Putting the Book of Mormon Front and Center

Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy once wrote that:

So long as the truth respecting it is unbelieved {the Book of Mormon} will remain to the world an enigma, a veritable literary sphinx, challenging the inquiry and speculation of the learned. But to those who in simple faith will accept it for what it is, a revelation from God, it will minister spiritual consolation, and by its plainness and truth draw men into closer communion with God.[1]

It can be difficult to pin down the Book of Mormon due to the many different things that can be used as evidence for or evidence against a divine origin for the book. In a recent 10 Questions interview with Kurt Manwaring, Tad Callister talked about his newest publication, A Case for the Book of Mormon, which discusses some of these evidences. What follows here is a short summary with commentary, but for those who are interested, the original discussion can be found by clicking here.

Tad R. Callister is relatively well known at this point. He served as a general authority in the Seventies and might be remembered for giving short but pointed talks in general conference like “The Book of Mormon—a Book from God” and “Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration”. He later served in the General President of Sunday School in the Church, where he was involved with bringing the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum to all age groups. He has also published several books, including The Infinite Atonement, The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration, The Blueprint of Christ’s Church, and A Case for the Book of Mormon. Among these, The Infinite Atonement is best known—Deseret Book has been selling it for nearly 20 years and continues to find new ways to republish the book as a modern “Gospel classic” (most recently as a part of the “Pocket Gospel Classics” series).

In the 10 questions interview, Tad Callister discussed some of how he approaches the gospel. When asked if he has “ever struggled with an apparent conflict between your faith and reason?”, he responded that: “I’ve had questions I couldn’t answer that caused me to want to do more searching. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a crisis of faith.” Questions were what spurred him to write A Case for the Book of Mormon:

I knew there were a number of contentions by critics about the Book of Mormon, and it raised some questions in my mind that I wanted to further research. I had done a lot of research before, but decided to go into depth in my research, which I did for the last two years, and felt that the members of the Church deserved a fair response to the critics’ arguments. I felt there were many good answers to share. Many answers were already out there, but I felt it would be helpful if they could be consolidated in one place—including many positive evidences the critics did not refer to because it diminished their case.

I felt like we didn’t have to be on the defense all the time. We could also be on the offense. If someone’s a true, honest critic, they should not only have the privilege to ask questions but should be responsible for answering some of our questions—including some that are very difficult for them to respond to.

It seems like a healthy way to respond to difficult questions—to do more research and see what answers or new understanding emerges from the study. When approaching Callister’s work, this statement is also is a good indication that the book is primarily apologetic in nature.

The layout of the book is divided into two main parts. The first part is defensive (responding to critics) while the second part is focused on presenting evidences in support of the Book of Mormon. Concerning the second part, Brother Callister said:

Some of our very, very difficult questions for the critics to respond to are: “Where does Joseph Smith come up with all this doctrine? How does this 23-year-old have such divine eloquence in these profound, thoughtful messages that you reflect on and that give you comfort and insights, that you put on your refrigerator door and memorize? Why is the Book of Mormon in fulfillment of Bible prophecy? How does the book give us such insights into the Savior, time and time again, and why does it inspire us to be better people? And what about the eleven witnesses and their incredible, enduring testimonies?”

It is my experience that the critics have a very difficult time adequately responding to these types of questions.

These types of questions are part of why I began this post with the statement about the Book of Mormon being a literary sphynx. In my experience, there are strong points to both sides of the argument, which is why I am curious to read Callister’s book and see the full gamut of his responses to critics and arguments in favor of the Book of Mormon.

Part of why Tad Callister seems to have felt that writing this book was so important is that he has a very straightforward view of the Book of Mormon’s role in the truth claims of the Church. When asked if it is “a record of people who actually lived or is it inspired fiction? Is there any middle ground?”, he responded that:

I don’t see how you have any middle ground.

For example, was the angel Moroni a real angel who came to Joseph Smith—or is it fiction? It’s either true or false.

Did the gold plates really contain the record of the Nephites and Lamanites—or is that a falsehood?

Was Nephi a real prophet who lived in the Americas—or not?

Joseph Smith and the Church claim that all those things were real. Either they are real or they’re a fraud. They’re not inspired fiction. They’re not claimed to be inspired fiction. They’re claimed to be as real as real can be.

Therefore, it’s either a falsehood—a fraud— or it’s absolutely true. I see absolutely no room for middle ground on that issue.

The middle ground referenced here is a way of dealing with the fact that the Book of Mormon is able to provide spiritual nourishment (and thus is assumed to have God’s hand in its creation) while also acknowledging some of the facts that critics bring up to indicate that the Book of Mormon was written by someone in Joseph Smith’s time and place. It can be an attractive approach for Church members who are struggling with maintaining a testimony in the face of critiques. Brother Callister doesn’t feel like there’s room for that approach and wants to push people to acknowledge the Book of Mormon as completely true and historical or not.

For more insights into the Book of Mormon, its importance in the mission and theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and evidences that help Tad Callister believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, read the 10 questions interview with Kurt Manwaring here.

 

References:

[1] B.H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vol. Vol. 1: Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1895. Vol. 2 & 3: Salt Lake City: Deseret News (1903-1908), 3:406.

47 comments for “Putting the Book of Mormon Front and Center

  1. November 10, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve read A Case for the Book of Mormon. It’s defences are good, the “offensive” questions are hit or miss. It’s a good read, and probably one that most members should read.

  2. Always Reading
    November 10, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    I feel people should ask themselves what they need the Book of Mormon to be, and proceed from there. Many of us who don’t need it to be a history (and whose faith is better off if it’s taken allegorically) are and were hiding in plain sight in all manner of callings. Some of us end up leaving as the tent gets smaller, though.

  3. Dane
    November 10, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    There’s always more room in the tent, cf. Isaiah 54 :)

  4. matthewscottkern
    November 10, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    I am in the middle ground, which is probably why I did not much like reading Callister’s book. Hard to have a conversation when the other person says you are unable to take the position you have taken. “You must choose whether the book is true and historical or a terrible fraud”

    Nah…Not going to engage in the simplicity of the game that has been presented.

  5. Wondering
    November 10, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    ” Brother Callister doesn’t feel like there’s room for that approach and wants to push people to acknowledge the Book of Mormon as completely true and historical or not.” Really? Is he pushing for inerrancy and the theory that every word in the BoM conveys precisely God’s word and will [to whom?]. There are alternative readings of some issues even if one accepts that it as a translation of records kept by real ancient human beings in the Americas. and the BoM itself seems to acknowledge the existence of errors.. If I’ve understood your summary correctly I wonder if I could bear to read the book. Maybe I’ll stick to reading the BoM.

