Perhaps the time has come in the church to recognize that some members want to openly espouse a non historical view of the Book of Mormon?
My daughter Bethany and her friend Clare have recently gone to the Community of Christ Church. They enjoyed it and said the members were very open and friendly but the church at least here in the UK didn’t seem anything like our Brighamite version of the church.
I understand that many of their high ranking members don’t view the book of Mormon as historical. Some members feel it’s historical; some feel it’s inspired, and some would like to see it jettisoned from the canon of scripture.
I thought it was quite courageous of their leaders to consult with historians and look at the facts as they see them and to seek and follow what they felt was God’s will, doing all of this by common consent with the members in their church.
One of their members Wayne Ham did a summary report (below) called Problems in Interpreting the Book of Mormon as History! But before you read his report please take the following quiz:[poll id=”171″] [poll id=”172″] [poll id=”173″] [poll id=”174″] [poll id=”175″]
Please read if you can all of Wayne Ham’s Problems in Interpreting the Book of Mormon as History from the Community of Christ Web Page. Below are some selections from Ham’s paper which I highly recommend you read if you have the time:
The origin and destiny of the [so-called] “Red Man” were among the chief topics for speculation and discussion on the early nineteenth century American frontier. The presence of many Indian burial mounds in the Great Lakes region was a constant source of curiosity for the settlers in that region. In 1823 Ethan Smith, a Vermont pastor, published a book entitled View of the Hebrews: or the Ten Tribes of Israel in America.
Those who received the Book of Mormon from the hands of eager missionaries were urged not only to assent to the narrative as a historical account of the Indians’ ancestory, but also to accept the book as evidence that God had broken the silence of centuries to restore his church to the earth by means of a young prophet. Many of the early Latter Day Saint believers took an all-or-nothing approach. If the Book of Mormon was true, the religion expounded by its author and proprietor was true also. If the book should ever prove to be false, all validity for the restoration movement would necessarily have to be disclaimed.
The book immediately attained a canonical status in the minds of the Latter Day Saints that made literal acceptance of it as the revelation of God to the ancient Americans a matter of faith. As far as church members were concerned, the book was impervious to any kind of critical investigation and judgment.
As modern historical and textual scholarship in the realm of biblical studies became increasing appreciated and influential at the grassroots level in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and thus known to some extent to Latter Day Saints, a defensive reaction set in among some church members, resulting in some stiff resistance to allowing the tools of this scholarship to be applied to the church’s understandings of the Book of Mormon. Thus Book of Mormon studies in the past have been characterized by polemics, apologetics, and amateur archaeological surveys whenever the concern has moved beyond merely exploring the intricate details of the very complex narrative of migrations, wars, and religious revivals among the Book of Mormon peoples.
Because the temper of our times is such that no movement nor institution nor book can forever remain impervious to the searchlight of scholarly inspection, out times demand that all the rudiments of religious faith be subjected to the scrutiny of reason and empirical research.
As the Book of Mormon is examined without any intention solely to amass data to support preconceived notions about it, certain problems concerning traditional understanding of the books stand out. These problems include:
1. The story of its coming forth. The actual events culminating in the publication of the book are, as of now, quite irrecoverable in that it is impossible to distill a unified account from all the primary and secondary reports.
2. Identifying the book’s narrative with a particular time and space. Extravagant claims about ancient American archaeology supporting the Book of Mormon have been made. Toltec, Mayan and even Aztec ruins, all of a comparatively late period, have been unfortunately identified with Book of Mormon peoples.
3, The book’s propensity for reflecting in detail the religious concerns of the American frontier. Alexander Campbell in 1831 pointed out that every major theological question of the frontier was covered in the Book of Mormon, including infant baptism, ordination and ministerial authority, the trinity, regeneration, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, and even the burning question of Freemasonry, republican government and the rights of man.
4. The Christological perspective of the book. To some students of theology, it would appear that there is a marked incongruity between the Christ Event of the New Testament and the Christ Event of the Book of Mormon.
5. The book’s ethical implications, when viewed as universally binding upon all men. Some Latter Day Saints, in talking of the Book of Mormon as the “fullness of the gospel” (D. & C. 17:2), believe that the book reveals the will of God more perfectly than any other resource we possess. Moreover they would assert that the transmission process involved in preserving and bringing forth the book would bypass many of the scribal errors to which the Bible was admittedly vulnerable.
6. The use of biblical scripture and ideas as sources. Several sizeable sections of the King James Version of the Bible are found in the Book of Mormon, including twenty-one chapters of Isaiah, the Sermon on the Mount, the Ten Commandments, Malachi 3 and 4, I Corinthians 12:1-11 and Acts 3:22-26. In addition to such full-fledged quotations, the Book of Mormon is replete with short biblical expressions. John Hyde counted 298 biblical snatches from the New Testament alone in the first 428 pages of the first edition of the Book of Mormon.
8. The matter of Book of Mormon anachronisms. Those who approach the Book of Mormon with the view of proving it to be essentially what it seems to claim to be–a record of the history of ancient Americans who lived between 2200 BC and AD 400–immediately find themselves having to deal with the problem of anachronisms.
9. The changes in the Book of Mormon. While the book itself confesses the possibility of errors, many claims concerning the verbal accuracy of the book have long been made by Book of Mormon adherents. Joseph Smith himself at one time state that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth.” Modern Microfilm Company of Salt Lake City has recently published a work documenting 3,913 changes in the Book of Mormon since its first printing.
Conclusions. None of the above problems areas “disprove” the Book of Mormon. They do, however, raise some questions about our traditional understandings concerning the book. Perhaps for some church members answers to the questions raised in this article would seem to be readily available. For others, however, quick and easy answers will not solve the dilemma. Perhaps the time has come in the church to recognize that some members want to openly espouse a non-literal view of the Book of Mormon, treating it as a non-historical treatise in much the same manner as modern critics view the books of Jonah, Ruth, Job, and Daniel in the Old Testament. Freed from some of the traditional hang-ups involved with having to accept unquestioningly the historicity of the Book of Mormon, these members could then read the book as a product of the Restoration movement in the nineteenth century, perhaps thus “enjoying” this fascinating piece of literature for the very first time.
You probably need to separate out problems in some of the criticisms such as a work documenting 3,913 changes in the Book of Mormon since its first printing … or all you will get is a backlash from people whom criticisms like that (with their known flaws when they are incompletely presented) which drown out the rest of the discussion. Perhaps merely linking to some of the essays that address this collection of points would have been helpful?
Otherwise this reads as more of the same weaksauce to someone who has seen this all before, only dressed up differently. Since that wasn’t your intent, some sort of note would have helped keep people on track.
Too quote annieGB … “just saying”
BTW, a great post that compliments this more than disagrees or enlightens the essay above is:
Of the problems you listed, only #2, 6, and 8 seem to be real problems IMO (not sure why there is no #7.) The rest seem to be more conjecture than fact. I must say that the Ethan Smith theory mentioned is interesting because it seems to me that the Spaulding Theory has more adherants. Perhaps the CoC website sees the problems with the Spaulding theory and tries to embrace Ethan Smith instead.
I honestly don’t see how the Church could accept the view of the Book of Mormon as fiction without falling apart. If Christ didn’t come to the Americas, and if there were no people there to meet him, then at some point in the creation of the Book of Mormon, somebody told a really big lie.
I’ve been reading into the scandal with Liberty University and Ergun Caner. Caner is a popular evangelical preacher who made himself famous right after 9/11 by claiming to be a former jihadist who converted to Christianity, preaching the joy of Christianity and the evils of Islam. His story has made him very successful and popular, and has probably ‘brought people to Christ’. Yet there’s convincing evidence that he made up many important details about his background, and he mixes his lies with a good deal of anti-Muslim rhetoric. He may have had some positive impact on some people, but he’s still a dirty liar.
If Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon, or knew it was false, how is he anything better than Caner? A ‘pious’ fraud is still a fraud. I can accept that he was human and had some faults, and did some things that were wrong and other things that were stupid, but how can you accept that he lied from the very beginning about one of the central products of his prophetic career, and still be a believing Mormon? That isn’t a rhetorical question, I’d really like to know.
“I thought it was quite courageous of their leaders to consult with historians and look at the facts as they see them…”
“Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?”
Wayne Ham’s essay was not that good when it first appeared, and is badly dated now. For instance, compare his claim concerning the difficulties in “Identifying the book’s narrative with a particular time and space” with more recent scholarship on both the New and Old World settings. Jerusalam, a candidate for the Valley of Lemuel, Nahom, complete with the name authenticated for the right place and time, and a remarkable Bountiful candidate in exactly the right location. Consider Larry Poulson’s recent finding that “The river Sidon is mentioned 37 times in 28 different verses with accompanying directional and geographic information related to at least six different geographical locations.” See
He then performed a computer search of a 3D satellite map of the entire Western Hemisphere to find candidates that matched the description. For a real world river that begins in a narrow strip of wilderness that reaches from a sea west to a sea east, that begins flowing from East to West, then turns North, and then empties into a sea, he found exactly one candidate. This turns out to be the Grijalva, which several LDS models, including John Sorenson’s, put forward as a candidate for the Sidon. Read in that specific real world context, Garder observes that “the whole text works better.” It makes sense.
