our deeply held beliefs crumble under the weigh of untruth. the premise of Joseph’s calling from the Lord in the first vision, Moroni’s visit, etc are all called into serious question.
I personally don’t see shades of gray here, to me it’s pretty black and white.
If the keystone was not what its purported to be, while I may have many good things about it, many of our deeply held beliefs crumble under the weigh of untruth. the premise of Joseph’s calling from the Lord in the first vision, Moroni’s visit, etc are all called into serious question.
Jeff, that was my point. Looking at Joseph’s life and saying “he did this wrong and that wrong,” as unfortunate as those things may have been, is ultimately irrelevant.
HOWEVER, if his character flaws and inconsistencies surround what he said God told him, then we’ve got a problem. Because it calls everything else into serious question.
Nonsense. It is not irrelevant. We live in a world of unknowns. It is precisely because I do not know whether or not JS was truly a prophet that I will evaluate relevant history to try and determine that. BY YOUR FRUITS YOU SHALL KNOW THEM! Is this not what the faithful use when it is to their benefit? But when it is not, it’s irrelevant? I don’t think so. Based on the evidence I’ve seen of JS’ personal life, I simply do not respect him and certainly do not recognize him as a prophet and I don’t respect or recognize any god who would call such a man as a prophet.
Umm—Elder Holland only recognizes that if the Church does not allow for some people who are still discovering the Book of Mormon to have wiggle room (i.e. I like parts of the book, but can’t quite accept the origin), then we will alienate many who are still on the path to testimony. He is not saying that inspired fiction (or inspiring fiction–like Lord of the Rings) is the end—but only a means to an end. I liked the stories in the Book of Mormon long before I believed they actually happened. It the Church had not allowed me that space, I might have been turned off too. There is no backtracking–only recognition that there is a time to help those new in the gospel along with encouragement and patience and then a time to bear bold testimony with unflinching conviction. I find this entire page a wordy dance around mincing the words of someone who does not mince word. I sincerely and politely say–quit wasting your time. If you don’t believe it, sir, then just don’t and get on with your life. If you are still figuring this out, then get on your knees and pray (I say pray because it seems you have already studied). Do not continue what seems like a quest to make Elder Holland an “offender for a word” (Isa. 29:21)
It seems the majority of those who support or agree with Mr. Ainsworth’s posts are people who currently question or struggle with their testimony of the Book of Mormon’s divine origin, or people who have already completely rejected its divine origin. In fact, the sole reason I came to this blog was to respond to an email from a hopeless, struggling friend who thinks Mr. Ainsworth provides an excellent summary of the reasons why the Book of Mormon could only be “inspired fiction.” It troubles me that someone who claims to be called by inspiration and set apart as a Gospel Principles instructor would dedicate so much time and effort to write, publish, and painstakingly defend opinions that lead people away from the Church, rather than draw them back to the Church when life’s whirlwinds are beating upon them.
I think some of you would be wise to rest from your intellectual sword fight and ask yourselves whether you are willing to receive a modern-day Apostle’s testimony of the Book of Mormon at face value. You could also spend more time reading, analyzing, and pondering the actual text of the Book of Mormon if you honestly seek evidence concerning the Book’s historical authenticity.
“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge. For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.” (1 Nephi 1:1-4).
“Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand. Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.” (2 Nephi 25:21-23)
“And you that will not partake of the goodness of God, and respect the words of the Jews, and also my words, and the words which shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the Lamb of God, behold, I bid you an everlasting farewell, for these words shall condemn you at the last day. For what I seal on earth, shall be brought against you at the judgment bar; for thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey.” (2 Nephi 33:14-15)
“And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust? I declare these things unto the fulfilling of the prophecies. And behold, they shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the everlasting God; and his word shall hiss forth from generation to generation. And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.” (Moroni 10:27-29)
If you’re offended by any of this, I invite you to consider the possibility that Joseph Smith wasn’t the first prophet to observe that the wicked take the truth to be hard.
pH: Your last line sums up perfectly why so many people are troubled by what they see as the implications of Elder Holland’s talk, as interpreted by your faction: You really do believe that people who have reached different conclusions, based on all the evidence available to them, are WICKED.
I *know* with every proverbial fiber of my being that this is not the case. Wo to them who call good evil! You are calling many, many good men and women evil. You mistake self-righteousness for orthodoxy.
PH, thanks for your profound words. I’m sure no one here has ever considered just believing everything they’re told and not questioning. Maybe if you cut and paste some more scriptures that we’ve all read 50 times, they will mysteriously be infused with some new meaning and all our questions will be mystically answered.
This is a site for people who DO question, and, speaking for myself, your suggestion to STOP thinking and questioning, is most definitely unwelcome. If you find such questions disturbing, I suggest you go elsewhere.
That goes for you as well, Kris.
What surprises me is not the presence of concern about JS personal integrity in evaluating the Book of Mormon, That makes perfect sense, and may be the only way we can evaluate things in the D&C.
However, I am surprised when historians (in the LDS or CofChrist) become the dominant scientific discipline involved in the discussion. Of all Restorationist scriptures, the BofM is uniquely subject to verification or refutation by other disciplines. In other words, I’m not bothered so much by the “science vs faith” aspect of this as by the “only-one-science vs faith” aspects.
#164, katie L.
“Jeff, that was my point. Looking at Joseph’s life and saying “he did this wrong and that wrong,” as unfortunate as those things may have been, is ultimately irrelevant.
HOWEVER, if his character flaws and inconsistencies surround what he said God told him, then we’ve got a problem. Because it calls everything else into serious question.”
Katie, we are in complete agreement on that point.
“It seems the majority of those who support or agree with Mr. Ainsworth’s posts are people who currently question or struggle with their testimony of the Book of Mormon’s divine origin, or people who have already completely rejected its divine origin.”
I don’t think you are reading Andrew’s post and the responses correctly. It is true, there are some here who do not embrace the absolutely divine origin of the Book of Mormon and subscribe more or less to the Inspired Fiction theory.
But there are many, like me, who accept the complete account of the origin and transmission of the Book of Mormon the way Joseph and the church describe it. We are also having a discussion about Andrew’s post and the Elder Holland’s talk. In some cases, we are exploring both side of the question.
So, please do not come here and assume that some are “wicked” because of what they wrote. And besides, it is God who ultimately judges us, not man.
We welcome your participation, but you do not need to preach. Thanks
Nonsense. It is not irrelevant. … It is precisely because I do not know whether or not JS was truly a prophet that I will evaluate relevant history to try and determine that. BY YOUR FRUITS YOU SHALL KNOW THEM! Is this not what the faithful use when it is to their benefit? But when it is not, it’s irrelevant? I don’t think so. Based on the evidence I’ve seen of JS’ personal life, I simply do not respect him and certainly do not recognize him as a prophet…
Dexter, I guess it depends on what you expect from people and how you understand God.
If you buy into the notion that revelation and blessings come as a result of “personal worthiness,” then I think you have valid point. Look at JS’s life as a whole and evaluate whether or not he shows appropriate fruits. If not, toss him out. That’s certainly one way of handling it.
But as for me, I reject the notion that revelation and blessings come as a result of personal worthiness. I believe they come IN SPITE of personal UNworthiness. I believe they come as a result of pure grace from a loving God.
As such, I look at his weaknesses and indiscretions–which I agree were at times shocking (especially when contrasted with the rose-colored portrait the church painted of him when I was growing up)–as unfortunate, but not the final word on whether or not he was a prophet.
You said: “I don’t respect or recognize any god who would call such a man as a prophet.”
I get where you’re coming from, but for me, there’s more to it than that. I look at my life, which is filled with selfishness, anger, pride, dishonesty, lust, and on and on. Truly, if I had your perspective, I could not respect or recognize any god who would bless me and love me. And yet–I have had profoundly loving and blessed experiences with the Divine. Therefore, if God would bless ME, and love ME, and even share inspiration and personal revelation with ME–who am completely unworthy of it–why couldn’t He do it with Joseph Smith?
Having said all that, please keep in mind that I am not a TBM and am still evaluating where I feel JS belongs. As I said in a previous comment, the fact that JS had even grievous personal weaknesses is not in and of itself interesting to me. What is interesting to me, and I think MUST be considered, is how or where those weaknesses and flaws intersect with what he said God told him–as well as the content of those revelations themselves: how they square with my understanding of who God is, and compare with other established revelations such as the Bible, etc.
Thomas: The doctrine of Christ is to do away with disputes, especially over his doctrine. I believe that is what Elder Holland was attempting to accomplish with his straightforward apostolic testimony. My problem with Mr. Ainsworth’s posts is that they necessarily involve or create disputes, whether intentionally or not, and that these types of disputes lead people (like my friend) away from the Church. I wonder if some of us would be better instruments if we focused on pure testimony or pure doctrines, rather than fretting over scientific consensus or demanding unconditional “tolerance” for incorrect doctrines and traditions.
Dylan: I didn’t ask you to stop questioning anything. In fact, I asked you to question whether you are willing to accept Elder Holland’s “as straightforward as possible” testimony at face value. Of course, even if I were suggesting that you stop questioning everything, I find your intolerance for such a suggestion extremely ironic. Why is it that all opinions are welcome here except the suggestion that we should accept Elder Holland’s testimony at face value?
Jeff: The reason I came here in the first place was a friend whose current distance from the Church is based in part on Mr. Ainsworth’s posts. If I’m misreading Mr. Ainsworth, so is my friend (and I’m guessing others are misunderstanding him as well). Again, I don’t believe Mr. Ainsworth intends this result, but it might be something for him and everyone else to consider.
As far as being a “judge,” I was only attempting to make the point that we will be judged according to the words and prophecies in the Book of Mormon, which are described by the prophets and the Lord himself as plain and simple truths, not hidden meanings derived from a rigorous modern critical analysis of inspired fiction.
Thank you for considering my thoughts.
pH – “The doctrine of Christ is to do away with disputes, especially over his doctrine.” Or, conversely, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.” Cuz that’s also part of the gospel of Christ. “I wonder if some of us would be better instruments if we focused on pure testimony or pure doctrines” I would have to ask instruments of what? Of the gospel according to pH? Doubtless. If you mean instruments of God, I guess I would remind you that “the whole have no need of a physician.” Your methods for relating to others about religion certainly work for some but not all people are the same. Jesus also changed his preaching methods when he encountered different people: rich men, Pharisees, etc. What works for the 99 doesn’t work for the one, yet the shepherd leaves the fold to find the one, and he loves them all.
Katie L said:
I look at my life, which is filled with selfishness, anger, pride, dishonesty, lust, and on and on. Truly, if I had your perspective, I could not respect or recognize any god who would bless me and love me. And yet–I have had profoundly loving and blessed experiences with the Divine. Therefore, if God would bless ME, and love ME, and even share inspiration and personal revelation with ME–who am completely unworthy of it–why couldn’t He do it with Joseph Smith?
pH, I think it’s categorically unfair to blame Andrew for your friend’s struggles. In my experience, when a person is in a frame of mind where they don’t want to consider alternative perspectives, they will simply avoid opposing viewpoints–and tune them out when they happen to bump up against them. On the other hand, if a person continually returns to explore new questions and ways of thinking, I have found it is generally because there is something inside that will not grant them lasting peace until they do.
Last I checked, this is an internet website–not a lecture hall with doors locked on the outside. If your friend was not already in a place where s/he needed to explore these questions, I expect s/he would not be here.
Of course, some of us REALLY DO find deep comfort and spiritual solace in the discovery that we are not alone–that other people think about things, too. In my life, almost nothing has brought be more spiritual pain than trying to deny or avoid my questions and even doubts. Conversely, almost nothing has brought me more peace than the moment I finally turned to God and said, “I honestly DON’T KNOW about some of the things I’ve been taught all my life. I need to ask my questions, because I want to know the truth–no matter where it leads me, or how it surprises me.”
pH, I admire your love for your friend and your desire to help him/her find peace through the gospel. I know how you feel, as my husband is no longer a believer. But, Andrew Ainsworth had nothing to do with DH’s disaffection.
DH had never heard of AA or MM until well after he had lost his testimony of JS and the BoM’s historicity. My husband was upset with the church’s involvement in Prop 8. He couldn’t figure out how a church with such an interesting past, in regards to marriage, would fight so bitterly against another “flavor” of marriage.
So, he started researching polygamy and church history. What he found shocked him and contradicted everything he had ever been taught about JS, including the circumstances surrounding the BoM. Once again, this all happened without Andrew’s “guidance”.
I hope you can realize that those who doubt have countless sources for answers to their questions. Many of these are not sympathetic to the church, while others simply white wash the history and tell the doubters that they just need to pray more, etc. Mormon Matters tries to frankly discuss these, and other issues, without white washing and without venom. It’s not easy. I think the only reason it works is because those who post here truly love the church, warts and all, and consider themselves to be mormons.
pH: I think I understand your reaction to AA’s post, but I think you need to stick around Mormon Matters a bit longer to understand what’s going on here before passing judgment. Andrew’s posts have been some of the most faith-affirming I’ve found on any Mormon blog or website, and although Andrew himself doesn’t subscribe to the “inspired fiction” theories (you should read all the comments before making a comment on a post as a matter of courtesy to others engaged in the discussion; see comment #58 on this post to read his position on the BoM), his post is an effort of inclusion, reaching out to members who felt threatened by Elder Holland’s talk that, at first glance, appears to limit doctrine in ways with which some are uncomfortable. You may see this as destructive of faith, but for someone who already disbelieves or questions certain principles but yearns to maintain one’s faith in the overall mission of the Church, such posts give people like myself reason to keep striving. At what point would you wish LDS members with unorthodox beliefs to simply excuse themselves from the body of the Saints? I’m sure you don’t desire your friend who is struggling to leave. Therefore, try to patiently observe before jumping into the conversation, refraining from assuming you know exactly what is going on here and passing judgment. Cheers!
I just checked the comments and I’m saddened to hear that you think this post might have led a friend of your away from the Church, although I note that your friend’s wife has commented above to indicate that is not the case. Regardless, as someone who loves the Church, and the Book of Mormon, and the invaluable contributions of Joseph Smith to the lives of countless people I love, I take seriously any suggestion that anything I’ve written might possibly lead someone away from the Church. I think if you peruse my past posts, you will find the overwhelming majority of them to be faith-affirming.
Frankly, I do not think this post can fairly be characterized as anti- anything with regard to the Church. To the contrary, this post represents an inquiry, a question, an attempt to understand the full meaning and import of Elder Holland’s most recent conference talk. Like you, I have friends who have struggled, or are struggling, with their faith because their love for the Church led them to study more deeply its history, and when they did so, they realized things were not as simple and easy as they had previously thought. Some came through that process with their faith stronger than ever. Others did not. I am not sure why this is so, it comes down to individual choice, I suppose, but it is interesting to me that God apparently did not design this experience with mortality to be easy, nor for there to be simple, clear, easy answers to all our questions. Indeed, it seems to me that God intentionally designed so much of our lives to involve mystery, as if He wanted to force us to search, ponder, pray, ask, knock, seek, etc.
I would encourage your friend to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if he thinks anything in this or any other post I’ve ever written supports the conclusion that one ought to distance oneself from the Church. If he does so, he will get a reply email from me giving him one million and one reasons to stay and contribute.
I feel perhaps a bit of backstory behind this discussion may be necessary for your to understand why I created this post. In the first Elder Holland quote above, we hear him extending a warm hand of welcome to all those in the Church who, like your friend, might struggle to believe some of the foundational stories of the Church. Nevertheless, they see abundant evidence of divinity within the Church, its leadership, and its scriptures, such as the Book of Mormon. Although they may struggle to believe the BOM represents authentic ancient history, they believe God inspired Joseph to write it. In the first quote above, Elder Holland said such people ought not be considered “unacceptable . . . as Latter-day Saints.” These were encouraging words for many people who find themselves in this boat.
However, I know many people who were deeply saddened by Elder Holland’s recent address because they interpreted it as his denouncing them as being deceived, and interpreted him as suggesting such people ought not remain in the Church. The question I sought to answer in this post was whether such persons were correct in interpreting Elder Holland as denouncing them as “deceived” for believing in the divinity of the Book of Mormon, but having strong doubts about its status as authentic history. Personally, I do not believe Elder Holland was intending to proclaim those who believe in the divinity of the Book of Mormon as being “deceived”. You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion about what Elder Holland intended. But based on his words in his PBS interview, quoted above, I cannot believe he intended to proclaim anyone as being “deceived” so long as they believe the Book of Mormon was divinely-inspired.
I’m also surprised by your conclusion that someone’s belief in the Inspired Fiction theory necessarily and automatically drives them out of the Church. In my experience, exactly the opposite is true. The Inspired Fiction theory holds people in the Church after they’ve already lost their belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Believing the BOM is divinely-inspired, even if not authentic ancient history, gives them a reason to continue reading the Book of Mormon.
Finally, I’d like to share several of my favorite quotes from General Authorities that encourage us to engage in free inquiry in our collective search for the truth. I’ve posted them below. I believe my post, and all my previous posts, have been in harmony with these statements by previous General Authorities.
I wish you and your friend the best, and again, if your friend is struggling with his desire to remain active in the Church, I’d be more than happy to give him the thousands of reasons I am an active, contributing member of the Church. Here are the quotes I was referring to:
“In all His promises and commandments about gaining knowledge, the Lord has never withheld from our quest any field of truth. Our knowledge is to be coterminous with the universe and is to reach out and to comprehend the laws and workings of the deeps of the eternities. All domains of knowledge belong to us. In no other way could the great law of eternal progression be satisfied.” (First Presidency Message to Howard S. McDonald, Nov. 14, 1945.)
“As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover.” (James E. Faust, Ensign, Sept. 1998.)
“As a Church, we encourage gospel scholarship and the search to understand all truth. Fundamental to our theology is a belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Sept. 1985.)
“All truth, whether it pertains to the universe, to this earth, or to the individual and his environment, is a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Church News, Dec. 20, 1969.)
“That the Church relies upon duplicity in the propagation of her doctrines, and shuns enlightened investigation, is contrary to reason and fact. Deceit and fraud in the perpetuation of any religion must end in failure. A system of religion, ethics, or philosophy, to attract and hold the attention of men, must be sincere in doctrine and honest in propaganda.” (First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, May 1907.)
