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

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Council of the Gods in the Book of Mormon: Can You Help Me Find the Best Sources for Joseph's Plagiarism?

Book of Mormon critics have been working hard to identify sources that Joseph Smith might have used to fabricate the Book of Mormon. They've made some good inroads by showing, for example, that there were rare maps of Arabia in Joseph's day that could have been used to come up with the even more rare place name Nahom (well, OK, Nehhm or Nehem, but close enough) and a book or two that hinted at chiasmus and other Jewish poetical techniques. There's still a lot of work to do, of course, such as finding one of those maps that was anywhere near Joseph during production of the Book of Mormon. Since they are already pretty busy with such tasks, maybe some of you can help with a new item on the list of items to explain through plagiarism. After all, some of my best friends are critics of the Book of Mormon, and it's only fair that I help lift one of their burdens.

The annoying new problem comes from Stephen O. Smoot's recent publication at The Interpreter. In "The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon" in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 27 (2017): 155-180. In my opinion, Smoot seems to be taking a well-known weakness in Mormonism and turning it into a strength in light of modern scholarship. That weakness is our departure from the flavor of strict monotheism found in the post-biblical creeds and the concept that there is a heavenly "council of the gods" with multiple divine beings (e.g., sons and daughters of God who can be called "gods") presided over by the One God whom we worship, God the Eternal Father.  This belief is commonly used to not only criticize our theology but to actually exclude us from being Christians in spite of our firm belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Savior and Redeemer (and yes, we believe He is One with the Father, but differ from others in our understanding of how they are One).

After reading Smoot, I would say that in light of modern scholarship about what ancient Jews and Christians really believed, the slam-dunk argument for the absolute monotheism that dominates modern theology in mainstream Christian and Jewish belief has actually become rather feeble. Yes, of course there are verses in the Bible that decree God is one and there is no other god besides Yahweh. But considering what we know now of ancient practices and beliefs and the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek texts, even some Evangelical scholars now admit that modern assumptions may be overlooking a much more complicated and nuanced situation in the ancient scriptures. In fact, it is rather clear that ancient writers of scripture understood that there was a divine council of godlike beings. There is only one God whom we worship -- a relational and covenantal oneness -- but multiple non-demonic, non-fictional beings in the assembly of heaven and the council of the gods. Smooth documents this nicely from a wide array of respected modern scholars and also shows how well these ancient concepts fit into the Book of Mormon, providing another line of evidence pointing to its ancient origins. After a thorough but still preliminary review, he concludes that "the Book of Mormon very clearly portrays the divine council in such a way that indicates its close familiarity with the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israelite religion."

Ancient origins, or just another case of servile plagiarism from sources Joseph was familiar with? Here's where your help is needed. This line of alleged evidence is a little trickier than most since there were lots of preachers in Joseph's day where he could have picked up ideas for his fabrication, but as far as I can tell they sounded a lot like preachers today when it comes to their teachings on the nature of God: strict monotheism. When an LDS-favorable prooftext is mentioned, like Psalm 82:6 or Christ's citation of it in John 10:33-35 ("I said, ye are gods"), only the standard "strict monotheistic apologetics" view is given, namely, that "gods" only refers to mortal priests or rulers and definitely not anything else. Looking through sources that others have pointed to for Joseph's plagiarism of the Book of Mormon, like the sermons of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, or John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, I have not yet found clues for Joseph's plagiarism on topic of the divine council or any guidance to motive his departure from what everyone already believed on that topic -- a risky move if the goal is to win converts or sell books, I'd say.

Using Google Books, I can see some pre-1830 references to the term "divine council" such as a sermon from Elijah Waterman, but that reference refers to the Trinity, not to the Trinity collaborating with a real council of multiple divine beings. Pre-1830 uses of "council of the gods" seems limited to pagan lore. But surely there are some early sources out there that understood this concept since it can be found in the Bible, especially if one carefully considers the Hebrew which Joseph could not read at that time. Preferably they will be closer than some of the documents our critics have had to rely on so far, like a map on the order of 200 miles away. So can you help make life a little easy for the Book of Mormon plagiarism theorists and offer reasonable routes for Joseph's plagiarism of this aspect of the Book of Mormon? If your source also employs obvious chiasmus, describes Mesoamerican cement, lists a few ancient Jewish non-biblical names like Alma, and has a map or two of Arabia attached, then bonus points for you! Ideally, the source is in a language Joseph can read (English or hick English, I am told, but I'll accept Early Modern English). Bring out those big data tools or whatever else it takes and let us know what you find.

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think this entire text ignores one huge facet of the fabrication claim: that Joseph Smith didn't work alone. Most non-Mormon scholars would agree that Joseph wasn't nearly as inept as the LDS church would like us to believe; the man wasn't incapable. Moreover, he *did* have a brilliant, articulate, fantastical man in his midst, a one Mr. Sidney Rigdon. By all accounts, Rigdon was a trained preacher, extremely intelligent, and well-versed in many topics, near and far, ESPECIALLY those pertaining to Biblical topics. So the fact that an eloquent wordsmith familiar with Hebrew writing styles (most of which were taught to him during his seminarial training), names, and geographic locations was in Joseph's midst makes any coincidence suspect to the fact.

On the plurality of gods, "a risky move if he was trying to sell books". Really? Like the God-Adam doctrine, plural marriage, and the whole "you're all wrong" sentiment weren't risky moves? Did they have an effect on book sales? And again, Sidney Rigdon, being exceedingly familiar with print shops, knew full well the profits that could be made by selling books. Oh but after God told Joseph to tell his men to pitch an unsuccessful proposal to get their book printed, he said something to the effect of, "Sometimes I can't know if a message was from God or Satan." Come on. Come on. I don't mean to be snarky, but since your article was snarky I feel at liberty to do so.

Do yourself a favor and renounce Joseph Smith's story. Break free of the endless, hopeless cycle of rituals that do nothing but drag you down. Breath the fresh air of Christ's trustworthy forgiveness. Live free my friends.

Anonymous said...

It's been quite diverting, following the trolling. And it's John Bunyan, not the lumberjack. Oh, and the production of the Book of Mormon is quite well known, and even documented. There was no production by committee. You're dreaming, but I know you must pin your hopes on something.

Benjamin Seeker said...

The Antiquities of Freemasonry by George Oliver is a possible source for the conception of the divine council as God and angels.

The angelic host of the divine coucil around God’s thrown, mentioned in Nephi’s account of Lehi’s vision and in Alma 36, is portrayed in Antiquities at the return of God at the conclusion of creation. It reads, “the angelic host, in choral symphonies, welcomes Him to His throne in the Grand Lodge above” (36). The text similarly explains that Job’s “sons of God” who shouted when the foundations of the world were laid are the “angels of heaven” (29, It’s worth noting that this comes amidst a discussion of “pre-existent worlds,” angels who were expelled for disobedience, “angels, who kept their first estate,” or in other words, a general discussion on the “extent of God’s works before the creation of man.”)

A type of divine council is more explicitly addressed by Antiquities in a footnote on the Basilideans a religious sect. The text explains that they believed the name of God to be Abraxas, and then gives a list of eight names: Abraxas, Michael, Gabriel, Ouriel, Raphael, Ananael, Prosoraiel, and Yabsoe. The text then explains that these are “their gods, and their seven angels, the presidents of their seven heavens” (118).

A more ambiguous statement, but related to the divine council, comes as the text describes Adam being in “immediate communication with God and angels” prior to the fall (40). The text also say that Adam and Eve “were the companions of angels, and in full communion with God” (38).

Angels being an extension of divinity and arguably, man’s ability to simlarly participate in divinity is also portrayed in the text during a discussion of Jacob’s ladder. The text reports, “On this ladder the angels of God appeared as the authorized ministers of his dispensations of justice and mercy” (188). It then goes on to explain that the ladder is a type of Christ by whom man ascends to heaven climbing the rungs of faith, hope, and charity (189).

While Antiquities doesn’t sufficiently address divinization or the prophetic call, it does lay a foundation of the divine council consisting of God and angels, and could have served as inspiration to JS and the Book of Mormon. Keep in mind that this is the same book that describes “three worlds,”the terrestrial, telestial, and angelic,” their representation in the tabernacle, the pre-existence, all of the the extra-canonical events found in JS translations describing Adam, Enoch, and Abraham, and the unique Mormon conception of priesthood as God’s eternal power (only as Masonry).

Anonymous said...

I believe this is what Jeff was looking for. This 1823 book on masonry explains these aspects of the Book of Mormon, and others as well. Joseph must have internalized this book and allusively woven it into the fabric of the text. Very good, Mr Seeker, you have come up with some plausible connections, in your ever learning quest.

Ramer said...

Anon 12:46 -

I've asked this before, and I'll ask again.

How could Sidney Rigdon have collaborated with Joseph Smith on the Book of Mormon when they didn't even meet until after the Book of Mormon was finished and published?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Benjamin Seeker, well done and many thanks! An intriguing reference. It's available on Google Books and also at Hathritrust.org.

This was published in 1823, so it could have been available to Joseph. It was published in London. Books published in Europe didn't always end up in the U.S. very quickly. Do you know of evidence of its existence near Joseph? I checked the listing of the Manchester, New York Library for 1812-1845 and it was not there. See Robert Paul, “Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library,” BYU Studies 22/3 (Summer 1982): 333–356, https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/joseph-smith-and-manchester-new-york-library. I also checked the Rochester City Library listing in Rochester, NY as of 1839 and it was not there, either (http://www.libraryweb.org/~digitized/books/Catalogue_of_the_Roch_City_Library_1839.pdf).

