Monday Morning Theological Poll: Historicity Edition

Is it theologically necessary for the Book of Mormon to describe actual, objective history for it to be divine in origin? This one was hard to write. I think I’m just scratching the surface.


Justify your choice below.

Comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    What about:

    “Yes, at least insofar as there was an individual named Moroni with records (which may or may not have been historical at the time he had them — or some combination of the two) who appeared to Joseph as a resurrected being with the records he had back then.”

    Having no Moroni is a problem, I think. If there was no Moroni, either Joseph lied about angelic visitors or the angelic visitor lied about who he was. Having no Mosiah is significantly less so — these weren’t historians so I don’t think we can reasonably gauge how accurate the records that Moroni got were.

    I tend towards the historical side of things — record-keeping has always been pretty important to God’s people — but it isn’t hard to imagine limitations, points of view, or rhetorical objectives changing the texts dramatically by the time Mormon and Moroni get their hands on them. What came before may or may not be correct — but I think there needs to be at least Moroni.

  2. That’s a fair point. I tried to include all the historical figures under “Nephi and folks” but separating out Moroni makes sense.

  3. There’s an incredible amount of nuance missing. I don’t know how easily this one fits into a poll. For a start, “actual, objective history” rarely happens, as a lot of history is subjective based on the people involved then and since.

    To me, it’s a set of first/third person narratives, brought together and forth by divine processes. Whether those narrators are reliable is an entire other discussion. I don’t believe finding any one part or the whole of it to be false would break my faith, as it’s merely a stone, not the Rock (Jesus, not Dwayne)

  4. I feel that the Book of Mormon spends enough time speaking about it’s own creation and abridgement that if it is true, those parts need to be true as well. Books like Jonah can be fictional and still be scripture, because the original audience could tell that it was fictional satire. It’s only cultural separation which has made that context lost. The same is not true for the Book of Mormon.

  5. Difficult to give just one answer. I agree that Moroni needs to have been an actual person, with the records in his custody, to satisfy the demands of divine origin. I am torn on the rest, but multiple readings of the BoM have helped me to identify different authors of different parts of the book. Whether those authors are the same as the names assigned to their accounts, I don’t know. But to me, I have a testimony of the value of the book as scripture, regardless of the actual historicity. The examples of Job and Jonah in the OT helps me to understand how such a book as the BoM can still be scripture, without necessarily being actual true accounts.

  6. Not a Cougar says:

    I struggled with my choice, and probably chose wrongly (I went with the third one). A problem with the dealing with the historicity of the Book of Mormon is that we as a church use it as our raison d’être in a way that Christian churches by and large don’t really use the Bible. The historicity of the Book of Jonah, for example, has very little to do with whether Paul saw Jesus Christ and was later called to the apostleship, but even if Paul wasn’t called of God, it doesn’t really affect most Christians’ belief in Christ and the Atonement. By contrast, if the Book of Mormon and its latter-day origin story involving Moroni isn’t true (or at least isn’t based on anything remotely resembling what is in the book), the current importance of the Church quickly erodes. Most members I know I would take a dim view of the importance of the Book of Mormon if it was merely a vehicle for Joseph Smith to say “yo Dre, I got somethin’ to say [about Christianity].” https://bycommonconsent.com/2016/07/03/yo-dre-i-got-something-to-say/.

    If the Book of Mormon is merely a young man’s musings on what he found wanting in modern Christianity and that he felt called to fix it, rather than truly miraculous in its origins, he should have been a bit clearer on that point.

  7. Franklin says:

    Once again, none of your options fits my view. I don’t really doubt the stories about the angel, especially his appearance to the three witnesses, but there is so much in the actual text of the book that is problematic for a historical reading that I don’t really know what I believe. It’s an extremely complex book, probably far too complex for someone like Joseph Smith to concoct on his own. But if it’s not historical, what is it? Nobody yet has given a satisfactory answer to this question, in my mind.

  8. I’m not sure how far below the surface future questionnaires may go, but please let me know if there’s one entitled “Will Christ actually return? Yes or No”. I genuinely wish that the true measure of a church was the quality of the people it produces in which case I could immediately and unequivocally give the church an A. However, if in 500 years from now the church is still proclaiming the immediate return of Christ it should considered in the same category as the Jaycees, the Rotary Club, or the Shriners.

  9. Look, whether or not the way the information is conveyed is entirely historical is one thing. But if we’re going to attempt to claim that most of the people, especially the prophets, whose stories are outlined in the Book of Mormon were only fictional characters then there are real problems. Because if those are myths then you have historical recollections by Joseph’s peers / contemporaries (David Whitmer, Brigham Young, John Taylor, George Q Cannon, Orson Pratt, and others) that can only then be expansions on some original stories told by Joseph that were either misunderstood or misinterpreted. Because a great deal of ink was spilled explaining how connected Joseph was with both the New Testament leaders and the leaders of previous dispensations both in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. Here’s one article from the Ensign back in 1978 that offers many examples: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1978/08/book-of-mormon-personalities-known-by-joseph-smith?lang=eng

    I am certain there are some misunderstandings and myths yet to be revealed around what we “know” to be true about the Book of Mormon. But to question of whether Moroni, Nephi and the 12 Apostles of the New World are fictional characters means there are other historical narrative issues.

  10. Fun poll, John. I don’t have a particular critique of the poll itself but I think it is ineluctably tied up in the notion of “translation” as that notion stood for Joseph Smith. I find it hard not to invoke the existence of the plates on a couple of levels. But how are they involved in the production of the 1830 Book of Mormon? I think the fraught notion of translation (in the above sense) opens a flower with many petals. What input did Joseph Smith have? Did God intervene in the production of the 1830 text to supply thought that the “original” lacked, or correct social commentary, eliminate narratives that were counterproductive, etc. in any number of ways? Studying the figures on the plates and the role of that in the translation has a background presence in every version of the origin of the 1830 text. That whole flower with many petals is deeply connected to the question of any notion of historicity.

  11. Ryan Mullen says:

    I have not encountered the Moroni-must-be-historical-but-Nephi-need-not-be argument before. I’m not sure that I see why it’s helpful for Moroni to be making unsubstantiated claims but not for Joseph Smith to be doing the same thing. That is, if the Book of Mormon is a 400 CE text that misrepresents a 600 BCE-200 CE people, why is that somehow better than a (supposedly) 1800 CE text that misrepresents a 600 BCE-400 CE people?

    Jonathan, “record-keeping has always been pretty important to God’s people” This seems like a an unverifiable claim. The only of God’s people that we know about now are the one’s who kept records. God could easily have had other peoples that left no records behind. How would we know?

    Not a Cougar, “A problem with the dealing with the historicity of the Book of Mormon is that we as a church use it as our raison d’être in a way that Christian churches by and large don’t really use the Bible.” Oh, now this raises all sorts of wonderful questions. I’ve heard the early Saints decried for not taking the BoM seriously (cf. Benson re: D&C 84:54–57), but maybe in our quest to remedy that, we’ve reduced it to a logical domino that distorts the purpose of the text.

  12. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    But we do, sort of, have to take seriously the book’s insistence that it is a historical record (or, an abridgment of a historical record). Personally, I think that it needs to be some version of history for some group of people…somewhere. I’m fine with some/much of it being a history skewed to the point of being ahistorical. But, if the whole thing is entirely fiction, the book is not what it purports itself to be. That’s problematic for the mormon movement.

  13. Ryan, regarding this: “That is, if the Book of Mormon is a 400 CE text that misrepresents a 600 BCE-200 CE people, why is that somehow better than a (supposedly) 1800 CE text that misrepresents a 600 BCE-400 CE people?”

