My Belief

Apparently, in an interview today on Radio West with Doug Fabrizio, John Dehlin claimed that “people who blog at BCC” don’t believe in the historicity of The Book of Mormon. As far as I’m aware, John Dehlin does not have any special insight into the religious convictions of people who blog at BCC. In fact, as a result of his unsubstantiated comment, I feel it necessary to issue the following statement: “Dear Internet, I believe in the historicity of The Book of Mormon as part of the foundation of my Christian faith, which faith nevertheless rests exclusively on my belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the World — and therefore also my personal Savior — as witnessed in the New Testament, prophesied in the Old Testament as interpreted and finally understood through the New Testament realization of the Atonement, and as separately attested in The Book of Mormon, in the historicity of which I firmly believe based on personal spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of the book’s message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is truly One God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, reigning forever, and based on fascinating and consistent evidences that have been studied and discussed extensively by Mormon scholars who are friends and family and whose sincerity and honesty and good faith I do not doubt in the slightest.”

Comments

  1. Love this. Thanks.

  2. I’ve got no opinion fully formed and ready to share on today’s events or the program mentioned except for as much as John Delhin said he didn’t know about Mormon doctrinal claims he presumed a lot about the inner working and faith worlds of LDS bloggers.

  3. Dehlin is pissed that you are not in awe of his bloodless martyrdom.

  4. Thanks John. This is powerful stuff.

  5. itto. And amen.

  6. Thanks! That’s the best I could do typing on my phone in the train on the way home.

  7. “That’s the best I could do typing on my phone in the train on the way home.” Hey, I write many post on my phone while at church. It is tricky.

  8. Interesting Chris! I really don’t like writing posts in the WordPress dashboard on my phone. This might be my first post to write this way.

  9. The app works a bit better. Of course, I post more frequently and sometimes it is a matter of trying to be timely.

  10. Amen brother

  11. Thanks John. I’m surprised to hear Dehlin said that about BCC. I wish it would go without saying that he doesn’t speak for me, either.

  12. Well said, John. My statement would have been less elegant and less gracious: my beliefs about the Book of Mormon are none of John Dehlin’s business.

  13. I too was surprised to hear him say this, and again, he doesn’t speak for me on this matter. He’s aware of my personal views on this, so I’m surprised; however, he probably does not associate me with BCC so much as Wheat & Tares.

  14. He probably meant it as a compliment. He doesn’t associate intelligent bloggers with we “TBM’s” who are ignorant of church history or just lemmings. At least that seemed to be the Mormon Stories shtick.

  15. No that makes BCC a bunch of apologists who are slaves to Church HQ.

  16. The relevant passage begins at the 39 minute mark, where he wonders at the arbitrariness of the church’s apparent sensitivity to “public advocacy,” when he sees “hundreds and thousands” of writers, bloggers, and other quasi-public figures who, from his reading, support Ordain Women, doubt the historicity of the BoM, etc.: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/john-dehlin-and-lds-church

  17. It has the hallmarks of being an ill-considered throwaway comment. Had I listened to him say this, my first thought would be “speak for yourself” but my second would be to cut him some slack, considering the circumstances. However in today’s climate, a clarifying statement might be advisable. Graciously done, john f.

  18. Scorched earth?

  19. I think he’s certainly not the only one I’ve encountered in LDS spaces online (even faithful ones) that sees the BOM as spiritual text w/o historicity, but I was surprised he called out BCC in particular, as I don’t recall encountering that here….

    So can the circus be over yet? I’m so tired of it all. Both sides.

  20. Help me understand. Is John Dehlin’s statement insulting to BCC folks? I don’t think I necessarily believe in BOM historicity, but I pretty much operate day-to-day assuming that the BOM is a historical record. Not sure what that makes me, but I don’t mind being counted as a faithful, orthoprax believer with minority views on the BOM. I love the book.

  21. It’s not insulting, Joanne, so much as it just misses the mark. I’m sure all of us at BCC have slightly differing views on Book of Mormon origins, and John has no idea what they are. In general, I think it’s in poor taste to publicly speculate about people’s private, spiritual beliefs and motivations, and John has done that about several of us on multiple occasions.

  22. Joanne, I think your views are welcome. For me, the historicity of the book plays a very small role. Not everyone feels the same.

  23. This post is exactly why I read this site.

  24. Nice to hear some of the ol’ John F. again. I thought we lost you after graduate school.

  25. I stand with BCC.

  26. EOR,

    Can you make of meme of that so I can use is as my Facebook avatar?

    Thanks,

    Chris H.

  27. I think you are taking what he said out of context. My understanding was he was saying their are numerous people at yada, yada, bcc, yada, yada, that support liberal orgs or don’t believe lds truth claims. He didn’t only say bloggers at bcc don’t believe the historicity of the bom, his statement was broader than that.

  28. I just listened to the relevant part of the interview, and I think Allyson is right.

  29. Thank you for your testimony.

  30. If context is so important (it always is), then we should be putting those comments not only within the context of the interview, but within the context of John’s history of comments about BCC and faithful Mormon liberals.

  31. Clark Goble says:

    Allyson, while he was making a broader point it’s unfortunately he would list blogs as representing his broader point about doubts without knowing they do. Of course it’s possible he was including the comments since of course people at many blogs have espoused doubts.

  32. Clark Goble says:

    Whoops. That last line should be “it’s possible he was including the comments at these blogs since of course people in the comments at many blogs have espoused doubts.” Mea culpa.

  33. John F. Are you the only blogger on BCC? And if not, do you speak for all the bloggers here? I would be interested in hearing every ones testimony of the Book of Mormon. If there are other bloggers.

  34. Uh whaaaa?

  35. John F. is the only true blogger at BCC.

  36. How exactly did you get unbanned, Chris?

  37. I think you missed me…or something like that.

  38. Awkward.

  39. Thanks for the response Chris. Just some clarification. Is the “only true blogger” any thing like the “only true church”? =)

  40. Me, I’m just happy that Bill Hamblin and John Dehlin now operate in the same rhetorical space in Mormonism.

    kinglamoni,
    If you want to know the state of our testimonies, read the blog.

  41. During the program John Dehlin also says that Elder Holland had affirmed on PBS that you can still be a faithful member of the Church and not believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but it was actually Dan Peterson who said that on PBS, not Holland. So Dehlin had a few things mixed up in this interview, I think. But it seems that in making the comment about BCC, he wanted BCC bloggers to serve as examples of faithful unorthodox members who haven’t been disciplined. Similarly there is a part of the interview where he suggests (for the first time ever) that getting a new stake president was something that led to his disciplinary council. He says that a lot of members have unorthodox beliefs and support gay marriage and women’s ordination but haven’t been disciplined because their local leadership doesn’t think that they need to be disciplined. I think that in this instance and in the BCC mention, he was trying to present excommunication as something that could’ve happened to a number of people, which somewhat contradicts his earlier narrative about how he was exceptional because his strong, vocal support of LGBTQ rights and Ordain Women was what actually led to his disciplinary council.

  42. It’s one thing to express your doubt. It’s another thing to encourage and nurture others’ doubts.

  43. Thank you for your testimony John F.

  44. On PBS’s site, they have this transcript with Elder Holland’s picture. So unless they got the wrong picture with the words, he IS saying that literal belief isn’t required?

    [You say] there are stark choices in beliefs about the origins of the book. Explain why there’s no middle way.

    … If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to you. That’s what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount somebody’s liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. …

    I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: “This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.

  45. No one speaks for me but me. And sometimes John F, when he eloquently says what I wish I had said.

  46. Thank you and amen.

  47. Where the hell is your “like” button? There are at least ten comments in here that I want to put a “thumbs up” on. Great post, John. Great comments, people. BCC is knocking it out of the park this week. Very, very well done.

  48. Thanks for this, John. I love the formal commonalities between your statement and the collects in the Mormon Lectionary Project (which readers of BCC will recognize as a devotional series that routinely quotes the Book of Mormon in a believing context).

  49. Dehlin’s stated of intelligent, educated members aware of historicity issues: “In my experience, anyone who is smart, who has looked at the evidence, and who is not willing to concede this [that the BOM is a work of fiction] — almost always has some set of forces bearing down upon them (e.g., familial, social, financial, psychological) that prevent them from being able to acknowledge this reality. But it is reality.”