The Library of Congress does not seem to have this book. That's not a good sign if we are looking for books that were influential in the U.S., but let's keep looking.

At WorldCat.org, I can search for libraries that currently have this book and I can see a few in New York. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library has a listing, but it appears to be for an 1843 printing of the book (and with fewer pages than the 1823 original). Allegheny College has a listing, but it appears to be online versions only. Cornell University has three editions, but the earliest is 1843. Columbia University Libraries have it, but it is also the 1843 edition. The New York City Library has an 1823 edition, but that's a bit far from Palmyra, even if Joseph had been a relentless bookworm, and we still don't know when that version made it onto the shelves there.

But perhaps some of you might know of more relevant sources? Was this book used widely among masons in Joseph's area? Any evidence that he could have accessed it? Right now it's now quite the smoking gun that my friends demand. But I'm sure they'll be happy to use this anyway, so I must thank you again.

Jeff Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Lindsay said...

In the George Oliver reference, I got all excited when I read that this text discusses angels who "kept not their first estate" (see p. 31) and thought for a moment we had a nice smoking gun for the Book of Abraham, where similar language is at play in Abraham 3:26-28. Then I recalled that Jude uses this very phrase. Mr. Oliver is quoting from Jude 1:6. Yes, angels are part of the heavenly host and their existence is consistent with a divine council but not enough to capture that profound concept.

But Oliver's text is quite interesting on pages 28-29, where he teaches that God has created other worlds with intelligent beings long before this one, and also gave those beings the principles of Freemasonry. So this is an interesting resource not so much on our pre-mortal existence but on the (not so unique) idea that this earth can't be the only work of God with intelligent life in the cosmos, and that there are other intelligent beings He has created. Are they part of a divine council, or can they be considered godlilke? I don't see that yet, but am just poking around right now.

Your reference to its "pre-existent worlds" (p. 31 of the text) also got me excited. While we LDS view Job's "morning stars" are pre-existent sons and daughters of God, this text from Mr. Oliver says that the stars are "pre-existent worlds" that are part of "God's works before the creation of man" (see top of p. 31), so it's not quite the same. Still very interesting though, but not sure it is very relevant to the text of the Book of Mormon. But certainly a worthwhile reference.

Very much appreciation the contribution! If you can find anything about its availability in the frontier regions of the US or along the Erie Canal by, say 1828 or so, before Joseph retreated into the data vacuum of remote Harmony Township to do the translation apparently without books to aid him, that information would be most helpful. So far I'm striking out, but there are many more places to dig.

While I believe the Book of Mormon to be ancient, there is the possibility of more modern sources influencing language, pointing to common ancient sources, or serving as inspiration or motivation to explore doctrinal issues in subsequent revelations. It is good to know about related sources. And for those seeking to buttress plagiarism theories, such resources can be a ... uh, what's the right word? A mansend?

Benjamin Seeker said...

Jeff, I found this lead:

“While there's no solid proof that Joseph Smith owned a copy of this book, the New York Masonic lodges which Joseph Smith and his family attended had several copies of it before Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, so he was very likely familiar with it.”

http://commonpaine.blogspot.com/2011/09/mormonism-and-masonry.html?m=1

I think the author is party ill informed since JS jr was not a Mason in NY, but perhaps Mt. Moriah Lodge, which Hyrum attended had several copies.

Anonymous said...

From a secular scholarly perspective, the question here is not so much one of plagiarism as one of influence and sources.

Secular scholarship starts with the assumption that, like any other book, the Book of Mormon is a product of its time and then tries to understand it as such. In the same way that scholars see Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland as obviously a source for Shakespeare's plays, secular scholars will see books like View of the Hebrews, cultural phenomena such as masonry, etc. as sources for the Book of Mormon, even in the absence of explicit plagiarism. Plagiarism is not the only way, and certainly not the main way, that influence operates.

Here's one way to see the difference between LDS apologetics and genuine scholarship: consider the fact that, when apologists accept Holinshed's influence on Shakespeare, they're also implicitly accepting certain methodological protocols and standards of evidence that they then reject in their scholarship on the Book of Mormon. Genuine scholarship would accede to those standards and protocols across the board.

-- OK

Ramer said...

I think the problem with OK's reasoning here is the premise of assuming that the Book of Mormon is just a product of its time. This disregards key statements made by its translators, scribes, followers, and even the text itself, saying that it is a translation (which nobody disputes WAS done in the nineteenth century) of an ancient document that was hidden from the world for centuries.

This is why influences, protocols, standards of evidence, etc., are accepted on Shakespeare's works and rejected on the Book of Mormon - because doing otherwise would reject the statements of the book itself.

Anonymous said...

