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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why Haven't You Seriously Studied the Book of Mormon?

I received email a couple days ago from an ex-Mormon wondering why I refuse to face the truth and recognize that the Church is a corrupt, ridiculous hoax. After a typical list of complaints against the Church (standard anti-Mormon fare), he tossed in a couple of telling statements alleging that the Book of Abraham was a hopeless fraud and that the Book of Mormon was the most empty, ridiculous book he had ever read. What, not even good enough for "inspiring fiction"? That was an important clue. I honestly wonder if he ever gave those books a chance and dug into them in any depth. Had he done so, I don't think he would have made that statement, at least not sincerely.

There are many reasons one can select for leaving the Church, but my experience is that people who have seriously studied the Book of Mormon tend to be able to be much stronger in the faith. It is a powerful conversion tool. And while our critics guffaw about it being an insipid fraud, the people it appeals most to, in my experience, are not the gullible uneducated people who can barely read a cable TV bill, but the educated and intellectual. It is the people who have the intellectual tools to read, study, interpret and decode a text and who have experience in reading a wide variety of works that are most likely to see the depth and beauty of the Book of Mormon. It takes some educational background to appreciate the power of the subtle Semitic poetry that infuses the Book of Mormon, or to appreciate the significance of its philosophical discourses on agency, redemption, sin, the Atonement, etc, or to enjoy the insights we get from comparing First Nephi to modern field work in the Arabian Peninsula. The people who join the Church because they took the challenge of Moroni 10:4 and dug into the Book of Mormon prayerfully, after serious pondering, studying and prayer, are not airheads. They can't be. You may argue they are wrong, but those who go on that intellectually satisfying journey are doing something that an increasingly small fraction of Americans can do: read, study, and ponder a complex text. At least give them credit for that.

Yes, there are numerous unanswered questions and annoyances about the Church and our faith, and some genuine flaws we can point to in Joseph Smith (see Rough Stone Rolling - a tremendous treatment of the not-always-pretty aspects of the early days of the Church). But after having encountered the majesty and spiritual power of the Book of Mormon, after having learned through extensive study and through personal revelation that this book is from God, cannot be explained as a nineteenth-century fraud, and has power that has transformed my life for good, how can I dismiss Joseph Smith as just a con-man on the basis of negative testimony from some critics or because of programs or policies in the Church that I don't like or even offend me? I wasn't there for the First Vision or the visitations of the Angel Moroni and did not see the golden plates, but there was something there. For me, there has been a world of discovery, joy, and blessings that have come from my testimony grounded firmly on the Book of Mormon as scripture,m with the Bible, and as an authentic ancient record that testifies of Christ.

I'm not saying that those who don't accept the Book of Mormon or who leave the Church aren't intellectual, educated, or good readers, or that they haven't read the Book of Mormon at all. But when I see glib, smarmy statements from some critics about how idiotic and trivial the Book of Mormon is, their credibility plummets. I'd like to challenge them to step back, reconsider, and seriously study the Book of Mormon - especially if they haven't done this already.

26 comments:

Bookslinger said...

I've just finished reading the Book of Mormon for at least the 8th time. I lost exact count. But from my notes, I know that I've read it 4 times in the last 5 years.

Each time I read it I get something more from it, and find things that I didn't see before.

Each time I read it, there are passages where the Spirit enlightens me and teaches me something that I didn't know before.

Each time I read it, there are times where the Spirit confirms to me that what I'm reading really did happen. And I get a feeling of awe and wonder at the glory and majesty of what the Lord did back then and what He's doing now.

Each time through, I see not just actions, but also concepts and principles that can be applied, or have been active in my life experiences.

Each time, I see new parallels of how the Lord works today in manners just like he worked with those people back then.

I see examples of past prophets putting into words my feelings and thoughts, that I didn't have the words for.

I love the Book of Mormon. And I love the Bible too.

As 2007 comes to a close, we are finishing a two-year course of study of the Bible in Sunday School. Over those two years, I read the Bible from cover to cover in parallel to the SS reading assignments. And I also read the Book of Mormon cover to cover over the course of the past two years.

Each one helps us understand the other. They really should be "one" in our hands, as Ezekiel said.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Jeff. What you said is so true.

Somewhere between my 4th and 5th reading of the Book of Mormon, I decided to follow every last footnote as I read the book.

