Jump to content

Did Js Believe Others Inhabited The Americas Besides Israelites?


Joseph Antley

Recommended Posts

Most apologists claim there were other ancient inhabitants in the Americas besides the Nephites and Lamanites who lived alongside them (or that the Lamanites included these non-Israelites). But critics point to to Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders believed all Native Americans were descended from the Lehites and that, as the Book of Mormon implies, they were the sole inhabitants of the American hemisphere.

But interestingly enough, Joseph seemed to think there were others besides the Jaredites, Lamanites, and Nephites on the American continents. Or so most critics believe. William Clayton wrote in his journal that Joseph said that the Kinderhook plates were "the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth." (William Clayton's Journal, May 1, 1843, as cited in Trials of Discipleship - The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon, page 117)

If Clayton is right that Joseph said this, how does this descendent of Pharoah fit in with the the Americas being uninhabited besides the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites?

Was the idea that there were no other people in the Americas really so foreign in early Mormon thought, or at least specifically to Joseph Smith? Of course I'm not trying to imply this means that Joseph believed there were ancient natives of Asiatic origin there as well, but did the Book of Mormon really exclude any other people being there, at least to Joseph Smith?

Link to comment

Most apologists claim there were other ancient inhabitants in the Americas besides the Nephites and Lamanites who lived alongside them (or that the Lamanites included these non-Israelites). But critics point to to Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders believed all Native Americans were descended from the Lehites and that, as the Book of Mormon implies, they were the sole inhabitants of the American hemisphere.

But interestingly enough, Joseph seemed to think there were others besides the Jaredites, Lamanites, and Nephites on the American continents. Or so most critics believe. William Clayton wrote in his journal that Joseph said that the Kinderhook plates were "the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth." (William Clayton's Journal, May 1, 1843, as cited in Trials of Discipleship - The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon, page 117)

If Clayton is right that Joseph said this, how does this descendent of Pharoah fit in with the the Americas being uninhabited besides the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites?

Was the idea that there were no other people in the Americas really so foreign in early Mormon thought, or at least specifically to Joseph Smith? Of course I'm not trying to imply this means that Joseph believed there were ancient natives of Asiatic origin there as well, but did the Book of Mormon really exclude any other people being there, at least to Joseph Smith?

Interesting point. Irrespective of the source of the quote, at least William Clayton accepted the existence of others. If so, it is probably true that this was a common concept among earlier saints.

I have often thought that this conceppt may have been pushed aside as the saints began to embrace Manifest Destiny and the use of the Book of Mormon as justification for this political philosophy.

Larry P

Link to comment

Joseph Smith may not have had enough time, with everything going on, to sort out some of the implications of the revelations that he received. Certainly his emphasis would have been on the Jaredite / Lehite connections contained in the Book of Mormon. But it seems that he may have thought that there were also other peoples here. Consider the following:

During our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this country-Nephites, Lamanites, etc., and this morning I went up on a high mound, near the river, accompanied by the brethren. (HC 2:79)

He not only refers to Nephites and Lamanites, but "etc."

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the sources from whence they sprang. (HC 1:11-12)

The use of "sources" here is interesting. While the BofM we have concentrates primarily on Lehites, Jaredites, and Mulekites, it may well be that there were more direct references on the plates to other peoples occupying the land. Perhaps there was some in the 116 pages that were lost; we don't know. The BofM also refers to the historical plates that were kept, which may have had some references to other peoples.

With the benefit of additional analysis and history, we have some better indications that there were other people there. There was quite a bit of revelation and information given to the early Saints, and perhaps they were too quick at times to draw some conclusions from the mass of what was being presented to them.

Link to comment

The three initial posts on this thread address two separate issues. One is what JS and his contemporaries believed about the colonization of the ancient hemisphere. The other is what the BoM claims, or doesn't claim, about that subject.

Leaving aside JA's reference to the Clayton statement, there is overwhelming evidence that JS and his contemporaries believed that the ancient (pre-400 CE) hemishere was colonized exclusively by the three immigrant groups referenced in the BoM. The question about what JS and contemporaries believed regarding the peoples in the ancient hemisphere, notice, is a question of social history, not BoM interpretation. And as the first sentence asserts, that is not even a close question.

What follows, accordingly, is that as far as its inhabitants are concerned, JS and his LDS contemporariews believed in an entirely imaginary ancient hemisphere. (So did most other people at the time, including folks like Ethan Smith.)

So, does the statement attributed to JS by Clayton change that? Not at all. If JS actually made the statement, it simply constitutes additional evidence that he believed in an imaginary ancient hemisphere. Since the K-plates were a modern forgery, they said nothing about any ancient inhabitants of the Americas, or anything else. In that event, in his statement JS would be making up an imaginary person to associate with the imaginary writing on the K-plates.

