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Musings Re: Historicity and the Book of Mormon


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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, Thinking said:

I have never been able to understand the "inspired fiction" concept of the Book of Mormon. It would mean that God allowed His church to believe something was true that wasn't.

I think God allows us to have a blinkered, finite perspective on things, with the idea that further light and knowledge will be provided.  "For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."  (2 Nephi 28:30)

However, I think that is a markedly different proposition from the idea forming the basis of the "Inspired Fiction" theory: that Joseph Smith lied (or was mentally insane, or duped) about everything - the First Vision, the theophanies with Moroni (and presumably every other vision/theophany as well), finding authentic ancient artifacts, taking possession of them, translating the Plates "by the gift and power of God," and so on.  Likewise, the Three Witnesses were either liars, lunatics or dupes.  And the Eight Witnesses, too.

The adverse ramifications of the "Inspired Fiction" theory on the truth claims of the Church are huge.  

Thanks,

-Smac

 

Edited by smac97
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51 minutes ago, smac97 said:

 The issue is whether it is a translation of an ancient record, or a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith (or a contemporary).

I think you are misframing the issue and setting up a false dichotomy.  To call it a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith does not give justice to or accurately describe the alternate view.   

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6 minutes ago, pogi said:
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 The issue is whether it is a translation of an ancient record, or a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith (or a contemporary).

I think you are misframing the issue and setting up a false dichotomy. 

I don't think so.  Joseph Smith "framed" The Book of Mormon as a translation of authentically ancient plates.  The Three Witnesses "framed" the issue that way.  The Eight Witnesses "framed" the issue of actual, physical plates.

6 minutes ago, pogi said:

To call it a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith does not give justice to or accurately describe the alternate view.   

I disagree.  I think it's both succinct and accurate.

Would "a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith through inspiration" be better?

Thanks,

-Smac

 

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7 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I don't think so.  Joseph Smith "framed" The Book of Mormon as a translation of authentically ancient plates.  The Three Witnesses "framed" the issue that way.  The Eight Witnesses "framed" the issue of actual, physical plates.

I am talking about the other claim.

8 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Would "a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith through inspiration" be better?

That is an improvement.  I would call it scripture - the inspired word of God revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith for our salvation.   Surely you can see the difference and why your description is a misleading misrepresentation:

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a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith (or a contemporary).

 

 

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2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Going back to the OP - I just want to point out something -

The Book of Mormon is a modern production. We know when it was first published. We understand it's language (and the history of that language). We can discuss its first readers. None of this is really in dispute by believers or non-believers (as far as I know). The historicity of the Book of Mormon, if we want to discuss such a concept, is that of the Book of Mormon as an artifact, with a well defined history, and with lots of early copies and manuscripts.

This is entirely different (and separate) from the question of whether or not the Book of Mormon was produced using an ancient source, and is in some way a translation of that ancient material. And for the most part, we cannot discuss the historicity of the source text of the Book of Mormon (assuming it is a translation from an ancient source) because (a) we don't have the source text (except for a couple of small potential fragments which are two small to have yielded any significant analysis so far), and (b) we have no ancient historical record that aligns with the contents of the text in a way that connects specific literary characters and places and events in the Book of Mormon to the historical record. What this means is that the issue with the Book of Mormon is entirely one of verisimilitude.

It is easy to make the inappropriate shift and claim that verisimilitude is somehow historicity. Perhaps a good analogy is something like the Book of Esther from the Old Testament. It is a fictional novel. But is in, in fact, a very ancient fictional novel. And so while the text has historicity (we have a history of the text-as-artifact within the historical record), the narrative that is the text has no historicity. But that narrative fits a certain historical context, it was written within an ancient context, and so it has very good verisimilitude. This was pointed out in a lengthy discussion by the Biblical scholar Adele Berlin who wrote:

