Sunday, November 13, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: A "Burning in the Bosom"? What's That?

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This is the last article in a series of posts to represent my responses to those criticisms.   

Criticism: Getting a "testimony" or a "burning in the bosom" about the Book of Mormon or even the Bible goes directly against the Bible. 1 John 4:1 says "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." Besides, isn't "burning" something people do in Hell?

Response: Isn't it contradictory to say "do not ask God for an answer about scripture from His Spirit when you should just take it at face value" only to then quote a scripture which explicitly commands us to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God"? I don't follow this logic. And why would 1 John 4:1 conflict with James 1:5-6 and other scriptures which say "ask and ye shall receive" and "knock and it shall be opened to you"? Which doctrine, then, is true? Do we ask God for spiritual wisdom, or dare we not? If God is love, why would He reprimand His children for asking a question? Do we only ask Him for temporal knowledge and blessings and not spiritual knowledge and blessings?

Rather than accuse the Mormons of inventing what anti-Mormons consider to be Satanic-sounding "burning in the bosom" language, they should check the Bible first, particularly Luke 24:15-32.

Not every instance of "burning" in scripture is symbolic of or originates from Satan. If that were true, then the "burning bush" and "pillar of fire" stories of the Book of Exodus certainly need some revision or re-translation. Same with Elijah's duel with the priests of Baal and his miracle of calling down fire to consume the altar. Oh, and Elijah's chariot of fire would certainly be Satanic. Who ever heard of a flying chariot of fire carrying someone to heaven?

Do you see what I mean? Anything can be twisted to make it sound strange or wrong, even when it isn't.

I invite you to accept Moroni's simple promise.
Moroni 10:3-5
 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: DNA Evidence

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.   

Criticism: DNA evidence conclusively shows that claims by Mormons that Lamanites are descendants of Israel are false.

Response: Inconclusive at best. Read all your opposition's research, then synthesize with your own research and form your conclusion. Start with Book of Mormon: Criticism - DNA and then go to DNA and the Book of Mormon for even more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: The Hill Cumorah's Location

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.   

Criticism: If the evidence points to Mesoamerica as the location of Book of Mormon history, then the final battle at the Hill Cumorah couldn't have happened in the state of New York. It's too far away!

Response: That one, in retrospect, has baffled some LDS folks as well. When the theory of pan-American Nephite and Lamanite societies persisted, it made perfect sense that the battle and where Moroni buried the plates were one and the same. One thing that didn't make sense was the the manner in which Moroni had wandered after the Nephite genocide. He was a Nephite and the Lamanites killed every Nephite they saw, so he naturally had to "get outta Dodge" indefinitely. Why, then, would he risk a) returning to the battle site and being killed before even having a chance to bury the plates and b) having the plates discovered and destroyed by Lamanites (who, the Book of Mormon states, had a keen interest in erasing Nephite claims to their territories, and thus the very records from Nephite history, just as pharaohs did to each other in Egypt).

That pan-American theory wasn't held by everyone, though. We do have an editorial in the Times and Seasons, from the pen of Joseph Smith:
Central America, or Guatimala [the whole of what we now call Central America was then known as Guatemala], is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien [Panama] and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south. The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land.
When the Mesoamerican model was proposed by Mormon scholars in the latter half of the 20th century, it started to make more sense. One very strong clue is that there are multiple descriptions in the Book of Mormon of travels between areas near the battlefield hill Cumorah (a.k.a. Ramah) that are decidedly Mesoamerican in context and do not support a 3,000 mile detour north to present-day New York and back. Rather, those on-foot journeys happen in a matter of a few days.

So, it seems more likely that Moroni really "got outta Dodge" by going so far north, and that is consistent with his own description of having to wander "whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life" because the Lamanites "put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ". It also makes sense in terms of God seeing far enough ahead to know that the plates would lay completely undiscovered and undisturbed in an area so relatively sparsely populated for so long until Europeans began to homestead there.

Another clue, when you read more closely, is that Moroni never actually claims to have returned to the battle site, nor does he claim to be burying the final plates in a hill called Cumorah. He just says he's "sealing up these records" (Moroni 10:2). However, Moroni's father, Mormon, does hide his set of plates and other records in the hill Cumorah near the battlefield Cumorah (Mormon 6:6). Because Mormon, before he dies, says he hid all the records "save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni", there is no evidence to suggest that Moroni's set of final plates, the ones he would turn over to Joseph over 1400 years later were hid in the same hill. Those are all interpretations that were overlaid on that narrative by those of us reading it in _our_ day.  We members of the LDS Church and other commentators gave the name "Cumorah" to the hill where Joseph found the plates under our own assumption that it was the very same Cumorah, near the battlefield, in which Mormon had hid his records. Moroni never wrote that his own hiding place was called "Cumorah", nor claimed to have buried it in the same place as the battle.

This, of course, is a common misunderstanding about the book by "Witnessers". Newcomers to the Book of Mormon (especially those who've never actually read it) can't be blamed for repeating it since it is difficult sometimes, even for faithful and knowlegable members of the church, to separate LDS lore from what our texts actually say. And it all fits perfectly with Hugh Nibley's pointed analysis and observation that people love to attack the Book of Mormon by first attributing to it something that it does not actually say, then attacking those points.

For more extensive commentary and analysis on the Cumorah subject, see

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Gold and other metals

Pre-Columbian Gold Artifact
There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.  

Criticism: Pre-Columbian Americans didn't have or use gold or other precious metals.

Response: Simply untrue. Excavations at Zaculeu, and many other sites, have turned up metalwork. Also found at Zaculeu was tumbaga, which is a gold/copper alloy that, when worked into thin sheets, almost perfectly matches the description of the metal the gold plates were made of and is excellent for engraving and was, in fact, used extensively in pre-Columbian America for making religious objects meant to be preserved for ages.

Given that none of this knowledge was available to him at the time, is it just Joseph Smith's lucky guess that Moroni would use tumbaga-like metal plates, made of non-corrosive and microbe-resistant metal with a low melting point that is easily pounded and shaped into thin, foil-like leaves for engraving?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Swords, Honey Bees, Elephants, Horses, and Silk

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms. 

Criticism: Where are the swords? And, honey bees (Jaredite "deseret") weren't found in the Americas until Europeans brought them! Where are the elephants? Where were the horses?  Silk from such thing then in the Americas either!

Response: In the Popol Vuh, their god, Tohil, reminds the warriors of wasps and bumblebees they could put inside gourds and use to surprise their enemies by breaking the gourds full of bees and wasps on their enemies shields and swords, thus angering the bees (who would think that the enemy was the person whose sword just broke their gourd) and driving their enemies away.

Read more at Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon: Possible Solutions to Apparent Problems

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Fortified Cities in Mesoamerica

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of postss represent my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: Where are the fortified cities?

Response: I've seen several fortified cities, well, the ruins of them anyways. Just go on any Mexican (see: Becan) or Guatemalan ruins tour and you'll see plenty of fortifications, or what is left of them.

For example, I visited the ruins of Zacaleu, which dates back to between AD 250–600 and is just outside of Huehuetenango in Guatemala. The very first thing that impressed me about it was the defensive earthworks in the form of a gigantic moat dug around the entire complex. It was definitely not a natural formation for that area and it would have been a formidable obstacle to invaders. The entire site was also once fortified with walls. It was so impenetrable that it caused Spanish conquistador Gonzalo de Alvarado y Chávez to need to lay siege to it for months, having to wait for its occupants to starve to death.

Bishop Las Casas, when in Mesoamerica, reported in his Apologéitca Historia that he saw "towns enclosed by very deep moats...with marvelous buildings of stone masonry of which I saw many." In that one statement, he described both the earthworks AND the masonry (which inevitably involves some kind of cement).

The Popol Vuh describes the palisades, much like what we find in the Book of Mormon:
...having talked together, they built a wall at the edge of the town and enclosed it with boards and thorns. Then they made figures in the form of men, and put them in rows on the wall, armed them with shields and arrows and adorned them, putting metal crowns on their heads. These they put on the simple wooden figures, they adorned them with the metal which they had taken from the tribes on the road and with them they decorated the figures.

They made a moat around the town, and then they asked advice of Tohil [their god]: 'Shall they kill us? Shall they overcome us?' their hearts said to Tohil [prayer for revelatory guidance before a battle being a common theme of the Book of Mormon]. 
See The Popol Vuh, pg. 157.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Mesoamerican Languages and Cultures

The Olmec heartland, showing the location of E...
There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: There is no evidence for the sudden appearance of written language or change of language in Mesoamerica that coincides with the Book of Mormon.

Response: One of the biggest puzzles about the Olmecs that remains unsolved to this very day is where they came from and how they developed written language and art so immediately. The Book of Mormon offers at least a partial explanation for this question in the story of the Jaredites. The estimated timeline of the arrival and decline of the Jaredites and the carbon-dated development of the Olmec civilization are an uncanny match.

Further, there are numerous articles that address the "disappearance" of the Olmec and the Maya by contending that Mayans are really a later instance of Olmec culture, just as the people of the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Honduras are considered the "lost Mayans" today. They never really went anywhere. Their culture just shifted to a new paradigm and continued.  See Takalik Abaj for a textbook example of this (I've visited the outskirts of this site. It's amazing!).

See Ancient City Found in Mexico; Shows Olmec Influence for more about the huge amount we have yet to discover in Mesoamerica (and that is being lost to development every waking moment) and about the Olmec influences on the later Mayan cultures.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Reformed Egyptian

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: There is no such language as "Reformed Egyptian".

Response: Reformed egyptian isn't a language. It's a system of writing. There were three basic forms of Egyptian writing: the original hieroglyphic, a Greek variant that developed later called hieratic, and a third form in use around 700 BC called demotic. The latter two represent a shorthand form of hieroglyphic, each symbol standing for a concept rather than a lone consonant or vowel, allowing a scribe to compress a large amount of ideas into a small space. For more background on these systems of writing relative to Book of Mormon scholarship, study Two Notes on Egyptian Script by John Gee and Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters by Stephen D. Ricks, and John A. Tvedtnes.

Just like I can go to this web site, type in any word, phrase, or sentence, and get its approximate phonetic spelling in Egyptian hieroglyphics, if I had a similar decoding/encoding system for Reformed Egyptian, I could do the very same thing with translating Hebrew sounds and concepts to a hieratic or (more likely) a demotic writing form.

Is it Joseph Smith's lucky guess that such a writing system would be perfect for engraving a book as large as the Book of Mormon onto plates of metal that would be difficult to produce, carry, and preserve, in large quantities as opposed to "longhand" script like Hebrew?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: The Book of Mormon Translation Process

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: Someone writing a book quickly does not imply divine intervention.

Response: Read Did Joseph REALLY translate the Book of Mormon? for a clearer picture of just how remarkable an accomplishment the translation of the Book of Mormon is. There is a lot of research into this topic, all the way down to tracking down every shred of original Book of Mormon manuscript. The conclusions of that study are noted in the post. Compare all the research in the sources (there is much more out there) and it should be clear that Joseph Smith simply couldn't have accomplished the miracle of the Book of Mormon without Divine Help.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Bible vs. Book of Mormon Archeaology

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: The Bible is archaeologically verifiable, so that means it's true without question. The Book of Mormon isn't archaeologically verifiable, so that means it's false.

Response: Read The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Archaeology Question which illustrates and summarizes the fallacy of archaeological verification = theological verification arguments. The first comment at the end is a good one as well as the huge number of archaeology and evidence-of-authenticity articles linked in the footnotes.

Neither the Bible or the Book of Mormon have ever claimed to be primarily texts that can be physically verifiable by physical evidences. Both have the cause of converting people to the Gospel, not proving or disproving this or that archeaological or anthropological theory.

The fact that historical places of the Bible have been more adequately preserved while the Book of Mormon's have not is not evidence that the Book of Mormon is false. Lots of civilizations and their records have been lost to history. I'm sure there are plenty of subcultures in, say, Mongolia or China or Indonesia that we'll never know about because of the tendency of time and human activity to erase those evidences.

Central America is quite well regarded by archaeologists as a place where evidence of past civilizations is in rapid decay because of three factors: 1) climate (jungle rot being a key result), 2) foliage (huge trees with enormous root systems that overtake and pulverize mounds of rock placed by humans), and 3) human activity (later cultures overtaking and erasing the history of earlier cultures).

