Zelph Examined

July 27, 2004 | 142 comments
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John Hatch has a not-to-be-missed examination of Zelph over at By Common Consent. (For those not familiar with Zelph, the very short version is that Joseph Smith, on finding a burial mound in Illinois, stated that the remains were of Zelph, a great Nephite general, and scholars, critics, and apologists have been writing reams on Zelph ever since). New DNA evidence makes Zelph look potentially problematic. John concludes that there are five reasonable possibilities for interpreting the Zelph story. His post is very interesting, and highlights some of the tensions and questions relating to Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, modern scientific theories, and apologist work attempting to reconcile the two.

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142 Responses to Zelph Examined

  1. Kevin Barney on July 27, 2004 at 8:52 pm

    Those wishing additional background might profitably consider Ken Godfrey’s article in JBMS, here:

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=202

  2. Clark Goble on July 27, 2004 at 10:12 pm

    A possibility not mentioned was the ambiguity over the term Lamanite. i.e. regardless of what the text considers Lamanite, it became a general term for Indian among Mormons. That means when encountering the term we ought to be careful about its identity. In that case we can have Joseph receiving a revelation (admittedly mangled a bit by the time it entered into the HotC — see Godfrey’s article linked above) but that the referent of “Lamanite” may well simply have meant one of the local indigenous peoples.

  3. danithew on July 27, 2004 at 10:15 pm

    I read the post that’s being linked and it really is one that shouldn’t be missed. It’s pretty well thought out and I don’t know what to make of it. I’m not necessarily troubled by it, but it’s the kind of thing I can mull over on the back burner for a very long time.

  4. john fowles on July 27, 2004 at 11:14 pm

    There are lots of other possibilities than the ones that John listed at BCC. The truth is, we don’t really know. It really can be that simple.

    As for the names Zelph and Onadagus, the fact that Onadaga county is nearby doesn’t really have any negative implications for Joseph’s status as a Prophet. Just read a little by Hugh Nibley about names in the BoM. It really is amazing how the proper names, of all things, lend very strong support to the notion that Joseph Smith couldn’t possibly have made it all up. Additionally, things like chiasmus in the BoM are undeniable in the evidence they provide us with that at the very least, Joseph Smith didn’t and couldn’t have written the thing. And if there is some of his personality imprinted on the BoM, despite these other evidences of its authenticity, then so what? When I translate articles, some of my own prose, style, and personality is left behind in the article, regardless of how careful I try to be. It’s no cause for a conspiracy theory, though.

    As for the USA Today article linked over at BCC, it really is frustrating to see an ex-Mormon use something just as tenuous or more as a “naive” Latter-day Saint’s statement about the origins of Latter-day Saints to try to prove the BoM wrong. In the last sentence of the article he says that he doesn’t care if people believe in the BoM or not, just don’t claim that the BoM people have Israelite origins. It is astounding.

    First of all, the Church really never has (to my knowledge) struck down landbridge notions. Just because a group of people settled on the hemisphere doesn’t mean that numerous other peoples weren’t already there. Even in the BoM, the Jaredites came to the hemisphere much earlier than Lehi (a fact noticeably missing from the USA Today article). And it is likely that the Jaredites came through Asia to get to this hemisphere. If so, why can’t that be the missing link? And even that doesn’t have to be the missing link. There is also the possibility of widespread ethnic mixing of the peoples who found themselves here, whether by landbridge or otherwise. There are millions of possibilities. Maybe the Lord led a dozen other groups out of captivity and bondage from various areas of the world over to freedom in this hemisphere. We can’t say either way. It is all speculation. Just like the supposedly determinative DNA research that “debunks” the BoM.

  5. greenfrog on July 28, 2004 at 1:21 am

    john fowles wrote: In the last sentence of the article he says that he doesn’t care if people believe in the BoM or not, just don’t claim that the BoM people have Israelite origins. It is astounding.

    Less astounding the way the article actually reports the statement: “They should come out and say, ‘There’s no evidence to support your Israelite ancestry,’ ” Southerton said. “I don’t have any problem with anyone believing what’s in the Book of Mormon. Just don’t make it look like science is backing it all up.”

  6. danithew on July 28, 2004 at 1:39 am

    I read that USA Today article this morning and was going to write about it, but I found it so problematic that I had to step back and just leave it alone. It’s an interesting issue but I’m willing to take my time with the questions that are raised by the DNA research, etc.

  7. John on July 28, 2004 at 10:23 am

    Clark, I think the possibility that you mentioned lines up nicely with the option that I posted at bcc. Early members of the church assumed that all Native Americans were Lamanites. Many still make this assumption today. Given that the BoM documents three different groups of people making the journey to the New World it is all the more likely that other groups were able to do so as well. Also, it always struck me as odd that there were exactly two survivors from the entire Jaredite civilization, one being Coriantumr and the other Ether. Over all those centuries no little groups wandered off and did their own thing? Additionally we don’t have any record of who the Lamanites ran into during their history.

  8. John H on July 28, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    “There are lots of other possibilities than the ones that John listed at BCC. The truth is, we don’t really know. It really can be that simple.”

    John Fowles: I think you’re exactly right. I’m sure there are possibilities that are beyond the realm of our understanding, and I’m glad you mentioned that.

    I’d argue that we’re just barking up the wrong tree when we focus on what makes the Book of Mormon true. Your response is a natural one, and one I’ve hashed out myself – despite the problems with the Book of Mormon, there’s still Hugh Nibley’s work on names, Chiasmus, etc. But my question is, what’s more important: the fact that FARMS may have found a Nephite toilet in Mesoamerica, or the fact that the Book of Mormon changed your life, or the life of a friend?

  9. Robert Wilkey on July 28, 2004 at 1:10 pm

    I perused the Godfrey article and found Wilford Woodruff’s journal describing Zelph as a “White Lamanite” intriguing. In particular, the part stating that “the curse was taken from him or at least in part.” Although it is clear that the Book of Mormon has numerous accounts of “righteous” Lamanites, even to the extent of being more “righteous” than the Nephities, are there other similar references describing the curse being removed? My inclination says YES, but I am not sure.

  10. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    John H.,

    I am all for an emphasis on the spiritual message over running around looking for proofs. I even posted on the topic here at T&S. But in that post I was saying that such things simply can’t be proven and God wants it that way (it’s called the veil). You seem to be saying some things can’t be proven, probably because they aren’t really true, but that’s okay.

    I don’t think it is okay at all to say the Book of Mormon was a product of Joseph’s inspiration and nothing more. It makes him into a colassal liar. He claims to have had important visions from these Nephites he wrote about. Are those lies too? I just don’t see how you can disentangle the Book of Mormon’s historicity from our claims to have the true Church and the restored Priesthood.

    To put another way; where do you draw the line? Are there any events in the Bible or Book of Mormon that you stake your testimony on their truthfulness? What if someone claimed Jesus wasn’t really the Son of God, that stuff was all just invented by later writers, do we shrug our shoulders and say oh well, but we sure appreciate the Sermon on the Mount? I’d say no, and I’m guessing you’d agree. If so, tell me why you defend the historicity of Christ but not the Book of Mormon. Where do you draw the line?

  11. XON on July 28, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    Just something to throw out that’s tangentially related: Alma’s repeated references to Amalekites. Throughout the BoM, various -ites are named, and they always have a progenitor — Laman, Nephi, Zoram, Amulon, etc. . . except for the Amalekites (before you jump, it was Amulek, not Amalek).

    The first time I realized this, I just chalked it up to my own inability to keep the constelation of -ites straight in my own head (keeping good company with Mr. O?). Then, I was reading (believe it or not) a journal of jewish (vice Israeli) national security studies. In it, they were talking about the affirmative duty that the King of Israel had to ‘wage war against the Amalekite’ (Tangential point: It seemed that the King had a duty to live as peacibly as possible with all others). I started looking around, and the word Amalekite, while distinctly used in the OT (See Bible Dictionary: Amalekite) is used in the Talmud and commentaries to refer generically to ‘others’ who are in opposition to God. I suppose that is in contrast to apostates who would not be others, but still oppose God.

    Alma refers routinely to Amalekites. This would be very consistent with a familiarity with the OT, as well as rabbinical language, to the point that he never felt compelled to define the word.

    So, this would suggest that Alma, at least, lived in a world that contained some sort of alien population, differentiated from the Nephites, Lamanites, and other -ites.

  12. John H on July 28, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    “I don’t think it is okay at all to say the Book of Mormon was a product of Joseph’s inspiration and nothing more. It makes him into a colassal liar.”

    Frank McIntyre, see, I don’t necessarily think it’s that simple. It’s interesting, when people want to defend the Church (as John Fowles does so well in his post above), they go for the vague, almost muddled explanation: We don’t know everything, there are many other possibilities, etc. Ironically, Church members are often the most vigorous defenders of ultimate truth, but when it comes to protecting the Church, they can take an almost “what is truth?” approach in an effort to create a loophole for the Church to escape from. I’m not suggesting such an approach is inappropriate – I think we should be prepared to accept ambiguity and many possibilities.

    But then they also want some things to be black and white – either Joseph translated the Book of Mormon as a historical record or he’s a colossal liar. I’m not convinced it has to be that simple. If we’re going to remain open-minded about the Zelph affair and what might have happened, as I think we should, we should remain open-minded towards the entire Book of Mormon and the process by which it was revealed. Again, this was part of my post at Bcc – we’ve placed so much baggage on the Book of Mormon that we’re afraid to view it as anything other than a historical record. We’ve convinced ourselves that if it’s anything other than a direct translation of actual gold plates inscribed by actual ancient prophets, the whole Church will come crashing down. I think that’s too much for the book to bear, frankly.

  13. Jack on July 28, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    XON: Fun stuff! I’m giddy with the idea that there must be many more little gems in the BoM waiting to be uncovered.

  14. John H on July 28, 2004 at 3:13 pm

    I’d add to my comments above that I don’t know any scholars (Mormon or otherwise) who take the Book of Genesis seriously as a historical record. If the Book of Genesis isn’t a historical record, then what implications does that have for the Book of Abraham or the Temple ceremony? Mormon scholars have worked through these issues and reconciled these dilemmas – I suspect we could do the same with the Book of Mormon.

  15. Jack on July 28, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    John H.: Of course you are right in your implication that members of the church should be open to the truth – come what may. I think, with regard to the BoM, that most members are doing just that. One need look no further than the title page to find an explicit claim to the BoM’s historical veracity. Thus, we are faced with the question of being open enough (to the truth) to accept the BoM on the terms *it* prescribes despite whatever ambiguity there may be.

  16. Mark on July 28, 2004 at 3:36 pm

    The name “Zelph” has always seemed a little goofy to me, but maybe it’s the “ph” ending that throws me off. Maybe it’s supposed to be spelled “Zelff” (there’s a Zeniff in the BofM, and even a reference to a mysterious substance known as “ziff” [see Mosiah 11:3]), but the “ph” may be legitimate, given the mention of “Zenephi” in Moroni 9:16.

    I could buy the theory that Joseph was goofin’ with his friends, waiting to be called on his silly story, and then, when nobody did, he didn’t want to embarrass anybody by admitting he was just having a little fun at their expense.

  17. Dave on July 28, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    Frank,

    I don’t think it’s fair for you to attack John H simply because he is willing to discuss non-historicity and its implications. You can’t just throw a “You’re calling Joseph Smith a collosal liar” charge at him just because he sees things differently than you do.

    Personally, I don’t quite understand how those who advocate non-historicity can still affirm Joseph’s inspiration and faith in the Church. On the other hand, facts do seem to be running against historicity these days, so it seems like a position that ought to be viewed with more sympathy. If John H can really maintain his faith despite accepting evidence of non-historicity, one might even see his view of things as a strong and robust sort of faith that we should emulate, as opposed to a narrow or fragile faith that crumbles when faced with a few contrary facts. It seems like his take on things is worth discussing rather than condemning.

  18. danithew on July 28, 2004 at 4:21 pm

    Zelph — what a nice name that would be for a Mormon child. I wonder if that one shows up in the Utah Baby Namer site at all.

    I can imagine admonishing such a child: “Don’t be so Zelphish” or “Don’t be so Zelph-centered.”

    ha ha ha ha

  19. Brent Metcalfe on July 28, 2004 at 4:58 pm

    Hi Robert,

    You asked:

    [Robert Wilkey:] … are there other similar references describing the curse being removed?

    Yes. You’ve already noted that Wilford Woodruff recounted Joseph Smith’s Zelph revelation in his journal:

    … several of the brethren dug into it [i.e., the mound] and took from it the bones of a man Brother Joseph had a vission respecting the person he said he was a white Lamanite the curs was taken from him or at least in part[.] [Wilford Woodruff, Journal, [3 June] 1834, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City]

    Woodruff referred to the removal of the curse on at least three other occasions during his lifetime. If memory serves, Ken Godfrey only included one of these three sources in his various essays on Zelph.

    Ruben McBride, Sr. reported Joseph Smith’s words similarly:

    Joseph … said he was a man of God and the curse was taken off or in part he was a white Lamanite[.] [Ruben McBride, Sr., Journal, 3 June 1834, pp. 3–4, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City]

    Significantly, all extant sources that refer to Zelph as a “Lamanite,” qualify the term with the descriptor “white.” This is undoubtedly because Smith affirmed that the area he and his Zion’s Camp troops were traversing was formerly inhabited by Nephites. Joseph wrote to Emma the day after his Zelph vision, portraying his troops as

    … wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasional[l]y the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity. [Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 4 June 1834, Joseph Smith Letter Book 2, pp. 57–58, Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, cited in B. Metcalfe, “Reinventing Lamanite Identity,” Sunstone 131 (March 2004): 22]

    In any event, perhaps my comments will give you a little more to mull over.

    My best,

    Brent

  20. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 5:10 pm

    John H. and Dave,

    I am not attacking John for discussing historicity or the lack thereof and I hope he didn’t feel attacked (When I attack John, it will not be with words, but with nun-chucks… once I buy some nun-chucks)
    .
    I am responding to statements he made that he felt that a non-historical Book of Mormon was sort of okay. I responded, in a black and white fashion, that I did not see how that could be the case without Joseph Smith being a colossal liar. This is essentially the same argument you made when you said “I don’t quite understand how those who advocate non-historicity can still affirm Joseph’s inspiration and faith in the Church”. Except you said it nicer than me.

    If John still believes in the Church even though he thinks the Book of Mormon is non-historical, I am glad that he is not letting his doubts get in the way of his faith. But that is very different from understanding how a non-historical Book of Mormon can imply anything but that Joseph was a liar and a false prophet. The Doctrine and Covenants is riddled with references to Book of Mormon objects and people as being real. So is the Joseph Smith History in our Pearl of Great Price. If I am willing to toss these scriptures out the window based on the slim and contradictory empirical evidence available, then what scriptures do I accept? That’s like dismissing the resurrection because, empirically, we have billions of cases documenting that people do not rise from the dead.

    So John, please let me know if I am missing something. How can I deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon and not use the same reasoning to toss any of the rest of the Gospel that I don’t like?

    Further, I’m baffled by Dave’s claim that things are moving against the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I can’t understand why he would think that, given that everything we know on the subject from scientific inquiry is so imperfect. Did you catch the NYT piece a year or two back saying that estimates on the land bridge timing were probably off by 15,000 years, suggesting that the migration was much later than supposed? Oh, and that some groups may have come by boat(!) Science simply does not know enough yet to make strong statements about the questions in which we are interested.

