Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Church Affirms the Divinity of the Book of Mormon: Yes, It's Truer than Ever

After President Hinckley's brief remarks in General Conference this morning, we heard a great sermon again affirming the divinity of the Book of Mormon as something real and tangible that people can test. We were also reminded that the First Presidency has asked us to again read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. We were further told that the Book of Mormon is unique in containing a test to allow the reader to determine through the power of God if it is real or not.

After all these years, the Church has not backed off from the Book of Mormon. It is not slowly become a piece of inspiring fiction that we are a little ashamed of or try to ignore - precisely the trend one would obviously expect if it were all a fraud that was increasingly being exposed. The most educated people in the Church are not dismissing it and excusing it as a misguided effort, but boldly reaffirming that it is true, divine, and worthy of being investigated vigorously.

An intellectually honest approach to the Book of Mormon requires evaluating the baggage we bring to it and sometimes discarding our old assumptions and childhood images as we learn more about it, its context, and the ancient environment it came from. Yes, modern science has challenged old assumptions about an empty continent in 600 B.C. and purely Jewish ancestry of all Native Americans, but these assumptions are definitely NOT derived from a careful reading of the text. In fact, these assumptions were being challenged by key voices in the Church for decades before DNA data became available, and the possibility of other migrations and a geography linked to Mesoamerica was even raised by Joseph Smith himself.

While some critics get upset that an improved understanding of the ancient context of the Book of Mormon does not jive with misunderstanding they picked up in their youth, they overlook that modern scholarship and discovery has led to a "marvelous work and a wonder" in our understanding of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document. If it was a fable from Joseph Smith based on random writings in his environment, how on earth can we account for the breathtaking modern confirmations of the accuracy of First Nephi in describing the Arabian Peninsula, giving us detailed directions that really could be traveled - accurately passing between the two divisions of the empty quarter in an entirely plausible course? How can we account for the accurate descriptions of places that were unknown to the Western world in Joseph's day? Some of these places, such as the ancient burial place Nahom (with surprising confirmation of that ancient tribal name from ancient inscriptions on altars taken from the region), plausible candidates for Bountiful, the place Shazer, the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman, were unknown and seemingly implausible until the recent discovery or verification in light of the text. In the Arabian Peninsula, the Book of Mormon has proved remarkably valuable as a guide for those willing to get out and follow what it says. These things were unknown to many scholars until recently, and apparently are still unknown and will forever remain unknown to many of the leading anti-Mormon critics. In discussions with some of them, when I have pressed for a plausible explanation as to how anyone in the nineteenth century could have made up the accurate details in First Nephi, I have been met with either silence, a vague "I am not impressed," or most commonly, something like, "Oh yeah? Well what about polygamy? Or DNA? Or blood atonement? Or Mark Hoffman? Or the Jupiter talisman. Yeah, what about that?"

Ancient Jewish poetical forms like chiasmus and paired tricola, ancient Jewish names in the Book of Mormon now verified as authentic, the structure of Mesoamerican civilization that provides so many parallels to what is in the Book of Mormon far beyond what Joseph could have known in his day, and numerous other details provide new and recent appreciation of the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, and add increasingly overwhelming burdens to those who wish to explain the Book of Mormon by plagiarism based on Joseph's rich imagination coupled with osmosis from, say, the writings of Ethan Smith, von Humboldt, E.T.A. Hoffman, or, most impressive of all (yet clearly impossible), Walt Whitman.

Some have said that the Book of Mormon is less defensible than ever in light of modern science. Absolutely not! It has become increasingly impossible to explain its actual content by plagiarism, even if Joseph had a large library and team of top-notch scholars working for him. For starters, just for starters, please explain to me how such a team could come up with something that would not be appreciated and verified until over 150 years later, namely, the surprising accuracy of Nephi's account of his travels in the Arabian Peninsula? Could he or a team of scholars have known of the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman, for example, which are in a location that accurately fits the description in the text (in fact, they were found by following the text)? And then what about Shazer, Nahom as an ancient burial place, and Bountiful almost exactly due east of Nahom, as Nephi indicates? Doesn't this deserve some kind of answer? I mean, other than, "What about polygamy?"

