Questions about Apparent Problems in the Book of Mormon: Has it Withstood the Attacks of Critics?
This Mormon Answers page deals with apparent problems in the Book of Mormon, offering the perspectives of Jeff Lindsay, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is one of several pages in a suite of "Mormon Answers: Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely my responsibility. While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.
You may wish to read my Introduction to the Book of Mormon or see my page on Book of Mormon evidences.
Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous Book of Mormon issues have been discussed there. Join the fray! Or visit the other blogs on my blogroll there.
Also consider my "Book of Mormon Evidences" page.
A useful resource at FAIRLDS.org on Book of Mormon problems is "Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion by Brant A. Gardner, responding to a film by Living Hope Ministries attacking the Book of Mormon.
You can order a free copy of the Book of Mormon at Mormon.org.
Alma 7:10 gives a prophecy that Christ would be born "at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers." Here and in many other passages, Jerusalem is described as a land, not just a city. Bethlehem is a tiny suburb of Jerusalem, just 5 miles away from the heart of the city. Not only does Bethlehem properly fall within the "land of Jerusalem," making the Book of Mormon correct, but use of that term is surprising evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
First, people in the New World once descended from the Old would know little about Old World geography. In referring to their place of origin, it would be surprising if they still retained knowledge of tiny villages and suburbs. Saying that Christ was born in Jerusalem, to a New World audience long separated from knowledge of Israel, is no more incorrect that for a Californian to tell a friend in New York they he is from Los Angeles, when in fact he may be from Century City or some other "unknown" suburb. The Book of Mormon is remarkably consistent in avoiding specific references to geographical details in the Old World apart from the writings of Nephi and quotations from Old World prophets. Referring to the birthplace of Christ as the land of Jerusalem makes sense if that passage were written by an ancient New World prophet. If Joseph Smith had written it, why not just say Bethlehem? He and every school child of his time knew Christ was born in Bethlehem.
Further, as discussed on a separate page of mine about the land of Jerusalem, the Book of Mormon accords remarkably well with new information about ancient Jewish practices in describing the area that included Bethlehem.
Certainly Joseph Smith knew that Christ was born in Bethlehem - he was familiar with much of the Bible and surely had heard the story of Christ's birth numerous times. If he were making the Book of Mormon up, why on earth would he make such a terrible blunder, placing Christ's birth in Jerusalem? How could he make such a thoughtless and stupid blunder in the midst of an otherwise enormously clever fraud? The "blunder" makes no sense if Joseph Smith were the author - but it is not a blunder at all and makes perfect sense if he were only translating an authentic ancient document in which the often-used term "land of Jerusalem" meant more than just the city. The use of the term "land of Jerusalem" in Alma 7:10 and many other locations is consistent with usage in the Dead Sea Scrolls and can now be viewed as powerful evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not possibly have made that up.
In spite of its weakness, the attack on Alma 7:10 seems to be one of the three or four most common of all arguments against the Book of Mormon. It ought to be buried once and for all, especially in light of the excellent article, Jesus' Birthplace and the Phrase "Land of Jerusalem", available on the FARMS site. Also see "On Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ" by Daniel C. Peterson, Matthew Roper, and William J. Hamblin, FARMS Preliminary Report, 1995.
Finally, critics ought to realize that if we must condemn the Book of Mormon for stating that Christ would be born "at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers," then they must also reject the Bible because it says that Amaziah "was buried at Jerusalem with his fathers in the city of David" (2 Kings 14:20), and the city of David is Bethlehem (see Luke 2:4, 1 Samuel 20:6). As with so many of the arguments used by anti-Mormons against the Book of Mormon, the attack on Alma 7:10 is:
"Why does the Book of Jacob end with a French word? "Brethren, adieu"? That seems a little out of place to me.
Your objection, if I understand it, is that a word from a modern European language occurs in a book claiming ancient Semitic origins (the Book of Jacob was written around 500 B.C.). If we consider the nature of translation, this issue becomes much less troubling. If I wanted to be flippant (a common temptation for me), I could say, "Not only does the translated Book of Mormon have a French word in it, but thousands of English words as well - another language that did not exist in 600 B.C." The Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient text into a modern language, and the word that best fit the ending Jacob used - some parting expression commending his readers to God - was translated as "adieu" ("to God"), an expression that is used and widely understood in the English speaking world). It is a borrowed word, certainly, but with a nuance that is not matched with "farewell" or "good-bye." Good-bye used to mean much the same - "God be with ye" - but now lacks that meaning.
As a matter of fact, "adieu" has become part of the English language and was listed in common dictionaries in the 1800s and remains listed in most modern English dictionaries. For example, it occurs in Webster's 1828 dictionary, as you can see for yourself, thanks to the ARTFUL Project as well as ChristianSoup.com which offer search features for that dictionary.
The objection to the word "adieu" is one of the most common attacks on the Book of Mormon, but it really isn't a problem. Nevertheless, numerous Bible-believing critics have pointed to that word and mocked, but the standard they use to reject the Book of Mormon would also reject the Bible (an irony true of many other common objections). The King James Version of Jeremiah 10:22, for example, uses a French word, "bruit," meaning noise or rumor. "Bruit" is unfamiliar to most English speakers, unlike the commonly used and well-known "adieu." Yikes! How could a French word be in the Bible? At Jeremiah's time (around 600 B.C.), French didn't even exist, so isn't the Bible false? Au contraire, mes amis. Jeremiah didn't write a French word - he wrote something in Hebrew that some translators thought could well be translated by "bruit," a word that had also found its way into English (along with "adieu" and many others).
Many LDS critics continue the "adieu" attack, to my genuine astonishment. It's time we say "Auf wiedersehen" to this argument. And thus, with no further adieu, I bid you adios.
Your comments on the names in the Book of Mormon is intriguing, for Joseph Smith introduced many dozens of new names (nearly 200) which are not found in the Bible and which have long been the source of anti-Mormon attacks on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon - until recently. The most common attack was on the name "Alma", as in alma mater, which is a woman's name in Latin (and still a popular Spanish name for a woman) - ha ha! But newly discovered ancient Jewish documents show that "Alma" was indeed a man's name long ago in Israel (this is a well known detail now - you can read about it and many other claimed evidences for the Book of Mormon at "http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml). There are some interesting linguistic subtleties in the Book of Mormon names which over and over point to authenticity or else a clever fraud done ahead of its time and far ahead of what Joseph Smith could have known. As for the name Sam, it is a perfectly good Hebrew name, equivalent to Shem, one of Noah's sons (not necessarily short for Samuel).
"... you cite the occurrences of Chiasmus as a sure fire indicator of authenticity. Weren't the plates written in Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics? Why would Hebrew language structures be used in literature written in a form of Egyptian language? Since the origin of the peoples described in the Book of Mormon was Jewish, why would they have started using Egyptian for record keeping? Why not Hebrew?"
I just came across an article only moments before your mail arrived (coincidence? sure, why not) that I think will help answer some of your questions about reformed Egyptian. The article is "Reformed Egyptian" by Dr. William J. Hamblin, available at the The Neal A. Maxwell Institute Website (see a 2007 PDF version as well). It's thorough and scholarly, showing that the practice indicated in the Book of Mormon of using a foreign script (and a modified Egyptian script in particular) for writing in another language is entirely consistent with other ancient writings. Before you read that, let me say that the Book of Mormon states that the "reformed Egyptian" script was much more condensed than the Hebrew and was the language system the Nephite scholars and priests learned for working with sacred texts. It was tough to use, but the only way to go when characters have to be engraved one by one in precious metal plates. The basis of their linguistic heritage was Semitic. Please note that chiasmus is not unique to Hebrew, but was used in several ancient languages in the Middle East, including Greek. I'm not sure if chiasmus has been found in Egyptian writings per se, but I wouldn't be surprised. (One source has tentatively identified chiasmus in the Popol Vuh of the Mayans - but I should wait for other documents to confirm that as a trend before I get too excited.) But Hebrew writings, certainly, and the brass plates that the Nephites brought with them contained chiasmus (esp. Isaiah). Nephi was well skilled in the linguistic style of the Jews and obviously helped bring chiasmus with him and his group. Later, Alma the Younger may have been the master of it, as evidenced by the sublime example of Alma 36. After 1000 years, what the Nephites spoke was probably much different than the Hebrew we know today, but the Book of Mormon provides abundant evidence that Hebraic constructions were prominent in their language. They wrote their language, but in a compact foreign script when it came to the sacred plates. This practice, again, was laughable given what was known in 1830, but is now entirely consistent with other examples from antiquity, as the article below shows.
Again, modern knowledge about ancient writings actually confirms the plausibility of the often attacked Book of Mormon concept of engraving Hebraic writings in a reformed Egyptian script. The scholarly evidence is discussed in the article, "Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters" by John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1996.
As for the argument that an Egyptian script would only work for the Egyptian tongue (spoken language), John A. Tvedtnes makes the following reply ("New Approaches to the Book of Mormon," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, pp. 37-38):
[Edward] Ashment protests too much when, in disputing Sorenson's statements about the ability to use the Egyptian writing system "without regard to tongue," he declares that the hieroglyphic system was "integrally tied to the Egyptian language" (p. 341). Egyptian hieroglyphs were used to transliterate Semitic words borrowed during the late period, as Albright's study of the "Egyptian Syllabic Orthography" shows [William F. Albright, Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions and Their Decipherment, London: Oxford University Press, 1969]. Moreover, it was Egyptian symbols that were used in the Proto-Sinaitic script that became the ancestor of the Hebrew and other alphabets.
Critics charge that there is no such language as "reformed Egyptian," but the charge is quite incorrect. The once-laughable Book of Mormon reference to "reformed Egyptian" is right on the money in ways that Joseph Smith could not possibly have anticipated if he were the author and the book were a fraud.
Other resources on this issue:
It is not true that all witnesses of the Book of Mormon plates fell away from the Church. Some did - but even the ones that did NEVER denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon. Being a member in the early days of the Church was very difficult and fraught with pain, sacrifice, and heartache, not all of which came from external persecution. People frequently have personal problems with strong leaders like Joseph Smith, and those with natural human pride can be easily offended. The same happened with Christ, as you will recall: he said that many would be offended (Matt. 26:31), and John 6:61-66 reports that many of his disciples rejected him, apparently offended by some of his teachings. Now if an offended person still sticks to a story that adds credibility to someone he has rejected, isn't that pretty impressive? That's the case for Joseph Smith and the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
After Joseph completed the translation of the gold plates, the angel Moroni showed the plates to three other men, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. They bore solemn testimony of what they experienced - testimony which was never retracted and often affirmed, even after sore persecution and even in spite of subsequent personal apostasy from the Church:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
Besides the three witnesses, nine other people either participated as scribes or observed the translation process, including Emma Smith, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, William Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, Michael Morse, Sarah Hellor Conrad, Isaac Hale, Reuben Hale, and Joseph Knight Sr. (see Neal A. Maxwell, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign, Jan. 1997, pp. 36-41). However, it is possible that some of these may not have seen the plates directly.