Another difficulty for historicity advocates trying to attribute to JS a belief in the existence of "others" in the ancient hemisphere is that it undermines what contemporary advocates are claiming. Folks like John Clark, for example, claim that the best argument (or one of the best) in favor of ancient authorship is that JS did not know anything that by contemporary scholarly standards is true or accurate about ancient Mesoamerica, including how it was actually colonized. While I believe Clark misunderstands how that bit of social history cuts, the point here is that most contemporary advocates of ancient authorship think that what JS didn't know (and mistakenly believed) about ancient America -- and about what the BoM actually claims about it -- is not relevant at all. Either that, or like Clark they believe his ignorance actually supports the ancient authorship position.

Link to comment
Another difficulty for historicity advocates trying to attribute to JS a belief in the existence of "others" in the ancient hemisphere is that it undermines what contemporary advocates are claiming. Folks like John Clark, for example, claim that the best argument (or one of the best) in favor of ancient authorship is that JS did not know anything that by contemporary scholarly standards is true or accurate about ancient Mesoamerica, including how it was actually colonized. While I believe Clark misunderstands how that bit of social history cuts, the point here is that most contemporary advocates of ancient authorship think that what JS didn't know (and mistakenly believed) about ancient America -- and about what the BoM actually claims about it -- is not relevant at all. Either that, or like Clark they believe his ignorance actually supports the ancient authorship position.

However, this does not take into account the knowledge / experience of Joseph Smith before the Book of Mormon was translated (1829) vs. what he knew later on in his life. As his experience and the revelations given to him increased, his understanding also evolved and increased.

It is evident that he knew relatively little during the translation process. He had to ask Emma if there was even a wall around Jerusalem. 10 to 14 years later was a different story. It is evident by then that he was intensely interested in learning everything he could. The question is probably most relevant in considering what he might have known late in his life about other peoples in the Americas, rather than earlier in his life.

Link to comment

However, this does not take into account the knowledge / experience of Joseph Smith before the Book of Mormon was translated (1829) vs. what he knew later on in his life. As his experience and the revelations given to him increased, his understanding also evolved and increased.

It is evident that he knew relatively little during the translation process. He had to ask Emma if there was even a wall around Jerusalem. 10 to 14 years later was a different story. It is evident by then that he was intensely interested in learning everything he could. The question is probably most relevant in considering what he might have known late in his life about other peoples in the Americas, rather than earlier in his life.

Addictio's point (if I am reading him correctly) is that the Book of Mormon is pretty consistent with widespread folk beliefs in Joseph's day (even before 1829). You probably missed Addictio's lengthy thread on just this subject. I think it's quite plausible, if not likely that Joseph could have known enough in 1829 to have produced the Book of Mormon on his own.

Link to comment

jwhitlock said:

However, this does not take into account the knowledge / experience of Joseph Smith before the Book of Mormon was translated (1829) vs. what he knew later on in his life. As his experience and the revelations given to him increased, his understanding also evolved and increased.

It is evident that he knew relatively little during the translation process. He had to ask Emma if there was even a wall around Jerusalem. 10 to 14 years later was a different story. It is evident by then that he was intensely interested in learning everything he could. The question is probably most relevant in considering what he might have known late in his life about other peoples in the Americas, rather than earlier in his life.

Two comments.

What JS believed about the colonization of the ancient hemisphere and the origin of the peoples who inhabited it, as I said, is a social/intellectual history question. The bolded portions of your post don't refer to any evidence that his views on that subject actually changed between 1829 (or before) and 1844. I don't think there is any such evidence. The 1842 Times and Season articles re Mesoamerica authored by John Taylor and sometimes attributed to JS do not indicate such a change, though they may indicate what Taylor and JS then believed about the location of some of the BoM-narrated events. In fact, by claiming that the mysterious ancient ruins being discovered were created by the Lehites, Taylor, JS and others were still inferring, mistakenly, that the Lehites were their only (and to Taylor their obvious) source.

Second, insofar as BoM authorship is concerned, what JS believed about the subject at the time the BoM was dictated is the crucial question, and I'd say the only relevant one. Although in light of the preceding ---- the fact that JS's beliefs on the subject didn't change -- this second point is probably academic.

Link to comment
Addictio's point (if I am reading him correctly) is that the Book of Mormon is pretty consistent with widespread folk beliefs in Joseph's day (even before 1829). You probably missed Addictio's lengthy thread on just this subject. I think it's quite plausible, if not likely that Joseph could have known enough in 1829 to have produced the Book of Mormon on his own.

