A Reaction to the Church’s Recent Essay on Book of Mormon Geography

Brant Gardner has kindly agreed to offer some comments on the recent Church essay on Book of Mormon geography. He’s a research assistant with Book of Mormon Central and arguably one of the top experts in the question of Book of Mormon geography. I’ve enjoyed discussing the Book of Mormon with Brant going way back to the 90’s when I ran the old Morm-Ant mailing list to discuss ancient history as it related to Mormon scripture. Since then Brant’s published some groundbreaking work. I think his The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon is the main sustained overview of the underlying translation process of the Book of Mormon. That is not just the actions of Joseph Smith but what we should say about the nature of the text itself as a translation. There are few books I’d characterize as “must reads” in Mormon theology but I think this is one of them. He also has the excellent The Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History engaging in issues related to a mesoamerican historical setting for the text. He’s also has an well received commentary on the Book of Mormon text itself that tries to bring in insights from a purported mesoamerican setting.

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The recent Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon geography makes two things as clear as possible: the Church has no position on Book of Mormon geography and “the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purpose—to testify of Jesus Christ” (quoting President Nelson).[1] When combined with the statement that “The Church urges local leaders and members not to advocate theories of Book of Mormon geography in official Church settings,” the essay can easily be read as a longer version of Elder Uchtdorf’s poignant “stop it.”[2]

For those of us who spend time either directly on the question of Book of Mormon geography, or its implications, I think it is important to note the distinction that was made between teaching a non-endorsed theory in a Church setting and proposing that same non-endorsed theory in other venues. The ability to study, discuss, and attempt to understand Book of Mormon geography is not proscribed, only the ability to claim directly or by implication that there is a special endorsement behind it. The Church doesn’t endorse any geography. Since they don’t endorse a geography, it seems dicey to claim one through revelation given to early Saints—or a later investigator.

For me, as an investigator of the implications of Book of Mormon geography, the most important part of the essay is the quotation from President Anthony W. Ivins (then a Counselor in the First Presidency): “There has never ben anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of Book of Mormon geography]. So the Church ways we are just waiting until we discover the truth.”[3] I really believe that is the message. There is nothing revealed. It is fine to work to find the truth—just don’t proclaim that you have anything other than a scholar’s opinion.

The church’s message didn’t also include an admonition to increase the civility of the discussions about Book of Mormon geography. Perhaps the Internet simply exposes a larger number of opinions that used to remain private—and then amplifies them. We could do with another admonition from Elder Uchtdorf to stop it. This really is an academic discussion, not a religious one. The salvific value of the Book of Mormon remains whether one thinks it took place in New York, the middle of the United States, Baja, Mesoamerica, Central America, northern South America, Western South America—or even Malaysia.[4] No one’s value as a member of the church is altered based on which geography she or he prefers.

While I do think we need to stop the rancor, I don’t think we need to stop the questions. I don’t think we stop evaluating geographies. It is probable that most who propose a geography sincerely believe it, and it is certain that they will state their case as strongly as possible. That is part of the process of trying to discover the truth. However, the other part of discovering truth is that all those who propose a geography will be subject to scrutiny and will be asked questions. Hard questions. No parent likes to be told their child is ugly. Fortunately, we can discuss Book of Mormon geography on more neutral data rather than subjective aesthetics. Our discussions must be involved with the data and less of the hurt feelings that more naturally arise when our “baby” is criticized.

When I find a different suggested Book of Mormon geography, I have a procedure I use to evaluate it. My beginning assumption is that it could be right. If I assume it is wrong from the beginning, then that assumption will be self-fulling. I won’t find anything correct about it. If I at least assume that it might be correct, and accept the proposer’s original assumptions, then I can evaluate it based on data rather than an assumptive dismissal.

When evaluating a geography, I assume that the proposer has found the big pieces, a land northward, a land southward, oceans, and a narrow neck. I accept those definitions to see how the rest of the model fits into the geography. Since most who propose a geography are looking first for those large markers, I assume they found something. The question is whether everything else works.

I assume a human population in antiquity lived through the events and migrations in the Book of Mormon. While we don’t have precise distances, the requirements of humanity dictate basic bounds. For example, traveling from a Zarahemla in Central American to a Nephi in Chile is simply too far for any known human population in the timeframes we find in the Book of Mormon. Positing that all travel was on horseback doesn’t fit any known population in the Americas (nor is it suggested in the text of the Book of Mormon). Using rivers is more plausible, although also surprisingly absent in the text if that were really the main mode of travel. If the proposer suggests distances farther than normal populations walk in a day, then I am looking to see how the proposer explains the distances. If there is an explanation, I accept it for purposes of continuing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Next, the relative location of cities should match the text. Basic distances are certainly not fixed, but relative locations are. All indications in the text are that Zarahemla is north of the land of Nephi. If Zarahemla were posited to be south, it would be an immediate red flag (and require a really good explanation, or it becomes an immediate dismissal).

My personal test for the fit of the real world and the text is to look at Manti. Manti is a small enough piece that it doesn’t get considered when a proposer puts together a geography. They haven’t gone looking for a place first (like the narrow neck), so little attention is paid to it. However, the text gives some pretty clear requirements:

• It is near the headwater of the Sidon
• It is near the most common entry point from the land of Nephi into Zarahemla, hence it is placed at that location to be a fortified strong point.
• It is approached on the east through an east-west running valley.
The east-west valley is often neglected. I am only aware of two potential geographies that have Manti placed correctly near and east-west running valley.

The military nature of the city is also important. It is the first line of defense at a common entry point. If a geography is such that it an army could easily move from south to north by simply going around Manti at a distance where the army wouldn’t be detected, then it cannot fulfill its textual military function. I have seem some geographies where an army could easily get to Zarahemla without going anywhere near Manti as placed in that geography.

I also take a look at the location of Bountiful, which should be near the east coast but still provide a military barrier to travel through the narrow neck of land. As with Manti, it can be easily by-passed, then it doesn’t fulfill the same function in the proposed geography as it does in the text.

As a final aspect of the geography, I look at the 3 Nephi events. At least three different LDS geologists have noted that the events best describe a type of volcanic eruption. Therefore, I look for the possibilities of a volcano, the possibilities of flooding that would sink cities, or for the proposed geography’s alternate explanation. Alternate explanations have multiple conditions that have to be met, and the geologists don’t find them except in a volcanic eruption. The length of time listed in the text, for example, is significantly longer than known earthquakes.

Once I finish with the geography, the next step is to look at the people who lived there at the appropriate time. Geographies that require that a large part of land was underwater at a time when people were living there are pretty much excluded. Geographies that require that land be above water that hasn’t been above water for hundreds of thousands of years is also disqualified.

