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Ryan Dahle

Why Not Engage the Evidence for Historicity?

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9 hours ago, cinepro said:

I think you've just summarized the argument against Ryan better than I ever could.

I'm assuming these Protestant, Catholic and Jewish scholars haven't subsequently converted to Mormonism en masse.  They "respect" the book, they engage the scholarship, and feel "positively" towards it.  Yet they are unconvinced.

I guess you miss the point, cinepro.  You are being too ethnocentric.  Jews don't look at Mormons as a challenge to their own ethnic, cultural, or religious status.  They see us as one of a number of different groups who are spin-offs from Judaism, just as they see Jesus as merely one Jewish cousin among many.  If anything, they take the superior view that they are the source, and that we are secondary.  They are bemused at the temerity of our missionary efforts.

After all,  the Nephites are authentic Israelites, the Book of Mormon an Israelite document, and we Mormons respect the Hebrew Bible and find the source of our Gospel to be the Jew known as Jesus.  The entire New Testament was written by Jews, and the early Christian Church was an exclusively Jewish organization.  Yet we do not suddenly convert to Judaism.

Among biblical scholars and archeologists, no one expresses much interest in which denomination or irreligious background/belief one may have.  Never comes up for discussion.  There is a passionate interest in reconstructing and understanding the ancient world.  That is a very different focus from what we normally find in the typical Mormon congregation.

9 hours ago, cinepro said:

If you could indulge us in a bit of of speculation, how do you think those scholars would respond if you asked them where they think Book of Mormon came from?  How are they able to so fully understand the Hebraisms yet remain doubtful of the Theory of Divine Origin?

Perhaps they compartmentalize such recognition.  Also, they often take the traditional view that they are the Chosen People of God, and the evidence of their choseness is as apparent as the existence of the State of Israel in the Latter Days -- the end of that long and bitter diaspora known as the Galut.  They may as well see the Mormons as part of that final Gathering (kibbutz Israel), authentic Book of Mormon and all.  The better question would be, Why do the Jews like the Mormons so well?  Why do they treat Mormons with such favor?

We have entertained Jewish scholars at BYU repeatedly, and we have collaborated in publishing books on such things as chiasmus.

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On 6/22/2018 at 2:00 PM, jkwilliams said:

This is a good illustration of what cinepro was talking about in terms of the weight given to different kinds of evidence. To you, tenuous links to, say the Books of Enoch, outweigh obvious anachronisms, and yet you are somehow surprised that other people don't find such tenuous evidence particularly compelling. Pretty much we are going to see what we want to see, unless we take great pains to be skeptical and look at the other side. For example, you take at face value the assertion that the text of the Book of Mormon was produced in a short period of time with no source material simply because that's what the producers say happened. My advice is to step back and stop looking for evidence in favor of the book. Instead, look at the totality of evidence and see where it leads you. You may find your belief strengthened, but at least you'll have made some effort at skepticism and balance.

I think growing up in the church we often miss the biggest, most glaring anachronism of them all: fully developed, protestant-style Christianity hundreds of years before Jesus' birth.

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18 hours ago, kllindley said:

I think you're right. To understand this better I would recommend Jonathan Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind." A lot of people, even most, nearly all? accept or reject belief based on snap emotional judgments. All the data gathering and argumentent come afterward as justification.  

I think you are correct here.  But I think it is incumbent on Latter-day Saints to strengthen their testimonies through study, including evidences of the historicity of The Book of Mormon.  I think the point quoted by Elder Holland is apt: "'Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.'"

Thanks,

-Smac

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9 hours ago, Bernard Gui said:

You have very accurately described my experiences with the a number of people I know, including two sons and several nephews and nieces and the children of close friends, who have left the Church for these reasons. I once even invited a young adult son who was on his way out of the Church to read an apologetic book on his own and to do a road trip with me and attend a FAIR conference....just to see what answers there might be to his questions....but I was met with a shockingly hostile response. Others I know have experienced the same reaction with their family members. They don’t want to do that which could help resolve their issues. Thankfully his anger has abated over a period of time, and we are rebuilding our relationship, but he still will not consider anything that contradicts his negative view of the Church.

As a side note that probably is a very broad generalization, but it holds true for all those who have left that I know - the first thing they proudly jettisoned was the Word of Wisdom, especially alcohol or marijuana, some even saying, “If you really love me, come and have a drink or smoke a joint with me, or at least let me do it in your home.” Other friends have had this same conversation with their loved ones. It’s a mystery to me.

