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The Non-Imperative for a historical Book of Mormon

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53 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

Someone can see these as dreams and visions rather than visitations.   In that very example you share Joseph describes Elias and Elijiah as two distinctly different individuals because of the assumptions he brings to his interpretation of biblical text. (They were the same person).  None of these characters in the text have to be historical if we're talking about Joseph having a vision about them. 

Let me see if I understand what you are suggesting here. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery both shared 3 separate  visions or dreams  in which both of them saw the same mythical individuals and those mythical individuals bestowed upon Joseph and Oliver the real power to bind and seal here on earth.

Why would God use mythical individuals to give mortals the authority to act in His name here on earth? Just before these three visions occurred Joseph and Oliver were visited by Christ who could easily bestowed all these keys on the prophet and Oliver. Why the need for three more visions/dreams from mythical Biblical characters?

Secondly, if these individuals did not really exist, at what point and how did the authority originally come to  earth? Isn't this a restoration of those powers?

1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

The BoM really doesn't get into the later Mormon theology around priesthood at all, and I think you're reading later anachronistic theological ideas about priesthood authority back on the BoM text.  I would argue that priesthood authority didn't develop to be an issue of concern until a few years after 1829 and the church was experiencing challenges to authority

It isn't a theology issue so much as  it is a narrative issue. The  Book of Mormon rests on the idea that the children of Israel are the literal descendants of Abraham and that they are God's chosen people, an idea that leads God  to helping Lehi and his people escape the destruction of Jerusalem because they are righteous. Those Book of Mormon stories do not make sense if the concept of a chosen people descended from an actual Abraham don't really exist. Are we supposed to believe that the whole chosen people story was a myth but the migration of Lehi and Jared were real events? The Book of Mormon states in the title page:

Quote

Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.

An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ

I just have a problem with the idea that all the important things God did for his people in the Bible can be taken as a myth but from the Book of Mormon on it is all supposed to be literal.

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6 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

For example, with respect to the BoM production I have been very much persuaded by Ann Taves approach to the golden plates, and the very salient observations she makes in her most recent book on that subject, how there are group dynamics at play that influence the production of the BoM. 

Out of curiosity, which points? I think Taves raises some great points but falls down on the point raised earlier - Joseph simply doesn't portray the process the way Taves suggests it happens. We end up with a lot hinging upon an ambiguous quote by Joseph's uncle. I think the Taves model would work much better if there were some evidence that Joseph thought he was doing what she portrays.

2 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

The BoM really doesn't get into the later Mormon theology around priesthood at all, and I think you're reading later anachronistic theological ideas about priesthood authority back on the BoM text.  I would argue that priesthood authority didn't develop to be an issue of concern until a few years after 1829 and the church was experiencing challenges to authority.   

I think it's a bit more complex than that. At minimum I think we should wait until the book on what was in the 116 pages comes out. Apologists have long appealed to Alma 12 as representing a kind of cosmic priesthood. However I think there's some evidence that similar notions are in the 116 pages. As I've mentioned before in the two main Don Bradley threads the past year, many elements parallel what are considered later Nauvoo masonry elements. While that matters to the believer, I should hasten to add that Royal Arch Masons were significant in the environment of young Joseph Smith, including the attempted gathering of Jews that Bradley discusses in his thesis. So even for those espousing a fraud model there's not necessarily incentive to downplay priesthood in the Book of Mormon. Even the idea of probationary state in Alma 12-13 has parallels in Royal Arch Freemasonry. (See for instance Mackey's book on it from 1870 - priesthood is a big deal)

Point being regardless of whether one pushes a faithful reading or a fraud reading I don't think the thesis that there's no priesthood has wings, so to say. Again though there's some ambiguity over the meaning of priesthood. But at minimum I think Don Bradley has already established the Lehi goes into a tabernacle modeled on the pre-Solomon temple and does priestly duties. However there's also clearly not all the practices we call the Mosaic Law. Although ironically many of those elements are also seen to be elements that arise in the exile or after in the Priestly tradition.

While there's no priesthood offices such as get promogated in D&C 20 or 107 that doesn't mean there's not a clear priesthood ritual and function.

4 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

Ok, I was thinking more along the lines that assuming that the bible and its events aren't historical, doesn't necessarily have a direct impact on the BoM question.  I'm thinking the people around 600 B.C.E. didn't really have any way of knowing whether Moses, Adam, or Abraham were historical figures.  They likely didn't even have an expectation of historicity like we have today.  Scholars tell us that most of these stories were likely influenced by other myths in the ancient world and were passed down for generations using oral tradition.  So I can see a scenario where someone could view the BoM as historical, but not have the same expectation for much of the bible.  Perhaps that's just me.  

Yes, although by the same measure it doesn't mean they didn't exist. But I think it interesting for all the appeals to anachronisms (Satan, Christ, cosmic atonement etc.) that there also are interesting things missing that line up with what the documentary hypothesis suggests and practices unlike what many expect (Lehi offering sacrifices in high places at minimum). Lehi would have the beliefs of the time - possibly an unusual (relative to currently extant records) syncretic form of Judaism influenced by Egypt. While J/E is typically seen as mostly in place by 900 BCE, clearly even it is under influence. (Most assume Gen 1-3 at minimum is highly modified in Babylon and often seen as products of the exile) So what version of the Adam stories does Lehi have? We just don't know.

Edited by clarkgoble
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3 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

Out of curiosity, which points? I think Taves raises some great points but falls down on the point raised earlier - Joseph simply doesn't portray the process the way Taves suggests it happens. We end up with a lot hinging upon an ambiguous quote by Joseph's uncle. I think the Taves model would work much better if there were some evidence that Joseph thought he was doing what she portrays.

I think it's a bit more complex than that. At minimum I think we should wait until the book on what was in the 116 pages comes out. Apologists have long appealed to Alma 12 as representing a kind of cosmic priesthood. However I think there's some evidence that similar notions are in the 116 pages. As I've mentioned before in the two main Don Bradley threads the past year, many elements parallel what are considered later Nauvoo masonry elements. While that matters to the believer, I should hasten to add that Royal Arch Masons were significant in the environment of young Joseph Smith, including the attempted gathering of Jews that Bradley discusses in his thesis. So even for those espousing a fraud model there's not necessarily incentive to downplay priesthood in the Book of Mormon. Even the idea of probationary state in Alma 12-13 has parallels in Royal Arch Freemasonry.

Point being regardless of whether one pushes a faithful reading or a fraud reading I don't think the thesis that there's no priesthood has wings, so to say. Again though there's some ambiguity over the meaning of priesthood. But at minimum I think Don Bradley has already established the Lehi goes into a tabernacle modeled on the pre-Solomon temple and does priestly duties. However there's also clearly not all the practices we call the Mosaic Law. Although ironically many of those elements are also seen to be elements that arise in the exile or after in the Priestly tradition.

While there's no priesthood offices such as get promogated in D&C 20 or 107 that doesn't mean there's not a clear priesthood ritual and function.

Yes, although by the same measure it doesn't mean they didn't exist. But I think it interesting for all the appeals to anachronisms (Satan, Christ, cosmic atonement etc.) that there also are interesting things missing that line up with what the documentary hypothesis suggests and practices unlike what many expect (Lehi offering sacrifices in high places at minimum). Lehi would have the beliefs of the time - possibly an unusual (relative to currently extant records) syncretic form of Judaism influenced by Egypt. While J/E is typically seen as mostly in place by 900 BCE, clearly even it is under influence. (Most assume Gen 1-3 at minimum is highly modified in Babylon and often seen as products of the exile) So what version of the Adam stories does Lehi have? We just don't know.

I find the Old World "anachronisms" less compelling than the simple fact that there is no good setting for the Book of Mormon peoples in the Americas. None of the proposed locations (Mesoamerica, Heartland, etc.) even approaches plausibility. That said, "we just don't know" is as good an empirical answer as any when it comes to faith. I've never really understood the need to find empirical evidence on which to ground what are essentially matters of the heart and spirit.

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13 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I find the Old World "anachronisms" less compelling than the simple fact that there is no good setting for the Book of Mormon peoples in the Americas. None of the proposed locations (Mesoamerica, Heartland, etc.) even approaches plausibility. That said, "we just don't know" is as good an empirical answer as any when it comes to faith. I've never really understood the need to find empirical evidence on which to ground what are essentially matters of the heart and spirit.

Presumably because many don't see them as essentially matter of heart and spirit.

 

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1 minute ago, clarkgoble said:

Presumably because many don't see them as essentially matter of heart and spirit.

I guess I've never understood a testimony to be anything other than a matter of heart and spirit. Clearly, others disagree, as you have reminded me. I hope all is well with you and yours. Life's good in Utah.

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2 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I guess I've never understood a testimony to be anything other than a matter of heart and spirit. Clearly, others disagree, as you have reminded me. I hope all is well with you and yours. Life's good in Utah.

I think for many, myself included, a testimony is either the evidence that is quasi-empirical and thus transcends heart/spirit to the physical world or else is the conclusion of evidence that does the same. So there's not only not the division that you see in say Gould's non-overlapping magisteria thesis about religion but the outright denial of such. Of course not everyone agrees, but I think a long major element in Mormon thought is a very materialistic conception of things moving the very opposite direction than intellectual Protestantism was moving in the 20th century. That of course doesn't mean all claims were correct - I think early Mormons tended to embrace an unfortunate "literalism" (meaning how texts are interpreted as being written as if the authors had the same culture as the reader). But what's interesting is how Joseph pushes for a very much "in this world" conception of religion and miracles. Ironically this is at odds with more platonic readings of Joseph such as Taves.

Hope your doing well - confess I don't post here as often so my apologies if it goes a while before a response.

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2 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I think for many, myself included, a testimony is either the evidence that is quasi-empirical and thus transcends heart/spirit to the physical world or else is the conclusion of evidence that does the same. So there's not only not the division that you see in say Gould's non-overlapping magisteria thesis about religion but the outright denial of such. Of course not everyone agrees, but I think a long major element in Mormon thought is a very materialistic conception of things moving the very opposite direction than intellectual Protestantism was moving in the 20th century. That of course doesn't mean all claims were correct - I think early Mormons tended to embrace an unfortunate "literalism" (meaning how texts are interpreted as being written as if the authors had the same culture as the reader). But what's interesting is how Joseph pushes for a very much "in this world" conception of religion and miracles. Ironically this is at odds with more platonic readings of Joseph such as Taves.