    This leads me to John’s comment about truth claims. It is true that I firmly believe in the existence of ultimate truth. Don’t we all? But that is very different from claiming to know said ultimate truth via scientific inquiry. That, to me, sounds like a fool’s errand. And yet it is where all these lame “proofs” for and against the Book of Mormon crop up. The evidence is uniformly weak. Really weak. Weak enough that I can’t recommend staking one’s soul on it.

    But just because the available empirical evidence is insufficient to prove or disprove a proposition does not mean the proposition is not true or false. It just means the empirical evidence is lacking. Thus we affirm the fact that Joseph was a prophet because of the testimony we have gained of this fact through prayer and obedience.

    As for Zelph, I fall firmly in with Clark and Ben. We have good reason to think that the term Lamanite was used liberally both by Joseph and by those in the Book of Mormon.

  21. Brent Metcalfe on July 28, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    Hi Frank,

    You wrote:

    [Frank McIntyre:] As for Zelph, I fall firmly in with Clark and Ben. We have good reason to think that the term Lamanite was used liberally both by Joseph and by those in the Book of Mormon.

    You may want to consider my previous post. Zelph wasn’t just a Lamanite, he was a white Lamanite who lived among the Nephites.

    Best wishes,

    Brent

  22. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    Although I think the Book of Mormon is more careful with how it uses the term Nephite, I would not be surprised if:

    A. Joseph Smith was right about there being Nephites ala the Book of Mormon in Illinois, Either because the Limited Geography theory was wrong or because groups wandered off (which we know for a fact happenened)

    or

    B. Joseph Smith was referring to believers in Christ as Nephites and Zelph as a convert (and so a Lamanite) with light colored skin.

    or

    C. Joseph said “plains of the Nephites” in his letter, but he was wrong in that they were not the lands of desecendents of Nephi. We did not, after all, canonize that letter.

    or whatever. There are 26 letters to the alphabet and I’m sure we could place a different scenario next to each one. But I am not excited by that game.

  23. clarkgoble on July 28, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Once again though that begs the question of why Joseph felt him a white Lamanite and on what basis he felt it a battleground of Lamanites and Nephites. If you accept an total revelation of all elements recounted in the various descriptions, then I think you’d be correct. If, however, we have people filling in “holes” in the revelation with their own preconceptions (as most limited geography proponents assert) then it seems like the Nephite bit is far more limited in significance. Note for instance that in the Woodruff account the Nephites aren’t counted as part of the vision. I don’t see any claim that the vision entailed anything about Nephites.

    According to the Woodruff account (I have all the accounts, but they are at home and aren’t in the FARMS web article) only a fairly limited bit was from vision. The rest was the presuppositions of those there.

  24. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    “Although it is clear that the Book of Mormon has numerous accounts of “righteous” Lamanites, even to the extent of being more “righteous” than the Nephities, are there other similar references describing the curse being removed?”

    Robert, you may have been looking for something like this:

    14 And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;

    15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;

    From 3rd Nephi 2. There is also a reference in Alma 23:18. And there is this in 4th Nephi:

    17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

    Which is along the same lines.

  25. John on July 28, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    John H,

    This is probably getting a little off topic, but I am curious as to what you think. You say:

    “We’ve convinced ourselves that if it’s anything other than a direct translation of actual gold plates inscribed by actual ancient prophets, the whole Church will come crashing down. I think that’s too much for the book to bear, frankly.”

    What are the limits of what the book (and Joseph Smtih’s account of translating it) can bear?

    Where there gold plates?

    Did an angel named Moroni appear to Joseph? If so, was he a historical figure?

    While we’re at it, did the first vision occur? Was priesthood restored?

    At some point in this process Joseph Smith becomes a liar. Possibly a well intentioned genius of a liar, but a liar all the same. In that case the religion that he claims to have restored doesn’t have the power to bring you to Christ and exaultation. The faith is just another philosophy rather than the unique thing that it claims to be.

  26. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    I guess it is natural for us to have these sorts of discussions. But it just reinforces for me the incredible importance of canonization as a Church process. Suppose Joseph was tricked by an evil spirit and had a false revelation. I know of no doctrine that prevents prophets from being tricked on trivial matters. What would that mean? Well, it would mean to be wary of non-canonical revelations because there is a reason they are non-canonical.

    We had a process for deciding how to canonize scripture even in the early days of the Church. Zelph did not make it. If your favorite 19th century “Joseph said” quote didn’t make it, well, I’m sorry.

  27. danithew on July 28, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    Frank —

    What, Satan was pulling Joseph Smith’s leg?

    Maybe we need to learn something from the Muslim story about Muhammad and the Satanic Verses. And no, I’m not talking about Salman Rushdie.

    Yeah, that’s it. This Zelph story with it’s weird names, odd emphasis on skin color and race, it’s geographical placement of Nephites in North America, etc. is just too awkward for us to deal with. We’ll just say that Joseph Smith was momentarily led astray by the devil on this particular story. The only problem is that Joseph never recanted this story or said “just joking!”

    I kind of like Zelph and Onandagus and all this stuff anyway. I can’t really explain it all and I’m too lazy to try to sort through it and come up with a perfect explanation. But hey, maybe this thread will do all the work for me. Keep going guys!

  28. John on July 28, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    I should learn to proof-read. “Where there gold plates?” makes less sense than “How now brown cow?”

  29. Steve Evans on July 28, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    Danithew, that’s what I was thinking about too (not Rushdie). There’s a good synopsis of the problem here.

    It’s interesting to see the different veins the discussions are following on the two blogs.

  30. Brent Metcalfe on July 28, 2004 at 6:18 pm

    Hi Frank,

    Or, we could just say that the bones of an unknown Hopewell Indian provided the catalyst for Smith to invent a vision that had no basis in reality. This certainly makes the most sense given archaeological work in the region—the mounds are mortuary complexes for Hopewell who mostly, if not exclusively, died from non-militaristic causes. Simply put, this isn’t the killing fields that Smith prophetically envisioned.

    Hi Clark,

    You wrote:

    Note for instance that in the Woodruff account the Nephites aren’t counted as part of the vision. I don’t see any claim that the vision entailed anything about Nephites.

    Woodruff recounted Smith’s Zelph vision multiple times throughout his life, not solely in his journal. At other times, he (along with others) claimed that Zelph’s service as a Nephite military officer was part of Smith’s vision. But none of this really matters since Smith himself placed Zelph’s disinterment in a Nephite context in his 4 June 1834 missive to Emma.

    According to the Woodruff account (I have all the accounts, but they are at home and aren’t in the FARMS web article) only a fairly limited bit was from vision. The rest was the presuppositions of those there.

    By “all the accounts” are you saying that you have more accounts than Godfrey? If not, then you don’t have “all the accounts.”

    Actually, everything we know about Zelph’s life is attributed to the vision (in the sources where the vision is specifically mentioned, that is).

    Best wishes,

    Brent

  31. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 6:32 pm

    Danithew,

    Well we actually don’t know if Joseph recanted it. We just don’t have any record of him recanting it. Joseph himself talks about Satan appearing as an angel of Light. In that case, Michael appeared to foil the plot. What do we know about that event? Pretty much nothing. There is a lot we don’t know in Church history.

    As should be clear from what I said previously, I am fine with the Zelph story. But even if I wasn’t, what is the doctrinal impact of believing Joseph was led astray in this instance? Pretty small, since the story isn’t about anything doctrinal and was never canonized. As such, feel free to believe whatever you wish, as long as you don’t try to migrate those views to Joseph’s canonical revelations.

    Joseph received several revelations about how to tell the difference between true and false revelation. I presume this is because false revelation is a real concern. So suppose this was a false revelation. Does it help Satan? Sure, just look at the people who seem to think a non-canonical statement casts doubt on the Book of Mormon. It presents a real test of faith for some people. A test some won’t pass. Such is the nature of living behind the veil with fallible prophets.

    All that being said, I still don’t see any reason to think Joseph didn’t receive a real revelation.

    Brent,

    We could say that if, for example, we thought it were true. But why? I mean, of course Joseph would call a Hopewell Indian a Lamanite. Why can’t we? And as I said before, the state of science in this area is just way too low to be convincing.

    Further, you recount the Emma letter, but that letter was not written as a revelation. It is bad enough to say Joseph was infallible in his non-canonized spiritual experiences, but now you want to beat down the straw man that he was just plain infallible! Well, I don’t believe Joseph was infallible and neither do you, so why can’t he be wrong in a letter to his wife?

  32. danithew on July 28, 2004 at 6:41 pm

    Frank,

    Sounds like one of many possible explanations that have been offered. But I think the large number of possibilities on the table just shows what a major problem this story is as no explanation really suffices to cover everything that is going on in the story — especially when its brought into line with other ideas that we have about Book of Mormon geography, political correctness, etc.

    Fortunately the Zelph story can be semi-retired because Zelph isn’t a major Book of Mormon character and doesn’t get discussed in Gospel Doctrine lessons (at least not any I’ve witnessed). Somehow I just know someone is going to come out and tell us otherwise. Whoever does should be assigned to teach the sunbeams with Bob Caswell. :)

  33. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    Danithew,

    “But I think the large number of possibilities on the table just shows what a major problem this story is as no explanation really suffices to cover everything that is going on in the story”

    I’m fine with that if by “problem” you mean ‘problem in figuring out what happened’, as opposed to ‘problem that this means the Book of Mormon isn’t historical’.

  34. Brent Metcalfe on July 28, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    Hi Frank,

    Thanks for your reply.

    You wrote:

    [Frank McIntyre:] We could say that if, for example, we thought it were true. But why? I mean, of course Joseph would call a Hopewell Indian a Lamanite. Why can’t we? And as I said before, the state of science in this area is just way too low to be convincing.

    You seem to have missed my point: archaeological evidence shows that Naples-Russell Mound #8 (the Zelph mound) and other mounds in the region are fairly typical Hopewell mortuary complexes—this isn’t a battlefield at all. Clearer?

    [Frank McIntyre:] Further, you recount the Emma letter, but that letter was not written as a revelation. It is bad enough to say Joseph was infallible in his non-canonized spiritual experiences, but now you want to beat down the straw man that he was just plain infallible! Well, I don’t believe Joseph was infallible and neither do you, so why can’t he be wrong in a letter to his wife?

    I’m not even intimating that Smith’s revelatory experience should’uv/would’uv/could’uv been “infallible.” I’m simply saying that Smith’s letter to his wife provides insight into the context in which he claimed to have received his Zelph vision. This strikes me as a reasonable assumption.

    Best wishes,

    Brent

  35. Nate Oman on July 28, 2004 at 7:12 pm

    This whole discussion reminds me of one of the few jokes of Noel B. Reynolds that I have personally witnessed. We were talking about the Book of Mormon once, and he told me that Book of Mormon scholarship was divided between those who had Zelph-respect and those who did not.

  36. danithew on July 28, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    Nate, LOL.

    Frank, if I get what you’re saying, right on. I’m definitely part of the camp who thinks figuring out the Zelph story and squaring it with what we believe or understand will be extremely difficult — but I’m not willing to call the historicity of the Book of Mormon into question.

  37. John H on July 28, 2004 at 7:19 pm

    “So John, please let me know if I am missing something. How can I deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon and not use the same reasoning to toss any of the rest of the Gospel that I don’t like?”

    Frank, actually you’re not too far off my own thinking. (BTW, I didn’t feel at all attacked by your earlier comments, but I very much appreciated Dave’s thoughts as well.)

    This gets into a much larger issue than Zelph or even the Book of Mormon. I believe that there’s too much out there to make much sense of it all. The Book of Mormon has enormous problems, IMO, that surround claims of historicity. But I’m hardly willing to jump to the anti-Mormon camp because the Book of Mormon has some remarkable things that I don’t think should be so easily dismissed.

    I’ve found I’m much more at peace giving up on the intellectual gymnastics of making it all “fit.” My point is, people act as if there is no hope if the Book of Mormon is somehow false, or not historical. The consequences of such a thing are almost too much for them to bear. I just find such feelings to be misplaced. What has your faith done for you recently? What does the Book of Mormon do for you in the here and now? These are questions I’m more comfortable asking myself, not constructing a house of cards, made up of “if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and if Joseph Smith was a prophet, then…” The second you have a problem with Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon, or whatever, the whole house comes tumbling down. Then what? Do you go searching for truth elsewhere? My own experience suggests to me that it isn’t out there. If you go throughout life, looking for the one true way, I think you will eventually be disappointed. But if you embrace your faith, including the Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph Smith, and use it to build a better life for yourself, then that’s what counts to me.

    Take temple attendence. The Masonic links to the ceremony suggest to me that it wasn’t a revelation to Joseph. Parts of the temple strike me as a very human invention – the concept of passwords and secret knowledge so that you can get into heaven, while those who don’t have that knowledge will be left standing in the cold. Yet I always feel uplifted and inspired in the temple. I enjoy going. So, the question becomes, what do I do with that? Do I chuck the whole thing because it may not be exactly what the Church claims it to be? Or do I use that inspiration I receive there to be a better person and better my own journey on this earth? The same could be said for the Book of Abraham – it sure doesn’t seem like a translation, yet it has some of my favorite doctrines. What do I do with it? And so on, and so on.

    I don’t see anything wrong with picking and choosing in an effort to enhance your spiritual life. But that’s because I long ago gave up the idea that Mormonism is somehow the one true Church, and that ultimately, we’re right and everyone else is wrong. Yes, I know we have very creative ways of spinning our beliefs so we don’t look like we’re saying we’re right and they’re wrong. But at the end of the day, I think most Church members would admit – it’s the rest of the world that has to join up with us, we don’t have to join with them.

  38. Frank McIntyre on July 28, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    Brent,

    I understand your point. Joseph said X, archealogical evidence says Y. But next year what will archealogical evidence say? The field seems to change with some regularity. Hence I doubt that their evidence is sufficient to justify much. Perhaps it is terribly compelling, but I doubt I have the expertise to say. It may well be that no human on the planet currently has the expertise to say.

    As for the Emma letter, there are two very different issues involved in the Zelph discussion. One is what Joseph said, the other is what Joseph said came from a vision. The Nephite comment in the letter didn’t come in a vision. Thus it is just a comment made by Joseph, like many others. There is no reason to give it special weight as revelatory. Maybe it was, but we have no evidence to that fact.

    So what is the evidence that Joseph said, in a vision, that he was in Nephite lands? You use this as refutation of Clark and my comments about the use of Lamanite being broad, since you calim “Nephite” was also used. That refutation is not even mildly effective if “Nephite” was not part of the revelation.

    But perhaps it doesn’t really matter. You think the Nephite thing is a big deal. I don’t, see A, B, and C above.

  39. John H on July 28, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    Hi John,

    Let me try and answer your questions as best I can (I’m at work putting the symposium together, so I can’t spend as much time on this as I’d like).

    You ask: What are the limits of what the book (and Joseph Smtih’s account of translating it) can bear?

    I talked about this a bit above. What I mean is the house of cards (at least, that’s what I think it is) that we’ve built on the Book of Mormon. “If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet, and if he’s a prophet then…” Why do that to ourselves? Why take such an “all or nothing” approach. Let me ask everyone a hypothetical question. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that tomorrow the world learns the Book of Mormon is not a historical record. There’s no debate, no question. It’s as obvious as 2+2=4. Would you say there’s nothing of value in the Book of Mormon? Would you leave the Church? If so, where would you go? For my part, such a revelation wouldn’t do much to my faith.

    You ask: Were there gold plates?