    Perhaps he’s giving BCC a compliment when he says you don’t believe. At least you’re able to acknowledge this “reality” — unlike the rest of us self-deluded fools. Personally, I’m still trying to decide whether it’s social or psychological forces at work on me…. =)

    Thank you, BCC, for all that you have done, and that I hope you will continue to do, to shore up my faith when my boat gets a little rocked.

  50. May I just say, as a fairly long-time reader but infrequent commenter, that I don’t care at all whether the bloggers at BCC believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. What I do care about is that BCC is, as a whole, a thoughtful, faithful, and independent voice in the Mormon world. Furthermore, as far as I can see, BCC has resisted the temptation to aggrandize itself over and against the church. Thanks to all of you for your hard work in providing this forum – while I don’t agree with everything ever posted here, I don’t hesitate to say that on a balance it is very good.

  51. I’m in the camp Elder Holland describes. I really don’t know about the historicity or divinity of all of it (and I’ve looked into it quite a bit). I’m not comfortable with some parts of it, but there are some beautiful passages that have given me great comfort. Which I suppose means I rank it about the same as all other scripture, including GC talks. I take the good parts that work for me and leave the rest in the weird pile. But I don’t actually share this with church leaders. I’m not sure they’d all be as accepting as E. Holland or Maverick.

  52. Was it really an unsubstantiated comment? I don’t follow BCC authors closely, but aren’t there at least a couple who have publicly said they reject Book of Mormon historicity? I’m thinking about folks like John Hamer and J. Nelson-Seawright. Seems like most of the big lds blog sites have a mix of views on the subject.

  53. I appreciate hearing/reading your testimony. Could I ask you a clarifying question. When I hear you say you believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, does that leave any room that at least some of the events in the Book of Mormon could be fictional? Or do you believe all of the people and stories within it really happened?

    I have struggled to reconcile the story of the Brother of Jared as historical in my mind. If he was historical, then you have to accept a tower of babel as historical. If you accept the tower of babel story as historical, then you have to accept that there was only one language at that time, and which were ultimately confounded by God to create at one time the multiplicity of languages we now experience.

    If you accept those points as historical, that flies in the face of linguistics and archeological studies which shows a dramatically different version of reality.

    I know some would argue this is peripheral to the gospel of salvation and so can be ignored. However, I believe it is at the heart of your desired belief that the Book of Mormon is historical.

    How do you reconcile such relevant contradictions like this as to the historicity of the Book of Mormon?

    This is a sincere question. And thank you.

  54. @Ellen, sorry that my comment wasn’t clear. I wasn’t contesting the fact that Elder Holland (and other general authorities) are okay with members who believe non-literally. I just think that when Dehlin provided that particular paraphrase and attributed it to Elder Holland, it seemed instead to directly correspond to the following statement by Dan Peterson on PBS:

    “I know people who are active, faithful members of the church who don’t believe in the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. … I’m not in a hurry to throw them out.”

    I thought this because this quote was specifically about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. But now I see that it could totally also have been Holland’s statement (the one that you quoted) that he had had in mind, especially since the “But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that” part is similar.

    [Side note: “[You say] there are stark choices in beliefs about the origins of the book. Explain why there’s no middle way” is the interview question, not something that Holland himself said. So those statements are excerpts from a longer statement that he made, but I definitely still appreciate his understanding of and care for members who struggle with literal belief.]

    Basically I just had the sense that during the interview, Dehlin was reaching for a lot of different examples to support a narrative about his excommunication and its context, but the examples weren’t all clear in his mind. So when he said this thing about BCC bloggers, it could’ve been that he’d gotten things mixed up (there’s another part where he says “1993” a few times instead of “2006” and apologizes for being nervous) and/or that he was looking to create this narrative which I have to say is a little different from the one that he had been building prior to his disciplinary council.

  55. A sincere thank you for your statement, John.

    (I did find it hard to parse, though. I had to read it several times to internalize it all. Breaking it up into several sentences would have sped that process up a lot!)

  56. Good stuff, John.

    I’ve always felt that the bloggers here at BCC are nowhere near the subversive apostates that many on both sides paint them as. Granted, I clearly disagree with some of the content and arguments here, but I in no way disagree with the intent behind them.

  57. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I may be asking the same question as 7MormonQuestions, but….

    Can someone clarify for me the difference between BofM ‘Historicity’ vs belief in the BofM as revealed scripture and Another testament of Jesus Christ?

    Thanks

  58. @ 7mormonquestions (and this will be my only reply before I get back to work, and it’s a little off topic from the main post). You can say that you believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon while not necessarily believing that every jot and tittle was accurately recorded and transmitted, or even that all of the supposedly historical documents that the compilers were working off of were in fact historical and not apocryphal. In regards to your specific example, of course some groups might claim descent from the tower of Babel. It’s certainly not a novel thing in the ancient or modern world or now to claim genealogical affiliation with a well-known mythological event. The OT and NT were formed across centuries and a lot snuck in that wasn’t historical. If we’re going to take the BoM seriously as an ancient document then the same dynamic was probably at work; I’d be surprised if the compilers at the end all had 100% accurate historical documents covering hundreds of years when there is no precedent for such a thing in ancient history. Once you take that into account, plus the process of translation and JS trying to figure things out in his heart and in his mind (with help from the KJV), it opens up more than enough space for believing that there was an actual Moroni without forcing the idea that Moroni somehow received a word-for-word identical version of an English translation of 1 Corinthians 13, the historicity of the tower of Babel, or virtually any other difficult-to-believe thing in the BoM.

  59. @7mormonquestions, just ask yourself, “Are there any plausible historical events that could have led to the creation of the story I’m reading in the scriptures as a good-faith by some inspired person attempt to remember the past and teach important principles.”

    E.g.: a large group of people who share a language (and don’t give a hoot about the weirdos who live on the other side of the desert and speak a different language) build a temple and begin administering ordinances without authority. Subsequently the climate in their region changes, decimating their livelihoods and scattering them to the seven winds. One group ultimately ends up in the Americas because there is a righteous prophet in their midst. Boom, Jaredites. [Or one of a million other possibilities that could result in the same stories being told later…]

  60. @adjunct.

    I could agree with there are possible historical events that could lead to the scenario that you have described.

    I am not sure I would agree that the story of the Brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon fits your scenario (i.e., first hand account and documentation as opposed to oral history over centuries ultimately written down by a distant prophet/scribe/historian).

    But I conceptually agree with the general possibility.

  61. @kant66. That helps if the testimony of believing something is historical is also nuanced with the possibility of details of it not being historical due to transmission errors, etc.

    Asking someone to believe that the content of the Book of Mormon is 100% historical in all parts puts it in a position that is difficult to defend. At least in my opinion.

    So allowing room to not have to ignore reality would be helpful in the journey.

  62. Amen, john f.

    To 7 mormonquestions’s question, I can’t speak for john, but it seems that there is a lot of middle ground. On a very narrow view, affirming Book of Mormon history might mean no more than affirming a belief in Joseph Smith’s story about the origin of the book—that he got the book by revelation, from an ancient record that an angel calling himself Moroni directed him to—but taking no position on the actual existence Nephi, the Brother of Jared, etc., or on the historical accuracy of the book’s portrayal of such characters. A much broader view would say that every person in the book lived and everything happened exactly as it says in the book, no more, no less. But it seems that there is a broad range of possibilities between these two extremes, such as, for example, affirming Joseph’s Smith’s story, but doubting the historical Nephi, the historical Jaredites, affirming the existence of Nephi, but doubting the accuracy of his portrayal in all details, viewing the Jaredites as a myth held to by the Nephites, doubting the Mulekites’ origin story and suspecting that they were just a local tribe that made up their Jerusalem origins as a way to get a foot in the door in Nephite society, etc.

    As for me personally, I wholeheartedly and without reservation confess the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    But I also take seriously it’s warning about the “mistakes of men,” and the Doctrine and Covenants’ description of the book as a “record of a fallen people,” which means, to me, that while it may have been miraculously preserved and translated, it was not dictated by God himself, but is a work of human beings. If the Book of Mormon is a truly historical document, as I believe it to be–that is, an authentic ancient document–of course it is not going to be “historical” in the sense of meeting the standards of modern historiography (let alone geography); and more likely than not, it’s going to contain at least some myths and legends presented as if they were history; in many ways, parts of it are going to be more like the Old Testament, or even the Old Norse sagas than a strictly “historical” account. But all that should not detract from the message of the book, which is to affirm the New Testament’s witness of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, and his divinity as the Son, one God with the Father and the Holy Ghost.