Other men of character were also shown the plates by Joseph Smith himself. Here is the testimony of a group of 8 witnesses, a testimony which was never retracted:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
PETER WHITMER, JUN.
JOSEPH SMITH, SEN.
SAMUEL H. SMITH
These men never denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon, even though some left the Church and would have had ample reason and opportunity to expose a fraud, if it had been one. A detailed review of their story and the significance of their testimony is offered by Richard L. Anderson in his article, Book of Mormon Witnesses. Meticulous historical scholarship refutes deceptive anti-Mormon claims: these eyewitnesses did not deny their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.
Additional information is offered by Matthew Roper in the online article, Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Roper's report clears up some misconceptions and misrepresentations concerning the Book of Mormon witnesses. See also Mike Ash's article on "The Three Witnesses" and his rebuttals of anti-Mormon charges concerning Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris.
If that argument were valid, then why were Jews at the time of Christ using the Septuagint, a version of the Old Testament written in the language of the Greeks, who were historical enemies of the Jews? The Jews had suffered many terrible outrages by the Greeks in the previous centuries (see 1 Maccabees 1:7-64), but they still used Greek scriptures. In fact, at least part of the New Testament was originally written in Greek by converted Jews.
You should also know that part of the Bible was written in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonians. Chapters 2 through 7 of Daniel and a portion of the book of Ezra (4:8-6:18) in the Old Testament were written in the this language, also called Chaldean. I hope you recall that the Babylonians were pagans who conquered and abused the Israelites. They were guilty of many atrocities, yet at least a couple of faithful Jews chose to write scripture in that language. Actually, they wrote the Aramaic language using Hebrew letters - sort of a "reformed Aramaic," if you will.
There is also convincing evidence that at least some of the Gospels in the New Testament were originally written in Aramaic, which had become the spoken dialect in Israel at the time of Jesus. In fact, the Bible records Aramaic words uttered from the lips of the Son of God Himself. "Talitha Cumi" recorded in Mark 5:41 and "Abba" in His prayer (a prayer, no less!) at Mark 14:36 are both Aramaic words.
By the same token, you should not be surprised to find that Chinese computer programmers and scientists have long been using Western scripts because of the advantages it offers, in spite of China's historical animosity toward the West. You should not be surprised to find English and Norwegian peoples using the Roman script for all of their writings, even if they had once been enemies of the Roman Empire and later rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church. Writing systems tend to transcend historical enmity.
The Hebrews lived for 400 years in Egypt and were strongly influenced by Egyptian culture in later history as well. Israel and Egypt were not enemies all the time. There was extensive trade and communication between the two in past times, including in Lehi's day. Israel looked to Egypt for protection at one point, and hundreds of years later, we find Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt for safety. A variety of Jewish groups even formed colonies in Egypt. Using an Egyptian writing system for its particular advantages is hardly unreasonable.
Could Hebrews write sacred texts in Egyptian scripts? If space was at a premium, certainly. In fact, it is possible that the brass plates mentioned in the Book of Mormon, the special engraved writings containing a number of Old Testament writings and the family record for at least some descendants of Joseph, was started by Joseph himself. Having spent most of his life in Egypt, he may have used an Egyptian script for his own writings, and his descendants may have maintained that tradition during their time in Egypt and beyond.
It is true that temple worship in ancient Israel was centralized in Jerusalem. However, we have a clear precedent that Jews living too far away to go to the Temple in Jerusalem built another Temple. I refer to the Jewish Temple in Elephantine, an island in the Nile River, where ancient Jews had a colony in Egypt and built a temple to the Lord. For details, see my Book of Mormon Nugget page, "Lessons from the Elephantine Papyri Regarding Book of Mormon Names and Nephi's Temple."
Actually, the text of the Book of Mormon does NOT mention coins. Alma Chapter 11 mentions a measurement system of the Nephites, with units of gold and silver being related to various amounts of grains, but the system appears to be one of standardized weights rather than a coinage system. A recently added chapter heading for Alma 11 - not part of the text and unrelated to Joseph Smith's translation - says "Nephite coinage set forth." This makes an unnecessary and possibly incorrect assumption about the meaning of the text.
If Joseph Smith had written the Book of Mormon, discussing coins would have been an easy mistake to make. Worse yet, he might have mentioned paper money. But the system described is one in which units of precious metals are related to measures of grain, and the relationship between the metallic units can easily be understood as based on weight, with no hint at the minting of coins.
Are there other examples of fraudulent or fictional works about an ancient time or era which become stronger and more plausible as we learn more about the era they treat? There is so much in the Book of Mormon that was laughable in 1830 that is taken seriously today: writing records on metal plates (utterly ridiculous then, well documented now), construction with cement, transoceanic voyages, ancient knowledge of steel, barley in the New World, kingship rites, Lehi's discovery of "Bountiful" on the shores of the Arabian peninsula, climate and geography in central America, etc., etc. A few sci-fi stories get a stray detail about the future right sometimes, but nothing like the Book of Mormon does with the past. The more we learn, the stronger it becomes - (although there have been surprises for the LDS community as well, challenging some popular misinterpretations of the Book). Lord of the Rings - produced by a Ph.D. over a lifetime - doesn't even come close in that sense to what Joseph Smith translated in 65 days, without rewriting. And is there anyplace on earth that could offer a plausible setting for the geography referred to in Lord of the Rings? :) Book of Mormon succeeds on that point!
Yes, we read of Alma establishing a church in the land nearly a century before the birth of Christ, and some critics feel this represents a major blunder in the Book of Mormon. But the concept of a church - a convocation of believers - was had among the House of Israel prior to the coming of Christ. I quote from the outstanding Bible scholar, Alfred Edersheim, who is not LDS, as he discusses the meaning of Christ's statement to Peter about building His church (Matt. 16:15-18):
"Nor would the term 'Church' sound strange in Jewish ears. The same Greek word [ecclesia], as the equivalent of the Hebrew Qahal, 'convocation,' 'the called,' occurs in the Septuagint rendering of the Old Testament, and in 'the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach' (Ecclus, 24.2) and was apparently in familiar use at the time. In Hebrew use it referred to Israel, not in their national but in their religious unity.
(Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publ., Peabody, Mass., 1993, pp. 531-532)
As one of many examples, Psalms 89 speaks of praising the Lord "in the congregation of the saints" (v. 5) and says that God is to be feared (respected, revered) "in the assembly of the saints." Why not call such a congregation or assembly of worshipful believers a church? In fact, the Septuagint does, using the Greek word "ecclesia" ("ekklesia") which is translated as "church" when it occurs in the King James Version of the New Testament. Please note that Psalm 89:5 in the KJV corresponds to Psalm 88:6 in the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek numbering is different - you can see the Psalms in Greek and verify for yourself that "ekklesia" is there in Ps. 88:6). By the way, notice how the Bible uses the word "saints" to describe the mortal members of God's Church?
References to "ekklesia" occur several times in the Bible's books of poetry, as noted by Kyle Pope in "The Use of the Word Ekklesia in the Greek Old Testament ":
In the books of poetry, Job in the midst of his sorrow says "I have stood in the ekklesia crying" (Job 30:28). In the Psalms, praise occurs "in the midst of the ekklesia," (Psalm 22:22 [Lxx 21:23]) and "in the great ekklesia" (Psalm 22:25 [Lxx 21:26]). The Psalmist avoids the "ekklesia of evildoers" (Psalm 26:5 [Lxx 25:5]). The Psalmist will give thanks "in the great ekklesia" (Psalm 35:18 [Lxx 34:18]. The Psalmist declares his willingness to proclaim God's lovingkindness and truth to the "great ekklesia" (Psalm 40:10 [Lxx 39:10]). When ekklesia is used in the plural it may refer to smaller assemblies of each tribe. The Psalmist calls upon the reader to bless God in the "in the ekklisias " (Psalm 68:26-27 [Lxx 67:27-28]). Or, it may refer to the repeating assemblies of the "great ekklesia." Psalmist promises to bless the Lord "in the ekklisias " [Psalm 26:12 Lxx 25:12]). The heavens praise God's wonders and faithfulness "in the ekklesia of the saints" (Psalm 89:5 [Lxx 88:6]). The Psalmist admonishes man to exalt God "in the ekklesia of people" (Psalm 106:32). The Psalmist charges Israel to worship God in the "in the ekklesia of the saints" (Psalm 149:1). In the book of Proverbs, when the wise man warns against adultery in the book of Proverbs, he forsees a time when regret will overwhelm the sinner, as they realize they have come to "ruin in the midst of the ekklesia and synagoge" (Proverbs 5:14).
Pope later gives this conclusion:
It is evident from the use of ekklesia in the Lxx [Septuagint] that the word held a deep significance for Greek-speaking Jews. Although an ekklesia could be merely a crowd of people (I Samuel 17:47 [Lxx I Kings 17:47]) or an assembly of "evil-doers" (Psalm 26:5 [Lxx 25:5]), the "ekklesia of the LORD" was the covenantal assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:10). This body, when assembled, worshipped God (II Chronicles 29:28,31,32), appealed to God (II Chronicles 20:5), repented to God (Joel 2:16), and made choices for the nation as whole (I Chronicles 13:2,4; Ezra 10:12 [Lxx II Esdras 10:12]). To stand "in the midst of the ekklesia" was a significant responsibility (I Chronicles 28:2; II Chronicles 20:5). To face shame before the ekklesia was to be avoided (Proverbs 5:14). Not all who dwelt among the Israelites could enter the ekklesia (Deuteronomy 23:1-3, 8). To fail to come together in the ekklesia was a serious breech of duty (Judges 21:5; Ezra 10:8 [Lxx II Esdras 10:8]). Although the ekklesia could include men, women and children (Ezra 10:1 [Lxx II Esdras 10:1]), there is no example of a woman addressing what the Lxx calls the ekklesia.
In summary, I don't think we have a problem in mentioning "church" in the Book of Mormon before the time of Christ.
The word synagogue literally means "place of assembly," based on its Greek roots. The origins of the modern Jewish synagogue aren't clear, but the earliest archaeological evidence for their existence is a 3rd century B.C. inscription in Egypt, according to Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. According to e-mail I recently received, the Oxford Companion to the Bible offers the following in an article on synagogues:
Owing to the paucity of sources, opinions have varied widely as to when, where, and why the synagogue developed. Theories have ranged from the late First Temple period (eight-seventh century BCE), through the exilic (sixth century) and postexilic (fifth century) eras, and down to the late Persian (fourth century) and Hellenistic times (third or second century). Most scholars have assumed a midway position, one that posits the emergence of the synagogue closely following the destruction of the First Temple in 587/586 BCE, either during the Babylonian exile or soon after, when the Jews returned to Judea during the era of restoration.
(Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford: Oxford U Press, 1993): 722. Article is by Lee Levine, Prof. of Jewish History and Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.)
It is commonly assumed that synagogues came into being after the Exile of the Jews, which occurred after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem. Even if that is so, meetings and assemblies of believers were going on long before the Exile. The Old Testament makes many references to congregations and assemblies, and the places where they met could be called "synagogues" (see the discussion to the question above about the word "church"). In fact, Psalms 74:8 (King James Version) speaks of "the synagogues of God in the land." If we understand "synagogues" to simply refer to places of assembly for religious purposes, the use of that word in the Book of Mormon poses no problems.
Some have argued that synagogues were developed to fill the void left by the absence of the Temple, and that there would be no need or desire for synagogues if a Temple was present (the Nephites had a temple). However, synagogues were clearly in existence before and after the time of Christ when the Jews had a temple in Jerusalem. They played a different purpose, probably in the same way the modern LDS church buildings (houses of assembly) play a different role than the LDS Temple.
For fascinating non-LDS information about ancient synagogues, see Dr. Donald Binder's Second Temple Synagogue FAQs at http://www.pohick.org/sts/faqs.html, part of his Second Temple Synagogues site. That page explains that in one sense, "'synagogues' have been in existence as long as Israel has been a people." Donald D. Binder has his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies at SMU and is an Episcopal priest and has been an Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Anglican School of Theology and Adjunct Assistant Professor of New Testament in the Religious Studies Department, SMU. His doctoral dissertation on synagogues in Second Temple Judaism, Into the Temple Courts, was published by the Society of Biblical Literature in 1999. Here is part of what he has to say:
The question of synagogue origins is still a matter of debate among researchers. Nevertheless, one view that is gaining momentum holds that, in one sense, "synagogues" have been in existence as long as Israel has been a people. That is to say, if we understand the Greek term synagoge in its earliest meaning, i.e., "congregation," then the "synagogue" on one level was the national and cultic assembly of Israel. Hence synagoge is commonly used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) to represent the gathering of the tribes before the Tabernacle (e.g., Lev 8:3, Deut 5:22, LXX). The same word is later used to describe the assembly before the Temple (1 Chr 5:6, LXX).
On a more local level, "synagogues" (plural) would have been the popular village or city assemblies, held first at the city gates and later in the agoras or civic squares. At some point, these regular public gatherings moved inside public buildings that the ancients referred to with various words, including synagoge . . . . In Egypt this transition came in the third century BCE. By the first century CE, sources indicate that synagogue buildings existed in every city in the Jewish diaspora.
In Palestine, synagogue buildings began to crop up by the first century BCE, though perhaps even a century earlier.
And for further understanding on ancient synagogues, see the article Synagogues in the Book of Mormon by William J. Adams, Jr. at the FARMS Web site (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2000).
Nephi did prophesy that Christ would be lifted up on the cross (1 Nephi 11:33; cf. 1 Nephi 19:10,13; 2 Nephi 6:9; 2 Nephi 10:3; 2 Nephi 25:13), and described the saints as those that endure the crosses of the world (2 Nephi 9:18). Was the concept of crucifixion really unknown in Old Testament times? Rabbi Yosef posted this explanation on Feb. 14, 1998 on the "Jewishness of the Book of Mormon" mail list:
The Aramaic word for "cross" in the Aramaic NT mss. is Z'KIFA from the Aramaic Z'KAF meaning "to lift up" or "crucify."
The same word appears in an Aramaic portion of the Tenakh (Old Testament) in Ezra 6:11 where a crucifixion is described. So crucifixion does date to Old Testament times.
Even if crucifixion were not known in 600 B.C., a prophet of God could nevertheless describe the practice.
I also understand that the Assyrians were impaling people on stakes well before Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. This is apparently documented on many inscriptions on Assyrian monuments (as if they were proud of their cruelty). For example, Jay Mackley kindly sent me a quote translated from the Sennacherib Prism inscriptions of about 689 B.C. (see http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/meso/sennprism1.html):
In the course of my campaign, I received from Nabu-bel-shumate, governor of the city of Hararate: gold silver, great musukkani-trees, asses, camels, cattle, and sheep as his onerous contribution. The warriors of Hirimme, wicked enemies, I cut down with the sword. No one escaped. Their corpses I hung on stakes, surrounding the city (with them).
And here is another quote Jay sent me from the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III of about 840 B.C. (see http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/meso/obelisk.html):
The people of Hattina were afraid before the terror of my mighty weapons; they seized the sons of Surri, together with the "sinners," and gave them to me. I impaled these (rebels) on stakes.
According to Herodotus (485-425 B.C.), crucifixion was first used among the Persians in a time frame not far removed from Nephi's day. The Persian's may have derived it from the Assyrian practice of impalement. Here is a an excerpt from Richard P. Bucher's article, "Crucifixion in the Ancient World" at http://www.orlutheran.com/html/crucify.html:
The Romans did not invent crucifixion as a method of execution, though it seems that they perfected it. On the basis of the writings of the Greek author Herodotus, it seems that the Persians were the first to use crucifixion (Herodotus 1:128.2; 3:125.3; 3:132.2; 3:159.1). For example, Herodotus tells us that King Darius (mentioned in the Bible) had 3000 Babylonians crucified in about 519 B.C. (4:43.2,7; 6:30.1; 7:194.1). The sources reveal that, two centuries later, Alexander the Great also used crucifixion in his conquests. For example in his History of Alexander, Curtius Rufus tells us that Alexander had 2000 citizens of Tyre crucified after he had conquered that city (4:4.17). The Romans eventually conquered the Greeks (Carthaginians) and it was from them that the Romans probably learned crucifixion. However, as the Romans themselves were fond of noting, crucifixion was also used by many "barbarian" peoples, such as Indians, the Assyrians, the Scythians, and the Celts. It was also later used by the Germans and the Britains (for the exact sources, see Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 22-23).
I don't think the mention of crucifixion by the prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon poses any problems for those who accept or may wish to accept the Book of Mormon as divine scripture.
The word "book" also occurs many times in the Old Testament (KJV). It's first occurrence is Genesis 5:1, followed by Exodus 17:14, 24:7, 32:32; Numbers 5:23, 21:14; Deuteronomy 17:18, 28:58, 28:61, 29:20-21, 29:27, 30:10, 31:24, 31:26; Joshua 1:8, 8:31, and many more other passages from before the time of Lehi, who saw a book in a vision (1 Nephi 1:11,19). The modern book is probably not meant. Rather, a collection of scrolls or other writings can be called a book. The Hebrew word translated as "book" in the Bible is "cepher" which can mean scroll or collection of writings. Translating that word as "book" is perfectly appropriate, though we need not think of a modern paperback.
I'm surprised this old argument continues to be used. An excellent and thorough article on the Kinderhook plates is "Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to Be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax" by Dr. Stanley B. Kimball in the Ensign, August 1981, pp. 66-74, now available online (or see it here at LDS.org).2012 Update:In 2011, Don Bradley, a Mormon, uncovered evidence that Joseph Smith attempted to translate a character on the Kinderhook plates that was similar to a character in the so-called Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar book that Joseph and/or his scribes made in an apparent effort to figure out the Book of Abraham translation on his own, before the translation was given through revelation. See Bradley's presentation at FAIRBlog.org. The Kinderhook character that resembled a character in the Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar was assigned the same translated text as provided therein. This appears to be evidence that Joseph Smith attempted to apply what he was doing on his own with the Book of Abraham text in an attempt to create a secular translation of the Kinderhook plates. One character, that's all. See "A FAIR Analysis of MormonThink page 'The Kinderhook Plates'." Perhaps there was initial interest and perhaps he took them seriously for a brief while, but then they were abandoned. I don't know if he concluded they were a fraud or not, but after that initial interest, they were apparently dropped. [End of update.]
Critics point to an entry apparently made by Joseph Smith in the official History of the Church dated May 1843, which states that Joseph translated part of the Kinderhook plates and found them to be written by a descendant of Ham and of the Pharaoh of Egypt. However, this statement is actually from the journal of William Clayton. Clayton's journal entry was added to the serialized "History of Joseph Smith" printed in the Deseret News in Utah in 1856, long after the death of Joseph, though it was changed to be in the first person from Joseph's perspective: "I have translated..." instead of "President J. has translated...." It is well known, according to Kimball, "that the serialized 'History of Joseph Smith' consists largely of items from other persons' personal journals and other sources, collected during Joseph Smith's lifetime and continued after the Saints were in Utah, then edited and pieced together to form a history of the Prophet's life 'in his own words.'" Kimball notes that this poor practice was common in that century for biographers.
The source of the ideas expressed by Clayton is unknown, but seems consistent with the high level of speculation among many members of the Church about the significance of the Kinderhook find. Some said those plates dealt with Book of Mormon peoples, others said Egyptians. Many spoke of a translation that they hoped would be undertaken. The significant thing is that there is no evidence that Joseph showed any serious interest in them. No translation was undertaken. No attempt was made to purchase the plates (as did occur with the authentic Egyptian scrolls and mummies that were brought to Joseph, part of the story of the Book of Abraham). They left Nauvoo without fanfare and apparently without objection - a strange reaction if Joseph had felt they were a sacred treasure of some kind. Perhaps Joseph or others may have noted some superficial similarity between the characters on the fake Kinderhook plates and those they had seen on the plates of gold or on Egyptian papyri. But no apology is needed for Joseph Smith.
The details of the Kinderhook plates story are interesting and puzzling. They appear to have been made by several conspirators in a possible attempt to gain money by selling them as ancient artifacts. It is commonly assumed that they were made to expose the alleged frauds of Joseph Smith and that Joseph did fall for them. For example, a popular but outlandishly deceitful anti-Mormon book, The God Makers, claims that a group "carefully manufactured" the plates and placed them in a mound to be discovered, that Joseph fell for the hoax, and that three men involved confessed that it was a hoax 3 months after Joseph was killed. The God Makers provides no documentation for these unfounded claims. Indeed, the earliest known reference (correct me if there is an earlier one) to the Kinderhook plates as a fraud is in a private letter from W.P. Harris dated April 25, 1855, a letter which was not discovered and made known until 1912. In that letter, Harris claimed that he was one of 9 men who orchestrated the hoax to expose Joseph Smith. Another man who claimed to be in on the hoax, W. Fugate, wrote an affidavit in 1879 claiming it was a fraud. Both of these sources are puzzling. If Joseph fell for Fugate's trap in 1843, why did he wait 36 years to announce it? Why did he wait until after the deaths of the other 8 men he claimed to work with on the Kinderhook hoax? Likewise, if Harris's 1855 letter is authentic, why did he wait 12 years to write down that he had exposed Joseph Smith? If nine men had achieved their goal and successfully proven in 1843 that Joseph Smith could fall for a clumsy hoax, you can bet that nearly all of them would have been making it known far and wide right away - not years after Joseph had died. It would have been in publications, letters, newspapers, all over the place. But nothing is in the record until many years later. It really doesn't make any sense.
Gilbert Scharffs in The Truth About "The God Makers" (Publishers Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1986, pp. 146-148 - now available online at FAIRLDS.org) offers as one possibility that Joseph did say and mean what is found in the History of the Church (though he seems unaware of the finding that Clayton's journal was apparently the source for the text attributed to Joseph). The plates "disappeared" after their "discovery" and attempted selling (one of the finders, R.S. Wiley, tried to sell them to the National Institute in 1843 - perhaps a profit motive rather than an "expose Joseph Smith" motive needs to be considered). Much later, 1920, a single plate purported to be one of the Kinderhook plates was obtained by the Chicago Historical Society. This brass plate does appear to be a hoax - but Scharffs wonders if it is really one of the Kinderhook plates. Fugate said they were copper, not brass. It is also different in size from the description of the originals. To Scharffs, it remains unclear what the Kinderhook plates really were and whether they were a fraud. Personally, though, I think it's reasonable to conclude that they were fraudulent.
Certainly there are no known original documents from Joseph Smith mentioning the Kinderhook plates, which ought to have been of great importance to him if he really thought new ancient records had been discovered.
The Kinderhook plates are really a non-issue. If Joseph Smith were a fraud, he gave us 500 pages of detailed information in the Book of Mormon which ought to make it ludicrously easy to expose him. No need to rely on spurious, unverifiable sources presenting weak material like the Kinderhook plates. Neither you nor I could write 10 pages of "scripture" based in a totally foreign setting about which we knew nothing and achieve anything but offer proof to everyone that we were laughable frauds. The power and magnificence of the word of God in the Book of Mormon is ample proof that something deeper is going on here that a young farm boy perpetuating a hopeless fraud. My opinion, of course - but try it on yourself and see how it fits. It's an amazing and wonderful book.
Rebuttals from the Critics?
In response to my comments above, one critic pointed out that B.H. Roberts assumed that Joseph Smith wrote the journal entry that was contributed by William Clayton, and asked if this invalidates my discussion. Absolutely not - almost everyone who has read published entries for Joseph's journal has assumed he wrote them. It was later work that showed the sloppy practices involved in the serialized publication of Joseph's journal long after his death. Now we know that William Clayton wrote that 1843 entry on the Kinderhook plates. B.H. Roberts did not know that.
The same critic noted that B.H. Roberts quotes Joseph's journal on the Kinderhook plates as coming from the Millennial Star, vol. XXI (see New Witnesses for God, Vol.3, p.62) and asks why I didn't show the Millennial Star as the source for Joseph's entries, apparently believing that the Millennial Star was a contemporary publication from Joseph's days in Nauvoo, and that I was obfuscating by saying that Clayton's entry for Joseph's journal was only published long after Joseph's death.
The Millennial Star did begin as a contemporary periodical from the Nauvoo era, with volume one occurring in 1840, while Joseph was alive. But it continued for many years. Volume 86, for example, is dated 1926, and the periodical continued several more years until 1937. Volume 21, the source cited by B.H. Roberts, is from around 1860 (I don't have the exact date). It is hardly a primary source, but obviously was used as a means of publishing at least parts of Joseph's journal - including many parts worked in or added by well-meaning writers like William Clayton, whose practices with historical documents were not up to twenty-first century standards. The fact that B.H. Roberts cited the periodical in which Joseph's journal was published, long after his death, doesn't change a thing. The argument made by the critic is immaterial.
In 2004, the LDS apologist Barry Bickmore received and answered a couple of related questions regarding the Kinderhook plates. He was asked why Brigham Young would support the History of the Church if it had errors, and asked why Clayton would believe inaccurate rumors about the Kinderhook plates since he was a close ally of Joseph Smith. He is Barry's brief response, used with permission, quoting from e-mail of March 2004:
Hmm. Those are good questions.
Here are some more good questions.
1) Why Did Parley Pratt, who was also a close associate of Joseph Smith, record a completely different story about what the KP [Kinderhook Plates] contained?
2) If Clayton's version was correct, and based on firsthand knowledge of a definite translation of the plates, why was no translation ever published?
3) If Clayton's version was correct, do we have to also believe that the plates were found next to the skeleton of a nine foot man?
4) If Joseph Smith really thought the KP were what Clayton reported, why didn't he purchase them, instead of letting them leave town soon after viewing them? After all, he spent a lot of money to buy the papyri associated with the Book of Abraham.
5) If Joseph Smith really fell for a hoax designed to expose him, why did Wilbur Fugate wait until Joseph Smith and all his co-conspirators were long dead to expose the prophet?
My best guess is that Joseph Smith may have offered some preliminary guesses about what the plates might contain, based on similarity with the Book of Mormon plates, or whatever. Maybe he speculated BOTH that they were written by a descendent of Ham (as Clayton reported) AND by a Jaredite (as Pratt reported). Clayton and others assumed these speculations were revelations, or maybe heard about them second hand through the grapevine (hence the 9-foot skeleton). But then he never followed through because the hoax was revealed to him. Therefore, he sent the conspirators on their way, and never said anything else about it. They knew JS had not fallen for the hoax, so they never brought it up again, until 36 or so years later, it came to Wilbur Fugate's attention that there were second-hand reports that the Prophet had "translated" something from the plates. Therefore, he finally revealed the hoax.
No matter how you slice this one, there will be unanswered questions. However, I don't think it is anything for Mormons to worry about.
Several anti-LDS critics have charged that Joseph's calling as a prophet was something he thought of after producing the Book of Mormon. The theory is that he originally just claimed to have a gift for translating, but later sought more power and prestige by claiming to also be a prophet. This is readily refuted by a glance at the Book of Mormon itself, which teaches that the gift of translating sacred records by divine power. Here is the relevant passage from what is now labeled Mosiah 8:13-16, as it occurred in the original 1830 publication:
Now, Ammon saith unto him, I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records: for he hath wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters; and no man can look in them, except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he had not ought, and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer. And behold, the king of the people which is in the land of Zarahemla, is the man that is commanded to do these things, and which hath this high gift from God. And the king saith, That a seer is greater than a prophet. And Ammon saith, That a seer is a revelator, and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater, can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
(D. Charles Pyle, Book of Mormon - 1830 Edition: The Text of the First Edition of the Book of Mormon, Divided into Modern Chapter and Verse Divisions for Easy Comparison with Subsequent Editions (1998), pp. 172-173 (electronic edition), as cited in e-mail from D. Charles Pyle.)
Likewise, a prophecy in 2 Nephi 3 also indicates that the translator, who would be named Joseph, would be a seer and would do a great work far beyond translating the Book of Mormon. There is simply no merit to claims that Joseph developed the idea of being a prophet and seer after the Book of Mormon was written.
Of course Hebrew speaking people did not use the English term "Jesus Christ". The Greek term from which Christ - a title - is derived was equivalent to Messiah in Hebrew. The Hebrew name related to Jesus is Joshua or Yeshua. Thus, the name Jesus Christ expressed in Hebrew could have been something like Yeshua Messiah. Certainly the revelations given to the Hebrew speaking people early in the Book of Mormon were in Hebrew and used Hebrew forms of names and titles, not Greek or English. When translating, one could keep the original name or title intact (Yeshua Messiah, for example), but it is more typical to convert the name into the "proper" form for the destination language. Thus we have forms of many Bible names which sometimes sound quite different from the true Aramaic or Hebrew terms. The point, though, is that Book of Mormon prophets knew of the coming of the Messiah and were even privileged to know his name (or a form of it). Joseph Smith translated that name into the form we all know and use - Jesus Christ. Not a problem, in my mind.
No, he continued expressing his testimony of the Book of Mormon throughout his life. B.H. Roberts was a Latter-day Saint General Authority and intellectual who drafted several writings in 1922 dealing with alleged problems in the Book of Mormon (see Brigham D. Madsen, ed., B. H. Roberts: Studies of the Book of Mormon, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985). He desired to understand critical attacks and to discuss them openly, believing that the Church had nothing to fear. I have read that Roberts, as an intellectual, was known to take opposing positions in discussions among Church leaders for the sake of fully exploring topics from diverse views, but the game of playing "devil's advocate" in a discussion should not be confused with the reality of what a person believes. Jerald and Sandra Tanner (a pair of well-known anti-Mormons) claim that B.H. Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon, but this claim does not withstand scrutiny. B.H. Roberts continued to express his testimony of the Book of Mormon throughout the remainder of his life. He realized that there were questions he could not answer, but his testimony was not based on the opinions of men but on revelation from God. Although Roberts could not answer some Book of Mormon criticisms in 1922, most of them are not problems today. (Indeed, our intellectual appreciation of the book has improved radically in the past 70 years.) For details about Roberts's studies and the question of his faith, see Truman G. Madsen and John W. Welch, "Did B. H. Roberts Lose Faith in the Book of Mormon?" F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1985.
Let's look at what B.H. Roberts actually said about his studies on Book of Mormon criticisms, and see what he later said about the Book of Mormon. The following is taken is from an article by Matthew Roper in his review of Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4, 1992, p. 193-194:
Roberts described the purpose of these studies as follows:
"Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. The report herewith submitted is what it purports to be, namely a 'study of Book of Mormon origins,' for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro et con, as well as that which has been produced against it. I do not say my conclusions for they are undrawn. It may be of great importance since it represents what may be used by some opponent in criticism of the Book of Mormon. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it. "(Madsen, ed., B. H. Roberts: Studies of the Book of Mormon, pp. 57-58, emphasis added. The Tanners are completely silent about Roberts's own explanation of the study's purpose, when in fact it sheds an entirely different light on the state of his faith and testimony.)
A review of Roberts's talks and addresses over the last eleven years of his life shows that he used the Book of Mormon extensively and frequently bore testimony of its divinity. In October 1923 he called the Book of Mormon "the sublimest message ever delivered to the world"(Conference Report, October 1923, p. 92). In 1924 he stated that the Book of Mormon helped provide Latter-day Saints with a foundation "built up of living stones wherein is no darkness or doubt."(Welch and Madsen, "Did B. H. Roberts Lose Faith in the Book of Mormon?" p. 18) Roberts actively continued to use the Book of Mormon in his writing and teaching throughout the next nine years (Ibid., 16-27). In 1928, after asking if "common knowledge and general discussion in the time and vicinity of Joseph Smith when the Book of Mormon was undergoing production" would have been enough to account for the production of the Nephite record, he responded, "Emphatically no" (B. H. Roberts, "Master Stroke of Philosophy," Deseret News, 16 June 1928). In October 1929, desirous that no one misunderstand his own convictions, Roberts stated, "I hope that if anywhere along the line I have caused any of you to doubt my faith in this work, then let this testimony and my indicated life's work be a correction of it" (Conference Report, October 1929, p. 91). In November 1930 he asserted that "surer recognition of Jesus being God may not be found in sacred writ [than in the Book of Mormon]" (Deseret News, 22 November 1930). Roberts continued to be impressed by the depth and scope of Book of Mormon doctrinal teachings and thought. Concerning the sacramental prayers in the Book of Mormon, he told the San Francisco Stake in April 1932 that "this was not the work of an unlettered youth . . . but evidence of divine inspiration. When this prayer is thoughtfully considered, it gives great weight to [the] claims of the modern prophet"(Minutes of the San Francisco Stake Conference, 23-24 April 1932, in Madsen and Welch, "Did B. H. Roberts Lose Faith in the Book of Mormon?" pp. 25-26). In April 1933, he described the Book of Mormon as "one of the most valuable books that has ever been preserved" (Conference Report, April 1933, 117). Just weeks before he died, he advised Jack Christensen, "Ethan Smith played no part in the formation of the Book of Mormon. You accept Joseph Smith and all the scriptures" (Madsen and Welch, "Did B. H. Roberts Lose Faith in the Book of Mormon?" p. 27). In light of Roberts's boldness in maintaining the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, especially over the last eleven years of his life, to argue, as the Tanners do, that he somehow rejected the Book of Mormon is intellectually indefensible, if not somewhat disingenuous. (The Tanners indiscriminately quote from Wesley Lloyd's journal recollection of a meeting with Roberts in August 1933. Major Problems of Mormonism, Salt Lake City, Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1989, pp. 156-60. Inaccuracies and historical problems with Lloyd's account have been discussed by Welch and Madsen in "Did B. H. Roberts Lose Faith in the Book of Mormon?" pp. 35-40).
An important fact, only recently recognized, is that Roberts' writings on possible Book of Mormon problems was started and completed in 1922 (from January to May, in fact), indicating that it was not a serious, troubling issue he struggled with for years, but a short project. The primary evidence comes from his original manuscript and is discussed in John Welch's Reexploring the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book, SLC, UT, 1992, pp. 88-89.
It has been most disappointing to see how Gerald and Sandra Tanner have tried to mislead people on this issue. They have tried to argue that Roberts continued struggling with his testimony of the Book of Mormon and continued his study on apparent problems for many years, ignoring his cover letter and other letters that explain his purpose and refute the suppositions of the Tanners. Though they have said that they have known of his cover letter since 1980, they have ignored what Roberts said and have continued to misrepresent his position. To remain silent about Roberts' cover letter and other documents showing his intent, while trying to make Roberts appear as one who had lost his testimony, is an all-too-typical deception. When challenged on this issue recently, they have claimed that the cover letter to President Grant is irrelevant because it was not sent - but this is misleading because Roberts' study on the Book of Mormon was not sent to President Grant either. For details on the tactics of the Tanners on this issue, see "Unanswered Mormon Scholars" by Matthew Roper, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 87-145, in which pp. 100-110 are especially relevant. For a discussion of some of the questions that allegedly troubled B.H. Roberts, see also Daniel Peterson's article, "Yet More Abuse of B. H. Roberts," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, pp. 69-86.
My conclusion: B.H. Roberts continued to accept the Book of Mormon as revealed scripture from God. He did not lose his faith in it by studying the common criticisms of the day. The Tanners make that claim only by ignoring what Roberts plainly taught and said.
A related question dealing with a disappointed LDS lawyer, Thomas Stewart Ferguson, is covered on my page, Questions About Book of Mormon Evidence.
(I've been asked how Nephi's group could make a ship, how they could possibly carry enough food to survive, and have been told that the ocean currents makes the voyage impossible.)
The text makes it clear that they departed from the east side of the Arabian Peninsula, making their voyage a fairly direct but still difficult route. They did not go around the cape of Africa, as some critics assume. The Book of Mormon description - though brief and succinct - of the journey through the Arabian peninsula is one of many powerful evidences for its authenticity, as it describes places and reasonable routes that Joseph Smith could not possibly have known about. I discuss this in some length on the Web page at "http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml". There is indeed a place (a most unusual place) in the right location on the Arabian coast to correspond with the place "Bountiful" where Lehi and his group camped for quite a while before constructing boats from the abundant trees (really - they are still there, at Wadi Sayq) and before taking significant supplies. There were abundant resources at this place, where they lived for some time. We need not assume that most of their supplies for the ocean voyage had been carried from Jerusalem, which they departed at least 8 years earlier.
Could the boat have been big enough to carry the supplies needed for a journey to the New World? How much space does it take to feed people for several months? My family has an emergency supply of basic foods (wheat, sugar, oil, canned fruits, some water, etc.) designed to be a year's supply for our family of 6. It sure wouldn't fit in a canoe, but I guess that 2 minivans (minus the backseats) could easily hold it and still leave room for my fishing poles. (And Nephi's group may have eaten a lot of seafood instead of relying exclusively on what they carried.)
Making a seaworthy ship is no easy task. Indeed, part of the family rebelled at the idea, but God did reveal the details of how to build and prepare the ships. When it comes to design and engineering, He's mighty good! Also, there is evidence now of ancient peoples who made transoceanic voyages (not just the Vikings, but Phoenicians and others in the Middle East). Barry Fells' works are well known, but not always trustworthy: there are much better scholarly publications on the topic. Such a journey was possible.
As for ocean currents, monsoon season provides ideal wind patterns to carry ships from the site Bountiful (Wadi Sayq, apparently, on the coast of modern Oman) east to Indonesia. (There may have been stops along the way to get more supplies and water.) From there to the New World (Central America in particular), the currents normally go the wrong way. However, the regular El Niño effect changes the currents, resulting in a means that could easily have taken Nephi's ship the Central America. Departing during monsoon season and then catching the El Niño effect is a matter of timing - an area where the Lord displays wonderful talent. The trip as described is far from a "no-brainer," but it is entirely possible and plausible.
There is a story behind this question that illustrates the importance of reading and thinking about the Book of Mormon carefully before we reject it. One genuinely intelligent person received his free copy of the Book of Mormon, flipped it open and was immediately appalled at the text. He found it ridiculous compared to the Bible. His first question to me was how I could believe in a book that teaches about (1) "the fall of Israel due to women who were not homemakers and strayed outside the family?" and (2) " the resurrection of Israel by only seven of those women coming back to the word?" My initial response:
"Where did you get this???? This is all new to me. I think it might be in the God Makers or some other anti-Mormon book, but after many readings, I've never noticed anything like this in the Book of Mormon. Maybe I've missed something. AH, maybe something from Isaiah? "
It turns out that he had been reading a chapter from the Biblical book of Isaiah (Is. 4), which had been quoted in its entirety by Nephi, who loved Isaiah. Isaiah 4 contains a prophecy about the daughters of Zion becoming vain and worldly, and also mentions seven women taking hold of one man (a sign of a great war, perhaps, in which many men are killed), but certainly does not say that Israel fell because of working women or that it is resurrected by seven women.
My subsequent discussions with this person proved him to be generally insightful and intelligent. But his initial mistake with the text is instructive. The same criterion he used to reject the Book of Mormon would have equally well rejected the Bible, for the passage he found so appalling and silly actually came from the Bible, though he did not realize it at the time. I have found that many criticisms of the Book of Mormon apply as well to the Bible, and many criticisms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - especially those criteria used to deny our status as Christians - would apply equally well to the early Christians in the New Testament. My suggestion, then, is to be careful with your accusations. Check first to see if they would also apply to the Bible or to the original Church that Christ established.
But there are! The most impressive specific correlations are in the Arabian Peninsula, where specific places described by Nephi appear to have been found right where the text requires them to be. The recent discovery of the ancient burial site Nahom and the amazing discovery of the placed called Bountiful (Wadi Sayq), both right where they should be, is simply overwhelming evidence that at least part of the Book of Mormon is authentic and could not have been fabricated by Joseph Smith or anyone else in the nineteenth century. For more details, see my Book of Mormon evidences page at "http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml" and also see "The Place Shazer: Another Direct Hit from the Arabian Peninsula."
As for the account dealing with peoples in the New World, Book of Mormon geography best fits the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (southern Mexico, Guatemala), where a number of sites, cities, etc., have been tentatively correlated with Book of Mormon locations. The best treatment of this is in John Sorenson's An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. He offers fascinating correlations, very strong (in my opinion), though only a small fraction of the archaeological work has been done that is needed to confirm most of the specific proposals. The Lamanites in the Book of Mormon may correlate well with a part of the early Mayan civilization or one of the other cultural groups in ancient Mesoamerica. The peoples described in the Book of Ether could very well be part of the Olmec peoples from the same area. A number of Mayan legends and the few surviving writings provide interesting parallels with Book of Mormon concepts. Could write much more on this if you're interested. Bottom line: yes, there are real places and there were real people described in what is truly an authentic ancient record. But we are in our infancy when it comes to understanding Mesoamerica. Until scholars are able to do more work there, the argument from silence should be applied with caution. Meanwhile, consider John Sorenson's latest work, Mormon's Codex. See the text from his presentation, "Reading Mormon's Codex" from the FAIR 2012 Conference.
This is a fair question, especially given the many differing views that Mormons have expressed over the decades. Many theories have been offered in attempts to identify the physical location of the New World aspects of the Book of Mormon. Some have viewed the setting of the book as hemispheric, covering much of North and South America, with Panama as the "narrow neck of land" mentioned in the text. Others have made the mistake of assuming that the tiny hill in New York State where Joseph Smith found the plates, called "the Hill Cumorah," is the same hill described in the text as the scene of great battles and the place where the Nephite records were buried. It's a logical assumption--until one carefully reads the text, and realizes that all the Nephite records EXCEPT the gold plates of the Book of Mormon were left in the Hill Cumorah. The text also has other requirements that simply aren't met by the New York hill, which is hardly different than any of the other hills all over that part of New York, lacks a water supply, and would make no sense as the preferred location for an army to gain a military advantage.
A careful reading of the Book of Mormon shows that it covers a limited geographic area, one that spans hundreds, not thousands of miles. When one looks for places where it could have occurred, there is one and only one region in the Americas that has serious potential to be a setting for the Book of Mormon: Mesoamerica, the area of southern Mexico, Guatemala, etc., with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec as a candidate for the "narrow neck of land." Mesoamerica as the setting of the Book of Mormon offers ancient cultures with advanced writing systems (the only place where that was available), the existence of advanced civilization consistent with Book of Mormon requirements (roads, cities, temples, prisons, judges, kings, fortifications, etc.), the presence of volcanism around the time of Christ to account for the events described in 3 Nephi 9 (here we take the thick mist of darkness for 3 days, seismic activity, cities burned with fire, etc., as apparent volcanism), and other correlating factors that are not found elsewhere in the America. As mentioned above, a remarkably plausible and detailed case for Mesoamerica has been made, beginning with John Sorenson's An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Books, 1985). It must be emphasized that his work highlights how internally self-consistent the Book of Mormon is and how much can be gleaned by attention to the small details of the text that might offer only confusion and embarrassment if it were actually a crude forgery as many claim.
Sorenson's model, however, is not without problems. A fundamental issue is one of directions. To make the Book of Mormon text fit that geography, Sorenson requires a skewed direction system in which "Nephite north" is really closer to our northwest. This has been one of the most serious criticisms of his model. A very interesting solution to the problem of directions, though, can be found by drawing upon Mesoamerican culture and the meaning, significance, and application of directions in Mesoamerican systems. Please see Brant Gardner's analysis in "From the East to the West: The Problem of Directions in the Book of Mormon" presented at the FAIRLDS.org 2012 conference. Sorenson's model can still be applied in general but without the need to skew directions.
There are still many questions, but the numerous lines of evidence that support a connection between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon is approaching the level of a "convergence" that requires more serious consideration not just by Mormons but by those outside the Church. That is the theme of an interesting new presentation in 2012 by John Sorenson himself, "Reading Mormon's Codex and the topic of his forthcoming book, "Mormon's Codex." So while we still lack evidence to "prove" the Book of Mormon to be true beyond any requirement for faith, there are increasing and impressive bodies of evidence to support its plausibility as an ancient text with a limited geography set in Mesoamerica. Just enough evidence to assist faith and help encourage people to at least read it rather than dismiss it out of hand. I think it's that way by divine design--God can certainly prove anything He wants to with world-class evidence to convince and confound all the scholars, but I think that's not how it's supposed to be in our journey of faith.
This astute question on population merits discussion on the interesting issue of rapid population growth in the Book of Mormon. Please see "Nephi's Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon" by J. Smith (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, pp. 231-267), and also John Sorenson's article, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" (J. Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1992). Bottom line: other population groups had to have been incorporated into both Nephite and Lamanite groups for some of the numbers to make sense. Indeed, other parts of the text offer confirming evidence that this is so, as John Sorenson has shown. Once we realize the possibility of other ethnic groups cooperating with or taken over by both Nephites and Lamanites, a number of odd passages suddenly make sense. For years Mormons have assumed that the only people playing a role in ancient America were descendants of Nephites and Lamanites. Not so! That position is not justified by a careful reading of the text (which shows a variety of other groups were there) or by archaeological evidence. We are still learning - and we're finding that the text and the history is more complex than previously assumed (but increasingly validated along the way). We should remember that the Book of Mormon is largely a family history of one small line that played a significant role for a while in a cultural group, but it is not an account of the entire "nation" or of all the peoples involved. It's mostly limited to the descendants of Nephi. Other groups, though present, get little coverage.
2009 update: Also see "Book of Mormon Population Statistics" by John A. Tvedtnes.
(The objection was raised that the Book of Mormon is devoid of later authors who quote earlier authors, suggesting that there weren't really multiple authors but just one fraudulent author, Joseph Smith.)
The Book of Mormon certainly includes internal quotation. Among multiple examples, Alma 36:22 borrows 21 words directly from 1 Nephi 1:8. Helaman 14:12 exactly quotes 21 words (a coincidence) Mosiah 3:8. Alma, in discussing Nephi and the Liahona, indirectly refers to the brass serpent of Moses as did Nephi, mentioning the "easiness of the way" (just viewing the serpent to be healed) as did Nephi (compare Alma 37:46 to 1 Nephi 17:41). A list of five forms of sin given by King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:13 ( murder, plunder, theft, adultery, and any manner of wickedness) is repeated seven other times in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 29:36; Alma 23:3; 30:10; Helaman 3:14; 6:23; 7:21; and Ether 8:16), as if it became a moral formula (see Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 23). Events and lessons from the records of Lehi and Nephi are quoted throughout later books. Prophecies of Nephi, Zenos, Samuel the Lamanite, and others are referenced, quoted, and discussed in subsequent times.
I'm curious about the source of this attack on the Book of Mormon. I've heard it a couple of times now, but it's simply incorrect. We should also think about the implications of the accurate internal quotes in the record. Since Joseph dictated the book to scribes without going back or asking them to reread previously dictated sections, how was he able to quote passages separated by many pages? The internal consistency of the Book of Mormon is indirect evidence of its authenticity. (Test: try quoting from memory 21 words from something you wrote a few weeks ago.)
Here is the actual question I received recently from an intelligent and tactful correspondent:
I've noticed ...that LDS defend the Book of Mormon in such a way that it's apparently logically impossible for it to fall. More explicitly, there are two big loopholes that are big enough to (literally) drive horses through (viz, Sorenson, "An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon"):
1. "It's a translation problem."
2. "Nephites and Lamanites weren't the only people there."
... [T]he more I think about it the more I'm convinced that it would be hard to invalidate any story using the "quest for ancient parallels" that is currently used among pro-LDS apologists. Do you disagree? What would a "disproof" of an alleged ancient work look like?
This is an insightful question, but the "loopholes' aren't as big as you think. With the Book of Mormon, the proper intellectual (not spiritual) issue is plausibility. There are abundant details of ancient customs, journeys, battles, and terrain which we can compare to modern knowledge of Book of Mormon times and places to determine if there is any evidence of plausibility. Can the hills, rivers, plains, mountains, etc., be plausibly linked to any real place on the globe? The answer is yes, as John Sorenson shows with great thoroughness - and that is genuinely remarkable on its own. (Try writing an ancient history of Tasmania, for example, without the aid of a map - while providing numerous small details that could be even remotely plausible to later readers armed with Tasmanian maps.) Further, that place - Mesoamerica - offers the only setting in the hemisphere where cultural details in the Book also find plausibility in the ancient world (the existence of a tradition of written language in the area, for example). Over and over we find the situations described to be entirely plausible: ancient coronation ceremonies, patterns of covenants and treaties, language structures, transoceanic voyages, seasonal patterns in warfare, etc. Do we find elements that are indisputably anachronistic? Many have been alleged, but in virtually every case, good grounds for plausibility can be established. Problems of ignorance and inadequate evidence are real, but are not evidence per se against the text.
But that is not to say that anything can be justified or that there are no grounds possible to reject the Book. Take Nephi's journey through the Arabian peninsula. If his description of the journey could not be plausibly accounted for in terms of Arabian geography with any reasonable interpretation of the text, then we could question the authenticity of the account. In fact, many have done so, for Nephi describes a journey through what all the world knows is just barren dessert - surely no one could survive - with the crowning blunder of arriving at the coastal place called Bountiful, a lush, green place complete with trees, fruit, water, a mountain, ore, flint, etc. All that in the Arabian peninsula? Surely no such place could possibly exist, the critics charge, and thus the Book is false. This is a clear cut issue. We can't escape by arguing about other peoples or translation problems or gross uncertainty of location, for Nephi gives some very precise directions. (He said he went south-southeast from Jerusalem, along the coasts of the Red Sea, came to a burial place called Nahom, then went nearly due east until he arrived at Bountiful on the coast.) The question becomes critical: is Nephi's account plausible? Is there any place in the Arabian peninsula that fits the description of Bountiful? Is it possible to follow Nephi's directions and establish a route that corresponds with the details he gives? If there is absolutely no such place, then the Book of Mormon is a fraud. To establish that there is no such place, it is not enough to rely on general knowledge. We would need to look at topographical maps or satellite maps or actually fly over the eastern coast or Arabia to ensure that there were no lush, green places that came anywhere close to Nephi's description. If none were found, we should also examine evidence of climatic change to rule out the unlikely possibility that the coast may have had lush green spots in the past. We should also see if a south-southeast journey followed by a due east turn would only result in suicidal wanderings through the Empty Quarter in all possible scenarios. If careful examination of the text and the geography and climate of the Arabian Peninsula left absolutely no room for plausibility, then the case could well be closed. Intellectual testimonies of the Book of Mormon would be on a sandy foundation (though we could argue that human knowledge is always limited, tentative, etc. - as some find themselves doing in defending the Genesis account of Creation in the face of opposing mainstream scientific opinion).
On the other hand, if everything about Nephi's journey could be shown to be plausible, based on new information that was completely unavailable to Joseph Smith, then the Book would not necessarily be true - but at least part of it could be plausible. For example, what if modern research had shown that there really was a place on the coast that met every detail of Nephi's description of Bountiful? What if that place were almost exactly due east of an ancient burial place called Nahom, with Nahom being south-south east of Jerusalem, as described, and what if the pathways between those places were established or plausible routes for travel that bypassed the Empty Quarter and had adequate water and game to support a journey? And what if all of these details of the Arabian Peninsula were completely unknown to the Western World in Joseph Smith's day? Then we'd have something interesting, something that ought to give pause to those who immediately dismiss the book as a fraud, although we still could not say that we had proven the Book was true. Maybe it was all just a wildly lucky guess. Maybe aliens in time machines provided Joseph with that information. But we could honestly state that there were grounds for plausibility - the best we can hope for in dealing with the Book in purely intellectual terms.
Do entirely plausible candidates for Bountiful and Nahom exist? They sure do. It's quite exciting, really. Every detail is plausible. In fact, an ancient burial site in the proper, plausible location even carries essentially the same name - Nehem. Wadi Sayq on the eastern coast, due east of Nahom/Nehem, looks like an overwhelmingly plausible candidate for Bountiful. I discuss a few of these details - not all - on my Book of Mormon Evidences page. (I've pointed out the Bountiful/Nahom issue to critics many times - and have yet to receive even an attempt at a plausible explanation for how the details in the Arabian Peninsula could be so accurate if the Book of Mormon were all a fraud. So far, they always change the topic. But I can't blame them. And I suppose until they travel to Yemen and Oman themselves, the photos and geographical details just won't sink in when they are committed to the notion that the Book of Mormon must be false.)
This exercise can be carried out for other places and events, though the supporting evidence is often less dramatic than in the case of Bountiful and Nahom. For example, does a plausible candidate for the Hill Cumorah or the River Sidon exist. Again, the answer is yes. Is the description of ancient cities with cement plausible? Yes. And what about horses? Is that clearly implausible? No - definitely no. Non-European horse remains have been found in Mayan areas, but there is also a multiply plausible possibility of none animals being given the name "horse" when translated from a Semitic text. It's not just handwaving. of the whole exercise is to appreciate what is involved in evaluating an ancient text and its translation.
In case after case, elements in the Book of Mormon that were laughable in Joseph Smith's day are becoming quite plausible as we learn more about geography, language, anthropology, etc. That's just the opposite of what we'd expect if it were a fabrication. Could you fabricate a description of an ancient journey from Bali to Sri Lanka and give cultural, climatic, and geographical that would seem silly to scholars today but would gain increasing plausibility as they learned more about those places in the future? I feel there is a serious responsibility for the learned and the wise people of the world to start asking some hard questions about their refusal to give the Book of Mormon a chance. I extend that challenge to all in the hope that they might read it, think about it, and pray.
It is interesting that our critics are often willing to go to great lengths to resolve apparent contradictions or other problems in the Bible, but are unwilling to even think carefully about the many alleged contradictions and problems they find in the Book of Mormon. If they applied the same critical approach to the Bible, it would be rejected a thousand times over.
I agree that scripture, when properly understood, will be consistent. But finding consistency requires some open-mindedness and careful thought. Instead, our critics begin with their preconceptions about the Bible, compare those preconceptions to the Book of Mormon, and use any discrepancies as sure proof the Book of Mormon is wrong, without being willing to re-examine the preconceptions and assumptions required to come up with the apparent problem. Likewise, many Jews used the scriptures to reject Christ because their preconceptions about the Old Testament were not consistent with Christ's message. And the beloved "zero contradictions" rule still poses severe problems with the New Testament when applied indiscriminately. For example, circumcision, animal sacrifices, and other practices from the Law of Moses were said to be intended for all generations, forever, but the Law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ. It seems like a contradiction unless we understand "forever" to be a figure of speech or to mean "until God declares otherwise."
And if a single contradiction or error is grounds for rejecting a whole book, will the critics then reject the book of Matthew because the author mistakenly attributed a prophecy of Zechariah (Zech. 11:12-13) to Jeremiah in Matthew 27: 9-10? Or perhaps we reject Mark because it contradicts Luke and Matthew as to whether Christ told his newly called apostles to go with or without staves (staffs) (compare Matt. 10:10 and Luke 9:3 to Mark 6:8). But Christ commands us to live by every word of God (Matt. 4:4), so we better strive not to reject His words and seek rather to understand the possible source and significance of real or apparent contradictions on a case by case basis. Minor mistakes pose no serious problem - as long as you accept God as the ultimate authority and accept the continuous guidance God provides through living prophets, rather than being forced to take the untenable position of Biblical self-sufficiency and inerrancy.
And don't forget the problem of translation. For those who don't read Hebrew and Greek, which is the majority of the world, the insistence that we put complete faith and trust in the Bible actually is a plea to put our complete faith and trust in the translators of the text (and in the numerous copyists who transmitted the many differing manuscripts that are used by translators - remembering that no original Biblical manuscripts have been found). Can we trust the translators? They don't agree among themselves, and we usually can't check their skill or intentions, and they haven't been given any miraculous powers or divine ordination as far as we can tell - but we are to put our complete faith in them? In humans who don't even always believe what they are translating? And we can trust their choices and opinions about the meaning of the text on matters affecting our salvation? And if we are to simply trust the translators, which translators do we trust?
The Book of Mormon and the Bible are remarkable compatible, if read with an open mind. Those who have ears to hear the word of God, let them hear. And those who have a mind to reject it will find dozens of reasons to reject. But as the scriptures say, fools mock - but they shall mourn. Please, read the scriptures with an open mind and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to understand the truth.
The argument here is that the Book of Mormon appears to have a mistake "borrowed" from the King James Version. Many scholars now say that the body of water Moses and the Israelites crossed should be called the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea. Since the Book of Mormon also has this mistake, it suggests the concept was lifted from the King James rather than translated from an accurate ancient text. But the argument fails. For one thing, the two terms, Red Sea and Reed Sea, can be interchanged. Scott J. Pierson received the following explanation from a professor of the Oriental Institute at Chicago University, which I quote with permission (pers. corresp., Nov. 1999):
The Gulf of Suez, or the Red Sea, was known as the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, though this name also covers the stretch of land from the head of the Gulf across the land to the Mediterranean Sea. We do not know if the Gulf of Aqaba was named as a separate entity, and if it was what its name would have been.
D.C. Pyle also offers this insight:
Funny thing is, there are critics of the Church who claim that the Book of Mormon is false because it does not mention the Sea of Reeds when referring to the Red Sea in recounting the Exodus. It is true that the phrase _ym swp_ does literally mean Sea of Reeds. It is also true that the various Biblical scholars are saying that the Sea of Reeds is not the Red Sea.
However, the biblical scholars who make such claims are all wet, in my opinion. Why? First of all, the ancient Greeks called what we know as the Red Sea combined with the Indian Ocean, "Red Sea." Lastly, the Bible text itself plainly states that Eloth (modern Elath) was on the shore of _ym swp_ (1 Kings 9:26)! Since _Red Sea_ is our modern equivalent for both the Hebrew term and location, it is perfectly acceptable and logical for the Book of Mormon to contain it as it does.
In the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 19:1 reads:
Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations. [emphasis added]
This verse is a quotation of Isaiah 9:1, which reads in the KJV as follows:
Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
The Book of Mormon deletes "her" from the KJV and changes "sea" to "Red Sea." Based on verse 1 in light of verse 2 from Isaiah, many people conclude that the sea is the Sea of Galilee, not the Red Sea. The KJV for Isaiah 9:2 is:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
So yes, these verse do appear to be a prophecy of the ministry of Christ, and the Sea of Galilee would make sense. So why does the Book of Mormon have the puzzling reference to the Red Sea? Here is a possible explanation offered by D. Charles Pyle in e-mail received June 2004:
There are those who say that this is an error. It is possible that it is a scribal error on the part of Oliver Cowdery in copying the printer's manuscript from the original manuscript. The problem is that this cannot be proven or disproven because this portion of the original manuscript no longer is extant. It also is possible that the Egyptian textual translation of the Hebrew is in error and that Joseph Smith translated it, error and all. On the other hand, it also is possible that it is not an error at all.
The King's Highway also was part of what was known in ancient times as the Way of the Red Sea, which led out of Egypt along the shores of the Red Sea, passed through Edom and changed direction after meeting with the Way of the Sea, in Galilee, to go into Mesopotamia. It is possible that Joseph journeyed this way, or at least part of this way, to avoid going through Judaea when he took Jesus into Nazareth as a young child. If so, it would be quite correct in that the light would pass into the region of Naphtali via the Way of the Red Sea. Joseph sought to avoid contact with Archelaus and a back route would be one of the best ways to avoid contact.
We also know that Jesus went into the wilderness for his temptation after being baptized in a region on the other side of the Jordan. The English Book of Mormon has Bethabara as do several versions of the Bible while [several other translations have] Bethany beyond Jordan. He would then have come down from Galilee to be baptized on the other side of the Jordan (east of the river; 'beyond Jordan' meant to the east of the Jordan River), and come down around the Way of the Red Sea and around the Dead Sea to the Wilderness of Judaea. Remember, Jesus' wandered the wilderness for forty days, plenty of time to travel around the Dead Sea in that manner, that region being one the most inhospitable in the main. There are possible hints that Jesus came through Edom or Idumea. One way that he could have done so is to travel the Way of the Red Sea, which passes through Edom. The records of Jesus' life and travels are scanty at best and it is impossible to know for certainty at this time. In any case, I am not willing to state without good evidence that this passage is in error with any degree of certainty, for in my opinion there is no certainty either way. I have sifted through much contradictory 'evidence' and have formed no solid conclusion on this textual matter.
Bottom line: we're not really sure, but there are a couple of reasonable possibilities consistent with the concept of the Book of Mormon being an authentic ancient text translated by divine aid (but still going through fallible human hands in the process). There is a plausible basis from the ancient world for referring to the sea as the Red Sea. On the other hand, if Joseph were relying on his knowledge of the Bible and fabricating the text, changing "sea" to "Red Sea" would make no sense. What would motivate a Bible literate fabricator to make such a change?
Critics claim that the Book of Mormon account contradicts the Bible. The Bible teaches that there were three hours of darkness when Christ died (Luke 23:44), while the Book of Mormon says that mists of darkness persisted on the land for three days after an intense three-hour storm (3 Nephi 8:19, 23). As is often the case, a closer look at this alleged Book of Mormon problem results in strengthened appreciation for the authenticity and divine origin of the Book of Mormon.
The "mists of darkness" apparently refer to volcanic ash that was present at this time in Central America (Book of Mormon territory) but not in Jerusalem. Many of the literally earth-shaking events described in the Book of Mormon at the time of Christ's death are consistent with what is now known about volcanic activity - quaking ground, cities being buried and burned, changes in water level or tidal waves associated with seismic activity (some cities were sunk), and intense lightning and storms. Most particularly, volcanic activity can result in thick volcanic ash that meets the descriptions of the "mists of darkness" in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 8:19-23)): the ash can be felt, it can overpower people (3 Nephi 10:13), it can make it difficult to light fires (especially when the ash is moist or is associated with rain), it can block out sunlight completely, and it can persist for days (three days, for example). Volcanic activity is strongly implied in the text and is accurately described (and Joseph Smith could not have known such things himself). The only question, then, is whether there is any evidence for volcanic activity in the New World at the time of Christ's death. The amazing answer is yes: there was significant volcanic activity in the New World near the time of Christ's death - and the location is Central America, the limited area that serious LDS scholars have concluded must be the region described in the Book of Mormon. For sources and more evidence concerning the significance of volcanism in the Book of Mormon, see my page on Book of Mormon evidences.
Good question! Nephi wrote that he left Jerusalem after the beginning of the first year of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4). We are pretty sure that this was 597 B.C. Opinions vary as to the date of Christ's birth, with some putting it around 4 B.C. A common LDS interpretation of the date of Christ's birth puts it at April 6, 1 B.C. The problem is that there were only 596 years from that beginning of Zedekiah's reign until 1 B.C. (and fewer years still if an earlier birth date is used). Some LDS writers postulate that 600 is a round number, not meant to be exact. Other suggest the use of a "sacred calendar" system with 360-day years, with plausible grounds. For example, in "Book of Mormon Event Structure: The Ancient Near East" (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1996, pp. 98-147), Robert F. Smith points out that the 360-day year of Mesoamerica seems to solve the problem nicely, and argues that what critics saw as a gaffe actually adds to the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an ancient New World document. However, John Pratt makes a reasonable case that Nephi was actually correct and exact, and that he used normal calendar years. See his article, "Lehi's 600-year Prophecy of the Birth of Christ." The key for John Pratt is that the name Zedekiah may have been a title referring to Jehoiakim. If so, everything works out well. Which of these theories is correct? I'm not sure yet. But it is an interesting question.
A good answer to this common question has been given by Mike Ash at http://www.mormonfortress.com/wheel1.html. Please read that article. Also see "The Wheel in Ancient America" by Paul R. Cheesman, available at SHIELDS, and also "Wheeled Objects in the New World" by the non-LDS writer Diane E. Wirth, published in The Ancient American, Vol. 2, No. 12, Feb/Mar 1996 and "The Wheel," chapter 6 of her book, A Challenge to the Critics: Scholarly Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1986), pp. 58-64.
The Book of Mormon does not say that wheels were had in the Americas, though the word chariot is mentioned. Very little is said about this device, with no indication that it was wheeled. It could have referred to other devices, such as a cloth framework that was dragged, known in Mayan lore, as discussed by Mike Ash.
The idea that the wheel was completely unknown in the Americas is also not quite correct. Wheeled toys have been found in Mesoamerica, and an ancient potter's wheel, long assumed unknown in the America, has been found in Peru. Other tentative examples are offered in the article by Paul Cheesman above. A drawing of one wheeled Mesoamerican toy and a photo of another are shown on page 59 of John L. Sorenson's book, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, Utah: Research Press (1998)).
But if Nephi and others knew of wheels, how did that technology die out? The loss of technology occurs frequently in history. If the early Nephites did not have a need for wheels in the lifestyle they lived, that technology could easily have fallen into disuse. There are many examples of this kind of thing occurring.
The failure to find something clearly identifiable as a "chariot" does not mean they did not exist. From the Bible, we know that numerous chariots were used in Old Testament times, yet Sorenson notes that "no fragment of a chariot has ever been uncovered in the Holy Land" (ibid., p. 59).
Sorenson also notes that the Hebrew roots that are translated as "chariot" in English have dictionary meanings that include "wagon or chariot" as well as "litter, portable couch" or human-borne "sedan" chair (ibid.). In this sense, the term chariot could well refer to the widely used litters in Mesoamerican, wherein elite people would be carried in a plush chair by human servants.
This argument, which seems to be making the rounds these days in anti-Mormon circles, is based on an interesting difference between Isaiah 2:9 and a passage in the Book of Mormon that cites Isaiah 2. In the King James Version, we read, "And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not." In 2 Nephi 12:9, where Isaiah 2 is quoted, it reads "And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not." (So much for the idea that the Book of Mormon slavishly copies the King James text when Bible passages are being quoted. There are many subtle and sometimes significant differences, and, as we will see in for the present case, they often support the notion that the Book of Mormon is an authentic, ancient text.)
The critics note that verses 7 and 8 in Isaiah 2 discuss idolatry. They then argue that verse 9 therefore refers to worship of idols: the mean man (the man of means, or a rich man) bows to an idol, and the great man humbles himself before an idol. If so, God should "forgive them not" as the King James Version has it. The Book of Mormon passage implies that they should not be forgiven because they do not bow to God (worshipping idols instead) and are not humble, both serious and related sins.
Interestingly, in the Jerusalem Bible, there is a footnote for the phrase "do not forgive them" in verse 9: "possibly a gloss" - meaning that the phrase appears questionable (the footnote occurs in my copy, the 1966 edition of the Old Testament of the Jerusalem Bible by Doubleday and Company, Garden City, New Jersey). Something is off in the existing Old Testament text - but the Book of Mormon version makes sense. God is most likely to forgive people when they are humble and bow before him.
If Joseph were making this all up, it's interesting that he would pick a verse that later scholars would recognize as being somewhat problematic and fix it. A problematic verse in existing Old Testament texts shows a significant variant in the Book of Mormon, which claims to be citing an Isaiah text from no later than 600 B.C.
A popular anti-Mormon claim is that the Book of Mormon fails to describe all the Jewish practices that we would expect to read about if the Nephites really were Jews (Hebrews). Where are all the details about dietary laws, sacrifices, rituals, and so forth? Since the Book of Mormon lacks this detail, it can't be an authentic Semitic document and must have been forged by Joseph Smith, who knew little of Jewish practices.
Those who have read and studied the Book of Mormon are often puzzled by this question. One might wonder if the critics have ever read the book that they are attacking. Some have, but they seem to miss several significant points. Those who have read the Book of Mormon will know that the early Nephites were good Hebrews who practiced the law of Moses (2 Nephi 5:10; 25:24; Jarom 1:5; Alma 30:3).
There are multiples references to sacrifices and other ancient Semitic practices, with discussion of the law of Moses and its relationship to faith and the coming Messiah (2 Nephi 11:4; 25:24-30; Jacob 4:5-6; Alma 25:15; 34:14; Mosiah 13:27-35), but there was no need to spell out details and repeat what is already in the books of Moses. Why? Mormon, the editor and compiler of the Book of Mormon, working long after the law of Moses had been done away in Christ, knew that its future readers would have the books of Moses and other records of the Jews. His record - comprising writings from many others - was focused on Christ, who was the promised Messiah to Nephi and early writers before the time of Christ, the Redeemer who fulfilled the law of Moses (3 Nephi 9:17 and 12:17,18; 4 Nephi 1:12). Its purpose is to bring souls to Christ and witness of Christ, not to describe details of early Nephite practices or to recite rules that were no longer relevant.
A slightly more justified question is based on the mention of firstlings of flocks used in burnt offerings in Mosiah 2:3. This is puzzling, since there is no evidence in the Bible that firstlings were used for burnt offerings. This question is discussed in helpful detail in the article Sacrifices and Burnt Offerings in the Book of Mormon at the FARMS site.
Along the same lines is the interesting fact that Lehi built an altar and offered sacrifices after they were a three-days' journey away from Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:6-7). Some have questioned whether good Hebrews would have done this, since Deuteronomy 12 appears to call for centralized worship and animal sacrifice in Jerusalem. However, the meaning of Deuteronomy 12 to ancient Jews has been clarified by the Dead Sea Scrolls. After mentioning Deuteronomy 12 in column 51, column 52 of The Temple Scroll explains that Jews were not to slaughter animals outside of the temple at Jerusalem if the people were within "a distance of a three days' journey" (11QT 52:13-16, as cited by David Rolph Seely, "Lehi's Altar and Sacrifice in the Wilderness," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2001, pp. 63-69). Seely observes that a scholar, Aharon Shemesh, has demonstrated from rabbinical sources that distance of a three-day journey from Jerusalem would include the whole land of Israel, and he concludes that the Temple Scroll interprets Deuteronomy 12 as giving rules that apply to those who are in the land of Israel, but not to those who are outside of it (Aharon Shemesh, "'Three-Days' Journey from the Temple': The Use of this Expression in the Temple Scroll," Dead Sea Scroll Discoveries, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1999, pp. 126-138, and idem, "A New Reading of Temple Scroll 52:13-16. Does this Scroll Permit Sacrifices Outside the Land of Israel?", Proceedings of the Intl. Congress, Fifty Years of the Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. L.H. Schiffman et al., Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2000, pp. 400-410, as cited by Seely, p. 68). He cites examples from rabbinic literature about acceptable temples, altars, and sacrifices by Jews in Egypt - acceptable because they were "outside of the land of Israel." So when Lehi's group has separated themselves from Jerusalem by a three-days' journey, the fact that they then make and altar and offer sacrifice is consistent with modern understanding of ancient Jewish practices, based on insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls. It's a subtle detail - but one of many that Joseph could not have simply faked over and over again by chance.
An interesting practice is found in Alma 8:21, where Alma prays and offers thanks for a meal after eating, not before. This agrees with the ancient Jewish practice, but would have been an utterly foreign practice for Joseph Smith and other Christians in the United States in his day (and ours). Even more interesting subtleties from the ancient Jewish world are found in King Benjamin's speech (Mosiah 1-5), which combines ancient coronation practices, Feast of the Tabernacles concepts, animal sacrifices "according to the law of Moses" (Mos. 2:3), practices regarding the temple and speeches from raised platforms, etc.
Another example involves the centrality of the Exodus theme in the Book of Mormon, include the concept of divine deliverance from captivity. The Exodus paradigm is woven into the discourse and thinking of Book of Mormon writers so deeply and thoroughly that serious students of the Old Testament and ancient Jewish thought cannot escape the rich and subtle and thoroughly Jewish context that permeates the Book of Mormon.
Much more obvious Semitic influence in the Book of Mormon is evident in its poetical forms. Ancient Jewish poetical forms such as chiasmus are found throughout the Book of Mormon in ways that simply could not have been fabricated by Joseph Smith or anyone else in 1830. For further details, see my page on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and my discussion of paired tricola toward the middle of my page, "Bicola, Tricola, Paired Tricola, and Isaiah Variants in 2 Nephi 12 of the Book of Mormon: Authentic Hebrew Poetry?" Also see "A Masterpiece: Alma 36" by John Welch.
An outstanding article on the topic of Semitic influence in the Book of Mormon text is that of John A. Tvedtnes, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Preliminary Survey," BYU Studies, Vol. 11, no. 1 (Autumn 1970), pp. 50-61; see also John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), pp. 77-91. Tvedtnes shows that strong evidences of Hebraic language show through Joseph Smith's translation. It makes no sense if the book were a fraud. Also of value is Richard Grant's page, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, and Angela M. Crowell's Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon (that's page 1 of 11 pages there) and a short article, Hebrew Writing Styles and Idioms by Russell Anderson. The language of the Book of Mormon cannot be explained as the English of Joseph Smith or the King James English of the Bible. It's more Semitic than either. (See also Book of Mormon Authorship by D. Brent Anderson in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.) Yes, the Book of Mormon provides strong evidence, which could not have been fabricated by Joseph Smith, that Book of Mormon peoples had Semitic origins, with their actions and manner of writing showing Jewish roots.
Further, if we look at the Dead Sea Scrolls and see how Jewish people in that community behaved, we find numerous parallels to Book of Mormon peoples that add further levels of authenticity to the text. For example, just think about how the ancient Jews felt about sacred records and the steps they took to preserve them - including burying them to preserve them for future generations. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has added many levels of new appreciation for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon text as an ancient Semitic work.
It is true that the best LDS scholarship puts Book of Mormon lands squarely in Mesoamerica, including regions with numerous Mayan cities. Numerous temples and buildings of stone remain today, but that doesn't mean that Mayans or other Mesoamericans built only with stone. