I Believe… the Book of Mormon is Multidimensional

I had a vinyl banner that hung in my bedroom—a gift from one of my Primary teachers. It was distressed to look like an ancient manuscript, and on it were printed the Articles of Faith. Next to each Article, a blank circle hovered. As I memorized each Article, I would check them off with my teacher and she would give me a sticky-backed button to place in the circle… each Article had a different button, and I remember the anticipation I felt as I waited to see the image on the button’s obverse. The whole affair felt like an ancient rite of passage, passed down to me by those who’d paved the way before.

I never completed it.

A few of the blank circles were never filled—their accusing eyes, staring back at me until I finally mustered the courage to roll up the roll and stash it in the bottom drawer of my dresser, next to my CTR box and other treasures from my short life.

The short ones were the easiest to memorize, so I quickly checked off the first three. The fourth one was pounded into our heads as part of our individual and collective path towards baptism. I don’t recall which other ones I checked off—well, I absolutely remember never checking off the thirteenth, but that’s an entirely different story—except for the eighth.

8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

It was an easy one to pass off. It felt like two different ones—the one about the Bible not being the word of God unless it was translated correctly… and then the one about the Book of Mormon being the word of God.

As a child, I initially had a one-dimensional approach to the first article of faith: God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost (whatever that was) were real. Duh. At the time, had someone said that they didn’t believe in God, I’d have starred at them blankly. That didn’t last long. Soon, I came to understand that some people believed and some people didn’t—I even understood that some some people only believed a little. My understanding of “God space” was two-dimensional… belief and unbelief—with a short thread of gossamer between them. From there, it was an easy jump to three, four, and more. I say “easy”, because my early conversations about God quickly laid bare an entire landscape of details—both grand and picayune—about God that people were willing to fight over. And most of these conversations happened at Church, where I was surrounded by people I loved and who loved me back. It was wonderful.

Most of the points of doctrine found in the Articles of Faith were also quickly moved from one- or two-dimensional space to a space of myriad dimensions.

Most.

The second clause of the eighth article being a noticeable exception. In class after class,  thread after thread, and conversation after conversation, I’ve personally witnessed people I loved and who loved me back struggle as they engaged in multi-dimensional discussions about the Book of Mormon. I suspect that they savoir that folks have a litany of varying opinions on the Book of Mormon… but they don’t connaître it. For these folks, regardless of whatever else they know about the Book of Mormon, people fall into two discrete groups: believers and non-believers.

I know the Book of Mormon is true. François does not.

But “true”, in the sentence above, is nearly meaningless—or filled with so much meaning, that it’s nearly useless. Like me, after a night of sushi.

Because I love to teach, to comment online, and to engage in God talk, this state of affairs pains me. I want more from my lessons, online relationships, and conversations… and so I started talking openly of the multidimensionality of Book of Mormon belief. And as I spoke more about it I settled on three* dimensions: modern/ancient, factual/fictional, inspired/uninspired.

Ancient↔Modern

Was the Book of Mormon written anciently or was it penned more recently? I imagine most people will find themselves at either pole. But I bet you can think of some among us who have put forward ideas that seem to suggest that Joseph took ancient materials and crafted something new with them—a belief I would place somewhere in between.

Factual↔Fictional

Fiction is an important—vital, even—part of scripture. Christ’s parables, for example, are sacred fiction. We would laugh (okay, politely chuckle) if someone advanced the idea that there were ten actual virgins that Christ was referencing. So don’t let this axis make you uncomfortable (and if you’re like so many of the people I share this with, it does)… which is good, because I imagine most of you find yourselves somewhere in the middle.

Inspired↔Uninspired

As tempting as it is to think of this axis as being an all-or-nothing proposition, let’s not forget the care that the book takes to remind us—again and again—the book is filled with human error. So on one end, there are the people that consider the Book of Mormon wholly inspired—every word, every comma—even the em dashes—inspired. And on the other hand, we have people who believe God had nothing to do with the whole enterprise. I’d wager that most of you fall on the north end of this axis.

* * *

And now we have a three dimensional belief space—one that includes every person who’s ever had an opinion (or ever will) on the keystone of our religion. What do we do with it? We start, I suggest, with asking ourselves “where do I find myself”—that’s the big question, isn’t it? And it’s not an easy question. In fact, I submit, it’s one we’ll never fully answer—not if we are taking the text seriously.

This isn’t rocket science. If you’re in my class, it’s three lines on a chalk board. It’s just a way of describing something as more than—and, more importantly, bigger than—“true” and “not true”. It’s an invitation to give ourselves permission to explore the richness of what the Book of Mormon has to offer and to allow all others the same privilege—to take up the gauntlet thrown down by President Ezra Taft Benson to take the Book of Mormon seriously.


* There may be more, but I think these three are a solid place to start (for those who work with taxonomies, I would say that I think these three axes meet the requirement of being clearly defined, mutually exclusive, and collectively exhaustive). Of course, it’s probably not mere coincidence that the multidimensional space that I wanted to use in class and in other casual settings turned out to be three dimensions. After all, my subconscious mind—my great organizer-in-chief—knew that the people I was trying to reach would intuitively grasp a three-dimensional space with greater facility than, say, a thirteen-dimensional space.

** Authorship is an important question, but I didn’t include it as one of the axes. I think someone could argue that it would be appropriate… but it felt like an external rather internal attribute.

*** At the Sunstone 2016 Summery Symposium, this weekend at the University of Utah, there was a panel (session 351) that discussed “Four Views of the Book of Mormon”, and asked “Is the Book of Mormon an inspired history of ancient peoples? An inspired scriptural narrative? A work of great literature? Or a nineteenth-century plagiarism?”—a discussion fully immersed in the multidimensional space I describe here.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this! I love that idea of adding one last dimension that makes worrying much about the capital T truth of things a lot less important. I think it is in this space that we move forward and to the side and backward and it is in that movement where I find spirituality regardless of which pole between the other two is the “correct” one.

  2. D Christian Harrison says:

    As I’ve said elsewhere: our beautiful faith deserves better than the truth binary can offer.

  3. Angela C says:

    These 3 paradigms are also helpful as ways to read the text, not just belief paradigms.

    Ancient vs. Modern. You can read any scripture in context or as something from another culture and time (anciently) or you can liken scripture unto yourself (what’s called a premodern approach, technically). Many who are most vociferous about its ancient origins take the most non-ancient approach to reading it.
    Factual vs. Fictional. You can assume the stories in scripture are all literal events or you can read them purely allegorically as a type of Christ or to teach a lesson or sometimes just as campfire stories to exaggerate feats of battle (Ammon & the arms!). Reading them allegorically is useful, but reading them literally creates empathy for the actors in the stories, and forces you to consider motives and feelings.
    Inspired vs. Uninspired. You can read scripture as uninspired, an artifact of a time and place only, an example of church leaders trying to control or influence a backsliding people, or you can imagine different levels of inspiration that run the gamut from good ideas to burning bush / finger of God revelation. Hearing the human narrators is the first step to appreciating the “uninspired” biases and filters that overlay or underlay the inspired portions. Within Mormonism, Joseph Smith points the way to accepting this. Other denominations consider all scripture to have been penned by God (a more inspired assumption than we hold per Articles of Faith 8).

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  4. Well of course! That is, the “truth binary” is insufficient and just not real. By “not real” I mean that (I believe that) if you positioned ten LDS person’s truth statements within this three axis taxonomy you would have ten positions. I’m not even sure you’d see clustering, but that’s an interesting question.
    However, I think this taxonomy misses an important aspect of Mormon practice. I think “the Book of Mormon is true” in many voices is not narrowly about the book itself but an affirmation of belief in the foundational “myths” of Mormonism–Joseph Smith, the sacred grove, Moroni, gold plates, restoration of priesthood and keys, and the book. It’s a one-liner to stand for that whole package. And I don’t think there’s an easy relationship between position within the taxonomy and belief in Mormonism writ large. (In fact, I think it is very important that an easy relationship does NOT exist, or else i/you/we we recreate sharp boundaries by which I’m sure I will be found to be outside.)

  5. Also, if we’re going to take the Book of Mormon seriously (highly recommended) I read different parts differently. I would place “I Nephi” and “the words of Isaiah” and the Book of Ether in different places in that 3-dimensional space.

  6. Manuel Padro says:

    Thanks for making a space for hope.

    I read the Book of Mormon front to cover for the first time when Utah gained marriage equality. I decided that I needed to know what it did and didn’t say about marriage equality in order to stand a chance at the Thanksgiving discussion on the subject.

    I was surpsrised that after a full 18 years of attending church, I had never really gotten to know the book at all. It was like reading something new. I was familiar with the major plot lines and stories, but I found that their details and the moral content of the book had been neglected in my religious education, probably because it did not fit the conservative values of the people who taught it to me.

    Needless to say, the Book of Mormon doesn’t mention homosexuality, even once. Nor does it endorse racism. It does however adamantly promote economic justice and it is one of the most critical works on the inevitable outcome of war that I have ever read. The story at the dead center of the book, The conversion of the anti-nephi-lehis, culminates with an act of pacifism that could have been torn from the Pages of Young India penned under Ghandi. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis convert to the religion of the Nephites and their former lamanite bretheren go to war against them. But rather than fight back against people who they loved, the anti-nephi-Lehis lay down their own lives, choosing to die at the hands of their enemies rather than fight back. The invading army is moved by this to the point that they drop their weapons and join the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.

    When Amon congratulates his fellow missionaries on their success among the Lamanites he holds this story up as the emblem of their success and says something along the lines of “never among the Nephites was there a love such as this.” Had Ghandi lived before Joseph Smith, I would have accused the latter of plagiarism. At the end of the book both the prophet Mormon and his son Moroni paint out the degree to which war destroys the humanity of those who engage in it, and that even the righteous, the Nephites, who still took on the name of Christ, could let it warp them into depravity so deep God would not intervene on their behalf.

    Even Captain Moroni, the military leader so often held up as a model in my youth, was a different person from the one I had been taught about in Church. He was held up as an example in the Book of Mormon not because of his military discipline or warmongering, but because he was someone who could engage in war to protect himself and others while remaining Christlike enough to not relish in it or let it overtake him. He did not give into feelings of vengeance, he offered his opponents consistent chances for surrendor on generous terms, he did his best to make the wars he fought in short, rather than drag them out or find pleasure in them. He did not abuse war to force his religion, political views, economic system or way of life into his enemies. There’s a lot we could learn from that today.

    When I read the story of the Lehis Dream I was surprised that the “fruit desirable above all other fruit” was the love of God. Growing up I had been taught that it was the scriptures, or the atonement, or the commandments, almost anything other than what it actually said, because I think some people couldn’t swallow the idea that unconditional love might be what the “all the laws and the prophets” point us to.

    And let’s not even get into King Benjamin’s discourse. I can’t tell you how many times I was told not to give money to beggars at church outings at Temple Square. I had some how assumed that was doctrine. I had no idea that it was the violation of a religious admonition by a Book of Mormon prophet and King.

    Anyway, a few years later I have found myself in this strange place where I’ve come to realize that I would actually prefer it if the Book of Mormon were literally true, because I am more than okay with its moral content. But when I look around at the Glen Becks and the Mitt Romeny’s of the world, I can’t help but wonder, have they actually ever read the Book of Mormon? They certainly haven’t let some of its moral lessons sink in. When I look at the Mormons today and how far away they have stepped from building up Zion, I can’t help but think that they are more like the Nephites at the end of the Book of Mormon, rather than the beginning. I’m not sure they are as righteous as they think they are, especially by the standards the book holds us up to.

    A small peice of unsolicited advice that I would offer people in the church is, rather than focusing on if it were true, or where it took place, focus on its teachings and let them permeate your life. Let the Book of Mormon change you, let it convert you the way alchemists hoped to convert baser elements into gold. Let it make you into something new.
    That’s the greatest test you can offer as to whether or not you think something is true.

    I know that the author of this article is a great example of this principal. His life has shown that he has taken its content seriously. He let the Book of Mormon change his life, and everyone who knows him is better for it.

  7. Anders Nilsson says:

    Great post. I’ve thought a lot about the Book of Mormon lately as I’ve stepped back from it to use my time to study the words of the Christian mystics. I’m letting it roll over in my mind before I revisit. As I’ve seen, a text can be very ~true~ for the writer while ~untrue~ for a disillusioned member of the tradition associated with the text.
    I like using the word “true” because, to me, truthfulness isn’t partnered solely with historicity as we are wont to assume in Mormonism, but it implies that God can be found in the text, if we are willing to dig around and soak it in. It’s like a tree fed by God’s water. We aren’t sure where the water is located in the tree, and we would waste our time hacking off branches looking for it, but we can behold the tree for what it is and feel God’s presence there.

    By the way, that’s how I can manage to stay. God is somewhere in the Church and I don’t think hacking off branches would be good use of my time.

  8. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Christian. I think that this is a helpful heuristic, and I hope that thinking in these terms can lead us to greater charity toward those who read differently than we do.

  9. Rob Osborn says:

    What I find most interesting is that Joseph Smith founded a church based on the claim of seeing angels, God, Jesus Christ, and of all things- the translation of an ancient American document dealing with the resurrected Christ appearibg to them. For outsiders it all may seem a wee bit outlandish but it is what it is. As LDS its important that we have the faith to believe in these claims and testify of its truth.

  10. It has been eye opening for me to read others’ experiences with reading the Book of Mormon. I always receive a powerful spiritual witness, every time I read it. For most of my life, and I am in my sixties now, I assumed everyone else must be experiencing the same thing when they read it. I do not know why the differences but I wanted to add my witness. I have no doubt the Book of Mormon contains the gospel of Christ.

  11. Deep, perspicacious comment, Manuel. Next up on your reading list: “Approaching Zion,” Hugh Nibley’s cultural critique of Capitalism & the Mormon Peoples wherein he quotes freely from Mormon scripture in support of his, let’s face it, Christian hippie positions. Wear your sunglasses b/c he burns brightly.

    So are BoM historicity wars now (un)officially history? The cultural drift is unmistakable and accelerating – and, as Manuel has taken pains to illustrate, we in no wise live by its peace-loving, egalitarian precepts anyway. Quite the opposite.

  12. I am not convinced. Among people who have formulated an opinion on the Book of Mormon’s historicity, there are really only two major categories: 1) those who believe it is ancient, mostly factual, and inspired, and 2) those who believe that it is modern, made-up, and uninspired. Beneath those two categories, a number of different sub-categories can be identified (heartlanders, mesoamericaners, Rigdon-Spaldingers, etc.)

    I have read other posts that dismiss this so-called binary way of thinking about Book of Mormon historicity. It seems to be a subtle and indirect way of dismissing the book’s skeptics as superficial thinkers who fail to capture the fine nuance. Sorry, but there is no nuance to be captured in relation to the historicity question. Joseph Smith and is successors made Book of Mormon historicity a binary. The historicity issue is not one on which you can have your cake and eat it too. Either the book contains the words of ancients translated into English by Joseph Smith or it doesn’t. All nuanced views are doublethink fraught with contradictions.

  13. Brad L., the great thing about dismissing your perspective is that I can do so and be in the good company of many tremendous members and leaders of the church. You’re still welcome to hang out with us, even if you are fraught with contradictions.

  14. D Christian Harrison says:

    The irony of your comment, Brad L, is that you insist on a binary… and then go on to describe a non-binary system. While I’m of a certain mind on how large our tent should be, this heuristic doesn’t require anyone to agree with me. No matter where you find yourself in this belief space, you’ll face challenges. The challenges of someone who falls at ancient, factual, inspired are superficially different from those experienced by someone who finds themselves at some other junction.

  15. D Christian Harrison says:

    * only superficially

  16. Christian, from the available narratives on the Book of Mormon historicity question, we can clearly derive two distinct and mutually exclusive categories: those that believe that the book contains the words of ancients in the Americas and those that do not. People who formulate strong opinions about the subject start from either premise and then proceed from there. We can comfortably categorize positions on BOM historicity into a binary.

    Even if you believe that Joseph Smith made up the entire Book of Mormon from his own imagination except for one word which could not have been JS’s own, but only ancients in the Americas, then it logically follows that you believe that the BOM contains the words of ancients in the Americas, is therefore ancient, factual in the way JS described it, and inspired, since JS could not have generated that word except by divine revelation.

    Your position appears to fall squarely into the category of the BOM containing the words of ancients in the Americas. You’ve already made up your mind that it is. Based on that premise you make your argument that the BOM might not be entirely a word-for-word translation or that it might contain some fictional stories. But all that is really beyond the point with regard to the historicity question.

  17. “No matter where you find yourself in this belief space, you’ll face challenges”

    I think it goes without saying that no matter what opinion you hold on a surprisingly vast range of subjects, you will encounter those who will challenge you. I’ve encountered people who have challenged my belief that the earth is spherical. Does this mean that I should try to nuance my views about the shape of the earth or not be too hasty to jump to conclusions about the earth’s shape? Does this mean that I should hold flat-earth opinions and spherical earth opinions to be on equal footing? Does this mean that I should suspend formulating a strong opinion about the shape of the earth and just quietly allow seemingly uninformed predominant views of my tribe to go unquestioned and unchallenged out of fear of offending friends and family?

  18. Kristine N says:

    Manuel Padro, you make me want to go back and read the BOM again. I’ve fallen to the Modern and Fictional ends of the spectrum for years, with a huge question mark around the inspired/uninspired axis. Your testimony gives me hope I can find a way to see the book as inspired, and thus true. Thank you for your words.

  19. Ben Britton says:

    I just wanted to challenge Brad’s binary. I believe that the Book of Mormon does not represent the words or deeds of ancient peoples, but instead is an pseudepigraphical document that was created via a creative and revelatory process. I believe the accounts of its dictation evidence the revelatory and inspired component of the book. I also believe that the text aknowleges it’s own anachronistic and pseudepigraphical nature when it freely alludes to New Testament passages that wouldn’t have been written yet and that Nephites wouldn’t have had access to nor did they claim to.

    So, I am in the modern yet revealed camp, and I don’t think it fits Brad’s binary.

  20. Go, Christian!! I’m so proud of my boy. Great work!

  21. “I just wanted to challenge Brad’s binary. I believe that the Book of Mormon does not represent the words or deeds of ancient peoples, but instead is an pseudepigraphical document that was created via a creative and revelatory process.”

    So, yes, actually the historicity wars ARE over (and the only binary that really matters, based upon claims made by & for the book, is ancient/modern: if it’s not ancient it’s not factual & therefore not inspired.)

  22. D Christian Harrison says:

    “…not factual and therefore not inspired”

    You’ll have to unpack that one, as the there is no direct causality between fact and inspiration. The newspaper is full of facts. Parables are fictional.

  23. Ben Britton says:

    O (also brad?), my point is that I believe the Book of Mormon is inspired despite not being an a pseudepigraphical and anachronistic text. While I understand that the BOM claims to be ancient, I reject that claim without rejecting the inspired revelatory nature by which the text came to be.

