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Musings Re: Historicity and the Book of Mormon


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2 hours ago, ttribe said:

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.

Yeah, that's about the same as you said before. It's your belief vs others' beliefs, who do believe a middle ground exists.

Duly noted. You have no arguments, just a statement of your opinion. Thank you.

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It seems to me that the advocates of the Inspired Fiction/Inspired or Inspiring But Not Historical approach basically want to recognize the validity of LDS spiritual experience overall against their o

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 la

First, an image: 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: 2. Evidence of my

1 hour ago, champatsch said:

I don't think fable, a seemingly accurate, technical term, poisons the well.

Maybe you don't use it the way others use "fiction" in this case. Would you call the endowment video story a "fable" or "fiction"? The word you use for that is the same word I'd like people to use for the inspired non-historical view of the BOM. 

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1 hour ago, mfbukowski said:

Yeah, that's about the same as you said before. It's your belief vs others' beliefs, who do believe a middle ground exists.

Duly noted. You have no arguments, just a statement of your opinion. Thank you.

Yes.  I've stated my opinion that the middle ground is nonviable.  I did engage in some reasoning on the matter with pogi.  I find your reasoning far too esoteric to even warrant an argument, as you say.

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4 hours ago, champatsch said:

I don't think fable, a seemingly accurate, technical term, poisons the well.

Maybe "parable" would be better given the context.  "Fable" has baggage of being overly simplistic, childish, fantastical (think Aesop's Fables that uses animals to teach moral behaviour). 

Edited by Calm
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4 hours ago, ttribe said:

Yes.  I've stated my opinion that the middle ground is nonviable.  I did engage in some reasoning on the matter with pogi.  I find your reasoning far too esoteric to even warrant an argument, as you say.

At least I have some. If you find it too esoteric, that goes back to your original comment.

It is a widely accepted way of thinking among proponents  of secular religions.

Perhaps you should google that topic, so it becomes less "esoteric" to you

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10 hours 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.

Here is my middle group which will most likely please no one. The truth claims of the Church are indeed truth to those who believe, who have faith in them. That is different than insisting the truth claims of the church are absolute truth. There are many truths; there are very few absolute truths. Obviously, the truth claims are truth to the faithful member and I accept them as such.

I struggle because my LDS friends seem to not recognize the distinction between differing concepts of truth and that the opposite of one profound truth may be a completely different equally profound truth (Bohr). If I say to you all, "Today was the best day ever!" Is that not truth? It sure is for me. Of course the person who had a car wreck today might disagree. My reality (truth) is true, it is simply not absolutely true.

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3 minutes ago, Navidad said:

The truth claims of the Church are indeed truth to those who believe, who have faith in them. That is different than insisting the truth claims of the church as absolute truth. There are many truths; there are very few absolute truths. Obviously, the truth claims are truth to the faithful member and I accept them as such.

I struggle because my LDS friends seem to not recognize the distinction between differing concepts of truth   and that the opposite of one profound truth may be a profound truth as well (Bohr) . If I say to you all, "Today was the best day ever!" Is that not truth? It sure is for me. Of course the person who had a car wreck today might disagree. My reality (truth) is true, it is simply not absolutely true.

There is a fascinating talk by President Kimball on this subject in which he recognizes the difference between absolute and relative truth- and includes with it section 93

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29 Man was also in the abeginning with God. bIntelligence, or the clight of dtruth, was not ecreated or made, neither indeed can be.

30 All truth is independent in that asphere in which God has placed it, to bact for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

 

https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/spencer-w-kimball/absolute-truth/

This was a key scripture in my intellectual conversion, because I brought with me notions of "spheres of truth", or categories of truth and Wittgenstein's concept of "language games".  It was a perfect fit

Clearly history is one language game and spirituality quite another, at least clearly to me and others in this field of philosophy.   The two have different contexts of meaning.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_game_(philosophy)#:~:text=A language-game (German%3A,the “game” being played.

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Wittgenstein develops this discussion of games into the key notion of a language-game. Wittgenstein introduces the term using simple examples,[3] but intends it to be used for the many ways in which we use language.[4] The central component of language games is that they are uses of language, and language is used in multifarious ways. For example, in one language-game, a word might be used to stand for (or refer to) an object, but in another the same word might be used for giving orders, or for asking questions, and so on. The famous example is the meaning of the word "game". We speak of various kinds of games: board games, betting games, sports, "war games". These are all different uses of the word "games". Wittgenstein also gives the example of "Water!", which can be used as an exclamation, an order, a request, or an answer to a question. The meaning of the word depends on the language-game within which it is being used. Another way Wittgenstein puts the point is that the word "water" has no meaning apart from its use within a language-game. One might use the word as an order to have someone else bring you a glass of water. But it can also be used to warn someone that the water has been poisoned. One might even use the word as code by members of a secret society.

Wittgenstein does not limit the application of his concept of language games to word-meaning. He also applies it to sentence-meaning. For example, the sentence "Moses did not exist" (§79) can mean various things. Wittgenstein argues that independently of use the sentence does not yet 'say' anything. It is 'meaningless' in the sense of not being significant for a particular purpose. It only acquires significance if we fix it within some context of use. Thus, it fails to say anything because the sentence as such does not yet determine some particular use. The sentence is only meaningful when it is used to say something. For instance, it can be used so as to say that no person or historical figure fits the set of descriptions attributed to the person that goes by the name of "Moses". But it can also mean that the leader of the Israelites was not called Moses. Or that there cannot have been anyone who accomplished all that the Bible relates of Moses, etc. What the sentence means thus depends on its context of use.

The term ‘language-game’ is used to refer to:

Fictional examples of language use that are simpler than our own everyday language. (e.g. PI 2)

Simple uses of language with which children are first taught language (training in language).

Specific regions of our language with their own grammars and relations to other language-games.

All of a natural language seen as comprising a family of language-games.

These meanings are not separated from each other by sharp boundaries, but blend into one another (as suggested by the idea of family resemblance). The concept is based on the following analogy: The rules of language are analogous to the rules of games; thus saying something in a language is analogous to making a move in a game. The analogy between a language and a game demonstrates that words have meaning depending on the uses made of them in the various and multiform activities of human life. (The concept is not meant to suggest that there is anything trivial about language, or that language is "just a game".)