Where, in Ham’s study, is this research discussed and evaluated? Oh… of course. Ham wrote long before any of this was published. Gardner commented a few years back that the archeological work necessary to begin testing the Book of Mormon has only appeared since about 1975, which post date’s Ham’s attempt at passing final, authoritative judgment. So Ham’s evaluation accounts for none of this.
From my perspective, Ham’s “Authority” is all posture, no substance. An argument based on sweeping statements, with no actual knowledge, no up-to-date content to back it up.
I also like his Number 4: “The Christological perspective of the book. To some students of theology, it would appear that there is a marked incongruity between the Christ Event of the New Testament and the Christ Event of the Book of Mormon.”
Compare that to this, from a non-LDS scholar writing in 1987, a text and argument that Ham could not have seen:
“The life and work of Jesus were, and should be, interpreted in the light of something other than Jerusalem Judaism. This other had its roots in the conflicts of the sixth century BC when the traditions of the monarchy were divided as an inheritance amongst several heirs. It would have been lost but for the accidents of archaeological discovery and the evidence of pre-Christian texts preserved and transmitted only by Christian hands.” That, of course, is Margaret Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity (London: SPCK, 1987), 6–7. When she wrote that, she was not even imagining the Book of Mormon, but by 2005, she realized how remarkable the fit is, and said so at the Joseph Smith Conference in Washington D.C. In my view, her work not only fits and explains Book of Mormon Christology as derived from First Temple Judaism, but also seems to me to fulfull the prophesy in 1 Nephi 13:39-41. Ham, of course, did not consider her work in passing judgment. Look around at http://www.margaretbarker.com at things like “Text and Context” and “The Secret Tradition” and “What King Josiah Reformed” and “The Original Background of the Fourth Servant Song.”
In my own meager library, I’ve got at least fifteen feet of books and articles relevant to Ham’s claims that did not exist when he wrote. The view from Ham is not a panoramic vista, but rather, a trip back in time, and then down a dark well. It is not a viable survey of relevant scholarship. Rather, at best, it is a cautionary demonstration about human tendency to pride and premature judgment when relying on the arm of the flesh.
If some people want to read the Book of Mormon as inspiring fiction, fine. Alma says “start with a particle of belief,” and make room somehow for “a portion” of the word. However, when doing so, let’s not go around making fictional claims about the state of scholarship on the topic.
Bethel Park, PA
Let me correct a couple of points here. The Community of Christ web page is http://www.CofChrist.org . The official church positions on the Book of Mormon are best found there, and I’ll try to provide links to them later this afternoon.
The Cybercommunity site linked above is instead part of the “blogitorium” which the leadership encourages, even when views expressed there do not reflect its own. After the schisms of the 1970s-1980s we’ve made it a point to allow expression of views from a wide spectrum within the church, even as we’ve generally moved left.
Wayne Ham is currently not in the top leadership; he is best known for Sunday School adult texts on World Religions that saw wide use in the CofChrist when I was in college decades ago.
Nevertheless, the summary in Ham’s report probably reflects the views of many who are in the CofChrist leadership. We have very good academic historians and very good academic theologians; we just aren’t big enough to have many archeologists, military analysts, or even fiction writers who can add to the work the LDS scholarly community is doing in assessing the historicity of the BofM.
So we tend to believe the kind of evidence — personal revelation, or scientific evidence, or the views of the people we surround ourselves with and are mentored by — and develop our view of the BofM accordingly.
I tend to find explanations of the Book of Mormon as EITHER a contempraneously written ancient document OR as 19th Century fiction scientifically unconvincing, while I continue to have a strengthening testimony of the Book’s divinely-intended importance for our own era. So I choose to act on the testimony, and work to sort out the science in the disciplines where my training lets me know more than the historians.
“I tend to find explanations of the Book of Mormon as EITHER a contempraneously written ancient document OR as 19th Century fiction scientifically unconvincing, while I continue to have a strengthening testimony of the Book’s divinely-intended importance for our own era.”
That pretty much sums up my view.
CofChrist prophet Steve Veazey gave an interview concerning the denomination’s view of the Book of Mormon last summer, the transcript of which is at http://www.cofchrist.org/presidency/AprilAddress/Interview0709.asp
Thanks for the link I liked the following below- but I can’t see our church explaining this away as it is the most correct book on earth.
You just said that we use the Book of Mormon as scripture in the life of the church “because…it bears the fruit of scripture when it is interpreted responsibly.” What is an example of the need for more responsible interpretation of the Book of Mormon?
Here is an obvious example: The Book of Mormon states in several passages that “dark skin” is God’s curse on some people because of their sinful ancestors. It associates dark skin with “loathsome” human characteristics. It also says that when dark-skinned people are converted to the gospel they “become white and delightsome” (Alma 1:104–107; II Nephi 4:35–38; II Nephi 12:84; and III Nephi 1:52). Over the years these passages have been used to condone racist attitudes toward various populations, including Native Americans, African Americans, Africans, and Hispanics.
To uphold a literal reading of these passages is morally, spiritually, and theologically wrong, no matter how you view the origins of the book. The church has a responsibility to interpret such passages in light of the larger scriptural witness, centered in Christ, that leaves no doubt about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, regardless of skin color or ethnic origin.
It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:7c.
Ironically, the claim of the historicity of the Book of Mormon would be undermined if 6th BC Jewish refugees DIDN’T show some racism. It would be a doctrinal anachronism in itself, which is one of the problems Ham noted in his paper.
The interesting thing was that the Book pointed to different races living together in harmony and peace — at a time when racism and nationalism was seen as normal and desirable.
As to being the most correct book on earth, that’s in general not a particularly high bar to get over. Human knowledge is now doubling every few years. Humanity knew a LOT less two centuries ago.
You may as well just go join the Community of Christ.
“If Christ didn’t come to the Americas, and if there were no people there to meet him, then at some point in the creation of the Book of Mormon, somebody told a really big lie”
Yeap. We may as well be Jehovah’s witnesses if BoM isn’t historical.
I have a difficult time understanding how anyone could accept the BofM in some sort of middle ground view–part fiction, part history. It is either true or false–what evidence is there to suggest a middle ground?
Those who buy into the middle ground view must also have a middle ground view of God; that is, he isn’t what he says he is.
I suggest the middle ground view of the Book of Mormon is just a rung on the ladder to becoming a middle ground mormon (New Order Mormon) like came into vogue (see Helaman 3:33, 4:11,3 Nephi 14:23).
By the way, less, I be misunderstood, I’m not saying this in a mean-spirited way. I’m saying it with concern, not with antipathy.
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Jared, your intentions notwithstanding, it comes across as condescending and condemning – or, at least, as totally insensitive to others’ actual feelings, beliefs and efforts to understand. This is true especially of the second paragraph.
Fwiw, I know some people who serve in very visible callings in the church (at higher than a ward level) who simply struggle with understanding how much of what they read is from God directly and how much has been filtered through the cultural lenses of the prophet’s times. I don’t believe in scriprtural infallibility at all, especially since it’s not taught in any of our scriptures – and even more because the prophets themselves have states clearly that their every written word is NOT straight from God’s mouth to their pen to the page. To say that people who see this and aren’t scriptural literalists have a “middle ground view of God” and that they don’t believe he is “what he says he is” really does come across as arrogant and dismissive.
I know it’s hard for me in some threads not to come across that way – but I think everyone understands that I really do value different opinions and perspectives. I’m not sure anyone here believes that about you, so if you do value other opinions and perspectives . . . Consider how to change that over-whelming perspective – of those far from your views and those closer to them.
As you said:
“[lest] I be misunderstood, I’m not saying this in a mean-spirited way. I’m saying it with concern, not with antipathy.”
As for my own position
I’m in this camp. However, because the claim of the BoM actually being historical is a positive claim, I look to the evidence to see if this is supported. Since, like Firetag, and Ray I find it unconvincing, I personally land (by default) on the side that it is inspired fiction. That is not to say I’m closed to the possibility that it is historical, just that it is NOT incumbent on the inspired fiction crowd to prove it is not historical, rather it is incumbent on the historical crowd to prove that it is. I’m awaiting further evidence to demonstrate it. In the meantime, like Ray and Firetag, I believe it helps many come to Christ and is a good book (though not my favorite book of scripture).