I want to say in pH’s defense that my impression of Andrew’s original post was the same as her friend’s. It was not clear to me at the beginning that Andrew did not agree with the Inspired Fiction explanation. My reaction, though, was different than pH’s friend because I don’t agree with the inspired fiction position.
I think it’s good, Katie L, that you and others found Andrew’s explanation helpful, perhaps even validating. I wonder, though, if he had clearly explained both the pros and cons of the inspired fiction position, maybe you still would found it helpful, but pH’s friend would not have taken it the wrong way.
So maybe Andrew’s original post, commenting on Elder Holland’s talk, would have benefited from a rewrite. In the other thread on this site, some would say Elder Holland’s talk also would have benefited from a rewrite. Irony never faileth.
Zefram, I think you’ll find a discussion of the pro’s and con’s of the theory in the original post under the heading: Resistance to, and Acceptance of, the Inspired Fiction Theory.
One sign of balanced writing is that the author does not clearly take a position for or against a theory, but rather, explains the theory, and explains why some support it and some resist it. I can understand that those who reject the theory would have preferred an unambiguous disclaimer front and center that I personally do not ascribe to the theory, but I think balanced writing requires otherwise.
I stand by the post as originally written. As I re-read it, I think it strikes an appropriate balance. But of course, when you attempt to strike a balance, you will likely disappoint folks who fall squarely and strongly on one side or the other.
I need to apologize for my long absence from MM. Sometimes life gets busier than it should and takes us away from things we enjoy.
I watched conference on Sunday and must admit to being somewhat frustrated by Elder Holland’s address. My perception (therefore my reality) was that he was calling me a fool for not believing in the historicity of something as obvious as the BoM. Yet in his remarks I found nothing of substance to conclude that my current view of the BoM is so flawed. To the contrary, as seems to be the norm when apologists or leaders undertake a defense of some part of our history, they revert to attacking the inquirer and using some deliberate deceptions to make points. I could go through a point by point argument with Elder Holland’s logic, but suffice it to say he told a lie in-order to push his point. When someone resorts to an untruth, believing that the end justifies the means, then anything else stated after that is now suspect and probably without merit.
Equality has made a very valid point on his website about EH’s use of words to drive his point home despite the fact that he was not telling the truth when he did it. I refer you to the point in EH’s talk where he held up a copy of the BoM and stated that it was the VERY copy that Hyrum Smith had read and then folded down the corner of the page in “Ether” just before going with JS to Carthage. In the “Church News” (May 5th, 2007) an article appeared telling the story of Hyrum and the BoM with pictures of the book and showing the folded down corner of the page in “Ether”. The book in the photographs is definitely not the one EH is holding in his hand at conference. He obviously knew he didn’t have the actual copy in his hand, but he had no trouble testifying to everyone else that it was. I’m sorry, but no-matter how well meaning you may be, any communication with the intent to deceive is a lie. Testifying of a falsehood now puts the rest of his testimony in peril…
I think JRH thinks Inspired Fiction is the most stupid idea on the planet. His CES address, “A Standard To My People” makes this very clear–it was like his conference talk on steroids. You can Google “CES talk holland pap” to find it. (He uses the word “pap” in the talk. He knows how to charge the masses, that’s for sure.
Given this CES address, I thinks it’s clear he wasn’t leaving room for non-traditional interpretations in his talk.
Today we had a lesson from Pres. Monson’s talk during Apr PH session. He quoted 1 Peter 3:15. I was struck by the quote and spent some time studing it. I found the following with the GR Translation in parenthesis () and the original removed.
15 But (reverence as holy) the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give (a defence) to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and (reverence):
It struck me that this was really the problem I had with EH talk. I love that he has a strong conviction of the BoM (it was very apparent from his emotion as he spoke). However, he was definitely giving a defense rather than just a positive affirmation of his conviction. In this case, I think he would have been better served (as would those who heard his message…in any of the various camps being discussed) to have shared his defense with meekness and reverence rather than rebuke.
Doug, you know I love you, but come on. Calling Elder Holland an intentional liar because you don’t think he actually believed he was holding the book he said he was holding – based on an illustration in the Church News? Wow.
#184 – It’s interesting how different people are sure of different things – ALL based on how they felt about Elder Holland prior to his talk.
It’s also interesting that nobody who has disagreed most forcefully with Andrew’s post has done so by quoting from Elder Holland’s actual talk. That is very instructive, if you stop and think about it.
Andrew took the time to analyze carefully what Elder Holland actually said, as I also did when I heard all the charges about the talk. I agree completely with Andrew’s conclusion, fwiw.
#185 – I generally try to avoid saying things like this, but that comment simply is silly. Everything should be purely a defense because of one Biblical verse – and Elder Holland’s talk wasn’t a defense? I simply can’t fathom why anyone would see it that way on either count unless they want to see it that way and are willing to see it that way despite the talk itself.
So far, I haven’t talked to anyone with a testimony of the Book of Mormon’s origins that has a problem with Elder Holland’s talk. In fact, in my Sunday School class, it was brought up as one of the best talks in conference and mentioned again by our Stake President in our joint meeting the next hour.
I wonder that that says?
Jeff, I wouldn’t imagine most people who are committed left-wing environmentalists have any problem with Al Gore’s mendacious and unscientific global warming movie. It’s human nature only to be offended by offensive remarks, when they’re directed against us. I shook my head in wonder when Elder Holland, a couple of Conferences ago, mocked the traditional Christian Athanasian Creed in a manner Mormons are horribly offended by, when the mockery is directed at *our* doctrines.
“Frankly pathetic” is strong talk from people who are trying to pass off Indians as Hebrews and llamas as horses. I don’t go around bellowing catcalls at people who make those (indefensible, in my judgment) arguments; it’s a matter of common courtesy. Indeed, “I wonder what that says” about people who are more eager to openly call others fools. (The Lord had some warnings against that kind of thing.)
Thanks for your reply (#182). When I wrote my comments (#181) last night, your thoughtful response to pH (in #180) had not yet been posted. If I had read your response first, I wouldn’t have posted.
Rather than discuss whether you could have better explained the arguments both for and against the inspired fiction position, I withdraw my prior comments. If I disrespected you, I apologize.
Ray #39 (So you want to be an improver) I try really hard to think of how I would react if someone else said to me what I say to others. I don’t succeed always, but I try hard – and I think most people know I am trying.
Ray, I really do love you and respect and appreciate your points of view. You and Andrew and a few others here on MM are my reason for reading and posting here. However, in reference to your #186 I would only say that you didn’t succeed here…I don’t find my views to be silly and yes I do think when you start calling other viewpoints (theories that others subscribe to) pathetic as EH did, you are being defensive. BTW, most of his talk I enjoyed as his personal conviction, I just felt he would have been better served not to use so much emotion when calling the viewpoint of others pathetic. That is simply my viewpoint…you don’t have to subscribe to it.
Jeff, the results from your straw poll seem pretty obvious. Not sure where you were going with that…..
“Jeff, the results from your straw poll seem pretty obvious. Not sure where you were going with that…..”
I think I kinda knew that. No need to do anything, just sayin’
It’s been a while since we corresponded. Thanks for being kind in your reply to me. I realize that’s hard at times…
There are actually several pictures in the Church News story with the book being donated to the church by Bathsheba Smith. If you look at the pictures you will be convinced that the book EH is holding up in conference is not the book Bathsheba Smith donated.
So I guess I’m not willing to give him a pass as he of all people shouldn’t have had a problem getting the actual copy. If you’re saying he didn’t realize that the book he was holding wasn’t actually the one, then why did he testify that it was? Look at the pictures and read the article in the Church News. Now go to LDS.org and watch EH address and look at the book. Are they the same book? Simple question… If they aren’t and I assert that they’re not, then he testified of something that wasn’t true.
I think we can actually learn something about apologetics from this seemingly innocent mistake. The facts are hard to argue with given the miracle of the internet. Now some will look at the evidence and do their best to explain it away or say that men make mistakes and let it go. Others of us see the problem with EH making such strong statements about the book and its truthfulness when even in the very act of testifying of its supernatural origin he is mistaken about THAT BOOK’S history. Frankly, I don’t care whether or not he knew and just thought no-one would notice or if some secretary led him astray when they got the book for his talk. The point is the testimony in the talk was false as the book isn’t the famous one he testified it was. If he’s wrong about the book, then it follows that the rest of his testimony could be just as wrong despite his belief to the contrary. Then again, perhaps there a subtle message in this seemingly innocent mistake… Could he actually be talking to the inspired fiction crowd after all?
Even though the references in his talk referred to the old EB Howe Mormonism Unvailed considerations against the Book of Mormon which now seem abhorrent to most of any scientific mind, the tenor of the talk felt as if it was delivered to the disaffected or exmo or NOM crowd. Those that are willing to hang onto faith despite doubts do not seem to be the targets here.
Jason, yes, there is a Solomon Rushdie of Mormonism. His name is Ed Decker and he produced the Godmakers.
#194 “Those that are willing to hang onto faith despite doubts do not seem to be the targets here.”
But of course. Those who have resolved to hang onto faith no matter what can be taken for granted. Their “doubts” can be called “frankly pathetic,” and they’ll just take their lumps and keep walking.
