Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Book of Mormon 3/18

Before I read the BOM, I read the introductory pages. There's an abridged version of Joseph Smith's story there. Then it says, "For the complete record, see Joseph Smith--History, in the Pearl of Great Price, and History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, volume 1, chapters 1 through 6.

I'm going to abridge the abridgment for you. In 1823, an angel named Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him about a book written on golden plates that he would show Joseph at a later date, and there was a seer stone with the book that would allow Joseph to translate the book. But Joseph was not allowed to show the book to anybody except who he was commanded to or else he would be destroyed.

Moroni appeared to Joseph again, told him to tell his dad what had happened, and Joseph's dad told him it was from God. This time, Joseph went to find the plates. He said, "Covenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box." The seer stones, a breastplate, and the golden plates were in the stone box, but Moroni wouldn't let Joseph have them for four more years. But Joseph went there once a year and met with Moroni until then.

Joseph finally got the plates on September 22, 1827, and Moroni told him to protect them until Moroni came back for them. Apparently, lots of people tried unsuccessfully to get them from Joseph, but Joseph was successful in protecting them. Then, once they were translated as The Book of Mormon, Moroni took them away.

In the case of the Bible, there are thousands of fragments of ancient manuscripts. It boggles the mind to think how many copies there must've been for so many thousands of them to have survived for so long. Surely, most of them have not survived.

But with the BOM, there isn't one single shred of manuscript evidence anywhere. The only one that supposedly existed was taken away by an angel. I'm sure there's an explanation for it, but this story just makes me suspicious. Joseph Smith finds some golden plates with ancient writings on them, only lets a handful of people see them (and it's ambiguous whether anybody actually saw them), and then they are taken away to heaven so nobody else can ever examine them. Wouldn't it be great if we could examine them? That is, if they ever existed, which I doubt. I can't prove it, but I suspect this story of an angel taking them away is just a cover up. It is most unfortunate. If they existed, they could possibly vindicate Joseph Smith and the LDS Church. Or they could falsify Joseph Smith and the LDS Church.

Part 4

19 Comments:

At 6/07/2009 12:08 AM , Blogger Carl said...

It's important to remember that the thousands of fragments of the Bible, are either copies from the Bible or copies of the documents later compiled into the Bible. There are no 'original' Bible documents to be examined. Even if, having the original doesn't prove it's authenticity.

The easy answer for the plates having been taken back from the hands of man is that not all of them were translated. If they were still available, man would be able to translate the portion that the Lord held back.
Presumably this sealed portion is intended for revelation at a later date, or has possibly already been revealed through modern day prophets. Perhaps it contains truths and precepts man was not ready for then. If the plates remained in the world, given what the early saint went thru, they would have either been damaged, if not destroyed, or translated, revealing things the Lord did not intent to be revealed yet.

Having been available longer, doesn't establish the Bible's credentials.

The common answer is that the Lord's plan requires our faith, if we had incontrovertible proof, then we wouldn't need to have faith. Of course we've shown that even proof often isn't enough. The Bible itself demonstrates that in the Old Testament repeatedly. The Israelites following Moses observed miracle after miracle, yet every time they had a bad day they doubted and complained. Adam walked and talked with God regularly, and knew as surely as the sun would rise that he should not eat the apple, yet here we are.

 
At 6/07/2009 1:57 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Yes, Carl, you're quite right that all the ancient manuscripts and fragments we have of the Bible are copies and that we don't have the originals. My point was that while we have abundant manuscript evidence for the Bible, we have none at all for the Book of Mormon. So we know that the Bible is an ancient document, we can reconstruct to a high degree of certainty what the originals said by the use of textual criticism, and we can compare our modern translations to the original languages. We can't do any of that with the BOM. Don't you find it the least bit curious that we have so much manuscript evidence for the Bible but none at all for the Book of Mormon? If they are both equally ancient documents, why would there be several thousand manuscripts and fragments of one and absolutely none at all for the other?

Yes, I understand that there is an explanation for why Moroni took the plates away. But don't you find the whole story the least bit suspicious? If Joseph Smith did make the whole thing up, don't you think it would be convenient to claim an angel took the plates away, preventing anybody from falsifying his story?