  6. Chad Nielsen
    November 10, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    I personally agree that there is room for more nuanced ways to look at the Book of Mormon than an attitude of “this is either completely accurate as a historical record and from God or it’s a total fraud.” As such, I personally struggle a bit with Callister’s statements because I feel like they tend to shrink the tent, so to speak. I’m grateful for both those who feel that they can be involved in the Church even if they disagree with Callister on this issue and for those who feel that the Book of Mormon is historically accurate and true but that there is room in the tent for those who may not feel precisely the same way.

    I cannot speak on whether Tad Callister is pushing for a view of inerrancy when it comes to the Book of Mormon. He does seem to be pushing people to believe that both the narrative in the Book of Mormon and the narrative told by Joseph Smith and the Church about the Book of Mormon translation is true history. As you indicated, Wondering, when people speak of the Book of Mormon being true and historically accurate, there’s still room for interpretation based on how much room you make for the opinions of the authors writing the Book of Mormon and Callister’s opinion on that is not clearly stated as far as I’m aware.

  7. Nate GT
    November 11, 2019 at 11:32 am

    I agree with Calister on there being no middle ground. The book either contains the words of ancients in the Americas about their revelations about and interactions with Jesus Christ or it doesn’t.

    However, as for his defenses of the book’s historicity, it is rather weak. The idea that Joseph Smith was a sort of religious and imaginative genius is much more plausible than an existence of an ancient proto-Christian civilization in the Americas, which does not appear to have left any traces of their material and spiritual cultures for us to find. I keep waiting for the day when apologists, church leaders, and other historicity-believing scholars convince non-Mormon experts of the book’s historicity. No other non-Mormon experts on the ancient Americas appears to accept a historical Book of Mormon or the existence of a Christian civilization in the pre-Columbian Americas.

  8. Wondering
    November 11, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Nate GT, Your formulation of the binary alternatives is significantly different from Chad’s report of Callister’s dichotomy: “completely accurate as a historical record” or a “total fraud.” Not having read, and having no intention of reading, Callister I no opinion as to whether your very different formulation is an agreement with him or a change of subject. As to Chad’s report, it’s a change of subject.

  9. Observer
    November 11, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    I keep waiting for the day when apologists, church leaders, and other historicity-believing scholars convince non-Mormon experts of the book’s historicity.

    Try Mormon’s Codex by John Sorenson. I don’t think it will convince non-lds experts, but to paraphrase Elder Maxwell, it contains enough parallels to keep critics from having a heyday about BofM historocity.

    https://www.amazon.com/Mormons-Codex-Ancient-American-Book-ebook/dp/B00F64T8SA

  10. Nate GT
    November 11, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Wondering, Callister never said, “completely accurate as a historical record.” You’re putting words in his mouth. My sense is that Callister, and other leaders, would be fine if someone interpreted some of the peripheral stories as metaphorical and not completely true, such as Ammon chopping off a bunch of arms. But he wasn’t responding to that type of a question of some of the stories being seen as metaphorical. He was responding to the question of the Book of Mormon being seen as “inspired fiction,” which conveys the idea of the whole of the book being fictional, not just some peripheral parts of it. He then proceeds to mention key figures who need to be treated as historical, Moroni (who is said to have buried the Golden Plates in Hill Cumorah), the Nephites and Lamanites (the people who are the main actors in the book, and who see Jesus Christ, and talk about Jesus Christ before his birth), Nephi (whose seed populated at least some of the Americas).

    On a side note, I often hear on the bloggernacle resistance to the idea that the BOM historicity question is either/or and see people making categorization schemes that show diversity over the historicity question. For instance, I remember someone on Times and Seasons (I think it was Jonathan Green) writing a post about how there are all sorts of ideas about where the Book of Mormon came from (i.e., Rod Meldrum and the North American hypothesis, others and the Mesoamerican hypothesis). In the post he failed to acknowledge that the many categories that he was making were nothing more than subcategories of a larger category: the larger category of “contains words of ancient Americans about Jesus Christ.” The historicity question can be comfortably understood along the lines of two large categories: 1) Contains words of ancient Americans and 2) doesn’t contain words of ancient Americans. From there a number of subcategories can be identified.

  11. Wondering
    November 11, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    No. I’m not. Chad did. That is his comment. “Brother Callister … wants to push people to acknowledge the Book of Mormon as completely true and historical or not.”

    I agree with this: “The historicity question can be comfortably understood along the lines of two large categories: 1) Contains words of ancient Americans and 2) doesn’t contain words of ancient Americans.” Whether that’s Callister’s position or not I leave to you and Chad to dispute or not.

  12. November 11, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    My own view of Book of Mormon historicity is still best expressed by this post: https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2015/03/the-historicity-window/index.html

    What little I have seen of the North American hypothesis does not suggest it is worth serious consideration, but I do not believe I have ever written a post about it.

    After you read my post, you will be unsurprised to learn that I think reducing historicty to is-it-or-isn’t-it overlooks some important things worth thinking about, such as the plates-as-object. Even if you decide the Book of Mormon is historical, you still have to think about the relationship between text and history. Is-it-or-isn’t it is important, but it’s not everything.

    I haven’t yet read Callister, but I do think advocates of inspired fiction face a harder time making a compelling argument than they realize. There’s strong evidence that Joseph Smith had something the size and shape and weight of the Golden Plates, something worth protecting and stealing. Why did Joseph Smith need so much heavy stuff if he was going to fabricate a story? And from the other side, why would God go to all the trouble with angelic beings and restored ordinances and all that if the Book of Mormon is just Joseph Smith’s idle musings about the Americas? I recognize that the prophet’s own mind and language and subjectivity are necessarily part of any revelatory experience, but treating the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction looks to me like a spiritual cul-de-sac.

  13. Chad Nielsen
    November 11, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    Wondering is right the in stating that ““Brother Callister … wants to push people to acknowledge the Book of Mormon as completely true and historical or not” is my summary of how I understood Tad Callister, but everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to summarizing someone else. Callister’s exact words are: “It’s either a falsehood—a fraud— or it’s absolutely true. I see absolutely no room for middle ground on that issue.” When I hear someone say that the Book of Mormon is absolutely true with no middle ground between that and fraud, I do take it to mean that they are saying that the things said in it are the truth and are things that were actually said and done. I think his general conference talk on the Book of Mormon that I referenced in passing in the post reinforces that idea when Tad Callister says:

    “It [the Book of Mormon] is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud. This book does not merely claim to be a moral treatise or theological commentary or collection of insightful writings. It claims to be the word of God—every sentence, every verse, every page. Joseph Smith declared that an angel of God directed him to gold plates, which contained the writings of prophets in ancient America, and that he translated those plates by divine powers. If that story is true, then the Book of Mormon is holy scripture, just as it professes to be; if not, it is a sophisticated but, nonetheless, diabolical hoax.”

