Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game

My two recent articles on Lehi's Trail at The Interpreter  ("Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map, Part 1" and Part 2) have been noted and responded to by RT of the Faith Promoting Rumor blog, whose critiques were the primary topic of my work. He points out that my work is rife with methodological and other flaws, though the specific flaws and failed arguments are not yet identified.

Further, regarding my responses in Part I to the dozens of issues he has thrown out, he complains that I have taken a shotgun approach. I'm not sure what words best describes the action of pulling out the scattered pellets delivered from a shotgun blast, but perhaps "anti-shotgun approach" would be more appropriate. In spite of the diverse topics that require treatment, such as ancient sacrificial practices, the use of camels in the ancient Near East, the alleged blunder of mentioning the "fountain of the Red Sea," and the details of the terrain around the candidate for Bountiful that handily and surprisingly refutes RT's claim that a place like Bountiful could not possibly have been uninhabited, there are some key focus areas in the two-part article that merit more than a casual dismissal, in my opinion. I was expecting more substance. I thought there were a few interesting findings and possibly new resolutions to past problems worthy of comment.

He does offer the complaint that I frequently point to cited work of others instead of developing several already treated issues from the beginning, though does not specify where my reliance on previous work is inadequate. The two-part document was already on the rather lengthy side, so I hope my efforts to reduce unnecessary redevelopment of past work can be forgiven.

Naturally, RT was also not pleased by my lack of respect for some branches of modern biblical scholarship that claim the Bible has little historical value and is largely a pious fraud.  That does not come as a surprise, though the extent of his focus on that one issue somewhat surprised me, as if no sane person could agree with scholars like Kenneth Kitchen who dare to challenge the biblical minimalists directly and bluntly. The implicit appeal to authority on this issue does not seem like a convincing response to me, but since I'm not a biblical scholar worthy of engagement on the issues, I suppose all that needs to be done is to assert that his original case still stands, as he does.

To his credit, RT did somewhat acknowledge one point from one of the focus areas of my response regarding the low probability of Joseph having accessed one of the maps of Arabia that had the name Nehem or Nehhm:
On the subject of maps, I agree with Lindsay about their rarity. In a strictly historical sense, the likelihood of JS encountering one in rural Western New York wasn’t very high. But my argument for dependence on a map doesn’t actually rise or fall on the question of accessibility, but on a combination of other factors, e.g. the BoM’s fictional character, the vague geography of the journey through Arabia vs. the precision of the location Nahom, the similarity between Ireantum and Erythraeum, other map features, etc. I assume that there were more maps available to JS in his world than we have record. Also, Rick Grunder has informed me that near to the time JS was dictating 1 Nephi he may have visited the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester, New York, which seems to form the material background for parts of the story of Lehi’s dream. At the time the Arcade was an exceptionally large and lavish building that featured a library, rare maps, and periodicals. [link is to Grunder's PDF file]
This shows some progress, perhaps, compared to his previous essay on Nahom (part 3) that approvingly quoted Philip Jenkins: "The map evidence makes it virtually certain that Smith encountered and appropriated such a reference, and added the name as local color in the Book of Mormon." He at least recognizes that access to a Nahom-related map may not have been so likely, but still seems persuaded that the Book of Mormon ultimately depends on a map through some means.

But one thing in his response greatly surprised me: RT's approval of a newly proposed modern source as inspiration for a key portion of the Book of Mormon, namely, the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester, New York as the inspiration for Lehi's vision featuring the great and spacious building.  This creative idea comes from Rick Grunder, a master of finding creative parallels for Book of Mormon elements (see the review of his work by Ben McGuire, "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One" and "Part Two" at The Interpreter). Grunder views the Reynolds Arcade parallel as the crowning achievement of his Mormon studies work, one that should convince Mormons that the Book of Mormon is rooted in modernity. Grunder's crowning discovery from his decades of research to explore, rather exclusively,  the purported modern origins of the Book of Mormon is detailed in "The Dream of the Iron Rod," PDF file taken from Entry 350, "Reynolds Arcade (Rochester, New York)," in Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source, 2nd ed. (Lafayette, New York: Rick Grunder ‐ Books, 2014), pp. 1367‐1431; available at http://www.rickgrunder.com/parallels/mp350.pdf.

The great and spacious Reynolds Arcade in Rochester. The observatory on top was missing at the time.
According to Grunder, as Joseph neared the end of his translation work of the Book of Mormon in June 1829, near the beginning of the translation of the small plates of Nephi, he got the idea for the "great and spacious building" in Lehi's dream when he made a trip to Rochester to look for a printer of the nearly completed manuscript. Inspired by a large building in Rochester, the Reynolds Arcade, towering at four-and-a-half stories, and just a block or so from an iron railing on an aqueduct that crossed the local Genesee River, Joseph thought of an iron rod and a "great and spacious building" that plays such a significant role in 1 Nephi. Joseph then quickly added that material to his dictated translation and voila, 1 Nephi was written, followed by the rest of the small plates material in short order.

Grunder makes an interesting case. There was an iron barrier, a fence or guardrail, running along the impressive aqueduct of the Erie Canal that crosses the Genesee River in Rochester. The iron fence and the aqueduct were not far from the original Reynolds Arcade, built in 1828, which in Grunder's view is a great and spacious building--or rather, the great and spacious building that inspired Joseph. It was a four-and-a-half story building with a unique open interior like modern malls. It had shops on the first and second floors, including a popular post office. While four stories may not seem tall enough to qualify as Lehi's giant building, a small but lofty structure on the top went well above the four-story bulk of the building, extending as high as 90 feet. So if Joseph were the author of the Book of Mormon, he could have seen that building and been wowed. Then he could have seen the aqueduct and got the idea of an iron rod.

The Rochester iron rod is on an aqueduct going across the Genesee river, not running along the bank of the river, as in Lehi's dream, and the river does not divide the wicked in the great and spacious building from the rod of iron in Lehi's dream, but yes, there was an iron railing and a river and a rather tall building for upstate New York standards. And Joseph could have seen all that in his June(?) 1829 trip to Rochester, where he tried to find a printer to print the Book of Mormon. Therefore, if the visit was early enough in June, it would be theoretically possible for Joseph to have used the Reynolds Arcade as inspiration for the early chapters of 1 Nephi in his remaining days of translation work, generally understood to have been completed by July 1. Grunder is ecstatic with this find.

RT is intrigued by the iron rod + Reynolds Arcade theory, and notes that he has always wondered where Joseph got the iron rod idea.

Better still, RT hopefully hints that the Arcade housed "a library, rare maps, and periodicals." Could the Arcade solve the mystery of the Dream Map, offering the source to the rare maps of Arabia that Joseph would need to complete the Book of Mormon? In a way, it's a beautiful theory.

But did the Arcade house rare maps that Joseph could have accessed? What is the evidence for this?

Grunder cites an 1830 source that mentions maps at the Athenaeum, an educational institute in Rochester which was housed in the Arcade:
"Under its [the Arcade's] roof," reported New York City's Monthly Repository magazine in 1830, "are six stores, an extensive boarding house, the post office, printing and exchange offices, the Atheneum, justices' and lawyers' offices, &c. The Atheneum is very creditable to the place, having a very valuable library, maps, the periodicals and newspapers from various parts." (Monthly Repository 1:5, cited further above, pp. 123-24).
Maps, perhaps. But where are the "rare maps" of RT? And where are the rare maps of Arabia that might have inspired Joseph? No evidence that I have found supports that wishful notion. But it's a beautiful theory, nonetheless.

RT's implicit "Grunder on steroids" theory, where "rare maps" at the Arcade might have helped Joseph, needs to be considered and perhaps fleshed out a bit. I think it goes something like this (warning: unnamed methodological flaws and rhetorical posturing follow): Joseph, looking for a printer because he's almost ready to print his book, stumbles across a building that inspires a whole new section for the crucial beginning of the book that he hasn't exactly written yet. There will be a mysterious vision with a tall building, an iron rod, a river! Maybe a post office and a bar. No, scrap that. But we'll import a tree with genuine New York "fruit country" fruit. Only white. And the story of the vision will take place during a voyage through--say, look at that rare map here in the Athenaeum--Arabia! Let's see, how to get from Jerusalem to the ocean. Ah, there it is! South-southwest along the Red Sea, then stop at Nehem/Nehhm for "local color," and then due east across the desert to, um, Bountiful (OK, that's not on the map, but a guy can make a lucky guess now and then, right?). Grab the hat, time to dictate a few more pages to a scribe, and then to press! Just in the nick of time.

To flesh out the theory, it helps to know a little more about the Athenaeum. According to RIT's "History of RIT" page, it was founded in 1829 by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and other Rochester community leaders “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science, and the arts.” It was housed in the Reynolds Arcade, and had a book collection that would grow over the years until  1847, when the Athenaeum merged with the Mechanics Literary Association, founded in 1836 by William A. Reynolds (son of Abelard Reynolds), to form the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. The resulting merged library would have over 8,000 volumes, making it a truly significant library. It would be a major part of the roots of RIT (not to be confused with RT). When it was in the Reynolds Arcade, it included a meeting room and a small reading room with a library, provided by Abelard Reynolds. Though small in 1829, could it have offered what Joseph needed, just in the nick of time?

If so, Joseph's access to the fledgling library and whatever exotic maps it may have might pose a problem. Important information comes from the Rochester Athenaeum Collection at RIT:
The first meeting of the Athenaeum was held on June 12, 1829 and Nathaniel Rochester was chosen as the first president. For a $5 annual fee, individuals could use the Athenaeum's space in the Reynolds Arcade building for private events. More importantly, however, they could use the organization's collection of books and journals. These materials were not limited to the field of science, but spanned a variety of subject areas. On February 12, 1830, the Athenaeum was granted a charter from the State of New York, with the stated purpose of "cultivating and promoting literature, science and the arts."
Grunder's theory could be even more beautiful if he would but speculate that Joseph was there at that first meeting, perhaps with Solomon Spaulding, gleefully discussing Book of Mormon lore while picking up story tips from his fellow literati as they scanned rare European maps of Arabia and then watched sunset on a walk across the aqueduct while holding on to the iron rod as they crossed the misty river and tried not to fall into the gulf of misery and woe.
Sadly, whatever treasures the Athenaeum had or would one day have, they probably were not available to Joseph. Like a variety of other libraries in the US at this time, this was not a public library where any farm boy could wander in and handle rare maps of Arabia, if one imagines that the Atheneum had such things. Joseph had just recently struggled to get money to buy paper for the translation process. He and Oliver had been short on food. He was relying on a mortgaged farm from Martin Harris to pay the overwhelming cost of printing the Book of Mormon. I don't imagine he was ready to spend $5 in 1829 dollars to pay an annual fee to access a fledgling library that he had nearly no time to enjoy. The Athenaeum is simply not a promising candidate for Book of Mormon origins. But could the Arcade itself have played a pivotal role?

The "nick of time" part is where we still run into some difficulty. Did Joseph actually visit Rochester before he had completed Lehi's dream in the early chapters of 1 Nephi? June was a pretty busy month for Joseph and I don't think there is adequate time in Grunder's scenario for a June Rochester trip followed by frenetic translation of almost the entire small plates of Nephi. First note that chronologies of the translation of the Book of Mormon put its completion around July 1 or the end of June. For example, David Whitmer said that “The translation at my father’s farm, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York occupied about one month, that is from June 1, to July 1, 1829” (Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, as quoted at FAIRMormon). On June 11, Joseph, possibly through the work of Martin Harris, applied for a copyright for his book to help protect his rights, a process that required filing the printed title page of the Book of Mormon in a distant copyright office in Utica, New York, about 120 miles from Palmyra, as detailed by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, BYU and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2015), p. 164. The title page of the 1830 Book of Mormon makes it pretty clear that the account of Ether and the burying or sealing up of the plates had already been described, so it's fair to say that the translation of 1 Nephi was already underway by that date. A key question is when did Joseph go to Rochester and how much remained to be translated when he went?