I would like to ask you about the sealed portion of the BOM. I learned just this past week that originally, Martin Harris transcribed the first 116 pages of the BOM which were translated from the plates of Lehi. But then he lost them. Joseph Smith then said he would not translate those plates again. Instead, he translated Nephi's abridged version of the same story. What I'm wondering is whether there is any connection between the sealed portion of the BOM and the plates from which those first 116 pages were translated. Are the plates of Lehi sealed? Is that why Joseph Smith wouldn't translate them over again? Or does the sealing refer to something entirely different?

 
At 6/07/2009 3:31 AM , Blogger Carl said...

I would like to ask you about the sealed portion of the BOM

I had to google it to make sure I was right, and I found this site http://bookofmormononline.net/blog/the-sealed-portion/

But basically the sealed portion is different from the 116 pages that were lost.

The sealed portion (I want to say I've read that it was described as 2/3rds of the plates) came to Joseph sealed.

The 116 pages were lost because Joseph argued with the lord, effectively disobeying him, and was not permitted to re-translate them.

The "Book of Lehi" (Mormon's abridgement) was the first 116 pages and presumably contained a history prior to them leaving Jerusalem.

Had it been a hoax, he could have simple redone them. Because he had disobeyed the Lord, he couldn't.

 
At 6/07/2009 3:31 AM , Blogger Carl said...

Don't you find it the least bit curious that we have so much manuscript evidence for the Bible but none at all for the Book of Mormon?

No, I don't. The Bible is comprised of the teachings of the prophets in the Middle East. These works have been in continuous use and circulation for millennium. They've been handed down, passed around and spread about in one form or other since they were written. The BoM on the other hand was written and kept by prophets in the New World who led a relatively small population when compared to the indigenous peoples. The Nephites were fairly insular despite several missionary efforts. I would assume that they did not have hundreds of copies of 'scripture' passing around waiting to be left in a forgotten cave to be rediscovered today. Having, as they did, a living prophet to follow, and because as the BoM states, they were instructed to keep the records for those who would come later, their records served more a 'record' purpose than an active teaching tool. They didn't have to rely on a book because they were led by a prophet who taught them.

The Nephite were wiped out. Completely and totally wiped out. By a peoples who despised them entirely. It makes sense to me that every trace of them would have been destroyed. Moroni hid the plates for that reason. To preserve them until modern times. In an unforgiving environment filled with nations consumed by war and hatred, it is completely probable that every trace of the Nephite people and their beliefs were systematically erased.

Despite which there are a few things which the first Europeans to MesoAmerica recorded which could have been derived from the Nephite's beliefs. But of course they're all arguable.

Don't forget that MesoAmerican archeology is still fairly new compared to the preservation and archeology that's taken place in the Holy Land.

If Joseph Smith did make the whole thing up, don't you think it would be convenient to claim an angel took the plates away, preventing anybody from falsifying his story?

To run with the ;made the whole thing up' theory for a moment, and keep to the points you've made:
At the age of 14 Joseph told his family about his visit from the angel explaining that he was going to be given these plates but not yet. He then carried it on for 4 years telling them that he'd been visited again by an angel every year, the last year receiving many visitations from angels telling him about the peoples he would soon be unearthing scripture from. To the extant that he would go on at length describing these ancient Americans the angel had been teaching him about and telling stories he'd been taught to his family.

Then finally the glorious day arrived and despite 4 years of lead time, he couldn't even fake up some golden plates to flash around. So he does the next best thing and pretend to have them in a sack he put some bricks in.
Then convinced his family that they couldn't look inside but had to help him hide from the men who were coming up the road demanding to see them. Then convinced some friends to hide in their house just before some people stormed into his families home and began searching for them. And he carried this on for the whole 20 months he had them in his possession. (Except for the 2 months they were taken away for his losing the 116 pages, it's these little details that make it believable)

 
At 6/07/2009 3:32 AM , Blogger Carl said...