Likewise, those who are truly disillusioned (whether they are gone, on the way out, or “NOM”) can be written off. Certainly nothing in Elder Holland’s talk was calculated to bind them to the Church. The logic was too weak to rebut their objections, and the tenor was too hostile to draw them into a Mormon big tent. They’re expendable, too. Either they leave — and good riddance — or they, too, just bow their heads and accept the pummelling.
The talk was aimed at (1) scaring off from further inquiry Mormons who’ve just started looking under the hood, and (2) giving a Salt Sermon-esque pep talk to the true believers. As Hugh Nibley quoted the Romans, the secret to internal unity is an external foe. Nothing fires up the Trojans quite like burning a Bruin in effigy.
Agree with him or not, Thomas knows how to write. Hope you continue here, Thomas, although I don’t see it in the stars.
“The point is the testimony in the talk was false as the book isn’t the famous one he testified it was. If he’s wrong about the book, then it follows that the rest of his testimony could be just as wrong despite his belief to the contrary.”
I think it would be more accurate to say that your opinion of his testimony of the book is that it is false. And you’re right, his testimony could be wrong. Belief doesn’t make something true any more than doubt makes it false. You’ve made some leaps in logic here that are a bit thin. It’s safer to work from facts to a conclusion than from a foregone conclusion and molding the facts. I can think of all sorts of reasons to dispute or doubt Elder Holland’s testimony but hanging it on which book he had in his hand seems a bit of a reach.
BLI, perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “silly”. I apologize for that. Let me try to say it this way:
You based your comment on his talk not being a “defense” – and you quoted a verse from the Bible to do so. I think you have to admit that MUCH of the Bible (including, especially, the words of Paul and . . . Jesus) is not a “defense” in the way you used that verse to criticize Elder Holland’s talk.
If you are willing to criticize every comment or sermon or epistle in the Bible that is not a pure defense, in the way that you used that verse from 1 Peter, then your comment absolutely is consistent and not silly. If you aren’t willing to do that, then your comment is inconsistent, imo.
I understand totally someone disagreeing with me about the talk and criticizing it, but I really do think that verse simply isn’t a good way to do so.
Doug, I looked at the picture on the page you linked. It looks like the book he used in his talk in every way I can see. Honestly, I have no idea why you are convinced it is a different one.
Add me to the list of persons who, after comparing the book pictured in the article linked by Doug G. to the book held up by E. Holland concludes they appear to be the same book.
Andrew in OP-
While Holland may have left himself some wiggle room for his own future maneuvering around the inspired fiction idea I think there is little doubt that he was promoting a more literal and traditional view of the BoM and it’s origins. Sure NOMs and the like can quietly think what they want and continue to be LDS if they don’t mind being muzzled by the Church they belong to. I can’t really see though how anyone who believes in a inspired fiction approach or pious fraud view — and wants to remain — can feel too welcome.
So while appreciate Holland’s passion and candor I think his talk represents a few steps back.
Thomas – #195
I think you hit square on.
Doug, Are you referring to the monogram?
Ray, you said “It’s also interesting that nobody who has disagreed most forcefully with Andrew’s post has done so by quoting from Elder Holland’s actual talk. That is very instructive, if you stop and think about it.”
This is simply not true at all. Many critics of EH’s talk quoted directly from it.
Ray et al,
I think the monogram of BATHSHEBA W. BIGLER across the front of the book in big gold letters may be one give-a-way. Also, the condition of the book shown in the Church News article shows considerable fading and wear. EH book looked pretty good for the age of the book. Perhaps I’m benefiting from a better picture with a HD TV… 🙂
I’m actually hoping you good folks are just playing with me and you really don’t think they’re the same book. If you are sincere then that might explain how we can look at the same history and come away with completely different ideas about it. Of course some of us see what’s really there and some see what they want to see, or in this case, don’t see what they don’t want to see.
I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of this. After all, it’s not a smoking gun against the validity of the Hyrum Smith story, just an interesting problem for Elder Holland who may have made a mistake in stating that he held the actual copy Hyrum turned the page down on.
In visiting many of the Cathedrals in Europe, one thing that struck me was the use of relics and other artifacts from one story or another of different saints in their past. For Catholics these are indelible proofs that they belong to Christ’s only acceptable church. I think it’s interesting that we are starting to do many of the same things with our artifacts for the same purpose.
Ummm, actually, I went back and watched the video again (thanks for the link) and now I understand what you were talking about. In the Church news article, the photos of the BOM have it as bearing an engraving–someone’s name–on the front cover of the BOM. The copy held up by E. Holland does not appear to have any such engraving. So it seems the book held up at conference and the book photographed in the Church news article may not be the same.
Utter hogwash. By the use of selective editing you have made Elder Holland’s talk into what you want it to mean.
I know of NO active TBM’s that accept the “theory” that you are purporting. The majority of the CoC [RLDS] no longer accept the BoM to be inspired but to be a REAL LDS, one accepts the BoM as truth and not fiction.
Because you say so, gershonite?
Sorry but I just don’t see that which copy of the BoM he had matters and that’s from someone who hasn’t been a TBM for awhile. And I’m afraid I don’t see this as an example of how people see history differently and I don’t get the relic reference either. I would guess that LDS people revere their history and artifacts as does any group but not in the way a religious relic is considered. Anyway, I think you’ll need to look again for something to discredit Elder Holland’s talk and testimony.
Dexter, I meant and should have added “in context”. You are right; some quoted from it – but they took individual sentences out of context and applied meanings that simply weren’t in the talk when parsed in context. Anybody can do that and come away with any meaning they are inclined to see.
I remain puzzled as to why so many see this talk as an affirmation of Book of Mormon historicity, as a rejection of the inspired fiction theory, and as an invitation for anyone who feels otherwise to leave the church. Call me naive, but if the talk were intended to give that message, I would think that it might have actually addressed historicity, the inspired fiction theory, or the unwelcomeness of certain people in the church. Instead, Elder Holland’s talk rather conspicuously concerned itself with the *divinity* of the book. I guess my mind-reading hat is malfunctioning, and I can only go by the words he actually used.
GB Smith and others are essentially saying: What is the big deal if it is “very” book that is used to teach a truth?
I agree that it is largely irrelevant when one is trying to teach a transcendent religious truth! That is the point of parables, The Book of Job, and divine myth which transcends time, details and obviates the need that the characters and story be based on a verification of their literalness.
So then the “very book” is found out to not be the literal book. Then the literalists rush to assert that it is irrelevant if it is the “very” literal, authentic book because the issue is whether Elder Holland is teaching a divine truth.
Oh the irony…
I agree with your reading of his talk. It does not rule out the inspired fiction reading if read carefully. But it easy to see how someone could reach that conclusion from his message especially when he references the Jaredites voyage and specific historic events from the BOM. And the proof is in the final pudding: My limited survey is that most members believe he did rule it out and that to think otherwise is silly, pathetic and one is deceived. They are not reading it as carefully as you are reading it, and a case could be made that Elder Holland, who I am sure carefully crafted his talk, was aware that it would be largely received that way—most members not being aware of the alternative faithful ways to read the BOM as divine but not literal.
It really doesn’t appear to be the same book. Weird. Why wouldn’t he just say it was a replica or something?
Maybe the original was so worn from people crawling over it on their way out of the church that they had to have it re-bound.
I’ll be here all week.
Ron M., I think you pointed out the irony quite well. Just so everyone knows exactly what’s being discussed, a 2007 Church News article said the following about the book that Hyrum read and turned down the corner of the page, as referenced in E. Holland’s talk:
“Bathsheba’s copy of the Book of Mormon was the one that Hyrum Smith read shortly before the martyrdom, with the corner of the page still turned down, as mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 135:4. By then an apostle, Elder Smith bought the book in England where it was printed. It is embossed in her maiden name.”
The article then shows a photo of the cover of the book, embossed with Bathsheba’s full name in the center of the cover. You can see it at the bottom of the article here: http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50543/Fabric-of-history-Geo-A-and-Bathsheba-Smith-artifacts-donated-to-Church.html
The book that E. Holland held up at conference, a close-up view of which was shown just before he held it up, with the corner folded down on the page, DOES NOT have Bathsheba’s name embossed on its cover. Elder Holland’s exact words to describe the book he was holding were: “I hold in my hand that book, the very copy from which Hyrum read, the same corner of the page turned down still visible.” You can see a close up of the cover of the book at 6:05 into the video of the talk here: http://www.lds.org/move/index.html?type=conference&event=Oct179&lang=english
You’ll have to click on the Sunday Afternoon session, and then click on E. Holland’s talk.
So in summary, we have a Church News article in 2007 telling and showing us that: “Bathsheba’s copy of the Book of Mormon was the one that Hyrum Smith read shortly before the martyrdom, with the corner of the page still turned down, . . . It is embossed in her maiden name.” But the book shown on close-up and in E. Holland’s hand does not have Bathsheba’s full name embossed on the cover. I think the conclusion is that the book in the 2007 Church News article is not the same as the book held up by E. Holland at conference. What are the possibilities, then?