17 comments:

sssannndmannn said...

I'm investigating whether the book of Mormon is true. I haven't read the whole book, but have read what other Mormons have told me to. What I read went "And it came to pass ... and it came to pass ... and it came to pass..." and "And I, Nephi ... and I, Nephi ... and I, Nephi ..." ...it sounds made up. I was also told, by Mormons I met online in looking for help, that you can tell if the book of Mormon is true by praying to God and, if it's true, receiving a burning in the bosom, which I did feel. Is this the "unique test" you speak of? I then tested it by praying whether atheism is true, and felt the same burning in the bosom. In fact, any time I check for it I feel a burning in my bosom...I think it's my heart at work or something. Has anyone else who's felt the burning in the bosom tested it as I have? If I have it wrong, what is the unique test? Thank you.

Mike Parker said...

sssannndmannn: The "burning in the bosom" experience, IMHO, is overplayed and misunderstood by Latter-day Saints.

The influence of the Holy Ghost has impacts on the intellectual and emotional centers of the person:

"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John 14:26)

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace," etc. (Galatians 5:22)

In LDS teaching the Spirit "enlighteneth your eyes...[and] quickeneth [i.e., makes alive] your understandings" (D&C 88:11).

In an early revelation to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the Lord confirmed that "as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit.... Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth." (D&C 6:14–15)

This enlightenment is both to the intellect and the emotions: "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart." (D&C 8:2)

Sometimes Latter-day Saints dwell on the latter and ignore the former. Any testimony from the Spirit of God is going to do more than make you feel good, it's also going to bring new and sudden understanding that you didn't before possess — one of those "ah ha!" moments.

Look for that as you study the Book of Mormon and the restored Gospel.

Paul said...

Jeff

The main act of the BofM takes place in the New World. When you have to cite evidences from the Arabian peninsula as proof of its veracity, it makes one wonder even more about the wars, the civilizations, the animals, the steel, the foods, and all its other anachronisms that supposedly took place on this continent.

jmrb said...

I suggest we look at sssannndmannn's blog before we get too excited about his sincerity.

sssannndmannn said...

I really am married to a Mormon, and really have been looking for the truth in Mormonism for over five years, and really have reached a point where the pendulum of evidence, for me, really has begun to swing in favor of Mormonism being made up. I really have reached a point of desperately wanting to give Mormonism and Mormons every chance to show me otherwise. Sincerely.

The Bible says to test all prophets; however, doing this seems to bother alot of you.

Anonymous said...

A test of the prophets?

I can't remember the exact scripture, but there is one in the Book of Mormon that reads something along the lines of "many will come up who will say they are prophets ... but judge them by the fruits of their labours to see if they are of me." (If someone could source that, it would be nice).

Based on that scripture, I can testify that this Church is true. All of the prophets have done many good services and have contributed greatly to my happiness, and the happiness of others as well. The Church as a whole has done many great services to mankind. This is a church of love, and from that I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and subsequently that the Book of Mormon is true.

Mormanity said...

I buy your story, Ssanndmann. It sounds like you've made up your mind, perhaps longer ago than you might realize, but I appreciate that you have given it a try. I don't consider you an anti-Mormon posing as something you're not.

OK, to your question. Lots of English speakers are bothered by the awkward working of the Book of Mormon, not recognizing that the very things that seem redundant and "made up" because of their unnatural English ring are actually side-effects from the ancient Semitic origins of the text. Phrases like "and it came to pass" were probably translated from a single short word (often just skipped in the King James translation, as I've read somewhere recently). Other literary techniques that seem odd to us again are highly Semitic. This is an area worth studying more!

