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rockpond

Joseph Smith Treasure Digging - MS Truth Claims Essay

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On 1/25/2019 at 12:32 PM, rockpond said:

As has been discussed in the other thread, Mormon Stories has published a series of "Truth Claims" essays.  MS has chosen to promote one of these essays with an I-15 billboard in the SLC metro area and they are accompanying the essay with some podcasts on the topic as well.  So while this essay isn't the first in their list, it is the one that they have chosen to promote first.  So, for the sake of discussion here, I'm recommending we start with that essay as well.

*** Please use this thread to ONLY discuss the content of this particular essay, let's not have this fall into a discussion of John Dehlin or Mormon Stories in general.  There are plenty of other threads for that including the current active thread here.  Also, I would request that we stick to discussing just this essay and open new threads for others, if desired.***

Here is the link to the essay:  https://www.mormonstories.org/truth-claims/joseph-smith/treasure/  Please read it before joining the discussion.

And here is a question raised by @stemelbow to kick off the discussion:

 

These folk magic beliefs were part of his world view.  The Smiths and their associates were extremely superstitious when compared to how people operate today.  They not only viewed these beliefs as compatible with their religious beliefs, but the two things were intertwined in a way that you can't separate them.  

People today want to dismiss these evidences because they have a bias against folk magic beliefs.  There is too much corroborating evidence from friendly sources to dismiss all of this as antagonistic reconstructions.  I think that the essay is largely accurate from what I've read, even if worded in a somewhat non-neutral way.  

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20 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

These folk magic beliefs were part of his world view.  The Smiths and their associates were extremely superstitious when compared to how people operate today.  They not only viewed these beliefs as compatible with their religious beliefs, but the two things were intertwined in a way that you can't separate them.  

People today want to dismiss these evidences because they have a bias against folk magic beliefs.  There is too much corroborating evidence from friendly sources to dismiss all of this as antagonistic reconstructions.  I think that the essay is largely accurate from what I've read, even if worded in a somewhat non-neutral way.  

OK.

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15 minutes ago, Bernard Gui said:

OK.

Do you disagree that their world view was much more superstitious than ours today in general?  

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2 hours ago, Bernard Gui said:

What is  your opinion of Nibley's The Myth Makers? It's dated, but are his arguments sound?

 

I've not read it.  

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54 minutes ago, mapman said:

"Superstition" is another obfuscating word. It basically is used to dismiss religious beliefs you think are weird, and instead of trying to understand why they believe what they believe you assume that they are irrational or stupid. If you think a belief is wrong or that there is some fallacy of logic, just say that. Explain where they went wrong instead of dismissing it as "superstition." Respectable scholars don't use the word because it is pejorative and polemical.

There have always been people that see connections between things that aren't really there. The growth of the anti-vax movement for example shows we haven't really changed.

I'm not a scholar so I'm not familiar with the correct terminology to use, but I wasn't attempting to communicate anything pejorative with my usage of the word.  I was trying to make a point about how people in the time and place that Joseph Smith lived had very different assumptions about how the world works from a metaphysical standpoint.  Their basic assumptions about many things were quite different from what the average person might believe today.   

I also recognize that there are some beliefs that exist in our culture today, homeopathic medicine or astrology for example, are a thing in certain segments of society today.  I personally don't find these beliefs to be rational, but I'm not disparaging the people who hold to these beliefs, I'm just pointing out that there are many things that the people in Joseph Smith's circle believed that the average person today wouldn't.  

Edited by hope_for_things
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20 hours ago, PacMan said:

I gave no counter interpretation? I did. Twice. That Joseph Smith Sr. did what he did for the reason he said. Last time I checked, the said guardian didn’t say “bring Alvin’s corpse.” And further, that your theory also contradicts the evidence (see below).

Your post to me contained no counter interpretation. I didn't see any other posts mentioning my name. The reason JS Sr. gave is not credible. Even Richard Anderson quoted on page 5 of this thread in large font connected the exhumation with the requirement to bring Alvin, not that someone else had dissected him. According to Anderson, he did it to quell rumors that Alvin's body or a part was taken to the hill. This is not too different than what Quinn and I have suggested. Yet, in your estimation we are fools. Your comment about the guardian not saying "bring Alvin's corpse" is totally silly. 

