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

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Town of Palmyra vs. the City of Helam: A Subtle but Meaningful Contrast in Communities and Culture

A couple days before Christmas when it was Joseph Smith's birthday, I reflected briefly upon his life in rather small towns in New York and elsewhere prior to publication of the Book of Mormon. An interesting issue there is the way Joseph described these communities and the sharp contrast between his terminology and the nature of communities in his environment relative to what we find in the Book of Mormon.

I recently discussed the nature of Book of Mormon communities and their relationship to both communities in Joseph’s days and those of ancient Mesoamerica in the article, “Orson Scott Card’s ‘Artifact or Artifice’: Where It Stands After Twenty-five Years,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 30 (2018): 253-304. Card's article looked at many subtle issues in the Book of Mormon, drawing upon his experience in the many ways in which the worldview and environment of an author of fiction inevitably reveals much about the culture surrounding the author,  making literary frauds very difficult to pull off. Among the many issues considered by Card is the difference in social and neighborhood relationships between American society and that of the Book of Mormon and Mesomaerica.

Card observed that kinship and lineage were dominant social factors in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, in contrast to American society. Card also considers the nature of employment, where the Book of Mormon suggests that agriculture and other economic activities were highly communal or under direction of elites in contrast to the way people pursued employment in Joseph’s day. Further, Card was impressed with the “instant cities” that Captain Moroni created. Alma 50 describes Moroni’s frenetic city-building activities, including the way he “began a foundation of a city” named Moroni (Alma 50:13) and also “began the foundation for a city” named Nephihah (Alma 50:14) among other cities that he built in a short period. This seems bizarre if read from the perspective of Joseph’s environment but is plausible from a Mesoamerican perspective, as Card argues and as we discuss further below in light of more recent research.

Since 1993 there has been further investigation in the field of Mesoamerican neighborhoods and the relationship between rural households and urban centers. A relevant book from 2012 is Neighborhood as a Social and Spatial Unit in Mesoamerican Cities by M. Charlotte Arnauld, Linda R. Manzanilla and Michael E. Smith, eds. (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012). The book begins with a detailed review article by Michael E. Smith and Juliana Novic, “Neighborhoods and Districts in Ancient Mesoamerica” (pp. 1-26), discussed below. Also of interest in the same volume is the chapter of Gary M. Feinman and Linda M. Nicholas, “Compact Versus Dispersed Settlement in Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica: The Role of Neighborhood Organization and Collective Action” (pp. 132-55), which examines ancient Mesoamerican societies in terms of social structures, looking at the dispersed, agrarian communities and more compact communities, and examining the impact of population density on political structures. Neighborhood ties and structures became especially important in forms of rule more corporate or collective with shared power and “broadened voice,” for neighborhoods would be the focal point for such collaborative action. The work of Feinman and Nicholas may be helpful in contemplating what the Book of Mormon may mean when it speaks of the role of “the voice of the people” in decision making and politics.

Smith and Novic in the introductory chapter of the volume discuss the diverse nature of neighborhoods and district organizations in ancient Mesoamerica, where urban centers were much more sparsely populated than large cities in the Old World:
Since the publication of Bullard’s paper, several archaeologists have discussed Lowland Maya settlement clusters, but without considering their possible role as urban neighborhoods (e.g., Ashmore 1981; Pyburn et al. 1998). The first to associate [Lowland Maya settlement] clusters with neighborhoods was Cynthia Robin (2003: 330–331), who notes that “neighborhood focused research is perhaps the least investigated direction of Maya household archaeology” (p. 331). Perhaps Mayanists tended to avoid the topic of neighborhoods because that concept was associated with the crowded cities of ancient Mesopotamia or the Islamic world. Yet, the low density tropical cities of the Maya manifest a very different kind of urbanism (Arnauld and Michelet 2004), one that Roland Fletcher (2009) called “low density agrarian based urbanism.” (Smith and Novic, “Neighborhoods and Districts in Ancient Mesoamerica,” 11–12.)
The systems described seem to be compatible with Book of Mormon structures, where nobles and elites still wielded influence at various levels of society, with kings under kings among the Lamanites or lesser judges under higher judges in Nephite society. Nobles and elites wielded influence while also representing somehow and sometimes “the voice of the people.”

