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Is Historicity Important To The Book of Mormon?


Ray Agostini

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Kevin Christensen:

Does New Approaches offer alternative paradigms of faith within Mormonism that could serve as a viable "distribution of risks" for some Saints, or as a means of communicating the worth of the scripture to outsiders? I have a few friends in the Church who have been impressed by the sorts of arguments presented in New Approaches but who remain committed to the faith. The message of the Book of Mormon is sufficiently relevant to contemporary life that it should be possible for someone to read it for the purpose of "likening it to ourselves" without being concerned about historicity. Lessons regarding wealth and charity, peace and war, crime and government, faith and doubt can be profitably likened to contemporary life without reference to the ancient context. The text of the Book of Mormon is sufficiently rich that it offers all sorts of poetic forms to explore, archetypal imagery to investigate, stories to analyze, and complex themes to unravel. For instance, the truth value of the epistemology in Alma 32 is independent of historicity. Such matters could be profitably studied by people who do not believe Book of Mormon historicity, but who do have a desire to appreciate our scripture. There is much to appreciate, and I would have been gratified to encounter such appreciation from whatever source. But of such matters, offered up so we could learn to be more wise than the Book of Mormon peoples, New Approaches provides little. Taken as a whole, New Approaches does not come as an alternative view that distributes risk within the faith. With all due respect to those contributors who do keep the faith, the book overall has been designed to provide an escape from that faith.
(Emphasis added)

Paradigms Crossed.

Also:

Questions regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon, then, involve the key issue in paradigm debate: that is, whether our community provides better descriptions of the divine nature, better access to the divine, and whether the religious problems that Mormonism solves, or promises to solve eventually, are the most important ones to have solved. The questions raised in New Approaches usually have to do with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and thereby relate most directly not to issues of faith, but to community.
(Emphasis added)

If I understand Kevin correctly, historicity is less important than whether or not the Book of Mormon gives us " better access to the divine". I could have directly communicated with Kevin about this, and my post is in no way intended to "intimidate" Kevin into "providing answers", which I think he does in his essay anyway, from his perspective.

The reviewed book can be found online: New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology

Note to Kevin: I welcome any clarifications or further thoughts you have to offer by way of explanation, lest I misunderstand your points or take anything out of context. Are you suggesting, for example, that it's very possible that the Book of Mormon may in fact not be historical, but still important to gaining "better access to the divine"? Perhaps you'll agree that historicity is still an open question? But it's just that you feel the way Metcalfe, et.al, have approached it does not "generate faith"? Which seems paradoxical and raises the question: Is historicity necessary to faith? Or just "faith in the Church"?

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Kevin Christensen:

(Emphasis added)

Paradigms Crossed.

Also:

(Emphasis added)

If I understand Kevin correctly, historicity is less important than whether or not the Book of Mormon gives us " better access to the divine". I could have directly communicated with Kevin about this, and my post is in no way intended to "intimidate" Kevin into "providing answers", which I think he does in his essay anyway, from his perspective.

The reviewed book can be found online: New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology

Note to Kevin: I welcome any clarifications or further thoughts you have to offer by way of explanation, lest I misunderstand your points or take anything out of context. Are you suggesting, for example, that it's very possible that the Book of Mormon may in fact not be historical, but still important to gaining "better access to the divine"? Perhaps you'll agree that historicity is still an open question? But it's just that you feel the way Metcalfe, et.al, have approached it does not "generate faith"? Which seems paradoxical and raises the question: Is historicity necessary to faith? Or just "faith in the Church"?

I believe the BOM is historical, but it's historicity is totally irrelevant to its "truth"

The value of the book is the way it has changed my life and the lives of others.

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The book of mormon cannot be both true and not a historical document. Historicity is absolutely vital to the foundation upon which we stand as LDS. HOWEVER, using any method to establish said historicity other than the promise in Moroni 10:3-5 is absolutely unreliable either way. The Lord meant for us to gain a knowledge of the truthfulness of the book by communicating with him and not by any other means. So shall it continue to be until his triumphant return. Otherwise he might as well just send his legions of angels to declare it to the world and be done with the whole mess of Geographical, archeological, and other viewpoints based on the everchanging views of science.

