In 2013, Smoot published an article The Imperative for a Historical Book of Mormon, in which he lays out his case for the requirement for the Book of Mormon to be ancient and historical in order for the book to be true and Joseph Smith to be prophet.
Recently, in Oct 2018, Smoot reworked and republished the article. This week, Laura Hales published a podcast episode with Stephen, and a condensed version of his article was published for a popular audience at LDS Living, 5 Reasons It’s Important to Recognize the Book of Mormon as History, Not Just a Story.
First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the progress. Stephen, thank you for the more moderate tone recently compared to the tone of the original article. The original article was full of polarizing language like “conniving charlatan”, “creative liar”, “huckster”, “psychotic delusion”, “bamboozle”, “lunatic”, “sham”. I believe in the non-historical model of the Book of Mormon, but I love that book of scripture, I love Joseph Smith, and I would never use those words to describe him. Smoot is toning down that rhetoric now, and I appreciate that. Thank you.
In this article, I will go through Smoot’s main points and give some counter logic. I feel like I represent a large block of Mormon thought on this, however it is a very controversial subject and few are willing to publicly debate this. I wish there were a better person to represent this perspective than me, but I will give it a shot.
I wish to approach this with Stephen in the spirit of brotherly love. I appreciate Stephen’s work and his self deprecating humorous style. We are both active LDS who love the Book of Mormon and view ourselves as defenders of the restored Church.
Integrity of Joseph Smith
The main point Smoot makes in all of this is that the Book of Mormon very clearly states what it is and Joseph Smith clearly stated how it came about: Angel Moroni, ancient gold plates, etc. If we consider the Book of Mormon non-historical, then we must answer why the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith stated otherwise. We must consider Joseph Smith a fraud and a liar or crazy and deluded. All or nothing. No middle ground. If we imply he could have been lying or deluded about these angelic visits and gold plates, then his integrity is gone, and we can’t trust him for anything. He can’t be a prophet.
- No, we don’t have to answer that. There are many gospel questions we simply don’t have the answer for. It’s OK to say while I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is historical, I believe Joseph was a prophet, and I neither think he was fraudulent nor deluded, and I have no idea how or why the Book of Mormon was produced the way it was. If critics tell us, “if you believe Jesus Christ was resurrected, you have to tell me scientifically how it happened”, we can say “no idea, I just believe.” If critics demand to know the logic of why we say God answers prayers and is active in our lives yet he’s allowing children to be abused and other atrocities in the world, it’s OK for us to not have a perfect answer for that. Stephen himself says “there are very strange passages in the Book of Mormon that we can’t fully explain or account for today”. We don’t need to explain everything.
- Unfortunately, Joseph Smith’s character is not impeccable. It is a very dangerous argument to make it an all or nothing proposition, because a critic can easily turn this around on any number of issues, such as: polygamy, Book of Abraham, Kinderhook Plates, Zelph, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Kirtland Banking scandal, etc. I don’t think we want to draw a line in the sand and say “Joseph was very clear that an angel with drawn sword commanded him to take many girls in marriage, if he was lying or deluded about that, then EVERYTHING else he revealed is suspect.” “Joseph was clear that he was translating an ancient record written about Abraham. If he was lying or deluded about that, then we can’t trust ANYTHING he did.” Why would God choose Joseph Smith to be the prophet if he did xyz? Critics constantly ask that question, and the perfectly fine answer from Mormon Apologists is “prophets aren’t perfect and you can’t answer for God why he does something a certain way or who he chooses to be prophet.”
- There are some alternatives or middle ground that I think are reasonable. Maybe Joseph had a powerful spiritual experience, revelation rushing through his brain, an interaction with God, he was responsible to bring this message to the world. What a huge responsibility. Maybe God didn’t micromanage the process other than to sear in his mind the message and the responsibility. Maybe in a way scholar Ann Taves originally theorized, God transformed plates and divinely sanctioned them in a process similar to the Brother of Jared’s 16 stones. Maybe Joseph made some mistakes along the way. Only One is perfect. Our scriptures are full of stories of prophets completely mucking it up. I’m not saying Joseph did, but it would be OK if he did. There are some middle ground possibilities.
Inspired Fiction Theory
Smoot calls the theory that active LDS believers who view the Book of Mormon as non-historical scripture the Inspired Fiction Theory. He compares the spiritual value of the Book of Mormon in this to the spiritual value of the Lord of the Rings, Alma is compared to Oliver Twist, etc. I would like to request that we not use that term or those comparisons. It’s not fair to the believers that take the book as holy scripture. We don’t call the Parable of the Lost Sheep inspired fiction. We don’t compare Job or Jonah to Oliver Twist. Jesus taught nearly exclusively using parables (which you could call fictional stories) to make his doctrinal points. We don’t make fun of Christ for this method.
Impossible for a Human
We sometimes say Joseph Smith could not have brought us the beauty and spiritual value of King Benjamin’s address or Alma’s brilliant treatise on faith in Alma 32 or Jacob’s discourse on the atonement in 2 Ne 9. These are too inspiring to come from a human. They must have come from God. But wait. King Benjamin, Alma, and Jacob would be humans also. Brilliant, beautiful, inspired, genius scripture that appears to be “above human capacity” comes from humans. All through the scriptures. We don’t believe God wrote the Bible. Or the Book of Mormon. So, even if it didn’t come from Joseph, it still came from a human. That doesn’t take away the importance or the validity of the teachings. And we can still call it from God, through a human, whether it be Joseph Smith or Alma.
Belief is not a Choice
I believe the Book of Mormon is a modern work. I’m not in this essay going to provide all the evidences for why I believe that. But I can’t unbelieve that. Stephen Smoot believes the Book of Mormon is ancient. He weighs the evidence and determines that belief at a subconscious level he can’t control. He can’t suddenly choose to believe the Book of Mormon is not an ancient record. If he did change his belief on that, it would happen at a subconscious level based on new evaluations of evidence. But it would be beyond his conscious control.
Religion is about faith, which is different than belief. Faith is “acting as if one knows”. Faith is a loyalty to God and the church you believe best represents God. It is taking Alma’s experiment to live the gospel and see if it works. Faith is showing up and fulfilling our priesthood obligations, serving each other, keeping our covenants, even when belief is wavering. We shouldn’t batter each other over beliefs. Joseph Smith said:
I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.
Smoot says over and over it would be impossible for the Book of Mormon to be scripture if it is a pious fraud. A pious fraud is when someone uses deception or fraud to do something they think is good. “No honey your butt doesn’t look big in that dress” is a pious fraud. A doctor giving a sugar pill for someone with anxiety is a pious fraud. It’s not right, but you get why they do it. In a perfect world, there would be no pious fraud. As an evolved society, we understand the dangers of that and how things backfire and trust is damaged. But this was par for the course in past times. Our scriptures are chock full of pious fraud and Stephen Smoot would agree (I think).
Deuteronomy is considered by many scholars (even faithful scholars) to be a pious fraud in that it purports to be written by Moses when it was likely written centuries later. Yet Jesus quoted Deuteronomy and even attributed authorship to Moses. He did the same for Isaiah, when scholars believe the latter chapters of Isaiah were not written by him but ascribed to him in a pious fraud. Most faithful scholars believe the historical events in the Bible portrayed prior to the Kings period are highly embellished and only loosely based on actual historical events.
Our modern morals and values have changed a bit to consider this more of a dishonest and immoral act to write scripture this way than the ancients viewed it, but for most of human history, pseudepigrapha (writing scripture and falsely ascribing it to someone else) has been a common and accepted practice.
Metaphorical scripture less valuable than literal
Laura Hales asked Stephen the question. “A critique of yours of the inspired fiction model of the Book of Mormon is that as things become hypothetical, they lose their zing.” Stephen responded by telling of the story of the Gadianton Robbers, and how they caused the downfall of the Nephites.
If there were no real Gadianton robbers, if Mormon was not a historian and prophet, if his son Moroni who also emphasized this point was likewise not an actual historical person not if none of this happened outside the fertile imagination of Joseph Smith, then I don’t see how any of it could be relevant in addressing any concerns in our current society.
This argument just doesn’t ring true to me. Jesus exclusively used parable to provide very salient and relevant insights that are just as relevant 2,000 years later. Even the Book of Mormon includes metaphor as part of its teaching, ie allegory of the Olive Tree, Alma’s experiment on the word, etc. I don’t personally hold this view, but some people believe Joseph got the idea of the Gadianton Robbers from modern day Freemasonry, which used covenants and oaths of secrecy, and had a sinister reputation among some Protestants in Joseph’s day. If this were true, then the Gadianton robbers actually would be based on real life history. But it doesn’t matter either way. Some historical events teach lessons that are relevant today. Some don’t. Some metaphors teach lessons that are relevant today. Some don’t. What sets scripture apart is that we believe it is inspired, as a church we canonize it and believe God makes it holy, and we believe that as we study it, we learn insights into improving our spiritual lives and grow closer to God. It has nothing to do with whether the events portrayed in scripture happened exactly as recorded.
Gold Plates vs Book of Mormon
One thing I appreciate Smoot for doing and Laura for prompting him to do so in the podcast interview, was to acknowledge the difference between the text of the Book of Mormon and the proposed text on the gold plates. This is a critical point to understand that faithful BYU professors Nick Frederick and Thomas Wayment, among others, have been making recently. Dr. Wayment identified 400 Book of Mormon verses that contain direct textual influence of the King James Bible, both Old and New Testament. Not just phrases but ideas and logic. They argue that we should view the King James Bible as an antecedent for the Book of Mormon.
What this means is that, for example, when in the English Book of Mormon text, Jacob in 2 Ne 9 is using logic and phraseology on the resurrection of Christ from Corinthians that we should understand that it would be impossible for that exact logic and phraseology to exist on ancient gold plates. The text on the gold plates in this case could be considered a catalyst for the modern logic and phraseology that came to Joseph Smith through revelation from God. This is an extension of the Book of Mormon Expansion Theory first postulated by LDS scholar Blake Ostler in the 1980’s.
This is an important acknowledgement, because it allows for believers of BOM historicity to also allow for some–maybe much–of the Book of Mormon text to have come through the mind of Joseph Smith in a revelatory process similar to the view many LDS scholars are coming to on the Book of Abraham. So when we make arguments like “oh he was an uneducated farm boy, how could he come up with it”, that is an accurate and reasonable defense. However, it is an argument not to prove historicity but rather to prove inspiration/revelation outside of historicity, because we do now acknowledge some (or much) of it did indeed come through Joseph external of the gold plates text.
No Middle Ground — Elder Holland Quote
Smoot quoted Elder Holland.
One has to take a do or die stand regarding the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. Reason and righteousness require it. Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan. But no one should tolerate any ludicrous or even laughable 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, literarally, historically, or theologically.
As a faithful Latter-day Saint, I sustain Elder Holland as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Though everything he says is not considered official church doctrine, I take seriously everything he says. I have a few thoughts on this quote.
- He makes no mention of historicity. I know it’s implied, but he doesn’t specifically state it. One can believe the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture, that Joseph was a prophet, that the BOM has divine origins, that it DOES NOT come as a contour of the imagination of a young boy’s mind, and firmly take a do or die stand regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ, while not believing it is historical.
- Elder Holland stated something similar regarding evolution and Adam and Eve and death before the fall. Which I assume Smoot probably disagrees with–or has a nuance for. LDS apostles speak very specifically on a number of issues, sometimes in contradiction with each other or past church leaders. We should take them seriously, and if what they say is difficult, we should struggle with what we need to understand, but we know that apostles are not infallible.
- This quote came 30 years ago, before new information that faithful LDS scholars now believe that the intertextuality of the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible is so strong that at a minimum some portions of the Book of Mormon must have its roots in modern times. So, even if an LDS scholar Apologist accepts historicity, most likely that person (like Smoot) acknowledges some content that must have originated through Joseph Smith. We no longer should eliminate Joseph Smith’s contribution to the text, even if it is deemed minor and inspired by God.
Though I spend a lot of time talking about my paradigm of the Book of Mormon and the restoration, I acknowledge to some degree it is an inferior position. It’s unorthodox compared to what is believed and taught by mainstream LDS members and leaders. Faith would come a bit easier for me if I believed in the Book of Mormon the same way I did 20 years ago. It’s easier to gain new new converts who believe the Book of Mormon literally than metaphorically. The impact of the story of the visit of the resurrected Savior to the Nephites might be more meaningful reading it as actual history than reading it as metaphor, having faith it could have happened in the same way. Maybe. I say maybe, because in some ways my faith right now exceeds the faith I had when I believed in the literal paradigm. Like Nephi and Laman and Lemuel taught us, the impact of miracles and actual events last short term, while the impact of the Holy Ghost lasts long term.
I don’t market my material intentionally to mainstream, literal believing Mormons to get them to believe metaphorically. I only do this for others who have lost belief in the literal paradigm and are looking for a different paradigm to hang onto what they believe is beautiful and true of the core message of the restored Church.
I don’t ask for equal standing from believers like Stephen Smoot. But I do ask for acceptance and a valid seat at the table.
Ultimately, I view Stephen Smoot and I on the same team. We could be sitting in the pew together on Sunday. We could be on a Friday night double date to the temple with our wives. If he could find someone to marry. We could be side by side with shovel in hands on an Elder’s quorum service project. We both feel deeply about our testimony of the restored Church. We both love the Book of Mormon and testify that it is the inspired word of God. We both get tweaked by Exmormon Reddit and defend the Church from critics. I feel this attack on the non-historical but faithful model of the BOM is an unnecessary diversion from the good work Smoot could be doing building up the kingdom of God using his talent as a scholar and persuasiveness as an LDS Apologist. My request for Smoot and others with the same perspective is to enlarge the tent of what you view as acceptable Mormon belief, avoid internal strife and boundary maintenance with other believers, and if you desire to defend the Church then to focus on defending the Church against critics who truly wish to harm the Church.
Smoot says something very important to those who are struggling with Book of Mormon historicity. He acknowledges that it’s difficult for some to believe but encourages them to work, struggle, research, be open to changing paradigms but don’t abandon historicity of the Book of Mormon. I completely agree one should work, struggle, research, and be open to changing paradigms in order to preserve testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the restored Church. But part of that changing paradigm for many is to move to a non-historical model of the Book of Mormon.
I am an active faithful LDS who believes the Book of Mormon is not historical. I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. I do not think he was lying, conniving huckster. I’m offended by that. I believe he received revelation similar to other ancient and modern prophets to bring forth the Book of Mormon as the inspired Word of God. It has transformed my life and continues to turn my heart back to my Savior, Jesus Christ.
I don’t understand the need to force everyone to accept the literal nature of the BoM. If you’re in a point in your life where you like the teachings of the book but you can’t square it with history, then by all means, keep believing in the values of the book and read it as an allegory.
As someone who reads it as historical, I have no problem with another member that doesn’t share my viewpoint, we both believe in the teachings of the book and that’s what matters.
First, let me say that I enjoy the point you make about being on the same team. Debate and argument are critical to vetting ideas, but zoom out far enough, and anyone you debate and argue with are ultimately on the same team.
Smoot does make at least one point that I don’t think you addressed directly here, and I would be interested in your view. How does one square the actual, very literal accounts of the gold plates, both by Joseph Smith and by the various witnesses, with a totally ahistorical view of the Book of Mormon. To acknowledge the text of the plates as a catalyst fora loose rendition of the plates is one thing, but a completely allegorical book doesn’t seem to need the gold plates at all. I’m also not sure that an appeal to the Book of Abraham gets exactly where you’re going with the Book of Mormon. Most faithful LDS scholars that I have read commenting on the Book of Abraham hold that Joseph Smith restored an authentic account., whether that account was actually written on the papyri or the papyri were a catalyst for receiving it.* With the gold plates, we’re talking about a physical artifact that, if the Book of Mormon is not historical, would have no explanation. Did God create a real, physical object to inspire Joseph Smith to pen an ahistorical extended parable? That just doesn’t make sense to me.
I do appreciate the faithful ahistorical view of the Book of Mormon because, while I believe the Book of Mormon is an actual account of people who really lived, I don’t think that point is necessary to accept the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is the best explanation of the inspired fiction or non-historical model that I have read. Thank you. I appreciate the tone as honest and non-combative.
I don’t think of myself as simple-minded, but it works better for me to think of Lehi and Nephi and Mormon and Moroni and so forth as real people in history, as I think of Abraham and Moses and David and Solomon and Mary and Jesus and the other Mary and Peter as real people in history. And it works better for me to believe there was a real garden and flood and parting of the sea and crucifixion and resurrection in history. I am open to thoughts that there may be some embellishment or illustration or hyperbole or imagery in the scripture text, and maybe even some honest error — I see that as to be expected.
I also think it works best for our official instruction and curriculum to consistently treat these as real — real people in real places who faced real situations and made real decisions.
Again, thank you.
DSC…I casually address that point and also link to an article on the Ann Taves materialization theory. The main point I make is that I don’t feel like I have to address it or answer it. Some things are just confusing and there are no great answer for them. If I had a gun to my head to answer on a lie detector test, I would probably say some sort of pious fraud. But even saying that sounds more forceful than I would mean it.
ji, thanks for the nice comment. I agree that official material and talks and lessons should talk about Book of Mormon prophets as actual people and the events as actual. We do the same for Bible, even when there is question on historicity.
Thanks CIT. This is great. I have long thought the same thing about a human writing scriptures whether it is Alma or Joseph Smith. The main question to me is how God talks to prophets and if it is okay for prophets to exaggerate or oversell the experience. Members do it.
I have heard members talk about seeing dead relatives in the temple. A lady in our ward said her father had a personal witness of Jesus Christ. The Stake President bore witness after doing a boundary change that they considered a number of options and The Lord shut them down until they got it right. My bishop said he had never had a spiritual confirmation like the one he had when he issued me my current calling. Last week I learned that after a bishop is released, he forgets every sin ever confessed to him.
It is easier to believe that our leaders have super-human powers, that God talks face to face with prophets, that scriptures are literal, that an angel with a sword started polygamy blah blah blah. This whole “seeing through glass darkly” thing sucks.
I think everyone’s grasp of reality is a little different too. I have heard people re-tell stories where I was present and it amazes me how much differently we remember them.
I just listened to this podcast and appreciated reading this. I appreciate that Stephen is bright, does not come across as arrogant and seems like he would be a good dude to hang out with. I think the audience for this orthodox all-in members who would see this as strengthening their already literal positions. I agree that it’s easier to be all-in with this kind of faith and the message is for these people to stay strong and avoid any of the information that would weaken that world view. I think, intellectually, there were a lot of problems, many of which you pointed out in your post. Here are some of my observations:
1. He makes a straw man out of a non-literal interpretation of the Bible. Most Mormons are unfamiliar with the non-literal arguments and do not realize how generally these are accepted in a big part of Christianity. I like “the Bible is true and some of it actually happened.” We are uncomfortable with the idea of sacred myth. However, I would argue that starting with this view of the Bible makes a non-historical view of the BOM much more comfortable. I believe Stephen frames a non-literal view as really out there, to help his argument.
2. I agree that the integrity of JS is dangerous ground. Even the most stalwart believer would have to acknowledge he lied publicly about polygamy and was also less than forthcoming about money digging in his 1838 history.
3. I see things like this as really opening the door for more people to leave the Church. People with nuanced or non-literal views may feel there is no place for them and leave. This kind of black and white, either/or thinking is what makes the CES Letter so effective and totally crushes testimonies when people are exposed to the historical data. I also really disliked how he used the old line that the information on the internet is skewed or all-out false. Again, when people learn that most of it is true, it really makes them mad and they usually leave.
Also, I think the fact that the Church has acknowledged the money digging and use of the seer stone brings up some very hard issues. As Dan Vogel says, Joseph either: 1. Had actual visions of treasure in the stone; 2. Thought he had visions in the stone but did not; or 3. Was deceiving people. If he actually had visions in the stone, why did he never find any treasure? Were other seers seeing things in stones? Why did they not find treasure? What made Joseph’s gift superior to theirs?
Thanks everyone for the discussion:
I still believe in God and in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. However, I’m personally just simply exhausted by the endless gyrations the LDS Church is having to perform in order to convince its’ members to continue believing in it’s “truthfulness” and it’s ties to some kind of historical reality. I just don’t have the energy or interest in playing “spiritual hopscotch” – jumping from one theory to the next – anymore. To me, it’s just kinda/sorta turned into a epistemological dumpster fire.
From a post I made earlier this year:
I was always taught throughout my years that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple”. Even in the early days of “The Church” John Taylor said the following:
“In reality, the fact that a principle can be understood even by a child is proof of its power. President John Taylor said, “It is true intelligence for a man to take a subject that is mysterious and great in itself and to unfold and simplify it so that a child can understand it” (“Discourse,” Deseret News, Sept. 30, 1857, 238). Far from diminishing its impact, purity and simplicity of expression allow the Holy Spirit to witness with greater certainty to the hearts of men.”
“During His earthly ministry, Jesus constantly compared the simplicity and authenticity of His teachings to the tortuous logic of the Pharisees and other doctors of the law. They tried time and again to test Him with sophisticated questions, but His replies were always crystal clear and childlike in their simplicity.”
“Rejection of the principle of simplicity and clarity has been the origin of many apostasies, both collective and individual.”
As I’ve watched Google and the Internet turn “The Church” and it’s history into a mass of confusion, obsfucation by its’ leaders, mental gymnastics by its’ apologists….I’ve come to the conclusion that’s it’s just one huge hot mess! No wonder so many are simply focusing on Christ of the New Testament….or simply dumping it all.
You have rejected Mormonism and its central tenet, even though you accept and participate in Mormon culture. You cannot coherently call Joseph Smith a true prophet. I am not saying this to offend you or say that you can’t participate in the Mormon church. Of course you can if you want to. But let’s call a spade a spade. Mormonism is based on the idea that the Book of Mormon contains the words of ancient Americans about their interactions with Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith’s claim to prophethood is based on the idea that he actually translated this record of ancients in the Americas. To say that the Book of Mormon isn’t historical is to say that Joseph Smith made it up and was therefore a liar and a fraud. There is no other coherent argument.
Regarding the first point about Joseph’s integrity: Ben Spackman, in one of the recent Gospel Tangent’s podcasts, suggests that Genesis can serve as a model to talk about how revelation is received by the Church. Moses (and the JST sure seems to suggest that Joseph Smith believed that Moses received the revelation pretty close to exactly how it is described in the OT) sure seemed to receive a revelation that describes a flat disc earth sandwiched between the waters of heaven and hell. The ancient Israelites sure seemed to believe that this was the cosmology revealed by Moses, and I can only assume that Moses believed his revealed cosmology as well. If I can believe that Moses was a prophet, and that Moses received a “false” revelation about the structure of the universe, then I can believe that Joseph Smith was still a prophet even if he is wrong about the historical nature of the Book of Mormon.
You’ve essentially rejected Mormonism, even though you continue to accept and participate in Mormon culture. I don’t say this to offend, but come on let’s call a spade a spade. If the Book of Mormon isn’t historical, then Joseph Smith made it up. It is the only plausible alternate explanation. You can’t coherently call him a true prophet of God if you are claiming him to have made up the Book of Mormon.
John W., I just read your comments over at times and seasons about this same subject and you come across as a little harsh man. Please tell me you don’t treat your fellow ward members with different views like this. Imagine how boring church would be if everyone thought just like you.
Zach, about everyone who attends church regularly does think like me. That to believe Mormonism is to believe in a historical Book of Mormon. Even most the folks on the ex-Mormon appear to agree with me. To say that the Book of Mormon is not historical is to reject everything that every leader LDS authority has said about it. On the cover, it says that the Book of Mormon is a second testament of Jesus Christ. What is that supposed to mean if not that ancient Americans actually witnessed Jesus?
I don’t write to offend or insult. I am simply saying that the OP doesn’t actually believe in Mormonism, at least not in a key tenet so fundamental that to reject it is to implicitly reject other fundamental tenets of Mormonism, and that for him to say that he does believe in Mormonism is highly misleading.
I feel ignorant. I read that there is no dna evidence on official church site, When you visit church history sites there is no stone box. Just confusing.
Joseph Smith was no prophet of God I think he was a charlatan. End of days many false prophet will fake their churches and their beliefs. Don’t get me wrong but if you told half the Mormon converts that Smith had 30 plus brides I would be asking questions. We should not tolerate any ludicrous or even laughable lies by Joseph Smith prophet Mormon Church. Robert Sherriff Australia email@example.com
John W is a troll around these parts. He’s not trying to promote a historical view of the Book of Mormon. He’s not even trying to have a serious discussion.
I’ll say it again, this time on this blog. It’s not up to you to decide who is and isn’t a “true believer” in Mormonism. There is no baptismal or temple recommend interview question regarding historicity of the Book of Mormon.
This is a frustrating topic for me personally for a number of reasons, but it’s a really solid post. Thanks, churchistrue. Although I disagree with John W’s point of view and stand with others who call him out about his rigidity of belief and his inappropriate attempts to define for others what they believe, I believe his comments are a perfect illustration of the church’s dilemma. Church leaders have, as of late, really tried just emphasizing the importance of the Book of Mormon’s message rather than its historical or geographical grounding. That in itself tells me that they are moving away from historical claims which are becoming increasingly unsupportable as they recede further into history and as current understandings of sociology, anthropology and the early inhabitants of the Americas continue to evolve.
What’s truly ironic about a lot of these discussions is that often, the folks who are the dyed in the wool historical Book of Mormon camp (like John W) are the ones who seem to be less concerned with growing and nurturing their faith and more concerned with asserting the literal, historical truth of the Book of Mormon. I really don’t care what other folks believe about the B of M either way, but insisting upon the literal truth of something when we’re constantly told we should walk by faith just strikes me as really counterintuitive and contrary to what even the Book of Mormon itself says about faith, but of course that’s just my opinion and I wouldn’t call someone not a Mormon if they didn’t hold the same view.
And lastly, I’ve always wondered about how the literal B of M believers’ view the Church’s own history. If the historical, literal truth of the Book of Mormon is so important, would the historically established truth of Joseph Smith’s life be equally important? The fact that he was fooled by the Kinderhook plates? The fact that he kept a good deal of his polygamous activity hidden from Emma? The fact that he approached the wives of other men after he had sent the husbands on missions? The fact that the few records we have of experts having a look at “reformed Egyptian” characters and the Book of Abraham stuff completely dismisses Joseph Smith’s “translations”? I mean, all of that stuff is a matter of historical record too, yes? So if the literal history of things is so important, I’m wondering how the literal B of M folks view Joseph Smith’s (and the early church’s) history. This isn’t me being snarky, I’m genuinely curious about how or whether one’s view of history shifts depending upon the kind or nature of history that’s being talked about.
And just as an aside, it may be worth pointing out to John W that there are no questions in the temple recommend interview that ask about the Book of Mormon’s historicity. So you can be temple worthy and not have a literal, historical view of the Book of Mormon, which seems to indicate that the church at large doesn’t necessarily cleave to John W’s view on the subject.
John W. “about everyone who attends church regularly does think like me.”
John may be remarkably good at discerning what others think (as opposed to what they say) even when they keep silent. He may think “about everyone” is further from 100% than I have understood it. But in any event, I know of and have heard from a number of people who attend church regularly who do not express their thoughts in a way that could be mistaken for thinking like John. That number is significant to me, even if it is a minority.
Perhaps I just don’t like generalizations or have little faith in John’s “power of discernment”, but the quoted statement reminded me of a widely distributed poster I saw in a German speaking country in the 60s. It showed a line drawing of a fastidious man eating a boiled egg from its shell resting in an egg cup. The caption read (but in German and without the underlined omission here): “Eat sh___t! Ten million flies cannot be wrong!”
Incidentally, I don’t subscribe to any expressed view of BoM historicity. I find it unnecessary to do so — or to argue about whether the BoM is historical, or in what sense or what parts of it may be historical. Historicity is irrelevant to my testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. (Not going to get into possible meanings of “true” here.) I believe John has not correctly identified the “only plausible alternative explanation”, but John’s expression is consistent with some of the black and white — either/or — thinking articulated and sponsored at times by various church leaders and others. I also don’t subscribe to John’s limited view of what can properly be called Mormonism (at least prior to President Nelson’s comments ). Perhaps Joseph Smith didn’t either. From the quotations in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church — Joseph Smith manual:
“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth…”
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.”
“Truth is ‘Mormonism.’ God is the author of it. He is our shield. … It was by His voice that we were called to a dispensation of His Gospel in the beginning of the fullness of times. It was by Him we received the Book of Mormon…”
For me these statements and something similar to the “five foundational assertions” articulated by the Givens (“The Crucible of Doubt”) as distinguishing Mormonism from the views of nontheist cosmologists and from the views of Christian contemporaries of Joseph Smith envision a “Mormonism” far larger and more flexible than John W.’s proposed use of the term — and still not at all content-less.
But I am grateful to be able to read and expand my grasp of others’ thoughts on both subjects.
John W. I agree that most members, maybe all, you attend church with believe the BOM is historical. But there are some things you believe that others in your ward don’t. Your beliefs about Adam and Eve and evolution, for example. That’s a subject there are a lot of different ideas on, and when you think of it, that’s a pretty big issue. Maybe even bigger than BOM historicity. And somehow you find a way to coexist together with all those different ideas about Adam and Eve. I know it seems like such a big difference on what you think is such an important subject, but I think we want to enlarge the tent not shrink it. Especially in a time where the narrative is changing rapidly, in terms of how we look at many of these apologetic issues. Ten years ago seer stone translation and the papyri as catalyst were taboo topics. Things are changing fast.
For those have trouble believing the BofM as historical, I recommend John Sorenson’s capstone work called “Mormon’s Codex”. While some of it maybe circumstantial, there is plenty of evidence that the BofM is what it claims to be historically.
There are so many problems with your blatantly disrespectful comment and I don’t want to start an argument. But did you even read this entire post? The whole point is that there are more than 2 options. CIT is very articulately explaining his middle way – the BoM is not historical and is still scripture. If Joseph Smith was inspired by God then he didn’t “make it up.” Even though I don’t hold this view, I respect and honor those who do, as well as those who see the book as historical.
And what is “mormonism?” Is it accepting the BoM as historical? Or is it faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, etc.?
And don’t presume to tell someone what they can or cannot believe. CIT has every right to call Joseph Smith a true prophet of God even if he sees the Book of Mormon as a result of revelation from God more than translation of an ancient document.
Thank you CIT for your well thought out post. If there was indeed a space at the table for this way of thinking, perhaps I would still be attending today.
I think John W is attracting some ire that he doesn’t really deserve. His experience is similar to mine. In the early 1990s (I was born in the 1970s) when I was really finding my identity as a Mormon, when I was the most “Mormon” that I would ever be, I couldn’t have pointed to anyone in my ward and said, “That person doesn’t believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.”
First of all, it would never have dawned on me that anyone could possibly believe it to be scripture without believing it to be historical. The Mormon experience expressed on blogs as this one was so far off my radar, I wouldn’t have been able to even conceive of it during one of my wildest flights of fantasy! No one in my ward gave any indication they believed anything other than an historical BoM. I never even heard of such a thing on my mission!
No…it wasn’t until I was in my late 30s that I began to hear about this strange animal called a New Order Mormon. And that is only because I started to venture away from the mainstream LDS church.
When I was 18, the only way I was going to access anti-Mormon literature would’ve been to have gone up to my boss, who attended an Assembly of God church, and ask him to tell me all about the wonderful things he is reading about the Mormons. He would’ve been more than happy to sit me down and fill me in on it.
I am sure the ages of participants here vary greatly, but if I were to hazard a guess based upon my experience, I’d have to say that many of you had full access to the Internet throughout your adolescence. I mean to say that in 1995, you were between 11 and 13 or younger. If not, you had access to a wild variety of “extracurricular” and unofficial LDS writings.
When Godmakers came to town and was presented by a local church, our Ward members were told not to go. The wise college professor decided to go anyway, primarily so he could return and assure us it was all a pack of lies (which Godmakers mostly was.)
I am only saying this to show you how insular Mormons were from my experience in the 1980s and early 90s. Granted, I lived in Appalachia, so maybe that had something to do with it.
Let’s not gaslight people here. Wheat and Tares is by no means representative of the mainstream LDS church. And you guys know you arent! You know that mothers and fathers aren’t coming here for FHE tips. Seriously…..
It’s taken a while, but I admire Smoot’s conviction.
John, I think you are misjudging the ages of many of us here at W&T. I’m rapidly approaching 50, and would not disagree with much of your sentiment. See my post https://wheatandtares.org/2013/08/01/growing-up-mormon-in-britain/
This post is one of a huge variety of posts at W&T covering a great many topics.
John, your experience is common, but “seriously” no one is purporting that the bloggers and commenters at Wheat and Tares are representative of the mainstream LDS church. Some individuals among them are, some are not, some were once but no more, some never were, some are not LDS. In fact, at least as long ago as B.H.Roberts in the early 20th century there were committed LDS folks questioning the historicity of the BoM. At least as long ago as the 50s/60s a lot of LDS folk knew of such questioning. At least as long as 30 years ago some committed LDS baby-boomer parents were responding to questioning teenagers that “no, not everything you hear at church is true; we have lots of people doing their best to learn and teach truth and all make mistakes.” Nobody I read here is pretending that those approaches are or have been mainstream LDS. Your experience is certainly more mainstream. I’m not sure you have used “gaslight” for what it originally meant as a verb, but if any such gaslighting is going on here, it is by those who insist that JS could not be a prophet if the BoM is not historical — usually without bothering to be clear about the extent to which they mean “historical” or why they insist that a prophet must be infallible.
p.s. I suspect, but don’t know, that “ire” might also be going too far as a characterization of responses to John W. It’s certainly going too far for mine.
p.p.s. I am more than 20 years older than Hedgehog. Committed LDS friends of mine include some who thought pretty much my current way nearly 50 years ago and some who didn’t until only very few years ago. None of those are under the illusion that their thoughts are mainstream LDS or that their wards are even generally aware of their non-mainstream thoughts. Others live in more accepting wards. It does not seem wise to assume that silence means agreement. The non-mainstream minority might actually be larger than many suppose. I have seen, at least on subjects other than BoM historicity, that a number of people who appear to match the Molly Mormon/Peter Priesthood stereotypes are revealed as significantly different from those stereotypes when they share their thoughts privately. I wouldn’t expect anyone to have access to enough persons’ private thoughts to have any reliable notion of how large such a minority of committed LDS people actually is.
Church is True,
Appreciate your thoughts. I’m an actively participating member of the Church, with a belief that the BoM was written by Joseph Smith, and is a 19th century work. I agree that its inspiring and spiritual although I credit this to its New Testament basis. The most profound theological concepts are really New Testament riffs. The times when the BoM diverges from NT theology it results in things like Modalism, which the Church its self steers clear of honestly addressing.
I think attempts to put the BoM and Bible on similar to equal footing in terms of historicity, is plain crazy. That doesn’t mean that the Bible is historical accurate, but its incomparably better as a historical record than the BoM.
Coming to this conclusion has definitely impacted my testimony. If the BoM wasn’t produced in the way we were told that it was, the implications are far reaching. Our own leaders have made this sudden death pronouncement regarding the BoM.
CIT, I think you make valid points regarding these criticisms, but you seem to unnaturally jolt back to claiming Joseph is a true prophet, the Church is true, I support the Brethren, etc. It seems a bit disingenuous to properly identify these very serious issues, without being honest regarding their implications and relying instead on Mormon “safe words” to virtue signal that your still in the boat mentally.
Gregggg very interesting comment re: your last paragraph. I think you’re right that I do this sometimes. I’ve written hundreds of pages of material now over the years, maybe even thousands, if you include all my fb posts and comments, etc. I think if you take my body of work, you get where I come from, and there’s no ambiguity in terms of all the ramifications of shifting paradigms and what I do with that and how I see it. But it’s difficult to pack the whole philosophy in every post, and sometimes I leave things in a way that people might think I’m doing the “safe word” thing. Good feedback, I’ll keep that in mind. I define clearly at different times what I mean when I say Joseph is a prophet, the Church is true, and I support the brethren. But I can do a better job to see if I’m avoiding an issue by leaning on safe words or virtue signalling.
The Book of Mormon is presented as a second witness of Jesus Christ. If it is fiction, then it is not a witness of anything.
I recognize it has been through several, probably many hands. If taken completely at face value you still have that the whole thing was written by Moroni, a “Readers Digest condensed version” figuratively speaking, based on source material not seen by anyone after Moroni.
In my opinion and belief, the important bits come through loud and clear and the writers believed they were writing history.
Proving the Book of Mormon is NOT what it claims to be would be very bad for many members, myself included, since it really is the cornerstone of this restoration. It cannot be fiction but everything else is okay. Everything ELSE can be fiction and the restoration survives.
I recognize that people obtain a belief in this or that, not all have the same belief. But to conclude that the Book of Mormon is fiction seriously weakens, or ought to weaken, the foundation of anyone’s faith in the restored gospel.
Michael, you make perfect sense to me, but to the Postmodern Mormons, something can be a second witness AND be fiction. And Joseph himself even could have been deluded about what it was that he dug out of that hill. Because to a Postmodernist, everything means anything and nothing.
Joseph Smith either dug something out of that ground or he didn’t. If he didn’t, he is a liar.
If he did and it wasn’t an historical record of an ancient people, then what was it and who put it there? And why would it be preferable to have anyone believe it was something other than what it really was?
Brother Sky asks (so he knows this is for him) “I’m wondering how the literal B of M folks view Joseph Smith’s (and the early church’s) history. This isn’t me being snarky, I’m genuinely curious about how or whether one’s view of history shifts depending upon the kind or nature of history that’s being talked about.”
D&C 93 defines truth as a knowledge of things as they were, and as they are, and as they are going to be. Nothing escapes from the all-seeing eye of “truth”.
Truth is extremely difficult to find and even more difficult to know that a true thing is indeed true. Everything else is just claims that you believe or not based on mostly unconscious processes in your mind.
How I view Joseph Smith’s history:
Grains of salt. Lots of salt. He had friends and they wrote things. He had enemies and they wrote things.
Knowing his history is particularly important in the early years. It seems fairly well established that Mormonism burst on the scene rather abruptly and without precedent at the hands of a 21 year old farm boy. I would really like to see someone else do that and then I’ll believe it possible to do it without invisible help. His personal faults, as you or I might judge such things, are probably important to his mission. If he was D-Luded, then so am I and so be it. I’ll see you on the other side or maybe I won’t.
John, I harbor some questions that I doubt will be answered in this life. I believe that God allows, even requires, violation of his own laws from time to time when obedience to one must violate another. Knowing the order of things helps to understand why Nephi presumably was not only justified, but required to kill Laban.
How much deception exists? That is not known, but what IS known, by joseph Smith himself, is that he was keeping one or more pretty important secrets, so much so it is recorded (there’s that claim thing again) that he said his followers would kill him if he revealed this particular secret.
So for now I have a doubt that he obtained the plates from a stone box in Hill Cumorah. That he had plates is attested to by 8 witnesses. What was ON them is not witnessed by those 8. I consider it likely that he obtained the plates, and was likely directed to do so by the angel Moroni, but where exactly he got them from, or from whom, is likely not revealed in truth.
it is difficult to hide “truth” but you can easily bury it in an avalanche so you don’t know which thing is true and which is not.
In a hundred years my descendants, if any, or other persons that have access to my journals, will wonder what parts of it are true and what parts are metaphorical, allegorical, figures of speech and so on. Eventually someone may wonder whether my own journal is historical. How can I assure future generations that it is historical, that I am writing these words right now?
I can think of no way. They will believe, or not, based on their desires and study. It may be that where it is sufficiently important that by the power of the Holy Ghost (or representative thereof) may certify that the entire thing, or parts of it, are true and by that certification also signify the importance of it.
Appreciate the response and admittedly I dont understand the full scope of your nuanced views. On my journey, I’ve consciously decided to avoid the full impact of the collision course of Mormonism vs reality. Instead I have tried to focus on the positive impacts Church participation can bring. I think you pursue a “middle path” based on this concept.
As others have highlighted, if the BoM is not historical in its content or origin story, it is a fraud. It seems you believe it’s not “all or nothing” or sudden death, but that is indeed exactly what it is. That has nothing to with whether the content is uplifting, inspiring, life changing, etc. It can be both a fraud and inspiring. Such is the messiness of life. It cant however be a fraud and simultaneously not a fraud.
Michael 2: Thank you for your thoughtful and helpful reply. It helped me to understand your concept of history and historicity. I respect your viewpoint even though it’s not mine and I appreciate the time you took to reply. For you and others who have that view, I’d only remark that fictional works can illustrate true principles. Hamlet is a work of fiction, but it can teach us a good deal about mortality, alienation and the complexity and importance of family ties, among other things. I feel the same about the Book of Mormon, though I certainly realize it’s not the only perspective available to Mormons. Just my two cents. Thanks again for comment.
Are we not forgetting one key point in all of this discussion? Specifically that the Mormon Church and its leaders since the inception of the Book of Mormon have clearly, openly and explicitly taught its members that it was a historical record. Putting aside the newfound shifting non-historical narrative that is being pontificated herein, let’s NOT discount the hundreds of thousands if not millions of LDS Mormons that have made key life changing and important decisions based on the narrative that the Book of Mormon is historical! To fail to recognize this belies the fact that the Mormon’s Church false historical narrative at its core served a great immoral role in usurping the very essence of individual informed consent!
Thanks churchistrue for a very interesting article. I’m relatively new to all of this so please bear with me as I try to wrap my mind around new ways of thinking about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. What I’m hoping to better understand is:
#1 – If the Book of Mormon isn’t historical than Moroni never existed. If he never existed how could he have visited Joseph Smith, some say as many as 27 times?
#2 – In Lucy Mack Smiths 1853 autobiography she said that Joseph would tell the family stories about “the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.” If the Book of Mormon isn’t historical would we then have to admit that he lied about all of this?
I hope I don’t sound argumentative. I’ve been on a faith journey (I don’t like to use the word crisis), that has led me away from my former orthodox beliefs and I’m still trying to figure out how to put everything back together again.
Where can I read more about the 400 biblical phrases that Dr. Wsyment had identified? Has he published this list?
“Though I spend a lot of time talking about my paradigm of the Book of Mormon and the restoration, I acknowledge to some degree it is an inferior position. It’s unorthodox compared to what is believed and taught by mainstream LDS members and leaders.”
I don’t think you phrased this well. Your position is either more or less accurate than the prevailing orthodox view or it is not. And the fact that it is unorthodox speaks only to its acceptance and popularity, not to its inferiority or superiority. You obviously believe the non-historical approach is more viable than literal historicity, so you should not be shy about advancing your position. Heaven knows, Smoot has no qualms about doing that.
And the rest of your concession falls a bit flat as well: ” It’s easier to gain new new converts who believe the Book of Mormon literally than metaphorically.” But wouldn’t that be a sandy foundation upon which to build a testimony since there is good possibility the new convert will subsequently discovers that the all-or-nothing historicity stance doesn’t hold water? (Though I really liked your point that miracles are ephemeral when compared to the lasting influence of the Holy Ghost.)
Having said this, I appreciate the humility and diplomacy with which you layout your arguments. I personally share your view on this subject and believe that if those on the other side of the aisle exhibited similar moderation and perhaps entertained the possibility, at least for a split second, that they might be wrong, we could stop wasting our time on something that pales in significance to the gospel principles taught by the Book of Mormon.
“In a hundred years my descendants, if any, or other persons that have access to my journals, will wonder what parts of it are true and what parts are metaphorical, allegorical, figures of speech and so on. Eventually someone may wonder whether my own journal is historical. How can I assure future generations that it is historical, that I am writing these words right now?”
When you write your journals, do you actually write in allegories? Do you record events at work that actually didn’t happen, but which are allegories of deep spiritual truths? If you want to insure that future generations know that the words you are writing are historical truth, you tell them so….like the Nephites did when they wrote down their history.
You are making this harder than it needs to be because you need it to be more complicated than it actually is.
I respect your view and how you’ve generally articulated it, but a low-blow like this probably doesn’t help dialogue…”If he could find someone to marry.”
Treeoflife. If the Book of Mormon is not historical, it clearly means we have to explain a lot of things that either make Joseph seem to be lying or deluded. Moroni visits, gold plates, etc. In the essay, I say it’s OK to not address that directly and leave it as a mystery. But my personal theory is that there is likely some level of pious fraud occurring.
jpv…it’s a joke.
Dan Vogel, in his introduction to his biography of Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, 2004), makes the point that accepting the historicity of the Book of Mormon should also mean accepting Joseph Smiths claims as a treasure seer. This is because they are contemporaneous events and used the same means, the “seer stone”, to obtain the revelations. Vogel writes:
“For example, Jonathan Thompson, testifying in Smith’s defense at the 1826 court hearing, reported that Smith once located a treasure chest with a seer stone. After digging several feet, the men struck something like a board or plank. They asked Smith to look into his stone again, but Smith refused, stating that the treasure was protected by the spirit of a murdered native American. Thompson remained a firm believer in Smith’s “professed skill,” adding that “on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging.”
Vogel later concludes:
“Those who believe that Smith literally translated the Book of Mormon from anciently engraved gold plates or who dismiss his treasure-seeing activities as irrelevant have difficulty with Thompson’s testimony. Central to this is the knowledge that Smith used the same stone to translate the Book of Mormon. The implications are clear: if Smith translated and received revelations with his stone, did he also locate real buried treasure by the same means? Specifically, in the instance that Thompson reported, was there an actual trunk and did Smith really see two Indians who had fought over it?”
Churchistrue’s approach is to doubt the historicity of both. This is a consistent approach. If you think Churchistrue should accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon should he also need to accept as historical Smith’s account of the murdered Native American and the treasure that was protected by the Native American spirit by settling it further away from the diggers? Keep in mind this was happening during the same period of time Smith was receiving instruction from Moroni and providing his family information “about the ancient inhabitants of this continent…”
On the other-hand, if you don’t believe the historicity of the stories associated with the treasure seeking, are you not in the same position as Churchistrue?
Dave C. meh. The requirement for BOM historicity and Joseph’s treasure seeking is divine/supernatural power. It’s not a requirement that God is involved in both or neither. I think it’s fine to think that Joseph’s non-religious treasure seeking was not sanctioned by God and not endorsed with divine power but that his religious related “treasure seeking” was.
In reply to Treeoflife comment “If the Book of Mormon isn’t historical would we then have to admit that he lied about all of this?”
I don’t have to admit anything BUT if it isn’t historical then Joseph Smith lied (in my opinion). Since it cannot (IMO) be proven either way for now, it becomes a matter of belief. Supposing the Book of Mormon could be validated; Zarahemla located. What then? I have a doubt that much would change; it would be like Jericho being located. The existence of God is not proven by discovering Jericho.
In reply to John’s comments (about my words): “If you want to insure that future generations know that the words you are writing are historical truth, you tell them so….like the Nephites did when they wrote down their history.”
I do not declare the truth of my writing since it is pointless to do so. A liar will declare the truth of his words. Therefore I write what I write and you choose whether to believe. In the case of me writing a dream or fiction I will identify it as such.
IN reply to Brother Sky: “fictional works can illustrate true principles.”
Yes, absolutely. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” uses fiction to superb effect illustrating human tendencies.
It is impossible for me to know how much of the Book of Mormon is actual history.
For now, I accept that the Book of Mormon is as it purports to be, not reading more or less into its words or mine.
That is right about Jericho. The finding of Jericho doesn’t prove the Jewish or the Christian story to be true. It does, however, verify that the Bible is an authentic historical document. Finding Zarahemla would therefore prove that the Book of Mormon is an authentic historical document, which would go a long way to proving that Joseph Smith received it the way he said he did. If he received it the way real ancient documents are received, namely the document sticks around and isn’t take back up into Heaven after it is translated, we wouldn’t need to find Zarahemla at all.
But alas….here we are. We have no plates. We have no Zarahemla. We have a hare-brained story of a young con artist using a rock in a hat to produce this book that rifts on 19th Century Protestant themes packaged up in a swash-buckling adventure tale about American liberty and loin-cloth-sporting, dark-skinned people that scalp their enemies.
John, for what its worth I suspect that Zarahemla *has* been found, it just isn’t called Zarahemla. Same with Jericho. How did anyone decide they had found Jericho? Well, its a bit circumstantial; there is no “Welcome to Jericho” sign.
What exists is a coincidence, an alignment of bible description to archaeology. It could be Jericho, and it is, for people that want it to be Jericho, and it is not, for those who wish it not to be.
It is a common way of thinking in the church (including among GAs) to promote an all-or-nothing approach: i.e., Joseph Smith is either a prophet and everything he revealed/translated is literally true, or he is a pious fraud. The Book of Mormon is either literally historically true, or it is a deception from Satan. One of the huge problems with this kind of thinking is that it applies equally logically to other religions. For example, if I don’t want to accept the Qur’an as binding scripture in my life, why then, it must be a complete Satanic fraud, and all of my Muslim friends are part of a Satanic cult. Everything in life becomes two-dimensionally black and white, and if they aren’t with us, then the devil is leading them to be against us. Seeing everything in B&W, us vs. them, may be a developmental stage, but it is a tragic place to remain for one’s entire adult life.
In above comment, in reference to Joseph Smith, I should have used a different term than “pious fraud.” I meant the false dichotomy that others have also described that Joseph Smith is either practically perfect in every way, or he is charlatan and trickster, and nothing in between. The “Pious Fraud” concept, at least as articulated by Dan Vogel and others, is actually one of many possible “middle positions” for Joseph Smith’s apparent character and/or historical impact.
What is the strongest evidence that the Book of Mormon, in addition to the text being a modern production, is non-historical as well?
Ostler and even Skousen believe the text was produced in the modern era while maintaining belief in historicity.