  24. Ben Britton says:

    Oops, obviously that should say “despite being an anachronistic and pseudepigraphical text.”

  25. I also see the BoM as inspired, but not historical. For me, there are too many arguments/evidence for it being modern and none for it being ancient other than belief. But very clearly it draws people to Christ and therefore it must come from Christ.

  26. Clark Goble says:

    Manuel And let’s not even get into King Benjamin’s discourse. I can’t tell you how many times I was told not to give money to beggars at church outings at Temple Square. I had some how assumed that was doctrine. I had no idea that it was the violation of a religious admonition by a Book of Mormon prophet and King.

    Just to be clear, I don’t think it says don’t give but don’t give to the beggars directly. While I can’t recall what the current signs say it used to list places you can donate that would help them. There are pretty compelling reasons to donate to charity organizations helping the homeless. First it ensures you’re actually giving to them and not con-artists setting on corners. Second it ensures it goes to food and shelter rather than drugs or alcohol.

    People most definitely should give to such organizations. There’s a shelter over by the Mavericks south of Pioneer Park you can donate to for instance. I don’t know Salt Lake City as much but in Provo there’s a large Food and Care center by the post office in south Provo. They accept donations including food. I’d encourage everyone to donate. As an aside typically they have more than enough food but can always use things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, diapers and baby materials. But money is also always helpful. They have a drive up place for donations.

    I’d also encourage people to drop off rather than throw out clothes, shoes, and other materials to DI. Given the size of the line every time I drop things off many people are doing this.

  27. Clark Goble says:

    p So are BoM historicity wars now (un)officially history?

    I doubt they’ll ever be history. The problem is that if you remove the history you significantly change how to read the text not to mention the authority of the text. That said, clearly the historical issues aren’t the only issues. I’d fully agree that (as Pres Benson noted and condemned us for) the church really isn’t reading the Book of Mormon. Pres. Benson’s talk is well worth reading today and I think his criticisms still hold.

    If people want to call it pseudepigraphal that’s fine. I strongly disagree but don’t feel the need to continually argue the point. I don’t think that’s what most members mean when they say it is true.

  28. Rob Osborn says:

    I find it strange that someone could think the BoM is inspired and comes from Christ yet also not believe it historical in the same breath. That to me is a mass contradiction. If it comes from Christ, then it must be historical because it claims Christ himself visited the Americas. Otherwise, it just means Christ is a liar and uses fiction to fulfill his work.

  29. Ben Britton says:

    More genty put, it would mean that God uses man’s assumptions and understanding to fulfill his work, whether those assumptions and understanding are correct or incorrect. Precedent could be seen in D&C 19’s recasting of eternal punishment as having an expiration date. Verse 7 explains that the early innacurate false idea was used “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for [God’s] name’s glory.”

  30. D Christian Harrison says:

    Every place in the belief space has its own challenges… believing that it’s ancient is not more or less fraught than believing it’s modern. Believing its fictional is not more or less fraught than believing it is factual.

  31. Rob Osborn says:

    Certain aspects of the BoM have to be historical or our religion, in its entirety is a fraud. 1. Lehi and company had to have lived in or near Jerusalem and then left and built a ship and sailed to the Americas. 2.The Jaredites were a real warfarring nation who also crossed the waters on boats of some sort and ended up in the Americas. 3. The resurrected Christ really did appear to the ancient inhabitants in the Americas. 4. An actual set of ancient records were written by ancient American inhabitants and sealed up for Joseph Smith to interpret. 5. Joseph Smith translated an actual ancient physical set of records.

    Those 5 events must be true or our religion is a fraud and I would readily leave it at the drop of a hat. Thankfully, I have a great testimony of the above 5 facts and thus I am assured my religion is true.

  32. D Christian Harrison says:

    Why, specifically, must those 5 be historic events?

  33. Rob Osborn says:

    Well, take anyone of them and if its not true, neither can any of it be true and its all a fraud. Those 5 events tie in and link the civilizations of the BoM peoples together. Those 5 events, according to Mormon must be true as he is the one who compiled it and wrote the record. I dont care how one cuts the cake but they cannot claim anyone of those to be utterly false and still claim the validity if the Book of Mormon as true.

  34. Clark Goble says:

    Ben I think the point of D&C 19 is that “eternal” as a modifier doesn’t always imply temporal duration. This is actually in keeping with a lot of things. The idea of it as duration actually comes out of the development of the concept of hell and the domination in Christianity of Augustine’s view. (Which is itself fairly late and was one of only three main interpretations) There are lots of reasons to think Augustine’s view that hell was unending duration of physical torment that was retributive is wrong. D&C 19 could easily be read as promoting the view of Gregory of Nyssa that eternal punishment was purifying and that the length of purification depended upon how much you need purified. Gregory’s view was actually becoming popular in America at the time of Joseph Smith with various groups. See my post at T&S on hell from a few months back. (I need to followup but have just been swamped)

  35. Ben Britton says:

    However, verse 7 explicitly acknowledges that a non-literal conception was given a pass with divine purpose. Historical considerations would only strentgthen the argument considering God doesn’t point it out as the idea of man, but instead assumes that the general understanding of unending torment is a given understanding and labels the temporarily expiring interpretation is a “mystery”

  36. Clark Goble says:

    I’m not sure what you’re saying. I read verse 7 simply as God acknowledging the scriptures on the subject were ambiguous and he’s clarifying. D&C 76 clarifies it even more.

  37. Ben Britton says:

    6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. 7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.

    Here its saying that it is written endless and eternal to appear big bad and scary. God is admitting that he wants people to be moved by the “express” nature of it and spurred to repentance. The text is clearly admitting that one obvious explanation is that this torment would be without end. However, there is a “mystery” caveat, as verse 8 states: 8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.

    SO, it has an end, but you only know that if you are in the know. Otherwise, this section basically assumes that all people subscribe to the definition of hell as a literally endless punishment. Historical considerations could demonstrate that this conception was a more recent invention and didn’t stem back to Christ. That would just underscore my point, that God is willing to use man’s conceptions, in this case the assumption of the unending torment of hell, to fulfill his purpose, in this case to “work upon the hearts of the children of men.”

    Essentially, Verse 7 admits that God has used man’s assumptions to fulfill his work despite those assumptions not being literal truth.

  38. “Those 5 events must be true or our religion is a fraud and I would readily leave it at the drop of a hat.”

    If we ever find out that, say, Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon by looking into some hat and receiving revelation from God instead of “translated an actual ancient physical set of records,” I’m not leaving. Same with the rest of the list.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    Except that verse 7 seems to undermine that. Also note that at the time this was actually a big topic in the US – especially among universalists – well up through the early 20th century many argued that even if Augustine was wrong (as many came to think) that it was important to keep the masses obedient.

    However notice how D&C 19 undermines this. First 6 says that it doesn’t say there’s no end, only that it is endless without specifying without end to what property. Then it says that using eternal rather than endless is more express. But why is eternal more expressive than endless? It’s less tied to duration. So “express” isn’t tied to “scary” but to “nature.” In verse 7 onward he’s making the point that it’s relative to a different property than duration. Then he goes on to say that it means it’s divine punishment. This is still ambiguous since it might merely mean from God. (And it goes in that direction with 10-12) I think that 17-19 suggests that this is the punishment God faced (as Christ). So if anything he’s making it scarier now by emphasizing that even God didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it.

    To say that “it has an end, but you only know that if you are in the know” seems wrong. Again, as I said the idea that it was all about duration comes from Augustine. Further, as part of the restoration he’s clarifying it and even hinting (verse 20) that the punishment is the withdrawal of the divine.

    So quite the contrary, I think verse 7 is saying that it actually was closer to the truth when people said eternal punishment rather than endless torment. It’s worth noting that this is actually a correction to the translation of the Book of Mormon. (The phrase “endless torment” doesn’t appear in the KJV but appears in the Book of Mormon) The place in the BoM it appears in Jacob 6 is actually interesting, both because of the history of the metaphor but also because it seems to entail “unquenchable” rather than forever duration. The duration metaphor comes closest in Mosiah 3:25. (The other places says “the lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment”

    Interestingly after D&C 19 we still find in D&C 76 the duration brought up again in verse 44. Here the change seems to be a kind of universalist salvation for all except the sons of perdition. (Interestingly while it uses the earlier fire and brimstone metaphor, it’s application is very small and then it undermines the metaphor by saying “the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their tournament, no man knows; neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed…” Which kind of means all the descriptions are wrong.)

    My view of D&C 19 is much more that it’s a correction not just to the Book of Mormon translation (which has interesting implications in itself) but also to the views around Joseph in 1929. Interestingly while Joseph had likely translated through Moroni, he hadn’t yet started translating 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. While “endless torment” pops up in Moroni and Mosiah most of the appearances are in the early part of the Book of Mormon which Joseph was likely translating when he received D&C 19.

    None of these phrases appear in the KJV. The closest is Matt 25:45 where it’s everlasting punishment. (Arguably not that different from endless, and undoubtedly where Augustine got the idea) The only other verses that comes close are Rev 14:11 & 20:10 but they are a bit different even though arguably Rev 20:10 is paraphrased in the Book of Mormon translations D&C 19 is correcting as part of the translation process.

  40. Ben Britton says:

    I think express applies to “eternal” and “endless” as a two part group. I think the obvious interpretation is that “eternal” and “endless” are interpreted by the laymen to be without end, and the initiated understand the “mystery” that they are not endless.

  41. Rob Osborn says:

    D&C 19 can be interpreted to mean that something such as punishment can be either “endless” in duration or “endless” in quality of suffering or joy. I have always read endless punishment to mean that it can be endless in duration until one repents. Thus if one doesnt ever repent then their punishment would go on forever.

