I’d like to start my saying that I enjoyed listening to the General Conference October 2017 Sunday afternoon session; much of what is said was great advice on Sunday afternoon Elder M. Russell Ballard reminded us we must “heed the words of Jesus”. Elder Joni L. Koch reminded us during his talk: when meet to worship “we should leave behind our differences, including race, social status, political preferences, and academic and professional achievements, and instead concentrate on our common spiritual objectives.”
Elder Stanley G. Ellis very wisely drew our attention to the fact that sometimes: hard times are exactly what we need; spiritually speaking. “Hard makes us stronger, humbles us, and gives us a chance to prove ourselves.” His talked reminded me of Hebrews 12:6 “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Sometimes God uses circumstances to refine our faith and correct us. Even in these times we should remember Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Elder Stanley also reminded us that hard is part of God’s plan, the crucifixion, is possibly the worst experience we can imagine and yet is was God’s plan to save us.
I found what Elder Jose L. Alonso said very encouraging; “I know that our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, love us and are willing to help us to act as we love one another as they have loved us. And I know that by serving and forgiving others with real love, we can be healed and receive the strength to overcome our own challenges.” I really do believe we must love one another, the example Jesus left us is so challenge we desperately need his help to follow it especially is our self obsessed, consumer driven culture; to love another like we love ourselves is an alien concept.
I wish all would heed much of what was said at the general conference. So I guess the question remains, If I agree with so much why am I not a Mormon?
For me it all comes down to the topic spoken about by Tad R. Callister. Is the Book of Mormon really true?
Let us examine the arguments put forth by Tad R. Callister.
“First, the critics must explain how Joseph Smith, a 23-year-old farm boy with limited education, created a book with hundreds of unique names and places, as well as detailed stories and events.”
The first thing worth noting is that we should not be considering the modern Book of Mormon, which has been through years of editing. You can purchase a 1830 Book of Mormon from Amazon should you wish to compare it. If you do you will immediately notice there are no verses divisions, however if you look further you’ll see changes to the text itself. Many of the changes are grammatical however some change the meaning of the text. For a full list please see here.
Lets now turn to Tad’s points.
Did Joseph smith have limited education?
It has been argued that there is no way Joseph was intelligent enough to write the Book of Mormon, however the evidence we do have suggests otherwise. Many young people have accomplished things that seem beyond their years. Alexander the Great led an army at age of eighteen, and Mozart was composing music by the age of six. In his late teens Joseph Smith showed signs of being a creative and charismatic leader as evidenced by his leadership in various money-digging schemes. According to his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, he was a creative storyteller as well:
“During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.”(1)
Even though Joseph Smith had little formal education doesn’t mean that he wasn’t educated. He enrolled in school when he was twenty. Joseph’s father had also been a school teacher and journalist, it is unlikely he wouldn’t have passed on some of his knowledge to his son.
Author Dan Vogel observed: “Certainly, Smith had less schooling than his wife, but he managed to write reasonably well. After examining several letters from the early period of Smith’s life (1831-32), historian Dale Morgan concluded that they exhibit “a flair for words, a measure of eloquence, and a sufficient degree of schooling.” William Smith [Joseph’s brother] challenged the view that his brother was “unlettered” as a “mistake,” remembering that Joseph “wrote [in] a plain intelligible hand.” Still, Smith’s talent lay not in correct orthography but, while telling a story, in his sense of narrative and ability to create memorable images. The book Joseph dictated abounds with examples of his poor grammar and Yankee dialect as well as his penchant for digression, redundancy, and wordiness. Rarely are his characters’ inner moral conflicts reflected. Most often we encounter flat, uncomplicated, two-dimensional heroes and villains. Generally the plots are simple and frequently improbable. However, the point was not to produce a literary masterpiece, although there are occasional passages exhibiting the lyrical quality of romantic writers of the era as well as the rhetorical style of the area’s preachers. Joseph Smith’s creative imagination, years of Bible reading, attendance at various religious meetings, exposure to common ideas about the origin of the Native Americans, prepared him to write the Book of Mormon”. (2)
“Accordingly, many critics propose that he was a creative genius who relied upon numerous books and other local resources to create the historical content of the Book of Mormon. But contrary to their assertion, there is not a solitary witness who claims to have seen Joseph with any of these alleged resources before the translation began.”
Is it significant that we don’t have a list of the books Joseph had access to? Well it would be interesting if we did have a list, which excluded them, but in this case it seems to have little significance, that we don’t have a precise list. Even if we give
Joseph the benefit of the doubt the books where popular in his geographical location at the time, many of us know storylines of books we haven’t read simply because we hear others talk about them often. I believe the influence of the book should be judged not by whether we have an external list but whether we can see the influence of the book within the text.
What other non-religious book were written at the time with similar themes or storylines?
View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith
Not only are there aspects of the Book of Mormon story found within View of the Hebrews, it was a very popular book at the time claiming the Native Americans were the lost tribes of Israel. It was publish just 7 years before the Book of Mormon For a full list of the comparisons see here.
Other books which were available at the time in Josephs Smiths location at the time he was writing the Book of Mormon (all available today on Amazon) include:
The First Book of Napoleon (1809) M. Gruau
It has similar, language, themes and lessons. Additionally it is believed that the book was written by the author Modeste Gruau when he was 14.
Not only is the language similar but entire sentences are identical. For examples of such sentences please see this video. (time stamp 50:00)
The Late War (1816) J. G. Hunt.
It has similar: language, themes and many of the battle scenes found in the Book of Mormon are strikingly similar to those described in the book. In fact there is a striking similarity between Jackson and Moroni. Again just like the “First Book of Napoleon” entire phrases and sentences from “The Late War” have found their way into the Book of Mormon see this video. (time stamp 1:02:00)
Again should you doubt what is being said this book it is available on Amazon.
Callister also says:
“How did Joseph read all of these alleged resources, winnow out the irrelevant, keep the intricate facts straight as to who was in what place and when, and then dictate it by perfect memory?”
Reading three books in addition to the bible and combining elements of each storyline is hardly a supernatural feet. Many fiction writers today draw upon each other’s work. If you’ve read both Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter books, you can’t help but draw parallels like, the 9 rings and the 7 horcruxes, both having a giant sniper with easily mixed names.
Yes they are stand-alone stories but I doubt anyone would seriously argue J.K. Rowling was unaware of Tolkien’s work given the obvious similarities. Also did Joseph have to dictate it from memory? I’m certainly not suggesting that would have been necessary. In fact had Joseph been able to dictate from memory the Lost 116 pages by Mr. Harris wouldn’t have been an issue. It’s only an issue if he couldn’t remember what he’d made up rather than translated.
“In fact, his wife Emma recalled: “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from. … If he had, had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.”
So how did Joseph perform this remarkable feat of dictating a 500-plus–page book without any notes? To do so, he must not only have been a creative genius but also have had a photographic memory of prodigious proportions. But if that is true, why did his critics not call attention to this remarkable talent?”
Is this a fair assertion? Consider the hat he peered into a hat could easily have contained a notebook. Josephs position in relation to the others in the room could also have concealed notes, why the screen? What role did Emma play in the translation? Would the Golden Plates not count as a manuscript?
None of this defense is necessarily true, we have no way of knowing whether Joseph had notes. Secondly as already discussed his own family recorded his love of storytelling and how he could create a story on the spot to entertain then.
The next statement of Tad R. Callister I’d like to pick up on is
“The real issues still remain: how did Joseph produce a book that radiates with the Spirit, and where did he get such profound doctrine, much of which clarifies or contradicts the Christian beliefs of his time?”
The statement seems odd to me, ok it certainly contradicts the gospel message for in the Bible which was taught at the time that man is save my grace not after all he can do, but while he is yet a sinner. Contrast Ephesians 2:9 with 2 Nephi 25:23.
Lets give Joseph the benefit of the doubt for a minute. Lets agree he really did receive the book of Mormon under angelic guidance. The simple fact that the gospel found in the book of Mormon based upon human merit rather than unmerited favor of God should cause us to reject it.
As Paul said
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Secondly I would like to suggest what the Book of Mormon reveals about the nature if God is also in contradiction with that Joseph later taught and is also in contradiction to what is believed by Mormons today.
Lets ask the Book of Mormon some questions
1: Who is God?
- 2 Nephi 31:21, Mosiah 15:1-4, Alma 11:38-39, Alma 11:44
2: What is the substance of God?
- John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Once again the Book of Mormon agrees with the Bible, but Mormon doctrine is vastly different. See Alma 18:24-28, Alma 22:9-11
3: Has the nature of God ever changed?
- Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Brigham Young said:
The doctrine that God was once a man and has progressed to become a God is unique to this Church. How do you feel, knowing that God, through His own experience, “knows all that we know regarding the toils [and] sufferings” of mortality? (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Chapter 4, Suggestions for study)
I would suggest this is vastly different to what the book of Mormon Teaches
- See: 3 Nephi 24:6 (Direct quote from Malachi 3:6),
- Mormon 9:9 (Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17) and Moroni 8:18
In addition, one might ask: where did Joseph get the powerful insight that because of Christ’s Atonement, He can not only cleanse us but also perfect us? Where did he get the stunning sermon on faith in Alma 32? Or King Benjamin’s sermon on the Savior’s Atonement, perhaps the most remarkable sermon on this subject in all scripture?
Are not all of these topics covered in the Bible?
Are we now supposed to believe that Joseph Smith just dictated these sermons off the top of his head with no notes whatsoever?
Again this isn’t what is being suggested as the alternative and to a critical eye comes across as a straw man argument.
If Joseph were not a prophet, then in order to account for these and many other remarkable doctrinal insights, the critics must make the argument that he was also a theological genius. But if that were the case, one might ask: why was Joseph the only one in the 1,800 years following Christ’s ministry to produce such a breadth of unique and clarifying doctrines? Because it was revelation, not brilliance, that was the source of this book.
My Muslim friends often make a similar argument of the Quran, ‘its so beautifully worded it has to be revelation’. Uniqueness of doctrine sadly should be a warning to us, not an attraction as we saw from Galatians and the vast majority of the theology of the Book of Mormon mirrors the Bible, as I have argued it is the later developments of Mormon theology that departs from both the bible and the Book of Mormon.
“But even if we suppose that Joseph were a creative and theological genius with a photographic memory—these talents alone do not make him a skilled writer. To explain the Book of Mormon’s existence, the critics must also make the claim that Joseph was a naturally gifted writer at age 23. Otherwise, how did he interweave scores of names, places, and events into a harmonious whole without inconsistencies? How did he pen detailed war strategies, compose eloquent sermons, and coin phrases that are highlighted, memorized, quoted, and placed on refrigerator doors by millions of people”
If this argument holds true then I guess all of these writers are divinely inspired
“Joseph’s wife Emma confirmed the impossibility of such an undertaking: “Joseph Smith [as a young man] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictat[e] a book like the Book of Mormon.”
As we have already documented above this statement simply isn’t true, Emma elsewhere herself contradicts this, as dies Josephs Brother.
Finally from Callister:
And finally, even if one accepts all of the foregoing arguments, dubious as they may be, the critics still face another looming obstacle. Joseph claimed that the Book of Mormon was written on golden plates. This claim received unrelenting criticism in his day—for “everyone” knew that ancient histories were written on papyrus or parchment, until years later, when metal plates with ancient writings were discovered. In addition, the critics claimed that the use of cement, as described in the Book of Mormon, was beyond the technical expertise of these early Americans—until cement structures were found in ancient America. How do the critics now account for these and similar unlikely discoveries? Joseph, you see, must also have been a very, very lucky guesser. Somehow, in spite of all the odds against him, against all existing scientific and academic knowledge, he guessed right when all the others were wrong.
I’ll happily admit Joseph got many historical details correct and where the Book of Mormon stands up to historical scrutiny, I will happily acknowledge these points. However for the “most correct book of any book on earth” we aren’t looking for some “lucky guesses” but for the entire narrative to be anachronism free. For example not one coin has ever been found in America dating to Book of Mormon times as described in Alma 11. For a fuller list please see here.
To conclude therefore: I’m not a Mormon because the Book of Mormon fails not only to align with what the bible teaches it also fails to align with what is believed by the Church of Later Day saints today. I know that the LDS apologists will twist many of the scriptures so they fit the current doctrine but I ask you would an honest reading of the Book of Mormon ever lead you to many of the core LDS beliefs today? Where is eternal marriage? Where are the two priesthoods? Where are the Gods before Jehovah? Where can I find the doctrine of salvation as presented by the missionaries on the streets?
So many are later additions and I’d suggest total overhauls. Why should anyone consider it reliable scripture? By the same standard we reject the Quran we should reject the Book Of Mormon, it fails the test of truth when compared to God’s revealed word in the Old and New Testament, while claiming to clarify and add to God’s final revelation – the work of His son. (Hebrews 1:2)
1, Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, England: S.W. Richards, 1853), p. 85; reprinted under the title Joseph Smith’s History by His Mother (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry).
2, Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), p. 119.