    I don’t know. These are the sorts of questions that always come up when I post my thoughts on these issues. They’re certainly good questions, and very legitimate. But I never quite know how to approach them – I’m just not troubled by them. I suspect there were gold plates – it would’ve been a neat trick for Joseph to fool everybody. But if there weren’t, I’m not all that worried. Let me also explain, if the reverse of what I suggested above happened, and tomorrow the Book of Mormon were unequivocally vindicated as a historical book, I’d be thrilled. It would be a wonderful thing for the Church and I’d celebrate. But once again, I don’t think it would change my faith all that much. I’d still look to the Book as a spiritual guide, and I still wouldn’t think it was my place to tell everyone else they have to believe what I believe.

    You ask: Did an angel named Moroni appear to Joseph? If so, was he a historical figure?

    See above. I’d ask, does it trouble you that his name was Nephi in a few different early sources?

    You ask: While we’re at it, did the first vision occur? Was priesthood restored?

    Now we are getting into different territory. I do think Joseph had a vision or epiphany of sorts around 1820. However, how he viewed that vision clearly changed. It went from reassuring him of his cleanliness before God to being a prophetic calling. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate Joseph’s claims – he may have learned to understand the vision differently. But it is worth knowing that the 1838 version is pretty different than the two previous versions. It’s also worth knowing, as Kathleen Flake brilliantly suggests, that the First Vision was not important in the Church until the early 20th century, when they needed reminding of their divine heritage.

    Priesthood restoration is a different story. The idea of authority strikes me as one of the ultimate circular arguments of our time. “The true church of God needs priesthood authority. Hey! We have that – we must be the true church of God!” Bit convenient, don’t you think?

    You say: “At some point in this process Joseph Smith becomes a liar. Possibly a well intentioned genius of a liar, but a liar all the same. In that case the religion that he claims to have restored doesn’t have the power to bring you to Christ and exaultation. The faith is just another philosophy rather than the unique thing that it claims to be.”

    Again, I’m not sure Joseph is nothing more than a liar in all these scenarios. I think his story allows for more complexity than the black and white view Church members have constructed. We like the black and white view because it makes people choose. We tell them he was either a fraud or a prophet, then we tell them the amazing things he did, so they’ll be convinced the choice must be prophet. But then this outlook comes back to haunt us, because if people here some not-so-flattering things about Joseph, then they can pick the fraud choice. Again, why do that to ourselves? So, if Joseph lied about something, suddenly nothing that he offered us is valuable?

  40. Nate Oman on July 28, 2004 at 7:44 pm

    “Take temple attendence. The Masonic links to the ceremony suggest to me that it wasn’t a revelation to Joseph. Parts of the temple strike me as a very human invention – the concept of passwords and secret knowledge so that you can get into heaven, while those who don’t have that knowledge will be left standing in the cold. Yet I always feel uplifted and inspired in the temple. I enjoy going. So, the question becomes, what do I do with that?”

    John: Has it ever occurred to you that you might want to revise some of the implications that you draw from the links to Masonry in light of your experiences? Incidentally, it seems to me that your interpretation of secret passwords etc. is at war with other elements of temple theology and practice, namely the ambition to complete universal vicarious ordinances, which makes the emphasis on exclusivity problematic. Of course, one conclusion might be that in light of these sorts of contradictions that the whole thing is incoherent. On the other hand, one might also want to consider the possiblity that one’s interpretation is mistaken.

  41. Nate Oman on July 28, 2004 at 7:54 pm

    “Priesthood restoration is a different story. The idea of authority strikes me as one of the ultimate circular arguments of our time. “The true church of God needs priesthood authority. Hey! We have that – we must be the true church of God!” Bit convenient, don’t you think?”

    Sheesh! Obviously, the concept of divine authority does a hell of a lot more in Mormon theology than act as some sort of self-fufilling indicator of truthfulness. It provides a way of understanding and talkinga about human involvement in God’s power. It provides a way of democratizing divine authority to a certain extent. It provides a way of understanding continuity between modern and ancient dispensations of the gospel (not to mention structuring the whole idea of dispensationalim within Mormon theology). It provides a way of understanding the notion of deification and salvation. Etc. etc. etc. To dismiss questions about the restoration of the priesthood with bromides about how we shouldn’t tell other people what to believe is… You get the picture.

    Obviously, you are busy with other things and I respect that. (I happen to have a clean desk this afternoon.) On the other hand, I confess that I find this kind of rhetorical stance as disburbing and shallow in its own way as you find black-and-white questions of historicity.

  42. clarkgoble on July 28, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    Brent, I had the old Godfrey offprint which included copies of all the journals and other writings he references. So, no, I don’t claim to have all writings on the subject. However we’d expect later writings to blur what was or wasn’t in the vision as opposed to the context.

    I agree Nephites were in the context of the discussion. But that’s my point. We have to separate out what was the context and unrevealed from the vision itself. I can certainly understand why many would read the vision in terms of the context of discussion. I think that in terms of determining what is or isn’t revelation one must be much more cautious.

  43. Nate Oman on July 28, 2004 at 8:02 pm

    John H.: My last post was probably a bit to heated. Please mentally delete the “Sheesh!” and “hell of a lot more.” Apologies.

  44. Steve Evans on July 28, 2004 at 8:03 pm

    I agree with Nate — the principle of restoring the priesthood is a great deal larger than the authority-related argument John cites. It’s a shame, I think, to reduce it to that kind of thinking.

    That being said, I agree that the argument John cites is spurious, and I’ve never liked the way we use authority as a theological argument in that way.

  45. clarkgoble on July 28, 2004 at 8:07 pm

    Oh, I noticed someone on one of the ex-Mormon sites took an old email of mind which quoted the relevant passages from Godfrey.

    http://www.lds-mormon.com/zelph.shtml

    With regards to Masonry and the ednowment, I think it fair to ask why Revelation has to be unique and can be in terms of texts in ones environment. I have no trouble with various esoteric forms of Judaism and Christianity surviving or being discovered in the Renaissance and then being transmitted through Masonry, hermeticism or various esoteric additional rites within Masonry.

  46. John H on July 28, 2004 at 8:14 pm

    Maybe you could try and be a teeny bit more patronizing, Nate. Just maybe.

    Of course, all your comments have occurred to me. One could indeed see the temple as a place where Mormons try and share ordinances with everyone, and I have no doubt that the love behind such a practice is very real. That doesn’t make it any less arrogant to those on the outside who see it as an attempt to make everybody Mormon since their own faith clearly isn’t good enough. That’s not my perspective, but it’s certainly one I can sympathize with.

    Of course, my experience could tell me that my interpretation of temple origins is incorrect. But then, my spiritual experiences are at odds with thousands of other spiritual experiences had by others around the world, so it seems like hardly an effective way to determine eternal truth.

  47. John H on July 28, 2004 at 8:18 pm

    Sorry Nate, I responded with my own brand of snottiness before I saw your apology. My own apologies.

  48. John H on July 28, 2004 at 8:25 pm

    Nate, I appreciate your thoughts on Priesthood. I agree there’s far more to it than what I said.

    However, I don’t hear anyone talking about priesthood in the various ways you listed. In every ward I’ve ever been in, and in every conversation I’ve ever had, Priesthood is equal to authority. We have it, they don’t. It is just another way to separate “us” and “them,” to remind ourselves of the divinity of our faith, and the apostasy (however well-meaning others may be) of there faith.

  49. john fowles on July 28, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    How’s this for a response to Southerton (and to greenfrog–the quoted language in the USA Today article is even more astounding than my conciliatory paraphrase, which after re-reading I see really took the anti-mormon edge out of what the true quote that you provided actually contained):

    USA Today: They should come out and say, ‘There’s no evidence to support your Israelite ancestry,’ ” Southerton said. “I don’t have any problem with anyone believing what’s in the Book of Mormon. Just don’t make it look like science is backing it all up.”

    So here’s what I have to say to Southerton.

    Anti-Mormons should come out and say, “There’s no evidence to support our conspiracy theories.” I don’t have any problem with anyone not believing what’s in the Book of Mormon. Just don’t make it look like science is backing it all up.

  50. D. Fletcher on July 28, 2004 at 8:29 pm

    One problem with all these blogs is that I’m not quite sure which thread I should respond to, this one, or the one at BCC.

    John Hatch’s initial post leads me to a sad conclusion: that there is stuff in our Church history which will make us feel bad unless we ignore it.

    Although I’m all for seeking the fruits of the Book of Mormon, and not paying much attention to the problems (which are “veiled” anyway), I sure would like to feel that everything fits, that the Gospel has borders which contain its truthfulness. If Zelph lived, I should be able to say so without the awkwardness of “as far as we know.”

    I guess I’d like to believe that the Book of Mormon is as historical as… the book of Job. But the Church, and my own psychological makeup insists that I… find it historical. Though they want me to confirm this historicity with a personal testimony, which is slightly antithetical to the process, I think.

  51. Steve Evans on July 28, 2004 at 8:34 pm

    Yeah, I just want to state for the record that it’s sick how a T&S reference to a BCC post gets more responses than the original post itself. Come on, people! Share the blog love!

  52. john fowles on July 28, 2004 at 8:42 pm

    John H. wrote about the BoM: We’ve convinced ourselves that if it’s anything other than a direct translation of actual gold plates inscribed by actual ancient prophets, the whole Church will come crashing down. I think that’s too much for the book to bear, frankly.

    When I mentioned FARMS research and Hugh Nibley above, I was NOT arguing that we should prove the BoM true by its system of weights and measures or other nifty details (although these cultural-context related things are overwhelmingly suggestive [much more so than alleged DNA debunkings] and at the very least absolutely negate claims that Joseph Smith could have authored it, I recommend Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon on many of these little details). Everyone needs to have a testimony independent of those little proofs.

    But that doesn’t commit us to go so far as you are suggesting in the language quoted above. In short, the whole Church does come crashing down if the BoM wasn’t translated from golden plates (just look at the Testimonies of the Three and the Eight, if they were lying then it negates the whole superstructure of the Church and any obligation to follow the Prophet). You also suggested that what it really important is the effect the BoM has had in our life or the life of a friend and not whether any of the events depicted in it really happened (by implication from your willingness to give up ground on the book’s historicity). It is true that the book’s effect is what is truly important; however, that alone is far too soft of an approach to engender the entire devotion required in this Church. We believe that our Prophets are telling us the truth. It is not even possible that Joseph Smith lied about the origins of the BoM and that he wrote it simply by his genius or in a bout of inspiration. If that happened, then the Church is not true and you might as well be a Lutheran, because their religion is much easier.

  53. clarkgoble on July 28, 2004 at 8:52 pm

    John, most priesthood and sunday school lessons I’ve listened to always go to pains to state that priesthood is more than just authority, it is responsibility. While I can’t claim every lesson mentions what Nate said, many if not most do. That connection to the divine is reasonably clear in D&C 84 and typically is brought up in class. Admittedly Provo isn’t the typical location of wards, with its disproportionate number of college students. But I’d be surprised if it were that out of the ordinary.

    Certainly the issue of authority is a clear and easy way to differentiate ourselves from other Christians. I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing, as you seem to suggest. After all we have to have something that shows us to be different. Otherwise why be Mormon at all?

  54. john fowles on July 28, 2004 at 8:53 pm

    John H.: I don’t know any scholars (Mormon or otherwise) who take the Book of Genesis seriously as a historical record. This is a really surprising argument to make in this context.

    Arguing that the information in the BoM isn’t an accurate historical record is not the same as questioning its origin in the hands of Joseph Smith. Personally, I am inclined to believe that the BoM is indeed a historical record to the extent it purports to be; if not, then there is, as Mark Twain argued, a lot of extraneous nonsense in it (but nonsense that nonetheless just happens to fit neatly into the cultural, legal, historical, and theological context of the period it purports to be from, much of which simply could not have been known to Joseph Smith when he translated it).

    But even if the BoM is, as D. sardonically expressed (when he said that he wants to believe the BoM is as historial as the Book of Job), fundamentally devoid of historicity, then that is still less of a stumbling block than retreating on Joseph Smith’s role as the Prophet called by God to receive the literal Golden Plates from the hands of Moroni, translate them, and present them to the world in the Restoration of the Gospel and in preparation for the Second Coming.

  55. john fowles on July 28, 2004 at 9:01 pm

    Dave: On the other hand, facts do seem to be running against historicity these days, so it seems like a position that ought to be viewed with more sympathy.

    Dave, I really and sincerely do not see how you can make this statement. Maybe I have just read far too many FARMS materials, but it seems to me that the quantum of evidence for the BoM’s historicity is mounting as time goes by. For example, I am looking forward to Jack Welch’s work on the Trial of Abinadi and its cultural context (the implications of which are very supportive of the historicity of the BoM) when that finally comes out (I have read his preliminary paper on it and it is masterful). Are you referring to numerous anti-Mormon arguments, like the DNA speculation, to substantiate your assertion that the facts seem to be running against historicity these days? I mean, the antis had a good point with the whole horses in the BoM thing, but really. . . .

  56. D. Fletcher on July 28, 2004 at 9:12 pm

    Book of Mormon Metallurgy

    Among the most significant cultural anachronisms in the Book of Mormon is the depiction of Nephite civilization as having iron and other metal industries; we read of metal swords and breastplates, gold and silver coinage, and even machinery (2 Nephi 5:15; Jarom 1:8; Mosiah 11:3,8; Ether 7:9;10:23). However, there is no evidence that any New World civilization attained any such industry during Book of Mormon times (600 B. C. – 421 A. D.).

    As former Brigham Young University anthropology professor, Dr. Raymond T. Matheny, points out:

    “The tools that the people [in cultures that did have metallurgical industries] used are primitive but nonetheless they are there, and they spell out a system of exploitation of those natural resources. In refining ores and then bringing these to casting and true metallurgical processes is another bit of technology that leaves a lot of evidence. You can’t refine ore without leaving a bloom of some kind or…that is, impurities that blossom out and float to the top of the ore…Also blooms off into silicas and indestructible new rock forms. In other words, when you have a ferrous metallurgical industry, you have these evidences of the detritus that is left over. You also have the fuels, you have the furnaces, you have whatever technologies that were performing these tasks, they leave solid evidences. And they are indestructible things…non-ferrous metallurgical industries have similar evidences. No evidence has been found in the new world for a ferrous metallurgical industry dating to pre-Columbian times. And so this is a king-size problem, it seems to me, for so-called Book of Mormon archaeology. The evidence is absent.” (Michael Coe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer 1973, p. 23).

    Book of Mormon Crops

    The Book of Mormon indicates that the Nephites produced various crops including barley (Mosiah 7:22, 9:9; Alma 11:7, 15), figs (3 Nephi 14:16), grapes (2 Nephi 15:2, 4; 3 Nephi 14:16), and wheat (Mosiah 9:9, 3 Nephi 18:18). However, there has been no archeological evidence for any of these crops. Archeology does indicate the peoples of the region ate maize (corn), lima beans, tomatoes, squash, and amaranth, but none of these crops are mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

    Thomas Ferguson, archaeologist, noted defender of the Book of Mormon, and founder of the New World Archaeological Foundation at BYU stated:

    “I participated in excavating a trench at the edge of the Grijalva river in which we found a ceramic vessel in a stratum dating to about 200 BC… Art portrayals in ceramics, murals, and sculptured works–of ancient plant life–are fairly commonplace. Thousands of archeological holes in the area proposed have given us not a fragment of evidence of the presence of the plants mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The holes include the great one dug by Edwin Shook at Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico. He excavated a cave — going back to 5000 BC., finding most of the major plants of the area. But no wheat, barley, figs or grapes.”

    Book of Mormon Animals

    Similarly, the Book of Mormon describes various domesticated animals: asses, cows, goats, sheep, horses, oxen, swine, and elephants. However, Pre-Columbian evidence for such animals in Mesoamerica is scant, at best. There is no evidence of horses in Central and North America before the Spaniards arrived (hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon). Why then does the Book of Mormon refer to horses where there were none?