Grunder depends on Joseph taking his time to get 1 Nephi started. He requires Joseph to have pretty much stopped translating after hitting the end of the Book of Mormon and its title page (at the end) in order to seek out printers, before rushing to complete the last few pages. How many pages? There are 143 pages from 1 Nephi 1 to Omni in the 1981 printing of the Book of Mormon. Translation rates have been estimated at 5 to 10 pages a day. During June, Joseph would deal with the three witnesses, he would travel to Palmyra and then Rochester and spend time seeking printers, he would travel back to work with scribes to translate the plates, and then he would need at least half of June to complete the translation at a rapid pace. It's no wonder that Grunder states that Joseph must have gone to Rochester early in June and then did the translation of 1 Nephi afterwards:
THE LATEST COMPARISON OF ORIGINAL SOURCES suggests that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were not settled in the Whitmer cabin to begin this part of the dictation until about June 5 (EMD 5:417, detailed chronology assembled from extensive documentation). Very shortly thereafter, they visited the Grandin printing shop in Palmyra. Then Joseph went on to Rochester where he was reported again almost immediately with Martin Harris.
The negotiation with printers did not initially require Joseph to abandon the work of translation, for he sent Martin Harris to Palmyra "by early June, and possibly before" with a manuscript copy of the title page to use in negotiations (MacKay and Dirkmaat, p. 165). Martin met with Egbert B. Grandin in Palmyra. The man who became the typesetter, John Gilbert, reported that it was in early June when Harris and Grandin met (see Gilbert's 1892 typescript memoir, "Recollections of John H. Gilbert  [by himself]," archived at BYU). Grandin was skeptical and refused to take on the project. Grandin would publish an article on June 26, 1829 mocking the Book of Mormon project as the "result of gross imposition, and a grosser superstition," showing that at this time in late June, Grandin was not seriously considering taking on the publication task at this time. After Grandin's rejection, Joseph and Martin together sought help from others in Palmyra, without success.

According to Pomeroy Tucker an employee of E.B. Grandin, when the initial negotiations took place in June, Joseph brought the title page and some manuscript pages, and was able to tell Grandin how many folios (sets of folded pages) would be needed to complete the book:
In June, 1829, Smith and the prophet, his brother Hyrum, Cowdery the scribe, and Harris the believer, applied to Mr. Egbert B. Grandin, then publisher of the Wayne Sentinel at Palmyra (now deceased), for his price to do the work of one edition of three thousand copies. Harris offered to pay or secure payment if a bargain should be made. Only a few sheets of the manuscript, as a specimen, with the title-page, were exhibited at this time, though the whole number of folios was stated, whereby could be made a calculation of the cost. Mr. Grandin at once expressed his disinclination to entertain the proposal to print at any price, believing the whole affair to be a wicked imposture and a scheme to defraud Mr. Harris, who was his friend, and whom he advised accordingly.
[Pomeroy  Tucker, Origin,  Rise,  And  Progress of Mormonism: Biography  Of  Its  Founders  And  History  of Its  Church (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), pp. 50-51.]
This suggests that the manuscript, of course, was nearly complete and Joseph at least knew how many more pages of text would be needed to complete the translation. Is this consistent with theories that suggest Joseph was ready to start creating major, lengthy new sections on the fly? Yet it appears there may still have been some translation to be done, so some additional content may have been forthcoming in the final days of June.

An important question is when did Joseph then go to Rochester to look for other printers to take on the task of publication. Pomeroy Tucker states that Joseph and his team "immediately" went to Rochester after visiting Grandin (Tucker, p. 52), but Tucker wouldn't know the details of their trip apart from what Joseph would later tell Grandin sometime after his return.  Of course, given early June negotiations with Grandin, one can assume that the trip to Rochester happened shortly threafter, giving a mid-June estimate for that trip, which is what several authors have accepted (e.g., see the chronology for Oliver Cowdery at OliverCowdery.com which puts the trip at mid-June). Y

More recently, however, MacKay and Dirkmaat in From Darkness Unto Light state that Joseph Smith and Martin Harris decided to visit printers in Rochester, "likely arriving in Rochester sometime in July" (MacKay and Dirkmaat, p. 168, emphasis mine). After several days  discussing and negotiating with printers in Rochester, Elihu Marshall agreed to take on the project. This was not yet a good solution for Joseph, though, who would have a hard time staying close to the work in a town almost 25 miles from Palmyra, but the offer from Marshall gave him standing to renegotiate with Grandin, who now realized that someone was going to print to the book after all, and he might as well be the one to get the work, but under rather harsh terms (MacKay and Dirkmaat, pp. 168-175). According to MacKay and Dirkmaat, "While it is not known definitively when the men settled on terms with Grandin, by 11 August 1829, Jonathan Hadley reported in his paper that the Book of Mormon was 'soon to be put to press' in Palmyra rather than in Rochester" (p. 175).

A chronology at FairMormon also puts the Rochester visit in July 1829, with the Grandin deal being finalized in August.  In the widely cited and detailed Book of Mormon chronology compiled by Eldon Watson at http://www.eldenwatson.net/BoM.htm, the Rochester trip does not appear to take place in June at all, which is packed with Book of Mormon translation work. In that chronology, 1 Nephi 11 is completed by June 7, 1829. Later, 2 Nephi 27, giving details about the three witnesses, is estimated to be translated on June 20, giving rise to the three witnesses event near the end of June. Whether Rochester was visited in mid-June or in July, Watson's chronology leaves no room for speculating that something on that trip was a catalyst for material in 1 Nephi 8 and 1 Nephi 11. Lehi's vision was already described.

As for the Rochester trip, July makes more sense to me. A problem with a mid-June date for the Rochester trip is that the subsequent negotiations with Grandin take place later in July (being finalized as late as August), and the significant events with the three witnesses and the eight witnesses take place near the end of June. If a bid from Elihu Marshall was obtained in mid-June, why the lengthy delay in getting back to Grandin, having won an all-important competitive bid that would enable working with a printer much closer to home where the security of the manuscripts and the details of the work could be adequately supervised? If the issue of finalizing the printing plans was important enough for Joseph to delay the translation project in mid-June, why not follow-up immediately with Grandin upon returning from Rochester?

Arriving in Rochester in July means that Joseph wasn't interrupting his urgent translation work to travel to Rochester. "Socks first, then shoes. Write first, then print." It would mean that he was probably done with the translation and would be able to soon provide the initial pages of the manuscript (which Oliver would be working on rapidly in July, producing the Printer's Manuscript) once the printer was secured. In this scenario, if accurate, no matter how impressed Joseph was by the 4.5 stories of the Arcade, or any other tall building in Rochester, complete with nearby iron rod, a river, and fruit trees in the region, it would be too late to start dreaming about how to use that material in Lehi's vision. It was already in ink.

The "nick of time" problem isn't resolved by a June visit to Rochester, if it turns out that his visit was much earlier than July after all, early enough somehow to have preceded the account of Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi 8. Making up the books of Nephi on the fly to incorporate newly encountered scenes from Rochester leaves us with numerous problems. First, the record of Lehi, which was in the 116 lost pages that could turn up at any time, as far as Joseph knew, most likely contained some aspects of Lehi's vision, for it is in the midst of Lehi's discussions after his dream and just before Nephi's own version of that dream that Nephi tells us that the many details of Lehi's preaching at this time are given in the large plates plates (1 Nephi 10:15). Nephi also tells us in the midst of Lehi's dream-related account in 1 Nephi 8:29 that he is not going to write all the words of his father on this matter, which follows 1 Nephi 1:17 where Nephi explains that he is abridging the record of his father and then will give his own record. The lost 116 pages should have more details from Lehi's visions and preaching, not much less than Nephi's abridgement. The same should apply to details of life and struggles along Lehi's trail, including details that one might allege could come from a map.

This is a point to emphasize. The material about Lehi's vision and Lehi's journey was very likely already on the lost 116 pages and not something Joseph could conceivably make up on the fly.  If Joseph were a con man making things up and fooling his scribes, Lehi's vision -- and the gist of the travels through Arabia -- can't be freshly concocted at this stage or else his own scribes and whoever may have had the 116 lost pages could cry foul. Innovations from a mystery map in the Arcade doesn't help, nor does inspiration from four stories of spaciousness at the Reynolds Arcade. None of this is in the nick of time in any scenario.

The relationship of the small plates to the rest of the Book of Mormon also poses crucial problems for theories of fabrication, including last-minute fabrication based on seeing a "great and spacious building" in Rochester. Many details in Nephi's writings are relied on in subtle ways throughout the Book of Mormon, such as Lehi's and Nephi's use of dust imagery, building on the theme of rising from the dust in Isaiah 52, which is fittingly used by Moroni to close the Book of Mormon and is employed in other subtle ways in the text (I have a forthcoming article submitted to the Interpreter on this topic, which builds on a related essay by David Bokovoy). While the iron rod is not explicitly mentioned later in the Book of Mormon, several concepts related to Lehi's vision are present, including:
  • the need to "lay hold upon the word of God" to lead us in a "strait and narrow course across th everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked" (Helaman 3:29)
  • avoiding "the great gulf of death and misery" that represents death and hell (Alma 26:20; Helaman 3:28-30; Helaman 5:12)
  • the consistently negative implications of "spacious buildings" (Mosiah 11:8-9, referring to Noah's "elegant and spacious buildings" and "spacious palace," and then Mormon's condemnation of Riplakish, who taxed the people to "build many spacious buildings" in Ether 10:5)
  • the tree of life (though this is an important theme from Genesis as well) and its fruit (e.g., Alma 5:34, which juxtaposes the fruit with the waters of life as well).
  • "mists of darkness" in 3 Nephi 8:22, part of the destruction accurately prophesied by Nephi.
1 Nephi and the experiences and teachings along Lehi's trail are artfully woven into the Book of Mormon. The Liahona plays a critical role. The basic story line with Nephi, Lehi, Laman, Zoram, etc., is already woven throughout the book in numerous references, as is the basic idea of their exodus from Jerusalem in a difficult trek that would take them to the New World where the Nephites will  again apply the name Bountiful from Nephi's account. The sufferings during that trek, which, contrary to Grunder, who only equates Nephi's "wilderness" with the verdant, moist territory around Palmyra, did include thirst (Alma 18:37 and Alma 37:42) and did include many details consistent with a record from someone who had crossed Arabia as described (see my "Technicolor Dream Map" articles). While Grunder thinks Nephi's use of "wilderness" and his failure to use the word "desert" means Joseph was just thinking of the green, moist wilderness around his home when writing the Book of Mormon, if only he would take off the blinders he might see 1 Nephi offers much more than anything Joseph could have dreamed up based on New England terrain. RT had a similar objection that I treat in Part 1 of the Technicolor Dream Map, point #34 in the brief responses to RT, where I point out that the word "wilderness" in the Book of Mormon is an appropriate translation for at least two commonly used biblical Hebrew terms that are sometimes also translated as "desert." In fact, as the group came to the southern end of the Dead Sea, they would encounter the wide rift valley of Arabah, a name that actually means wilderness, just as Nephi had recorded.

There are many further details to consider. For example, as members of Lehi's family moved back and forth in the Jerusalem area, the use of "up" and "down" is always perfectly consistent with the real terrain.  But the real excitement comes in recognizing that the now plausible description of once-ridiculed, "impossible" places like the Valley of Lemuel and Bountiful, along with accurate, plausible directions, and the impressive archaeological confirmations for ancient Nahom, even coupled with a Hebraic word play, add layers of ancient reality to Lehi's Trail that have no relationship whatsoever to Joseph Smith's local terrain. That's why the leading critics and skeptics insist there must have been help from a map and perhaps many other sources to even get a few of those many things right. To me it's rather extreme to speculate that significant portions of the writings of Nephi et al. were concocted on the fly in late June, in part inspired by a newly encountered building, resulting in pages of new text hastily tossed into the manuscript just in time for printing. But some theories are too beautiful to drop. 

For those interesting in the Reynolds Arcade and its history and architecture (a great tidbit of American, complete with a "Chinese pagoda" on top!), here are some further materials to consider:
  • Bob Marcotte, "Reynolds Arcade," "Retrofitting Rochester" series in partnership with the Office of the City Historian of Rochester, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, 2012. A good overview of the impressive four-story building that would be an important part of Rochester life for many years.
  • "Walking Tour of Rochester's One Hundred Acre Plot," LowerFalls.org. This features several photos and drawings of the Reynolds Arcade and other prominent buildings in Rochester, with some history.
  • "Reynolds Arcade," Libraryweb.org, Monroe County (NY) Library System. Several historic views of the Reynolds Arcade. 
  • Diane Shaw, City Building on the Eastern Frontier: Sorting the New Nineteenth Century City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), pp. 124-130 (viewable at Amazon). Shaw points out that the glass roofing shown in some photos is from a remodeling effort long after Joseph might have seen the building. 
  • Rick Grunder, "The Great and Spacious Building," guest post at World Without End, April 27, 2015. A beautiful theory, but best served with a great and spacious grain of salt.


Darren said...

Well, don't forget, Jeff, that RT pointed out that you are not a historian and by implication RT is and therefore much smarter than you in history. :)

Overall your responses to RT are magnificent. Very professional with humorous sarcasm injected into them.

James Anglin said...

I googled a bit about the Reynolds Arcade. It looks as though it would have been much more imposing in 1830, when it had only just been built. The older images here (one of the links at the end of Jeff's post) show something that might well be called "great".

It would also have been "spacious". As another image from the same one of Jeff's links shows, there was this huge open skylit space. Even today it seems to me that there are few buildings that one would naturally call "spacious"; even very large buildings are usually cut up into smallish spaces inside. Now that I think about this, it seems odd to me that any ancient person such as Lehi would have a dream about a spacious building. Whereas the Reynolds Arcade would probably have struck contemporary visitors as being precisely that unusual thing.

I found a catalog of the Rochester Athenaeum library, which apparently was housed in the Arcade, from 1839. That's a few years after Smith's visit. But it shows quite a number of books about the middle east, including Volume 4 (Arabia) of Josiah Conder's Modern Traveler series. Some bookseller has posted scans of the cover page of that book, and dated it to "ca. 1825". The scans show a big fold-out map of Arabia — in too low a resolution for me to see whether there is any form of Nahum marked.

At this point my conscience is making me go back to work. I don't know whether the map in Conder's book showed Nahum. I don't know whether the Reynolds Arcade already had a copy of that book in 1829, ten years before it showed up in the catalog that I found. And of course I don't know whether Joseph Smith got a look at Nahum on that map. Even if it was there, he might well have passed within a few yards of it without ever seeing it, for lack of the $5 yearly fee.

I don't know how stringently that fee was demanded, however. Perhaps the Athenaeum Library would let people in to look at the books for a few hours free, as a come-on, rather than demanding $5 up front to join a library sight unseen. There's nothing so dubious about a guy like Smith wanting to check out a library. Even if he were a true prophet, after all, I could well imagine him wanting to learn all he could about Arabia, just in order to have a better understanding of the mysterious stuff he was translating.

James Anglin said...

Ach, one more note:

If you scroll down further in that 1839 catalog of the Rochester Athenaeum Library, you find it shows one copy of the Book of Mormon. It is listed under Tales and Novels, with author S. Spaulding. Obviously whoever classified it there had no particular theological authority. It does show that the Book of Mormon was on the one hand distributed to such a place by 1839, but on the other hand not always appreciated. That might be a useful data point for the early spread of Mormonism.

James Anglin said...

And one more:

That scanned catalog to which I linked has a bunch of club rules and meeting notes and stuff at the end. Among them is the rule that strangers are permitted to use the reading room free of charge, throughout their stay in Rochester, if they are first introduced by a guest or member. If that same rule was in effect in 1829, then Smith would not have faced a $5 admission charge.

Jeff Lindsay said...

James, thanks for even looking at this issue. Drawings of buildings, especially those that promote the building, do tend to look more imposing than the real thing, but there's no doubt that this was a significant and imposing building. And it's quite likely that Joseph did see and notice it--but not in time to inspire Lehi's words.

The details are a bit frustrating when such a beautiful theory is there, so tantalizingly close. Maybe it needs to be upgraded to Joseph seeing a postcard of the building? Or how about Solomon Spaulding or Sidney Rigdon seeing the building? Where there's a will, there's a theory. I'll be interested to see how the theory gets updated, and look forward to further historical details that might further clarify the timing of the Rochester trip, etc.

Meanwhile, First and Second Nephi are some of the most majestic jewels of the Book of Mormon, rich in Hebraisms, poetry, subtle meaning and powerful prose, with many layers of complexity and structure that shatter theories of casual concoction on the fly after encountering an imposing building, an iron fence, and some local fruit. Hope you'll give it a careful read and see some of the richness there.

Musicnut said...

Thank you for your insightful and well composed responses to RT. I also grateful for the reference to Eldon Watson's wonderful timeline, of which I was previously unaware.

That said, it does seem a bit outdated on the point of how the small plates are incorporated into the overall record. Unless I'm misreading Brr. Watson, he seems to think that Mormon inserted the small plates directly into his narrative (see his discussion right after the translation of the 116 pages). However, that doesn't seem to fit with the evidence, as demonstrated here:


Rather than the small plates being inserted, they seem to have been appended. So you have Mormon's Large Plates, Moroni's additions, then the Small Plates. It's also possible the that small plates were appended to the beginning of the overall record, with Mormon's subscriptio between the end of the small plates and the beginning of the "Book of Lehi". That way, Moroni could still add the (previously unplanned) books of Ether and Moroni and have the title page come from the last leaf, as Joseph states.

James Anglin said...


Heh, you're right — drawings probably do make the Arcade look as great and spacious as it possibly could. I mean, drawing is work. I'm not going to waste my time drawing a dumpy little building. And if I'm doing it because somebody paid me, they probably don't want me to make the place look like a shack.

And you're also right that even if the dates don't work out for Lehi's vision, there will be ways to finagle this. On the one hand, that's a serious point. A resourceful fraud is hard to rule out. On the other hand you're right to suggest that it somehow takes the shine off the great whistleblowing "arcade game", if it has to be stretched in this way.

Were Reynolds Arcade and that aqueduct guardrail really sources for the building and iron rod in Lehi's dream? For people who are sure that the Book of Mormon was a fiction by Smith, but who nonetheless care a lot about how exactly it was produced, this is surely a huge deal. I doubt there are more than a few dozen such people in the world. It's an academic point.

It can't possibly be a major point for ordinary skeptics, because there's no particular reason why Lehi's dream had to be put into the Book of Mormon. The spacious building and the iron rod are both minor details, which could easily have been left out or altered, if Smith were making it up. Conversely, if Smith were just making it up, there's no reason why he couldn't have made up both those details. So it's a bit of a fluke that Smith would have been writing about an ancient dream of a great and spacious building at the same time he saw a modern one in Rochester. But it's not really much less of a fluke on the fraud theory than on the prophet theory. If a Mormon were just to shrug and say, "There you go, a bit of synchronicity," I wouldn't feel like saying, "Oh, come on". I think I'd just shrug back.

The map in the library concerns me more, however. At the moment it's unclear whether Smith could have had free access to the library in 1829, as he could have under the 1839 rules. It's unclear whether the library had any Arabian maps in 1829, as it did in 1839. And it's unclear whether it ever had any maps showing Nahom or Nehem. If I were willing to invest a couple of hundred bucks in just checking out that last question, I could buy this copy of Josiah Conder's Arabian volume; but I'm afraid I'm not up for that.

If it should turn out that Conder's map shows Nehem and was on the shelf in the Reynolds Arcade in 1829, though, then the technicolor map scenario would get a huge boost. It would be awkward for the Book of Mormon if the only good fit for Book of Mormon archaeology was stuff that Joseph Smith could easily have seen in 1829 — not just potentially, but in fact.

One might still argue that just because Smith visited Rochester doesn't mean he looked at that map (if it existed). But I think that's a weak branch. After all, it would make excellent sense for Smith to take any opportunity to look at maps of Arabia, regardless of whether the Book of Mormon is true or false. Either way, Smith was working on a book that involved a journey through Arabia. Whether he was translating or composing, he would very plausibly have been interested in learning all he could about Arabia, and the library in the Reynolds Arcade would have been a sensible place to look.

Vance said...

Hey James, if you are looking for sources Joseph could have ripped off for 1st Nephi, try the Narrative of Zosimus.

Stunningly close to 1st Nephi. Clear source for Joseph, much more than this building.

Only one teeny weeny problem: It wasn't discovered until a few decades after the Book of Mormon was published. No one anywhere had access to it in the 1820-30's.

It's actually a bit of a mystery, really. It's an ancient document from the Old World. There's no possible way Joseph or anyone else could have known about it. But it's very similar to 1st Nephi, so 1) how did Joseph get it to plagiarize and 2) If Joseph didn't plagiarize , how did that story show up in ancient Israel?

Our Host Jeff commented on it clear back in 2004.

RT said...

Thanks Jeff for continuing the discussion. If you would like me to address your responses/arguments in more detail and explain why I found them to be so problematic, I would be happy to do so, as soon as I find the available time :) I have quite a few other projects on the burners.

A few comments:

1) The reason I referred to your article as a shotgun treatment was not because you dealt with diverse topics, as you are correct that I did the same in my articles, but because I felt the analysis was so thin and ad hoc, meaning that I constantly felt like you misunderstood or failed to appreciate the logic and range of evidence of my argument.

2) You're correct that I don't find your tendency to dismiss academic biblical studies to be credible or satisfactory. The field of biblical studies is so much more complex, intelligent, and interesting than you seem to be aware. Before you start making broad statements about the nature and status of the various discussions going on in it, I would encourage you to read a little bit more widely than a few books by R. E. Friedman, W. Dever, or K. Kitchen, the last of whom is not even a biblical scholar.

3) You seem to have misunderstood my point about access to maps. My opinion about the likelihood that JS used a map hasn't changed or progressed. I still think it the most "likely" scenario, but nevertheless understand that maps were not available at just any place.

4) When I threw out the idea that the Arcade may have been a source where JS was able to access a map, I did not mean for it to be interpreted that I think that actually was the case, or that I was making a full-fledged argument in this regard. I am still uncertain where or when this access to a map could have occurred, and as I've already noted, my argument does not stand or fall on this point. I'm also uncertain when JS may have visited Rochester. Perhaps you are correct that it was in July. I'll wait for other scholars who are more informed about this period to comment. In any case, I still think the parallels with Lehi's vision are compelling and worth consideration. Maybe JS heard about the place through oral conversation, or maybe he had visited the place earlier.