The low density of urban population resulted in unclear transitions from hamlet or neighborhood to city, allowing for the kind of “instant cities” that impressed Orson Scott Card as another way in which the Book of Mormon revealed a type of society foreign to Joseph Smith. The ability of military commanders to create entire new fortified cities in critical areas is a foreign concept to American society but makes sense in a society accustomed to forming cities from sparsely populated areas based on the model of “low-density agrarian-based urbanism.” The low density areas in a particular region could be unified under control of a military leader or other elite leader to create an instant low-density agrarian-based urban center (“instant city”) that might only need some of Moroni’s earthen banks for fortification to provide military advantage.

In Mormon’s Codex, Sorenson has pointed out that the term for “city” in Mesoamerica “was applied on a conceptual, not just a functional basis” (John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013), 298). Further, cities there “seem to have been planned and designated as such from their founding” (ibid., 297–98). Sorenson notes the parallel to Alma’s “city” of Helam that was designated as such with a population of only about 450 people (ibid., 295). Small agrarian gatherings in strategic areas likewise could easily have been turned into “instant cities” by Captain Moroni to support military goals, consistent with Card’s observation on a Book of Mormon phenomenon inconsistent with Joseph Smith’s environment.

Incidentally, the units of town and village are both mentioned in the Book of Mormon but only twice in Mormon 4 and 5, while the unit of city has about 400 mentions. Joseph’s life was spent in villages and towns. In his own history, he writes that he was born in the town of Sharon in Vermont (Joseph Smith—History 1:3) and then later moved to Manchester, which he calls a village (Joseph Smith—History 1:51). We also read that Martin Harris was “a resident of Palmyra township” (Joseph Smith—History 1:61). Palmyra had around 600 people when Joseph’s family moved there (Donald L. Enders, “‘A Snug Log House’: A Historical Look at the Joseph Smith Sr., Family Home in Palmyra, New York,” Ensign (Aug. 1985)), but thanks in part to the opportunities created by the Erie Canal, its population had grown to about 4,600 by 1825 (Bob Lowe, “A Brief History Of Palmyra,” PalmyraNY.com, 1998).

The township of Palmyra was much larger than Alma’s city of Helam and perhaps much larger than the “instant cities” Captain Moroni founded or organized. The Book of Mormon terminology as well as the curious ability to found cities almost instantly is outside of Joseph Smith’s environment and culture but consistent with a Mesoamerican city. Further, the concept of “cities” among Native Americans and especially large, advanced cities like Zarahemla can be considered outside of Joseph’s environment and outside of the common knowledge of his day, though earlier works from European writers such as Alexander von Humboldt made some aspects of Mesoamerican antiquities known in better educated circles (see my LDSFAQ page, “Alexander von Humboldt and the Book of Mormon: What Could Joseph Smith Have Gleaned?

As for the apparent similarities to Joseph’s culture, Card addresses one of the most common issues pointed to by critics, the selection of judges. Some read “voice of the people” and think of ballot boxes and a highly egalitarian society with separation of powers according to the US Constitution, but this suspiciously modern feature turns out to be based on imported assumptions. A more careful reading of the text indicates that something much different than American elections and American democracy took place in Nephite society. Card urges us to look again:
But in the Book of Mormon, the judge not only judges people but also enforces the law and directs the gathering of taxes and supplies and sending them in support of the armies. Not your normal, traditional role. He enforces traditional law, but when new laws are needed, the judge makes them! Where in American life of his time would Joseph Smith have seen this?

How are these judges selected? We hear of almost no contested elections. On the contrary, judges seem to nominate their successors. With few exceptions, the judge serves until death, and is usually succeeded by a son or brother, or by a member of a family that has previously held the judgeship. Now, except for the Adamses, there were no dynasties in Joseph Smith’s America.

The judges actually function as elected kings. The old pattern of government still endured, they just had a different method of choosing the guy in charge. Mormon pointed out the difference, which meant he stressed the election of the judges by the voice of the people, never questioning that authority should stay in only a few aristocratic families and that judges should have monarchical powers. Far from being a mistake in the Book of Mormon, this is one of the places where the Book of Mormon makes it clear that it does not come from 1820s American culture. Even the best of hoaxers would have made the judges far more American.
Brant Gardner’s later treatment of the “voice of the people” and the role of judges in the Book of Mormon would show much greater affinity for Mesoamerican concepts than for the democracy of the young United States (Brant Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 245–53).

A recent observation related to the reign of judges and the “voice of the people” in the Book of Mormon comes from new evidence that ancient Mesoamerica cultures sometimes had less autocratic and more collective or “democratic” rule. This recent discovery seems to greatly amplify the role of collective rule mentioned above by Feinman and Nicholas.33 Science writer Lizzie Wade reports:
Now, thanks in part to work led by … Richard Blanton, an anthropologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Tlaxcallan is one of several premodern societies around the world that archaeologists believe were organized collectively, where rulers shared power and commoners had a say in the government that presided over their lives.
These societies were not necessarily full democracies in which citizens cast votes, but they were radically different from the autocratic, inherited rule found — or assumed — in most early societies. Building on Blanton’s originally theoretical ideas, archaeologists now say these “collective societies” left telltale traces in their material culture, such as repetitive architecture, an emphasis on public space over palaces, reliance on local production over exotic trade goods, and a narrowing of wealth gaps between elites and commoners.

“Blanton and his colleagues opened up a new way of examining our data,” says Rita Wright, an archaeologist at New York University in New York City who studies the 5000-year-old Indus civilization in today’s India and Pakistan, which also shows signs of collective rule. “A whole new set of scholarship has emerged about complex societies.”
“I think it’s a breakthrough,” agrees Michael E. Smith, an archaeologist at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. “I’ve called it the most important work in the archaeology of political organization in the last 20 years.” He and others are working to extend Blanton’s ideas into a testable method, hoping to identify collective states solely through the objects they left behind. (Lizzie Wade, “It wasn’t just Greece: Archaeologists find early democratic societies in the Americas,” Science (website), March 15, 2017)
Blanton’s paper has this intriguing abstract:
During the central Mexican late Postclassic period, the Aztec Triple Alliance became the largest and most powerful empire in Mesoamerica. Yet ancient Tlaxcallan (now Tlaxcala, Mexico) resisted incorporation into the empire despite being entirely surrounded by it and despite numerous Aztec military campaigns aimed at the defeat of the Tlaxcaltecas. How did it happen that a relatively small (1,400 km²) polity was able to [Page 270]resist a more powerful foe while its neighbors succumbed? We propose a resolution to this historical enigma that, we suggest, has implications for the broader study of social and cultural change, particularly in relation to theories of state formation and collective action. We find it particularly interesting that the Tlaxcaltecas abandoned a key tenet of traditional Nahua political structure in which kingship was vested in members of the nobility, substituting for it government by a council whose members could be recruited from the ranks of commoners. To achieve such a significant deviation from typical Nahua authority structure, the Tlaxcaltecas drew selectively from those aspects of Nahua mythic history and religion that were consistent with a comparatively egalitarian and collective political regime. (Lane F. Fargher, Richard E. Blanton, and Verenice Y. Heredia Espinoza, “Egalitarian Ideology and Political Power in Prehispanic Central Mexico: The Case of Tlaxcallan,” Latin American Antiquity, 21, no. 3 (September 2010): 227–51)
We look forward to further research into the intriguing possibilities of collective government in portions of the ancient Americas, including systems that may be closer to Book of Mormon times. Meanwhile, what was once thought to be a dead-giveaway of the Book of Mormon’s modern origins, the reign of judges with their reliance on “the voice of the people,” upon closer scrutiny is not only radically different than what Joseph knew but now appears to be an authentic ancient artifact (albeit an exceptional one) of Mesoamerica, not a fruit of Joseph’s artifice. For future scholars to better understand Book of Mormon “democracy,” they would be wise to use a lens focused on ancient Mesoamerica and emerging research on ancient political systems there.