Which thread? I'm not sure I read through the correct one, which didn't make any case concerning JS's ability to produce the BofM in 1829.

Link to comment
What JS believed about the colonization of the ancient hemisphere and the origin of the peoples who inhabited it, as I said, is a social/intellectual history question. The bolded portions of your post don't refer to any evidence that his views on that subject actually changed between 1829 (or before) and 1844. I don't think there is any such evidence. The 1842 Times and Season articles re Mesoamerica authored by John Taylor and sometimes attributed to JS do not indicate such a change, though they may indicate what Taylor and JS then believed about the location of some of the BoM-narrated events. In fact, by claiming that the mysterious ancient ruins being discovered were created by the Lehites, Taylor, JS and others were still inferring, mistakenly, that the Lehites were their only (and to Taylor their obvious) source.

Second, insofar as BoM authorship is concerned, what JS believed about the subject at the time the BoM was dictated is the crucial question, and I'd say the only relevant one. Although in light of the preceding ---- the fact that JS's beliefs on the subject didn't change -- this second point is probably academic.

Concerning the topic of the thread, I simply do not know for sure whether Joseph Smith subscribed wholly to an exclusive Lehite / Jaredite view of the Americas, or whether he suspected otherwise. What I quoted simply indicated the possibility of a more open ended viewpoint on his part.

SInce I come from a different perspective concerning (a) how Joseph Smith gave us the BofM, and (b ) Joseph's abilities at the time of translation, I would disagree concerning Joseph's views later on in life being irrelevant. The portions of my quote you bolded were meant to be indicative of the fact that there was a significant change in Joseph's knowledge, experience, and views from 1829 to 1844. This would tend to support the possibility of a change in his viewpoint over the years concerning other peoples.

However, there is a larger question concerning the discussion of other peoples in Joseph's time. Was the concept of other peoples in the Americas discussed extensively? Did it come up as a part of the larger discussion of the origins of BofM peoples? Since the BofM concentrates on Lehite / Jaredite peoples, was it simply more of a natural tendency for Joseph and his colleagues to discuss them to the exclusion of any consideration of other peoples? And is this why it's reflected in that manner in the writings of the period?

There is also the overriding question of whether Joseph Smith had the ability (experience, knowledge, writing skills, etc.) to have produced the BofM as a work of fiction. Contemporary descriptions of Joseph and his abilities in 1829 lend do not portray him, in my opinion, as having the depth needed to produce such a work. I have yet to see a convincing article proving it otherwise, which lends credence to the revelation / translation argument, for me at least.

Most interestingly, perhaps, is the fact that the BofM itself makes a case for other peoples. That has been discussed elsewhere on this board; if Joseph were totally convinced (as an author of fiction) in the limited peoples (Lehite / Jaredite) scenario, the book itself should be more definitive on that point than it is. In discussing Joseph's possible motivations, we must always take the primary evidence of the book itself into account.

My thread from way back at least made a case for plausibility.

Can you get me a url so I get the right thread?

Link to comment

hey, jwhitlock, (and any "indigenous others") thanks for the comments.

Minor, picky point: You appear to be claiming that it is "possible" that JS "change[d] his viewpoint over the years concerning other peoples" or may at some point have "suspected" that the Lehite/Jaredite/"Mulekite" groups were not the only inhabitants of the ancient Americas. But since most anything is merely "possible," I don't think that contradicts the claim that there is a great deal of consistent, even "overwhelming" evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, returning to the BoM authorship issue, you also say:

There is also the overriding question of whether Joseph Smith had the ability (experience, knowledge, writing skills, etc.) to have produced the BofM as a work of fiction. Contemporary descriptions of Joseph and his abilities in 1829 lend do not portray him, in my opinion, as having the depth needed to produce such a work. I have yet to see a convincing article proving it otherwise, which lends credence to the revelation / translation argument, for me at least.

Whether JS had the intelligence and skills to produce what some (hey, Don cool.gif have called a "fiendishly complex" set of BoM narratives is an interesting, but I'd say a distinct question. That is, the "capacity" issues it raises do not affect the question whether JS could not have written the BoM because it refers to facts about Mesoamerica that he couldnâ??t have known. This is a different form of â??challengeâ? from the one Clark has in mind.

Most interestingly, perhaps, is the fact that the BofM itself makes a case for other peoples. That has been discussed elsewhere on this board; if Joseph were totally convinced (as an author of fiction) in the limited peoples (Lehite / Jaredite) scenario, the book itself should be more definitive on that point than it is. In discussing Joseph's possible motivations, we must always take the primary evidence of the book itself into account.