5) I don't see any indications that Nephi's writings were relied on throughout the BoM. None of the examples you cite are specific or distinct. E.g. "lay hold upon the word of God"; "the great gulf of death and misery"; "the tree of life" are all common Christian themes.

The basic problem I have with much of your BoM analysis is that it tends to miss the forest for the trees. Because you are already certain about your conclusions, from what I can see you focus on this or that apologetic argument but fail to see the bigger interlocking picture. Yet to be a historian means to consider (fully) the various alternative explanations at hand, even those you may not be predisposed to accept, and then to decide what historical scenario is most likely or plausible based on the full range of evidence. If I see that you attempt to do this with greater consistency, I will be much more interested in talking to you and listening to your points of view,

Anonymous said...


I think you make an unreasonable assumption here:

"This is a point to emphasize. The material about Lehi's vision and Lehi's journey was very likely already on the lost 116 pages and not something Joseph could conceivably make up on the fly. If Joseph were a con man making things up and fooling his scribes, Lehi's vision -- and the gist of the travels through Arabia -- can't be freshly concocted at this stage or else his own scribes and whoever may have had the 116 lost pages could cry foul."

Joseph was instructed not to retranslate the 116 pages for fear that something(s) would be changed. It would then stand to reason that there was no overlap in the info provided in the two. One could reasonably assume this is the case especially with all of Nephi's references to items he isn't addressing because they are addressed in Lehi's plates. If you are trying to avoid being accused of not being able to reproduce the same text twice, the easiest and safest thing to do is to produce completely unrelated text. I think it is safer to assume there was no overlap rather than there was. It seems skeptical as well as apologetic evidence would support this theory, unless you have specific examples of Nephi writing about something he claims Lehi also covered in his record.

KJ said...

RT makes an assertion that a historians job is to consider all possibilities and then guess which possibilities actually took place.

RT also makes multiple guesses about hypothetical ways that Joseph Smith may have incorporated a building in Rochester into the Lehi/Nephi dream story.

Did I read that correctly?

Is it not a shotgun approach to make multiple unsubstantiated guesses about what may have influenced Joseph Smith?

I suppose I would be more interested in RT's response had RT promoted a more singular theory with substantiation.

James Anglin said...

"Consider all the possibilities" is the first step, and to consider all the possibilities means to raise many hypotheses. What RT means by "shotgun" is not simply that kind of breadth. Artillery fire covers broadly, with obliterative thoroughness. The point of the "shotgun approach" criticism is that shotgun fire covers a broad area by hitting each point only lightly, with a little pellet.

Whether that's what Jeff was doing, I can't say. But RT's complaint is not that Jeff has tackled many themes, just as he himself has. Breadth itself is not a fault.

James Anglin said...

Here is the best scan I could find of the fold-out map in Josiah Conder's 1825 book, which is listed in the 1839 catalog of the Rochester Athenaeum Library in the Reynolds Arcade. Is that a "Nehem" down there kind of around where NHM is supposed to be? Could be, maybe; but I just can't make it out precisely. Maybe someone else can find a better scan, or somehow enhance this one.

Jeff Lindsay said...

RT, first let me thank you for coming by to comment and share your perspectives. I recognize time has been limited and it's not reasonable for me to expect detailed responses so soon after publication and perhaps ever, given that my approach must seem hopelessly infantile and unworthy. But I do appreciate the comments here and I will respond in more detail later when I get a moment as well. But for now, thanks for the exchange and for contributing to the conversation. Though I disagree with your conclusions, you have made a valuable contribution by pointing out areas that need consideration and further work. Some of that work has been done, though, such as found in Aston's latest book, which I strongly recommend. The issue of the uninhabited nature of Bountiful is especially interesting, for example, and should raise an eyebrow or two, IMHO.

Musicnut said...

To Anonymous @ 10:53 PM, May 24, 2016

The text of D&C 10 states that the reason the 116 pages weren't re-translated was not "for fear that something(s) would be changed", but rather that evil men would "alter the words which you [Joseph Smith] have caused to be written" (v. 10) so that "if he [Joseph Smith] bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them; therefore they will not agree..." (v. 17-18). The Lord (or Joseph if you're a skeptic) was worried that the 116 pages would be altered to read differently, thus the command to not retranslate the same portion. Therefore it does not stand to reason that "there was no overlap in the info provided in the two", as you state.

Furthermore, there is ample evidence in D&C 10 that there is plenty of overlap between the small plates of Nephi and the abridged account of Lehi. Here is D&C 10: 38-45.

38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi;

39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.

40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—

41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained;

42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words.

43 I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.

44 Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi.

45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.

Nephi and Mormon are also clear in Nephi 7 and Words of Mormon that the small plates of Nephi cover the same account as Lehi's record, though with different emphasis.

So now that we've established that we should expect overlap, how is it reasonable to assume that Lehi's dream would be in Nephi's account, but not Lehi's? What about their travels in Arabia? Answer: it's not reasonable. The vision of the tree of life and travelling through the wilderness together are significant events and it's highly doubtful that Lehi would have simply not included them in his account.

It makes sense that "If you are trying to avoid being accused of not being able to reproduce the same text twice, the easiest and safest thing to do is to produce completely unrelated text". However, this is explicitly ruled out by D&C 10; God (or Joseph Smith) made very clear that the account of Nephi that we have now does cover the same ground as the lost 116 pages. That's why Jeff's point ("If Joseph were a con man making things up and fooling his scribes, Lehi's vision -- and the gist of the travels through Arabia -- can't be freshly concocted at this stage or else his own scribes and whoever may have had the 116 lost pages could cry foul.") is such an important one.

Musicnut said...

Regarding RT's point #5 above:

"I don't see any indications that Nephi's writings were relied on throughout the BoM. None of the examples you cite are specific or distinct. E.g. "lay hold upon the word of God"; "the great gulf of death and misery"; "the tree of life" are all common Christian themes."

Doing a quick word searches in the standard works, I found only one instance of "gulf" in the Bible (Luke 16:26) and 6 in the BoM (3 outside of the small plates), all of which allude to the imagery in the tree of life vision. Interestingly, a simlar and very common biblical metaphor for hell is "pit" (or "bottomless pit in Revelation) yet it is never used in the BoM with that meaning except in the Isaiah chapters.

A search for "Tree of Life" shows up only 3 times in the NT, all in the Revelation of John. It shows up 4 times in the OT (outside of Genesis), all in proverbs and never referencing "The" tree of life. However, Alma uses it 10 times. Several of these are clearly references to the Genesis account, but some are clear allusions to Lehi's vision:

"Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely" -5:34

"Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life." -5:62

"And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life." -32:40

"Lay hold upon the word of God" doesn't show up in the Bible, though it does say "lay hold on eternal life". Moroni frequently admonishes to "lay hold on every good thing", and only Helaman expressly says "Lay hold upon the word of God". There doesn't seem to be a strong indication here of unique imagery or expression.

The word "spacious" never shows up in the Bible, nor are there any instances where buildings of any kind symbolize pride. That imagery is completely absent. So the use of "spacious buildings" to communicate pride is a uniquely Nephite symbol.

"Mist" or "mist of darkness" is found it both the Bible and the BoM with similar meaning and frequency of use.

So of the 5 that Jeff mention, 3 are are clear cases where old world Christians and the Nephites did use different imagery and language, which can be explained by the tree of life vision.

Jonathan A. Cavender said...


"Because you are already certain about your conclusions, from what I can see you focus on this or that apologetic argument but fail to see the bigger interlocking picture."

"My opinion about the likelihood that JS used a map hasn't changed or progressed. I still think it the most "likely" scenario, but nevertheless understand that maps were not available at just any place."

It seems, RT, that you are doing the very thing you accuse Jeff of doing. You seem to have determined that Joseph Smith must have used a map (otherwise the NHM or Bountiful arguments would lead to a conclusion that you have already decided against) and therefore -- in the absence of evidence -- you act with certainty of your conclusion.

We all have blinds spots, of course (and if we knew what they were, they wouldn't be blind spots) and this one seems to be one for you -- only your certainty in your conclusion allows you to determine that the most likely scenario is one for which you can produce no evidence.

James Anglin said...

I found a better scan of that 1825 book, on Exploredoc.com. It's listed there under "James Duncan, The Modern Traveler, Arabia, 1825". James Duncan was the publisher of Josiah Conder's travel series. The Exploredoc.com scan is quite high resolution, though a few words are still hard to make out.

And I see no Nehem or anything much like it. What I thought might be Nehem at the lower resolution was apparently Deban.

The full text seems to be free to download from Exploredoc.com. The copyright has long since lapsed, of course. It may be interesting as an indication of what someone near Joseph Smith could have known about Arabia.

Jeff Lindsay said...

James, thank you for the awesome detective work. I also thought maybe you had found another Nehem map that Gee had missed in his quest, but the map is still of much interest. The next question is when the Athenaeum acquired it. Perhaps the RIT library can answer that. But for now, many thanks for great detective work and your interest in ths issue!

Jeff Lindsay said...

Musicnut, thanks! One note: the iron rod = word of God, and people need to hold it to reach the tree in a straight course. That is the idea in Helaman 3

Jeff Lindsay said...

Hel. 3:29-30:
29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked--

30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

Jeff Lindsay said...

The fruit in Lehi's dream is an interesting issue. Not your typical New York fruit. One non-LDS scholar was especially impressed by this aspect of Lehi's dream. Here is Margaret Barker writing in The Worlds of Joseph Smith (Provo, BYU Press: 2006):
White Fruit and a Guiding Rod The tree of life made one happy, according to the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 3: 18), but for detailed descriptions of the tree we have to rely on the noncanonical texts. Enoch described it as perfumed, with fruit like grapes (1 Enoch 32: 5), and a text discovered in Egypt in 1945 described the tree as beautiful, fiery, and with fruit like white grapes. 21 I do not know of any other source that describes the fruit as white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi’s vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and the interpretation that the Virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh (1 Nephi 11: 14–23). 22 This is the Heavenly Mother, represented by the tree of life, and then Mary and her Son on earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 bce.

Anonymous said...


What's the difference between "The Lord (or Joseph if you're a skeptic) was worried that the 116 pages would be altered to read differently, thus the command to not retranslate the same portion." and " fear that something(s) would be changed". I'm a bit confused as to what you're saying that I didn't.

Also, I don't see that you have established overlap. You seem to have furthered my argument:

"a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi."

"the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular"

"44 Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi.

45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel"

Clearly what was contained in the plates of Nephi was not the same as what was included in Lehi's account. Mormon basically says the same thing in Words of Mormon.

If, as the revelation states, Nephi's plates were more specific (not an abridgment) and more gospel-centric, one could expect that a completely spiritual and gospel-centric story like Lehi's vision would be included in Nephi's account but not in Lehi's. Also, being an abridgment, details of the journey, such as geographical landmarks, would be less likely to be included.

Both Jeff's stance and mine are speculation. I think mine makes more sense based on the evidence provided, the situation, and the stakes involved.

James Anglin said...

I've never understood this fear that someone who had the missing 116 pages would fudge them into a different reading so that if Smith reproduced them exactly, then the now-fudged first copy wouldn't match the exact reproduction, and it could then be claimed that the reproduction was imperfect and therefore fake.

