The New CES Book of Mormon Institute Manual: Part 1

Aaron R. aka RicoMormon 44 Comments

BoM Pics

The Church are in the process of publishing an updated version of the Book of Mormon Institute Manual for CES classes. (They seem to be pretty busy at the moment!!!) It should be published by the end of the year.  What prompted these changes and what do you hope to see from the new Manual?

There have been two previous manuals that have been produced from correlation committees, the first one I have seen but could not now find on the internet.  The second manual was much smaller than the first and was published with an understanding that a new full manual would be forthcoming.

Previously I vicariously posted on ‘Academic freedom in the Church’ at MM, under James’ name.  The topic of that discussion centered around whether the Church has experienced a shift toward more tolerance of differing views in light of recent press statements and interviews.  This is a timely follow on.  If there is more freedom and diversity in the Church, what would be the evidence for this in this manual, if at all?   On hearing about this new manual I thought about what changes there might be?  I considered whether the Church would present a more scholarly and diverse view of the Book of Mormon in this manual or would they retain McConkie and Fielding Smith as the ‘ghost writers’ by including a substantially larger proportion of quotations from them than others.  What do you think?

Further, why do a new manual at all?  

I know that Innoculation has been a running theme through the Bloggernacle as has discussion of the Book of Mormon more generally and therefore I appreciate that there is a wide spectrum of views concerning what the Book of Mormon is and how it came to us.  With this is mind what would you like to see in this new manual?  What writers or ideas would you like to see more of?  Should there be more discussion of the translation (or revelation or writing) process?  Is there a need to have a greater discussion of the Witnesses?  What should be the intent of these manuals and how would they serve that purpose?

Comments 44

  1. I have mentioned this in other comments. It will be very interesting to see what they do with it. There is obviously a large problem with the youth / young adults “drifting away” from activity. This is a natural time in life to question your basic beliefs. Things have changed significantly in the past 10-15 years regarding access to information. Prior to that, the only source about the LDS Church was essentially from the Church itself, unless one specifically went out and sought “anti-Mormon” writings. Now, historical and other information is readily available, and importantly, documented with accepted LDS sources.

    A simple example I just commented on in a different category and which you mention near the end of your article is “translation”. If the Church insists on the portrayal of JS as looking at the golden plates and translating the actual characters written there into English, they are going to perpetuate a problem. It is readily documented that most of the time he wasn’t actually looking at the plates, and sometimes they weren’t even in the same room. Why not accept the historical facts for what they are and state that JS was an inspired prophet of God who, through miraculous means, used inspiration from the plates as well as sources such as the KJV of the Bible to bring us the scripture we revere as the Book of Mormon. This doesn’t take away from JS being a prophet. This doesn’t take away from the message of the Book of Mormon. This solves all of the detractors nitpicking about “changes” in the BofM when it was “translated” word for word, with the “next words” not appearing unless it was written exactly. This solves the problem about God speaking to the Nephites in 16th century vernacular. Someone could merely focus on the CONTENT of the BofM. Is it truth? Does it speak to your heart? Is it from God?

    Unfortunately, given the current generation of leadership raised on the right-wing teachings of BRM and JFS, I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

  2. Nonetheless, Harris said he believed the Book of Mormon to be true. In the revelation given the three witnesses before they viewed the plates they were told, ‘it is by your faith that you shall view them’ and ‘ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith Jr. has seen them, for it is by my power that he has seen them.’ There is testimony from several independent interviewers, all non-Mormon, that Martin Harris and David Whitmer said they saw the plates with their ‘spiritual eyes’ only.

    I would think for the manual to be more open honest and candid it would need to touch on things like the above. That its possible the Golden plates never existed but were allegorius to their faith they had in Joseph Smith as a prophet. That maybe it doesn’t matter that they were real!! God works on a spiritual level and material spiritual things are seen in our minds eye.