This is quite common, and may even be an effort to validate their beliefs -- just as surely as many college fraternities begin their hazing by getting their pledges to sully and debase themselves with uncaring sex and booze, thus validating the narcissism of the already senior members.  This is a first and very important step in preparing candidates for the avarice and greed of the corporate world which they will soon learn to lead.  They need to fit in with their future world of graft and corruption.  their women can only be conquests or trophy wives.

Only if they can define you as a hypocrite can they feel fully comfortable in their descent into hell.  They must somehow rationalize all that.

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1 hour ago, Gray said:

I think growing up in the church we often miss the biggest, most glaring anachronism of them all: fully developed, protestant-style Christianity hundreds of years before Jesus' birth.

Right. Add that to my above list.

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6 hours ago, smac97 said:

Ah.  So you are juxtaposting the "Heartland Model" with the "Mesoamerican Model" for The Book of Mormon and suggesting that the existence of the one weakens the other.  Is that your point?

That is it. If the Book of Mormon is an historical account of the people who lived in Location X between 600 BC and 420 AD, it can't also be an historical account of the people who lived in Location Y. Believing members don't agree on what the evidence is, so its not likely that doubting members will fare much better. 

Then there are multiple versions of the First Vision, and also variations in the accounts of the recovery of the golden plates.

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2 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

The fudging was in finding correlations with the text of II Esdras, which are obscure at best, and he himself uses language which appears to recognize that lack of clear connection.  He provided several explanations for the phenomenon which he fails to adequately demonstrate. I am taking into account all those theoretical explanations, while at the same time pointing out the lack of any 19th century content in the EarlyModernEnglish text.  These are fundamental problems which you yourself recognize.

If the text was a restoration of an "ancient Christian apocryphal text based on earlier Jewish apocalyptic sources" we shouldn't be surprised to find EModE and a lack of 19th century content. 

But to clarify, out of the 4 possible explanations Owen gives to explain similarities between the Book of Mormon and apocryphal texts like Esdras and Narrative of Zosimus, you would chose (1) coincidence?

2 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

I am addressing Owen's article as a piece of scholarship, not as a pedestrian regurgitation of what the average Mormon believes. I am unconcerned with majority opinion (vox populi vox Dei?), and am very surprised that you would defend him on that basis.  You will also note that I did not bold the name of Cristobal Colon.  That was deliberate.

I'm not defending him, I doubt he would even defend himself. I'm far more comfortable reading Nephi's apocalyptic vision in broader terms. I interpret the man who was led across the great waters as being Zosimus, and the gentiles (who were as white as the Nephites) as being the Saints of God fleeing persecution in the 5th century and settling across the Indies.

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1 hour ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

7. As I mentioned above, the impressive parallels between JS’ translations and ancient texts are with non-historical apocryphal texts that aren’t nearly ancient enough by literally thousands of years.

Not if the Book of Mormon was a 17th century text based on earlier apocryphal texts from the 5th century.

Edited by Rajah Manchou

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15 minutes ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Not if the Book of Mormon was a 17th century text based on earlier apocryphal texts from the 5th century.

Can’t argue with you there.

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1 minute ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

Can’t argue with you there.

I'll add that those apocryphal texts (eg. Narrative of Zosimus and History of the Rechabites) could be dependent on historical accounts of Jews who left Jerusalem much earlier, as early as the 6th century BC, carrying their records with them. These historical records were said to be recorded on brass plates.

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There is evidence for this, as well as surviving brass plates still being worshipped as power relics, but I don't want to threadjack again.

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Since the book of mormon is the foundation of the lds church, I think that we should ask ourselves just how did the book come about. How could Joseph write it in secret away from family? Did his family know that he was writing it? What about Emma? Where was she when he was writing it? And what about the witnesses? Why go along with it? And if all these people were in on it, they must have been very miserable and terrible human beings, especially emma, who would have gotten what she deserved with the polygamy issue. I think that this is what is amazing about the book of mormon. Or is it what is claimed by Joseph Smith? Why did Oliver return? And Martin? And why did david whitmer have his testimony put on his tombstone? All quite amazing for possible fraudsters.

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29 minutes ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Not if the Book of Mormon was a 17th century text based on earlier apocryphal texts from the 5th century.

The issue for this theory along with similar theories like a 16th century origin is how on earth Joseph got the text. The providence of the "translation" of the text still has to be dealt with. Of course theories espousing Joseph using a pre-existing text go back to the early days with the Spaulding Manuscript theory. However I've just never heard good explanations for this nor how Joseph would get such texts.