    How about this: It needs to be true that there were Nephites, and that Mormon and Moroni made good faith efforts with the materials they had. It does not need to be the case that the plates they had were 100% accurate, or that Mormon’s goal was to present accurate history rather than to make a religious point. Sort of how we have four gospels in the New Testament that disagree regularly on the history but agree on the central point.

  14. Not a Cougar says:

    Ryan, my understanding of those verses has always been that early Saints were far more conversant with the Bible (which they had studied their whole lives) than with the Book of Mormon and they often resorted to using the Bible more than the Book of Mormon in their instruction. That’s of course problematic if the Book of Mormon truly is the keystone of our religion (and evidence of Joseph’s prophetic call) hence the call to repentance. I’m aware of no group of early Saints who questioned the historicity of the book or its contents (if you’re aware of such accounts please share). It may be a sin to not study or teach from the Book of Mormon enough but that’s hardly the same thing as questioning its historicity.

  15. anonymous for this says:

    I voted for one of the nos. I believe that it can be a sacred text/scripture without being factual or historical (I mean, other that historical to the 1820s) – including Joseph Smith’s stories on its origin. I don’t believe it’s a historical document (nor do I believe there were any actual Nephites) but that doesn’t really matter to me as long as it brings people closer to God. Yeah, that’s probably not a “rational” take according to everyone here, but there’s plenty of space in religion for the irrational, I think.

  16. Ryan Mullen says:

    adano, I guess I still don’t see how Nephi, a first-person narrator and the Nephite connection to Jerusalem, is somehow less integral to the BoM narrative than Moroni. The small plates portion of the BoM (1N-Omni) certainly have their own distinct history from the large plates portion (Mosiah-Moroni), what with the lost 116 pages, but I don’t really see a case to be made for the small plates to be pseudepigrapha while the large plates (or even just the book of Moroni) must really be historical. Maybe if we had separate source documents (small and large plates, respectively). As it is, Joseph Smith’s role in the BoM transmission is the “big jump”. I fail to see how a world view that allows for the JS Moroni segment could simultaneously declare the Moroni Nephi segment as just too improbable.

    Not a Cougar, that distinction helps. Thanks for giving some more detail. And no, I am not aware of any early Saints questioning BoM historicity. Still, I wonder if it would have been the same problem for them as it is for us.

  17. Why do I get the feeling we’re being prepared for something?

  18. Jared Livesey says:

    What would be the point of God lying to us?
    What could he possibly gain from us by lying to us?
    Would not the entirely predictable effect of God lying to us be that we do not believe him and do not do what he says to do?
    If people believe God to be a liar, why should he bother speaking to them?
    Precisely what he says is precisely what they do not believe; exactly what he says to do they will not exactly do.

    Has even one statement in the text of the Book of Mormon been shown to be false?

    To understand what is meant by this question, it must first be understood that the text of the narrative of the Book of Mormon does not contain any claim to have taken place anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. If the narrative contained therein is true, then the most that can be said from the narrative text itself is that it mostly did not occur in or around Jerusalem (Lehites), and it mostly did not occur around the Tower of Babel (Jaredites). Moreover, even if the narrative of the Book of Mormon is true – that is to say that even if the Book of Mormon is a factual account of events which occurred in the real world – Joseph need not have been a prophet of God. All it would imply is at best he could have been a real translator, or, at worst, a thief – he might have stolen the text from someone else.

    What are the claims made solely within the text of the Book of Mormon which have been, or even can be, proven false – excluding any statements by Joseph or the witnesses?

  19. lehcarjt says:

    Jared, you lost me. What statement of God’s are you saying is a supposed a lie?

  20. So, overall, we have right now 278 No votes and 170 Yes votes. This is fascinating to me. This has to be a BCC phenomenon, not a regular church one, right?

  21. Jonathan says:

    Ryan:

    “I guess I still don’t see how Nephi, a first-person narrator and the Nephite connection to Jerusalem, is somehow less integral to the BoM narrative than Moroni.”

    Hunt down Orson Scott Card’s talk “Artifact or Artifice” for a good example of the difference. He posits that the people of Zarahemla could have absolutely nothing to do with the Old World and the text of the Book of Mormon would still be correct. For Nephi, read John Sorenson’s Mormon Codex for an example of how the first person narrative of Nephi could have been created by later writers for the purpose of establishing claim to political dominance over the Lamanites. Christ comes along talking about the Old World, and those who later chose to become Nephites create a text to justify their particular claims to the Old World legacy. I don’t believe that is the case, mind you, but it doesn’t cause me any heartburn.

    Now I didn’t vote, because none of the choices reflected my opinion, but push comes to shove I say there is far more historical than ahistorical in the Book of Mormon — it is as much history as any contemporary book would be. But there are no adverse consequences to our understanding of the founding of the Church if, say, Samuel the Lamanite (or any of the dozen or so people mentioned in 4 Nephi) took the records and rewrote them after the time of Christ to reflect his new understanding of the doctrine (and geography) and Mormon came along and took those records as historical. Mormon’s teleology is still successful and the Lord still thought the Book of Mormon could achieve its purpose of convincing Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.

  22. Stephen Fleming says:

    John C. Certainly a BCC phenomenon; the church’s numbers would be very different. But it’s very interesting to see these numbers at BCC. No doubt the no position has been growing.

  23. Bro. B. says:

    I voted for “Yes, the Book makes promises about covenants and interactions with God; if it is false, those promises shouldn’t be effectual.” But, with the caveat that the BOM writers thought what they wrote was factual, based on their contemporary culture and understanding. That’s much different than comparing their accounts to Job and Jonah, which are very plausibly understood as poetry and satire.

  24. Bro. B. says:

    I voted for “Yes, the Book makes promises about covenants and interactions with God; if it is false, those promises shouldn’t be effectual.” But, with the caveat that the BOM writers thought what they wrote was factual, based on their contemporary culture and understanding. That’s much different than comparing their accounts to Job and Jonah, which are very plausibly understood as poetry and satire.

  25. “Either it’s all true or none of it is…”

    Only the Sith deal in absolutes, but this is the claim the Church as made, not one that I am projecting onto the Church.

    I voted – Yes If Nephi and folks weren’t real, then Joseph was a liar and the Church is just another fib.

  26. Bro. Jones says:

    I asked a question in Gospel Doctrine once: “The Bible records the size of Noah’s Ark as 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. Suppose that next week, scientists discover and verify the identity of Noah’s Ark, and everything seems to correspond to the Biblical account–except that it’s only 275 Cubits long. Do we toss out our Bibles and renounce our faith? What if it’s 250 Cubits? Or 30x5x3? If we decide that no particular discrepancy will cost us our faith, but we also don’t embrace scriptural inerrancy, what does that mean?”
    I asked similar questions about Book of Mormon events and histories. If it turned out that we did discover archaeological confirmation of BoM events, but the numbers were nowhere near the scale presented in the book, what would we do? And if we don’t care about that level of precision, does it mean that there’s a message and a purpose beyond tallying number or reporting exact events?

  27. Not everything has to be real (for instance it could be accepted that Ammon chopping off arms was a tall tale), but the BOM has to be viewed as historical for it to work. If it is viewed that ancient Americans didn’t actually see Jesus but that story is made-up, then that undermines a key pillar of Mormonism.

    Of course, you can be a Mormon and not believe it the BOM’s historicity (and still believe it to be inspired scripture). Many obviously are. Although I think they have to be very careful in how they talk about the BOM and about revealing their full beliefs on historicity, for the believing community at large tends to react strongly to the idea that the BOM is not historical. However, for the leaders to begin treating the BOM as ahistorical, metaphorical, and allegorical would be to undermine Joseph Smith’s claims to be a prophet and a key component of Mormonism. An ad from Book of Mormon Central came up on youtube the other day talking about how there are all of these evidences of historicity in the Arabian Peninsula, and it spoke to me just how invested the LDS church and much of the membership and apologetic community is invested in the historicity narrative. I strongly doubt that this new narrative promoted on liberal believer blogs that the BOM is not historical, but metaphorically true, is going to gain much traction. It is really, really easy to point out how that narrative is at odd with what LDS leaders have said and continue to say about historicity.