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[If your analaysis of history is as good as your analysis of my post, the world has good reason to beware.]

Cute, but stupid.

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Please site the ad hominem. The only thing I’ve said about you personally was on the other thread (which you ignored) being that I have on good authority that you’re a nice guy. That has no bearing on you being a good or bad historian.  And I think your historical methodologies and analyses are very, very suspect.

Is it really necessary to say “grasping at the most absurd, lunatic, and salacious conspiracy” and "Vogel's own perverse imagination"? 

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Be sure that “making the connection” is not the issue. To suggest so is disingenuous.  The problem is you summarily concluding that your perverse theory (and it is perverse) as “probable” when the dates don’t even match up.  Joseph Smith Sr. was 3 days LATE to do what you suggest he did. He dated his published statement on September 25 and speaks specifically of the exhumation as of that “morning.”  So your theory can only hold if you suggest he lied about it.  But where’s that evidence?  Indeed, given the “unsupported evidence” upholding this theory, why don’t you also dismiss this crack-pot “anti-Mormon” theory?

Where do you get "summarily concluding"? I questioned JS Sr.'s excuse for digging up the body, but so did Anderson. I also questioned it because it would have been apparent if the grave had been disturbed during the previous three days. However, the assumption that only 22 September was the magical day on which JS could get the plates is not historically sound. My use of "probable" pertains to the source of the "rumor"--that is, JS Sr. himself. 

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Now, if you were correct (and you’re not), the story would really only demonstrate how JS, even as a boy, was completely convincing to his parents and family. That begs the question: was he such a great pious fraud at such a young age or was he believable because he was actually telling the truth?

How can you "summarily conclude" my analysis is wrong? That JS could convince his father about the treasure guardian's demand is no mystery since he believed in such things already. The assertion that no deceiver has ever fooled their own family is, of course, silly. After the treasure guardian spirit became an angel, the question that begs for explanation is: Why didn't the angel know Alvin was going to die? Of course, there would be no reason for an angel to require the presence of Alvin, Samuel Lawrence, or Emma. Such requirements were used by treasure guardians trying to trick they money diggers and deny them the treasure. 

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14 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

You may have missed bdouglas' point, which is that any of us could dismiss Newton as a sorcerer or magus through the fallacy of guilt by association, as has been done to Joseph Smith.  Mentioning the success of Newtonian Physics (despite its failure to jibe with Einsteinian and Quantum Physics) is a nice riposte, even though it ignores the fact that some non-Mormon scholars have had some very powerful things to say in defense of the work of Joseph Smith -- which John Dehlin does not want you to repeat because it disestablishes the negative case which he regularly makes.  How different it is when (as in the case of Newton) a balanced assessment is made.  It is so easy to dismiss fair and balanced arguments in the midst of constant apologetic and polemic debate.

The analogy is false, unless you want to concede that JS's work as a treasure seer was delusional. JS used the same stone he pretended to find treasure with to translate the Book of Mormon. 

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2 minutes ago, Dan Vogel said:

The analogy is false, unless you want to concede that JS's work as a treasure seer was delusional. JS used the same stone he pretended to find treasure with to translate the Book of Mormon. 

The words "delusional" and "pretended" are your operative prejudicial words here, Dan.  No scholar I know of maintains that Newton was delusional or that he merely pretended to do alchemy.  Most educated men today do not accept alchemy as a worthwhile endeavor, but there is no question that Isaac Newton was fully sincere in his alchemical efforts.  And he was a very well educated genius and university professor, a member of the Royal Society.  A fortiori for a country bumpkin like Joseph Smith Jr.  A fair and balanced appraisal requires at least some attention to the actual nature of that period.  That's Historiography 101.