    That being said, I cannot say whether Nate is right or wrong in his sense that Tad Callister might be comfortable with taking some stories metaphorically or not completely accurate. Callister does speak in some pretty absolute terms, but he might be overstating things to make a point. My personal sense is, however, that he is pushing for, as Wondering said, “the theory that every word in the BoM conveys precisely God’s word and will”, especially given his statement in the talk that “it claims to be the word of God–every sentence, every verse, every page.”

    To be honest, though, I’m somewhat confused as to how breaking things down into categories of “1) Contains words of ancient Americans and 2) doesn’t contain words of ancient Americans” is a change of subject from whether the Book of Mormon is historical or not. Is the debate here just over whether Callister wants us to accept every statement in the Book of Mormon as completely accurate and exact portrayals of historical events?

  14. Loursat
    November 11, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    For whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d state my own view on the question of historicity, since I don’t think this position gets much airtime. I believe that whether the Book of Mormon is historically factual is immaterial to the question of whether it is true in the most important sense: whether it comes from God and whether it brings us to Christ. I am convinced that the Book of Mormon is true in this sense. In my experience, it is quite possible to bracket the question of historicity while maintaining this spiritual conviction.

    I don’t dismiss the conversation about historicity. These questions are, I think, perfectly good and interesting issues to explore. Part of the Book of Mormon’s miracle is that it seems to yield an unending supply of interesting possibilities when we think of new questions to ask of it. Treating the book as a historical document is one way to ask interesting, productive questions. So is treating the book as a literary work. But I believe that when we argue that its value depends on its historicity, we misunderstand the book. Its spiritual power is accessible without deep historical understanding. Its power simply does not hinge on historical claims. It is above all a religious expression, and supposing that it must first be a historical book is a prime example of putting the cart before the horse.

    (I like very much the post that Jonathan Green links to in his comment above, not because I agree with everything he writes there, but because it reflects his appreciation of the deep and complex possibilities in the sacred text. One reason I love the Book of Mormon is that it seems to contain so very much that is unseen and unsaid. I feel this when I read it. The book is full of presences, like the historical texts that Jonathan alludes to.)

    The Book of Mormon can stand on its own. It doesn’t have to be an accurate history or a well-formed fiction, or neatly fit any other genre we might try to cram it into; it just has to be itself. Tad Callister carries on a long tradition of apologists who think it’s crucial to defend the book’s historicity, but they shouldn’t be so afraid. The Book of Mormon can do its work without that kind of help.

  15. Nate GT
    November 12, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Jonathan, you’re right that “reducing historicty to is-it-or-isn’t-it overlooks some important things worth thinking about.” However, I was talking about making a historiography or a literature review of the Book of Mormon; categorizing thought about the Book of Mormon. We can neatly break it down into two categories, those who think it contains the words of ancient Americans and those who think it doesn’t.

    Chad, again note that Tad is reacting to the idea of the BOM being inspired fiction and points out the importance of believing that key characters existed. He wasn’t reacting to the idea of just some of the BOM being fictional, exaggerated, or incorrectly portrayed. Bear in mind, he is a member of the higher leadership of the church, so I doubt he would want to go on record as acknowledging that parts might be fictional. That would be a giveaway to those with more metaphorical positions on the BOM, whom the church tolerates, but does not encourage. It is easier for him to just say that it is all good and true and toe the traditional line.

    Loursat, others have attempted to write about the Book of Mormon by avoiding the historicity question and appreciating its literary value and the metaphorical/didactic truths it contains instead of historical truths, i.e., Terryl Gives in By the Hand of Mormon and Grant Hardy in Understanding the Book of Mormon. Yet, even in those works, they reveal their stance on historicity as they expound on their thoughts and that stance invariably influences how they interpret the BOM’s value. Your sort of neutral stance seems to be gaining some popularity among a select group of Mormons, who want to value Mormonism without being tethered to historicity claims.
    However, I think this position cannot be maintained if you write or think about the Book of Mormon in greater length. Even in your comment, you assert that the Book of Mormon comes from God and brings us to Christ, which strongly suggests that you are inclined to believe it is historical. For, just to expound on how the BOM comes from God and brings people to Jesus Christ, you would have to confront the historicity question. For if you claim that it did come from God, but also maintain that it isn’t historical, then what would that say about the nature of God? That God operates on a sort of trickery? If you accept that the LDS leaders are delivering God’s message but that the BOM is not historically true, then that would suggest that the leaders have been for generation under a massive delusion about the BOM’s historicity, wouldn’t it? And why follow and trust leaders if they could be so wrong and out-of-touch about the book’s historical value? Bottom line: neutrality on the historicity question falls apart quickly.

  16. Loursat
    November 12, 2019 at 11:20 am

    Nate GT, your comment conflates some things. First, one can take a stance on the Book of Mormon’s historicity without insisting that the historicity question is essential to the book’s truthfulness. Logically, these are separate questions. Perhaps for many people, thinking about historicity will lead to a belief, one way or another, about the book’s truthfulness. I’m afraid that one reason for that is that apologists have insisted on it for a long time. But it is not necessarily so. My experience demonstrates this. Like it or not, I have studied the Book of Mormon for decades, with devotion, and I remain comfortably agnostic about its historicity.

    Second, your comment confuses the way we assess the Book of Mormon’s value with the way we assess LDS leaders. The Book of Mormon is sui generis, and it stands independent of what leaders of the church have said about it. That is what makes it one of the great miracles of the Restoration. You and I and prophets themselves can say what we will about it. Whether we are right or wrong in our assessments of it, the book remains. It speaks for itself.

  17. Nate GT
    November 12, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Loursat,

    “one can take a stance on the Book of Mormon’s historicity without insisting that the historicity question is essential to the book’s truthfulness”

    I’ll agree that this is possible, but only on the condition that you don’t expound on it. You can hold this position in a blog comment, for instance. However, I maintain that you cannot write at length on the Book of Mormon (an article or book) without addressing the historicity question (even implicitly) and that you’ll fall in one of two categories: contains ancient American words or doesn’t. I can’t imagine a literature review of writings about the Book of Mormon where we would find a third neutral category.