  28. One option not given is that the English is a modern production, but based on history instead of complete fiction.

    Variations on this are espoused by scholars like Royal Skousen and Blake Ostler.

  29. Loursat says:

    A problem with being preoccupied with historicity is that it tends to distract us from what the book was meant to teach. My experience has been that the more I pay attention to what the book teaches, the less I care about questions of historicity. I understand that others’ mileage on this might vary. Nonetheless, I like to think that an openness to the “No” answers in this poll is a natural and righteous consequence of taking the Book of Mormon more seriously.

  30. Loursat says:

    And to be clear, I’m a believer in the Book of Mormon’s divine origin.

  31. I’ve been thinking about this poll since it was posted. All my learning at church, BYU, know your religion classes, etc. screams that it has to be any of the “Yes” choices.

    Now I don’t know what to do with the translation process being face-in-a-hat without the plates even involved. Joseph Fielding McConkie once reference that account and commented that it “obviously” couldn’t be true in a class I took. I guess that comment hasn’t aged well.

    I feel like I have to treat the Book of Mormon like the Book of Abraham. A “revealed” text that probably doesn’t have anything to do with the source material. How can we talk about it being historical in that case?

    I don’t like it. I don’t know how I think about things anymore.

  32. Steve LHJ says:

    In my mind I have come to the conclusion that the BofM, and even scripture generally, is Meta-t

  33. In my mind I have come to the conclusion that the BofM, and even scripture generally, is Meta-truth. That is when you take base level facts, such as I have five oranges or five apples, there is an abstracted layer of the concept of 5 we can pull out of that and these type of abstractions result in math. In some ways the abstractions might even be considered more true than the base level facts themselves, as it can now be used to understand and apply to universal realities that are more fundamentally valuable. So if I add two oranges and two apples to my respective piles, I don’t have to learn how amount of oranges work and amount of apples work as separate concepts, but the Meta-Truth of numbers is the fundamental truth that sustains the reality of both.

    So also I believe is what scriptures and revelation is really about. That there are people, perhaps specifically ones in the Americas that God cared about and had a relationship with, that there were prophets that he interacted with on some divine communicative level, and that there really are promises and purposes that apply to our modern world’s relationship with God and the divine might be considered the abstracted layer. Perhaps underneath, the base level historical facts there was a prophet named Nephi, or perhaps Nephi represents a series of people God has interacted in some time and place whose message to us has been put into the figure of Nephi.

    I think the abstracted truth, this Meta-truth, is essential, and is why many of us can feel such power in reading the Book of Mormon. In the King Follett Sermon, Joseph Smith is recorded as saying, “All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all…”.

    As revelation comes in the abstract, it would be up to the mortal mind of Joseph Smith to extract from the abstraction in to the spoken / written truth that would become the Book of Mormon. When the words and concepts sufficiently match the underlying abstraction of the revelation, the truth of it is confirmed to both mind and heart, and so the translation process continues. So yes of course the words Joseph Smith uses are going to reflect and draw upon his understand of the world to provide a narrative that matches the abstract revelation, a lot of the sermons undoubtedly will be translated or overlaid in the language of 19th century Christianity and a lot of the specific points surrounding animals, economies, geography, etc are going to be overlaid by a 19th century world view.

    But in my mind that is not really all that relevant. The underlying or abstracted truth that it uses our more modern(ish) language to describe, is in many ways more true than any particular fact on a surface level. That leaves the history in the sense of actual historical facts open to a lot of possibilities, but more importantly the underlying realities of God having interacted with his children, that there are peoples and prophets who we will meet at the last day who desire/d us to know these truths of which Joseph was able to relay this information to us – is far more relevant. I believe the narrative and message of the Book of Mormon is more true than surface level facts, I don’t think that means the setting or characters were made up – they are abstractions of truth whether of actual individuals or collections of individuals and places, and I believe it is due to this deeper level of truth that my heart burns almost with a sort of familiarity when I read it, and lets me know it is both true and of divine origin.