If we assume the BoM narratives were composed by ancient Nephite authors,I think it makes more sense to claim that "the BoM itself makes a case" that indigenous, pre-existing inhabitants were present in the Nephite promised land. But when Clark -- or you, as in the bolded sentence -- assume arguendo that JS composed the BoM, what happens? In that event, I think JS's own assumptions and beliefs about colonization of the ancient hemisphere, along with his inferred compositional aims and purposes, constrain and even dictate the reader's interpretive options. My own view is that, with JS as author, it would be difficult to conclude that â??the BoM makes a caseâ? for the existence of contemporaneous ancient â??others.â? Among other problems, fwiw, since JS believed in a universal flood, seems to me it would be difficult for him to explain where those indigenous folks would have come from, and when. And besides, why would he want to create another â??origin storyâ?? ;-)

Anyway, suppose it can be shown that JS did not know anything about, and hence did not believe in, the existence of indigenous, pre-existing Mesoamerican peoples such as the Olmecs and Maya. If so, and if we assume JS was the author, do you think the BoM narratives would be any different from what they now are? How do you think they would or should be â??more definitiveâ? regarding the â??non-existenceâ? of peoples JS did not believe existed? Not trying to debate anything, I just wonder what you think.

Iâ??m also curious, by the way, whether you (or anyone else) thinks that if JS did believe, pre-1829, in the existence of non-Lehite/Jardite, indigenous peoples inhabiting the BoM land of promise, the case for BoM historicity would be strengthened or weakened in some way? Any other thread-readers care to comment?

Link to comment

My own view is that, with JS as author, it would be difficult to conclude that â??the BoM makes a caseâ? for the existence of contemporaneous ancient â??others.â? Among other problems, fwiw, since JS believed in a universal flood, seems to me it would be difficult for him to explain where those indigenous folks would have come from, and when. And besides, why would he want to create another â??origin storyâ?? ;-)

:P Excellent point.

Fact: JS believed in a universal flood.

Fact: The Book of Mormon serves as an "origin story" sufficient to explain how the Americas came to be re-populated after all human life was destroyed by the flood.

So whether JS wrote the book himself, or translated it from golden plates, why would he think there were "others" in the ancient Americas besides Jaredites, Lehites, and Mulekites? The notion that he did materializes out of the thin air of LDS apologetics.

The BoM itself makes a very poor case for other people. The only reason they are inferred from a few vague passages is because of the wealth of scientific evience that demands it. Similarly, the evidence presented in the OP (related to JS's pronouncement about the fake Kinderhook plates) is the product of a strained apologetic search for anything that makes the picture better for the LDS. If JS really believed there were tons of "indigenous others" in the Americas, the apologists wouldn't be stuck with the embarassing Kinderhook incident as their proof. <_<

Link to comment

Hey, TDude:

Thaqnks fer the comments. As you've probably noticed, a "universal flood" problem also exists under the ancient authorship scenario. Since Nephi would have believed in such a flood, and to his surprise there were bunches of indigenous weird-talkin' others around, wouldn't he and successors be more likely to take (and make) note of it?

He'd also have accepted the idea that all the peoples/families of earth were descended from Noah's sons, and were also listed in Genesis 11 and 12. So the indigenous types would have to fit into one of those categories. Hmm, when they said "Huh?" to his flood story, perhaps he'd infer cultural amnesia and use them as a pre-Mulekite cautionary example of what happens to people when they don't take their scriptures with them?

Also it's interesting to remember that, given the retrospective character of the Genesis account and its explanatory function, the reason all the Israelites' neighbors are mentioned (and the Cannanites are cursed by Noah) is because Genesis is part of the "founding story" of the Israelites and their triumphant entry into the promised land.

On a much smaller time-scale, 30 years, Nephi's record is also retrospective in character. It also contains the counterpart Lehite "founding story." So according to the Roper/Gardner "early-influx-of-indigenous -others" scenario, Nephi would have long known about and even "lived through" that founding merger with the indigenous folks. But all he had to say about it was "and all those who would go with me.."?

If it helps any, I suggest you not imagine Nephi dandling his new meso-israelite grandaughter on his knee while composing that part of the narrative.

Link to comment

And why not?

You quoted "and all those who would go with me". Therefore, you know the situation there. Who is he talking about, if not others in the land? He had just finished naming EVERYBODY he can think of, from the previous narrative, and then adds this interesting little line.

Nephi thereby knows that there are "others" in the land, because some of them joined him when he fled the original landing area.

The interesting question, and the one raised in this thread, is whether Joseph Smith himself realized this when he wrote it down.