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Key words with emphasis added:

Historicity is absolutely vital to the foundation upon which we stand as LDS.

But does it contain other "spiritual concepts" which may be valuable to ALL? And should those concepts be thrown out "because it's not historical"? They suddenly become null and void because Nephi never lived?

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Let's say, hypothetically of course, that one day you discovered that it was not historical. Would you still believe in "its truth"?

Of course. Is Genesis historical? What historical proof do we have that Jesus of Nazareth is not a myth? Are you familiar with the cult of Mithras?

How historical is the bible? And even if it IS "historical" why should we give it any spiritual credibility as a guide for our lives at all?

The answer is that we "know it is true" because of the effect it has in our lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Key words with emphasis added:

But does it contain other "spiritual concepts" which may be valuable to ALL? And should those concepts be thrown out "because it's not historical"? They suddenly become null and void because Nephi never lived?

If Nephi never lived then JS was a Liar and there is no Authority in the church. Furthermore, assuming there is a God that would make the LDS church a complete fraud and by necessity an enemy to him regardless of any warm fuzzy ideas it contains.

But Nephi did live. JS was a prophet. And the BOM is an actual account of Christs visit to a society in ancient america. That makes its contents scripture instead of a bunch of "good" ideas coming from a slightly deranged mind.

There really is no inbetween here. Either the BOM is authentic in its historicity or the church is false and everything coming from it is not binding to man. I of course am planted firmly on the side of the BOM being just what its writers and translator claimed it to be.

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Of course. Is Genesis historical? What historical proof do we have that Jesus of Nazareth is not a myth? Are you familiar with the cult of Mithras?

How historical is the bible? And even if it IS "historical" why should we give it any spiritual credibility as a guide for our lives at all?

The answer is that we "know it is true" because of the effect it has in our lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

A-M-E-N.

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I will look for your eventual appearance on RFM.

Assuming RFM is a disscussion board where anti-non-ex-mormons do business don't hold your breath. I recieved a testimony of the BOM that can never be diminished from an outside source. One of the very few times in my life that I was ABSOLUTELY sure I was being communicated to by my Father in Heaven was when he confirmed the truthfulness of the BOM (this does and must include both its historical reality as well as the spiritual truth of its teachings)

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Assuming RFM is a disscussion board where anti-non-ex-mormons do business don't hold your breath. I recieved a testimony of the BOM that can never be diminished from an outside source. One of the very few times in my life that I was ABSOLUTELY sure I was being communicated to by my Father in Heaven was when he confirmed the truthfulness of the BOM (this does and must include both its historical reality as well as the spiritual truth of its teachings)

With all due respect, did the Holy Ghost tell you specifically that the BoM is historical? But my question is really related to this dilemma: If it is NOT historical, does it still contain truth? Kevin has already referenced NDEs, which the BoM covers somewhat insufficiently. But my point is, does any truth that the BoM contains become null and void because it's "not historical"?

I would consider that a rather partisan view. For example, does the phrase "wickedness never was happiness", depend on the Book being historical?

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With all due respect, did the Holy Ghost tell you specifically that the BoM is historical? But my question is really related to this dilemma: If it is NOT historical, does it still contain truth? Kevin has already referenced NDEs, which the BoM covers somewhat insufficiently. But my point is, does any truth that the BoM contains become null and void because it's "not historical"?

I would consider that a rather partisan view. For example, does the phrase "wickedness never was happiness", depend on the Book being historical?

In that area I would suppose we are in agreement. (the wickedness never was happiness part)

There are a lot of books that contain spiritual truth that are not scriptural at all.

And yes, my prayer that was unequivically answered was: "Did all this really happen? Did JS actually translate and ancient record and is he a prophet of God?" Anyway, my prayer and personal strugle was actually ongoing for 3 weeks until I finally recieved my answer. Or to put it more correctly, the HG had been softly testifying of the books truthfulness but I was too logical and unwilling to go on feeling unless I was absolutely convinced it was from God and not connected to something I had for lunch or my own agreement to what seemed reasonable in the book.