 

President Kimball- link above

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Experience in one field does not automatically create expertise in another field. Expertise in religion comes from personal righteousness and from revelation. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith: “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it” (D&C 93:30). A geologist who has discovered truths about the structure of the earth may be oblivious to the truths God has given us about the eternal nature of the family.

If I can only make clear this one thing, it will give us a basis on which to build. Man cannot discover God or his ways by mere mental processes. One must be governed by the laws which control the realm into which he is delving. To become a plumber, one must study the laws which govern plumbing. He must know stresses and strains; temperatures at which pipes will freeze; laws which govern steam, hot water, expansion, contraction, and so forth. One might know much about plumbing and be a complete failure in training children or getting along with men. One might be the best of bookkeepers and yet not know anything of electricity. One might know much about buying and selling groceries and be absolutely ignorant of bridge building.

One might be a great authority on the hydrogen bomb and yet know nothing of banking. One might be a noted theologian and yet be wholly untrained in watchmaking. One might be the author of the law of relativity and yet know nothing of the Creator who originated every law. I repeat, these are not matters of opinion. They are absolute truths. These truths are available to every soul.

 

 

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5 hours ago, Navidad said:

Here is my middle group which will most likely please no one. The truth claims of the Church are indeed truth to those who believe, who have faith in them. That is different than insisting the truth claims of the church are absolute truth. There are many truths; there are very few absolute truths. Obviously, the truth claims are truth to the faithful member and I accept them as such.

I struggle because my LDS friends seem to not recognize the distinction between differing concepts of truth and that the opposite of one profound truth may be a completely different equally profound truth (Bohr). If I say to you all, "Today was the best day ever!" Is that not truth? It sure is for me. Of course the person who had a car wreck today might disagree. My reality (truth) is true, it is simply not absolutely true.

I think those difficulties can be largely overcome with more precise and honest language:

"This was the best day ever for me!"

Thinking about what we say and how those words impact others is imo a worthwhile continuous endeavour.

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Smac writes:

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I disagree with both of the foregoing points.  I think we can discuss the historicity of the (putative) source text of The Book of Mormon even though "we don't have the source text."  I also don't think a corroborating "ancient historical record" is necessary to "discuss the historicity of the source text."

Ok. I am perfectly happy having this discussion. The first step, though, is to start with the text that we have, and determine what in that text is attributable to the translation, and what might be attributable to some original source. Have you ever done this with the Book of Mormon? Some of it should be quite obvious right? The use of the King James language is an artifact of translation (as opposed to some literal representation of an original source text). If we don't do this, it would be something akin to doing Biblical Studies using only the King James text, and asserting that the King James text is just as good as the original source texts, isn't it. Don't get me wrong, I have dabbled in proposing readings from an urtext for the Book of Mormon. But from your perspective, how does discussing the historicity of a potential source text of the Book of Mormon work? Can you discuss the historicity of a source text of the Book of Mormon without actually identifying the language that it is in? Or even more generally without identifying some of the characteristics or features of that language? Perhaps we could do this by arguing that the Book of Mormon must be a translation (as opposed to an original language composition), do we do this by identifying the features and artifacts created by the translation process?

For the second part, I think there is some fundamental misunderstanding you have about the notion of historicity. But, I will play along. What criteria do you propose that we should use for determining historicity? How do we decide whether something represents history or fiction? How do we decide the historicity of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament, or Moses as portrayed in the Old Testament? Or, in this case, Abinadi in the Book of Mormon? If we go back to the analogy you draw from the OP, we run into a problem. The Book of Mormon can be an artifact, just like the clay jar. But, the Book of Mormon is a 19th century production. And it isn't ancient. At best, it would be like us, trying to decide if the clay jar is authentic (and ancient) by looking only at the photograph that you provide (which as an artifact is quite recent, and easily to assess). If we want to evaluate your claims of historicity, wouldn't we naturally start by looking at other examples of ancient clay jars?

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You seem to be the one proposing this "inappropriate shift."

Of course I am. That's my point. There is this long-standing debate in New Testament studies about the historicity of the Gospel of John. It is perhaps best spelled out in the several volumes of the series John, Jesus, and History published by SBL. It is spelled out most completely in the second volume, titled Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel. ( https://books.google.com/books?id=-IhZCgAAQBAJ ). If we were take the sort of analysis we see there, and apply it to the Book of Mormon, how would the Book of Mormon fare? And how does your analogy stand up to broadly accepted methods of looking at historicity in Biblical Studies?

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This seems to put the cart before the horse.  Fiction v. Historical authenticity is the point at issue.

I am not sure what you are trying to say here.

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We can also look at extant evidence. 

Isn't this exactly what you suggested earlier wasn't necessary?   " I also don't think a corroborating 'ancient historical record' is necessary to 'discuss the historicity of the source text.' " If by extant evidence you are talking about evidence for the Book of Mormon, then that isn't any sort of evidence for its historicity, because the Book of Mormon is a modern production. What extant evidence exists for the text from which the Book of Mormon was produced?

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If the Book of Esther is fictional, its author could have been steeped in the milieu, and therefore could have included such authentic details in the (fictional) narrative.

I don't think Joseph Smith is similarly situated. 

The fictional Book of Esther is generally understood to have been authored as contemporary fiction (not as historical fiction). And this explains why it so closely matches conventions from the time it describes. I agree with you, the Joseph Smith isn't situated the same way with regard to the Book of Mormon and it's place as potential history. I said as much. However, I am simply pointing out that this is an argument for the Book of Mormon being verisimilar, and not an argument for the Book of Mormon's historicity. We don't want to confuse the two.

This has been a detoured way of getting to the point which is that your critique doesn't work well. Why? Because we determine that the Book of Esther is fiction by examining its historicity (looking at the historical record as opposed to simply asking if it is verisimilar). When you speak of historicity, it seems to me that you aren't actually examining historicity. And your OP doesn't actually distinguish in some way between what might have historicity and what might simply be verisimilar. You haven't really critiqued the inspired fiction approach from the perspective of historicity. That is all I am suggesting.

There may be other viable critiques.

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Thinking writes:

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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.

All evidence to contrary aside, right?

So let's see. How about this:

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Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else.

I think that we believe (and God allows us to believe) all sorts of things that aren't true. In theory, revelation doesn't move us from a point of falsity to a point of absolute truth and understanding. It simply moves us along a spectrum in which we move towards a better understanding and a greater enlightenment.