Hope your doing well - confess I don't post here as often so my apologies if it goes a while before a response.

I haven't posted here in months. I'm not taking issue with your approach to testimony, just noting that I've never thought it would require quasi-empirical evidence. In short, I think there's plenty of room in the church for someone who believes/has a testimony without seeing empirical evidence. 

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Just now, jkwilliams said:

I haven't posted here in months. I'm not taking issue with your approach to testimony, just noting that I've never thought it would require quasi-empirical evidence. In short, I think there's plenty of room in the church for someone who believes/has a testimony without seeing empirical evidence. 

Fully agree. However whether logically in terms of most doctrines it makes sense is a different issue. But I certainly don't think we should push people away simply because they don't have a testimony in something we see important.

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8 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

Fully agree. However whether logically in terms of most doctrines it makes sense is a different issue. But I certainly don't think we should push people away simply because they don't have a testimony in something we see important.

Yup. It's easy to forget that what you or I think is important may not be important to someone else. 

Edited by jkwilliams

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33 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

Let me see if I understand what you are suggesting here. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery both shared 3 separate  visions or dreams  in which both of them saw the same mythical individuals and those mythical individuals bestowed upon Joseph and Oliver the real power to bind and seal here on earth.

Why would God use mythical individuals to give mortals the authority to act in His name here on earth? Just before these three visions occurred Joseph and Oliver were visited by Christ who could easily bestowed all these keys on the prophet and Oliver. Why the need for three more visions/dreams from mythical Biblical characters?

Secondly, if these individuals did not really exist, at what point and how did the authority originally come to  earth? Isn't this a restoration of those powers?

To start with, all the narratives that were penned about Joseph and Oliver's visions happened many years later and were largely crafted in response to the contemporary events happening at the time they were written.  What we have learned from modern studies about human memory is that people don't have access to their original memories in any accurate sense.  We also have learned that people's memories are influenced by others, so to say that Joseph and Oliver "shared 3 separate visions" is not something we can support based on our knowledge about how memory works or the historical evidence. 

We can't answer the questions about why God would do anything in any objective sense.  Did Joseph and Oliver use the idea of visions of specific named individuals to strengthen their authoritative clout?  Yes.  Can anyone say in any objective sense if these visions they experienced represent any kind of reality?  No more easily that you or I can objectively prove that we were abducted by aliens.  

As for authority and how it is transmitted, that is just a theological claim, and actually one that the BoM narratives push directly against.  BoM narratives describe situations where authority is divinely bestowed, not passed on from one authoritative patriarch to another, see the story of Alma as an example.  We also have evidence to support that this is the way that Joseph and Oliver first experienced their baptisms through a divine bestowal of some kind, not by an angel of some kind, but in Lucy Smith's account by a prompt from the stone.  

Quote

One morning they sat down to their work, as usual, and the first thing which presented itself through the Urim and Thummim, was a commandment for Joseph and Oliver to repair to the water, and attend to the ordinance of Baptism. They did so, and as they were returning to the house, they overheard Samuel engaged in secret prayer. Joseph said, that he considered this as a sufficient testimony of his being a fit subject for Baptism; and as they had now received authority to baptize, they spoke to Samuel upon the subject, and he went straightway to the water with them, and was baptized. 

 

54 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

It isn't a theology issue so much as  it is a narrative issue. The  Book of Mormon rests on the idea that the children of Israel are the literal descendants of Abraham and that they are God's chosen people, an idea that leads God  to helping Lehi and his people escape the destruction of Jerusalem because they are righteous. Those Book of Mormon stories do not make sense if the concept of a chosen people descended from an actual Abraham don't really exist. Are we supposed to believe that the whole chosen people story was a myth but the migration of Lehi and Jared were real events? The Book of Mormon states in the title page:

I just have a problem with the idea that all the important things God did for his people in the Bible can be taken as a myth but from the Book of Mormon on it is all supposed to be literal.

The idea that Native American's descended from the children of Israel is not unique to Joseph and was discussed for many generations as myths about the mound builders that were in the cultural milieu well before the 19th century.  See Dan Vogel's Indian Origins book for more evidence of this.  

http://signaturebookslibrary.org/scripture-test/

I view the bible as mostly myths that have some elements of historicity sprinkled around and I view the BoM as 100% ahistorical and I'm comfortable with gleaning value from both of these texts independent of their relationship to historical events.  

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8 hours ago, churchistrue said:

There are some middle ground possibilities.

There are Churches here in the UK trying to hold the middle ground.  They are mostly facing not existing anymore.  The biggest problem is that in the middle no one is sure what you really believe. In the middle you have the luxury of going to this or that.  At each end people are more sure what they do or do not believe. Same thing in politics the middle never holds for very long.  Humans are just not suited to being in the middle.  So yeah I wish you luck (really) with this middle road idea.

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1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

Out of curiosity, which points? I think Taves raises some great points but falls down on the point raised earlier - Joseph simply doesn't portray the process the way Taves suggests it happens. We end up with a lot hinging upon an ambiguous quote by Joseph's uncle. I think the Taves model would work much better if there were some evidence that Joseph thought he was doing what she portrays.

I don't have her book in front of me at the moment, but the points I'm referring to are around her elucidation of how unique group dynamics influence the development of religious movements like early Mormonism, AAA, and A Course in Miracles as she compared those three movements in her book.  I've also been thinking about this paradigm ever since reading her book and seeing evidences of how early important figures in Mormonism shaped the direction that Mormonism took.  Key figures and events I think had a huge influence on the theology that evolved in the early days especially.  I don't think Mormonism would look at all the same if a Cowdery or a Rigdon were not involved.  

I don't think Taves made the claim that her paradigm matches up exactly with the way Joseph may have portrayed the process.  Reviewing all kinds of disparate evidence to propose a theory for how the history developed is not an easy task and it doesn't need to explain every piece of evidence completely, as you can always find some elements that could be interpreted to run against the grain.  I think her theory is one that we're not going to find statements from friendly witnesses that affirm that Joseph manufactured plates, when he was claiming they were ancient.  We have some unfriendly sources that theorize this, but obviously Joseph wasn't going to write a tell all expose on his method, especially if he believed that what he was doing was sanctioned by God and that the ends justified the means.  

1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

I think it's a bit more complex than that. At minimum I think we should wait until the book on what was in the 116 pages comes out. Apologists have long appealed to Alma 12 as representing a kind of cosmic priesthood. However I think there's some evidence that similar notions are in the 116 pages. As I've mentioned before in the two main Don Bradley threads the past year, many elements parallel what are considered later Nauvoo masonry elements. While that matters to the believer, I should hasten to add that Royal Arch Masons were significant in the environment of young Joseph Smith, including the attempted gathering of Jews that Bradley discusses in his thesis. So even for those espousing a fraud model there's not necessarily incentive to downplay priesthood in the Book of Mormon. Even the idea of probationary state in Alma 12-13 has parallels in Royal Arch Freemasonry. (See for instance Mackey's book on it from 1870 - priesthood is a big deal)

Point being regardless of whether one pushes a faithful reading or a fraud reading I don't think the thesis that there's no priesthood has wings, so to say. Again though there's some ambiguity over the meaning of priesthood. But at minimum I think Don Bradley has already established the Lehi goes into a tabernacle modeled on the pre-Solomon temple and does priestly duties. However there's also clearly not all the practices we call the Mosaic Law. Although ironically many of those elements are also seen to be elements that arise in the exile or after in the Priestly tradition.

While there's no priesthood offices such as get promogated in D&C 20 or 107 that doesn't mean there's not a clear priesthood ritual and function.

I am somewhat curious about what Bradley is going to show in his book, but I'm pretty skeptical at the same time.  I would be interested to learn more about potential Masonic influences making their way into the BoM text.  I wasn't familiar with the probationary state point, that for sharing that, I'll have to check that out.  As for ritual and function I haven't seen many of those parallels as being directly compelling as dependent source material, considering that Joseph's world is saturated with biblical language we should expect to find similar ideas.  

And just to reiterate, I'm not pushing a "fraud reading".  I don't see the BoM as historical, but I don't like using the fraud or faithful binary, which is something I agree with churchistrue about in his post, and I wish that whole binary would be discarded as old school polemics.  

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1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

Yes, although by the same measure it doesn't mean they didn't exist. But I think it interesting for all the appeals to anachronisms (Satan, Christ, cosmic atonement etc.) that there also are interesting things missing that line up with what the documentary hypothesis suggests and practices unlike what many expect (Lehi offering sacrifices in high places at minimum). Lehi would have the beliefs of the time - possibly an unusual (relative to currently extant records) syncretic form of Judaism influenced by Egypt. While J/E is typically seen as mostly in place by 900 BCE, clearly even it is under influence. (Most assume Gen 1-3 at minimum is highly modified in Babylon and often seen as products of the exile) So what version of the Adam stories does Lehi have? We just don't know.

Lehi offering sacrifices seems to be just another evidence that Joseph is using biblical motifs all throughout the BoM.  

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1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

I think it's a bit more complex than that. At minimum I think we should wait until the book on what was in the 116 pages comes out.

That's high praise/expectation for Don Bradley. But I agree it's warranted. He's fantastic. 

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8 hours ago, churchistrue said:

To be fair to Stephen on this, I think this is a theological debate not a historical debate. So we're not using historical scholarship, we're exploring theologically whether it makes sense or not to view the BOM non-historically. 

Debate over history which is where the scholarship and academics come in, can shape the landscape such that we determine whether or not it's worth having this theological discussion. ie if historicity is rock solid, no reason to have the discussion. If it's not, then people are going to look at adopting this non-historical model. But the actual discussion at hand here is a theological one, imo.

 

 

Theology is telling a story or paradigm which gives people purpose and meaning in their lives.  It is a philosophy about how to live, and about why we should be nice to each other and about what is important in each person's life.

Science and analytics don't even deal in those areas.

Theology is about approaching personal Nirvana while science analyzes the dirt you sit upon while doing so.

The subject matters have nothing to do with each other.

This is the great error formulated first by Plato and Aristotle, then Descartes that has poisoned Western culture for 2,000 years.

It's time for it to go.

It's time to understand that there is a difference between what makes your life meaningful and what "facts" will change overtime

So is Pluto classified as a planet or not? Is light a particle or a wave?

What does that have to do with what gives me peace in the middle of the night?

What does it matter if the Nephites were real while we can learn so much about life from what it is said they taught?