  42. Rob Osborn says:

    Tim,
    Except for the fact that there are sworn witnesses seeing the golden plates from which the BoM was translated. They are connected.

  43. Clark Goble says:

    Ben, but what do you think of the significance that this revelation pre-dates the publication of the Book of Mormon and appears to deal primarily with terms found in that translation not the KJV?

  44. D Christian Harrison says:

    “Well, take anyone of them and if its not true, neither can any of it be true and its all a fraud. Those 5 events tie in and link the civilizations of the BoM peoples together. Those 5 events, according to Mormon must be true as he is the one who compiled it and wrote the record. I dont care how one cuts the cake but they cannot claim anyone of those to be utterly false and still claim the validity if the Book of Mormon as true.”

    Rob… the WHOLE Book of Mormon may be a sacred novel. Then those internal claims are only important within the framework of the novel. Sacred fiction has been with us for literally millennia.

  45. Ben Britton says:

    Clark, those are really interesting observations. Let me give them some close examination and see if I have any thing to add or contrast.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    This is an interesting discussion, but Rob has a strong point re: physical plates. The testimony of the 8, Mary Whitmer, and Emma becomes almost inescapably problematic if there were in fact no such object.

  47. Ben Britton says:

    Physical plates can exist without actually containing the BOM, the Egyptian scrolls and Book of Abraham being the precedent. Also there is that one time when Oliver Cowdery and WW Phelps (I think it’s Phelps) copy down JS’s translation of some BOM characters. He also apparently included a translation into Hebrew of the same material, and that Hebrew turns out to be nonsense. It suggests that the BOM text possibly does not reflect what was on the physical plates.

  48. D Christian Harrison says:

    It’s a serious question that someone who believes the BOM is modern will have to answer for themselves — just as those who believe the BOM is ancient have to grapple with a laundry list of issues (horses, weapons, wheels, et cetera)—even if they eventually come to the opinion that it doesn’t matter.

  49. Clark Goble says:

    Ben, that’s certainly true. Except that in this case the plates were presented as being what the text was translated from. Moroni certainly tells Joseph that’s what he’s going to do. Joseph then goes to great lengths to get the plates. When he has the plates he’s under constant danger. Moroni tells him he is one of the figures from the plates. Then others get to see the plates. If the text doesn’t have some connection to the plates that a great deal of very difficult to explain events.

    I recognize that some what to extrapolate from the common view of the Book of Abraham which has little or no connection to the papyri we have. Bracketing the Book of Abraham debate for a moment, I just don’t think the situations are comparable. Even though I’m completely open to theories where translation is as much deconstructive tracing back to causal roots as it is a transmission of a surface text from one language to an other. (By which I mean texts are about things and the translation can be seen as focused not on the signs of the text but a focus on the objects they signify, thereby opening up expansions to the text)

    So for example a common, although almost impossible to prove theory by apologists is that the BoA papyri are indeed 1st century AD productions but that they are copies of copies which are then causally related to actual Abraham stories. The translation is going back to these ultimate sources and unveiling them in a manner more akin to the JST than any translation of an original text Abraham wrote. There are problems with that view of course (such as the “by his own hand” part critics bring up)

    However note how this really isn’t possible for the Book of Mormon. Oh sure we can note expansion to the text as well as a loose translation such that KJV fragments or paraphrases are produced for text loosely similar. But the causal connections are just very different as is the history of the text. (Here meaning the plates versus the sn-sn documents tied to the Book of Abraham papyri) I think even with the Book of Abraham it’s interesting that ignoring the connection of the text to the 1st century sn-sn documents that the text itself really does seem pretty plausible. Oh we can again raise questions but when you ignore the textual connection the produced text has lots of interesting bits that are at least plausible as tied to pseudopigrphal texts (all post-exilic of course and often in the same general period as when the actual papyri was composed).

    With the Book of Mormon we have none of this. Sure there are some interesting bits that seem unlikely part of Joseph’s culture but are pretty plausible for Lehi’s. But that’s really not at issue for those who reject real Nephites.

  50. RO, I’m not surprised you find my position untenable for yourself. I’m not asking you to agree with me and I respect your position. Can I ask you to respect mine and accept that it isn’t untenable to me at all? That I’m honestly at peace about the matter? That as someone who isn’t a black and white thinker, I’m more interested in delving into the possibilities than worrying about building a house on five facts? (that’s how your faith works, not mine)

    My frame of reference is that I am an artist myself. I know the creative process. I know how God works through the creative process to create something bigger than me or my creation. I don’t know that Joseph Smith was even wrong in describing what he thought happened to him; I do know that the human brain is very, very bad at interpreting its own experience (especially in terms of remembering and then interpreting experience). Maybe neither JS nor the rest of us truly understand what happened to him (or us in our spiritual experiences). Maybe we interpret our experience all wrong.

    I’m content with gray areas, paradoxes, confusion, and filling my life, because of those very things, with spirituality. Can you accept that?

  51. Tiberius says:

    “Those 5 events, according to Mormon must be true as he is the one who compiled it and wrote the record.”

    Except he wasn’t actually there, and was probably using records of records of records (a la the Bible). If we’re going to take the BoM seriously as an ancient text, then it probably has all the problems of an ancient text, and I highly doubt that a perfect historical record survived unadulterated through the ages. Which parts were shifted out, I have no idea, but you can easily grant that the BoM is based out of some ancient historicity without assuming an infallible record keeping ability on the part of the respective civilizations. The BoM itself admits it may have similar failings near the end, and it frees us from having to match up the chronology with the rise and fall of some ancient American civilization or another, since we have no idea if the chronology from the time of Christ is even correct.

    Also, while in principle people can vary along these different dimensions, in practice it seems like they cluster. In my admittedly unscientific sense the inspired fiction types are quite rare, and the major cells are (although being more populated doesn’t necessarily make it more true) “it’s a nice inspiring fable, and JS was a nice (or not so nice) guy,” “it’s 100% accurate and literal,” “it’s generally an accurate history but it may get some things wrong; also, it sometimes used loose interpretation principles that drew on themes and objects in 19th century America.”

  52. Rob Osborn says:

    ReT,
    I can accept that is where you are at. I just cant understand “logically” how it could possibly work to say the BoM is inspired fiction at best and yet be a fully committed Mormon. Perhaps this is due to my particular upbringing in placing faith in belief that something is true without fully knowing it to be true. Logically though, our religion is entirely based on the belief that Josrph Smith translated an actual physical set of ancient records from real historical figures and civilizations that once inhabited somewhere in the Americas. That record, as Joseph Smith claims, tells the story of events leading up to the actual Jesus Christ, in resurrected form, appearing to the ancient inhabitants of peoples in the Americas. It thus stands, on par with, and more correct than the new testament of our Bible. As LDS, we aknowledge that the BoM is the cornerstone of our religion, and is exactly what it purports to be. So to say it is just inspired fiction, to me, is like saying Jesus Christ himself is just an inspired fictional character. If that is the case then God does not exist and we should all be atheists.

  53. Clark Goble says:

    Rob, while I obviously disagree with that view, it seems easy to understand why someone would hold it. Religious is about utility and not reality. It’s a common move that goes back thousands of years. The question is always what grounds what remains?

    This isn’t a knock on those who feel this way. I hope they come and feel the spirit. Those of us firmly committed to the historicity have to be careful we don’t alienate those who feel some connection. That said, I think the body of the church does need to preach historicity – although we should be careful about what we assume is historically accurate. (I’d love to remove all that Roman looking armor and gladius on Nephite warriors form all that Church artwork for instance)

  54. Rob Osborn says:

    Clark,
    I agree. I have always had a hard time trying to understand those who view the BoM as fiction but are still members. My heart goes out to them, we are allies, just hard for me to understand them fully.
    I would like to see intitutions like BYU and research groups not spend so much time strictly in mesoamerica looking at the Maya as I feel its doing a general diservice to members who want evidence.

  55. I think Tiberius’s point is a good one. To accept the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient text, and inspired scripture, and Joseph Smith’s claims to have translated it by divine inspiration, does not necessarily require that we accept all the claims that the text itself makes. You can believe, for example, that Mormon and Moroni were real people that compiled the book using the scriptures that they had available, but that the story of the Jaredites is a late, factually embellished Nephite re-telling of an origin story of the earlier inhabitants of the land the Nephites lived in, whose true story was shrouded in myth, in the same way that you can believe that Geoffrey of Monmouth was a real man and that his history of Britain is an authentic ancient text, without necessarily accepting his claim that the British were descended from the Trojans. You can believe that Mormon and Moroni were real people and that God inspired their work, but that the small plates they had access to were a politically motivated Nephite propoganda retelling of Nephi’s story. You can accept the authenticity and inspired nature of the text, without accepting the claim of a tribe that the Nephites happened upon to be descended from Mulek (I’m curious, Rob, why you included the Nephites and Jaredites as essential facts, but not the Mulekites).

    The point is, you can believe that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text, and that God inspired its creation and that Joseph Smith translated it by divine inspiration, without uncritically accepting at face value every claim that the text makes.

    This is especially true given the descriptions in the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants of the book as the record of a fallen people, and the multiple warnings to beware of pride, lest we become as the Nephites. I don’t think that means we have to be overly cynical, or assume that Mormon was lying, but I think it does mean that we have to think carefully about what Mormon may have had access to, and what his cultural assumptions may have been. If you accept the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants as God’s word, which I do, God himself does not seem to want us to hold up the Nephites as a model of moral behavior, so I think it’s essential to read the text closely and critically about the claims make in the Nephite records, rather than just accept those claims at face value. And because those are complex issues, I think it’s entirely possible that even people who wholly accept the story of the angel and the plates and accept the book as an authentic text, could reach different conclusions in good faith as to the claims made in the text itself.

