The Metaphysics of Translation

Understanding the nature of Joseph Smith’s translation efforts is an important part of understanding his ministry and the religions that have emerged from the early Latter Day Saint movement.  Whether the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the Book of Abraham, or (as some might argue) the temple endowment ceremony, his translations are both very important and very controversial.  Kurt Manwaring has begun a month-long series of 10-questions interviews with people who are researching and writing about those translations, beginning with Sam Brown, who recently published Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism with Oxford University Press.  What follows here is a co-post to the 10 questions interview with Sam Brown, summarizing some key points and adding some commentary.  For those who want to read the full interview (and I suggest you do—it’s very interesting), follow the link here.  Note that this is not a review of his book (something that may come later for this blog), but a discussion based on the interview with Kurt Manwaring.

Sam Brown should be familiar to much of our readership at the Times and Seasons.  He’s a believing member of the Church who is a physician-scientist by profession and a scholar of Mormonism by avocation.  He has published several books, essays, and journal articles in the Mormon studies field, including In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death and First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple.  He is also an occasional blogger who, for example, shared some of his experiences as a medical professional in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis on the Times and Seasons blog earlier this year.[1]  His latest book, Joseph Smith’s Translation, works to provide a new framework for understanding Mormon scripture, theology, and temple liturgy using a more metaphysical approach than has been traditionally used.

Now, Sam Brown’s style of writing is very rich and very deep.  I’ve appreciated what I’ve read of his writing before—it’s very thoughtful, well-researched and thought-provoking.  I’ll be honest, though, I still don’t quite understand what he is saying that Joseph Smith’s translation is or what translation exactly means in the context of Brown’s writing, at least when it comes to the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  He states in the interview that:

One view of translation has Smith as little more than a Babel fish or Google Translate pointed at an ancient text. In flows a string of words in one language, out flows objectively matching words in another language. If Smith meets those criteria for translation, he’s acclaimed as a miracle worker, quite independent of divine participation in the process and without understanding the meaning of the texts themselves. And if he doesn’t look like a Babel fish, then he’s decried as a fraud and the religious movement he led a hoax or delusion.

At the end of long pondering, I don’t think the Babel fish model is factually true, even as an observer who is also a believer.

For reference, Babel fish is the Yahoo version of Google Translate, with the name being based on a creature in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that can act as a universal linguistic translator.  So, he seems to be indicating that he believes that Joseph Smith wasn’t providing a translation in the sense of directly rendering an ancient text into modern English.  Yet, he also insists that:

I’ll be clear that I’m not arguing that Joseph Smith didn’t translate or that he was just a storyteller or that his hoax became religious truth because he persuaded a community to believe him. I’m not suggesting that the Book of Mormon was made up. I don’t believe that we should put scare quotes (or air quotes) around the word translation when we talk about Joseph Smith’s scriptures.

I’m quite persuaded that he was translating and that translating is much more interesting and powerful than we’ve given it credit for. …

And (speaking now as a believer), I’m convinced that the Book of Mormon is really and truly scripture, Sariah and Lehi are real, Abraham is real. And that reality occurs within and matters because of contexts that are both earthly and heavenly.

The two points seem contradictory to me, at least in understanding the Book of Mormon or Book of Abraham translation process, but there is likely something deeper than what I’m grasping in what Sam Brown has shared here.  As he states later in the interview: “I think we have this tendency now to want things to only be what they seem to be at a superficial, physical level. It’s part of these modernist sensibilities that I write about in the book.”

Now, Sam Brown does explain that he sees translation as “both the movement of experiences and stories from one language group to another and also the transformation of human into divine beings.”  This plays out in interesting ways in how he sees the transformative impact of the Book of Mormon on how Latter-day Saints understand the Bible (or, to put it another way, the Book of Mormon translated the Bible).  He explains that Joseph Smith “always honored the Bible and was pursuing the anciently pure Bible. He had little faith that the Protestants had anything like that pure Bible, so he was marking out the fact of their loss. It would take ongoing prophetic revelation to keep the Bible both alive and true.”  The Protestants, with “all their sola scriptura and attachment to a static canon” had distorted the Bible, and the Book of Mormon ruptured that worldview as it “burned the Protestant biblical system to the ground in order to restore a primordially pure Bible.”  In fact, Brown discusses the idea of seeing “Laban and Nephi as types for the Protestant clergy and Joseph Smith respectively,” where Laban is “a type for the Protestants who had themselves become unfit curators for the Bible” and, “in a sense the Book of Mormon is Nephi, beheading Protestantism as Laban.”  In this sense, translation seems to be more focused on how transformative the Book of Mormon was in changing the lens through which the Bible is read by Latter-day Saints.

The temple rites also provide another context to see a form of translation take place.  Sam Brown explains that “I was interested in the fact that one word—translation—meant both (a) movement of stories, experiences, and teachings from one language to another and (b) the transformation of human beings to allow them to tolerate the presence of God.”  For the latter meaning, think of the word translated in the sense of how we refer people of Enoch or the three Nephites as translated beings.  This led to an interesting idea for Brown:

As I was working on the chapter on the Book of Abraham, it became clear to me that the Book of Abraham was above all a temple text. Which opened up for me the image of temple as scripture, but not just scripture.

It was a scripture into which worshipers were themselves written as they brought to life the ancient encounters with God.

It just clicked.

Joseph Smith’s translated scriptures were the basis for the temple, … and in the temple Church members were themselves translated into the divine presence.

It’s a fascinating way of viewing the endowment ceremony—as both scripture and an experience where Latter-day Saints experience their own translation.

Ultimately, Sam Brown wants to take a broader, more complex and metaphysical view of both Joseph Smith’s translations and the Restoration than a modern, reductionist view.  Reductionism is the concept that “the best way to understand something is to break it into individual parts and test those parts in isolation.”  It’s a useful approach for technology, but “it can only ever give partial answers to complicated questions.”  When approaching extremely complex systems, like biology or human life (or, in this case, religion), it has become increasingly apparent that reductionism alone is not enough to understand them and a more comprehensive approach is needed.  As Brown explains:

In my realms of science, we’re moving away from pure reductionism toward “systems” approaches that situate individual entities within the networks where they actually exist. To put it simply, you can learn a lot about an isolated pinecone in a lab, but if you’ve never even heard of a forest, your knowledge of the cone can only go so far. The same is true of Smith’s translations if you rip them out of the actual world they inhabited.

Perhaps the level of complexity at play in this subject is why it is difficult to grasp what exactly Joseph Smith did while he was at work in his Restoration project and (in particular) his translations, especially when we look at them through the prism of our modern worldview.

It’s a very deep and rich interview with a lot to chew on, as is the book they are discussing.  I feel like I have barely scratched the surface in this post.  For a more detailed discussion of what I’ve brought up here, some interesting thoughts on how the Book of Abraham interweaves the Chain of Being and Chain of Belonging, a little bit on the relationship between the endowment ceremony and freemasonry, and more, visit the 10 questions interview with Sam Brown here.



[1] See “When the ox can’t escape the mire,” 5 April 2020; and “Sacraments in the Time of Cholera,” 10 May 2020.

37 comments for “The Metaphysics of Translation

  1. Throwing brother Joseph under the bus. By obfuscating the meaning of translation and saying that it was meant in another sense that wasn’t mi nombre es Juan = my name is John translation, it is tacit concession that Joseph Smith didn’t actually translate the Book of Abraham from ancient Egyptian. However, as Dan Vogel very effectively points out in his detailed and thorough videos on the Book of Abraham found on YouTube, we have every indication that Joseph Smith actually attempted to and promoted himself as doing a mi nombre es Juan = my name is John translation of the Book of Abraham. It is flat out intellectually dishonest to say otherwise.

  2. I think that the question what JS attempted, thought he was doing, and promoted himself as doing is a different question from what he was actually doing and whether it can be understood or constitutes in some sense a translation. A claim about the latter would be quite a different claim from an assertion that it is what JS understood. I’m not inclined to throw around accusations of intellectual dishonesty without first reading the book and, hopefully, understanding much more clearly what Sam is saying.

  3. Chad, thanks for this lovely and wise review.
    Ethan R, I’m not sure I understand your arguments. I think you might be saying that I’m throwing Joseph Smith “under the bus.” I think what you mean is that you find persuasive what I call the “Google Translate” model of translation and thus any deviation from that model is either dishonest or undercuts Smith’s religious claims. If that’s what you’re claiming, I’d love for you to read the book and get back to me on it. A major point of the book is to demonstrate that the Google Translate model is not only the wrong answer but is also asking the wrong question in a very muddled way. It requires deep misreading of the texts.