  3. It would be nice if the following also were addressed in the manuals as these will certainly come up in discussion

    1. Linguistics. Why, if the American Indians were descended from Lehi, was there such diversity in their languages, and why were there no vestiges of Hebrew in any of them?
    2. Why does the Book of Mormon say that Lehi found horses when he arrived in America? The horse did not exist in the Americas until the Spaniards brought them over in the sixteenth century.
    3. Why was Nephi stated to have a bow of steel? Jews did not have steel at that time, and no iron was smelted in the Americas until the Spanish colonization.
    4. Why does the Book of Mormon mention “swords and cimeters” when scimitars (the current spelling) did not come about until the rise of Islam after 500 A.D.?
    5. Why does the Book of Mormon mention silk, when silk did not exist in the Americas at that time?

  4. James:

    Many of these issues would go away if the Book of Mormon was presented as an “inspired” document from Joseph Smith as opposed to a direct “translation”. If Joseph Smith was expressing inspired ideas using the language he was accustomed to (including his background reading the KJV of the Bible), these anachronisms don’t matter.

  5. James, it would also be nice if there was a clear cut answer to any of your propositions. Do scientists really even know when the horse disappeared from America?

  6. I’ve glanced through the new manual. I can’t recall any of the content or whether JFS and BRM are cited any less or not. It really didn’t make any impression at all.

    James, I don’t know what you’re cut-and-pasting from, but several of those are either wrong or vastly over-simplified. The scimitar, for example, is simply a curved blade. Check out HALOT, the standard scholarly dictionary of biblical Hebrew, under kdn “kidon” and you’ll see “scimitar.” Or consult G. Molin, “What is a kidon?” in Journal of Semitic Studies 1956 1(4):334-337, who concludes that a kidon in Biblical Hebrew (and thus far predating Islam) is a scimitar and should be translated as such.

    Problem is, what many people take as common knowledge or “historical facts” is simply ignorance.

  7. #3 James–

    You mentioned several conflicts with current science and what the Book of Mormon tells its readers.

    The list used to be much bigger, but in the years that have passed since the publication of the BoM many of the conflicts have evaporated with new scientific discoveries.

    Hugh Nibley’s efforts show the Book of Mormon to be an authentic ancient document. I attended a conference in the 1980’s where noted researchers came to BYU and I heard them say the BoM has many elements to support it as an ancient document.

    You might obtain Michael Ash’s book “Of Faith and Reason”. He list 80 evidences supporting the prophet Joseph Smith, some of which include Book of Mormon evidence.

    As you would expect there is nothing scientific that irrefutably proves the Book of Mormon’s claim, but there is supporting evidence that is persuasive.

  8. Thanks Nitsav.

    BTW, I’ve climbed Bell Mountain, the source of steel in the high desert of Saudi Arabia (right outside of Abba) that was in use over the last two thousand years.

    It wasn’t all meteorite based steel back then.

    Though the cut and paste lists can be tiresome, they remind people that for some

    (a) it is cut and dried
    (b) some times it needs the long answer.

  9. BTW, should we go with the witnesses who were cited by the Encyclopedia Britannica for the “fact” that Martin Harris had recanted, or Martin Harris and the statement he had published disagreeing with that? Narratives are interesting things.

  10. 9. The wording is Joseph’s, not the witnesses. Their own accounts paint the experiance as a ‘spiritual’ event.

    This has profound implications on the reality of the plates. Had they existed in reality it would not have been very hard to obtain independent verification of their nature from sources more disinterested then the Whitmer and Smith families. Furthermore, they would have been the artifacts of man and I see no reason for a angel to take them away.

  11. wow, lots of apologists today. Any reason to think the manuals will continue the pattern of recent publications, i.e. less apologetic and less controversial as in the recently published Gospel Doctrine manual?

  12. Mike S

    I heard some where the church is battling with a 20% retention rate amoung the YSA’s up to 30 do you know where we could get information on that.