I realized it was going to take me a *very* long time, but I had an incredible experience that allowed me to see the unique way that the message of the Book of Mormon complements the Old Testament, New Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants...there was just an overwhelming feeling of God's love for man.

Refusing to read the Book of Mormon - well, that's anybody's right, but it sure is sad that some would scoff at and ridicule it without having read it sincerely. I wouldn't trust somebody like that to recommend a good restaurant, let alone a religion.

SteSmo said...

Jeff,

Personally, I agree fully with what you have written here. I just finished reading the Book of Mormon myself a few days ago and, like bookslinger, found new insights from it when I read it. And while I do not rely on the works of scholars for my testimony of the Book of Mormon, I nevertheless get excited when new scholaly insights are discovered in connection with the Book of Mormon(i.e. Arabia, Semetic poetry, or what John Gee termed "Egyptianisms" in the Book of Mormon) and can see how these insights might help with investigators of the Book of Mormon. For example, my friend and I discussed Arabian Geography, chiasmus, cultural traits in Arabia/Mesoamerica and other things that we see as evidence for the Book of Mormon's authenticity. My friend is something of an agnostic, so it helped him to see how there is indeed rational grounding in believing in the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. (I then encouraged him to prayerfully study the Book of Mormon to gain a spiritual testimony, which trumps anything that FARMS or FAIR or even you can show as physical evidence for the Book of Mormon.)

Thanks for everything you do here Jeff. I appreciate the work that you do.

BTW, I have discovered something about the Book of Abraham that you may want to include on your page on the Book of Abraham. I also think that I am the first one to make this observation. After reading the LDS material on the Book of Abraham that I at least know of, I could not find any other scholar make this observation. (If anyone knows of a scholar or someone who has made this discovery, please let me know.)

Notice in JSP I, which contains the original to Facsimile 1, that there is no knife clearly being shown by the hand of the priest/Anubis. Now this is telling because our critics, i.e. Larson, Ashment, et al, continually say that Joseph Smith simply drew in the body of Abraham/Osiris, the head of the priest/Anubis, the knife and of course was all wrong. If this is the case, then where is the knife that several eye-witnesses said was present? Henry Caswall and others clearly indicated that there was a visible knife that was being held over Abraham/Osiris. However, if they were describing JSP I as it currently is, then where is the knife? In other words, unless they were describing what is in the current Facimile 1, (and then the etchings/damage came in later) then where is the knife? This leads me to conclude that 1) the damage to JSP I came after Joseph Smith owned it 2) That JSP I orginally contained what is currently Facsimile 1 3) therefore Joseph Smith has been vindicated in his publication of Facsimile 1 and 4) this is one hit against the critics.

Any thoughts?

SteSmo said...

Follow up:

This is a follow up from my previous comments.

If Facsimile 1 is indeed what was orginally what JSP I reflected, then we can safely disregard the restorations of the lacuna that Baer, Parker, Ashment, et al. supplied. The strokes above the head of Abraham/Osiris are clearly thumb stokes - as Shirts and Gee have shown - and we can therefore safely say that the head of the priest/Anubis is also accurat. With the knife factor now in play, I think that we can therefore safely say that there is no room for the second ba-bird or the erect phallus that Ashment and Larson would have in JSP I.

Steve Smoot

Lake Love said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and have to say amen to this great post. I echo your exact statements, that the Book of Mormon has had a powerful effect upon my life and has brought me closer to the Spirit and to Christ--despite the fact that it was translated by a very imperfect, flawed person. Joseph was a man, full of faults, but he was still a prophet. I just finished reading "Rough Stone Rolling", and I'm finally getting over some of my initial shock, and coming to grips with the fact that the truth is still truth, even though the church's history has not always been pretty. My testimony was never based on the belief that the church was or is perfect. It's been based on the constant manifestations of the Spirit and the power of the Book of Mormon. I think I'd like start a blog of my own. (I'm posting under my wife's account/blog.)
-Spencer in Texas

cadams said...

For me there's 3 main reasons for studying the scriptures: to be filled with the Holy Ghost (1 Ne. 1:12); to learn the immediate will of heaven (revelation); and to study the temple keys.

I love how the Book of Mormon is amazingly filled with temple types: even 3 Ne. 11-14 has a synopsis of the whole Endowment.