Fawn Brodie's biggest failing was her attempt to do a psychohistory of Joseph Smith.  Mind reading was simply not her forte.  As with her failed biography of Thomas Jefferson, she begged the primary question:  Were those activities normal for the period?  Indeed, when we take a close look at prophecy in the OT, we find time and again that the prophets may just as well have been wizards and magi -- based on the biblical descriptions of their actions.  The same applies to Jesus himself, and his apostles.  Of course, as you know, Brent Metcalfe places biblical lore on a par with that in the Book of Mormon, and declares it all of a piece.  One must finally be consistent in one's overall judgments.  You may need to sit down and discuss this with Brent.  Just for perspective.  😎

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On 1/25/2019 at 8:41 PM, mapman said:

I'd say most likely self-deluded. It is absolutely possible for people to see visions in crystals. Scrying didn't come out of nowhere, made up by frauds, but works through psychological effects that have been scientifically studied in modern times. It's the same thing that makes you see things in mirrors in dim light if you look at it long enough. So I don't doubt that people using seer stones had visions, but I'm very skeptical that it would give any knowledge about the physical world, like where treasure was buried. I think for most people with a pre-modern worldview, however, such experiences would be taken literally.

For me, the more interesting question is whether someone could gain spiritual knowledge through a seer stone. In my opinion, it seems that if you believe that revelation can be received through dream, meditation, or other states of altered perception, then it shouldn't be far-fetched that it could be received through a seer stone. Other people in history have reported receiving spiritual communications through seer stones (for example, John Dee's communications with angels), so I think there's plenty of evidence that seer stones can "work" to induce spiritual experiences.

Sage observations.

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36 minutes ago, Dan Vogel said:

The analogy is false, unless you want to concede that JS's work as a treasure seer was delusional. JS used the same stone he pretended to find treasure with to translate the Book of Mormon. 

I think you may be conflating issues here. The self-delusion comes from the interpretation of visionary experiences, it doesn't have anything to do with a particular stone. There are different questions we can ask about looking into a seer stone:

--Can you have a visionary experience looking at a seer stone under dim lighting? The answer to this is yes. It doesn't have to be a stone, but in every culture I've read about that uses scrying uses some sort of surface that reflects light in an abnormal way, whether it be a stone, a crystal, a pool of water, or a mirror. There have been studies done on this effect, and it seems that at least most people are able to see things after a few minutes, though some people are able to achieve this state faster and easier. It seems to be connected to the "fantasy prone personality."

--Can these visionary experiences help you find buried treasure? I doubt many people nowadays would answer yes. However, I don't think it is difficult to understand why people would come to that conclusion. I don't have first-hand experience with this, but from what I understand, it is somewhat like a lucid dream or an out-of-body experience. It can be nebulous and unstable, but sometimes very vivid and feel very real, especially for people with strong imaginative abilities. A lot of people that have near-death experiences come back saying they saw their bodies and the room they were lying in from above, and are convinced they actually saw the physical world from outside their body. Yet, there have been tests where someone put an object on top of a shelf or something out of view of the patient, and they can't describe it. I don't think that finding treasure that way worked, and that's why no one ever found any. This is where the delusion comes in, the interpretation of an experience.

--Can you receive genuine revelation through one of these visions? Obviously this is outside of the realm of the historian, and people are going to answer different ways. For me it is like dreams: probably most of them aren't going to mean much, but occasionally you might have a dream that is meaningful.

--Can God give you a translation of an ancient record through one of these visions? The million dollar question.

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8 hours ago, ALarson said:

Why not?  Why couldn't Moroni have told him the truth and said "your future wife"?  That's more honest and real than saying he chose to deceive Joseph and give him the wrong person's name.  You make Moroni into some type trickster or deceiver when he definitely could have told Joseph the truth.  Do you believe no messenger from God ever told someone something that hadn't happened yet?

If Moroni knew that, he didn't give Joseph a truthful answer though.  You are really having to twist and contort the information we have, to fit your version of what YOU believe happened.  It's frankly just a theory though without a lot to support it, IMO.

I've already explained my theory.  I disagree with you.  If you disagree with me, I really don't care.  What we are talking about is all supposition.  You suppose what Moroni knew without support.  I suppose (rightly so) that you have no evidence of what Moroni did or did not know.  I see merit in the story.  You do not.  Great.  Get over it.

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12 minutes ago, mapman said:

--Can God give you a translation of an ancient record through one of these visions? The million dollar question.

Obviously God can do what ever He wants, so the million dollar question is more like:

"Is it reasonable to expect that this is how God would preserve and produce a translation of an ancient record?"

Edited by CA Steve
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On 1/26/2019 at 9:15 AM, mapman said:

The practice of divination or scrying was pretty universal around the world from what I've read. I don't know much about Biblical scholarship, but I think it stands to reason that they would use seer stones or other reflective surfaces like Joseph in Egypt's chalice.