  56. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    The Mulekites are important also. I just listed a top 5 of many. those 5 I believe are critically important because it ties in the stories too much and without one of them being true it all falla apart. The Jaredites for example are made known to the Nephites through records brought forth and then translated by a seer. The process, as explained, shows that the record the Nephites had of the Jaredites was real, the Jaredites were real, and they are referenced a lot by various prophets throughout Nephite history. For us to merely assume it was an imbellished retelling of some myth is just as bad as saying Joseph Smith made up the entire BoM.

  57. Thank you for your reply, Rob. And Clark. My question then after reading your responses is to ask how (especially rhetorically) you (meaning believers in the historicity of the BofM) leave room for people like me to stay in the church? Which I don’t ask in order to suggest that the church drop the historicity in an way, shape, or form or that anyone should have to change their own beliefs. But rather, where in your mind am I allowed to ‘fit’? (I… errr… don’t actually require you permission on my end, but there is so much ‘the door to the chapel is to the back and left’ type rhetoric still flung my direction that it seems many people need help finding a place for people like me and thus the conversation is interesting.)

  58. I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon in recent months in a different way than I’ve read it before. I’m reading it totally disconnected from Joseph Smith’s other teachings and all the theological commentary that has filtered in after his death. In other words, I’m reading the book to see what it says and only what it says. Also, I’m looking carefully at the English text to see what I can learn from that. What is the book’s theology? What is its plot? Is it internally consistent? Does the story make sense? What does the English text tell us about when it was written? What I’m finding is rather surprising. While I find it hard to discount the stories surrounding its discovery and “translation,” I am finding that many elements of the story as well as many linguistic features are troublesome. In other words, I’m not convinced the book is exactly what it claims to be. It is a conundrum of the first magnitude. I’ll leave it at that for now, but when I’m finished I’ll have a few observations to make.

  59. Rob,

    That’s not an unreasonable reading, but it’s not a necessary one. You can accept that the Jaredites were real, and that Mosiah translated the record he found by divine inspiration, without necessarily concluding that the record they found was itself necessarily a complete and accurate history. It is not at all unusual for ancient peoples to blur the lines between history and myth, especially when dealing with their origin story, and especially when the origin story is further in the past. It would be odd to assume that the Jaredites were an exception.

  60. Ben Britton says:

    Clark, going back to our previous discussion on Endless and eternal, I like your point about chronicity of translation and where these terms appear in the BOM. That seems like a good possible source for the kind of issues JS might have been mulling over to then arrive at a revelation (per his usual question-ponder-revelation process and also consistent with some of the other instances where translation spurrs him to a question and revelation as in the question on baptism leading to the Aaronic Priesthood).

    I’d also like to suggest some further KJV sources:

    Mark 3:29 “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:” This passage seems to be what D&C 76 alludes to. It also directly references John 5:29 “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Resurrection with it’s implied eternal nature also implies eternal damnation, which inference is made explicit in Mosiah 16:11 (see below). The fact that we have a combination of allusions and quotation to these two passages in D&C 76 suggests they are part of the underlying theology (whether that be Protestant theology or even a specific local sub-category pertinent to JS and early saints) being transformed.

    We also have examples from earlier in the translation process of the BOM:

    Mosiah 16:11 “If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation–”

    Alma 9:11 “Yea, and if it had not been for his matchless power, and his mercy, and his long-suffering towards us, we should unavoidably have been cut off from the face of the earth long before this period of time, and perhaps been consigned to a state of endless misery and woe.”

    However, I don’t think these instance undermine your argument about the BOM being a primary inspiration for JS dealing with this issue. These instances just show that the issue permeates the BOM throughout. If universalists were already trying to do away with the idea, it is quite possible that JS would have thought of the “without end” interpretation being a more antiquated and traditional interpretation, which he possibly doubted. As you point out, it comes up in D&C 76 again a few years later. It appears the concept is in his mind.

    I also agree with you that it is the BOM and JS revelations that create the variation endless torment or punishment. Endless is only used in the context of “endless life” and that is a single time in Hebrews. BOM expansion of KJV through variation is one of it’s modus operandi, so there is no surprise there. This also seals the deal that D&C 19 is almost assuredly addressing the BOM along with the KJV, and this is completely appropriate as the BOM was new scripture.

  61. (I just wanted to say thanks for this post and a big thanks to Manuel for his comment. I’m off to read the Book of Mormon again thanks to this!)

  62. Ben Britton says:

    Clark, now on the BOA vs. BOM:

    The difference you argue is that in the case of the BOM we have a record of various revelations stating that the plates are being translated into the BOM, while in the instance of the BOA scrolls, we only have JS assertion that the BOA text is on the scrolls. I’ll conceded that there are a lot of revelatory statements via dictated revelation or via Moroni that the plates are the source, and there are no explicit statements for the Abraham scroll. However, chapter 1’s reference to the facscimile at the beginning of the record does imply that the scroll JS is likely using (Book of Breathings) is the scroll from which the text is being translated considering that the facsimile interpreted as Abraham on the altar is indeed found at the beginning of the Book of Breathings scroll. Essentially, the revelation itself implies, though does not explicitly state (or else there would be a whole lot less debate), that the Book of Breathings is the physical object from which the translation is drawn.

    A second indication that revelation is going along with JS assumption of the BOA being contained on the scrolls is the Alphabet and Grammar of the Egyptian Language. This is only conjecture, but the documents content is full of interesting preisthood related and astronomical theology. I personally think that the document likely was a result of some or other revelatory process. Revelation is how JS gained knowledge and was his goto vehicle. For that reason I think that revelation is the most likely source for the content of the Grammar document.

    However, none of that, at least for me, diminishes the significant parallels with documents from near the turn of the millenium. I think these are very real connections which JS’s revelations makes. You point out their time period, and it’s interesting to me that JS’ revelations consistently line up with documents in this general time frame and forward. We have the apocraphal Enochs and Abrahams. For the Book of Mormon we do have strong connections with a post-exhillic document, and what is largely a Christian document, the narrative of Zosimus which likely dates to the 4th century AD. I’ve discovered a bonified allusion to the Talmud in the BOM, another source dating to the early centuries AD (I know you’ll want to know more about that one, here is a link to the Jewish Encyclopedia article that caused me to stumble onto the connection: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3918-caleb Compare Caleb’s speech to rebellious Israelites found in the third paragraph of the Rabinnic literature section to Nephi’s speech in Ne 17 including the matching rhetorical hypothetical questions as conclusion. Also, remember that this fits into 1st Nephi’s framing of their departure from Jerusalem as the Exodus, which the text accomplishes through both parallel events and phrasal allusions. This talmud intertextaulity fits the chronology and theme perfectly.) These intertextual interactions and paralles are all interesting to me because they suggests the possibility that JS was not revealing pristine ancient knowledge dating back to Adam (who is likely only a mythological character anyway), but instead was drawing on religious truths across traditions, all fairly contemporary with the emergence of Christianity, arguably one of the most important religious evolutionary events in religious history.

  63. Ben Britton says:

    Clark, also I apologize for mangling your argument in my first reply. I realize that your only argument is that D&C 19 references the book of Mormon passages and not that Joseph Smith was necessarily pondering the topic. That last part is my addition/assumption.

  64. Clark Goble says:

    I think it’s fair to be skeptical of muelikite origins, although Orson Scott Card’s popular theory that they made it all up to impress the Nephites seems pretty speculative.

    Exactly what is open for discussion varies among people. It wasn’t that long ago that to even put forth the idea of expansionary translation was out of bounds for some people. But I think that while apologists don’t get a lot of respect in many places, their focus on close readings of the text have really opened up what the historicity question means.

  65. Clark Goble says:

    Ben, I rather suspect that (as with the many revelations arising out of the JST) that D&C 19 comes from Joseph translating 1 Nephi – Jacob. I’m sure he is pondering these issues. I think the language and shape of the translation is significantly affected by the universalist debate of the time but that seeing those passages raises questions for Joseph. In turn I think this means how we read the translation changes. (This is one reason I’m a big proponent in the pragmatic dynamic loose translation that people like Brant Gardner advocate) My sense is that many of those with problems with the Book of Mormon do so because they want a strict translation and thus have problems with the many quotes and allusions from the KJV of the Bible including texts well after Lehi lived.

    Regarding the Book of Abraham, despite recent setbacks in scroll length arguments, I’m still a proponent for missing texts. The exact relationship between the text of the Book of Abraham and the vignettes and hypocephali isn’t quite clear. I understand why people want to make it simple, but again it seems fundamentally different from the Book of Mormon — although I think it completely fair to look at the BoA and JST translation process as an insight into the BoM translation process & nature.

    I’m certainly not saying there’s no relationship between the BoA and various papyri. Far from it. Rather I’m saying that what I’m calling a deconstructive translation process that goes back from early texts to earlier texts is going on. I actually think that happens in the BoM as well in terms of expansion and so forth. So in this model there is no pure text that is being translated. Rather you have 1st century documents being interrogated in terms of genealogy of the copied underlying text and the references to which they are tied.

    With regards to the Grammar, I think that’s clearly working backwards from the translation rather than working forward. Further I think it is based upon the theories of Kircher about Egyptian language. (Which to me seems nonsense but explains a lot)

    Ret, I’m not really sure how to answer that. For instance when someone in my ward raises some stick about evolution I don’t feel particularly oppressed on the subject. I know they’re wrong and likely ignorant about science. I recall a time that happened in Sunday School in a ward full of chemists and biochemists (including the Bishop). So people believed differently from me. Who cares? The typical member has tons of erroneous or poorly understood ideas on religion. I think though that if the Book of Mormon is fiction that it just has pretty significant logical implications.