1. Since 2007, the Church has discovered that the book referenced in the 2007 article (i.e., the one embossed with Bathsheba’s full name) actually was NOT the very book that Hyrum read and turned down the page in, and E. Holland obtained the correct book from Church Archives or some other source.
2. Someone in Church Archives or elsewhere gave E. Holland the wrong book but told him it was the very book that Hyrum had held; perhaps an over-protective Church Historian.
3. E. Holland knew he wasn’t holding the very book that Hyrum had turned the page corner down on, but instead used a prop, a replica of the same version of that printing of the BOM, but that seems to undercut the line in his talk where he said about the copy in his hand: “I hold in my hand that book, the very copy from which Hyrum read, the same corner of the page turned down still visible.”
The following is found on mormonapologetics.org. An e-mail one of the posters apparently received from Richard Turley, assistant church historian states the following regarding the two different copies: “One book descends from Mercy Fielding Smith and is the one Hyrum took from the shelf and marked before leaving for Carthage. It has a provenance statement in it written by Hyrum’s son Joseph F. Smith on December 25, 1898. It is housed in the Church History Library and is the volume held up by Elder Holland.
Another recently donated copy is quite similar and descends from Bathsheba Smith. The same page is marked, but in our reasoned opinion, the person who marked that page was merely indicating the spot Hyrum marked. We don’t believe this is the volume Hyrum removed that day.”
I haven’t read all of the posts. Sorry if this has been mentioned before.
Holden, that’s very helpful. It seems of the possibilities that I listed in #216, the first is correct: the Church has concluded the book referenced in the 2007 article (i.e., the Bathsheba Smith copy) actually was not the very book that Hyrum read and turned down the page in. That puts this puzzle to bed for me.
Problem solved…what a relief. I knew I could not trust the Church News and the descendants of Bathsheba to get it right. They obviously bent the page to fool us. So will we get an apology and retraction from those that misled us in the Church News? Or will they file a reply brief adding to more surprises to those of us watching the circus? This kinda fun for us who lived through the Hoffman soap opera…
Left Field….I can only speak for myself, but I felt like EH completely minimized (and maybe misrepresented) problems with the historicity of the BOM. I also felt like he went on to call anyone who has genuinely struggled and dealt with said problems in a way other than the way Elder Holland has chosen to deal with them “pathetic,” “deceived,” and “foolish.” So essentially, I guess, I know quite a few people EH believes are “pathetic, deceived and foolish.” And if I were to ever disagree with EH’s portrayal of the BOM as “divine”, I would be “pathetic, deceived and foolish” too. Not very warm….and kind of weird, actually.
So I wonder after all that has been said, did anyone’s mind get changed as a result of Elder Holland’s talk? Do the nay-sayers still “nay?” Do the true believers still believe?
Does anyone here serious think that GAs even give a second thought to the inspired fiction theory? Would they be in that position if they did? I suppose many do not even realize it exists.
they are ultimate true believers, aren’t they?
I would be interested on comments on what I, personally, should get out of this talk (or someone in my circumstances). I was BIC, raised Mormon, served a mission (including ZL, AP, etc.), multiple callings including most recently YM President, etc. I have essentially always had a TR (except for a few times when it inadvertantly lapsed and I had to get a new one). I have always been a full tithe payer. Etc. I have probably read the BofM 15+ times in at least 2 languages over the years. I have prayed about it probably 100+ times as I told my investigators to do. And I still can’t say that I know it is a true book. I have never had a spiritual experience where I can say, ah, finally, I now know it’s true.
I see three main possibilities (or variations thereof):
1) There is something flawed in me. God wants to answer me, but I can’t understand it. Or maybe despite all of my efforts over the decades, there is something unworthy about me.
2) This a all a big test of my faith – a life-long “dark night of the soul”. I’m not sure why we promise investigators an answer when I can’t even get on myself. And does it really make sense to be in a calling that relies on revelation when I can’t even get an answer about the BofM.
3) The BofM is historical fiction / not what JS said it was.
My feelings have evolved over the years. When younger, I thought it was #1. I tried and tried to be a better person. As the decades passed, I started to consider #2. Maybe it’s just not my lot to know like the people who stand up in sacrament (or Elder Holland in conference). Maybe I’m just weak and God wants me to go forward purely on faith the next 20-30 years until I die and never have an answer, but I’ve been drifting into #3. Given the fact that other of our canonized scriptures aren’t necessarily what we would accept as “translated” but perhaps “inspired”, should we hold the BofM to a different “literal” basis. Or am I just grasping at “pathetic” straws in an attempt to not throw away what I have invested over 40+ years of my life in…
Where is there room for me in Elder Holland’s world-view?
#221 – Jeff, I agree with your analysis. I went back and read Elder Holland’s CES talk from 1994, and it was remarkably similar to the talk he gave in conference. However, he went much further. He argued in that talk that historical fiction is not an option. He said he was offended at the notion that JS might have not realized that he was being given fiction from the lord. He also said that JS was either 100% exactly what he said he was, and that the BofM was brought forth exactly as he said it was, or he is a fraud and a liar. He compared JS to Jesus in the famous words of CS Lewis. In light of those comments, which I think were more candid and less measured, I absolutely believe that the brethren believe in the literal nature of the BofM. I don’t think that necessarily means that they don’t accept those who cling to the Inspired Fiction theory, but I would be surprised if any of them adhere to it personally. And I took EH’s comments in this past conference as an indictment against those who would seek to twist or whitewash, even with pure motives, the JS or the BofM story. As I’ve said many times, I see these issues as fairly black and white. They’re either true or they’re not.
223, brjones, you and I are aligned on this issue as far as that is concerned. I shared your view of EH talk. I do not think he was challenging anyone who saw real value in the BOM, only those who completed discounted it.
222, Mike S. I wish I had a good answer for you that wasn’t one of those trite responses. Perhaps you are looking beyond the mark on the issue of the truthfulness of the BoM. A starting point might be to consider what you get out of it that is of value to you. Not everyone gets a powerful witness of things, but it comes in small measure.
and ask yourself the questions that we might ask an investigator. Could Joseph Smith have written such a book? is there credible evidence that it came from a source other than what Joseph claimed? Can a person get nearer to God by abiding by its percepts? Have you done so, gotten nearer to God through the BoM? Maybe, that is where your answer lies.
You realize that statement by the church historian (if the MADB can be trusted) means in effect that George A. and Bathsheba Smith deliberately folded down the page and claimed it was done by Hyrum. Read the article in the church news again, it’s very clear that they claimed this was the actual book. So now we have two books that Hyrum supposedly marked. Hyrum’s son stated that his copy was the one his dad marked. The church believes Hyrum’s son is more creditable so that now becomes the cherished relic. This may clear things up for Andrew, but it just muddies the water more for me.
I guess everyone is entitled to opinion, so I’ll give you mine. Hyrum didn’t mark any book because he no-more wanted to die than JS did. They went to Carthage only after leaving Nauvoo for the Rocky Mountains in an attempt to escape the arrest warrant issued by the governor. (The arrest warrant was for destroying a press, not for leading the church.) Why did they return to face the charges against them? Church History makes no bones about why. Some of the leading brethren and Emma herself called them cowards for running way and believed that their leaving would spell the end of Mormonism. They went to Carthage hoping to convince the governor that they couldn’t get a fair trial there nor did they believe they would be safe. The next day Joseph sent for the Nauvoo legion to come bust them out as he became convinced that the governor wasn’t going to honor his promise of protecting them from mobbing or insuring a fair trial. Armed with a pepperbox pistol and Hyrum with a revolver they attempted to escape the jail once the mob appeared and stormed it. These are not the actions of men who have consigned themselves to their fate and innocently stood before their assassins like lambs to the slaughter.
John Taylor writes of their death with the intention of turning a horrible set of events into something that will preserve the cause and turn Joseph and Hyrum into innocent martyrs who willing sacrificed themselves to keep it going. With statements about Hyrum reading the passage in Ether and Joseph proclaiming that he was going like a lamb to the slaughter but void of offence toward man and God, he’s able to give a different perception to the events of that day. For the family of Hyrum, making sure a page was turned down in that BoM becomes paramount to keeping the story viable. So what do they do? Both books in the family have the pages turned down to match the record that John Taylor writes and now the church historian must divine away to determine which one isn’t a hoax. You can’t call one a hoax without implicating the other. Therefore the determination of Mr. Turley is of little value…
Hyrum’s family isn’t the only one determined to keep a story viable…
“Hyrum’s family isn’t the only one determined to keep a story viable…”
Exactly… Thanks for backing me up! Obviously the church is as well. 🙂
If you were taking a satirical shot at my interpretation of the events, I think that’s fine. At least you read my comments. 🙂 You do realize that the events I wrote about are accurate from both sides of the belief spectrum. My perception of them and the actions of the Smith family afterwards are certainly up for debate though…
Does Elder Holland get an apology for having been called a deliberate liar? Any kind of acknowledgment that you might have been mistaken your strident statements about the authenticity of the book or what Elder Holland might have known or reasonably believed about the book he displayed?
Or are we supposed to just forget about all that business about Elder Holland and concentrate on speculation about what Smith might have really turned down what page corner?