    Dr. John L. Sorenson proposed that the Nephites were really referring to either a species of deer or tapir, but since they did not have names for these animals, they called them horses. This seems a weak response, but even if it were true it doesn’t account for the many other animals and crops for which there is absolutely no archeological evidence.

    Again from Thomas Ferguson:

    “Evidence of the foregoing animals has not appeared in any form — ceramic representations, bones or skeletal remains, mural art, sculptured art or any other form. However… evidence has been found in several forms of the presence in the Book-of-Mormon times of other animals–deer, jaguars, dogs, turkeys etc. The zero score presents a problem that will not go away with the ignoring of it. Non-LDS scholars of first magnitude, some who want to be our friends, think we have real trouble here. That evidence of the ancient existence of these animals is not elusive is found in the fact that proof of their existence in the ancient old-world is abundant. The absence of such evidence…is distressing and significant, in my view.” (Tom Ferguson, Written Symposium on Book-of-Mormon Geography, 1978).

  57. Nate Oman on July 28, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    John H: I think that I am less convinced that sympathy with outside perspectives is as paradigm shifting as you suggest. I suppose that to the extent that one lives in a sea of unreflective believers who are incapable of imagining how they appear to non-believers, gaining such sympathy is a big deal. Perhaps life in Utah represents such a sea of unreflectiveness. Perhaps life in Mormondom does. I am not certain. Here we get into problems of who constitutes mainstream Mormonism, something I tried (badly) to get out in my “I am Orthodoxy” post. My tendency is to think that most folks who are not self-conscioiusly intellectual end up being aware of basically the same big issues that intellectuals approach in a more polysyllabic and exhaustive way. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am deluded. Maybe I simply had a really idiosyncratic experience in the Church. All of these seem like real options.

    I see folks getting upset about the temple much the way I see communist critiques of market capitalism. I can understand and sympathize with much of what they say, and the experience of doing so makes me more self-concious of the structure of what I believe, but at the end of the day, I can’t help but think that markets are a better form of social co-ordination to government planning.

    As for discussions of priesthood, I simply don’t think that I have lived in the same church that you have lived in. Sure, I have heard lots of people talk about how priesthood authority is the mark of the one true church. On the other hand, I have also heard lots of discussions about how God uses priesthood to make the universe (a really odd idea), or how priesthood makes us agents of God’s love, or how priesthood democratizes the power of God. Generally speaking, when I hear these discussions in a church context they are homiletic and in some sense “crude.” On the other hand, I think that most discussions that occur in most places on the planet are intellectually “crude” in some sense, so it doesn’t bother me much. In other words, even if it doesn’t sound like a Sunstone paper, I think that many of the ideas are basically present and do get articulated.

  58. clarkgoble on July 28, 2004 at 9:55 pm

    “D,” I agree there are many evidences for the Book of Mormon missing. I’m not sure I read the metal evidences quite the way you do and I think a case for their disappearance could be made. But we are left largely with an argument from silence.

    Certainly in the abscence of revelation any rational person would say that there is no reason to believe the Book of Mormon to be historical. And I certainly can respect that. I think what Mormons more are interested in is whether there is positive evidence showing it to not be true. i.e. something beyond arguments from silences. That’s why the DNA debates have been fairly interesting. As perhaps misleadingly presented, they make just such a claim.

  59. Silus Grok on July 28, 2004 at 10:12 pm

    X0N: Um. Not to bust any bubbles… but there’s an Amaleki in Omni, and one of the brothers of Ammon was an Amaleki as well…

  60. D. Fletcher on July 28, 2004 at 10:16 pm

    Well, missing things IS evidence, I think. The European DNA is missing from Native Americans, isn’t it?

    I don’t believe we will ever have positive evidence of the falseness of the Book of Mormon unless the plates are found and proved a fabrication (but even this could be explained away).

    The fact that there is no evidence to Joseph’s story, nor evidence of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and a Church emphasis on spiritual witness of its truthfulness, leads me to believe the truthfulness lies elsewhere than in actual facts, historical, cultural, or archaeological. Its truthfulness lies in spiritual guidance, just as John Hatch has suggested in his first post. And if we continue to pursue the other kind of truthfulness, we’re in for some rough conclusions ahead — the DNA findings are just the beginning.

    My name doesn’t require quotation marks, it’s just a name.

  61. John H on July 28, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    John Fowles: What would you do if the Book of Mormon was proven to not be a historical record? Yes, yes, I know such a thing cannot conclusively be proven, as the latest defense of the Book of Mormon tells us (how ironic is it that the lack of evidence has become a defense for the book?) But for the sake of argument, let’s just say it happens, what would you do? For the record, I’m really curious, I’m not just trying to be a brat. Would you join the Methodists or the Lutherans? What would it do to your view of God and truth? Your view of the afterlife?

  62. D. Fletcher on July 28, 2004 at 10:56 pm

    Surprising even myself, I’d like to offer the balm I’m sure has been offered before.

    The lack of evidence for a historical Book of Mormon (also the lack of evidence of Joseph’s translation of the plates) is for a very specific reason:

    God removed this evidence from the earth, including altering some generation’s DNA.

    Well, why not? God understands as we don’t His purpose in this, the last dispensation. Only He has some inkling of our scientific culture, and using all the powers of heaven, He has made sure that our mortal powers of observation and analysis couldn’t stem the tide of faith and exaltation.

    It is all… on purpose.

    P.S. Still, one wishes the Church would stop calling everybody a Lamanite.

  63. XON on July 28, 2004 at 11:06 pm

    Silus,

    Yes, but they are never identified as progenitors of a sub-group, as is each progenitor of all of the identified sub-groups.

    Bubble still intact.

  64. Rob on July 28, 2004 at 11:23 pm

    I have a degree in Anthropology and worked for the New World Archaeological Foundation for three years. I think that anyone who will jettison their faith because of perceived problems with the archaeological evidence for or against the Book of Mormon severely misunderstands the limitations of archaeology and probably needs to more carefully examine their assumptions about the Book of Mormon record itself.

    Does every single “fact” in the Book of Mormon have to be accurate for it to be a historical record? Of course not. Any one of the BoM authors could have made a mistake in their writing or editing. Mormon or Moroni, writing from ca. 400 AD could have made huge mistakes about the nature of earlier epochs in their society. We don’t know enough about the editing process to claim that it was infallible.

    Does Joseph Smith have to have been 100% “correct” as a translator of the record? How could he be? Languages are limited in their ability to relay information, and translations are notorious for their inability to convey original intents.

    Does Joseph Smith have to have a complete and accurate understanding of Nephite history and geography to have translated the BoM through the power of God? Of course not. Could he have had some misperceptions about the nature of the book he translated? Of course. We’re probably all off a bit on our understanding of the BoM.

    Until we have a better understanding of the geography of the BoM, it is premature to make too many judgements about what the archaeology does or does not support.

    As for the archaeological record…it is very,very, very incomplete for the time period of the BoM. Even the areas proposed as Nephite lands in the state of Chiapas are almost completely unexplored. Many of the most prominent ruins in this area were flooded by dams built on the Rio Grijalva over 40 years ago. In short, even if we are “close” on the geography, archaeology in the area has barely begun.

    As for Zelph. Suppose Joseph thought the mound and burial were associated with Lamanites, or even Nephites. What do we really know about that? How would you prove that Hopewell people were not somehow associated with the people of the BoM? Even if you can prove that the bulk of the BoM history took place in Mesoamerica, can you prove that there was no connection between Hopewell and Mesoamerican culture. In fact, there are cultural–and possibly even genetic–connections between North American and Central American cultures for thousands of years. Again, the archaeology is exciting, there are interesting connections, but nobody alive has enough data to prove that whoever the Nephites or Lamanites might have been, that there was no connection between them and the Hopewell.

    Something that I think we are missing–I’ve never heard it discussed in church, is the idea that many peoples would come to America, but that they would all be “brought by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:6). We know that there have been many, many waves of immigration to the Americas–some via Beringia, there is now evidence of Solutrean cultures from Europe hitting the east coast of America even earlier (probably from following the edge of the ice sheet across the north Atlantic). Who knows how many sea voyages have made it to America? If all of these people were brought by the Lord, there are many, many, many stories yet to be told. We can piece some of these together from the archaeology, but we still lack written records for many people–and many probably didn’t leave written records. But if they were God’s people too, then the history of the multiple colonizations of America are all as divine as the BoM story. Isn’t it exciting to think there are many, many, many more inspired stories for us? That the BoM is just one small part of that story?

    It’s easy to claim that JS was a fraud–but the archaeology does not support that position. Its too early to say that. I’m not appealing to holes in the record here…it’s just a fact that, as Nate claimed on another thread, the state of Mormon studies–especially BoM studies–is such that we are only just beginning to think seriously about the BoM and haven’t done the hard work yet to pin down the geography and archaeology. And then, as I’m claiming here, we will only just be starting to understand the many, many other stories of God’s other people here in the Americas.

    I’m not so concerned about what Joseph did or didn’t know about the BoM people or Zelph. It is up to us to do the hard work of piecing together the prehistory–and divine history–of the various peoples who came to the Americas. There are many more records to find and translate. Many more digs to conduct. Many more genetic lineages to trace. Many more linguistic lineages to trace and correlate with genetic and archaeological populations. We can’t even trace the prehistory of the Great Plains Tribes back 1000 years–let alone to the colonization of America by their ancestors.

    There are many more stories to find and tell. Until we have more of them, we can’t begin to really understand how the BoM fits in its American context. So, have some fun, explore. Ask the hard questions. But don’t accept easy answers to those hard questions without doing the hard work to really figure out the prehistory of the Americas.

  65. Silus Grok on July 28, 2004 at 11:33 pm

    XON: I was responding to your “before you jump, it was Amulek, not Amalek”… if the bubble is indeed that they didn’t list a progenitor, then yeah: still intact… but what an odd little bubble.

    ; )

  66. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 28, 2004 at 11:37 pm

    “So, this would suggest that Alma, at least, lived in a world that contained some sort of alien population, differentiated from the Nephites, Lamanites, and other -ites.”

    Two things. First, by definition, all who came to the Americas before the recent migration that we are a part of were, by definition, of the seed of Lehi. The Book of Mormon states so when referring to those who were guided to the land, regardless of their genetic identity.

    Second, it is pretty obvious that Alma is in a sea of others. When he has problems with the church and talks with the king about what to do, the king consults with the king’s priests and then gets back with Alma.

    Think about it in the terms most see the Book of Mormon, versus what is directly implies — a religious structure that surrounded the king and that did not include Alma.

    I have no problem with a Zelph wandering, much like Moroni did, and eventually dying admist a strange people, in a strange land. It would make sense.

    We do know that the meso-americans had chariots from their children’s toys, that there were grapes when the vikings came to visit (or why they called the land Vinland), etc.

    We know that Nephi saw iron as precious and valuable and that mention of iron fades from the Book of Mormon qua iron. That alway struck me.

    Nephi is talking about precious steel and suddenly they don’t even mention iron when they talk of all their metals being taxed.

    The book bears serious reading, not for what people assume it says but for the actual language.

    I could go on. A Roman Centurion commanded how many men?

    Usually 40-60, that was the usual strength of a century (even if it was supposed to have 100 men), fewer at the end of long campaigns.

    In the Old World a unit was “destroyed” when it lost cohesion. In Greek histories, most of those units took 15% casualties. When Phillip “destroyed” a unit and actually killed everyone, it was remarked upon.

    In the last battle when the men led their “ten thousand”s into battle, how many did they lead? Remember, not to long previously, large armies had 30-50k in them. Mormon’s great army may have been composed of units called “ten thousand”s, but it could have easily had less than a 100,000 men in it and, when destroyed, have taken only 20,000 casualties or far less, with the officer corp being hunted down and pursued while the rest returned to being peasants.

    Note that the battles and the conflicts continue without the Nephites, who are but a blip in the larger wars.

    If the Nephites were mostly a political elite, centered in some cities with alliances, who reached their peak around the time of Alma (when they had to have control of the government or they would lose their religious rights — an interesting point), it makes the narrative much more sensible.

    BTW, on the temple, critics need to look at the Chinese mystery religions and their rites or the recent displays of the Book of the Dead as a temple rite. The Egyptian gods who guide through the stations, exchange grips and signs, make interesting models, similar to the ones in Chinese funary veils.

    Anyway …

  67. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 28, 2004 at 11:42 pm

    Guess for the sake of completeness, the destroyed unit was a SSM unit.

  68. XON on July 28, 2004 at 11:57 pm

    Silas,

    an odd little bubble from what I’m sure is perceived as an odd little poster. . . ;-)

    Another point that I find curious is the big deal about steel.

    While it’s true that Indoeuropeans didn’t have steel until around the 5th century A.D.,there is abundant evidence of the Chinese having steel as early as 1600 B.C. While in and of itself, this is merely a neener-neener-boo-boo fact (got that one from my 10-year-old daughter), it really becomes interesting if we go with the idea that Lehi was probably a caravan trader. Such traders would be operating in the major trading centers of the Orient, and, boy, wouldn’t a Chinese steel sword be quite the bauble for a Levantine caravansman, or even a quite luxurious item that had particular demand among the elite of Jerusalem?

    Put more succinctly, steel swords from China are most definitely within the realm of possibility in 600 B.C. Jerusalem.

  69. Frank McIntyre on July 29, 2004 at 12:32 am

    XON,

    How little can you be with a name like XON? I figured you were at least 8 feet tall with a large feather plume headdress and a full suit of armor. Probably a mace instead of a sword, or maybe some sort of morningstar (or whatever those things were called in D&D).

    D.

    Although I am more inclined to take Rob’s view about how little we know than your channeling of Ferguson, I completely agree that God may have obscured things. If it were His wish to prove the Book of Mormon he could send some angels down to do that whenever He wished. Or He could have just left the plates around.

    Since He apparently does not want irrefutable proof available, why would he leave around a bunch of archaelogical clues that irrefutably prove the Book of Mormon? My little post on this topic was here along with your comments and everybody elses.

  70. Clark Goble on July 29, 2004 at 1:00 am

    D., I think there is a big difference between evidence that simply is missing – especially when you consider many historical records with similar big missing data that we don’t give a second thought to. (i.e. Hannibal’s elephants) Certainly the Book of Mormon is slightly different, if only because there is no positive reasons (outside of the spirit) to accept it. At best we have more circumstantial data that suggests it might be unlikely for Joseph to have translated it. But how one reads that data will vary from person to person.

    Positive evidence that the Book of Mormon is fiction is much rarer. Some of the DNA evidence might have pointed that way. (i.e. the mitachondria of women) However lacking any clear evidence of what Lehi’s DNA looked like, it is still a long way from a strong case. The best they can do is critique the universal Lamanite view which frankly few thinkers have accepted since the early 80’s.

  71. Frank McIntyre on July 29, 2004 at 1:06 am

    The recent FARMS review on the DNA stuff had a nice long article from a DNA guy (at BYU?) talking about how the available DNA evidence cannot refute any of the interesting hypotheses about the Lehites. He lists a number of conditions for good DNA research, all of which are violated in this case.

  72. Susan on July 29, 2004 at 1:08 am

    Not to be contrary. Here’s what I’m thinking. Again, why no women on this conversation. I know I’m hesitating to join this conversation. Maybe it’s the agon. I sort of like this kind of thing on the page if not in person, in conversation. But I’m pretty sure that’s the academic in me being lured to join, not the well-trained female. I certainly have plenty to say on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Should I wonder about whether this is a gender issue. I know I was raised to please (though I’ve never been good at it). Is that a gender issue–or my personal cross? That I’m not good at joining a fight.