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7 hours ago, smac97 said:

Ah.  So you are juxtaposting the "Heartland Model" with the "Mesoamerican Model" for The Book of Mormon and suggesting that the existence of the one weakens the other.  Is that your point?

In addition to the list above, two of the most damaging things for the Theory of Divine Origin are the incompatible theories regarding the location of Book of Mormon events, and the inconclusive evidence for whether or not the translation was "loose" or "tight."  Those are two drastically different methods of translation, and invoking both to explain different aspects of the translation weakens the likelihood that either were used.

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13 hours ago, Rajah Manchou said:

James Strang and his translation of metal plates buried in a hill, and the Book of Laban, are good examples. LDS scholars don't feel the need to engage the historical claims of Strang and the witnesses because, to them, it seems obvious that it was all fabricated. But the claims are nearly identical. Stangites have even found chiasmus in his translations:

I actually think the situation with James Strang provides a very good contrast, justifying the legitimacy of the evidences I have been talking about. LDS scholars have discussed Strang and the important differences between the types of evidences he was able to produce for his movement and those attending Joseph Smith's claims. 

As for Strang's chiasms, I personally think they are interesting and actually quite impressive. However, if all the Book of Mormon had were a few chiasms, even if they were fairly good ones like Strang's, I wouldn't find it especially compelling. It is the fact that Joseph dictated so many good ones in a fast paced translation, reportedly without notes or reference materials, and integrated them into a text teeming with a bunch of other Hebrew structures, a bunch of very good ancient Near Eastern and Mesoamerican stuff he shouldn't have known about, and into text that is both extremely complex and also very consistent, and on and on. 

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1 hour ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

1. Whenever we have the source text, Hebrew (http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/appendix-2-document-2a-characters-copied-by-oliver-cowdery-circa-1835-1836/1) or Hieratic, JS’ translations or translations associated with him turn out to be unrelated.

I'm not entirely convinced that is the case. Again though it depends upon what texts one thinks are translations and which are "working back" to figure out how to do a translation. The nature of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and associated texts still aren't agreed upon. Again if we think Joseph didn't know Egyptian but wanted to, then working backwards from the translation makes a lot of sense. But to say this is a contentious issue is an understatement. Certainly the sn-sn is unrelated to the Book of Abraham which is either a slam dunk to critics or reasons to think something else is going on for apologists. While the strength of argument for the missing papyri remains weak, again I think the slam dunk elements depend upon the meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers a lot. Although I'll fully admit to not being up to date on the latest arguments here.

I'm not sure your argument with the above link. Could you say more? 

1 hour ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

2. The strongest correlations for BOM historicity point to Mesoamerica, but there are problems like compass directions and the historical issues around positing 2 cumorahs (thus we have Meldrum, heartland theory, etc.).

Honestly I don't see the "compass" directions as a problem. Again I'm anything but well read on Mesoamerica, but the arguments in Brant Gardner's latest book seemed pretty reasonable to me. i.e. we assume all cultures looked at directions the way modern Europeans did but not all Mesoamerican tribes did.

The two Cumorah issue is an issue for some, but to me the fundamental issue is why early Mormons thought the hill Cumorah where the plates were found was the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon. It's still not clear to me why. I certainly understand why it's a big issue for some, but to me it seems to be a secondary tradition brought out of interpretation of the texts rather than having some direct source. I just don't think prophets are necessarily inspired when making inferences so this doesn't count as much for me. It's not that I dismiss it, but without having direct providence for some evidence, I think it's weak data.

1 hour ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

3. JS’ translations double down on a literal world wide flood, which didn’t happen according to lots of science. JS’ translations also double down on the pure language and the tower, which again didn’t exist/happen according to science.

I don't see how that's an issue since it just relates to the beliefs of the ancient people who of course can (and we should expect will) have erroneous cosmological beliefs. The bits in Ether are Moroni writing possibly as much as two thousand years later with his own interpretations of the creation accounts on the brass plates. That is he's reading the accounts of Ether through a lens already filled with Jewish belief from around 700 - 600 BC when we have good reason to believe Jews accepted a major flood. You then have the issue of the loose translation being heavily affected by the phraseology of passages from the KJV which can distort things more. (Again many might see the often ahistoric use of KJV fragments to translate unrelated text the most problematic aspect of the Book of Mormon)

1 hour ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

5. The JST heavily borrows from Adam Clark’s commentary, raising questions about the nature of the “translation.” 

I confess I don't see the issue there. It's part of "study it out in your mind." It only happens starting sometime in the NT portion and some bits go completely against the Clarke commentary despite clearly having the commentary. I think the problem here is that people assume everything in the JST was a translation like the Book of Mormon whereas even long before the Clarke data came out that seemed an unsupportable theory. You have some major revelations - primarily in Genesis and sections in the D&C related to the work of translation. But it seemed like much of the translation was Joseph trying to clarify the KJV without knowing (at the time) the underlying languages. It'd have been interesting to see how he'd have approached it later on in the 1840's when he knew Hebrew and a little bit of Greek. But of course the biggest problem, going back to the JST translation in the early 1830's, was the lack of time and resources.

