Christianity in the Book of Mormon

As I’ve been working my way through Brooks Hollifield’s fascinating Theology in America, several themes in my own thinking have come more clearly into view. Hollifield writes that with few notable exceptions (Lutherans, the transcendentalists, some Catholics, some mystics, and Horace Bushnell) American Christians strongly embraced the notion that Christianity was above all reasonable, that no sacred truth could be contrary to the exercise of Reason. One major theme in this rational Christianity is the evidences, both internal (OT prophecies of the NT, the Bible, despite its complexity is harmonious) and external (witnesses actually saw people rise from the dead or experience successful exorcism or be fed from the scraps of loaves and fishes). According to this “evidential Christianity,” American Christianity (evangelicals and Catholics used the evidences in conflicting but similar ways) was irrefutably true. I won’t bore you with all the details (though if you’re interested in these themes, Hollifield’s book is well worth the time), but I am fascinated by how Joseph Smith entered the fray. Both Hollifield and Terryl Givens (Viper on the Hearth ca. 80-85) have begun the discussion on this topic, but part of Joseph Smith’s religious power was that he caught mainline Christians in a convenient but pious fiction, a surprisingly tenuous accommodation to Enlightenment ideals. Miracles prove the truth of evangelical Protestantism, you say? Well what about miracles right now, before your eyes? Holy scripture contains the witness of Revelation to guide Reason, you say? Well what about holy scripture and revelation right now?

It has occurred to me while reading Alexander Campbell’s angry response to Mormonism in 1831 (widely considered the first anti-Mormon tract, though the story is somewhat complex), that finding recognizable Christianity in the Book of Mormon serves a similar purpose.

From Campbell to the present day, critics of Mormonism have noted gleefully the presence of modern Christianity in the pre-Christian era described by the Book of Mormon. The argument goes that only a simpleton would claim such explicit projection of Christianity back before Christ’s birth (even though the majority of the Book of Mormon content on Christ is extremely explicit prophecy about his coming). I have previously thought of this material as evidence of pseudo-dispensationalism, a rigorously harmonizing response to Protestant dispensationalism. Here, though, Smith also appears to be pointing out the hypocrisy of the use of the internal evidences. Types and prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament prove the Bible true? Well what about undeniably explicit prophecies and the pre-Christian existence of sacraments and ecclesial features of Christianity?

I will confess that in a not particularly ecumenical vein, I smiled a bit at the elegant simplicity of this potential rebuke, and it has made me wonder more about the material. So on this point, a few questions:

What is the meaning of the (B.C.) Christian material in the Book of Mormon?

Was Joseph Smith calling mainline Christians on the carpet by what critics would call a reductio ad absurdum?

Was Smith’s criticism accurate or just?

Do we need to reconsider the nature of early anti-Mormonism? Were they actually responding to a very real threat to their religious beliefs and the integrity of their accommodations to Reason and pluralism?

In a period when Biblical scholarship provides little if any support for the “internal” evidences of the Bible, can Protestants safely criticize the Christian material in the Book of Mormon?

I do not mean by invoking Smith specifically to suggest that he wrote the Book of Mormon himself as an attack on mainline Christianity; I believe that Smith was a prophet of God, and I merely chose this language to allow those of various stripes of belief about the Book of Mormon to contribute to the discussion. I do not believe that the Christian material demonstrates the ahistoricity of the Book of Mormon.

Hollifield’s book is Yale UP, 2003. He’s a prominent historian of American Christianity at Emory.

Campbell’s diatribe is “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger 2, no. 2 (February 7, 1831): 85-96, republished as Delusions: an Analysis of the Book of Mormon, With an Examination of its Internal and External Evidences, and a Refutation of its Pretences to Divine Authority. Boston, MA, Benjamin Greene, 1832, with prefatory remarks from Joshua V. Himes


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Very provocative thesis. I’m not sure how intentional it may have been, but I think you’ve got something here. Joseph’s critique of mainline Christianity I suppose existed on different levels.

  2. I agree, it may not have been intentional for JSJ, and I have not found early LDS making this explicit claim (whereas they make endless explicit claims about their rebuke of external evidences), but perhaps one could see this as God’s response to the accommodations of rational Christianity.

  3. “I believe that Smith was a prophet of God and merely chose this language to allow those of various stripes of belief about the Book of Mormon to contribute to the discussion.”