    On to my second thought. This trail is an example of the round and round that so dismays me. I keep wondering. What is it that brings an individual to a tipping point on something like the Book of Mormon, historiciity. It’s obviously not careful argument. I see the recurring, retrenched beliefs on either side. They seem so familiar. And good faith, smart thought lives on either side where Zelph divides.

    So what is it that brings a person from time to time to change her mind on a subject as momentous as Zelph? To tip? To cross over? That’s the questions that continues to interest and mystify me.

  73. Brent Metcalfe on July 29, 2004 at 1:22 am

    Hi Frank,

    You concluded:

    [Frank McIntyre:] It may well be that no human on the planet currently has the expertise to say.

    In what way do you consider your sentiments a warrant for any viable form of belief?

    Hi Clark,

    You remarked:

    [clarkgoble:] So, no, I don’t claim to have all writings on the subject. However we’d expect later writings to blur what was or wasn’t in the vision as opposed to the context.

    Generally speaking, perhaps—but we’d want to assess each source on its own merits. For instance, in addition to Joseph Smith’s missive to Emma, non-Mormons were reporting the Nephite connection within a few months of Smith’s Zelph vision:

    A large mound was one day discovered, upon which Gen. Smith ordered an excavation to be made into it; and about one foot from the top of the ground, the bones of a human skeleton were found, which were carefully laid out upon a board, when Smith made a speech, prophesying or declaring that they were the remains of a celebrated General among the Nephites, mentioning his name and the battle in which he was slain, some 1500 years ago. This was undoubtedly done to encourage the troops to deeds of daring, when they should meet the Missourians in battle array. [Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed: Or, a Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 159, emphasis added, cited in B. Metcalfe, “Reinventing Lamanite Identity,” Sunstone 131 (March 2004): ]

    Hi Rob,

    You conjectured:

    [Rob:] As for Zelph. Suppose Joseph thought the mound and burial were associated with Lamanites, or even Nephites. What do we really know about that? How would you prove that Hopewell people were not somehow associated with the people of the BoM? Even if you can prove that the bulk of the BoM history took place in Mesoamerica, can you prove that there was no connection between Hopewell and Mesoamerican culture. In fact, there are cultural–and possibly even genetic–connections between North American and Central American cultures for thousands of years. Again, the archaeology is exciting, there are interesting connections, but nobody alive has enough data to prove that whoever the Nephites or Lamanites might have been, that there was no connection between them and the Hopewell.

    Two questions:

    1. As an anthropologist, how much credibility do you think you would retain if you made such an argument in a peer-reviewed, professional journal?

    2. Why would any anthropologist or archaeologist even speculate about BoMor Israelites interacting with the Hopewell when there is no evidentiary justification for positing the presence of Israelites in ancient America?

    Hi Stephen,

    You suggested:

    [Ethesis (Stephen M):] I have no problem with a Zelph wandering, much like Moroni did, and eventually dying admist a strange people, in a strange land. It would make sense.

    Joseph apparently thought differently. He depicted Zelph, a white Lamanite, dying amongst familiar Nephites.

    My best,

    Brent

  74. Frank McIntyre on July 29, 2004 at 1:41 am

    Brent,

    I am disputing the ability of archeaologists to refute or confirm specific hypotheses. Note the emphasis on “expertise”. My belief system does not rely on their findings, rather it relies on spiritual experiences I have had. That is the warrant for my belief. Other people will find the warrant for their belief in their own spiritual experiences. Trees don’t share roots. Each must get their own.

    You seem pretty interested in making anthropology into something it isn’t. It simply is not able at this point to support the strong claims that you want to make. Anthropology has not even been trying to explore the questions that interest us.

    You also really want to bring the Nephite element into this, but your evidence so far has been very weak—a letter to Emma that was not part of the vision and a second or third-hand reference from an anti-mormon screed. Really now, is this supposed to convince people that Joseph talked about Nephites in the vision? We have several journal entries of the vision right? Why don’t you pull a quote from those showing the Nephite connection in the vision? Now that would be something worth talking about.

  75. John H on July 29, 2004 at 2:36 am

    “So what is it that brings a person from time to time to change her mind on a subject as momentous as Zelph? To tip? To cross over? That’s the questions that continues to interest and mystify me.”

    Hi Susan,

    I don’t know if I’m even close to answering your question or heading in the direction that interests you, but I tipped after seeing the name of the prophet “Onondagus” associated with Zelph. The last thing I want to become is one of those guys for whom one issue explains everything. But the one issue that most affected me was Zelph and more specifically, Onondagus.

    When I read for the first time that Joseph Smith had said Onondagus was a great Nephite prophet, I recognized the name, but I didn’t quite remember where. Just a few minutes later I remembered walking across Onondaga Community College on my mission to an appointment. I looked it up, and Onondaga County is directly east of Wayne County. Some quick research reveals that the Onondaga are an Indian tribe that speak Iroquoi and live in New York state. Even the biggest defenders of the Church have to admit that the naturalistic explanation makes a lot of sense: Joseph Smith used the name Onondagus because it would ring true to those who had a hemispheric view of the Book of Mormon. Who wouldn’t believe that a present-day group of Native Americans got their name from an ancient Nephite prophet?

    I can’t fully explain it and I don’t know exactly why, but I’ve rarely been as sure of something as I was at that moment – Joseph Smith invented the story of Zelph. Believe me, it wasn’t a pleasant moment. I’ve read as much as the next guy, and while what I read radically changed my faith, it never threatened it. This did. I don’t expect anyone else to have a similar experience with Zelph – this one was mine and mine alone. But it got to me.

    Like I said at the Bcc blog, I’ve calmed down since then and learned to appreciate the Book of Mormon a bit differently than I did before. But I’ll confess, I’m still curious about Zelph, the white Lamanite.

  76. Clark Goble on July 29, 2004 at 3:08 am

    Brent I’d second Frank’s comments. Clearly a person hearing briefly second or third hand accounts could conflate issues. The issue, as Frank pointed out, is what was the speculative context and what was the content of the vision. It would seem that if we are using Zelph as an evidence against the BoM one ought to be cautious in reading too much into it. i.e. make as tight a case as possible.

    In that case we have only that Zelph was a white Lamanite who was a great leader with little clue about whether Lamanite meant a player in the BoM or simply a native American. i.e. not too much of a threat to BoM believers.

  77. john fowles on July 29, 2004 at 10:24 am

    John H.: What would you do if the Book of Mormon was proven to not be a historical record? This is not even a possibility, and not because, as you noted, it cannot be proven based on the evidence, but rather because I know it’s true on independent grounds. What that means is that no matter what turns up, even if it is the type of thing that you would take as evidence that the BoM is a hoax, I would still believe it and reject the evidence. That is irrational, unintellectual, and not even close to academic, I know, but that is the state of things. (Hence my wife wonders why I even engage at all in these types of discussions.)

    But for the sake of argument, let’s just say it happens, what would you do? For the record, I’m really curious, I’m not just trying to be a brat. Would you join the Methodists or the Lutherans? What would it do to your view of God and truth? Your view of the afterlife? Well, I will engage you on this, despite what I wrote above. If, somehow, there were absolute proof that the BoM was a hoax, not through any kind of so-called evidence that the antis cook up, but rather through some diary of Joseph Smith or something, that could be proven to be authentic, in which he himself writes something to the extent of, “just take a look at all these gullible people, of course the BoM is a hoax, I made it all up myself, I just want money from them, and honor, and I want to have more than one wife, so this is the only way to do it legitimately” or something else to that effect, then I would consider the BoM a hoax.

    If I considered the BoM a hoax, there would be no reason to be a Latter-day Saint, would there? But in truth, I wouldn’t join the Lutherans or the Methodists, or any other religion (except maybe in the remotest possibility, perhaps the Catholics). I am pretty sure that I would be agnostic about truth in general. Catholicism might be the only closest alternative, since Catholics actually have a direct claim to truth and priesthood authority, since, despite the extreme abuses it has perpetrated on humanity, it traces its lines directly back to the Church that Christ established, however distant the true spirit of the Catholic Church of today is from that Church.

  78. Jordan Fowles on July 29, 2004 at 10:37 am

    Here on T&S, D says:

    I guess I’d like to believe that the Book of Mormon is as historical as… the book of Job.

    Over at BCC, D says:

    But the Church will insist on the historicity of the Book of Mormon, even though proven otherwise. The Church will not allow the Book to be a simple Job-like allegory.

    So is the Book of Job “historical” or is it an allegory, in your opinion?

  79. john fowles on July 29, 2004 at 10:50 am

    D.: I don’t believe we will ever have positive evidence of the falseness of the Book of Mormon unless the plates are found and proved a fabrication (but even this could be explained away). D., what do you think of the Testimonies of the Three and the Eight? And of the Three Witnesses not recanting their statements, despite going inactive?

  80. D. Fletcher on July 29, 2004 at 10:51 am

    Sorry that wasn’t clear, Jordan. In both cases, I meant that I don’t believe the book of Job is historical, but a beautifully-written spiritual guide (in its case, an allegory). I don’t need the Book of Mormon to be any more historical than the Book of Job — I don’t seek to prove Job existed, and I don’t think we should seek to prove that Samuel the Lamanite existed.

  81. D. Fletcher on July 29, 2004 at 11:01 am

    “D., what do you think of the Testimonies of the Three and the Eight? And of the Three Witnesses not recanting their statements, despite going inactive?”

    Any detective will tell you, eyewitness accounts, though called upon, make bad evidence, because they are so altered by subjective criteria.

    I have never said the plates weren’t real. The witnesses saw plates, or what they thought were plates. Witnesses also saw Moroni, Christ and God the Father (in Kirtland), John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Elijah, Elias, etc. None of these eyewitness accounts provides anything like proof.

    I happen to believe that God’s plan is much more complex than the translation of ancient blog writings into King James English scripture.

    Perhaps Joseph did write The Book of Mormon, but was told to attribute it to “translation”. This too, could be part of God’s plan.

  82. john fowles on July 29, 2004 at 11:16 am

    D. Sorry about the italics in the above note to you. So, what do you think of the Testimonies of the Three and the Eight?

  83. Jordan Fowles on July 29, 2004 at 11:22 am

    Keep in mind that if you claim to believe the testimonies of these witnesses, then you must believe that the Book of Mormon was actually translated, not somehow the product of mere inspiration to Joseph Smith:

    And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true

    Testimony of the Three Witnesses
    (It is interesting to note that the 8 witnesses only testify of having handled and seen the plates, but not to the actual translation. Nonetheless, the Three Witnesses do testify of this translation, and if you claim to believe their testimony, then what about that portion?)

  84. D. Fletcher on July 29, 2004 at 11:29 am

    Do you think the 3 Witnesses have any more valid testimony than you? If you do, then you are putting your basis for faith behind reason and sense.

  85. Jordan Fowles on July 29, 2004 at 11:37 am

    D. I am not sure I understand your last comment. The 3 witnesses’ testimony, which I quoted above, consists of what they claim to have both seen and heard. Either we believe that they saw and heard what they say they did, or we don’t. Since you said you believed the portion where they said they saw the plates, I wondered if you believed the portion where they claim to have heard the voice of God bearing witness that the plates had been translated.

    I am not sure how that has anything to do with who has a more “valid” testimony. What exactly do you mean?

  86. john fowles on July 29, 2004 at 11:52 am

    John H.: as long as we’re throwing hypotheticals around, let me pose one to you. (See my response above to your hypothetical about what I would do if the BoM were proven false.)

    What would you do if some scroll or other turned up in the Holy Land that mentioned either the name of Zenos or of Zenock? See Alma 33. I won’t even go into further speculation for this hypothetical. That tiny discovery alone would be enough to make my point: if the name Onondagus shook your faith so severely, what would the name Zenos do? Would that have the same effect on you in the opposite direction? Or would you still maintain your agnosticism about the historicity of the BoM and your ecumenical view, even in the face of the name of Zenos.

    As to Onondagus, you said: When I read for the first time that Joseph Smith had said Onondagus was a great Nephite prophet, I recognized the name, but I didn’t quite remember where. Just a few minutes later I remembered walking across Onondaga Community College on my mission to an appointment. I looked it up, and Onondaga County is directly east of Wayne County. Some quick research reveals that the Onondaga are an Indian tribe that speak Iroquoi and live in New York state. Even the biggest defenders of the Church have to admit that the naturalistic explanation makes a lot of sense: Joseph Smith used the name Onondagus because it would ring true to those who had a hemispheric view of the Book of Mormon. Who wouldn’t believe that a present-day group of Native Americans got their name from an ancient Nephite prophet? I don’t quite follow your logic on Onondagus. What, in your view, does preclude the possibility that a present-day group of Native Americans got their name from an ancient Nephite prophet (or general, for that matter)? Are you implying that the archaeology is capable of telling us otherwise?

    People often criticize that many believers subscribe too much to black and white notions of how things are or happened. But it seems that the critics are subscribing to such a black and white view in excluding the possibility that upon the disintegration of their social order, etc., the Nephites simply dispersed and mixed in with the multitudes of people that lived all over the continent. There are so many possibilities that it’s difficult and pointless to speculate. It seems to me that Joseph Smith might as well have the presumption of honesty, especially in light of the Testimonies of the Three and the Eight.

  87. Robert on July 29, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    Frank,

    I appreciate the thorough reply citing to other references where the curse was lifted. In pertinent part, I was also interested in specific references within the Book of Mormon.
    Thanks.

  88. Chris Grant on July 29, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    D. Fletcher wrote: “Perhaps Joseph did write The Book of Mormon, but was told to attribute it to ‘translation’. This too, could be part of God’s plan.”

    Would it have then been part of God’s plan for the Mormon intelligentsia to expose this attribution as a charade, or was He perhaps not thinking that far ahead?

  89. john fowles on July 29, 2004 at 12:10 pm

    D., Your question about whether I think that the Three Witnesses have a more “valid” testimony than I do is quite perplexing. It isn’t about validity. Comparing my testimony with that of the Three Witnesses is like comparing apples and oranges. I have a “testimony” through the Spirit that the BoM is true. They were giving “testimony” in the evidentiary sense of what they literally saw with their eyes, handled with their hands, and heard with their ears.

    I don’t think that your concern about private investigators and eye witnesses to a crime, which happens suddenly and which people get glimpses of from different points of view on such an unexpected basis, is an appropriate comparison here. A better comparison would be with the evidentiary doctrine of “past recollection recorded” as being reliable, even though hearsay, evidence. That is, the witness recorded his or her perception accurately in writing recently following the event in question. Even that would be a stretch because what the Three Witnesses have left us is more like a verbal act, words that have legal significance in themselves. The reason I say that is because they came together for the purpose of seeing the plates (it wasn’t something that just happened suddenly as they were walking down the street and they happened to glimpse out of the corner of their eye and then write down later), and they indeed saw and handled the plates.

    we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon

    This is different in so many ways than a P.I. and his eyewitness to a crime. The Three Witnesses also took instruction directly from the Angel, whom Joseph had claimed to have been associated with, and heard the voice of God, all at once, not each individually. If they are lying, it is fraud plain and simple. Ironically, the most reasonable explanation for proving this all false is the crackpot Christian anti-mormon view (as opposed to ex-Mormon anti-Mormon view) that it is all Satanic and that Satan revealed the BoM to J.S. and that angels and demons were responsible for such epiphanies as that of the Three Witnesses. (Believe me, I heard my fair share of these notions as early as Junior High in the Bible Belt–it really is amazing what a Baptist preacher will tell his congregation from the pulpit.)