Once we find a population, then it has to fit the requirements of the text. This gets a little interpretive because the Book of Mormon doesn’t give us some of the information we want as clearly as we might want it. For example, we know that the Book of Mormon peoples had to have an agriculturally based economy. We learn that from the text when we see crops damaged in war that lead to famine as well as in the inverse when Nephites dismiss the Lamanites as hunters—with the clear implication that the Nephites were not. To this is added what archaeology and anthropology know about the nature of communities and the sizes that can be sustained with only hunting and gathering, a combination of hunting and gathering with limited agriculture, and a full agricultural base where sufficient calories are provided. Only the last of the three can support the numbers and described community complexity described in the Book of Mormon. Any region without a solid agricultural foundation won’t be the Book of Mormon lands.

If I can get this far in my analysis, then I am ready for what I think is the most important benefit of Book of Mormon geography. I borrow from our understanding of the Old and New Testaments, which are enriched by understanding the people and the social circumstances of the world in which they are set. Just as we can learn much to help us understand the text of the Bible because we know the basics of the lands on which biblical peoples lived, we should be able to enrich our understanding of the Book of Mormon if we have the correct geography. This isn’t a case where a similarity between something in the New World and the Old somehow proves the Book of Mormon. Those things can be interesting, but they are seldom instructive about the text. The closer we are to finding a geography of the Book of Mormon that helps us understand the text because we know the topography, or we know the cultures that surrounded them, then we are more likely to have found the right geography.

I believe that the Gospel Topics essay allows us to continue to seek the truth of the real-world location of the Book of Mormon. I also believe that when we find that truth, the Book of Mormon will be better explained in that geography than it is without it.

1. The essay may be found here: https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-topics/book-of-mormon-geography

2. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” General Conference, April 2012. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-merciful-obtain-mercy

3. The Gospel Topics essay as well as Anthony W. Ivins, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 16.

4. There are proposals for each of those areas, with typically multiple versions of how those regions fit into the text.

63 comments for “A Reaction to the Church’s Recent Essay on Book of Mormon Geography

  1. queuno
    February 21, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    I guess I’m glad (?) I didn’t realize that this was a rancorous topic, what with child baptism, Scouts, the death of Sunday School, the 2-hour block, BYU admissions, BYU football, and gay marriage on our minds.

    But it was a great essay.

    [NB – My father wrote a Book of Mormon geography book, after he retired from his academic career. It’s like 600 pages and is really more of a lit review of everyone else. Maybe one day I’ll get around to publishing it. His basic take was the same as the essay about – this is cool stuff but not important to salvation.]

  2. John W
    February 21, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    The church does take a position on geography. Its position is that the Book of Mormon describes the interactions of ancient Americans with Jesus Christ whom they believed in hundreds of years before his birth and whom they saw and spoke with. It may not take a position of where exactly the Book of Mormon took place, but it most certainly takes a position.

    I also often hear that Mormonism is not a history lesson. It might not go into specifics or be concerned with establishing solid and direct evidence for its historical claims, but it is most certainly a history lesson and belief in its basic (yet still very extraordinary) historical claims have everything to do with salvation. Saying that the Book of Mormon didn’t take place historically, neither in the Americas nor anywhere else, is to reject Mormonism. And there appear to be many liberal “believers” who do want to say that the Book of Mormon is not historically true but still true in some metaphorical sense and that Joseph Smith is a true prophet in some other way, but not in the sense of miraculously translating ancient records. They are rejecting Mormonism’s core teachings and cannot coherently claim themselves to be believers.

  3. Dsc
    February 21, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    John W.

    Claiming to know what constitutes others’ “core teachings” is a great way to misrepresent their beliefs and argue against a straw man. I’m not in the “ahistorical but still true” camp, but it would be totally inappropriate for me to claim that they reject Mormonism. I think you have to dig pretty deep to get to “core” doctrines, and I don’t think some heterodox beliefs, even on important topics, indicates a rejection of Mormonism unless they go to truly fundamental beliefs (e.g. salvation through Jesus Christ) or core unique beliefs (e.g. the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith).

  4. ReTx
    February 21, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    I don’t understand logic that tells me what I can and cannot do just because the speaker sees the world differently than I do. Shouldn’t it be my relationship with Jesus that defines me as a believer in His gospel and not the delineations of a fellow human?

    Wonderful article. The author failed to note which two geographical theories have a Manti that fits correctly. And now I really want to know….

  5. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 12:17 am

    I’m creating a “strawman” by saying that a central teaching of Mormonism is that ancients in the Americas witnessed and interacted with Jesus Christ? What exactly is the Book of Mormon being a second testament of Jesus Christ supposed to mean if not just that? No. This is an accurate and fair description of what the overwhelming majority of active Mormons believe (no, we don’t need a poll or an in-depth research study to establish this, it is common knowledge) and it is what the leaders of the LDS Church have repeatedly taught from the very beginning. To say that I’m somehow mischaracterizing the LDS community and their beliefs in so saying is preposterous.

    The claim that Joseph Smith revealed more things about Jesus Christ than was previously known, including through the miraculous translation of an ancient American record that told of their interactions with Jesus Christ is the foremost claim of what sets Mormonism apart from other Christian denominations. It is not enough to just believe in Jesus Christ as our God and Savior to be considered a believing Mormon. A believing Mormon also must believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that evidence of his prophethood is his translation of the Book of Mormon. Of course, you are free not to believe that the Book of Mormon is historical or that Joseph Smith actually translated an ancient American text about Jesus Christ. But don’t call yourself a believing Mormon then. Because you’re not. Also don’t say that you believe the Book of Mormon to be true if you don’t believe it to contain the words of ancient Americans about Jesus. Because to say that it isn’t historical is to call it untrue. To say that Joseph Smith didn’t translate the words of ancient Americans about Jesus from golden plates is to call him a liar and a fraud. Don’t say that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and then in the same breath say that he didn’t actually reveal the words of ancient Americans about Jesus.

  6. Dsc
    February 22, 2019 at 1:18 am

    John W

    Had you originally said that believers in an ahistorical-but-true Book of Mormon are in the minority of believing Latter-day Saints, you would have been absolutely right. But that’s not what you said, so don’t pretend that it is. You said they reject Mormonism. It’s not up to you to decide what makes a “true Mormon”. I think (1) faith in Jesus Christ is the most fundamental belief of Mormonism, and (2) continuing revelation and priesthood authority as the most distinctive from other Christians. (3) The Book of Mormon is a powerful witness of both, and I believe (along with most Latter-day Saints) that the (4) Book of Mormon is a spiritual witness of both as the record of actual people in ancient America. But I think it’s out of line to draw the line between believer and non-believer at (4).

    And I think you have no business trying to draw that line. In your case, you’re not trying to defend the faith from heresy, so whatever your attempt to define belief is necessarily the construction of a straw man for you to tear down.