Of course, and atheists frequently cite that sort of thing.

On 1/26/2019 at 9:15 AM, mapman said:

Mesoamerican people used obsidian mirrors for divination.

Correct, but much more:  Mayan lot stones, known as am, were used, in addition to the Mayan zaztun ("clear stone," i.e. rock crystal), which was typically placed in balche (mead) to "quicken" it, and could then be used to divine the the future, the cause of an illness or other problem, and even to work a cure.*  Finally, there was the Mayan giron-gagal or pizom-gagal as a kind of New World stone compass (or liahona) used by the ancestors of the Quiche Maya in their major migration from the East.**

The Olmec (Jaredites) used polished hematite iron mirrors for divination, and kept them on a necklace.***

*  Walter Krickeberg, "Mesoamerica," in Krickeberg, Trimborn, Mueller, and Zerries, Pre-Columbian American Religions (1968), 75; see photo and description in National Geographic, 148/6 (Dec 1975),: 746-747.

**  Milton R. Hunter, Archeology and the Book of Mormon, 40-41, citing the Popol Vuh and Title of the Lords of Totonicapan; B. Urrutia suggests a similarity between gagal here and Hebrew galgal, "wheel."

***  Ronald Grennes-Ravitz in N. Hammond, ed., Mesoamerican Archaeology: New Approaches (Univ. of Texas at Austin, 1974), 101-106.

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48 minutes ago, PacMan said:

I've already explained my theory.  I disagree with you.  If you disagree with me, I really don't care.  What we are talking about is all supposition.  You suppose what Moroni knew without support.  I suppose (rightly so) that you have no evidence of what Moroni did or did not know.  I see merit in the story.  You do not.  Great.  Get over it.

LOL.  How old are you?  It's difficult to take you seriously if this is how you reason things out.  You've misstated everything I was expressing with my attempts to bring some coherency and reason to your posts (it was you who first claimed to know what Moroni could or could not do, by the way....).  

But, carry on....I'm off of here for the evening :) 

Edited by ALarson

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6 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Of course, and atheists frequently cite that sort of thing.

Correct, but much more:  Mayan lot stones, known as am, were used, in addition to the Mayan zaztun ("clear stone," i.e. rock crystal), which was typically placed in balche (mead) to "quicken" it, and could then be used to divine the the future, the cause of an illness or other problem, and even to work a cure.*  Finally, there was the Mayan giron-gagal or pizom-gagal as a kind of New World stone compass (or liahona) used by the ancestors of the Quiche Maya in their major migration from the East.**

The Olmec (Jaredites) used polished hematite iron mirrors for divination, and kept them on a necklace.***

*  Walter Krickeberg, "Mesoamerica," in Krickeberg, Trimborn, Mueller, and Zerries, Pre-Columbian American Religions (1968), 75; see photo and description in National Geographic, 148/6 (Dec 1975),: 746-747.

**  Milton R. Hunter, Archeology and the Book of Mormon, 40-41, citing the Popol Vuh and Title of the Lords of Totonicapan; B. Urrutia suggests a similarity between gagal here and Hebrew galgal, "wheel."

***  Ronald Grennes-Ravitz in N. Hammond, ed., Mesoamerican Archaeology: New Approaches (Univ. of Texas at Austin, 1974), 101-106.

When I was reading about the Mesoamerican mirrors, it reminded me of the Whitmer family seer stones that were Indian artifacts. I have seen them described as "gorgets" or "shale pendants," but I wasn't able to find any information whether they were thought to serve any purpose other than decoration. From what I understand, the Mesoamerican mirrors were also worn sometimes. I was wondering if you happen to know whether the Iroquois or Algonquin could have used polished stones in the same way.

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1 hour ago, Dan Vogel said:

Your post to me contained no counter interpretation. I didn't see any other posts mentioning my name. The reason JS Sr. gave is not credible. Even Richard Anderson quoted on page 5 of this thread in large font connected the exhumation with the requirement to bring Alvin, not that someone else had dissected him. According to Anderson, he did it to quell rumors that Alvin's body or a part was taken to the hill. This is not too different than what Quinn and I have suggested. Yet, in your estimation we are fools. Your comment about the guardian not saying "bring Alvin's corpse" is totally silly. 