  90. John H on July 29, 2004 at 3:36 pm

    I don’t have time to respond specifically to all the comments, so I’ll just offer some general thoughts, as it seems the dicussion is winding down.

    First, I guess I don’t see how it addresses the Zelph issue to say, “Well, what about the Three Nephites? What about Chiasmus? What about…” Those are separate issues (each that also have their own separate dilemmas, I might add) from the Zelph issue. My own opinion is it isn’t the best approach to fall back on some other kind of “evidence” for the Book of Mormon in light of other difficulties. Future revelations (such as a lost diary, etc.) might also make those evidences null and void.

    Second, I think we get so caught up in the minutia of these issues that we miss the forest through the trees. Let’s face it, Zelph is hardly an isolated incident. Joseph Smith had a tendency to attribute things to ancient prophets or the divine when coming across odd or interesting things. He obtains some mummies with scrolls, and suddenly the scrolls are actually the record of Abraham. What are the chances? Joseph Smith becomes a Mason, and suddenly many elements of the Masonic ceremony are actually ancient traditions dating back to Adam. (Now, however, scholars know that the elements that Joseph translated to the Temple are among the most modern innovations of the Masonic ceremony.) Joseph gets some Kinderhook plates and these plates as well have ancient meanings. (Yes, I’m well aware of the defense of the Kinderhook incident, and I still see no reason why William Clayton, Joseph’s friend and scribe, would make up the story.)

    Joseph Smith’s ability to make the things around him have ancient or spiritual meaning began early in his life with his seer stones. Things were found or seen, and they were old, ancient spirits. The reality is, the Zelph story is not an anomaly, but part of a pattern throughout Joseph’s life.

  91. D. Fletcher on July 29, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    I completely agree with you, John, about Joseph’s pattern of finding spiritual meaning or history in various artifacts or incidents in his life.

    But does one include the Book of Mormon as a product of his imagination? Perhaps he came upon the plates in his treasure-digging days, and then imagined what they said?

    I guess I think that the difference between Zelph and The Book of Mormon, is that Zelph was postulated by Joseph because of an incident in his life. But if he wrote the Book, how did he think of it? What precipitated it? It’s actually a little easier for me to believe that it came from God via Moroni, because of the enormity of the task at hand (creating an entire world history).

  92. danithew on July 29, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    D. Fletcher,

    Do you think Joseph Smith thought up the Zenos allegory, or imagined it up? If he had done that on his own (never mind the rest of the Book of Mormon, which contains so much more than all this) I would have been very impressed. If one thinks about the layers of meanings and the complexity of the stories in the Book of Mormon, it just doesn’t make sense that Joseph Smith did it all on his own or even with the help of a few other contemporaries. But I’m the billionth person to make that kind of an argument. Sorry… no originality here. :)

  93. John H on July 29, 2004 at 4:11 pm

    I don’t equate the Book of Mormon with the Zelph story, either, D. I’m still not sure what to make of the book. On the one hand, it’s a very, very remarkable thing. It’s changed so many lives, it tells a pretty consistent story, etc. When I post on the problems surrounding the Book of Mormon, I’m not trying to engage people in a “what about” argument. “Oh yeah, well what about the gold plates?” My posts are just my way of thinking through these interesting issues, and trying as best I can to make sense of them all in my own way.

    On the other hand, I think we’ve done a really amazing job over the years of making the Book of Mormon untouchable. I often hear people say it would have been *impossible* for Joseph Smith to write the Book of Mormon. It certainly wouldn’t have been easy – but impossible? None of us knew Joseph Smith, so none of us can know if he could’ve written it. Do you think it’s impossible for someone to memorize the phone book? I’d say yes, but savants have done it. I don’t think the harshest critics would deny that Joseph writing the Book of Mormon is still a pretty amazing feat. But people pull off amazing feats all the time, both of mind and strength.

  94. D. Fletcher on July 29, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    I was just asking the question Dan.

    But yes, if you must know, I think Joseph wrote the Book. And I still believe in Mormonism, at least, its take on Christianity. I give Joseph full credit for restoring Jesus to earth.

  95. danithew on July 29, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    D. Fletcher,

    That kind of reasoning just doesn’t seem to work unless you are extremely willing to embrace some major contradictions. If that’s what you believe about Joseph Smith, where would you say that Joseph Smith’s lies end and the truth begins? What of the things that Joseph Smith said he saw did he actually see?

    If I could confidently say that I really believed the Book of Mormon was made up, that it was Joseph Smith’s fabrication, I’d be so much more capable of walking away from the Church without any pangs of conscience. Fortunately, I have a testimony that tells me over and over again that the Church is true and that the only factor in question is how faithful I am willing to be to the truth.

    To me, the Book of Mormon shouldn’t even be compared to the Zelph story, because the Book of Mormon is so much more formidable (and serious an issue) than this random grave and skeleton Joseph Smith stumbled across.

  96. D. Fletcher on July 29, 2004 at 4:37 pm

    “To me, the Book of Mormon shouldn’t even be compared to the Zelph story, because the Book of Mormon is so much more formidable (and serious an issue) than this random grave and skeleton Joseph Smith stumbled across.”

    I agree with this, completely.

    I just approach the Book of Mormon as scriptures to be studied, admired, and learned from. There’s not much to learn from Zelph, except possibly to doubt the truthfulness of the story in some way.

    But the more I study the evidence of the historic truthfulness of the Book or Mormon (or lack of evidence), the more I believe it isn’t historically true, and the more I turn away from its message. So, I just try to ignore these kinds of discussions, because they do me no good.

    I do not know the the extent of Joseph’s lying or telling the truth. I think he was a religious man, not a charlatan, who probably received his inspiration directly from God. Perhaps he was instructed how to communicate the information to the world, as a translator of gold plates, and so he did, and that could be construed as lying. Or perhaps, he knew that the power of a real artifact would be a huge catalyst for change, change for good. It would bring in many more converts than his personal testimony. So he knew it would do good, and that was good enough reason to create it. Finally, perhaps he translated it as he said, and God removed all the evidence.

    I don’t know, but I don’t need to know that the Book is historic to get what I think I’m supposed to get from it.

  97. danithew on July 29, 2004 at 4:45 pm

    D. Fletcher,

    Fair ’nuff. You’ve gone down some lines of reasoning I’ve never followed. No reason to argue further because we just look at things differently. :) Always enjoy seeing you around.

  98. Rob on July 29, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    Brent, you ask: “Why would any anthropologist or archaeologist even speculate about BoMor Israelites interacting with the Hopewell when there is no evidentiary justification for positing the presence of Israelites in ancient America?”

    Brent, why would you speculate that BoM people were “Israelites”? What do you mean by using that term?

    I don’t think we know enough about the BoM people to call them Israelites. Even if you have a small migration of people from Jerusalem to America ca. 585 BC, we have no real reason to call their descendents, or their subsequent culture, Israelite. Certainly, by ca. 200BC, when Hopewell moundbuilding traditions are forming in NA, or ca. 400BC when the Hopewell traditions are winding down, it would seem silly to presume that any American with a distant ancestor from the Holy Land would be culturally or genetically more similar to anyone from the Middle East than others from the Americas.

    We don’t know enough about the BoM or who the people in the BoM were. Until we do, of course it would be wildly speculative and unscientific to suggest a connection between BoM people and the Hopewell. However, it would also be premature to suggest there were no such connections. Since Hopewell people lived during the BoM timeframe, it is at least possible that someone related to BoM people could have interacted with the Hopewell.

    Brent, If you are looking for Israelites in the Americas, you may be looking for the wrong thing. How would you recognize a Precolumbian Israelite if you found one? The BoM does not require us to find ancient Middle Eastern cultures in the Americas. It does require us to find a few believers in Christ, somewhere in the Americas, surrounded and intermixed with people of far different traditions. This will be an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish archaeologically.

    I disagree with those who don’t think the archaeology can ever “prove” the basic historical nature of the BoM society. There are more texts to find and thousands of sites that are unexplored. However, so far, we haven’t done the needed archaeology. There are many good reasons for this–including the main concern that the BoM is anethma to mainstream archaeologists and the Mexican government controlling access to most of the (presumably) relevent archaeological sites.

    Meanwhile, BoM scholars are finding the Lehi-Nephi Middle Eastern portion of the BoM to fit comfortably within its supposed social milleau.

    Likewise, anyone who wants to study Teotihuacan and its influence on the rest of Mesoamerica after 200 AD will find that the tale from the end of the BoM fits very comfortably into that social setting, where Teotihuacanos took over Maya polities and established the Classic Maya civilization. There were endless rounds of wars as local elites were eliminated all across Mesoamerica. I find this “hit” of JS as compelling as the Middle Eastern stuff, if not moreso. Who knew, in America ca. 1830 that a prominent civilization based in the mountains (Teotihuacan/Robbers?) would take over and ally with more southern polities, wiping out the local elites and setting up a new world order throughout their known civilized world? Answer: Nobody knew this until this past decade. If the BoM is a Mesoamerican text, it is 100% at home during this last time period of endless warfare and elimination of local elites. A very good review is all this is here.

    So, we have a book that can be fit into a broad social setting that supports its text. Until we pin down the more finite questions–including “who were the Nephites?” and “where did they live?” we can only speculate about all the connections between BoM people and archaeologically discovered Precolumbian cultures.

    Meanwhile, to take the Zelph incident as evidence that JS made up the whole BoM story relies upon unwarranted assumptions about Nephite and Lamanite identity.

    That said, lets go back to Zelph for a moment. Based on the documents, we are not required to see Zelph as related in any way to the Nephites. The Onandagus/Omandagus JS referred to was called a prophet, but not necessarily a Nephite prophet.

    And BTW, just for fun, even if you had Zelph’s DNA, how in any way could anyone prove that Zelph (a “Lamanite”) couldn’t be a descendent of the Laman who came to America 400-800 years previous? Suppose Laman’s daughter married a Native American–and that couple had a son who married a Native American woman, who had a son who was the direct ancestor of Zelph, what kind of genetic markers would you expect to find linking Zelph back to Laman? You wouldn’t have anything on the Y chromosome (which comes from Laman’s native son-in-law). You wouldn’t have any mitochondrial DNA from the Middle East, since that would come from the wife of Laman’s grandson.

    While the genetic study of Native American populations will hopefully shed much light on the wanderings and inter-relationships between cultural groups through time, we should never expect to find “Israelite” DNA. The BoM doesn’t require it. In fact, due to the small numbers of Lehi’s colonizing party, the survival of “Israelite” DNA to modern times is almost statistically impossible.

    In conclusion, the real problem with BoM archaeology is that most people–especially its critics–do not study the BoM carefully enough to determine what it really does or doesn’t say about Nephite/Jaredite/Mulokite/Lamanite/Nehor cultures. Anyone looking for American Israelites is probably foolish and needs to re-read the BoM for what it really says and doesn’t say about ancient America.

  99. Sheldon Lawrence on July 29, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    Its interesting to me that the Lord never expects us to find out whether the BoM is a historical document. There is no commandmant that instructs us to come to a conclusion on the matter. Moroni’s promise doesn’t say “pray to find out whether the BoM is a historical artifact,” but whether “these things” are true. I take “these things” to mean spiritual principles–priciples of truth and morality to live by and improve our lives. There is a difference between a principle and an event. “Love they neighbor” is a principle. “Joseph Smith dug up some gold plates” is a claim about an event. We can discover the truth of priciples empirically by applying Alma 32. God expects us to prove principles, not historical events. We do not have to come to a definite conclusion about historical events in order to grow spiritually. In short, “Is the BoM a historical document?” is not a spiritual question, and is therefore not very relevant to spiritual growth.

  100. Sheldon Lawrence on July 29, 2004 at 6:02 pm

    John H. and D. Fletcher:
    While I respect your ability to keep the faith while doubting the historocity of the BoM, I think you are unique in this, and that not everyone could perform the same intellectual feet. Can we imagine what would happen if in the next confereance GBH stood up and acknowledged historical problems in the book, and then entertained the possiblitity of it being inspired fiction? After the dust cleared and masses left the church, it would only take about 10-20 years for Mormonism to assimilate with mainline Protestantism. I believe, if I remember my reading correctly, that is what happened when the RLDS church stopped defending the BoM as a true history.

  101. Rob on July 29, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    Sheldon, I appreciate your comments, but am not sure I agree. For example, the BoM claims that angels appear regularly to the righteous, and that if we aren’t receiving visits by angels, it is because we lack faith. The BoM also provides dozens of stories of angels appearing to the righteous–thus supporting its claims with “historical” examples. If the BoM is not historical, than this teaching about angels is not as substantiated. It could still be a true principle, we just wouldn’t have as much evidence for it. And if as many here and elsewhere have stated, if the BoM isn’t historical, if Moroni wasn’t a historical person, then JS claims just aren’t very compelling.

    One of the strongest messages of the restored gospel is that God and angels appear in real time to real people. The history in the BoM is taken as more evidence for that. Without historical Nephites or gold plates, the whole thing just doesn’t resonate for most folks. We all have favorite novels, but few of us are willing to dedicate every Sunday, two years of our early adulthood, and countless weeknights, to model our lives after favorite fictional characters.

    That is, unless you’re still into Dungeons & Dragons.

  102. Sheldon Lawrence on July 29, 2004 at 9:08 pm

    Rob, thanks for your comments. I agree with the logic that if the BoM isn’t historical then the whole thing falls apart. I’m not arguing for a “inspirational fiction” interpretation. Nor am I saying the historocity of the BoM is unimportant. I’m just saying that for the time being it is not possible to discover the truth of the matter empirically. Joseph either did or did not translate the plates, but we simply can’t have pure knowledge of that fact now. All we get is the huge number of speculations found in this discussion thread. We can, however, have perfect knowledge of principles, and thats where I think God wants us to put our emphasis.

    I’ve come to the conclusion (tenative, as most my conclusions are) that a rational God does not expect us to believe in past “events” that we simply cannot prove. Alma 32 says that God doesn’t expect us to claim knowledge until we have empirical evidence for something. Faith is a temporary tool to gain that empirical knowledge. For example, I don’t think God expects me to claim to *know* that Joseph saw an angel. I may be able to gain a certain conviction over time applying the “by their fruits ye shall know them” logic, but I won’t KNOW with absolute certainty. I can, however, apply the faith and gain an angelic visitation, thus gaining absolute personal knowledge of the *principle* of angelic visitions, but not necessarily of the visitations of others.

    In short, I guess I’m saying that the Spirit testifies of principles of truth, and not historical events.

  103. John on July 29, 2004 at 11:03 pm

    D, you say, “John Hatch’s initial post leads me to a sad conclusion: that there is stuff in our Church history which will make us feel bad unless we ignore it.”

    I’ve always had the take that there is stuff in Church History that makes us feel bad because we ignore it. Rather than explore it and understand that things are complicated or confusing we hide certain things away and teach only the most “faith promoting” aspects of them. Thus they become more confusing when discovered since they bring feelings of, “Why hasn’t anybody told me about this?”

    I think that there is a culture in the church that is enamored with easy answers and is afraid to say, “We don’t know.” That is too bad.

  104. Christian on July 29, 2004 at 11:15 pm

    Isn’t it possible that many active members of the Church do not believe in the historicity of the BoM (or in any of its principles, for that matter), but continue to be involved with the Church for social reasons?

  105. John on July 29, 2004 at 11:33 pm

    John H.,

    I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. At the same time I feel that you threw things at my that you assumed I didn’t know rather than simply answering the questions.