I might need to stop here as what I am saying might be seen as bearing witness and I be struck down by the Mods into posting oblivion.

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So let's get into more "historicity":

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ. (Moroni 7)

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In that area I would suppose we are in agreement. (the wickedness never was happiness part)

There are a lot of books that contain spiritual truth that are not scriptural at all.

And yes, my prayer that was unequivically answered was: "Did all this really happen? Did JS actually translate and ancient record and is he a prophet of God?" Anyway, my prayer and personal strugle was actually ongoing for 3 weeks until I finally recieved my answer. Or to put it more correctly, the HG had been softly testifying of the books truthfulness but I was too logical and unwilling to go on feeling unless I was absolutely convinced it was from God and not connected to something I had for lunch or my own agreement to what seemed reasonable in the book.

I might need to stop here as what I am saying might be seen as bearing witness and I be struck down by the Mods into posting oblivion.

I don't see how any of this is connected to historicity.

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So let's get into more "historicity":

Hmm...you are not being sarcastic now are you :P

I already told you I agree hypothetically that there are parts of the book that could be considered solid spiritual truth without the book being historicitally (is that a word?) acurate. My point was that even so it would still render the most important aspects of the restoration null and void. Namely the calling of JS, the line of priesthood authority, the temples and all their ordinances, and just about every other doctrine that, speaking from a christian sense of things, doesn't flow in clarity from the bible alone.

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If I understand Kevin correctly, historicity is less important than whether or not the Book of Mormon gives us " better access to the divine". I could have directly communicated with Kevin about this, and my post is in no way intended to "intimidate" Kevin into "providing answers", which I think he does in his essay anyway, from his perspective.

Without historicity, the BoM does not give us any access at all to the divine because the Church makes certain truth claims about the BoM that are historical. If those are not true, then the BoM is false. This is not to say that some details about the history given can't be figurative or metaphorical.

A Biblical example would be the garden of Eden. The rib and the forbidden fruit may be figurative. Even the garden itself may be a metaphor. But there must have been two parents who fell in some way that can be explained by some of the details given.

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Questions regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon, then, involve the key issue in paradigm debate: that is, whether our community provides better descriptions of the divine nature, better access to the divine, and whether the religious problems that Mormonism solves, or promises to solve eventually, are the most important ones to have solved.

I'm not sure whether the Book of Mormon, or the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price for that matter, do provide better access to the divine. I think that the NT comes closest simply because it's the closest we have to the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the son of the divine. For me, that's just common sense.

The Book of Mormon and other mormon scripture is dripping in a developing 19th century worldview in my opinion, and it's greatest strength is there and in the idea that God loves all his children around the world. Having said that, the Nephites and Lamanites are sons of Israel, so in that sense the Book of Mormon retains the genetic elitism of Judaism.

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Hmm...you are not being sarcastic now are you :P

I already told you I agree hypothetically that there are parts of the book that could be considered solid spiritual truth without the book being historicitally (is that a word?) acurate. My point was that even so it would still render the most important aspects of the restoration null and void. Namely the calling of JS, the line of priesthood authority, the temples and all their ordinances, and just about every other doctrine that, speaking from a christian sense of things, doesn't flow in clarity from the bible alone.

It can only be "null and void" if you don't have a wider "spiritual" perspective of the BoM.

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I'm not sure whether the Book of Mormon, or the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price for that matter, do provide better access to the divine. I think that the NT comes closest simply because it's the closest we have to the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the son of the divine. For me, that's just common sense.

The Book of Mormon and other mormon scripture is dripping in a developing 19th century worldview in my opinion, and it's greatest strength is there and in the idea that God loves all his children around the world. Having said that, the Nephites and Lamanites are sons of Israel, so in that sense the Book of Mormon retains the genetic elitism of Judaism.

Adam and eve were absolutely not Jews. Neither was anybody else until Judah of the twelve sons of Jacob(Israel) had posterity. The lord speaks of believer and non-believer often as Jew and Gentile simply because it was through the group politically known as the jews that the gospel in its then current form was carried. I am no Jew. But I am of Israel through the tribe of Ephraim (joseph). Most importantly I am a member of the Church that has Christ at its head.

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It can only be "null and void" if you don't have a wider "spiritual" perspective of the BoM.

I disagree. JS was either a prophet, a liar, or a nut job. The prophet part can only be true if the BOM's historicity is authentic. All of those other things flow from his calling as a prophet and therefore would become null and void were he not one. It is past my bed time so I'm going to have to bow out of this debate. Have a great night everybody.

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Adam and eve were absolutely not Jews. Neither was anybody else until Judah of the twelve sons of Jacob(Israel) had posterity. The lord speaks of believer and non-believer often as Jew and Gentile simply because it was through the group politically known as the jews that the gospel in its then current form was carried. I am no Jew. But I am of Israel through the tribe of Ephraim (joseph). Most importantly I am a member of the Church that has Christ at its head.

Anticas, yeah I completely agree with you on Israel...that's why I took my end quote off...it's early in the morning over here in the UK and I've just woken up!

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I disagree. JS was either a prophet, a liar, or a nut job. The prophet part can only be true if the BOM's historicity is authentic. All of those other things flow from his calling as a prophet and therefore would become null and void were he not one.

I wish I could accommodate your fundamentalist view. But alas, all is lost.

It is past my bed time so I'm going to have to bow out of this debate. Have a great night everybody.

You have a great night, too.

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Hmm...you are not being sarcastic now are you :P

I already told you I agree hypothetically that there are parts of the book that could be considered solid spiritual truth without the book being historicitally (is that a word?) acurate. My point was that even so it would still render the most important aspects of the restoration null and void. Namely the calling of JS, the line of priesthood authority, the temples and all their ordinances, and just about every other doctrine that, speaking from a christian sense of things, doesn't flow in clarity from the bible alone.

But just think about this for a minute.

Right now, you have pretty much only Joseph's word for any of these points, and the confirmation of the spirit. Chances are, that is all you will ever have.

And yet (I am presuming) you find your life enriched by this "reality" to which you subscribe

You will never know if it IS "historical" either way, so it really makes no difference in your life today if it IS or IS NOT "historical" (whatever that means, which is a whole other issue)

So how relevant is its historicity really?

And how can you really know anything about history which was that long ago and so remote in context? What year was Alma the Younger born? How does that matter? And who's version of history do you believe?

None of us were there!

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It's really about faith. I have found through other discussion boards, that both whether it is science or historocity, both are irrelevant to a majority people except for a minority. The BoM will always have it's detractors of it's authenticity. You can provide evidence right in front of their noses, and they will still doubt it's validity. The fact that even J. Smith "invented " the BoM in such a short period demonstrates it's truthfulness to it's historical status. If it's not historical then J. Smith needs his kudos for writing the one of the greatests novels of all time. I do not believe any other author could have done the literary work in 88 days or less.

Where as the Bible does have some historical truths prove by archaeologists, it's books are short and written by various authors. I believe in both books, but to some they will always be blind because they have built a prejudicial opinion already. "The parable of the mustard seed' still holds true today.

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Kevin Christensen:

(Emphasis added)

Paradigms Crossed.

Also:

(Emphasis added)

If I understand Kevin correctly, historicity is less important than whether or not the Book of Mormon gives us " better access to the divine". I could have directly communicated with Kevin about this, and my post is in no way intended to "intimidate" Kevin into "providing answers", which I think he does in his essay anyway, from his perspective.

The reviewed book can be found online: New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology

Note to Kevin: I welcome any clarifications or further thoughts you have to offer by way of explanation, lest I misunderstand your points or take anything out of context. Are you suggesting, for example, that it's very possible that the Book of Mormon may in fact not be historical, but still important to gaining "better access to the divine"? Perhaps you'll agree that historicity is still an open question? But it's just that you feel the way Metcalfe, et.al, have approached it does not "generate faith"? Which seems paradoxical and raises the question: Is historicity necessary to faith? Or just "faith in the Church"?

I'm afraid that you did not understand me correctly. It's not that historicity is less important than whether the Book of Mormon gives us better access to the divine but that historicity resolves the question. If it is historical, if the plates were real, Moroni real, Nephi and Lehi real, Benjamin real, Alma real, the appearance of Jesus to the Nephites real, then Mormonism does indeed provide better access to the divine through living prophets, valid priesthood and ordinances, and inspiration through the Holy Spirit. What is real is binding. What is binding raises the issue of meaningful covenant.

What is metaphorical may point to something real elsewhere, but does not bind in the same way. So covenants based on a metaphorical account don't have the same binding power or promise or meaning.

I do not think individuals have to approach either Mormonism or the Book of Mormon as an all-or-nothing issue relative to historicity. Individuals can start with a portion of the word, a particle of belief, and enough desire to work from there. The point of my Meridian essay on "A Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience" was to demonstrate that Mormons can and do experience all of the kinds of spiritual experience than any people anywhere report. That means what have is far from "nothing" regardless of historicity. We have something real. I have consistently argued that the all-or-nothing approach inherently means that an individual who does not nurture the seed in the best soil, with the best care and protection from predation, is vulnerable to premature judgments about historicity that may lead them to decide that we have nothing.

I have also argued repeatedly in essays in Sunstone, Dialogue, the FARMS Review, the Meridian, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and online, that historicity is what defines and binds our community. I have observed what has happened to the community formerly known as RLDS when their leadership decided to redefine their relationship to the Book of Mormon. I have also observed that the kinds of arguments they offered in justification, however persuasive and compelling they may have seemed in the 60s-80s, they have dated badly. I'll have an essay in FR 21:2 demonstrating that Professor Russell's arguments from 1982, for instance, have all turned out to be dead wrong. And that he ignored everything positive that was available to him. The soil in which he put the seed was as hospitable as a rock, and the nurture amounted to burning the seed with a highly focused magnifying glass. He selected from the light available for destructive purposes only. Of course the seed failed to grow for him.

Brent Metcalfe's approach clearly does not generate faith. Logical positivism is not designed for that purpose. We're near the same age, and have been involved in amateur LDS scholarship for the same length of time. Yet somehow in his efforts he overlooked the things that I have discovered. For instance, he could have just as easily been the one to show how Margaret Barker's research has profound relevance to the question of Book of Mormon historicity, particularly the ongoing charge that the text is too Christian before Christ. She puts the roots of Christianity in the First Temple, Jerusalem 600 BCE. But he did not put the seed in that bit of soil, let alone nurture it there. His explorations in New Approaches involved counting the distribution of wherefore and therefore in the text. Along the way, he claims that a four step pattern revival is sufficient to account for Benjamin's discourse as a nineteenth century composition. He footnotes Tvedtnes and Welch and Nibley, but does not account for their observations. Nor did he anticipate Mark Wright's recent observations of the relevance of the San Bartelo murals for contexualizing Benjamin's discourse, which just happen to be contemporary with the Book of Mormon time-frame and near the geographic context. At a Sunstone panel in 1999, I heard him predict that the DNA studies would soon settle the question of the Book of Mormon historicity, dooming our faith. Well, he was wrong about that too. We're still here, especially the top LDS DNA experts. Paradigm choice, as Kuhn explains, always involves deciding which problems are more significant to have solved. Should it be his "wherefore" and "therefore"? Or the implications of the First Temple?

I see a huge amount of evidence for the Book of Mormon, but I understand very well how and why someone like John Charles Duffy can dismiss it all, as he admitted, "as a matter of course." It's there for those who look for it. It is not there to compel faith. Anyone can just shrug and say, "So what?" There are open questions against which anyone can choose to demonstrate their faith, or upon which anyone can choose to discard it. But to this day, I have never seen any argument against the Book of Mormon, or explanation of it, that dares to fully define the problem it represents against the context that it claims for itself.

If any individual wants to find spiritual value in the Book of Mormon, without regard to historicity, I welcome it. Our community has room for such. However, historicity defines and binds our community. If we ever collectively dropped a belief in the Book of Mormon, it would be appropriate for us to change our name, just as the RLDS did, because that would amount to giving ourselves a new identity, and a new definition.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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