    Can you be more specific about what you mean about the language Joseph Smith chose? The instance I have in mind are Alma’s converts in the wilderness who met together often to fast and pray, shared all things in common, etc. To clarify, are you saying that perhaps he phrased this in a way to make a dig at the other current denominations?

    We actually see this same type of society in Enoch’s time, and to a lesser degree in the Levitical laws regarding property ownership, sharing of goods, cancellation of debt, etc. which I think we would be hard-pressed to live today. In other words, I think the type of society described in the BoM and NT (and United Order for that matter) is the ideal that spans dispensations, not is exclusive to one or the other. I suppose this still can be seen as provocative to the current Christian denominations, but I personally don’t think that Joseph tried to “play it up” in order to foment discord among them. Plenty of that going on already.

  4. Matt, sorry for the confusing language. I fixed it.

  5. Kevin Christensen says:

    I’m very fond of Campbell’s early critique. Not that I agree at all, but I find it exceedingly useful, particularly in seeing a Christian primitivist hammer on the Christianity before Christ in the Book of Mormon.

    What does the BC Christian material mean? I’m enamored of the implications of Barker’s Temple Theology, in direct contrast Campbell. She puts it this way on her website:

    “Temple theology traces the roots of Christian theology back into the first Temple, destroyed by the cultural revolution in the time of King Josiah at the end of the seventh century BCE. Refugees from the purges settled in Egypt and Arabia.
    From widely scattered surviving fragments, it is possible to reconstruct the world view of the first Christians, and to restore to their original setting such key concepts as the Messiah, divine Sonship, covenant, atonement, resurrection, incarnation, the Second Coming and the Kingdom of God.” (Margaret Barker at

    Campbell clearly did not see this coming. Of course, we didn’t either, though given 1 Nephi 13:39-41, perhaps we should have.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  6. I see a full length book coming out of this!

    Sam, are you familiar with the way Blake Ostler has treated Christian material in the BofM? He has a new website up at that has a lot of his works listed.

  7. I find modern criticisms of Joseph’s use of biblical phrases or characters and building new religious concepts quite hypocritical. One only has to open the first chapters of the Matthew to see something quite similar. As to the Book of Mormon’s explicit internal references, it really is fascinating, especially considering Joseph’s later reworking of the Patriarch narratives.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Sam, I get the impression from JSJ’s writing that his accusation was indeed intentional and provocative, a way of highlighting to them the reductio ad absurdum as you put it. My take on the corresponding anti-mormonism is that it was justified as a reaction in spirit if not in form. JSJ was provoking them, so it was natural for them to be up in arms. That doesn’t justify tarring and feathering, etc.

  9. Steve, you are correct. Tarring and feathering is only permitted if consensual. I personally tend to separate earnest anti-Mormon polemics from vigilante justice and frontier wack-job violence. Though several people have written on the American culture of violence in the period, I think we tend to merge anti-Mormonism per se with the violence, which is not always justified (though Campbell did at least implicitly smile on tarring and feathering a Vermont visionary sect accused of sexual and hegemonic deviance).
    I’ll try to look at Blake’s work on the subject. I’m coming at it from negotiated reasonability rather than ancient scripture (an academic preference for analysis rather than a spiritual choice).

  10. “Do we need to reconsider the nature of early anti-Mormonism? Were they actually responding to a very real threat to their religious beliefs and the integrity of their accommodations to Reason and pluralism?”

    Most definitely. I will try to be concise, but occasionally when I teach the apostasy and restoration aspects of the MP prep class, I focus on some of the foundation Gospel principles of the restoration that were direct refutations of the current religious beliefs that dominated the Protestant Reformation.

    The most fundamental example of a challenge to the very foundation of the Reformation, IMO, was Joseph’s insistence that, although Catholicism had screwed it up over the years, divine authority actually was meant to reside with mankind. Protestant reformers knew that they did not have “divine authority” (and said so explicitly), and they recognized clearly that the Catholic Church had lost that authority. Their only “logical” conclusion, given the lack of divine authority vested in men, was to shift such authority to “the Word of God” – since they knew they couldn’t claim it for themselves. That “Word of God” was the Bible – all that they had that everyone agreed represented His words to man – and that investiture almost required them to preach inerrancy, since any errors would destroy all sense of God’s authority existing at all on the earth. Finally, if the authority of God was invested in the Word of God, the only authority available to man was through a deeper and fuller understanding of that Word – which opened the door for Divinity Schools and Masters of Theology degrees – and their lay counterpart, the individual preacher who could quote the Word in a charismatic and inspiring way.