Joseph seems to have had a love/hate relationship with freemasonry most of his life. Note the anti-masonic sentiment relating to secret societies as a pervading theme of the latter portion of the Book of Mormon. Do some research on William Morgan who was killed in upstate New York. He was about to publish an expose on Freemasonry and it was thought he was murdered to keep the publication from happening. This was the birth of the short-lived anti-freemasonry party and his death not only caused an uproar in New York, but throughout the region. You may not be able to place the book near Joseph, but you can bet there was plenty of public discussion of masonic rites and beliefs shortly before the creation of the Book of Mormon.

Tevildo said...

In general, the term secret combination was historically used to refer to political combinations, which is also how the Book of Mormon uses the term. Claims that the Book of Mormon usage refers to Freemasonry are not actually supported by the text. The combinations in the Book of Mormon are always secret and deal with gaining and holding political power, especially by means of murder, including the assassination of political leaders. Participants typically use agreements and covenants, along with oaths and signs, to enforce the power of their combination.

Anonymous said...

Telvido,

You sound educated but you're not informed on this issue. Do some research on the party and its founding. From Wikipedia (I know--Wikipedia not the best source but it describes succinctly the state of things):

The Anti-Masonic Party was formed in upstate New York in February 1828.[24] Anti-Masons were opponents of Freemasonry, believing that it was a corrupt and elitist secret society which was ruling much of the country in defiance of republican principles.[25] Many people regarded the Masonic organization and its adherents involved in government as corrupt.

Sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

Ramer, what's wrong with rejecting the statements that the Book of Mormon makes about itself? Scholars routinely reject the statements that narratives make about themselves. Literature is full of unreliable narrators, pseudonymous authors, claims of being based on found ancient manuscripts, etc. The Book of Mormon is no different (except of course to those who are already, as a matter of faith, committed to its antiquity). I see no reason to treat Nephi differently than Huckleberry Finn. There's no reason to treat either as a real person. No reason, that is, other than religious faith. (And doesn't the Church itself say that, ultimately, belief in the antiquity of the BoM is a matter of faith?)

-- OK

Tevildo said...

Ah yes. These things nicely explain Book of Mormon usage. How could I have missed that? Thank you so much for the enlightenment, for letting me know that the Book of Mormon is in part an anti-Masonic tract.

There are so many things that make this an unlikely view of things, but undoubtedly you will persist. Good to consider this article.

Page 66 has the following:

No one contests the fact that the term secret combinations could be and was applied to the Masons — but Vogel’s language parallel is compelling only if there is scant use of the term in a non-Masonic context in Joseph’s era. Peterson reported that Vogel and Brent Metcalfe later claimed “that the phrase ‘secret combination’ was never used at the time of the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, except to refer to Freemasonry.”

Vogel replied:
What I said was that after extensive reading in the primary pre-1830 sources, I had been unable to find another use for the term and doubted that one would be found. I remain skeptical, but wisdom dictates that the door be left open slightly in case someone on the margins of popular nineteenth-century culture happened to have used the term in a non-Masonic context.

On page 71:

the present results [from Google Books] are sufficient, I believe, to convince all but the most ideologically driven that secret combinations referred to a far broader range of groups than Masonry, both before, during, and after the Morgan panic of 1826. It is simply no longer tenable to claim that this phrase is a clear indicator of Masonic influence or intent on the part of an author in the late 1820s.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Gregory Smith has published a good overview of the historic usage of "secret combination" at MormonInterpreter.com that readily refutes Voegel's assertion. See Gregory L. Smith, "Cracking the Book of Mormon’s 'Secret Combinations'?" in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 13 (2014): 63-109.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how proving that the term "secret combinations" was used for other groups besides the freemasons in Joseph's time proves that it wasn't an influence on the BoM. What's the connection? The parallels are obviously similar--the terminology is only one, extremely strong, similarity. Proving that Vogel was an idiot for claiming the term was used exclusively for freemasonry is a layup. He should have known better. Proving that freemasonry isn't a type or source for the secret combinations in the BoM is a little more difficult. There are obvious similarities that are evident even to the casual observer.

Anonymous said...

"While I believe the Book of Mormon to be ancient, there is the possibility of more modern sources influencing language, pointing to common ancient sources, or serving as inspiration or motivation to explore doctrinal issues in subsequent revelations." -Jeff
.
The possibility?? C'mon Jeff. You're a smart man. You obviously know what's going on.
.
I know you have a sincere desire to know God. I know it must seem terrifying but there's nothing wrong with simply accepting the Bible as the true source of the gospel, admitting Smith as a misdirected false prophet and walking away from this man made religion.

Tevildo said...

"I'm not sure how proving that the term "secret combinations" was used for other groups besides the freemasons in Joseph's time proves that it wasn't an influence on the BoM."

Here's a transparently inaccurate assertion. First, one SHOWS by example that the term "secret combinations was used for other groups. Second, this makes clear that "[i]t is simply no longer tenable to claim that this phrase is a clear indicator of Masonic influence or intent on the part of an author in the late 1820s." One cannot achieve proof in these matters, nor is it sought.