  63. Its not like John D is claiming to be Gods mouth peace. Give him some slack people.

  64. The Book of Mormon is an astonishing (and, I believe, inspired) 19th-century text. That position does not need to be litigated here because, deep down, John F. and the most Orthodox voices on this website, know that to be so.

  65. Does that belief come with mind reading skills? Because not taking people at their word and presuming to have some deeper understanding of their psyche than they themselves have seems a little presumptuous.

  66. “When I hear you say you believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, does that leave any room that at least some of the events in the Book of Mormon could be fictional?”

    7questions: absolutely. May I recommend to you Michael Austin’s book Rereading Job (Kofford: 2014) if you are having difficulty conceptualizing fictional stories, myth, or fables, parables, visions, or dreams as fully scriptural and, in fact, intentionally used by God in these formats?

    As to the Jaredites, I don’t suppose that any reasoning I could give would really solve that for you. Suffice it to say, I am not anti-science at all and fully accept the data and abundant research and analysis that is available to us in the historical and anthropological record; also, I accept the Jaredite narrative as presented; that is, I believe that, yes, they existed (as in “There were Jaredites“). But I don’t believe that ancient desert tribal shaman scribes were writing history according to the parameters of the nineteenth-century German school, or that God intended them to do so. I don’t believe that if President Monson were to write a “history” of the Restoration from his point of view and with the intention of situating the meaning of the Restoration in the context of our times in the twenty-first century that it could be regarded as a reliable source of “history” by someone picking it up in the year 2215. But I believe that it could be scripture on various levels or in various selections, conveying the word of God to us in a way that is or could be (should be) meaningful to us now and to the reader in 2215, especially if it contains actual revelation designated as such (“thus saith the Lord”).

    Knowing President Monson, the document would include delightful personal anecdotes that teach simple ethical lessons or invoke a lot of empathy and understanding, whether every single detail in those anecdotes are entirely historically accurate or not (based, as they would be, on a man’s memory, which we all know or should know through common sense rarely provides us with a completely accurate picture of an experience that we’ve had, even though we ourselves experienced it — our memory of it looks different than it would have perhaps looked to an outside observer, not least because of the unique meaning that we ourselves imprint on it.) It would contain his perspective about world events based on the sources and observations available to him. If separate knowledge about such events had come to him directly as revelation, hopefully he would identify it as such in the narrative. I believe he would. If he learned something in a vision or dream as opposed to reading in the New York Times, I fully expect and believe that he would explain that. No doubt in 2215, there would be no lack of Christians or Mormons or Mormon-Christians who would read the Monson document as literally as possible. But that would not change the fact that the Monson writing would be meaningful to believers for reasons other than purporting to be a history book from which to learn historical information — and yet President Monson was a real person discussing things he really perceived, contemplated, and understood during his times.

    As to the Jaredites, I believe it benefits us spiritually to try to think these things through. That, in my opinion, is what motivates the “apologists” — and their thought-processes and conclusions are fascinating to read. They are not binding. One is free to disagree with conclusions or to use fragments of their ideas to build one’s own ideas, etc. Or to offer competing explanations that equally speak to evidences, etc. (I see the critics’ participation in this process as completely valid, as they are simply offering their competing explanations — the dialogue is fruitful and drives inquiry, which results in more knowledge.) Is there one particular way that we are required to read the Jaredite story if we believe “there were Jaredites”? Does tying that story to Babel really mean that the believer who believes that “there were Jaredites” also therefore must believe that before Babel all homo sapiens or possibly their predecessors really spoke with only one language? I see no reason why that would need to be the case.

    By the way, may I also recommend James Faulconer’s series on making the scriptures harder? I think it unlocks many doors.

    “I did find it hard to parse, though. I had to read it several times to internalize it all. Breaking it up into several sentences would have sped that process up a lot!”

    Bryan, sorry about that — I know it was a terrible run-on sentence and very circular. But I wrote it quickly on my phone as I stood on the train platform on my commute home yesterday — definitely not a good writing/thinking posture. I’ve considered editing it a number of times since posting it but ultimately just decided it’s only blogging!

  67. John.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my question. That helps me understand a little bit more where you are coming from. I can respect your sincerity.

  68. I believe! No woman or man speaks for me. I believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon as a component of my testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet, called of God, to bring greater understanding to the world including an additional witness of Jesus Christ in whose atonement I have faith for my salvation. I think my relationship with the scriptures and the messages they convey has matured as I have developed a deeper understanding of how the authors of these books sought to provide illustrations of God’s relationship to each of us through the passages they recorded on the plates.

  69. kinglamoni says:

    @ eponymous Thanks for sharing your testimony. Do you believe the Book of Mormon to be an accurate historical document as well?

  70. You are totally right. I should not have mentioned BCC or other blogs by name in that interview. I apologize.

  71. Je suis BCC. And Nephi, or Mormon, might have been Paul H Dunn, too. The fact that the BoM might not be perfectly historically accurate doesn’t detract from its message. The Bible is lousy history, too, but worth reading nonetheless.

    Heck, Parson Weems’ bio of George Washington is fiction from cover to cover, but there’s still something to be gleaned by it as long as you don’t use it as a guide to your archaeological digs.

  72. John, you don’t owe us an apology. You’ve got bigger fish to fry, seriously, and BCC should not be a source of angst for you. John Fowles wanted to clarify and disambiguate, which is probably appropriate, but I don’t think offense was taken by anyone here.

  73. Thanks John D.

  74. Thank you, John.

  75. Yes: thank you, John.

  76. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    Tangential by now perhaps, but re: Jaredites–

    Even the most literal reading of Ether would assume it to be JS’s translation of Moroni’s abridgment of Ether’s record (24 plates) of what happened 30 generations previously.

    It does indeed present a first-person narrative for much of the early story, but we’re not given the provenance of those quotations.

    Moroni’s wrestling in Ether 12 with getting the verbiage just right paints a sympathetic picture to me of an imperfect but faithful and historically credible prophetic author.

  77. I wish we could hear over the General Conference pulpit in plain English exactly what Elder Holland said in the interview – “I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me…as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” He bears his strong testimony of the historicity of the book and explains why alternative views absolutely don’t work, FOR HIM. But a statement like this would give the rest of us a place at the table and a pew in the chapel. It would set a standard of inclusiveness for the whole church.

  78. I shouldn’t say, “the rest of us.” I mean “people like me.”

  79. “I shouldn’t say, ‘the rest of us.’ I mean ‘people like me.'”

    Thanks, Ellen. At its heart, I suppose that is actually the point of the original post.

  80. MikeInWeHo says:

    This is great stuff, John F. Do you think the LDS church is gradually moving in the direction of the Community of Christ regarding the BoM? My understanding is that they still embrace it as canonical but acknowledge a wide range of views on its origins, and that in fact their members do hold a range of views.

    I agree with Adrian. Is there really anything to discuss on this topic anymore? The more I read the BoM, the more convinced I am that it is a genuinely inspired document. It really is America’s contribution to scripture.

  81. I really am very grateful for this post, thank you.

  82. It is truly American scripture. I definitely don’t think the Church is starting to lean the way of the CoC as to Book of Mormon origins. I really don’t think it should, personally, though I do agree that each individual member should own his or her own view and allow all others the same freedom — welcoming and respecting even those who doubt BoM historicity or outright think that it is fiction. It can be a matter of discussion that enriches us all! Perhaps those who believe in the historicity of the book can enliven and uplift those who don’t! Perhaps those who don’t can spark deeper introspection about it in those who do. And so on.

  83. Nathaniel Hancock says:

    John F. and I agree on something. This is a wonderful day. Thank you for this!

  84. Actually Allie, Elder Holland did in fact make the comment John referred to in the PBS interview:

    “There are plenty of people who question the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and they are firmly in this church — firmly, in their mind, in this church — and the church isn’t going to take action against that.”

    http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html

    Looks like times have changed.