    Joseph Smith shook the very foundation of their claims to divine authority – not just by claiming to have been called as a prophet, thus restoring divine authority to man, but also by introducing an additional source of God’s word (The Book of Mormon), thus removing the exclusivity of the Bible. In essence, he said, “Well, you did the best you could with what you had, but the old system you rejected is back in place with new materials – so accept a system your very foundation rejected or run along and play your childish games.”

    I’d say, again, a resounding “Yes” to your question, Sam. Many members have a basic understanding of this conflict, but not nearly enough, IMO, really understand why the conflict produces such intense and vitriolic reactions. Given what Joseph taught, and what it means about the very core creeds of Protestantism, the reaction doesn’t surprise me a bit.

  11. I meant to say that inerrancy almost had to become the standard, not that every early reformer believed and taught it. Sorry for the mis-statement.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    “Tarring and feathering is only permitted if consensual.”

    You go to some wild parties, man!

  13. Steve, I made that comment in hopes you would derive pleasure from it.

    Ray, I agree that in many respects the Bible had become for many Protestants the replacement for the church’s authority (although Catholics rather merrily noted that their church had decided much of the canon of that Bible). There were other sources of authority, though, for various Protestants. Some felt that confessions/creeds did represent another source of authority, others invoked the natural theology, others believed (as the Baptists) that individual congregations had passed the torch of true belief through the centuries, others believed that eg via Anglicanism, they retained access to priesthood.

    You’re right, though, that the evangelical consensus of sorts attempted to wed reason and revelation in the Bible and relied heavily on it. Joseph Smith directly attacked that reliance.

    Of note, he said in the Sermon in the Grove that the Protestants are in a hopeless position vis-a-vis the Catholics, much to the point you’re making.

    Also, Ray, your observations about current LDS would apply as well to the Latter Day Saints of the 1830s-40s. They seemed to be a little obtuse about just how threatening their heterodoxy was to the mainstream. They just said the priests were minions of Satan who would burn in hell for opposing them and didn’t put too fine a spin on it.

  14. Sam, revolutionaries seldom deal in nuances. I don’t recall a time when the system was threatened seriously by, “He’s really not a very nice man, and we probably could do a bit better by following that other slightly nicer guy over there.” People don’t walk away from tradition and family and security – and stay in hellish situations and intense persecution – because of nuances. They only do that when faced with fleeing ultimate evil or embracing ultimate good. Considering, crafting and establishing nuances is left for those who can do so in the relative security of looking back on the revolution.

  15. I just realized that my last comment might be construed by some to mean I believe Joseph’s account of the language of the First Vision, for example, was hyperbole. I do not believe that. One of my favorite classes to teach or talks to give is a parser’s take on JSH 1:19 – why we should not be embarrassed or apologetic about the words used therein.

  16. Christopher Smith says:

    Hey Sam,

    I’d be careful in your language about a Christian “consensus” that wedded “Enlightenment” thinking and “reason” to the Bible, resulting in an “evidential Christianity”. First of all, Nathan O. Hatch has argued convincingly that in Joseph Smith’s day there was no consensus. If anything, there was a marked pluralism (as seen in the angst felt by JS and his parents with respect to church membership). Certainly there was some appropriation of Enlightenment themes, but the established churches (Congregationalists, Presbyterians) were much more likely to wed “reason” to the Bible than the Methodist, Baptist, and Restorationist masses. For this latter category, the Bible was so simple that it could be apprehended even by a simpleton. The reality of religious pluralism belied their democratized hermeutical principle, of course, but that didn’t stop them from claiming it.

    As for “evidential Christianity,” it’s worth noting that the Mormons weren’t the only ones emphasizing the importance of religious experience in affirming truth. There was a broad move among Methodists, Baptists, and Restorationists toward the miraculous and toward charismatic experience during this period, of which the camp-meetings’ excesses are only the most obvious example.

    The three just-mentioned groups railed continually against the elites, the learned clergy of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches with their condescending rejection of frontier spirituality. I think Joseph Smith’s polemic against priest-craft etc. fits well into this context. So I guess what I’m saying is that lumping somebody like Campbell togeter with some kind of Enlightenment consensus risks severely oversimplifying the situation.