Was even God so worried that whoever it was could erase and re-write bits of the missing pages in such a way that the alteration would be undetectable? It's really not that easy to alter handwritten text without it being obvious. They didn't have laser ink erasers then, but they did have magnifying glasses. And even if you can erase the original writing in a passage, and forge the original scribe's handwriting, it's really tricky to make a new text fit neatly into the space that had been filled by the old one. The fear that someone could really alter the 116 pages undetectably just seems unrealistic. Perhaps the uneducated Joseph Smith might have unrealistic fears about document forgery, but how could God have such unrealistic fears?

At the very least the story is odd; it must place at least some strain on credulity. Whereas if Smith had made up the 116 pages, either right off the top of his head or working from outline notes with a lot of extemporaneous improvising, then he would have had no chance of reproducing the missing pages exactly from memory, and he would have known it. The fear would have been realistic and obvious, that if he had tried to reproduce them, someone who had the first version could indeed have come forward, and demonstrated many differences between his second version, and a first version that was demonstrably not altered.

Hence the need for God himself to discard 116 pages of his own divinely inspired revelation, that had been miraculously preserved through centuries and delivered by an angel and translated by miracle, for fear of the remote chance that some forger could have made undetectable alterations.

James Anglin said...

And if God was concerned about Smith losing credibility over someone else altering the missing 116 pages, and God then chose a solution for this potential problem, withholding the missing pages from retranslation seems like an odd choice of solution on God's part. God has supposedly performed miracles and sent angels to communicate this text to humanity; so if some miscreant starts in to redact those purloined pages, why not just make the pages spontaneously combust, or send a scary vision to make the miscreant repent? Those would be slight miracles compared to the ones God is supposed to have invested in this project already.

Anonymous said...

Anyone interested in Condor's Arabia volume of the Modern Traveler series can read the 1830 edition here: https://archive.org/stream/moderntraveller04condiala#page/n3/mode/2up

This scanned version does not include the map, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting aspect of D&C 10: it implies Joseph knew more about the engravings on the plates than is usually assumed by the now-common theory he merely read the words on the seer stone. If Joseph couldn't read the plates and wasn't referring to the engravings, why would the Lord tell him to translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi?

D&C 10:

40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—

41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained.

These verses imply that Joseph knew which plates he was translating. Otherwise, he could have simply continued reading off the stone and the desired words would have appeared, with no need for this designation of which engravings he needed to translate.

Anonymous said...


You have touched upon a couple of the next points I was going to bring up. Even as a card-carrying, believing member of the church, the story of the 116 pages always had a feel of being too "convenient." There just happened to be a second account included to make up for the account that went missing.

And your point about "who cares if things are changed" is spot on. Someone who has reproduced the word of God from an ancient text shouldn't be afraid of what others think of it, changed or not. If it was important enough for a prophet of God to take the time to laboriously inscribe a message into metal plates, bury those plates, then have an angel appear to coerce someone into translating that message centuries later, it seems the message would be important enough to try to defend. If, on the other hand, you are dictating a story from your own imagination, you know that you have no chance to reproduce that story word for word, and that some details are likely to be different between the two versions. Granted, a translation could contain some differences in word choice and phrasing, but should be identical for the most part especially if the translator has help from God.

Jeff Lindsay said...

James, still intrigued by your find, I took a look myself at the 1839 listing and the works of Conder. Many thanks again for the leads! By the way, it looks like there were a couple of printings of the Modern Traveler. The map you found is associated with a title page from 1825 with no volume number, but the 1839 Athenaeum listing is for vol. 4 of the series, and I think the volume printed as vol. 4 is from 1830. See The Modern Traveler, Vol. 4, Arabia at Archive.org (https://archive.org/stream/moderntraveller04condiala#page/n3/mode/2up). Google Books also places vol. 4 at 1830, but without a good preview. Also, in the 1839 listing of books from Rochester, the ID number of the books should presumably be in roughly the chronological order of the acquisition. The high number for Modern Traveler, #1171, suggests an acquisition well after 1830 (e.g., #1201 is "Madrid in 1835", and "Continent in 1835" is #796). So I don't think there is much chance that Joseph could have seen vol. 4 of the Modern Traveler series, even if he had paid the huge sum of $5 to get into the library, or had somehow convinced a wealthy leader in the arts and literature circles of Rochester to put his reputation on the line and invite him in as a guest (at the very time the unlettered, impoverished farmboy he was being mocked for the ignoramus Gold Bible project). Vol. 4's information on Arabia apparently wasn't in print yet, or at least wasn't in the library.

But Conder's 1825 book on Arabia (printed in London) with the fold-out map was in print, as were many other maps of Arabia, before translation of the Book of Mormon was complete. Conder's work apparently didn't give any clues that could support Nahom, Bountiful, the River Laman, the Valley Lemuel, or the place Shazer. But some other maps, apparently rare and as far as we know, still with no evidence that they were anywhere near Joseph, do provide evidence for Nehhm/Nehem. Of course, if that evidence were known to any early Book of Mormon fan, whether a believer or part of a fraud, it would logically have been appealed to as evidence for the book. But that wasn't noticed until 1978. Does it really make sense that Joseph was using a map to build in evidence of "local color"?

Apart from the inability to explain the body of evidence related to Nahom, There is still no reasonable map-based explanation for Bountiful or its relationship to Nahom. Bountiful has been viewed as simply impossible even by highly educated moderns. So how did Joseph get that so precisely right, nearly due east from Nahom with numerous details no verified, on his own? Nehem on a map, an insignificant detail among hundreds, does nothing to give us a semi-plausible even high speculative explanation for Joseph's creation of Lehi's Trail. It just doesn't fit the facts.

But again, many thanks for adding some cool insight into what Rochester (almost) had to offer, if Joseph had managed to get there (which he probably didn't) before his work on 1 Nephi.

James Anglin said...

I suppose there's a chance that the 1825 edition was still somehow identified as Volume 4, but your suggestion that the volume numbering came in with the 1830 editions seems plausible, Jeff. The acquisition number argument also makes sense, though again there might conceivably be something weird about how this library assigned its numbers. So I'm not sure the argument is as airtight as one would really need in order to prove an alternative theory about angels, but by what this purely amateur historian considers normal standards for historical evidence, I'd say that this volume probably wasn't there in 1830.

From the fact that it was there in 1839 we do learn that Arabian geography, even with detailed maps, actually was something that might well have been available in some public or private or semi-private library in 1830s New England. That's something that I, at least, didn't know for sure before. I guessed it could have been, because 19th century New England has the reputation of being surprisingly bookish for a rural society, but for all I really knew there was nothing in print in 1830s New England beyond Bibles and farm equipment catalogs. Now it seems to me that the technicolor map scenario is at least not a crazy one; perhaps we can conclude that it probably didn't happen, but it's certainly not ridiculous.

It is still a good point to note, that neither Smith nor any supporter ever tried to make hay from the accuracy of Nahum and Bountiful. I'm not really convinced yet that they actually are so surprisingly accurate — I still have to look into this. Supposing for the sake of argument that they are accurate, there are still a number of scenarios in which Smith would have cribbed them from somewhere and yet never tried to score points for them. He might have seen them years before, and thrown them in on a lark or a whim or an unconscious recollection, rather than as an earnest bid for accurate color.

In fact I agree that turning Nehem into Nahum couldn't have seemed like an obviously great idea, to a hypothetically fraudulent Smith, because who would have cared about Nehem? Who would have expected the name of an obscure ancient place to have persisted so many centuries later? NHM may be a big deal now to 21st century Mormon apologists and their opponents, but if Joseph Smith were a fraud, he would have had much better things to worry about at the time, instead of fussing over Nehem = Nahum.

So if a detailed account of Arabian travels emerges somewhere that looks a lot like Lehi's journey, then this would be more of a smoking gun, but short of that, the fraud theory is probably always going to have to rely on a fair amount of chance in order to explain an accurate Nahum/Bountiful (if they really are that accurate). Details like this are in what I've called the umbra of a fraud theory, though. Flukes do happen, and one doesn't expect to be able to reconstruct every small detail of a successful fraud that's nearly two hundred years old. The issue is just getting the degree of fluke required to be low enough to accept.

James Anglin said...

@Anonymous 8:03:

I feel a bit bad about derailing this thread onto the 116 pages, since the discussion between Jeff and RT deserves as much time here as the two of them can spare. But I'm quite interested in how Mormons think about the adventure of the missing pages, since it's not only a weird episode in the production of the Book of Mormon, but is also addressed explicitly in Doctrines and Covenants. To me the episode seems suspicious, but I expect that Mormons will have other ways of looking at it — and comparing perspectives that way is my pet topic.

Maybe Jeff could address the 116 pages in some future post?

Musicnut said...

Anonymous @ 10:28 PM, May 25, 2016

"Also, I don't see that you have established overlap. You seem to have furthered my argument"

Only when you cherry pick which verses to read. Please direct your eyes (again) to this:

"38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi;

39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi."

It states up front that both the 116 pages and the small plates of Nephi are accounts of the same things. These smaller plates were "more particular", which suggests that they had a more narrow focus than the large plates, expressly:

"the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account"


"there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel"

Clearly, these small plates had a gospel focus, and we can reasonably except that it will have unique details. However, to say that there is no overlap is specifically precluded in verse 39.

"If, as the revelation states, Nephi's plates were more specific (not an abridgment) and more gospel-centric, one could expect that a completely spiritual and gospel-centric story like Lehi's vision would be included in Nephi's account but not in Lehi's."

Based on what? You are making the unwarranted assumption that spiritual and gospel-centric stories wouldn't be in Nephi's large plates. You even make the bizarre suggestion that Lehi wouldn't include his own vision in his own account, but that his son would. Neither of these stand to reason, and are furthermore refuted in 1 Nephi 19:

"1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.

2 And I knew not at the time when I made them that I should be commanded of the Lord to make these plates; wherefore, the record of my father, and the genealogy of his fathers, and the more part of all our proceedings in the wilderness are engraven upon those first plates of which I have spoken; wherefore, the things which transpired before I made these plates are, of a truth, more particularly made mention upon the first plates."

Here, Nephi expressly includes Lehi's prophecies (and his own) in the large plates. He even states that it contains the more particular account of what happened before he arrived to the promised land. So we should fully expect Lehi's tree of life vision, plus many more prophecies, to be in the large plates. It's possible that Mormon would have edited that out, but given Mormon's focus on preaching and prophesying in the rest of his abridgment this seems highly unlikely.

"Also, being an abridgment, details of the journey, such as geographical landmarks, would be less likely to be included."

Right, because we don't see any details of journeys - like names of cities, hills, lands, etc. - anywhere else in Mormon's abridgment either. Er... actually, no just the opposite. If anything, the small plates have a dearth of place names compared to the rest of the Book of Mormon. Nephi mentions 6 (Jerusalem, Shazer, Nahom, Bountiful, Irrenatum, and Nephi), whereas there are 78 unique place names in Mosiah thru Mormon.

Musicnut said...

Of course, it's an interesting question to speculate on what was and wasn't on the 116 pages. We both agree that there was material in the small plates that was not on the large plates. Nephi's descriptions rule out material related to their journey and Lehi's prophecies and teachings, but that's not even half the material that Nephi wrote. He states that many of his prophecies are in the large plates, leaving open the possibility that some parts of 1 Nephi could only be found on the small plates. Mormon specifically mentions fulfilled prophecies about Christ, and his tone suggests that he hasn't before encountered them. That makes chapters 11-15 and 19 prime candidates for small plates-only material.