    It seems to me that if God intended for the book to be proven true in way that the scientific community would accept then Joseph would have gone on tour with the gold plates (bodyguards in tow, they could use the sword of Laban to keep the mobbers at bay) and eventually the plates would be studied extensively and many people would “know” rather than “believe”. Since this would have been so easy to do I assume there is a good reason that it didn’t happen. You might say that the reason is that were no plates. I believe there were plates and that God didn’t want them paraded about.

    I understand your view that historicity doesn’t matter in terms of the BoM, the plates, and the angel Moroni (and any others). It seems to me that it should matter in terms of priesthood, otherwise our ordinances are hollow symbols. Which leads me to the one thing in which historicity seems to be important: Did Jesus suffer and die for our sins? Is the atonement a historical event? Yes I know that it was much more that that, but was it that as well?

    On a lighter note, perhaps any name that begins with the letter ‘Z’ is an indication that Joseph was clowning around.

  106. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 29, 2004 at 11:42 pm

    Just a comment or two … we know that the Vikings had a settlement in Newfoundland because we now have bodies, a graveyard, long houses, etc. Yet, I still remember a final on the subject of whether we thought the evidence for the vinland saga was sufficient. Heck, we now know that Vikings made it all the way down into the Great Lakes area and died there (though we also know that many of the Viking artifacts claimed for various sites were complete frauds).

    Where is the Viking DNA? We know it got mixed in.

    With Lehi, we are taling about 200-300 people in the initial ship who became a localized elite, had a peak in influence, and were wiped out as a part of intercine conflicts that went on without them.

    That is how the text actually reads.

    That is how I read the text when I took a look at it, myself, without pre-conceptiosn, more than thirty years ago.

    Yes, there are other readings.

    But, take a deconstructionist view of the Book.

    What are the imperfections of the authors that they keep talking about? Why do they suddenly quit talking about Mulekites and start talking about Kingmen who have claims based on birth (especially if they are all the same kindred)?

    Where did they get the population mass for Jacob to be able to lecture them on adultry and the issue not be open knowledge? If it is just two intermarried families, in the second generation, where do they even have enough people for concubines?

    Read the text, really read it, not the preconceptions of the people who dealt with it.

  107. Brent Metcalfe on July 30, 2004 at 1:55 am

    Hi Frank, Rob, and Clark,

    I’m on my way to wander among some Mayan ruins and I’ll be incommunicado for at least a week. In the interim, if you’re interested in better understanding my perspective on the historical and exegetical evidence, I encourage you to read my recent essay “Reinventing Lamanite Identity” (Sunstone 131 [March 2004]:20–25). (Rob, I think that you may find that I have more than a passing familiarity with the BoMor narrative.)

    I’ll post more upon my return, time permitting. On Zelph, there are indeed other sources that specify that Zelph was an officer in the Nephite army who served under the prophet-king Onandagus. But emphasis on what constitutes a Nephite, Lamanite, or Israelite merely obscures the central issue: irrespective of ethnic origins, the folks buried in Naples-Russell #8 and surrounding mounds died largely (if not exclusively) from non-militaristic causes—this region isn’t the battlefield that Joseph Smith prophetically envisioned.

    Best wishes,

    Brent

  108. danithew on July 30, 2004 at 2:02 am

    I think Sheldon Lawrence is right on with saying that if the LDS Church were to abandon its claim to the historicity of the Book of Mormon, it would eventually turn into (assimilate into) another version of protestantism. That makes sense to me. Thanks for the insight Sheldon… I hadn’t thought about that much.

  109. Clark Goble on July 30, 2004 at 3:35 am

    “the folks buried in Naples-Russell #8 and surrounding mounds died largely (if not exclusively) from non-militaristic causes”

    Exactly how is that determined? (Serious question, not jest) I can imagine that if there is a chip or other mark on a bone from an arrow or other weapon we can discern violence, but typically not if the person *died* from that violence. Unless of course their skull was smashed in. But if someone is hit by an arrow that doesn’t hit a bone and dies from infection or blood loss, I wonder how one discerns that in the bones?

  110. John H on July 30, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    Clark,

    I’m not even close to as familiar with this issue as Brent is, but I’d guess there are several ways of determining what the mound is like. If people are scattered about more indiscriminantly, or buried with haste, that would suggest more of a battlefield scenario. If they are buried more carefully, then they were probably buried as part of a traditional ceremony.

    Remember as well, there are many of these mounds that resemble each other. It isn’t a coincidence that each one has a variety of people buried. That of course, doesn’t mean those people didn’t die in battle and were later buried on the mounds. But it continues to raise the dilemma of how the limited geography theory fits in with Joseph’s vision of Zelph.

    I can see reconciling limited geography with the fact that Joseph Smith was simply wrong. Contrary to the way many people like to portray Joseph Smith’s view of the Book of Mormon (including Ken Godfrey, who I have tremendous respect for as a historian), he simply didn’t leave much room open for the limited geography model. All the statements I’ve seen from Joseph on Book of Mormon geography imply a hemispheric model. Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants do the same.

    That’s why, apart from responding to the DNA issue, now defenders are redefining what a “Lamanite” is, trying to make it a cultural definition. I admire these efforts to look at the Book of Mormon differently, and I hope there are answers available there, but the reality right now is, these new interpretations are loaded with problems.

  111. Rob on July 30, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    Brent, I’m not denying your familiarity with the BoM text. Just questioning your “debunking” project.

    From your Sunstone piece, you claim that apologists “have yet to explain cogently why all Book of Mormon characters—God included—seemingly know nothing about the hordes of indigenous peoples that the revisionist theories require.”

    Brent, how are we supposed to do this to your satisfaction? You seem to want us to mind-read JS, ancient Nephites, and God? What kind of evidence would you accept? You already have your mind made up, and are using a supposed point of silence in the text as a weapon against those who believe it to be a true historic record. According to your reading, the BoM text is silent about other groups. According to other readings, there is good reason to suspect that the text requires the presence of other groups and populations.

    You are asking for BoM believers to perform a difficult task–i.e. explain why the BoM doesn’t say something (in this case, discuss other groups of people). This isn’t really answerable. You and the apologists can always only speculate about the answer to such a question. You claim its because the BoM isn’t what JS said it was. Apologists claim they can’t know why ancient authors wrote or didn’t write everything we might wish they did. While your Sunstone piece was interesting, it doesn’t really do much more than cast aspersions.

    As long as you’re asking to prove a negative, here’s one for you. Prove that Native Americans aren’t descended from Lehi. Or even prove that all Amerindians don’t share a common ancestor that lived ca. 600 BC. You can’t do it. You can claim that this isn’t supported by DNA evidence, but that doesn’t prove that Lehi wasn’t one of their ancestors. It just means that the DNA from the millions of other ancestors dating back to that period have had more continuity.

    As for being the “principle” ancestor–I’m not sure we know what that means. Charlemagne is one of my ancestors. Is he my principle ancestor? Surely most of my ancestors living back then weren’t Charlemagne. Who is my “principle” ancestor going back 100 generations? Could we find Charlemagne’s, or any Frankish DNA in me? The DNA issue, while interesting, is more of a red herring than anything else. Eventually we might be able to say more about different groups colonizing the Americas, but the absence of Middle Eastern DNA doesn’t really say much—except that the ancestral DNA of most Amerindians came from elsewhere.

    Brent, since you can’t prove that Lehi didn’t exist and since you can’t prove that he isn’t ancestrally related to most or even all modern Native Americans, you need another line of attack if you want to disprove the historicity of the BoM and this whole idea about changing perceptions of Lamanite identity is a bit of a red herring.

    Take another swing, Brent. Your last article fouled off to the left of third base. The first rule of intelligent research is “ask an answerable question” so, better luck next time.

    Have fun with the Maya. Catch you when you get back.

  112. John H on July 30, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    “Which leads me to the one thing in which historicity seems to be important: Did Jesus suffer and die for our sins? Is the atonement a historical event? Yes I know that it was much more that that, but was it that as well?”

    John, by answering this, now everyone will truly see what a heretic I really am. I don’t know if the atonement is a historical event or not. I think it’s interesting though that a few different people have brought the issue up in this thread. The reality is, the New Testament is even more problematic than the Book of Mormon in terms of historicity claims. That doesn’t necessarily mean the stories about Jesus aren’t true, but the books do not come from the sources we think they do. I’m no expert on this issue, but I do know enough to know that the historicity of the Gospels is problematic at best.

    As for my own beliefs about Jesus, I believe that he at least lived, and I love, love, love the teachings in the New Testament – again, regardless of their source. They ring true for me, they help me in my life, so what does it matter there source? Yet again, I find that the difference between me and others is where our focus lies. I’m all about this life – not the next. I’m not worried about trying to be saved, I’m trying to be a decent person right now. What I get from Jesus and his teachings is a framework for what it means to be a decent person. Christianity gives me that foundation of what morality is and why it’s important.

    As for the atonement, I’m sorry to say this, but I’ve never related well to this ongoing Mormon movement to be more Protestant. I just don’t have this sense that I’m a fallen piece of crap that needs saving. I like the idea of the atonement as a reminder to repent – but only in the sense of reviewing and thinking about our behavior and what needs improvement. But I’m turned off by this idea (not that everyone believes this way) of keeping score – did I repent for everything I did wrong, because if I didn’t, it’s straight to spirit prison for me. I just don’t relate to the teary-eyed testimonies born in Mormon chapels about how Jesus is our friend who suffered for *me* and died for *me*. I’m not sure why, but it’s something that’s never touched me as much as his teachings on the poor, and the fact that he died because he was different. That moves me far more than the idea that he *had* to die. It seems like a very human notion to me that he chose to die – to humans, death is the worst possible scenario, so the fact that Jesus *chose* it makes his sacrifice the greatest. But theologically, that doesn’t make much sense to me – death to Jesus would be a welcome, glorious event. He’s returning to his Father and a much better place, after all.

    I don’t think my views are that far out of line with where Joseph Smith was headed at the end of his life. Rex Sears, a Harvard philosophy graduate wrote a great article in Sunstone on the King Follett discourse, the implications of which are lost on most Church members today. The article was in issue 122.

  113. Nate Oman on July 30, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    John H.: It seems that there is a tendency in your readings of both the Book of Mormon and the New Testament to dismiss theological and historical questions in favor of moral and practical (in the broadest Aristilean sense of the word) ones. I am wondering what distinction, if any, you see between religious ideas and ethical ones. It seems to me that one may create an ethics that is more or less devoid of theological content. One may even couch and teach such ethics in narrative terms (perhaps Aesop’s fables?). My question is after we systematically strip away claims about providential involvement in history or salvation in the way that you seem to be doing, are we left with anything that distinguishes religion from simple ethics?

  114. D. Fletcher on July 30, 2004 at 1:59 pm

    “As for my own beliefs about Jesus, I believe that he at least lived, and I love, love, love the teachings in the New Testament – again, regardless of their source. They ring true for me, they help me in my life, so what does it matter there source? Yet again, I find that the difference between me and others is where our focus lies. I’m all about this life – not the next. I’m not worried about trying to be saved, I’m trying to be a decent person right now. What I get from Jesus and his teachings is a framework for what it means to be a decent person. Christianity gives me that foundation of what morality is and why it’s important.”

    Once again, I have to agree with John H., and cheer him. I believe in Jesus, His teachings, and I try to focus my life upon following His example. But the Jesus I believe in is the Savior as restored to the earth by Joseph Smith. I think Joseph instinctively recognized that the “character” of Jesus had been lost, in an oleo of evolving/changing doctrine, power-hungry church leaders and cultural advancement (science-as-faith) since the beginning of Christian history. Joseph gave back to Jesus a simple human story of sacrifice and redemption, and a quality of feeling, a rich, human emotion akin to love. This Jesus is quite different from the mystical Savior adored in other sects, a foglike-personage as distant as Kolob. Joseph gave flesh and blood back to Jesus, and since we’re familiar with human love, the transference of this kind of love for Jesus was easy. Joseph may have done this because he actually met Jesus in the flesh, and was therefore able to characterize him in the most human terms.

    I simply don’t feel that feeling at other faiths. I feel removed from Jesus there. They certainly preach truth, but the feeling… I don’t have any other words to describe this. I love our Church because of the feeling.

    The Book of Mormon shows this feeling, as well, though I wish the Church wouldn’t place so much emphasis upon it, and Joseph’s additions to traditional Christianity.

    I don’t need to know about the historicity of The Book of Mormon, and I don’t need to know about the specific historicity of the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection, to know that I still believe in Jesus as The One.

  115. John on July 30, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    John H.,
    Thanks again for your answers to hard questions. This time you answered very directly and I appreciate that. I have to admit that I am surprised at your answer, though I can see how if you are concerned with improving yourself here and now it makes sense. I think many Mormons would do well to forget about the afterlife and concentrate on following Christ now. Your answer does bring up even more terrible questions though, involving the divinity of Christ, his resurrection, and how it was that he communicated with Joseph Smith.

    Here’s another question, since you Joseph’s depiction of Jesus. What do you think of D&C 19? I am assuming that you think it is outdated since you imply that Joseph was moving towards a notion that the atonement wasn’t needed. I might have to subscribe to go back and read that article…

    D.,
    I see how you are following along with John H. here, but you threw me a curve with:
    “Joseph may have done this because he actually met Jesus in the flesh, and was therefore able to characterize him in the most human terms.”

    How is this possible without an atonement and a resurrection? I must be missing something. Why is this believable but not other things Joseph said?

  116. ed on July 30, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Rob says: “As for being the “principle” ancestor–I’m not sure we know what that means. Charlemagne is one of my ancestors. Is he my principle ancestor? Surely most of my ancestors living back then weren’t Charlemagne. Who is my “principle” ancestor going back 100 generations?”

    I think that’s a really good question. The BOM introduction says the Lamanites are “the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” Who wrote this, and why? What do you think it is supposed to mean? Is it in keeping with current church teachings?

  117. D. Fletcher on July 30, 2004 at 2:47 pm

    John:

    I believe in the Resurrection. Was that not clear?

    I believe that what Joseph Smith told us (to a certain extent) He believed to be true. I do not think he was a charlatan, or was purposefully trying to deceive people, unless instructed to do so by God. I believe he was a Prophet, appointed to spearhead the Restoration of the Gospel.

    But I also think that the events surrounding the finding and “translation” of the Book of Mormon are much more complex than we know, from a historical perspective. Perhaps much of what Joseph said he saw, he “saw” in his brain?

    And I do not believe that the Book of Mormon represents history, but it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t believe that much of the Bible represents history, either.

  118. John on July 30, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    Rob’s comparison between a single person (Charlemagne) and a group is a bad one. The concept of principle ancestorS makes the most sense when talking about groups of people. The term implies a variety of people mixing. It also seems to imply a concept of a numerical majority of the ancestors at some point in history, which I am not sure is valid in this case, but there may be other meanings.

  119. John H on July 30, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    Nate, I think you’re exactly right. I do distinguish between these things and I think if the entire Church were to do this, Mormonism would probably just become a humanist institution. I don’t support that at all – the Church is so interesting, and so fascinating, I’d hate to see it become like so many other Protestant religions. This is just the path that I choose, since I think I’m more prone to be bothered by the negative implications of theology.

    For example, if you ask me what I like about Mormon theology, I’d tell you I like the three-fold heaven concept, eternal couplehood, etc. I think these are such positive messages, and that belief in them can help us construct a moral framework for how to live in this life. But I get discouraged at the flip-side of these positive messages. Some church members (not all, probably not even a majority) will insist on focusing on what I would deem the negative implications of these great doctrines – if you don’t do what you’re supposed to, you won’t be an eternal couple. If you don’t do such and such, you won’t go to the Celestial Kingdom. I’d much rather be trusted to make my own moral decisions and do what I think is best based on the ethical framework Mormon and Christian teachings have given me, than have a perspective that says if I don’t do certain things right now, I’m screwed in the next life.