  85. Not quite there yet says:

    I’ve loved this thread, but the rush of BCC bloggers to reaffirm that they *do* believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon reaffirms–as we all know–that it’s “not quite as acceptable” in our culture to believe in a non-literal or a-historical BOM than a historical one. Otherwise, why the urgent defense? Why the suggestions in these comments that, given John F’s affirmation of historicity, the BCC bloggers aren’t apostates after all? (Implying that non-literality or ahistoricity IS sort-of apostate). Why the semantic contortions of accepting BOM “historicity” even while admitting that the chronicled events may not have actually happened?

    Our culture may grudgingly tolerate unorthodox BOM beliefs. We may not (in most cases) kick people out of the church for their non-literal viewpoint, IF they stay quiet about it. But the messages are loud and clear that it is not viewed as an equally valid viewpoint. Take Dan Peterson, for example. Although in 2007 he may not have been “in a rush” to kick people out of the church for unorthodox BOM views, he sure doesn’t want them at the Maxwell Institute! Recently, of course, we’ve seen high drama from him and others about whether Benjamin Parks was espousing in a review article that the BOM had 19th century influences. The focus of the debate has been on whether Ben had actually espoused such views, not whether or not they were sufficiently acceptable to show up in print in a Maxwell Institute publication. It went without saying in the blog drama that they weren’t.

    So there’s (probably) room in the church for you if you don’t take the Book of Mormon literally or think it actually took place. Just don’t talk or write about your views. And with a bit more spirituality on your point, you just might come around and see that it actually is good history.

  86. “why the urgent defense?”

    Because it was made a matter of high profile public discussion yesterday, and it seemed appropriate to set the record straight.

    As for your other points, I dunno. There’s something to them. But I don’t think I’d let public opinion be the determining factor in my testimony. Who knows? Maybe we’re all slaves to society.

  87. MikeInWeHo says:

    For decades the Church has asserted that the BoM is the “keystone of our religion” and that the whole faith rests on it being what it claims to be, a historical account of ancient peoples. Think of the many talks where the leaders of the church have said things along the lines of “Either it’s true, or the church is a fraud.” It’s a consistent refrain, although less so of late.

    Evangelicals look to 1 Corinthians 15:14 as the core challenge of belief. Everything hinges on whether or not Christ rose from the dead.

    The LDS church laid down a very similar challenge, essentially “If the plates be not real, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is in vain.”

    With that assertion at its very core, and the BoM being what it is (and everybody having access to the information), it seems to me that contemporary Mormonism is in a bit of a dilemma. It is striking that the Church has not published a Gospel Topics essay on the actual content of the Book of Mormon.

  88. Not quite there yet says:

    MikeInWeHo –

    Excellent points. But I still think the BOM can be the “keystone” and be “true” even while incorporating some non-literality/ahistoricity. I am personally quite attracted to the “Expansion Theory” of Blake Ostler and the “Loose Translation” analysis of Brant Gardner–perhaps intermixed with the possibility of the BOM including myths, fables, parables, etc.–which allow substantial wiggle room for belief. Granted, Ostler and Gardner’s theories assume Joseph had actual plates in his possession. But, given that his BOM translation didn’t actually require him to look at the plates thanks to his “interpreters,” I’m not sure that actual physical plates are ultimately necessary for an interpretation that the BOM was inspired of God. The consequence of thinking there were no plates would also be believing that Joseph did not tell the truth about the plates – but having a prophet not tell the truth about certain things is not unprecedented either (e.g., polygamy denials). One could still believe God had inspired all of it. In short, “historicity” may not be at all necessary for BOM truthfulness.

    Relatedly, I don’t think Joseph’s calling as a prophet stands or falls with the BOM. He did many marvelous, prophetic things in addition to the BOM translation that could lead a person to believe he was a prophet of God. So I disagree with the common logic “If the Book of Mormon is true (or false), then the Church is true (or false).”

    Finally – I hope the litmus test for mormonism isn’t BOM historicity, rather than Christ’s divinity and resurrection. Talk about missing the mark and confusing the plate for the food.

  89. Not Quite, some good points, especially your last.

  90. Clark Goble says:

    What does it mean to have some ahistoricity? For instance I’ve always taken Zeno’s story of the vineyard metaphorically. Likewise while I think there were real Nephites I think it fair to read the narratives with a hermeneutics of suspicion – I’m not sure the Nephite recorders were always terribly fair to the Lamanites. (So much so that Jesus had to force them to event mention Samuel) As you noted a loose translation (which I think this the strongest position for the Book of Mormon) entails there isn’t a 1:1 relation between statements and history. Which of course one can hold and simultaneously think the book talks about events that really happened.

    I hope we don’t create a dichotomy where we’re trapped between fundamentalist Evangelical inerrantist like readings of the Book of Mormon or it’s “inspired fiction.” I think the truth is on neither side of that divide.

  91. That’s one impressive run-on sentence :)

    In all seriousness, John, I appreciate your post but I want to try and understand you more, as I believe that’s really at the heart of what we’re trying to do here.

    I appreciate the fact that you believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. But it strikes me as odd that one would choose to back up a belief in historicity (which is, in and of itself, a very scientific/academic claim) with spiritual evidence.

    It would seem to me that one would back up spiritual claims with spiritual “evidence” and historical claims with historical evidence. I see little of that in your post, although I’m wondering if that’s what you’re referring to toward the end when you reference “Mormon scholars” who are your friends and family?

    Do you take into account any of the evidence as to the historicity/lack of historicity from non-Mormon scholars?

    I know that John Dehlin rankles many here with his use of the word “apologist,” but I think the essence of what he is getting at is that an apologist is someone who leads with faith first, then accepts whatever evidence allows support of that faith, and largely discards the rest.

    It seems upon first glance at your OP, that’s what you’re doing, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth. That’s just my interpretation of your post.

    Really appreciate your thoughts on this.

  92. !! Thank you Jay and Ellen for finding those PBS quotes. I feel the same way, that it’s really wonderful to hear General Authorities affirm that there is a place for those of us who have a hard time with the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It reminds me of what Pres. Uchtdorf said at the last Conference about how the Church is a place for people with all kinds of testimonies to be together. And I have to admit that that might’ve been part of John Dehlin’s argument during the interview. I guess I just felt skeptical of Dehlin. Like Marc, Roman, and others, I’ve noticed that Dehlin tends to have a disdain for more literal believers, so even if that wasn’t his posture at the time of the interview, when he named a bunch of Mormon groups as examples of unorthodox believers like himself, it felt like he was trying to gather a bunch of people for his own defense and put them in his Smart Mormons Club. But I might’ve read him wrong. It’s hard because I feel like he has some good intentions, and I regret his excommunication, but all the media drama lately that he has been strategically generating makes me feel so wary of him, especially when it feels dishonest and self-serving, so if he tried to recruit me as an ally of his, even just by mentioning me as a believer in a non-historical Book of Mormon, I would be mad and feel the need to set the record straight. It looks like he has apologized though on his Facebook fan page and recognized why people didn’t like what he said:
    https://www.facebook.com/johndehlinpublic

    Dehlin aside, it is awesome to see testimonies like John F.’s and to know that whether we believe strongly in the historicity of the Book of Mormon or do not have a testimony about its historicity, we can have unity through shared belief and shared goals. Thanks Ellen and everyone for your thoughts in this thread.

  93. MikeInWeHo says:

    “….an apologist is someone who leads with faith first, then accepts whatever evidence allows support of that faith, and largely discards the rest.”

    Very well stated.

  94. Better: a human is someone who leads with relatively fixed beliefs, then accepts whatever evidence allows support of those beliefs, and largely discards the rest.

    It’s called confirmation bias, and we’ve all got it.

  95. If the only way for you to make sense of my post is to categorize me as an apologist, I am completely comfortable with that. Because, yes, I am a believer. Of course that does not mean I reject science, data, or evidence. I just don’t have to accept that the science, data, or evidence mean what John Dehlin says they mean.

    If you think that John Dehlin is not also an apologist though for different ultimate claims, then you are deluding yourself.

  96. While that’s true, Kristine, I don’t think it’s impossible to acknowledge said confirmation bias and try to come at things from a different perspective as much as we can allow ourselves to do so. We’re not completely powerless to our biases.

    I guess what I’m doing is asking John F if he sees his belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon as grounded in solid historical/scientific evidence or grounded mainly in spiritual evidence. If the former, I’d love for him to expound. If the latter, well, I’m not quite sure what to make of historical claims backed up by purely spiritual evidence.

  97. James Patterson is an apologist for John Dehlin. He is the Dan Peterson of Mormon Stories.

  98. I approach the word apologist from a less pejorative perspective, although I acknowledge many do not. Frankly, I see apologists at the other end of the spectrum from scientists (using the latter term very loosely).

    Scientists base their “findings” purely on evidence, and acknowledge the possibility of any future evidence contradicting current findings.

    Apologists, on the other hand, arrive first at findings (based mostly on spiritual or emotional evidence) and largely dismiss any future evidence that may contradict their current findings.

    I’m not saying one is better or worse than the other. I’m merely acknowledging the two ends of the spectrum and wondering where you fall, based on your OP.

    I really didn’t want this to get into a discussion about John Dehlin. I only brought him up because recently many at BCC have rankled at his accusations of him labeling your blog/forum as apologetic, and I’m just wondering if you can see how your post may be evidence of that.

    If you want to derail this topic into a discussion of how John D is an apologist for “different ultimate claims,” be my guest, but that’s not really what I was going after in my comment.

  99. FWIW, now that I’ve been publicly outed, I think it’s fair to point out that I’m about a thousand times more bullish about the historicity of the Book of Mormon that John Dehlin has been in his public comments. We see things very differently on a number of different fronts. If anything, I’m an apologist for the fact that John Dehlin is a guy who has brought me nothing but comfort and love and support in my life. All the rest, to me, is details.

    Personally, I’m very much on the fence in regards to the Book of Mormon. I think it’s way too complicated to put it either in a “historical” or “not historical” bucket. I continue to straddle the fence.

    I think it’s pretty fair to say that the Book of Mormon is not what the church long claimed it to be — a literal record written by ancient Jews who came to America, split off into the Nephites and Lamanites, the latter of which became the Native Americans.

    I also think the evidence bears out the fact that Joseph didn’t do a “direct” translation of gold plates, meaning he essentially dictated the book from direct “revelation,” although I’m not sure what the implications of revelation exactly are.

    However, I do find the theories of Joseph completely fabricating the book (even with the help of Spaulding and/or Rigdon and/or Cowdery) not convincing, and I don’t think Joseph was nearly educated enough to pull a feat off purely by himself.

    That, combined with the fact that I derive incredible spiritual power from the Book of Mormon (it brings me spiritual comfort and helps me feel more connected to God and Jesus Christ as my Savior), combined with the problematic historical/anachronistic aspects of the Book of Mormon put me squarely on top of the fence.

    It’s not an easy place to be, but that’s where I am. I value it, but I question it. It makes me feel happy, but it also makes me feel uncomfortable. All at the same time.

  100. “I don’t believe that ancient desert tribal shaman scribes were writing history according to the parameters of the nineteenth-century German school, or that God intended them to do so.”

    Excellent stuff, John. Thanks for this.

  101. John Mansfield says:

    A friend who is a lawyer was said, “My father looked at things very scientifically; he was a psychologist.” As one who works in the intersection of physics and engineering, I first thought to myself, “Well, psychology may seem scientific to a lawyer, but someone with a scientific mindset would be drawn to fields like chemistry or geology.” Mulling it over more, though, I realized that my friend was more right than me. Thinking about atoms and molecules scientifically is easy to do—it’s hard to think of an alternative non-scientific framing, but thinking about human relations or the workings of the mind scientifically is more unusual, and someone who is trying to do so is looking at the world more scientifically than someone who limits that mode of thought to things that can be measured in newtons or electonvolts.

    That has come to mind listening to John Dehlin invoke science. I don’t get a sense listening to him invoke it that he has much of a personal feeling for science; it seems to just be an alternate authority to turn to in the absence of God. Immersion in the workings of science sometimes leaves me with a feeling of despair at ever being able to nail anything down. There is a lot of faith that goes into sticking with a scientific process long enough and comb through all the errors in method and design to arrive at a point that an experiment or theory isn’t producing nonsense. That’s not how people deal with most things of importance to them.

  102. Well then, as to whatever you were after in your comment, yes, my faith in Jesus Christ, to which my belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon is only peripheral at best, rests on both spiritual evidences and intellectual evidences. Not so difficult now, was it?

    As an aside, I take it as axiomatic that belief always arises from wanting to believe. Different people will have had different spiritual and temporal experiences in life that directly affect the level of desire each individual has to believe. If someone doesn’t particularly want to believe in the Church’s own narrative about its truth claims, I am completely comfortable with that and wish him or her well. I acknowledge and accept that if one’s beliefs trend in that direction, then it is quite easy to build an evidentiary case against the Church’s truth claims. (Though in many cases, including in John Dehlin’s podcasts, the evidence that I’ve seen mustered against the Church’s truth claims doesn’t adequately address plausible counterarguments supporting the Church’s narrative.)

    As to your specific concerns or evidences against the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I don’t begrudge you them but also have no desire to argue about them with you in this thread. The purpose of my post was not to invite a reinvention of the wheel as to arguments of Book of Mormon evidences but simply to correct the record since John Dehlin took the opportunity in a public radio interview focusing on himself to claim that people at BCC don’t believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and yet don’t get disciplined. Since that doesn’t accurately apply to me, I see no reason not to address it directly in public.

  103. I’m not in this to argue with you, John F. I stated at the outset that I want to understand you. I’m disappointed that we arrived here as a result of that desire.

  104. Etymologically, an apologist is simply someone who defends something or someone against certain charges (Greek apo- [against] + lego [speak]). Some defenses hold up under scrutiny, while others do not, but that does not make the act of defense in itself either good or bad. Some things do in fact need defending, and people who engage in said defenses are by definition apologists. There’s no reason to make the word polemical, notwithstanding its association in Mormon parlance with Daniel Peterson et al. Judge the defenses, not the people.

    To the suggestion that apologists are driven by logical priors, I don’t see how any of us can avoid being apologists so defined. Modern cognitive science is finding that much of what we call reason is devoted to post hoc justification of what our amygdala has already decided. This isn’t to say that we should abandon reason, but it does mean that we should abandon unsupportable claims to objectivity. For many of us, our biggest logical prior is the idea that we see the world clearly, and we routinely dismiss evidence that would damage that most precious of self-perceptions.

  105. Chris, a friendly reminder: you’ve been banned here before, and believe me it can happen again.

  106. Steve, I will leave rather than be excommunicated. :)

  107. John: “I take it as axiomatic that belief always arises from wanting to believe.”

    This is an interesting statement, but I am not sure it is true. Sometimes, at least in my personal experience, belief has come and persisted despite my efforts to the contrary. Unbelief in Mormonism would be a lot easier. But I cannot deny my testimony.

  108. Clark Goble says:

    James (the 8:13 comment) I don’t think most Mormons (at least from my experience) buy into the whole demarcation between religion and science either in terms of stuff they denote or in terms of how we know (epistemology). I know this is a common move among some religionists to cut religion off from science. Thus these religionists critique say Evangelicals who pit the early chapters of Genesis against Darwin. The response is that they are about different things.

    While I tend to agree on the exegesis of creation there, I don’t think we can separate science from religion. So religion must account from what we learn in science. Lots of GAs have said this, especially Pres. Kimball, where there’s no conflict between true religion and true science because truth is truth. One way of looking at the apologist movement from the 80’s is to see it as taking science extremely seriously and thinking we need to rethink our exegesis of scripture to be compatible with science. (I know not everyone sees it that way, but I really think that explains a lot)

    As for spiritual experience only informing spiritual knowledge I just don’t see that as true. For one many scientists claim their scientific insight came from spiritual experience. That is I’ve met especially Mormon scientists who see their key insights as coming from revelation. Second, it’s just unclear why revelation would limit itself to spiritual topics. If it’s functional epistemological it seems its only limits could be determined by what it addresses. If for an individual it hasn’t addressed topics except for vague spiritual issues that’s fine. I think we should be careful to assume it doesn’t address more broadly for others. Finally, if we take the claims of religious experience seriously by Joseph, it seems many of the revelations have significant physical implications.

    While Chris (8:59) is being a bit snarky, I think he raises an important point though. An apologist is just someone who makes a defense for a position. As such they aren’t only about religion but also politics and a lot else. Even defending John. (And there’s nothing wrong with that – I’m just making a semantic point) I think because of the nature of religion apologists there are far more limited. Because spiritual experience isn’t a public phenomena typically they can’t appeal to that. Thus they can at best show that what is claimed by such experience need not conflict with science.