Now that said, I think the expectations of some members on the JST are such that they might be shocked. But those expectations seem tradition unrelated to data. i.e. unwarranted assumptions by people making doctrine by assuming what a prophet should do.

1 hour ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

6. The book of Moses finesses and smooths the transition between the two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 instead of making their descreet nature aparent. There are many other sticky issues where JS’ texts butt heads with biblical scholarship.

Although it fits at least certain Jewish traditions such as Philo's treatment of the two creation accounts. I don't see that as a problem so much as a recognition that they are two completely different accounts dealing with different things. So if anything I'd argue it actually emphasizes the different nature.

While the work on Genesis 1 & 2 was done before Joseph had Clarke's Commentary it is interesting that Joseph's treatment of the division follows Philo more than Clarke. The idea that Joseph had been exposed to at least oral overviews of platonic tradition is something many historians have argued for. Steve Flemming's blogged about that extensively at JI but others have noted it either directly tied to neoplatonic writings or more in terms of the so-called hermetic tradition. The latter Brooke of course argued for although Quinn argued for neoplatonic sources for the three degrees of glory and other terminology. Philo's commentary was available in America in an 1800 translation. A more platonic conception influenced by Philo was popular with major figures like Emerson.

2 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

7. As I mentioned above, the impressive parallels between JS’ translations and ancient texts are with non-historical apocryphal texts that aren’t nearly ancient enough by literally thousands of years.

Primarily because there are no ancient texts of the relevant age that are extant. Most texts including Isaiah are post-exlic texts in our form with a lot of redaction and editing. At best we have certain passages argued to be pre-exile but we have typically only textual suggestions for dating these passages. 

It's true that it's in pseudopigraphical texts from the second temple period up through the late Roman period that the most interesting parallels are found. And you're completely right those are late traditions. However the problem of ancient Jewish texts is really an argument from silence with certain popular theories about what pre-exilic Israel was like. However there's precious little data. I think it's right to be skeptical when late texts, such as Merkabah texts from 200 BCE - 600 CE, are used as a context for the Book of Mormon. Especially when some argue strong elements arise out of Babylon or Persia transfigured via Hellenistic influence. I'm not sure that means such considerations for passages like Mosiah 15 are without value. Just that we have to be careful to distinguish questions about meaning and how to read a text from evidence for a text's authenticity. Some do conflate those issues in unfortunate ways.

2 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

8. JS accounts of the divine evolve in such a way that it warrants doubt on his claims generally. For example, he begins claiming that the priesthood was restored via angels, and some of his early followers vocally claim that they never knew anything about it. At the same time, the texts of the D&C are expanded to include angelic restoration, yet there is no earlier version of the added text is ever discovered. Similarly, Martin Harris raised questions about the 8 witnesses’ experience, and the contemporary accounts of their experience aren’t straightforward either.

I think there are reasons to question meaning. I'm not sure that entails skepticism of his claims generally. Most people remember the past through the theories of the present. That's just human psychology. With regards to priesthood, particularly the Melchezedek restoration, I think the history is complex. One wishes people had written more. I'm not sure I'd say there's evidence to doubt. I think Joseph starts out ignorant and learns over time. Interestingly D&C 93 (1833) strongly implies this is how one learns divine things.

That's not to say one can't make arguments here undermining traditional views of the history. But I think the evidence is mixed and vague at best. However I would agree that for some things the historical evidence isn't as clear as some assume it is. Again I tend to attribute that more to poor records at this time. Once we hit around 1835 things improve somewhat. I just think people read too much into what's often arguments by silence or individual ignorance of what others were doing.

2 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

9. JS seemed to be able to find antiquities everywhere. Adam’s altar in Missouri, Zelph during the Zion’s camp March, the writing by Abraham’s and Moses’ own hand. Pretty lucky, or just not true.

Zelph I think is an interesting case since there's an argument that it was a passing comment by Joseph that got heavily expanded over time. Which ought make us question a lot of secondary accounts as representing Joseph's beliefs. Moses's writings weren't found antiquities but given through the U&T. Abraham I'll grant you although in that case we have actual antiquities - just ones that date to the Roman era. However heaven knows there's plenty of texts from that period mentioning Abraham even if the extant texts don't. Adam's altar is the only one I'd concede here. But it's an example of one potentially questionable antiquity when the other is pretty established as an antiquity even if you think Joseph's use is wrong. Even Zelph, while I think the tradition "expansive" over what was likely originally stated, is an actual antiquity. Again while we can debate the early Mormon use of mound builders and other natives, those were actual things.

So it  seems odd to criticize Joseph for coincidentally finding antiquities when all but one are unarguably antiquities.

2 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

10. Developments occur across the texts according to their production in JS’ time period. For example, Hebrew terms start showing up in Abraham, conviently after he started his study of Hebrew.

I don't understand this criticism. As his knowledge increased wouldn't we expect his translations to be affected? I think this is a case where we have to ask what the null hypothesis should be. Expecting the translations to be the same as 1820 seems quite odd if Joseph is involved. Now we can debate about whether his use of Hebrew transliteration in translations is helpful but that seems a separate issue. Clearly he thought it helpful. There are some interesting ones such as the translation of Egyptus in Abraham 1:23 that apparently in the original text was Zaptah or literally daughter of Ptah (where Ptah is the creation God) Joseph switches to a quasi-latinized transliteration presumably to make things clearer to readers. Again likely the sort of thing that one could look up even in the limited Egytian resources of the time but it suggests that how he used is increasing knowledge is more complex than it appears.

 

 

 

 

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59 minutes ago, cinepro said:

In addition to the list above, two of the most damaging things for the Theory of Divine Origin are the incompatible theories regarding the location of Book of Mormon events, and the inconclusive evidence for whether or not the translation was "loose" or "tight."  Those are two drastically different methods of translation, and invoking both to explain different aspects of the translation weakens the likelihood that either were used.

I confess I don't quite understand this line of argument. First I'd make a distinction between tight and loose translations in terms of content and in terms of method. My experience is that those are often conflated while they are for argument sense quite orthogonal issues. That is one could have a loose translation given in a tight word for word method. The evidence for the translation (as opposed to method) as loose is pretty overwhelming in my view given the heavy use of KJV quotes and paraphrases when the underlying text clearly isn't quoting the relevant passage. So I'm surprised you'd say the evidence is inconclusive.

As to incompatible theories about location, again I don't see how that is damaging for divine origin theories. Could you flesh that out a bit? I'd just note that in uncontested ancient history in the ANE that happens a lot when texts are vague. If Moroni didn't explicitly state where things took place to Joseph then we should expect differing theories especially given the limited data on hand in 1820-1845. While I'm quite skeptical of Vogel's mound builder theory, I'd completely agree with him that it'd be hard for early Mormons not to read the Book of Mormon in terms of the local environment. But that's of course different from questions of where the text took place. In the same way most early Americans would have completely erroneous ideas of Biblical history. And that's even when a lot of history was known in the scholarly community.

Getting back to tight/loose relative to the text not method, we should note that even in a loose translation we might have some tight transliteration schemes or passages that are more tight than others. So we have to be careful with our assumptions. Again I think looking at Jewish Targums is helpful here even though that's just going from Hebrew to Aramaic.

 

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

The issue for this theory along with similar theories like a 16th century origin is how on earth Joseph got the text. The providence of the "translation" of the text still has to be dealt with. 

Witnesses said the words appeared on the stone in English. The official version of the account also doesn't explain where this preexisting English translation originated.
Where do you suppose the English words came from?

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2 minutes ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Witnesses said the words appeared on the stone in English. The official version of the account also doesn't explain where this preexisting English translation originated.
Where do you suppose the English words came from?

I have zero idea. I can speculate about numerous possibilities but I have zero reason to pick one above an other.

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2 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I have zero idea. I can speculate about numerous possibilities but I have zero reason to pick one above an other.

I feel this is why we can't easily ask doubting members to engage the evidence for historicity. We don't know how things went down, and there is not enough evidence to examine. From the origin of the plates, to which version of the First Vision, to the real world location of the Lehites, even down to the name of the angel and what he was wearing. Multiple witness accounts, differing interpretations, and dozens of Mormon splinter groups each with differing versions of history. There's not one single body of evidence to examine.

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3 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

See my reply above for context about my personal stake in the conversation. I’d like to add that I do think JS’ translations are something special or out of the ordinary. However, I don’t find the existing evidence that does point towards the text being something extraordinary to sufficiently suggest historicity.

For example, all of the parallels with ancient texts are parallels with apochraphal texts, and there is little to no reason to imagine that these texts preserve historicity (I believe that’s the scholarly consensus). I’m thinking of the books of Enoch, the Abrahamic texts/traditions, and the book of Zozimus. Yes, the connections are impressive to me, but no they don’t really suggest historicity from where I’m sitting.

Maybe if I put it in a different context it will make sense. Let's say that an ancient Mesoamerican codex is discovered from around AD 600. And let's say in it there is a story about a prophet named Lehe who wakes up one morning and discovers a ball of fine gold outside his tent. This ball helps guide Lehi to a tree with white fruit. And enemies from a large tower mock those who like Lehi are journeying to the tree. The fruit of the tree is especially emphasized as being sweet and delicious. These details all show up in a few pages about this prophet in the codex. There are a number of other details in the story, but most of them seem to lack any direct connection to the Book of Mormon.

Would the archaeologists who discovered such a text feel it was historically accurate? Almost certainly not, especially regarding the fantastical discovery of the golden ball which points travelers toward the tree. To them it would be Mesoamerican mythos, perhaps with some relation to a real story, but no way to verify which portions are fact and which are fiction.

Yet such a story would go a very long way to help verify that the Book of Mormon is truly an ancient Mesoamerican document. Although the Mesoamerican account is clearly garbled, it is hard not to see very direct and interlinked parallels to the prophet Lehi from the Book of Mormon. The parallels are direct enough and the content is peculiar enough to conclude that the parallels are very strong and that they are extremely unlikely to occur, connected together as they are, by chance. The similar name, the journey to the tree with white fruit, the building with people mocking, and especially the strange ball that directs him, and which he specifically discovered outside his tent. 

Obviously, there is no such text, but it provides a very good analogous situation to the Enoch and Abraham material. Just like a Mesoamerican codex from AD 600, there is no plausible naturalistic explanation explaining how Joseph Smith had access to 2nd Enoch, 3rd Enoch, or the Book of Giants. One has to invent wild tales about obscure discoveries and subsequent English translations of these texts that have completely escaped the notice of textual historians and that somehow all managed to end up in the hands of Joseph Smith. And yet parallels much like those in the Lehe story above show up in these texts, especially in the Book of Giants.

The extremely low probability of these type of excellent and peculiar parallels being a product of random luck or derivation dramatically increases the probability that Joseph Smith's Enoch material and at least some of the extant Enoch lore come from an authentically ancient Enoch source. In other words, the shared elements from each story (Joseph's and the extant Enoch material) are mutually corroborating in ways that simultaneously verify Joseph's prophetic ability as well as the historicity of the extant sources (at least the elements that closely match).  

Edited by Ryan Dahle

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36 minutes ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Witnesses said the words appeared on the stone in English. The official version of the account also doesn't explain where this preexisting English translation originated.
Where do you suppose the English words came from?

The Jewish high priest apparently read messages directly from the glowing stones and the Urim v’Tummim embedded in the breastplate of his uniform..

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5 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Joseph's most immediate witnesses agree that the words appeared in bright English letters on his stone in the hat.  Skousen argues that we can even delimit how many words were normally read off to the scribe at one time, then the next phrase, etc.

To me, that concurs with the description of how the Jewish high priest received revelation through the Urim v’Tummim.

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1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

I'm not entirely convinced that is the case. Again though it depends upon what texts one thinks are translations and which are "working back" to figure out how to do a translation. The nature of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and associated texts still aren't agreed upon. Again if we think Joseph didn't know Egyptian but wanted to, then working backwards from the translation makes a lot of sense. But to say this is a contentious issue is an understatement. Certainly the sn-sn is unrelated to the Book of Abraham which is either a slam dunk to critics or reasons to think something else is going on for apologists. While the strength of argument for the missing papyri remains weak, again I think the slam dunk elements depend upon the meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers a lot. Although I'll fully admit to not being up to date on the latest arguments here.

Let’s not forget the facsimiles or the princess kitumen translation.

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I'm not sure your argument with the above link. Could you say more? 

There is a Hebrew translation of a BOM passage that was dictated by JS (pre-Hebrew studies) and is nonsense.

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Honestly I don't see the "compass" directions as a problem. Again I'm anything but well read on Mesoamerica, but the arguments in Brant Gardner's latest book seemed pretty reasonable to me. i.e. we assume all cultures looked at directions the way modern Europeans did but not all Mesoamerican tribes did.