Edited by mfbukowski
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1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

I am somewhat curious about what Bradley is going to show in his book, but I'm pretty skeptical at the same time.  I would be interested to learn more about potential Masonic influences making their way into the BoM text.  I wasn't familiar with the probationary state point, that for sharing that, I'll have to check that out.  As for ritual and function I haven't seen many of those parallels as being directly compelling as dependent source material, considering that Joseph's world is saturated with biblical language we should expect to find similar ideas.  

I think he's already brought together a lot of overlooked sources in his thesis that we've discussed here before. 

To the probationary state, while this is a later explication of Royal Arch Masonry, the earlier linked to Mackey book has the following prayer for opening the lodge: "And we beseech thee, Lord God, to bless our present assembling, and to illuminate our minds, that we may walk in the light of thy countenance ; and when the trials of our probationary state are over, be admitted into THE TEMPLE 'not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.' So mote it be. Amen." (53)

Probation is talked about not just as this life being probationary prior to judgement but there are probationary levels in the ritual. So speaking of moving through levels, "And when you shall have completed the record of your transactions here below, and finished the term of your probation, may you be admitted into the celestial Grand Chapter of saints and angels, and find your name recorded in the book of life eternal." (206)

There's lots of interesting stuff that parallels not only late Nauvoo Mormon practice but early Mormon and the Book of Mormon. One of the more interesting things in Don Bradley's thesis was the place of Royal Arch masons in the gathering to Israel attempted in New York that was widely publicized. 

1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

Lehi offering sacrifices seems to be just another evidence that Joseph is using biblical motifs all throughout the BoM.  

Except that in the Bible it's almost always the Levites who do that. You have in Genesis Jacob and Jethro doing it. However the Deuteronomist and Priestly traditions had redacted most non-priestly sacrifices. In the Book of Mormon it's not even a question - Lehi simply offers sacrifice in high places. This is interesting since we know from Jeremiah those aspects of the Josiah reforms were still being implemented. A small point, but pretty interesting relative to Joseph's knowledge.

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10 hours ago, churchistrue said:

https://www.churchistrue.com/blog/stephen-smoot-on-the-imperative-for-book-of-mormon-historicity/

Most here are probably familiar with Stephen Smoot's 2013 article on the Imperative for a historical Book of Mormon. https://interpreterfoundation.org/blog-the-imperative-for-a-historical-book-of-mormon/

I wrote up a reply, summarizing my disagreements with his approach, and the reasons why I see that taking a non-historical Book of Mormon should be accepted. I'm not trying to tear down belief in a historical Book of Mormon. But I'd like to normalize the process within Mormonism that is somewhat common in other religions, which is to move to metaphorical model of scripture when science and modern scholarship is pushing some people away from literal belief.

Who with the restored keys has made the historicity of the Book of Mormon an imperative, and an imperative for what?

The most authoritative imperative of the Book of Mormon, aside from what it says in the book itself, is found in D&C 84: 43-61 and other revelations such as 19:26-27; 20: 8-12; 33:16; and 42:12.

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8 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

I totally agree that Stephen is approaching this as a theological discussion.  The evidence for historicity has never been compelling in any scholarly sense.  That is why you don't have any non-LDS scholars who study this, because there is essentially nothing to study.  The BoM doesn't tell us anything about MesoAmerica or anything on the hemisphere anciently, not one thing.  It only tells us what Joseph and contemporaries in the 19th century believed at that time period.  This fact is so clearly obvious to every scholar who studies the ancient world, that is why they don't study the BoM. 

I find it funny when people make the claim that non-LDS scholars don't engage seriously on these topics, and their conclusion is that they are missing all this great information that would prove antiquity.  Rather, it doesn't take a deep study of the BoM to quickly see that it has no direct relationship to the actual ancient world.  Scholars don't need to study the BoM in detail to see this.  It is clearly a 19th century creation and it doesn't take an in depth review to determine this.  

The notion of who is compelled by what deserves more reflection.  As Kuhn says, "I would argue in these matters, neither truth nor error is at issue. The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced."  (Structure, 151)  And it is crucial that "The man who premises a paradigm when arguing in its defense can nonetheless provide an example of what scientific practice will be like for those who adopt the new view of nature. The exhibit can be persuasive, often compelling so. Yet whatever its force, the status of the circular argument is only that of persuasion. It cannot be made logically or even probabistically compelling for those who refuse to step into the circle."  (Structure, 94).  The idea that if the evidence we had for historicity was any good, everyone would line up and believe it, is itself, inherently unrealistic.  However, if you understand what is going on in paradigm debates, it's easy to see what makes the difference.  Insiders and outsiders are practicing in different worlds.  And real paradigm debate acknowledges that, and is deliberately comparative and consciously strives to use criteria that are not completely paradigm-dependent.    

As to study by non-LDS scholars, most obviously don't bother.  It's outside their methods, assumptions, problem field,  and standards of solution.  That doesn't make them experts. That's why you get people like Harold Bloom who write about Mormonism and Joseph Smith and never bothered read the Book of Mormon.  He admitted as much to an LDS student, but even without that, his claim in The American Religion that the Book of Mormon that is was stock tale about the Lost 10 Tribes gave it. There was Albright, who was impressed by names like Korihor, and had a carefully marked up Book of Mormon.  James Charlesworth who wrote up a fascinating paper Messianism in the Book of Mormon compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha.  Kirster Stendahl wrote about 3 Nephi.  Smoot cited Paul C. Gutjahr's study. And I like to cite Margaret Barker's 2005 talk at Washington D.C.  Mark Wright posted here in 2008 on two Mesoamericanist Ph.Ds based in Teotihuacan, who had nice things to say about the Book of Mormon in the Journey of Faith:The New World.  They clearly disagreed with hope_for_things, despite their knowing a great deal about the field.  