If he did not, then it is actually a remarkable strike in FAVOR of the Book of Mormon's historicity, since the author of fiction ought to know what he put in it. A translator, on the other hand, may not notice all such details quite so clearly (I should know, since I do it for a living...). Especially when he did it so fast that he does not have time to go back and review. (Another aspect that I, as a person with extremely tight deadlines, can attest to).

I personally subscribe to the theory that Joseph Smith gained in knowledge over the years, and came to realize that there had been Others. But I agree with Addictio that the evidence for such a shift is sparse to non-existent.

Regardless, it does not affect what the Book of Mormon itself says about others, which I noticed all on my own, long before Clark or Sorenson were pontificating on it.

Beowulf

Link to comment

Hey, Beowulf,

If he did not, then it is actually a remarkable strike in FAVOR of the Book of Mormon's historicity, since the author of fiction ought to know what he put in it. A translator, on the other hand, may not notice all such details quite so clearly

One of the of the issues raised in my reply to jwhitlock is what happens to our reading of the text under the JS-as-author scenario if we conclude that he did not believe in the existence of indigenous others in the Lehite land of promise -- and probably not in the ancient hemisphere either. Well, in that event, I think it's clear that as a composer of fictive narratives JS would not have "known that he put in," through the phrase you're relying on, a refernce to indigenous others. Rather, he would have known that he did not insert a group of indigenous folks he did not believe existed into the narrative at that point, or any other.

With JS as author, I think the phrase gets interpreted in pretty much the same way folks who don't see it as a reference to "others" now do. Inter alia, that it's a transitional, formulaic phrase, like the one used in the flight of King Mosiah toward Zarahemla. But I understand the argument is based principally on the preceding list of people, which is lacking in the Mosiah passage.

Anyway, I think this particualr interpretive issue is one of those glass half enpty versus glass 90 percent full kinds of things. Fwiw, given how many other, more fundamentlal features of the text bear on the "others" question, I think the matter gets resolved, one way of the other, by how they cut.

Link to comment

Addictio:

â?¦ there is overwhelming evidence that JS ... believed that the ancient (pre-400 CE) hemishere was colonized exclusively by the three immigrant groups referenced in the BoM.

A bold assertion. I would love to see you actually establish it with the â??overwhelming evidenceâ? that you claim exists.

Second, insofar as BoM authorship is concerned, what JS believed about the subject at the time the BoM was dictated is the crucial question, and I'd say the only relevant one.

Why? Why is this â??the crucial question?â? Why, in terms of present-day interpretations of the text of the Book of Mormon (a text of which there is little evidence Joseph Smith had extensive knowledge) is it â??crucialâ? to know what JS believed about the text at the time of its dictation? I want you to elaborate on this claim, and help us to understand why we should also view this as â??the crucial question.â?

Furthermore, you need to demonstrate (aside from your interpretation of the implications of the text of the Book of Mormon) that (for example) Joseph Smith believed that the BoM provided (as suggested by The Dude) an origin story for the population of the Americas after a universal flood. I donâ??t dispute that Joseph Smith may have believed in a universal flood, or that (if pressed) he himself might have provided precisely the kind of interpretation you claim for him. But my point (and this is what I want you and TD or anyone else to address) is that we have no evidence (to my knowledge) that demonstrates that Joseph Smith was actively providing or promoting any particular kind of interpretation for the text of the Book of Mormon.

You guys love to tell us what JS thought about this text he produced. Show me where JS actually tells us what he thought about it. It appear to me that Joseph Smith dictated the book, had it published, and then hardly spoke of it again â?? leaving modern-day critics to tell us what he thought about his creation. But citing quasi-apocryphal stories like the Zelph incident does nothing to inform us about what Joseph Smith actually thought about the book he dictated in 1829. If you think you can make a persuasive case to the contrary, I encourage you to do so. Otherwise, I maintain that the only truly relevant interpretations that should be considered vis-

Link to comment

Addictio:

A few additional thoughts on the subject.

The BofM appears to concentrate more on certain subjects (Christ, for example), and the workings of God through a specific subset of people, rather than dealing with a general history. In looking at whether it refers to other peoples outside of the Lehite / Jaredite groups, I look for positive statements concerning their existence (and several have been documented, inferring that there were other peoples), and then also for negative statements concerning their existence. I am not aware of any passages in the BofM that either definitively state there were no other peoples occupying the land, or that infer such. Given the lack of an opposing view in the BofM, the internal passages we have available lean solidly on the side of indicating there were other people there.