The book of 2 Nephi has much more potentially unique material. For one thing, it's open ended (as opposed to 1 Nephi, which was written as a whole and all based on prior records). When Nephi started writing his 2nd book he only had in mind to write "An account of the death of Lehi. Nephi’s brethren rebel against him. The Lord warns Nephi to depart into the wilderness. His journeyings in the wilderness, and so forth." That describes only the first 5 chapters, after which point Nephi is probably adding stuff as he goes. Furthermore, every single subsequent chapter is sermon, Isaiah quotes, exegesis, prophecy, or testimony. I can't think of a better candidate for the description "greater views upon my gospel".


Musicnut said...

Anonymous 8:01 AM, May 26, 2016

"If Joseph couldn't read the plates and wasn't referring to the engravings, why would the Lord tell him to translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi?"

It's reasonable to assume that the plates of Nephi were mentioned in the 116 pages. Nephi makes frequent reference in the small plates to his large plates, so why not the other way around? It's also possible that Benjamin mentioned receiving the plates from Amaleki (Omni 25). If so, then Mormon would have encountered it as he was abridging Benjamin's account, prompting his search for the plates of Nephi in the first place:

"...for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates..."

To James and Anonymous

The question of why the altered 116 pages would be a problem is highly speculative, and both sides will likely not have many arguments that the other will find persuasive simply because there's not much evidence to point to. Nevertheless, I'll throw some ideas out there, and in the spirit of James' desire to get back on topic, I'll be brief.

1. The altered 116 pages could have been enough to convince Martin Harris that JS was a fraud. His wife was heavily opposed to his involvement - indeed, she was the reason Martin borrowed the manuscript. She very likely was involved in the theft and possibly even the alterations, all with the intent to sway Martin away from JS. Since Martin Harris was instrumental in financing the publication of the BoM (it's unlikely JS could have found anyone else to foot the initial bill), without him it might not have ever come to light.

2. Grandin was very reluctant to publish; it wasn't until after JS secured another publisher that he agreed. However, a set of altered 116 pages might have convinced him (and possibly even other publishers) to refuse altogether.

3A. By altering then copyrighting the 116 pages, JS enemies could could print what they claimed was the BoM in periodicals far ahead of any missionaries and poison the minds of potential converts. Of course, papers printing anti-mormon rumors and opinions were not uncommon, but that's very different from printing a corrupt version of the BoM. It's very possible that otherwise open people would read excerpts from "The Book of Mormon", reject it, then never bother listening to the missionaries with the real BoM.

3B. A copyright to the 116 pages (especially if they beat JS to his) would open up legal means to impede the publication of the BoM. They could sue for copyright infringement to severely delay its publication or even prevent the BoM from being printed. Even if printed, it would always be preceded by scandal.

The publication of the BoM was a much more tenuous prospect than we tend to think. The question of whether someone can spot a forged set of 116 pages is really beside the point because a corrupted set could have kept the BoM from coming to print.


James Anglin said...

For 1, I can see that Martin Harris might have been flighty, but it still seems like a clumsy solution by God, to suppress 116 pages of revelation instead of finding some way to strengthen Martin Harris's faith — or his intelligence, to see through his wife's potential trick — or else finding other financial backing for the new scripture.

I mean, if all that stood in the way of the Restoration was a few hundred bucks in printing fees, God could presumably have told Moroni to bring a few small, round gold plates along with the big square ones. Joseph Smith might have been poor, but God isn't. If God is willing to send golden plates via angel, why not send Smith some cash to pay his costs? It sounds dumb, I know. But really, why not? Just right now, off the top of my head, I can't think of any other religious tradition except Mormonism in which angels are supposed to have delivered material objects. Once that unusual precedent is set for Joseph Smith, it's hard to understand why Moroni didn't serve as a heavenly Amazon, bringing Smith whatever things he might need.

I hadn't thought about other publication difficulties. I'd want to check out just how realistic all these concerns are for the 1830s; perhaps they're anachronistic, and things were wilder then. I know that casual attitudes to copyright on the part of American publishers were a concern for big-name British authors in the 19th century, who lost money to pirated American editions of their popular novels.

Suppose that there was a real risk of copyright problems, though. Issues 2 and 3A and 3B could all have been resolved by not printing the missing 116 pages with the rest of the Book of Mormon — but still letting Smith re-translate them, so that they could be circulated among the Saints at a later time. Smith did produce several supplementary volumes of Scripture after the Book of Mormon, after all.

Allen Ford said...

You bring up some good points, James. I would love seeing the 116 pages translation. But I'm afraid since Joseph Smith disregarded the Lord's inspiration in that matter, the Lord wasn't going to give it to him again.

It's entirely possible the plates are somewhere on earth, and that they never left the earth, iow, that Moroni didn't bring them from heaven. The Three Nephites could have transported them to various places, even from where Moroni first buried them, to the drumlin in New York.

Vance said...

James, the primary point of the 116 plates episode appears to have been as a teaching experience for Joseph. Joseph according to his own reports had a bit of an issue in the beginning with being a prophet of God and putting God's will first. Consider: the first time he saw the plates, he was shocked because by his own admission he wanted them for money. That cost him 4 years of maturing before he could get them.

The 116 pages episode is again a story of Joseph putting man's desires above what God told him to do. The story goes that Martin asked for it, numerous times. And Joseph kept going to the Lord, and the Lord said "No." Finally, after repeated pestering, the Lord essentially said "Fine, you do what you want, but you are responsible, not Me." And--shock of all shocks! -- the Lord knew what He was talking about. It promptly turned into an unmitigated disaster. The translation disappeared, and of course Joseph was punished. The plates and the rest of the artifacts were taken back. Joseph spent a lot of time wondering if he'd just failed in his mission.

Finally, the Lord returned the plates and basically said, "I knew you were going to screw up, and prepared for it. But you only get this one do over."

As a learning experience to trust God over man, it was priceless. To allow Joseph to "no harm, no foul, just translate it again." would totally undermine the point of "God knows more than you, and listen to Him, even when men want other things." Our choices have consequences, and sometimes we need to fully experience the bitter results. That's what happened here: Joseph's refusal to listen to God over man cost 116 pages of scripture. That kind of consequence is important to enforce.

What price is the lesson to trust God, not man, worth for a prophet? What kind of price was God willing to pay to instill this lesson into His prophet? The loss of the 116 pages is peanuts compared to the massive faith boost and very hard won experience that Joseph got out of this. Joseph learned the hard way--the very hard way-- to trust God and not man.

And God had the backup plan so we probably got more valuable scripture anyway. While the 116 pages no doubt had more history that I would love to have today; what we do have in priceless. For one, I'm pretty sure Mormon didn't put Zenos' Olive Tree allegory in the 116. Nephi was a master at interpreting Isaiah. Jacob's sermons in 2 Nephi 2 and 9 are priceless. These things are more important for people than the no doubt fascinating history that was lost on the 116. If we only could choose one, I'm glad we have what we have.

I think that without the 116 pages experience, Joseph would have had issues later on; and his faith to endure terrible trials would not have been there. Like the tarring and feathering incident--surely that's enough to shake most people's faith.

Allen Ford said...

And there could have been other backup plans we don't know about, which weren't used because they weren't needed.

Darren said...

Musicnut @ 10:47 AM, May 25, 2016;

That is an excellent post!

Darren said...

With the heavy Liberal leanings routinely demonstrated from the writers at Faith Promoting Rumors, I should not be dumbfounded or astonished by the elitist-minded condescension they routinely spew, but RT's, "Yet to be a historian means to consider (fully) the various alternative explanations at hand, even those you may not be predisposed to accept, and then to decide what historical scenario is most likely or plausible based on the full range of evidence. If I see that you attempt to do this with greater consistency, I will be much more interested in talking to you and listening to your points of view," as a concluding remark in his post merits an eye opening, "dude, get a life" response.

Everything Before Us said...


Because God needed to teach Smith a lesson about relying on him, he had a Jewish prophet living in America scratch out an additional record on metal plates hundreds of years prior. Is that what you are suggesting?

Too bad God didn't work out some miraculous plan to stop the massacres in Rwanda. Or the genocides in the Balkans. Or the Holocaust. Or the rape of Nanking.

And Suord, yes, I guess the plates really could still be here on Earth, along with the Holy Grail and the Crystal Skull. And they are all being guarded by three Nephites in some cave in the South American jungles. Looks like it is time to call Indiana Jones back into action.

Vance said...

I must say, that's a new one, EBU: The Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust prove that God didn't talk to Joseph Smith.

Exactly how does that prove that Joseph Smith is a fraud while simultaneously allowing your protestant faith to be true? Joseph's God wouldn't allow such a thing if He existed... but your God does? Or are you finally coming out as an atheist?

Your post really does reveal you to be a NonChristian, EBU: it's widely held that God told Moses about Jesus' coming, millennia before it happened. Are you really saying that God couldn't plan for the future? That He didn't know what He was doing, for no one can know of things to come?

You sound exactly like Korihor. And while you may take that as a compliment; (In fact, at least some of the anti-Mormons love being called Korihor), trust me: it's not. No Christian should ever spout the doctrines of Korihor. Nor Jew for that matter.

Of course, I think you believe that God is dead or something, or otherwise incapable of actually doing anything anymore. At least, He cannot do anything today, because He's ceded the world to the devil and there are no miracles, prophets, priesthood, temples, or even God's church anymore. Further, He won't ever do anything, because for all practical purposes He is deaf, blind, dumb (in the sense of silent) and powerless. Sure, He is all powerful, all knowing, etc.... but since He doesn't and wont do anything with that power and knowledge, it's rather pointless and basically it is the same as if God died in AD 90 or so when John did. Right?

Everything Before Us said...

Protestants believe in miracles, prophets, priesthood, temples, and God's church. We just don't believe in them in the same way you do, Vance.

Miracles: God's still working miracles today.

Prophets: The spirit of prophecy is alive and well. We just don't believe in prophets as administrators of a church. In fact, in the Old Testament, prophets were not the leaders of the church at all. The prophets of the Old Testament were not the High Priests. In Mormonism, the role of Prophet and the role of Chief High Priest are held by the same man. If you understood the difference between the two, you'd see that it is a conflict of interest for one man to be both at the same time. Besides, the Bible is clear: Jesus Christ is the High Priest. The ONLY High Priest.

Priesthood: All believers of Christ are the royal priesthood. Even women.

Temples: The believers of Christ are the temple of God in that God, through his spirit, dwells within them.

God's Church: It is the combined body of all believers of Christ, regardless of denomination, that makes up the Church.

James Anglin said...

If the point of withholding the 116 pages from all humanity is to teach obedience to Joseph Smith, why would God go out of his way in Doctrines and Covenants to offer that explanation about how some wicked person might be altering the stolen pages with a view to discrediting Joseph Smith? Why not just declare, "Inasmuch as thou hast disobeyed me, behold, the pages that thou hast lost are withheld from the Earth — I am the Lord your God!"

To me it's the explanation for not re-translating in D&C that is the big problem. If it weren't there, explanations in terms of divine punishment for disobedience might well just seem consistent with the Mormon view of God's motives and character. The explanation's focus on Joseph Smith's credibility sounds too much like the thinking of a nervous con man, and it reads like such a transparent excuse that it really gives the game away. Can Mormons really just see this differently?

Everything Before Us said...

If the point of withholding the 116 pages from all humanity is to teach obedience to Joseph Smith, why would God go out of his way in Doctrines and Covenants to offer that explanation about how some wicked person might be altering the stolen pages with a view to discrediting Joseph Smith?