It is a tenable position for reasonable, faithful members of the church to conclude that the BoM is not historical. However, as to the point of the post, while I recognize that culturally it is the position of the church and members that the BoM is historical, IT IS NOT a temple recommend interview question. I hold a temple recommend, and admit I currently fall in the inspired fiction camp (as per the null hypothesis). So I don’t really see that the church accepting this point of view will really make a difference for me.
In addition to what Ray said, the site StayLDS.com is a witness to the fact that many people can have an inspired fiction view of the BoM but not be New Order Mormons. The folks at StayLDS.com stay LDS for many reasons, all of which somehow take into account some belief or inspiration from the church altogether. Contrast this with the “New Order Mormons” who predominantly stay for cultural (familial) reasons. StayLDS-ers stay for personal spiritual reasons, not just cultural.
Oh yeah, I wanted to respond to MH as well.
For me, I cannot look at the individual numbered problems in a vacuum and pick which ones I think are problematic and which ones aren’t. This, to me, infers that a single piece of evidence could prove or disprove the book. For me, it is the entire list put together that is problematic (since most of it is correlated IMHO) and makes the story less convincing than I’d like. For me, many of these problems would have to be resolved to really make a convincing case (or even add up in some cases).
I agree with you that the changes (#9) aren’t a problem in and of themselves (I can see the need to correct punctuation, grammar, some sentences). But taken with the rest of the story, I think it weakens the argument for a “translation” and hence casts a bit of doubt on Joseph himself (even if only a small bit).
“That is not to say I’m closed to the possibility that it is historical, just that it is NOT incumbent on the inspired fiction crowd to prove it is not historical, rather it is incumbent on the historical crowd to prove that it is”
Is it incumbent on the inspired fiction crowd to prove that it’s inspired?
“It is a tenable position for reasonable, faithful members of the church to conclude that the BoM is not historical.”
I’m still not seeing it. The book claims to be a historic record, and Joseph claimed it was translated from literal gold plates. I think it makes sense to allow for inconsistencies and mushiness when it comes to the exact details of the ‘translation’ process and the ultimate product – the book itself admits to the possibility of errors and “the mistakes of men” – but to conclude that it isn’t based in some way on truth?
If a book that claims to be true and accurate is instead fiction, somebody lied when they wrote it. If Joseph lied about translating the plates, how can you see him as a prophet? How can you trust him?
If you think Joseph was sincere, was he duped by a lying God? That doesn’t make much sense to me. The Doctrine and Covenants features God speaking and introducing new scripture through a prophet, in a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ type of way. The Book of Mormon wasn’t written this way, and instead purports to contain the accounts of prophets living amongst an ancient group of people, translated second-hand through a modern prophet. If there were no ancient prophets, it makes no sense to think that God would invent them, and make up wars and cities to serve as backdrops for their sermons, especially when He seems to have been perfectly comfortable speaking directly through Joseph. If God lied, how can you trust God?
I understand being agnostic, questioning, or simply not caring about the historicity of the BoM. But I just can’t see how you can reject its historicity without, by necessity, rejecting the rest of Mormonism as an invention. Please, explain this to me.
I don’t think you and I are quite in the same camp. I don’t think that the burden of proof is on the historical crowd or that either ancient or 19th Century should be chosen as the null hypothesis over the other. I wrote about how I think science and religion must deal with the potentially miraculous at http://thefirestillburning.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/the-blob-that-ate-religion-part-i/ .
So I think we wait for science either way to become more credible and not prematurely assert conclusions. In the meanwhile, we act on other criteria for decisions, just like we do in deciding on a multitude of other important things in our life. For me the key question is neither “history” (the side I tend toward) or “fiction”, but rather “inspired” or “uninspired”.
In the Book of Mormon, is God giving us “actionable intelligence” about events important to our own futures? If so, I don’t much care if it comes in the form of a physical artifact, a story like Dickens “A Christmas Carol” or epic myth like Lord of the Rings or something else. It’s the Divine authority of the source and not the form that matters.
Perhaps God foresaw we’d be so enamoured by the hard sciences by now, He had to put the ancient prophets through all the trouble to leave records that could be later validated because we couldn’t be taught by myth, but needed signs as much as our ancestors.
I respect your approach to the doctrines of the church. I also respect the right of others to hold whatever point of view they choose regarding Mormonism–as long as they are honest and sincere.
In my mind’s eye, I see all of us on a road—a road gradually ascending its way towards a mountain. Along this road are multitudes of people, each with a book of instruction about the journey. As the road approaches the mountain it gradually narrows. Those on the road find the going more strenuous. The road turns into a path and becomes more difficult to travel as the grade increases. Some of the people leave the path and roam about the foothills finding pleasure there; others continue climbing, drawn by the beautiful vistas before them and the promise of greater opportunity promised in the book.
With that brief perspective I’d like to make a couple of points in response to your comment #14.
1. All of the people on the path are basically good people. Each can exercise their God given agency as they see fit.
2. The mountain represents the Kingdom of God with its various rewards based on individual commitment. The greater rewards require an ever increasing climb.
3. The book of instruction is none other than the Book of Mormon.
Without drawing this out I’ll ask you a question:
If you were to interview individuals at different places on the journey do you think you’d get different perspectives about the Book of Mormon?
I’ll answer the question from my point of view—YES.
From where I’m at on the mountain, with the experiences I’ve had with the BoM—leaves me with one answer regarding this post, and I’ll use the Lord’s own words to answer it:
And he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true. D&C 17:6
Now, if my comments come across, as you suggested, as “condescending and condemning” then that is entirely a matter of interpretation by the reader.
I respect everyone on the journey. I look to those higher on the mountain to help me as I pursue the summit. I am also anxious to help others achieve their journey goals.
I agree, I should have left out the comment about NOM.
I don’t see any evidence to support the idea of a “middle ground” acceptance of the BofM. It is either true or false.
I like way jessi #17 stated it:
If you think Joseph was sincere, was he duped by a lying God? That doesn’t make much sense to me.
You stated: “I have a difficult time understanding how anyone could accept the BofM in some sort of middle ground view–part fiction, part history. It is either true or false–what evidence is there to suggest a middle ground? Those who buy into the middle ground view must also have a middle ground view of God; that is, he isn’t what he says he is.”
I disagree with this characterization. I have read the BofM many, many times in my life. I have prayed about it many, many times. I have taught from it for hundreds of lessons and on my mission. Do I think it contains truth? Absolutely. Do I think that people’s lives have been improved by things we read in the BofM? Absolutely.
However, I actually do look at it as not entirely “translated”. There are verbatim quotes from the King James version of the Bible. There are various anachronisms. As best as we can tell, Joseph rarely actually looked at the plates when he “translated” them, and they weren’t necessarily even in the same room. So, to be honest, I have a hard time looking at the Book of Mormon as a “translation” of actual historical documents written by other prophets hundreds of years ago. It could be a matter of differing definitions, but to me, a truly “historical” book or document would be one that was specifically translated, word for word and/or thought for thought from something else. It doesn’t appear that this is what Joseph did.
I think the problem comes in therefore defining it as “fiction”. Perhaps that is too loaded of a word. While I can’t call the BofM specifically a “translation”, I do think Joseph was inspired when he brought it forth. I think it is generally based on stories contained on the plates. I think Joseph also included thoughts from the KJV of the Bible when these came to his mind as expressing a thought. I think some of the BofM likely reflected some of his own thoughts and inspirations as well. Whether one chooses to call this “inspired fiction” or just “inspired scripture” is semantics to me.
So, have things in the BofM brought me closer to God? Yes. Do I think it is strictly a historical document? No. Have other things brought me closer to God, like the Qu’ran, other translations of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, etc. Absolutely. You may be well along your path up the mountain, and you may be reaching back with the BofM to help people up that path, which is very admirable, but there are other paths up the mountain whether you choose to see them or not. To look down condescendingly on someone else because the path they feel inspired to follow is not the same as yours is simply wrong. You may claim you are not doing this, but when you say that someone who doesn’t think like you must therefore have a “middle ground view of God”, your words betray your actual thoughts and feelings.
#21 Mike S–
I don’t see the “quotations” from the Bible, the possibility that JS may not have needed the plates to “translate” as evidence the BofM is a mixture of history and “fiction”. JS never related the details of how the “translation” took place. We are left to guess, and that is what we do.
What we do have though, is a book that has stood the test of time. No one has come up with evidence to refute it’s authenticity, which should be easy if it were and outright fraud.
On top of that, their are many, many people who have had the manifestations of the Spirit that the BoM promises (Moroni 10:4-5). I am in that group, knowing first hand about the validity of the promised Spiritual confirmation that comes with the book.
Lastly, I will reply to the accusation that I am some how being condescending. Ray, and now you have laid this at my door.