The same applies for Joseph Smith's belief on the subject. There are statements by Joseph (I've mentioned two) that infer his leaning or belief that there were other people here. I am not aware of any specific statements by him indicating that there were no other people here, or that infer strongly that that there were no other people here. Coupled with the fact that he was constantly progressing in what he learned, it would indicate more of a probability that he leaned in the direction of thinking that other people were involved.

Again, since we are not dealing with statements specifically supporting one way or the other, what statements do we have that infer a belief in other peoples vs. those that infer no belief? I submit that most of the statements we have lean more strongly towards a belief in other peoples in both cases.

I'm having real trouble considering the BofM as a fictional account. Again, aside from my doubts as to whether JS had the depth in 1829 necessary to pull everything together in such a book, I believe it is Lucy Mack Smith who recalls that Joseph used to tell the family wonderful stories about what Moroni was teaching him concerning the BofM peoples during the four years preceding his obtaining the plates. The stories in the BofM tend to be rather dry from a fictional standpoint; "chloroform in print", if you will, not making for real good fictional writing. However good a storyteller Joseph may have been, and evidently he could tell a good story, the BofM isn't anywhere near the best fictional writing around. However, if viewed as non-fiction, retrieved by a translation process, the stories and writing make much more sense. Especially if it is viewed less as a history and more as instruction concentrating on God's dealings with people.

Link to comment

Hi Will S:

Thanks for the comments. This response may be less cite-laden than you'd like, but I think what you ask that I "prove" to you about JS's beliefs regarding (1) a universal flood and (2) the existence of indigenous others in the ancient hemisphere simply isn't in serious dispute.

On the flood issue, when you say this, in the language I've bolded:

Furthermore, you need to demonstrate (aside from your interpretation of the implications of the text of the Book of Mormon) that (for example) Joseph Smith believed that the BoM provided (as suggested by The Dude) an origin story for the population of the Americas after a universal flood. I donâ??t dispute that Joseph Smith may have believed in a universal flood, or that (if pressed) he himself might have provided precisely the kind of interpretation you claim for him. But my point (and this is what I want you and TD or anyone else to address) is that we have no evidence (to my knowledge) that demonstrates that Joseph Smith was actively providing or promoting any particular kind of interpretation for the text of the Book of Mormon.

I think you're just minimizing, and to no purpose. The evidence doesn't merely demonstrate that JS "may have believed" in a universal flood. The evidence is conclusive; and notice that we needn't claim anything about what JS said about the BoM text in order to demonstrate that. As you know, questions about what JS believed are answered by doing social or intellectual history. And in doing that, why would we limit ourselves to evidence about what JS said regarding the BoM or its interpretation? With respect to the flood issue, we needn't even consider that type of evidence, if there is any.

Regarding the other issue: While a small part of the evidence, like the Wentworth and Saxton letters, involves direct statements by JS about the BoM, the other relevant evidence does not. And so far as I know all the evidence no matter the type cuts only one way: in favor of the inference that JS did not believe indigenous folks existed in the hemisphere when the Jaredites and Lehites arrived. So I don't see the point of summarizing all the evidence, or even the types of evidence, that are relevant. If you want to check this out quickly, you might want to review the grounds on which LDS authors addressing the DNA issues concluded that the early Saints believed the ancient Americas were colonized and then populated exclusively by the three BoM immigrant groups and their biological descendants. Then ask yourself if thereâ??s any evidence that JS believed otherwise. Was he the only sloppy reader of the BoM text, or was everyone else, too?

In response to the italicized language in your above quote, I think the Wentworth and Saxton letters qualify as promoting a "universal colonization" interpretation of the BoM. So does the publication of the statements of Moroni regarding the Book. Though perhaps more obliquely, so does the publication of the D&C revelations about missions to the Lamanites and their identity, as does JSâ??s approval of the content of the preaching (and his own) to â??our Western tribes of Indiansâ? by Cowdery, Pratt and others on the subject of the â??Indianâ? peoplesâ?? ancestry, origins and identity.

In the last two sentences of your final paragraph you say:

Otherwise, I maintain that the only truly relevant interpretations that should be considered vis-
Link to comment

Addictio:

So many words, and yet you still fail to address the import of my post, nor do you establish in any persuasive fashion that Joseph Smith ever expressed anything approaching an interpretation of any aspect of the Book of Mormon.

You insinuate that he read the Book of Mormon. You may be right, but I have seen no evidence that would support that conclusion. Indeed, of all people, Joseph Smith seems rather disinterested in the Book of Mormon except as a tangible evidence of his divine calling.

You casually suggest that I am â??minimizing, and to no purpose.â? Hardly. The argument I make is extremely significant insofar as it pertains to the claims you made (which I cited).