Here are some well-known examples of these three factors:
  1. Anything carbon-based or organic (i.e. that isn't rock) will either disintegrate in a few months to a few years, or it will grow. With the exception of gold, this is true of metal as well. Iron or copper implements will simply cease to exist in a couple hundred years due to high humidity, heavy rain, and acidic soils. The iron and copper weapons that were preserved in Mesoamerica were the extreme exceptions or were found in more arid areas.
  2. Guatemalans erect high fences by simply cutting the limb off of a tree, sticking the newly cut ends of the limbs into the highly fertile ground, and then waiting a year. That's how quickly foliage can grow there. Huge rainforest trees have massive root systems that hold the soil together, but also displace any solid objects in their path of growth.
  3. Pyramids built by earlier Mayan and pre-Mayan inhabitants were "repurposed" and built upon to create ever larger pyramids. In fact, a very familiar sounding name is given to some ruins in Belize that features this "stacking". The name the city's ancient inhabitants gave it was Lamanai (Lam'an'ain), which is identical to the Hebrew pronunciation for Laman (minus the suffix). We have only uncovered a few of these but there are many more out there we've not yet explored. In each one we've explored, we've been astonished at the amount of knowledge about preveious cultures through inscriptions and other evidences hidden in the layers.
I have personally witnessed the effects all three of the above phenomena. I saw #2 and #3 in the then-recently discovered Abaj Takalik dig near Coatepeque, Guatemala. In terms of uncovered ruins, I've personally seen dozens of pyramid-shaped mounds, and hiked on a few, that were completely out of character with the surrounding landscape. They were absolutely human-made but were covered by tons of earth and vegetation all around before the trees covering them were cut down as cattle farmers took over the area in recent history.

The conditions under which the Nephites were exterminated in 420 A.D., with Lamanites spitefully and simultaneously erasing every part of Nephite culture and history, then what is the likelihood that we would find a remnant of their culture nearly 1600 years later? Don't forget also that zealous Spanish missionaries destroyed all but four Mayan codices. We're lucky to have what we have about ancient Mayans and their evidences more closely align with the decline of the Lamanites after the Nephite genocide.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 31: A Testimony, a Covenant, and a Witness

By Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Jeffrey R. HollandReading the book was the beginning of my light. It was the source of my first spiritual certainty that God lives, that He is my Heavenly Father, and that a plan of happiness was outlined in eternity for me. It led me to love the Holy Bible and the other standard works of the Church. It taught me to love the Lord Jesus Christ, to glimpse His merciful compassion, and to consider the grace and grandeur of His atoning sacrifice.

Because I learned for myself that the Book of Mormon is a true witness—another testament and a new covenant—that Jesus is the Christ, I also learned that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. As my great-great-great grandfather said in the early days of the Restoration, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”  Read More or Listen
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Days 29 and 30: Did Joseph REALLY translate the Book of Mormon?

Painting by an unknown painter, circa 1842. Th...Image via Wikipedia
Painting by an unknown painter,
circa 1842. The original is owned
by the Community of Christ archive
Have you ever tried to write a book?

I mean a real good book, like what you hope will be the next Great American Novel, or at least something that people might read and feel a compulsion to share with others so that word-of-mouth is a primary driver of its propagation. It would have to be a book with plots within plots and a multitude of characters playing their roles over long periods of time and across a landscape of cultural differences and story twists. It would have to be internally consistent as far as time sequences, place names and relationships, and the overall treatment of the subject matters it discusses. To add even more interest, it would need to be written as a true-life, perpetual journal handed down over thousands of years from author to author, and it would need to read differently according to which author is speaking.

Not me. I have tried only to write a simple, entertaining fiction novel or two which, of itself, is not easy by any means. (As you can see from the title of this post, it's taken me at least two days to even produce this short article. Even then, I've only succeeded in standing on the shoulders of other giants in quoting their work.)

I'm not uneducated, though. I've been reading and writing stories, poetry, prose, and novels starting from my earliest memories of going to the library after school and on weekends with my librarian mother and holding a pencil to some discarded Xerox paper to the present. In high school, I won as runner up in an English Language Arts scholarship competition against many other schools in my state. In addition, I won a scholarship given out to only four students in my state for space sciences engineering (mostly due to my talent in persuasive writing and not really due to any skill as an engineer). I later switched my major to computer science and ended up graduating with a Bachelor of the Arts degree in business education and Spanish. Now I work for a publishing company.

1851 lithograph of Smith's body about to be mu...Image via Wikipedia
1851 lithograph of martyred
Joseph Smith's body about
to be mutilated by a mob
(Library of Congress).
Yet, even with my relatively broad array of educational and career experiences and my many blog posts and traditional writing, it still requires much effort for me to put very many words onscreen or on paper. I've never even been published for all my efforts, nor had my name "for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people" as has Joseph Smith! (And, thank goodness for that, judging by what he went through because he simply wouldn't deny what God had wrought through him!)

For example, during the November 2010 National Novel Writing Month, on a good day, writing for about two hours, with a burst of pure, unstoppable inspiration, and with an unhealthy amount of self-confidence, I can barely manage between 1,000 and 2,000 words of manuscript.

Oh, and that's on my iPad with a detachable keyboard, spell check, and the ability to look up anything I desire on the Web for my research. I can also instantly delete and retype something that doesn't work. And, that is raw text that will have to undergo several major revisions before it ever is shown to an editor...IF I pretend to become so brave as to submit it.

If one of my kids, my job, or some random, menial task around my modern, centrally heated, 21st century household interrupts this flow of inspiration, it all comes crashing down.

I've never completed any novel I've undertaken to write. I just can't seem to pull together enough quiet time and coherent thinking to produce more than 150 pages before I lose interest or some other project or crisis distracts me indefinitely. At some point, I just abandon my efforts on one manuscript and start another a year later with the same results.

Ask any writer and they will all agree! It's that hard!

Daniel C. Peterson, Ph.D. (I actually had to look up how to spell "Ph.D." just now, which indicates the large gap in intellect between he and I) has written a number of books at this point in his career. I'll let him tell it in his own words as given in a speech at a Book of Mormon symposium:
I might just add that I had a fairly productive period in terms of writing over the past two years, and I have kept daily records of the number of words I had written. I've averaged just over 3,000 words a week over the past two years of what I would consider publishable prose. Some of it has been published and has resulted so far in at least one very bad book and several articles, in any event, that's a fairly good level of productivity in that I'm not working at it full-time but I'm working fairly consistently at it...
That's a lot of words per week compared to what yours truly can output per week as a hobbyist writer. Then again, Dr. Peterson has actually chosen this unique form of torture for himself as part of a real-life academic career.

The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the ...Image via Wikipedia
The Book of Mormon: An Account
Written by the Hand of Mormon
upon Plates Taken from the
Plates of Nephi
Now, I'd like you to consider the word count that was required for Joseph Smith to dictate all 500+ pages, in translation even, to a scribe over the slightly more than 2 months it took to produce the all 260,000+ words of the Book of Mormon. Again, from Dr. Peterson's speech:
...the production of the Book of Mormon is a process that's resulting in almost 5,000 words a day for a period of just little over two months. To me that's breathtaking, that's really astonishing. Especially for a person with Joseph Smith's level of education, and people who just say, well he just had a great level of imagination gushed out of him, need to try it. Books don't gush, at least in my experience, I wish they did.
Did you catch that? Dr. Peterson, who has a Ph.D., was prone to writing 3,000 words per week (while juggling his other duties at the university, which include teaching and primary research in his field, and, presumably, more work at home as a husband and father and at church). Yet Joseph Smith, in 1829, with barely above an elementary grades education, taking whatever meager temporal work he could find to barely scrape up a living wage for his wife and family, all while starting an ambitious (to say the least) restoration of the original Christian church, building cities and temples, and being chased by mobs from one end to another of whatever state he happened to reside in, was somehow still capable of producing 5,000 words of text per day.

I'm out of breath just in writing that!

Now, to those who insist that the Book of Mormon is false, I challenge you here and now to explain how Joseph was able to produce it. Was he a literary prodigy? Could he somehow stop or slow down time to make it work in his favor? No. One must first consider that, like other prophets chosen in Biblical times to perform great feats and miracles, Joseph was likewise called of God to perform a "marvelous work and a wonder". Everyone who knew him insisted he was nothing less than a prophet, seer, and revelator (because they, among other reasons for believing, literally had no other explanation for the amazing words and works that came out of him).

Even Joseph's own beloved and devoted wife, Emma, couldn't explain it in any other way. In an interview with her son, who had asked whether his father could have written it beforehand, then somehow memorized or dictated it to her and to Oliver Cowdery, she replied,
Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, 'a marvel and a wonder,' as much so as to any one else.
Did the devil Beelzebub prompt him to write it? Not likely, as the Savior taught in Mark 3:22-27:

 22 ¶And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
 23 And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?
 24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
 25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
 26 And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.
 27 No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.

In other words, we only need to take Christ's word for it. Just as Satan would not prompt Jesus to cast out Satan's own demons in the name of God, who Satan is fighting against, Satan would likewise not prompt Joseph to write a book of scripture that glowingly speaks of his nemesis, Jesus Christ, on nearly every page and which denounces Satan's own kingdom at every turn.

In 2002, the work of tracking down every extant version of the Book of Mormon and critically analyzing and comparing each text resulted in the following conclusion:

Ultimately we must realize that the original English-language text [Oliver Cowdery's transcription] of the Book of Mormon is not fully recoverable by human effort. Textual errors are generally not found except by discovering the correct reading in the manuscripts. Unfortunately, only 28 percent of the original manuscript is extant. Conjecture based on internal analysis of the Book of Mormon text has largely been unsuccessful in recovering the correct reading. Still, some conjectures are probably correct. Another important point to keep in mind is that even if we had the entire original manuscript, there would still be errors in the text, mainly because the original manuscript itself has some [grammatical and spelling] errors.

The systematic nature of the original text supports the theory that the text was revealed to Joseph Smith word for word. On the other hand, all subsequent transmissions of the text appear to have been subject to human error. Errors have crept into the text, but no error significantly interferes with either the message of the book or its doctrine. These textual errors have never prevented readers of the book from receiving their own personal witness of its truth.

Joseph Smith, Jr.'s signature.Image via Wikipedia
Joseph Smith, Jr.'s Signature
Critics of the Book of Mormon can rail against Joseph's character (what they think they know of it), the events of his life, the doctrines he revealed, and anything else they can concoct to discredit the man. But there is one thing they have not, can not, and never will be able to do. They will never be able to explain how we got the Book of Mormon using any other account than the one Joseph, his family, his associates, and church members have produced and testified to in blood, sweat, tears, and persecution...that he dictated it from the ancient metal plates by the Holy Spirit of God.

If you are an anti-Mormon writer or you like to read anti-Mormon literature, and if you want anyone to take your arguments against the LDS Church seriously, you need to do the work of scholars rather than the "work" of scholarly poseurs. You need to actually study and publish your own intellectually and logically satisfying counter-arguments to the points made by even this small handful of LDS scholars.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 28: Book of Mormon's consistency, complexity still amaze

Dan Peterson, a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at Brigham Young University and a lifelong scholar of the Book of Mormon, wrote an article that helps outline the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon. Here is a short excerpt from the article:
Joseph smith figure north visitors center slc utah
Joseph Smith, by contrast, a Yankee farm boy with only a few weeks of formal education, dictated the Book of Mormon in slightly more than two months, and published it without significant revision.
To those who don't find this impressive, I say: Dictate an original manuscript of approximately a quarter of a million words between now and New Year's Day, and then get back to me. (I'm being generous. According to one count, the English Book of Mormon actually contains 268,163 words.) And anybody who attempts this feat, don't forget, will almost certainly be far better educated than Joseph Smith was.
The intricate structure and detailed complexity of the Book of Mormon seem far better explained as the work of several ancient writers using various written sources over the space of centuries than exploding suddenly from the mind of a barely educated manual laborer on the American frontier.
A good brief statement on this topic, from which I've drawn for this column, is Melvin J. Thorne's 1997 article "Complexity, Consistency, Ignorance, and Probabilities," which is available online."
"It is too complex," says Dr. Thorne of the Book of Mormon, "to have been written by Joseph in the manner and in the amount of time described by witnesses. Indeed, it is too complex to have been written by Joseph in the manner hypothesized by his enemies or critics. Ultimately, it appears to be too complex to have been written by Joseph or any of his contemporaries in the early nineteenth century under any conceivable set of circumstances other than the one Joseph describes — the translation by miraculous means of an authentically ancient document."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 27: A Witness

First Counselor in the First Presidency

From a talk given during the October 2011 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I was once invited to speak at graduation services at a university. The university president had wanted President Gordon B. Hinckley to be invited but found that he was unavailable. So by default I got the invitation. I was then a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The person who invited me to speak became anxious as she learned more about my obligations as an Apostle. She called me on the phone and said that she now understood that my duty was to be a witness of Jesus Christ.

In very firm tones she told me that I could not do that when I spoke there. She explained that the university respected people of all religious beliefs, including those who denied the existence of a God. She repeated, “You cannot fulfill your duty here.”

I hung up the phone with serious questions in my mind. Should I tell the university that I would not keep my agreement to speak? It was only two weeks before the event. My appearance there had been announced. What effect would my failing to keep my agreement have on the good name of the Church?

I prayed to know what God would have me do. The answer came in a surprising way to me. I realized that the examples of Nephi, Abinadi, Alma, Amulek, and the sons of Mosiah applied to what I was. They were bold witnesses of Jesus Christ in the face of deadly peril.

So the only choice to be made was how to prepare. I dug into everything I could learn about the university. As the day of the talk grew closer, my anxiety rose and my prayers intensified.

JOPLIN, MO- JUNE 18: Members of the Church Of ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Members of the LDS Church
assist with cleanup in the
aftermath of the Joplin, MO
In a miracle like the Red Sea parting, I found a news article. That university had been honored for doing what the Church has learned to do in our humanitarian efforts across the world. And so in my talk I described what we and they had done to lift people in great need. I said that I knew that Jesus Christ was the source of the blessings that had come into the lives of those we and they had served.

After the meeting the audience rose to applaud, which seemed a little unusual to me. I was amazed but still a little anxious. I remembered what happened to Abinadi. Only Alma had accepted his witness. But that night, at a large formal dinner, I heard the university president say that in my talk he heard the words of God.

Now, such a miraculous deliverance is rare in my experience as a witness of Christ. But the effect of the Book of Mormon on your character, power, and courage to be a witness for God is certain. The doctrine and the valiant examples in that book will lift, guide, and embolden you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 26: The Power of Scripture


Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

From a talk given during the October 2011 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

"Scriptures are like packets of light that illuminate our minds and give place to guidance and inspiration from on high."

In my judgment, the Book of Mormon teaches truth with unique clarity and power. For example:

“And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
“And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” (Alma 7:23–24).
And another:
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:45–48).
My precious wife, Jeanene, loved the Book of Mormon. In her youth, as a teenager, it became the foundation of her life. It was a source of testimony and teaching during her full-time missionary service in the northwest United States. When we served in the mission field in Córdoba, Argentina, she strongly encouraged the use of the Book of Mormon in our proselytizing efforts. Jeanene confirmed early in her life that those who consistently read the Book of Mormon are blessed with an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a greater resolve to obey His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the divinity of the Son of God.1 For I don’t know how many years, as the end of the year approached, I would see her sitting quietly, carefully finishing the entire Book of Mormon yet another time before year’s end.
In 1991 I wanted to give a special Christmas gift to my family. In recording the fulfillment of that desire, my personal journal states: “It is 12:38 p.m., Wednesday, December 18, 1991. I’ve just concluded an audio recording of the Book of Mormon for my family. This has been an experience that has increased my testimony of this divine work and strengthened in me a desire to be more familiar with its pages to distill from these scriptures truths to be used in my service to the Lord. I love this book. I testify with my soul that it is true, that it was prepared for the blessing of the House of Israel, and all of its component parts spread throughout the world. All who will study its message in humility, in faith believing in Jesus Christ, will know of its truthfulness and will find a treasure to lead them to greater happiness, peace, and attainment in this life. I testify by all that is sacred, this book is true.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 25: Fires of Faith

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...

Without the Christian martyrs who helped bring forth the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon would be a lone witness to the Divinity of Jesus Christ. Put together with the Bible, both become an irrefutable testimony that Jesus lives and will save us from our sins if we put our faith in Him.

To pay tribute to the noble people who gave all to preserve scripture, BYU TV presents the "Fires of Faith" series. In three parts, this documentary walks us through the history of how the King James Version of the Bible was gathered, compiled, and published over centuries, and how it has influenced our world today.

You can watch the first two "Fires of Faith" episodes right this moment!

Part 1: Martyrs For A Book
Part 2: Yearning For The Word (also airs Wednesday, October 26: 9:00 p.m. and midnight eastern daylight time/7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. mountain daylight time)
Part 3: Fires of Faith: The King James Bible airs Sunday, October 30: 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. eastern daylight time/6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. mountain daylight time as well as Wednesday, November 2: 9:00 p.m. and midnight eastern standard time/7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. mountain standard time.

Once all "Fires of Faith" episodes have aired, you can watch them on demand.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 24: Who are the Mormons?

While it is not the purpose of this blog to engage in debates about politics, you will be hearing a lot about Mormons in the coming year. More than that, if a Mormon happens to be elected to the highest office in the land.

There are a lot of poorly constructed opinion pieces out there that try to define what a Mormon is and believes, but their descriptions are only gleaned from the worst of the anti-Mormon web sites. One would rightly ask whether such treatment of a Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist, or Sikh candidate's religious beliefs would be acceptable.

It is better to balance out one's knowledge of another's religion with what that religion actually says about itself, is it not? With that in mind, I present to you, "Who are the Mormons?".

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 23: Adam and Eve Gave Us the Gift of Choice

You may know the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but did you know it was they who paved the way for the rest of us to come to earth, make choices, and become like our Heavenly Father? The Book of Mormon explains more about their mission as the first husband and wife on Earth.

As we know, Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptations to eat the fruit and disobeyed God who had commanded them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a consequence, they were separated from God’s presence physically and spiritually—an event we refer to as the Fall. They became mortal—just as we are—subject to sin, disease, all types of suffering, and ultimately death. But it wasn’t all bad because they could now feel great joy. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25) But as they were obedient to the Gospel of Jesus Christ Adam and Eve were able to receive God’s inspiration, revelation, and even visits from heavenly messengers.

Once out of the garden, they were able to progress and learn to become more like our Heavenly Father. In addition, they could have children, which meant the rest of God’s spirit children (all of us) could come to Earth, experience physical bodies, and be proven by our daily choices. Just like Adam and Eve, there are consequences to all our choices, good or bad. Lasting happiness and progression come from choosing to do what God wants us to do. The key word is “choosing.” Generally God does not step in and prevent us from making the poor choices Satan tempts us to make. He will, however, offer his love, divine guidance, and warnings when we open our heart to Him.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 22: The Book of Mormon Draws People Closer to God

Some descriptions of God make Him sound abstract and unapproachable, or angry and vengeful, but we learn in the Book of Mormon that “God is mindful of every people” (Alma 26:37) and that like the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, we can be “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 21: Weights and Measures

Weighing and Measuring in the Worlds of the Book of Mormon

Midway through one of the most heart-wrenching accounts in the Book of Mormon, when Alma and Amulek were on trial for their lives and Amulek's faithful women and children were put to death by fire, the story is interrupted with an explanation of King Mosiah's system of weights and measures (see Alma 11:3–19). It is a strange interruption, a mundane hiatus, but at least a relieving diversion as the tension mounts in Alma and Amulek's showdown with Zeezrom and the legal officials in Ammonihah. Why would one bring up these incidental economic nuts and bolts at such a point in the record?

Several reasons might explain why this information was included at this point in the Book of Mormon. For one thing, these short metrological details are not only intertwined with the debate between Amulek and Zeezrom (see Alma 11:21–25), but they alsoprovide an important building block in Mormon's grand narrative. By abusing the justice system and misusing the lawful weights and measures, the wicked people of Ammonihah effectively opened the floodgates of God's judgment upon themselves, a pattern that would apply later to Nephite civilization as a whole.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Day 20: Common Questions about the Book of Mormon

  1. What is the Book of Mormon, and how does it compare to the Bible? 
  2. Who wrote the Book of Mormon? 
  3. What happened to the original record—the golden plates? 
  4. Who else saw the golden plates? 
  5. Is there physical evidence that the Book of Mormon is true? 
  6. How can I know the Book of Mormon is true? 
  7. I’m confused by Revelation 22:18–19, which tells us not to add anything to the word of God. 
  8. I have heard that changes have been made to the Book of Mormon since it was first published. What was changed and why?