  34. Jack Hughes says:

    Regardless of where each of us stand on the issue of historicity, I think it’s important to be accepting of various nuanced and non-historical views of the BofM among different Church members, especially in Church settings. In my current ward, if I were even to suggest that the BofM might be more allegorical than historical, I would be quickly shouted down, dismissed as a heretic and probably hauled into the bishop’s office. My own views on the divine origins and historicity of the BofM are complex and do not fit any traditional framework, so I don’t discuss it openly at church. But it has been spiritually refreshing for me to be able to read the text and not be burdened by the idea that it’s contents are historically accurate, or whether the people depicted therein ever really existed. It’s just not that important to me anymore.

    But it seems that the Church may be adopting a more nuanced position on BofM historicity as well. They have been slowly and quietly backing away from their previous claims that certain living ethnic groups (Native Americans, Polynesians, Latin Americans, etc.) are literal descendants of BofM peoples. I don’t hear about the BofM claims based on archaeology or geography in Church settings anymore like I used to growing up–those are now left entirely to a few niche apologists and quirky hobbyists. Church pageants that depict BofM events are being discontinued. They have already (indirectly) acknowledged the non-historical nature of the Book of Abraham. And I don’t hear general authorities testifying of the BofM’s value being due to it’s historical accuracy anymore. Perhaps the Brethren are a few steps ahead of the general membership on this issue.

  35. Not a Cougar says:

    Steve, sorry, but I don’t buy what you appear to be selling. The restored Gospel as currently taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church) makes explicit factual claims about the past and about the salvific efficacy of its ordinances. It also claims exclusive authority to administer those ordinances and requires a certain level of actual (or at least expressed) obedience to certain commandments to access those ordinances. The Church has also never held out the Book of Mormon to be merely a long-winded parable from which we draw lessons in order to grow closer to God. It is, whether originally intended or not (and I think it was), treated as evidence that God called Joseph Smith as His mouthpiece and chief contractor to build the Kingdom of God for the last time.

    To summarize, the historicity of the prodigal son doesn’t matter when considering whether the historicity of Jesus’s messiahship. Contrarily, the historicity of the Book of Mormon is incredibly apposite if it is to be used as evidence of Joseph’s prophetic call. If the book is nothing but a very in-depth parable, why should I treat anything else the Church offers as more than a set of onerous tools (and there are lots of other tool sets out there) that may or may not help me in my journey towards God?

  36. Yes, perhaps I did a poor job describing my view. What I am trying to describe is something very different from a parable or allegory which is a made up story that can teach us true underlying principles. What I am calling meta-truth goes much beyond that.

    As opposed to a parable I do believe there are real people, real prophets, real experiences that existed, wars, devastations, civilizations that rose and fell, etc. Whether those people really started by crossing the ocean from Jerusalem, or whether that is a way to express that there was a people who God revealed himself to that were likewise adopted as a covenant people the same as the Israelite people and thus can be considered as one covenant family. In either case there was a people that became part of the covenant people of God, and I believe such a people prayed for future generations and desired that their knowledge would be a blessing to them. Perhaps if we were to go back in time and hear the actual words spoken, the ideas wouldn’t be expressed in a more modern protestant Christianity type language, but the underlying truths and concepts, the very essence, would be the same given their time, place, and culture.

    Which is to say I believe there is an abstraction of truth pulled out from an actual reality. That abstraction is revealed to Joseph Smith, as all revelation only comes to us in the abstract “precisely as if we had no body at all”, and Joseph Smith ‘translated’ or in other words unpacked that abstraction using the modern language and concepts available to him. While the surface level details may differ (5 apples vs 5 oranges), the abstracted truth it points to (5 pcs of fruit) is accurate. These deeper realities are much more important than surface details, hence why the truth of the words can resinate so deeply.