Anonymous said...

Let my just recap our recent conversation. See if you can tell why I might be confused:

Jeff: Is there evidence that The Antiquities of Freemasonry was available to Joseph pre 1828?

Me: The book may not have been available, but the furor of anit-masonic sentiment in the region from the William Morgan affair makes it likely there was quite a bit of masonic knowledge floating about (evidence of the furor even made it into the BoM).

Telvido: You know the term "Secret Combination" wasn't just used to refer to freemasons and that the concept of secret combinations and freemasonry isn't supported by the BoM text. The combinations in the BoM were actually secret organizations set up to get and maintain political power.

Me: Quote about how the freemasons were seen as a political power for evil--thus the creation of the anti-masonic party.

Telvido: Vogel was wrong to state that the term secret combinations applied only to freemasons. See these quotes. . .

Me: Yes Vogel was wrong. There is still a strong tie between the view of freemasonry in Joseph's time and the portrayal of secret societies in the BoM.

Telvido: See, you can't prove that Vogel was right--proof in this situation is impossible, therefore your point is invalid.

Me: Huh?

Tevildo said...

"Telvido: See, you can't prove that Vogel was right--proof in this situation is impossible, therefore your point is invalid."

Sorry, I wasn't the one who misrepresented and overstated things to achieve a desired outcome. Because your claims are quite tenuous, they are ultimately uninteresting. Also, who among the many Anonymouses are you? Don't expect any further response since you haven't used any followable name. This particular lame chain is over.

Jeff, see if you can eliminate Anonymous as an option. All commenters can and should use a name up-front to facilitate conversations.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon @6:34AM said, "The possibility?? C'mon Jeff. You're a smart man. You obviously know what's going on.... I know it must seem terrifying but there's nothing wrong with simply accepting the Bible as the true source of the gospel, admitting Smith as a misdirected false prophet and walking away from this man made religion."

How come everytime sometime tells me I'm a smart guy, the next statement is an insult that challenges my intelligence, integrity, or courage? Being smart sounds like quite a liability around some folks.

For the record, I do accept the Bible as scripture, an important document with much of the Gospel. But I view Jesus Christ as the true source of the Gospel, not a book written, copied, edited, translated, and printed by humans showing an awful lot of human influence including many artifacts that are obviously man made. So which Bible do you refer to? The Vulgate? The Septuagint? The New English Bible? The 1611 KJV? The 1769 KJV? The NIV? the NRSV? There are significant differences. Which is the one true source?

There's nothing wrong with admitting that God wants to lead us and His church with continuing revelation today the way He did in the past. There's nothing wrong with admitting that we should not trust a human-edited/human-translated inanimate object over God Himself.

There's more to the Latter-day Saint religion that you've allowed yourself to see. I hope you'll give it a second look. I'd even say it's the smart thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you write that [t]here's nothing wrong with admitting that God wants to lead us and His church with continuing revelation today the way He did in the past.

There might not be anything "wrong" with this, but there is a danger associated with it, namely that people will mistake their own desires and prejudices for "revelation." Happens all the time.

According to David Whitmer, Joseph Smith himself said, "Some revelations are of God, some revelations are of men, and some revelations are of the devil."

So how is one to know which is which? A "testimony"? That is, a highly subjective experience such as people of many different faiths claim to have?

You also write that "[t]here's nothing wrong with admitting that we should not trust a human-edited/human-translated inanimate object over God Himself."

Here I would note first that the Book of Mormon is itself "a human-edited/human-translated inanimate object." I can't think of a single objection to the authority of the Bible that one could not also make against the Book of Mormon.

I would note second that you're awfully smug in thinking that your own prophets actually have access to the thoughts of "God himself." That's incredibly arrogant.

-- OK

Darren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darren said...

It’s very easy to point to the sources fir Joseph Smith’s plagiarism. The first source is the “gift and power of God”. The second source is the golden plates.

You are all very welcome. :>)

Anonymous said...

Telvido

I'm not sure who you are referring to about misrepresenting and overstating things. Maybe one of the other anonymouses? (sounds like secretive rodents) :^)

Anywho, I'm sorry that you felt my position was "quite tenuous" and "ultimately uninteresting" to the point that you responded to it on four separate occasions. I'm also sorry you feel like you can't have conversations with people whose names you don't know--must make it hard meeting new people. To each his or her own.

Happy trails!

Jonathan A. Cavender said...

"Secular scholarship starts with the assumption that, like any other book, the Book of Mormon is a product of its time and then tries to understand it as such."

I know I am late to the party, but I did want to highlight this quote. There are those who say that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because secular scholarship doesn't support it. They then define secular scholarship as assuming the Book of Mormon is not true.

It's a pretty brazen "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

"No secular scholars believe in the Book of Mormon."

"Well John Sorenson is an expert in Mezoamerican studies, and he believes there is extensive evidence through convergences that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document of a people from that region."