  66. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    I guess one could just chalk up the Jaredites as myth but realize that to do so one must go off complete conjecture and no evidence directly. So, what then places you in a better position than me? What I am asking is what conjecture you have that its a myth versus it being truth because neither of us has direct evidence to dispute otherwise. So, what it really comes down is the faith and credibility of ancient testimonies. Why would you lack it?

  67. Rob Osborn says:

    ReT,
    I see us all on a path of sorts. For instance- I believe the path leads to more and more truth until one reaches a perfection of truth. For me that means I am at a different point on that path than you but in turn you too shall come to where I am now and even perhaps in the end both of us are at the same point knowing all the same truths in perfection. The BoM is either true as far as what its title pages claim or it isnt true. If it turns out it is true, as the title pages claim, then our church is true and also the very restored true church as prophesied from the book itself. But, if its false, then all of us have been greatly decieved and the entire church is a fraud of the greatest proportion that ever existed on the face of the earth. The point I am making, after decades of careful research and study on my part on this very matter, is that I can, as God and his holy angels as witness say that “the Book of Mormon is true and Jesus Christ did appear to the ancient inhabitants of the Americas just as the Book of Mormon states, and that if these things were not true then my very God in whom I worship is a liar” . I thus testify that God is not a liar but a god of truth and as such, all will come to recognize the Book of Mormon is a true historical record and also another testament of Jesus Christ.

  68. “For me that means I am at a different point on that path than you but in turn you too shall come to where I am now…”

    Well, at least you are honest about your superiority on the path. I’ll take that over those that speak to humility and falling at the savior’s feet as sinners, but act otherwise.

    The rest of your testimony is lovely. I’m never quite sure what I am suppose to do with it though. What response are you hoping for from me?

  69. Rob Osborn says:

    ReT,
    I once prayed to know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I received a dream shortly later that showed the book open and math equations appeared and it was told me that just as one can only get one answer correctly from 2+2, so too is the Book of Mormon that only one true answer comes forth and just as math is provable and true, so too is the real history of events provable and true. Our problem as a church is we have the true answer before us but we are still lost in the equation part of placing events with evidence. In time though, the Book of Mormon will be proven as a true historucal book. You too must find these truths in faith and prayer.

  70. I think you wrote your last post with the assumption that I haven’t prayed and received deeply personal, inspirational answers from God on the Book of Mormon and my role as a child of His. That would be an incorrect assumption on your part.

  71. ReT, You can always sit next to me; I’d be happy to make you a spot (as long as you are comfortable sitting on the stand during Sacrament Meeting :)). I’m a big tent kinda guy, and there is room for you. In fact, you’d be surprised how many quiet members would find comfort in your perspective.

    I see Rob’s 5 points, and I reject 2 of them. Yes, I believe Nephi was a real person. Yes, I believe Christ literally visited other sheep. Yes, I believe Joseph Smith either translated a physical record provided him by an angel, or he used the actual record as a vehicle to translate via a seer stone and a hat. I personally believe these are true events, though I have no proof. But I reject that the Jaredites had to be real, and that all other stories had to be real. I think most of them are, but it’s not a requirement for me. Just like when I read the Bible. I believe Jesus was real, but I’m not convinced that Job is.

    But here’s the real question. If Job isn’t real, then so what? If you believe he is, I believe he is not, can we not BOTH still learn about the Savior’s dealings with his people through reading the record with an open heart and mind? I fail to see why this is such a big deal to you. I would think that having a testimony (or even just a hope) of the Savior and his atonement would trump all of this, but that’s just me.

    I struggle with the Book of Mormon being the cornerstone of our religion. For me, Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of my religion. The Book of Mormon is merely a vehicle to get to know him.

  72. Rob Osborn says:

    Im not assuming anything. I am of firm belief however that all men, through study and prayer, can come to know the truth of the Book of Mormon. I judge no man. I discern that no man has ever received a testimony from the one and true God that the Book of Mormon is false. So then, if not false, then true and only our own belief or lack of it prevents us from that truth.

  73. Rob Osborn, your circumlocution is dizzying.

    I imagine Rob’s got this posted somewhere in his house/workplace/etc.
    Rule #1 – Rob is always right.
    Rule #2 – If Rob is wrong, see rule #1.

  74. Thank you Chadwick. The good news is that I have a great spot every Sunday surrounded by family and friends in the overflow of the chapel. (That’s actually real, not metaphorical – we arrive early almost every Sunday and still prefer the overflow (more space for the kids to squirm).)

  75. Rob, I don’t think you’ve understood me quite correctly. I’m not arguing that the Jaredites were only a myth and had no historical basis. My personal take on it is that there were Jaredites. What I’m saying is that the position that the text that King Benjamin translated was a mythic/legendary text composed many generations after the events it recounts is no less faithful to the propositions (1) that the Jaredite plates were an authentic ancient document and (2) that Benjamin was a seer who translated it by the power of God.

    Oh, and also, to say that ancient texts blur the lines between myth and history does not mean that all ancient history is fiction. Your comment suggests that “myth” and “true” are mutually exclusive categories. I reject that. To be clear, I’m using “myth” in the sense of a genre of texts, not in the colloquial sense of fiction. To say that Genesis, for example, is a myth, does not mean that it is fictional, or that it isn’t true, it just means that the story has been crafted in service of specific goals, such as explaining God as the source of all things in a way that made sense to the audience and inspiring people to believe in God and live righteously, rather than to present a complete, accurate, and documented history. Scriptures are myths, and they are true myths.

  76. Clark Goble says:

    I think the point JKC raises is important. Given that we have a narrative with sermons and claims occurring within that narrative, it seems completely open to looking at how the narrative presents such claims. Those are open to various ways of reading, like Orson Scott Card’s view the Muelikites made up their story to have a better bargaining position with the Nephites. I’m more than a little skeptical of this, but it fits the text. Likewise those who accept an expansion theory of the Book of Mormon can claim that say portions of duetero-Isaiah were some proto-version of the text somewhat different from our text but that Joseph followed the version of the text from the KJV rather than being more true to what was on the brass plates. (Add in that the Book of Mormon seems to be some reasonably compressed script or shorthand and possibly even made up mnemonic tools at the text is much more open than it appears)

    JKC’s point is that all these arguments are taking the text as real seriously but allows for a very, very wide range of interpretations.

    The question isn’t what you think about the Book of Mormon but the grounds in terms of interpretation. Now personally I think it’d be pretty difficult to make a convincing argument for the Jadeites being fiction but the Nephites being real. But I’m open to someone making the argument.

  77. Maybe this is getting off topic, and if so, Christian, feel free to delete, but Rob, I am curious whether there is any claim that the various authors of the Book of Mormon make that you think the text justifies interrogating closely.

    You listed your top 5 absolutes above, and added the Mulekites as another. But in addition to that, do you think believing the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text and was translated by a seer called of God to do that work (full disclosure, I do believe those things) requires you to believe, for example, that God literally turned the Lamanites’ skin dark as a curse for their unrighteousness (full disclosure, I don’t), or that the Holy Ghost literally constrained Nephi to kill Laban (full disclosure, I think it’s plausible, but I’m not sure).

  78. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    Its typical of atheists to use the scriptures in context of “myths”. The church on the other hand dors not use “myth” in the context of any scripture whatsoever. I am thus duly unmoved to use that word in context of scripture because “myth” is always associated with something “unreal”. A search of LDS.org shows that not in one instance is scripture referred to as “myth”. In context of the Jaredites, I am interested in why you think the jaredite record was a myth

  79. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    Yes, I believe the Lamanites skin was turned datk according to their unrighteous. And yes, the Holy Ghost really did command Nephi to slay Laban and Nephi used his own justification to do so.

  80. So Rob, do you even accept the possibility that the Book of Mormon authors were anything less than perfect in every claim they made? If not, is that any different from biblical inerrancy? And also, how do you reconcile that with Mormon and Moroni’s repeated acknowledgement that the text they created contains “errors of men,” and warning that we don’t attribute those weeks to God?

  81. Interesting post Christian. Thanks. I tend to be in the camp of David Bokovoy. Sounds like some of you may have read his book, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy. He addresses pseudopigraphy in ancient scripture, and introduces the concept that JS may have used prophetic license in producing scripture that is based on ancient texts without having to be a direct translation of them. It opened my mind to different possibilities as to the origin of scripture. I believe it is possible to be a TBM with a strong testimony of the scriptures without restricting them to being direct, word for word translations (how many possible translations of the BOM into the world’s languages would be possible while still being “true”?) or 100% historical. That’s the only way that scientific evidences like biological evolution and scriptures about the Creation, the Fall, the Flood and the Tower of Babel can co-exist in my mind. To your point above Clark, I see it as very plausible that the Jaredite story (which includes reference to the Tower of Babel) could have been an oral transmission of earlier stories passed down among pre-Lehi inhabitants of the Americas and later written down and found by the Nephites.

  82. Clark Goble says:

    Personally I strongly suspect the Lamanite skin was just intermarriage with indigenous peoples and marking themselves with pain. Further unlike most unfortunate LDS art I’d imagine the initial Lehites looked like contemporary Palestinians and thus fairly dark themselves. Not like pasty Scandinavians playing Roman dress up as in most art.

  83. Clark Goble says:

    Paint not pain.