On what grounds is a story to be judged fictional? Because it is easier to accept a patently unrealistic story, fictionality was sometimes determined by whether or not the events of the story could have happened or by whether the story seemed realistic. But to judge a story’s historicity by its degree of realism is to mistake verisimilitude for historicity. Verisimilitude is the literary term for the illusion of reality. Just because a story sounds real does not mean that it is. Realistic fiction is just as fictional as nonrealistic fiction. Among the leading arguments for Esther’s historicity are that its setting is authentic and that its knowledge of Persian custom is detailed and accurate. But this realistic background proves nothing about the historicity of the story, as our aforementioned commentators were well aware. (“The Book of Esther and Ancient Storytelling,” JBL, Vol. 120, No. 1)

While you could argue that there isn't any way that Joseph Smith could have produced realistic fiction in this way, that isn't my point. Believers who make this shift, who, to use the example here, compare the Book of Mormon to an ancient clay jar, make the Book of Mormon into something that it isn't. This doesn't help us understand the text.

Well said! And this sentence

"Verisimilitude is the literary term for the illusion of reality"

 is true of all literature, to some degree,  since word themselves are not capable of fully "representing reality".

In that sense every word spoken or written is "fictional" to some degree.

 

 

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56 minutes ago, smac97 said:

The adverse ramifications of the "Inspired Fiction" theory on the truth claims of the Church are huge

This is the point I was also trying to make to @pogi. The truth claims to many, many foundational elements of the Church are thoroughly undermined by the "Inspired Fiction" theory on the BoM.  On average, I'm hesitant to look at issues at their polar opposites with no middle ground, but I just can't get my head around a viable middle ground on this one.

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32 minutes ago, pogi said:

I think you are misframing the issue and setting up a false dichotomy.  To call it a fiction fabricated by Joseph Smith does not give justice to or accurately describe the alternate view.   

This succinctly says what I was trying to say in the other thread.  All I saw was false dichotomies and arguments based on setting up a straw man.

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7 hours ago, Meadowchik said:

So you have your perception of what God wants, and other people have theirs. 

I actually prefer the concept of people joining together and sharing their perceptions about God, communing, deciding what they believe in common, and even appointing their representative. There are churches like this that do not adopt the "one true church" model of authority.

Yet the LDS Church does adopt the model of the one true church, where The Book of Mormon is typically used to establish that authority.

I see no difference in meaning between your first sentence and your second sentence, here, and is what I have been saying all along.

People gather together and create their own authority, using their common agreement on their images or perceptions of reality, and yes one of those perceptions includes the ideas that they are right and others are wrong.

It's what I've been saying all along.

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10 minutes ago, ttribe said:

This is the point I was also trying to make to @pogi. The truth claims to many, many foundational elements of the Church are thoroughly undermined by the "Inspired Fiction" theory on the BoM.  On average, I'm hesitant to look at issues at their polar opposites with no middle ground, but I just can't get my head around a viable middle ground on this one.

The fact that you cannot get your head around it doesn't mean others can't.

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1 hour ago, Thinking said:

I have never been able to understand the "inspired fiction" concept of the Book of Mormon. It would mean that God allowed His church to believe something was true that wasn't.

Only if true and false are as clear as black and white and so is language.

Unfortunately that is not the case.

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23 minutes ago, ttribe said:

This is the point I was also trying to make to @pogi. The truth claims to many, many foundational elements of the Church are thoroughly undermined by the "Inspired Fiction" theory on the BoM.  On average, I'm hesitant to look at issues at their polar opposites with no middle ground, but I just can't get my head around a viable middle ground on this one.

I agree.  And yet Pogi and MF are talking about "false dichotomies," which rather suggests that they think there is a "middle ground" (between the dichotomous choices).

Elder Holland spoke of a "do-or-die, bold assertion about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ" that involves choosing

Option A ("{a}ccept{ing} Joseph Smith as a prophet and the book as the miraculously revealed and revered word of the Lord it is"), or else

Option B ("consign{ing} both man and book to Hades for the devastating deception of it all"). 

He then dismisses the idea of a "bizarre middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase," which he describes as "an unacceptable position to take—morally, literarily, historically, or theologically."

I am not sure if he had the "Inspired Fiction" specifically in mind, or if he instead was thinking of a constellation of "Option C" alternatives, one or some of which has evolved into the "Inspired Fiction" concept.

He continues:

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May I make it very clear where I stand regarding Joseph Smith, a stance taken because of the Book of Mormon. I testify out of the certainty of my soul that Joseph Smith entertained an angel and received at his hand an ancient set of gold plates. I testify of that as surely as if I had, with the three witnesses, seen the angel Moroni or, with the three and the eight witnesses, seen and handled the plates.

However, lest anyone be concered about Elder Holland pushing people out of the Church who are at variance with him on this, consider these remarks:

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“In this Church there is an enormous amount of room—and scriptural commandment—for studying and learning, for comparing and considering, for discussion and awaiting further revelation. We all learn ‘line upon line, precept upon precept,’ with the goal being authentic religious faith informing genuine Christlike living. In this there is no place for coercion or manipulation, no place for intimidation or hypocrisy.”

– Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Prayer for the Children,” Ensign, May 2003

And these (also from Elder Holland):

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I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to {the origins of the Book of Mormo}], who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: 'This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.' … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.”

As I have said previously (a number of times):

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Ambivalence about historicity is perhaps possible, but affirmative denial is, I think, not compatible with an enduring and efficacious testimony of The Book of Mormon.

I think those who seek salvation, but who reject the messengers who bring it, are in serious error.  Nevertheless, as deeply flawed as their position is, I welcome such persons who buy into the "inspired fiction" meme in fellowship in the Church.  We are all of us working to improve our understanding of God and His plans for us.  It is not for me to withdraw or withhold fellowship from those who differ from me on this issue.  I also won't speculate as to their standing in the Church generally, and will instead leave such things to those who are in authority and have proper stewardship.

And here:

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Yeah, we've been through this before, and I disagree.  I don't believe the BOM is historical and have absolutely no issues with those questions from the TR interview.

I acknowledge that, which is why I took pains to clarify that I limit my position on this issue to myself.

I would much rather have you in the Church and rejecting the historicity of The Book of Mormon than out of the Church.  I would also extend to you every measure of friendship and fellowship.

Thanks,

-Smac

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1 hour ago, Thinking said:

I have never been able to understand the "inspired fiction" concept of the Book of Mormon. It would mean that God allowed His church to believe something was true that wasn't.

The inspired fiction (can we please stop using that word fiction--it poisons the well) 19th century scripture view of the BOM usually is accompanied with other nuanced/liberal views of the Church where God is allowing human free agency and not directly managing things. For example, one might view the Church as a good church but not the "one and only true church".  I wouldn't say that's *always* the case for someone who takes the inspired 19th century scripture view but is more likely, I would guess. So, you have to view the entire paradigm shift to make sense of it. I agree that if one believes this is God's one true church and that God is very tightly managing things through the restoration and a modern prophet, that the inspired 19th century scripture view of the BOM doesn't make a ton of sense.

 

 

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9 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I agree.  And yet Pogi and MF are talking about "false dichotomies," which rather suggests that they think there is a "middle ground" (between the dichotomous choices).

No, by "false dichotomy" we are suggesting that the 2 dichotomous choices you present are not true dichotomous choices - hence the word "false".  A true dichotomy would include my description of the Book of Mormon as one of the dichotomous choices.  

9 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Elder Holland spoke of a "do-or-die, bold assertion about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ" that involves choosing

Option A ("{a}ccept{ing} Joseph Smith as a prophet and the book as the miraculously revealed and revered word of the Lord it is"), or else

Your false dichotomy is severely skewing your understanding of what we are saying and causing you to set up straw-man arguments.  Both MF and I fit nicely into option A.

Edited by pogi
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44 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

The fact that you cannot get your head around it doesn't mean others can't.

Perhaps I should have been more direct for the colloquialism impaired - In my opinion, having looked at the evidence and the context of the relevant doctrinal statements of Church leadership, I do not believe a viable middle ground exists on this issue.

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Posted (edited)
36 minutes ago, pogi said:

No, by "false dichotomy" we are suggesting that the 2 dichotomous choices you present are not true dichotomous choices - hence the word "false".  A true dichotomy would include my description of the Book of Mormon as one of the dichotomous choices.  