I am not looking down on others when I disagree. I am stating my opinion based on my experience and understanding. Blogging is a great way to exchange ideas. I am not the best communicator but feel I have made some improvement–and will continue to try an improve. I don’t think you will find an instance where I have put a person down, accusing, or belittling them. Disagreeing respectively–yes. Encouraging and testifying–yes. Learning and seeking to understand–yes.
With many in the ‘nacle it is a one way street. It’s OK to “bear testimony” of unbelief, its OK to explain why you’re leaving the church, it’s OK to criticize church leaders, it’s OK to voice concerns about a host of things that happen to be on your list of grievances: blacks & the priesthood, male leadership, proposition 8, the sanitized history the brethren foster, polygamy, MMM,certainty, and etc.
Express these things and you will find a wide range of sympathetic commenters. However, bear testimony with certainty, or bear testimony of the presence of the manifestations of the Spirit in your life, and you will be marginalized by some, and black balled by others. So it is. I’m not complaining because their are many others who appreciate it.
These are observations I am making—not criticisms.
Now Ray, I’ve notice that you will hit and run. If that is what you want to do, fine, I will accept that as your style. But I would like to have a reply. I’ve taken the time to respond to your accusation in # 14. I think it would be kind of you to answer, if you care to do so.
I don’t mind a disagreement, but name calling (your condescending) is unkind and just not accurate.
Jared, I never hit and run. It is the Sabbath. I serve in a Stake calling that requires I be in another unit on their conference day, and I have a daughter who graduated from Seminary tonight – so, as her Seminary teacher, and as her father, and as the pianist/organist at the graduation (and having the event be an hour from my house), I haven’t been online all day. I just now am catching up.
I also didn’t call you any names. I was very careful to state that I was addressing how you come across here to most people – based on your own words in saying you were not meaning to be mean-spirited – and based on the fact that I also come across as condescending at times. I said all that explicitly to try to help you see that I wasn’t condemning you – that I sincerely was trying to show you how you are perceived.
Remember, I am seen here as one of the more “faithful” people. I have recently been accused of being someone who only will toe the company line and always defend the Church – although the person who wrote that and I have kissed and made up, as it were. (Thought you’d never read that, I’ll bet, Doug!! 😀 ) You are talking here to someone who WANTS you to be respected here, since I don’t want your viewpoint to be shunted aside simply because of the delivery method. Therefore, I took the time to respond to your last paragraph and try to explain why so many here brush off your comments often as condescedning and arrogant.
Again, I didn’t call you those things; I said that is how you are perceived – even as I sometimes am perceived.
Now, having said all that, I also need to clarify something, since you have misunderstood my view of the Book of Mormon – and that probably is my fault for not being more precise.
I do not view it as a word-for-word translation from the plates – meaning I don’t believe what we have now is exactly what the ancient proophets recorded. However, I have never said I believe it is fiction. I don’t. I do believe Joseph’s story as to being led to plates, and I do believe they contained the basic religious history that was transmitted through him to us. I say that mostly because of my own experiences with it.
I subscribe to the Elder Packer theory of not sharing my powerful spiritual experiences much, so I don’t write about them much here. However, I have had more than one important expereince with the Book of Mormon, so I believe it is a divinely inspired book of scripture – transmitted through Joseph’s prism and in his language, as all translations are. I simply believe the process of translation for the Book of Mormon was radically different than “standard, academic” translations, so I fall in the middle of the “pure historical, word-for-word record” camp and the “fiction” camp. Like FareTag, I really can’t accept either option. I simply accept it as scripture and as the result of prophetic activity and as a “loose” translation of an actual record.
I was a bit surprised at the characterizations of Jared’s comments as condescending and condemning. I reread what he said and didn’t see that at all. He’s a believer and has a reason to believe. What it says to me is that there’s a tendency to take more than what’s in the posted word and use that for the discussion and not the question at hand. (Funny how that keeps popping up) It’s too easy to derail and win an argument by going after the author rather than the topic. And I’m afraid there’s more than a little truth in what he says in #22. It can be tough sledding for a believer on these sites.
I’ve finally come to terms with what I believe about the BoM. JS maintained he translated it by the gift and power of God and he’s written in the D&C as quoted above that that’s what God thinks too. Some have mentioned the good they find in the BoM and the way it can point one to Christ and I agree with that but that’s not the point. All of the editions of the Book of Common Prayer that I have do that. The question is is it what JS claimed it was and the answer for me is no. You can spin it and finesse it all you want but it you don’t believe that you have to find a way to spin and finesse what you do believe and if possible make it mesh with what the members around you believe. I’ve been able to do that by keeping quiet except for the time I told a member of the stake presidency in the parking lot at church that I didn’t believe Adam was a real person but that’s another story. I can’t read the BoM anymore or teach from it or quote it but if that’s what you believe and if reading and teaching and quoting it make you a better Christian, that’s fine with me.
Just as a quick comment. The last time I went through the TR interviwe no one asked about BoM historicity and so though I think it is currently normative within the Church to think of the BoM as historical this does not seem to something the Church leaders currently emphasise in terms of a specific question. So I think the answer to the question raised regarding whether the Church should allow people to have a TR, I don’t see how that is involved in the questions asked, except by implication.
#25–They don’t ask if the BoM is historical in a standard TR interview. But I’d be interested to know what typically happens in a TR interview for members who have told their bishop previously that they believe the BoM is fiction. Do they typically walk away with a recommend or not? Is it OK to openly believe that the BoM is fiction, or do you need to keep that belief to yourself?
Fiction, I was wondering about that, too. At my recent TR interview, I asked the Bishop if a “yes” answer to the question on sustaining the leaders fit in with disagreement with Church involvement in Prop 8. He said that it was okay as long as I kept that to myself. I think it might work the same way with the lack of a belief in BoM historicity and the question about a testimony of the restoration. At least with my particular Bishop.
Re 17 Jessi
Sure, but this is a highly subjective claim. Einstein was inspired, Tolkein was inspired. C.S. Lewis was inspired. And I suspect everyone who believes in a historical, and literal BoM agrees it is inspired. So I’m not sure why that would be a problem.
Yes, I understand why people think this. And certainly, if it someday is revealed that Joseph lied then many will leave the church as it casts doubt on Joseph. But I think that would be a mistake. At least one major possibility would be the “pious fraud” idea. Contrary to anti-Mormons, I think the pious fraud has value. There are other possibilities. For me personally, I don’t find Joseph to be a total liar. I respect his character. But I find the historical view to not be very convincing. So I tentatively say I’m very uncertain about the BoM, but accept the possibility of it being inspired fiction or historical.
Jessi, I have a question for you. Do you reject the Quran? If so, why? Was Muhammed a liar? If not, why aren’t you a muslim? How should you decide whether or not the Quran is God’s word? Would it matter if the best historiography concluded Muhammed lied about it?
Okay. This confuses me. Do you apply this idea to the Quran, or other religious books?
Okay, I thought this is what I was saying. I wasn’t asserting a conclusion. I thought I made that clear. I just said, in the absence of compelling evidence I was (by default) forced to land on the fiction side. But I don’t conclude that. Additionally, I don’t think “science” is asserting anything except that the evidence for its historicity is not compelling enough. That is not the same as a conclusion that it is fiction. It’s an admission of lack of sufficient information (which is exactly my position). Perhaps I should have just said “I’m uncertain.” But to me it’s the same either way.
I think this is the important question too. It’s why I continue to value the BoM. But for LDS folks, it’s not the critical one. As Jessi so eloquently points out, for LDS, so much rides on the question of its historicity.
Please keep in mind how this makes you feel when considering how less-than-certain members of the church feel in Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society, or anytime someone gets up and says they “know” the church is true.
Your point is well taken, I understand to a degree what you’re saying. I learned as a pre-teen that I wasn’t a choice spirit because I wasn’t born in the covenant. This message came to me via unintended sermons at church: “You young people are choice spirits. You can know this because you were born into the covenant”.
But nowadays, with 40+ years of experience behind me, I rejoice when I hear someone testify who is higher on the mountain than I am. I try to learn everything I can from them. It is a source of joy to me.
Oops, my #29 should say: #28 jmb275
Thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it.
There are a few things you brought up that I would like to explore with you at another time. 😀
Fiction and BiV, I would guess it depends upon whether believing in a non-historical BoM menas that you do not believe in the JS and the restoration which is specifically asked.
My understanding is that leaders are supposed to read the questions as written without elaboration (though some may happen). In ths read it is similar, IMO, to questions about chastity or tithing. You ask the question straight without putting your own interpretation on it.
Well, I know, but as Jessi notes, a testimony of Joseph Smith and whether he was a prophet seems inextricably bound with your view on the Book of Mormon. If he wrote it himself (fiction) and then presented it as historical, what does this say about his ability to bring to pass a restoration? One may be able to accept this personally, but if one were to be vocal about it, would Church leaders see that as tainting his or her testimony of the Restoration?
