An old Book of Mormon

This summer, my wife and I are house-sitting for a friend in Dallas while I work in the city. This friend is a religious scholar (though not of Mormonism) and I enjoy looking at all the books on her shelves (I do this in almost every home that I visit). One day I noticed that she had a copy of the BoM in her apartment. Aside from being a scholar of religion, she is honestly one of the last people I would have thought would have a copy of the BoM.

Her copy is only a wee bit outdated. Its copyrighted 1960-something. For those familiar, its a paper cover with blue and clouds and a big Angel Moroni on the front. I picked it up to see if there was anything else different about the presentation and what I found within the first couple of pages was striking. There are several photographs of ancient Latin American relics and historical sites, all referring to episodes of BoM history. For those who have not looked in the missionary copy of the BoM lately, we know feature a couple of those old Arnold Friberg paintings of BoM scenes, and one of Joseph Smith. This got me thinking about the difference from a historical and sociological perspective. How is the experience of reading and praying about the BoM different now than it was when this was the version of the BoM in use? Now, we ask for people to accept the BoM as real history but only on the basis of a spiritual testimony, namely the promise found in Moroni 10. If you want some archaelogical evidence, you need to take a look at FARMS and some of the stuff they produce. But I doubt that more than 10% of investigators (or Church members at large) ever do. Did we ever expect investigators to believe the story of the BoM on the basis of historical evidence, either exclusively or primarily? Did the Church face the fact that such evidence was lacking and that they would be better served to go with the spiritual side? I remember a couple of chapters in the old Missionary Library that got into issues of BoM evidence on the basis of some old Native American/Latin American legends and myths. But I think that part of the Church has largely died out, except for the FARMS die-hards. I’ll admit that I am not current with the latest BoM research, but I don’t think that the physical evidence for BoM historicity has become overwhelming, nor do I expect it to become so in my lifetime.

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3 thoughts on “An old Book of Mormon

  1. Wow, it’s great to finally get in contact with a liberal Mormon Duke Law student. What a combination. Thanks for dropping by my blog.From the vantage point of a young, 21st century Mormon like myself, it seems that the Church of the 1960’s/1970’s was more concerned with pointing to empirical evidence in support of Book of Mormon historicity. On my mission, I recall coming across a Church-produced film from the same era that described archaeological findings in that supposedly supported Book of Mormon claims. FARMS, although not an official Church entity, was founded in the late 1970’s, perhaps as an outgrowth of LDS cultural concern for BoM historicity. Of course, I may be entirely wrong in some of these assertions, considering that I was not even alive at the time.On the surface, the Church of today seems less concerned with “proving” the Book of Mormon through empirical means. Indeed, a common LDS maxim is that a testimony founded a spiritual witness is much stronger than one founded on science, history, etc. I’ve even heard it said that God withholds evidence supporting BoM historicity because He wants our faith based on the Spirit.For the most part, I support moving in the direction of appreciating the Book of Mormon for its spiritual value rather than its supposed historical quality. I have serious doubts about its historicity, but I still consider it to be both inspired and inspiring. But I somewhat wish we would adopt an approach similar to that of the Community of Christ–one that recognizes the difficulties and doubts surrounding the BoM’s historicity, but still finds value in its spiritual message.Our approach, on the other hand, seems to be one that both de-emphasizes appeals to empirical evidence in support of BoM historicity yet insists that it is nonetheless a 100% authentic historical volume. For the most part, members base their faith in the book’s literal origins on spiritual feelings, which almost universally are considered a trump to “knowledge” derived rom any other source. So while DNA evidence indicates that Native Americans aren’t descended from Israelites, a spiritual witness that is interpreted as a confirmation that Native Americans are Israelites is enough to debunk what the scientists are saying.And I don’t particularly agree with this approach. It seems to pit reason against faith, when I think that the two should complement one another in the sphere of religion and spirituality.I’m not sure if the Church’s apparent shift in focus can entirely be explained by a recognition of the difficulties that arise when one tries to “prove” (or even just defend) the Book of Mormon empirically, but I suspect that may be part of it. As you mentioned, the current approach to determining Book of Mormon truth is entirely based on the Moroni 10 spiritual model. I believe the chapter you referred to in the old Missionary Library having to do with BoM archeology belonged to Articles of Faith, which no longer belongs to the Missionary Library. At the same time, there seems to be an institutional concern for historicity in the background. In 1997, President Hinckley invited FARMS to officially become a part of BYU. It’s still quite common for General Authorities to defend the Book of Mormon’s historical claims in General Conference and other forums.I also don’t foresee any empirical evidence coming forth that actually support BoM’s historical claims. As I see it, FARMS has a hard enough time keeping BoM historicity plausible in the face of new criticisms, let alone “proving” it. I recognize that some of the implications as to Joseph Smith’s character, Church origins, etc., presented by a non-historical Book of Mormon are tough to grapple with, but I think it might be in our interest to at least loosen our stance on the subject.Anyway, I’m sure this is far more than anyone would hope to hear from me, but I think this is a really interesting post.P.S. As an enlightened 3L, do you have any suggestions for me (pertaining to law school)? I have my first round of law school finals next week–Civil Procedure and Contracts–and I’m a bit nervous.

  2. Sorry to fill up your blog with my comments, but as a demonstration of a point made in my last comment comes this line from a recent post at BCC:”Would it be a stretch to assume that maybe the Semitic DNA traces in the Lamanites were changed too in order to make acceptance of the BofM strictly a matter of faith?”

  3. I can buy into the idea that archaelogical evidence has not appeared (and will not appear in the future) in order to make spiritual witness the only method of verifying the BoM’s truthfulness. What I cannot accept is the idea that floats around that dinosaur bones are in the earth to trick us into believing into evolution. I know this is a little off-topic, but I thought that the two strands of reasoning were related.

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