FairConference, Thursday Afternoon Sessions

Bob Rees

A review of Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book


Started with this Card Colour changing trick video (http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2009/01/07/colour-changing-card-trick-outtakes/) to illustrate that too much focus on one thing can cause you miss the many other things that are going on. What aren’t you noticing?

Emerson said,  “Tell me your sect, and I’ll tell you your argument.”

How we approach the Book of Mormon will determine what we find within it.  Rees was impressed with Earl’s thoroughness. He has read extensively and carefully. He approached as though cross-examining it in a court of law, and like any good lawyer making a case, he has been selective in choice of witnesses.

Wunderli’s book does not give a balanced presentation, although it gives an impression of having done so. And he does raise important questions about the Book of Mormon, from the use of KJV language, internal stylistic consistency, anachronistic scientific understanding, mythology, and so one.

Wunderli sees himself of side of reason, science and truth, and as a result paints the other side unreasonable, unscientific, and inclined to believe in myths and falsehoods.

He doesn’t acknowledge that some scholars are open to spiritual ways of knowing, that there is more than one legitimate avenue for seeking knowledge.

Those of us who use both approaches see differently than those who use just one. And this cuts both ways; those rely solely on spirit may be indifferent to any evidence.

In Book of Mormon criticism there is a tendency for people to become angry, bitter, and vituperative. It is a problem of tone.

You can reduce any one in the world to one word, but all the words in the world cannot adequately describe any one person.

Rees applauds Wunderli for wanting to focus on internal evidence, but the internal evidence in the Book of Mormon is not so simple or obvious as Wunderli treats it.

On cataloguing words used in the Book of Mormon , Wunderli wrote “this is as far as my imagination carried me.”

One of the unused gifts of the spirit is the imagination.

The text invites a deeper seeing. Not that one should ignore facts. One may manage the text as Wunderli does, but also submit to it imaginatively, intuitively, and thoughtfully.

The inclusion of 4 appendices makes one ask, How could Wunderli have seen so much, and missed so much?

Focusing on the trees of individual lists of words prevents Wunderli from seeing the forests of meaning.

For example, the Book of Mormon is rich in rhetorical and dramatic irony. 1 Ne 16 and 17 have a sophisticated play on the words “to know.”

The kinds of irony one finds in the BoM are not accidental, not the kind you can just pull out of a hat, but require highly sophisticated skills. Irony is often very subtle and embedded within the texts.

Although impressed by Wunderli’s decades long study of the Book of Mormon, meaning is lost when words are made into lists.


Too narrow of a focus can lead a critic to overemphasize errors in text and overlook the consistencies of the text. Tendency to focus on individual words rather than deliberate allusion. These shortcomings are not Wunderli’s alone. Like Wunderli, some apologetic scholars produce lists and minutia to prove their points, but ignore other evidence that will challenge their assumptions.

We must challenge own assumptions, question own questions.

We make decisions about who is on our team, and tend to believe them.

The LDS tendency toward prooftexting is not helpful.

Grant Hardy gave good way of reading. His most significant contribution is to rescue Book of Mormon people from format captivity.

It is puzzling that Wunderli doesn’t refer to Hardy at all, even though Hardy’s book was published 3 years prior to his book. If he had read it, then he likely would not have come to some of the conclusions that he arrived at.

For example, Hardy’s deeper, more careful, and precise analysis finds 3 main voices-Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni. The big advantage of Hardy is that he presents evidence and leaves judgment up to the reader.

There is a marked shift in tone from introduction to conclusion in the Imperfect Text. The introduction tries to sound fair and scholarly. In the conclusion the lawyer comes out and the tone is much less neutral and less charitable. “Defenders” become “literalists.”

I appreciate his effort.

Any work of scholarship that challenges me I appreciate, even if it is imperfect.

Matt Roper and Paul Fields

Scriptural Style in Early Nineteenth Century American Literature


Wordprint analysis.

Many scholars have found evidence of multiple writers in the Book of Mormon and their voices are quite distinct from possible 19th century authors.

Wunderli finds commonality and uniformity of style and concludes that Joseph Smith was the sole author. His methods use unstandardized raw word counts for Moroni and Mormon. If one standardizes the frequencies, then strong differences appear between Moroni and Mormon. Roper and Fields use Wunderli’s own raw data to show differences in word pattern usages.

They similarly address Wunderli’s claim for 2 Jesuses (Book of Mormon different from New Testament based on word choice and frequency)

Vocabulary richness.

Wunderli claims poor vocabulary richness in Book of Mormon.  When compare 4 gospels to Nephi, Jacob, Mormon and Moroni, the gospels on the whole have less richness than the Book of Mormon authors.

There is strong evidence that major Book of Mormon authors are distinguishable.

The writing style in the Book of Mormon is at least on par with the KJV.

Pseudo-biblical writing style.

Writing in the pseudo-biblical style was popular from about 1750 to 1850.

The Bible may have influenced the Book of Mormon text, both by paving the way for the Book of Mormon by conditioning Americans to reading in this language and style and may also influenced content of book of mormon text.

Compares two pseudo-biblical texts about America in written in biblical language: American Revolution and The Long War. Several references to American Zion by Eran Shalev.

The texts in question are all secular, not religious in nature. God or Providence is not a significant role or actor.

Book of Mormon claimed to be a revelatory text intended to tell authentic religious truths. Contemporary visionary tracts were not in psuedo-biblical language.

Most pseudo-biblical texts echo the Old Testament rather than the NT and contain few references to Christ.

All of this evidence is circumstantial. There are no direct ties connecting Book of Mormon to pseudo-biblicism.

These connections are mostly made by anti-mormon writers, not LDS writers.

Word clouds.

1 contextual words-structural words with no content meaning: the, and, but

2. archaic words choices: thee, thou

3. distinguishing phrases: of the Lord

4. content topics:religion, war

Compare BoM to KJV and two other documents The Late War and The American Revolution.

BoM much more like KJV than the other two pseudo-biblical books, especially in word phrases.

In LW and AR, the imitation of KJV language is caricature, not the true similarity seen with the Book of Mormon based on the word analysis.

Superficial similarities in topics, but in order to generate these supposed similarities it was necessary to include events within a work that were separated by a long period of time or in reverse order.

Books on the same topic or in same genre always have some similarities.

Correlation is not causation.

In any comparison, something is always closest. In a large enough group, the closest can appear to be close.


In the Four dimensional analysis including:

1. non contextual words

2. archaic words

3. distinguishing phrases

4. content

it is clear that Joseph Smith’s imitation of the KJV style was more convincing than LW and AR.

You can decide if it’s because he was some kind of an unscholared genius or an inspired prophet.


4 main authors in the Book of Mormon are easily distinguished.

The Book of Mormon is very like KJV of the Bible in word choice.

(Rachel’s note: Did not address question as to why being more like the King James translation of the Bible is an argument for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Perhaps because it’s implausible toto imitate the Bible that well without inspiration.)

From the Q&A:

There are as many as 23 distinct speakers in the Book of Mormon.


Ty Mansfield

“Mormons can BE gay, they just can’t do gay”?: Deconstructing Sexuality and Identity from an LDS Perspective

“Sexuality is a complex and deeply personal aspect of the human experience.”

Some have stated the Church’s position on sexuality as reasons for people leaving the church, like the Strangers in Zion movement.

Mansfield is speaking from personal experience, and years of therapeutic conversations that have allowed him to get to know people in their raw realness.

The idea of being gay is entirely a social construct. Not that the feelings are not real, but the identity is constructed. The label is reductionist; instead of getting at essence, it strips it away.

This relates to many agendas. Nothing on homosexuality can be both honest and easy to read. And on a religious level, fraught with potentially eternal consequences.

We must look at our unexamined assumptions and we need to move to a more reasonable place.

The title is a pejorative statement that is a caricature of doctrine and practices; it oversimplifies. is a flawed construction. We need a more nuanced way of thinking about sexuality in LDS thought.

When we categorize people, we assume that sexuality is one dimensional and exists along a single linear continuum. This is false.

“Gayness” is not “being”

Four Tiers of Sexuality

  • Attraction and desire (feeling of attraction may be emotional , spiritual, physical, social or erotic in nature)
  • Orientation (conditioned or persistent  attraction)
  • Behavior (way express sexuality behaviorally)
  • Identity (sociocultural identity constructs or labels that individuals adopt to communicate to others something about their sexuality)


Sexual desire can be stimulated by any strong emotion, not just love. Humans are capable of a wide arrange of tastes and affinities. Desire themselves may be socially produced.

Superficial attraction is opposed to more intimate and meaningful relationship. Close male friendship is the norm in most societies and generally considered more intimate than sexual relationships. We need ways to distinguish intimacy from sexuality. Use of intimacy as an euphemism for sex is not helpful to this discussion. Human connection is need.

We get into trouble when we attempt to attribute a single cause to sexual desire. Reductionistic explanations say nothing about the development of sexual desire. There is no consensus about the exact reasons for individuals to develop a certain sexual orientation. Nature and nurture both play complex roles.

Sexual Orientation

Refers to the work of Lisa Diamond (2013), a researcher on female sexual fluidity. Identity constructs are heuristic, and they reflect or lead to biases. We must be careful about assuming these categories are natural phenomena.

“Homosexual” as a category may be false: it would be better to consider “homosexualities,” each a subset with its own different experience.

To experience same sex attraction is not the same as ‘being gay.’ Exclusive same sex attraction rates are significantly lower that the rates of those who report feeling some same sex attraction. The Kinsey scale is not very sophisticated in terms of research. See circlesofemphathy.org.

That gender preference is the chief component of our sexual orientation is a current social construct. There are many factors required to make someone erotically desirable. We are generally only attracted to a few people of the sex that we are attracted to.

Sexual Behavior

Lifestyle indicates some level of personal choice. There is a diversity of experience. A question that comes up is For whom might homosexual behavior become a sin, and for whom is it unfair to require them to live according to guidelines set forth by church leaders? Where do you have be to along the spectrum before this is no longer a sin, or inconsistent with the measure of our creation?

A solution is to consider the education of my desire, but not try to change orientation. This is a process of growth, maturity, and self awareness. I still experience some same sex attraction, but my desires are changed; I am no longer conflicted. I married my wife because I love her, and because I believe in this divine design.

Concerning the education and sanctification of desire: we fail when we try to reshape God into our desires rather than the other way around.

Quote from Proverbs: When there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint.


Being gay is not a scientific idea, but a cultural or philosophical one. A sense of identity is neogtiated with the environment, which includes biology. Identity is about paradigms and worldviews through which we integrate our experiences into a personal identity and selfhood.

Referred to the work of Rita Carter and the idea of exploring the plurality of selves as philosophical questions.

Paraphrased The Incredibles: You say we have to be true to ourselves, but you never say which part of ourselves we have to be true to.

Social identity constructs blur our eternal identities.

We must reimagine the law of chastity and the law of consecration in light of these complex identities. When God calls us to surrender everything at the altar, that means everything, including our sexuality.

What about changes that some anticipate seeing in the church; for example that the church is become more compassionate, using the word “gay”?

Even with the remarkable shift in conversation, the appropriate bounds of sexual expression have not, and will not change.

Better analogy for understanding church’s relationship to gay issues than ordination to those of African descent is our relationship with Darwinian evolution. The Church tells us why man was created, not how man was created.

Same sex attraciton is most descriptive and all encompassing term that we can use, better than using “gay” for those who may not adopt that identity construct.

We don’t talk about sexuality very well in the church, much less same sex attraction. We tend to have a very behavioristic and legalistic understanding of chastity.


Ann Cannon

Why, Yes! I Am a Mormon, Thank You Very Much

(Nice lighthearted session to end the day. Unfortunately for you readers, I am not able to capture all of the fun humorous stories.)

Even though an editorial in the NYTimes said that Mormon moment has passed, people are still curious about Mormons. There is still confusion between the Mormons and the Amish.

Fallout from Kate Kelly’s excommunication has been more difficult for me than I expected it would be. In part this is because I know many young women who are struggling with their identities as Mormon women. The church needs you and needs your voice. Don’t feel like the only way you can deal with your feelings is by exiting the church.

All this conversation this summer has brought up old feelings about women in the church. grew up in the 60s and 70s. Hard to find good women role models in scripture and LDS history. Most available role models were to be a wife and mother, which is great and true, but surely women have something more to offer their community. Boys seemed to be having more fun than girls: white water rafting vs. chastity lessons.

My more conservative sister also feels troubled by the events of this summer. Are we as big a tent church as we would like to think that we are? I want to believe that we are. Was the “I’m a Mormon” campaign a little disingenuous?

I am here. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to stay. Mormonism is my spiritual language, and this is where my roots are.

1. I appreciate the sense of community that I feel in the church.

2. I appreciate the opportunities for service that the Mormon church provides for me.

3. I have had universally good experiences with men who are raised in the Church.

Interviewed Carol Lynn Pearson about book about husband dying of AIDS. She said that one of the things I really love about being a Mormon is that the Church is capable of raising really good men. She talked about baby blessings, how men are actively encouraged to share tender feelings about religion, and their hopes and desires for their child.

4. The Mormon experience spiritualizes the earth, this world. It’s just a testimony to me everytime I step outside. We have this notion that the earth is alive, and that it was created spiritually before it was created spiritually.

5. There is a natural optimism and buoyancy that we have about the nature of man and experience. We are hear to be tested, but also to learn and to grow. We are encouraged to expand ourselves. When we leave this world, virtually every other place is better than here.

6. Mormons have a great oral tradition. We have our stories that we tell to each other. Keeping journals and bearing testimony are part of this tradition.

1 comment for “FairConference, Thursday Afternoon Sessions

  1. FarSide
    August 7, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    The review of Wunderli’s book is quite one sided. Efforts are made—some successful—to discredit his analysis and/or conclusions, but the review is, for the most part, completely silent on the strengths of the book, and fails to address many other questions Wunderli raises regarding the BofM’s historicity.

    If you are going to attack an author for not approaching his subject in a more fair and balanced manner, you ought to—lest you be guilty of the same sin—concede the points he made for which apologists do not have a satisfactory response.

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