I think if you do some analysis of the patterns of language in the Book of Mormon, you might notice a number of strong differences between authors. Jacob, for example, is so different than Mormon. Then look at how Alma uses words like "state" and compare that to Nephi or others. But more convincing are the small and subtle things that aren't consciously observed, like the number of sentences beginning with "and" per page or the ratio of "if" to "or" (for example). Computer studies ("wordprints") of the phrasing strongly point to multiple authorship, not a single author - and also show that the styles of these authors do not correspond with Joseph Smith. It's a very interesting area.

Would you be interested in reading more deeply about the issue of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon and the issue of computer word prints? Not that it's going to change anything - sounds like you've become pretty convinced that this is a "weird" Church.

Most importantly, I hope you and your wife can maintain a strong and successful marriage, regardless of your religious differences. Sure we're weird, but I hope you can be happy with a little of our style of weirdness in your life. In any case, thanks for putting up with it!

Anonymous said...
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Mormanity said...

Paul said, "When you have to cite evidences from the Arabian peninsula as proof of its veracity, it makes one wonder even more about the wars, the civilizations, the animals, the steel, the foods, and all its other anachronisms that supposedly took place on this continent."

In other words, your response to the impressive evidences in the Arabian Peninsula is: "What about steel? What about horses? What about all sorts of other stuff?"

Deja vu!

Anonymous said...

hahahaha jeff, deja vu. that was so funny how he replied to your post exactly as you described. good times.

i have a question about hebrew names appearing in the jaredite nation. how could that happen?

Kcowolf said...

I've read that "And it came to pass" was a phrase that could be expressed by one symbol in Hebrew. It occurs 336 times in the Old Testament. So it's not out of place in the Book of Mormon.

We have to remember that translated writings from Hebrew authors are going to pick up gramatical styles that seem unfamiliar to modern-day English speakers. A very good example is Genesis 1. All but two of the verses start with the word "and".

Mormanity said...

Which Hebrew names are you thinking of? Some names like Noah go back a long ways. Other Jaredite names crop up later among the Nephites, indicating that Jaredite peoples were still in the land (the nation was destroyed, but the smart money got out of town and went elsewhere as the civil war heated up), and influencing the later immigrants.

One interesting article is "Surviving Jaredite Names in Mesoamerica" by Bruce Warren. Kish and Shule, for example, fit into ancient Mesoamerica pretty well.

Anonymous said...

"One complication is the occasional use of Biblical Hebrew names (e.g. Aaron, Levi, Ephraim) in the Book of Ether. Moroni, the Nephite abridger and translator of the Book of Ether, would have known these names, as would Joseph Smith, but the Jaredites themselves would not."

i read this while reading wikipedia. i know not to trust everything i read there, but i was wondering if there was any truth to it, and if so how Hebrew names would be part of a civilization from pre-Abrahamic (pre-language changing) times

Bookslinger said...

How can Jaredite and Hebrew be related?

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the following terms are _not_ synonymous, even through they are often used to describe the same peoples. Also definitions and usage have varied over the centuries.

In order from general to the specific:

1. Semitic
2. Hebrew
3. Israelite
4. Jewish

Semites, or Semitic people, are supposedly the descendents of Shem, son of Noah.

Hebrews are the descendents of Eber, who was the great-grandson of Shem, per Genesis. Also see Gen 10:24; 11:14-17; Numbers 24:24.

Sometimes Eber was called Heber (Luke 3:35). The word Hebrew is a patronymic name derived from Eber. (See LDS Bible Dictionary, and Topical Guide.)

Israelite denotes any descendent of the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel, not just the tribe of Judah.

And of course, Jewish, in the strict sense, denotes a descendant of Judah. However, before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (the 10 tribes) of Israel by the Assyrians, many of the righteous among them migrated to the Kingdom of Judah, and collectively became known as "Jews" in the aggregate. An item I kept forgetting is that the small tribe of Benjamin, stayed with Judah when the northern 10 tribes split off. So the people of Judah, or the Jews collectively, did include a smattering of other tribes.

It could very well be that Jared's people were descended from Eber. And if not, they could still have been descended from Shem.

So how could Hebrew names appear in the Jaredite nation? Easy: They were either descended of Eber (making them Hebrews too), or they had another ancestor in common, like Shem.

