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.