    “I’m afraid that one reason for that is that apologists have insisted on it for a long time”

    Joseph Smith and subsequent church leaders as well. In everything they have ever written about the Book of Mormon it is just assumed that it is historical and even if they don’t state it outright, it is implicit in their thinking about the BOM that that is we are to believe and accept. When they, “Alma (or whatever BOM character) said,” they are referring to what they think is an actual historical person, not a fictional character.

  18. stephenchardy
    November 12, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Nate GT asked this:

    “If you accept that the LDS leaders are delivering God’s message but that the BOM is not historically true, then that would suggest that the leaders have been for generation under a massive delusion about the BOM’s historicity, wouldn’t it?”

    My answer is that we have already gone through that. We used to believe, I think, that all Native Americans had Lehite blood. Right? Our earlier editions of the BoM said that the Book of Mormon peoples were the “principle” ancestors of all Indians. Our culture and church leaders talked about church members in Peru, in Mexico, in Argentine, in Costa Rica, in Samoa as being part of Lehi’s progeny. Today, we appear to have dialed that back pretty significantly. In other words, our leaders were under a “massive delusion about the BOM’s historicity.”

    Yet we survivied.

  19. Ryan Mullen
    November 12, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    “I can’t imagine a literature review of writings about the Book of Mormon where we would find a third neutral category.”

    Nate, I’m puzzled as to why you think this is the case. I have read many literary treatments of the Bible, for example, that do not even attempt to address its historicity. They just treat it as literature. Now, many readers may be tempted to read more into such texts than is stated by the author. A reader may reason that only a believing author would dedicate so much time and effort to studying the Bible. Or the reader may reason that by not addressing the Bible’s historicity, the author must not believe it to be historical. But I don’t see that either conclusion is necessitated by a literary analysis of Biblical texts. Why would the BoM be materially different?

  20. Nate GT
    November 12, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    stephenchardy, the leaders went from saying “principal ancestors of the American Indians” to “among the ancestors of the American Indians.” Not that big of a jump. For leaders to say “we don’t know if they are the ancestors” or “are probably not their ancestors” (which is what a select few self-identifying Mormon “believers” are wanting the leaders to say) is far more significant in several orders of magnitude. To compare the former shift to the hypothetical latter shift is not a fair comparison in the least.

    Ryan Mullen, the Bible is a completely different book, so I would say that this is an apples to oranges comparison. There are of course historicity questions related to it, but they are completely different in nature than those surrounding the Book of Mormon. No one questions the ancient origins of the Biblical passages. In relation to the Book of Mormon, the historicity question is overarching. It is very difficult to talk about the BOM without talking about historicity or at least having a historicity position implicit in your argument.

  21. Stephen Hardy
    November 12, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Nate GT: this isn’t the point of this thread. I’m older than 60. Maybe you haven’t seen a major shift but for me the shift has been significant. Sermons citing high baptism rates in Mexico and San Diego are no longer cited as the “Lamanites flowering like a rose”, and Polynesian dancing under the heading of “Lamanite”generation have all but disappeared. Citations of Native American culture practices in sacrament meeting talks used as evidence of the Lehite ancestry of Utah tribes are never spoken of now. Not so in the 60s. There had been a significant shift away from drawing a linear relationship from the BoM to today’s north and south American tribes

  22. November 12, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    If the Church wants to continue to maintain the BoM is “true” history, it needs to get its act together. BRM put a note in the front of the book that alleged that it is a history of Native Americans. On my mission in the 1960s, I pretty sure that’s what we taught or implied. But with DNA and other evidence, the Church was more or less forced to delete BRM’s allegations. It is now the history of a small group that settled somewhere in the Americas.

    My neighbors are Native American: Navajo and Hopi. I’m pretty sure they were raised to believe they were descendants of the Laminites. After all, there was a Native American performing group at BYU called the Laminite Generation. I’m pretty sure that DNA tests will prove that my neighbors are not descendants of Lehi.

    Another issue is location: Where did Lehi settle? Some believed that it was South America, some North America, and now there seems to be some consensus at BYU that was Central America. But I believe that a while back someone suggested that it was the Malay Peninsula in SE Asia.

    A few months ago, a high councilman who is Peruvian by birth gave a talk in our Sacrament Meeting. At the service, I went up to talk to him about doing humanitarian work in the Cusco area (I work there 10+ days a year). But all he wanted to talk about were his brother’s BoM tours around Cusco and Sacred Valley. So I guess the SA theory is not out of the running, at least for commercial purposes.

    The Church has constantly had to back off BoM assertions. I wonder how far it will eventually go?

  23. Nate GT
    November 12, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    Stephen, there has been a change in focus, you’re right. Still, the church maintains very firmly that the BOM is historical and contains the words of ancient Americans about Jesus Christ. It is one thing to say that Joseph Smith was generally right and may have gotten a couple of things wrong or exaggerated a bit. Church leaders have for quite a while acknowledged that Joseph Smith was not perfect. It is an entirely different thing to say that the BOM is just inspired fiction that possesses only metaphorical and doctrinal truths. I don’t know how you could coherently claim that the book is inspired fiction and not completely undermine the message of Joseph Smith and other leaders.

  24. Cam
    November 12, 2019 at 10:01 pm

    “This is me. I am writing this myself about stuff that really happened in my life. I am telling the truth” in what universe does such language correlate with ahistorical allegories? That ain’t Jonah style…the BoM on its own merits and content requirements must either be a fraud or historical.

  25. John Taber
    November 12, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    It would be very difficult for anyone in the Americas in 1492 to not be a descendant of a people still extant in 385 AD.

  26. Observer
    November 12, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    I always find it interesting that whenever the historicity of the Book of Mormon is brought into question, the testimonies of the 3 and 8 witnesses are conveniently passed or glossed over. There is not only their testimony in the Intro to the Book of Mormon, but several interviews given by many of them over the years reiterating the same things over and over. I.e. they saw plates, they handled the plates, they saw an angel (the 3 witnesses did), they heard the voice of God (again, just the 3 witnesses). And I believe with the exception of the Smith relatives, they all left the Church at various points and had beefs in one way or another with Joseph Smith. None of them denied their testimony–ever.

    Without actually seeing the plates, I think this is about as strong of proof we can have about the reality of the plates and by extension, their historicity. 12 witnesses in a court of law would be more than enough to convict someone. Why not in this case?

    Oh, and I forgot, we have much of the original manuscript as dictated by Joseph Smith to his scribes. They writing on the manuscript reflects exactly as you think it would look like someone dictating a 500 plus page book in the manner in which Joseph Smith did in just 60 days. They were words on a page written in an almost hurried manner with little to no punctuation or any sort of formatting.