  13. Below is a brief of Martin Harris which isn’t from a Church Friendly Web Page but its footnoted and documented well. They go through all the witness’s and do similar. I know the manuals main purpose is to be faith promoting but its also nice not to have a totally white washed view of the characters of the witness’s

    # Was known for being very unstable religiously. Over his whole life he changed his affiliation over 13 times.
    # Martin Harris was first a Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationist, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon.(Mormonism Unveiled, E. D. Howe, 1834, pp. 260-261)
    # After Martin Harris’ excommunication in 1837, he changed his religion eight more times, going from the Shakers to one Mormon splinter group to the next, and back to the main group in 1842.(Improvement Era, March 1969, p. 63 and Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 164, Brigham Young)
    # In 1846, (after his excommunication in 1837) Martin Harris was preaching among the Saints in England for the Apostate James J. Strang. (Church Chronology, Andrew Jensen, 1899, p. 31; Millennial Star, vol. 8, Nov. 15, 1846, pp. 124-128.)
    # He signed his name to a statement: “Testimony of three witnesses: We Cheerfully certify…The Lord has made it known to me that David Witmer is the man. David was then called forward, and Joseph and his counselors laid hands upon him, and ordained him to his station, to succeed him…He will be prophet, seer, Revelator and Translator before God.” Signed Martin Harris, Leonard Rich, Calvin Beebe. Of course this never came to pass as Brigham young became Joseph Smith’s successor.
    # The Mormons stated of Martin Harris and a few other men within the pages of the church’s official newspaper at the time, “a lying deceptive spirit attend them…they are of their father, the devil…The very countenance of Harris will show to every spiritual-minded person who sees him, that the wrath of God is upon him.” Latter-Day Saint’s, Millennial Star, Vol 8 pp124-128.
    # Phineas Young wrote to his older brother Brigham Young on December 31, 1841, from Kirtland, Ohio: “There are in this place all kinds of teaching; Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was for the Book of Mormon” (Martin Harris – Witness and Benefactor of the Book of Mormon, 1955, p. 52)
    # Martin Harris testified that his testimony for Shakerism was greater than it was for Mormonism. The Shaker’s “Sacred Roll and Book” was also delivered by an angel. (Case Against Mormonism, Tanner, Vol. 2, pp. 50-58; Martin Harris-Witness & Benefactor, BYU 1955 Thesis, Wayne C. Gunnell, p.52.)
    # In the Elder’s Journal for August, 1838, Joseph Smith denounces Martin Harris as “so far beneath contempt that to notice him would be too great a sacrifice for a gentleman to make. The Church exerted some restraint on him, but now he has given loose to all kinds of abominations, lying, cheating, swindling, and all kinds of debauchery.”(Gleanings by the Way, J. A. Clark, pp. 256-257)
    # Like David Whitmer, Martin Harris later testified that he did not see the plates literally with his fleshly eyes: He said he saw the plates with “the eyes of faith and not with the natural eyes”. This we believe is the truth but it should eliminate him automatically as a witness none the less. This of course proves Mormonism is a fraud and that the Nephi Plates never existed and no one actually saw them. (The Braden & Kelly Debate, p. 173)

  14. I think that in some ways the church has just totally moved away from discussing the issues above. For example, the used to use Nibley’s approach to the BoM and also Lehi in the Desert alot more than they have recently because of the problems with scholarship becoming out-dated.

    Moreover, because all the views differ on these things it is difficult to present a balanced view. If they fall down on one side or the other they will have problems especially with regards to the issues raisd by James #3. people will either think they are not being honest or others will be upset because they think the church is presenting a faith-promoting point of view which does seem to be their aim.

    The details of the new Book and a comparison with the old is my part 2, which will be published next week. I can almost hear the excitement.

    However, discussing issues of the Translation and the Witnesses I think would be valuable. Primarily because I think there is well documented discrepancies. I don’t really think that the Witnesses spiritually seeing the plates is a strong argument, IMO but it is worth being aware of. the problem is that I think in some ways the same problem remains of how do they present the material.