Your false dichotomy is severely skewing your understanding of what we are saying and causing you to set up straw-man arguments. 

I'm not sure about that.

Quote

Both MF and I fit nicely into option A.

I don't know where any particular individual fits. 

Meanwhile, I think the "Option A" described by Elder Holland comports with this: "May I make it very clear where I stand regarding Joseph Smith, a stance taken because of the Book of Mormon. I testify out of the certainty of my soul that Joseph Smith entertained an angel and received at his hand an ancient set of gold plates. I testify of that as surely as if I had, with the three witnesses, seen the angel Moroni or, with the three and the eight witnesses, seen and handled the plates."

I think that bolded part is part and parcel of Option A ("{a}ccept{ing} Joseph Smith as a prophet and the book as the miraculously revealed and revered word of the Lord it is").

John 6 keeps coming to mind...

Thanks,

-Smac

 

Edited by smac97
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17 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Meanwhile, I think the "Option A" described by Elder Holland comports with this:

Yes, but it also comports with the inspired fiction view too.

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Let me see if I get this.  Option A' has it that the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture but that ordinary readings of it as not a fable are incorrect.

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6 minutes ago, champatsch said:

Let me see if I get this.  Option A' has it that the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture but that ordinary readings of it as not a fable are incorrect.

I am still trying to figure out verisimilitude.

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20 minutes ago, champatsch said:

Let me see if I get this.  Option A' has it that the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture but that ordinary readings of it as not a fable historically based are incorrect.

Please don't poison the well. 

And to answer you, yes, I think that's what people in this thread are saying.

 

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50 minutes ago, pogi said:
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Meanwhile, I think the "Option A" described by Elder Holland comports with this:

Yes, but it also comports with the inspired fiction view too.

Only if Elder Holland's remarks are heavily decontextualized.  Heavily.

Thanks,

-Smac

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35 minutes ago, champatsch said:

Let me see if I get this.  Option A' has it that the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture but that ordinary readings of it as not a fable are incorrect.

No, not really.  I don't think Elder Holland would recognize or agree with that characterization of his remarks.  The best evidence of that is to read his remarks in context:

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Let me quote a very powerful comment from President Ezra Taft Benson: “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. But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true—and millions have now testified that they have the witness of the Spirit that it is indeed true—then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it.

“Yes, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion—the keystone of our testimony, the keystone of our doctrine, and the keystone in the witness of our Lord and Savior” (A Witness and a Warning, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988, page 19).

To hear someone so remarkable say something so tremendously bold, so overwhelming in its implications, that everything in the Church—everything—rises or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth, can be a little breathtaking. 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.

Not everything in life is so black and white, but it seems the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its keystone role in our belief is exactly that. 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 feel about this as C. S. Lewis once said about the divinity of Christ: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: [that is,] ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1960, pages 40–41).

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.

As the word of God has always been—and I testify again that is purely and simply and precisely what the Book of Mormon is—this record is “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow” (D&C 6:2). The Book of Mormon is that quick and that powerful for us. And it certainly is that sharp. Nothing in our history and nothing in our message cuts to the chase faster than our uncompromising declaration that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. On this issue we draw a line in the sand.

May I make it very clear where I stand regarding Joseph Smith, a stance taken because of the Book of Mormon. I testify out of the certainty of my soul that Joseph Smith entertained an angel and received at his hand an ancient set of gold plates. I testify of that as surely as if I had, with the three witnesses, seen the angel Moroni or, with the three and the eight witnesses, seen and handled the plates.

Thanks,

-Smac

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Posted (edited)
2 minutes ago, champatsch said:

Option A' (prime) is not Elder Holland.

I framed "Option A" as one of the two options postulated by Elder Holland.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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2 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

I see no difference in meaning between your first sentence and your second sentence, here, and is what I have been saying all along.

People gather together and create their own authority, using their common agreement on their images or perceptions of reality, and yes one of those perceptions includes the ideas that they are right and others are wrong.

It's what I've been saying all along.

I think I understand that, but that is not the One True Church model which the church endeavours to prove, which it tries to demonstrate with The Book of Mormon.

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