You wrote:

â?¦ there is overwhelming evidence that JS ... believed that the ancient (pre-400 CE) hemishere was colonized exclusively by the three immigrant groups referenced in the BoM.

I asked you to establish this claim. You fail to do so, except to vaguely insinuate that the Wentworth and Saxton letters infer such a conclusion. I would invite you to cite those portions of either letter that you feel make a strong case for your argument that I cite above.

You also claimed:

Second, insofar as BoM authorship is concerned, what JS believed about the subject at the time the BoM was dictated is the crucial question, and I'd say the only relevant one.

To which I replied:

Why is this â??the crucial question?â?

And:

â?¦ we have no evidence (to my knowledge) that demonstrates that Joseph Smith was actively providing or promoting any particular kind of interpretation for the text of the Book of Mormon.

You fail to address the issue whatsoever. I ask again: Why is this â??the crucial question.â? And, assuming that you can establish that it is, where is the evidence you would cite to demonstrate what Joseph Smith thought about the Book of Mormon, either during the period of its translation, or at any time afterwards?

As far as the Wentworth letter is concerned, it really does no more than paraphrase what JS tells us Moroni said on the night of his first visit. It doesnâ??t come close to constituting an elucidation of Joseph Smithâ??s beliefs/interpretation of the Book of Mormon in terms of the modern questions that swirl around it. Indeed, as I suggest above, I am not aware of any persuasive evidence that Joseph Smith even read the Book of Mormon after having dictated it. Certainly there is no direct evidence, nor do I believe any circumstantial evidence could establish the point.

Why is this important? Because you (and other critics) love to impose upon believers an interpretation of the Book of Mormon that you claim proceeds from Joseph Smith. I argue there never was any such interpretation. You suggest that people like John Taylor and Orson Pratt constitute a reflection of Joseph Smithâ??s beliefs regarding the BoM. I regard that as a completely baseless argument, since Taylorâ??s and Prattâ??s recorded interpretations of the text of the book date to a much, much later period â?? a time after they were finally at their leisure to study the book at greater length. Even at that, there is no plausible link between the beliefs of Taylor and Pratt (or anyone else, for that matter) and Joseph Smith.

Simply put, I donâ??t believe anyone can demonstrate that Joseph Smith had any firm beliefs about the scope of the book, whether or not it argued for exclusivity of migration to the groups it explicitly mentions, or any other of the variety of questions that we now consider to be relevant to its understanding. For him, it was little more than a physical emblem of his calling.

Certainly, one can understand why the critics want so desperately to deprive modern students of the Book of Mormon their privilege to study the text of the book and derive therefrom interpretations that differ, or build upon, the interpretations offered by previous generations. Furthermore, I donâ??t find it disconcerting whatsoever that modern archaeological and anthropological research may very well permit readers of the Book of Mormon to see things in the text that were not easily recognized in a day of less understanding. Certainly Joseph Smith demonstrated a willingness to refine his beliefs in the face of scientific discovery: his reaction to the Stephens report of the Mayan ruins is evidence of that. And, in fact, that very episode is perhaps the only evidence of Joseph Smith beginning to give the Book of Mormon an actual geographic location and cultural scope. Had he lived to a ripe old age, we may have seen him articulate a much more refined view of the book. But he didnâ??t. And we donâ??t. And so we are left to methodically study it out ourselves, compare it to what we can learn about the surviving evidence in the place we believe it took place, and then give our best interpretation of the text as it reads â?? not what others may or may not have believed it said in generations past.

Link to comment

Addictio wrote:

While you're at it, why not go a bit farther down the same road? Hugh Nibley and BH Roberts never "grasped" the current Sorenson/Roper/Gardner etc. interpretation of the BoM. Strangely enough, they never fathomed that within one or two generations after landfall the Nephite and Lamanite groups were comprised principally of indigenous Mesoamericans. Yep, they ignored that telling "all those who would go with me" language, and completely overlooked the fact that Sherem, despite his deep knowledge of the Deuteronomic law, was clearly an indigenous Mesoamerican. (Having been, perhaps, the star pupil in brother Sam's jungle Yeshiva?) So, would you say that's merely prima facie evidence that they didn't dedicate the necesssary time and effort to "understand the text," or do you think it might be conclusive?

Me:

This is an interesting argument. If Hugh Nibley or BH Roberts never noticed it, then Sorenson/Roper/Gardner must be wrong. But the argument is wrong, for a couple of reasons.

The best Book of Mormon studies have appeared since Nibley's works of around 1950 (and the very best have appeared since the launch of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies in the 1980s). So Nibley, BH Roberts, and others in earlier generations did not have the background support that exists now. Nibley, in particular, was not interested in Others. He was interested in the Near East, and read the Book of Mormon for its connections to the Near East. (Which he found in large amounts...)