"Well because Sorenson is a Mormon, he isn't really a secular scholar. No TRUE secular scholars believe in the Book of Mormon."

"Well John Gee is an accomplished scholar..."

"But he's a Mormon, so he really isn't a secular scholar..."

"But Nibley..."

"But he's a Mormon..."

Rinse and repeat with countless believing, accomplished scholars in the various fields. And thus is created a convenient, non-falsifiable hypothesis that the Book of Mormon can't be an ancient document. Even scholars who once disbelieved and now believed are not acceptable any more (baptism apparently requires the return of their secular card). The only scholarship they would accept would be if someone who doesn't believe comes to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is true, but that conclusion is both inarguable and the scholar ultimately doesn't believe it.

Aw, who are we kidding -- they wouldn't accept that, either.

Anonymous said...

The turning in of the secular card happens when publication occurs outside of the realm of the academy and peer review. It's not the person; it's the venue that counts.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan A. Cavender, I'm afraid that your own church does not agree with you.

The LDS Church quite pointedly does not endorse the work of FAIR et al. The Church continues to insist that, in spite of what you call "extensive evidence," belief in the Book of Mormon requires prayer and faith. You personally might find that evidence convincing, but the Church itself does not. You're putting your trust in the work of men rather than the supposed revealed wisdom of the Church.

Also, I think you're engaging in a form of special pleading. Tell me, if you were tasked with studying the Heaven's Gate cult, would you begin by assuming that Marshall Applewhite's supposed visions were actually from God? If you were trying to understand the Unification Church and Sun Myung Moon, would you begin by assuming the truth of that church's scripture, The Divine Principle?

Or would you approach these other religions in the same way I approach yours?

-- OK

Anonymous said...

The Bible was put together by men. Those men determined which sacred books / writings would make the final cut which gave us the Bible. They made their decisions using their personal beliefs and biases. What evidence do we have that they were absolutely correct in their decisions? There is no evidence.

They argued amongst themselves and even came to blows.
Many sacred writings were destroyed because some thought the writings were wrong, heretical. These men decided what people could believe about God and the Gospel. No different than the Marxist Democrats of today and Communist regimes.


No, the Bible is not the only true source of the Gospel. Much of the true Gospel was destroyed and lost because a few men in ecclesiastical power forced their personal beliefs on the masses. The construction of the Bible involved massive human editing of sacred writings.


Signed, Căsi

Ramer said...

There are those who say that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because secular scholarship doesn't support it. They then define secular scholarship as assuming the Book of Mormon is not true. It's a pretty brazen "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

I think this is actually an example of circular reasoning - assuming the conclusion as part of the premise.

Just a minor nitpick there, as I agree with the rest of your comment. I mean, archaeologists have found Nahom right where the Book of Mormon says it should be, and the critics won't even let us have that. They insist Joseph must have looked at a map...somewhere...that has that name there...or, well, a similar one, I guess...and boom, that explains not only why the name matches, but also the accurate linguistic root and the candidate for Bountiful further up the path.

Ramer said...

The LDS Church quite pointedly does not endorse the work of FAIR et al. ... You personally might find that evidence convincing, but the Church itself does not. You're putting your trust in the work of men rather than the supposed revealed wisdom of the Church.

Nice straw man.

Tell me, if you were tasked with studying the Heaven's Gate cult, would you begin by assuming that Marshall Applewhite's supposed visions were actually from God? If you were trying to understand the Unification Church and Sun Myung Moon, would you begin by assuming the truth of that church's scripture, The Divine Principle? Or would you approach these other religions in the same way I approach yours?

I can't speak for Jonathan, but I wouldn't start with any assumptions either way. I would look at their claims and let them speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Ramer writes, I think this is actually an example of circular reasoning - assuming the conclusion as part of the premise.

Um, no. The assumption is that "the Book of Mormon is a product of its time." But that is not the conclusion, or even one of the conclusions. The conclusions are things like "The BoM was influenced by View of the Hebrews" or "Lehi's dream was influenced by the dream related by Joseph's father."

Secular scholars would only be "assuming the conclusion as part of the premise" if they were concluding that the BoM was a product of its (19th-century) time. But this isn't something secular scholars are interested in, at least when they're doing secular scholarship. Secular scholars aren't concerned with the question of the book's antiquity or miraculous provenance, any more than they are when they study the Bible.

To see what I mean, consider the claims made by secular scholars that the story of Noah and the flood was an Israelite adaptation of the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Claims like that depend on a prior assumption about the Bible being a product of its time, but they're not examples of circular reasoning.

Ramer also writes, I wouldn't start with any assumptions either way. I would look at their claims and let them speak for themselves.

Oh, really? What if one of the claims is that Evidence alone is not enough to ascertain the truth of our claims. You must also pray with a sincere heart to God, who will tell you that (say) the Divine Principle of the Unification Church is true, and that there must be some other explanation for this evidence you have found....