Instant cities and tiny gatherings labeled "cities" don't reflect Joseph's worldview. They don't reflect his own use of language nor the ways of his culture and era. But they are consistent with what we are slowly learning about the way communities operated in ancient Mesoamerica. Ditto for the political system responsive to the "voice of the people" that is not American-style democracy. These subtle details of Mesoamerica and the relationship or lack thereof between the communities of the Book of Mormon and Joseph's environment are worth considering as we further investigate the increasingly remarkable and ever subtle Book of Mormon.

30 comments:

Stephen Reed said...

Except The Book of Mormon events did not occur in Mesoamerica. That’s a geography theory started by H.A. Stebbins of the RLDS Church as far back as 1894.

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101074888833;view=2up;seq=2;skin=mobile

With kind regards and a wish for the happiest of holidays.

Stephen Reed
Mesa, AZ

Anonymous said...

Straw grasped. Straw missed. Empty handed, as usual.

K. R. Rasmussen said...

I can see no reason why someone would post something like this (sans substantive supportive arguments) unless they knew that Jeff was grasping at much more than straw, and that his hands were coming up far from empty.

From my perspective, the argument is pretty strong. It's hard to see JS coming up with Book of Mormon social structures if all he had to go by was upstate New York. If you have good reasons to believe otherwise they'd be nice to hear. As it stands, though, your post is evidence that you see Jeff's argument as a credible threat to your worldview.

Anonymous said...

K. R. Rasmussen: You write that "It's hard to see JS coming up with Book of Mormon social structures if all he had to go by was upstate New York," but of course Smith had much more to go on than just upstate New York --- he also had his knowledge of the Bible, his knowledge of the rest of the United States, his knowledge of the rest of the world, and his own imagination. He lived at a time of expanding empires and burgeoning international trade, which among other things meant a general milieu full of news and stories from other lands. It's really, really silly to think Smith would have no knowledge of social structures other than the one he personally lived in.

Jeff Lindsay: I'm a little confused about the relevance of Mayan social structures to the Book of Mormon. Are we now assuming that the Mayans were the Book of Mormon peoples? Are the Nephites the ancestors of today's Native Americans, or among the ancestors? I thought the apologists had decided, in light of the DNA evidence, that the Nephites, etc. were just small groups living among their vastly more numerous Native American neighbors. Why would anyone assume that the Nephites would organize their society in the same way as everyone around them?

In any event, the demographic/geographic details of the Book of Mormon are sketchy enough that one can interpret them in support of just about any hypothesis --- as we can see from the fact that Mormon apologists themselves cannot agree on whether its events took place in Mesoamerica or Tennessee.

One of these days, there might be a respectable LDS apologetics. Right now, it's hogwash.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

If you make the assertion that Joseph Smith could only advance ideas from his own lived environment by virtue of divine intervention do you credit H.G. Wells and J.R.R. Tolkein with being prophets as well? There is as much "evidence" of the existence of Middle Earth as a Mormon construct of Central America.

And if it comes down to an evaluation of "by their fruits ye shall know them" then it worth considering that no one has discriminated against a class of people or pushed a considerable part of a generation to suicide based on Wells' or Tolkein's work.

Anonymous said...

It's downright laughable that Orson Scott Card, creator of some of the most imaginative not-Earth worlds in modern literature, claims no one, certainly not Joseph Smith, could have imagined, created, or described facets of fictitious societies. Not only is it eminently plausible based on OSC's own career that people can create fictitious societies of high literary value, but also - If OSC is claiming the Book of Mormon contains impossibly diametrically-opposed social roles than were present in Smith's own day, it's actually the easiest type of fiction to create - describe a world completely the opposite of what you know to exist.

Anonymous said...

Jeff writes, The work of Feinman and Nicholas may be helpful in contemplating what the Book of Mormon may mean when it speaks of the role of “the voice of the people” in decision making and politics.

But why go to Mesoamerican scholars at all on this question? The phrase "voice of the people" was common in early American political discourse. It's also, of course, found in the King James Bible (1 Samuel 8:7 --- "And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee").