    A personal thing is that I think if the BoM manuals are to retain the spiritual message focus which is not necessarily a bad thing then I believe they need to look outside of the GA’s a little more. There is some genuinely inspiring material out there. Even yesterday I listened to Kathleen Flake talked about the PoGP at Sunstone, it was brilliant and is well-worth including the institute manual.

  15. James,
    In addition to Stephen’s comments, so what? You list a bunch of things about Martin Harris, but apparently without a point. He was a religious seeker? Yeah. His life doesn’t present a clean narrative of a Perfect Person? So? Seriously, what is your underlying point?

  16. I hope you don’t mind my cutting in with a question. I am finding your discussion most interesting (I found you on Google Alert). You refer to two previous manuals and I wonder when they were published. I have a copy of an Institute Manual 121-122 on the Book of Mormon dated 1980. would that be the first or the second edition? Thanks

  17. #3 James–

    This may interest you.

    From this mornings church news online.
    Paleontologist defends the Book of Mormon
    By R. Scott Lloyd
    Church News staff writer
    Published: Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009

    Though the Book of Mormon was never intended as a scientific texts, there are a number of items in the book that pertain to science and, hence, are subject to criticism by detractors, paleontologist Wade E. Miller noted at the conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.

    Brother Miller, retired professor of geology and paleontology at BYU, said he was surprised to learn that apparently many thousands of people have written to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., asking whether they had information confirming or refuting the Book of Mormon. Prior to 1998, the Smithsonian’s Anthropology Outreach Office would respond with a form letter of several pages purporting to refute aspects of Book of Mormon content bearing on science. A more recent response letter has been greatly shortened and toned down, and appears to back away from earlier claims, but still is not an endorsement for the Book of Mormon.

    In his presentation, Brother Miller took up some of the points in the earlier letter to rebut arguments against the Book of Mormon pertaining to science.

    Steel in the Book of Mormon

    “All it takes to produce steel is to take iron, and with enough heat provided to that iron in the presence of charcoal, you can produce steel,” Brother Miller said. He added that the technology should have been available to the Jaredites, who immigrated to the western hemisphere from the old world.

    Likewise the Nephites emigrated from Jerusalem, where steel has been found from ancient times,

    Brother Miller said ancient evidences of iron and steel are rare, since they rust. However, such evidence of steel manufacture among Jaredites and Nephites may yet be found, he said.

    Glass in the Book of Mormon

    That Smithsonian archaeologists would use glass as a criticism for the book is puzzling to Brother Miller, he said. “If they read the book carefully, they would find out it never does make a claim of having glass in the new world,” he said, although he assumes the peoples probably did have it.

    Windows mentioned in the Jaredite barges in the Book of Ether need not have been comprised of glass, but could have been of other materials such as mica, he said. “But where are they at this time? They are in the Old World still, Also, when the brother of Jared obtained the stones that appeared like glass, to light the barges, they were in the Old World.”

    Linen and Silk in the Book of Mormon

    Linen is a word that can be used in both a specific and a general sense, Brother Miller said, though some LDS botanists believe flax could have been brought over for the production of linen. “But whether it’s cotton or flax, they still could be calling the same thing, linen,” he said.

    Silk technology goes back to at latest 3000 B.C. he said. And worms closely related to the silk worm were in the New World, he said.

    Food Plants in the Book of Mormon

    Old World grains such as wheat and barley could have been brought over by the Jaredites and Nephites, he said. “But if they’re not cultivated, if they’re let go for a long time, they don’t look like the cultivated plant.” In any case, he said, evidence has been found in the United States relatively recently for the ancient use of barley.

    “Sheum,” a word that occurs in the Book of Mormon that could not have been known to Joseph Smith, was later found in the ancient Assyrian or Akkadian language to denote barley or other types of grain, he noted.

    Cattle in the Book of Mormon

    Archeological exploration in caves in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico have yielded remains of domesticated cattle with artifacts in some cases, and in one case even an extinct horse, Brother Miller said.