    The Book of Mormon is what it says it is and what Moroni and Joseph said it was.

  27. Ryan Mullen
    November 13, 2019 at 1:43 am

    “No one questions the ancient origins of the Biblical passages.”

    Nate, I am surprised you could write that with a straight face. I have read many books and many more articles that question exactly that: (*) the Torah was not written by Moses ca 1500, but in Babylon ca. 500 (*) Joshua was not written by Joshua, but by the Deuteronomists (*) Isaiah 40-56 were not written by Isaiah ca 750, but during the exile by 2nd Isaiah (*) Daniel was not written by Daniel ca 500 but as an apocalypse ca. 167 (*) the Gospels were not written by first-hand witnesses, but 50 years later using oral traditions and written sources (*) 6 of the Pauline epistles were not written by Paul but by others in his name (*) the Greek of James is of too high a quality to be written by a peasant from Nazareth (*) Revelation was not written by St John, but by another guy with the same name. Now, you certainly don’t have to agree with all or any of these conclusions, but they are more than sufficient to counter the claim that “No one questions the ancient origins of the Biblical passages.”

    And in case you are inclined to argue that the time between the BoM’s English publication and its ancient setting makes it of a different quality than the examples I cite above, please note that Genesis 1-4 is traditionally set in 4000 BC, 3500 years before the Torah’s proposed composition (or just 3000 years before the composition of J and/or E). Or if you might think that the BoM is unique b/c it’s about a different people and culture than JS, then I’ll point out that Gen 1-11 (and also Job) are arguably appropriated from non-Hebrew cultures.

    So, while I agree with you that there are differences between the Bible and BoM, I disagree that those differences are sufficient to make comparing the two a fruitless (apples? oranges?) one.

  28. Nate GT
    November 13, 2019 at 3:04 am

    Ryan, read my comment more carefully. I wrote, “There are of course historicity questions related to it, but they are completely different in nature than those surrounding the Book of Mormon.” Here I am referring to exactly the types of issues you bring up, Torah not written by Moses, etc. However, no one questions that the authors of the different Biblical writings were ancients living in the Levant (and perhaps Egypt and Mesopotamia) sometime between 4000 BCE and 300 BCE for the Old Testament and 30 CE-100 CE for the New Testament. The questions about the historicity of the Bible are over which author(s) composed which parts and during what ANCIENT time period (300 BCE and 100 CE are still ancient, are they not?). So yes, I stand by every word that I say that no one questions the ancient origins of the Bible. Compare this with the Book of Mormon which many believe was entirely composed (with the obvious exception of the verbatim KJV passages) in the early 1800s, which no one would consider an ancient time period.

    One more point to buttress what I wrote, many historians typically refer to ancient history as human activity from the point of human origins up until the collapse of the Western Roman Empire 476 CE. So yes, the Bible’s ancient origins are common knowledge. The BOM’s ancient origins are not.

    To illustrate my point further. Suppose we imposed the types of historicity questions related to the Bible on the Book of Mormon. You might have something like this: was the Book of Nephi composed by multiple authors who revised and redacted the original Book of Nephi? Was Moroni relying upon folklore and exaggerated oral history to describe the battles between the Nephites and Lamanites 200-50 BCE? Did the book of the Mulekites inform the passages in Mosiah? Were the speeches of Alma not actually recorded until decades later and were they based on a loose set of oral histories? Do you see how the historicity questions are significantly different between the two books?

    Again, no one questions the existence of a Hebrew-speaking people who lived between Egypt and the Levant 1500 BCE-300 BCE who compiled a number of oral histories and traditions and laws into text that was edited, redacted, and recopied over time to produce the Tanakh. No one questions the emergence of a religious movement that split from Judaism to become Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean 30-100 CE and that this movement produced a number of texts that we now know as the New Testament. No one questions that the Biblical passages are informed by ancient Near Eastern cultural knowledge. By contrast, people question the existence of a proto-Christian group of people who migrated from Jerusalem to the Americas 600 BCE. In fact, about every non-Mormon expert on the ancient Near East and ancient Americas questions this. No one questions the existence of ancient Moroni- and Mormon-like figures who composed, compiled, edited, and redacted what became the Biblical text. But for the Book of Mormon, the existence of Mormon, Moroni, and other ancient American editors is deemed highly questionable.

    There is a world of difference between the two texts. There is no serious comparison to be considered as to the historicity questions between the two books.

  29. November 13, 2019 at 10:29 am

    You’ve stated your case quite clearly, Nate. About three times now, actually.

    The problem with “everyone agrees” and “entirely incomparable” lines of argument is that some people don’t actually agree (that the Exodus or even the person of Jesus are not entirely fictive, for example), and there are some interesting comparisons to be made.

    (Also, it’s barbaric to refer to everything before some arbitrary date in time as “antiquity,” eradicating all differences before that point. Serious students of classical antiquity tend to be quite aware of the differences between that era and what came before, and similarities and continuities with what came after. And the same is true, by the way, with labeling everything before 1500, 1750, or 1900 as “premodern.”)

  30. Nate GT
    November 13, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Jonathan, people keep not understanding and try to rebut my views, hence the need to reiterate.

    I’m pretty sure that the prevailing mainstream belief (among believers and skeptics alike) is that the Bible was composed 4,000 BCE-100 CE (although I would really be curious to hear about other ideas). And yes I think “ancient” is a valid term, even though I’m well aware of debates about periodization, simply because it clearly and significantly sets apart that earlier time period from the 1800s. Plus I am pretty sure that most of these so-called “serious” students of classical antiquity (with the exception of a few raised in Mormon environments with high social expectations on them) reject as false equivalence any comparison between the historicity debates of the Bible and BOM, and also reject as valid the idea that the BOM is historical. So I think you’re looking for wrong allies to support your point here.

    Lastly even the most hardened skeptic of the existence of Jesus acknowledges that the Gospels were a product of particular Jesus-following culture that emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean 30-100CE. I can’t imagine a skeptic of the BOM doubting the existence of Nephi and Moroni but acknowledging the existence of a Jesus-following culture somewhere in the Americas 600 BCE-400 CE.

  31. Ryan Mullen
    November 13, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    “sometime between 4000 BCE and 300 BCE” and “the Bible was composed 4,000 BCE-100 CE” Really? You’re bracketing the composition of the Bible by four MILLENNIA and stating that it is not controversial? Using a comparable time frame, we can confidently state that everyone will agree the BoM was written sometime between 2000 BCE and 2000 CE. While obviously true, the time frame is far too broad for such a statement to be of much use.