Actually, just the opposite. I was right about the books not being the same as I stated and I have never heard of this second book “thing” until this came out. I believe I made my point, not even the church’s historians know if either of these books is really the actual one, if there even is an actual one. So how can he state that he knows he’s holding the actual book Hyrum mark when it’s just an educated guess from the Mr. Turley that smacks George A. Smith in the face?
As for an apology… I think Elder Holland owes most of America an apology for saying anyone who’s read the book is a fool if they don’t believe in its divinity. Trust me on this one; the evidence against the book being historical is so pervasive that you really must be willing to rely on feelings alone to believe in it. If that works for you Mr. Left Field then out of respect for your beliefs, I’ll leave it at that.
So, the answer to my first question is, yes you are misdirecting much.
Great big kudos to you for being right about the books not being the same. But still no acknowledgment of apparently (assuming the Turley email is authentic) being wrong about the point you were so stridently making about the two books, that happens to smack Elder Holland in the face? All Jeffery Holland gets in return is a tu quoque for saying something he didn’t say (in describing who Elder Holland called “foolish,” it seems you conveniently left out the part about “without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages.”) So Jeffery Holland takes a hit first for “lying” even though he apparently didn’t lie, and instead of admitting that you might possibly have been wrong about that, you smack him in the face again by demanding an apology for something he didn’t say. Nice misdirection.
How do Hurley and Holland *know* this is the correct book, you ask? Could it be the provenance statement signed by Hyrum’s son dated December 25, 1898? That does make a bit more of a compelling case than the tradition associated with the other book. Could Joseph F. have been lying or mistaken? Of course. Do we have any particular reason to think he was? No. Not unless we’re looking for a reason cling to the hypothesis that Elder Holland had the wrong book. Just like there’s no particular reason to question the authenticity of the Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate, unless were searching for a way to cling to the hypothesis that he can’t really be the president.
As to my beliefs on the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I don’t believe I have said anything about that, though making an assumption and then slamming me for it is another nice misdirection. The slam is especially puzzling since I am on record upthread as being pleased that Elder Holland left historicity out of his talk.
Like you, I find it somewhat suspicious that both books would have recieved identical treatment. In the comments on the Saturday Session of Conference thread, I posted something quite similar to your recent remarks. In effect, the claims that Joseph or Hyrum “knew” that they were “called” to die and seal their testimonies in blood, at Carthage, is not supported by their known behavior. In other words, shooting their assailants, petitioning Governor Ford, summoning the saints for assistance, issuing a coded distress call commonlly understood by Freemasons (words and gesture), then a possible attempt to jump from the window, all bespeaks the desperate attempts of man unsure of his immediate destiny frantically trying to adjust the wheels of fate.
The above notwithstanding, I think your ultimate hypothesis and it’s basis are largely incomplete. While you have reasoned an explanation for the state of the two books, one that supports your position, you have not ruled out reasonable alternative explanations. This is unfortunate because I am impressed that you alone were able to spot the discrepancy between the two books that was lost on about every other passionate observor. I think if you went back to the drawing board you might be able to put a better tack on this issue.
#230 – As an aside, I don’t think the qualification “without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages” is particularly meaningful. In fact, I think it’s completely meaningless. Believers in the BofM have put forth a theory as to its origin. The burden of evidence is wholly on them to prove the truthfulness of the assertions, and to account for the origins of the pages. Those who are investigating it are under absolutely no duty to come up with an alternate origin of the book in order to disbelieve it, and to argue that unless we can we are fools not to believe, is the most juvenile of logic. In essence what EH is saying is, “well if that’s not where it came from, then where did it come from? If you can’t prove where it DID come from, you’re a fool not to believe Joseph Smith’s story.” That is absurd logic, and that statement in no way tempers his calling non-believers fools. Now they’re not just fools for not believing, they’re also fools for not being able to figure out where the BofM actually did come from. That kind of logic would not be acceptable in any other context. He gave an explanation, and upon examination, I don’t buy it, but I don’t purport to have absolute knowledge of the true origins of the BofM, nor do I particularly care. I only care about whether it’s what JS said it is. To call me a fool for not going a step further and accounting for its true origins is, in my opinion, insulting.
I would just say that this pendulum swings both ways…er, as pendulums are apt to do. In any case, while I agree with Brjones that the investigator is under no obligation to account for a Book with little to no existential support, it should be noted that many nevertheless have accounted for it with at least equally reasonable evidence to the evidence Mormons give in support of The Book of Mormon by the Church. A few of those Elder Holland dismissed out of hand during his talk, but for such pathetic theories he didn’t even provide a shred of information as to why, other than as matter of factly stating that it was so. Would that be akin to crawling around, under, over, etc.
In other words I would like to give it a try. My theory is that someone wrote The Book of Mormon, similar to how other stories like it have been written. Some quick examples for me are, Star Wars (I know technically movies), or Lord of the Rings. Someone with a creative imagination wrote the stories, be it Joseph Smith or some else, though personally I tend to favor the some else position. They likely borrowed, at least, concepts from surrounding authors and or literature, as well as taking advantage of the contemporary Christian issues, including speculations on the American Indians. If I don’t believe that The Book of Mormon is an actual record, should the above justification be a reasonable enough explanation to “crawl” away with? I think so.
The other side to the pendulum, is The Book of Mormon research. After all, if the non-believer or non-member/investigator “should” be under the obligation to explain how The Book of Mormon came into being, isn’t the Church under a much heavier obligation. Shouldn’t this also entail anthropology, archaeology, and geography – and all of this particularly in light of Prophecy? As of the late the official position has been no official position, relative to The Book of Mormon geography. If they can’t explain the clear dearth in these areas, no objective evidence exists as of yet – that would satisfy a non-Mormon, should they also crawl over, under, and around that.
It seems clear, when you really analyze Elder Hollands comments, it was a power play and nothing more. Whether you fall in the believing camp, or the non-believing camp, I think we can all agree that every side generally has validity for it’s various reasons and positions – regardless of which one turns out to be true. I would think that Elder Holland knows this, so I can only assume therefore that his comments were more intended to exert authority than to frankly address the issue.
Has Elder Holland “honestly attempted to account for the origin” of the Koran? Has he disproven (to a Catholic’s satisfaction) the possibility that St. Peter received the keys of leadership of the ancient Church, which were passed in an unbroken chain through successive Bishops of Rome to the present?
In other words, do we hold our church to the same standards we hold others? If not, why not?
One fundamental problem with Elder Holland’s reasoning (as with virtually all LDS apologetics) is that it’s hard to see how any person’s alternative speculations about the Book of Mormon’s origins would be considered “honest.” Elder Holland just swept every such attempt into the “frankly pathetic” category. It’s hard to avoid the sense that the challenge to “honestly attempt to account” for the Book of Mormon’s origin isn’t made in good faith: Elder Holland makes no bones about his contempt for the “crawlers” who do so. No alternative theory will *ever* satisfy his faction, no matter how objectively well-reasoned and plausible.
Jeff @224: I’m in more of less the same situation as MikeS. I don’t believe I’m “looking beyond the mark.” I believe I am entitled to “come boldly to the throne of grace,” and if I ask my Father in Heaven for a fish (or spiritual guidance), He won’t give me a stone. The Book of Mormon promises that the Holy Ghost will provide a witness of the book’s truth, such that I can *know* of its truth. I have not had any such infallible witness. I know it, and I know God knows it, and I am not impressed with well-meaning people (not including you here) trying to tell me that maybe I’ve gotten a witness and just haven’t noticed it. I’m not selling God so short as to believe that what I’ve experienced is as good as it gets. The visions and blessings of old, this isn’t.
The fact that the book may draw me closer to God (on its own, or as a part of the whole Mormon package) is useful, but “assists in drawing people closer to God” does not equal “literally true.” (In 1978, the First Presidency declared that Muhammad and other religious leaders outside the LDS or larger Christian religious traditions “philosophers “received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations.” If the Koran can draw people closer to God without being literally true (which it can’t be, if the Book of Mormon is, and vice versa), then the reasoning that “inspiring = literally true” must fail.
Could Joseph have written the book himself? Nobody knows. The Church makes the case (based on accounts written long afer the fact) that he was too ignorant to have done so. Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t. I see in the Book of Mormon a fascinating mix of sophistication and crudity, of profundity and melodrama, and I am honestly convinced that an honest reader ought to spot instances of both. Maybe Muhammad (as the Muslims say) was likewise too ignorant to have written the Koran. Again, if an argument works as a defense for two conflicting religious traditions, it’s a poor argument. Do I know for certain that religious genius can’t emerge as a diamond in the rough? I can’t say for certain that I do.
What gives me the greatest cause to doubt the Book of Mormon’s literal authenticity is its preaching the very doctrine Elder Holland emphasized in his talk: God judges us based on what we believe, even about things for which the evidence is ambiguous enough that reasonable people will draw different conclusions. I see that kind of sectarian religion — “Believe as I do, never mind the evidence, or be damned” — as the font of virtually all religious conflict. That kind of conflict may not be quite the primary evil that secularists make it out to be (their secular orthodoxies have a much higher body count over the last few centuries), but it’s not chopped liver, either. If “pride is enmity,” as Ezra Taft Benson wisely quoted C.S. Lewis, that which creates enmity without a good cause is unlikely to be of God.
