Testifying of historicity

As I was re-reading conference, I came across this closing statement by President Hinckley:

Now, in conclusion, I hope that all of you will remember that on this Sabbath day you heard me bear my witness that this is God’s holy work. The vision given the Prophet Joseph in the grove of Palmyra was not an imaginary thing. It was real. It occurred in the broad light of day. Both the Father and the Son spoke to the boy. He saw Them standing in the air above him. He heard Their voices. He gave heed to Their instruction…

The Book of Mormon is all that it purports to be—a work recorded by prophets who lived anciently and whose words have come forth “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations” (Book of Mormon title page).

He does not just leave his testimony to the Book of Mormon being true and then let us decide what “true” means. He says that it is “all that it purports to be”. He specifically endorses it as a historical record as described in the title page, which is, I suppose, the place to look to see what it purports to be. He also takes a very historical view of the First Vision.

Now personally, I don’t take these as statements of things I’m required to believe to be a member. I take them as guides to what is most likely true, and I’m lucky to get them.

124 comments for “Testifying of historicity

  1. My question to the Prophet: Is believing in the historicity of those events essential to our salvation? If yes, then how? If not, then why waste the breath?

  2. Believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon in the sense that those prophets actually lived and wrote does not mean one has to be too slavish to historical details that appear in the text. Don’t get me wrong, I think that many or maybe even most of the details that come through — take weights and measures, the speech of the king for example — are reliable.

    Rather, the reason I say this is because of how the initial plates were created. Some of the sections might be more accurate history than others, especially if they are sections included in the record in their whole form as written by the prophet/author. But parts consisting largely of summary by Mormon or Moroni as editors hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of years after the occurrence of the events depicted (Book of Ether) could conceivably be inaccurate in their details when measured against the standard of historical scholarship in our day and age. In this sense it would just be the typical distortion of time on memory or history qua heritage, transmitted over the generations. However, having said that, let’s not forget that it is given to seers to see the past, and the Spirit allows them to see things as they really are (Jacob 4:13).

    Also, at least some of the “spiritual” stories could conceivably be in the form of a midrash on a more ancient teaching from the Old Testament (i.e. the Brass Plates).

  3. john f.,

    I agree with you. The irony is that if the BoM were perfect in every detail (which it boldly claims not to be!) it would be grossly UNhistorical in the sense that none of our historical documents are perfect in every detail.

    BTW: My favorite ‘error’ in the BoM is Helaman 7:7, which is a gross misreading of Nephite history. But even that teaches a lesson, I think: about the dangers of nostalgia and our tendency to glorify the past. Good stuff.

  4. Amen to all that, Frank M., John F., Julie S.

    Paul M., maybe you should worry more about explaining yourself to the prophet some day than you should about the prophet explaining himself to you.

  5. Thanks for the comments.


    If it is important enough for him to testify about it in General Conference, it is important enough for me to listen.

  6. But there has never been any ambiguity out of SLC on this one, has there? The message has been consistent from the get-go: everything hinges on the BoM’s literal historicity. I don’t see anything particularly interesting or new in this GBH quote at all. What WOULD be interesting to explore is if any leader has ever made a comment which might open the door to alternative understandings of what the BoM’s “truth” means. The Community of Christ (RLDS) is well down that road already. I’ll try to post some links from them later if I have time.

  7. john f.
    Moroni admitted on the Title Page of the BoM that there are errors in the book and attributes them to the mistakes of men. I would assume that to include such historical inaccuracies and transcription/abridgement errors as you mentioned.

  8. At MHA, Phil Barlow made a great statement (which I cannot do justice here, it was really deliciously worded) to the effect of that “when the CoC abandoned BoM historicity, they abandoned the BoM.” The Church has no reason to follow the CoC example.

  9. I thought there was something new in the way Gordon Hinckley expressed himself. He was deliberate in laying out what his belief is concerning the Book of Mormon in a way that seemed to acknowledge other concepts that someone else may hold to in expressing belief in the book. There was a potential ambiguity that he chose to respond to. I can’t think to have heard the matter put in that way in conference before.

  10. 4.
    re: Hel 7:7.

    Julie, maybe I’m missing it, but my reading of that verse is that “in the days when my father Nephi *first* came out of the land of Jerusalem,” that *Nephi’s* people were “easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord.”

    The BoM’s record says that:
    1) Nephi’s brothers’ people were not so and
    2) Nephi foresaw that his people’s failing to be so in the future would lead to their destruction,
    but that his people were like this at that time.
    Do we read that his wife, children, or other followers weren’t obedient and faithful when they first left Jerusalem?

  11. manean–

    I think it convoluted to read “Nephi’s people” as “not his brothers.” Further, given that even Sarai grumbled when they first left, we’d have to read it as “not his brothers or his mother.” Oh wait, I just remembered that Lehi got all irked about the bow. So now we have to read “not his brothers or his mother or his father.” Which means that “Nephi’s people” means “his wife and children who are not really mentioned in the text.”

    (BTW, I didn’t intend for the above to be sarcastic; it was just a stream of thought.)

    I think my position is supported also by a verse somewhere . . . um . . . in the Old Testament . . . near the back . . . where the prophet talks about how faithful the people were in Moses’ time. I think it natural to glorify the past–we do it to the 1950s.

  12. Mike,

    I don’t think there has been ambiguity, but I am not sure how many people who doubt historicity accept that. Either way, it was interesting to me to see it stated so directly so I thought I’d share.

    Ronan, indeed.

  13. 13
    Julie, thx for the answer. I always took “Nephi’s people” to mean Nephi’s followers, which excludes Lamanites or parents (he followed them). Hel 7:7 for me adds info about his people that the BoM’s abridgement omits earlier in its text.

  14. Frank, thank for reminding us of this statement, which I really like. But the prophet doesn’t actually “endorse it as a historical record,” as you state. “The Book of Mormon is all that it purports to be—a work recorded by prophets who lived anciently” means that ancient prophets wrote it (and I agree), but it doesn’t explain the process of recording, editing, or translating, or the nature of Nephite historiography. That still leaves a lot of room for speculation that’s still in the realm of inspired non-fiction. The prophet’s citation of the title page emphasizes the book’s usefulness in bringing people to Christ, not its value for historians of the pre-Columbian Americas. There are some elements of the title page for which the prophet’s express endorsement would be quite newsworthy, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind in this case.

  15. The Book of Mormon is “all that it purports to be.”

    That is not the same as saying the Book of Mormon is “all that WE purport it to be.”

    I think the statement is cleverly circular, and possibly not even intended to be so.

    Mormon logic:
    1. Start with an idea of which you are certain.
    2. Find a statement by the highest authority possible that appears to you to supports your idea.
    3. Use the stamp of divine approval to flatten any opposition to your idea.
    4. End of meaningful discussion.

    Works every time in ward council. On some blogs too.

  16. Adam and Frank, by virtue of their comments, seem to be married to the idea that believing in the historicity of events has some redeeming value. Why? That’s the question I would ask the Prophet and I would hope he’d be able to explain further. I find it problematic and less than redeeming to rely on historical facts to support one’s testimony for the very reasons Julie outlines in #4. Our testimonies should be based on the gospel principles we learn by studying the scriptures not the facts related in those scriptures. I remember the minor uproar caused by Julie suggesting the possibility that the Flood may not be an historical event, as it is commonly understood in Christendom. Julie tried to make the case that it really doesn’t matter, spiritually, if the flood actually occurred—that we should concentrate on the spiritual lesson to be learned from the story and not the story itself.

    BTW, Adam, I am extremely disappointed in your impulsive, offensive remark in #5. I’m sure it was the result of you temporarily losing you mind and I forgive you even if an apology is not forthcoming.

  17. While I think that an active, believing Latter-day Saint can view the BofM as ahistorical, I think such a belief is illogical. I’ve put the following question to “inspired fiction” believers many times and I’ve yet to receive a rational response:

    If the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, who appeared to Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823?

    As far as I can determine, the only possible answers here are (a) the angel lied about his identity, (b) Joseph lied about seeing the angel, or (c) Joseph was delusional. None of these options is consistent with faith in the BofM and the restored gospel.

    If I’ve missed an obvious solution to the problem, please correct me.

  18. re: 10 Mr. Barlow is really not in a position to make that assertion. My sense is that the CoC still highly values and uses the BoM, and considers it scripture. The Catholic church and many protestant Christians no longer believe all of the stories in the OT are historical, and nobody says they have abandoned the Bible. (Well, maybe the fundamentalists do.) I strongly disagree that the BoM becomes valueless if one rejects its historicity. In the long wrong, the opposite may well prove to be the case.

  19. re: 19
    Who was the angel who whispered into Mohammed’s ear?
    Who really wrote the first 5 books of the OT? Or the Gospels themselves, for that matter? Nobody knows for sure and debate has raged from the beginning.
    What about choice D: We don’t know the details of how the BoM got to us, but we know it leads us to Christ.
    Your A-B-C reminds me of the lame old “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” phamplets that Campus Crusade for Christ gives out.

  20. Paul M.,

    “Our testimonies should be based on the gospel principles we learn by studying the scriptures not the facts related in those scriptures.”

    This is not an idea you got from those self-same scriptures. The Book of Mormon itself is obsessed with the past–Remember, remember!– and presents its own history of pride and fall as its biggest message. The Book of Mormon is also clear that salvation is not a process of imbibing principles but of experiencing miracles, the Book of Mormon itself and the revival of the voice of the Nephites being the principle miracle the Book offers. One cannot reasonably apply the idea that testimony is a matter of principle and not of historical fact to the Book of Mormon, because one of the principles of the Book is that testimony is deeply tied to historical facts.

  21. This is not an idea you got from those self-same scriptures.

    Except this part: 1 Ne 19:23:

    …I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.

    Because, of course, likening the scriptures unto ourselves entails reading stories from the scriptures and then engaging in the imagination exercise of abstracting principles from the stories (of whatever (a)historicity they may be), and further imagining how those principles might translate from an ancient agrarian-based, religion-dominated society to an information-based, secular one.

    Imagination, metaphor, allegory, abstraction, conceptualization, and displacement, indeed.

  22. Paul,

    Let me tell you how I approach historicity issues: the historicity of the atonement matters. The historicity of the BoM, as outlined by john f. above, matters. The historicity of the First VIsion matters. Every thing else is negotiable.

    But I can believe in the necessity of repentence even if it turns out that, say, the repentence of Alma or Paul was some sort of legend/myth/folklore/whathaveyou that got mistransmitted. Part of the reason for having 2000 or so pages of scripture is that if one or another story turns out to have been a faith promoting rumor, the principle taught in that story has been taught in at least a half dozen other places.

    In other words, this isn’t nearly the problem that you–or the Give Me Literal or Give Me Death crowd–makes it out to be.

  23. Greenfrog,

    Nephi is trying to see how to fit those stories and prophecies into his own experience, and how to make his experience fit the stories. If it were just a question of principles from the scriptures he wouldn’t need to reimagine or liken them to make them fit.

    Part of the beauty of using history as the model, instead of just a mere catechism of some kind, is that as you learn from it you are not only forming the same sorts of bonds with Jehovah that the principals of the story did, you are also forming bonds with the principals as you emulate their story. Salvation isn’t just some solitary Protestant thing where you and God come together and everyone else goes hang, but where you draw closer to God and all the people of God at the same time.

  24. MikeInWeHo #21:

    Who was the angel who whispered into Mohammed’s ear?

    I personally have no problem with Mohammed’s claims being genuine, and his revelation a special one to a specific people in specific circumstances. (In fact, the First Presidency said exactly that in a statement in February 1978.)

    Who really wrote the first 5 books of the OT? Or the Gospels themselves, for that matter? Nobody knows for sure and debate has raged from the beginning.

    Yes, but denying the direct testimony of the authors that Jesus was the Son of God excludes one from being considered a believer or claiming the title of “Christian.”

    What about choice D: We don’t know the details of how the BoM got to us, but we know it leads us to Christ.

    But that choice is a complete non sequitur in that we do have direct, repeated, detailed testimony from Joseph Smith that an angel appeared to him, called himself Moroni, said he was the last of an ancient civilization, and that Joseph was to translate the record of that civilization. There is no question of who wrote that testimony. There is no question about the details. Either Joseph Smith was telling the truth or he was not. If he was, the Book of Mormon is historical. If he wasn’t, the whole thing’s a sham regardless of what the alternate explanation was.

    Your “choice D” is, very simply, a dodge — an intellectual cop-out to avoid dealing with difficult facts that don’t fit a personal paradigm. You can call it “lame” if you wish, but that doesn’t make it go away.

    So my question remains unanswered: If the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, who appeared to Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823?

  25. Some folks are starting to believe that the Koran wasn’t written down until a while after Muhammad’s death. Those of us who wish to believe that Mohammed was a genuine prophet but who don’t think parts of the Koran are consistent with even special revelation under special circumstances, now have the option of blaming faults in the memory and then writing down of what Mohammed said.

  26. Re Mike Parker’s #19, very well said. I like the way you lay out the options. One additional option (albeit a bit complicated/implausible) could be this: (d) the Angel correctly identified himself as Moroni and the plates he eventually delivered to Joseph were genuine, but that Joseph didn’t translate them correctly (to some or a full extent). This would be a variation on the fallen prophet theme. At the end of the day, I don’t suppose we have a lot of takers on this since, if you’re to the point that you believe there was an Angel and he was actually Moroni, it’s hard to believe Joseph would have screwed up the translation so badly.

    Personally, I’m convinced this “option” and (the others) aren’t what actually happened. I’m a very strong believer in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, including the notion that the Angel correctly identified himself and that the Book of Mormon–as translated by brother Joseph–is exactly what he said it was: “the most correct book”. Like others, I see a bit of flexibility in President Hinckley’s statement that the Book is “what it claims to be”. Alma, Nephi, etc. did live and do the things we read about in the Book of Mormon. I’m less interested in the details re horses and stone boxes.

  27. #7: Never any ambiguity out of SLC?

    Help me out here. Maybe I am so far away, down here in the South where the living is easy that I do not appreciate the geographic and theological? distance between Prove and downtown SLC. I presume they are close to each other. Provo is the home of FARMS, and 50 North Temple SLC is where the church leadership institutionally resides. FARMS helps keep some respect for our busy leaders in the mudfight that passes for discussion in the world today; but I was under the distinct impression that they were not far out of tune with the highest LDS leaders or they would not last long at BYU.

    FARMS manufactures a steady stream of the local geography theory on the Book of Mormon. In fact to not be aware of it is ridiculed. Official correlated material from the busy presses of the church in SLC has not moved one inch in that direct in 45 years; as far as I can tell and is still strongly hemispheric/transcontinentially oriented when it comes to Book of Mormon geography. Aside from a few articles back in the 1980’s in the Ensign, it is like two entirely different religions. I have even named them; Wardhouse Mormon theology and Internet Mormon theology. Why there is considerably more similarity between the teachings of the Methodists and the Baptists in my neighborhood churches, despite their strong historical differences along Calvinistic versus Wesleyian theological lines.

    I see a doctrinal fault line opening up here. Ambiguity might be a bit of a white wash, it is worse than that. Every active Elder in my ward has E-mail and likely access to the Internet, where even a miniscule effort will soon uncover these contrary concepts. The old and stalwart full-time temple workers continue to pound the pulpit with the traditional views entirely foreign to FARM thinking. Between prayers it is strictly ward house theology. But in the foyer and around the dinner table and in rare home teaching visits other ideas are discussed.

    I am most concerned about the devote Latino population especially in my ward and stake; they are our only growing demographic group at the present. What are we going to tell them when they discover that they are not genetic descendents of Book of Mormon people, but sort of adopted in like the rest of us gringos? (Which is the position of FARMS).

    I feel like a sneak every time this topic comes up and certain of my good friends and brothers in the gospel from south of the Rio Grande are standing nearby and I don’t say anything or I obsfucate the issue. How will they feel when they discover that their friends and their most beloved leaders at the very highest level have been telling them little convenient lies for all these years and treating them like intellectual children? Yet, I know not what else to tell them. Is this, I wonder, how President Hinckley feels about the rest of us?

    How far do we have to retreat into local geography before we find secure ground? From my archiac perspective first gained in the debates of the 1960’s, we have already given away so much ground that everything is up for grabs. A recent National Geographic magazine featured the new DNA technology that is being used to trace the migrations of people across the globe. This question is within reach of the mind of every school boy in North America who reads. It did not cite us by name but it did mention that some people thought that the American aboriginal population came from Biblical lands, but the DNA most assuredly showed they came from the Far East of Asia. A much more extensive research project on this question was announced. Will it exonerate or further complicate historical faith in the current perspective of the Book of Mormon?

    Again from #7: “…any leader has ever made a comment which might open the door to alternative understandings of what the BoM’s “truthâ€? means…”

    Would this include a member of the First Q. of the Seventy who has been dead for over 70 years? I refer to the controversy surrounding B. H. Roberts and his secret “play book of the devil,” also called Studies of the Book of Mormon. A ton of FARMS material is out there telling you how to think about and to process this material and still keep your faith. So much that the volume alone shouts that this is a potential black hole for orthodox Mormon faith. But the basic problem I have with Robert’s Studies is that they are so strong that they stand by themselves and are so extremely disturbing and even convincing that we must move beyond a historical approach, that I would suggest that you not read them if you want to keep your faith. I an intrigued that President Hinckley graduated fom the University of Utah English Department in 1930 and went to work for the church a few years later. He was raised in SLC, then a very small community, and he was an insider in every way. He must have experienced some of the heated discussions surrounding this B.H. Roberts controversy because it was going on in the 1930’s right under his nose and he is anything but stupid..

    Last week a very devote recent high school and seminary graduate, perhaps 17 or 18 years old bore her testimony to our ward. We hear from her often in fast meeting. She is very intelligent, articulate and well-read on things Mormon for her age. She said that she has no doubt that the Book of Mormon is true and she really didn’t know why; because in her words, ” there is not a single shread of real scientific evidence to support it.” But she still knew.

    You may disagree with her about how much scientific evidence supports anything and what constitutes scientific evidence, but that is her perspective. This after a decaddeof the block program, regular family home evenings and such, 4 years of seminary and the usual amount of exposure to the Internet accorded teenagers these days accessing decades of FARMS churning out papers and books by the truck load; she is going off to be further educated this fall at BYU. I find her refreshingly honest and perhaps the only solid ground in this debate.

    Beyond her kind of simple faith, much is ambiguious.

  28. Travis (#29): “I’m less interested in the details re horses and stone boxes.” But you’d probably be more interested in those details if real life clues tying those details to the Book of Mormon panned out. But there is a dearth of evidence, be it from the realms of history, archeology, geology, linguistics, genetics, sociology, anthropology, and political science to back up any claims of historicity. You are a “strong believer in the historicity of the Book of Mormon” based on faith. Wonderful. Welcome to the human race. You are the one trillionth human since the dawn of man who has mistook the mythology of his faith tradition as literal.

  29. JG,

    I suggest that the title page is the place to go to look for what the book “purports to be”. And the title page says that it is a record of a fallen people (paraphrasing). President Hinckley did not, you are correct, quote the whole title page in his testimony. But I am satisfied that the most reasonable interpretation of a “record written by ancient prophets” is his brief way of conveying that we are dealing with a historical record. Not, as you note, that this makes it a record useful for historians or archaelogists. But rather that those prophets lived and wrote down their experiences. Could they make mistakes? Of course.

    What I find unlikely is that the book is “inspired fiction”. Nor would such an interpretation fit with the prophet’s testimony, because that involves no ancient prophets.


    The Savior discusses historical record keeping in 3rd Nephi. He seems to feel that the records are historical phenomena when he chastises Nephi for forgetting to write down the fulfillment of prophecy that actually happened. Therre are other examples that one can find if one wishes.

    Indeed we often make fun of how often the Book of Mormon says “and it came to pass…” :)

  30. Mike #27, the answer to your question about the name of the angel in the Book of Mormon vision is somewhat uncertain in any case. In the earliest primary sources on that vision, Joseph Smith and contemporaries provide no name for the angel. Subsequently, when a name is provided, it is sometimes Moroni and sometimes Nephi. Joseph was rather inconsistent in providing this identification, and hence, it might be a mistake to invest too much in a particular, traditional answer.

  31. Nephi is trying to see how to fit those stories and prophecies into his own experience, and how to make his experience fit the stories. If it were just a question of principles from the scriptures he wouldn’t need to reimagine or liken them to make them fit.

    Your mind and mine must work differently, as I can’t “apply” a story about another person in a different culture, a different geography, and a different time to me without engaging in all of the aspects of mind that I identified in my earlier post.

    Perhaps an example will illuminate where we diverge: If I read the story of Alma at the waters of Mormon, I don’t suppose that the “bear one another’s burdens” speech only applies to persons who heard Alma’s voice at the waters of Mormon. Nothing in the text of the speech suggests that Alma was talking to anyone other than the folk at the edge of the waters (the form of which, BTW, I’ve always wondered about. “Waters”=river? pond? lake? ocean? something else?). So, literally, the message is to people standing on a muddy bank above a place suitable for baptism (a variety of baptism, BTW, for which we have little analogue in terms of authority, but let’s set that aside for now.)

    As I’m not a person standing among those at the Waters of Mormon, if I take the scripture literally, it has no bearing on my life at my desk today. But, impertinent soul that I am, I don’t stop. Instead, I engage in a process of abstraction to conclude that the message regarding bearing burdens applies not only to those persons there and then, but to me, here and now. Having adeptly handled that abstraction (wrenching words entirely out of context), I then read the “bearing burdens” part. And I think this: “While that was a useful instruction to people without the benefits of modern 21st century transportation practices who actually did carry burdens –baskets of maize, bananas, ore, capybaras, frogs, or whathaveyou — for one another, I almost never encounter someone who needs help carrying something from somewhere to somewhere. Indeed, I if I were to head to the one place where I do see that occurring — the airport — I can reasonably speculate that few would welcome me picking up their suitcases and helping them along with them. Instead, they’d probably call Homeland Security.

    But instead of tossing the scripture onto the pile of “perhaps useful back when folks counted their moneys in senines and livestock in cureloms, not useful today, since no burden-carrying happening in my neighborhood,” instead, I try applying the scripture metaphorically — I imagine ways of thinking about the kinds of metaphorical “burdens” people around me carry. Suddenly, a rather quaint and archaic pre-industrial transportation scripture has all kinds of potential applications in my life. I don’t find it difficult at all to apply the metaphor of carrying a burden for another, even though applying the literal instruction would be pretty much an almost-never-have-the-opportunity kind of exercise.

    But to get to that stage, I’ve abandoned the literal context presented by the text of the Book of Mormon — a question posed by Alma to the people gathered at the waters of Mormon several hundred years ago to enable them to determine whether they should accept a ritual form of covenant-making. I’ve had the temerity to draw that principle by disregarding, almost entirely, the culture of the people involved, the time, the location, and even the spiritual setting (incipient baptism). Emboldened by my own brazenness, I’ve then gone so far as to transmogrify a literal instruction to engage in cargo transportation into a metaphor, discerning the principle that I am to make myself of such assistance to my brothers and sisters as I can, even at considerable sacrifice to myself. So I send a check to the Perpetual Education Fund. And I pick up a hitchhiker. And I write a spirited defense of a friend I find wronged in cyberspace. And I hold a friend who needs to cry. …

    That’s probably too long of an example of the ways that I engage with scripture — but all of that depends, heavily, on not taking the scripture literally, nor even historically.

    Part of the beauty of using history as the model, instead of just a mere catechism of some kind, is that as you learn from it you are not only forming the same sorts of bonds with Jehovah that the principals of the story did, you are also forming bonds with the principals as you emulate their story.

    “Emulation” requires all of the kinds of mind-work that I’ve posited above — none of it has to do with literal reading of scripture, which, after all, only purports to describe what happened one day a long time ago. Without my imagination and abstraction in all its varieties, such a text tells me nothing about what happens to me today.

    Salvation isn’t just some solitary Protestant thing where you and God come together and everyone else goes hang, but where you draw closer to God and all the people of God at the same time.

    I like your conception of communal salvation. But if you can manage scripture reading without the mind processes I’ve outlined above, I truly haven’t any idea how you do so, and that lack of understaning makes me feel more distant, rather than closer, to the communion I understand to be imperative to our mutual salvation.

  32. Roasted #33: The Nephi/Moroni issue is not nearly as ambiguous as you say. The error was on the part of a scribe in one documented source that was then copied by several others. Other than that one error, which was not Joseph’s, Joseph was consistent in calling the angel “Moroni.”

    See Matthew Brown’s 2004 FAIR Conference presentation, about halfway down. ([Ctrl+F] and search for the phrase “Nephi vs. Moroni”.)

  33. Woops — too slow. That last post from me (#34) was in response to Adam Greenwood’s #26.

  34. RT, there is much less confusion than you suppose. See here

    “But the basic problem I have with Robert’s Studies is that they are so strong that they stand by themselves and are so extremely disturbing and even convincing that we must move beyond a historical approach”

    And yet Roberts didn’t do so…

  35. “If the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, who appeared to Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823?”

    I have not three but six categories of possibilities in mind;

    1. A real Angel Moroni from Ancient America; including several variations more or less close to the current orthodox view.

    2. Joseph was sincere but delusional. What we think about most other people’s religious experiences. Real (maybe) for that person and that context, but not real for us. Includes purely psychological experiences. Moroni appeared in Joseph’s occipital lobe of his brain in the visual cortex, but was not physically detectable otherwise.

    3.Joseph was a pious inspired fraud. He was inspired made it up but he still got it right, mostly. Tells people what they need to hear and they need miracle, mystery and ritual. (Just because you make it up doesn’t prove it is wrong). Lots of possibilities, but the basic theology is sound. God worked with Joseph in his weakness and his strength, which would be his imagination. Moroni appeared to him for practical purposes, but not historical purposes. Like Santa Claus.

    4. Joseph was a mischief maker. He intentionally made it up to get out of farm work, or to get power and fame, or to get women, or some other secondary gain. Multiple changing motives are possible. (19th century majority view, of those who killed him especially). No Moroni at all.

    5. Lucifer appeared to Joseph. He could or maybe he couldn’t tell the difference. The story of Korihor is thinly disguised and autobiographical. Many evangelical Christians believe this and cite scripture to prove it.

    6. God, or the gods is/are not good and god is not sovereign and he is not omni- anything. Maybe not even of the humanoid species. God could be a cockroach in a black hole. The metaphysical world is chaotic, partially evil and populated with multiple beings of any or every imaginable variety. Four thousand years of western religious and ethical thought is entirely off track, beginning with Moses and Socrates. Except maybe the wildest days of the middle ages. Ancient mythologies are closer to correct in spirit, but maybe not in detail. Pick a god from antiquity, any god. Baal, or Pegasus, or Sophia. Something like that appeared to Joseph. Includes even a godlike salamander masquerading as an angel so as not to overly disturb him.

    Choice #1 is the one I want to believe. It is the one I assume when I make decisions. It is what I hope and pray for. It requires of me a choice to make, the will to faith. I am not yet compelled by spiritual experience to have no other choice but to believe it.

    But in the stillness of the darkest night, I wonder.

    (One thing I am thankful for; that no Order of the Priesthood was named after Moroni).

  36. Pickles McGee #31: “But there is a dearth of evidence, be it from the realms of history, archeology, geology, linguistics, genetics, sociology, anthropology, and political science to back up any claims of [BofM] historicity.”

    This claim is simply untrue. Pickles has not been paying attention to any research done in the last 50 years, particularly in regard to recent evidence out of the Arabian Peninsula.

  37. Mike — a #7 that is, I think, distinct from both your #2 and your #1: God is a label we apply to a variety of ways that existence interacts with us, and one of those ways is to use whatever form of communication we are open to in order to present truths about that existence. Joseph, being open to angels and visions, received his truths that way. But Mohammed might have received his differently. As St. Theresa of Avila might have received hers differently, as well.

    But the process was neither separable from nor entirely a function of, Joseph’s mind.

  38. I wrote a review a bit ago that some might be interested in. I’m not sure how to make the link, but here it is: http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=501

    The witness the Spirit gives of the book is what is key. We believe the witness (which is something more than mere belief in an historical something or other–it requires something different of us) and becasue of that witness we believe the historicity.

    Perhaps the best philosophical work on the relation of history, faith, and Christianity is Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript. The issues he deals with their are gemaine to the issue of historicity and faith in the Book of Mormon.

  39. greenfrog: “I’ve had the temerity to draw that principle by disregarding, almost entirely, the culture of the people involved”

    On the contrary, you have not disregarded the culture but rather have carefully considered it so as to extract the transferrable moral principle.

    On another note, does anybody else notice a certain sort of credulous skeptic—the type who’s ready to believe and disseminate, without independent verification, just about any claim from Quinn, Vogel, or other skeptical debunker? If I may play amateur analyst, I’d suggest that these folks traumatically encountered a discrepancy between official and scientific church historiography at an impressionable age, and have since decided that they will never, ever be fooled again—and thus accept any skeptical claim as a sort of defense. All the more reason to find better way of teaching better history.

  40. Jim in #24 links to Oaks talk which really is very good. And he too takes a pretty strong stance on the Book of Mormon being an ancient record and that it matters that it is one.

  41. Rosalynde,

    I had a friend who, when discussing a Sunday School class he attended, stated that the teacher would “believe anything as long as it wasn’t in the Bible”. The teacher in question was studying theology.

    Hyperbole, for sure, but well done.

  42. Greenfrog,
    Of course emulation often requires some degree of of reimagination, metaphor, and other thought processes. But its still emulation. It isn’t emulation, however, if the stories never happened and the people never existed.

  43. The list provided by Mike (#38) is a useful expansion of my previous list.

    But I completely fail to understand how one could choose to believe that Joseph Smith was sincere but delusional (#2) or a fraud (#3) and still consider him a prophet, with authority from God to restore priesthood keys, reveal scripture, and lead the church.

    I’m not saying it’s not possible to believe so (I know people who do), but I completely fail to see any logic or rationality in such a belief. Someone please enlighten me.

  44. Rosalynde wrote (#42): On the contrary, you have not disregarded the culture but rather have carefully considered it so as to extract the transferrable moral principle.

    Not really. I know relatively little about their culture. Were they literate? A few were. No telling about the rest. Did they understand scripture stories (whether orally conveyed or in writing) literally or figuratively? Don’t know. Did they starve to death? Not sure. What the text does tell me, I largely disregard for the purposes of my application of the text to my life: they grouped themselves together, they had understanding of ritual, they fled persecution. About the only contextual clue I do use in making my application is that they considered themselves a community, evidenced in part by their willingness to bear one another’s burdens. All the rest, I’ve projected onto the situation from my perch in the US in 2006.

    Adam Greenwood wrote (# 45): Of course emulation often requires some degree of of reimagination, metaphor, and other thought processes. But its still emulation. It isn’t emulation, however, if the stories never happened and the people never existed.

    But the value I derive from the instruction is true without any regard to the historicity of the text. The practices it prompts me to adopt improve my life. The fruit tastes good. If I were to engage in such an imaginative endeavor and discover that the fruit was bitter, I would abandon that particular application of the text.

    Just as I imagine I’d experience if I tried to pay for a Jamba Juice with senines.

  45. Mike Parker (#39): Last 50 years? Hey, I’ll let you go back through the last 180 years and the mountain of words written in support of BOM historicity doesn’t add up to much more than a molehill. One could probably spend as much time (and words) comparing the BOM to any other geographical area in the world (Iceland? Madagascar?) and come up with as much evidence as FARMS et al have come up with on the Arabian peninsula or Mesoamerica.

    There is far more compelling evidence tying the BOM to 19th Century America than evidence tying the BOM to their suppossed historical locations.

    Who is not paying attention?

    Mike (#38): I’ve spent many a sleepless night wondering the same thing. However, staring over the precipice of the an eroding belief in theory #1 at backup theories like #2 and/or #3 is more scary than the spiritual journey of actually finding out. Doubts are a natural part of faith development. The truth can withstand any honest inquiry. Never be afraid of researching all sides. Read everything FARMS has to say about BOM historicity with as much fervor and open mindedness as material that questions BOM historicity. Maybe you’ve done this. Moroni 10:3-5 and D&C 9:8-9 are excellent guides, expecially if applied over a period of time.

  46. Pickles: Do you really think that those who read FARMS materials are ignorant of the remaining literature contesting BofM historicity? Come on. Those who read FARMS are as aware of Kinderhook plates and horse remains as you are. However, I question your claims regarding geography. If you can do it, then I challenge you to do so rather than just asserting it could be done.

    I’ve looked into it pretty carefully. Here is the challenge. I see no explanation for the prophetic call form located in 1 Ne.1; the covenant renewal ceremonies/coronations in Mos. 1-5; 6; 17 or the prophetic lawsuits at least four times in the text. Their presence is fairly clear and it is undisputed that JS would be virtually the only person in 19th century America to notice anything like these ancient practices if he’s making it up. So what is your explanation other than — “well, that is just how religious genius works”?

  47. “But the value I derive from the instruction is true without any regard to the historicity of the text.”

    In #26, I identify value that you don’t get from the true instruction if the history is false. Also, as I pointed out even earlier, lots of the “true instruction” in the Book of Mormon is stuff about using and relying on history.

  48. Rosalynde (#42): “On another note, does anybody else notice a certain sort of credulous skeptic—the type who’s ready to believe and disseminate, without independent verification, just about any claim from Quinn, Vogel, or other skeptical debunker? If I may play amateur analyst, I’d suggest that these folks traumatically encountered a discrepancy between official and scientific church historiography at an impressionable age, and have since decided that they will never, ever be fooled again—and thus accept any skeptical claim as a sort of defense. All the more reason to find better way of teaching better history.”

    Wow. Such irony. I hope you focus your keen amateur analytical skills on faithful Mormons who are just as ready to believe and disseminate, if not more so, without independent verification.

    In general, I find your characterization applies better to faithful Mormons than it does to so-called credulous skeptics. Reading Quinn or Vogel or any other skeptic *IS* a form of independent verification (though I’d hope for many other forms of independent verification as well); reading only correlated materials is not.

    Rosalynde: “All the more reason to find better way of teaching better history.”

    We agree on this… but don’t hold your breath.

  49. Further thoughts about #26:

    Nephi is trying to see how to fit those stories and prophecies into his own experience, and how to make his experience fit the stories. If it were just a question of principles from the scriptures he wouldn’t need to reimagine or liken them to make them fit.

    I think each of the conceptual processes I’ve detailed above is required whether the story is historical or not. I engage in the same process when I read stories about my parents, Neo and Trinity, Mother Theresa, Lear, Brigham Young, or Oedipus.

    Part of the beauty of using history as the model, instead of just a mere catechism of some kind, is that as you learn from it you are not only forming the same sorts of bonds with Jehovah that the principals of the story did, you are also forming bonds with the principals as you emulate their story.

    From this I understand that you have a distinctly different experience with respect to some descriptions of events of lives you do not experience directly which you believe to be historically accurate than you do with other descriptions of events of lives you do not experience directly which you do not believe to be historically accurate. I tend not to find much experiential difference in my life with respect to that criterion.

    What matters, to me, is the degree to which the story informs my life. In part, I think this way because I’ve come to be deeply skeptical of the objectivity of any report. Too many cross-examinations, I suppose, revealing how heavily perception and belief affect entirely sincere and honest accounts.

    I remain interested in indicia of reliability. But I’ve come to conclude that good fiction is truer to my experience and perception than most first-person narratives are. I measure the value of both by the degree to which they expand my perceptions and enrich my understanding.

    Salvation isn’t just some solitary Protestant thing where you and God come together and everyone else goes hang, but where you draw closer to God and all the people of God at the same time.

    I agree, but I tend to apply this with respect to the people I sit next to on the bus or at Church or walk with on the road to Emmaeus. Not so much with Alma the Elder.

  50. “From this I understand that you have a distinctly different experience with respect to some descriptions of events of lives you do not experience directly which you believe to be historically accurate than you do with other descriptions of events of lives you do not experience directly which you do not believe to be historically accurate.”

    Yes, precisely. And in the long run, this will be true for everyone, because we will eventually meet Alma the Elder.

    “I tend to apply this with respect to the people I sit next to on the bus or at Church or walk with on the road to Emmaeus. Not so much with Alma the Elder.”

    For me, all of them. I feel myself part of the Church Militant, stretching through time and space.

  51. Yeah, I have to agree with Pickles. FARMS does a far better job than the Institute for Creation Research in the quality of its writing, but ultimately it’s in just as deep doo-doo when it comes to evidence. FARMS is only providing material for people who want to believe the BoM is a historical document, to beat back those troubling thoughts in darkest night.

    The reality is, outside of various Mormon groups, nobody believes the BoM is an historical document. It’s worse than “not a shred of scientific evidence.” The evidence to the contrary is huge. A large percentage of LDS don’t believe it either, but of course who can be sure of how widespread that is when the position is taboo. Hard-core BoM literalists are in league with the folks who believe humans lived on a 6000 year old earth with dinosaurs. Not to give offense, but the level of mental compartmentalization required is remarkable.

    How the BoM was created in the early 1800s is a fascinating question and hopefully someday people within the Church will be allowed to explore that for real. At least Catholicism and the more liberal branches of Christianity allow people to take that approach with the Bible. Seeking the truth wherever it leads is why we are here, right?

    There are millions who treasure the BoM and realize that it came into being less than 200 years ago. The CoC members are there already. I never lose sleep over the issue. On the contrary, I keep a copy in my nightstand. It’s actually very comforting and a great insomnia cure… : )

  52. Blake (#49): Well, that’s just how religious genius works. Not a bad explanation, actually. Do you have a better explanation for horses, Kinderhook Plates, DNA, and the myriad other anachronisms other than “well, you just have to go on faith”? Or do you subscribe to some of the truly bizarre up-is-down, east-is-west, black-is-white explanations posited by FARMS?

    Obviously, you are not basing your belief in BOM historicity based solely on prophetic call form or covenant renewal coronations. Likewise, I am not basing my belief in BOM apochrypha based solely on horses and Kinderhook Plates. We have no doubt arrived at our conclusions based on an examination of the evidence, personal experience, prayer, etc.

    Look, I have NO problem with the person who has studied all sides and come to the humble conclusion that the BOM is historical, especially if through that process the person has come to understand and accept why someone could come to another conclusion, and not write that person off as weak or deceived or living in sin for not believing in BOM historicity. Most Mormons have not studied all sides though, and they usually view honest doubters like myself as someone to be avoided at best, and with scorn at worst.

  53. MikeHo and Pickles: I hear these kinds of generalizations about FARMS all the time. Actually, I’ve dealt with the DNA evidence issue at some length in Sunstone and concluded that it is not really very important given the view that virtually all competent scholars who take the book seriously come to about pre-existing populations, genetic drift, founder effect and so on. You assertions about FARMS are very clearly nothing but unsupported biases on your part. The FARMS scholarship is, in my view, for the most part competent.

    I do have a better explanation for horses and Kinderhook plates. There were horses present in the NW durng BofM times. The Kinderhook plates were a hoax JS didn’t bite on. And I actually have a theory that explains anachronisms rather handily the same way we explain such anachronism in the pseudepigrapha and biblical documents. The nature of revelation entails interpretation and midrashic explanation and thus necessarily entails the presence of anachronisms. I wrote a long article on it.

    However, some of your assertions are not merely uninformed but sheer bad faith slander. For example, MikeHo’s statement: “Hard-core BoM literalists are in league with the folks who believe humans lived on a 6000 year old earth with dinosaurs. Not to give offense, but the level of mental compartmentalization required is remarkable.” That is just so much bull squared and vastly irresponsible. I know the people who write for FARMS, and it isn’t accurate of a single one of them. In fact, it demonstrates such vast ignorance and simple prejudice (in the sense of judging not only without evidence but in an attempt to smear) that you owe them an apology.

    Pickles, the religious genius (non)explantion gets nowhere either as an explanation or as even approaching something that could enlighten us. As I suspected, you have no adequate explanation without at least admitting that the book may just be a historical document translated by a gift of God. I don’t base my acceptance of BofM historicity solely on the prophetic call form, covenant renewal festivals or Hebraic legal forms; but I do know that any open and honest approach to the book must adequately account for them. Your view doesn’t begin to do that. I actually have a theory that I believe accounts for the evidence — I suggest that you just dodge what doesn’t fit with your pre-conceived conclusion that is just as well grounded as your blanket condemnation of FARMS as a bunch of creationists. Maybe it’s time for another look?

  54. Re #51,

    You could say a lot of mean things about Rosalynde that I’d agree with, but calling her analytical skills ‘amateur’ shows that you have no clue who or what you are talking about.

    P.S. to RW–Just kidding about the mean things part.

  55. Oh, T&S permabloggers get paid now? I want a raise!!

    (insert smiley face here (tongue sticking out, optional))

  56. Pickles’ line of argumentation is straight out of the anti-Mormon playbook: Bash FARMS for being psuedoscholarly, repeat the standard anti-Mormon chestnuts (horses, DNA, Kinderhook), all the while being careful not to actually *engage* the evidence for the BofM.

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone use that approach….

    If I may ask, Pickles: Does the word NHM mean anything to you? And, if so, how do you explain this extraordinary piece of evidence *for* the historicity of the BofM?

  57. What I don’t understand here is what is the “cash value” of the Book of Mormon being an inspired fiction? Why are so many eager to prove the Book of Mormon wrong? The burden of evidence is not on the believers to prove the Nephi and Lehi lived, breathed, and died – it is on the disbelivers to prove that Nephi and Lehi did not. This is a faith based on inspiration not an anthropology class.

    Without that kind of faith, religion – in the Mormon model at least – is nearly worthless, indeed it could well have a negative opportunity cost compared to all those other valuable things one could do on Sunday.

    So the question is, if one has *any* faith at all, why the urge to tear down the faith of others? Why not keep quiet or fade into the woodwork? What is the value proposition here?

  58. Julie (#51): I was simply quoting Rosalynde herself (see her #42) with my comment about her being an “amatuer analyst”. In this case, I’m afraid that it is you who have no clue who or what you are talking about.

    Mike Parker (#59): Like Julie, you have no idea what you are talking about. I was quoting Blake who repeated the standard anti-Mormon chestnuts (horses and Kinderhook Plates) in his #49. I didn’t bring them up. My form of “anti-Mormonism” isn’t that obtuse.

    Yes, NHM = Nahom and it is indisputable, airtight proof that the Book of Mormon is historical, just like chiasmus. But since I am evidently an anti-Mormon (better tell my Bishop so he can release me from my calling) I naturally can’t accept this claim. In any case, if NHM qualifies as “extraordinary” in your book, I can’t wait to see what you say when FARMS discovers the bones of Zelph.

    Blake (#56) Your post was not an attempt to slander, so it deserves more time than I’m able to give it at the moment. Suffice it to say, BOM historicity is always worth a second look. Frex, I’m looking at an unread copy of Givens’ By The Hand of Mormon on my book shelf right now that is log jammed behind other books I’m currently working my way through. As an active Mormon, I’m open to wherever the evidence takes me, but I refuse to force fit the evidence into a “faithful” conclusion, as I believe FARMS is guilty of.

    I’m curious, how open minded are you? Is there any proof in the world that could convince you that the BOM is not historical? I don’t believe there is. What would it take?

  59. #59 – Pickles is pretty strident in his tone. But, if he were to want to criticize serious difficulties in the BofM, how would he go about it without getting the anti-Mormon label? Could he be assertive and respectful while forcing his points (and not getting the anti-Mormon label).

    Besides, you can not be a big fan of the scholarship of FARMS and not be a basher.

    #60 – The burden of proving the BofM is on Mormons. They are the ones invested in it being true and bearing testimony to it. Convincing others about the truth-value of Mormonism is what the missionaries already do in one form or another as proselytizers. This is also the purported purpose of FARMS. You can’t pull back from the task now. But, I doubt that you sincerely believe that doubters must disprove the notions of the faithful rather than vice-versa. Imagine what that would mean for your encounters with all sorts of faiths (“Hey, Kyriakos, let me tell you why the Immaculate Conception didn’t take place” “And, Omar, these are the reasons to reject Muhammad as a prophet. But, by the way, x, y and z, prove that, if your going to stay a Muslim, you should follow the Malaki school of jurisprudence”)

  60. Does the BoM ever expressly claim that it all happened in the western hemisphere of planet Earth? I know that’s the idea that Joseph Smith had, but is there specific revelation on that point? Might the BoM be completely true except for happening on another planet, for instance? Where are those other lost tribes of Israel, anyway, that the Father has put somewhere else, that nobody knows where they are except him? I’m sort of tenatively thinking they are on other planets or universes or something, to which God knows how to travel and we don’t. I am thinking, if this is true, that the BoM would have elided over the issue because it was not intended to be a treatise on physics, cosmology, or interstellar travel. The site of the events isn’t terribly important to the action or purposes of the author.

  61. Since when was any faith ever based on hard proof? Even if we had incontrovertible physical evidence of the historicity of every Book of Mormon figure – that would not be enough for anyone inclined to doubt – they would just pick something new to gripe about.

    Here is what Hillare Belloc had to say on the subject of skepticism:

    In our approach to the task of convincing the skeptic we must begin by distinguishing between two kinds of skepticism, which do not merge one into the other by gradual degrees, but which are totally distinct in kind, and which may be called stupid skepticism and intelligent skepticism.

    Stupid skepticism is that denial of an unaccustomed statement that is based upon an undefined but nonetheless real belief that the hearer is possessed of universal knowledge. It is a common error in our day. The test of this kind of skepticism (which, like other manifestations of stupidity, presents a formidable obstacle to human conversation) is the misuse of the word reason.

    When a man tells you that it “stands to reason” that such and such a thing, to which he is unaccustomed, cannot have taken place, his remark has no intellectual value whatever. Not only would he be unable to analyze his “reasons” for rejecting the statement, he would, if pressed, be bound to give you motives based upon mere emotion. For instance, if a man tells you it “stands to reason” that a just God could not allow men to lose their souls, he suffers from the skepticism of the stupid.

  62. This is pretty much a cut-and-paste job from a thread on another blog:


    I think there is a way of synthesizing elements of the “inspired fiction model” with elements of some of the models put forth by FARMS folks, including the “limited-geography model” and Blake’s impressive “Expansion Model


    that is both intellectually appealing as well as conducive to maintaining faith. Believers and non-believers of the BoM have so much stock in whether or not events described in the BoM are “historical” in the sense of having “really” happened that any effort to de-historicize the book — i.e. by ascribing it to Smith’s (or someone else’s) “religious-making genius,” inspired literary ability, or some other watered-down form of “revelation” — feels like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Even “believing” defenders of inspired fiction share some of the assumptions that make most orthodox saints weary. They argue that even if inspired fiction scraps Nephi, Alma, Mormon, and Moroni (plus the event of the post-resurrection appearance of Christ) as actual historical personages or occurances, that does not take away from Smith’s status as a truly inspired, divinely directed prophet and servant of God. But notwithstanding the reality of Smith’s calling, admit inspired fiction proponents, we MUST nevertheless dispense with any and all claims to historicity — and, conveniently, with claims that don’t square with modern archeology, geography, genetics, linguistics, etc.

    The debate for almost two centuries now has been framed in these terms: the BoM is “true,” therefore the events it described “truly” happened; or, the events described in the BoM did NOT “truly” happen, therefore the book is NOT “true.” The inspired fiction folks have simply tried to re-frame the debate, but in a way that makes orthodox Mormons understandably uncomfortable (as are most traditional Christians with the Jesus Seminar). It should be pointed out here that these assumptions — the assumptions that have informed both sides of this — are rooted in a highly positivist, post-enlightenment, scientistic, “modern” epistemological paradigm regarding the nature of history and even knowledge itself. (More on this below). Additionally, the dichotomy depends upon assumptions not only about Smith’s status as a prophet/seer/revelator but also about Mormon and Moroni’s (among others) status as historians in the “modern” sense. Indeed, the dichotomy treats the status of the book’s (supposedly) ancient authors not as an assumption, open to debate, but as a given. Thus, the BoM’s historicity (or lack thereof) has implications only for Smith’s claims at being a prophet, and not for Mormon’s claim (or the claim we make on his behalf) of being a historian.

    But what reasons do we actually have to think or believe that Mormon was, in fact, a historian in the modern sense, or that he considered himself as such? After all, the profession of “historian” is itself a nineteenth-century (or, debatably, a late-eighteenth century) creation. Surely Mormon (if he really existed) had several purposes in mind in his efforts at compilation, redaction, and commentary. Yet somehow I think that testifying to Christ’s divinity and the efficacy of the Atonement, drawing critical lessons that would be applicable for “modern” readers, “showing unto the remnant…” etc, would all rank higher on Mormon’s priority list than technical fidelity to historical “facts,” to say nothing of academic peer review! Is it at all possible that Mormon’s own account was less than historical — that he was not a historian in the modern “do-scientifically-based-research-and-report-the-actual-events-of-the-past-the-way-they-actually-happened” sense of the term but was a revisionist (gasp!) or even worse — a bad historian altogether?!!! Add to that the fact, as reported by, among others, Royal Skousen (not exactly a bastion of radical heterodoxy) that Smith, while never denying that he had “translated” the plates by the gift and power of God, did NOT in fact actually translate the plates in the sense of leafing through the pages, examining the characters and translating them (he spent most of his time with his head in a hat and often kept the plates covered during translation sessions) and what can be said now for the “Mormon-writing-Joseph-translating-accurate-history” version of the coming forth of the BoM?

    Like the inspired fiction crowd, I agree that dehistoricizing the Book, in itself, does not necessarily unhinge Smith’s claims of divine calling or prophetic status. But I’d take it a step further: dehistoricizing the BoM takes nothing away from Smith’s status as divinely-guided translator of a record of ancient origin. I am somewhat skeptical of efforts to casually dehistoricize the BoM because such efforts, by implication, render the book’s significance as a historical record null. The “fact” that two great civilization fought a full-scale war in which each side was completely obliterated has considerably less weight and implication for nuclear-era readers if it never “really” happened. In my view, whether it really happened in the technical sense is irrelevant. I am comfortable saying that the account of Jaredite demise is “true” regardless of whether or not Moroni fudged elements of the narrative in order to make his point.

    I am aware that my approach to questions involving BoM historicity (and authenticity) does not exactly square with the standard, fixed interpretation assigned to the book by orthodox Mormonism. I would characterize my position as simultaneously less and more orthodox than the inspired fiction position. It is more orthodox in that is leaves room for divinely-inspired translation as well as Niblian notions of historical significance. But it is less orthodox in its acquiescence to the demands of postmodernism. I would also argue that that standard, fixed “orthodox” interpretation derives less from the BoM itself than it does from the assumptions of modernism and positivism. The BoM itself defines the epistemological space within which knowledge about the book, its authenticity, and its “truth” are to be defined and acquired. Alma 32 describes the/a process by which truth and knowledge are to be obtained. The metaphor invoked is that of a seed. The question at hand is whether the seed is “good,” i.e. whether or not it is a true seed in the sense of being capable of producing a fruit-bearing tree if properly taken care of (that is, properly regarded as a seed and treated as a seed). Only by acting upon the assumption that it IS a “good” seed can one truly know one way or the other. Falsifiability is dependent on the possibility (even the assumption) of verifiability. But there is a further implication. For the seed’s true nature as a true (“good”) seed only becomes apparent when the seed ceases to be a seed and becomes something else. The “truthfulness” of the seed is defined not merely by its status as an actual seed (as opposed to, say, a pebble) but by the sweetness and abundance of the fruit that ultimately result from its metamorphosis. Moroni 10 declares that the truth of the BoM will come not from historical research and discovery, archeological finds, linguistic connections, genetic markers, or even language itself (all sources of knowledge that postmodernism considers highly suspect) but “by the power of the holy ghost,” a gift of God. And by that same gift and power of God, Joseph “translated” the ancient record without actually translating it.

    If God “tells” me (by means that bypass conventional, positivist forms of knowledge-transfer) that the BoM is “true” does that mean that there were actually so many soldiers in this or that army, that so many individuals made face-to-face contact with the resurrected Jesus in a given, fixed period of time, that descendants of Lehi, Ishmael, or Mulek’s followers at some point comprised a significant majority of the population of the American continents (and surrounding islands)? Or does it mean just what it means — that God confirmed it?

    Is God’s confirmation a signifier of an independantly defined truth or is it what defines truth itself?

  63. Mike in 46:

    We’re told that, 2600 years ago, a certain prophet in the desert made a statement to other people, representing that he was actually a person named Laban.

    What are we to make of this happening? Are we required to believe that that prophet actually _was_ Laban? Or is there an explanation that allows us to believe that that prophet chose to lie about his true identity, for some righteous purpose?

  64. Alethia said: “Convincing others about the truth-value of Mormonism… is also the purported purpose of FARMS.”

    Really? Where does FARMS make this purpose-statement?

  65. Brad (#65), Eusebius wasn’t a historian? What about Josephus, Thucydides, Zosimus, and Bede? Not exactly dilletantes. There are many others of course.

  66. Ben, Come on. Go to the FARMS website and see, right under the BYU renames ISPART, the special feature review of The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon. Are you trying to tell me that FARMS isn’t defending truth claims when it takes on the “oversimplifications,” “omissions,” etc. of a critic of the truth and historicity of the BOM. Or, if you like, pick up the latest issue of the Book of Mormon Studies. Take a gander at Cracroft as he goes over 19th Century treatments of the BOM and takes on Mark Twain’s Roughing It for good measure. Or, in the selfsame issue, read through “Word Pairs and Distinctive Combinations…” where there is a renewed attempt to prove the BOM’s semitic origins. Or, get a subscription and peruse the videos of Hugh Nibley meandering around Egyptian sites while giving testimony or any number of BOM inspirational exegeses in video format. FARMS engages in apologetics and Mormon-centered research. It serves a constituency of Mormon readers who look for its fact-bolsters-faith approach. It doesn’t publish a certain class of articles – the ones that appear in Sunstone and Dialogue – that would be considered unorthodox or undermining of faith by some. You don’t need an explicit statement and I don’t know who you’re taking for a fool by asking for the reference to one.

  67. #49: “There is far more compelling evidence tying the BOM to 19th Century America than evidence tying the BOM to their suppossed historical locations.”

    Since we do not know of any historic locations, I would take that to be axiomatic. We would fully expect that knowledge of such locations would be lost more often than not.

    In fact, a most instructive passage in the Book of Mormon text itself covers this very topic (cf Mosiah 1:1-5, and my blog discussion at Snail Hollow). Interesting that nobody knows the meaning of the glyphs inscribed on the rocks at Rochester Creek, but I have never heard anyone question their historicity.

    Last week I read some news coverage of continuing controversy over the true location for events we commemorate at the “Martins Cove” site. Apparently a number of scholars are in serious disagreement about where the events took place.

    We cannot even conclusively determine particulars for events only a hundred years or so removed, with available records and documentation contemporary to the events. Imagine similar problems magnified exponentially for locations of events centuries removed.

  68. Someone once said “Proof is for alcohol and mathematicians; science deals with evidence”. And religion deals with faith.

    Science also starts from a position of methodological doubt; Religion on the other hand *starts* from a position of faith.

    So sure, if you are a scientist, you can say “Not proven. Next issue”. But if you deal in religion, the question isn’t so simple. The question is why do we believe in anything of this nature? There are only two answers: indoctrination and inspiration.

    Inspiration of course will never convince a scientist as such. But it is certainly enough to shift the burden of proof to the “believing disbelievers” to prove that the Book of Mormon isn’t equally credible with such propositions as the resurrection, the Atonement, life after death, and so on?

    Any of you found clear and convincing scientific evidence for those lately? Isn’t it the consensus of the “enlightened” ones that such things are impossible or radically unlikely at best? How can one be a credible adherent of any religion starting from a position of methodological doubt?

  69. re: 71

    That is a very wise statement. You’re right, NO religion can lean on science or history to support faith. You have summed up why I still identify with Mormonism, read the BoM, and use the words “Dear Heavenly Father….” when I turn to God. It sure as heck ain’t because of some FARMS article about the Arabian peninsula.

    Every branch of Christianity rests on a historical event (the resurrection of Christ) that can never, ever be proven or disproven historically. The more I ponder this, the more I think that the wisest approach is to simply stop trying.

    What if the Brethren said: Make no attempt to use science, history, or archeology to prove the BoM, the Bible, or any other scripture. Scripture resides in the domain of faith, prayer, and religious discussion. Placing it in the realm of science compromises both religion and science.

    End of discussion, end of FARMS, end of sleepness nights of doubt.

  70. Aletheia: If you’re going to continue to use this name, then I’m changing my name to ortho doxia, or “right thinker.”

    Re: # 69. If you believe the purpose of FARMS is to empirically prove the LDS scriptures to be true, then you don’t know any of those who write for it. At best it is an attempt to respond to the very skewed views of most critics (the lunatic fringe of anti-Mormonism) and to take seriously those actually serious challenges that decerve considered response. That is why it is “apologia” and not simply “logia.”

    So let me say now that I wouldn’t purport to prove LDS thought or revelation true. I do, however, claim that the open heart will know. My only job is to state the truth as powerfully and plainly as I can. Whether you listen or not is up to you and I wouldn’t assume that burden. That is why BofM historicity is merely secondary to the power to inspire that the book has. However, it of course follows that if one accepts it as historical, Joseph Smith was what he claimed to be. No other book in the history of the world has had such a clear implication of its truth value and the establishing of a prophetic call. Oh, and BTW, Nibley didn’t write for FARMS, it happens to be the case that after he wrote, FARMS picked it up and preserved his stuff.

    That said, I would love to hear your explanation as to how Joseph Smith knew the precise form and use of a prophetic call, the form and occasions for the treaty covenant pattern and/or covenant renewal that appears at least four times and the four prophetic lawsuit following Hebrew legal procedure in the pages of the BofM. I keep asking for a half-way plausible explanation. Haven’t seen any yet except Joseph’s own story.

  71. re 72. I think you are oversimplifying my position. What is faith? Among other things it is a spiritually driven belief that certain things are *true*.

    And what is truth? Truth is the way things *really* are, not just in the figments of our imagination.

    Thus in the long run, faith and science necessarily coincide with regard to all relevant factual propositions. It will do us no good to have a faith in a symbol. As Paul said:

    Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

    Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:

    And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

  72. I think we actually agree, Mark. Hebrews 11:1 sums it up nicely. The evangelicals do the same thing the FARMS-types do (check out “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”), scrambling around to try and prove various biblical events and thus undergird their faith. I just find this whole enterprise problematic. If we could somehow prove that Christ rose from the dead, that JS was given the plates, etc….well, that would be the end of faith.

    So I agree that “in the long run, faith and science necessarily coincide with regard to all relevant factual propositions,” but for me the “long run” means beyond this earthly life. We’re not going to know this stuff for sure during mortal life.

  73. Blake, I will continue to use my handle, thank you. Call yourself whatever you want. Be careful though: we might think you’re one of us, an orthodoxos.

    I didn’t know that personal acquaintance with the writers at FARMS was a prerequisite for the right interpretation of their work. The texts should stand on their own (and I think they do). To say that FARMS is only engaged in responding to anti-Mormon critics – despite the unfortunate prominence of some acid reviews -and “serious challenges that deserve considered response” actually does more of a disservice to FARMS than to say that it’s involved in advancing Mormonism’s truth claims and advocating varied stances that agree on BOM’s historicity. I actually think that FARMS can and does develop topics that aren’t only responsive.

    I never said that Nibley was a (dead) contributor to FARMS. FARMS makes use of the BYU video. We might talk about why Nibley has become somewhat of a hero figure for FARMS and non-FARMS types, though.

    Look chiasmus, treaty covenant pattern, coincidence with Hebrew legal procedure at a given moment in time, are not sufficient to prove that the BOM is historical document without the eyes of faith. They seem to me to be unsystematic and partial attempts that move around the patent relationship between KJV phrasing and the BOM and take to the rhetorical because of a lack of stronger relationships on the level of vocabulary, syntax, etc. between the BOM and ancient languages. Even if you’re intrigued by rhetorical similarities with some ancient models, this is hardly conclusive proof of Joseph’s prophethood. Since mention of the mishna has been made here for other reasons, I feel it’s appropriate to mention Jewish sources again. You can check out a Rabbinical Jewish perspective (positively anti-Christian in general) on the criteria for discerning a prophet in the second chapter to Rambam’s Introduction. Neither chiasmus or familiarity with covenants are determinative there.

    Now, Blake, I’m basically a fideist. It makes me identify with your argument (which Mormon missionaries also use when they ask potential converts to pray about the BOM’s truth) that an open heart will perceive its truth and the rest will follow. I can even respect your enthusiasm in proclaiming the faith and defending vigorously those who defend the faith at FARMS. Unfortunately, my fideism is incommensurable with yours and my open heart heard another voice.

  74. Aletheia: Fine, from now on you can refer to me solely as “orthodoxos en aletheia.”

    To reduce the form-critical patterns of the BofM to KJV phrasing or “rhetorical similarities” suggests to me that you don’t understand the issues and really haven’t looked at all carefully. Have you actually looked at these issues? Rehtorical similarities are miles apart from such patterns.

    That said, if your heart leads you elsewhere, fine. I know where my heart sings. I’ll stick also with my assessment of FARMS. I know those who write, I have read them all, wrote a few of them, and speak regularly with the editors. Your caricature is just that.

    That said, no evidence is evidence without the eyes of faith because only the eyes of faith tell us what counts as evidence — in any discipline.

  75. MikeInWeHo (#76), Yes, I can agree with that, except the part about the motivation of the FARMS-ians. The latter are ultimately engaged in a defensive enterprise. They know they cannot prove the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God, and that they may never have clear and convincing evidence as to the historical facts on the ground, they are just supplying evidence and arguments to counteract the arguments of those who are trying to prove that it is not.

    Apologetics have a long and illustrious tradition in Christianty, and I see FARMS as rising to the level of the best, particularly on these types of questions.

  76. Blake, Your personal relationship with FARMS is fine and good. You presume alot on it and repeatedly. And I’m glad it gives you special access to their hidden intentions, exemplary character and intellectual openness. It also makes them the apple of your eye that you don’t want to see touched. What was wo controversial about my statement that FARMS engages in apologetics? That they proceed from the notion of the BOM’s truth?
    I wasn’t caricaturing them or even going after them.

    Have I looked at the issures? Yes, Blake, I have. I don’t think the arguments are convincing to anyone but an already converted Mormon. They don’t establish the historicity of the BOM or the prophethood of Joseph Smith. But, then again, I’m proceeding from the notion that the BOM is not historical and Joseph Smith is not a prophet until convinced otherwise. Which means that the evidence has to be more assertive than defensive and there would have to be alot more of it to convince me.

    So, “orthodoxos en aletheia”? Are you going to commit yourself to the name change so that we all see it in red under your posts?

  77. Alethia, I don’t know anyone at FARMS who thinks that the BoM can be proven true through what they do. Many of the talks and articles they publish have an explicit disclaimer to the contrary. Thus when you said they explicitly claim to be out to prove the truth of the BoM, I wanted to see if you actually had any sources doing that or if it was just your misunderstanding of FARMS’ purpose. Clearly the latter.

    FARMS indisputably defends the faith, but for an insider audience, not outsider. Most of their works are simply trying to contextualize and interpret the scriptures in an ancient context.

    Mike similarly seems to think that faith in the scriptures requires us to quit trying to understand them this way, or that such research is meant to *substitute* for testimony.

  78. Aletheia, apologetics is not offensive, but defensive. It’s not meant to establish or prove truth to outsiders, but make it reasonable to insiders. These two quotations are relevant. (I know the 2nd one gets quoted around FARMS a lot, can’t recall if I’ve seen the first there, but it’s applicable.)

    But even at its best, the resolution of doubts by reason and appeal to evidence cannot take us far. It is helpful to meet a brilliant mind who defends gospel truths with fact and logic. There is comfort in finding that such a person has confronted the same questions with which you struggle and has retained his faith. But there is a hazard. Even the most brilliant and faithful person may defend the truth with argument or fact that later proves false. The best scholarship has, at least, incompleteness in it. But even flawless argument has a weakness if you come to depend on it: What happens to the next doubt, or the next? What if no physical evidence or persuasive logic can be produced to dispel it? You will find then what I have found-that faithful scholar who reassured you with logic did not base his faith there. It was the other way around. His faith reassured him that someday, when God told him how it was all done, he would see all truth as perfectly logical, transparently reasonable. In the meantime he was enjoying discovering what he could with the logic he could muster.
    -Elder Henry B. Eyring. To Draw Closer to God, p. 142

    Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
    -Austin Farrer, “The Christian Apologist,” in Light on C. S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965), 26.

  79. Those unfamiliar with FARMS scholarship often assume that the ancient historicity of the BoM is the *claim* (or conclusion) of the general argument. In fact, the ancient historicity of the BoM is a *premise* (or beginning) of the argument. Obviously, outsiders don’t accept this premise, and FARMers don’t expect them to; this is why they don’t seek to publish their work in mainstream academic journals.

  80. Ben, What I said was that FARMS defends the historicity of the BOM and the truth claims of Mormonism in general. I don’t think this is a misunderstanding. I think you’re right that they don’t believe they can irrevocably establish the “truth” of either but they are giving it a go on the assumption that they are working towards it. This is categorically different than, say, when Agamben and Badiou study the writings of St. Paul as cultural hallmarks, models for politics and generally interesting but not true or sacred in any sense. In other words, FARMS people are believers, aiming at “insiders” (Hey, aren’t those also believers with an interest in the truth of faith?), engaging in apologetics and pursuing research that would occur to people within a faith tradition. What upsets you about this?

    If FARMS contributors or FARMS itself wants to disabuse me of my radical notion and sad misunderstanding that they actually believe in the BOM and the faith, I’m open to listening.

  81. Aletheia, what irritates me (and, I expect, Ben) about you and others asserting that FARMS attempts to “prove” the ancient historicity of the BoM is that it works (or feels) like a gotcha: FARMS scholarship doesn’t, in fact, succeed in proving such a claim (because it doesn’t set out to do so), and critics then bray triumphantly that FARMS has failed, or ought to fail, or is worthless, and so on.

  82. What upset me was your blatantly false claim that FARMS avowed purpose was to prove the BoM true. It appears from your other comments that you misspoke.

  83. But Rosalynde captures it better than I do.

    One more relevant citation-

    Debate and argument have not that saving effect that has testifying to the truth as the Lord reveals it to the Elder by the Spirit. I think you will all agree with me in this; at least, such is my experience. I do not wish to be understood as throwing a straw in the way of the Elders storing their minds with all the arguments they can gather to urge in defense of their religion, nor do I wish to hinder them in the least from learning all they can with regard to religions and governments. The more knowledge the Elders have the better. (JD 8:53.)
    -Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 330

  84. Mark (#68),

    The contrast was between the modernist model of a historian, centered on the notion that one can have a scientific, positivistic epistemilogical relationship with the events of the past. I think the model itself is erronious. It is certainly a modern construct. Josephus was a historian in the sense that he wrote down history but not in anything like the modern sense. He seems to have quite selfconsiously constructed a jewish history with an eye on, among other things, his own aristocratic position than with doing the kind of objective, academic history that would hold up under the scrutiny of peer reviewers. He had as much in common with a myth-maker or a story-teller as he did with what we today call a historian. I know the dating is negotiable, but I even think Gibbon fits more with this older, premodernist model. I’d say that modern historical scholarship came of age with Eduard Meyer and his school.

    My overall point, thogh, was not that no one was interested in writing down history before the past 200 years. Rather, that it is irrational to retroject the standards of modern historical scholarship onto compilers/editors/writers/myth-makers that lived 2600 to 1600 years ago somewhere in central America.

  85. Ben, I don’t think you can reduce what FARM does to a defensive apologetics. If you counted only the reviews and rebuttals of anti-Mormon texts, maybe. But, the project is larger. Again, if you look at any issue of Book of Mormon Studies (but, say, the current one right now), you’ll find articles that are not defending against a specific attack (I doubt that the presence or lack of irony in the BOM is high on any list of anti-Mormon talking points), are meant to be explicative while faith-promoting (The presence of irony will clue us into the “complexity, richness” of the BOM), and yet share in a general apologetic project (The presence of irony will suggest the “authorship and ancient character of that text”).

    Now, Ben, I’m not so sure that FARMS contributors – or some subset of them – disavow completely the attitude that their evidence would be convincing to outsiders and in. The tone of the reviews often implies that outsiders are temerous and impious in not accepting the BOM’s historicity and the faith (and, if they only had a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies it would all be so clear to them). In my own case, I can’t help but be an outsider. I am practicing Greek Orthodox, after all. I generally refrain from making statements about my attitude towards Mormonism’s central truth claims because I’m interested in Mormon theology, find its scriptures attractive on many levels, like reading about Mormon history, have a fondness for Utah, etc. and because I want to pursue a beneficial dialogue with the gross of people on the board. Now, needless to say, you can’t be GOC and LDS. When Blake calls me out with a “What’s your explanation of chiasmus?”-type question, he’s making what is putatively for insiders, an argumentative wedge for outsiders (and I think this happens more than your account of what FARMS does allows for). What would you have me do, other than to say that I don’t find this material sufficiently convincing while admitting that, yes, I’m an “outsider”?

    Rosalynde, FARMS proceeds from the premise of the historicity of the BOM. But premise and claim switch back and forth in the articles published (and, especially, in the argumentative reviews of “anti-Mormon” tracts). I think you’re being charitable in putting forth the notion that FARMS contributors are refraining from publication in mainstream reviews because they don’t expect others to accept the premise of the book’s historicity. I think it’s rather the other way around: FARMS-type research has its own forum because mainstream reviews won’t have it.

  86. re # 62: “Hey, Kyriakos, let me tell you why the Immaculate Conception didn’t take placeâ€? “And, Omar, these are the reasons to reject Muhammad as a prophet. But, by the way, x, y and z, prove that, if your going to stay a Muslim, you should follow the Malaki school of jurisprudence.”

    Isn’t this exactly what myriad ex and antimos are constantly doing? Isn’t the fact that they’re doing it the reason that organizations like FARMS exist to be a voice to the insiders who believe to reassure them that such arguments against the faith are not conclusive or determinative and to point out other evidence that supports the faith?

    On another note, I think that RW’s assertion that some are too willing and eager to accept the speculations of Vogel et al as some kind of determinative historical fact that, although mere inference from this or that historical tidbit, somehow prove that Mormons are dumb is accurate.

  87. re # 62: “Hey, Kyriakos, let me tell you why the Immaculate Conception didn’t take place� “And, Omar, these are the reasons to reject Muhammad as a prophet. But, by the way, x, y and z, prove that, if your going to stay a Muslim, you should follow the Malaki school of jurisprudence.�

    Ex- and anti-Mormons are interested in disproving Mormonism’s truth claims, usually in order to advance some alternative set (say, the goodness of Southern Baptism). One of FARMS tasks is to provide a defense. These limited situations of religious encounter and conflict are particular. Generally, one comes to believe in faith and to advocate its truth. It’s not the burden of disbelievers to “prove you wrong” and justify their disbelief but, if you get insistent, the other way around. And, I suspect that the others here don’t take on the larger burden that their particular, polemical stance (“You have to prove that my Mormonism is wrong. It’s your responsibility) would imply. They don’t really think (or don’t act like they think) that it is their responsibility to disprove the faith of the myriad of traditions out there, again and again, over and over.

  88. John, I think it’s cool that a practicing Greek Orthodox reads FARMS and T&S!

    Aletheia, I don’t know whether FARMS authors have tried submitting the sort of piece that would go, say, in BoM Studies to other mainstream journals—but if they have, you’re certainly right that the pieces would be declined, as they should be, for not proceeding from verifiable premises of the discipline. But many FARMS authors do publish widely and participate professionally in their wider academic fields. (Also, you are probably right about some FARMS pieces occasionally confusing the premise and the claim—after all, “FARMS authors” are not a monolithic block, despite the way I’ve been talking about them, and they do vary in sophistication—and it is certain that the popularized versions of their ideas that circulate among church members often do so.)

  89. John, I just saw your second post. I’ll be brief in responding because otherwise I’m going to start feeling like I’m being asked to justify my presence and give the password (and I’ve already tried too justify my presence on other threads). I read FARMS because I have an academic interest in Mormon religion and Mormon apologetics. Because the publication has come up in conversation with friends, colleagues, and members on this board. Because my attitude is generally ecumenical and I gain from others’ discussions of their faith (somewhat of a renegade position within segments of Orthodoxy. Shhhh, don’t tell those Russian hardliners. They know that ecumenism is from the devil).

  90. Rosalynde, I agree that many FARMS authors are published academics. I’m sure they are all interested and sincere academic practitioners. I don’t particularly like the polemical use to which academic credentials seem to be put in FARMS but…

  91. Aletheia,

    Well, you are welcome to hang out here. One of my favorite Mormon scholars is a convert from Greek Orthodox :)

    But frankly, I am having trouble telling how you, Ben, and Rosalynde are differing in your assesment of FARMS. We all agree they do apologetics designed to provide reason for faith. We all agree that they also publish stuff about the religion and the Book of Mormon as a subject interesting beyond apologetics. Or is there some deep difference I’m missing?

  92. Frank, the original thorn was Alethea’s claim that FARMS explicit purpose was to prove the BoM true, probably just a poor choice of words, but representing a fundamental misunderstanding of the organizational intent. See post 85.

  93. A and RW:

    Sorry for a poorly worded sentence in # 91. I also think it’s great that a Greek Orthodox is reading FARMS and T&S. My # 91 was in conjunction with my # 90, i.e. I was wondering if aletheia isn’t reading FARMS in order to do exactly what aletheia described in # 62, and thereby justifying the existence of FARMS altogether.

  94. re 96, aletheia, my sister-in-law didn’t need to defend you against me. I wasn’t attacking your being a Greek Orthodox who reads FARMS an sich but rather thinking out loud as explained in 99.

  95. Frank, I’m assuming that Ben and Rosalynde were afraid that I was a berater and a hater. I was, in fact, kind of surprised by the heat that I took from Blake and Ben. I was making a point about where the burden of convincement for any and all believers lies (with believers) and threw in FARMS as what I thought was an obvious example of attempts at convincing others (whatever the insider-outsider nuance) and a commitment to the historicity of the BOM and the truth of Mormonism . Then I got taken to task.

    Rosalynde, I’m sorry I missed your #85. I must have been typing. I’ve noticed that some are especially sensitive to criticisms of FARMS. Perhaps the reaction I got and the sensitivity itself are overall on the order of honed polemical reflexes (like Kane anticipating ninjas a moment before the attack because of a whistle of air). I think in my case a relatively innocuous statement got over-read as threatening in a familiar way. Kane gave me the karate chop when I was reaching up to scratch my nose. This might all be unfortunate because there is room for development at FARMS and among its publications and this should be open for discussion.

    Ben, cut me some slack on the “poor choice of words” stuff.

  96. Aletheia,

    What are some of the hot button issues in Greek Orthodoxy, and are there blogs like this that discuss them?

  97. FARMS is not immune to criticism. I have some myself. But criticism based on a fundamental misunderstanding needs to have the misunderstanding clarified and corrected. If that’s not your argument (as it seems) then we were simply reacting against poor expression,
    (something I’m frequently guilty of myself). I’ve simply been trying to pin down what you actually mean, in contrast with what you originally said. In a format like this, how else can I understand what you mean except by what you write?

  98. David, I have to go run some errands but I’ll give you a rundown of our sensitivities and disagreements, along with some blogs for you to look at, when I get back. Promise.

  99. Someone wrote: “I am not yet compelled by spiritual experience to have no other choice but to believe it.”

    I am. Testimony time: I know the Book of Mormon is true because God told me it was. Same with Joseph Smith’s first vision. I don’t just believe, I know those things happened. God caused me to know. He made me know. He transfered a knowledge of them into me. To say merely “I believe” would be to not divulge the whole truth, because the experience of receiving that communication or knowledge went beyond believing. To put it bluntly, honestly and literally: God told me they are true.

    Sometimes when speaking to people who don’t yet know what a testimony is or what revelation is, I hold back and say “I believe.” But to tell the whole truth, I have to say “I know.”

    A good description is on page 38 of “Gospel Principles”, starting with “The convincing power of the Holy Ghost..” and going on for four paragraphs.

  100. This conversation has moved well beyond my discussion with Pickles McGee, but I wanted to respond to Pickles’ #61:

    “Yes, NHM = Nahom and it is indisputable, airtight proof that the Book of Mormon is historical, just like chiasmus. But since I am evidently an anti-Mormon (better tell my Bishop so he can release me from my calling) I naturally can’t accept this claim. In any case, if NHM qualifies as “extraordinaryâ€? in your book, I can’t wait to see what you say when FARMS discovers the bones of Zelph.”

    This is another perfect example of the anti-Mormon playbook I mentioned previously. (Note that I didn’t not say Pickles is an anti-Mormon; I said s/he was using the anti-Mormon playbook.) Instead of addressing the considerable evidence for the authenticity of the BofM presented by NHM, it’s location, its altars, and its burial site, Pickles simply threw up a smokescreen of sarcasm and unrelated issues.

    Is Pickles aware of the research on NHM and the evidences it presents for a real Lehite journey? Has s/he read the research and weighed its implications? Back in #51 s/he complimented Mormons who have “studied all sides and come to the humble conclusion that the BOM is historical,” but lamented that “most Mormons have not studied all sides.” Has Pickles studied “all sides”? Does s/he subscribe to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, or at least read the online material and give serious consideration to it? It’s hard to tell because s/he refuses to tell us why NHM is so laughable.

    It’s frustrating to me because I see this approach so often. There is good, solid evidence for BofM historicity, but the vast majority of detractors won’t discuss it. Instead they brush aside FARMS with a condescending wave of the hand and smart-aleck remarks. I suppose that’s easier. It certainly doesn’t require any time-consuming activities like reading.

    (And, for the record, FARMS has published on Zelph. The history of that incident, and what Joseph Smith had to say about it, is not as clear as Joseph’s detractors would have us believe.)

  101. My Uncle is David Johnson the BYU professor who was involved in identifying this site in Yemen as NAHOM. He told me a few years ago that this is the real deal and he regards it as proof of the historocity of the BOM. Showing that Nephi did in fact make this journey.

  102. David, The first place I’d suggest that you go is to the Wikipedia page on Eastern Orthodoxy. It provides a relatively good primer on Orthodoxy and a number of links to sites like the Orthodox Research Institute (Don’t ask me what they “research”. It is a good place to find hierarchical pronouncements and orthodox church positions on everything from ecumenism to ethics to patristics. Goarch.org also has some good introductory stuff for anyone interested in Greek Orthodoxy. You also should be able to find a number of links to individual Orthodox blogs by through the Orthodox Portal. I have yet to find anything close to a public forum of the T&S type and quality (hats off to them). Rather, it seems that most of the blogs out there are written by priests or converts (with occasional group efforts – between Catholics and Orthodox or around set issues like the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (www.incommunion.org).

    What are the hot-button issues? Well, it depends on who you ask, with a sometimes marked divide between the laity and the hierarchy (priests, bishops, archbishops, etc. have divisions amongst themselves as well; especially between mostly married priests at the parish level and the esclusively monastic bishops, archbishops, etc.) Laity and hierarchy share some sensitivities and frustrations in dealing with the non-Orthodox. Whether the Jehovah’s Witness at your door or the mainline or evangelical Protestant doing a church tour or just the average and averagely Christianized American, you get questions like “So, why do you worship the Virgin Mary? Don’t you think icons are really idolatrous? Isn’t it theologically wrong to pray for the dead? Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior? Are you saved?” Most Orthodox will condescend to explain our positions on these but we find the questions annoying because they are repeated over and over and over (And often come down to, “Why aren’t you a Protestant/JW/etc. like me?” Internationally – the U.S. is by no means the center of Orthodoxy and thus issues in worldwide orthodoxy always factor in – the Church and its members have often had heated conflicts with proselytizers, whether they be Catholics and Uniates in the Ukraine or Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and, yes, Mormons in Russia. What is especially irksome to us is when the former – Catholics and Protestants – proceed on the notion that we are not Christians, wherever this happens. Members of my own church were at first flattered when Rick Warren invited some of them to a showing of Gibson’s movie on Christ’s life. They felt it was a nice, ecumenical gesture. That is until they read a statement by Pastor Warren in the local newspaper where he admitted to having instructed members and having followed himself the logic of inviting everyone who “didn’t know and needed Christ” to come see the movie.

    As for issues that can be more divisive, I think there is some overlap with some of the concerns on this site. Abortion and gay rights tend to be areas where personal politics and church doctrine come into conflict. But, it doesn’t seem that either of them are as divisive for us as they are for Roman Catholics because the Church has a firm position but doesn’t agitate for it in the same way as the Catholics do. Probably what is more difficult for members to accept (and part of their spiritual development) is the church’s general emphasis on non-violence, the spiritual as against the material (the Chruch conceives itself as being countercultural here) and the love of Christ.

    Among us, the question of mixed-marriages brings up some debate (many in the laity and the clergy would like to see a re-examination of the current policy whereby, if a member marries a non-Trinitarian Christian or non-Christian, he/she is disallowed from practicing (can’t receive communion, etc.)).

    Among the Greek Orthodox in the States, the Church is faced with the problem of assimilation. Because Hellenism and Orthodoxy have been married for so long in the old country and under the Turks, some Greek Orthodox become less faithful as they become less Greek. Thus, some churches have been moving to divorce the equation of being Greek (or Russian or Armenian) is being Orthodox and being Orthodox is being Greek. They have done this by using more English (canon law, after all, requires that the liturgy be done in the language of the land), emphasizing participation in religious activities as against cultural activities (like the Greek Festival), reaching out to interested candidates for conversion (fervent proselytism not being something we do well).

    Tensions and flare-ups also tend to center around liturgy (a central event). Is this phrase in Chrysostom’s liturgy translated right? Are the forms correctly kept? Should set service back two hours on Easter to accomodate families? These tend to be more priestly discussions – you may come across some blogs where whether a child who wants communion but is allergic to grain can be accomodated with a rice substitute (The general answer is no) – but the laity sometimes resist priests who are seen to think that only a 3-hour, fully prostrate mass is effective. Priests in general fight the good fight to get people to come to mass, to bring their kids to Sunday School (and adaptation to the States, as well), to read the Bible, engage in prayer in route to mystical prayer, come to confession, etc. Like stereotypical Catholics, alot of Greek Orthodox take some convincing to do these.

    Finally, as compared with other religious currents in the States, the Orthodox also tend to be more critical of the Israeli government because of its interference with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. We tend to emphasize our Jewish roots in the liturgy, still emphasize the prophetic passage in the Old Testament that foreshadow Christ’s Incarnation, make liberal use of the Psalms, etc. but don’t share in evangelical solidarity with the Israeli State (which we see as stemming from an obsession with Revelations and a desire to speed up the Second Coming which is not, in fact, very friendly to Jews). This can bring us into conflict with our evangelical peers, as you can imagine.

    Anyhow, these are some of our peculiarities, concerns, etc. I hope you take them with a grain of salt – they’re coming from this particular Greek Orthodox observer – and visit some of the sites for educational purposes. And, again, compliments to T&S. I wish we had something comparable (though I wouldn’t stop coming if we did).

  103. John, Just saw your post. “Defense” is too strong of a word. Especially since I wasn’t feeling like I was under too much attack. So, anyway, thanks for the kind words.

  104. I thought it was interesting that none of the comments even adressed what has come up elsewhere – that President Hinckley did not address the geographical location of the Book of Mormon – he did not say Ancient “American” prophets. Not that I’m advocating that the Book of Mormon events took place elsewhere, but with this crowd I’m am suprised it hasn’t come up yet.

  105. Thanks for sharing and being vulnerable aletheia. My oldest son served a mission in Ukraine and my second son is presently in Russian dealing with the Orthodox. It turns out that there idea of religious freedom is very different than ours and the local priests do everything they can to stop any prosletyzing including accosting them and ripping their name tags off and getting local mayor-equivalents to shut down cities to missionaries and so forth. I’m sure that no U.S. orthodox would stand for such behavior. Any way, thanks for your good will.

  106. Aletheia:

    What exactly was your road to your conversion — if such a word’s appropriate — to, well, exploring your ecumenicalism via communion with Orthodoxy?

  107. Oh. And Aletheia:

    The fact, as I’ve recently read, of Queen Elizabeth II’s hubby having been Greek Orthodox before he’d of course converted to Anglican reminds me of the unique status of the Episcopal communion [sic (lex.?)] in the West; I’d be interested to hear YOUR concise (or even lengthy! ha ha) take — based on report on whatcha know/think of it vis a vis Orthodoxy?

  108. Aletheia’s post # 77: “We might talk about why Nibley has become somewhat of a hero figure . . . .”

    Your mentioning having watched Nibley’s ramble on on the BYU tapes made me laugh, Aletheia!

    “Nibley!” for me was (at first) “just a name” — one carrying POWER. And so did: “Truman Madsen!” (And perhaps so would have: “Eugene England!” — had it not been for the fact that a humble, “crippled” (as we used to call the handicap) man who lived in my ward was named Gene?) You see, “Nibley”/ “Madsen” to me represented simultaneously “good” and “intellectual”/ “smart.”

    And back then I certainly never would have DREAMED of picking up “No Man Knows My History” . . . And I STILL haven’t read it! . . . ‘Caus I understood it to be “purposely” fraught with stuff to make people doubt the Lord’s work! But, when I did finally pick up Nibley, I wasn’t disappointed. Here was somebody who obviously was a genuine intellectual! And yet, of course: Orthodox Mormon! One who even believed that any kind of intellectual inquiry would acually serve to bolster, rather than to help erode, belief and faith in the Church!

    I was less impressed when I actually read Madsen, though. Why? Well, because maybe he seemed more “safe” in what he wrote than Nibley? His words were less full of the intellectual bravado and jousting, less full of witty hubris. And so, while Nibley would spout “off-beat” ideas — that is, not off beat at all, but creatively in tune with an understanding of the Mormon Gospel as being true — by the handfuls, Madsen, in the little bit of him I’d read, would seem stick to maybe one, small, modest one and see it through for a bit. Which just didn’t make for as grand of an intellectual exercise.

    So, what such names represented was basically . . . “tastes in art”? In that they were artists — creative expositors of the Mormon world view, who intellectual Mormons would be “into” because of what team they’re on, their force of personality, their intellectual ability, rather than because of any actual magnum opus they were able to produce. So, Aletheia, that’s why I had to chuckle when you mentioned listeneing to Nibley ramble on on those old tapes. ‘Caus maybe you would never truly be able to understand. Or maybe ya CAN? And the polemical, dismissive tone you love to hate at Farms is really in itself homage to that vintage Nibleyism we Brodie-era Mos just loved!

  109. Blake, I do sympathize with the experience of your sons in the Ukraine and Russia. I think American Orthodox almost to the man, woman and child would think that behaving violently and calling in the State for support of the faith is an overstepping of bounds because we hold the free exercise of religion as a dear concept. I won’t even try to excuse these Russian priests, bishops, deacons, etc. Nevertheless, there are some ways to understand what they’re doing without advocating it. From my viewpoint – and from the interviews I’ve read with Russian Orthodox clergy – I think there are two unfortunate circumstances at work. First, the Russian Orthodox Church did suffer heavily under Communism in the closing of churches, the abolishment of religious education, the meddling of the Communist govt. in the hierarchy, the isolation of members from employment and social participation (so that, anecdotally, you hear of the churches being filled almost exclusively with the grandmothers and children who could bear the social cost), and even the imprisonment and martyrdom of thousands (even millions). All Orthodox sympathize with the experience of our correligionaries under Communism. It even fits in very well with our narrative of being the most persecuted church in history. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Russian clergy has come to grips with the reasons – large Church holdings, Church monopoly on the moral and religious life of Russians, their perceived complicity with Tsarism, etc. – that subtended some of the persecution (not that I’m justifying it). Thus, with the fall of the Soviet Union, it views itself as being vindicated in its truth and has reverted rather uncritically to the marriage between the nation-state and Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, it perceives missionary activity as being another persecution on a long-beleagured church and a threat to the sovereignty and identity of the nation. The behaviors on evidence are why I especially deplore the mix of nationalism and religion (and am fearful of that juncture when persecuted churches become powerful). The Russians need to listen more to their faith. This is not the only way to proclaim the “One True Church”. Despite our long history of marrying the Church to political power, it should be working towards a different political and religious model in Russia.

  110. Kimball, I can understand the admiration for Nibley. For Mormons, he seems to represent precisely the fusion you described, intellectualism and orthodox practice of Mormonism. I know several intellectual Mormons who take Nibley as the man they can point to when faced with the still too persistent assumption that you can’t be a Mormon and a thinker. Besides that particular joy, Nibley had personality and a feisty attitude towards BYU and the hierarchy. To be honest, I think Nibley fulfills alot of the same function for Mormons that C.S. Lewis does for (evangelical) Protestants. I perceive two possibly negative effects of the over-admiration of Nibley. Firstly, that the cult of Nibley makes impefect Nibleys. Copying the model goes against the iconoclasm and independence of spirit that Nibley seems to have in spades, of course. It also can lead to partial and stereotypical Nibleyesque poses, such as the polemical and dismissive tone I do so love to hate. Secondly, I think Nibley might be a stand-in for the sort of intellectual that just isn’t allowed at BYU anymore. Maybe I’m wrong. I did pass up my opportunity to go to BYU Law, after all. But it seems to me that by putting Nibley on a pedestal, there’s instant insulation from the kind of dissent by newer scholars that Nibley represented. “Nibley could do that but, sir, you are no Nibley”.

    Just my impressions. Don’t get me started on C.S. Lewis.

  111. Aletheia:

    Love your extremely astute observations! (And please DO get started on Lewis! lol. Who, during his “before his return to the fold” period was such a lover of Teutonic mythology as, according to his admission in Surprised By Joy!, to make himself, really, a “believing” pagan(!))

  112. I don’t know exactly what you’re looking for by asking for my take on the status of the Episcopal communion vis-a-vis Orthodoxy. Although I intuit some of the issues. It used to be that Greek Orthodox were told by their leaders to attend Episcopal churches when they lived in areas without a sufficiently large community to justify the building of churches and the maintenance of officiating clergy. Several people in my own church – slightly older than myself in their forties and fifties – attended Episcopal churches while growing up in the Midwest and remember the arrangements they had with the local clergy to allow an itinerant Orthodox priest to come during Easter and other important festivals to officiate special ceremonies for the Orthodox congregants. This is most emphatically not the advice given by clergy to members now. Because of the issues of gay marriage, ordination of gay priests and, I think to a lesser extent, the ordination of women, the Greek Orthodox Church has taken some severe positions towards the Episcopal communion. You can see an explanation of these at the Orthodox Research Institute site that I referenced earlier in its article on Ecumenism. There it talks about the pre-existing difficulties of Ecumenism in the Church’s view vis-a-vis Protestants. Simply, how do you convince Protestants of the nature of the One True Church (while recognizing that their churches contain some truth and all the while being cordial) and encourage them to come back to it? Additionally, you’ll see them address the “branch theory” of Anglican authority (Never recognized by the Catholic or Orthodox churches) that is a traditional stumbling block for Orthodox conceptions of the Church. Finally, you’ll see there what is really at issue. The violations of biblical teaching and canon on homosexuality and ordination have moved the churches away from rapprochement and the internal divisions within Anglicanism/Episcopalianism make it difficult for the Orthodox to know whom to deal with (i find this a little gleeful on the part of those I’ve heard it from and a little ironic and disingenuous given the proverbial disorganization of Orthodox organization, but…)

    Now, how do I and what’s my take on the lay of the land? I think that possibilities for rapprochement and reunion are strongest between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox as lived in the context of the U.S. (although not the world). Roman Catholics have come to be perceived as natural allies by many Orthodox in the States because of our liturgical, dogmatic, and moral similarities as well as because of our shared condition as non-Protestants in this country of ours (My wife, who is a Catholic, sometimes gets to wondering rhetorically what exactly are the differences). Even so, I am pessimistic about the final reunion of these two churches because of the persistence of historical tensions (You can find ready anecdotal references in books on Orthodoxy – I’ll find you a concrete reference, if you like – of pilgrims and travellers sitting through tirades by this Greek monk or that Romanian monk, in Sinai or whatnot, on how the Catholics with be marshalled into hell by their false Pope), because of identity issues and because of some real differences in form and approach that go beyond the filioque, say. Prospects are even worse for Episcopalianism and Orthodoxy. In a sense, I’m saddened. In another sense, not. When my priest holds forth on how close we sometimes are to reunion with the Catholics, I find myself thinking, “But I don’t want to be a Catholic…”

  113. Yes. Lol.

    But, Aleyth: You started out fundy Xtian in youth . . . and then wanted to move on towards what you’d perceive to be some kind of unsullied — if not ecumenical then “pan-Christian” via the Orthodox?

  114. Man, I’ve really hijacked Frank’s thread. It would be alot to pull together the threads of my own conversion experience. Yes, I started out life as a Protestant with some evangelical admixture. During my early childhood my father was a divinity student in the Pentecostal tradition – Aimee Semple McPherson! – and a minister for a short while. He left the ministry and Pentecostalism for reasons that have never been crystal clear to me. They have to do with the monetary pressures of dealing with a family while receiving a small stipend and working odd jobs, in part. They also have to deal with a dissatisfaction with some of the simplicities and simplistic politics that sometimes afflicts Pentecostals. So, growing up we attended non-denominational, mixed churches. There were originary Catholics and Protestants there but the theology and culture was marked by all the waves of lower-church Protestantism in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. My parents tended to emphasize the social aspects of the gospel – the concern for the poor (and we were always fragile middle class) stayed with us from Pentecostalism – but I became a rather fervent Bible (and, yes, sometimes evangelical) Christian as an adolescent. In college and graduate school, however, I became progressively less religious (while always struggling). I decided that I wanted to go back to church somewhere along the way. My Mormon friends were, in fact, somewhat instrumental in this. We did and still have long theological discussions. These helped me to come to a realization of some of my fundamental beliefs and, because of my respect for them, to find some assurance that you could be intellectually rigurous and a believer. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to the low-church Protestantism that I had known. It would have been too easy for me. Knowing the insides and outs of a church can sometimes make you a confident and competent member but not a spiritually active one. Besides, I had some serious difficulties with Bible-only belief, evangelicall enthusiasms, church structure and the order of services in many Protestant churches. I’d flirted with Catholicism because, as I think I mentioned before, I’m a Latin Americanist and because some important women in my life have been Catholics (my wife being number one). But, the Protestant in me chafed at the things Protestants chafe at with the Catholic Church and the left-leaning academic wasn’t particularly enamoured of some of the Catholic Church’s history in Latin America, its politics in the States and its rhetorical/administrative conduct towards Spanish-speaking parishioners at the services in Los Angeles I’ve attended (To give you an anecdotal and partial example of the historical: In one sermon by the Catholic priest that married my wife and I we were shocked to hear a prolonged and fervored justification of the Cristero Rebellion). So, I went looking for a church. I read up a little on Orthodoxy (I knew the outline beforehand) and found my local church’s website. I went to the open class on Orthodoxy, read the programed list, read and read books on Byzantine history, monasticism, etc., talked with my now priest on several occasions, argued over things with friends of various persuasions, talked over the future of my life as possible Orthodox with my wife, restarted a life of prayer, was impressed by the lovingness of my priest and fellow students, went back to the Bible again and, finally, decided to convert and do all those things that are required in doing so (confession, various church rituals, chrismation, etc.) Anyhow, that’s one version of my story (and one that sounds more haphazard and incidental than it should).

    I’ll take on C.S. Lewis another time. I’ve spent a good deal of my life reading the man and then another good deal running away from him. Let me think about him and the it of the figure of C.S. Lewis, church marketing of the latest production of The Lion and all. But, now, I’ll try to cede the thread. My wife is telling me I should stop “fighting” on the Internet and reminding me that we are going to be taking care of her niece over the weekend starting tonight. I’m sure I’ll find my way back to the computer but…

  115. Y’know, the late Lloyd Bentsen’s having scored such easy points with “You’re no John Kennedy!” had always rubbed me the wrong way; even John Kennedy was no John Kennedy of subsequent hagiography.

  116. Everything about the Book Of Mormon starts from the First Vision.If you believe the latter then you have to accept the divinity of the BOM,nothing more nothing less.It is just like proving the ressurection of Jesus Christ,no amount of scientific or historical proof is sufficient to prove that it really happened but if you have faith and the Holy Ghost manifested the truth unto you then no explanation or hard evidence is needed (I Cor 12:3)…….

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