This isn't, by the way, a statement that I believe in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction. I am just not convinced that these arguments are effective rebuttals of that idea.

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mfbukowski writes

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"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.

I think that this sort of viewpoint is largely impractical though. If we view literature as a communicative act (which I do), then it's purpose is never to fully represent reality, but rather to act as the medium of communication (which it may achieve in varying degrees). I am more inclined to address the problems of representing reality through this lens, and engage the concept of authors as unreliable narrators (something that expands this notion of reality by placing it into an arena of a perception of reality).

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17 hours ago, champatsch said:

I don't think fable, a seemingly accurate, technical term, poisons the well.

But "fiction" is okay?

Thanks,

-Smac

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10 hours ago, Navidad said:

Here is my middle group which will most likely please no one. The truth claims of the Church are indeed truth to those who believe, who have faith in them. That is different than insisting the truth claims of the church are absolute truth. There are many truths; there are very few absolute truths. Obviously, the truth claims are truth to the faithful member and I accept them as such.

I appreciate the civil and diplomatic overtones of these remarks, but they just don't work for me.  I think here you are conflating "truth" with "opinion" or "perspective."

I cannot have a "truth" and you have a different, contradictory "truth" and both of us be correct.  We can have contradictory opinions, though.

I commented on this back in 2018:

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There is what we may call "Objective Truth," which I would generally define as follows:

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Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside a subject's individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met without biases caused by feelings, ideas, opinions, etc., of a sentient subject. A second, broader meaning of the term refers to the ability in any context to judge fairly, without partiality or external influence.

In other words, 2+2=4.  We live on planet which is spherical in shape (and oblate spheroid, to be precise).  James Stewart starred in It's a Wonderful Life.  These are all objective truths.  There is no room for principled or reasoned disagreement about such things.  They just are.

Now, coming back to the "speak your truth" phenomenon, consider this article critiquing Oprah Winfrey's recent utilization of this phrase:

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On Monday, as Oprah Winfrey’s stirring acceptance speech at the Golden Globes secured a place in the national conversation, Byron Tau of The Wall Street Journal tweeted, “Oprah employed a phrase that I’ve noticed a lot of other celebrity using these days: ‘your truth’ instead of ‘the truth.’ Why that phrasing?” He fretted that “your truth” undermines the idea of shared common facts.

Well, Garance Franke-Ruta replied, “sometimes you know something is real and happened and is wrong, even if the world says it’s just the way things are. It’s a call to activism rooted in the individual story, grounded in personal experience.”

Another Twitter user chimed in to add that, “it’s also a well-known tactic in building leadership in community organizing that allows people who are rarely heard to tell their story, learn that they are, in fact, not alone, connects individual experiences to systemic issues, and helps develop powerful public speakers.”

So is that all it is?  A coded "call to activism?"

Ben Shapiro responded to to Oprah's use of "your truth" as follows:

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There is no such thing as 'your truth.' There is the truth and your opinion.

 

I very much appreciate that we can have differences of opinions about the truth claims of the Church.  But the truthfulness of those claims does not vary based on the individual looking at them.  They are either true, or not true.  People who examine these claims can certainly come to differing conclusions about them, but some of those conclusions will, in the end, be valid, and contradicting ones will not.

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I struggle because my LDS friends seem to not recognize the distinction between differing concepts of truth and that the opposite of one profound truth may be a completely different equally profound truth (Bohr). If I say to you all, "Today was the best day ever!" Is that not truth? It sure is for me.

It's the subjective opinion of one person.  Consider the following two statements:

  • "James Stewart starred as George Bailey in the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life."
  • "John Wayne starred as George Bailey in the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life."

Can I point to the second sentence above and say "Is that not truth?  It sure is for me"?

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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On 6/24/2020 at 10:52 AM, smac97 said:

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").

On this criteria I am definitely an option A.

That is my personal belief.

But even if it was not my personal belief I still believe that it is one possible paradigm which is pretty much irrelevant to my testimony.

I accept the Book of Mormon as scripture. That is my unshakable testimony. But that is the only unshakable part of my testimony.

The question of the origins of the Book of Mormon however could be otherwise and it would still not shake my testimony of the Book of Mormon as scripture.

I believe that there were plates and all of the option A list as one possible way of explaining BOM origins, but that list is irrelevant to my spiritual testimony of it as scripture 

At the time of my conversion I had only read a few paragraphs of the Book of Mormon and realized that what it was saying was that God can confirm that it is scripture.

I already had my present opinions about the nature of text, the correspondence theory of Truth, and the fact that there is nothing in language that represents a reality outside of what we humans can perceive

I prayed with an earnest heart about whether or not the Book of Mormon was scripture and God verified to me in a way that I cannot explain that it was indeed scripture.

THAT is my testimony and I see no reason that Elder Holland's option A could not be the case, so I accept that as a belief but not as part of my testimony.

I have no problem in seeing it as a nineteenth-century production on the other hand.

Its Origins are irrelevant to my testimony that it is scripture.

Those are two different contexts and two different language games.

For me it's a bit like the old controversy about whether or not Shakespeare wrote what we know as the works of Shakespeare. Some people believed it was Bacon who wrote "Shakespeare."

To me the origins of who wrote the work was irrelevant to its obvious value as literary masterpieces.

So too with the Book of Mormon. Its origins are Irrelevant in my opinion to its value as scripture.

Apparently some folks think that holding those two views of the BOM are incompatible, but those people have not read their Wittgenstein and also accepted his paradigm (the same paradigm many today hold in the philosophy of language ) as "true".  :)

 

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11 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

On this criteria I am definitely an option A.

That is my personal belief.

But even if it was not my personal belief I still believe that it is one possible paradigm which is pretty much irrelevant to my testimony.

I accept the Book of Mormon as scripture. That is my unshakable testimony. But that is the only unshakable part of my testimony.

The question of the origins of the Book of Mormon however could be otherwise and it would still not shake my testimony of the Book of Mormon as scripture.

I believe that there were plates and all of the option A list as one possible way of explaining BOM origins, but that list is irrelevant to my spiritual testimony of it as scripture 

At the time of my conversion I had only read a few paragraphs of the Book of Mormon and realized that what it was saying was that God can confirm that it is scripture.

I already had my present opinions about the nature of text, the correspondence theory of Truth, and the fact that there is nothing in language that represents a reality outside of what we humans can perceive

I prayed with an earnest heart about whether or not the Book of Mormon was scripture and God verified to me in a way that I cannot explain that it was indeed scripture.

THAT is my testimony and I see no reason that Elder Holland's option A could not be the case, so I accept that as a belief but not as part of my testimony.

I have no problem in seeing it as a nineteenth-century production on the other hand.

Its Origins are irrelevant to my testimony that it is scripture.

Those are two different contexts and two different language games.

For me it's a bit like the old controversy about whether or not Shakespeare wrote what we know as the works of Shakespeare. Some people believed it was Bacon who wrote "Shakespeare."

To me the origins of who wrote the work was irrelevant to its obvious value as literary masterpieces.

So too with the Book of Mormon. Its origins are Irrelevant in my opinion to its value as scripture.

Apparently some folks think that holding those two views of the BOM are incompatible, but those people have not read their Wittgenstein and also accepted his paradigm (the same paradigm many today hold in the philosophy of language ) as "true".  :)

 

Thank you for sharing these thoughts.  I will take them into consideration.

Thanks,

-Smac

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Thank you for sharing these thoughts.  I will take them into consideration.

Thanks,

-Smac

How does one know the difference between a resurrected being acting as an "angel" vs a non- resurrected being acting as one?

How would one define "angel" and the phrase "appearance of gold"?

What would be all the potential interpretations for these terms?

Are Angels "supernatural" or do we believe that all things are "natural" and that even spirit is material ?

Do we believe in miracles as events outside of nature or simply as unexplained technology?  Does God obey natural laws?

Would the witnesses have been aware of these nuances?

They said what they said regardless of if it were lies or nuanced phraseology or true belief.  Interpret it the way you will but it still comes down to testimony.

There are so many ways to slice and dice this if one wants to that really the words become meaningless at some point.

You have folks like Taves who make the issue very complicated if you want to get into historicity.  You come up with a dozen theories and I can come up with two dozen alternate interpretations that fit the words. 

I guess I should have been a lawyer. ;)

That is why to me the discussion becomes irrelevant. The words are never going to match the reality no matter how hard you try. 

We see through a glass Darkly.

Either you have a testimony of the whole thing or you don't, either you make a commitment to the cause or you don't, and those kinds of decisions are based on internal gut level knowledge not words

So "take it into consideration" or don't.

The one consideration is testimony and that's it.

 

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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21 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

At least I have some. If you find it too esoteric, that goes back to your original comment.

It is a widely accepted way of thinking among proponents  of secular religions.

Perhaps you should google that topic, so it becomes less "esoteric" to you

You're doing it again, Mark. 

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15 hours ago, Meadowchik said:

I think those difficulties can be largely overcome with more precise and honest language:

"This was the best day ever for me!"

Thinking about what we say and how those words impact others is imo a worthwhile continuous endeavour.

I agree.  Then the faithful member of the church should declare "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church for me!" No one can then disagree with that statement. As it is now, some 98% or more of Christians in the world disagree with the generic statement that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church.

Edited by Navidad
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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

Smac writes:

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I disagree with both of the foregoing points.  I think we can discuss the historicity of the (putative) source text of The Book of Mormon even though "we don't have the source text."  I also don't think a corroborating "ancient historical record" is necessary to "discuss the historicity of the source text."

Ok. I am perfectly happy having this discussion.

Okay!

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The first step, though, is to start with the text that we have, and determine what in that text is attributable to the translation, and what might be attributable to some original source.

Okay.

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Have you ever done this with the Book of Mormon?

To some extent.  That is to say, I have read the work of others who have done so.

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Some of it should be quite obvious right? The use of the King James language is an artifact of translation (as opposed to some literal representation of an original source text).

Okay.  

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If we don't do this, it would be something akin to doing Biblical Studies using only the King James text, and asserting that the King James text is just as good as the original source texts, isn't it.

I'm not sure that's correct.

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Don't get me wrong, I have dabbled in proposing readings from an urtext for the Book of Mormon.

I'm not sure what you mean here.  

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But from your perspective, how does discussing the historicity of a potential source text of the Book of Mormon work?

I'm not sure what you are asking for here.  The "potential source text" in view would be the Gold Plates.  We can look at extant evidence pertaining to the Plates.  We can also look at the text's explanation for itself.  And Joseph Smith's narrative.  And the attestations of the Witnesses.  And textual evidences.  And so on.

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Can you discuss the historicity of a source text of the Book of Mormon without actually identifying the language that it is in?

The putative language of the source text is described in the translated text.  So I don't think we need to "discuss the historicity of a source text of the Book of Mormon without actually identifying the language that it is in."  We know some things about the language of the source text.

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Or even more generally without identifying some of the characteristics or features of that language?

Again, "some of the characteristics or features" of the language of the source text are described in the translated text.

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Perhaps we could do this by arguing that the Book of Mormon must be a translation (as opposed to an original language composition), do we do this by identifying the features and artifacts created by the translation process?

That's part of the process, yes.

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For the second part, I think there is some fundamental misunderstanding you have about the notion of historicity.

I'm pretty sure I have a decent grasp of the concept.  But I'm always willing to learn more, so I appreciate you taking time to interact with me.

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But, I will play along. What criteria do you propose that we should use for determining historicity?

Determining historicity of The Book of Mormon?  Read the text.  Ponder it.  Pray about it.  Read the narrative provided by Joseph Smith.  And the attestations of the Witnesses pertaining to the Plates.  And read relevant scholarship.  Look at FARMS.  JBMS.  FAIR.  Interpreter.  Books and articles.

In short, D&C 109 comes to mind: "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith."

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How do we decide whether something represents history or fiction?

Through study.  Analysis.  Discussion.  Evaluation of evidence.  Rinse, lather, repeat.

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How do we decide the historicity of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament, or Moses as portrayed in the Old Testament?

See above.  Still very much an exercise in faith, but there's more to it than that.  The Book of Mormon gives us a lot to chew on.

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Or, in this case, Abinadi in the Book of Mormon?

Again, see above.

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If we go back to the analogy you draw from the OP, we run into a problem. The Book of Mormon can be an artifact, just like the clay jar.

No, not "just like."  The comparison was between two otherwise dissimilar things.

And I think it would be more accurate to compare the clay jar not to the translated text of The Book of Mormon, but to the Gold Plates.

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But, the Book of Mormon is a 19th century production. And it isn't ancient.