During these 20 months, since if you're going to pull a con this big you have to take it slow, he convinced Martin Harris to join him in his conspiracy. To the point that Martin made fake journal entries about helping him translate the plates. Even to the point of getting Martin to help him recruit Oliver Cowdry (whom he'd never before met) into the hoax.

So after lugging a sack full of bricks around, convincing everyone that they were really brass plates that they couldn't see (including his wife who had and lost their first child during all this time) and pretending to translate them while at least 3 other people pretend to be transcribing or seeing him while translating (I'm almost certain Emma transcribed a bit also) and making journal entries and sending off letters to support this, he comes up with the Book of Mormon. Which told a story about peoples in ancient America that completely flew in the face of everything 'known' about ancient America in the 1800's but manages to to get awfully close to whats been learned since then.

Even without the passages duplicated from the Bible (because if you're going to write a false book of scripture, you have to quote the Bible to lend it credence) it's still a fairly formidable work for a farmboy that just turned 21. And just under a year later, officially organized a church that claimed no lineage from any other church but claimed to jump straight from Christ's time to then without the 1800 years of man's meddling. And preached regular and at length, predominantly from the Bible instead of the book you just made to convince everyone you were a prophet. The go on to 'edit' the Bible, make up another whole book of scripture from some papyrus that made it's way to you, claim to have had enough revelations to comprise yet another book, and laid out doctrine completely out of line with what was being taught as Christian at that time yet claimed to hold Christ as it's central figure, a religion that almost 200 years later is one of the fastest growing in the world and still claims to be led by a Prophet of the Lord and apostles just like Jesus set it up.

But back to the sack full of bricks he's convinced everyone is really these brass plates he first told his parents he was going to be getting almost 6 years ago but still haven't had the time to paint some tin sheets to at least flash to people.

So he gets 3 people to testify that they've seen and handled the plates, for variety gets 8 more to testify that they were shown the plates by an angel, and convinces them so well that even though several of them later left the church, some being excommunicated, they never got around to recanting their published testimonies.

The best he can come up with to explain why he didn't have the plates anymore, being only 21 and having all these co-conspirators to brainstorm with since he hadn't given it much thought over the last 6 years, is because they were taken back by the angel that gave them to him in order to preserve them until the time came to reveal the gospel contained in the sealed part.

Yes, when you put it like that it does seem odd.

4096 character? I knew there was a reason I've never bothered posting anywhere before.

 
At 6/07/2009 8:54 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Had it been a hoax, he could have simple redone them. Because he had disobeyed the Lord, he couldn't.

Had it been a hoax, Smith probably wouldn’t have been able to redo them and have them come out just like the original. After all, if he claimed to retranslate them over again, and then the 116 pages showed back up, it would’ve become obvious to all that it had been a hoax. That may be why he claimed that the Lord wouldn’t allow him to retranslate them again.

I mean think about it. Why would God have him translate all those pages if God didn’t intend for us to be able to read them? And if God intended for us to be able to read them, why would he prevent Joseph Smith from retranslating them? This is another thing that makes me doubt the BOM.

These works have been in continuous use and circulation for millennium.

We have manuscripts of the New Testament that date well before 400 CE. Supposedly most of the BOM was still in use before 400 CE, so shouldn’t we still have those manuscripts? Lots of ancient Mayan writings have been recovered, but no BOM writings. In fact, there are no writings at all from any of those civilizations that lived way back then that have survived.

The BoM on the other hand was written and kept by prophets in the New World who led a relatively small population when compared to the indigenous peoples.

I’m going to bring this up in a later blog, but I don’t get the impression the Nephites and Lamanites were a relatively small population at all from reading the BOM.

They didn't have to rely on a book because they were led by a prophet who taught them.

Are you saying they wouldn’t have copied the BOM for others to read just because they had a living prophet?

The Nephite were wiped out. Completely and totally wiped out.

Except the three disciples Jesus promised to never die. :-)

By a peoples who despised them entirely. It makes sense to me that every trace of them would have been destroyed.

If the Nephites were a literate society, I’m skeptical that the Lamanites would have been able to erase all trace of them. We still have writings left behind from the Canaanites, after all.