Do you mean by vocal, someone who is publically in Church questioning historicity? If that is the case then I could understand a leader being concerned primarily because it might show, to that leader, a lack of concern for the other people present. If being vocal means speaking to a leader about it privately then I don’t think that is to be a concern.
I guess I personally don’t see them as inextricably linked. If the leader knows about it and you answer yes to the question he may not feel comfortable with it in the same way he may not feel comfortable with the amount of tithing you pay compared to what he thinks you earn. I am not saying that this would not cause problems in some situations. It would. But then the question is not about whether it is ok to doubt historicity but rather whether leaders feel comfortable with that doubt. If this is the question then it also needs to be asked about polygamy, blacks and the Priesthood etc. I thought your example BiV was excellent that as long as people are willing not to rock the boat (i.e. talk about it) then I think most leaders would be happy.
The question wasn’t directed at me, but yes, I do find truth in the Qu’ran. I do believe that Muhammad had some experience with an angel as he described, and that he was inspired by God to bring forth the Qu’ran. The story is remarkably similar to Joseph Smith’s story. If I reject Muhammad’s story, then why do I accept Joseph Smith’s? I also accept a wide array of the world’s religious writings are inspired and from God, even many that aren’t strictly Christian.
This obviously influences my feelings towards the BofM. I think that it, too, has truth. I think that Joseph Smith had some profound religious experiences and served as a conduit to bring words from God to man. Where I perhaps differ from the “traditional” testimony is probably more in exclusivity. I do NOT think that the BofM is exclusively a direct translation of ancient prophets’ words from the American continent – else why the KJV speech, for example. I also do NOT think that we have an exclusive “one true Church” lock on truth – where I perhaps differ from Jared’s “one path” analogy.
I am a better person for being LDS. But I think I could also be a better person if I truly followed Muslim precepts, or Hindu precepts, or Buddhist precepts, or Catholic precepts. By quirk of birth and geographical circumstances, I happen to be LDS, but I think there is A LOT of truth out there. I think God speaks through many, many people – not exclusively those in the LDS Church. And I think that heaven is going to be populated by many, many people – again, not exclusively those in the LDS Church.
In the “history” hypothesis, you have to evaluate the significance of the things that appear to be wrong in light of 21st Century knowledge. In the “fiction” hypothesis you have to evaluate the significance of the things it gets right despite the limits of 19th Century knowledge. Both hypotheses still do not do nearly well enough to be credible to me. The Book of Mormom both fits too well for one hypothesis and too poorly for the other based on what we now know.
Science cannot start accepting sloppy evidence for its own explanations of the “miraculous”, i.e., evidence so sloppy it would not accept the evidence in any other field of its own endeavors. In a story, we can have Sherlock Holmes say, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains — however improbable — must be the truth.” I would suggest that for science to be true to its own methods, even when dealing with the “miraculous”, it must say something else. “When you have eliminated the impossible, and whatever remains is still highly improbable, it is most probable that you have not yet imagined the truth.
A crappy scientific explanation for something doesn’t become less crappy as science by comparing it to “God did it!” and saying its the only other answer. It must still pass the standard statistical tests for probability and internal and external consistency we’d require as scientists for any other phenomena.
So I default to “anomaly” rather than “fiction”, Anomalies are where all the fun in science is to begin with, and this is a pretty important one to resolve. Ask the angry Mayans if theor power keeps moving North. 😀
I think that declaring scriptures as historical or non-historical is terribly beside the point. Why make a stand on something you don’t have to? That just throws things into question that most people will never question. We should be going to church to engage in self-reflection and improvement, not in reflecting on the flaws of everyone else. The value of scripture lies strictly in its applicability, not in its historicity.
“Express these things and you will find a wide range of sympathetic commenters. However, bear testimony with certainty, or bear testimony of the presence of the manifestations of the Spirit in your life, and you will be marginalized by some, and black balled by others. So it is. I’m not complaining because their are many others who appreciate it.”
This may be a function of the medium. Spiritual testimony, in my experience, carries more weight when it is expressed in person, rather than in writing. (Compare Ether 12:23-25.) On paper, it often doesn’t even come across as “testimony.” Testimony, in the legal profession, can’t be conclusory: You can’t just say “I know X is true” and leave it at that. You have to lay a foundation for your knowledge — that is, explain why you are in a position to know X is true, such as your having witnessed it at a certain time or place.
“No one has come up with evidence to refute it’s authenticity, which should be easy if it were and outright fraud.”
By “evidence,” I suspect you mean “convincing evidence.” The anachronisms alone are “evidence.” Maybe they can be explained away, or countered by other evidence, but under the present state of our understanding about ancient America, even the hackneyed horses & steel arguments are at least some quantum of evidence against the Book of Mormon.
Also, I question the assumption that conclusively establishing even an outright fraud is “easy.” In my experience, there are almost never true “smoking guns.” There are even some people who still think Michael Bellesiles and Alger Hiss are/were paragons of honesty.
It is not unknown for human beings to try and circumvent the demands of logical persuasion, by setting themselves up as authorities. Fair enough — we have to do that kind of thing if we have any interest in functioning at all; we simply don’t have enough time in mortality to become experts in every specialized field. We substitute inquiry into a professed authority’s qualifications (hopefully, coupled with at least a basic familiarity with the subject matter) for the full doctoral-level familiarity that a truly independent judgment would require.
In the sciences, we typically look for a professed authority’s background of education, employment, professional recognition, and publications. If the subject is controversial, we may be justified in looking for potential biases. All that information bears into our decision as to whether the man is more likely than not to know what he’s talking about, and allow his expertise to fill in for the practically-unfillable gaps in our own knowledge.
In things spiritual, this kind of scrutiny of a professed authority’s qualifications may just not be possible in the format of an anonymous Internet forum. We don’t know each other very well, and the spiritual presence that may radiate from a godly man doesn’t often project off the screen. What we are left with, is essentially conclusory declarations, objectionable for lack of foundation, colored by the declarant’s online persona. And our online selves are almost invariably less courteous than our personal selves.
“The value of scripture lies strictly in its applicability, not in its historicity.”
Except in the case of the Book of Mormon, part of the “applicability” — in particular, the degree of deference that ought to be afforded Church leaders’ counsel, and the salvific necessity of ordinances performed by their exclusive sacramental authority — may depend in large part on the Book of Mormon’s historicity.
I suppose it’s possible (i.e., “with God all things are”) that the introduction of a non-historical Book of Mormon could conceivably be part of the means by which God restored his exclusive sacramental authority to the earth, but it seems like a heckuva convoluted way to run a railroad, if you ask me. I could see a kind of Presbyterian Mormonism (i.e., congregational and with ordinances being only outward and tangible symbols of inward spiritual grace) being compatible with a non-historical Book of Mormon which contained great religious and moral truths, but the hierarchical, sacramental church that actually developed is hard to square with that notion.
“Jessi, I have a question for you. Do you reject the Quran? If so, why? Was Muhammed a liar? If not, why aren’t you a muslim? How should you decide whether or not the Quran is God’s word? Would it matter if the best historiography concluded Muhammed lied about it?”
I’m pretty ignorant of Islam and the Quran (it’s on my to-do list), so I’m really not qualified to judge whether I think Muhammad was a prophet or not. I’m glad that you brought him up though, since I think comparing him with Joseph Smith could help me better clarify my problem with ‘inspired fiction’ thinking.
IIRC, Muhammad’s prophetic career began when he claimed he was visited by the angel Gabriel in a cave, who gave him messages from God that he then wrote down. There are three possibilities here: 1- this really happened, in which case Muhammad was a true prophet (at least at the beginning) and we should consider what he has to say 2- It was a hallucination, in which case he was sincere but wrong, or 3- he made it up and is a fraud. It is impossible to prove one way or another.
Joseph Smith also claimed to be visited by an angel, but this one, rather than simply relaying messages to him from God, directed him to an existing physical record, left in a hill by a once-living ancient prophet. Muhammad’s experience was entirely subjective and personal. Joseph’s experience relies on the objective existence of actual plates, and actual prophets who actually wrote on those plates centuries ago. I think possibilities 1 and 3 can also apply to Joseph, but I don’t see how the 2nd could apply. He carried something around under a cloth, and showed it to people, and it was either a set of gold plates preserved since the times of Mormon, or a forgery he made himself. The claims that Joseph made differ from Muhammad and other prophets in such a way that he is either a true prophet, or a complete liar. When it comes to Joseph, you can’t dismiss the importance of historicity.
“Contrary to anti-Mormons, I think the pious fraud has value. There are other possibilities. For me personally, I don’t find Joseph to be a total liar. I respect his character. But I find the historical view to not be very convincing. So I tentatively say I’m very uncertain about the BoM, but accept the possibility of it being inspired fiction or historical.”