And suppose you did pray sincerely to God, and got no answer, and the next claim was Well, you must not have prayed sincerely.... At that point you'd probably be tempted to say that "sincerely" here amounts to "assuming the reality of God."

After all, no prayer to God can be sincere if it is done by someone who does not sincerely believe God exists.

Do you see the problem? Because of the way the LDS Church has enmeshed their claims about the BoM with beliefs about the supernatural, these are not the kinds of claims that can be approached without making a prior assumption about the legitimacy of the supernatural.

-- OK

Ramer said...

You must also pray with a sincere heart to God, who will tell you that (say) the Divine Principle of the Unification Church is true...
Are there any religions that aren't LDS that actually encourage people to ask God about its truthfulness?

...and that there must be some other explanation for this evidence you have found...
This assumes that any evidence must contradict the religion's claims. On the contrary, there is much evidence FOR the LDS position.

And suppose you did pray sincerely to God, and got no answer, and the next claim was "Well, you must not have prayed sincerely...." At that point you'd probably be tempted to say that "sincerely" here amounts to "assuming the reality of God."
Nope. "Sincerely" means "with real, genuine intent." And yes, the LDS church claims that if you ask sincerely you can know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon (among other things). But consider these different prayers:
"I just read the Book of Mormon like my bishop said to, and at the end it said to ask God if it's true. So... is it true, I guess?"
"Dear Father in Heaven, please help these deluded missionaries to understand the falseness of their satanic book of so-called scripture."
"I have read and studied the Book of Mormon as the missionaries have challenged. I do not know of its truthfulness, but I desire to know for myself. If it is true, wouldst Thou help me to know this?"
Which of them do you think is sincere, and according to the Church will get a proper response?

After all, no prayer to God can be sincere if it is done by someone who does not sincerely believe God exists.
Sure it can. You can actually pray if you want to know if God exists (and not just like "Show me a sign that you exist or I won't believe").

Anonymous said...

Ramer, when I pray, whom should I be praying to? To God? To Satan? Someone else?

-- OK

Ramer said...

OK,

There's a movie I like, about a fictional family living in the time of the Book of Mormon during Christ's visit. One of the characters does not believe in God, but after being persuaded to pray by another, he says, "O God, if there is a God, and thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me?"

Probably something like that.

Anonymous said...

The line in the movie is almost directly from the Book of Mormon, by the way. King Lamoni's father in Alma 22.

Anonymous said...

Just tried it, Ramer. Nothing happened.

Now what?

-- OK

Anonymous said...

OK- if you can honestly say you were willing to act on the answer, no matter what it was, then I'd say you have your answer. You're the only one who knows whether you really wanted to know, or whether you just wanted Ramer to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:54 writes, You're the only one who knows whether you really wanted to know....

The essence of the "testimony": I really wanted to know, ergo I knew.

It's all such nonsense.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying wanting to know will make you know. I'm saying that's the essence of sincerity. That's why I said if you can honestly say you were willing to act on any answer you received, then I guess you received your answer. No need for further action. But if you do an experiment and close your eyes to the result, you can't really say the result was negative. You can only do that if you were willing to look.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:51, I think your entire approach here is not only epistemologically nonsensical, it's also unbiblical.

The biblical model, of course, is that of Saul of Tarsus, who did not have to "ask with a sincere heart," etc. Quite the opposite: his vision came to him despite his skepticism, not because he had provisionally relinquished that skepticism, as Moroni's challenge asks us to do.

Note also how different Saul's story is from that of Joseph's first vision, which was preceded by lots of prayer, etc. Ditto, by the way, for the experiences of the putative witnesses to the Golden Plates. In the LDS tradition, these kinds of experiences don't strike one out of the blue, as with Saul; instead they seem to require lots of intense psychological prepping, which to me severely undercuts their plausibility.

Anyway, if Jesus or whomever should ever accost me the way he did Saul, then sure, I will believe. But on the basis of some flimsy "testimony"? No way.

Just sayin'.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

You can think it's epistemologically nonsensical if you want, but your conversation with Ramer was about how one asks sincerely. I was answering that question- if indeed sincerity is required, I think we can fairly equate that with a desire to know and a willingness to act. Understand that I am NOT saying you should go in with a preconceived answer in either direction. I think if someone is praying while assuming that God will reveal himself to them, that person is just as insincere as the person who prays expecting that God won't answer. Sincerity requires the acceptance of ANY answer that comes, whether it's "nothing happened" or "I saw God" or anything in between. Further, the action required of someone who gets an answer other than "nothing happened" may be to investigate further. It would certainly be worth probing whether the answer received was one's own thoughts or something from an outside source. But that general approach is not unscientific.