Danny, Danny, Danny.  Yes, I did give a counter interpretation.  And that is the evidence of the exhumation, which you have now ignored multiple times, was THREE DAYS LATE.  Further, there is NO page 5 of this thread (yet).  And the big font post's mention of dissection was the quote from Joseph Smith Sr.'s own published statement.  Further, I don't care what Anderson said because I can look and read the document on my own.  The document shows that Joseph Smith, Sr. wanted to quell distressing rumors that his son had been dug up and dissected.  That, my friend, is why he exhumed Alvin's body.  And that is TOTALLY different than what you suggested.  Digging up Alvin to see that he was undisturbed has no comparison to digging up the body to cart it off to meet an angel.  That you think those are "not too different" is an excellent example of why your work is so questionable.

"Yet, in [my] estimation [you] are fools."  You said it, not me.

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Is it really necessary to say “grasping at the most absurd, lunatic, and salacious conspiracy” and "Vogel's own perverse imagination"? 

Look up the definition of ad hominem.  Attacking one's conspiracy or imagination is not part of the definition.

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Where do you get "summarily concluding"? I questioned JS Sr.'s excuse for digging up the body, but so did Anderson. I also questioned it because it would have been apparent if the grave had been disturbed during the previous three days. However, the assumption that only 22 September was the magical day on which JS could get the plates is not historically sound. My use of "probable" pertains to the source of the "rumor"--that is, JS Sr. himself. 

Again, I don't care what Anderson thinks.  I care about the evidence.  You bring in a fanciful assumption that "it would have been apparent if the grave had been disturbed during the previous three days."  Says who?  Have you researched how dirt settles?  If we are going to dive into the fantasy land of speculation, then let's be reasonable about it.  The whole Alvin thing was a big enough deal that J.S., Sr. published a statement in the newspaper.  Which means, there were probably a whole lot of people trodding around the grave site (which was, at best, no more than 10 months old--my speculation is that it was probably only 3-4 months old after he was reburied in the Spring).  So when you talk about the ground being apparently being disturbed, what do you mean?  No flowers?  No grass?  Footprints?  Because all of those were probably true!  It WAS disturbed, but JS, Sr. didn't know the extent.  But even more important is that you fail to consider the sympathies of a father that just wanted to know.  Being a father myself, that's what I would have done to put a grieved mind at ease.  But not you?  When it comes to your children, is close good enough?
 

Quote

How can you "summarily conclude" my analysis is wrong? That JS could convince his father about the treasure guardian's demand is no mystery since he believed in such things already. The assertion that no deceiver has ever fooled their own family is, of course, silly. After the treasure guardian spirit became an angel, the question that begs for explanation is: Why didn't the angel know Alvin was going to die? Of course, there would be no reason for an angel to require the presence of Alvin, Samuel Lawrence, or Emma. Such requirements were used by treasure guardians trying to trick they money diggers and deny them the treasure. 

Who said the Angel needed to know?  Who said he did know?  Who said he didn't?  How does Alvin's death change that at the time Joseph Smith asked who the "right" person was, the right person was, indeed, Alvin?  You are building so many unstated assumptions into your logic that you (again) prove why I have a problem with your scholarship.  It's not that it is wrong.  The problem is it's bad.  It's not reliable because you are not honest about what you know, what you don't, what you assume, and why you make the assumptions that you do.  You take some documents, mix them with unfounded assumptions, slam them into a sausage maker, hit the green button, and call the unrecognizable mound of processed who-knows-what, "meat."  Sorry, I ain't eating it.

Another example.  You state that "[t]he assertion that no deceiver has ever fooled their own family is, of course, silly."  This, "of course," is a dishonest straw man.  I did not say that.  I did not even infer that.  But that's what you read because you're not accurate with information and your analysis is shoddy.  Let's be honest--you are a story teller.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Just don't call it history.  Because it's not.

But, I digress:  I want to make sure that I have this completely correct.  May I quote Dan Vogel as agreeing with the following: "The family of Joseph Smith, Jr., regardless of his own truthfulness, sincerely and honestly believed in his claims regarding the visitation of an angel and the existence, promise, content, and location of the golden plates?"

Edited by PacMan

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6 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

Do you disagree that their world view was much more superstitious than ours today in general?  