That's a good point. Musicnut also offered a whole slew of explanations as to why the 116 pages were not re-translated. We don't need explanations. God tells us why in the D&C.

It is odd how Mormons do this: they have direct revelation from God telling them something, but because it doesn't make any sense, they feel quite free to pull something out of their own head to make sense of it. And then they feel quite free to offer this explanation to others in order to bring non-believers into the church.

Outside of the church, this is called deception. Mormons can be very deceptive in these subtle kinds of ways. I have seen it many times in many instances.

If you want to see a very prominent example of this, read Teryl and Fiona Givens' book The Crucible of Doubt, published by Deseret Book. It is a masterpiece of Mormon doublethink. In a nutshell, the message is: We have been thinking about Mormonism all wrong, and we need to think about it differently. The Church is true!

What the Givenses fail to tell is that the reason we have apparently been thinking about Mormonism all wrong is because the Prophets, Seers, and Revelators have been teaching it all wrong.

Will the Givenses ever see a disciplinary council? No. You only get disciplined if you discredit the "Brethren" with the intent to destroy faith. If you discredit the "Brethren" with the intent to preserve faith,...it's all good.

James Anglin said...

Is it such a bad thing, to re-imagine a religion? The old protestant Christian slogan was "Ecclesia semper reformanda": the church is not reformed once-and-for-all, but must always be reforming.

But perhaps here Mormonism is a bit different. There have been living Prophets, and even if Joseph Smith's successors were much less prolific in their prophesying than he was, the mere silence of a living prophet implies an explicit affirmation by God that things are fine as they are. It seems to me that things are more locked down in Mormonism than in other faiths.

The Book of Mormon was apparently revealed letter by letter, miraculously; so every letter is confirmed by God. This seems quite different from the teaching of Jesus, which he spoke in Aramaic that no-one ever even bothered to preserve. His ideas were preserved, but in several different versions, with different contexts and emphases. So there has always been room for even radically different interpretations of them.

Some Christians seem to argue that, because Jesus was God, his message cannot have been so ambiguous, and therefore there must really only be one right interpretation. My own conclusion as a Christian is different. I don't think the ambiguity in Jesus's teaching can be denied honestly. So from the premise that he was God, I conclude that he must really have taught ambiguously that way on purpose. Instead of building a temple that would eventually crumble, he planted seeds that would live and grow. I think that the way every age has re-imagined the gospel of Jesus is not a bug — it's a feature.

So "We need to think differently about our faith" sounds to me like a prophetic message in the true tradition. Is this different for Mormons?

Everything Before Us said...

I don't have any problem with re-imagining religion. The Givenses, however, reimagine the religion for us, and then blame us, not the leaders, on our having gotten it so wrong. I grew up in the church. I was a Mormon in diapers. I attended General Conference twice a year. I read Church magazines. If I came to understand the religion wrong, I can't take the blame for that. Sorry.

I was being taught this religion before I was teaching it myself. I didn't make it up.

In Mormonism, the only people who have any authority to reimagine the religion are the 15 men in Salt Lake City. This is what baffles me about the Givenses' book. What authority does Teryl and Fiona have to tell anyone that we've been thinking about Mormonism all wrong? He is an English professor in Virginia. Not a prophet of God in Utah.

If Teryl is correct, and we have been thinking about it all wrong, I'd love to hear a General Authority concur.

Now, I'll be accused of being one of those apostates who just wants the GA's to make declarations on every jot and tittle, because I am too lazy to do the spiritual work myself.

Actually, I did do the spiritual work myself. And guess what...it led me out of the church. Spiritual revelation told me the Church isn't what it claims to be. Research told me the church can't possibly be what it claims to be.

Now, I'll be accused of being one of those apostates who just didn't endure long enough, and if I had, surely I would've gotten a different spiritual revelation that would've convinced me it is all true.

See...there is no winning in Mormonism. You stay and obey. There is no other viable option. If you have doubts, pray. If you get the wrong answer, you are praying wrong. Keep praying. Keep obeying. Someday, you, too, will love Big Brother.

James, I've attended thousands of Mormon meetings. Thousands and thousands of them. You'd be shocked to know just how much time is spent in these thousands and thousands of meetings talking about how true the church is. It is an obsession. Thousands of minutes spent telling each other that the church is true. It is bizarre. Protestant denominations do not do this. Heck...even the Catholics don't do this.

James Anglin said...

I've never been Mormon, and the apparent frequency of Mormon affirmations that "the Church is true" did surprise me. I agree that I've never encountered any other religious group that did anything like that.

Even the grammar of the statement seems odd, to me. I might say "the church is the true church"; I might say "the church is right" or "the church is correct" or "the church is real". I might say "Mormon beliefs are true". I wouldn't say "the church is true" any more than I would say "the Marine Corps is true". The words just don't fit, to me, grammatically. Groups and institutions are not things that can be true, in my lexicon.

Whatever. Everyone else that I know seems to take their own legitimacy more for granted, at least among themselves. There may be discussions, rare or frequent, of how to persuade non-members; but neither Sikhs nor Jews nor Muslims nor Orthodox nor Catholics nor Protestants seem to spend much time telling each other that they believe in their faiths.

Or so it seems to me. Maybe those groups all did say similar things, when they were less than two hundred years old; maybe it's only age that makes a religion confident enough to stop declaring constantly that it is true. And for that matter, maybe I'm just overlooking analogous language in my own church just because it's familiar. Every liturgy does include a collective recitation of some ancient creed. But on the other hand, we say the creed only once, all together. So, rightly or wrongly, the Mormon refrain of "the church is true" actually makes me think that people are insecure about the church. It's as if the Apostles' Creed were to begin with, "I know this sounds crazy, but ...".

Everything Before Us said...

Even more troublesome for me is how the church has so effectively conflated itself with the Gospel of Christ. When a Mormon says, "The Gospel is true," they are referring again to the LDS church. "The Gospel is true" and "the church is true" are practically synonymous in LDS doctrine and culture.

In Mormonism, the "fullness of the Gospel" refers to all the laws and ordinances that are necessary for bringing about the exaltation (Godhood) of human beings. If you don't believe me (Vance), go look it up at lds.org.

In Christianity, the Gospel is the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is it. Period.

Mormons define the word Gospel entirely differently than other Christians. They define it in such a way that one cannot say the word without also referring only and specifically to the LDS Church. They define it in a very exclusionary way that separates themselves from the rest of Christianity.

This is most devious. Even many Mormons are not aware that they are not speaking the same language as the rest of Christendom. This is why they are baffled about the reluctance for the rest of Christianity to welcome them into the fold.

I find it funny when Mormons gripe that the Catholics will recognize the baptisms of the Methodists and the Lutherans and the Anglicans, but they will not recognize Mormon baptism. It is funny because Mormons don't recognize any baptism but their own. Mormons, by rejecting all Christian baptism, are making a bold declaration that they do not consider any other baptism to be true Christian baptism. In doing so, they clearly are saying that their own baptism is not the same as what the rest of the Christian world recognizes. It is therefore right that the rest of the Christian world would reject Mormon baptism. It is the Mormons who are rejecting Christian baptism. Not the other way around.

Allen Ford said...

Hangups, hangups, ebu. My advice, go take a long bike ride on the high plains. You'll be better off avoiding this space.

Everything Before Us said...

The redefinition of the word "gospel" is not a hang-up.

Suord, you proposed that three immortal human beings have been carrying golden plates from location to location in the United States for centuries. I think you are the one who needs a good bike ride.

Allen Ford said...

As usual, you skew things to make them look bad for the side you despise, which is unprofessional. Three immortals may have transferred plates from one American location to another at one particular time.

Everything Before Us said...

Suord, do you honestly believe that saying, "Three immortals may have transferred plates from one American location to another at one particular time" is any better than what I said?

Besides...I think the most obvious reading of the Book of Mormon makes it clear that (assuming it is true) the Hill Cumorah at which the last battle was fought is the same Hill Cumorah out of which Smith uncovered the plates. The only reason an alternative scenario was proposed is because of the wealth of archaeological wonders in South/Central America, and the utter lack of such wonders in upstate New York. A strong desire to be able to locate the Book of Mormon story in some amazing place is the reason you need two Hill Cumorahs.

I was an art student in college. I took a few art history classes, I guess you could say. One particular class focused primarily on Pre-Columbian South/Central America. A very superficial study of this art was all it took to convince me the Aztecs, Mayans, and Olmecs were NOT the Book of Mormon people. They didn't build with wood. The Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Nephites were primarily wood-builders. And they were extremely gifted at it.

Yet I was looking at images of stone structures in the southern hemisphere that were so precisely built up, you couldn't get a knife blade in between the stones. Didn't see anything significant built from wood in those history books.

And this would make sense. Joseph Smith was writing romantic stories about the native people that he would've had the most connection with...namely the Eastern Woodland Indians that had once covered the land in which he grew up.

And besides, before Joseph Smith, there were already scads of people making the claim that the Moundbuilders were a white race, and most likely descendants of the Israelites. This was an idea that was long in circulation. Joseph Smith was not at all the first to propose such an idea.

His claim to fame is simply that he enshrined the myth into "scripture," rather than into speculative history, like everyone else. And thus,he duped millions of people into keeping this relatively short-lived myth alive.

The LDS church has appropriated the cultural heritage of the native peoples of practically the entire eastern hemisphere. It is really quite sad. In the 1970's Kimball was openly preaching that the native people of the eastern hemisphere and the Polynesian Islands were all Lamanites. Its in the Ensign! Look it up.

There was even a "Lamanite Relocation Program" in which children of Native Americans were brought into good white Mormon homes. And the general authorities, the prophets of God, were praising this program, talking about how the children are becoming white and delightsome.

If you think I am just skewing things to make them look bad, you have some serious soul-searching to do. I'd get started right now, if I were you.

Everything Before Us said...

I'm sorry...I meant Western Hemisphere...not Eastern. Obviously.

Allen Ford said...

EBU: "Besides...I think the most obvious reading of the Book of Mormon makes it clear that (assuming it is true) the Hill Cumorah at which the last battle was fought is the same Hill Cumorah out of which Smith uncovered the plates."

This shows your disengagement and lack of knowledge on the subject. Not hard to find this directly refuted online several times over.

Clinton said...

RE: James, about the 116 pages. I agree that the reasoning doesn't make sense. That doesn't mean it can't still be true. My study of quantum mechanics has taught me that the truth often doesn't make sense.

James Anglin said...

Quantum mechanics is weird, that's true. But quantum mechanics isn't a message addressed to human beings. If God offers an explanation for something, I do expect the explanation to make sense.

And of course the real problem is that the episode of the 116 pages, and the revelation about them in D&C, do make perfect sense — as a slip-up that frightened Smith into making a clumsy excuse.

Anonymous said...

Sword, I wouldn't dismiss EBU so easily or quickly. Have you read Letter VII? It's the number one item on the archives at Book of Mormon Central right now. Oliver Cowdery wrote these letters with Joseph Smith's assistance, and he unequivocally places the Book of Mormon Cumorah in New York.

Read that and let us know what you think.

Anonymous said...

And EBU, if you think the BoM relates the Moundbuilder myth, you don't know either well enough. The BoM does relate the history of the Northeastern tribes, but it's much different from what people believed in Joseph Smith's day.

Everything Before Us said...

Anon 8:00

I admit to not knowing the Moundbuilder story very well. I do think I understand the Book of Mormon very well. The fact that the Lamanites invent scalping, run around in loin clothes, and devolve into warring factions by the end of the book makes it rather obvious to me that Smith had the most popular stereotypes of the Eastern Woodland Indians in mind when he wrote it.