For example, if I want to determine whether two proteins interact, I can isolate one and see if the other comes along for the ride. If I determine that it DOES come along for the ride, I'm not done. Maybe by chance they can both be isolated by the same conditions, or maybe there are proteins between the two I'm interested in, or a number of possible scenarios. So my course of action at that point is to probe further, not to make any definite conclusions. What I can NOT do, though, is conclude a priori that the two interact. I can hypothesize, but I have to be willing to go wherever the evidence takes me, even if it refutes my hypothesis. Nor can I manipulate my experimental approach to make the second protein come along for the ride or deliberately prevent it from doing so.

A similar thing applies in our scenario. You have to be willing to accept any answer that comes. If you're not willing to do that, you may miss the answer when it's dancing naked in front of you. Happens to scientists with preconceived notions all the time.

Anonymous said...

Regarding whether the "sincerely asking" approach is biblical, the New Testament is actually full of examples of revelation coming AFTER prayer.
Luke 3:21
Luke 9:28-30
Acts 1:24-26
Acts 4:31
Acts 10:2-4
Acts 11:5

There are also various injunctions to ask in order to receive.
Matt 7:7
Matt 21:22
Luke 11:9
James 1:5

The idea of asking and praying to receive revelation is well supported by the bible.

Anonymous said...

One final note- Paul did ask. He asked "who art thou, Lord?" and later "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" It just took a kick in the pants to get him to ask.

Ramer said...

...if Jesus or whomever should ever accost me the way he did Saul, then sure, I will believe. But on the basis of some flimsy "testimony"? No way.
This is exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned the "Show me a sign that you exist or I won't believe" mentality.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ramer, but I'm making an additional point, namely that "Show me a sign that you exist or I won't believe" is a biblical position.*

But really, what's the difference between a "sign" and a "testimony" anyway?

-- OK

* I don't say "the" biblical position because the Bible has a variety of sometimes conflicting positions on all kinds of matters, which is not surprising, given that it's a collection of ancient texts written by a variety of different people with different views at different times.

Ramer said...

"Show me a sign that you exist or I won't believe" is a biblical position."
Yeah, but it doesn't seem to be one Jesus is particularly fond of (Matthew 12:39). Not to mention some people had signs given to them, but they still didn't believe (Luke 11:14-16, for example).

But really, what's the difference between a "sign" and a "testimony" anyway?
I'm simplifying this a bit, but a sign is a cause and a testimony is an effect.

...the Bible has a variety of sometimes conflicting positions on all kinds of matters, which is not surprising, given that it's a collection of ancient texts written by a variety of different people with different views at different times.
No disagreement here. Not to mention the different transcriptions and translations over the years that have left out or altered meanings of some things over the years ("Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors." -Joseph Smith; he's right, not all errors are necessarily the result of malicious intent).

Anonymous said...

Ramer, you can't reliably use biblical text as evidence of what Jesus was or was not "fond of." For one thing, as you and Joseph Smith and I all agree, that text has been significantly corrupted. Moreover, even in their original form they were not necessarily the words of Jesus, but the words of other people who were either remembering what they believe Jesus to have said or putting their own beliefs into Jesus's mouth.

LDS apologists have an annoying habit of using our modern understanding of the Bible as a Get Out of Jail Free card. They're perfectly happy to cite the Bible when a passage supports their position (as you just did in citing Matt. 12:39 and Luke 11:14-16, for example). But when the Bible goes against them, they simply say, "Well, you can't trust the Bible, it's corrupted by men."

It's very convenient. It's much like the similar dodge involving the Church's prophets. When someone like me points out one of the many instances in which they blatantly contradict themselves or each other, I am told that sometimes they speak as prophets, at other times only as men. This despite the fact that I am also told the prophets will never lead anyone astray.

None of these dodges would be necessary, of course, if core LDS beliefs were actually true.

-- OK

Ramer said...

Joseph Smith experienced the same problem regarding using the Bible to support one's position.
"... for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible." (Joseph Smith - History 1:12)
Hence why it's necessary to have the Book of Mormon as another witness of Jesus Christ which clears up confusion created by the different translations.

Regarding prophets speaking as men, there is a difference between having opinions of their own or being allowed to make mistakes (based on limited understanding) that are later learned from, and leading the Church astray.

And I do indeed believe that the core LDS beliefs are actually true.

steve14 said...

At my wards sacrament meeting on Sunday the rest hymn was a beautiful piano solo played by a young lady of a version of "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief". As most followers of this blog probably know this hymn is based on Matthew 25:31-40. When we show kindness and concern for those in need the Lord teaches us that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethern, ye have done it unto me". As I followed the words of the hymn as she played I felt the truth of the Lord's words. I then glanced at the bottom of the page and read this "Hymn sung at the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith." A voice came softly yet very clearly to my mind, "Joseph was no fraud". I only wish I could express myself better but for a less that consistent Sacrament meeting attender it has had a powerful and lasting effect on me. Thank-you for letting me share this.