    “But we have our own kinds of cattle,” he noted, adding that when the Spanish explorers came, they called the native bison “cows.” Some animals, such as the shrub-ox, were native to Mesoamerica but are now extinct, he said.

    Swine in the Book of Mormon

    The extinct peccary is a New World animal closely related to the Old World pigs, and might have been familiar to Nephites as the swine mentioned in the Book of Mormon, Brother Miller said.

    Horses in the Book of Mormon

    Fossils in America show that the horse was present many millions of years before it was reintroduced by Columbus in his second voyage of 1493, he said.

    Brother Miller also spoke of evidence for elephant-like creatures in the New World and other animals resembling sheep and goats.

  18. To my understanding, which is not complete in this matter, the 1980 copy is the first manual (it should have a brown cover). The second manual, which is the second image in my banner was published in 1996 according to this link

    There is very little on that first manual available unless you have the hard copy. There is a new one that is currently being published. Probably in a few weeks. I had access to a draft copy a few months ago but it has taken me some time to get both posts ready.

  19. Actually, I have just looked and the manual is available online now. Which means that my next post becomes kind of redundant. Ahhh well… it just means you can criticise my comments even further.

  20. #12,

    So you’re saying the 8 witnesses signed their names to a document that saying they hefted the plates when in fact they really didn’t, but signed their names anyway. Righhhhht.

  21. James:

    I don’t have specific documented information on YSA activity rates, as I doubt the church publishes those numbers officially. Anecdotally, in talking with friends and family involved with YSA in various ways, the number reported tends to be in the 15-20% range it appears you have heard as well. This obviously doesn’t prove anything, but it’s likely fairly accurate.

  22. Thanks Aaron. I have a hard copy of the 1980 edition although somewhat tattered. If I get the second edition and then the third when it comes out I can look out for how the story develops.

    I find it interesting that there is open reference to “the right wing teachings of BRM and JFS”. I recall that, once upon a time, they were regarded more as the teachings of the prophets; how times have changed. I am surprised at the surprise expressed by prof. Miller at the long-standing and quite legitimate interest in what the Smithsonian has to say about the BOM. I thought this was common knowledge; it certainly was in my day. Perhaps it was a device for introducing his talk.

    I am also struck by the apparent division some make between “faith-promoting” commentary and “academic”. It is I think a product of the modern era and reflects an age when people don’t expect faith to have anything intelligent or intelligible to cotnribute to real understanding. What are we meant to do when faith demainds we believe something that acadaemia shows to be false or when academia presses upon us ideas that faith tells us are wrong? Is it alright to “believe” in the BOM if evidence calls it into question?

  23. 27. You would be amazed at what men are capable of.

    You are ascribing ‘your’ definition of reality on men who were deeply involved in the occult and mysticism. I have no doubt that what they ‘witnessed’ fit within their definition of reality.

    What one can see with spiritual eyes, one can heft with spiritual arms.

  24. #29: Re: several comments

    In regard to the “right wing teachings” quote (which was quoted from me), it is perhaps a clumsy shorthand way of talking about a complicated issue. In any organization, there are people across an entire spectrum of thoughts and beliefs. An example may help shed light on the general concept. In the early 20th century, there was the same debate about creationism vs evolution that exists today. There were “high placed” General Authorities on both sides. There were quotes about pre-Adamites. There was support for evolution. There were general authorities who talked about seeing “fossils in stones from Adam’s altar”. There was also the other end of the spectrum. The “official” policy of the Church is that there is no official policy. They merely affirm that we are children of God. However, this was decades ago. With the rise of JFS and his book countering evolution, he equated it with deception of Satan. This was echoed by BRM in Mormon Doctrine. Because the people on that end of the spectrum (call it literalist / right-wing / whatever you want) we the most vocal for several decades, the opposite interpretation has essentially been suppressed.

    In McKay’s biography, there are also 2 wings of the church represented when it comes to things like blacks and the priesthood. There were apostles who argued that it wasn’t really a doctrine but merely a practice, and could be changed. There was another view that it was doctrine and, as BRM expounded, blacks wouldn’t get the priesthood until the Millennium or beyond but were fence-sitters. The “right-wing” or whatever viewpoint won out until there was enough of a generational change that a revelation could happen.