  7. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 1:57 am

    “I think you have no business trying to draw that line”

    You’re right. I don’t. The leaders of the LDS Church determine what its members must profess to be considered a believer. In most callings, on missions, in church talks, in church manuals, members are told to profess that the Book of Mormon is historical and is evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophethood. The historicity of the Book of Mormon is about as central and fundamental as you can get in Mormonism. Gordon B. Hinckley said that the Book of Mormon was the “keystone of our religion.” Given everything he said on the topic of the Book of Mormon and everything that was taught in the manuals that approved while serving as prophet, it is quite clear that what he meant was that its value as an actual second testament of Jesus Christ was everything to the LDS religion. It is. I fully agree with him. To take away a historical BOM is to destroy the very foundations on which Mormonism rests. The guy over on Wheat and Tares saying that he believes that the Book of Mormon is not historical but that Joseph Smith is still a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is still the word of God is completely incoherent and is promoting a Mormonism that throws every last LDS authority who ever existed under the bus. He doesn’t really believe in Mormonism. He has invented a personalized Mormonism that bears no resemblance to the actual Mormonism promoted and taught by actual Mormon authorities in order to try to justify saying that he is a believing Mormon. He’s not. He is only a cultural Mormon. Not a true believer.

  8. Dsc
    February 22, 2019 at 7:50 am

    “The leaders of the LDS Church determine what its members must profess to be considered a believer.” Correct. And the question of historicity of the Book of Mormon is is not on the baptismal interview nor the temple recommend interview.

    I won’t try to tell you how people with views like churchistrue square their beliefs. Again, I don’t fall into that camp. But I am willing to accept them as fellow believers in the Restored Gospel.

  9. February 22, 2019 at 10:25 am

    John W.: More specifically, since you don’t believe in the truth of the Book of Mormon, historical or otherwise, or in the church or its leaders, it’s really in poor taste for you to declare what church members must believe. Tend to your own garden. Also, please don’t misuse a really interesting guest post from Brant Gardner to push your own agenda. It’s rude and gets in the way of actually relevant discussion.

  10. Robert Osborn
    February 22, 2019 at 10:27 am

    The interesting thing about BoM geography is that we really have no idea the distances from major lands. All we have is a roughly 21 day passage between some point in the land of Nephi tota pointpsomewhere in thetland ofoZarahemla. Besides that we have no clue really how far away the land northward was, how far the land Desolation was, how far away the land of Cumorah was, etc.

    The “narrow neck” also really is interesting because we are never told much about this feature other than a distance at some point across that they defended. We aren’t told how long it was, what it’s habitation, or lack thereof, was. All we know is that it was an identifiable portion of land that separated the land southward from the land northward. We know it had some length to it because it “led” into the land Desolation. But other than that we don’t know it’s length, breadth in general, etc.

    It thus is amusing to watch as various theories get set forth where people try to force unknowns into the text. I largely discount meso-america models on this fact alone.

  11. GEOFF -AUS
    February 22, 2019 at 11:29 am

    Can the author please tell us which are his 2 theories? Does dna come into this discussion? Having just been in the middle east where there are road signs to the place where Jesus was baptised, where John the Baptist is buried etc. It adds credibility. When you go to mormon history sites, you can see the sacred grove, but no stone box, and thats about it. Less credible.

  12. Always a Student
    February 22, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    I for one am happy that we can’t as of yet identify precisely the actual places at which the Book of Mormon events took place. I have traveled the “Bible Lands” and have seen what I privately refer to as “place worship”. For too many people, honoring and practically worshiping the “place” takes precedence over living the Gospel. I am thankful we’re not dealing with that with the Book of Mormon. Decades ago, while teaching Home Study Seminary, the Book of Mormon handouts contained a map of where cities and places were in relation to each other, and that has been good enough for me.

  13. Dsc
    February 22, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Geoff-Aus,

    I don’t really see how sites in the Holy Land add any more credibility. You can see several places where Jesus was baptised, multiple places where He was crucified, and even more locations that claim to have the head of John the Baptist. There’s as much archaeological evidence for Moses leading 2 million Israelites out of Egypt as there is for Helaman leading his 2 thousand sons into battle. I’m not sure how a road sign pointing to a claimed location of a Book of Mormon event is a particularly important part of faith. If you like, the next time you’re in the middle east, I can go to Saudi Arabia and place a road sign to Nahom, and then move on to Oman, where I can label a road sign to Wadi Sayq or Salalah “this way to Bountiful”.

    Having been to the Holy Land, I can say that seeing it helped provide context for biblical scripture, and was the catalyst for some beautiful spiritual experiences. But it was certainly not necessary for me to have faith in Christ.

  14. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    Jonathan, my original comment was relevant to the OP. I simply pointed out that the leaders do have a position on Book of Mormon geography (it took place in the Americas somewhere) and that believing in a historical Book of Mormon is relevant to one’s salvation according to church teachings. The D&C talks of the covenant of the Book of Mormon, how people are supposed to believe in it, and that Joseph Smith did indeed translate it. Dsc hijacked the post with his ridiculous reaction defending that non-believers in BOM historicity can still be considered believers in Mormonism.

    Besides you seem to agree with me. You claimed that since I don’t believe in BOM historicity (which I neither confirm nor deny) that I shouldn’t tell members what they believe suggesting that one who doesn’t believe in a historical BOM cannot be considered a member (well at least a believing member). So why the fuss? We’re on the same side on this issue.

    Dsc, would you want churchistrue teaching seminary to your kids and telling them that the BOM isn’t historical? Would you want him to give a church talk saying that? Would you want him teaching investigators that? He is not a believer. He is incoherently posing as one.

  15. Not a Cougar
    February 22, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    DSC, I think part of the point Geoff was trying to make is that the stories of the Bible, real or not, are at least cast over an identifiable location, giving them some very small level of authenticity that the Book of Mormon can’t claim. If archaeologists could identify Zarahemla and all the rest with some degree of certainty, I don’t think anyone would deny that that would be an immensely important discovery and would make the Church absolutely blow up (in a good way). I think Church leaders (at least in the 20th century) would agree with me as they spent quite a bit of time and money to dig around Central America and Mexico in the late 50s.

    Of course, as you note, the mere fact that the places referenced in the Bible exist does not mean that everything in the Bible occurred or occurred as described (and Christian critics who castigate the Church over BoM historicity often don’t seem to know they live in glass houses). In fact, archaeologists and Biblical scholars have come to grips with this exact idea over the last century. For example, there is no record of anything like the Exodus story among all the Egyptian records found (and they apparently were known for writing down both the good and the bad, even when the Hyksos were around), nor is there any real evidence that King David ever ruled a united Israel (though there is evidence that Judah was ruled by the House of David or at least the Syrians wrote it down as such on the Tel Dan stele). Further, archaeologists appear convinced that pre-exile Israelites were thoroughly polytheistic, rather than the monolatry (or henotheism?) and/or monotheism presented in the Old Testament.

    I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to express here, but, for me at least, it’s a weird feeling when you find out that what can be gleaned from history doesn’t really line up with your sacred text. But I’m still in the boat.

  16. Clark Goble
    February 22, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    Few brief comments.

    First while I think historicity is extremely important to ground the text, I don’t think we should necessarily be disparaging those who haven’t had a personal revelation on the subject. That seems to go against D&C 46. In any case this isn’t really the place to debate that, if you wouldn’t mind.

    Second, the only kind of strong evidence for geography would also be strong evidence for the Book of Mormon, which has lots of implications. Given the nature of the text, if you could strongly argue for Nephites in say norther Guatamala, then you’ve proved the text. I think that you then run up against the problem that you’ve then pretty well strongly argued for God. But then you’ve removed the whole test aspect to mortality. The point of coming here was we were finally in an environment where we didn’t know God was real for sure. We had to find out by turning to him and receiving personal revelation. Really that’s the whole point of the plan of salvation. If we get to the point where we can prove in any strong sense the Book of Mormon it pretty well means that most of mortality is over and the 2cd coming is pretty darn close. i.e. I think God will actively work against finding such evidence.

    This is the divine hiddenness thesis. I think it’s somewhat weak of an issue in most forms of Christianity, but for Mormonism I think it’s essential.

    All that said, DSC is right. There’s really extremely little evidence that the Bible happened as portrayed. Maybe there’s more than the Book of Mormon in the sense we know there were Romans, Babylonians and Egyptians, but not that anything happened like it says. Even the Law is mostly seen as post-exilic developments by many scholars. So the Bible, from a theological perspective (i.e. it’s utility) is at best weakly grounded by archaeological evidence – say nothing about key events such as miracles or the Resurrection.

  17. Dsc
    February 22, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    John W,

    I wouldn’t mind churchistrue teaching seminary to my kids at all, so long as he focused on the doctrine of the Book of Mormon and did not get into questions of where (or if) the events described therein physically took place. Having followed his posts for some time, I have no doubt that he would not hijack a seminary class to teach a pet theory. I would expect the same of seminary teachers who share my own pet theories. Bringing this back to the OP, the Church specifically instructs seminary teachers to avoid speculative topics, like geography. In other words, I’m no more worried about someone who doesn’t believe in the literal history of the Book of Mormon teaching Sunday School or Seminary than I am about someone who firmly believes the events described in the Book of Mormon took place in a specific Mesoamerican setting. As long as those beliefs stay outside of seminary and are presented as opinion, I’m not worried. (P.S., it’s truly amazing that you are accusing me of threadjacking by responding to a topic that took up two-thirds of your original comment).

    Not a Cougar,

    I’m not sure where you were headed with that either, but I enjoyed the journey. The ability to point to a city in the Americas with inscriptions that could definitively shown to be pronounced NEEF-eye and other place names would have a much greater religious significance than finding some Tel Dan-like stele that describes a predecessor to King David named Saul. Given the huge payoff, it’s no wonder that prior generations so eagerly looked for it.* The older I get, the more I realize that every aspect of life is complicated, and old assumptions must constantly be readjusted. It’s uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding.

    *Those searches have yielded some interesting insights into Lehi’s journey. I don’t think those insights are ultimately critical, but understanding the sharp contrast between Bountiful and the surrounding desert helps gain a deeper understanding of why Laman and Lemuel wanted to stay.

  18. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    “we should necessarily be disparaging those who haven’t had a personal revelation on the subject”

    I am not disparaging them. I am simply saying that they are not believers. Again would you want them promoting the idea of a non-historical BOM to your kids at seminary? Would you want them promoting it to investigators?

    “this isn’t really the place to debate that”

    OK tell that to Dsc. There is no debate that to be a believing Mormon you must believe in BOM historicity. I simply stated the obvious. Dsc came in and made ridiculous assertions.

  19. Not a Cougar
    February 22, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Clark, sometimes it feels a bit unfair that previous people apparently witnessed God’s power and majesty without any faith (just ask the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea or the priests of Baal who couldn’t get their sacrifice to burn). But I guess I’ll trade that for modern sanitation and my wife not dying in child birth.

  20. February 22, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    John W., you and I are very much not on the same side of this issue, for all the reasons Dsc has stated and more.

    I tend to think the Book of Mormon is historical. You don’t (and your “neither confirm nor deny” is ridiculous and pathetic; your perpetual refusal to stand by what you believe makes you completely useless as a participant in a conversation).

    I think people can be good members of the church despite holding all kinds of puzzling views, including belief in an ahistorical Book of Mormon. You do not.

    So, no, we do not agree, and we are most emphatically not on the same side.

  21. Ted
    February 22, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    My beginning assumption is that it could be right. If I assume it is wrong from the beginning, then that assumption will be self-fulling.

    In other words, you start with the null hypothesis that the Book of Mormon is true, which is the opposite of how you should go about finding objective truth. The Book of Mormon makes a series of claims, and if we are really interested in testing those claims, we should start with the null that the claims are false, and test evidence against that null. The burden of proof is on the one making the claims.

    Getting the project backwards renders the entire exercise useless. Which is exactly why the field of BOM geography and archaeology enjoy very little attention and respect.

  22. Robert Osborn
    February 22, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    I think it’s worthy of note that the Church recognizes the BoM as a real history, just unsure where exactly the various events happened. The church realizes the implications here in that it certainly must be historical or the entire religion fades away into nothing, loses all it’s credibility. So, it’s better to not even take educated guesses and be wrong later so it is steering clear of that mistake. That said, the church is indeed very interested in proving the historicity of the Book of Mormon and will wait until that comes to light. The problem right now is that the various sides and theories are in stark conflict and it’s causing members to lose faith and fall away.

    I personally don’t subscribe to the meso-america models and I believe the church is starting to steer clear of them too.

  23. p
    February 22, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Catholics as cautionary tale, an institution awash in nonsense (faux miracles, Marian apparitions) while Rome burns. Suspension of healthy disbelief in a historical BoM is dangerous because it opens one to other, more serious errors: the de facto inferiority of women and homosexuals, polygamy as commandment instead of libido, an infallible hierarchy, rabidly right-wing Trump-centric politics.

    Reality, please.

  24. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    Jonathan, the issue never was can you be a good member and not believe in a historical BOM. The issue was can you be a believer in Mormonism and its central teachings and directly claim (not just say, “I don’t know) that the BOM is not historical? No. Of course you can’t. It is patently obvious. Belief in a Mormonism and belief in a historical BOM go hand in hand. They are inseparable.