And that difference was lost in translation? It wouldn’t have to be so, but it seems like whoever was translating would have fixed the issue.

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The two Cumorah issue is an issue for some, but to me the fundamental issue is why early Mormons thought the hill Cumorah where the plates were found was the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon. It's still not clear to me why. I certainly understand why it's a big issue for some, but to me it seems to be a secondary tradition brought out of interpretation of the texts rather than having some direct source. I just don't think prophets are necessarily inspired when making inferences so this doesn't count as much for me. It's not that I dismiss it, but without having direct providence for some evidence, I think it's weak data.

The vision of the plates being returned to cave in the hill should be considered here.

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I don't see how that's an issue since it just relates to the beliefs of the ancient people who of course can (and we should expect will) have erroneous cosmological beliefs. The bits in Ether are Moroni writing possibly as much as two thousand years later with his own interpretations of the creation accounts on the brass plates. That is he's reading the accounts of Ether through a lens already filled with Jewish belief from around 700 - 600 BC when we have good reason to believe Jews accepted a major flood. You then have the issue of the loose translation being heavily affected by the phraseology of passages from the KJV which can distort things more. (Again many might see the often ahistoric use of KJV fragments to translate unrelated text the most problematic aspect of the Book of Mormon)

You can make that argument for Ether, but less so for the vision of the flood in Moses.

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I confess I don't see the issue there. It's part of "study it out in your mind." It only happens starting sometime in the NT portion and some bits go completely against the Clarke commentary despite clearly having the commentary. I think the problem here is that people assume everything in the JST was a translation like the Book of Mormon whereas even long before the Clarke data came out that seemed an unsupportable theory. You have some major revelations - primarily in Genesis and sections in the D&C related to the work of translation. But it seemed like much of the translation was Joseph trying to clarify the KJV without knowing (at the time) the underlying languages. It'd have been interesting to see how he'd have approached it later on in the 1840's when he knew Hebrew and a little bit of Greek. But of course the biggest problem, going back to the JST translation in the early 1830's, was the lack of time and resources.

Now that said, I think the expectations of some members on the JST are such that they might be shocked. But those expectations seem tradition unrelated to data. i.e. unwarranted assumptions by people making doctrine by assuming what a prophet should do.

The point is that heavy borrowing is just one more reason to suspect we’re not getting historical translations from JS’ revelatory process.

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Although it fits at least certain Jewish traditions such as Philo's treatment of the two creation accounts. I don't see that as a problem so much as a recognition that they are two completely different accounts dealing with different things. So if anything I'd argue it actually emphasizes the different nature.

It marries the two in a single vision given to Moses, and has God’s words bridging the would-be gap. 

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While the work on Genesis 1 & 2 was done before Joseph had Clarke's Commentary it is interesting that Joseph's treatment of the division follows Philo more than Clarke. The idea that Joseph had been exposed to at least oral overviews of platonic tradition is something many historians have argued for. Steve Flemming's blogged about that extensively at JI but others have noted it either directly tied to neoplatonic writings or more in terms of the so-called hermetic tradition. The latter Brooke of course argued for although Quinn argued for neoplatonic sources for the three degrees of glory and other terminology. Philo's commentary was available in America in an 1800 translation. A more platonic conception influenced by Philo was popular with major figures like Emerson.

Primarily because there are no ancient texts of the relevant age that are extant. Most texts including Isaiah are post-exlic texts in our form with a lot of redaction and editing. At best we have certain passages argued to be pre-exile but we have typically only textual suggestions for dating these passages. 

It's true that it's in pseudopigraphical texts from the second temple period up through the late Roman period that the most interesting parallels are found. And you're completely right those are late traditions. However the problem of ancient Jewish texts is really an argument from silence with certain popular theories about what pre-exilic Israel was like. However there's precious little data. I think it's right to be skeptical when late texts, such as Merkabah texts from 200 BCE - 600 CE, are used as a context for the Book of Mormon. Especially when some argue strong elements arise out of Babylon or Persia transfigured via Hellenistic influence. I'm not sure that means such considerations for passages like Mosiah 15 are without value. Just that we have to be careful to distinguish questions about meaning and how to read a text from evidence for a text's authenticity. Some do conflate those issues in unfortunate ways.

Fair points on the argument from silence. 