In other words the phrase was a part of Joseph Smith's cultural environment, like so much else in the Book of Mormon.

-- OK

Stephen Reed said...

To Anonymous: Your subtle claim that Joseph Smith created The Book of Mormon from his “cultural environment” is as fictitious as a Tolkien, Wells or OSC novel and as fictitous as Jeff Lindsay’s mistaken belief that The Book of Mormon occurred in Mesoamerica.

Granted, silly LDS Apologists, upon which Brother Lindsay has relied, to counter your tiresome plagiarized claim that The Book of Mormon was created from Joseph Smith’s “cultural environment” have incorrectly distanced the Book of Mormon geography to Mesoamerica, which geography theory itself was plagiarized from RLDS Church members such as H.A. Stebbins and Louise E. Hills, the latter’s publication in 1924.

Yet, there are too many aspects of The Book of Mormon which was not known in Joseph Smith’s cultural environment which would ever prevent you to reducing it to a novel about hobbits or space bugs, or to a culture that got absorbed by Maya Indians.

Respectfully,
Stephen Reed

K. R. Rasmussen said...

Thanks for engaging in somewhat more substantive commentary. I'm glad my comments could goad you (or some other anonymous person) into providing evidence of thought.

"It's really, really silly to think Smith would have no knowledge of social structures other than the one he personally lived in."

It would indeed be silly to think that, but it's also much harder than it looks to use one's imagination to escape life's mundane details and create something truly foreign. Orson Scott Card rightly pointed out in the lecture Jeff cites. Even as you create something new, that newness is nearly always embedded in the context of the familiar. For all of Tolkien's creativity, all the social structures in his works are grounded in those he was intimately familiar with, either from personal experience or from intense historical study--from Hobbiton to Minas Tirith to Rivendell, all of the communities he creates are fun-house exaggerations of European life, past and present. If there are differences, he's almost unconsciously compelled to point them out, because he's aware that his audience wouldn't understand them.

I would be inclined to take Orson Scott's word on this, but as a writer I've experienced it myself. When I go back and read through my old fantasy novels, I'm struck by how much I'd unconsciously channeled both my childhood home and the fantasy settings I'd read through in my youth. Even granting that Joseph Smith could have been some kind of literary genius, as a first time author with limited education he would have been a hopeless slave to his own assumptions, particularly for implicit details like social structure. Yet as Jeff's post helps indicate, where J.R.R., and H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne and countless other authors remain tied to their culture (and why shouldn't they?), J.S. achieves orbit. BoM social structures are nothing like upstate New York, like no other contemporary fiction, and are demonstrably distinct from the Bible. I find that impressive, and I find using Tolkien or the bible or "imagination" as a handwave to be considerably less so.

K. R. Rasmussen said...

"In other words the phrase was a part of Joseph Smith's cultural environment, like so much else in the Book of Mormon."

And the similarities end with the words themselves, as Bushman demonstrates quite thoroughly.

https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/book-mormon-and-american-revolution

It pays to look a little beyond the surface. Though, of course, why do so when the surface fits your preconceptions so thoroughly?

agkcrbs said...

"pushed a considerable part of a generation to suicide"

Every year, fewer than 0.02% of Utahns die by suicide (compared with 0.14% from the four other more common causes, 0.37% from other listed early-death causes, and 0.71% total -- low because of a young and growing population), which is up in every state across the Union. Suicide rates are plausibly correlated with altitude and other environmental factors, and the CDC states the obvious, that one protective factor against suicide is "Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation". Your statement has no relationship with reality. But however uncivilized it is to wrongly blame deaths on others, I support your religious right to believe whatever crazy hypothesis you want.

Anonymous said...

This, similar to most of the blog, comes off tongue in cheek with a heavy wink-wink as it heaves the absurd into plausible. The inane constant heavy lifting has resulted in debilitating hernias.

Anonymous said...

From Deseret News "In Utah, the years 1999 to 2016 (the most recent year for which data are available) saw a "startling increase," according to the report, in its suicide rate, from 15.8 per 100,000 to 24.2. Suicide rates increased among all age groups."