This is interesting. I think it makes sense to accept that God could work and teach through allegory and parables, and use existing cultural myths as a means of instruction, but I don’t see how he could endorse an outright lie. Could you tell me a bit more about why you’d be comfortable with the pious fraud explanation, and how that works? Which came first, the fiction, or the inspiration? Why would God work through a liar? Could you explain the details of how this works?
If you’re comfortable with the BoM being made up, since it helps people live better lives, what about polygamy? That’s an instance where Joseph claimed to have revelation, and where the end result was mostly negative for a lot of people. If it wasn’t a divine mandate, then Joseph was using people for sexual gratification. Could he still be a prophet if he used his authority in that way? Is claiming revelation to exploit your followers (polygamy) really worse than claiming revelation to get a following (BoM)?
“The value of scripture lies strictly in its applicability, not in its historicity.” – So there is no value in knowing that Christ actually visited the people in the americas? Or, one step further, you dont believe there is any value in the historicity of the NT, where the life of Christ is documented? As long as you apply the teachings, its not important whether or not Christ actually lived or walked the earth? Is that what you are actually saying? Based on the fact that there arent really any dramatically new teachings in the BOM (or even the Bible for that matter) then what is the point if historicity is not important? Why would God even pretend and construct some real world narrative to tell people to love one another?
Thomas: “Except in the case of the Book of Mormon, part of the “applicability” — in particular, the degree of deference that ought to be afforded Church leaders’ counsel, and the salvific necessity of ordinances performed by their exclusive sacramental authority — may depend in large part on the Book of Mormon’s historicity” I think there is merit in this argument, but it goes to the heart of what we go to church for. For some, historicity is a shortcut to decision-making. We no longer have to question whether a practice is valuable or edifying, only to justify how it is (even when it’s not really). Authority becomes a substitute for truth. If our primary reason for religion is personal edification, history is irrelevant; if it is salvation, then history and its implications are a matter of faith anyway.
nat: “As long as you apply the teachings, its not important whether or not Christ actually lived or walked the earth? Is that what you are actually saying?” I think my answer above to Thomas explains better what I’m saying. It is more of an issue if you are focused on authority, ordinances & salvation. If you are focused on personal edification, it is not that important. As an example, it doesn’t matter if Buddha lived; it’s about following the sayings.
But I did vote that a non-historical view being openly discussed at church is not something that would be helpful. I also feel that the assumption of or justification for a historical view is not edifying church discussion. Spending time on various apologetics or location theories of the BOM is not edifying spiritual content for a lesson. Fun for discussion on the b’nacle and around the kitchen table, maybe. But not front & center for spiritual growth.
“It is more of an issue if you are focused on authority, ordinances & salvation. If you are focused on personal edification, it is not that important.”
I think we agree.
For me, though, I can’t just focus on “edification” — on the Gospel of Jesus Christ as just one more philosophical school. Without the added layer of the Incarnation and Atonement — the notion of a Being outside of existence as we experience it intervening in history to lift us to His level — the sayings of Jesus are a mixture of wisdom and things that make absolutely no practical sense whatsoever. As a mere wisdom teacher, the Buddha may have him beat by a hair or two.
And I wouldn’t say that, for the salvation-oriented, the implications of history “are a matter of faith anyway.” I may be an outlier here, but I decline to define faith as Mark Twain did, as “belief in things you know ain’t so.” If I’m fairly convinced that a thing isn’t true — if the evidence is such that, if it were presented to me in a trial, I would vote to hang somebody or bankrupt him — then I can’t say I have “faith” in it. Faith, for me, is “the evidence of things not seen” — the things that by their nature can’t be measured empirically. So history is important, to the extent that it colors where I look for confirmation of my hope for God’s salvific intervention into the world. If it’s not in one place, it may be in another — and so I’d better not stop looking.
“Authority becomes a substitute for truth.”
Well, yeah. See #38 above. We all do this — although we should probably try our best to keep it to a minimum.
Thomas wrote: Spiritual testimony, in my experience, carries more weight when it is expressed in person, rather than in writing.
You said, in your experience–so that is true for you. However, the word of the Lord comes to mankind via words both written and spoken. Of course, words either written or spoken are just words. If they are not carried by the power of the Spirit into our hearts and mind then true testimony is not acquired. See 2 Nephi 33:1 and Moroni 10:4-5
Thomas – yes, I think we are in agreement. And when I say “a matter of faith anyway” I just mean are not proven true or false. There is evidence both directions, and ultimately we choose to believe or not based on our personal experience and feelings. Because it’s not proven by fact but rather by spiritual experience, historical truth does become a matter of faith rather than empirical evidence. But I do agree that we have to question our assumptions and minimize our reliance on them.
I think “Presbyterian Mormonism” is a fair description of how CofChrist has been evolving in the past 150 years. Maybe replace the congregationalism with a trend toward national confessions — sort of an Anglican model rather than Presbyterian.
If it’s not historical, its possible to be satisfied with “edifying”. Many in the CofChrist hold that position. But it doesn’t necessarily work the other way. Mattered a lot to the Jews whether Isaiah’s prophecies were historical, whether or not there was a historical Lehi to read them and make the call. It’s kind of a decision I have selfish reasons for being right about. 😀
Firetag – I would say that if it’s historical but not edifying, it’s not scripture; it’s certainly not useful. If it’s historical and edifying, best case scenario. But if it’s not historical and it’s edifying, also a win. If it’s neither historical nor edifying, then Mark Twain is right and it’s “chloroform in print.”
I follow the logic of your second, third, and fourth possibilities, but its the logical implausibility of the first possibility that troubles me. You know I can come up with some really wierd ways to put reality together, but I can’t think of any mechanism this side of angels-really-are-Vorlons (Babylon 5 for those who don’t follow science fiction) for an 1830 book to be a genuine historical artifact without it being “edifying”.
For example, let’s assume for the sake of argument, that it’s a vision of the past obtained through mystic vision. Why would I ONLY believe that the parts about the PAST would be valid. Or why would I NOT then pay attention to what JS saw about the future? I could certainly believe that JS went astray at some point (which is pretty much required for the CofChrist to justify being a separate denomination) or misinterpreted, but why would I use as my selection criteria anything about the nature of time when I’ve just said that the BofM broke rules about time in providing a mystic vision of the past?
Or if I am to believe it’s inspired metaphor rather than history, I still have to ask Who’s doing the inspiring and why. Yes, to bring us to Christ, but THAT need was just as true in the 15th Century as the 20th, and just as true in China as in Palmyra. Why then and there?
Please note that when I say “inspired” here, I’m not using this in the sense that “Einstein was inspired.” Relativity was not actively seeking to reveal itself.
Ah, the constant need to categorize aspects of the church… Truth, Falsity, Fiction, Non-Fiction–too many labels. the Spirit manifests truth. But is it truth or “truth”? Those who seek solely after the direction the Lord wishes them to go–they shall find their truth. Sometimes, gospel truths are separate and apart from temporal fact. Is the Book of Mormon an historical account? Is it simply “inspired fiction”? It is what it is; but what it does far outweighs what it is.
I relate best to Elder Holland
“I ask that my testimony of the Book of Mormon and all that it implies, given today under my own oath and office, be recorded by men on earth and angels in heaven. 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.”
Firetag – I do think that you point out an important distinction: between inspiration and revelation. Revelation is uncovering what was hidden. Inspiration is filling with the spirit.
Okay, I see what you’re saying now. You consider the fiction as a hypothesis as well as the historical position. I think that’s a valid way to look at it, although now there’s no null hypothesis, and hence no falsifiability, taking it directly out of the realm of science and into abductive reasoning. I suppose the basis for my comment was that there are two classifications of such a book in the typical categorization of books – fiction, and non-fiction. That’s why my null hypothesis was fiction. Nevertheless, I actually like your view better – anomaly. For me it makes no difference, as my point was entirely that the evidence for the historical view is not convincing for me.
Again, however, I’m interested in whether or not you apply this same attitude to other miracles, to other books, to other prophets. Are all of these anomalies for which you have no null hypothesis? Do you reject some prophets (even crazy cult ones), some religious books? If so, why?
When I studied the life of Muhammed I was struck by the similarities between him and Joseph Smith. I wrote a post about it here.
A few comments on your analysis of Joseph:
Keep in mind this is ONLY the testimony of Joseph himself. Since no one went with him, and hence there are no witnesses to that action, it’s hard to demonstrate. Further, for Joseph you also need to consider the D&C which was/is entirely subjective in the same way as Muhammed (well, except for the revelations in which others were involved, e.g. Rigdon).