The idea that the American Indians were Jewish was a very old one. In 1660, a book was published in London called Jews in America, Or Probabilities that those Indians are Judiacal. This is just one of many sources proposing this theory.

Clinton said...

Re: James Anglin,
If Joseph Smith was a con man, then that introduces another problem: It means God lied to me when He told me Joseph was His prophet.
Of course, maybe God didn't really talk to me at all, maybe I just imagined it.
But then, that introduces another problem: It means that I can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
If I can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy, that introduces a larger set of problems. For instance, this conversation I'm having right now on the comments section of this blog, is it reality or fantasy? If the conversations I've had with God were fantasy, then I'm not sure why this conversation shouldn't also be a fantasy. It's better for me to just believe that sometimes the truth doesn't make sense.

Everything Before Us said...


There are many people from many different religions who receive spiritual confirmation from God that their religion is true. If you believe God didn't lie to you, then you have to believe that He lied to these other people. Or these other people made it up. Or these other people were receiving communication from deceptive spirits, which is another option which could also apply to you, for the Bible tells us that evil spirits can mimic angels of light, and that the servants of the Devil will come as ministers of righteousness.

I don't think the problem is a big as you think. This conversation you are having here...it is real. Not a fantasy. You are participating in this conversation by employing many of your five senses. When God communicated with you, he was communicating beyond your five senses. You didn't see, taste, smell, hear, or physically feel God. It was spiritual communication.

So, rest assured. I am a real person in a real room typing on a real keyboard.

You need to verify if the spiritual communication you received came from God or from some other spiritual source. The Bible tells us that the role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the Christ. The Holy Spirit doesn't reveal Joseph Smith. It is a lie that you have been taught by your Church that the Holy Spirit's role is to reveal the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith or any other man, for that matter.

Have you received a spiritual confirmation that Jesus is the Christ in the same way that you received a confirmation of Joseph Smith? Be honest with yourself. I have never in my 37 years as a Mormon heard any Mormon leader or missionary encourage someone to get a spiritual confirmation of Jesus Christ. Only the Book of Mormon, the Bible, the modern-day prophet, or the Church.

Why do you think that is?

James Anglin said...


Humans are all fallible. Sometimes we indeed can't tell reality from illusion. Heck, just try seeing your own eyes moving in the mirror, sometime. You know they do move, if you glance back and forth a bit. A friend can watch your eyes and confirm that. But you really can't see your own eyes move. It's something about how the brain processes visual data. And all our perceptions of reality are filtered through fallible mechanisms like that.

I also feel that God has spoken to me, though, once or twice in my life. Oddly complete sentences popped into my head that seemed to be succinct and surprising answers to questions about which I was very concerned. Of course those thoughts were simply produced in my own brain; but that doesn't mean that God didn't speak them, any more than the fact that you're reading little blips on a screen means that I didn't type them. God has root access to reality.

I think that God wants us to find the truth as well as we can. I don't think God wants us to choose our beliefs just for comfort. I think that God wishes that everyone would be atheists if God didn't exist. Everyone has to decide for themselves what they think is true, though. If we meet our maker having wasted much of our lives in bowing to idols, I hope that God will be merciful; God made us fallible, after all. I don't think, though, that God will be pleased with the excuse that we simply accepted what we'd heard from other humans — whether in church or on the internet.

One thing that I find encouraging: I don't think belief is a package deal. I used to know fundamentalist evangelical Christians who insisted that no-one could reject any one of their beliefs without rejecting all of them. So the only way to keep believing that God so loved the world was to keep believing in a literal tower of Babel and Balaam's talking donkey. It seemed to me that these people were so afraid of uncertainty that they were blackmailing themselves into not doubting anything, by holding the beliefs they really cared about as hostages. But there was a simple way to free the hostages: doubt the belief that all beliefs are connected. Faith doesn't have to be a house of cards.

Allen Ford said...

Anon 756, Sperry's points and the points of others make more sense to me, that there were two Cumorahs. There are many specific geographical reasons not to take OC's view as plausible, and quite a bit published on this through the years. Moreover, JFS told Sperry to feel free to publish his opposing view since he didn't think his view stated earlier was a revealed view or that OC's view was a revealed view, which otherwise should be respected over a scholarly analysis.

Anonymous said...

Suord, that 50-year-old hearsay anecdote about Sperry is a canard. Of course anyone can believe whatever they want; that's in the Articles of Faith. But Joseph Fielding Smith never said his view was invalid or subservient to whatever a scholar says. JFS was unequivocal about Letter VII and the New York setting. He denounced the two-Cumorah theory in 1938 and republished it in Doctrines of Salvation in 1956, when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve. We can accept or reject everything JFS wrote. It's up to us. But that's an affirmative choice on our part that should be made carefully.

True, there has been "quite a bit published on this," but everything published about the Hill Cumorah archaeology boils down to quotes from John Clark and David Palmer, neither of whom seriously investigated the matter because they were determined to support their Mesoamerican theory. Check into it a little.

Everything Before Us said...

Sperry's points and the points of others make more sense to me, that there were two Cumorahs. There are many specific geographical reasons not to take OC's view as plausible, and quite a bit published on this through the years. Moreover, JFS told Sperry to feel free to publish his opposing view since he didn't think his view stated earlier was a revealed view or that OC's view was a revealed view, which otherwise should be respected over a scholarly analysis.

Brigham Young said that in vision the Hill Cumorah was opened up to him and in there he saw many records that had been deposited there once by Mormon/Moroni. Obviously, one man couldn't have carried all those records there across the North American continent, thus we have to believe that the Hill Cumorah is the site of the last battle.

You wouldn't accuse Brigham Young of telling a lie about such serious spiritual matters just for effect, would you? I mean,...after all...we are talking about the Lord's anointed prophet, correct?

Everything Before Us said...

"Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went there again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: ‘This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.’” (Journal of Discourses 19:38)

Everything Before Us said...

So I remembered the story wrong. No vision. But this is Oliver Cowdery, one of those trustworthy witnesses, remember. Secondhand account through Brigham Young, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

suord...it is astonishing to me just how much Mormons are willing to brush under the carpet, throw under the bus, in order to make it true. It almost seems like you'd be willing to admit it is not true, if somehow doing so would make it true.

Clinton said...

Re James Anglin: I think I can agree with everything you said in that last post addressed to me.
Re EBU: I don't know why other people get different data from me. If I was God, or if I was in their heads, then I would know.
You may be sure that this is not fantasy, but an appeal to the five senses does not reassure me.
Things I've received spiritual communications about from the same being: God loves me. Jesus Christ atoned for my sins. The Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient document.
Not being able to tell the difference between God and the devil is scarcely better than not being able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
And I have been encouraged to seek out and receive spiritual confirmation that Jesus atoned for my sins. Not quite the same thing as you asked about, but pretty close.

Everything Before Us said...

I don't know why other people get different data from me. If I was God, or if I was in their heads, then I would know.

In a way, you kind of are in their heads. From their point of view, you have received different data than they have. Your spiritual confirmation challenges their own just like their confirmation challenges yours. So they are to you what you are to them. If they could be in your head, then they would know why you received a different answer. And they still might not trust your answer compared to their own.

If someone else can be deceived with a false spiritual confirmation, then you can never be sure that you are not deceived.

This is why this is not really a trustworthy way of getting to the bottom of things. I know other Mormons who take the same approach of "I'll just trust what I have received and not worry too much about how other people are getting different answers."

This is not sufficient. Aren't you at least a bit curious as to why others receive different confirmations? Doesn't that make you at least a little bit suspicious that you might still be wrong?

Clinton said...

Re EBU: I'm a little bit suspicious of my data, but in a sense, I am the ultimate egotist because I consider my own personal data to be so much more trustworthy than anyone else's, that I'll always reject theirs before I reject my own. I have not yet been able to discover a way of 'getting to the bottom of things' without ultimately relying on my own observations. If I could unequivocally prove to myself that other people were truly independent (or 3rd party) observers I might change my opinion about that. Meanwhile, on a different level, I have some theories about why other people get different data than I do, but I don't want to go into those theories right now.

Allen Ford said...

Here's what Jeff wrote on Cumorah in 2014, in a Mormanity comment:

"LDS scholars dealing with the Book of Mormon overwhelmingly place it in Mesoamerica, which is definitely in North America.

Two Cumorahs - so some people assumed the tiny hill where the plates were found was Cumorah, but that's not what the BOM says and not required by anything definitive from Joseph. The text gives one and it has an outstanding, real, tangible candidate in Mesoamerica. This is not a serious objection to the Book of Mormon."

Anonymous said...

Suord, yes, Jeff and many others have written about that, but they either didn't know about or hadn't read Letter VII. Even now, they accept the 50-year-old compound hearsay about Sperry over Joseph Fielding Smith's detailed, explicit and repeated denunciation of the two-Cumorah theory.

If we were having this discussion in 1842 Nauvoo, when Joseph wrote D&C 128, we all would have read Letter VII, since it was published multiple times, including in the Messenger and Advocate and the Times and Seasons. Back then, people accepted what Joseph and Oliver said. It wasn't until the 1920s that first RLDS scholars, then LDS scholars, came up with the two-Cumorah theory. JFS denounced it, but the scholars pursued it anyway.

Anyone who hasn't read Letter VII needs to, just to be informed.

Anonymous said...

EBU, you make good points that people other than Mormons also have spiritual experiences. It's basic Mormon doctrine that God speaks to all his children.
That's why the Book of Mormon is so essential. It's tangible proof of God's involvement in human affairs, because the only way Joseph could have produced it was by divine means.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Here's an update on the iron rod in my latest post: "The Iron Rod: Inspired by an Aqueduct in Rochester?"

There's so much more to the Book of Mormon than meets the eye.

Everything Before Us said...

Anon 8:29

You are being disingenuous. God does talk to all his children. But some of his children are explicitly told Catholicism is true. Some are explicitly told Mormonism is true. Some are explicitly told Islam is true. Some are explicitly told the Watchtower Society is the true church.

This stuff has been documented. These people all use basically the same language to describe their experiences. I'll try to find the source. It has been a while since I looked into this stuff, and have forgotten where to find these sources.

Allen Ford said...

Anon 823, just read Letter VII and find it interesting. Is there definitive evidence that such thoughts of OC and JFS were revelatory or canonical? If not, then the text supersedes their assertions. The more likely textual interpretation goes against what they have said.

Anonymous said...

Suord and Anon 823, when Oliver wrote Letter VII, he was Assistant President of the Church; i.e., a prophet, seer, and revelator, higher than authority that Joseph's two counselors. These letters contain the first published account of many of the early events, including Moroni's visit. They include many details Joseph did not otherwise relate, which makes sense, since he helped Oliver write the letters and endorsed them multiple times. Part of Letter I is in the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith-History, which is canonized, is based on these letters.

The text of the Book of Mormon--which Oliver and Joseph translated, btw--is fully consistent with Letter VII.

It's fascinating to have people dismiss these letters, just to protect their favorite BoM geography theory. It is becoming impossible to distinguish between Mesoamerican arguments against the 3 Witnesses (the Meso scholars also disbelieve David Whitmer) and anti-Mormon arguments against the 3 Witnesses.

It's even better to have modern scholars claim to know more about the BoM than Joseph and Oliver. I'm still waiting for one of the modern scholars to give us a more detailed description of Moroni than the one Oliver gave us.