  37. DoubtingTom says:

    I’m not opposed to the book being non-historical and still of divine origin, per se. But I think we’ve painted ourselves into a corner by the things Joseph Smith himself claimed about the book’s origins, as well as pretty much every prophet and apostle since. I honestly don’t see a valid path out of that corner, thus I voted no, not because of my own view but because of what the church itself has imposed the book must be.

  38. To all the folks saying that the Book of Mormon is meta-truth, metaphorical, and that the question of its historical origins is not at all important, I’m going to go ahead and mark you down as non-believers in historicity. What I hear you saying is that it is a pesky question that causes you cognitive dissonance and that you just can’t bring yourself to accept and fully get behind the well-published, widely-pushed apologetic narratives about how Joseph Smith couldn’t have possibly known about this or that (believe me, I’m there with you, my favorite couldn’t-have-known-aboutism is how Joseph Smith couldn’t have possibly known about guerrilla warfare, nevermind the fact that it was practiced by American Revolutionaries and was a common military tactic of different Native American groups during JS’s time, the chiasmus-mania of a couple decades ago is a close second). You want to believe that the BOM is true, but in a way that is more compatible with modern reason, and not have to own it being true in a historical way, which you find a little fantastical and absurd, but don’t want to come out and say it for fear of provoking a massive reaction of believers against your views. So you settle for, “well, it could be historical, but that’s not an important question,” essentially becoming an agnostic on the question.

    The historicity question is undoubtedly incredibly important and the people who made it important and have continually forced the historicity question into relevance have been the LDS church leaders themselves and their most devout supporters. Critics of historicity have acted in defense of a narrative that has been promoted and pushed ad nauseum by church leaders since Joseph Smith. It is not the other way around, and many wrongly suppose, that the critics are the ones pushing the historicity question.

  39. Not a Cougar says:

    Steve, I have no argument with your take on historicity. What I would challenge you to explain is this. Based on the understanding you expressed, why should we give the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ direction primacy in our lives? (And read “direction” broadly – covenants, ordinances, commandments, authority, divinely-appointed leadership, etc.)

  40. your food allergy is fake says:

    SteveLHJ and others, thanks for sharing your ideas.
    Not a Cougar,
    I don’t want to put words in Steve’s mouth. But as somebody whose views are somewhat similar to his, I would say that depends entirely on what you believe the fundamental truth that is being communicated is, whether we’re talking about scripture or any form of spiritual communication with the divine. It may be something like, “making covenants that commit your life to Jesus Christ is essential to life and happiness beyond mortality.” If so, one may or may not conclude that could be accomplished outside the Church. But it depends on your understanding of spiritual experiences, which are “abstract” and which we necessarily filter and color through our physical brain and senses.

  41. This discussion reminds me of the debacle that occurred surrounding James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces”. My opinion is that Oprah’s initial claim that what mattered was not the truth of the book, but its potential to help addicts was probably the most representative of what she believed. Viewer outcry seemed swift and vitriolic enough to prompt what felt like a feigned retraction and clarification of “”I left the impression that the truth is not important.” What followed seemed to me more about saving Oprah’s reputation and credibility than anything to do with addiction or truth with a T.

    If Frey’s amount was fabrication, I would take those supposed truths as seriously as I would Adam Driver’s character on Girls which is to say not at all.

  42. your food allergy is fake says:

    John W,
    Why do you find it necessary to caricaturize the thinking of the “No’s,” roughly half of the poll’s respondents, and lump them all into a single and simplistic approach?
    I think what this poll and thread reveal is that people are all over the place in their approaches and beliefs about the BoM.

  43. Not a Cougar says:

    Allergy, fair enough, but I think the only honest way you can get there is to openly acknowledge that the foundation upon which Church practice rests is metaphysical.

  44. your food allergy is fake says:

    Yes. And personal.