    “No one questions that the Biblical passages are informed by ancient Near Eastern cultural knowledge. By contrast, people question the existence of a proto-Christian group of people who migrated from Jerusalem to the Americas 600 BCE.” Again, you’re painting with far too broad a brush. All Near Eastern cultures are not equivalent. People do question the existence of exclusive proto-YHWH groups and whether such groups migrated from Egypt to Israel. Are there particulars about the BoM and its historical claims that are different than the Bible? Sure, of course. But your claim that there are no meaningful parallels to be made between the two is indefensible.

  32. Nate GT
    November 13, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Ryan, I handily defended my point about no one questioning the ANCIENT origins of the Bible and then you just changed the goalposts. Time frame is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that pre-100CE is ancient where the 1820s is not. Please demonstrate one, just one, meaningful parallel between the historicity question of the Book of Mormon and those related to the Bible. I would like to hear it.

    “People do question the existence of exclusive proto-YHWH groups and whether such groups migrated from Egypt to Israel.”

    This seems beyond the point. The narrative of the OT was informed by ancient Levantine Hebrew-speaking traditions (and probably some other traditions) in the Near East (there is a very strong parallel between a few passages in Proverbs and writings of the Egyptian adviser Amenemope). Of course there are lots of ancient traditions and cultures there, but we know for sure it came from a select few cultures in the Levant. Contrast this with the BOM where no one outside believing Mormon scholars accepts that the BOM narrative is informed by any ancient American culture whatsoever. Secular and believing scholars alike consult the Bible to inform themselves of culture and belief in the ancient Near East. I don’t know of one non-Mormon scholar who has consulted the BOM to inform themselves about culture and belief in the ancient Americas.

  33. Brian
    November 13, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    Nate GT, when you write things like “For, just to expound on how the BOM comes from God and brings people to Jesus Christ, you would have to confront the historicity question. For if you claim that it did come from God, but also maintain that it isn’t historical, then what would that say about the nature of God? That God operates on a sort of trickery?” the weakness in your reasoning is apparent. Plenty of things can come from God, convince people to come to Christ, and not be historically true. You seem to believe, say, no art can be inspired; that no fiction can bring people to Christ. Those are absurd claims. Now, I’m not claiming the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction, but you don’t help your argument with the broad brush you keep making (and which everyone keeps pointing out).

  34. Ryan Mullen
    November 13, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    “I handily defended my point about no one questioning the ANCIENT origins of the Bible” No, you didn’t. The politics, geography, demographics, culture, and theology in 4000 BCE are all very different than 300 BCE (or 100 CE). Just because those two years are both ancient *to you*, indicating that you don’t care about the differences, doesn’t mean that the differences aren’t relevant to questions of the Bible’s historicity, composition, and worldview.

    “Secular and believing scholars alike consult the Bible to inform themselves of culture and belief in the ancient Near East.” Too broad a brush. Secular and believing scholars alike do *not* consult the Bible about belief in 4000 BCE. Where they likely agree is that the Hebrew Bible says something about the beliefs of Israelites ca 500 BCE, particularly the communities that utilized the HB in their worship. Similarly, secular and believing scholars will likely agree that the BoM says something about the religious communities that have used the BoM in their worship, and that has only happened from 1829 onwards. (The BoM text itself claims that no ancient peoples ever had the book.) So, one parallel here is that some secular scholars likely find the Bible as unreliable a source regarding 4000-1000 BCE politics, geography, demographics, culture, and theology as they do the BoM regarding the same topics in the Americas from 600 BCE-400CE.

    “Please demonstrate one, just one, meaningful parallel between the historicity question of the Book of Mormon and those related to the Bible. I would like to hear it.” I already did. Here is the parallel:

    RE the BoM: people question the existence of a proto-Christian group of people who migrated from Jerusalem to the Americas 600 BCE.

    RE the Bible: people question the existence of [pre-Davidic] exclusive proto-YHWH groups and whether such groups migrated from Egypt to Israel.

    There are many more.

  35. Nate GT
    November 14, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Brian,

    “You seem to believe, say, no art can be inspired”

    You’re extrapolating way beyond my argument (and you say I’m painting things with a broad brush?). My argument is BOM-specific. Allow me to break down what I wrote. I’ll write it again:

    “For if you claim that it did come from God, but also maintain that it isn’t historical, then what would that say about the nature of God? That God operates on a sort of trickery?”

    To say that the BOM “came from God” as Loursat strongly insinuates, you have to ask how it came from God. I cannot see how you would answer that except by saying that Joseph Smith had to have communicated with God. And if it is to be accepted that Joseph Smith communicated with God and routinely claimed that he was actually translating an ancient text from ancient Americans and their interactions with Jesus Christ, then to maintain one of three things: 1) God tricked Joseph Smith (as well as subsequent church leaders) into thinking what was intended to be fictional was actually true, 2) Joseph Smith completely misinterpreted what God was saying to him (and if that is the case, why trust other things Joseph Smith said about God?), or 3) God and Joseph Smith knew exactly what they were doing but wanted to test the faith of the followers and their ability to see through JS’s claims that it was historical and realize that the book was actually fictional but they were supposed to trust Joseph Smith anyways, which would be a form of trickery as well. So two scenarios in which interpreting the BOM as inspired fiction but still coming from God leads to seeing God’s nature as tricky and misleading, and another scenario which leads to seeing Joseph Smith as so faulty that we don’t really know what to trust as God’s words from his revelations.

    Suffice it to say, I do not have high hopes that most anyone who believes that the BOM is inspired fiction will maintain faith in the LDS church for too long. It would seem to be a path of cognitive dissonance too hefty to maintain for long. I’m open to the possibility of there being exceptions here and there, but from my interactions with people, I have mostly found that once someone begins seeing the BOM as fictional, they also begin seeing the LDS church as wrong and not worth their time.

  36. Nate GT
    November 14, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    Ryan,

    “one parallel here is that some secular scholars likely find the Bible as unreliable a source regarding 4000-1000 BCE politics, geography, demographics, culture, and theology as they do the BoM regarding the same topics in the Americas from 600 BCE-400CE”

    Not the same thing. Scholars who claim that the Torah was compiled in the 500s BCE also accept that a combination of oral and written traditions that predate the 500s BCE informed the text. Non-Mormon scholars do not accept that any oral or written traditions predating the 1800s informed the BOM (outside the obvious verbatim KJV parts). Scholars are also unearthing all kinds of evidence that confirms an origin of the Torah and the people and cultures described in it that predates the 500s BCE. The Tel Dan Stele dating to the 800s BCE confirms the existence of King David. There are statues of Ba’al that date back to the 14th-12th centuries BCE. There is mention of the word Israel on an Egyptian Stele 1213-1203 BCE. It is even not a huge leap of faith to believe that oral traditions of a Levantine people that came to inform the Torah emerged even earlier that 14th century BCE. To believe that human thoughts in the Levant and Egypt dating back to 4,000 BCE informed the Torah (although scientifically unverifiable) is not a big leap of faith and not nearly as big of a leap of faith as believing that ancient Americans’ religious beliefs informed the Book of Mormon text. For, to believe the former idea, I don’t have to accept the idea of revelation by god to any person, but only the maintenance of some small elements of traditional stories over thousands of years (we know the Egyptians passed down stories about gods that were similar to each other for thousands of years all the way back to 3100 BCE), but to believe the latter, I do; namely, revelation to Joseph Smith in the 1820s.

    Second parallel:

    Claim one: exclusive YHWH-believers migrated from Egypt to the Levant. Not too big of a leap of faith to accept this idea. It is not been scientifically verified, and may be unverifiable. But we know that people migrated from Egypt to the Levant when Moses was supposedly alive (Moses’s existence is scientifically unverifiable, but Rabbinical Judaism dates his birth to 1391 BCE, Jerome to 1592 BCE, and James Ussher to 1571 BCE). Pharaoh Tuthmose III brought his armies into the Levant in the mid-1400s BCE. The Amarna Letters, which date back to the 1300s BCE, are evidence of all kinds of interaction between Egypt and Mesopotamia and the Levant at that time. We have strong evidence of trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia during the First Kingdom (3150 BCE-2890 BCE). It is not at all a far-fetched idea to believe that a group of exclusive YHWH-believers migrated out of Egypt to the Levant. From a strictly secular standpoint, we could take issue with the idea that these people exclusively believed in Yahweh coming from Egypt, especially as their religious beliefs appeared to have been informed by Canaanite beliefs in Ugarit, but again, compared to claims about the BOM, it isn’t too far-fetched to believe this.

    Claim two: a group of people migrated from Jerusalem to the Americas in 600 BCE. To this day, there is no evidence of a connection between the Americas and the Levant in 600 BCE. From a secular standpoint, this is a very far-fetched idea that would require a huge leap of faith to accept, including the acceptance of the idea that a farm boy in New York was able to translate some ancient writings inscribed on plates (that no one has ever seen with the exception of a handful of witnesses who claimed to view these plates with “spiritual eyes”) from a language that he never studied or understood by some miraculous divine power.

    Bottom line, your comparison between historicity issues related to the Bible and those related to the Book of Mormon are a huge false equivalence. But I would be open to hearing more examples for you to make your case.

  37. Ryan Mullen
    November 14, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Nate,

    “I do not have high hopes that most anyone who believes that the BOM is inspired fiction will maintain faith in the LDS church for too long.” Ah, the good old ‘people who disagree with me don’t have a *real* testimony, and I know they don’t have a real testimony because I imagine a future action they might take.’ On the contrary, I know several Latter-day Saints (and know of many more) who do not take a position on BoM historicity* who do and have maintained lifelong activity in the Church. But then, such people are not likely to confide in someone who loudly stakes out a position that the BoM must be historical, so you may be experiencing confirmation bias. I further suspect that many Latter-day Saints who leave the church could otherwise stay active if there was room to disagree on BoM historicity.

    *yes, I recognize that is not quite the same as deciding the BoM is inspired fiction, but it is outside the BoM-must-be-historical-to-maintain-faith position you have staked out

  38. Nate GT
    November 14, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    “Ah, the good old ‘people who disagree with me don’t have a *real* testimony, and I know they don’t have a real testimony because I imagine a future action they might take”

    Isn’t to stop believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon to lose belief in a foundational truth claim of the LDS church? Doesn’t discontinued belief in one key aspect usually lead to discontinued beliefs in other aspects? This is a pattern that is evident in most departure stories that you find.

    “But then, such people are not likely to confide in someone who loudly stakes out a position that the BoM must be historical, so you may be experiencing confirmation bias”

    And yet they confide in the church leaders who routinely say that people must believe in a historical BOM (just like Callister in the OP)? I think you need to rethink your logic. Also, I don’t think you quite understand the concept of confirmation bias.

  39. Ryan Mullen
    November 14, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    The subjective phrases you’re using (e.g. not too big a leap of faith, not too far-fetched) suggest that the difference between Bible and BoM historicity is a matter of degree and not a qualitative difference. After all, what requires a big leap of faith for one person may only be a small step of faith for another. I’ve read multiple authors that suggest that YHWHic monotheists would be well suited to the Babylonian diaspora ca 500 BCE, but anachronistic to 1500 BCE tribal Israel. Akhenaten in 1300 BCE Egypt and Zoroaster in 2nd millennial Persia both advocated for monotheism without success. Their failure obviously doesn’t preclude contemporary Israelite monotheists, but it does indicate that monotheism was at least not common in the near East at the time. Whether accepting such monotheism requires more or less faith than accepting pre-Colombian American Christians is going to be a personal matter.

  40. November 14, 2019 at 10:21 pm

    My biggest complaint about church leaders insisting on the binary “historically true or a fraud” for the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith is that they don’t use the same simplistic schematic towards other religions, which we respect and admire, and even believe are inspired by God.

    I think all church leaders would instantly recognize the validity of a middle-path if they were asked: is the Koran historically true, or is it a complete fraud? Was Mohammed a true prophet and successor of Abraham, or a fraud? Did Mary Baker Eddy receive revelations from God, or was she a fraud?

  41. Nate GT
    November 14, 2019 at 11:52 pm

    Ryan, by leap of faith and far-fetched, I’m clearly using colloquialisms for plausibility/implausibility (let’s not get caught up in highly tangential semantic debates). You’re right that some people’s ideas are far more outside mainstream, secular, academic ideas than others. But what I’m saying is that to make the case that an exclusive YHWH-believing group migrated from Egypt to the Levant we don’t have to venture too far outside mainstream historical thinking in modern academia. After all, as I mentioned before, the fact that the book of Proverbs contains traces of the Instruction of Amenemope (written sometime between 1300 and 1075 BCE) shows a likely connection between Egypt and ancient Israelites. By contrast, in order to make the case that proto-Christian ancient Hebrews sailed to the Americas in 600 BCE we have to step very, very far outside mainstream history in modern academia.

    You’re trying to make the case that believing in the historicity of Moses is, while lacking corroborating evidence, is plausible and that believing in a historical Nephi, while also lacking evidence, is just as plausible. Poppycock. False equivalence in the extreme.

    “suggest that the difference between Bible and BoM historicity is a matter of degree and not a qualitative difference”

    Unclear what you mean here.

  42. Ryan Mullen
    November 15, 2019 at 1:23 am

    “You’re trying to make the case that believing in the historicity of Moses [and Nephi] is plausible” Rather than plausibility, I am making that case that the decision to accept the historicity of Moses or of Nephi is a faith-based one. There is no historical evidence for either of them. Yes, from a secular perspective, the oldest Mosaic texts date to 500 BCE (or arguably 1000 BCE) while the oldest Nephite texts arguably only date to 1829, but the existence of Moses still relies on 500-1000 years of oral transmission within a culture that, understandably, had no rigorous standards of historicity. I would say that the probability that a 1,000-year chain of oral transmission contains any reliable details regarding Moses (even his very existence) approaches 0%. So the only mechanism by which an Israelite scribal school could have reliable information on Moses is via revelation. And that’s the same mechanism by which JS claimed to access his information regarding Nephi.

    Yes, there are differences between biblical and BoM historicity. There is historical evidence for some biblical figures—notably the “house of David” and the Omride dynasty at the oldest—while there’s no such historical evidence for any BoM figure. But your claim that there are *no* parallels between biblical and BoM historicity is just a bridge too far. The existence of any pre-Davidic biblical figure is a matter of faith just as surely as the existence of any BoM figures.

  43. Nate GT
    November 15, 2019 at 3:25 am

    “So the only mechanism by which an Israelite scribal school could have reliable information on Moses is via revelation. And that’s the same mechanism by which JS claimed to access his information regarding Nephi.”

    So there was a Joseph Smith figure among the Israelite scribes in 500 BCE? Sure, there could have been a scribe claiming revelation from God about earlier history, but this is highly speculative. For one, they weren’t claiming to translate texts from languages they didn’t know nor were they claiming to reveal things about a much earlier time period about which no oral tradition whatsoever hadn’t already laid a groundwork narrative on which to build and enhance.

    The point you keep missing is that Joseph Smith is a unique figure, probably in all of history. I know of no other person (well maybe James Strang and Christopher Nemelka, but they were copying Joseph Smith) who claimed to translate some ancient text about Jesus Christ, or another religious figure equal in stature (the Buddha, Confucius) from a language they had never studied and did not know. With the Bible, it is clearly a rich text with multiple authors that was constructed over centuries. There is so much to work with in terms of literature that the historicity questions you speak of don’t have to be addressed. The Torah was clearly not brought to us by a single scribe claiming revelation in the 500s BCE. It clearly contains layers and layers of centuries of tradition some of which scribes in the 500s BCE may have changed to fit a prevailing religious view of the time, but a lot of which they clearly left intact (or at least as far as they understood intact to mean, oral traditions probably got distorted over time as you mention). It is really a completely different book from the Book of Mormon. We cannot talk about the Book of Mormon without talking about Joseph Smith. There isn’t really much there to corroborate the Book of Mormon with culture in the ancient Americas. To speak of something so much as the multiple authors’ styles in the BOM is to take a strong historicity position. To speak of how the Book of Mormon is a window into Joseph Smith’s persona and personal story is also to take a strong historicity position. So much of the historicity of the Bible is a given. Virtually nothing is with the historicity of the BOM. To speak of parallels between the historicity questions with the two is only at great strain.

  44. Ryan Mullen
    November 15, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Nate,

    Yes, I think revelation had to be involved in the composition of the Torah or else the information provided therein is entirely unreliable. I do not think revelation is unique to JS in all of human history. The texts JS produced detail others who had taken on similar tasks (e.g. Mosiah translated texts in unknown languages), so to take JS’s claims seriously is to accept that he is not the only person through whom God has revealed information.

    It’s clear at this point that I find your arguments unpersuasive, as you do mine. Thanks for the discussion!

  45. Nate GT
    November 15, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    I can arrive at the point that ancient Hebrew editors of what became the OT existed without having to claim personal revelation or belief in someone else’s revelation. I cannot arrive at the point that Mosiah existed without claiming belief in Joseph Smith’s revelation. But if you’re now wanting to discuss what is or isn’t revelation, I think I’ll bow out. I also think I’ve made all the points I can about the difference between discussions on Biblical and BOM historicity.

    Yes, thank you for a riveting discussion and Times and Seasons for hosting our discussion.

  46. p
    November 15, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    No doubt Catholics have this same discussion regarding the verisimilitude of Marian apparitions – but in this case they’re considering an airborne Madonna instead of a transcontinental civilization.

  47. November 20, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    This has been a very thoughtful discussion, and on the whole I think Nate made made and sustained an excellent point: there is a qualitative difference between biblical historicity issues and BoM historicity. It is easiest seen when the kind of question about presumed authorship of JS is transferred to biblical sources. For instance, if some scolars would seriously and with some valid arguments maintain that the Textus Receptus, which has for long been the source of the Bilbe translations, was a – admittedly highly inspired — product of the quill of Erasmus of Rotterdam (who compiled the TR), then the two kinds of historicity would be on the same page. I am still eagerly awaiting such a claim, for Erasmus is one of our cherished Dutch icons.
    One of the confounding issues might be that some specific books in the Bible are to a high degree fiction, so it may not be wise to take the bible as a whole. But the basic historical kernel is unmistable and undeniable. There must have been a city called Jerusalem in some province of the Roman empire, I keep being convinced of that basic kind of history, the setting in which old documents portray the lives and times of people crucial in the gospels stories: a person called Jesus to all scholarly probability did live in knowable surroundings, so did Paul, Peter etc. That kind of historically assured basis is still under debate in the BoM.
    If we take the fictional books in the Bible, things look more like the BoM. Jonah for unstance, a tale full of the most improbable and impossible miracles, is high fiction; the most serious interpretation is as a parody and a satire (I can give the title, but I am writing from Mali, Africa). Job, great literature, among the greatest gems of world heritage, is fiction, pious fiction and highly appreciated as such. If taken as history God comes out quite badly, but what a tale, what a language! One could include the start of Genesis of course, but I hope my point is clear. The bible is very heterogeneous, but its founding in history and historical sources is qualitatively different from the BoM.

    As a footnote to Jerusalem: I know that the Ethiopian Coptic Church harbours a tradition that Jerusalem was situated in Ethiopia, but I find their arguments less than compelling.

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