I think these are good points. However, if what you say is true here, what about James Strang? He was led by an angel to a set of plates, and even took witnesses with him to dig them up. He showed them to people (in fact many more than Joseph), and even translated them. Shoot, he even has at least two modern scholars who claim that the plates seem to represent an authentic heretofore unknown language! He claimed Joseph appointed him to lead the church and took many of the Saints with him up to Michigan after Joseph’s death. There he led his religion (which still exists) for numerous years, complete with polygamy. Like Joseph, no one can prove his translation is not historical (plates are now lost) – yet I don’t know any faithful LDS who think so. Why? If you grant historicity to Joseph, why don’t you to James Strang? Why is James Strang’s story less credible? Or maybe you don’t know about Strang.
For me personally, James Strang was a real sticking point during my faith crisis. Anyway, I’m not trying to destroy faith here. It’s just that this subject is close to my faith crisis and these are many of the issues I wrestled with. I’m sure there are entirely adequate apologist responses for these concerns.
Sure. Essentially the question boils down to “does the end justify the means”? While my gut immediately says “NO” my mind says “well, actually there are some times when I do think the end justifies the means.” A scary proposition I know, but we do it all the time, even in the church. We whitewash our history in the church because we believe the truth may not be “useful” or may not communicate faith. Is this wrong? I dunno, I don’t like the whitewashed history, but I know of instances in which the truth was kept from people and it seemed justifiable. Keep in mind I’m not advocating the pious fraud, just admitting that I can see the utility in some cases.
Hard questions to answer. I don’t accept polygamy, nor do I personally believe that it was/is a divine mandate. But I also don’t think that this, by default, implies that Joseph was using people for sexual gratification. In fact, I don’t accept that either. I don’t think it was Joseph’s character. I think it would be hard for most LDS members to swallow if we learned tomorrow that Joseph just acted for his own sexual gratification. But I also think this is a direct result of our mythologizing him. We don’t talk about Joseph the person, we talk about Joseph the ideal prophet of the restoration. It’s a setup for failure. Even my bishop can knows this!! As far as I can gather, by reading the scriptures, God does not have any strict qualifications for a prophet. The types of characters we revere as prophets, spanning from the Old Testament to today, cover a very wide range of personality flaws, and sins (even egregious ones). I think it’s a recent tradition that we have such high expectations of our prophets.
As a sidenote, we are clearly diving into a level of detail in which we will soon need to more clearly define the words we’re using. What is a prophet? What is scripture? What is a pious fraud? We’re both assuming some colloquial definition here, but it will fail us if we continue.
I think “pious fraud” implies justifiable deception. To me, omitting unpleasant truth doesn’t quite meet the standard for deception, but I have a caveat emptor mentality.
I do think that we have to differentiate to some extent between JS, Strang, etc. But our differentiation should be based on more than mere ignorance of Strang’s existence or tribal prejudice against other religious traditions. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us what we accept and what we don’t, how we read the character of these individuals and our own subjective experiences. The overarching story is the same: a person seeks the divine and receives communion of some sort with the divine. The content of that, its interpretation, how it is used, and so forth – there’s the rub.
Thomas Kuhn wrote an influential book forty or so years ago in which he described the process of science as being punctuated by paradigm shifts in which an organizing principle of seeing the world suddenly gives way. Normal science, which prevails most of the time, consists of explaining things in terms of the reigning pardigm, and accounting for anomalies as errors on the part of the research. Gradually, however, the anomalies build up. First secondary elements in the paradigm give way; model parameters get modified or new parameters get invented. New paradigms are sought, but often lead to dead ends. Finally, some group of rebels comes up with a better central paradigm, there is the scientific equivalent of an earthquake, and after a few aftershocks, normal science resumes with a new central paradigm.
I think this kind of description is profitable in understanding everything about why we change careers to why we change faiths. Whether or not the Book of Mormon is historical, I certainly am. I am RLDS by default of birth. I became a physicist because I was commanded to study science in an inspired dream — long story — so my religion and my scientific passion remain in a self-reinforcing loop at the moment.
If I live long-enough, I’ll resolve anomalies like the Book of Mormon historicity in a new paridigm for my own belief that integrates my science and my religion through a different understanding of the relationship between the physical and spiritual themselves. Or I’ll find my approach is one of the dead ends.
Of course, if I was a believer in Islam by birth, or Hinduism, I’d see a different set of anomalies and be searching in a different direction. But the anomaly that ultimately needs to be explained to me in a new paradigm is not in the content of a particular religion, but that the Spirit seems to be at work in many of them.
“Why would God work through a liar?”
Because that’s all He’s got. Even the best of us has some liar in him, whether it be willingness to tell knowing falsehood, or half-conscious self-deception.
Sorry, all — I’m in one of my more Calvinist moods lately, taking “the natural man is an enemy to God” all the way into Total Depravity territory. I’ll probably feel more cheerful once this $@#$ sunburn goes away.
Agreed, I think there’s a fine line here. It’s up to us to take responsibility for our own actions/decisions. But I also cannot dismiss the plight of those born into situations in which there are strong cultural coercive forces to keep them in, when there is information available that would change their mind (not saying this is the case in the LDS church). To me, this is the hallmark of deception – keeping information back that would likely change the mind of the buyer. And I think for most of us we have a good intuition for where that line is.
Absolutely! Additionally, I would add that it’s not fair to read the LDS (or apologist) version of Joseph Smith’s story, and then read a critical analysis of Strang. We gotta compare apples to apples. But I think there are an awful lot of similarities in their stories. I think Strang was more like Joseph in the later Nauvoo period – a more commanding, strong leader as opposed to humble beginnings. Strang was much better trained that Joseph. Yet in many ways, I find Strang’s story more believable. That he had a set of plates is beyond dispute.
I am sincerely interested in someone explaining why they believe Joseph Smith’s story and not James Strang’s outside of faith alone. I mean that sincerely, because this was a major issue for me in my faith crisis and one that I have been unable to resolve. I have read FAIR’s analysis, and I’ve looked at the Strangite version. It looks an awful lot like an anti-Mormon vs. FAIR analysis only vice-versa.
Here’s my favorite lines:
I was RLDS until 1999. Many of their educational materials concerning THE BOOK OF MORMON sought to gradually alter a traditional (historical) viewpoint. Here’s how the process usually went:
Is it more important how we got the book or what it says? (of course people would choose the latter).
So you can believe in THE BOOK OF MORMON without believing it’s an authentic history? (yeah, I guess it’s possible).
And the focus should be on the message of the book instead of what Joseph Smith and others claimed it to be? (I suppose)
Guess what I discovered? Many who advocated this “modern” viewpoint later stated that they did not believe in THE BOOK OF MORMON in ANY way, they didn’t use it, and certainly didn’t bear testimony of it. In fact, they were EMBARRASSED BY IT.
I have been able to discuss THE BOOK OF MORMON with skeptics by setting aside its claim of ancient origin (briefly) and using its 1830 publishing date to show several examples of prophetic insight contained in it.
jmb: “I am sincerely interested in someone explaining why they believe Joseph Smith’s story and not James Strang’s outside of faith alone.” Mostly because Strang has crazy-person eyes! I’ll be honest, I would have followed Strang in the succession crisis based on his anti-polygamy views alone. He lost credibilty, IMO, when he reversed position on that a bit late in the game, which is also what led folks to leave the Strangites. But he was initially running a sect almost as big as the sect that followed BY (BY = 55K, Strang = 40K). If Strang hadn’t reversed on that position, I think we’d see things very differently now. As reprehensible as I find polygamy, BY was at least consistent. But I wouldn’t have gone west with him under those conditions.
“The book claims to be a historic record, and Joseph claimed it was translated from literal gold plates. I think it makes sense to allow for inconsistencies and mushiness when it comes to the exact details of the ‘translation’ process and the ultimate product – the book itself admits to the possibility of errors and “the mistakes of men” – but to conclude that it isn’t based in some way on truth?”
“YOU don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly — Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is — and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.”
Best reason I’ve heard yet!
Yeah, I can see that. I’m not so sure that this makes him less credible than some of the failed prophecies make Joseph though. I think there is a tendency as LDS members to magnify the mistakes of someone like Strang and overlook Joseph’s. I think the issue of credibility is an important one. Obviously I wasn’t there and don’t know the men so I can’t make character judgments. But from my reading of the apologist versions of their stories I can’t differentiate their character enough to determine why I would believe one over the other.
Yep. In fact, for me, I would say this, coupled with the positive situation that resulted for the Brighamite group is what leads us to accept Brigham’s group as the “right” one. Additionally, since I live in MI, I was able to do a bit of research on Strang from a different perspective. His decision to gather on Beaver Island was not a wise one. It’s a very difficult place to try and live, much more so than the Salt Lake Valley. Furthermore, he was encumbered by opposition from Michiganders much like Joseph was in Missouri/Illinois, and this is what led to his downfall. Young didn’t have this problem since there was no establishment in the Salt Lake Valley.