Mormons have an unusually high level of spiritual conviction. Part of it is achieved, I fear, by defining themselves, and their righteousness, in contrast to a constructed “reserve army of the damned.” To reduce the sphere of the righteous enough to make us feel special (after all, when everybody’s special, nobody’s special!), we have to define “righteousness” much more narrowly than “common decency.” We have to include assent to our tribe’s sectarian doctrines as one of the critical characteristics of a truly good man. And so we damn as “fools” those who “wish to disbelieve” the Book of Mormon — as if its authenticity were so self-evident that you’d have to be on a moral par with a Holocaust denier to doubt it.
Thanks, Br. Jones (#233) for backing up what I stated in #45. cheers
Sorry, SteveS. I forgot you had made the point or I would have given you a shout-out.
#235 – Great comment, Thomas.
“The above notwithstanding, I think your ultimate hypothesis and it’s basis are largely incomplete. While you have reasoned an explanation for the state of the two books, one that supports your position, you have not ruled out reasonable alternative explanations.”
You are absolutely correct with this statement. To be honest, the note put here from the MADB caught me completely off guard. Just when I think I’ve made my point, someone throws in a new twist. I shouldn’t have resorted to a knee jerk reaction and posted another comment without thinking it through.
I also should have known better than trust anything that comes from an approved church publication. Left Field has made it his mission to attack me personally largely because I trusted the “Church News” story over Elder Holland. It doesn’t even dawn on him that I shouldn’t have been put in that situation in the first place. It’s not like I got the information about the book from some obscure anti-mormon site…
Elder Holland’s talk was offensive to me and many like me as it was delivered with such arrogance and venom, that he incited anger in my initial response here toward him. I should be above that and realize that they’re getting there back up because many good people in the church are starting to doubt the origins of the BoM. Unfortunately the spirit of contention spreads like wildfire. Left Field feels justified in sharp remarks to me and I responded in a way that’s equally unkind. I’m going to put aside my anger with EH and Left Field and simply state that I for one believe there’s plenty of reasonable explanations for the origins of the BoM that don’t involve divine help. I also believe that members will need to crawl, climb, and go under the archeological, linguistic and DNA evidences that are missing from this esteemed volume…
As Thomas mentioned, just feeling inspired or closer to God from reading the BofM doesn’t really give me a testimony for a very simple reason. I have read the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, and many of the fundamental Buddhist texts. There are a great many things in there that have also drawn me closer to God. There are precepts in Buddhist texts that have helped me deal more with various issues than anything I have read in the BofM. And while I have felt good feelings reading the BofM, I have felt exactly the same feelings reading these various other things. I interpret this as the spirit confirming truth, wherever it may be, but this could be my own interpretation. So feeling that doesn’t confirm the BofM to me any more than it confirms the Qu’ran or the Gita. To me, there is a difference between the BofM containing truth with all that the Church tries to hang on the BofM (ie. BofM -> Joseph Smith -> only true Church to the exclusion of everyone else -> following the current teachings unquestioningly, etc.) It therefore seems like I (or anyone) should be able to get a testimony of the BofM as what Elder Holland implies, the keystone of our religion, the book that ties it all together, proof that this is God’s only true church, etc.
Instead, I have for decades tried to take Moroni’s promise to heart. I have prayed for an answer of some sort that I would understand that the BofM is everything it is claimed to be. I have prayed about it in the temple. I have prayed about it alone in nature for hours on end. I have fasted about it. I promised investigators they would know it is true. I realize that everyone has different ways of getting answers. I am to the point where I don’t really care in what way the answer comes. I would just expect that I would be able to have some way of knowing that I would understand was an answer to my prayers.
Unfortunately, after all these decades, I still can’t say that I have received that answer. I feel good feelings when I read the BofM. I feel good feelings when I read the Qu’ran. I feel good feelings when I read the Bible. I feel good feelings when I read the Gita. If these good feelings alone are enough, then should I be Mormon, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist?
“And so we damn as “fools” those who “wish to disbelieve” the Book of Mormon — as if its authenticity were so self-evident that you’d have to be on a moral par with a Holocaust denier to doubt it.”
Waxing a bit eloquent there, aren’t we?
I’ll admit that Thomas’s eloquence is a bit waxing, however I was very impressed at how well is speach not only pleases the ear, but articulates his point very well. I say, give that man a hand.
GB — A bad habit, but perhaps excusable in light of the rhetoric under discussion.
What I mean is that I can conceive of examples where a person’s opinions can fairly be presumed to be the result of willful ignorance, likely motivated by malice. Denial of the Holocaust is one example.
The evidence, spiritual and temporal, of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is so much more indefinite that there’s no comparison — and so no obvious reason to condemn a person for reaching one conclusion rather than another.
If a person is honestly convinced that he has had a spiritual witness of such power and clarity that it tilts the weight of the evidence in the Book of Mormon’s favor, by all means, follow that witness where it leads. Only recognize that what you feel, and the conclusions you drew from it, are unique to you.
235, “I’m in more of less the same situation as MikeS. I don’t believe I’m “looking beyond the mark.” I believe I am entitled to “come boldly to the throne of grace,” and if I ask my Father in Heaven for a fish (or spiritual guidance), He won’t give me a stone. The Book of Mormon promises that the Holy Ghost will provide a witness of the book’s truth, such that I can *know* of its truth. I have not had any such infallible witness. I know it, and I know God knows it, and I am not impressed with well-meaning people (not including you here) trying to tell me that maybe I’ve gotten a witness and just haven’t noticed it. I’m not selling God so short as to believe that what I’ve experienced is as good as it gets. The visions and blessings of old, this isn’t.
I would say you and MikeS are entitled to a strong witness. I can’t answer as to why you have not had that. I don’t know you. And I won’t, as I said before, offer the trite reasons and/or remedies because we are all different. I believe Moroni’s promise, it worked for me, even though i was converted by reading the Doctrine and Covenants, not the Book of Mormon. My reading reading of the Book of Mormon was as confusing, boring and otherwise unintelligible as anything I had experienced. But, in time, it came. but that was for me, the way it transpired.
I apologize for my pointed remarks. I agree that there are any number of reasonable explanations for the Book of Mormon. As to which of the two books is authentic, I don’t really have a dog in that hunt. Like you, I initially assumed that the book in the CN article was authentic, since we knew nothing about the book Jeffery Holland presented. But once we had additional information on the book, it became apparent that Elder Holland had every reason (the certification of Joseph F. Smith and presumably the assurance of the Church Historian’s Office) to believe that he had the correct book. He may not even have been aware of the other book’s existence. What got my dander up was that even in light of the new information, you seemed (until now) unwilling to back away from the claim that Elder Holland knew he had the wrong book, and was deliberately lying about it. Again, I apologize.
It is remarkable that different people can hear the same words and yet understand such different things. I loved the talk for precisely the opposite reasons you didn’t. I loved it because to me it so obviously steered clear of any attempt to box anyone into “traditional” interpretations of the Book of Mormon.
I didn’t (and still don’t) see any attacks against people who honestly come to other ideas. He didn’t apply the word “pathetic” to to any humans. As to “deceived,” “crawl,” “foolish,” or “misled,” those terms were explicitly *not* applied to people who approach the book honestly, but to those who do so dishonestly. If he intended to affirm historicity, he could easily have done so, and given the strident nature of the delivery, it is difficult to imagine him shying away from a direct affirmation of historicity if that had been his intent. Given his emphasis on “divinity,” the complete absence of any reference to historicity, and his previous PBS comments, I find it difficult to believe that he didn’t deliberately leave the door open for those who find themselves not able to go all the way to the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon. I absolutely loved that about the talk. I am all about leaving doors open.
When going back to review the content of the talk, I was particularly struck by this line:
“I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies.”
Notice that he doesn’t insist on historicity. He doesn’t even insist on acceptance of divinity. He only states that a full testimony and comfort come from accepting the divinity of the book. As to those unable to fully accept the book’s divinity, I have no sense that he’s pushing them into a corner. To the contrary, it sounds to me like he’s just fine with partial faith, or even no faith, though he obviously feels we would all do well to come to a “full faith.”
I don’t see him making any argument that any empirical evidence compels belief in the Book of Mormon. In fact, I see the opposite. In my first comment in this thread, I tried to make the point that the question of “divinity” that he emphasizes does not lend itself well to any conclusions based on empirical study. We accept (or not) the divinity of the Book of Mormon (or the Qur’an) for ineffable subjective spiritual reasons. He wisely avoids casting the Book of Mormon in terms of historicity or science, and instead places matters of faith squarely in the arena they belong: namely as a matter of faith. We hardly expect Muslims to pussyfoot around the Qur’an, engaging with alternative authorship theories and the like. Muslims accept their holy book precisely because it is holy to them–because they regard it as divine–hardly a position that can be challenged on empirical grounds. I liked that Elder Holland proudly and forcefully did the same with the Book of Mormon, and left all issues of historicity as firmly secondary to the question of divinity.
Ok Left Field, I accept your apology.