Don't forget that MesoAmerican archeology is still fairly new compared to the preservation and archeology that's taken place in the Holy Land.

That is true.

it's these little details that make it believable

It has just the opposite effect on me.

 
At 6/07/2009 9:04 AM , Blogger Sam said...

he convinced Martin Harris to join him in his conspiracy.

I’m not sure Martin Harris knew it was a hoax. I suspect Smith had pulled the wool over his eyes, too, though I can’t be sure. Harris did have something to gain just as well as Smith. They intended to have the BOM published. I do sometimes wonder if Oliver Cowdery was in on the hoax, but I don’t know.

To the point that Martin made fake journal entries about helping him translate the plates.

Under the hoax theory, there’s no reason to suppose Martin faked journal entries about the translation of the plates.

convincing everyone that they were really brass plates that they couldn't see (including his wife

Do you have any reason to think Emma ever saw the plates?

at least 3 other people pretend to be transcribing or seeing him while translating

No, I think they really were transcribing. No need for pretending under the hoax theory.

Which told a story about peoples in ancient America that completely flew in the face of everything 'known' about ancient America in the 1800's but manages to to get awfully close to whats been learned since then.

Actually, a popular myth in the 1800’s was that the native Americans were the descendants of Jews, and that found its way into the BOM. But we’ve learned since then that the native Americans come from Asia. In that case, just the opposite of what you are saying is true. And we certainly haven’t learned since the first publication of the BOM that the ancient Americans were as highly civilized as the peoples of the BOM. Quite the opposite.

because if you're going to write a false book of scripture, you have to quote the Bible to lend it credence

That’s true, but in an upcoming entry, I’m going to bring up cases where the BOM quotes from or alludes to parts of the Bible that were not written until after Lehi and his people came to America. That does not lend credence to the BOM.

make up another whole book of scripture from some papyrus that made it's way to you

I think the Book of Abraham incident is one of the strongest evidences against Joseph Smith.

they never got around to recanting their published testimonies.

When you look at the individual testimonies, as apposed to the written statement they all signed, you get the impression that none of them actually saw the plates at all.

Yes, when you put it like that it does seem odd.

It surprises me that any of this leads you to believe Smith was telling the truth about the angel taking the plates away.

 
At 6/07/2009 7:57 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

I would be very surprised if the plates were around. It amazes me how little true evidence of anything God has left laying around. I read recently that there is zero evidence that millions of Jews were ever held enslaved in Egypt, let alone that they wandered around Arabia for 40 years. There is zero evidence that Jesus Christ lived when the bible says he did. God has made it pretty clear that he expects us to live by faith, and seems to go to great lengths to make sure there is no obvious evidence of the things He wants us to believe and do.

Relying on the thousands of "documents" you referred to that more or less make up the bible is the equivalent of relying on generational stories of things someone once read in an ancestor's journal. Who knows how many generations the currently available manuscripts are from the original prophets who recorded the information? The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans have much more surviving evidence of their religion than Christians or Jews do.

 
At 6/07/2009 11:48 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I would be very surprised if the plates were around.

That raises a question I already asked Carl, but I'd like to get your thoughts on it. We know that the ancient Jews and Christians made lots and lots of copies of their scriptures. Do you think the ancient Nephites made copies of their scriptures? Or do you think everything was written on this one set of plates which were passed down and never copied? I realize I'm asking you to speculate a little bit, but do you have an opinion on that?

I read recently that there is zero evidence that millions of Jews were ever held enslaved in Egypt, let alone that they wandered around Arabia for 40 years.

That is true, and it isn't for lack of looking either. But there is a huge difference between nomads wondering about for 40 years and civilized people building cities and having large scale wars for 1000 years.

People often say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I think that's true to a degree, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I mean there's no evidence of an elephant in my room right now, so I think that justifies me in saying there is no elephant in my room. The reason is because I should expect to see an elephant if one were in here. It would be hard to hide an elephant in my small room. So the question is whether we should expect to find any evidence of the Nephites or Lamanites.

There is zero evidence that Jesus Christ lived when the bible says he did.