But I have already said that I noticed these "Others" long before I read Sorenson or Palmer, reading on my own. I refuse to submit to your dictum that I have to rely on previous generations' interpretation of what the book said (starting with Joseph Smith) rather than WHAT THE BOOK ACTUALLY SAYS. (Sorry for having to shout... heh)

The other reason is as Schryver noted. Early Saints treated the Book of Mormon as proof of God's intervention on man's affairs, but did not actually read the Book very carefully. They used the Bible much more often. I have a book in my home library that touches on this aspect, by Philip Barlow, called Mormons and the Bible, published in 1991. I recommend it for an understanding of how the Mormons viewed scripture in the 19th century.

Beowulf

Link to comment
In so many words, and yet you still fail to address the import of my post, nor do you establish in any persuasive fashion that Joseph Smith ever expressed anything approaching an interpretation of any aspect of the Book of Mormon.

You insinuate that he read the Book of Mormon. You may be right, but I have seen no evidence that would support that conclusion.

Will, it's hard to take you seriously when you are so skeptical that people have to prove to you that JS "read the Book of Mormon" or "expressed anything approaching an interpretation of any aspect of the Book of Mormon." We're talking about the prophet of the restoration, right? Not Joe B. Smith of Gary, Indiana who, at age four, has just learned his A-B-C's.

Indeed, of all people, Joseph Smith seems rather disinterested in the Book of Mormon except as a tangible evidence of his divine calling.

Oh, yes you are talking about the prophet of the restoration.

Like I said, your opening stance is hard to take seriously. It seems to be thought-out in advance as the best position from which to defend the beliefs you hold dear. Or maybe it isn't thought-out at all. Maybe you were just typing quickly and didn't review what you wrote.

If you are serious, please tell us what it would take to convince you that JS actually did read the BoM... at least once.

:P

Link to comment

Furthermore, you need to demonstrate (aside from your interpretation of the implications of the text of the Book of Mormon) that (for example) Joseph Smith believed that the BoM provided (as suggested by The Dude) an origin story for the population of the Americas after a universal flood.

You do not dispute that JS believed in a universal flood. <whew>

For person X who believes in a universal flood, the BoM gives an account for how the Americas came to be re-populated.

There's nothing to demonstrate.

Link to comment

Will, it's hard to take you seriously when you are so skeptical that people have to prove to you that JS "read the Book of Mormon" or "expressed anything approaching an interpretation of any aspect of the Book of Mormon." We're talking about the prophet of the restoration, right? Not Joe B. Smith of Gary, Indiana who, at age four, has just learned his A-B-C's.

Oh, yes you are talking about the prophet of the restoration.

Like I said, your opening stance is hard to take seriously. It seems to be thought-out in advance as the best position from which to defend the beliefs you hold dear. Or maybe it isn't thought-out at all. Maybe you were just typing quickly and didn't review what you wrote.

If you are serious, please tell us what it would take to convince you that JS actually did read the BoM... at least once.

:P

I probably am being misinterpreted. When I suggest "he didn't read the Book of Mormon," I thought it was obvious that I meant in the sense of being a student of the Book of Mormon. I don't believe anyone among the early Saints was a student of the Book of Mormon, especially Joseph Smith. I certainly believe that he understood its import, but that doesn't mean he really had a grasp for its text. And even if we allow that he knew it forwards and backwards -- he didn't talk about it. He never cites it in his sermons. He never teaches from it. He never posits any theories regarding specifics of cultural or geographical matters. Indeed, no one does until much later, after the Saints had relocated to Utah. And, as has been noted by many, the Book of Mormon has only recently (in our lifetime) become a central focus for the Church. It never held that status previously, certainly not from 1830 - 1850. As I stated above, for Joseph Smith and the early Saints, the Book of Mormon was valued for what it represented rather than for what it said.

I'm not taking this stance because I think it strengthens my argument -- although it does. I'm taking this stance because I believe it to be true. Critics want to hand us a box containing the prerequisites for our discussion of the Book of Mormon. I dispute the very premise of many of those prerequisites -- especially when it comes to defining what Joseph Smith believed about the culture and location of Nephite society. I vehemently deny that there is any persuasive evidence to support firm conclusions along those lines -- except to perhaps establish the fact that his beliefs were as subject to modification as are ours, and that due to greater understanding becoming available to him (like Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Yucatan.)

Of course, David will not yield on this point. It is far too central to his pet thesis. But at least believers will be able to rethink their own presuppositions regarding the Book of Mormon.

Link to comment

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...