    I suspect people like yourself, Jim F., and others have negotiated these issues far more maturely and thougtfully than I have. Because the “negatives” have had a greater impact on my life, I suspect I’m oversensitive about them.

  120. John H on July 30, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    D., if I was gay, you’d definitely have my phone number by now :) I really enjoy your posts.

  121. John on July 30, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    D.,

    To me, in the context of this discussion, it wasn’t clear at all.

    You said:
    “I don’t need to know about the historicity of The Book of Mormon, and I don’t need to know about the specific historicity of the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection, to know that I still believe in Jesus as The One.”

    You seemed to be saying that you feel about the same about the historicity of the BoM as you do about the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. To me that implied that you aren’t very concerned about whether they happened or not. This in the context of a discussion in which you are supporting John H., who just questioned whether the Atonement occurred and if it is even important, which questions I assume you hold as well.

    I honestly thought that you would have classified Joseph’s interactions with the Savior in a “‘saw’ in his brain” manner as well.

    I hope you can see how I might be confused about where you draw lines between historicity and imagination.

  122. D. Fletcher on July 30, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    John:

    Sorry, I keep forgetting that I’m really having two conversations, one here, and the other at BCC.

    Here’s something I posted over there, a little testimony:

    I believe in Jesus Christ, that in His suffering he brought light and salvation to a dark world, and the seeds of that mission from 2,000 years ago bear fruits today in the harmony and stability of loving families, honorable children and selfless service.

    I do not need to know the specifics of Jesus’s life on this earth to feel this way about Him. Similarly, I do not need to know that Job really existed to feel the sublime spiritual uplift I read in the book named after him.

    If the Book of Mormon brings people to Jesus, in a two-way communication of supplication, sacrifice and reward, then the Book’s “fruits” are certainly divine.

    Though I wish the Church would place less emphasis on Joseph Smith’s additions to the canon, I am willing to concede that Jesus remains the central focus, and so I will continue to believe until my death.

    But the Church will insist on the historicity of the Book of Mormon, even though proven otherwise. The Church will not allow the Book to be a simple Job-like allegory. If the Book isn’t historic, then this might in turn say something unfortunate about its creation, and its “translator,” something the Church doesn’t want to find out.

    But ultimately, I won’t lose my testimony, such as it is, if I found out with certainty that J.Smith was in fact, a scoundrel. Perhaps God needed a scoundrel to get the final dispensation going, someone with great manipulative power over people. God needed a man with charisma. God moves in mysterious ways.

    John H:

    I’ll be meeting you at the Symposium! I’m really looking forward to it this year, partly because of the chance to meet the bloggers here.

  123. clark on July 30, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    I don’t think that explains how to discern whether a body died in battle. After all after a limited skirmish near ones place of residence we’d expect the body to be brought back and interred in a more traditional way — especially if the figure was a leader rather than some one lower down in prestige. (Just like the funeral of Ronald Reagan is different from the funeral of the average Joe)

    Certainly a quick burial of many haphazard bodies, many with recent bone damage indicates a battle. However the lack of those doesn’t seem to indicate that at all. And that was what I was getting at. It seems once again an argument from silence.

    Perhaps there is a way forensic anthropologists can discern how a person died even without anything obvious to the layperson. That’s what I’m asking about.

  124. John H on July 30, 2004 at 3:39 pm

    John: I think there’s a few different possible readings of D&C 19. The most skeptical would be that Joseph’s just trying to scare the heck out of Martin Harris so he’ll sell his farm to print the Book of Mormon. I think that’s a stretch.

    But I also think it would be a mistake to read it without being aware of Joseph’s worldview at the time. The section reads very much like a pentecostal text, and it is deeply focused on repentance and the need for repentance. The language is quite powerful (and beautiful, I might add) in its warning that if you don’t repent, you will have to suffer even as Christ suffered.

    It also reflects an idea that I think is evident in other of Joseph’s writings and thought at the time: There is no hell. I really, really like this doctrine myself. It doesn’t surprise me that it was something Joseph was interested in as well, given his family dynamics and the revivals around him. The punishment might be extremely harsh and difficult to handle, but it is finite. That might help Joseph understand that Alvin, for example, isn’t doomed to hell for eternity. His parents, who could be divided over religion, won’t be punished forever.

  125. Rob on July 30, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Rob’s comparison between a single person (Charlemagne) and a group is a bad one.

    Maybe. But I still don’t know what the original statment is supposed to mean. How can a group be principal ancestors? Does that mean a majority of ones ancestors had to belong to the group? At what point in time?

    Going back 5 generations, 3/4 of my ancestors were LDS converts from America, England, or Denmark. Which were my “principal” ancestors? Go back a couple more generations and I have ancestors in England, Wales, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, and the U.S. states of MA, NY, VA, WV, AL…go back further and eventually I tie in to line in almost every European country.

    Since eventually only the royal and noble lines are traceable, does that mean that the Norman invaders of England are my principal ancestors? I think talk about principal ancestors is too fuzzy to be useful and think this quote from the BoM introductory page (authorship?) seems unhelpful.

  126. Nate Oman on July 30, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    “the BoM introductory page (authorship?)”

    Bruce R. McConkie, largely without any input from anyone else.

  127. ed on July 30, 2004 at 4:21 pm

    Nate, what do you know about this? Are you implying that the fact that BRM wrote it “largely without input” means that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously?

  128. Nate Oman on July 30, 2004 at 4:27 pm

    I have heard the story via Robert Millet. My understanding is that there was a committee set up to oversee the new edition of the scriptures. The committee had substantial input on certain things — e.g. the bible dictionary — while there were other things where Elder McConkie, who was the chair of the committee, more or less eliminated outside input. The introduction was one of these things. I have already confessed to a certain amount of McConkie skepticism here.

  129. Rob on July 30, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks Nate. I had suspected McConkie and the the 1981 version as the source of this statement but didn’t have any documentation. Maybe this was one of his less inspired statements and we could have used a little more correlation on that one.

  130. danithew on July 30, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    Was it a committee or Elder McConkie who put in the little prefaces to each Book of Mormon chapter?

  131. Nate Oman on July 30, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    I don’t know. I have frequently heard that McConkie authored the chapter summaries as well, but I honestly don’t know.

  132. danithew on July 30, 2004 at 4:48 pm

    I’m sure this is out there somewhere and I just haven’t checked very hard … I should know this. It just seems to me that there ought to be a book that tells us, step-by-step, how the Book of Mormon came to be, from the Original Manuscript to our 1982 edition. I’m sure some of what Royal Skousen does either comes close to this or actually IS this.

    On a few occasions I’ve learned who split the Book of MOrmon chapters into more chapters and who split the chapters into individual verses. But I can’t remember for sure who did these things either.

    It seems to me that with a book as important as the BOok of Mormon, we ought to know who did what.

  133. Rob on July 30, 2004 at 5:15 pm

    A brief history of editions of the BoM is here

  134. Jack on July 30, 2004 at 5:21 pm

    What kind of God do we believe in? Does He love us or not? If He loves us; how much? If He loves us to the fullest extent that an infinite being can love, then His love is without measure. How does he prove His love? By condescending to walk upon this dusty planet along side His brethren. (a marvellous BoM doctrine!) By condescending to experience every mortal travail along side His brethren and in the end suffering both spiritual and physical death on their behalf.

    I don’t believe that the cords of his love would be strong enough to draw His children to Him had He not proved His love by dying for them. If the Savior’s mission were only allegory, how do we place our trust in a God who says that He fullfills His promises? If all acts ever attributed to God in the scriptures never really occured; if all parties to whom God made His promises never really existed, why should we be bound to believe anything He says?

    The coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a fullfillment of promises made by God to various BoM prophets. If the prophets to whom God made His promises did not exist, then we have a serious theological problem. It would suggest that God would, at His own whim, work His will among His children without their consent – a very big no no according to the doctrines of the BoM itself. The BoM, with supreme clarity, testifies of Christ because of the accounts of witnesses who saw, heard and felt Him. One of the witnesses says that we will see him after this life and that the Lord will chide us for rejecting his testimony (in so many words). It would be a little uncanny to be found guilty of such a sin if the witnesses never existed!

  135. danithew on July 30, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Hey Rob… thanks for the link! :) I knew Royal Skousen would be behind an explanation of this sort of thing. Good for him!

  136. Mark Simmons on August 10, 2004 at 10:05 pm

    On July 2, 1843 several Pottawatomie chiefs came to visit with the Prophet Joseph Smith. They told the Prophet of their sufferings and that they had come a long way to see him and hear his words. As reported by Wilford Woodruff, Joseph Smith told them the following (HC 5:479-81):

    “The Great Spirit has told you the truth. I am your friend and brother and will do you good. Your fathers were once a great people. They worshipped the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit did them good. He was their friend, but they left the Great Spirit and would not hear his words or keep them. The Great Spirit left them, and they began to kill one another, and they have been poor and afflicted until now.

    “The Great Spirit has given me a book, and told me that you will soon be blessed again. . . . This is the book which your fathers made. I wrote upon it (showing them the Book of Mormon.) This tells you what you will have to do. I now want you to begin to pray to the Great Spirit. I want you to make peace with one another, and do not kill any more Indians; it is not good. Do not kill white men; it is not good; but ask the Great Spirit for what you want, and it will not be long before the Great Spirit will bless you, and you will cultivate the earth and build good houses like white men.”

    If Joseph Smith is a prophet, then the native inhabitants of the Great Plains are principally of Lamanite descent. He didn’t say “I give it as my uninspired opinion that you’re descendants of Lehi” – as you’ll note at the beginning of the quote he said that God told him so. Remember, the first missionaries were called in 1830 to go “preach to the Lamanites” in what was then the American frontier.

    I don’t see what the big issue is with the possibility that Book of Mormon accounts took place in a limited meso-american geography while during Book of Mormon times and afterwards great migrations caused the Lehite/Mulekite(/Jaredite?) descendants to spread across both American continents. The record-keepers were principally from just two family lines in a regional government, and their accounts would naturally reflect their surroundings where administration of government over hundreds/thousands of miles would have been impractical. If this were not so, we might as well claim that the Nephite government was more far reaching than the Roman empire (I don’t think so!)

    Another thing – the supposed inconsistency between what Church leaders have taught and what FARMS scholars argue for in regards to Book of Mormon geography is at most a generalization. Howard W. Hunter for one personally believed that the Cumorah referred to in the Book of Mormon was in meso-America (I remember seeing this in a church archeological book about 15 years ago), and the hill where the plates are claimed to be discovered was never ascribed to be the “Hill Cumorah” in any of Joseph Smith’s contemporary accounts (anyone please correct me if I’m wrong).

    And just for fun, does anyone remember the account from – was it Brigham Young or Oliver Cowdery? (I haven’t read it in years but I know it exists) – where they had a chance to go into THE hill with Joseph and see the archives of Mormon/Moroni (supposedly the sword of Laban was among the stowed treasures)? How do you suppose that fits into all of this? Did Moroni lug his whole library up to New York or were the witnesses transported elsewhere in a vision? Hmmmm ….

  137. Mark Simmons on August 13, 2004 at 12:00 am

    The reference to walking into the hill where the “archives of plates” and the sword of laban were stored can be found below. And it turns out it was Brigham Young relating a personal account of Oliver Cowdery. My memory serves me well, as I think I was twelve when I heard the story in Sunday School … That must have been a good lesson!

    Anyway the reference is here:
    http://lds.about.com/library/weekly/aa111402a.htm

  138. Mark Simmons on August 18, 2004 at 9:53 pm

    This just in! It turns out we were wrong all along. The Native Americans are not of Lamanite descent … it turns out that the Eastern Africans are! According to Embaye Melekin, Lehi’s family landed on the African continent, all Africans are literal descendants of Lehi, and the Book of Mormon took place on the African continent (http://www.eritrean-n-d-p.com/INTRODUCTION%20of%20Book%20of%20M.htm). FARMS was way off on this one! ;)

  139. Clark Goble on August 18, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    Mark, so far as I’m aware, there is no claimed revelation for the exact way modern US Indians are *genetically* related to Lehi. They may be heirs to the promise without being directly *gentically* related.

  140. Randy on August 19, 2004 at 12:10 am

    Clark,

    Much has been said regarding this point on this thread and others. I don’t want to rehash those prior conversations, but a couple thoughts.

    First, if the Introduction to the Book of Mormon doesn’t count as “claimed revelation,” then the standard for this class of revelation must be pretty dang high.

    Second, the “principal ancestors” bit in the Introduction can only fairly be read, IMO, as claiming that there is not only a genetic link but a substantial genetic link between the American Indians and the Lehites. In response to arguments about “who are your ancestors” (e.g., “if you go back far enough, all of Europe is related”), I would point out that Elder McConkie (the supposed author of the Introduction) set the standard here–the word “principal” is his. If, in fact, the Lehites were the primary inhabitants of the Americas, then one, I think, could fairly take the position stated in the Introduction. There appears to be, however, broad agreement that the Lehites were not the primary inhabitants of the Americas. If this understanding is correct, then Dan Peterson must surely be correct that the Introduction “is simply wrong.”

    Finally, I agree with you that the American Indians may be “heirs” to the promises made to Lehi without being directly genetically related. I think you and others make a good point about the cultural meaning of the terms Nephite and Lamanite in the BOM itself. This does not solve the problem with the Introduction, however. It is one thing to say you are a Mormon; it is quite another to say that your “principal ancestors” were Mormons. I don’t mean to make BRM an “offender for a word,” but didn’t he mean exactly what he said, as fantastic as that seems to be?

  141. Mark Simmons on August 20, 2004 at 12:54 am

    Clark,

    According to a personal revelation I had when I was eighteen, I am “principally” a descendant of Ephraim (okay it doesn’t use the term “principally” but you know what I mean, and I don’t think it comes as much surprise to anyone that I have been designated with this descent). This is on record with the Church and is thus a “claimed” revelation, is it not?

    Maybe I should head over to the local university medical center and have my blood analyzed for Israelite DNA. Yes, someone will say my argument has no merit, even if there is traceable blood-line, because that signature would have been diluted out over thousands of years and mixture with other lineages. But say for the sake of argument that I’m the result of thousands of years of inbreeding (har har); what should I compare my DNA that produces twelve fingers and toes with, a blood sample from John Stewart (adjust your tie now)?

    Then why should we put so much stock in a comparison of Native American DNA with a modern Jew when the latest possible mingling of those lines would have been around 625-587 BC (if in fact Native Americans are Lamanites), when it is safe to assume that both groups have experienced extensive genetic mingling from outside influences?

    Aside from all of this, Lehi learned from the Lord that the only way peoples would be led to his land (mesoamerica or the american continents?) was by his hand. What other migrations did God lead to the Americas that are not recorded in the Book of Mormon? We simply don’t know. But we do know from the title page of the Book of Mormon that it was prepared primarily for the Lamanites, and by a survey of Church growth in the past 50 years, a major segment consists of those who would identify themselves as at least partially of “Lamanite” descent.

    By the way, concerning Ephraim, the view has been held that the English were descendants of the tribe or Ephraim prior to the organization of the Church, and it has been an idea that has recently resurfaced in some non-LDS Christian circles as well, so it isn’t a doctrine unique to the LDS Church, and some critics might argue that the LDS inheritance of this idea was adopted rather than revealed. Do a search on Ephraim and England and see what you find.

  142. Times and Seasons » X-Files on October 29, 2004 at 4:08 am

    […] nistrator’s login and password appear to have been “adam-god” and “zelph” although these have since been changed). Having gained access, I looked around […]