  84. I agree. But I do love that art!

  85. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    What parts eo you think are the errors of man? Or even- what parts are true?

  86. As far as the light skin, dark skin issue, do you not remember seeing the ancient Meso-American wall paintings with both light and dark skin people? I do not pretend to know if this was simply to differentiate them in the story the painting was telling or because they had different physical skin colors.

    In another vein, I attended a fireside once where the Black speaker showed us that dark countenance or skin of darkness were actually idioms meaning unrighteousness or despair, not physical skin color.
    I personally do not care how this argument finally turns out. I never thought one implied inferiority. How could it when first one side, then the other become the righteous. Seems more a warning about building false pride in your birth family.

  87. Bro. B, I, too am persuaded by Bokovoy’s analysis of the Deutero-Isaiah issue and his conclusion that, given the weight of rather overwhelming evidence, there is post-exilic material in the Book of Mormon. It is one of several reasons I have doubts about the B of M’s historicity, though I do not doubt that it contains important gospel teachings and that I feel closer to God when I read it.

    It is worth remembering that numerous “truths” about the B of M that the church once held inviolate have now been abandoned or significantly modified: e.g., the “big geography/continental model,” “all Native Americans descended from the Lamanites, the curse of dark skin will be lifted when Indians repent and accept the gospel. Many saints were just as fervently committed to those narratives as they are to the book’s historicity today.

    My only commitment is to the truth. While have serious questions about the B of M’s historicity, I don’t rule out the possibility that some of it, or perhaps a significant portion of it, is historical. The jury is still out, in my opinion, and I’m comfortable with that though, sadly, many of my fellow saints are not comfortable with me continuing to be a member of their church. But that’s another issue . . .

  88. That’s unfortunate FarSide that you get treated by some as a heretic. I too am sure that much of the BOM it is historical, and that if parts are not, I still believe in and value it’s messages–same as I can say for many Bible stories. I don’t think that makes us any less of a Church member. I was musing the other day on whether GA statements about the power of the temple sealings to draw families with rebellious children together, if not in this life, then in the next, apply as well to Laman and Lemuel, Sunday lesson poster children for the kind of family member not to be, and my wife said “Those accounts are just one point of view.” I thought that was a good and humbling reminder.

  89. Well said, Bro. B. Never underestimate the power of redemption. (Me, personally, I’m counting on it!)

  90. Rob, figuring that out is the work of a lifetime. I won’t pretend I have it figured out. I’m relatively confident that God did not curse the lamanites with dark skin. For one, I don’t believe God does that. And in addition, we now know the science of what causes different skin colors, and it is genetic, does not change, and has nothing to do with personal choices. I believe that the Nephites thought it was a divine curse, which is exactly what we would expect ancient people to think, but like Clark said, I think it’s more likely that if the lamanites skin was darker than the nephites, it was the result of intermarriage with an indigenous population. According to current church policy, the form Moroni gave for obtaining to priesthood offices is incorrect. But in spite of these, I believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, and an authentic ancient text.

  91. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    So how would you explain the time when the Lamanites repented and their skin became white, fair and beautiful again? If we just let our understanding of science explain things then none of the miracles in the scriptures nake sense. How do you thus explain Moses parting the Red Sea?

  92. Rob Osborn says:

    Or what about the time when Korihor was struck dumb? What about the time when Nephi took the power of God and shocked his brothers? What about when the brother of Jared brought stones to God and God touched them and they lit up and stayed lit? What about the liahona? How do words sometimes magically appear or even how it worked according to their faith? How do explain The three Nephites who were changed so they would not experience death and they are still alive on the earth today?

    The scriptures are replete with Gods works and miracles that our understanding of science cant explain. Joseph Smith using a seer stone to help translate is so far outside our understanding of science we get mocked at all the time over it. How do you expkain all these miracles?

  93. Rob Osborn,

    You would probably benefit from an online course (free) on the Old Testament offered through Yale University. It helps explain how scripture came about, the traditions and culture that influenced the authors, and other approaches to understanding the role the texts played in early Jewish history.

    RLST 145: INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT (HEBREW BIBLE)

  94. Rob, of course God can do miracles that transcend our scientific knowledge. I just don’t believe that changing people’s skin color darker to indicate their unrighteousness (which conveniently happens to coincide with the racial prejudice of the “righteous” group) is a miracle that he performs.

    When the Nephite chronicler who wrote the version of 3 Nephi that Mormon had said that the lamanites that repented became white, he was as wrong as President Kimball was when he said that indian children that became members of the church were whiter than their relatives that did not join the church. I have indian friends that are not members of the church, and I have indian friends that are members of the church, and there is no skin color difference. (That doesn’t mean that President Kimball was not a prophet, it just means that he was wrong about this.) How we perceive skin color is often more a matter of subjective perception than of objective fact. And if we hold the racist and incorrect belief that skin color indicates righteousness, then our perception of a person’s righteousness will color our perception of their skin color. The Book of Mormon indicates that at least at times, the Lamanites wore less clothing than the Nephites did, so it is not at all unlikely that Lamanites who joined with the Nephites and adopted Nephite dress would have less sun exposure and be less tanned. And it is not at all unusual that Nephites who held the racist belief that skin color was an indication of righteousness would attribute that perceived lightening of skin to their repentance.

    The story of the Nephites is a tragedy. They had so much potential, but they allowed pride (including, but not limited to racial pride) to be their downfall. The revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants tell us that the Book of Mormon is the record of a fallen people, and warns us to beware of pride lest we become as the Nephites of old. The Book of Mormon was preserved and given to us by God for a reason: not because the Nephites were ideal role models, but to reveal their faults, so that we may learn to be more wise than they. (Moroni 9:31). I don’t believe we need to be cynical with the way we read the Book of Mormon, or to attribute bad intent or dishonesty to Mormon or Moroni but we do ourselves no favors when we blind ourselves to the Nephites’ faults, including their obvious racism and make the same mistake they did, of attributing their racist ideas to God.

    Besides, there are lots of places in the Book of Mormon where there doesn’t appear to be a significant difference in color between the Nephites and Lamanites. The time when the Nephite soldiers pretended to be escaped Lamanite prisoners could not have happened if their skin color was significantly different.

    Rob, if you read the Book of Mormon to say that, I respect your right to read it that way, but my personal experience with the witness of the Holy Ghost does not permit me to believe that God curses the unrighteous with dark skin. It’s much more likely that the Nephites got this wrong than that God suddenly became a racist at a few inconsistent moments in Nephite history, and then went back to leaving skin color alone for the rest of human history.

  95. Clark Goble says:

    Rob, if the mark was primarily paints then that would explain the change.

  96. But again, Rob, are you willing to recognize even the possibility that the Nephites may have gotten something wrong? And if not, how do you reconcile that with Mormon and Moroni’s explicit statements that didn’t get everything right? And how do you (or do you) distinguish your position from that of biblical inerrancy.

  97. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    My position is that I dont view holy scripture through the secular glasses that you do. I have no problem seeing God cause a darkened skin to come upon a group of people so that the seed of the righteous wouldnt mingle so much with the wicked. This is much less of a miracle as that of the three Nephites who cannot die. If God isnt racist then why does he have a “chosen people”? Throughout time God has always favored the righteous over the wicked even to the point where God blesses entire continents such as the Americas for those who serve him. Its fair to say that the resources we have in America is better than Africa. So is God racist in this? Or is all this all just a fabrication of man?

    21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
    22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
    23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
    24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.
    25 And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction. (2 Nephi 5:21-25)

    So, was Nephi just making it up about the Lord telling him about the consequence of the curse for those who mixed their seed with the Nephites?

  98. Rob Osborn says:

    Clark,
    Except for the fact that the curse was an actual darkened skin, not paint.

  99. Rob Osborn says:

    Pete,
    Joseph Smith, who translated the BoM, the scriptures we are debating, received no formal education. So not quite sure how Yale could teach me something relevent to the Nephites and the translation of the BoM by the gift and power of God.

  100. it's a series of tubes says:

    If God isnt racist then why does he have a “chosen people”?

    Damn, Rob, sometimes it’s better to simply keep your mouth shut. You might want to have a look at D&C 121:34-40 and see if you can see anything about race there.

  101. Rob Osborn says:

    Im just quoting scripture. I never said anything about race. A “chosen peopke” I was referring to is the “righteous”.

  102. Rob, those verses are actually a good example of why reading closely is important. If you read closely, you see that the Lord never tells Nephi that the dark skin is the curse. He says that he will cause that they shall become loathsome to Nephi’s descendants (which could just as easily be read as a change in the Nephites’ perception as a change in the Lamanites’ skin) (v. 22) that Nephites who intermarried with them would be cursed (of course, this prophecy must have had an unstated expiration date, since by the time they become one people in Third Nephi, their mingling is presented as a good thing, not a bad thing) (v.23) and that they will be a scourge to the Nephites to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord (v.24). The statement that the Lord caused a skin of blackness to come upon the Lamanites comes from Nephi, not from the Lord. It seems that the Lord told Nephi he would curse the Lamanites, but Nephi assumed that the curse was dark skin. I attribute no evil intent to Nephi, but I think he got this wrong. (Assuming of course, that this was actually written by Nephi, and not inserted by a later chronicler before Mormon got to it, which is also a possibility).

    But the bottom line is this: Moroni tells us that by the Holy Ghost we may know the truth of all things. The Spirit bears witness to me that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. The Spirit does not bear witness to me that God curses the unrighteous with dark skin.