    As for JS’s Christianization of the Old Testament, I think it is a very natural impulse. There’s little in the Old Testament that seems unambiguously to point to Christ, and the question of how the patriarchs were redeemed has always been one that caused some head-scratching. Did Jesus’ atonement retroactively save them, or were they actually saved by animal sacrifice? The dominant paradigm held that sacrifices were just a symbol of Christ’s atonement, which presumably saved believers before and after. But then if salvation in the NT requires confession of Jesus’ name and baptism (the latter being a requirement for restorationists like JS and Campbell), wouldn’t those things also be required of the ancient patriarchs? So I think that JS was merely carrying these notions to their logical conclusions. I think that Campbell understood the motivation behind JS’s OT Christianization, but considered it absurd.



  17. Richard Bushman’s book, Believing History: Latter Day Saint Essays, contains and essay called “Joseph Smith and Skepticism” which discusses some of the background on Protestants and miracles. Protestants had to defend miracles in a way that allowed them to reject Catholicism’s tradition of miracles. Joseph coming along and claiming miracles was a threat to their anti-Catholic defenses.

  18. Chris, we should always be careful about lumping, and it is possible to multiply small counterexamples within antebellum Protestantism for any attempted generalization. That said, I think Holifield does a convincing job of demonstrating the extent to which evidential Christianity actually did wed these various groups despite their high levels of disagreement about so much of the Calvinist heritage and the modulation of revivalism and so-called enthusiasm (and many other points of contention). Even the populists that Hatch chronicles in careful detail had a great passion for evidential Christianity, which is what I wanted to emphasize. If you’re looking for counterarguments, you’d probably be better served with Albanese as an extension and response to Butler than with Hatch in this instance.

    On those grounds, I stick by my lumping of Campbell with much of the rest of Protestantism which he often harangued. There were surprisingly few holdouts to the evidential consensus. The question was what Christianity did the evidences support, not whether evidences determined the validity of Christianity.

    I’m also aware of the other groups which strove to actualize the spiritual gifts. None seemed quite as assiduous as Smith and company, nor quite as adamant that they had a hyperevidential Christianity.

    And you’re absolutely right that the attacks on priestcraft per se were typical of many of the populist movements, including, notably, the Campbellites. I think the assault on evidential compromises is distinctive nonetheless.

  19. Also, Chris, note that the evidential Christianity was entirely compatible with folk Biblical interpretation, sola scriptura, and the whole nine yards. I think you’ve combined categories unintentionally. You didn’t have to be a Congregationalist divine to hold to a model of reasonable Christianity–indeed this impulse often stood at the foundation of the folk appropriation of the Bible.

  20. Christopher Smith says:


    I’m trying to wrap my mind around what you’re getting at with this evidential thing. Are you suggesting that Smith pointed out the circularity of an argument from interal evidence by writing, for example, a prophecy of his own coming into the Book of Mormon?


  21. I am not taking a stand on whether the explicit Christian prophecies in the Book of Mormon came from Joseph Smith or direct from God/history because I don’t think it’s necessarily relevant here. I am suggesting that one way to consider these prophecies is as internal hyperevidentialism, a mirror to the external hyperevidentialism that Smith and his colleagues quite explicitly engaged in. My suspicion is that hyperevidentialism (I’ve got to come up with a better word, this reductio ad absurdum (or ad veritam, as the LDS would argue)) served as a potent attack on other Christian traditions.

    I freely admit I have not worked out the details yet.

  22. Will Schryver says:

    Regardless of how one attempts to account for its origin, I would argue that the Book of Mormon concerns itself with evidence primarily to establish the reality of the continuing nature of God’s involvement with his creation – with us. Almost every episode in the book has that as its primary focus, from Nephi asking his brothers, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” to the famous “A Bible, a Bible” passages in 2nd Nephi, to the parable of the tame and wild olive trees, to Enos successfully making contact with God, to the angel who teaches King Benjamin, and reclaims Alma the younger — and on and on throughout the entire narrative until we reach its apex in the 9th chapter of Mormon, where Moroni informs us:

    … God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness …

    … if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, … then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.

    And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.

    This is the ultimate indictment of the Christianity of our day, even if it is only a partial indictment of the Christianity of Joseph Smith’s day. Of course, the irony of those who welcomed the non-specific charismatic evidences in the early 19th century – babbling in “tongues” and rolling around on the ground in spasms of the “spirit” – were the same kinds of religionists who would respond to Joseph Smith’s account of his initial vision by telling him it was all of the devil; that all such things as visions had long since ceased.