They go on, of course, to pose that silly altitude trope. ...neglecting to show a similar rise in the altitude during the same period.

From The Daily Beast "Utah’s suicide rate is nearly twice the national average and the rate of youth suicide rate has tripled in the last 10 years. And last year, the state’s Department of Health revealed that suicide is now the leading cause of death among 10- to 17-year-olds in Utah."

Utah has a serious suicide problem and it fits the timeline of the church's aggressive antigay politics in HI, CA and other states which certainly did raise the profile of the church's public homophobia. Similarly, there has been rising homophobia in the public profiles of people like Oaks, Packer, Holland and Nelson. Not to mention the hideous and illogical Nov. '15 POX which is, indeed, a pox on the church.

This is clear to anyone who isn't committed to apologizing for the church. What isn't clear is what the church will do about it beyond blaming it on the altitude.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:26, Dec 29

Suicide is terrible. It leaves a gaping hole in the lives that are affected. I don't want to trivialize this problem as there are many reasons why someone decides to end his / her own life.

Let's not trivialize. The same time period for the dramatic increase in the Utah suicide rate was mirrored in the country as a whole:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_the_United_States

This suggests that either the Church had such national clout as to cause this increase or that it was not the Church at all but some other social factor.

Here is a state by state breakdown:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/suicide-mortality/suicide.htm

Colorado, the state in which I live, has a relatively low Mormon population with regards to the population in general which is roughly just under 3% but has about the same suicide rate as Utah. You will also note that Colorado is a liberal state and not a conservative state. The states listed in the link above with high suicide rates tend to be high altitude states so I would not call it a "trope" to suggest that diminished oxygen might be a contributing factor.

So, on the surface, your hypothesis that the Church's "anti gay movement" accounted for the rise in suicide rates is wrong. Furthermore, the data suggests that the Church's influence in Utah also does not appear to account for it's high suicide rate just because of its Rocky Mountain neighbor, Colorado, has a similarly high suicide rate with just a fraction of the Mormon population.

If I were to guess, I would say that the ubiquity of the internet and mainly social media would have more of an effect on suicide rates since this dramatic increase mirrors the rise in availability of technology to access anything all the time.

Your faulty analysis of the suicide epidemic is not helpful and only demonstrates that you will grasp at straws when trying to denigrate the Church. Instead of using so much energy attacking the Church, volunteer on a suicide prevention hotline. Be a part of the solution.

Steve

Anonymous said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_Mormon_suicides

Anonymous said...

Steve, that was an interesting analysis so I did some more checking.

Based on Becker's Hospital Review analysis of June '18 the 10 Utah's rate per 100,00 is 21.8. Colorado's is 20.5. Interestingly, Oklahoma's is similar at 20.9 and South Dakota's is the same as Colorado's.

The mean elevations, however, tell a different story. The mean altitude of Utah's 10 largest cities is 1164m. For Colorado it's considerably higher at 2073m, for South Dakota it's 671m and Oklahoma it's 396.

Meanwhile, the Mormon population of the same states is Utah 67.7%, Colorado 2.74%, South Dakota 1.21%, Oklahoma 1.21%.

Oklahoma with a similar suicide rate to South Dakota's and the same percentage of Mormon citizens has roughly half the mean altitude. While the mean altitude of Utah's population centers put it between Arizona at 1250m and Montana with 1036m. Contrary to the altitude hypothesis Arizona, the highest of the 3 has a suicide rate of 17.6 while Montana, the lowest at 1036m has the highest suicide rate of the 3 at 26.

This isn't conclusive for either altitude or BOM adherence but a responsible church would make an honest assessment of what's going on and soft pedal the homophobia until it's eliminated as a contributing factor instead of doubling down.

Anonymous said...

“J.S. achieves orbit.”

Really? So you’re conceding that the BoM was a JS creation?

“BoM social structures are nothing like upstate New York, like no other contemporary fiction, and are demonstrably distinct from the Bible.”