I don't think we should expect to find any archaeological evidence that Jesus existed.

God has made it pretty clear that he expects us to live by faith, and seems to go to great lengths to make sure there is no obvious evidence of the things He wants us to believe and do.

This is something I'm going to take issue with in an upcoming post in this series. I know I keep saying that a lot, but I'm trying not to go into these things to much lest the posting of said blog be anticlimactic. :-)

It sounds like I need to say something about textual criticism, but I'm afraid that will lead us into a long topic. I will just say that the experts appear do disagree with your dismal portrait of the reliability of the manuscript evidence we have for the Bible. And I would like to recommend Bruce Metzger's book, The Text of the New Testament. Another book that is much easier to read (but a little more polemical), cheaper, and that covers some of the same information is The King James Only Controversy by James White.

But even if your dismal portrait is accurate, it does nothing to rebut my point that the mere fact that we have ancient copies of the Bible proves that the Bible is an ancient document, whereas we have no such evidence for the BOM.

 
At 6/08/2009 12:53 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Do you think the ancient Nephites made copies of their scriptures? Or do you think everything was written on this one set of plates which were passed down and never copied? I realize I'm asking you to speculate a little bit, but do you have an opinion on that?

Yes, they did. They had impermanent methods of capturing their scriptures, but the BOM mentions a variety of metalic sets of writings. In fact, the BOM as we now have it is an edited and abridged version of a variety of these plates, the editing and abridging having been done by Mormon, Moroni's father. That's where the book actually gets its name.

The manuscript that was famously lost by Marin Harris is the Mormon version of the first few books of the BOM. You have separate discussions on that topic. Other plates in the box contained the early version of the BOM we now have. Mormon explained that he had been inspired to include these in the box, even though none of the other plates he abridged were kept in there.

There is another portion of the plates that has not yet been translated or provided to us. It is referred to the as the "sealed plates" and some accounts say that it may be twice as large as the current BOM.

Anyway, this kind of stuff is way outside my area of expertise, but I fell comfortable sharing what little I know in this case.

 
At 6/09/2009 2:41 PM , Blogger Paul said...

I'm a little late to this discussion, but just wanted to point something out. The Vikings were alleged to have only a small bit of contact with North America, yet we were able to find evidence of even that in a remote corner of the continent. How much more should we find evidence of the peoples documented in the Book of Mormon given the numbers and extent of their occupation?

Note the following passages:

And it came to pass that [the Nephites in America] did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south, to the sea north, from the sea west, to the sea east. (Helaman 3:8)

The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea. (Mormon 1:7)

What are we to make of the lack of documentary, archaeological, anthropological, and even genetic evidences for the claims of the Book of Mormon? How can there be nothing? We know that God is not opposed to leaving tracks in history, since the vast majority of the places and events in the Bible may be verified. At what point is it reasonable to think that it didn't actually happen?

 
At 6/09/2009 3:51 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Helaman 3:8 certainly raises questions about the Limited Geography view of the BOM.

 
At 6/09/2009 5:46 PM , Blogger Paul said...

No matter what the scope of the habitation, the BoM claims it as extensive and covered with structures. It must have been extensive at times and places, because at one event alone over 2 million people were slain.

There should be some available evidence, in principle. More even than what we do have for the isolated, miscellaneous Native American Indian tribes, since these BoM groups supposedly had more sturdy dwellings and had metalworking technologies.

 
At 6/09/2009 5:53 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Paul, that reference is of the Jaradites, who supposedly came to America long before the main subjects of the BOM. There were two migrations, you see. The Jaradites came to America after the incident at the Tower of Babel where God confused everybody's tongues. But they became extinct long before Lehi's people got there and built all those cities.

 
At 6/26/2009 2:34 PM , Blogger Angela said...

Sam - many of your points are valid (although not conclusive) criticisms that aren't easily dismissed. The 116 pages incident certainly raised an eyebrow for me as well, for much the same reason it did for you.