Okay.  But according to Joseph Smith the Gold Plates were not a 19th century production.  They are ancient.

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At best, it would be like us, trying to decide if the clay jar is authentic (and ancient) by looking only at the photograph that you provide (which as an artifact is quite recent, and easily to assess).

I am not sure you are accurately summarizing what I said in the OP.  You will note that it contains a lot more than "only {} the photograph" of the clay jar.  I am not asking anyone to restrict their evaluation of the clay jar to the photograph alone.  I provided quite a bit of context and evidence as to its origins.

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If we want to evaluate your claims of historicity, wouldn't we naturally start by looking at other examples of ancient clay jars?

Well, sure.  If such competent probative evidence is available, have at it.

The clay jar could probably be subjected to further examination.  Is the material comprising the jar endemic to the area of Iraq described in the OP?  Is there any patina on it that could help establish its age?  Any residue on the interior that could be subjected to Carbon-14 dating?  Is its shape and design consistent with Neo Babylonian pottery?  Was anyone else with my father when he picked up the pieces of the jar?  If so, are these other people still around?  Do they have a recollection of visiting the ruins and watching my dad pick up the pieces?  Are they generally credible as witnesses?  What about my mom?  Can she attest to the "chain of custody" of the jar?

And so on.

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It is easy to make the inappropriate shift and claim that verisimilitude is somehow historicity.

You seem to be the one proposing this "inappropriate shift."

Of course I am. That's my point.

Well, it's a strange point.  You talk about an "shift" that involves "claim{ing} that verisimilitude is somehow historicity."  You then proceed to say that this shift is "inappropriate" and find fault with it.  Since I'm not joining you in that shift, your criticism of it seems like a straw man.

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There is this long-standing debate in New Testament studies about the historicity of the Gospel of John. It is perhaps best spelled out in the several volumes of the series John, Jesus, and History published by SBL. It is spelled out most completely in the second volume, titled Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel. ( https://books.google.com/books?id=-IhZCgAAQBAJ ). If we were take the sort of analysis we see there, and apply it to the Book of Mormon, how would the Book of Mormon fare?

I don't know.  I'd need to read the book.

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And how does your analogy stand up to broadly accepted methods of looking at historicity in Biblical Studies?

That's a fair question.  But "broadly accepted methods of looking at historicity in Biblical Studies" are not the definitive and exclusive means of "looking at historicity."

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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 seems to put the cart before the horse.  Fiction v. Historical authenticity is the point at issue.

I am not sure what you are trying to say here.

Your argument seems to presuppose The Book of Mormon is "fiction" (like the Book of Esther) rather than an account of actual historical events, historical persons, etc.  I am suggesting that this comparison doesn't work.  It presupposes that which has yet to be demonstrated.

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We can also look at extant evidence. 

Isn't this exactly what you suggested earlier wasn't necessary? 

No, I don't think so.

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"I also don't think a corroborating 'ancient historical record' is necessary to 'discuss the historicity of the source text.' "

Yes, I said that.  By "corroborating 'ancient historical record'" I had in mind records that are presently not available because they were not preserved from antiquity, or because they were deliberately destroyed in the conquests of the New World, or because the Nephite record was fairly unique, and so on.

We work with what we've got.  I think we can make significant headway on evaluating the historicity of The Book of Mormon without having "a corroborating 'ancient historical record.'"   

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If by extant evidence you are talking about evidence for the Book of Mormon, then that isn't any sort of evidence for its historicity, because the Book of Mormon is a modern production.

I'm not sure what you mean by "evidence for the Book of Mormon."

The Book of Mormon purports to be a modern translation of an ancient text.  We can examine evidences that tend to substantiate or rebut that purported explanation.

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What extant evidence exists for the text from which the Book of Mormon was produced?

Are you asking about the ancient text itself?  Or the Gold Plates generally?  

We have the explanation given by Joseph Smith.  We have a lot of historical information about Joseph Smith, which gives us a pretty good idea as to his familiarity, or lack thereof, with the ancient Near East, the putative locations/cultures in the New World, and so on.  We also have the statement of the Three Witnesses.  And the statement of the Eight Witnesses.  And we have the text itself, which offers all sorts of evidence worthy of examination.  

I am saying the text of The Book of Mormon must be accounted for (certainly something more than endless repetitions of "Don't know" and "Doesn't matter").  It came from somewhere.  Consider this statement by Hugh Nibley:

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“There is no point at all to the question: Who wrote the Book of Mormon? It would have been quite as impossible for the most learned man alive in 1830 to have written the book as it was for Joseph Smith. And whoever would account for the Book of Mormon by any theory suggested so far—save one—must completely rule out the first forty pages.”

And this one:

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The book itself declares that it is an authentic product of the Near East. It gives a full and circumstantial account of its own origin. It declares that it is but one of many, many such books that have been produced in the course of history and may be hidden in sundry places at this day. It places itself in about the middle of a long list of sacred writings, beginning with the patriarchs and continuing down to the end of human history. It cites now-lost prophetic writings of prime importance, giving the names of their authors. It traces its own cultural roots in all directions, emphasizing the immense breadth and complexity of such connections in the world. It belongs to the same class of literature as the Bible, but, along with a sharper and clearer statement of biblical teachings, contains a formidable mass of historical material unknown to biblical writers but well within the range of modern comparative study since it insists on deriving its whole cultural tradition, even in details, directly from a specific time and place in the Old World.

And this one (same link):

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It is a surprisingly big book, supplying quite enough rope for a charlatan to hang himself a hundred times. As the work of an imposter it must unavoidably bear all the marks of fraud. It should be poorly organized, shallow, artificial, patchy, and unoriginal. It should display a pretentious vocabulary (the Book of Mormon uses only 3,000 words), overdrawn stock characters, melodramatic situations, gaudy and overdone descriptions, and bombastic diction . . ..

Whether one believes its story or not, the severest critic of the Book of Mormon, if he reads it with care at all, must admit that it is the exact opposite. . . . It is carefully organized, specific, sober, factual, and perfectly consistent.

And this one (same link):

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It is rarely necessary to go any further than the document itself to find enough clues to condemn it, and if the text is a long one, and an historical document in the bargain, the absolute certainty of inner contradictions is enough to assure adequate testing. This makes the Book of Mormon preeminently testable, and we may list the following points on which ceretainty is obtainable.

1. The mere existence of the book is a powerful argument in favor of its authenticity.

2. In giving us a long book, the author forces us to concede that he is not playing tricks.

3. This writer never falls back on the accepted immunities of double meaning and religious interpretations in the manner of the Swedenborgians or the schoolmen. This refusal to claim any special privileges is an evidence of good faith.

4. Shysters may be diligent enough, in their way, but the object of their trickery is to avoid hard work, and this is not the sort of laborious task they give themselves.

5. Upon close examination all the many apparent contradictions in the Book of Mormon disappear. It passes the sure test of authenticity with flying colors.

6. The style is not that of anyone trying to write well. . . . Here is a book with all the elements of an intensely romantic adventure tale of far-away and long-ago, and the author turns down innumerable chances to please his public!

7. There are few plays on words, few rhetorical subtleties, no reveling in abstract terms, no excess of esoteric language or doctrine to require the trained interpreter.

8. Whoever wrote the book must have been a very intelligent and experienced person; yet such people in 1830 did not produce books with rudimentary vocabularies. This cannot be the work of any simple clown, but neither can it be that of an able and educated contemporary.

9. The extremely limited vocabulary suggests another piece of internal evidence to the reader. The Book of Mormon never makes any attempt to be clever.

10. Since it claims to be translated by divine power, the Book of Mormon also claims all the authority—and responsibility—of the original text. The author leaves himself no philological loopholes, though the book, stemming from a number of nations and languages, offers opportunity for many of them.

And this one (same link):

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Entirely apart from the contents of the Book of Mormon and the external evidences that might support it, there are certain circumstances attending its production which cannot be explained on grounds other than those given by Joseph Smith. These may be listed briefly:

1. There is the testimony of the witnesses.

2. The youth and inexperience of Joseph Smith at the time when he took full responsibility for the publication of the book—proof (a) that he could not have produced it himself and (b) that he was not acting for someone else, for his behavior at all times displayed independence.

3. The absence of notes and sources.

4. The short time of production.

5. The fact that there was only one version of the book ever published (with minor changes in each printing). This is most significant. It is now known that the Koran, the only book claiming an equal amount of divine inspiration and accuracy, was completely re-edited at least three times during the lifetime of Mohammed.

6. This brings up the unhesitating and unchanging position of Joseph Smith regarding his revelations. . . . From the day the Book of Mormon came from the press, Joseph Smith never ceased to spread it abroad, and he never changed his attitude towards it. What creative writer would not blush for the production of such youth and inexperience twenty years after? What imposter would not lie awake nights worrying about the slips and errors of this massive and pretentious product of his youthful indiscretion and roguery? Yet, since the Prophet was having revelations all along, nothing would have been easier, had he the slightest shadow of a misgiving, than to issue a new, revised, and improved edition, or to recall the book altogether, limit its circulation, claim it consisted of mysteries to be grasped by the . . . initiated alone, say it was to be interpreted only in a “religious” sense, or supersede it by something else. The Saints who believed the Prophet were the only ones who took the book seriously anyway.

7. There has never been any air of mystery about the Book of Mormon. There is no secrecy connected with it at the time of publication or today.

8. Finally, though the success of the book is not proof of its divinity, the type of people it has appealed to—sincere, simple, direct, highly unhysterical, and nonmystical—is circumstantial evidence for its honesty. It has very solid supporters. . . .

When one considers that any one of the above arguments makes it very hard to explain the Book of Mormon as a fraud, one wonders if a corresponding list of arguments against the book might not be produced. For such a list one waits with interest but in vain. At present the higher critics are scolding the Book of Mormon for not talking like the dean of a divinity school. We might as well admit it, the Victorian platitudes are simply not there.

And this one (same link):

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To the trained eye, every document of considerable length is bound to betray the real setting in which it was produced. This can be illustrated by something Martin Luther wrote two days before his death: “No man can understand the Bucolics and Georgics of Virgil who has not been a herdsman or farmer for at least five years. And no one can understand Cicero’s letters, I maintain, who has not been concerned with significant affairs of state for twenty years. And no one can get an adequate feeling for the Scriptures who has not guided religious communities by the prophets for a hundred years.”

What is the world of experiences and ideas that one finds behind the Book of Mormon? What is the real Sitz im Leben [milieu]? We can start with actual experiences, not merely ideas, but things of a strictly objective and therefore testable nature. For example, the book describes in considerable detail what is supposed to be a great earthquake somewhere in Central America, and another time it sets forth the particulars of ancient olive culture. Here are things we can check up on; but to do so we must go to sources made available by scholars long since the days of Joseph Smith. Where he could have learned all about major Central American earthquakes or the fine points of Mediterranean olive culture remains a question.

A lot more here.

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The fictional Book of Esther is generally understood to have been authored as contemporary fiction (not as historical fiction).

Right.  So the comparison of "the fictional Book of Esther" to the putatively historically authentic Book of Mormon would seem to have limited utility, since the comparison presupposes the main point at issue: the lack of historicity of the latter text.

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And this explains why it so closely matches conventions from the time it describes. I agree with you, the Joseph Smith isn't situated the same way with regard to the Book of Mormon and it's place as potential history. I said as much. However, I am simply pointing out that this is an argument for the Book of Mormon being verisimilar, and not an argument for the Book of Mormon's historicity. We don't want to confuse the two.

I'd like to better understand this point.  Joseph Smith lacked the capacity to write the text, and that's evidence of the text being fictional ('verisimilar")?  How so?

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This has been a detoured way of getting to the point which is that your critique doesn't work well. Why? Because we determine that the Book of Esther is fiction by examining its historicity (looking at the historical record as opposed to simply asking if it is verisimilar).

Okay.  So examine what the OP has to say about the jar's historicity.  I provided a picture.  I attested to holding it myself.  I provided evidence putting my father in the right place and in plausible circumstances to have acquired the jar (in pieces).

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When you speak of historicity, it seems to me that you aren't actually examining historicity.

Well, I think I am.

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And your OP doesn't actually distinguish in some way between what might have historicity and what might simply be verisimilar.

I would appreciate it you could expound upon that.  I provided evidence of the putative ancient origins of the pictured jar, with the idea of establishing a case for it being what my dad said it is.  I presented evidence with the objective of establishing historicity rather than it being a sham, a fabrication that only looks like an ancient jar, but in reality is not.

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You haven't really critiqued the inspired fiction approach from the perspective of historicity. That is all I am suggesting.

Okay.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
Link to post
3 hours ago, ttribe said:

You're doing it again, Mark. 

Yet again another brilliant rebuttal.

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Seems to me that the one who held the jar and heard the owner's/finder's testimony is differently situated from the one who reads about (or hears about) and prays about the authenticity of the jar and the manner of its discovery.

Qualitatively, they are in different universes.

The OP is Martin Harris to his father's Joseph.

And all the rest of us are what? Looking in that distorting mirror, seeing what we each see, but all seeking confirmation from the same source that we are dealing with a really real, really old Babylonian date jar.

And there really were and still are gold plates.  Somewhere.

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16 hours ago, mfbukowski said:
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Thank you for sharing these thoughts.  I will take them into consideration.

Thanks,

-Smac

How does one know the difference between a resurrected being acting as an "angel" vs a non- resurrected being acting as one?

The miraculous nature of the event.  The Spirit.  One's wits.

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How would one define "angel" and the phrase "appearance of gold"?

The dictionary.

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What would be all the potential interpretations for these terms?

Hard to say.

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Are Angels "supernatural" or do we believe that all things are "natural" and that even spirit is material ?

I've never really liked the term "supernatural," as I believe miraculous events are not violations of natural law, but rather higher manifestations of it.

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Do we believe in miracles as events outside of nature or simply as unexplained technology? 

I don't think either of these suffices.

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Does God obey natural laws?

I believe so, yes.

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Would the witnesses have been aware of these nuances?

I'm not sure "these nuances" are vital.

You seem to be  attempting to question (or outright disparage) the mental competency of the Witnesses.  If so, Daniel Peterson addressed such efforts here:

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Recently, the preferred method of disposing of the witnesses has been to suggest — quite falsely — that they never claimed to have literally seen or touched anything at all or to insinuate that they were primitive and superstitious fanatics who, unlike us sophisticated moderns, could scarcely distinguish reality from fantasy; honest they were, perhaps, but misguided.

It seems implausible, though, to assume that the witnesses, early nineteenth-century farmers who spent their lives rising at sunrise, pulling up stumps, clearing rocks, plowing fields, sowing seeds, making barrels, carefully nurturing crops, herding livestock, milking cows, digging wells, building cabins, raising barns, harvesting 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,” were estranged from everyday reality.

It’s especially unbelievable when the claim is made by people whose lives, like mine, consist to a large extent of staring at digital screens in artificially air-conditioned and lighted homes and offices, commuting between the two in enclosed and air-conditioned mechanical vehicles while listening to the radio, chatting on their cell phones, and fiddling with their iPods (whose inner workings are largely mysterious to them); people who are clothed in synthetic fibers and 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 and for whom the rhythms of their daily lives are largely unaffected by the rising and setting of the sun. Somehow, the current generation seems ill-positioned to accuse the witnesses’ generation of being out of touch with reality.

I think he raises some fair points.

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They said what they said regardless of if it were lies or nuanced phraseology or true belief. 

"They said what they said" seems to be a platitude or truism.  Like "It is what it is" or "If he were not dead, he would still be alive."  It doesn't tell us what anything we don't already know.

And I can't go along with the second part either ("regardless...").  In the search for truth, we must evaluate evidence.  In this particular instance, the statements of the Witnesses are evidence.  The probative weight of their testimony matters.  Their credibility matters.  The truthfulness or falsity of what they experienced and testified to matter.

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Interpret it the way you will but it still comes down to testimony.

Ultimately, yes.  But I don't think a testimony needs to be, or is supposed to be, blind.  We are supposed to examine these things, through study and effort and pondering and prayer.

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There are so many ways to slice and dice this if one wants to that really the words become meaningless at some point.

What you are describing sounds like reductionism.  Sophistry.  You seem to be declaring the Book of Mormon, the statements of the witnesses, as imponderables.  As things that cannot be examined or meaningfully evaluated.  I can't go along with that.

By way of illustration: Next Tuesday I will be participating in a one-day bench trial (no jury) regarding a real estate dispute (to be held via Webex because of COVID issues).  My client loaned money to a couple for the purchase of a fractional interest in a condo in Park City, Utah (they were one of eight sets of owners of the condo).  Years later, the couple stopped making payments on the loan and were foreclosed on.  The foreclosure sale did not yield enough money to fully pay off the loan, so my client (the bank) is pursuing a "deficiency action" against the couple to recover the outstanding balance as a money judgment.  The key factual issue at the trial will be the "fair market value" of the fractional interest.  The judge will award my client damages based on a calculation that requires the court to establish, using evidence presented at trial, the fair market value.

Now, if I were to show up at the trial and throw out a bunch of imponderables and truisms like "they said what they said" or "words become meaningless," I would lose the case.  I can't just show up and ask everyone to remain in a decision-less limbo forever.  The legal dispute needs to be resolved.  A decision has to be made.  Based on evidence.  So I will be calling an expert witness, an appraiser, who will explain his opinion of the "fair market value" of the property and how he arrived at that number.  His competency as a witness will be considered.  The validity of his appraisal will be scrutinized.  Evidence will be admitted and evaluated and weighed, and the judge will come to a decision.

The same general process, I think, can be utilized when considering the Book of Mormon.  It makes claims for itself.  Joseph Smith made claims about it.  So did the Witnesses.  So have all the subsequent prophets and apostles.  So is the Book of Mormon what it claims to be?  I think that question needs to be answered.  A decision has to be made.  Based on evidence.  The text.  The statements of Joseph Smith and the Witnesses.  Reading, pondering, praying.  The vital and essential evidence is cofirmation by the Spirit, but some real effort to study and examine will precede that.

Yes, the decision ultimately comes down to a confirmation by the Spirit that the Book of Mormon is "true," it is what it claims to be.  But I think we must "study it out" per D&C 9.  And in 2020, to the extent possible, I think we may want to "seek {} out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" per D&C 88:118.

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You have folks like Taves who make the issue very complicated if you want to get into historicity. 

Historicity need not be "very complicated."  I've understood the gist of the concept since childhood.  It's underlies the narrative taught by the Church.  Lehi and his family were not fictional characters, but were actual, flesh-and-blood people who lived in the Near East, who experienced many fascinating things, who migrated to the Americas, who had descendants that became factionalized, and some of whom kept records which were, much later, abridged onto a set of gold plates which were carried by their last custodian and eventually buried in a hill.  Many centuries later, Joseph Smith, through miraculous means, located and retrieved the plates and translated them "by the gift and power of God" to produce what we now call The Book of Mormon.  To buttress Joseph's account for the origins of the text, we have statements of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses.