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I think there are reasons to question meaning. I'm not sure that entails skepticism of his claims generally. Most people remember the past through the theories of the present. That's just human psychology. With regards to priesthood, particularly the Melchezedek restoration, I think the history is complex. One wishes people had written more. I'm not sure I'd say there's evidence to doubt. I think Joseph starts out ignorant and learns over time. Interestingly D&C 93 (1833) strongly implies this is how one learns divine things.

That's not to say one can't make arguments here undermining traditional views of the history. But I think the evidence is mixed and vague at best. However I would agree that for some things the historical evidence isn't as clear as some assume it is. Again I tend to attribute that more to poor records at this time. Once we hit around 1835 things improve somewhat. I just think people read too much into what's often arguments by silence or individual ignorance of what others were doing.

It’s not individual ignorance. One of the contemporary members launched an investigation and interviewed earlier members. He concluded that no one knew or had heard anything about angelic restoration of priesthood.

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Zelph I think is an interesting case since there's an argument that it was a passing comment by Joseph that got heavily expanded over time. Which ought make us question a lot of secondary accounts as representing Joseph's beliefs. Moses's writings weren't found antiquities but given through the U&T.

There is an account of a visitor to Nauvoo whom JS showed the mummies and cuttings, and specifically said that one of the cuttings was written by the hand of Moses. That means JS would have gotten writings from Abraham, Joseph, and Moses all at once. Pretty lucky. Also when we talk about the potentially lost scroll do we take into account the writings of Joseph? Cause we didn’t lose two scrolls did we?

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Abraham I'll grant you although in that case we have actual antiquities - just ones that date to the Roman era. However heaven knows there's plenty of texts from that period mentioning Abraham even if the extant texts don't. Adam's altar is the only one I'd concede here. But it's an example of one potentially questionable antiquity when the other is pretty established as an antiquity even if you think Joseph's use is wrong. Even Zelph, while I think the tradition "expansive" over what was likely originally stated, is an actual antiquity. Again while we can debate the early Mormon use of mound builders and other natives, those were actual things.

So it  seems odd to criticize Joseph for coincidentally finding antiquities when all but one are unarguably antiquities.

Yes, he came across antiquities. So do we, nothing special there. The point is that the antiquities he did find were very unlikely to be as old as he claimed. Adam’s altar would have been nearly 6000 years old. Zelph would have been around 1.5 thousand years old. An actual text from Abraham would have to have been a couple more thousand years old than what JS claimed. 

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I don't understand this criticism. As his knowledge increased wouldn't we expect his translations to be affected?

I guess it depends on how tight the translation is. In the example I gave, God gives the Hebrew  names and translations. What would be there if JS hadn’t learned Hebrew? 

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I think this is a case where we have to ask what the null hypothesis should be. Expecting the translations to be the same as 1820 seems quite odd if Joseph is involved. Now we can debate about whether his use of Hebrew transliteration in translations is helpful but that seems a separate issue. Clearly he thought it helpful. There are some interesting ones such as the translation of Egyptus in Abraham 1:23 that apparently in the original text was Zaptah or literally daughter of Ptah (where Ptah is the creation God) Joseph switches to a quasi-latinized transliteration presumably to make things clearer to readers. Again likely the sort of thing that one could look up even in the limited Egytian resources of the time but it suggests that how he used is increasing knowledge is more complex than it appears.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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On 6/24/2018 at 9:59 PM, Rajah Manchou said:

If the text was a restoration of an "ancient Christian apocryphal text based on earlier Jewish apocalyptic sources" we shouldn't be surprised to find EModE and a lack of 19th century content. 

But to clarify, out of the 4 possible explanations Owen gives to explain similarities between the Book of Mormon and apocryphal texts like Esdras and Narrative of Zosimus, you would chose (1) coincidence?

I'm not defending him, I doubt he would even defend himself. I'm far more comfortable reading Nephi's apocalyptic vision in broader terms. I interpret the man who was led across the great waters as being Zosimus, and the gentiles (who were as white as the Nephites) as being the Saints of God fleeing persecution in the 5th century and settling across the Indies.

I am not an afficionado of any of Owen's theoretical explanations, and (for the sake of discussion) the suggestion of coincidence is as good as any other.  Naturally, I would present my own list of possible choices.  The problem with Owen's narrow and superficial set of comparisons is that it ignores the archetypal nature of the pattern which appears to underly 1 Nephi 13 - 14, for which the book of II Esdras (IV Ezra) is merely one instance -- and not a particularly good one.

I am always impressed with your willingness to think outside the box, Rajah, and only regret that Owen was unwiilling to do likewise.

Edited by Robert F. Smith

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