It's easy to make blanket declarations, but it helps to peek under the blanket now and then.  We're often told that if we had any good evidence, the experts would affirm it.  But the lesson I get from watching Michael Coe's ongoing commentary on the Book of Mormon, starting in 1973, a 95 letter, the PBS interview, and finally the Dehlin interview, is that he just got more and more out of touch.   He and Dehlin agreed that the absence of evidence for iron arrowheads and brass helmets was fatal to the Book of Mormon. When I pointed out that the Book of Mormon mentions neither object, Dehlin demonstrated his commitment to following the facts where ever they lead, and to put everything on the table so that people can make and informed decision before committing to something like Mormonism, Dehlin deleted my comments.  Coe made a claim that is was fatal to the Book of Mormon that the Great Mother was important in Mesoamerica and the Jews were strict montheists.   Considering things like Patai's The Hebrew Goddess, and Dever's Did God Have a Wife?, and Nibley's observation that Isabel in the Book of Mormon is the name of the Phonecian Patroness of Harlots, along with Daniel Peterson's Nephi and His Asherah, and much else, clearly, it seems to me, that however much outside scholars may know in their own fields, they can be naive about much that is important to me.  And one of the things that keeps me reading is the pleasure of discovering new insights concerning a text that I know well and have studied extensively.  The recent LiDar survey on Mesoamerica radically changed the picture almost overnight.  It had the potential to raise all sorts of problems for the Book of Mormon, but actually did the opposite.

The single most amazing thing I got from my study of Taves's recent approach to the Book of Mormon is how little she considers that actual text.  (I reviewed her at length for Interpreter, Playing to an Audience.)  For her the only important issue with the Book is coming up with a way to produce the bulk.  The actual content, let alone believing scholarship, gets no attention at all. She can get away with it for the larger scholarly community because they don't care.  It's outside the assumptions, problem field, and standard of solution.  She doesn't actually test it in any way.

In my experience, it has been those who have made deep study of both the Book of Mormon and the ancient world who have been the most enlightening.  I'd read the Book of Mormon at least eight times before I read Nibley's An Approach to the Book of Mormon in 1975, and I was blown away, especially by the chapter on Old World Ritual in the New World.  It took me another 15 years of serious seeking before I had learned enough to be able to see some new things on my own.  I comparied Eliade's Cosmos and History: Myth of Eternal Return to the goings on in 3 Nephi (somethings, I notice that Alexander Campbell notice as obvious to anyone in 1830) and Alma's conversion to a range of NDE accounts.  

Kuhn again: "Particularly persuasive arguments can be developed if the new paradigm permits the prediction of phenomena that had been entirely unsuspected while the old one prevailed." (Kuhn, 154).  That means that those who don't look won't even suspect what is going on.

A case in point. Ben McGuire's paper on how allusions to the David and Goliath story in 1 Nephi all happen to point to only the oldest of two originally separate accounts that had been spliced together in the Bible.  Another.  Margaret Barker emailed me after she read the Book of Mormon for the first time.  "I was amazed at how much I recognized."  And Larry Poulson's essay on how he used a 3D satellite map of the Western hemiphere to look for Sidon candidates and found only one possibility that matched the textual description.  That is not something that is quickly obvious.  I've got several book shelves filled up with that kind of insight, coming from from bright people from a wide range of backgrounds.

Obviousness is, one should remember, conditional.  And it is not infallible.  Far from it.  I think of Bacon's famous declaration that it could not be more obvious to the senses that it is the sun moves, and not the earth.  Lynch mobs run on what seems to be obvious at first glance, and never mind lawyers, and judges, and juries, and careful inquiry and deliberation.  The whole point of science it to get past the obvious, past what seems, to what is.  And that is an ongoing process.

There are those who follow their gut instinct, and dismiss experts, scientists, intelligence sources, opposition party opinion, and inconvenient investigations, and simply label and dismiss without any effort to explore, understand, and explain.  But I aspire to more than that.

And for the record, I don't think an all-or-nothing approach is the best, have published my description of an alternative.  (A Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience.)   If you want to start with that portion of the word, and experiement with just that, and get a benefit from an Inspired Fiction approach, go ahead.  But I've found that my own experiments on a larger portion of the word have been, and continue to be, fascinating, enlightening, fruitful, and promising.

FWIW

Kevin Christensen

Canonsburg, PA

    

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4 hours ago, rockpond said:

Fair points.  I think this is an accurate assessment of where the church is right now.

However... I have started noticing an increased use of the term "revealed" in place of "translated" when it comes to describing the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  I'm not suggesting that this type of terminology change is anywhere close to a tipping point but it does seem to be trending (based solely on personal observation).  And, IMO, this is the first step* to moving toward a non-literal/historical acceptance.

 

*Actually, it might be the second step.  The first might have been the more public acknowledgement of the seer stone as the means of receiving the Book of Mormon rather than the images that were (are?) more commonly used depicting Joseph Smith translating directly from the plates.