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You come up with a dozen theories and I can come up with two dozen alternate interpretations that fit the words. 

I guess I should have been a lawyer. ;)

That is why to me the discussion becomes irrelevant. The words are never going to match the reality no matter how hard you try. 

With respect, I quite disagree.  

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We see through a glass Darkly.

And yet we are still exhorted to study and examine these things.

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Either you have a testimony of the whole thing or you don't,

Yet another truism.

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either you make a commitment to the cause or you don't,

And another.

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and those kinds of decisions are based on internal gut level knowledge not words

I strongly disagree.  We only arrive at "gut level knowledge" about the Restored Gospel by reading and studying and praying about "words."  The recorded writings of prophets and apostles.

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So "take it into consideration" or don't.

I said I would.

Still spoiling for a fight, eh?

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The one consideration is testimony and that's it.

Testimony is the result.  The destination.  How we reach it is through study, prayer, discussion, effort, and so on.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
  • Like 2
Link to post
12 hours ago, USU78 said:

Seems to me that the one who held the jar and heard the owner's/finder's testimony is differently situated from the one who reads about (or hears about) and prays about the authenticity of the jar and the manner of its discovery.

Qualitatively, they are in different universes.

The OP is Martin Harris to his father's Joseph.

And all the rest of us are what? Looking in that distorting mirror, seeing what we each see, but all seeking confirmation from the same source that we are dealing with a really real, really old Babylonian date jar.

And there really were and still are gold plates.  Somewhere.

In the Peabody Museum of Haaaarvard.

Link to post
4 hours ago, smac97 said:

The miraculous nature of the event.  The Spirit.  One's wits.

The dictionary.

Hard to say.

I've never really liked the term "supernatural," as I believe miraculous events are not violations of natural law, but rather higher manifestations of it.

I don't think either of these suffices.

I believe so, yes.

I'm not sure "these nuances" are vital.

You seem to be  attempting to question (or outright disparage) the mental competency of the Witnesses.  If so, Daniel Peterson addressed such efforts here:

I think he raises some fair points.

"They said what they said" seems to be a platitude or truism.  Like "It is what it is" or "If he were not dead, he would still be alive."  It doesn't tell us what anything we don't already know.

And I can't go along with the second part either ("regardless...").  In the search for truth, we must evaluate evidence.  In this particular instance, the statements of the Witnesses are evidence.  The probative weight of their testimony matters.  Their credibility matters.  The truthfulness or falsity of what they experienced and testified to matter.

Ultimately, yes.  But I don't think a testimony needs to be, or is supposed to be, blind.  We are supposed to examine these things, through study and effort and pondering and prayer.

What you are describing sounds like reductionism.  Sophistry.  You seem to be declaring the Book of Mormon, the statements of the witnesses, as imponderables.  As things that cannot be examined or meaningfully evaluated.  I can't go along with that.

By way of illustration: Next Tuesday I will be participating in a one-day bench trial (no jury) regarding a real estate dispute (to be held via Webex because of COVID issues).  My client loaned money to a couple for the purchase of a fractional interest in a condo in Park City, Utah (they were one of eight sets of owners of the condo).  Years later, the couple stopped making payments on the loan and were foreclosed on.  The foreclosure sale did not yield enough money to fully pay off the loan, so my client (the bank) is pursuing a "deficiency action" against the couple to recover the outstanding balance as a money judgment.  The key factual issue at the trial will be the "fair market value" of the fractional interest.  The judge will award my client damages based on a calculation that requires the court to establish, using evidence presented at trial, the fair market value.

Now, if I were to show up at the trial and throw out a bunch of imponderables and truisms like "they said what they said" or "words become meaningless," I would lose the case.  I can't just show up and ask everyone to remain in a decision-less limbo forever.  The legal dispute needs to be resolved.  A decision has to be made.  Based on evidence.  So I will be calling an expert witness, an appraiser, who will explain his opinion of the "fair market value" of the property and how he arrived at that number.  His competency as a witness will be considered.  The validity of his appraisal will be scrutinized.  Evidence will be admitted and evaluated and weighed, and the judge will come to a decision.

The same general process, I think, can be utilized when considering the Book of Mormon.  It makes claims for itself.  Joseph Smith made claims about it.  So did the Witnesses.  So have all the subsequent prophets and apostles.  So is the Book of Mormon what it claims to be?  I think that question needs to be answered.  A decision has to be made.  Based on evidence.  The text.  The statements of Joseph Smith and the Witnesses.  Reading, pondering, praying.  The vital and essential evidence is cofirmation by the Spirit, but some real effort to study and examine will precede that.

Yes, the decision ultimately comes down to a confirmation by the Spirit that the Book of Mormon is "true," it is what it claims to be.  But I think we must "study it out" per D&C 9.  And in 2020, to the extent possible, I think we may want to "seek {} out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" per D&C 88:118.

Historicity need not be "very complicated."  I've understood the gist of the concept since childhood.  It's underlies the narrative taught by the Church.  Lehi and his family were not fictional characters, but were actual, flesh-and-blood people who lived in the Near East, who experienced many fascinating things, who migrated to the Americas, who had descendants that became factionalized, and some of whom kept records which were, much later, abridged onto a set of gold plates which were carried by their last custodian and eventually buried in a hill.  Many centuries later, Joseph Smith, through miraculous means, located and retrieved the plates and translated them "by the gift and power of God" to produce what we now call The Book of Mormon.  To buttress Joseph's account for the origins of the text, we have statements of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses.

With respect, I quite disagree.  

And yet we are still exhorted to study and examine these things.

Yet another truism.

And another.

I strongly disagree.  We only arrive at "gut level knowledge" about the Restored Gospel by reading and studying and praying about "words."  The recorded writings of prophets and apostles.

I said I would.

Still spoiling for a fight, eh?

Testimony is the result.  The destination.  How we reach it is through study, prayer, discussion, effort, and so on.

Thanks,

-Smac

Yes, @ttribe told me I was doing the same thing, and he was right.

I may be thick skulled but eventually I learn.

You accuse me of sophistry, with this masterpiece in that genre?  I hope I never measure up to your genius.

Edited by mfbukowski
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