This is my first blog post in about three months. That’s the longest dry spell since I first put up my personal website and started blogging in September 2015. I have huge motivation and ambitions related to making a positive impact in the LDS faith crisis world, but that motivation wanes, and combined with period of busy work schedule and trips, I’ve been out of the game for a while. But I’ve had some recent experiences that have re-upped my motivation and I’m ready to get back on track.
I’ve got several blog posts in rough draft form, and I’m still working on a series of podcast episodes, but for this post, I’ll just summarize a little bit of what’s been on my mind the last few months.
Terryl Givens has been on fire with his new appointment at the BYU Maxwell Institute. My favorite part of his recent lectures is insight into 1 Nephi 13:32. The original 1830 version reads:
32 Neither will the Lord God suffer that the Gentiles shall forever remain in that state of awful woundedness, which thou beholdest they are in, because of the plain and most precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church, whose formation thou hast seen.
In the 1837 version, Joseph Smith changed the bolded phrase to “awful state of blindness”. I like the original. Givens’ take on this is that this verse is key to understanding the purpose of the restoration. The abominable church (McConkie claimed it was the Catholic church and that’s probably how the earliest readers of the Book of Mormon interpreted it, but it’s more accurate to interpret this as generically some of the early Christian thought leaders) messed up important doctrines, which caused people in the latter days to be in a state of woundedness. This messing up was mostly related to misunderstanding the nature of God and Jesus Christ and the atonement, resulting in an inability to access the healing nature of the love of God and the atonement of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the restoration was to fix that misunderstanding. Love it.
Mormon Stories billboards
Like the good Mopologist I am, I get tweaked pretty easily by “Anti-Mormons”. An example is when I see the Mormon Stories billboards, especially the one in my neck of the woods, driving up the old Springville highway into Provo. My understanding is that these billboards were funded by Mike Brown, who wrote up some articles on the issues like Book of Abraham, polygamy, BOM historicity, etc, for the Mormon Stories website and and the billboards are driving traffic to those articles. “Know your religion,” said one of them. I was complaining about this to someone with views similar to mine, ie nuanced believing active LDS. Their response was something like “Why, I think it’s great, more people need to know these issues. What they do what that information is up to them, but everyone should know it.” Hmm, that made me think.
I listened to the recent Mike Brown podcast interview with John Dehlin, and I was mostly neutral to the interview. Brown’s take is pretty typical. Raised LDS, strong testimony, became aware of church history issues, found no acceptable answers, left the church, and now he wants others to know the issues. He wasn’t that antagonistic about the church. He just wants people to know the issues. I can’t fault that. I was happy that John asked him about the Neo-Apologist take “what about people that conclude the same things intellectually but think it’s still good place to be, provide spiritual nourishment, good place to raise kids, take it metaphorically, it’s all good.” Mike answered he didn’t feel that position was very compelling, and that if it’s not literally true, the value to stay is just not there. Fair. It’s my job and the job of people like me to make that case more compelling and more clear and obvious to people in this situation.
Book of Mormon translation theories
I’ve been thinking deeply about Book of Mormon translation theories after hearing Brian Hales presentation at FairMormon. His argument is essentially that the book must be completely exterior from Joseph, ie full dictation model no expansion or use of his own words, phrases, ideas, due to the nature of the dictation. Joseph dictated several pages a day during a 90 day time frame with eye witnesses reporting he had no notes and dictated off the seer stone. Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack’s research backs this up, showing strong evidence the Book of Mormon was dictated.
I’m working up a formal presentation for a model for Book of Mormon translation that incorporates the eye witness testimony and could be viewed as an acceptable position for a faithful LDS but which also proposes the BOM as non-historical scripture which comes primarily through the mind and language of Joseph Smith. Most of what I do is very informal, so I hope I have the time and capability to do it right. But here’s the gist of my logic.
- Joseph didn’t have the natural ability to create the BOM. The complexity and spiritual power it has is above Joseph’s ability to do it himself.
- there are no actual, ancient Nephite prophets or an ancient underlying text Joseph translated
- Joseph received a revelation, similar to the one he received for Oliver, that there was a serious effort he needed to apply to make the translation, ie “study it out in your mind”.
- Joseph took that responsibility seriously, studying out in his mind what should be on the gold plates, this process took place starting from when he first was visited (or saw a vision in his seer stone) by the angel Moroni. Joseph told his parents he had just received “the severest chastisement that [he] had ever had in his life … [from] the angel of the Lord.” The angel told him he had been “negligent [and] that the time ha[d] now come when the record should be brought forth.” But he also told them not to worry. He now knew what to do. Joseph might have interpreted this chastisement as him not doing enough on his part to obtain the plates and formulate the text on the plates in his mind.
- The process of this “study it out” also was part of the daily process during the 90 days he translated with Oliver.
- I think there was something very special to Joseph about the seer stone in hat process that allowed to “get in the zone”, and touch that place that seemed beyond his normal self, where a theist would call it supernatural intervention/inspiration but an atheist might call it just an extremely high functioning human creative process. This aspect of the translation experience was by far the most important to Joseph and those observing him, and so that was the focus of the eye witness accounts.
So, Joseph studied out the BOM story in his mind for years with all kinds of potential source material, discarding what didn’t feel right keeping what felt right. Holy Ghost guiding him the whole time. Then when he’s with Oliver, he’s actively working it on a daily basis, probably together. Then it’s go time, time to translate, the seer stone goes in the hat, and the magic happens. Joseph is on fire when he’s in the seer stone and what he says seems way above him, even compared to the study session he just had. The BOM is translated onto the seer stone in English by the power of God and dictated from Joseph to Oliver. Joseph, Oliver, and Emma saw the humanistic side of this but also all believed in the supernatural side, and emphasized the supernatural side of it when talking to others. Not lying (I guess that’s up to each to decide if they think that’s dishonest–probably some pious fraud going on at some level) but not completely disclosing the entire process.