    If you think you agree with Dsc (which I strongly doubt that you sincerely do) then would you be OK with a seminary teacher teaching your kids that the BOM is true but not historical? Would you be OK with a speaker in church saying that? What about someone teaching an investigator? What about someone teaching primary or the youth? I strongly doubt you would and you push back against it. You’re only saying that you disagree with me because you don’t like me.

  25. Clark Goble
    February 22, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    Not a Cougar, contemporary people have witnessed big miracles. They just don’t talk about it publicly when its happened. I tend to see the Old Testament as fairly corrupt (1 Nephi 13) so I don’t trust the portrayals there which were compiled by uninspired scribes well into the Ptolemaic period. However if you look at the New Testament, while Jesus is doing miracles few see them – the biggest exception is the bread and fish – and frequently he tells the apostles to not share what happened. So I’m not sure that particularly with regards to the Old Testament – especially Genesis – that we need treat it as accurate history in the modern conception of the term. I find the Book of Mormon far more trustworthy.

  26. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    “I wouldn’t mind churchistrue teaching seminary to my kids at all, so long as he focused on the doctrine of the Book of Mormon and did not get into questions of where (or if) the events described therein physically took place”

    But churchistrue isn’t being quiet about his lack of belief in a historical BOM. He is openly touting it on a blog. You’re basically saying that he has to keep quiet and indirectly saying that he is not a full believer. So you agree with me. Why all the fuss in the first place?

    You threadjacked this through and through. The idea that someone doesn’t and cannot coherently claim to believe in Mormonism while openly and directly claiming that the BOM is not historical is not even up for debate. It is plain fact. It is obvious. You’re the one coming on here to make ridiculous claims and push back against an idea that is a given. You’re the troll here.

  27. Dsc
    February 22, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    John W

    Again, you’re trying to tell me how I should feel about something. You have a habit of telling people not only what they should believe but what they do believe. Someone commenting on their own blog is not the same as teaching in an official church capacity.

    “You’re saying that…” John W, you should assume that whenever you start a sentence that way, you’re wrong.

    You’ve now brought up this topic multiple times across different blogs. I haven’t seen anyone agree with you. That, of course, doesn’t make you wrong, but it tends to indicate that what you’re saying isn’t “plain fact”.

  28. lehcarjt
    February 22, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    I’m an ahistorical believer who has taught pretty much every class possible at church. I’ve never once had the historicity of the BofM even come up. (Closest was a new member asking if the local native American populations were laminates). I’m not an idiot so should it ever come up (or any other delicate topic for that matter. I have done this for various aspects of polygamy severaltimes), I’d say something along the lines of, “There are three or four ways to look at this topic. Here’s a brief sampling of what I know. It’s the kind of thing you should go home and do your own research on (or talk to your parents about). I’m happy to send some recommendations if you’d like. ) What exactly is so wrong with that?

  29. p
    February 22, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    lehcarjt, here’s what’s “so wrong with that”: it’s not the simple truth.

    “The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.” Michael Coe Reference: 1972 Dialogue Magazine

    Note the date. Nothing’s changed.

  30. Clark Goble
    February 22, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    p, I don’t think anyone doubts in the least there’s no strong compelling evidence for Nephites that would persuade a non-Mormon skeptic. I don’t think that means someone it’s untruthful to talk about historicity. That conflates what is demonstrable with what is true. And of course we should all recognize the problem with that type of claim.

    John W, there’s a big difference between having a position and discussing it under a pseudonymn and teaching it as yourself in seminary. I’m sure “ChurchisTrue” of all people recognizes that. I’d certainly agree there’s a big difference between believing something and teaching it though. Were someone teaching ahistoricity in Church, I and many others would find that deeply problematic and likely talk to the Bishop. But so what?

  31. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Dsc, you answered my question in agreement. I asked if you would want churchistrue to teach in seminary that the the BOM is true but not historical and you replied that you wouldn’t mind if he taught seminary as he didn’t teach that. So you agreed. It is settled then. You don’t regard churchistrue to be a true believer. There is nothing more to argue about now is there.

    Clark, again the issue wasn’t whether you would be fine with someone teaching seminary who didn’t believe in a historical BOM, I asked if you would be fine with someone teaching your kids that the BOM is true but not historical. I have heard any believer respond in the affirmative and I can’t imagine that you would as well.

    lehcarjt, you’re not a believer in Mormonism. Mormonism’s central teaching is that ancient American descendants of Hebrews saw Jesus and that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient language. You may be a cultural Mormon but you don’t believe a central point of its doctrine and cannot coherently claim to believe its other teachings linked to this such as Joseph Smith being a true prophet. I don’t say this to insult you. I say this to call a spade a spade.

  32. Dsc
    February 22, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    John W

    Clearly you’re not interested in responding to what anyone is actually saying, but what you want them to be saying. Your responses are total non-sequiturs. This is pretty typical for you.

  33. p
    February 22, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    Pretzel logic, John W, entirely bypassing the central concern, to wit: are we living Christ-like lives? – hard enough, believe me, w/o searching, literally or figuratively, for relics.

  34. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    Also, isn’t it interesting how in his posts Jonathan Green repeatedly lambastes the so-called middle pather Mormons so ubiquitous on the blogosphere only to claim alliance with them over stubbornness to concede a point so obvious. You’re a real class act, Jonathan.

    Dsc, I’ve answered your posts and have not engaged in non-sequiturs. Let me reiterate:

    Me: “would you want churchistrue teaching seminary to your kids and telling them that the BOM isn’t historical?”

    You: “I wouldn’t mind churchistrue teaching seminary to my kids at all, so long as he focused on the doctrine of the Book of Mormon and did not get into questions of where (or if) the events described therein physically took place.”

    See you agreed. You don’t want churchistrue to teach that the BOM is not historical in seminary to your kids or other kids.

    One more thing.

    You wrote:

    “Bringing this back to the OP, the Church specifically instructs seminary teachers to avoid speculative topics, like geography.”

    This is not true. I reviewed the 2017 Book of Mormon seminary manual (https://www.lds.org/bc/content/ldsorg/seminary-institute/PDFs/manuals/book-of-mormon-seminary-teacher-manual-2017_lessons%201-42.pdf). It actually does tell the teachers to teach geography. Here are some relevant quotes:

    Page 58 – “Tell students that in the next unit they will study the visions of Lehi and Nephi.
    Explain that Lehi and Nephi’s visions of the tree of life are applicable to our lives
    today. Nephi’s account of his vision includes descriptions of the birth, ministry, and
    Atonement of Jesus Christ; the discovery and colonization of America by the
    Gentiles”

    Page 76 (specifies North America, not South America) – “In 1 Nephi 13:10–19 we read Nephi’s words describing his vision of individuals
    who would go forth “out of captivity,” or religious persecution, from the nations of
    Europe and settle in North America, where they would be “delivered by the power
    of God out of the hands of all other nations””

    Page 645 – “Explain that they will
    also read about the massive destruction that occurred in the Americas at the time of
    Jesus Christ’s death in Jerusalem”

    Page 692 – “As Jesus Christ continued teaching the people at the temple
    in the land Bountiful, He declared that the law of Moses was
    fulfilled and that He was the light and the law that the
    people should look to. He then explained to the twelve
    disciples that the people in the Americas were the “other
    sheep” of whom He had spoken in Jerusalem”

    Page 790 – “This record contained the history
    of the Jaredites, who lived on the
    American continent before the
    Nephites and Lamanites”

    Page 829 – “What descriptive name did Ether use for Jerusalem in the Holy Land and the
    New Jerusalem that will someday be built on the American continent?”

    I hope that helps. Cheers.

  35. John W
    February 22, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    p, didn’t see your comment before I posted. My logic is pretty sound.

    BOM is historical = central teaching of Mormonism

    People who believe that BOM is historical = believers in Mormonism

    People who believe that BOM is not historical = non-believers in Mormonism

    Simple, isn’t it?

    The pretzel logic is coming from those who are disagreeing with something that is so obvious.

  36. p
    February 22, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    Clark: “That conflates what is demonstrable with what is true.”

    Haha old buddy, shades of:

    Messianicity & Historicity
    by Adam Miller • January 26, 2015 • 101

    I rarely agree w/ you but you still da man. Rock on!

  37. p
    February 22, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    Read that old T&S thread I just posted, JW and stop beating your wayward brethren over the head w/ the same old stick. Bro Miller went waaaaay out on that proverbial limb to solve the enormous historicity problem you seem intent on ignoring.

  38. February 23, 2019 at 12:28 am

    Clark and Grant – Such a well-timed and well-written post. Thanks for putting together such a substantive and competent commentary on the recent statement by the Church.

  39. lehcarjt
    February 23, 2019 at 1:20 am

    Huh. Well I guess you told me. I will give up thinking, feeling, praying for myself and follow the dictates of JW’s logic for ever more. Perhaps the brethren should listen to you more and at least revoke my t.r. and take away my calling teaching primary.

    But hey if it works for you nothing I say is likely to change that anyway, is it? What was your point again?

  40. Dsc
    February 23, 2019 at 5:00 am

    John W

    You’ve put an awful lot of effort into proving a point that I don’t think anyone has disagreed with. No one is arguing that Book of Mormon historicity isn’t the orthodox or official belief of the Church. But as I said before, holding some heterodox beliefs does not make someone a non-believer or not a “true Mormon”. Lots of Latter-day Saints hold some views contrary to official Church doctrine on a variety of topics: abortion, historicity of some biblical accounts, sexual morality issues, etc.

    In other words, you are proving something no one disagrees with in order to argue something you haven’t proved.

    Also, I think it’s telling that you have not corrected people like p and others who are operating under the assumption that you are an orthodox believer arguing for strict orthodoxy. It’s exactly the kind of trolling behavior discussed on this blog not long ago.

  41. John W
    February 23, 2019 at 8:15 am

    Lots of offendedness in the responses.

    Let me correct what appears to be a common assumption. I am not nor have I ever been saying that you can’t be Mormon and believe in a non-historical BOM. Being Mormon simply means having your name on record as having been baptized in the LDS church.

    You can be a participant Mormon as well as not believe in a historical BOM. Lots of folks on the ex-Mormon Reddit page are active in spite of not believing in the LDS church. Mostly, their activity is motivated by social obligation and desire to keep the peace in their families. And mostly they do not consider themselves to be believers in the LDS church.

    What I am saying is that you can’t claim to believe in Mormonism and at the same time say that the BOM is not historical. By saying, “the church is true” and “Joseph Smith is a true prophet,” the average LDS person has a every right to assume that the also believe the BOM to be historical. That’s what Mormonism is right? You go on a mission and that is all you preach. You tell people that ancients in the Americas saw Jesus Christ and that you have evidence of it in the form of the Book of Mormon and that this book shows Joseph Smith to be a true prophet who revealed these amazing things.

  42. February 23, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Hi guys, good post, Clark and Grant. I see my name come up here. Good question brought up here, would you want churchistrue teaching your kid seminary Book of Mormon. I do teach 15 yo’s right now, and I’m a darn good teacher if I do say so myself. I teach them pretty much by the book, I try to inspire them to live and love the gospel of Jesus Christ and LDS scriptures and the restored Church. I skip some of the prooftexting stuff we have like Daniel’s stone cut out of the mountain that I don’t fully buy into. I focus on the pragamatic gospel that helps improve our lives and relationship with God in our daily walk. I sprinkle through some subtle inoculation against all the standard CES Letter issues.

    If I were to bring up something like a non-historical Book of Mormon, I might bring up Ostler’s Expansion theory as a way to show Joseph’s involvement, as a way to explain anachronisms. Or I might say the Book of Mormon is a mystery because non-Mormons don’t believe it’s historical and for valid reasons, and we don’t understand why. I might say some Mormons might even believe it’s not historical at all, and that it came through Joseph as a revelation, like the Book of Abraham or Joseph Smith Translation. And I would cover Adam Miller’s treatement of translation (which BYU professor Anthony Sweat taught by daughter in a BYU class).

    But historicity wouldn’t ever be the focus of anything, and I wouldn’t tell them directly I personally don’t believe in historicity of the Book of Mormon. I don’t think that’s the right place or audience. But, then if those same students went online and found my blog and read it all, you might be right in that it might damage their testimony. I’m getting ready to “come out” and use my real name and no longer the pseudonym and that’s a big thing I have to figure out. I’m not entirely sure.

    Let’s say there are 10 kids in that class. They all read my blog. Two lose their testimonies and leave. Three lose their literal testimonies but are swayed by my logic and decide to stay. Five are unaffected. Maybe without reading my blog if you fast forward ten years, three of those have lost their testimony and left and seven have stayed. So I had positive net effect on their testimony. I’m not sure, to be honest what the net effect of my work is. I know I get private messages at least once a month people telling me they decided to stay largely because of my work. But I don’t know for sure. It works for some but not everyone.

  43. Robert Osborn
    February 23, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Being LDS and not believing the BoM is a history of a real ancient people is the same as claiming one is a Christian and not believing the New Testament is a true history. For LDS though, we believe both the BoM and NT are true historical records.

  44. James
    February 23, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    “And I would cover Adam Miller’s treatement of translation (which BYU professor Anthony Sweat taught by daughter in a BYU class).”

    I don’t think I heard this. Can you link to anything I could read?

  45. February 24, 2019 at 9:01 am

    James it’s from Letters to a Young Mormon, the chapter on Scripture.

    Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. And then he retranslated the bible. And then he revealed the Book of Abraham. Then Joseph went back and started again. He never stopped working on his translation of the bible. Brigham Young even seemed to suggest that, if Joseph were still alive, he might try a fresh translation of the Book of Mormon.