    Similar things happened throughout the church of that era. Ezra Taft Benson and the Birch society. BYU and all of the draconian dress standards and purges under Wilkinson. Etc.

    The net result of all of this: the balancing viewpoints in the Church were effectively suppressed. By default, the current generation of church leaders are those who “rose through the ranks” during that time, serving as bishops and stake presidents and etc. Those who agreed with the prevailing philosophy were chosen for the leadership positions. Those who agreed with earlier church leaders, but not the ones at the time were “out-of-step”. While not necessarily considered apostate, they weren’t chosen to move up the ranks. Our leadership now is therefore extremely conservative.

    I apologize for the term “right-wing” if that is offensive. I am perfectly willing to adopt a less confrontational term for the conservative philosophy that grew out of that era and which marginalized people like Lowell Bennion, etc.

  25. #29: ANother response

    Briefly: The dichotomy between “faith-promoting” and “academic” comes from the current Church leadership. In the 80’s, when “academic” people were publishing historical facts about the church, some of them wren’t necessarily “faith-promoting”. The church closed the archives back down. Boyd K Packer and others said things about only saying things that were faith promoting, not whether they were true.

  26. is worth a visit.

    Quoting from a similar article at FAIR

    Consider: on separate occasions Harris also claimed that prior to his witnessing the plates he held them (while covered) “on his knee for an hour and a half”[3] and that they weighed approximately fifty pounds.[4] It seems unlikely– from his physical descriptions as well as his other testimonies and the testimonies of the other two witnesses—that he meant to imply that the entire experience was merely in his mind. On one occasion, for example, critics charged Harris with delusion—that he had merely imagined to see an angel and the plates. Martin responded by extending his right hand:

    Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[5]

    David Whitmer helps clear up the “spiritual” vs. “natural” viewing of the plates. Responding to the interviewer who questioned Harris, Whitmer replied,

    Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.[6]

    Critics are again accustomed to seeing “spiritual” as either implying something totally “Other” from physical, tangible reality, or as something delusional. But, Joseph Smith and his contemporaries in the Church did not understand things in such a way. As Joseph was to later write:

    7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; 8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.(D&C 131:7-8.)

    For Joseph, the Witnesses, and the Saints, “spiritual” does not imply something other or less than “material” or “literal”; it means something additional.

    An LDS author reported in 1870:

    On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, ‘Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?’ ‘No,’ said Martin, ‘I do not believe it.’ The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, ‘Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day.”[7]

    And, at his death, Harris reported:

    The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.[8]

    David Whitmer—like the other witnesses—had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. One observer remembers when David was such accused, and said:

    “How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: ‘No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!’[9]

    See also: “Shown to me by a supernatural power” and “Eye of faith”/”Spiritual eye” statements—Martin Harris

  27. The best of these is available in a PDF summary, that prints out well:

    I’m certain that any effort to get people to “admit” the truth will cause CES to end up reviewing legitimate sources and will lead them to conclusions similar to that pamphlet.

    Just my opinion.

    But anyone who wants to engage in suggesting what CES ought to do on that point really ought to have a fuller grasp of the entire discussion than a quick cut and paste from anti-mormon sources, most of which are long discredited and considered dishonest.

  28. For a sample of a typical anti-mormon source, what it says, what the actual source says and some analysis:

    claim that in his pamphlet An Address to All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer said that his encounter with the angel “was a vision and not an actual visitation by an angelic person” (Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, 204).
    Source(s) of the criticism

    * Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 204. ( Index of claims )


    See also: Did Book of Mormon witnesses deny their witness?, Did David Whitmer ever deny his witness?, and The Three Witnesses—”spiritual” or “literal”?

