Sunday, July 23, 2017

Did Joseph Smith Make Up the Book of Mormon?

It's amazing to me that there are still people who say that "Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon". Let's see if we can clear this argument up once and for all (again). ;)

Below is an excerpt from Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, Ch. 11, pp. 221-2 where Professor Nibley explains to his student precisely how difficult this would have been for Joseph to accomplish. Among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints, this is a familiar "meme", but it is not well-known to the world at large.

Before reading this, keep in mind that Joseph had exactly none of the modern-day conveniences that modern-day fiction writers have. And even they strain and exert themselves to overcome writer's block, research challenges, plot holes, continuity problems, grammar difficulties, character naming trouble, and a variety of other authorship issues that, today, should be easy by comparison.

Professor Nibley told his students:
"Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names--hundreds of them--pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 b.c.; be lavish with cultural and technical details--manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials.  
"Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up--we have our little joke--but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim--they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck! 
"To date no student has carried out this assignment, which, of course, was not meant seriously. But why not? If anybody could write the Book of Mormon, as we have been so often assured, it is high time that somebody, some devoted and learned minister of the gospel, let us say, performed the invaluable public service of showing the world that it can be done." 
Again, let me emphasize that Joseph Smith had no professors, no libraries, no store of common knowledge of any of these subjects. He had no computers, spell check, Internet, or other founts of wisdom about the ancient world and languages. All he had was the revelation he initially received via Urim and Thummim (yes, the concept of a Urim and Thummim is biblical and also something Joseph was not likely to have been previously familiar with at that age) and, as he became more comfortable with the process of revelation, direct information from the Spirit.

Another excerpt from Professor Nibley's writings is also helpful in understanding just how authentically divine the Book of Mormon has to be.
"The book starts out with a colophon telling us whose hand wrote it, what his sources were, and what it is about; the author boasts of his pious parents and good education, explaining that his background was an equal mixture of Egyptian and Jewish, and then moves into this history establishing time, place, and background; the situation at Jerusalem and the reaction of Nephi's father to it, his misgivings, his prayers, a manifestation that came to him in the desert as he traveled on business and sent him back post-haste "to his own house at Jerusalem," where he has a great apocalyptic vision. 
"All this and more in the first seven verses of the Book of Mormon. The writer knows exactly what he is going to say and wastes no time in saying it. Throughout the book we get the impression that it really is what its authors claim it to be, a highly condensed account from much fuller records. We can imagine our young rustic getting off to this flying start, but can we imagine him keeping up the pace for ten pages? For 588 pages the story never drags, the author never hesitates or wanders, he is never at a loss. What is really amazing is that he never contradicts himself." -- Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, p. 227
If you'd like to know more about the real Book of Mormon translation process, look no further than the LDS Church website. The Joseph Smith Papers project is also a direct source of primary documentation and accurate knowledge about the translation of the Book of Mormon.

More primary sources include: