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Musings Re: Historicity and the Book of Mormon


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First, an image:

Date-Jar-1.jpg

Now, a story:

1. My parents met at BYU, when both were performers with "Curtain Time, USA" (a predecessor to The Young Ambassadors).  See here:

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“In 1965, the U.S. State Department approached BYU on sending out a ‘collegiate goodwill tour for America’ for an almost unheard of five-month entertainment tour through Southeast Asia and the Middle East,” said Jay Todd, one of the members. “BYU accepted and asked Janie Thompson to package a variety show for the tour.”

Norm Nielsen was the tour director of the group, and he and his wife, Rosanne, had been married only five weeks when they left.

“We traveled to over 15 countries all through the Middle East,” he said. “It expanded to all around the world. The tour lasted from February until July, when we were still doing shows.”
...
“This group was the only student group that was chosen by the U.S. State Department as part of our cultural exchange program in the 60s and 70s,” Nielsen said. “We performed for kings and royal families, prime ministers, ambassadors, local leaders.

 

2. Evidence of my parents' participation is available here (p. 70), which lists "Taylor MacDonald--Singer" and "Kathy Sinclair--Dancer."

Here's a picture (from this story from BYU Magazine) that includes my mom (second woman from the right in the back) and my dad (dead center in the back) :

Curtain_Time_USA_WEB.jpg

3. One of the countries visited by this touring group was Iraq.  See here ("Nielsen remembers visiting Iraq’s only television station.").  See also here ("Prior to 1970 the group {now known as The Young Ambassadors} was known as Curtain Time USA. In the 1960s, their world tour stops included Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.").  And here:

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51nZKF5mMAL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Curtain Time, USA Ambassador of Inspiration Hardcover – January 1, 1965

by jay M todd (Author)
 
Twenty-five young Latter-day Saints, students at Brigham Young University on assignment by the U.S. State Department, made a four-month tour throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East as ambassadors of goodwill for America. Their show was called, "Curtain Time, USA," and they performed in Ceylon, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Austria. So outstanding were their performances and so unimpeachable was their conduct that one official said: "Never in the history of the Cultural Presentations Program has the U.S. State Department sent a more successful tour abroad. This group did the impossible... Everybody loved them." This book is the story of "Curtain Time USA," written by its public relations director. Warm, intimate, exciting, it will build goodwill and faith - in America, in the Church, and especially in LDS youth.

4. Last night I and my family visited my parents to wish my dad a happy Father's Day.  My kids enjoy visiting because my parents have so many interesting stories about their lives.  Last night, we ended up talking about some of the cool things my dad brought home from the above-referenced world tour.  One such item was the jar in the image above, which my dad retrieved from a shelf and passed around for us to hold and examine (my son took the picture with his phone and emailed it to me).

5. My dad explained that it was a date jar ("date" as in the fruit), and that he got it while visiting ancient Babylonian ruins in Iraq during the world tour.  Because the BYU touring group was sponsored by the State Department, they were assigned guides and minders.  My dad asked them if he could visit the ruins of the City of Babylon, located along the Euphrates River, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.  The minders made the arrangements, and off they went.  They arrived at the site, first visiting the location of the "Ishtar Gate," and then entering the actual ancient city itself.  My dad said his minders led him into a small structure that, per the minders, dated to the Neo-Babylonian era, and was apparently the shop of a date merchant.  The walls were lined with piles of cuneiform tablets which contained inventories and business records with extensive references to dates (again, the fruit).  My dad noticed on (that is, partially embedded in) the dirt floor of the shop the broken pieces of the jar pictured above and asked if he could take them, and the minders let him.  He brought the pieces back to the U.S. and glued them together.

6. The Neo-Babylonian era was short-lived, lasting from 626 BC to 539 BC.  However, this empire was significant in that it figured heavily into the narratives of both The Bible (which describes Nebuchadnezzar's invasion and destruction of Jerusalem) and The Book of Mormon (which describes Lehi's departure from Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian invasion).

7. Last night I and my children passed around that date jar.  We held it in our hands.  We noted the sizable hole in its base, and my dad said it was intentionally made that way.  His guides explained to him that dates can "sweat" a juicy liquid, and that the hole in the bottom of the jar allowed it to drip out rather than accumulate.  We also discussed briefly what life might have been like for the date merchant who owned the jar.  My dad mentioned that its owner may well have been alive during the time Lehi and his family left Jerusalem.

8. Whether or not my dad's particular speculation (about the date merchant being a contemporary of Lehi) is correct is not really important.  The point is that last night I held in my hands a date jar that is likely about 2,600 years old. Its provenance as an ancient artifact is pretty good.  It's obviously a man-made thing, rather than naturally occurring.  Someone made it.  Someone used it.  Somehow it eventually broke and ended up in the dust and dirt of a merchant's shop for centuries until my dad picked it up and re-assembled it.  Its origins have been accounted for to my satisfaction.  

9. In thinking about that date jar, and about my dad's comment about it, my thoughts turned to the "Inspired Fiction" concept about The Book of Mormon that we occasionally discuss on this board.  If the date merchant who made or owned that jar was a contemporary of Lehi, that would be . . . cool.  But the bigger issue is that the jar exists, and that it is apparently what it appears to be (and what my dad describes it to be).  I held it in my hands last night.  My dad's story about visiting the site Iraq is pretty credible.  There were plenty of witnesses (I have personally met and spoken with several of the people who were also on the tour).  A book was published, and other historical records of the tour exist.  My parents have plenty of photos they took on the tour and other curios they brought back home.  Plus, I think my dad is an upright and honest person.  And he has no particular reason to lie about the provenance of the jar.

That being said, what if someone came along and tried to persuade me that the jar was a fraud?  That my dad lied about where he got it?  That either he made it himself or else he bought it somewhere and then fabricated a long, convoluted - and entirely false - narrative about where it came from? 

And if I were to accept this fellow's alternative explanation for the origins of the jar, would that change my assessment of the jar?  For me, the answer would necessarily be "yes."  And in some pretty important ways.  First, I would be seriously disappointed in my father.  If I found he had lied to me, to my wife, to my children, about the origins of the jar, I would be disappointed.  I would start to have reservations about his credibility as to other things he has told me.  

Second, and perhaps more important, the jar would become essentially meaningless to me.  It would no longer be evidence that an ancient resident of Babylon lived, made the jar or acquired it from someone else, stored dates in it, and so on.  It would no longer be part of an interesting vignette recounted by my father to my family on Father's Day in 2020.  It would just be a piece of molded and dried pottery.  Potentially interesting to me only because of idle curiosity as to its real origins (as opposed to the false story told by my dad), and also as evidence against my father's honesty and credibility.

10. For me, the significance and meaning of the jar I held in my hands last night rely heavily on it being what my dad said it is and where it came from (though not necessarily with 100% accuracy).  Its historicity, its overall historical authenticity as an ancient artifct retrieved from the ruins of Babylon, matters.  

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
  • Like 4
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I agree. Historicity in essential if we rely on the church as God's authority. Maybe those who view the Book of Mormon as at-most inspired fiction are also less attached to the idea of the authority level of the church.

  • Like 2
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Before this is taken the wrong way, I want to thank you for the story, and say I have no doubt the jar is of ancient origins.  

But...

what if some tests were done and they showed the jar was 400 years old?  Would it necessarily suggest your dad was lying?  Of course not.  It simply means he was mistaken or mislead.  

Likewise if the BoM is not ancient, then it does not mean the Church is lying, necessarily, nor that Joseph Smith lied.  It is quite possible they are all mistaken.  Joseph's vision means by definition according to the BoM, that it was a dream.  Same with the encounters with Moroni.  It is said he did not translate plates, so much as dictated a message that perhaps appeared to him in no other form than in his mind's eye.  That is he very well could have been inspired to dictate the story of the BoM and it very well might not represent anyone ancient at all.  And even he could have mixed that up--considering his religious mindset from his era, that's not a big surprise.  

When we're speaking about inspired writing, that's what we get--writings that inspire people.  No one treats scripture much more than that, anymore.  IT's not as if it's true in every way, nor that it's true in each proposed claim of truth.  To take the more metaphorical, non literalist approach is to take the more reasonable, more consistent and more useful approach.  

 

I would agree with Meadowchik, as well.  "Historicity is essential if we rely on the church as God's authority."  But I'm operating from a spot that does not necessarily hold to the notion of the Church being God's authority.  

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53 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

I agree. Historicity in essential if we rely on the church as God's authority. Maybe those who view the Book of Mormon as at-most inspired fiction are also less attached to the idea of the authority level of the church.

I see church authority as existing independent of the Book of Mormon.  Those are all New Testament characters tied to authority.

Edited by pogi
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20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

Before this is taken the wrong way, I want to thank you for the story, and say I have no doubt the jar is of ancient origins.  

Same here.  The amount of evidence favoring it being "of ancient origins" is quite strong.  

I think the evidentiary contest relating to The Book of Mormon being "of ancient origins" is a lot more muddled.  A lot.

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

But...

what if some tests were done and they showed the jar was 400 years old?  Would it necessarily suggest your dad was lying?  Of course not.  It simply means he was mistaken or mislead.  

I'll go along with that.

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

Likewise if the BoM is not ancient, then it does not mean the Church is lying, necessarily, nor that Joseph Smith lied. 

Actually yes, I think it means necessarily that he lied.  How else would you account for his statements about the various visitations from Moroni?  Either he was telling the truth about those, or he was not.  The "was not" cannot, in my view, be attributed to mental illness.  That leaves . . . "he lied."

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

It is quite possible they are all mistaken.  Joseph's vision means by definition according to the BoM, that it was a dream.

Not so.  

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

Same with the encounters with Moroni.

Except that Joseph Smith did not say he was dreaming.  He said he was awake when Moroni appeared to him in his home, and repeatedly appeared to him at the burial site of the plates.  Was he lying, or telling the truth?

Also, how do you account for the statements of the Three Witnesses?  And the Eight Witnesses?  Were there actual, physical plates, or not?  If yes, were the plates authentically ancient, or fabricated by Joseph or someone else? 

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

It is said he did not translate plates, so much as dictated a message that perhaps appeared to him in no other form than in his mind's eye.  That is he very well could have been inspired to dictate the story of the BoM and it very well might not represent anyone ancient at all.  And even he could have mixed that up--considering his religious mindset from his era, that's not a big surprise.

So . . . he was lying or deluded.  That's your position?

Either Joseph Smith saw an angelic being named Moroni, or he did not.

Either Joseph was instructed by that angel to go to a particular location, a drumlin in upstate New York, or else that did not happen.

Either Joseph went there at the instruction of the angel and located the burial site of the plates, or else that did not happen.

Either Joseph had further interviews with the angel at that site for years afterward, or he did not.

Either Joseph eventually recovered the ancient plates (and other items buried with them), or he did not.

Either the Three Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

Either the Eight Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

As I see it, the only plausible explanation for these various "or not" alternatives is that Joseph Smith was A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked by unknown persons, or D) some combination of A-C.   Also, the Witnesses were likewise either A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked (by Joseph and/or others), or D) some combination of A-C. 

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

When we're speaking about inspired writing, that's what we get--writings that inspire people. 

I don't think so.  That seems like equivocation.  "Inspired writing" in the context of scripture is quite distinct from, say, the writings "inspired" by the creative genius of great writers like William Shakespeare, Emily ****inson, Charles ****ens, Clive Cussler, and so on.

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

No one treats scripture much more than that, anymore. 

The Church does.  Most of its members do.

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

IT's not as if it's true in every way, nor that it's true in each proposed claim of truth. 

We don't espouse a "true in every way" approach.  We allow for errors, omissions, biases, etc.  The scriptures themselves allow for such.

20 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

I would agree with Meadowchik, as well.  "Historicity is essential if we rely on the church as God's authority."  But I'm operating from a spot that does not necessarily hold to the notion of the Church being God's authority.  

I can see that.  That sort of proves my point about the ramifications of the "Inspired Fiction" theory.  I think they are fairly natural and foreseeable as either a cause or an effect of the individual distancing himself from, or outright rejecting, the truth claims of the Restored Gospel.

Thanks,

-Smac

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This is always a sticky issue for me. 

I struggle with both approaches. 

For me, the most important question is, "is this the word of God?"  Everything else is secondary to that.  All other questions will answer themselves in time, as I am not fully satisfied with either approach. 

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40 minutes ago, pogi said:

I see church authority as existing independent of the Book of Mormon.  Those are all New Testament characters tied to authority.

Likewise, the importance of historicity of the Bible matters when it is used to represent divine authority.

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4 minutes ago, pogi said:

This is always a sticky issue for me. 

I struggle with both approaches. 

For me, the most important question is, "is this the word of God?"  Everything else is secondary to that.  All other questions will answer themselves in time, as I am not fully satisfied with either approach. 

I appreciate that perspective.  For me, I have plenty of questions about the "historicity" approach.  But not enough to preclude a conclusion that I should take the narrative provided by Joseph Smith, the Witnesses, the Church, etc. at face value.  That is, that there really were authentically ancient plates, there really were historical figures names Lehi, Nephi, etc., that the events described really happened, and so on.  That is not to say I require 100% exacting accuracy in precision in the narrative.

In contrast, I find the "Inspired Fiction" theory untenable in almost all respects.

Thanks,

-Smac

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6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Same here.  The amount of evidence favoring it being "of ancient origins" is quite strong.  

I think the evidentiary contest relating to The Book of Mormon being "of ancient origins" is a lot more muddled.  A lot.

I'll go along with that.

Actually yes, I think it means necessarily that he lied.  How else would you account for his statements about the various visitations from Moroni?  Either he was telling the truth about those, or he was not.  The "was not" cannot, in my view, be attributed to mental illness.  That leaves . . . "he lied."

Not so.  

Except that Joseph Smith did not say he was dreaming.  He said he was awake when Moroni appeared to him in his home, and repeatedly appeared to him at the burial site of the plates.  Was he lying, or telling the truth?

Whenever you dream you are dreaming you are awake.  And you can dream and be awake.   I'm merely positing the possibility of someone seeing the BoM as not ancient and yet still believe.  

6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Also, how do you account for the statements of the Three Witnesses?  And the Eight Witnesses?  Were there actual, physical plates, or not?  If yes, were the plates authentically ancient, or fabricated by Joseph or someone else? 

Any number of explanations can account for these.   But even if the BoM is ancient the plates have little meaning.  They simply lay hidden or under a cloth as Joseph dictated the story.  I'm not sure what you point is regarding the witnesses either.  The 8 added no detail to discount the possibility for the BoM not being ancient.  And neither do the 3.  They simply, as Martin later recorded, described a visionary, dream-like scenario.  At least all of it can easily be interpreted as such.  They heard God's voice but people have been hearing that for forever, contradicting, as it were, previous accounts of his voice.    As OT parlance might suggest, an angel from God is simply a messenger and could very well mean another person.  

6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

So . . . he was lying or deluded.  That's your position?

I"m not very black or white in my thinking.  He could be lying, deluded, honest, ignorant and genius.  He was after all a mere mortal.  

6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Either Joseph Smith saw an angelic being named Moroni, or he did not.

Either Joseph was instructed by that angel to go to a particular location, a drumlin in upstate New York, or else that did not happen.

Either Joseph went there at the instruction of the angel and located the burial site of the plates, or else that did not happen.

Either Joseph had further interviews with the angel at that site for years afterward, or he did not.

Either Joseph eventually recovered the ancient plates (and other items buried with them), or he did not.

Either the Three Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

Either the Eight Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

As I see it, the only plausible explanation for these various "or not" alternatives is that Joseph Smith was A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked by unknown persons, or D) some combination of A-C.   Also, the Witnesses were likewise either A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked (by Joseph and/or others), or D) some combination of A-C. 

I disagree as explained.  It's quite possible they were sincere...and were inspired, and yet the Book is not ancient at all.   

6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I don't think so.  That seems like equivocation.  "Inspired writing" in the context of scripture is quite distinct from, say, the writings "inspired" by the creative genius of great writers like William Shakespeare, Emily ****inson, Charles ****ens, Clive Cussler, and so on.

Maybe to you.  

6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

The Church does.  Most of its members do.

We don't espouse a "true in every way" approach.  We allow for errors, omissions, biases, etc.  The scriptures themselves allow for such.

And that's the point I raised.  There is no need to view scripture as anything more than what it is.  

6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I can see that.  That sort of proves my point about the ramifications of the "Inspired Fiction" theory.  I think they are fairly natural and foreseeable as either a cause or an effect of the individual distancing himself from, or outright rejecting, the truth claims of the Restored Gospel.

Thanks,

-Smac

Well I spent some effort arguing on behalf of inspired fiction.  not that I disagree with myself.  But I see the BoM less inspiring than many works of fiction and on fiction, personally.  I"m simply pointing out how there's plenty of room for one to see things in the Inspired Fiction way.  Not only that, but as I suggested that would be the most reasonable and consistent way to view it.  

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10 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

Likewise, the importance of historicity of the Bible matters when it is used to represent divine authority.

I personally see the historicity of the Bible as all that matters when speaking of divine authority.

If the golden plates were never unearthed, it would not affect claims of church authority.  

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7 minutes ago, pogi said:

I personally see the historicity of the Bible as all that matters when speaking of divine authority.

If the golden plates were never unearthed, it would not affect claims of church authority.  

I'm not sure what you mean. But first, you do agree in the importance of the historicity of the Bible, right?

Now that that's out of the way, why do you think the Bible establishes the authority of the (I assume you mean) LDS Church?

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4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

Whenever you dream you are dreaming you are awake.  And you can dream and be awake. 

But surely a rational person can generally distinguish a dreamed experienced from a waking one?

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

I'm merely positing the possibility of someone seeing the BoM as not ancient and yet still believe.  

I get that.  But getting there requires that someone to jettison the narrative of Joseph Smith by branding him a liar, a mentally ill person, a dupe, or some combination thereof.

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

Any number of explanations can account for these.   But even if the BoM is ancient the plates have little meaning. 

I disagree.  I think they have huge meaning.  

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

They simply lay hidden or under a cloth as Joseph dictated the story.  I'm not sure what you point is regarding the witnesses either.  The 8 added no detail to discount the possibility for the BoM not being ancient.  And neither do the 3. 

The physical reality of the plates.  They attest to that.

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

They simply, as Martin later recorded, described a visionary, dream-like scenario. 

That's a substantial mischaracterization as to the statement of the Three Witnesses.  And a patently false statement as to the statement of the Eight Witnesses, which involved nothing like "a visionary, dream-like scenario."  It was utterly mundane.

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

At least all of it can easily be interpreted as such. 

No, it can't.  To do so is to do violence to what the witnesses said.  

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

They heard God's voice but people have been hearing that for forever, contradicting, as it were, previous accounts of his voice. 

The Eight Witnesses didn't claim that.

The Three Witnesses did, and also that they saw an angel.  And also that they saw the plates.  

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

As OT parlance might suggest, an angel from God is simply a messenger and could very well mean another person.  

I"m not very black or white in my thinking. 

Nor am I.  But the really is black, and there really is white.  Sometimes there really is a yes-or-no decision to be made.

Did Joseph Smith have actual, physical plates, or not?

Were the plates authentically ancient, or were they fabricated and passed off as a sham artifact?

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

He could be lying, deluded, honest, ignorant and genius.  He was after all a mere mortal.  

Yep.  Such are, I think, the necessary ramifications of the "Inspired Fiction" theory.

Per the OP, I guess I could say that my father could be "lying" and/or "deluded" about where he got the date jar.  What I can't say, however, is that the origins of the date jar, and my dad's recitation of those origins, don't matter.  Of course they do.

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:
Quote

Either Joseph Smith saw an angelic being named Moroni, or he did not.

Either Joseph was instructed by that angel to go to a particular location, a drumlin in upstate New York, or else that did not happen.

Either Joseph went there at the instruction of the angel and located the burial site of the plates, or else that did not happen.

Either Joseph had further interviews with the angel at that site for years afterward, or he did not.

Either Joseph eventually recovered the ancient plates (and other items buried with them), or he did not.

Either the Three Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

Either the Eight Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

As I see it, the only plausible explanation for these various "or not" alternatives is that Joseph Smith was A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked by unknown persons, or D) some combination of A-C.   Also, the Witnesses were likewise either A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked (by Joseph and/or others), or D) some combination of A-C. 

I disagree as explained.  It's quite possible they were sincere...and were inspired, and yet the Book is not ancient at all.   

I'm sorry, but I don't think you have explained your point.  Let's go through the points again:

  • Either Joseph Smith saw an angelic being named Moroni, or he did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

  • Either Joseph was instructed by that angel to go to a particular location, a drumlin in upstate New York, or else that did not happen.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

  • Either Joseph went there at the instruction of the angel and located the burial site of the plates, or else that did not happen.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

  • Either Joseph had further interviews with the angel at that site for years afterward, or he did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

  • Either Joseph eventually recovered the ancient plates (and other items buried with them), or he did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

  • Either the Three Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

  • Either the Eight Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:
Quote

The Church does.  Most of its members do.

We don't espouse a "true in every way" approach.  We allow for errors, omissions, biases, etc.  The scriptures themselves allow for such.

And that's the point I raised.  There is no need to view scripture as anything more than what it is.  

I don't understand what this means.  "View scripture as anything more than what it is?"  Speaking of The Book fo Mormon, what do you think "it is?"

Thanks,

-Smac

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13 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

I'm not sure what you mean. But first, you do agree in the importance of the historicity of the Bible, right?

Now that that's out of the way, why do you think the Bible establishes the authority of the (I assume you mean) LDS Church?

I do agree in the importance of the historicity of the Bible in establishing Church authority.  It is just as critical to our claims as it is to Catholic claims. 

The historicity of the Bible is directly tied to the authority of the LDS church as outlined in D&C 13 and 27.   The restoration and authority being derived from Jesus Christ through John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John.  We need the historicity of the New Testament to establish those characters and authority.  We don't need the Book of Mormon to establish the accounts in D&C 13 and 27.   

Edited by pogi
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23 minutes ago, pogi said:

I personally see the historicity of the Bible as all that matters when speaking of divine authority.

If the golden plates were never unearthed, it would not affect claims of church authority.  

I disagree.  See here:

Quote

The Value of The Book of Mormon is Inextricably Linked to its Historicity

A popular refrain from the "Inspired Fiction" folks is that The Book of Mormon has value even if it is entirely fictional, just like the parables of Jesus need not be literally historical in order to have value.  However, I disagree with this comparison.   Parables have value irrespective of their historicity, I agree with that. However, Jesus Christ being the Son of God and Savior of the world only has value because of the historicity tied up with that declaration. Historicity matters when we consider various scriptural passages, such as this one: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Absent historicity, this passage has no salvific meaning or value. Without historicity, Jesus would be just another admirable fictional character, like Atticus Finch, or Samwise Gamgee, or Captain America. Jesus would be about as valuable to me as an imaginary life preserver would be to a drowning man.

In his article "Joseph Smith and the Historicity of the Book of Mormon" (published in the above volume), Kent P. Jackson asks, "what credibility could any of these sources have if the book is not historical?"  He goes on (emphasis added):

  Quote

Can the Book of Mormon indeed be 'true,' in any sense, if it lies repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately regarding its own historicity? Can Joseph Smith be viewed with any level of credibility if he repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lied concerning the historicity of the book? Can we have any degree of confidence in what are presented as the words of God in the Doctrine and Covenants if they repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lie by asserting the historicity of the Book of Mormon? If the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, what possible cause would anyone have to accept anything of the work of Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints given the consistent assertions that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text that describes ancient events?" (Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, edited by Paul Y. Hoskisson, pp. 137-138.)

...
Consider the following remarks by Elder Oaks (emphasis added):

  Quote

Elder Oaks: "There is something strange about accepting the moral or religious content of a book while rejecting the truthfulness of its authors' declarations, predictions, and statements. This approach not only rejects the concepts of faith and revelation that the Book of Mormon explains and advocates, but it is also not even good scholarship. ... The argument that it makes no difference whether the Book of Mormon is fact or fable is surely a sibling to the argument that it makes no difference whether Jesus Christ ever lived." (Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, edited by Paul Y. Hoskisson, p. 244.)

I have yet to see the Inspired Fiction folks address this issue, which I believe is fatal to their proposal.  If The Book of Mormon can be rejected for what it claims to be, and instead construed as fiction, then so can Jesus Christ.

Again, the date jar described in the OP is only meaningful to me because of its antiquity.  Because I believe it is what my dad represents it to be.  Without that antiquity, it would have no particular meaning to me, except that it is evidence that my dad is a liar or a dupe.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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22 minutes ago, smac97 said:

As I see it, the only plausible explanation for these various "or not" alternatives is that Joseph Smith was A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked by unknown persons, or D) some combination of A-C.   Also, the Witnesses were likewise either A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked (by Joseph and/or others), or D) some combination of A-C. 

Joseph Smith and the Witnesses belonged to a larger visionary subculture with roots that went back to premodern and indeed pre-Christian Europe. Is it your position that all those who reported visions and supernatural encounters in those centuries were either accurately reporting real historical phenomena or were lying or mentally ill or duped?

  • Like 2
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5 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I disagree.  See here:

Again, the date jar described in the OP is only meaningful to me because of its antiquity.  Without that antiquity, it would have no particular meaning to me, except that it is evidence that my dad is a liar or a dupe.

Thanks,

-Smac

This is a different argument all together.  We are talking about the "authority of the church", not the "value of the Book of Mormon". 

The authority of the church is not derived from the Book of Mormon.  It might be evidenced in it, but not derived from it.  The authority of the church is derived from John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John via Jesus Christ.   If the Book of Mormon was never produced, it wouldn't affect our claim to authority.  It can still stand independent of the historicity of the Book of Mormon

Edited by pogi
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8 minutes ago, pogi said:

I do agree in the importance of the historicity of the Bible in establishing Church authority.  It is just as critical to our claims as it is to Catholic claims. 

The historicity of the Bible is directly tied to the authority of the LDS church as outlined in D&C 13 and 27.   The restoration and authority being derived from Jesus Christ through John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John.  We need the historicity of the New Testament to establish those characters and authority.  We don't need the Book of Mormon to establish the accounts in D&C 13 and 27.   

Okay, thanks for explaining.

Does that truly make the authority of the church independent from the historicity of the Book of Mormon? For instance, would there hypothetically be a point at which non-historicity of the Book of Mormon would impact the credibility of any other important church claims? 

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9 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

Okay, thanks for explaining.

Does that truly make the authority of the church independent from the historicity of the Book of Mormon? For instance, would there hypothetically be a point at which non-historicity of the Book of Mormon would impact the credibility of any other important church claims? 

I am speaking in terms of derivatives.  If none of the Characters in the Book of Mormon (the ones that don't exist in the Bible) ever existed.  If the plates were never unearthed.  If no translation ever happened.  If it was completely erased from history...the authority of the church would still stand.  You can't say the same with the Bible.  The authority of the church is directly linked to the historicity of the Bible.  The Book of Mormon may be evidence of that authority, but the authority is not derived from it. 

Edited by pogi
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Posted (edited)
15 minutes ago, pogi said:

This is a different argument all together.  We are talking about the "authority of the church", not the "value of the Book of Mormon". 

The authority of the church is not derived from the Book of Mormon. 

I think I'll have to disagree with you there.  Are we really able to go along with the idea that Joseph Smith lied, over and over and over, for years and years, about the theophanies and miracles pertaining to The Book of Mormon, but that we should take his claims about the theophanies pertaining to the restoration of the Priesthood at face value?  How does that make any kind of sense?

Quote

It might be evidenced in it, but not derived from it.  The authority of the church is derived from John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John via Jesus Christ.  

The only way we get to priesthood authority is if Joseph Smith was telling the truth about the theophanies pertaining thereto.

If Joseph Smith was an abject and pervasive liar about the Plates, the theophanies, the Witnesses, etc., his credibility is pretty much shot.

Why should I believe Joseph Smith when he said he was visited by John the Baptist (restoring the Aaronic Priesthood) and Peter, James and John (restoring the Melchizedek Priesthood), but then disbelieve Joseph Smith when he said he received multiple angelic visitations from Moroni, that he was directed to the location of the Plates, that he eventually took possession of these actual authentic artifacts, that he retained them in his possession, that they contained the records of ancient peoples, etc.?  

Why is Joseph Smith trustworthy as to the one set of miraculous events (restoration of the priesthood), but not trustworthy as to the other set (the origins of The Book of Mormon)?

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If the Book of Mormon was never produced, it wouldn't affect our claim to authority.

Yes, I think it would.  Consider these remarks by the men who carry that authority (emphases added) :

Quote

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
—President J. Reuben Clark

He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, Pages 188-189

Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [first] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley

“Each of us has to face the matter — either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley

“Well, it’s either true or false. If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that’s exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That’s our claim. That’s where we stand, and that’s where we fall, if we fall. But we don’t. We just stand secure in that faith.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley

“Let me quote a very powerful comment from President Ezra Taft Benson, who said, “The Book of Mormon is the keystone of [our] testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church

“…It sounds like a 'sudden death' proposition to me. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.

“Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from his lips, eventually receiving at his hands a set of ancient gold plates which he then translated according to the gift and power of God—or else he did not. And if he did not, in the spirit of President Benson’s comment, he is not entitled to retain even the reputation of New England folk hero or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, and he is not entitled to be considered a great teacher or a quintessential American prophet or the creator of great wisdom literature. If he lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he is certainly none of those.

I am suggesting that we make exactly that same kind of do-or-die, bold assertion about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. We have to. Reason and rightness require it. Accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and the book as the miraculously revealed and revered word of the Lord it is or else consign both man and book to Hades for the devastating deception of it all, but let’s not have any bizarre middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take—morally, literarily, historically, or theologically.”
—Jeffrey R. Holland, “True or False,” Liahona, June 1996

I think they are correct.

Quote

It can still stand independent of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Not according to the prophets.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I think I'll have to disagree with you there.  Are we really able to go along with the idea that Joseph Smith lied, over and over and over, for years and years, about the theophanies and miracles pertaining to The Book of Mormon, but that we should take his claims about the theophanies pertaining to the restoration of the Priesthood at face value?  How does that make any kind of sense?

The only way we get to priesthood authority is if Joseph Smith was telling the truth about the theophanies pertaining thereto.

If Joseph Smith was an abject and pervasive liar about the Plates, the theophanies, the Witnesses, etc., his credibility is pretty much shot.

Why should I believe Joseph Smith when he said he was visited by John the Baptist (restoring the Aaronic Priesthood) and Peter, James and John (restoring the Melchizedek Priesthood), but then disbelieve Joseph Smith when he said he received multiple angelic visitations from Moroni, that he was directed to the location of the Plates, that he eventually took possession of these actual authentic artifacts, that he retained them in his possession, that they contained the records of ancient peoples, etc.?  

Why is Joseph Smith trustworthy as to the one set of miraculous events (restoration of the priesthood), but not trustworthy as to the other set (the origins of The Book of Mormon)?

Yes, I think it would.  Consider these remarks by the men who carry that authority (emphases added) :

I think they are correct.

Not according to the prophets.

Thanks,

-Smac

Your argument presumes that the Book of Mormon must be historical or it cannot be the word of God.  I am not comfortable with that. 

I don't think it can be concluded that Joseph Smith was not a prophet if it is found that the Book of Mormon is the word of God but not historical.  If the Book of Mormon is the word of God but not historical, that would not affect our claim to authority, because our claim of authority is not derived from the historicity of the Book of Mormon.    

Edited by pogi
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5 minutes ago, pogi said:

I don't think it can be concluded that Joseph Smith was not a prophet if it is found that the Book of Mormon is the word of God but not historical.  If the Book of Mormon is the word of God but not historical, that would not affect our claim to authority, because our claim of authority is not derived from the historicity of the Book of Mormon.    

It would mean that EVERY SINGLE president of the Church from Joseph Smith to Russel M. Nelson was 100% dead wrong on the origins of the Book of Mormon.  Let the ramifications of that one sink if for a bit.

Edited by ttribe
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8 minutes ago, pogi said:

I am speaking in terms of derivatives.  If none of the Characters in the Book of Mormon (the ones that don't exist in the Bible) ever existed.  If the plates were never unearthed.  If no translation ever happened.  If it was completely erased from history...the authority of the church would still stand.  You can't say the same with the Bible.  The authority of the church is directly linked to the historicity of the Bible.  The Book of Mormon may be evidence of that authority, but the authority is not derived from it. 

Okay, that's interesting and I can see its appeal. However, I don't think the authority claims of the church can escape the relevance of The Book of Mormon's historicity, since both the existence of church claims and The Book of Mormon depend upon the same person and similar group of people. 

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21 minutes ago, Nevo said:
Quote

As I see it, the only plausible explanation for these various "or not" alternatives is that Joseph Smith was A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked by unknown persons, or D) some combination of A-C.   Also, the Witnesses were likewise either A) profoundly dishonest, B) profoundly mentally ill, C) profoundly tricked (by Joseph and/or others), or D) some combination of A-C. 

Joseph Smith and the Witnesses belonged to a larger visionary subculture with roots that went back to premodern and indeed pre-Christian Europe.

I invite you to watch this video from Book of Mormon CentralHere's the text:

Quote

The Know

The combined testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon provide powerful evidence of the Restoration.1 The Three Witnesses said they beheld the angel Moroni, who showed them the gold plates and other Nephite artifacts.2 They also heard a voice from heaven, declaring the truth of the Book of Mormon’s translation. In contrast, the Eight Witnesses viewed and handled the plates without any accompanying divine manifestations.3

Throughout their lives, none of these eleven men ever denied their testimonies, which have been published in every edition of the Book of Mormon since 1830. Despite the consistency of the witnesses’ testimonies, some have questioned the reality of their experiences—especially the vision shown to the Three Witnesses.

Warren Parrish, while apostatizing from the Church in 1838, claimed that Martin Harris “has come out at last, and says he never saw the plates … except in vision” (emphasis added).4 Stephen Burnett, another dissenter, similarly represented Harris as saying that the three witnesses only saw the plates “in vision or imagination” (emphasis added).5 And John Murphy once interpreted David Whitmer as saying that his testimony was based only on spiritual “impressions.”6 In these and other cases,7 individuals have chosen to emphasize the visionary nature of the Three Witnesses’ shared experience in a way that questions its actual occurrence in reality.8

The witnesses themselves, however, openly refuted such insinuations. Harris once declared, “No man ever heard me in any way deny … the administration of the angel that showed me the plates.”9 Whitmer likewise responded to Murphy’s statement by saying that what he had seen “was no Delusion” and that he had “never at any time, denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published” in the Book of Mormon.10

Questions about the reality of what the witnesses experienced must also be viewed in light of their other known statements. The following are just a sampling of affirmative declarations from the Three Witnesses, recorded at different times by various individuals, which emphasize the literalness and reality of their miraculous experience:

Oliver Cowdery

  • “It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, ascend out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye.”11

Martin Harris

  • “Just as sure as you see the Sun shining, Just as sure am I that I stood in [p.4] the presence of an Angel of God ... and saw him hold the Gold Plates in his Hands.”12
  • “Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.”13

David Whitmer

  • “I saw [the Nephite artifacts] just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life.”14
  • “I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears!”15

If the witnesses were so adamant about the literal reality of what they had seen, why did some of their contemporaries conclude that their experience was more imagined than real? It seems that this confusion is mostly due to differing assumptions about the nature of spiritual or visionary experiences. Apparently, some people have assumed that if an experience is spiritual in nature, then it is the same as imagination, hallucination, fantasy, and other less than real perceptions. The witnesses, on the other hand, held no such belief. In fact, their understanding of their own visionary experience is consistent with what the scriptures themselves say about such things.

Speaking of one man’s visionary ascent into heaven, the Apostle Paul declared, “whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell” (2 Corinthians 12:3). Mormon expressed similar language concerning Jesus’ disciples who were caught up into heaven. He explained, “And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God” (3 Nephi 28:15).16

It appears that in order to behold the angel Moroni in his resurrected glory, the Three Witnesses were similarly transfigured. This adequately explains the various reports that they saw the plates with their “spiritual eyes.”17 At the same time, it accounts for the witnesses’ insistence that their experience was as real as everyday visual sensations, like looking at sunlight, a bed, or one’s own hand. As Whitmer once clarified, “Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.”18

The Why

The Book of Mormon prophesies that God would call special witnesses to testify to its truth.19 The literal reality of their experiences is therefore no trivial thing. These divinely appointed witnesses help the Book of Mormon fulfill one of its primary purposes—to convince the world “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” (Title Page).20

When viewed collectively, the witnesses’ published testimonies are favored by “an overwhelming preponderance of evidence.”21 Each of the relevant first-hand statements from members of the Three and Eight Witnesses reaffirm their original statements.22 In addition, the majority of second-hand or hearsay accounts of the witnesses’ statements—from friends, critics, and neutral observers alike—also support the witnesses published testimonies.23

The hearsay reports that cast doubt on the reality of the witnesses’ experiences are, by far, in the minority. And, as has been demonstrated, the witnesses themselves sometimes went out of their way to correct such misrepresentations. As Richard L. Anderson put it, “The words of the witnesses do speak for themselves, after analysis clears away garbled versions of what somebody attributed to them.”24

It’s also important to recognize that the differences between the experiences of the Three and Eight Witnesses provide mutually reinforcing testimonial evidence. Those who wish to characterize the visionary experience of the Three Witnesses as mere “imagination” or “impressions” (like Parrish, Burnett, and Murphy did) must face that fact that eight men testified, under ordinary circumstances, that they saw the plates and were even allowed to handle and heft them. On the other hand, those who assume the plates were merely fabricated or were perhaps a genuine artifact with no spiritual value, must face the miraculous and unwavering testimonies of the Three Witnesses.25 Terryl L. Givens has explained,

Taken together, the two experiences seemed calculated to provide an evidentiary spectrum, satisfying a range of criteria for belief. The reality of the plates was now confirmed by both proclamation from heaven and by empirical observation, through a supernatural vision and by simple, tactile experience, by the testimony of passive witnesses to a divine demonstration and by the testimony of a group of men actively engaging in their own unhampered examination of the evidence.26

The historical evidence demonstrates that the witnesses themselves were convinced that their experiences were real—real enough to stake their very lives and reputations on them,27 real enough that they consistently reaffirmed their published testimonies throughout their lives, and real enough that several witnesses used their last days, and even their dying breaths, to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.28

Yet, as persuasive as the testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses may be, the Lord doesn’t ask anyone to solely rely upon them. The prophet Moroni promised that if those who read the Book of Mormon will sincerely ask God with “real intent, having faith in Christ,” the Lord will give them their own witness of its truth “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4).29 The testimonies of the witnesses are meant to strengthen, not replace, the spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon that is promised to all who sincerely seek it.

Also consider these 2012 remarks by Daniel Peterson:

Quote

Today’s attack on the Witnesses focuses, instead, on the alleged non-literalness of their experience. Dan Vogel is the principal source for this newly popular way of dismissing their testimony. For example, in his 2002 essay on "The Validity of the Witnesses' Testimonies," he attempts to discredit the witnesses by portraying them as alienated from empirical reality and as having merely imagined the plates of the Book of Mormon, or seen them in a subjective hallucination.

I’ve commented elsewhere on how bizarre it is to me that

Quote

the witnesses, a group of early nineteenth-century farmers who spent their lives rising at sunrise, pulling up stumps, clearing rocks, plowing fields, sowing seeds, carefully nurturing crops, raising livestock, milking cows, digging wells, building cabins, raising barns, harvesting their own food, bartering (in an often cashless economy) for what they could not produce themselves, wearing clothes made from plant fibers and skins, anxiously watching the seasons, and walking or riding animals out under the weather until they retired to their beds shortly after sunset in "a world lit only by fire," are being portrayed as estranged from everyday empirical reality by people whose lives, like mine, consist to a large extent of staring at computer and television screens in artificially air-conditioned and artificially lit homes and offices, clothed in synthetic fibers, commuting between the two in enclosed and air-conditioned mechanical vehicles while they listen to the radio, chat on their cell phones, and fiddle with their iPods—all of whose inner workings are largely mysterious to them—who buy their prepackaged food (with little or no regard for the time or the season) by means of plastic cards and electronic financial transfers from artificially illuminated and air-conditioned supermarkets enmeshed in international distribution networks of which they know virtually nothing, the rhythms of whose daily lives are largely unaffected by the rising and setting of the sun. 

 

I just can't get on board with the line of reasoning you are presenting here.

21 minutes ago, Nevo said:

Is it your position that all those who reported visions and supernatural encounters in those centuries were either accurately reporting real historical phenomena or were lying or mentally ill or duped?

I don't know what "visions and supernatural encounters" you are referencing here.

Some such reports were likely lies.  Some the result of mental illness.  Some the result of duplicity, coercion, drug-induced stupor, etc.

But could some historical visions have been actually true?  Yes, I believe so.  

Thanks,

-Smac

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6 minutes ago, ttribe said:

It would mean that EVERY SINGLE president of the Church from Joseph Smith to Russel M. Nelson was 100% dead wrong on the origins of the Book of Mormon.  Let ramifications of that one sink if for a bit.

The question is that of how our authority is derived.  It is not derived from the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  Period.  I am NOT arguing that it is not historical (I don't have a position there).  I am simply stating that if history never brought to light the Book of Mormon, out claim to authority could still stand with the accounts in the D&C.

Edited by pogi
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4 minutes ago, pogi said:

The question is that of how our authority is derived.  It is not derived from the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  Period.  I am NOT arguing that it is not historical (I don't have a position there).  I am simply stating that if history never brought to light the Book of Mormon, it would not affect our claim to authority.    

I understand what you are trying to argue, but I don't see evidence you've thought through what the hypothetical position you are allowing to exist actually means in terms of undermining the credibility of every single claim made by every alleged prophet to have led the Church.

ETA: In the interest of full disclosure, I DO have a position on this and believe there is insufficient evidence to support Book of Mormon historicity.

Edited by ttribe
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