Why would I disagree? It's obvious. Everything changes.

The world view when I was a kid in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1955 is far more different....even superstitious.....than today.

200 years from now, much that we do today will come under scrutiny and found wanting. 

It's the way things are.

 

Edited by Bernard Gui
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1 hour ago, Dan Vogel said:

However, the assumption that only 22 September was the magical day on which JS could get the plates is not historically sound.

I'm doing this in a separate post because this is important.  Please explain why this is "not historically sound."  And then explain why Moroni's statement that Alvin was to accompany Joseph to receive the plates (as a necessary requirement to buoy up your theory that this is why JS, Sr. dug up Alvin), is, in fact, historically sound.  I am very interested how you parse these two bits of history.

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4 hours ago, stemelbow said:

I've not read it.  

It deals with the neighbors' recollections of Joseph Smith, money digging, etc.

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3 hours ago, mapman said:

When I was reading about the Mesoamerican mirrors, it reminded me of the Whitmer family seer stones that were Indian artifacts. I have seen them described as "gorgets" or "shale pendants," but I wasn't able to find any information whether they were thought to serve any purpose other than decoration. From what I understand, the Mesoamerican mirrors were also worn sometimes. I was wondering if you happen to know whether the Iroquois or Algonquin could have used polished stones in the same way.

Back around 1973, I saw an extensive display of gorgets in the old Joseph Smith Memorial Bldg at BYU, and, yes, some early Mormons had such stones (with large holes in them).  I don't know how the Amerinds used them.  The Iroquois and Algonquin did not have iron and so could not create polished mirrors.

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4 hours ago, mapman said:

...............................

--Can these visionary experiences help you find buried treasure? I doubt many people nowadays would answer yes. However, I don't think it is difficult to understand why people would come to that conclusion. I don't have first-hand experience with this, but from what I understand, it is somewhat like a lucid dream or an out-of-body experience. It can be nebulous and unstable, but sometimes very vivid and feel very real, especially for people with strong imaginative abilities. A lot of people that have near-death experiences come back saying they saw their bodies and the room they were lying in from above, and are convinced they actually saw the physical world from outside their body. Yet, there have been tests where someone put an object on top of a shelf or something out of view of the patient, and they can't describe it. I don't think that finding treasure that way worked, and that's why no one ever found any. This is where the delusion comes in, the interpretation of an experience..................................

In the  late 1960s, a close friend of mine was in a horrible car accident as he and a friend (at the wheel) were on their way to Los Angeles from Provo.  Perhaps the driver fell asleep, then the car rolled over several times.  The driver died, and my friend believes he also died.  He said that he could see the crash scene from above.  He could see his own lifeless body.  Then a  man pulled up in another car and rushed over to help.  He laid his hands on my friend and commanded him to live.  My friend found himself being pulled back into his body.  From there an ambulance took him to a hospital, and he was eventually transferred to UCLA Medical Center in LA.  They eventually put him back together, and after a month or two they released him.  He then returned to BYU, and one of his first stops was Hugh Nibley's old office in the Joseph Smith Memorial Bldg (he was Hugh's graduate assistant).  He told Hugh what had happened to him (Hugh had also died and been sucked back into his body), and Hugh replied:  "God hasn't used you up yet."

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4 hours ago, CA Steve said:

Obviously God can do what ever He wants, so the million dollar question is more like:

"Is it reasonable to expect that this is how God would preserve and produce a translation of an ancient record?"

Excellent question, but on what basis can we even hazard a guess?  Should we take a close look at religious history?  Secular history?  How about logic?  Should we be presentist?  What sort of tools should we use to begin to answer such a question?  What is "reasonable"?  Is there a God?

Scholars never ask such a prejudicial question, because the answer will necessarily be a matter of opinion, not fact.  Scholars prefer to look at the end-product.  Does the purported translation of an ancient document have the signs of antiquity?  Or does it have the signs of a forgery?  That is what historians and questioned-document examiners focus on.

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15 hours ago, CA Steve said:

Obviously God can do what ever He wants, so the million dollar question is more like:

"Is it reasonable to expect that this is how God would preserve and produce a translation of an ancient record?"

But as far as we can tell, the record was never used to produced the BoM.  It lay untouched why Joseph read off words while peering into his hat.

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