    I don’t know exactly what you are trying to say by accusing me of reading with “secular glasses,” but it seems like you are making assumptions about me and my faith that aren’t remotely true. I don’t know that you are actually interested in having a discussion about why God has chosen people without being racist, so I don’t plan to engage much further, but I’ll just say this: God favors those who obey him, regardless of their race or lineage, and as for western countries having more access to resources than African countries, I stand with Elder Oaks who said that the possession of wealth is not an indication of divine favor, and its absence is not an indication of divine disfavor.

    It’s clear that you aren’t willing to answer the questions I’ve asked you twice. I don’t know why you don’t want to answer them, but I’ll respect your decision not to, so I’ll not ask you again.

  103. Clark Goble says:

    Rob, paint darkens skin. It’s worth noting if we adopt a mesoAmerican setting that mayan warriors regularly darkened their skin with black and red pigments and priests would paint themselves blue.

  104. Though, Rob, we agree on one thing: the idea that God would curse unrighteous people with dark skin is certainly “much less of a miracle” than the miracles recorded in scripture.

  105. Rob Osborn says:

    Clark,
    Except for that I dont accept a strictly mesoamerican setting.

  106. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    I see you are unwilling to answer my questions also regarding all the miracles in scripture.

  107. Rob Osborn says:

    Your interpretation of my quoted scriptures shows an obvious secular bias, that was my point.

  108. Rob, while I stand by the views I’ve expressed, I apologize if my tone has been too strident. I fear may have unnecessarily escalated the conversation by not being sufficiently charitable. Please understand that while I strongly disagree with you about the race/color issue, I think we should see common ground in that we both believe strongly in the authenticity and the divinity of the Book of Mormon, even if we interpret it in different ways. If I’ve allowed my strongly held beliefs about this issue to obscure that, I apologize.

  109. Rob, I did answer your questions. I said that of course I believe that God can perform miracles that transcend science. I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you that reading the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient record written by real men is a secular bias.

  110. Clark Goble says:

    To add Alma 3:5-6 actually describes typical mayan warriors quite well. The idea that the darkened skin isn’t artificial simply isn’t addressed in the text. That you assume it was miraculous is fine but realize that’s not in the text itself but is something you’re bringing to the text.

    I think the easiest explanation is that the Lamanites when they break off from the Nephites mix in with the indigenous peoples in the area – likely pre-classical mayans. The mayans didn’t have a centralized government but city states (much as we find described in Alma) and with the exception of choosing the word scimitar or sword for certain mayan weapons the descriptions work surprisingly well. (The main problem with swords in the Book of Mormon isn’t swords but metal swords — macuahuitl were wood and obsidian. But the spaniards regularly called them swords.

    Since the “Lamanites” the Nephites encounter are probably mayan from a nearby city-state (distances were typically around 50 miles) we can understand how they’d see these markings first as marks but second not just in terms of darkness but also filthiness since they were natural pigments put on the skin.

  111. Rob, many of us see a difference between the “word of God” and “God’s words.” The former, which encompasses scripture, constitutes man’s best effort to interpret and record the guidance, inspiration and revelation he receives from the Lord, all of which is filtered through recipient’s imperfect language and is invariably distorted by his biases and personal desires. The latter are God’s words actually spoken by Him to an individual. We have few recorded instances where this has occurred, and even where this may have happened, the individual/prophet who wrote them down is still limited by the imperfect language he is compelled to use and often didn’t fully understand what God said and/or can’t remember His words exactly. Witness the first vision.

    I understand the appeal of “scriptural literalism” and “scriptural inerrancy.” On their face, they seem to offer simple answers to life’s complex questions, devoid of the inconsistency and paradox that we find in the world. And, heaven knows, they have been staples of Correlation and the Church Education System for generations, though there are a few hopeful signs that is changing. But such an approach ignores the messiness of the circumstances surrounding their creation and robs them of much of the instruction they have to offer. I suspect this is a world view that is foreign to you, so we are probably just talking past each other, but at the very least you understand where many of us are coming from.

    Best of luck to you.

  112. Clark Goble says:

    That’s fine if you don’t believe a mesoAmerican setting is the background for the Book of Mormon. I’m merely noting that if we accept such a setting then these accounts of the Nephites fit nearly exactly what their encounters with neighbors would be. Again the issue is what we bring to the text.

  113. Rob Osborn says:

    Clark,
    There is ample evidence from all over both North and South America that the ancients had both dark and light skin. So, picking just one small area as proof doesnt mean much to me. But, Im not here to discuss geography, I am here to discuss if or what may be fact or fiction. I am of the firm belief that, as according to scripture, the Lamanites skin was turned dark as a curse just as the text explains. I am duty bound in large degree to believe the text as there is no strong evidence to state otherwise. The same with the rest of the BoM, I am duty bound to believe the ancient prophets because there isnt evidence to prove them false. This gets at the very point of which it becomes troubling because of secular understanding. Even the mesoamerican BoM view is proposed from a secular POV because it best fits with secular science.

  114. Clark Goble says:

    Right but you are making big assumptions about how something happens. This isn’t about secularity but about assumptions you’re bringing.

  115. Rob Osborn says:

    JKC,
    I apologize for my own haste also in regards. The hard part I have in understanding you is just where you draw the line between fact and fiction. At this point I am not sure where your belief is with regards to the BoM- what parts you may accept as fact and what parts you dont. And, why you believe that way?

  116. Rob Osborn says:

    Clark,
    What assumptions are those and how do they differ from your assumptions?

  117. Rob Osborn says:

    Farside,

    If I am undrrstanding you correctly we should chalk up all scripture as questionable because otherwise it wouldnt fit your criteria. Where then do we stand- do we question the validity of the atonement? Do we question the validity of Jesus Christ?

  118. “I stand with Elder Oaks who said that the possession of wealth is not an indication of divine favor, and its absence is not an indication of divine disfavor.”

    Genuine question here… How does this fit in with the pride cycle of the BofM? Where humility/righteousness leads to God’s material/spiritual blessings which leads to pride/sin which leads to loss of God’s material/spiritual blessings? I’ve been wanting to ask that of someone for a while.

    (I personally agree that wealth is not an indicator of righteousness.)

  119. Rob, I chalk up all scripture as being imperfect, written by men who imperfectly understand the will of God and who imperfectly communicate their message in a language that is imperfect. This does not mean that scripture has no value. To the contrary, it has immense value.

    For example, it teaches us about the Savior and the saving power of the atonement. But the manner in which the scriptures communicate the teachings of the Savior is often ambiguous in the sense that it is open to multiple interpretations. Sometimes this is intentional, I believe, while other times the confusion stems from the imperfections of the prophet or scribe who wrote it down. Further, while the scriptures explain the need for the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, they do not clearly describe how the atonement works and what it encompasses. Indeed, the meaning ascribed by church leaders and scholars to the atonement has changed considerably over the past 150 years precisely because it is a difficult concept that is not—and probably cannot—be fully explained in any book of scripture authored by man.

    I love the scriptures but I won’t demean them by saying that they contain no mysteries, that their message is always crystal clear, that they are always a literal, historical account of the events they describe because they are not. The scriptures require work and do not lend themselves to the one-size-fits all approach often championed by fundamentalists. Frankly, if they did, they would be immensely boring, and you would never want to read them a second time.

  120. Rob Osborn says:

    Farside,
    So, for example-do you believe Nephi shocked Laman and Lemual with the power of God when they were preparing to start building the ship?

  121. Actually, ReT, I’m planning on a post on just that issue.

  122. Chadwick says:

    I taught the lesson earlier this year in SS on the darkening skin. Similar to JKC above, I made it quite clear when you read the record carefully all you see is God mentioning that the Lamanites will be cursed to protect the Nephites. Obviously the real curse is the loss of the Spirit, not dark skin. My reading seems to support that Nephi inserted this for whatever reason (and to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think he was being sincere). I expected a lot of backlash after the lesson but instead received a multitude of thank yous. It seems most of us are uncomfortable with Nephi’s interpretation of this particular event.

    But genuine question to Rob: If God used dark skin as a way to differentiate/curse wicked people one time in the Book of Mormon, and God is constant, and provides multiple witnesses for the way he operates, then why do we see no other evidence in the past or in the present of God using skin color as a way to differentiate/curse people? Surely he could have done this when he gave Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob their blessings, and surely he could do this today in a multitude of ways, given the diversity of righteousness in the world today.

  123. Rob, I wouldn’t characterize any of the Book of Mormon as “fiction.” As for which parts are accurately reported historical fact, and which might not be, I won’t pretend to know. I generally begin from the premise that it is historical, but it depends on context.

  124. JKC – I’ll be patient then and keep an eye out for it.

  125. Rob Osborn says:

    Chadwick,
    The mark of the curse was dark skin. The scriptures state it was for the purpose of the Nephites to not mux their seed with them. From OT times we know that the Caananites were cursed and a blackness of skin also fell on them. Some have called this also as a mark of the curse. Of note though, having dark skin in no means is the curse, it was just a visible mark of the curse.

  126. Rob Osborn,

    Since it’s obvious you lack critical reading comprehension skills, I’ll make this simple.

    Race and the Priesthood
    “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

  127. it's a series of tubes says:

    Rob, as others have noted, your “this is how it is” attitude and disregard for anything other than simplistic, binary thinking do you no credit. I’ve found this article to have some interesting perspective:

    http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/what-does-the-book-of-mormon-mean-by-skin-of-blackness

  128. Clark Goble says:

    Rob more or less my assumptions I bring to the text is to look for simple explanations not requiring miracles unless the text presents it as a miracle or there’s no other explanation. It seems to me you leap to miracles first.

  129. D Christian Harrison says:

    Okay kids… I’m closing up comments at noon today.

    Great conversation, but time to move on. Make your final remarks!