    Joseph always expected more revelations, and “translation” was one vital name for the hard work of receiving them. For Joseph, translation was less a chore to be done than a way, day by day, of holding life open for God’s word. Translating scripture is a way of renewing life. In translation we lend our lives—our minds, our ears, our mouths—to the local resurrection of old texts, dead words, and lost voices. We put down our stories and take up theirs. And as we give voice to them, they, for a time, rejoin us in the land of the living.

    Joseph produced, as God required, the first public translations of the scriptures we now share. But that work, open-ended all along, is unfinished. Now, the task is ours. When you read the scriptures, don’t just lay your eyes like stones on the pages. Roll up your sleeves and translate them again. Every morning and every night, we are each commanded to sit down at our kitchen tables, spread out our books and notes and papers and pens, and, with a prayer in hand, finish what Joseph started. It is not enough for Nephi to have translated Isaiah into reformed Egyptian or for Joseph to have translated Nephi into King James English. You and I must translate these books again. Word by word, line by line, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, God wants the whole thing translated once more, and this time he wants it translated into your native tongue, inflected by your native concerns, and written in your native flesh. To be a Mormon is to do once more, on your own small scale, the same kind of work that Joseph did.

  46. p
    February 24, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    “But high above the flying scud and dark-rolling clouds, there floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel’s face; and this bright face shed a distinct spot of radiance upon the ship’s tossed deck, something like that silver plate now inserted into the Victory’s plank where Nelson fell. ‘Ah, noble ship,’ the angel seemed to say, ‘beat on, beat on, thou noble ship, and bear a hardy helm; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the clouds are rolling off—serenest azure is at hand.’”

    MOBY DICK ChVIII The Pulpit

  47. Brant Gardner
    February 24, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I have been on vacation and not following things closely. I do want to clarify one point. It was suggested that my methodology was the opposite of an objective method. I would agree if I assumed it were true, but that wasn’t the hypothesis. It is that it COULD be true. That requires testing, but avoids the problem of beginning with the assumption that it isn’t true. We tend to find what we are looking for, so I prefer to avoid prejudicing the research.

  48. Clark
    February 25, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Brant raises a good point that apologetics and/or more academic investigations of the Book of Mormon at best deal with plausibility arguments. That doesn’t mean the methods overall aren’t attempting to be objective, just that there are obvious limits to them. Clearly there are a few long standing issues that apologists don’t have answers for. Metallurgy is the most obvious one. While I think semantic drift explains “horses” not everyone is happy with that. I know some non-Mormon mesoamerican archaeologists also point to transportation route issues as well, although discoveries over the past years have made that more plausible even if not completely explained.

    To the main topic of geography, I should also probably note that in many ways geography is somewhat orthogonal to issues of historicity. After all for those more skeptical of historicity they might argue that Joseph or the author simply created an internally consistent map and followed that – perhaps even following existing 19th century mesoamerican maps – such as they were. While that would pose a problem for a delusional model such as Ann Taves proposes, it’s not a problem for more fraudulent models such as Dan Vogel’s. I think for believers like myself though the 116 pages strongly suggests that Joseph didn’t have the text written out in advance (otherwise he could simply have repeated exactly the 116 pages) yet the amazingly consistent geography suggests an internally inconsistent narrative inconsistent with writing as one goes. While not strong evidence for the truth of the text, I think it’s compelling circumstantial evidence. (Again, not at all persuasive for those embracing a fraud model but problematic again for middle ground models like Taves).

    For the non-historicity middle ground models, I think people have to be able to explain these issues. If it is God writing the text, one wonders why he needs fiction since presumably there are over the past few thousand years at least some interesting historical narratives. But then I’m never quite clear on the model for inspiration in these middle ground models. Taves is rather explicit in how she understands it in terms of cognitive science and things like glossalia. Those embracing a more faithful non-historicity model though tend to avoid the questions of details. Say what you will about apologetics but at least they dive into such questions.

  49. February 25, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Clark. “If it is God writing the text, one wonders why he needs fiction…” I don’t start with that assumption. The BOM text would be inspired in the same way that King Benjamin’s address was originally inspired when he gave it (if he were historical). God wouldn’t have “written” that speech either way.

  50. Clark
    February 25, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    So you see God as giving vague inspiration independent of the narrative? (Trying to understand here) Much like someone giving a talk creates the majority of what they say, you see Joseph as consciously creating the narrative? How do you see the issue of geographic consistency? I know you’ve said elsewhere that you don’t need to answer all the sorts of questions that might be raised, but I’m curious as to whether you see these questions as significant the way an apologist might see metal or horses as significant.

  51. February 25, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks for engaging me, Clark. These questions make me a little nervous to answer, but I enjoy the challenge of presenting an argument that’s both logical and faithful. I think the faithful side of that is more difficult than the logical side of that, especially when talking to traditional believers. Yes, I would say I believe Joseph created the narrative in a process guided by the Holy Ghost the same way we would believe Paul for example was guided by the Holy Ghost in letter to the Corinthians, or you would believe Alma was inspired by the Holy Ghost in his letter to his son Corianton, or Russell M. Nelson receiving revelation today. I think that fits within a faithful model. As for how to explain some of the very impressive complexities within the text of the Book of Mormon, ie the geography, the intertextuality with both itself and with the Bible, and so on. I do find it impressive. Not enough to sway me to ignore the other evidence to make me believe it’s historical. But still impressive. I could be swayed there is some direction by the Holy Ghost to make it that way. I don’t know. But that raises questions for me like why would the Holy Ghost intervene here and not there. So I think for my paradigm, I would prefer to believe all of these instances of human prophets providing revelations as “human’s best guess” rather than anything tightly controlled by God.

  52. Robert Osborn
    February 25, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    Why is it that someone who is LDS not believe in a historical Book of Mormon?

  53. Clark Goble
    February 26, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Robert, again I’d point to D&C 46:13-14. Not everyone gets revelation to knowledge on something. I think we, as members, have to acknowledge that and react charitably. I’d much rather have someone who is struggling for a testimony of something trying to figure things out as best they can. I’m fairly confident such a person will eventually come to know. Such people seem much more impressive than someone who takes basic doctrines for granted, never grapples with them. Such people when they first meet trials often are the ones who fall away since they thought they had a testimony, acted like they did, but really didn’t. The old parable of building a house on sand versus rock is apt. While I clearly disagree with those who don’t accept historicity, I’d always take someone who is building on what they do know from God. Eventually we’ll converge in our beliefs. Again it’s those who aren’t seeking a testimony that I think are the danger – and I think the majority of those falling away.