    Just as Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor forbade Christ to add anything to what He had said of old, lest He infringe upon the mystery and power of the faith that the “church” had given to its adherents, it was the same in Joseph Smith’s day, and even more so today. “Give us bread to eat, and let that be the only miracle wrought for us.”

    Then, as now, it is simply the form of godliness, denying the power thereof. That is the paradigm that the Book of Mormon seeks to supplant. It seeks to enthrone once again the power of God as manifest in miracles; it seeks again to make men accountable for their faithlessness – for once they know that miracles are the only acceptable evidence of faith (… “these signs shall follow them that believe …”) then they are necessarily convicted in their own hearts if such things are not present among them.

    It is no wonder that Christianity, then and now, works so hard to resist the Book of Mormon. Its message is a mortal threat to the hegemony of immasculated religion.

    I wish I could say it better than Dostoyevsky, but I can’t. I only know that I consider The Grand Inquisitor a bona fide revelation:

    “‘This is the significance of the first question in the wilderness, and this is what Thou hast rejected for the sake of that freedom which Thou hast exalted above everything. Yet in this question lies hid the great secret of this world. Choosing “bread,” Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity—to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone—the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience—Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men’s freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever. Thou didst desire man’s free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in Thee, for they could not have been left in greater confusion and suffering than Thou hast caused, laying upon them so many cares and unanswerable problems.”

    Miracles require freedom and faith, and nothing is more frightening to mankind than being required to have faith while free. I’m convinced this is why the Book of Mormon is so threatening to so many, for it champions those very principles – to the blessing or condemnation of all who come in contact with it.

  23. Will thanks for that comment, I love Dostoyevski and I love how you summed up a central theme in the Book of Mormon. Elder Packer once said that all the gifts, dreams and visions of the ancient church are still with us today.

    As for reason and Christianity Bushman was talking about a conversation he had with other Christians on how evidence that God lives comes from Spiritual experience and the spiritual life is all the proof we need. He said he was rejected out of hand as they all still wanted to defend their beliefs on a quasi philosophical rational way and wanted nothing to do with his “subjective” notion of things was how he described it (sometimes I think that’s whats going on in the blogs as well). It was in that huge interview he had with reporters recently that was linked through the newsroom.

    Here’s the direct quote from Bushman in the pew forum

    “On the question about natural allies, Mormonism has always been an embarrassment to Christianity. It goes back to the 1830s when, on their own left, Christians had to face the Deists, who said the Christian miracles were ridiculous. To defend themselves, Christians had to find some kind of rational support. William Paley, of course, is the archetypical character, but there were scores of books written trying to mobilize evidence that you could believe the resurrection, that those witnesses were authentic.

    While they were fighting that battle, the Mormons on the right came up with these ridiculous stories of angels and gold plates and claimed the same right to believe in miracles, mobilizing the same kind of evidence that Christians used for the resurrection. This required Christians to repel Mormons to prevent the Deists from grouping them with the lunatic fringe.

    Christian groups have been as forceful as any in trying to put down the Mormons, I think, partly to protect their position as respectable philosophically. I once in a meeting asked a group of evangelical Christians – a small group; Mark Noll was there, Richard Mouw, various other distinguished people – why don’t we join forces in making a case that there are grounds for believing in the existence of God simply because the spiritual life confirms it? People believe there is a God because it’s manifest to them spiritually.

    They really didn’t want any of that. They wanted to maintain their philosophical, rational claims, defending their miracles on sort of a quasi-scientific basis. They did not want to get in bed with the Mormons and their strictly subjective view of things. So there is kind of a gap intellectually. Mormonism has never embraced philosophy; it is not particularly interested in philosophy. I would say our most natural ally among the philosophers, frankly, is William James whose view of God is very close to the Mormon view of God.”

    Here’s the link

    Anyway I thought it relevant to what we were talking about and I think its interesting that Christians want to defend themselves as philosophical and rational.