    The critics quote p. 32 of Whitmer’s pamphlet for this claim. Their summary, however, greatly distorts the document. Whitmer actually wrote:

    In June, 1829, the Lord called Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and myself as the three witnesses, to behold the vision of the Angel, as recorded in the fore part of the Book of Mormon, and to bear testimony to the world that the Book of Mormon, and to bear testimony to the world that the Book of Mormon is true. I was not called to bear testimony to the mission of Brother Joseph Smith any farther than his work of translating the Book of Mormon, as you can see by reading the testimony of us three witnesses.[1]

    Whitmer here endorses his printed testimony, and insists that the Book of Mormon was true and that he saw the angel.

    He says nothing about it not being “an actual visitation.” In other accounts, Whitmer insisted that “I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!”[2]

    When writing to someone who had tried to draw the same false conclusion as the critics, Whitmer explained:

    Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.[3]

    Obviously I’m just quoting to other sources, but the point I am trying to make is that quoting a source that relies on Martin, for example, leads to this sort of analysis.

    Generally, people have gotten tired of this sort of thing and either get snippy or dismissive, rather than taking the time to point out that there are answers, aged ones really, and that the apparently devastating criticism that someone feels they should have been told about and that the Church should just admit is true and then deal with the implications in the next Church manual is actually a hoary old chestnut, well known to be false and discredited in any serious circles (which is why modern Evangelical scholars have remarked that in the debates, the Evangelicals are currently losing and trapped into approaches that are dead ends).

    It is like the allegations that Joseph Smith used different years for the first vision, gave different ages for himself. You can look at the text that is used (since a photographic replica is available on the web and in text now). A very, very charitable reading is that someone made a mistake in reading the cursive, but that is a real stretch, you have to want to make the mistake, squint and not look twice, to get to the conclusion.

    So, should the Church just admit that Joseph Smith wasn’t sure how old he was when he had the first vision — just deal with the “fact” and move on? Or does it bear a footnote “some critics read the following text to state …” “The text is provided so you can look at it and realize that they are mistaken. It would not be charitable to conclude that everyone who makes the argument is extremely ill informed or willfully fraudulent.”

    Hmm, that might actually make a good chapter for the Church History lessons next go around.


  29. #29 – Thats ok. I noticed from your website that you seem to be a former member of the church and because of the points that were interesting to you I guess that indicates some change, although I am not sure that this blog represents a representative sample of the Church. I would bet that BRM and JFS are still considered to be ‘doctrine’ for most people. To answer your question about academia vs spiritual ideas. I acknowledge that some evidence might stand against the BoM but I still believe that it teaches important things about the Saviour. But I feel the same about the Bible as well.

    #35 – I think you make a good point. One that I kinda hoped would be raised in this discussion, which is how would the Church deal with these issues if they were to include them in the manuals. In some ways I like the way the Church is currently doing things. The emphasis on spiritual ideas rather than trying to present academic materials that support their position is a good thing. However I like the idea of publishing things like the original texts (i.e. in the JSPP) while also allowing people to do historical research into those issues that do cause issues for people. The problem I have with institute manuals is that they are were originally intended to be a University level education that would help students deal with the difficulties that studying at uni can have for students. I am not convinced that the current manuals do that, but maybe that is just me.

  30. #23 Jared writes
    “Horses in the Book of Mormon

    Fossils in America show that the horse was present many millions of years before it was reintroduced by Columbus in his second voyage of 1493, he said.”

    Uh, you can’t have it both ways… If you accept the paleontology of fossil horses then you must also accept that there were humans in the Americas at that time as well, because fossil horses exist among the megafauna and the current theory is that ancient humans were the main cause of megafauna extinction. So, you have humans in the Americans millions of years ago and that causes problems for much of Mormon theology in terms of earth timelines. (Think flood, etc.)

    I would be most interested to see if a new BoM manual would ease up on the claims of historicity of the BoM and allow it to be completely allegorical. Now that would be progress. (Of course, I’m dreaming.)

  31. Steven Jones, a former physics professor at BYU, was interested in the existence (or not) of horses in the Americas in the time between about 1000 BC and 1492 AD. Paleontologists all agree there were horeses millions of years ago, but that they died out long before Columbus arrived.