For me, the only bit of evidence that is even suggests that Strang wasn’t the real deal is the lack of novelty of Strang’s claims. In fact FAIR uses this claim ad nauseum to conclude that Strang was just a copy cat. Clearly this is no proof of the falsehood of Strang’s claims, but it does cast a slight bit of doubt on his tale. But alas, beside the BoM (and I suppose many would even dispute the novelty of the BoM), Joseph’s claims/revelations were not novel either.
I have received great inspiration and help from the BoM, but have I seen any convincing archaeological evidence? No, I haven’t. Ironically, the better evidence is all Old World, in the Arabian Peninsula. I have prayed about the BoM, read it every day, and received what I believe to be a witness of it. I was inactive for some time, but reading it drew me back into the church.
For me, one of the biggest problems is not the horse, but the honey bee. There isn’t any evidence of them pre-Columbus, yet if they had been introduced, some of them would have gone wild within a short time. Evidence of pre-Columbian horses is scanty (there are one or two hints), but to be fair, I don’t think the BoM ever mentions horses being ridden. It does mention chariots though, in connection with horses. Elephants are an even bigger problem.
When the BoM talks about cities for example, they seem to have been set up remarkably quickly. For me, this would suggest that if they were real, they would have been villages by our standards, and not huge places. If the settlements were smaller, then this would widen the available choice.
Then there’s the problem of a lack of obvious Mesoamerican cultural references – other than a mention of fiery serpents (which is from Isaiah), we don’t see mentions of the jaguar (or any cats as far as I can see) or butterfly, both of which had major parts in the local culture. We hear of the Lamanites slipping into iniquity, but not human sacrifice, which became very prevalent in the region.
Not that Joseph Smith said a thing about it being set in Mesoamerica. The evidence I’ve seen points to his associating it with his home area. I have seen nothing in his writings to suggest that he ever thought that there were TWO Hill Cumorahs. In fact, there’s still quite a body of people who have the BoM as being set in the Finger Lakes region. There was some kind of settled society in the region (as opposed to nomadic, or tent culture) Contrary to popular belief, we wouldn’t even need to dig up the area around Hill Cumorah, we could actually take aerial pictures to ee if there was a battle site down there.
I think a lot of the anachronisms, but not all, can be dealt with through the question of translation. The BoM is supposed to have come through one, maybe two, maybe three translations. Some of it is supposed to have been written in Hebrew, then translated into Reformed Egyptian. And that’s before we get into the question of what Moroni’s native language was (not Hebrew or Egyptian, that’s for sure), or what the Jaredites spoke and wrote in. I therefore don’t have a problem with modernisms in the book, or “adieu”, or even steel. I suspect that the actual names of the characters, if they existed would have been Hebraicised.
In the end, the historical angle doesn’t actually matter that much to me. I don’t know, and perhaps never will know what Isaiah looked like, what shoe size Nephi was, or if Abraham wrote in hieroglyphics, but does that stop me from enjoying the BoM and receiving spiritual insight from it? No. However, I can’t say the same for the Koran.
If you think James Strang was a copycat, what about Matthew Gill (still living!).
Check out the Book of Jeraneck. (PDF is downloadable). This is how NOT to copy Joseph Smith. I think Strang did a better job.
Here is the “Prophet” Gill explaining the Book of Jeraneck. His accent, in case you are wondering is “Black Country” or English Midlands. He’s from Derby, bang in the middle of England.
The community of christ is a breakway church which no longer accepts the Book of Mormon as real History.
However the Brighamite church dominates the UK and is far larger, it has 190,000+ members, 326 congregations and 2 temples. Being in the Brighamite LDS church in the UK, the book of mormon is still taught as real history and not questioned to be otherwise.
So no, your article is misleading.
Joseph Smith Jr., test his prophetical title: Deut. 18, he fails!
I have taken the time to study the history behind the Book of Mormon and in doing so I have found many interesting facts. Like the journey taken by Lehi and his family. Their description of the lands they traveled exist even today. Some of the cities where the Lamanites and Nephites lived can be found today in Central and
South America. History of many that separated from the Nephites and Lamanites because they left by sea, can be found in the Polynesian Islands. In Dominican Republic when Columbus discovered the Americas, the natives called him the white god. In the Book of Mormon we learn that Christ appeared to the Lamanites whom had dark skin just as the native Dominicans. There are many more historical facts that exist but anyone who wants to have an opinion should consider a deep personal study of the Book of Mormon first to be able to find them. “The Stick of Joseph on Trial” a true story written by Jack H. West. Its the story of a man whom while attending school to become a lawyer choose The Book of Mormon as the topic he would defend or persecute against his class mates the teacher being the judge.
You are all fools! The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true! I have felt it in my heart & the Holy Ghost has testified it is true! I HATE websites like these when you start discussing a topic you don’t understand! Ask a member of the church, a missionary of the church or go to lds.org if you want to know what REALLY happens there! Take it from me, a Mormon.
i have a testimony that the mormon church is true. even though the church building hasn’t been on the earth for very long, doesn’t mean the religion hasn’t been their, existing in the hearts and spirits of the righteous. deep inside everyone knows what is best for them. we all have different opinions, and we all may make some pretty serious mistakes, but no matter how many times we sin, jesus christ is always their right beside you, he’s just waiting for you to knock on his door. i don’t remember exactly how it went but i really like it: ask and it shall be answered(?), knock and it shall be opened unto you, seek and it shall given(?). i don’t remember it exactly, but it is an amazing verse. think about it…
@Armando – Excuse me??!!! Please stop spreading lies and ignorance about MY POLYNESIAN ancestors’ hailing from the Americas (Lamanites). It’s been scientifically proven that we come from South East Asia, many many thousand years ago. Wake up, people!
y’all need to read “By the Hand of Mrmon” by historical Teryl Givens. He makes the case that the Book of Mormon’s historical accuracy is paramount, bc of how Joseph Smith (and the witnesses) tesfied of its coming. If it is not a genuine record, then Mormonism is false. Read Givens. it’s a good book.
To believe in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon you have to crawl over or under or around the facts and evidences of physics, chemistry, biology, genetics, geology, anthropology, linguistics, zoology, paleontology, archaeology, metallurgy, history etc. And DNA of the Native Americans of course is the loudest testament against the Book of Mormon.
Whatever it’s worth the RLDS Church’s membership divided in the 1980’s, the main reason was the revelation that women could be ordained to the priesthood, though other issues were related to the church’s efforts to standardize doctrine making it more parallel to mainstream Christianity. The RLDS Church became the Community of Christ in 2001, and two other groups have emerged after the 1980’s schism. Originally branches of the church which believed the RLDS Church leadership to be in apostasy began to separate. These groups quite often purchased land to build on near their previous branch and retained the same name. Through the efforts of many former members of the RLDS Church a lot of branches have been built on the west side of Missouri with the majority in or around Independence. Some branches were able to procure their original facilities through either purchasing the property from the Community of Christ or through lawsuits challenging their status as the RLDS Church being that they have changed their name, their basic beliefs, and officially declared themselves a new church. The independent branches call themselves Restoration Branches, some further define it to the Restoration Branches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These branches believe in the teachings of Joseph Smith Jr. and the Book of Mormon. They also believe that Joseph Smith Jr. did not practice or endorse polygamy and that Joseph Smith III was the legitimate successor to his Father Joseph Smith Jr. These branches believe that the presidency of the RLDS Church became corrupted and that this corruption forced them to separate. The members of the Restoration Branches hope for a time when a righteous presidency can be restored, though there is not a strong consensus as to how the presidency must be restored. The priesthood of the Restoration Branches generally do not ordain priesthood beyond the office of Elder, as they believe that the presidency should call these high offices. The JCRB the Joint Conference of Restoration Branches, when is an organization of multiple branches who believe that certain offices like the office of Seventy can be self-proliferating, in that Seventies can call other Seventies. The Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a group which emerged during the early years of the Restoration Branches, this groups chose Frederick Larsen, a descendent of Joseph Smith Jr. to be their prophet president. This church maintains the same priesthood structure as the RLDS Church and believe in the Book of Mormon and that Joseph Smith Jr. was a prophet. Amongst these groups the Community of Christ (CoC) are the only ones to reject the Book of Mormon, each other group believe in the Book of Mormon as history. The Book of Mormon Foundation was created by members of
Restoration Branches to help advance research and education about the Book of Mormon. The RLDS Publishing House, Herald House, has as an effort to de-emphasize the Book of Mormon and Inspired Version have discontinued their 3 in 1 scriptures (Inspired Version of the Bible, Book of Mormon RLDS 1908 Edition, and The [RLDS] Doctrine & Covenants). They now prefer to use the KJV Bible which has replaced the 3 in 1 as the gift given to all new members. The Restoration Branches either use their old scriptures or a 3 in 1 produced by Price Publishing Company (independent restoration publisher). I hope this provides a little insight into the status of the RLDS Church and the various splitter groups position on the Book of Mormon.