  24. Aaron Shafovaloff says:

    To follow up on #6:

    “Joseph Smith… was influenced by nineteenth-century American culture in rendering its message…

    It is likely that Joseph Smith expanded the Book of Mormon… Some doctrines in the book’s pre-Christian sections are simply too developed and too characteristic of the nineteenth century…

    The expansion theory of the Book of Mormon has far-reaching implications… The model of revelation I propose here is that of creative co-participation… What we have therefore is neither an ancient document nor a translation… Joseph Smith imposed an interpretation on the text which was foreign to that ancient text…

    The Book of Mormon reflects the influence of Joseph Smith’s earliest belief structure… largely derived from… nineteenth-century Protestantism… Later revelations, however, necessitated so much revision… that the assumptions… reflected in the Book of Mormon were largely abandoned…” (Blake T. Ostler, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1987, page 66-67)

  25. Kevin Christensen says:

    In 2002, Blake offered further thoughts on the topic of expansion which he permitted me to publish in FR 16:1, page 339.
    “As new evidence surfaces indicating that primary ideas previously thought to be Christian were in fact excised from the preexilic text, the content of the plates rather than Joseph Smith’s midrashic expansion should grow.”

    I like the idea of “creative co-participation.” However, I think the amount of material that might be best explained that way had changed a great deal in the twenty years since Blake’s landmark essay was published. We’ve only recently begun to think about the implications of a pre-exilic setting for the Book of Mormon.

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  26. Will Schryver says:

    I was just about to start citing Margaret Barker myself, but I see Kevin has been “Johnny on the spot” with that duty.

    Indeed, what Margaret Barker and others have reported on in the past decade or so is intriguing to me not only for what it actually reveals, but for how much B.C. Christian thought must have been present originally in order for so much to have survived in scattered fragments.

    When one also considers Royal Skousen’s persuasive conclusions regarding a “tight” translation, I think that Blake and others of like mind need to seriously reconsider the viability of any “expansionist” theories vis-a-vis the Book of Mormon.

  27. I have mentioned Margaret Barker’s “Temple Theology” as one of my favorite books on a couple of blog threads. Since she is a Methodist minister, her conclusions are fascinating to me, as a Mormon. I agree completely that the “expansionist” theory needs serious re-evaluation. I’m positive the language used to translate the BofM was influenced by Joseph’s vocabulary and religious upbringing, just as it is with any translator, but the assumption that modern sounding ideas simply had to be expansionist insertions has been weakened greatly, IMO, by work like Margaret’s – especially since it can’t be dismissed as Mormon apologetics.

  28. I too like the idea of “creative co-participation” in that I detest the idea of Joseph Smith being reduced to nothing but a medium. But on the other hand, I do have some difficulty with the idea that JS’s translation might fail to faithfully reflect the sensibilities of the original writers/orators. This, for me, tends to lessen the BoM’s strength as a valid witness.

    But then again, if the expansion theory is to be reined in a bit in light of new information, we should take care not assume that the development JS’s personal theological views was merely a facet of the general process of restoration.

  29. While I am sympathetic to the expansionist theory (it explains some of the borrowing in the Book of Mormon), I don’t think it is accurate to assume that Joseph Smith interjected theology into the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon has a well developed and a remarkably consistent theology and I just don’t think Joseph, that young and wholly untrained in the theological debates of the time, could have pulled it off.

    To be honest, I think that the Book of Mormon is the product of an offshoot of Israelite religion being suddenly given the whole gospel. They appear Christian because they actually are Christian. I find this to be the simplest explanation at the moment, so I am going with it.

  30. John C.
    You must be done with that dissertation! Congratulations!:)

  31. Blake Ostler makes clear over here on T&S that he doesn’t like Skousen’s “tight control” theory.

    (By the way, nice sly interjection of your semi-hidden Evangelical agenda into the mix, there, Aaron Shafovaloff.)

  32. Will Schryver says:

    Of course, Blake is not alone in rejecting the notion of a “tight translation.” However, it has been my impression that those who reject the argument do so more because it conflicts with their respective theories about the Book of Mormon rather than because they have examined the evidence that Skousen presents and found it wanting. Royal has an advantage in that he is not attempting to defend a previously-reached theory about BoM production. In fact, if I recall correctly, before he ever began working with the manuscripts, Skousen was inclined towards a “loose-translation” explanation. However, the evidence to the contrary is extremely persuasive — almost to the point of being undeniable. The evidence within the manuscripts corresponds with the scribal testimony to present a clear picture of tight control over the “translation” of the plates.

    Unless the Skousen conclusions can be demonstrated to be flawed in some respect, I suspect that it will become increasingly difficult to sustain any theory that does not acknowledge the reality of a “tight translation.”

  33. I’m not arguing for or against Blake Ostler or Royal Skousen I was just pointing to what he said. Looks like he doesn’t really buy the basis Skousen’s arguments, though he dismisses them quite… capriciously in that comment, though perhaps because Skousen wasn’t exactly germane to the topic at hand.

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