For better or worse the church relies on the character of Joseph Smith in justifiying it’s authority. The character of Joseph Smith is sacred and questioning his character is seen as blasphemy. If there was a way to modify the predominant Mormon narrative to include a non-historical BoM without tarnishing the credibility of Joseph Smith I think the Brethren would bless such modifications. Think of how wonderful it would be to not have to defend historicity!  But I dont think it can be done. I think reframing the translation process using a more general term like “revelatory” gives space for literalists to accept accounts that differ from the translation process we see in pictures published by the church. No ground is given up.

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11 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

Thanks for this write up, I really appreciate it, and I actually found myself agreeing with you more than I normally do.  I think the most important point, and something that I feel very strongly about is the whole idea around a non-binary approach to Joseph.  People are complicated, they have many things contributing to how they choose to act.  To say Joseph was either a fraud or a saint is trying to make a caricature of a real human with multi faceted motivations and environmental factors that are all having an influence on the choices that person makes.  

For example, with respect to the BoM production I have been very much persuaded by Ann Taves approach to the golden plates, and the very salient observations she makes in her most recent book on that subject, how there are group dynamics at play that influence the production of the BoM. 

As for the evidence for historicity, I don't see any of the key points that Stephen has made as being very strong or particularly insightful.  At the end of the day, he's making arguments from a theological perspective and not an analytical one.  He believes it necessary to argue for historicity because he believes the church will suffer otherwise.  Its a backwards argument with a set conclusion established first, and an attempt to gather evidence to support that position.  He's not even attempting any sense of objectivity.  This kind of apologetics is poorly done and a throw back to the less rigorous and hard nosed style of the past.  I expect that it will actually do more harm for Stephen's cause than good.  

I think that you are generally on the right track here.  The number of possible responses to the BofM are limited only by one's imagination, the moreso if one actually knows nothing about it.  We face a similar problem with the Bible and other types of ancient literature (Homeric Epic, Vedanta, etc.).  However, that should not mean that we must abandon all our powers of logical discernment.

Evaluating the BofM (or any other document claiming historicity) can be done in one of two ways:  (1) As a matter of faith and prayer, and (2) as a hard-edged matter of science and logic.  A simultaneous combining of both methods runs the risk of confusion, since the miraculous is not easily amenable to scientific examination.  For the Bible that means we are unable to scientifically examine things like the Resurrection or the creation of wine from water at Cana.  Yet many other aspect of the biblical narrative are subject to secular, archeological verification.  The BofM is subject to the very same strictures.

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13 hours ago, churchistrue said:

.............................. the reasons why I see that taking a non-historical Book of Mormon should be accepted. ...................................

Integrity of Joseph Smith

The main point Smoot makes in all of this is that the Book of Mormon very clearly states what it is and Joseph Smith clearly stated how it came about: Angel Moroni, ancient gold plates, etc. If we consider the Book of Mormon non-historical, then we must answer why the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith stated otherwise. We must consider Joseph Smith a fraud and a liar or crazy and deluded. All or nothing. No middle ground. If we imply he could have been lying or deluded about these angelic visits and gold plates, then his integrity is gone, and we can’t trust him for anything. He can’t be a prophet.

The all or nothing, no middle ground argument is always silly.  We would have to be omniscient in order to make such simplistic judgments.  Human judgment is always a matter of subjective assent or dissent.  A matter of preponderance of data -- insofar as we can even control such data.  Indeed, the Bible and Book of Mormon are of no importance to most people on planet Earth, and never have been.

13 hours ago, churchistrue said:
  1. ................... If critics demand to know the logic of why we say God answers prayers and is active in our lives yet he’s allowing children to be abused and other atrocities in the world, ...........................
  2. Unfortunately, Joseph Smith’s character is not impeccable. ...................... “Joseph was very clear that an angel with drawn sword commanded him to take many girls in marriage, if he was lying or deluded about that, then EVERYTHING else he revealed is suspect.” “Joseph was clear that he was translating an ancient record written about Abraham. If he was lying or deluded about that, then we can’t trust ANYTHING he did.” Why would God choose Joseph Smith to be the prophet if he did xyz?....................

Most people are entirely presentist in evaluating Joe Smith, if they even think of him at all.  Trained historians see him in a much different light, based on his time and place.  Most of those interested in Joseph come to him with apriori biases or prejudices.  Since we cannot expect the average person to be a trained historian, that means that subjective opinion normally runs rampant.

A favorite mode of attack on his character is to accuse Joseph of marrying numerous underage "girls," and then to "prove" that this was not acceptable in his time and place, and that it constituted sexual abuse of children -- same as for Warren Jeffs -- which makes Joseph a pedophile.  At that point, nothing further need be said, and the BofM is just one more element of skullduggery, and the facts don't matter one whit.  Yet they should matter very much:

Craig L. Foster, “Assessing the Criticisms of Early-Age Latter-Day Saint Marriages,” Interpreter, 31 (2019): 191-232, online at https://www.mormoninterpreter.com/assessing-the-criticisms-of-early-age-latter-day-saint-marriages/ .

Fraidy Reiss, “Why does the United States still let 12-year-olds get married?” Washington Post/ Chicago Tribune, Feb 11, 2017, online at  https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/066fa28d-8b12-3d0d-bcc1-737d7e41422c/why-does-the-united-states.html .