  45. Not a Cougar, yes it’s a good question. My personal belief is that the claims to heavenly authority are real, and that the covenants and rites offered are important, and in the ultimate sense essential. More broadly I believe in the mission and destiny of the Church, that it will be the vehicle to gather all things in one in Christ and build the literal Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for the coming of Christ. And in many ways building a heaven on earth to me is really no different than building a heaven in heaven if you will, and I believe we are taking part in that work.

  46. I answered:

    No, If the promises in the Book work, then it is of God, no matter what people believe about its origin

    I agreed with all of the no answers, but I thought that was most important to how I would answer that.

    The main issue is probably how one interprets the phrase in the question: “divine in origin”.

    If that means to someone, “every word was dictated to Joseph from God”, then I think I would answer: “Yes, the Book spends so much time discussing its own creation and abridgment, that God really would be putting the “fraud” in divine fraud”.

    I’m known as a Middle Wayer, a faithful LDS that doesn’t believe in BOM historicity. But I don’t like the theology of a Middle Way that preserves God as an author of fraud. Anything related to possible fraud (pious or otherwise) or deception or whatever is human’s responsibility.

  47. Can't figure out the post says:

    Is this post supposed to have a list of options? Only the first paragraph and the comments come up for me.

  48. Can’t figure out: I have that problem too using Firefox or Google Chrome (endlessly). Try a different browser.

  49. Allergy, there are questions related to Book of Mormon historicity that are either yes or no. At the same time there are many approaches to the Book of Mormon.

    Look at it this way. Suppose we find a man dead on the street. Explain what happened. There are all sorts of ways to explain what happened that led up to the man dying on that street. We could try to tell the man’s personal history, we could look at crime statistics, we could look at death statistics (how often people die from a stab wound, etc.), we could look at class, race, religion, the whole gamut. There are so many different ways you can slice and dice what happened to lead up to the man dying on the street. Yet in the courtroom, the jury is asked a simple yes or no question: is the suspect guilty or not guilty of first degree murder. So you can see how we can ask binary questions on a subject and still acknowledge the complexity around them. What I hear from you, and others, is that the binary questions can’t be asked related to the Book of Mormon because they are too divisive, black-and-white, and don’t help us explain it and that the Book of Mormon can only be analyzed with endless nuances, caveats, and qualifications. This is not true. Much like we should ask the binary question of “is so-and-so guilty of first degree murder” when finding a dead man on the street, we should be asking binary questions about the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    Furthermore, much like we can explain a death in the street with all sorts of background, nuance, and complexity and still ask the jury a binary question, we can appreciate the complexity of the Book of Mormon and at the same time ask binary questions such as:

    Did an Ancient American editor named Mormon actually exist who left behind Golden Plates that his son Moroni buried present-day upstate New York?

    Did Jesus Christ actually appear to ancient Americans?

    Does the Book of Mormon contain the words of ancient Americans?

    My experience has led me to believe that the people who don’t think the historicity question is important tend to believe that it isn’t historically true, but just don’t like being confronted with that question, in many cases for fear of offending the believers who think it is historically true.

  50. your food allergy is fake says:

    All fair except your last paragraph.

  51. I’m with Jonathan in believing that the historicity that most matters is not the historicity of the narrative of the Book itself but the historicity of the story of the angel and the plates. That’s not to say that the historicity of the narrative of the Book doesn’t matter at all (and FTR, I count myself as a believer in BofM historicity), but historicity is a spectrum, not an on/off switch, and ancient records of any kind, even those that are based in real world historical events, fall much lower on the scale of historicity than what we are used to in contemporary historiography. To assume that the Book of Mormon is “historical” in the same way that contemporary histories are historical imposes a really modern worldview and method onto an ancient document in a way that I don’t think is fair to what we know about ancient documents generally. Ironically, that assumption makes the Book of Mormon less “historical” in the sense that it makes it anomalous among ancient scripture and other ancient documents.

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