There are different conclusions you can draw about JS:
1 - he did translate an ancient record (although he may have also made some mistakes in doing so)
2 - he thought he was translating an ancient record (self-deceived)
3 - he perpetrated a fraud or hoax and wrote the book himself

Church members generally will believe #1. Personally, I think there's a lot of evidence to support #2 also with one notable exception - what was in the box? Additionally, Emma "felt the plates" including individual pages of the same through a cloth. Did he create a "prop" to bolster his claim? If so, why was this "prop" not found? If physical plates existed and he made up a false translation, that would explain that, but then the plates would still exist and would likely have been found.

My overall impression of JS and the others involved in the process doesn't support #3 (full-on hoax), but that's just my opinion of those individuals. Specifically, I have a high opinion of Oliver Cowdery's integrity (moreso than Martin Harris who seems gullible to me) because he left the church over differences with JS, but he never denied the BOM, and he rejoined the church after JS left. He had good reason to deny the BOM. If he had been in on a hoax, he would have greatly benefitted from saying so, and he experienced negative consequences for standing by it when he was no longer in the church. I don't see any practical way JS could have perpetrated the hoax without OC's complicity, and when OC abandoned JS, calling him a fallen prophet, I don't see why he would not also abandon his story of the BOM. But he didn't.

But I don't fault someone for concluding differently than I have. That is simply my own opinion.

 
At 6/26/2009 7:40 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Angela, you mentioned something that I've wondered about myself. It's been a while, but I do remember reading about how some of the witnesses felt the plates with their hands, but didn't see them because they were covered up. I wondered what it was they felt--if it was some sort of prop or what. Depending on what it was, I don't see any reason to think it surely would've been found. If I were to create such a prop today, I think probably the cheapest and easiest way would be to cut up some coke cans, flaten out the metal, stamp them all over with a screw driver, and stack them together. Later, I might throw them away. I doubt anybody would ever find the prop.

I don't know what JS might've used, but I don't think it's very significant that whatever it was, it was never found. There are all sorts of possibilities--maybe he threw the prop away, buried it, or dismantled it, etc. But the fact that some people were allowed to feel the plates, but not actually see them, ought to raise some suspicions.

I'm a little rusty on what I've read about Oliver Cowdry (I have a terrible memory), but I remember not being sure whether he was in on the hoax or whether he was deceived as well.

Assuming he was deceived, it would seem odd that he would leave the LDS Church and join another one unless he became disillusioned at some point. Perhaps he never blew the cover about the BOM because he never became aware that it had been a hoax, regardless of what his suspicions might've been. But if he was deceived, there wasn't much for him to deny later anyway. According to his own testimony, he never actually saw the plates themselves; he only saw a vision of the plates.

Assuming he was in on the hoax, it isn't surprising that he would leave the church, but you're right that it's surprising that he wouldn't reveal the truth about the BOM. It seems possible to me, though, that maybe he just didn't want to burn his bridges. He did, after all, rejoin the church later, as you said. If he had wanted to keep that door open all along, it might explain why he didn't expose JS as a fraud. Or maybe it was just to protect his own reputation since he was in on the hoax. He couldn't very well expose the BOM as a hoax without incriminating himself in the process. JS made some terrible accusations against OC, calling him a liar and all sorts of things. If OC came clean about the BOM, it would just confirm JS's accusations.

Of course this is all just speculation.

 
At 10/25/2011 6:36 PM , Blogger Tyson said...

Sam - you asked about other witnesses and what they might have thought about the plates.... I thought you might find this interesting.

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=10&num=1&id=235

This list includes the description given by the witness and others who witnessed the plates.

 
At 10/25/2011 6:39 PM , Blogger Tyson said...

ps I have to be honest. As I read your posts I'm impressed how you have appraoched the Book of Mormon. I would say you have approached it from a secular perspective mingled with a biased disposition. Yet, you are open to discussion and appear to value the input from those who consider the book sacred.

 
At 10/26/2011 4:08 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I would say you have approached it from a secular perspective mingled with a biased disposition.

Yes, I was biased since I was doubtful about the BOM even before I read it. If by "secular perspective" you mean that I read it without any assumption of divine authority, that is also correct.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home