To your point, EH talk was received in many different ways by different people. My wife, who is still very TBM and sat next to me while we watched all four hours of conference on Sunday was horrified with his remarks. She loved most of the others including the ones I slept through. Her statement to me was that Elder Holland left her feeling cold, no sweet spirit, no up-lift-meant, just judgment, desperation, and condemnation. It would seem that the only ones who enjoyed his talk are the traditional believing members. The talk sparked many heated discussions at my place of work. It seemed to pit the believing members against those who are more liberal minded. For some reason it seems to have inspired them to take on a more militant tone and legitimized their anger at those who just don’t seem to get it. (On both sides of the belief spectrum.)
I listen to the talk again this evening as I tried to not be reckless in writing my impressions. I’m going to say this as gently as I know how without sparking another round of debate. I don’t know how anyone can watch his talk and then make some of the statements you’ve made about it. In my opinion, (which is worth about what you’re paying for it) he leaves no room for anyone who doubts the books origins to still accept it as divine. No offence to Andrew and his post, but EH couldn’t have been much clearer when taken with the emotion he put behind it, his body language, and sum of his words. Now I guess you could analyze each sentence and come away with some strained belief that he was leaving room for those who think the book can still be viable scripture and not be literal, but I can’t. But then again, I wasn’t willing to see both of Hyrum’s copies of the BoM as the same either while so many were…
I wonder if the level of parsing taking place here goes beyond Elder Hollands intentions. Does he seperate divinity from historicity? In other words, given the position of Elder Holland and other leaders in other places,ie, “it either happened like Joseph Smith said, or it didn’t happen at all”, I wonder if historicity is not directly implied. In other words it is divine because it contains, as the title page suggests, God’s literal dealings with another branch Israel. Including, a proposed literal account of Jesus ministering in person to this tribe in the America’s. If that didn’t really happen would Elder Holland still see the Book as divine? I think it is clear that those to whom Elder Holland addressed his remarks were not the innovative redefinition crowd, but the dissaffected. Some of the leeway for “inspired fiction” that is being argued for here may just be due to a contextual oversight. I am not sure that Elder Holland’s remarks about having to account for the “divine” origin of The Book of Mormon, really gives any room to a more innovative theory that it was contrived, and that is the whole point. After all, why would someone considering leaving the Church have to account for a book teeming with “semetic complexity”, if said complexity didn’t somehow serve as evidence for The Book of Mormon. Afterall it is strange to appeal, even slightly, to an existential claim to support theory which transcends space and time. So in short, I don’t think it was Elder Hollands intention to specifically address the inspired fiction group, and I’m not sure his remarks could even be seen as tolerance for that group. I don’t expect that there will come a time when Church policy progresses towards formal discipline for not fully believing in The Book of Mormon, but I do suspect that Elder Hollands sentiments towards that group are quite similar to the dissafected, ie, inspired fiction is pathetic and foolish. Those espousing such a theory must crawl, over, around, some five hundred pages of text teeming with semetic complexity, and that bears witness of Christ. Perhaps, inspired fiction in his mind would be the literal corrallary to “crawling”.
I’m not sure if it’s because it’s late, or because this thread is approaching 250 comments, but I thought it might be time for a bit of levity regarding this whole discussion. The other morning as I was getting ready for work, and pondering the Semitic complexity of the Book of Mormon, it struck me that I had been familiar with the uniquely Semitic concept of chiasmus since I was a child. Here is a clear and straightforward A,B,B,A pattern chiasmus of obvious Semitic origin:
A: Hickory Dickory dock,
B: The mouse ran up the clock,
B: The clock struck one, the mouse ran down,
A: Hickory Dickory dock.
I don’t know that I agree with your statement that only traditional believing members enjoyed the talk. For one thing, I don’t think people are so easily categorized. I don’t even know if I am a “traditional believing member”. I think the question of the Book of Mormon’s inspiration is way more important than it’s historicity. On occasional Tuesdays, I’m fine with some version of the inspired fiction idea. I don’t lose any sleep worrying about the historicity of Job or Adam, either. I’m sure there are members more traditional than I who would be horrified by all that. Our stake patriarch created quite a stir in high priest’s meeting one Sunday when he proclaimed the Book of Job to be fictional. He stuck by his guns, though. Whether I look “traditional” or “non-traditional” probably depends a lot on what forum you find me in.
I certainly don’t cheer any attempt to close the door to “less traditional” ideas about the Book of Mormon. I, too would have been uncomfortable with the talk had I understood him as saying that. I just didn’t hear it, and I was certainly listening for it. It really didn’t take any strained analysis of each sentence; that’s just how I heard the talk. I find myself as baffled by your reaction as you are of mine. I can only imagine that to some listeners, a fervent testimony equals a traditional testimony, regardless of the words used. To me, his failure to actually testify or even mention historicity speaks volumes.
I guess whatever message Elder Holland intended to convey, it didn’t get through to all of us.
Andrew 248: Don’t forget “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Coming from a Restoration tradition where we’ve given up the notion of being “the one and only” true church to simply being “a true church”, I looked at your recitation of the “confirming feelings” you get from many world religious scriptures with some interest. Maybe that IS your answer as to what is true, and the next question is exactly the one you began to frame: “Then where do You want me?”
I think the question was meant to illustrate your dilemma, and probably does exactly that. Maybe that’s purposeful, too.
I hope I’m not overstepping by pointing that out.
I appreciate your insight and absolutely don’t think you are “overstepping”. It has been very strange as I was born and raised LDS with the notion that this is the “only true Church” and all that that implies (ie. even taken to McConkie’s extreme interpretation). I certainly don’t think that the LDS church is false by any means, any have never been convinced by all of the anti-Mormon things floating around out there. However, I have come more and more to the realization that there is a lot of truth out there, that there are a lot of very good people of all faiths who I am absolutely convinced have every chance of returning to God as I do, and that I have much yet to learn on this journey through life.
As you state, perhaps that is the answer to my dilemma with the BofM. I am sure that many, many people have felt “confirming” feelings by reading it. And if that and the Bible are all one reads, I can see how that would “confirm” the truth of it. I wonder how many people have also truly studied the Qu’ran, the Gita, etc. as well. How can someone truly say those are false, unless they’ve given them the same test as the BofM? As Paul said, “prove all things…”
I don’t know where my quest for truth will end up. I don’t know the path that God would have me travel. I have become much less dogmatic about people of other faiths over the past few years. I have seen much more good in everyone around me. And perhaps this will ultimately be my answer. It it a quite unorthodox viewpoint for a Mormon, probably to the point where I will never be called to any future leadership positions if I am honest with myself. And I am sure that Elder Holland and others would basically consider me in apostasy. But it is what it is. I think that if God wants me to return to the “TBM” path, He has the power to answer me in a different way, a way that I can understand.
“And I am sure that Elder Holland and others would basically consider me in apostasy.”
I think you a bit hard on your self here. Apostasy is really open opposition to the truth as we define it. I didn’t think that was your issue, only that you have not received a strong testimony of certain things. As you read the blog, you can tell the difference between those who are questioning and unsure and those who have gone way over the line into apostasy.
#252 – Mike S., your comment is NOT an “unorthodox viewpoint for a Mormon”. Most people I know consider me to be an orthodox member, and I certainly agree with everything in your comment except the apostate and unorthodox descriptions of yourself. I know personally many hundreds of members who could have written what you wrote, including many in visible positions of leadership – and I don’t think there is anything in it that is not mainstream Mormon doctrine.
Fwiw, I have said many times that I want to be judged by what I actually say, not by what people assume I have said based on their emotional reactions. I am a parser by nature, but I also am a parser because I want to be charitable and have others be charitable to me. I tend to read and edit my comments at least three times before submitting them, and it has been more than that with this one. That’s the main reason I went back and reviewed this talk – to see what he actually said, since so many people reacted differently to it. I listened sentence-by-sentence so I could understand the actual context of each line that was being dissected – how they applied to the statements before them and after them – to what and whom each one applied. In the end, I came to a simple conclusion:
Andrew’s post is spot-on – and just about everyone (on all sides of this issue) heard what they thought they would hear – what they assumed he was saying. The talk was sound-bited by people who reacted very differently, and few people realized how they were taking statements out of the overall context of what I saw as a very narrow focus. I don’t think Elder Holland said what his most ardent and vocal critics are claiming he said, but I also don’t think he said what his most ardent and vocal supporters are claiming he said.
#253 – My ears were ringing.
The question is not on the recomendend interview so I would assume one caan hold the not literal position. van Hale has made his belief clear in public and he is a trusted member in good standing. Jake Zollinger
It’s positively heartwarming to read an entry such as this amidst so much ignorance and lack of integrity you find in other such alternative views to the Book of Mormon. Well written Andrew. Thank you for keeping as close to fact as possible. I hadn’t heard of the Inspired Fiction theory before now and I guess it is worthy of consideration. For me, the two things that remain clear in my mind are, 1. The record is overflowing with encouragement and testimony that Jesus is the Christ. Every chapter promotes belief in Him and describes Christlike characteristics that only exalt society. 2. If Joseph were a Prophet, with a direct line as it were to God, I don’t particularly mind how the revelations come. Careful (and even careless) study of Joseph’s revelations, Book of Mormon included, point the honest in heart toward divinity. Joseph recived no monetary remuneration for claiming what he did and instead was at the direct receiving end of ridicule and physical abuse. This has ever made an imposter forsake his cause. Rick Mutzelburg
I’m not sure how Angel Moroni could have appeared to Joseph Smith if he was a fictitious character.