The social and cultural sketches provided in the BoM are demonstrably similar to those in the Bible. They have been tweaked just enough to attempt to show that a democratic, Hebrew society existed in the Americas.

One of the main themes of the BoM is that this land is a land of promise (a common 18th and 19th century American theme and ideal), and that those who inhabit it must live according to God’s will or suffer the consequence of loss of freedom to a tyrannical, ungodly, and decadent society. In this way it serves as both an affirmation of America as a nation, and as a warning that it must remain a committed Christian society (both also common 18th and 19th century American themes and ideals). Note that the discussion of government leadership in the early BoM is oddly similar to the American discussion of government before its founding (righteous vs wicked/tyrannical kings, rule by the people, etc.). Also note the similarities between king Benjamin and George Washington—Benjamin is Washington if he had chosen to be king instead of president. That his name is Benjamin (Franklin, anyone?) is likely no coincidence either.

Echoes of the discussions of the continental congress are clearly present in the BoM. It doesn’t take much to imagine what a virgin Hebrew society might look like if faced with similar decisions of the congress, and if they chose some of the ideas America discarded and mixed them with biblical traditions.

Anonymous said...

What do you suppose it means if they only people who are impressed are the ones who were already committed to the basic premise from conditioning from before the time they could reason?

Yes, I know there are converts. But, honestly, how many last more than a few years? And do they ever really believe it or are they just opting in to the social club?

Anonymous said...

The Book of Mormon is made up and the LDS church's teachings are leading their children to commit suicide. These things I testify of, and I know in my heart they are true because of the personal witness, sad experience, and hard evidence I have received. Who can dare deny this?

Anonymous said...

A helpful article to read in light of my comments above is from Byron Merril, former dean of religious education at BYU. He emphasizes similarities between BoM culture and the Bible (as it relates to government), as well as pointing out the idea of government for and by the people played out in the BoM. As a bonus, he's not anti-mormon.
https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/book-mormon-mosiah-salvation-only-through-christ/8-government-voice-people-witness-and

Anonymous said...

Hi anon @ 1:14 PM, January 01, 2019

Thanks for sharing the paper. The data in there is very interesting.

Steve

Anonymous said...

"As a bonus, he's not anti-mormon. "

And how wonderful it would be if a former Dean of Religious Education at BYU weren't already committed to the conclusion. But, of course, no one else with any academic credential is even interested.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Evidence of his commitment can be seen in this somewhat lame disclaimer:

"Richard L. Bushman demonstrates that the system of Nephite judges closely follows the ancient governmental traditions of the Israelites, while the American founders instead chose the path of revolution and the creation of a new governmental form. He also shows that constitutional separation of powers and checks and balances as known today were non-existent among the Nephites (189–211). While these differences clearly refute the claim that Joseph Smith authored the Book of Mormon from the perspective of American political traditions, they do not negate the similarity of underlying principles of freedom and morality which permeate the two systems."

Anonymous said...

When oh when will apologists accept one simple tenet: you cannot start with a conclusion in your heart, conveniently find support for it through your cherry picked research, and then expect to be taken seriously by anyone outside the flock. Mormon apologetics are beyond laughable. It's straining at gnats! Huddled around your pitiful little campfire thinking your warming the whole world.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to stop with the "MesoAmerica" garbage.

You are pushing lies.

Anonymous said...

Joseph Smith clearly placed Book of Mormon geography in the United States. And you would think that Smith --- after conversing with numerous Book of Mormon personages, as LDS Living tells us --- would know better than anyone else.

Or maybe better: If Smith was wrong about the location of Book of Mormon events in Ohio, New York, and the like, maybe that's because he was wrong to claim the BoM as historical to begin with.

-- OK

Ramer said...

Or even better - if Joseph Smith was wrong about the Book of Mormon locations, maybe it was because he received no direct revelation about it and was making his best guess based on what was available.

Anonymous said...

If only he could have talked to someone who had lived during BoM times he might have been able to figure it out. . .

Anonymous said...

Wentworth letter:

"I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me"

Anonymous said...

Further details from the Wentworth letter:

"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Saviour made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists;"