  54. Rob Osborn
    February 26, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Clark,
    M. Russell Ballard came to our area for a special conference and during a training session on Saturday he fielded a Q&A segment. Someone asked him about how to reply to members who question the historicity of the Book of Mormon. He stood there and got a bewildered look on his face for a minute and then replied it didnt make any sense. He said how can someone be a member if they dont even believe the Book of Mormon to be what it purports to be? He thought it was completely illogical. At that same conference the leadership who were general authorities went on to teach we must believe the Book of Mormon, amongst other points, is true and we must learn to counter against those who question. I am in agreement that we should still help along and be courteous to those members who question but to me its kind of a deal breaker. Our entire church is based off the belief that tge resurrected Jesus Christ visited the Americas as recorded in our scriptures. To believe it isnt true but still claim to be LDS is like claiming there is no sun at noon as it beats down. I find it highly destructive to our faith.

  55. Clark
    February 26, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Kind of surprised he’s surprised. I should note that I ultimately agree with him. However I think it’s a reality in the Church and always has been. With all due apologies to “ChurchIsTrue” I think that as a kind of apologetics, the non-historicity approach ends up being damaging. I think I’ve told the story how many years ago a good friend was having some struggles including issues with the Book of Mormon. They went to their Stake President at BYU only to have the Stake President say he didn’t believe it was history. Quite to the contrary of resolving my friends concerns this caused a major issue. They raised the obvious question of if the Book of Mormon isn’t history then why should I believe the New Testament either? They eventually came back to church but while I’m sure people pushing this are well meaning, I think for most people if it isn’t history it’s a reason to doubt nearly all claims by the Church.

    My point simply is that clearly not everyone has testimonies. If people persist in coming to Church and are struggling to remain true to what God has given them, that’s something we should praise. Further the only way they will gain a deeper testimony is if we listen and help them in their development. Merely saying it makes no sense ultimately isn’t helpful. There’s simply a lot of people in that boat. And, as I said, I’d lay really good odds that of those who believe, there’s a significant number who believe for poor reasons and who will struggle deeply when the inevitable tests come.

  56. Robert Osborn
    February 26, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    But our entire religion is based on the validity of the Book of Mormon. I can believe someone can be an investigator and not believe it history. It’s like saying one is Christian and not believe in Christ.

  57. lehcarjt
    February 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

    Robert – Maybe it just comes down to people being different, seeing the world differently, having different lived experiences, and thus the shape of their faith is different.

    I wonder as I write this how someone raised in an eastern religion would view this discussion. How much of the absolute way of thinking comes from western culture? Which I say because as I floundered and then found my spiritual footing again, my rebuilt faith and ahistorical beliefs have moved in an easterly direction (a la Adam Miller, although I have no idea how he feels on this topic).

  58. Robert Osborn
    February 27, 2019 at 10:03 am

    Lehcarjt,
    There’s a danger in having an ahistorical approach to our religion and the Book of Mormon. There’s no solid footing. All it can produce is a superficial testimony and belief that’s easily destroyed when trouble or doubt come calling. I have never met any long-standing member with a firm testimony of our gospel and Book of Mormon who believed it not historical. It’s really incompatible.

  59. lehcarjt
    February 27, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    You just proved what I was trying to say. From where you are standing all that appears correct. From where I am standing, it does not.

    Its difficult to constantly be told that I don’t exist or that I am somehow fraudulent. My faith crisis was over 10 years ago. I am 1000x more spiritually mature now than I was before. If we knew each other in person, I’d take you to lunch so you could see I exist and we could chat it out.

  60. February 28, 2019 at 1:19 am

    Probably the most important sentence in the church’s statement is this one: “All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.”

  61. Robert Osborn
    February 28, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Lehcarjt,
    Perhaps so. I am always up to changing my perspective on things. At this point in my thoughts though, all I see is a negative impact in believing the Book of Mormon to be ahistorical. I don’t see how anything positive comes from it.

  62. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    March 7, 2019 at 11:44 am

    The testimony of Joseph and the Three Witnesses is that they saw Moroni, who had introduced himself as the last custodian of the Book of Moemon as it was being written and witness to its final historical events. The metal record which was witnessed by the Three and Eight Witnesses was a real, tangible historical artifact of the ancient civilization Moroni belonged to, and the last part of it was his memoirs. Clearly, God arranged these experiences so that everyone who reads the Book of Mormon would understand that one of its characters and one of its primary artifacts had stepped out if the screen, so to speak, and into the reality of 1829 upstate New York. They were just as real as the witnesses were. They are an affirmation that the nation Moroni belonged to was real and existed in the past in the Americas, and that the Book of Mormon was an extract of that nation’s history.

    So rejecting the historical basis of the Book of Mormon means rejecting the 11 witnesses and the angel Moroni, and all of Joseph’s experiences speaking with Moroni over the course of a decade, and Joseph’s experiences of obtaining and guarding the plates from 1827 to 1829. It means rejecting early LDS history as well as the history of the Book of Mormon.

    I am happy to welcome to church anyone who wants to worship with us, no matter how limited their beliefs or understanding. But not accepting the Book of Mormon as a creation of ancient Americans means accepting a very different and limited understanding of Joseph’s status as a prophet of God. Do they accept the appearances of Christ, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Moses and Elijah to Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, but not Moroni?

  63. Stephen Reed
    March 12, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Circular reasoning by Grant Gardner.

    He claims Book of Mormon geography is “Academic not Religious” and is his baby (not Joseph Smith’s or Oliver Cowdery’s or their Apostolic successors’ “baby”) then quotes (religiously?) Pres. Ivins (out of context) to back up his (Brant’s circular reasoning which is his) preconceived ideas about geography, (his run-on paragraphs at the end),so that he can ignore Oliver Cowdery in Letter VII, Pres. Ivins full message in General Conference, Pres. Marion G. Romney and Elder Mark E. Petersen, also in General Conference who all stated the Hill Cumorah is New York which destroys Brant Gardner’s Two-Hill Cumorah theory, which isn’t his baby but plagiarized by Dr. John L. Sorenson from Louise Edward Hills, a member of the RLDS Church who was the first to propose a two-Hill Cumorah Mesoamerica Geography theory in a book published in 1917 and another in 1924 which Dr. John L. Sorenson knew about and also should Grant Gardner who relies on your ignorance so you can agree with his ridiculous comments above.

    Were you able to understand my run-on sentence?

    Once again, the Church does have a position on Book of Mormon geography. That the Hill Cumorah is New York. Period. Final.

    Brant Gardner conflates the claim that the Church does not have a position on Book of Mormon geography for other locations than the Hill Cumorah so that he can claim there are two Hills to support his Two-Hill Cumorah Mesoamerica geography theory proposed by his employers or friends at Book of Mormon Central and The Interpreter Foundation which beg for you money donations. Six Onties of sivler to deny Church Leaders’ comments are the minimum accepted.

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