  109. Clark Goble says:

    James (9:19) I think we have to distinguish between history in the modern sense, history in the 19th century sense, and how ancients wrote it. While certainly many, including in the 19th century, were naive in terms of a historical hermeneutic I think you yourself make the same mistake here. After all how history was written in the 19th century was quite different from today. One needn’t just look at the History of the Church which isn’t history the way we think of it either. However if you’ve read much 19th century history you’ll recall that it was heavily biased too. I recall a history of the English/French wars written by a prominent 19th century historian which carried a theme that the French lost because they were papists. So in some ways history, as understood in Joseph or Brigham’s time often had more in common with the style of “desert tribal scribes” than it does with a lot done today. (Although I’d suggest there are some contemporary movements due to postmodern tendencies that sometimes push history more back to that 19th century model albeit simply privileging people of low power or status rather than the high status winners)

    I think we have to read the Book of Mormon carefully and not naively. To take into consideration that point that the authors were not well read careful 21st century university professors. I’m not sure that undermines the historicity of the text even if it often means we have to read with a hermeneutics of suspicion. (My favorite example is keeping an eye to how the Nephites view the Lamanites and how that biases their accounts)

    Finally in (9:34) you make an interesting comment. “I take it as axiomatic that belief always arises from wanting to believe.” I don’t think that’s true. For instance, especially in science, surprise is what often changes belief. When you are surprised by experience we tend to change our beliefs to the new situation. Maybe you are never surprised but only confirm what you want. But I think it is a fairly common phenomena.

    I don’t think belief is volitional. I can’t go outside, want to believe the sky is pink, and then believe the sky is pink. If I go outside and the sky is blue it’s quite difficult to believe it is pink regardless of what I want.

    What I think we can do is want to know and inquire. That’s what guides us to belief. Now it’s true that our biases, preconceptions, and past experiences affect what we believe. And not in a controlled fashion. Again belief is not volitional. However as we inquiry that element of surprise means that so long as we honestly inquire our beliefs will adapt to our experiences.

  110. “Sometimes, at least in my personal experience, belief has come and persisted despite my efforts to the contrary. Unbelief in Mormonism would be a lot easier. But I cannot deny my testimony.”

    I can relate to this. Not always. But sometimes.

  111. Clark Goble says:

    Steve, like Wm, I can definitely relate to that comments. It would often be much easier had the spiritual things I have to account for not happened. But I can’t deny they did happen. They intrinsically affect my belief in ways I just can’t control.

  112. Thank you, Steve. That’s the pull I feel as well.

  113. Not quite there yet says:

    A couple of thoughts: let’s table for a moment whether certain individuals we call “Alma,” “Nephi,” etc. actually existed and wrote for the Book of Mormon.

    As is well-known, many Mormon scholars now believe in a limited-geography model of the Book of Mormon focused in MesoAmerica. This contrasts with generations of LDS members who previously believed that the Book of Mormon encompassed the whole hemisphere. In other words, current apologists are basically saying that generations of prior LDS members were WRONG in their beliefs. Yet how can this be? We have generations of previous Saints just “knowing”—purportedly through the Holy Ghost, no less–that the Book of Mormon took place over the entire continent. Now some ragtag group of FARMS scholars with PhDs come and say that all this is bunk.

    Who is right—our ancestors (including Joseph Smith) with purported spiritual insight that the BOM covered the entire continent, or the secular PhDs? Why did people believe so strongly in the hemispheric model, if we now think it is wrong? Will our current conceptions of the “historical BOM” be thrown under the bus by next century’s FARMS scholars? Is truth determined by secular scholars, by the Spirit, or by both? What happens when these truths conflict? Is the lesson from all this that we shouldn’t expect or trust spiritual confirmation for secular facts about the Book of Mormon?

    I think we need to invent a new vocabulary to describe the reality of the Book of Mormon. “Historicity” and “history” don’t seem appropriate. “History” as a discipline is practiced according to secular methods of a group of people known as “historians” with disparate ideologies who are nevertheless able to agree on certain facts. If the Book of Mormon is “historical,” then we must accept (1) that truth about it can be ascertained by the methods of historical inquiry; (2) as practiced by people of diverse ideologies (i.e. non-mormons); (3) and that these truths may or may not confirm our pre-conceived notions of theological truth.

    Is the Church ready to allow the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon to be determined by secular scholars? By non-mormons? If so, be prepared to have “truth” change every generation or so as a new crop of scholars writes history.

    I would argue that we shouldn’t pretend, or even desire, that the BOM is “historical.” Our church is not willing to subordinate spiritual methods of inquiry to secular ones; not willing to let historical truth overturn theological truth; not willing to allow people of other ideologies to shape our “truth”; and not willing to have eternal “truths” change from generation to generation depending on which scholars happen to be most brilliant or prolific.

    I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s just agree, then, that even if certain things in the Book of Mormon really happened, that the Book of Mormon is not “historical,” and should not even aspire to be.

  114. “Will our current conceptions of the “historical BOM” be thrown under the bus by next century’s FARMS scholars?”

    I would have no problem with that at all. I don’t see how evolved or different theories about details of Book of Mormon happenings, based on further analysis of existing or newly discovered evidences, would undermine the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

  115. Clark Goble says:

    Not Quite In other words, current apologists are basically saying that generations of prior LDS members were WRONG in their beliefs. Yet how can this be? We have generations of previous Saints just “knowing”—purportedly through the Holy Ghost, no less–that the Book of Mormon took place over the entire continent.

    What’s wrong with being wrong? I’m sure many of my beliefs are wrong. I’d change them if I could find out which ones they are.

    Also why do you assume belief in a hemispheric model was from the Holy Ghost and not just an inference made from what the Holy Ghost did reveal? I’m not aware of any major figure claiming a revelation for the hemispheric model.

    But if we’re serious about fallibilism (and I think we should be) then we should be prepared to be wrong. The issue isn’t the chance we could be wrong, but the issue of why we believe what we believe. The fact we’re sometimes wrong doesn’t intrinsically lead to skepticism. For instance scientists are sometimes wrong, yet we don’t suddenly stop trusting the strong supported claims within science.

    Not Quite I think we need to invent a new vocabulary to describe the reality of the Book of Mormon. “Historicity” and “history” don’t seem appropriate. “History” as a discipline is practiced according to secular methods of a group of people known as “historians” with disparate ideologies who are nevertheless able to agree on certain facts.

    And yet within history there are disputed facts. I think you err when you wish to conflate the claims about what happened with the agreement in certain communities over what happened. I know you’re making a semantic claim here, but I’m not sure we should change the language for the reasons you claim. Claiming something to be historical simply never entails the claim that historians agree upon it. Yet the language seems to function quite well. I don’t think there’s misunderstanding going on here. If the language use within the larger academy changes I suspect you’ll see people discussing historical claims within Mormonism to shift their language as well. Simply not liking what is claimed does not appear to be a reasonable reason to shift language. Especially not for a movement that frankly is pretty minor and insignificant to the overall history enterprise.

  116. Yes, I agree that the Book of Mormon is not a history book. Scriptures are not historical, though elements of them may reflect historical events.

  117. Not quite there yet says:

    John F. (and Clark Goble) –

    The point I’m trying to get across is that, for any particular mental picture you might have of what “really happened” in the Book of Mormon, the mental picture is either based on secular knowledge, spiritual knowledge, or no real knowledge at all. Past generations of LDS members did not have any solid basis in secular knowledge to believe in the hemispheric model (certainly not from 19th century archeology, etc.). So when leaders like Joseph Smith talked about the hemispheric model, they must have been basing it either on spiritual knowledge, or no real knowledge at all. If spiritual knowledge, then you’re saying that spiritual knowledge is overturned by more modern secular knowledge–which opens a can of worms (if spiritual knowledge can be overturned, then how to do we trust in it? Was Moroni 10:5 wrong? etc.). If no real knowledge at all, it’s disturbing that this point was vigorously defended for over a century.

    Closer to home, John F., I’m saying that the same thing can happen to *your* belief in historicity. The secular knowledge for the Book of Mormon is unconvincing (otherwise, non-Mormons would be convinced by it). So your beliefs in historicity must be based either in spiritual knowledge, or have no real basis in knowledge at all. Yet if future generations overturn your conception of the BOM historicity, it means that your spiritual knowledge was flawed, which undermines the confidence you can have in revelation for yourself or your family. Or your beliefs don’t have a basis in knowledge.

    I’d prefer not to have to worry about this, and say that while events in the Book of Mormon may have really happened (or did really happen), they are not amenable to historical scrutiny, and are therefore not historical.

  118. Back it up, Jeff. How are you defining ‘spiritual knowledge’?

  119. “Closer to home, John F., I’m saying that the same thing can happen to *your* belief in historicity.”

    I’m not following you. I don’t happen to believe that further developments or new theories entirely about the details of Book of Mormon happenings, whether as to geography, social or linguistic details, or anything else, need undermine a belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Unless you are suggesting that new evidence will emerge that functions as absolute proof that no man named Nephi or Jared ever lived.

    As I said above, I welcome all such further developments and would evaluate them on their own merits as they emerge, based on the data and evidence associated with them. And, of course, viewed through the lens of my own intellectual and spiritual priors, which are laid out in the original post. So if some detail I’ve built in my own mind about the “historical” Nephi needs to be modified or replaced entirely by some new data, I am perfectly comfortable with that. I really don’t understand why others aren’t. But I accept that many aren’t and I don’t hold that against them.

    My own personal mental image of the details of a “historical” Nephi, whether he looks like Friberg’s depiction or Teichert’s or something else entirely, is so extremely peripheral to my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Atonement as to be virtually irrelevant. So there’s also that. I also understand that others actually build their belief in Christ and the Atonement on their perspective about the historicity of the Book of Mormon and permanently link the two. That puzzles me as well.

  120. Can anybody define “spiritual knowledge” in a meaningful way?

  121. Not quite there yet says:

    Clark Goble –

    You say “I’m sure many of my beliefs are wrong. I’d change them if I could find out which ones they are.” Really? If a group of secular scholars said that certain of your beliefs are wrong, you’d change them? Guess what–this has already happened. Secular scholars outside of Mormonism don’t find any convincing basis for believing in the historicity of the BOM (if they did, they’d be converting!). Since secular scholars outnumber Mormon scholars by a wide margin, any consensus scholarly view is that the BOM didn’t happen the way we believe.

    You say, correctly, that in historical studies there are disputed facts. Of course there are. But there are at least *some* facts that scholars can agree upon with differing ideologies. For instance, in historical Jesus studies, the scholarly consensus (including everyone from atheists to Evangelists) agrees that Jesus actually existed, that he was born around 4 BCE, etc. (see results from the Jesus Seminar, which is on the skeptical end of the spectrum). A few individuals might disagree here or there, but there is a consensus on some basic facts. Beyond those basic facts, of course, people might argue vigorously.

    Can you name any non-mormon scholars who believe that Nephi, Alma, etc. really existed? I can’t. There are no basic facts about the ancient Book of Mormon (in the Western Hemisphere) that non-mormon scholars agree with Mormons about (Can you name any? Note, I am purposefully excluding Old World facts in 1 Nephi that relate to the Biblical world). This doesn’t bother me. I can believe that Nephi and Alma really existed, but I’m not going to call them “historical” figures, because historical methods have not come close to showing that they exist. Spiritual methods have.

    “History” is not performed by spiritual methods; it is performed by secular ones.

  122. Clark Goble says:

    If a group of secularists said my beliefs were wrong and could provide a sufficient argument to show that then of course I’d change my views.

    The reason I am not convinced by secular arguments against the Book of Mormon is because I don’t find the arguments on their own terms convincing. Scholarly consensus isn’t much of an argument.

    No I can’t name any secular scholars who believe Nephi and company were real nor would I expect them to. There’s no compelling public evidence that they lived.

  123. it's a series of tubes says:

    Can anybody define “spiritual knowledge” in a meaningful way?

    I like Justice Stewart’s phrasing.

  124. Clark Goble says:

    Not quite (11:47), I think the point you are trying to make is an epistemological one that historical claims should only be supported even on a personal level by secular methods. I just don’t think that is correct. In terms of the discipline of history as what is discussed in the academy, of course you are correct.

    I’m making two claims. The first is a semantic one that the word history has a perfectly clear denotation and connotation and it’s simply not limited to what is done in the academy. There’s no reason to restrict the use of the word in our language. The second is an epistemological one that historical claims do not need to only rest on the methods and acceptance of historians in the academy. So my claims about what I did yesterday at work are historical claims yet do not rely on what you presumably see as acceptable methods.

  125. It’s a bummer that such a lovely, self-explanatory post should have such nyah-nyah-nyah /Charlie Brown Teacher comments. Some writing just stands on its own merits.

  126. thanks Ann — I really appreciate your compliments.

  127. John F. – This is Not Quite There Yet, again.

    Like Ann, I really like your post also. I think it has led to a great discussion. I’m sorry that Ann feels like I’ve ruined it. Back to my destructive agenda, however…You and I are using a different vocabulary. Our understanding of what “historicity” and “historical” mean is different. I think by “historicity” you mean things that really happened (I’ll let you speak for yourself, but that’s what I’ve interpreted you as saying). In contrast, I mean essentially “something that secular historians can study with the methods of the historical discipline.” I don’t think the BOM is, or should be, “historical,”–even though it really happened–and I am not aware that the Book of Mormon is the subject of historical study, using historical methods, by any non-Mormon historians.

    As an analogy, look at “Historical Jesus” scholarship. Nobody—not the scholars themselves—suggests that what they’re uncovering is the complete picture of Jesus who actually lived, in all the wonderful details. They would readily admit that there is too much we don’t know, and can’t know, about Him. They are uncovering the Jesus that they feel is historically reliable, using the methods of historians. Beyond that, historians have nothing to add beyond speculation.

    I’m trying to say that we can believe Nephi actually lived, but that our information is too sparse to be “historically reliable” using the methods of modern historians. We can affirm that Nephi lived, that the Book of Mormon events really took place, and also say that they are not “historical” because they are not amenable to historical study.

    I would prefer we find a new word that captures the meaning of “believing something really happened that can’t be established by historical research” –

    “Faith,” perhaps?

  128. Great comparison with the “Historical Jesus” scholarship. You are, of course, correct.

  129. Perhaps one reason to continue to use the word “historical” in a broad sense is that confining it to facts that can be demonstrated by secular methods separates “history” (what many laypeople understand to mean “reality”) from spirituality. I don’t like that separation because, as Tolkien pointed out, the marvelous thing about the good news of the gospel is that it is a “fairy story” that has entered into history and become part of our world. In much the same way, I read the restoration (and perhaps especially the story of the origin of the Book of Mormon) as re-establishing the same principle: that god has, again, entered history and collapsed the distance between the present, historical reality that we live in, and the spiritual realm that inspires us. Perhaps we can’t always demonstrate his presence in “history” with secular methods, but that does not, I think, mean that we have to deny his presence in history, and saying that he or his works are “not historical” seems to do just that.

    I know it’s just semantics, but I think retaining that broad sense of “history” and “historical” is valuable simply because it messes with the neat separation of the spiritual and the material, which seems a solidly Mormon thing to do.

  130. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I believe that the Lord God created the universe
    I believe that he sent his only son to die for my sins
    And I believe that ancient Jews built boats
    And sailed to America
    I am a Mormon and a Mormon just believes

    Such a cute little song. I’m waiting for the LDS rewrite to tweak it to be more meaningful.

  131. Carey Foushee says:

    “I would prefer we find a new word that captures the meaning of “believing something really happened that can’t be established by historical research”

    Joseph Spencer calls it non-historical in An Other Testament:

    “On my argument, the Book of Mormon must be regarded as neither
    historical nor unhistorical, but as non-historical. This is not to suggest that the
    events it records did not happen. On the contrary, it is to claim that it must
    be subtracted from the dichotomy of the historical/unhistorical because the
    faithful reader testifies that the events—rather than the history—recorded in
    the book not only took place, but are of infinite, typological importance. Any
    enclosure of the Book of Mormon within a totalized world history amounts
    to a denial of the book’s unique claim on the attention of the whole world. In
    the end, then, to take the Book of Mormon as either historical or unhistorical
    may be to miss the nature of the book entirely. Both positions in the debate
    about Book of Mormon historicity—whether critical or apologetic—are
    founded on a common, backwards belief. The historicity of the Book of Mormon
    is not in question. Rather, as Alma makes clear, it is the Book of Mormon
    that calls the historicity of the individual into question.”

  132. Clark Goble says:

    NQTY, that’s fine. I’m just noting that the word “history” or “historical” as a word in our culture simply doesn’t mean that. I see no reason to change my use of the word from its cultural context. We can narrow its sense by applying modifiers to the word, such as you have done at times with “methods of historical scholarship.” Again, this is just a semantic issue though.

  133. Carey – Cool. I’m glad someone a lot smarter than me has written about this.

    Clark – agreed. It probably is largely semantic.

  134. This is “Not Quite There Yet,” again Forgive me for one more post, which hopefully will be my last of the day.

    What is the point of anything I’ve written? Our church loses people all the time because they hear the types of things that also purportedly bothered John Dehlin – that there may not have really been things like horses, steel, chariots, etc. in the ancient American setting where the BOM took place. In other words, some people leave because they think secular scholarship “disproves” the Book of Mormon.

    I have been arguing that while we can believe events in the Book of Mormon “really happened,” they are not “historical.” While this means that these past events cannot be proven (or even really studied) using secular scholarship, it also means that events in the BOM cannot be **disproven** by secular scholarship. Thus, people should not go into a faith crises because of no secular evidence for horses, steel, chariots etc. – because we’re not staking the truth of the Restoration on particulars like that, or on any particular conception of what the BOM world was really like. Those things (horses, etc.) may, or may not, have existed as stated in the Book of Mormon–and we may never know due to our limited understanding of Joseph’s translation process, Mormon’s editing capabilities, etc.

    This view is liberating! By not worrying about the secular aspect of the Book of Mormon, it refocuses us on the spiritual truths the BOM contains. “Don’t worry about horses, chariots, steel, etc. – that’s not what the book is about! It’s about Christ! It’s about pride! It’s about connecting with God! It’s about any number of spiritual themes and truths.”

    I admit to being totally puzzled why our Church and culture seems to prize belief in the literality or “historicity” of the Book of Mormon, chariots and all. When you do that, you divert attention from the spiritual truths. You open yourself to being disproven by secular methods, DNA studies, archeology. etc. We know that God will never allow the BOM or other restoration truths to be established by secular means – that would eliminate the need for faith. If anything, secular methods can only undermine our belief in the BOM (for every “NHM” there is a Michael Coe, if you get my drift). As wonderful as we might think FARMS etc. has been, perhaps they’ve led us down the wrong path by engaging in secular research on a subject that is essentially spiritual.

    That’s not to say secular methods are bad or unimportant generally (I like education as much as anyone!). It just means that if the Book of Mormon makes no secular claims, it is neither provable nor disprovable by secular methods. Which means that a lot of smart, well-read people can breathe a sigh of relief, because they don’t need to believe in horses and chariots, or worry whether secular scholars think these things really existed. They can say, “Something really happened back then, but we have no idea what, and it doesn’t actually matter beyond any spiritual truths I can learn.”

    Which brings me to this post. John F. has born a wonderful testimony. I appreciate it, and appreciate his faith in Christ. Yet if everybody jumps in to confirm they “believe” the “historicity” of the Book of Mormon–to show that BCC isn’t the group of apostates some people make them out to be! :) — it just reaffirms the idea that literality/historicity/secular information in the BOM actually matters, that it IS apostate to believe otherwise. In my view, this path only leads to harm, and to people leaving the church when they discover conflicts between secular knowledge and certain BOM details. This would happen less often if our culture made it clear that a non-literal, ahistorical belief in the BOM was as acceptable as a historical one, and that the book’s sole significance is spiritual (in the end, it really is, right?)

  135. NQTY:

    Your comment in some ways resembles advice given by Elder Nelson in 1999 about The Book of Mormon:

    I would like to add my testimony of the divinity of this book. I have read it many times. I have also read much that has been written about it. Some authors have focused upon its stories, its people, or its vignettes of history. Others have been intrigued by its language structure or its records of weapons, geography, animal life, techniques of building, or systems of weights and measures.

    Interesting as these matters may be, study of the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purpose — to testify of Jesus Christ. By comparison, all other issues are incidental.

    When you read the Book of Mormon, concentrate on the principal figure in the book — from its first chapter to the last — the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God. And look for a second undergirding theme: God will keep His covenants with the remnants of the house of Israel.

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1999/10/a-testimony-of-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng

    This talk struck me strongly when he gave it in 1999 and came to mind upon reading your comment (2:17 p.m.).

    Elder Nelson characterizes it as “sacred writing” rather than “history” and, in fact, says that “historical aspects of the book assume secondary significance.”

    Even so, the general historicity of the book remains a factor of this devotional focus for Elder Nelson:

    It was written anciently for our day. It reveals the endless Lordship of Jesus Christ in accounts of two ancient American dispensations, preserved for the benefit of us who live in this dispensation of the fulness of times. Certainly no royalties came to its authors. In fact, they paid dearly for their privilege of participation. What motivated them? Their devotion to God! The book’s four major writers — Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni — were all eyewitnesses of the Lord, as was its martyred translator, the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    Obviously, he takes for granted that Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni, etc. were real people. This is consistent with my own interaction with it as sacred writing, and, I assume, most Mormons.

    Also, Elder Nelson notes that the central event of the book is historical (though not by putting it forward as a history book but rather merely referring to it as a historical event — again, which I believe and I think most Mormons also believe when they read it): “The crowning event of this sacred record is the personal ministry of the resurrected Lord to people of ancient America.”

  136. Steve Smith says:

    Many of the posts and comments that I have read on BCC suggest that the bloggers here look at the historicity question of the BOM a bit differently than the rank and file LDS, and even the old school apologists. I almost get the sense that many have sort of private definitions of ‘true’ and ‘historical’ when talking of the BOM. I’ve engaged with a fair number of bloggers and commenters on these blogs about the historicity question and have asked straight up if they believe that Joseph Smith literally translated the words and ideas of ancient peoples in the American continent by looking at some stones in a hat and I can never get a straight answer. Some get offended by me even posing such a question, as if I’m subjecting them to the dreaded Mormon moment.

  137. Steve, most LDS people don’t believe in the historicity of the BOM either. They’re called less actives :)

  138. “asked straight up if they believe that Joseph Smith literally translated the words and ideas of ancient peoples in the American continent by looking at some stones in a hat and I can never get a straight answer.”

    Well, my answer is yes, and I’m a blogger, so it’s not accurate to say “never”.

  139. Steve Smith says:

    OK, thanks John F.

  140. Steve Smith–links, please.

  141. I loved the original post…the rest of the history/historicity argument reminds me of this quote:

    “My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”

    ― Donald Miller

  142. Clark Goble says:

    FGH (5:02) interestingly we have statistics on that. According to Pew of people who self-identify as Mormon 91% think it was written by ancient prophets (i.e. they accept its historicity)

  143. If BCC bloggers are going to go to hell for failing to pass orthodoxy litmus tests, then commenters who wish to avoid spending eternity in our company (hint: it’s like being banned, only worse) might consider charity. It is, ahem, a surefire way of giving us the slip.

  144. John F. — I do not normally engage on blogs like this, as the written word is so easily misunderstood, but I feel the need to thank you for your testimony which so closely mirrors my own. I must admit that this whole John Dehlin business has left my heart feeling very heavy indeed — not because he was excommunicated, for I understand the reasoning behind it, but because I do not understand the harm he seems so willing to inflict upon the Church he claims has been so good to him. I love this Church and I love my Savior, so, as much as I hate to admit it, I have allowed Dehlin’s actions to offend me as well. I felt joy, however, when I read your testimony, for a strong testimony is the best defense against this type of thing. I am quite sure that John Dehlin could use his intellect to talk me under the table, but there is nothing he can say or do that will ever diminish what I know in my heart to be true. He can mock believers like me all he wants — even insult our intelligence — but, just like the quote by Donald Miller that Marc posted (thank you, Marc!), I will say, “I honestly don’t care.” That quote really resonated with me. I don’t need to be smarter than John Dehlin and I don’t need to be right about everything either. I don’t have all the answers and neither does he. I do know, however, that my Savior lives. I Have felt His spirit in ways I can neither explain nor deny. The only thing I want now — the only thing I have ever wanted — is to be welcomed home with, “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”