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Writing about the Book of Mormon as an environmentalist


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4 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

Beware.

This video may rot your brain.

What? Me worry?

😉  ;)

 

Not really. As I mentioned before, we're not all that far apart--we just take different approaches to get there.

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7 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

Joseph saw reality as being far more than this crude matter.

"Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." - Master Yoda

I am rather interested in this part of your work. We tend to get the image of Joseph Smith as a very down-to-earth rural American, and to be fair I do get that image from reading his writings: like he constantly lives on the border of a grubby pedestrian world and a rolling heavenscape. 

That said, it does seem to me that he believes the Book of Mormon was historical. Thus I have a hard time with the idea that he was conscious of his own substantial authorship. Then there is the whole Moroni and the plates thing to consider - at the end of the day I haven't seen your work but for now I retain my belief that the Book of Mormon is based on events in ancient America. How tightly the 19th-century translation correlates to those events is another matter.

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26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:
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Yes.  I was trying to be specific here.  I was speaking of my own perspective.

Oh, come on! You're a lawyer.

Writing on a message board about a non-legal topic.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

Surely you're aware of the principle nulla poena sine lege.

I am.  Not sure how this applies.  From the Handbook (the operative "law") :

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32.6.3.2

Apostasy

Issues of apostasy often have an impact beyond the boundaries of a ward or stake. They need to be addressed promptly to protect others.

The bishop counsels with the stake president if he feels that a member’s action may constitute apostasy. The bishop or stake president may place informal membership restrictions on the member (see 32.8.3). The stake president promptly counsels with the Area Presidency. However, only the stake president decides whether a membership council or other action is necessary.

As used here, apostasy refers to a member engaging in any of the following:

  • Repeatedly acting in clear and deliberate public opposition to the Church, its doctrine, its policies, or its leaders

  • Persisting in teaching as Church doctrine what is not Church doctrine after being corrected by the bishop or stake president

  • Showing a pattern of intentionally working to weaken the faith and activity of Church members

  • Continuing to follow the teachings of apostate sects after being corrected by the bishop or stake president

  • Formally joining another church and promoting its teachings (Total inactivity in the Church or attending another church does not by itself constitute apostasy. However, if a member formally joins another church and advocates its teachings, withdrawing his or her membership may be necessary.)

The Savior taught the Nephites that they should continue to minister to a person who has sinned. “But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people” (3 Nephi 18:31).

Again, the real-world consideration of such matters is better left to those with stewardship and authority (bishops and stake presidents), who address each case individually.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:
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I think what is is saying is materially distinguishable from what you are saying.

The bottom line is the same.

Not sure about that.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:
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I don't understand.  You are saying that you "keep those categories distinct."  I said that you seem to be equivocating.  So "You said it yourself" doesn't work here.

With respect, you are not "keep{ing} those categories distinct."  You are equivocating.  I illustrated my point about the "authenticity" of the purported Jackson Pollock painting as affecting its monetary value, and you responded by equivocating, by shifting to speaking of "authenticity" as pertaining to its artistic value ("Is it a good painting?").

Regarding the Book of Mormon, you have denied disputing the "authenticity" of the text in terms of it being authentically ancient, written and abridged by actual ancient authors, etc. ("Yes, I staked out a position on the text's origins/provenance/authorship (I said NOTHING about authenticity)..."), even though your essay is shot through with statements that explicitly do this:

...

 

You then equivocate, speaking of "authenticity" not in terms of origins/provenance/authorship, but about your personal spiritual experiences with it ("God speaks to me through it. That is all I need for it to be authentic.").

At this point, if you don't understand, there isn't anything else I can do to help you understand.

By "I don't understand," I meant I did not understand how you can say you "keep those categories distinct" when you have repeatedly equivocated about them.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

Authenticity in the personal spiritual experience is all that matters.

The equivocation continues.  With a bit of strawman added for good measure.

I have said nothing to oppose the notion of "personal spiritual experience."  None.  Zip.  Nada.  My comments about "authenticity" in terms of origins/provenance/authorship.  It is that "authenticity" that your approach seeks to refute or replace with a naturalistic/environmentalist approach.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:
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What you "require him to be" is the author of the text, something he never claimed.  Not once.  Ever.

What you also "require him to be" is profoundly mentally ill, incapable of differentiating between reality and delusion, for pretty much the entirety of his adult life (during which he represented the text as a translation of an ancient text, not something he himself wrote).  Your approach requires readers to disregard what Joseph Smith said as to the origins of the Book of Mormon because he was so profoundly mentally disturbed that he cannot be trusted.

I don't require him to be either.

Fine.  Your naturalistic/environmentalist approach to the Book of Mormon requires him to be the author of the text, and to be profoundly mentally ill.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

That is you reading something into what I said, but isn't actually there.

I understand your reticence in actually saying that Joseph Smith was mentally infirm throughout his adult life, but your "approach" requires either that explanation (or a variation of it, e.g., a "pious fraud") or the other (that he was a liar / malevolent fraud).

Joseph Smith's life is fairly well documented.  He spent his entire adult life describing the Book of Mormon in a way wholly incompatible with your "approach." 

Where your approach requires that Joseph wrote it, Joseph said he translated it "by the gift and power of God." 

Where your approach requires that Joseph formulated the text's characters, history, narrative, etc. himself, Joseph said he translated these data from gold plates. 

Where your approach says the Book of Mormon is a work of 19th-century fiction, Joseph said it was written by ancient record-keepers, some of whom he said literally visited and conversed with him in angelic/resurrected form.

Where your approach says there were no gold plates, Joseph said there were (as did the Witnesses).

Your approach requires Joseph did not go to a hill near his home, did not find a stone of considerable size, did not remove the earth from around its edges, did not use a lever to raise it up, and that he did not look in and see "the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate" in a stone box formed with "some kind of cement," and that he was not constrained by an angelic messenger from taking them out, and that he did not then receive instructions from the angel "come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates," and that he did not, three years later on September 22, 1827, take physical possessions of the non-existent plates or receive further instructions from the non-existent angel.  Joseph, however, said that he did do and experience these things.

Is this just a huge misunderstanding on my part?  Does your "approach" posit that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon but that it nevertheless is historical?  That Lehi and his descendants really existed, really did travel south from Jerusalem, across the Arabian peninsula, build a ship, sail across the sea, land somewhere in the Americas, etc.?

Or is it as I have surmised, namely, that your approach posits that the narrative is fictional?  That Lehi, etc. never existed?

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

I don't believe Joseph was profoundly mentally ill, or incapable of differentiating between reality and delusion--and I never said that.

Well, don't be coy, man!  Then how do you reconcile your approach with Joseph's narrative?  If Joseph said X, and you are asserting Not-X, and if X is neither the result of deceit or delusion, then of what is it the result?

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

I am trying to understand the evidence as best I can.

With respect, no, you are not.  You are sidestepping and ignoring huge portions of "the evidence."  Joseph Smith's statements (throughout the entirety of his adult life).  The Witnesses (same).  The plates (and other artifacts).

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

And the evidence as I see it points to two basic conclusions: 1) The Book of Mormon is more likely to be a modern work authored by Joseph, and 2) Joseph saw reality as being far more than this crude matter. Conclusion 2 is not the same thing as being profoundly mentally ill.

I'm sorry, but you seem to be sidestepping.  

You are rejecting Joseph Smith's explanation of the visitations from Moroni, the plates (and the breastplate, and the sword, and the U&T, and the Liahona), the translation, the text, his subsequent attestations and affirmation of these things throughout the remainder of his life, and so on.  I get that.  But you are not accounting for these things.  If the things Joseph said about the origins of the Book of Mormon were (A) not factually true/real, (B) not him lying, and (C) not him being mentally deluded, then that leaves us with (D) _________________________.  Could you fill in the blank?  How do you account for Joseph Smith's statements about the origins of the Book of Mormon?

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

The question I'm working out is how do 1 and 2 work together.  Granted this is still a work in progress and I haven't dotted all the is and crossed all the ts. Granted it might not deal with you think is necessary. Granted you probably still won't like the result.

I am as interested in discerning and pursuing "truth" as much as you are.  If your "approach" is correct, I want to know that.

I just don't think you can do this by sidestepping the evidence.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:

Granted you might think it still falls into the deluded category. But let's have no more of this replacing your opinion with what I am actually saying.

I think what you are saying is shot through with conclusory and unestablished statements, equivocations, evasions, and a persistent refusal to engage the most integral pieces of "evidence" on this issue.

26 minutes ago, tagriffy said:
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This is, I think, the tack taken by many who adopt a naturalistic/environmentalist approach to the Book of Mormon (you being the fortunate exception).  And frankly, I don't blame them.  As Kent P. Jackson noted:

I am aware of how self-conscious the Book of Mormon is of itself. It's part and parcel of the myth.

You are "aware" of it, but not accounting for it.  Or of Joseph Smith's statements.  Or of the Witness statements.

Thanks,

-Smac

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16 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

"Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." - Master Yoda

Cool! You caught the allusion!

16 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

I am rather interested in this part of your work. We tend to get the image of Joseph Smith as a very down-to-earth rural American, and to be fair I do get that image from reading his writings: like he constantly lives on the border of a grubby pedestrian world and a rolling heavenscape.

I've already hinted at a couple things:

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Consider a statement like this: "[I]f not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God" (Alma 42:22). Do you realize just a radical a statement that is? What? God himself has rules that he must follow? I'm surprised this statement alone didn't get Joseph killed!

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The Book of Mormon itself warns that "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God" (Title Page). This allows for the possibility that "wrong" in your terms could find its way into scripture. Note for this purpose this goes beyond the choice of how to put it in language... But this possibility does have an impact on the question of what scripture is. If we allow the possibility that "wrong" in your terms is in scripture, then scripture is not really a question of whether it is human or divine since it would in fact be both.

These have really radical implications--so radical that Joseph himself may not have been aware of them.

Or let's look at something is related what I'm working on right now. I am working on a response to a thesis criticizing the Book of Mormon for not mentioning David very much. Part of my answer has to do with the fact the Nephites moved to a more democratic form of government. And what Mosiah said about democracy has really radical implications.

But before we get to that, let's back up a bit. I don't think I need to make a big case here about how the Book of Mormon emphasizes free agency. And of course democratic forms of government are really the only types that affirm and depend on free agency to work. With this in mind, look at what Mosiah says:

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Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, which were given them by the hand of the Lord.

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law--to do your business by the voice of the people.

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29:25-27)

This statement is far more radical than it seems just on a surface reading. First, it entirely upends the prevailing biblical view of relationship between God and government. Paul gives the best summary of that view:

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Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Roman 13:1-2, NRSV)

So basically in a democracy, God is letting go. It isn't God that made Trump or Biden president. That's on us.

Second, democracy solves a problem that cuts right to the heart of free agency. Consider the destruction of Jerusalem. God institutes the Davidic monarchy, the sons of David screw it up, God brings in King Nebuchadnezzar to punish the nation. In a sense, this is all God's fault. Naturally, the exiles want to displace blame:

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The word of the LORD came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge"? As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. (Ezekiel 18:1-3, NRSV; note the parallel passage in Jeremiah 31:27-30)

This passage works well enough, insofar as it goes. That still doesn't really take care of the sense that individuals are caught up in forces that are beyond their control. It's fair to say that (relatively) innocent people got caught in the crossfire between God and the sons of David. So it is ultimately still on God. Ah, but in a democracy, things are different. If we are the ones who chose iniquity and disaster happens and we want to blame God, God can turn around and say, "Well, who did you vote for?"

16 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

That said, it does seem to me that he believes the Book of Mormon was historical. Thus I have a hard time with the idea that he was conscious of his own substantial authorship. Then there is the whole Moroni and the plates thing to consider - at the end of the day I haven't seen your work but for now I retain my belief that the Book of Mormon is based on events in ancient America. How tightly the 19th-century translation correlates to those events is another matter.

That's perfectly fine! One of the nice things about the mythic approach I am leaning heavily toward is that ultimately it doesn't matter whether the work is historical or modern. Myths are universal and beyond beyond space/time.

Edited by tagriffy
clarification
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5 hours ago, smac97 said:

What you "require him to be" is the author of the text, something he never claimed.  Not once.  Ever.

Well, there is this: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/book-of-mormon-1830/7

And this: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/copyright-for-book-of-mormon-11-june-1829/1

And this: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/book-of-mormon-1830/10

And Matthew L. Davis's report: "The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God" (Matthew Livingston Davis to Mary Davis, 6 February 1840, quoted in History of the Church, 4:78–80)

[Compare Oliver Cowdery's response to Cornelius Blatchly: "Your first inquiry was, whether it was proper to say, that Joseph Smith Jr., was the author? If I rightly understand the meaning of the word author, it is, the first beginner, or mover of any thing, or a writer. Now Joseph Smith Jr., certainly was the writer of the work, called the book of Mormon, which was written in ancient Egyptian characters,—which was a dead record to us until translated. And he, by a gift from God, has translated it into our language. Certainly he was the writer of it, and could be no less than the author" ("The New Bible," Gospel Luminary, 10 December 1829, reprinted in Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, 494).]

There's no question that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated an ancient record. But he also signed himself "The Author" in his preface to the 1830 Book of Mormon and didn't disclaim the label on other occasions. So it's not accurate to say that he never, not once, ever claimed to be the author of the text.

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5 hours ago, smac97 said:

The equivocation continues.  With a bit of strawman added for good measure.

I have said nothing to oppose the notion of "personal spiritual experience."  None.  Zip.  Nada.  My comments about "authenticity" in terms of origins/provenance/authorship.  It is that "authenticity" that your approach seeks to refute or replace with a naturalistic/environmentalist approach.

I get that. I can also see why you would call what I'm doing equivocation. I simply don't share the same mindset. In my mind, if authenticity in terms of personal spiritual experience is what truly matters, then authenticity in terms of origins/provenance/authorship fades to insignificance.

 

5 hours ago, smac97 said:

Is this just a huge misunderstanding on my part?  Does your "approach" posit that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon but that it nevertheless is historical?  That Lehi and his descendants really existed, really did travel south from Jerusalem, across the Arabian peninsula, build a ship, sail across the sea, land somewhere in the Americas, etc.?

Or is it as I have surmised, namely, that your approach posits that the narrative is fictional?  That Lehi, etc. never existed?

Yes.

5 hours ago, smac97 said:

Well, don't be coy, man!  Then how do you reconcile your approach with Joseph's narrative?  If Joseph said X, and you are asserting Not-X, and if X is neither the result of deceit or delusion, then of what is it the result?

Well, I already made a start towards answering that. There is no simple either-or, no matter how many ors you add to it. I may have threaded the needle as you put it, but that doesn't mean I can easily spell out how I did it--especially in a relatively short Internet board post. In fact, there are some ways in which I'm still trying work out very vocabulary to capture it adequately. And of course, in the end there are going to simply be some questions I can't answer. If so, then I'm quite willing to simply say, "I don't know."

5 hours ago, smac97 said:
6 hours ago, tagriffy said:

I am trying to understand the evidence as best I can.

With respect, no, you are not.  You are sidestepping and ignoring huge portions of "the evidence."  Joseph Smith's statements (throughout the entirety of his adult life).  The Witnesses (same).  The plates (and other artifacts).

Oh, nonsense. I am not ignoring any of those things. Certainly I admit to bracketing certain, but in those cases, I'm not even sure how it affects the interpretation of the Book of Mormon anyway.

5 hours ago, smac97 said:

I'm sorry, but you seem to be sidestepping.  

You are rejecting Joseph Smith's explanation of the visitations from Moroni, the plates (and the breastplate, and the sword, and the U&T, and the Liahona), the translation, the text, his subsequent attestations and affirmation of these things throughout the remainder of his life, and so on.  I get that.  But you are not accounting for these things.  If the things Joseph said about the origins of the Book of Mormon were (A) not factually true/real, (B) not him lying, and (C) not him being mentally deluded, then that leaves us with (D) _________________________.  Could you fill in the blank?  How do you account for Joseph Smith's statements about the origins of the Book of Mormon?

No, I am not rejecting Joseph's explanation. Again, that is you imposing something on me that I did not say.  Since I'm still working on filling in the blank, I obviously can't answer that now. The only thing I can say is that it can't be filled in with a word or short phase. Read the book if/when it comes out.

5 hours ago, smac97 said:

I think what you are saying is shot through with conclusory and unestablished statements, equivocations, evasions, and a persistent refusal to engage the most integral pieces of "evidence" on this issue.

The ones that are really the most integral or the ones you think are the most integral?

5 hours ago, smac97 said:

You are "aware" of it, but not accounting for it.

Actually, I did account for it when I said it was part and parcel of the myth. Jackson is quite correct--the Book of Mormon is very self-aware. Not only is it practically obsessed with its own origin, the narrators go out of their way to establish a chain of custody for the plates. Nephi passed the small plates on to Jacob, who passed them to Enos, and so on down the line. Likewise, Mormon also where the plates are going and when. If Hullinger is correct, Joseph was was basically trying to counter then-current arguments about the Bible, specifically skeptics questioning its origin and provenance. But then what does the Book of Mormon do? It subverts the entire ... uh, freaking thing! Mormon dies, and Moroni finishes out the record by telling the audience (that is, us) if we want to know if the record is true, pray about it. In the space of a couple verses, he makes all that obsession for nought.

Oh, and by they way, that points to one author for the entire Book of Mormon. I've never personally tried it, but from what I understand, engraving metal by hand is ... really hard. These characters were supposed to be writing about things that are expedient in God's wisdom to go forth to the modern audience (2 Ne. 3:19). It doesn't seem likely spend all that time and energy talking about how the plates came to be and establishing the chain of custody while also noting they couldn't record "the hundredth part" of their history, only to have all that work undermined by the final author. That's the sort of twist ending you would expect from an O. Henry or an M. Night Shyamalan! If Mormon really existed, I could see him watch Moroni finish the record, then turn to God and say, "Really?!?"

Edited by tagriffy
clarification
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8 hours ago, tagriffy said:

Not really. As I mentioned before, we're not all that far apart--we just take different approaches to get there.

Yes I agree.

There now are 5 or 6 hereabouts who are in the same ballpark, plus a few who are primarily lurkers. 

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8 hours ago, Nevo said:

[Compare Oliver Cowdery's response to Cornelius Blatchly: "Your first inquiry was, whether it was proper to say, that Joseph Smith Jr., was the author? If I rightly understand the meaning of the word author, it is, the first beginner, or mover of any thing, or a writer. Now Joseph Smith Jr., certainly was the writer of the work, called the book of Mormon, which was written in ancient Egyptian characters,—which was a dead record to us until translated. And he, by a gift from God, has translated it into our language. Certainly he was the writer of it, and could be no less than the author" ("The New Bible," Gospel Luminary, 10 December 1829, reprinted in Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, 494).]

I wouldn't take this quote to mean much in the way that you are using it. The book used the required copyright language. And when asked about how Joseph Smith could claim to be its author and to have been given the text by revelation, this was the response Cowdery gave. In this way, it is perhaps the earliest apologetic argument - and Cowdery provides a dictionary definition (this is from the 1798 Johnson's dictionary, which is, in my opinion, likely the one that Cowdery used for his answer.

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 1. The first beginner or mover of any thing; he to whom any thing owes its original.

2. The efficient; he that effects or produces any thing.

3. The first writer of any thing; distinct from the translator or compiler.

4. A writer in general.

So ...

8 hours ago, Nevo said:

There's no question that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated an ancient record. But he also signed himself "The Author" in his preface to the 1830 Book of Mormon and didn't disclaim the label on other occasions. So it's not accurate to say that he never, not once, ever claimed to be the author of the text.

While not disagreeing with this, I want to point out that, at least semantically, there is a difference between smac97's use of the term and Cowdery's. In general, we give that third definition a bit more weight today (even if we shouldn't) that distinguishes being a translator from being an author. The notion of authorship (especially in connection with copyright) had far more importance in the early 19th century than it does today - distinct authorship is no longer a per-requisite for copyright (especially with the introduction and widespread use of autonomous writing tools). My favorite historical discussion of this issue is the lawsuit over the Urantia book.

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9 hours ago, tagriffy said:
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You are sidestepping and ignoring huge portions of "the evidence."  Joseph Smith's statements (throughout the entirety of his adult life).  The Witnesses (same).  The plates (and other artifacts).

Oh, nonsense. I am not ignoring any of those things.

Yes, you are.  That's what "bracketing" does.  Not that this is per se problematic.  From Stephen Smoot's The Imperative for a Historical Book of Mormon:

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Although he approaches the Book of Mormon from a literary perspective, and brackets the question of the book’s historicity in his study for the sake of maintaining the aim of his literary analysis (a perfectly legitimate and fruitful undertaking so long as one acknowledges from the start what one is doing, and thereby does not allow a literary analysis to overshadow its doctrine or historical claims), he nevertheless sums up perfectly the predicament faced by any reader of the book.

Joseph and his associates insisted from the beginning that the Book of Mormon was a translation from an authentic ancient document written in “Reformed Egyptian” on metal plates and buried by the last ancient author about AD 421. . . . The strong historical assertions of the book seem to allow for only three possible origins: as a miraculously translated historical document, as a fraud (perhaps a pious one) written by Joseph Smith, or as a delusion (perhaps sincerely believed) that originated in Smith’s subconscious.6

Paul Hoskisson points to another specific reason for insisting on the importance of the historicity of the Book of Mormon (as well as other scripture):

If God expects us in the time and space of this world to submit to ordinances and other physical requirements, then the scriptural passages which exemplify and instruct us concerning those actions must be historical.7

These and similar observations, as well as a careful look at the statements made by Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon itself, have lead me to the following conclusion: the historicity of the Book of Mormon is an imperative for Mormonism. The book not only must be read as history, but also must actually be history for it to carry meaningful theological legitimacy—that is, a real meaning for the faithful Latter-day Saint.

And from the "Comments" section:

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Right, but there’s a difference. Hardy is bracketing the historicity of the Book of Mormon for the sake of his literary analysis. He does this because he thinks that there are appropriate academic situations in which it is necessary to do such. I’m totally fine with this, as I said in my article. There are times when it is necessary to bracket the Book of Mormon’s historicity.

However, Hardy’s urge to bracket historicity for the sake of certain academic ventures, like literary criticism of the Book of Mormon, is not the same as totally rejecting historicity, and then still maintaining that somehow Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is still “inspired.”

So, to reiterate: I am not opposed to bracketing historicity to maintain certain academic approaches to the Book of Mormon (although I am weary of going overboard with bracketing, but that’s another issue). What I am opposed to is the Inspired Fiction theory, which is not the same thing.

And here:

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“This is not an accurate representation of Hardy’s position. He brackets the historicity debate precisely to demonstrate that there is much value in the book regardless of whether or not one accepts its historicity.”

But this is still not the same as what proponents (including those discussed in my paper) of the Inspired Fiction theory are doing or saying. Like I said, Hardy is bracketing historicity for academic purposes. He never explicitly denies historicity. Proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory are totally denying historicity for ideological or theological constructions. The difference is Hardy is saying, “Let’s forego the question of historicity for the sake of literary or narrative criticism of the Book of Mormon.” He’s also saying that, as literature, the Book of Mormon can be read as fiction and still be engaging. The proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory are saying, “Let’s entirely reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon once and for all and just read it as inspired, fictional scripture from here on out.” I do not have a problem with the former, but I have major problems with the latter. So the two are not the same, and I still insist that I am not misusing Hardy. My brief quote from his introduction speaks for itself.

(Emphases added.)

See also this (apparently subsequent and revised) version of the above article:

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The Book of Mormon’s origins being wrapped up with claims of angels and gold plates and seer stones and ancient Israelites sailing to the New World exacerbates an already uncomfortable situation for those who “want to salvage Joseph Smith’s prophetic role … by avoiding what they see as the embarrassing ramifications of his naked prose or the fragility of the book’s historical claims.” But why precisely have historians attempting secular approaches to Latter-day Saint history been so “hard pressed to devise nonliteral readings” of the Book of Mormon? Whence this discomfort? The answer is obvious: “Joseph’s prophetic writings [are] grounded in artifactual reality, not the world of psychic meanderings. It is hard to allegorize — and profoundly presumptuous to edit down — a sacred record that purports to be a transcription of tangible records hand-delivered by an angel.”3

Even scholars who bracket Book of Mormon historicity, such as Grant Hardy in his de-historicized literary analysis of the text, have acknowledged this.

Joseph and his associates insisted from the beginning that the Book of Mormon was a translation from an authentic ancient document written in “Reformed Egyptian” on metal plates and buried by the last ancient author about ad 421. … The strong historical assertions of the book seem to allow for only three possible origins: as a miraculously translated historical document, as a fraud (perhaps a pious one) written by Joseph Smith, or as a delusion (perhaps sincerely believed) that originated in Smith’s subconscious.4

An honest reckoning of the claims made by Joseph Smith, to say nothing of the Book of Mormon itself, leads to an inescapable conclusion which I shall argue for in the following pages of this article: the historicity of the Book of Mormon is an imperative for the legitimacy of Mormonism as a theological, moral, and metaphysical system. The book not only must be chiefly read as a sacred history of God’s dealings with a remnant of the house of Israel in ancient America but must also actually be such a history for it to carry any meaningful theological and moral legitimacy.

Hardy likewise seems to have subsequently recognized the ramifications of "bracketing":

Quote

Non-Mormons may be interested in what adherents might see in this odd, sometimes opaque new American scripture, while Latter-day Saints can benefit from outsiders’ perspectives and insights. The trick is to keep both sides talking without the conversation devolving into accusations of fraud and gullibility on the one hand, or persecution and spiritual blindness on the other.

I settled on two tactics. The first was to put aside any direct discussions of historicity. In the preface to Understanding, I spoke of “bracketing” the issue, but in retrospect that word is not quite right. Obviously, one’s opinion as to whether the Book of Mormon is an ancient text or a product of the nineteenth century will have great bearing on possible interpretations. So what I actually did was flip back and forth between the two perspectives. I identify some feature of the text that needs explanation and then I say: From a believer’s point of view, it might look like this; but if taken as a work of fiction, this other hypothesis might make more sense. I tried to give space for both belief and disbelief...

Hardy seems to understand and acknowledge the ramifications of the central premise of approaches such as yours, namely, that rejecting historicity "will have great bearing on possible interpretations," such that "bracketing" historicity is needed to allow Hardy to "flip back and forth" between what he terms (generally correctly, I think) "a believer's point of view" (which presupposes that "the Book of Mormon is an ancient text") versus the perspective presupposing that the text is "a work of fiction" (which is, as you note in your essay, "{the traditional} position taken by anti-Mormons and used to attack Mormonism").

Your treatment does not acknowledge what Hardy does here.  Instead, you have repeatedly declared that the issue (as Hardy put it, "whether the Book of Mormon is an ancient text or a product of the nineteenth century") is "irrelevant" (see, e.g., here). And when I ask how historicity is irrelevant when rejecting it is the central premise of your entire approach, you state that you are just following the "evidence."  And when I point to evidences such as Joseph Smith's various statements as to origins/provenance/authorship and attributing "authenticity" to the text (namely, that he translated a preexisting ancient record), you deny disputing Joseph Smith (see, e.g., here (I'm not disputing the authenticity of the text. It's authentically the word of God.")).  And when I press you on "authenticity" (as to origins/provenance/authorship of the text), you equivocate by reframing "authenticity" to refer to your personal spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon ("God speaks to me through it. That is all I need for it to be authentic.").  

See also these comments from Benjamin Park:

Quote

Perhaps the first sign of how this volume’s approach is different from previous work is its choice to italicize The Book of Mormon. In general, when authors write about texts that are considered sacred, especially scripture like the Bible or the Quran, the titles are not in italics. (Note how this review [pgs 136-137] criticized Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling for failing to do this.) But Fenton and Hickman say they decided to italicize the title in order “to remain as neutral as possible” regarding the book’s truth claims, and instead approach it just as any other “long work of verse or prose.” As literature, then. Other methodological tools are similarly invoked to buttress this attempt to avoid what they call a “hermeneutical dualism,” either drawing from religious studies (“bracketing” truth questions) or literary theory (“surface reading” of texts).

But, as Fenton and Hickman quickly add, the question of historicity is never too far from the text. That’s because, they demonstrate, the Book of Mormon is “self-consciously and committedly anachronistic” in how it claims to be from the past but clearly speaks to the present. In other words, the book itself asks to be read as a nineteenth-century text, because in many instances its authors explicitly say that is their intended audience. Placing the Book of Mormon within antebellum culture, then, is taking Mormon at his word.

Not all authors agree with this approach, however. In R. John William’s chapter, he argues that it is impossible to bracket off the Book of Mormon’s authorship questions, as how one views the construction of the text shapes how one interprets the text. For example, if a scholar were to believe that Joseph Smith wrote the book himself, then it fundamentally changes how they were to view the portions that replaced the “lost 116 pages.”[1] Williams uses Melville’s Moby **** as an example for how literary scholars have recently emphasized context can never be divested from text[2]—and it’s a compelling argument, one that sharply differs from the methodology outlined in Fenton and Hickman’s introduction. But such diversity of opinion is a strength, not a weakness, of the volume.

And Michael Austin here (also commenting on Williams) :

Quote

Though it fits uncomfortably into the section’s theme of material culture, R. John Williams’s “The Ghost and the Machine: Plates and Paratext in The Book of Mormon” may well turn out to be the most important essay in the volume. Williams explicitly challenges the critical maneuver known as “bracketing,” or holding questions about the origins and truth claims of the text in abeyance while discussing less controversial (or, at least, less offensive) things. Bracketing has allowed a generation of practicing Latter-day Saints to talk about the Book of Mormon in scholarly venues without having to take positions that would alienate either their fellow scholars or their fellow saints. This move has made a number of intellectually stimulating readings of the Book of Mormon possible by removing obstacles to critical inquiry that some Mormon scholars find insuperable. But, Williams argues, it is ultimately impossible to bracket these kinds of questions in any text. And it is critically irresponsible to study the Book of Mormon this way because the bracketed items are precisely the questions that make it worth studying in the first place.

(Emphasis added.)

And James Olsen's comments here (also discussing Hardy's "bracketing" approach) :

Quote

As noted in previous T&S reviews, Hardy’s “goal is not to move readers from one side to the other” of the historicity debate, but rather to bracket that debate and instead “provide a way in which they can speak across religious boundaries and discuss a remarkable text with some degree of rigor and insight (27).” As also noted in earlier reviews, this bracketing is something with inherent difficulties. A growing consensus seems to be that 1) the book is wonderful for those on the “inside” of Mormonism; but 2) it fails in its attempt to deliver universally-interesting-textual-insights to an “external” audience. In other words, the strategy of historicity bracketing fails.

There’s a great irony here. Within our hyperpolarized environment (hyper because of the high stakes involved – rational credibility or sanity and eternal salvation), it is precisely Hardy’s bracketing the historicity debate that’s bound to get the attention. At least for now, I think that Hardy’s book – a book dedicated to getting folks who are distracted from the actual text of the Book of Mormon (focused instead on the external aspect of historicity) – is a book whose own text is destined to be largely ignored or at least play second fiddle, while folks are distracted by a much more sexy but analogously external aspect: its bracketing of historicity (and whether or not it works). That is, Hardy’s bracketing of the historicity of the Book of Mormon in order to focus on the text of the Book of Mormon ends up distracting his readership from that text. Ultimately, I’m optimistic that folks of all stripes will read and appreciate Hardy’s own text (and likewise that of the Book of Mormon), but even in my own review I can’t resist focusing on this very conspicuous side feature.
...
All of this, in my mind, casts a bit of doubt on how tightly we can bracket historicity. Not because I think it misguided or doomed to failure, and certainly not because I’m in favor of our intractable debates that keep us from closely examining the text (or the “essential perspective” Hardy refers to) and keeps us from real dialogue with “external” interlocutors. Rather, I’m hesitant here because I think that the phenomenon of Mormonism has history and historicity as constitutive features.

(Emphasis added.)

Hamblin critiques bracketing here (in 

Quote

There is a lot of talk among Mormon scholars about bracketing truth claims regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  This immediately leads to the question: why would one want to bracket truth claims?  The answer is generally that we can understand a particular part of Mormonism better by bracketing truth claims about other parts of Mormonism.
...
Although in our post modern age it may seem passé, to me the purpose of both religion and the academy is precisely to discover and understand truth, not to bracket it.  Our quest should be for the good, the true, the beautiful, and the holy.  If we bracket truth claims about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, for example, I believe many elements of the text become less comprehensible, and, indeed will become misunderstood.  Furthermore, it give non-Mormons a distorted view of what Mormons really believe.  Mormon truth claims are central to the nature of Mormonism and the beliefs of individual Mormons.  Bracketing or ignoring them necessarily distorts what Mormonism is really all about.  It is essentially pretending that Mormonism is something different than it really is.  Bracketing truth claims never helps us understand the truth in the broader sense.  It necessarily masks, hides, or distorts the truth, whatever that truth may be.

It seems to me that if someone has to bracket their truth claims about Mormonism in order to facilitate dialogue, it should be the non-Mormons.  Mormon truth-claims are an integral part of Mormonism.  To understand it properly you need to understand those truth claims.  It really doesn’t help a non-Mormon understand Mormonism better if she doesn’t understand that Mormons believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the deity and resurrection of Jesus, or the authentic prophethood of Joseph Smith.  If we bracket truth-claims about these matters, non-Mormons will never accurately understand Mormonism.  Thus, if non-Mormons really want to understand Mormonism, they shouldn’t want or ask Mormons to bracket our truth-claims.  Rather, they should tentatively bracket their own truth claims so they can better understand ours.  

I’m not asking for special treatment for Mormonism in this regard.  This is precisely how I approach any other religion.  Even though I am an outsider to those religions, I seek to understand them as the insiders understand.  What non-Buddhists might think about Buddhism is far less important to me than what Buddhists think about Buddhism.  When I approach the Buddhavacana, I understand that most western non-Buddhist scholars believe that most of the Tripiṭaka does not represent the actual words of the historical Buddha.  I get it.  But when I read that scripture, I try to understand what it means to Buddhists who believe in the historicity of the Tripiṭaka, because that permits me to understand Buddhism better.  I bracket my truth claims in order to better understand Buddhism.  I don’t ask the Buddhists to bracket their truth claims.

That does not mean, of course that there aren’t a lot of things about Mormonism that can’t be discussed without any reference to truth-claims: the social order of a Mormon ward; the colonization of Utah; the impact of the Deseret Alphabet, etc.  But bracketing truth claims about the Book of Mormon will ultimately lead to misunderstanding that book.  Grant Hardy’s wonderful Understanding the Book of Mormon is a case in point.  Although he chose to bracket historicity issues, the fact of the matter is, there was no reason for him to do so.  He could have written precisely the same book, with precisely the same insights, without bracketing historicity.

See also this remark by Terryl Givens:

Quote

The Book of Mormon's place as Latter-day Saint scripture is constituted in part by the role it has consistently played as both the evidence and very ground of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling, a divine sign of the opening of a new dispensation that he and he alone was authorized to initiate, the ground and evidence and physical embodiment of a rift in heaven through which angels and authority and revelations poured forth in torrents. It is not what the Book of Mormon contains that Mormons value, but what it enacts. And that miraculous enactment is its history. This history begins with prophets inscribing their words on gold plates two and a half millennia ago; becomes a long history of providential preservation; includes divine assurances and prophecies of the manner, timing, and agency by which it would be committed to a future generation; and culminates as a marvelous work and a wonder, whispering out of the dust, in Isaiah's words, delivered up to Joseph Smith by a messenger from the presence of God, and translated by means of priestly oracles that attest to Smith's role as seer and revelator, the record itself testifying of, and embodying, and provoking millions to experience personally the principle of dialogic revelation—all this is what the Book of Mormon means to a Latter-day Saint. 

"Christianity," Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, "has this peculiar disadvantage of not being, like other religions, a pure doctrine, but is essentially and mainly a narrative or history, a series of events . . . ; and this very history constitutes the dogma, belief in which leads to salvation." If this is true of Christianity in general, it is doubly true of Mormonism in particular. It is therefore hard to bracket the book's claims to historical facticity when those claims are both integral to the religious faith of Mormons and the warp and woof of the record. In this latter regard, the Book of Mormon is much more like the book of Exodus or Acts than Psalms or the Sermon on the Mount.

(Emphasis added.)

And this comment from Ralph Hancock:

Quote

What reasonable voices agree on is this:  there is room in the study of Mormon things for both (1) scholarship that presupposes and often defends Mormon exceptionalism, that is, scholarship that openly assents to the peculiar truth claims of the Latter-day Saints and often provides “apologetics” on behalf of those claims; and (2) scholarship that “brackets” or sets aside or is simply silent about such claims, in order to engage a “broader” audience uninterested in such claims and in fact liable to be put off by them.
...
Paul Owen’s solution would seem at least to fulfill the editor’s promise to distribute discomfort to believers and non-believers alike.  But its more likely effect, if not its intention, is simply to loosen any attachment readers of the JBMS may have to the old “conservative” tale told on the title page of the book itself, a title page and a book claiming to be from “the Hand of Mormon” himself.  And so one must doubt whether the discomfort engendered by the new Book of Mormon Studies as a branch of Mormon Studies is really distributed equally between “conservatives” who cling to the Book’s own account and, well, those who do not need to be named (certainly not as “liberal,” for example), since they are just the regular, real scholars who embrace the new vistas of historical rigor.  A moment’s reflection is sufficient to show that to suspend or bracket the question of the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon is not really to transcend it.  To say that what the Book says about itself is not what really matters is to speak volumes.

(Emphasis added.)

And these remarks by Terryl Givens:

Quote

Similarly, we find Brigham D. Madsen (who jumped the gun a bit in declaring there are “overwhelming scientific proofs of [the Book of Mormon’s] fictional character”) pleading for an abandonment of Mormon preoccupation with the scripture’s historicity, to be replaced by a focus on its “religious and spiritual values.”101 He quotes approvingly another Mormon, David P. Wright, who invokes the Jamesian defense that “some might think that acceptance of the conclusion that Joseph Smith is the author of the work requires rejecting the work as religiously relevant and significant. . . . [But] such a rejection does not follow from this critical judgment. Historical conclusions about a scriptural text, such as who authored it, are existential judgments, . . . and can and should be separated from judgments about spiritual values.”102

But can they, really? A purely “formal” consideration of the Book of Mormon, to use the language of literary criticism, or a study based on its “internal persuasiveness,” to use Bakhtin’s, or a study that brackets its historical reception and packaging is an approach based on a serious misperception about the nature of scripture. Such an approach ignores those ways in which scripture is constituted historically rather than literarily. That is to say, scripture emerges out of a set of reading practices and from the sacred purposes a text serves for a community. It does not result from supposed adherence to a set of generic conventions or preconceived rules.103 The Book of Mormon’s status as scripture, we have seen, is inseparable from the role it has come to play as the very ground of Joseph Smith’s authority, a divine sign of the end times, and as a vehicle for the Mormon conversion experience. Facile analogies to the Bible too easily ignore the particular features of the Book of Mormon’s historical positioning as scripture.
...
Few people have been able to similarly bracket the more remarkable claims of the Book of Mormon’s translator in order to consider the literary or theological or ethical merit of the book itself. It is easy to see why cultural Mormons and accommodationists would see such a step as desirable. As we have seen, historical-minded appraisals of the book have not been persuasive with outsiders. When presented as a literary text or nineteenth-century production, one can at least invite scholars to examine the book on their own terms if not Joseph Smith’s.
...
Response by the Mormon orthodox to those who would reduce the Book of Mormon to sacred fiction or nineteenth-century potpourri has been, predictably, hostile. In fact, following publication of Dan Vogel’s 1990 collection, The Word of God, critical reviews by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and ensuing exchanges between their scholars and Signature Books escalated to an actual threat of lawsuit.123 Mormon moderates plead for more tolerance, and, indeed, they may be right that Mormon orthodoxy has a wide span capable of embracing great diversity. On the other hand, evangelicals clearly agree that such naturalistic approaches strike at the very heart of Mormonism. Their response to Brent Metcalfe’s New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, for example, has been gleeful. In fact, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen have complained that their fellow evangelicals offer the book “an enthusiastic endorsement . . . and pronounce the battle over.”124 They are apparently chiding their fellows for a conclusion that is premature— but certainly not illogical. For naturalizing the origins of the Book of Mormon is to emasculate its efficacy as Mormon scripture.

(Emphases added.)

There seems to be a common theme here.  Bracketing is generally seen as required to accommodate non-belief, to allow an outsider to examine a religious text without acquiescing to its truth claims.

I don't think you are "bracketing" historicity one whit.  You are situating its presumed absence at the center of your approach.  

9 hours ago, tagriffy said:

Certainly I admit to bracketing certain, but in those cases, I'm not even sure how it affects the interpretation of the Book of Mormon anyway.

Well, see above.  I think Givens' summary is perhaps the most succinct: "{To naturalize} the origins of the Book of Mormon is to emasculate its efficacy as Mormon scripture."

And again from S. Kent Brown:

Quote

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

Your reliance on "bracketing" comes across as whistling past the graveyard.

9 hours ago, tagriffy said:

No, I am not rejecting Joseph's explanation.  Again, that is you imposing something on me that I did not say. 

Yes, you are rejecting Joseph's explanation.  You are supplanting it with a categorically distinct and contradictory explanation.

9 hours ago, tagriffy said:

Since I'm still working on filling in the blank, I obviously can't answer that now.

But you have "answer{ed}."  You have clearly stated your conclusion as to origins/provenance/authorship, which is wholly at odds with Joseph Smith's lifelong declarations. 

What you "obviously can't" do is provide a coherent explanatory path through the evidence that reaches that conclusion.  If you are planning to provide such a path in the future, then just say so and I'll shut up.  But that sure isn't the impression you give in your essay.  It seems you want to presuppose naturalistic origins explanation for the Book of Mormon without any effort to actually establish it by examining the evidence that contradicts it (Joseph Smith's lifelong remarks, the Witness statements, etc.).  Hence my difficulty with your claim that you are "trying to understand the evidence as best {you} can."  You are bracketing/sidestepping historicity and evidence pertaining thereto.

9 hours ago, tagriffy said:
Quote

I think what you are saying is shot through with conclusory and unestablished statements, equivocations, evasions, and a persistent refusal to engage the most integral pieces of "evidence" on this issue.

The ones that are really the most integral or the ones you think are the most integral?

Tag, you asked for feedback.  You have invited critique of your "approach." So it's a bit odd to now see you get defensive about and dismissive of responses compliant with your request.

Offhand, I believe I have now cited Oaks, Holland, Brown, Peterson, Givens, Hamblin, Smoot, Lewis, Hancock, Park, Austin, and Olsen regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon (including attempts to "bracket" it).  I have taken my cues from them.  I am just a bystander, so you are certainly at liberty to blow off my input.  But in doing so I think you A) validate my prior observations about you sidestepping, and B) ignore the very salient points about historicity made by the foregoing persons.  

9 hours ago, tagriffy said:
Quote
Quote

I am aware of how self-conscious the Book of Mormon is of itself. It's part and parcel of the myth.

You are "aware" of it, but not accounting for it.

Actually, I did account for it when I said it was part and parcel of the myth.

No, you have not accounted for it.  A vague and conclusory statement ("part and parcel of the myth") doesn't do anything.  It is a conclusion, but there is no effort to explain how you reached it.  It entirely sidesteps, and does not account for, Joseph Smith's explanation of the visitations from Moroni, the plates (and the breastplate, and the sword, and the U&T, and the Liahona), the translation, the text, his subsequent attestations and affirmation of these things throughout the remainder of his life, and so on. 

Again, if the things Joseph said about the origins of the Book of Mormon were (A) not factually true/real, (B) not him lying, and (C) not him being mentally deluded, then that leaves us with (D) _________________________.  Could you fill in the blank?  How do you account for Joseph Smith's statements about the origins of the Book of Mormon?

Some years ago I attended a CLE ("Continuing Legal Education") at which several judges from the Utah Supreme Court and Utah Court of Appeals participated in a panel discussion, followed by a Q&A.  One of the questions asked was something like "What is the most common shortcoming you find in attorneys who appear before you, either in their written briefs or their oral arguments?"  Virtually every judge wanted to respond, all saying the same thing: "Answer our questions.  Don't be evasive.  Don't equivocate.  Don't side-step.  Don't make stuff up.  You don't do yourselves any favors by avoiding addressing weaknesses or gaps in your case."

Food for thought.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
Link to comment
10 hours ago, Nevo said:

This has been addressed previously by FAIR:

Quote

Copyright law in 1830 in New York, where the Book of Mormon was first published, provided for the granting of copyrights to "authors and proprietors" but did not offer the same to translators

Joseph Smith is listed as the "author and proprietor" in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Critics of the Church consider this evidence that Joseph wrote the book himself. However, in order to secure the copyright, Joseph had to apply as the "author and proprietor." As one historian noted:

The fact is, Joseph Smith was complying with federal law (see I Statutes 124, 1790, as amended by 2 Stat. 171, 1802), which dictated the words the district clerk had to write when a person was taking out a copyright on a book. It can be demonstrated historically that many translators, including those who produced the 1824 edition of the King James Version of the Bible, were listed as "Author" to conform to this law.[1]

If historical practice calls for translators of the KJV to be characterized as "authors," I don't see how a comparable technicality would not apply to Joseph Smith.

Quote

The first edition of the Book of Mormon contained a transcript of the secured copyright making this clear:

Northern District of New York, to wit:

BE IT REMEMBERED, That on the eleventh day of June, in the fifty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America, A. D. 1829, JOSEPH SMITH, JUN., of the said District, hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof he claims as author, in the words following, to wit: "The Book of Mormon: an account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the Plates of Nephi. Wherefore it is an abridgment of the Record of the People of Nephi; and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of Prophesy and of Revelation. Written, and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of God, unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God; an abridgment taken from the Book of Ether. Also, which is a Record of the People of Jared, which were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to Heaven: which is to shew unto the remnant of the House of Israel, how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever: and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile, that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations. And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.—By Joseph Smith. Jun. Author and Proprietor."

In conformity to the act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, "An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned;" and also the act, entitled, "An act supplementary to an act, entitled, "An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned, and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints."

R. R. LANSING

Clerk of the Northern District of New York

1830_book_of_mormon_title_page_author_an
The title page of the 1830 Book of Mormon

 

The State of New York would have rejected the copyright if it had been assigned to "God" or "the angel Moroni" as the "author and proprietor"

It would be unreasonable if Joseph Smith were to apply for the copyright and assign "God" or "the angel Moroni" as the "author and proprietor". This complaint is not a serious issue, but merely an effort to find fault. Besides, the 1830 edition also states that the book was a translation of ancient records.

The 1830 Book of Mormon clearly identifies Joseph Smith as the translator of the work

Notice in the first paragraph of the copyright form above that even though Joseph Smith legally claimed his right as "author" he still inserted information making it clear that the text originated from an ancient, pre-written "abridgment" that came forth to the modern world "by the gift and power of God" and through an act of "interpretation" or translation.

It should also be pointed out that in the Preface of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon the Prophet Joseph Smith designated himself as the "Author" but also indicated no less than six times that he was the translator of the text. Likewise, it can be seen in the 1830 testimony of the Eight Witnesses that Joseph Smith is called the "Author and Proprietor of this work" but it is also said that he "translated" the golden plates in order to obtain the text of the Book of Mormon.

1830_book_of_mormon_page_1_I_translate_b
Page 1 from the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon: "I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God...."

 

10 hours ago, Nevo said:

From the FAIR link:

Quote

BE IT REMEMBERED, That on the eleventh day of June, in the fifty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America, A. D. 1829, JOSEPH SMITH, JUN., of the said District, hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof he claims as author, in the words following, to wit: "The Book of Mormon: an account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the Plates of Nephi. Wherefore it is an abridgment of the Record of the People of Nephi; and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of Prophesy and of Revelation. Written, and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of God, unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God; an abridgment taken from the Book of Ether. Also, which is a Record of the People of Jared, which were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to Heaven: which is to shew unto the remnant of the House of Israel, how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever: and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile, that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations. And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.—By Joseph Smith. Jun. Author and Proprietor."

In conformity to the act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, "An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned;" and also the act, entitled, "An act supplementary to an act, entitled, "An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned, and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints."

(Emphases added.)

A few weeks ago I had to fill out an online form for my business, an LLC, which included a field for me to list my relationship to it.  The dropdown list included "Owner, Employer, Employee" and a few others, but not "Member."  Technically, none of these fit perfectly (I don't "own" the LLC, I am a member of it, etc.), but I selected "Owner" anyway.

Sometimes, to comply with technicalities in the law, we sometimes are forced to use terms that are not precisely accurate.  

10 hours ago, Nevo said:

The text of the Preface:

Quote

As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again—and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and behold ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will shew unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. Wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have, through his grace and mercy, accomplished that which he hath commanded me respecting this thing. I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York.

The Author.

(Emphases added.)

Kinda hard to read this and conclude that Joseph Smith was claiming authorship (as that term is generally understood, and not as used to comply with the technicalities of copyright law in existence at the time).

10 hours ago, Nevo said:

And Matthew L. Davis's report: "The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God" (Matthew Livingston Davis to Mary Davis, 6 February 1840, quoted in History of the Church, 4:78–80)

Not sure what this means.  If a secretary transcribes a letter for "as dictated by" a lawyer, the authorship of the letter is generally attributed to the lawyer.

Moreover, you omitted some important context from Livingston's hearsay summary of Joseph's remarks.  From this link:

Quote

Throughout his whole address, he displayed strongly a spirit of charity and forbearance. The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God.

I'm not even sure the second sentence here is intended as a hearsay statement or a bit of commentary by Livingston.

10 hours ago, Nevo said:

[Compare Oliver Cowdery's response to Cornelius Blatchly: "Your first inquiry was, whether it was proper to say, that Joseph Smith Jr., was the author? If I rightly understand the meaning of the word author, it is, the first beginner, or mover of any thing, or a writer. Now Joseph Smith Jr., certainly was the writer of the work, called the book of Mormon, which was written in ancient Egyptian characters,—which was a dead record to us until translated. And he, by a gift from God, has translated it into our language. Certainly he was the writer of it, and could be no less than the author" ("The New Bible," Gospel Luminary, 10 December 1829, reprinted in Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, 494).]

I refer you to Ben's comments above.  See also this article from Doctrine & Covenants Central: Was Joseph Smith the “Author” of the Book of Mormon?

Quote

Latter-day Saints are accustomed to speaking of Joseph Smith as the inspired translator of the Book of Mormon.1 However, the title page of the first edition of the Book of Mormon (published in 1830) identifies the prophet as the “Author and Proprietor” of the book, not the translator. Joseph Smith was first named the translator of the Book of Mormon on the title page in the second edition of the book published in Kirtland, Ohio in 1837.2

At first glance, this might seem like Joseph made contradictory claims about his role in bringing forth the Book of Mormon.3 This conclusion, however, is not warranted for many reasons. It has long been recognized that designating Joseph Smith as the “author and proprietor” of the Book of Mormon in the first edition was done to conform to copyright law.4 In fact, the copyright page of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon features the exact phrase used on the title page to describe Joseph Smith:

In conformity to the act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, “An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned;” and also the act, entitled, “An act supplementary to an act, entitled, ‘An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned, and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints.”5

As observed by Miriam A. Smith and John W. Welch, “Joseph fits comfortably . . . within the broad legal meaning of the word author” by nineteenth century legal standards. “Musical composers, cartographers, etchers, engravers, and designers were all authors within the meaning of that term in [a 1790 copyright] statute” in effect at the time. Additionally, “A translator also qualified, for copyright purposes, as the author of a book he had translated. Indeed, other translators [of the time] called themselves ‘authors.’”6

Amazon has various listings of King James as the "author" of the KJV (and the Apocrypha) (here, here, here, here), but nobody construes this literally.

Quote

The testimony of the Three and Eight witnesses, which were included at the end of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, plainly speaks of Joseph as translating the plates.7 Revelations received during and shortly after the time of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon likewise speak of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as translating the record,8 never of writing or authoring it.9 Even the very preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, which appears right after the title page and copyright page, clearly presents Joseph’s own claims to have “translated” the record.10

In short, “there is no reference in Joseph Smith’s own words to his claiming authorship for the Book of Mormon,”11 and so, to “prevent confusion” he changed “author and proprietor” to “translated by” when the time came to reprint the book (the copyright being safely retained).12 Contrary to what some might assume, “whatever the legal conventions of the time, the claims of Joseph Smith . . . and contemporary supporters leave little doubt that the role being ascribed to Smith was that of translator, rather than author, in the traditional understanding of both terms.”13
...

A careful investigation into why Joseph Smith was called the “author and proprietor” of the Book of Mormon reveals a number of important points. First, it becomes clear that Joseph was the “author” of the Book of Mormon only in a very technical sense. Eager to follow divine command to get the Book of Mormon published (D&C 19:26–27), Joseph was willing to submit to the legal requirements of his day rather than fight them over semantics. He was therefore obliged to assume the title of “author and proprietor” in the legal sense, even while he and early supports insisted that he was, in fact, the Book of Mormon’s inspired translator.

I think this is correct.

10 hours ago, Nevo said:

There's no question that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated an ancient record. But he also signed himself "The Author" in his preface to the 1830 Book of Mormon and didn't disclaim the label on other occasions. So it's not accurate to say that he never, not once, ever claimed to be the author of the text.

Yes, I think it is accurate.  From the D&C Central link above:

Quote

Whatever ambiguity there may be in the technical or legal designation of Joseph Smith as the “author and proprietor” of the Book of Mormon, there is abundant historical documentation affirming that Joseph and the other witnesses of its coming forth gave a consistent, undeviating, and believable account of its miraculous origin.26

Thanks,

-Smac

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Not sure what this means.  If a secretary transcribes a letter for "as dictated by" a lawyer, the authorship of the letter is generally attributed to the lawyer.

Moreover, you omitted some important context from Livingston's hearsay summary of Joseph's remarks.

Pro tip: If I bold some text, you are still invited to read the text before and after the bolded part. Not bolding something isn't the same as omitting it.

Anyway, I don't disagree with most of your long post. Joseph Smith claimed to be the translator of the Book of Mormon "by the gift and power of God." He also accepted the designation of "author." Was he compelled for copyright reasons to sign the Preface as "The Author"? I don't know that he was, but perhaps he thought so.

But it also seems clear that he felt a sense of ownership over the text. To use your comparison, do legal secretaries ever try to sell dictated letters for a profit?

Consider the following from the Joseph Smith Papers team:

  • "JS and his associates initially planned to sell the Book of Mormon for $1.75, making it an expensive book in 1830. If they had sold all the books at that price, they would have collected $8,750 [the cost of printing was $3,000]. However, the price reportedly soon fell to $1.25, which still would have brought in twice the printing costs if all copies had sold. . . . Soon after JS signed this agreement with Harris, a revelation directed JS and others to obtain the copyright of the Book of Mormon throughout the world, beginning with an attempt to sell it in Canada. It stated the expectation that 'the faithful & the righteous may retain the temperal Blessing as well as the Spirit[u]al' from the sale of the copyright. Such blessings would be extended to 'those who have assisted him [JS]' in the work, except Harris, who was explicitly excluded." (link)
     
  • "According to a much later recollection by David Whitmer, Hyrum Smith originally suggested to JS that the Book of Mormon copyright could be sold for “considerable money” in Upper Canada. Hiram Page recalled that a small group of church leaders were assembled at the Smith log home in Palmyra Township when this revelation came. It directed Cowdery, Page, Stowell, and Knight to obtain the copyright for the Book of Mormon not only in Canada but 'upon all the face of the Earth of which is known by you.'" (link)
Edited by Nevo
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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

But you have "answer{ed}."  You have clearly stated your conclusion as to origins/provenance/authorship, which is wholly at odds with Joseph Smith's lifelong declarations. 

What you "obviously can't" do is provide a coherent explanatory path through the evidence that reaches that conclusion.  If you are planning to provide such a path in the future, then just say so and I'll shut up.  But that sure isn't the impression you give in your essay.  It seems you want to presuppose naturalistic origins explanation for the Book of Mormon without any effort to actually establish it by examining the evidence that contradicts it (Joseph Smith's lifelong remarks, the Witness statements, etc.).  Hence my difficulty with your claim that you are "trying to understand the evidence as best {you} can."  You are bracketing/sidestepping historicity and evidence pertaining thereto.

Yes, that is the plan. But that is an entirely separate task than what I doing in "Environmental Theory," which is why I shouldn't have allowed myself to get involved in this discussion in the first place. As the very title indicates, it is about Book of Mormon interpretation. All those extensive quotes that you pasted are essentially correct: one's view of authorship is necessarily going to affect the interpretation of the work. If you think it is ancient, that is going to have an effect on the interpretation. Likewise if you think it is modern. That can be bracketed to a certain extent, but only to a certain extent.

When it comes to Book of Mormon interpretation, all I have to do is establish there is at least a good enough case of Joseph's authorship to proceed with that task. How to reconcile that task with Joseph's own stated views is an entirely different matter. Or, as I put it in the essay,

Quote

Therefore, consideration of the prophet/fraud dichotomy is beyond the scope of this essay.

Why is it beyond the scope? Because it has nothing to do with interpreting the text! Furthermore, reconciling Joseph's authorship with what he said about the book's origin is not simply a historical matter. It is also a theological matter. That is why it constitutes a separate task. I had my thoughts then. I have my thoughts now. I think I'm on the right track, but that is still a work in progress. Perhaps working on the text will itself provide additional insights. In any case, that consideration is not even putting the cart before the horse. It's more like replacing the cart with the horse.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

Tag, you asked for feedback.  You have invited critique of your "approach." So it's a bit odd to now see you get defensive about and dismissive of responses compliant with your request.

Offhand, I believe I have now cited Oaks, Holland, Brown, Peterson, Givens, Hamblin, Smoot, Lewis, Hancock, Park, Austin, and Olsen regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon (including attempts to "bracket" it).  I have taken my cues from them.  I am just a bystander, so you are certainly at liberty to blow off my input.  But in doing so I think you A) validate my prior observations about you sidestepping, and B) ignore the very salient points about historicity made by the foregoing persons.

Please feel free to call me Tim. I got defensive because I allowed myself to get sucked into a discussion about something I think is ultimately irrelevant to the specific task at hand. In retrospect, I realize I should have just stood my ground on it being irrelevant. Here on in, that is what I'm going to do.

For now, let me reassure you that I hear you. I have as much, if not actually more, interest in reconciling the stories about the book's origin with (what I consider) the overwhelming evidence that Joseph is the author. That is something that I have been concurrently working on the whole time.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

No, you have not accounted for it.  A vague and conclusory statement ("part and parcel of the myth") doesn't do anything.  It is a conclusion, but there is no effort to explain how you reached it.  It entirely sidesteps, and does not account for, Joseph Smith's explanation of the visitations from Moroni, the plates (and the breastplate, and the sword, and the U&T, and the Liahona), the translation, the text, his subsequent attestations and affirmation of these things throughout the remainder of his life, and so on. 

True enough, but then again it was only meant to be a summary statement. I have enough things on my plate without having to write 10,000-word essays just to satisfy your demands. And since Joseph's explanation, etc., is completely irrelevant to what I was doing, it sidesteps nothing.

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First the Book of Commandments then the Doctrine and Covenants that IMO Joseph spearheaded and had a lot of input. Puts to rest that he also could do the same with the Book of Mormon and the Bible translation as well. On top of all that he wrote The Happiness Letter and it also sounds like scripture too. I think it's time the church can say Joseph is intelligent enough to write these scripts and definitely had help for most of it. ETA: The Book of Abraham too.

Edited by Tacenda
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1 hour ago, tagriffy said:
Quote

But you have "answer{ed}."  You have clearly stated your conclusion as to origins/provenance/authorship, which is wholly at odds with Joseph Smith's lifelong declarations. 

What you "obviously can't" do is provide a coherent explanatory path through the evidence that reaches that conclusion.  If you are planning to provide such a path in the future, then just say so and I'll shut up.  But that sure isn't the impression you give in your essay.  It seems you want to presuppose naturalistic origins explanation for the Book of Mormon without any effort to actually establish it by examining the evidence that contradicts it (Joseph Smith's lifelong remarks, the Witness statements, etc.).  Hence my difficulty with your claim that you are "trying to understand the evidence as best {you} can."  You are bracketing/sidestepping historicity and evidence pertaining thereto.

Yes, that is the plan.

A nearly unworkable plan, I think.  Bracketing historicity to accommodate discussion and analysis from a non-believer's perspective is just fine.  Bracketing historicity because it relieves you of the obligation to address the evidence (and the points raised by Oaks, Jackson, etc.) and proceed to discussing a faith-based perspective is, I think, nigh unto unworkable.  I previously quoted Elder Holland here:

Quote

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

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

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

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

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

"Bizarre middle ground" is, I think, the natural and foreseeable response to your approach from most of those who already have a testimony of the Book of Mormon.  And to the extent such folks are "on the fence," I think your approach will almost always push them off it onto the side of disbelief and rejection of the Restored Gospel.  That, I think, is also foreseeable.

As for people outside of these groups, I think they will find the notion even harder to swallow than the "historicity" approach.

1 hour ago, tagriffy said:

But that is an entirely separate task than what I doing in "Environmental Theory," which is why I shouldn't have allowed myself to get involved in this discussion in the first place. As the very title indicates, it is about Book of Mormon interpretation. All those extensive quotes that you pasted are essentially correct: one's view of authorship is necessarily going to affect the interpretation of the work. If you think it is ancient, that is going to have an effect on the interpretation. Likewise if you think it is modern. That can be bracketed to a certain extent, but only to a certain extent.

When it comes to Book of Mormon interpretation, all I have to do is establish there is at least a good enough case of Joseph's authorship to proceed with that task. How to reconcile that task with Joseph's own stated views is an entirely different matter. Or, as I put it in the essay,

Quote

Therefore, consideration of the prophet/fraud dichotomy is beyond the scope of this essay.

Why is it beyond the scope? Because it has nothing to do with interpreting the text!

It has everything to do with interpreting the text:

  • Quoth you: "{The naturalistic} position {as to the origins of the Book of Mormon is traditionally} taken by anti-Mormons and used to attack Mormonism."
  • Quoth Oaks: "This {naturalistic} approach not only rejects the concepts of faith and revelation that the Book of Mormon explains and advocates, but it is also not even good scholarship."
  • Quoth Oaks: "The argument that it makes no difference whether the Book of Mormon is fact or fable is surely a sibling to the argument that it makes no difference whether Jesus Christ ever lived."
  • Quoth Jackson: "Can the Book of Mormon indeed be 'true,' in any sense, if it lies repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately regarding its own historicity? Can Joseph Smith be viewed with any level of credibility if he repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lied concerning the historicity of the book? Can we have any degree of confidence in what are presented as the words of God in the Doctrine and Covenants if they repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lie by asserting the historicity of the Book of Mormon? If the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, what possible cause would anyone have to accept anything of the work of Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints given the consistent assertions that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text that describes ancient events?"
  • Quoth Hardy: "The strong historical assertions of the book seem to allow for only three possible origins: as a miraculously translated historical document, as a fraud (perhaps a pious one) written by Joseph Smith, or as a delusion (perhaps sincerely believed) that originated in Smith’s subconscious."
  • Quoth Smoot: "{T}he historicity of the Book of Mormon is an imperative for Mormonism. The book not only must be read as history, but also must actually be history for it to carry meaningful theological legitimacy—that is, a real meaning for the faithful Latter-day Saint."
  • Quoth Park: "{T}he question of historicity is never too far from the text."
  • Quoth Austin: "{I}t is critically irresponsible to study the Book of Mormon this way because the bracketed items are precisely the questions that make it worth studying in the first place."
  • Quoth Olsen: "I think that the phenomenon of Mormonism has history and historicity as constitutive features."
  • Quoth Givens: "It is not what the Book of Mormon contains that Mormons value, but what it enacts. And that miraculous enactment is its history."
  • Quoth Givens: "It is therefore hard to bracket the book's claims to historical facticity when those claims are both integral to the religious faith of Mormons and the warp and woof of the record. In this latter regard, the Book of Mormon is much more like the book of Exodus or Acts than Psalms or the Sermon on the Mount."
  • Quoth Givens: "Few people have been able to similarly bracket the more remarkable claims of the Book of Mormon’s translator in order to consider the literary or theological or ethical merit of the book itself."
  • Quoth Givens: "{N}aturalizing the origins of the Book of Mormon is to emasculate its efficacy as Mormon scripture."
  • Quoth Hancock: "{T}o suspend or bracket the question of the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon is not really to transcend it.  To say that what the Book says about itself is not what really matters is to speak volumes."
  • Quoth Holland: "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."
  • Quoth Holland: "{If Joseph Smith's representations about the origins of the Book of Mormon are not as he represented them to be, then} 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 think eliding past historicity, in favor of some species of "inspired fiction" and/or "pious fraud," will not work.  It's far too big and too consequential a presupposition to merely presume and not demonstrate (or even address at all).

1 hour ago, tagriffy said:

Please feel free to call me Tim. I got defensive because I allowed myself to get sucked into a discussion about something I think is ultimately irrelevant to the specific task at hand. In retrospect, I realize I should have just stood my ground on it being irrelevant. Here on in, that is what I'm going to do.

Well, good luck with it.  Personally, I think you're playing with fire.  But we must each of us do what we think is right.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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I simply marvel at the ability you folks have to spew words.

If I have to pick a position I go with Givens, pretty much always.

For me, none of this matters.

None of it.

Could be historical, could be fiction, could be a fraud, could be divine or profane.

It is a piece of art hanging in a gallery, it's very existence bringing forth questions of how it got there.

But this piece of art also gives us new ways of seeing religion in general, and new doctrines, and a fresh perspective on what might have been, or how it was, or how it could have been.

Doesn't matter to me one bit. Honestly! All claims about what one can or cannot think about reconciling these apparently irreconcilable views is bunk.

Read the book, God told me to follow this path and here I am.

I suppose I need another few thousand words, but that's it.

The art piece jumped into my life and changed it, after 10 years of philosophical wanderings about "truth"

How do you wise people see that?

Am I a lunatic like Joe?

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17 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

I simply marvel at the ability you folks have to spew words.

If I have to pick a position I go with Givens, pretty much always.

For me, none of this matters.

None of it.

Could be historical, could be fiction, could be a fraud, could be divine or profane.

It is a piece of art hanging in a gallery, it's very existence bringing forth questions of how it got there.

But this piece of art also gives us new ways of seeing religion in general, and new doctrines, and a fresh perspective on what might have been, or how it was, or how it could have been.

Doesn't matter to me one bit. Honestly! All claims about what one can or cannot think about reconciling these apparently irreconcilable views is bunk.

Read the book, God told me to follow this path and here I am.

I suppose I need another few thousand words, but that's it.

The art piece jumped into my life and changed it, after 10 years of philosophical wanderings about "truth"

How do you wise people see that?

Am I a lunatic like Joe?

Not a lunatic, you apparently just like what you get from being a latter day saint. 

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1 hour ago, Tacenda said:

Not a lunatic, you apparently just like what you get from being a latter day saint. 

Brilliant. Straight Alma 32.

Perhaps others should read the Book of Mormon instead of worrying about it?

Odd that others don't seem to get it.

So if one is not getting what is sweet,  why would one stay?  Why spend your life arguing with yourself about irrelevancies?

Because mommie and great grandpa Joseph would not like it?

Are you lacking feet? Get a wheelchair!

Does Van Gogh help you see the world differently? 

Is it "true"?

Is it historically accurate?

Does it "correspond with reality" and if not, is it then "fiction" or flat out false?

What if it was painted today? Does that make it fiction?

"There are no facts, only interpretations"

Are there any facts in this thread?

How does it differ from the following statement?

image.png.46d1a4c015e71ef21e2f7aac84f5ce64.png

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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12 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

Brilliant. Straight Alma 32.

Perhaps others should read the Book of Mormon instead of worrying about it?

Odd that others don't seem to get it.

So if one is not getting what is sweet,  why would one stay?  Why spend your life arguing with yourself about irrelevancies?

Because mommie and great grandpa Joseph would not like it?

Are you lacking feet? Get a wheelchair!

Does Van Gogh help you see the world differently? 

Is it "true"?

Is it historically accurate?

Does it "correspond with reality" and if not, is it then "fiction" or flat out false?

What if it was painted today? Does that make it fiction?

image.png.46d1a4c015e71ef21e2f7aac84f5ce64.png

 

I loved my time in the church, I'd love to go back to that enveloping social construct. But since my move and telling the new bishop and a gal that was my ministering sister of the why of my struggle in faith, I've been shunned. Believe it or not, no problem. I am a big loner with a capital "L". I have a few pickle ball friends, and a three girlfriends but we normally don't do a lot outside of going out to dinner with our husbands. None of them know of the extent of my unbelief, I am a big phony. I can't get into being with the groups out there that grouped together after their faith crisis. They are all over the state of Utah and the rest of the USA, thousands just like me. But I am a LDS through and through, I lived it to the max when I had a bout of inactivity in my single years, and then married for time and all eternity and walked and toed the line, with no looking back until the day I found out the truth of polygamy that I'd been oblivious to, and it sent me spiraling. I was able to hold on for a long long time though, and served in callings etc. I often want to go back just not my ward, because of the loneliness. I can't be like the ex's out there or those that are members in name only and were able to find groups. I still wear the g's and abide by the WoW. So I get it! 

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1 hour ago, mfbukowski said:

I simply marvel at the ability you folks have to spew words.

If I have to pick a position I go with Givens, pretty much always.

For me, none of this matters.

None of it.

Is that Givens' position, that "none of this {including historicity} matters"?  That is not the impression I had.  See, e.g., here:

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Commenting on the necessity of belief in the Book of Mormon (and, related to such, the imperative for the historicity thereof), Terryl Givens wrote:

[The Book of Mormon] is the essential link connecting the person Joseph Smith to the sources of divine authority and revelation to which he laid claim. Smith declare that the final author/editor of the Book of Mormon, Moroni, appeared to him as a resurrected being, led him to the gold plates, and charged him with their translation. If the Book of Mormon is not the ancient genuine ancient record it purports to be, and if the gold plates were simply fantasy or of his own making, then Smith’s story about ancient artifacts, angelic messengers, and the authority they bequeathed him would be mere fables, and the claims of the church to be an authorized restoration of Christianity impossible to sustain. By comparison, the stories of Adam and Eve, or Noah and the flood, could be myths or inspired fiction without undermining the Christian religion, because the authority of Christianity is not tied to the historicity of those accounts. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, did emphatically tie his own authority as a prophet and apostle to the reality of ancient records transmitted to him by an angelic being who was himself a character in that narrative. If you pull the thread named Moroni and it comes loose, the entire garment unravels: his reality as an ancient writer, the authenticity of the gold plates, Joseph Smith’s claims to angelic visitations and the power of seership, and the priesthood authority he claimed to receive from other messengers following in the wake of Moroni. (Terryl Givens, Mormonism: What Everyone Needs to Know [New York: Oxford University Press, 2020], 67-68)

(Emphases added.)

See also here:

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Terryl Givens: Our topic today is, broadly speaking, the book of Mormon. In a little more focused way, we want to talk about historicity in the book of Mormon. So I’d like to start off with asking if we can do a brief overview maybe, of the centrality of historicity to conversations about the book of Mormon. 
...
Terryl Givens: That was a fundamentalist response, was to argue for a transcendental truth that isn’t pegged to history. But there are limits to how far we can disassociate the book of Mormon from historical claims. Just as if you take the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection out of the picture, you really don’t have Christianity. So how crucial is the capacity to affirm the historicity of the book of Mormon? How much leeway do we have? What are the stakes for the believer today?

And here:

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Historicity and The Book of Mormon

TERRYL GIVENS
BIG QUESTIONS

JANUARY 29, 2022

The question of whether the Book of Mormon is a genuine record of ancient peoples, a remarkable piece of inspired fiction, or a pious fraud upon a gullible people can never be definitively resolved. A separate question, and a live question for many Saints, is whether one can be a faithful member without affirming the Book of Mormon as a historically true text. 

For many, there must at least be a good argument for the plausibility of Book of Mormon historicity. And so apologists have for decades brought forward  arguments that the book is not only plausibly historical, but convincingly so. Skeptics and critics have similarly made their case to the contrary. Can we declare a victor? Let’s take a quick look.

Case For Historicity
...
Case Against Historicity
...

 

The Difficulty of a Middle Ground

Years after his disaffection from the LDS Church, David Whitmer related to a Chicago Times reporter that “three times has he been at the hill Cumorah and seen the casket that contained the tablets, and the seer-stone. Eventually the casket had been washed down to the foot of the hill, but it was to be seen when he last visited the historic place.”2 Though the gold plates were never accessible to public gaze, claims about its enshrouding stone box would continue to circulate as a stubborn reminder—and extenuation—of the insistence on the Book of Mormon’s rootedness in material reality.

It would seem that the brute physicality of the plates—their brazen resistance to allegorizing or spiritualizing—has to be the point. It would have been so much more prudent, so much safer, for Smith to claim the Book of Mormon derived from a personal revelation, or spirit-led automatic writing, or—as with Doctrine & Covenants 7—a transcription of a visionary artefact. Why articulate instead the most testable, the most implausible, the most seemingly disprovable of claims:  Actual plates of gold written by ancient Israelites and hidden in an upstate New York hillside?

The artefactual concreteness of this origin story seems a deliberate, essential parallel to the resurrection of Christ himself. As a “scandal of Christianity” (in Emil Brunner’s words), the Resurrection was a barrier, a threshold, that one could not pass without sacrificing the tenacious hold of one’s inherited cultural and rational suppositions. Both accounts—early Christian and Restorationist—defied casual belief, or painless discipleship. To this day, engaging the looming presence in the Restoration saga of gold plates inscribed in “reformed Egyptian” is a virtual initiation ritual whose purpose is to foreground an intensely personal and persuasive experiential knowledge as the price of admission. 

Concluding Thoughts
...

I find the Book of Mormon—in its literary totality—a work of such depth and internal consistency as to command my respect. I find its poetic patterns and textual parallels with ancient culture and history sufficient to defy simplistic explanations of plagiarism or raw invention. I find the earnestness of its authorial pleadings impossible to dismiss as fraudulent manipulation.

If Christ’s resurrection was a pious fiction, then all of Christianity is just holy fraud—and our delusions will be productive of nothing more than brief respite from an eternal silence. Similarly, if the countless examples of God’s ministrations to Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Moroni are fictive inventions, then for me the moral of the story evaporates. Sometimes, the historicity of the story is the point. To my mind, only the seamless thread that connects those seekers of old and my own stubborn stumbling after particles of light, can instill a faith that bears real fruit. The text helps make the infinitely caring God of Enoch present to me—my litmus test for divinely inspired utterance. 

The anachronisms and period parallels are real—but we might reasonably understand them as white noise in the fraught channel of transmission. 
...

Belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon is not a temple recommend requirement; members have a variety of ways of dealing with this modern stumbling block, a conspicuous impediment in the stream of casual Mormonism. The audacity of claims about Nephite angels, magical interpreters, and gold plates, calls upon us to make our own peace in our own way with this remarkable scripture. I am happy to share the pew with Saints whose testimonies, like my own, are the carefully wrought—and evolving—response to a Restoration ablaze with both truth and mystery.

Thoughts?

1 hour ago, mfbukowski said:

Could be historical, could be fiction, could be a fraud, could be divine or profane.

It is a piece of art hanging in a gallery, it's very existence bringing forth questions of how it got there.

Yep.

And as Givens notes, "{b}elief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon is not a temple recommend requirement," so I think there is a good amount of room in the tent for those who, like Brother Griffey, need to find a way to justify what Givens calls "a middle ground" between historicity and fiction.

1 hour ago, mfbukowski said:

But this piece of art also gives us new ways of seeing religion in general, and new doctrines, and a fresh perspective on what might have been, or how it was, or how it could have been.

Doesn't matter to me one bit. Honestly!

In the main, I'm pretty indifferent to idiosyncratic or other unusual takes on the Restored Gospel.  We need to each have some real wriggle room while we sort out the particulars of what we believe and why.

That said, the calculus changes for me a bit when personal introspections are published with the intent of persuading others away from what the Church formally and clearly teaches.  This is particularly so where, as here, I have personally experienced instances of adopting an "inspired fiction" or "pious fraud" approach was an incremental step in departing the Church.  I agree with Givens: "{I}f the countless examples of God’s ministrations to Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Moroni are fictive inventions, then for me the moral of the story evaporates."

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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On 10/25/2022 at 11:22 PM, Nevo said:

I like William L. Davis's approach in his recent book, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon:

Davis himself may not believe that God had anything to do with production of the Book of Mormon, but he allows that Joseph Smith did. I think that is a necessary first step to avoid alienating a Latter-day Saint readership.

Jared Hickman takes this approach, too, when he says that "Smith, the most devout of all Christian treasure seekers, launched himself again and again through space and time in pursuit of the treasure that he increasingly came to understand Moroni was specifying—not the golden plates of a local hill but the lived history of ancient America that the plates represented. From the beginning, then, Smith was learning to translate himself into the ancient American world through the virtual reality technology of the seer stone and then translate that world back into his own through the virtual reality technology of oral storytelling" (Hickman, "'Bringing Forth' the Book of Mormon: Translation as the Reconfiguration of Bodies in Space-Time," in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020], 77).

Personally, I am more responsive to "environmentalist" accounts of Book of Mormon origins that take seriously Joseph's self-understanding as a prophet, seer, and revelator (see D&C 24:1–9). I am even open to Dan Vogel's "pious fraud" theory that Joseph Smith "believed he was called of God, yet occasionally engaged in fraudulent activities in order to preach God's word as effectively as possible" (Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, viii). But I need the "pious" to be there. The Book of Mormon is, after all, a profoundly Christian text that earnestly invites all to "come unto Christ and be perfected in him" (which Joseph Smith followed up by organizing a church, revising the Bible, and undertaking a project to establish Zion).

I long ago stopped trying to assign motivations to Joseph Smith. Once over lunch Don Bradley told me something that has always stuck with me, that he thought Joseph Smith at times acted like "pond scum" (his words) and at others seemed completely sincere in his desire to serve God. I think that's absolutely accurate. Brother Bukowski is in many respects correct in saying that it doesn't really matter if it's "true" in terms of Joseph Smith's various claims being verifiable, but rather that the LDS gospel makes your life better. I'd probably still be active (well, more than I am, anyway) if I thought it did. Most people don't walk away from things that make them happy. 

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On 10/26/2022 at 4:34 PM, mfbukowski said:

Thanks!  That's kinda like me, but for me, it could be strictly historical, complete fiction, I view those questions as unknowable and therefore irrelevant.

Evidence comes from God.

It's philosophy!

You see it as "right" and "useful" or not!  Tweak belief as needed and be guided by spirit!

I agree, but it is fun to explore the ramifications of different theories as if they could be known to be accurate. 

If the historical narrative is more accurate, then what would that mean...

If the non-historical (I don't know if "naturalistic" is appropriate if one believes it was still divinely inspired but not historical) narrative is more accurate, then what does that mean...

Both sides lead one to different questions and implications that are interesting to explore.  So far, I lean to the non-historical side of things, but as you say it is unknowable and irrelevant to my own spiritual experience and testimony.   

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On 10/26/2022 at 4:34 PM, mfbukowski said:

Thanks!  That's kinda like me, but for me, it could be strictly historical, complete fiction, I view those questions as unknowable and therefore irrelevant.

But that would be more of an 'agnostic' position regard to the historicity of the BoM and not an affirmative declaration that it's history is a fiction, right? That's a big difference IMO.

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3 hours ago, Vanguard said:

But that would be more of an 'agnostic' position regard to the historicity of the BoM and not an affirmative declaration that it's history is a fiction, right? That's a big difference IMO.

Could be fiction but I think it's the wrong word.

Could be a "Parable".

Or not. Fiction is intentional. I go with "gift by power of God", don't care about man's automatically "incorrect" description.

None "represent reality". It's unspeakable.  I think Rorty's Mirror of Nature nails it.

Human categories don't fit. There's no word or sentence that captures it

And that includes mine.

I am a mystic at heart

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9 minutes ago, mfbukowski said:

Could be fiction but I think it's the wrong word.

Could be a "Parable".

Or not. Fiction is intentional. I go with "gift by power of God", don't care about man's automatically "incorrect" description.

None "represent reality". It's unspeakable.  I think Rorty's Mirror of Nature nails it.

Human categories don't fit. There's no word or sentence that captures it

And that includes mine.

I am a mystic at heart

The introduction of words really does something to our ability to cognize, doesn't it? Not necessarily a good thing. Have you read some Iain McGilchrist?

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4 hours ago, Vanguard said:

But that would be more of an 'agnostic' position regard to the historicity of the BoM and not an affirmative declaration that it's history is a fiction, right? That's a big difference IMO.

To clarify, yes and yes.

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