Samuel said...

There is a good article relating to the many Hebraisms occuring in the Book of Mormon (hope you don't mind me posting this link, Jeff.)

http://www.cometozarahemla.org/hebraisms/hebraisms.html

And of course Jeff's site as many excellent articles on the supposed anachronism's of the BoM. For example, steel is spoken of here:

http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_metals.shtml#steel

I didn't really experience a burning in my chest, but I did receive a knowledge that the BoM was true. I can't explain it, and I expect many people cannot, so they use the old reliable "burning in the chest." I suppose that explains it to most people. Before I converted to the Church, I had faith that the Bible was true, and that faith did not arrive by combing the archeological record, but by prayer and the Holy Ghost. However, I absolutely believe that the evidences of the BoM that so many have spoken more eloquently than I are important to solidifying faith. And they are helpful for answering unbelievers questions! ;)

Bookslinger said...

Do Catholics and other mainstream religions get bombarded by people attacking their faith over apparent anachronisms and seeming impossibilities in the Bible, as much as LDS get attacked for the Book of Mormon?

Look at all the things in the Bible that go against common sense.

1. The creation story in Genesis.

2. Jacob getting striped or speckled livestock based on what pole or stick he places in front of them.

3. God telling Abraham to kill his son. What kind of loving God would do that?

4. Moses getting leprosy and being cured of it in an instant.

5. That whole thing about staffs turning into snakes and back.

6. The parting of the Red Sea.

7. "Manna" from heaven.

8. Marching around Jericho caused the walls to tumble down.

9. Elija calling down fire from heaven.

10. Elija being taken up to heaven in a flaming chariot.

11. One account has 1 angel at the tomb, and one account has 2 angels at the tomb.

12. All those discrepancies between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Sounds like they couldn't get their story straight.

13. Walking on water. Shyeah.

14. Spontaneous healings like the lame walking again, lepers being cured, and the blind receiving their sight. There's absolutely no scientific evidence to back that up.

15. I've read that there is no evidence in all the records of Egypt, (and they were fastidious record keepers) of there being large groups of Hebrews there, or of the 10 plagues, or of a mass exodus. There is nothing in any archealogical evidence to back up the story of Moses and the Exodus.

So given all this, why do Mormons get bashed more than Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and Baptists?

If those other religions added prophets and apostles like Peter, James and John, tacking them onto the prophets of the Old Testament, why do "mainstream" christians "get a pass" for believing in those "new" prophets and apostles, but Mormons are NOT allowed to add "new" prophets and apostles?

As far as I know, Mormon missionaries have NEVER forced conversions at the point of a sword, but Catholics (Inquisition, Crusades, and maybe Jesuits) and most definitely Muslims have been notorious for doing so.

(Okay, some LDS missionaries allegedly used some trickery and sneaky tactics, but I've never read of any use of or threats of violence.)

All over North and South America, native Americans were forced to convert to Catholicism in areas that were controlled early on by the Spanish.

And for perhaps its first 1000 years, Islam's main method of being spread was by violent means.

Isn't it hypocritical for any avowed atheist to attack Mormons for supposedly "lieing" about Joseph Smith, unless they also speak against every other Christian for "lieing" about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

If we're "stupid" for believing Joseph Smith was a prophet, then the same accuser must say that believing that Moses, Elija, Isaiah, and Peter were prophets is also stupid.

I can sympathize with well-meaning mainstream Christians who want to "save us" from false LDS beliefs .

But an atheist who crusades against the LDS church, is on shaky logical ground unless he directs similar attacks at all Biblical based religions, including Judaism and all denominations of Christianity.

Daniel Peterson said...

"And for perhaps its first 1000 years, Islam's main method of being spread was by violent means."

Sorry. That's not entirely (or even largely) true.

The Arabs spread by military means. Forced conversion to Islam was rather rare, and certainly not characteristic -- for, among other things, the reason that the Qur’an expressly forbids coercion in religion.