  4. Ethan R – the only thing that is dishonest is refusing to see that Joseph Smith’s use of the term “translation” is much broader than your nonsensical one-to-one correspondence. Further, citing Dan Vogel is not going to get you very far on this site. Vogel has vastly overstated what the evidence will support (especially given that JS’s handwriting is only on EAG Doc. #1 and even then the characters are not Egyptian and not used in the Book of Abraham and appear to be JS’s use of the Pure language). JS’s handwriting is not on the mss. with Book of Abraham text and the nature of the texts show that they come from another already completed Book of Abraham text that pre-existed what appears to be the reverse engineering efforts of Phelps and Williams.

    Moreover Ethan, you have failed to address the evidence cited by Sam in his excellent book — and that has been a widely accepted view at least since I published the Expansion Theory. That is just a no-no.

  5. Ethan R—Having spent a couple weeks immersed in Sam’s new book, I think it’s safe to say that he exemplifies intellectual honesty. There will naturally be divergences of opinion. Some of what Sam lays out I’ve never seen before. That kind of book invites criticism and engagement, and I get the feeling he’s open to that (if not actively hoping for it).

    The comment about “intellectual dishonesty” was probably just hyperbole, but I wanted to throw out a defense of Sam in case it was literal. I think you’d feel the same way reading the book even if you came away disagreeing with everything he proposes.

    I’m looking forward to Chad’s response, too. He does an excellent job moderating comments and finding common ground.

  6. Thanks Kurt.

    Sam, I know that your book has a lot more details that what has been discussed here and it should be read before having an in-depth conversation on the subject, but would you be willing to elaborate on what you see as the correct question(s) to be asking about translation and a bit more on how you understand the term translation as it applies to Book of Abraham? It wouldn’t surprise me if more than one of our readers might have concerns about the potential to undercut Joseph Smith’s religious claims by suggesting that the translation wasn’t a Babel Fish or Google Translate type of process, so it might be helpful to have a little bit more information on what you’re saying than what I was able to share above in my imperfect way.

  7. Thanks Chad, I enjoy Sam’s work.

    I think Eliade would have recognized that LDS temple ordinances more closely resemble Rosicrucian ritual than Freemason ritual. Something Vogel hasn’t looked into.

    It is clear in my mind that some temple ordinances were informed by the First Vision, which I interpret as an ascension experience similar to those described in early Enoch texts, and similar to what was translated in the Moses and Abraham translations.

    I would even venture to interpret the death of Alvin as the catalyst for the sealing covenant, which Joseph obtained early, but did not reveal until he had a doctrinal/institutional context for it to fit into.

  8. Sam is quoted as saying: “I don’t believe that we should put scare quotes (or air quotes) around the word translation when we talk about Joseph Smith’s scriptures.” If not scare quotes, then certainly some other device should be used to indicate that, increasingly, informed Mormon discussions about Joseph Smith’s activities in creating texts that claim to be somehow based on ancient manuscripts in languages he is unfamiliar with use the word “translation” but with a much broader and often quite different meaning than the standard English word. This happens fairly often in LDS discourse: we use “ordinance” for what other Christians call a sacrament, and we use “sacrament” for what other Christians call the Eucharist. But with “translation” the problem has become acute.

    Chad stated in the post: ” I still don’t quite understand what he is saying that Joseph Smith’s translation is or what translation exactly means …”. Funny, I had almost the same reaction reading Brant Gardner’s The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (Greg Kofford Book, 2011).

  9. Sam is quoted as saying: “I don’t believe that we should put scare quotes (or air quotes) around the word translation when we talk about Joseph Smith’s scriptures.” If not scare quotes, then certainly some other device should be used to indicate that, increasingly, informed Mormon discussions about Joseph Smith’s activities in creating texts that claim to be somehow based on ancient manuscripts in languages he is unfamiliar with use the word “translation” but with a much broader and often quite different meaning than the standard English word. This happens fairly often in LDS discourse: we use “ordinance” for what other Christians call a sacrament, and we use “sacrament” for what other Christians call the Eucharist. But with “translation” the problem has become acute.

    Chad stated in the post: “I still don’t quite understand what he is saying that Joseph Smith’s translation is or what translation exactly means …”. Funny, I had almost the same reaction reading Brant Gardner’s The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (Greg Kofford Book, 2011).

  10. As I mentioned in a post a while back, some of the difficulty is that everyone thinks they know what translation is, but defining it, or distinguishing between a good and bad translation, is actually quite difficult, both theoretically and practically, and the translation process itself can differ quite a bit from the popular imagination. So we should make sure we understand the non-scare-quote version of translation first before being too confident about critiquing Sam’s usage, or Joseph Smith’s.

  11. Translation is a very complex process. In Joseph Smith’s case, the word has to mean different things at different times, because the process of translating the Book of Mormon was very different from translating the Bible, which was very different from translating the book of Abraham. If we define translation as converting a text in one language into a comparable text in another language, then we probably have to rule out Joseph’s work on the Bible, since he was “translating” (yes, with scare quotes) from English into English. And if we restrict ourselves to the definition above, there is still a whole spectrum of approaches. Do you preserve the form (grammar, style, etc.) or do you preserve primarily the meaning? Usually, you have to land somewhere in the middle. But in any translation project, you have to understand both the source language and the target language. Since this was not the case for Joseph in either the Book of Mormon or book of Abraham projects, we have to either concede he was not engaged in what we normally view as translation, or we have to expand the definition of the word “translation” to include methods and outcomes that are not really about converting text from one language to another.

    But if there was an actual ancient record engraved on gold plates, then someone who understood both the source language and English language had to labor over the record and convert the message from one language into the other. This doesn’t happen by magic. And if the final English product doesn’t really resemble whatever meaning was on the plates, then translation did not really occur. We’d have to call it something else. But if the English text can be considered a translation of whatever was on the plates, then we need to ask, who translated it? One answer is fairly obvious: not Joseph. If the second-hand accounts by observers are correct, then, at least with the Book of Mormon, Joseph was reading text from whatever he was seeing in his hat. And Royal Skousen’s work supports these accounts. There is simply too much stuff in the text that did not come from Joseph Smith, either as fabricator or translator. A translator does put his/her stamp on the final product, but there’s too much that cannot be attributed to Joseph. So who did the actual translation? That’s the question.

  12. The English word has a broader meaning than just converting from one language to another. I don’t think Joseph Smith’s usage is too far from the range of meanings described by

    1. to turn from one language into another or from a foreign language into one’s own: (to translate Spanish).
    2. to change the form, condition, nature, etc., of; transform; convert: (to translate wishes into deeds.)
    3. to explain in terms that can be more easily understood; interpret.

  13. These are such great comments. Unfortunately, I broke my wrist this morning and have a busy weekend with work. I will try to carve out some time perhaps on Sunday to give your questions the responses they deserve. Broadly, I did not think that my personal views (which are quite traditional in terms of what people seem to call for complicated historical reasons “Historicism”) were a key ingredient for the book, which is trying very hard to understand the world the way the early Latter Day Saints understood it. In a very intentional way, I was trying in this book to do for the early restoration what tom wright was doing for contemporary Christianity in his Gifford lectures. (I listened to his lectures just after I turned in the manuscript and felt like I had found a kindred spirit)

  14. As I commented on in an earlier OP, all this seems a bit desperate. Being 75, I’ve seen huge changes in Church history and doctrine. As we’ve moved from sanitized to something closer to reality, there are scholars and others who are expending a great deal of effort trying to explain the contemporary Church reality. I wonder how many bandages you can put on a somewhat damaged institution? Way too much energy is having to be put into apologetics. And not enough into creating a vision for where the Church should head.

  15. Ethan R., I would love to hear a more detailed response to the discussion from your point of view with some more of the information that you feel backs up your perspective on translation rather than a personal attack on people involved in the discussion.

  16. Sam, sorry to hear about your wrist. That’s terrible. I do look forward to hearing what you have to say when you are able, though.

    rogerdhansen, what sort of things are you interested in discussing about where the Church should head? The difficulty that I find with those sorts of conversations is that we don’t have a lot of say in direction the Church ultimately moves, other than in our own little spheres of influence.

  17. Right there w/ Roger Hansen. Additionally, the words “metaphysic” and “translate” do not belong together. This is a book for believers by a believer.

  18. p, Interesting prescriptive announcement on the use of words.
    Have you read the book? From OUP’s description:
    “Smith and his followers used the term translation to describe the genesis of these English scriptures, which remain canonical for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Whether one believes him or not, the discussion has focused on whether Smith’s English texts represent literal translations of extant source documents. On closer inspection, though, Smith’s translations are far more metaphysical than linguistic.”
    Maybe you and Sam agree as to what JS’ translations were and your disagreement is largely with JS’ use of the words “translate” and “translation” because they don’t match your preferred use of the words..I don’t much like it either, but that’s not a good reason for me to summarily reject Sam’s historical work.

  19. “The difficulty that I find with those sorts of conversations is that we don’t have a lot of say in direction the Church ultimately moves, other than in our own little spheres of influence.”

    Chad, I don’t want to further hijack your PO, but members do have some “say in the direction the Church” moves. Look at POX. President Monson added a 4th mission for the Church: Help the poor. The Church has the personnel and the financial resources to do a lot more than it is currently doing. It just needs continued encouragement from the membership.

    Apologetics isn’t going to change anything here, p is right. The Church needs to look forward not backward. Half the members live in developing countries. And with the current proselytizing efforsts, that percent is going to increase. Enough said.

  20. I love Sam Brown’s take on this. I sympathize with those who are aggravated by it. It’s different than the traditional view and comes with a lot of questions about the process, what, how, why. Until you’ve developed a comprehensive, holistic model for this, it can sound like obfuscating, gaslighting, manipulating, etc. I’ve developed my model, which I’m very comfortable with. Something like: Joseph had real spiritual encounters (not physical visitations with absolute instructions from God but real, authentic spiritual experience nonetheless) that left him with a powerful motivation and calling to bring forth new scripture and form a new religion based on this revelation of a perfect form of Protestant Christianity restored to its purest ancient form. He was very young, very immature, and made mistakes along the way in the implementation. The BoM is a revelation, but he passed it off as a translation. Now we’re left with making sense of what he meant or rather what he should have meant when he said translation. Within this larger explanation, Sam Brown’s view makes perfect sense. Without it, the whole thing is left wanting of more explanation. That said, I know my view is unorthodox and doesn’t represent Sam’s views. And I don’t think he needs to provide a detailed, holistic model for the BoM creation process. That’s up to each individual how to make sense of that, and I understand the reluctance to speak out on that.

  21. Thanks for sharing this teaser, Chad. /Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism/ looks fascinating. I take it this is the culmination of Brown’s ideas introduced in “To save the Bible, first you must kill it.” Given the new/recovered narrative that Joseph didn’t reference the gold plates or the text on them while dictating the English Book of Mormon text, Brown’s exploration of the metaphysical dimensions are most welcome.

  22. I am a professional literary translator. I have no problem with the way JS used the word translation. No need for scare quotes.

  23. Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the facsimile in our scriptures has been proven to be false. Doesn’t that say something? I’m confused by all these other explanations of the B of A.

  24. @churchistrue

    As they say on CougarBoard: “Board name doesn’t check out.”

    Maybe that’s a little harsh. Let me rephrase: Under your system of (non)beliefs, why does the Church deserve to be called true?

  25. “I wonder how many bandages you can put on a somewhat damaged institution? ”
    For my part, I don’t see any fundamental change; we’re not putting bandages on, but peeling back the ignorant accretions of traditional zeal without knowledge.
    The core of the Church doctrine which distinguishes it from mainstream Christianity is just as present as ever; there were Nephites, Joseph Smith had a vision of the father and the son, Joseph received unique sacerdotal authority, and Jesus remains Christ and Savior.

  26. Hi Nathan, you can check out my blog and podcast if you want to do know more about my paradigm. I view things more metaphorically than a traditional Latter-day Saint, but I believe the church is true and beautiful in the lived experience.

  27. Ben S, part of the process of “peeling back the ignorant accretions of traditional zeal without knowledge” is disabusing the general membership of the idea that large Semitic civilizations ever existed in the pre-Columbian Americas. The Church commits a moral error when it continues to advance this position while knowing full well the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  28. You’ve pushed your unbelieving and one-sided views here plenty long, p. Move on with your life.

  29. In the Music & the Spoken Word broadcast today, a poem attributed to Hafiz was recited. Below is a selection from an article on that poem citing a critic who manages to use “translation” and “translating” in two very different ways while speaking of the same subject. The modern poet was attempting to “translate light into words.” The critic calls it a deception as a “translation” even while acknowledging that Mr. Ladinsky was “translating” a dream. I guess JS and modern Mormons are not the only ones to use “translate” and its various forms in a variety of senses.

    “The poem …recited comes from a book called ‘The Gift: Poems by Hafez the Great Sufi Master’ by Daniel Ladinsky, American Sufi poet. It was published in 1999 by Penguin Books and was commercially successful. However, this book has nothing to do with Hafiz. Ladinsky, a Sufi who has spent years with Mehrbaba in India, doesn’t even know how to read or write in Farsi. In fact, he claims that he has heard the poems from Hafiz himself in a dream. ‘I feel my relationship to Hafiz defies all reason’ he says in the book’s introduction. ‘It is really an attempt to do the impossible, to translate light into words… About six months into this work I had an astounding dream in which I saw Hafiz as a never-ending, boundless sun (God), who sang hundreds of verses of his poetry to me in English, asking me to give his message to ‘my fellow artists and art seekers’ ‘.

    This has been rebuked by a lot of critics who accuse Ladinsky of out-right fraud and deception. Murat Nemet-Nejat, a modern Turkish essayist and poet, asserts ‘Ladinsky’s book is an original poem masquerading as a translation… As God talked to Moses in Hebrew, to Mohammad in Arabic, Hafiz spoke to Daniel Ladinsky in English. Mr. Ladinsky is translating a dream, not a 14th century Persian text’. He continues ‘As such, the book is worse than a failure; it is a deception, a marketing rip-off of his name’.”

  30. I’ve “pushed” the scientific consensus, Ben S. Surely that counts for something, even here.

  31. Disavowing the BoM as history is not the same as disavowing it as scripture. A whale never swallowed Jonah.

  32. P, it seems like you’re making two claims. First, that there’s a scientific consensus that “large Semitic civilizations ever existed in the pre-Columbian Americas” (historical evidence). Second, that “disavowing the BoM as history is not the same as disavowing it as scripture. A whale never swallowed Jonah” (genre). (Presumably, the answer to question of historical evidence impacts how we answer the question of genre.)

    I’m sympathetic to the question of genre and historicity. Dave Banack had a great 2015 article on that issue a while back, and like he says there, it doesn’t need to be a wedge issue. But it strikes me as disingenuous to argue there’s a scientific consensus. “The Book of Mormon itself… does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied” (here). So when it comes to archaeological, historical, and genetic findings across North America and Mesoamerica, “the debate is whether the experiment would have detected the phenomenon of interest if it were there” (link). If I’m not mistaken, that debate is still ongoing.

    All of which is to say–sure, maybe the Book of Mormon is a different genre than simply “modern history.” And that does link back to Sam Brown’s argument about translation. But you can’t argue the genre question via “scientific consensus,” because no such thing exists here–unless it does, in which case, please demonstrate it.

  33. “I don’t see any fundamental change; we’re not putting bandages on, but peeling back the ignorant accretions of traditional zeal without knowledge.” Ben, I was a missionary in the 1960’s. Much of what we taught in the 6 discussions (we were supposed to deliver verbatim) was not totally accurate. Sanitized version of the real story. Our answers to questions were less than candid (given the realities of today’s knowledge). What you seem to be arguing here is that historians are defining Church doctrine (peeling by the accretions of traditional zeal without knowledge). I find that ascertain deeply troubling. Not that I don’t trust historians, I have a BA in history. Historians are doing the Church a wonderful service. It’s just that we have the tail wagging the dog.

    Your other point, that key doctrine is immutable, I find even more troubling. To this day, there are a lot of questions about the nature of God (look at a recent post and comments on W&T by Bishop Bill). And there a slew a questions beyond what he is discussing. On my mission, we taught that the BoM was a history of all Native Americans, and the Indians were descendants of the Lamanites. Driven by DNA and other evidence, that is no longer claimed. It was claimed that the Black were descendants of Cain and therefore couldn’t hold the priesthood. Church doctrine is forever evolving and hopefully getting closer to reality. It’s been said that the Church doesn’t have a theology, it has a history. And boy is our history changing.

  34. Roger, I’ve reached an age where I’m no longer persuaded by appeals to superior experience. The church you and I grew up in was very much the same, and I think Ben has it right here. I don’t think the examples of key doctrine you cite are all that key.

    I’m also familiar enough with your comments at this point to recognize how they invariably see things in the worst possible light. You do that in your comment here by projecting an increase in current knowledge into the past not as less knowledge, but as dishonesty (“less than candid,” “sanitized”).

    It doesn’t take much effort or charity to see something as basic as good old Hegelian dialectic at work here. Someone proposes a thesis; someone else responds with an antithesis. The point is to reach a new synthesis, not to EXPOSE what the SO-CALLED “THESIS” has been HIDING ALL ALONG.

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