    I had a class from Jones, where he discussed field work he had done in finding horse remains and dating them. He, with others, found a few horse fossils, embedded in remains that dated to the recent history. When he attempted to get it carbon dated, the lab insisted that his claim of it being in America before Columbus was wrong, and refused to date it.

    Now, unfortunately, the only citation I have for this is my memory of the class, which was taken as an honors religion class, taught around 2003. But if anyone is interested in the full details, contact Dr. Jones (through BYU’s physics dept, under Emeritus Professors).

    My point in bringing this up is that scientists (myself included as I’m an astrophysicist) have their ideas of their field. And they are very very biased towards maintaining the status quo. If they all believe that horses didn’t exist, then in general they will work hard to maintain that belief. In astronomy, it took us 40 years to actually believe in the idea of dark matter, even though observationally it was discovered in the early 1930’s. And even now, many of the old guard don’t really believe in it or dark energy, in spite of the evidence before their eyes.

    So, in conclusion, scientists are never the unbiased observers that we claim to be. It will be just as hard to convince them of ‘proof’ showing the BoM is factually correct as it is to show anyone that their paradigm for understanding the Universe is just wrong. BUT, is this the role of the Church? Not in my opinion. For me, the spiritual lessons of the BoM and the Church in general far outweigh the historicity. I feel that most of the teaching of the Church are good for me, and those that aren’t, well I just don’t follow/believe them.

  32. Well said, Andrew. The same issues plague psychology. It takes 30+ years for a new paradigm or view to be seriously considered. Then when it finally is, it takes over (it took a long time for cognitive-behavioral methods to take root, but now they dominate, both of which are unfortunate). I have to conclude that this is a systemic issue rather than an individual one (for the most part) however. Stuff like in this line “the lab insisted that his claim of it being in America before Columbus was wrong, and refused to date it.” is something that unfortunately many scientists fall prey to. Imho it is extremely lame that we still have to face closed-mindedness, dogma, and fundamentalism in the area which it should matter the least – scientific inquiry.

  33. Mike S

    Thanks for your full and thoughtful response to my questions. I have no problem personally with the term “right wing.” Since leaving the Mormon Church I have found very little offends me and believe I have no right to not be offended. Your explanation is not entirely unfamiliar to me but I have noticed with the development of the Internet that more church members are talking freely about these issues. I wonder how this development affects church membership. Is Mormonism becoming as liberal and fragmented as the Christian Church once criticised by JS for being apostate? Is personal apostasy defined differently in this age of questioning the prophets? But I suppose that is a question that moves too far away from the subject under discussion here.


    I was a Mormon and, as you might gather from my remarks, I find interesting the significant changes in how Mormons think about themselves compared to my time in the 70’s. Mike S said something interesting #32 about the academic output in the 80’s. I have been struck by the “Mormonism Lite” in church publications these days compared with that more academic output back then. By comparison today’s Ensign Magazine seems more like an advertising brochure. It’s well and good to talk about more faith-promoting output but this present discussion demonstrates a hunger for facts and lively discussion. Further, I always found the academic stuff quite faith-promoting in my day.

  34. #41 – Although I do agree that science as an ideal should be driven by those values I also think that in some ways they are also a defense mechanism against the proliferation of research and information that is present today and also the contingent nature of scientific evidence. When you mix that with perils of a professional scientific community the strength of the pull toward generally accepted ideas is quite powerful. Then again, and this brings me back to the topic of this post, those same influences probably exist in the correlation committees of the Church.

    #42 – Personally I also find the ‘academic’ material faith-promoting as well. Which is perhaps why topics like this post interest me as well. I would like to see more of those aspects explored in our manuals and publications. However, I acknowledge that there is a problem with doing that. Although I do believe we are seeing a swing back to a more ‘academic’ side to the Church, as I discuss in the post in the main text above. This was one of thoughts going into this new BoM manual.

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