Lately I seem to see Kabbalah Tree of Life symbols all over the Book of Mormon. One area where they seem to distill in the most are the Justice/Mercy discourses.

RWW said...

I have to add yet another "ditto" to this post. The depth and insight of the BoM, and its relevance to my life, become more impressive to me every time I read it.

Jared said...

Great post.

I remember clearly the testimony that came to me when I first read and prayed my way through my first reading of the Book of Mormon. That was many years ago. I've employed and read it many times since then. I say employed because I have found the Book of Mormon allows me to have greater access to the powers of heaven when I employ it. I do this by studying it topically and liking to myself. As I have done this I realize that the Book of Mormon is inviting me to personally experience what the BoM writers experienced: to know Christ as they did.

Anonymous said...

People really should give the Book of Mormon a serious chance--even if nothing more than as inspiring fiction.

There's a new site out dedicated to the thoughtful study of the Book of Mormon:

http://bookofmormononline.net/

It's certainly worth checking out.

Anonymous said...

Fools mock, as the Book of Mormon saying goes.

What a treasure that book is. Who can discover its depths in a single life-time?

Jack

Bookslinger said...

And two thirds of the Book of Mormon plates (the sealed part) are yet to be translated and published!

Halibut said...

I hate to differ with all of the people who feel they have to study and know everything about the scripture. However there is not need for as much study as you do. Especially for us poor readers.

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And Behold........

What do we need besides these verses. Add of course the ministry of the Savior in 3rd nephi.

How about the third verse of Joy to the World. No more let sin and sorrow rule. Yes we have sin. There is great sorrow among us. But it need not rule.

Find the simple words of affirmation of His greatness.

Ponder them-----and then act on those simple words.

Huston said...

Jeff, yes!

I had a professor at UNLV who once said he always knew who the religious kids in his classes were, because they were the ones who already understood symbolism, themes, and deep literary writing in general. He said that growing up studying the Bible must be a great educational tool.

Thank you for your insight about the mentally strenuous nature of Book of Mormon study. I don't know who else out there has read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, but it deeply changed me, and made me realize something that I've been very grateful for ever since: the Latter-day Saints are just about the last truly literate sub-culture left in America.

In my ward, there are plenty of manual laborers who have disciplined their minds to delve into the scriptures, as well as nerds like me who try to also go outside their comfort zones. The whole thing is inspiring, and makes you understand just why the Book of Mormon itself places such constant emphasis on the importance of records and literacy.

As no less a mind than Nibley was fond of saying, "The Book of Mormon is like a good football. It'll wear you out, but you'll never wear it out."

Rick said...

Some of the commenters have mentioned things that "are not pretty" in Church history. I have read RSR and many other books about the history of Joseph Smith. I can agree that there are things I don't understand or that seem foreign to me, but that does not mean they are not pretty. When it comes to Joseph Smith, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Pops said...

I remember the first time I read the Book of Mormon. It was pretty boring, but then so was anything requiring discipline for an 11-year-old.

Many years later, it occurred to me that if I wanted to change my life for the better instead of just getting by, I would need to change my behavior. One habit I chose was to read the Book of Mormon every year, and I have done so for the last fifteen or sixteen years.

One result of that habit, which I didn't expect, is that the Book of Mormon becomes more interesting with every reading. Each year when I finish reading it, it is with some degree of sadness in that I will "have to" wait until the beginning of the next year to read it again. I enjoyed the year of President Hinckley's challenge to the Church - I had an excuse to read it twice, instead of moving on to some other volume of scripture!

Another result was the change that continues to occur in me. I think a large part of that change comes about because the Book of Mormon is a powerful catalyst for the action of the Holy Spirit on the sincere reader.

I don't really mind that Joseph Smith had faults. His are certainly less than mine, and he did me a huge favor for which I will always be deeply grateful.

Darion Alexander said...

Merry Christmas to all! I have to agree with Jeff and the majority of those who have posted on here. The Book of Mormon is a beautiful piece of scripture. There are so many naysayers out there that really don't sit down and study the Book. But that is part of life. People can nay say all they please, in the end it really comes down to one of two scenarios, as my old Bishop used to say, 1. We are correct and will be sealed to our families and can gain exaltation or 2. we are mockers of God and His Authority and will be cast down to the bottommost pits of Gehenna. I lean towards the first one.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff.

I am investigating the Church. I have been (seriously) for around three months. I am a confessing Christian (Protestant) and have had some contact with missionaries in the past. None could (for whatever reason- possibly my own objectionable nature) offer me answers to the deeper theological questions I had. Your site and this blog have become a mine of treasure to my soul!

I managed to get myself "Mormon Doctrine" and a BOM and am reading both and debating the themes and issues within with my other books (Protestant theology and history books) and talking with my wife about my findings. I have so far come to the conclusion that the LDS is an "enigma" to my soul. I find a huge portion of it warming and inviting and even highly challenging, and yet concepts within (such as the Godhead) hard to get around and even more difficult to believe.

If anyone on here would like to offer help with these things then my email address is below. I am from the UK (Northants) and would welcome telephone contacts or emails/chat so that I can actually open up discussion on this with people who understand the issues. I have spent 19 years of my life in the evangelical Church-- this is both new and challenging to me and yet I feel so close to "converting" that it also scares me!!

Thanks for making these sites available. Rest assured that not all Christians find you stupid :)

With love,

Paul

tactonic_grate@hotmail.co.uk

SteSmo said...

Paul,

I would love to open up a dialoge with you!! My e-mail address is

stevesmoot45@yahoo.com

If you have any questions, I would love to try my best to answer them. You can either post here on Jeff's blog or e-mail me.

My first word of advice, take Elder McConkie's book with a grain of salt. A lot of what he wrote in that book reflected his own opinion and not exactly official Chruch doctrine. Just to give you a heads up. He had some good stuff, to be sure, but nevertheless, some of his works are - in my opinion - not always 100 % right.(Maybe we can talk more about McConkie's works.)

My second word of advice, check out my father's website. Granted it is still a work-in-progress, but I think that it is nevertheless a good resource for investigators such as yourself.

The URL is:

http://www.woodlandinstitute.com/

Anyways, if you have any questions, I would be happy to try my best to help. And, of course, continue your reading of the Book of Mormon as you ask your Father in Heaven for the truth. (James 1:5, Moroni 10:4-5)

Best Wishes,

Steve Smoot

Andrew Miller said...

Paul,

I have sent you an email. I would love to open correspondence with you as well. Let me know if I can be of any help.

I highly recommend:

http://en.fairmormon.org

and

http://www.fairlds.org

Feel free to contact me: elprofesor@live.com

Andrew Miller said...

Steve,

Who does all of the translation at your dad's website?

Does he need any help?

Email me: elprofesor@live.com

Conrad Kelson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Really. If you read the Koran over and over you can believe it too. Instead of only taking the amazing tool of the Book of Mormon. Do an objective study on the Origins of the Book. Grab a first edition book of mormon and compare it to a current addition. Remember how Joseph was guided directly by god on translating and it was done perfectly as god is perfect. Filled with light is a much different message than it's original text. Look at local records of Joseph Smith and his endeavors before the claimed creation of the church and after. You are all brain washing yourselves to read the Book of Mormon over and over. I am ex-Mormon. Guess what I let missionaries into my home and let them spread their message. I surprise them when I told them I was a son of perdition. Hahaha. I know as far as you are concerned I am headed straight for outer darkness. But I am much happier. Truly happier since rejecting the Church of Latter Day Saints. I can only hope that you take the time to truly research the tools you use to teach you of your beliefs. Study them objectively at least once. Truly objectively like you had never heard of the Mormon religion before and not being guided by other people. Pretend you are 10 years old and are reading this book. If you can honestly say you did it objectively then I guarantee you would question it's teachings. For those of you who say you do it objectively ask yourself are you smart enough to know what objective or even impartial means. You are lost at this point in your life and maybe you should try again in a year or so. I encourage you to read the book of mormon. Do it impartially. Read the first edition and the current edition and explain the changes to yourself. I wish you to know the truth and may the truth set you free!

Anonymous said...

What is you problem with the Book of Mormon? What is the big deal with the first edition and now?

SteSmo said...

Dear Anon 9:44 PM,

Your reservations with the Book of Mormon are rather, to say it bluntly, pathetic. These "problems" with the Book of Mormon have been asked an answered.

"Do an objective study on the Origins of the Book."

Obviously you have not read up on Jeff's material. Had you done so, you would see that many Latter-day Saints, the present author included, have indeed done objective studies of the Book of Mormon and found it worthy of their admiration.

"Remember how Joseph was guided directly by god on translating and it was done perfectly as god is perfect."

Nonsense! Joseph Smith never claimed that the Book of Mormon was perfect. He claimed that it was "the most correct book" in that by following it's doctrines man would come closer to God than by any other book. Indeed, the Book of Mormon itself repeatedly states that it is not perfect and contains mistakes of men. (See the title page of the Book of Mormon).

"Filled with light is a much different message than it's original text."

Would you be so kind as to show me an example? Would you please show us brainwashed Latter-day Saints how the textual variations in the Book of Mormon have effected it's teachings or doctrines?

"You are all brain washing yourselves to read the Book of Mormon over and over."

Really? You can become brainwashed by reading a book more than once? Dang, school has lied to me yet again! Oh well, I better stop reading my favorite book(s) then.

"I am ex-Mormon."

In other words, because I breathed air near a Stake Center, I therefore am a qualified insider on everything related to Mormonism! You should really become friends with Grant Palmer.

"I can only hope that you take the time to truly research the tools you use to teach you of your beliefs."

I am not sure exactly what you mean by this, but, as I said before, you need to check out Jeff's material as well as the material of FARMS, FAIR, etc.

"If you can honestly say you did it objectively then I guarantee you would question it's teachings. For those of you who say you do it objectively ask yourself are you smart enough to know what objective or even impartial means."

Now you are just childly insulting the intelligence of the Latter-day Saints. Please stop, I am not impressed. Or, better yet, you can ask Drs. Lindsay, Gee, Hamblin, Peterson, Midgley, Sorenson, et al whether or not they know what impartial means.

"Read the first edition and the current edition and explain the changes to yourself."

First of all, I have read the first edition many times. I own a reprint of the 1st edition of the Book of Mormon that is prominantly displayed on my desk at home.

Secondly, this is what is particularly sad. If anything, the changes in the Book of Mormon prove that only the later editions with the changes are somehow in error. Furthermore, if you yourself did some research by reading, say, Royal Skousen's excellent work on Book of Mormon textual variations, then you would know that in many cases the changes to the Book of Mormon further vindicate Joseph Smith's claims of translating the book. I am talking of course about the If/And vs. If/Then clause in Moroni 10:4. (And, also, check out Jeff's work.)

"I wish you to know the truth and may the truth set you free!"

How appropriate to quote from a book that has had more textual changes to it than words are even in it. (See Bart Ehrman "Misquoting Jesus") And after, no less, you get done attacking the Book of Mormon for textual variations. (Audible Sigh...)

Steve Smoot

Jessica said...

You know, it is interesting how religion and politics has been such an issue this election. I hope that when it is all said and done the majority of people will have a better understanding, tolerance and openness toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I don't know if any of you have heard about this film coming out this month titled: “Article VI: Faith. Politics. America.” Perhaps it would make for a good article or discussion. The film was directed by Bryan Hall and Jack Donaldson. It is an intense discussion of the role of faith in politics. The title is taken from Article Six of the United States Constitution: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

If you haven’t seen the trailer I suggest you check it out:

http://www.articlevithemovie.com/

Pretty powerful.

Here some additional info about the film:

The story follows filmmaker Bryan Hall’s experience as a Mormon during the 2008 Presidential race. While following the debates, Hall becomes increasingly aware of the escalating attacks against a particular candidate over his religion; Mitt Romney, who happens to also be a Mormon. Hall decides to investigate this issue and comes to realize that the issue of religious bigotry in politics goes far beyond his own faith. It has been the subject of intense argument from the earliest days of the American colonies. In the end, Hall makes the case for the need for religious tolerance in America; not just for his religion, but for all religions.

Let me know what you think!

Anonymous said...

I just got back and saw how you love to pick apart at my statements. (Audible Sigh). Give me a break. Anyone with a brain can see how Joseph Smith was a fraud. I'll just start with the lost 116 pages, the Book of Abraham, The Kinderhook Plates, 34 wives most of whom Emma never knew about, the Nauvoo Expositor, Masonic Ceremony copying, seriously if a man was doing those same things today he'd be in prison for a long time, Joseph Smith just lucked out with a few short jail sentences. Well then he pissed off too many of the wrong people and his luck ran out.