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13 hours ago, churchistrue said:

https://www.churchistrue.com/blog/stephen-smoot-on-the-imperative-for-book-of-mormon-historicity/

Most here are probably familiar with Stephen Smoot's 2013 article on the Imperative for a historical Book of Mormon. https://interpreterfoundation.org/blog-the-imperative-for-a-historical-book-of-mormon/

I wrote up a reply, summarizing my disagreements with his approach, and the reasons why I see that taking a non-historical Book of Mormon should be accepted. I'm not trying to tear down belief in a historical Book of Mormon. But I'd like to normalize the process within Mormonism that is somewhat common in other religions, which is to move to metaphorical model of scripture when science and modern scholarship is pushing some people away from literal belief.

This section covers the gist of it.

 

Integrity of Joseph Smith

The main point Smoot makes in all of this is that the Book of Mormon very clearly states what it is and Joseph Smith clearly stated how it came about: Angel Moroni, ancient gold plates, etc. If we consider the Book of Mormon non-historical, then we must answer why the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith stated otherwise. We must consider Joseph Smith a fraud and a liar or crazy and deluded. All or nothing. No middle ground. If we imply he could have been lying or deluded about these angelic visits and gold plates, then his integrity is gone, and we can’t trust him for anything. He can’t be a prophet.

  1. No, we don’t have to answer that. There are many gospel questions we simply don’t have the answer for. It’s OK to say while I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is historical, I believe Joseph was a prophet, and I neither think he was fraudulent nor deluded, and I have no idea how or why the Book of Mormon was produced the way it was. If critics tell us, “if you believe Jesus Christ was resurrected, you have to tell me scientifically how it happened”, we can say “no idea, I just believe.” If critics demand to know the logic of why we say God answers prayers and is active in our lives yet he’s allowing children to be abused and other atrocities in the world, it’s OK for us to not have a perfect answer for that. Stephen himself says “there are very strange passages in the Book of Mormon that we can’t fully explain or account for today”. We don’t need to explain everything.
  2. Unfortunately, Joseph Smith’s character is not impeccable. It is a very dangerous argument to make it an all or nothing proposition, because a critic can easily turn this around on any number of issues, such as: polygamy, Book of Abraham, Kinderhook Plates, Zelph, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Kirtland Banking scandal, etc. I don’t think we want to draw a line in the sand and say “Joseph was very clear that an angel with drawn sword commanded him to take many girls in marriage, if he was lying or deluded about that, then EVERYTHING else he revealed is suspect.” “Joseph was clear that he was translating an ancient record written about Abraham. If he was lying or deluded about that, then we can’t trust ANYTHING he did.” Why would God choose Joseph Smith to be the prophet if he did xyz? Critics constantly ask that question, and the perfectly fine answer from Mormon Apologists is “prophets aren’t perfect and you can’t answer for God why he does something a certain way or who he chooses to be prophet.”
  3. There are some alternatives or middle ground that I think are reasonable. Maybe Joseph had a powerful spiritual experience, revelation rushing through his brain, an interaction with God, he was responsible to bring this message to the world. What a huge responsibility. Maybe God didn’t micromanage the process other than to sear in his mind the message and the responsibility. Maybe in a way scholar Ann Taves originally theorized, God transformed plates and divinely sanctioned them in a process similar to the Brother of Jared’s 16 stones. Maybe Joseph made some mistakes along the way. Only One is perfect. Our scriptures are full of stories of prophets completely mucking it up. I’m not saying Joseph did, but it would be OK if he did. There are some middle ground possibilities.

 

 

A so-called “non-historical” Book of Mormon — like any form of false doctrine — does violence to the fundamental truth claims of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. You and others are free to harbor whatever private  notions or fantasies you like, but if you insist on “normalizing” them within the doctrinal structure of the Church, I for one will not abide it and will resist it in whatever reasonable way I can. 

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9 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

A so-called “non-historical” Book of Mormon — like any form of false doctrine — does violence to the fundamental truth claims of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. You and others are free to harbor whatever private  notions or fantasies you like, but if you insist on “normalizing” them within the doctrinal structure of the Church, I for one will not abide it and will resist it in whatever reasonable way I can.  

Does a non-historical Book of Daniel do the same thing, or is it just the Book of Mormon?

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11 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

A so-called “non-historical” Book of Mormon — like any form of false doctrine — does violence to the fundamental truth claims of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. You and others are free to harbor whatever private  notions or fantasies you like, but if you insist on “normalizing” them within the doctrinal structure of the Church, I for one will not abide it and will resist it in whatever reasonable way I can. 

Little by little, room for this position is evolving. I doubt it will be completely normalized, but there appears to be an increasing minority in the church that holds the position, and leadership has taken steps to keep these members in full fellowship. We’ll have to wait and see where things go from here.

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1 hour ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

Little by little, room for this position is evolving. I doubt it will be completely normalized, but there appears to be an increasing minority in the church that holds the position, and leadership has taken steps to keep these members in full fellowship. We’ll have to wait and see where things go from here.

Until there is a question on Book of Mormon historicity on the temple recommend interview, the issue is moot.

That's not going to happen.

In other words fighting about it is a useless exercise, grandiose words from non historians notwithstanding.

 

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