Two related points about the Book of Mormon:
First, I think we need to carve out a space for people who are willing to accept the BoM as scripture, just not of the historical kind (i.e., a modern pseudepigraphon), to remain within the fold and be accepted as good members of the Church.
I loved President Hinckley, largely for his folksy pragmatism, his sense of humor, his sense of moderation, his openness to the world, characteristics often in short supply among our top leadership. But I personally thought his all or nothing statement as part of his PBS interview was not wise:
Well, it’s either true or false. If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that’s exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That’s our claim. That’s where we stand, and that’s where we fall, if we fall. But we don’t. We just stand secure in that faith
On the one hand I appreciate the vibe he was going for, and this it’s all true or all false stance does indeed pack significant rhetorical power. But note that this is exactly the stance anti-Mormons want the Church to take, because it makes their job incredibly easy. On this stance all it takes is one problem, one counterexample, one bauble that turns out on examination not to be as shiny as it seemed at first blush, to bring the entire house of cards down. Not leaving room for any sense of nuance at all for a religion as recent and messy as Mormonism simply is not a smart corner to paint ourselves into.
Along these lines, I think we need to leave room within the faith for people who can accept the BoM as scripture, even if non-historical. I think it was for instance incredibly short-sighted for the Church to excommunicate David Wright over his private stance to this effect, something he never taught or promoted to students when he taught at BYU. We lost an excellent scholar over a need for absolutist, simplistic purity of thought within the faith.
My second thought is, taking the BoM as a pseudepigraphon for the sake of argument only, why would Joseph have created such a production? What was the pseudepigraphic impulse that led him to do it? Well, I see him as a young Ice Cube: He had somethin’ to say! And while for some purposes having a sharply closed canon can be a feature, it can also be a bug. If the canon is closed shut, tight as a drum, what is a new prophetic voice to do? Who is going to listen to the musings of an ignorant farm boy to the effect that, say, the Old Testament is not sufficiently and explicitly Christian? Maybe his family, but that’s about it. Not a soul would care what Joseph qua Joseph had to say about much of anything.
This is the same dynamic that occurred in the formation of the biblical canon originally. There are almost certainly pseudepigraphic works within our biblical canon, because false ascription was simply the only way for those works to gain a hearing.
Wikipedia presents the following levels of pseudepigraphic authenticity:
- Literal authorship. A church leader writes a letter in his own hand.
- Dictation. A church leader dictates a letter almost word for word to an amanuensis.
- Delegated authorship. A church leader describes the basic content of an intended letter to a disciple or to an amanuensis.
- Posthumous authorship. A church leader dies, and his disciples finish a letter that he had intended to write, sending it posthumously in his name.
- Apprentice authorship. A church leader dies, and disciples who had been authorized to speak for him while he was alive continue to do so by writing letters in his name years or decades after his death.
- Honorable pseudepigraphy. A church leader dies, and admirers seek to honor him by writing letters in his name as a tribute to his influence and in a sincere belief that they are responsible bearers of his tradition.
- Forgery. A church leader obtains sufficient prominence that, either before or after his death, people seek to exploit his legacy by forging letters in his name, presenting him as a supporter of their own ideas.
To me, the forgery label is a bit harsh in a closed canon environment, where false ascription is simply the only way for your work to get any sort of a hearing at all.
So I think we should erect a tent big enough to enclose Saints with various kinds of doubts. Doubts are natural; in and of themselves, doubts do not amount to a moral failing. And I think that seeing Joseph’s scriptural productions as modern pseudepigrapha should be a sufficiently acceptable position for those holding it to be able to remain within the faith.
 From pseudo- + epigraph “ascription of false authorship to a book.”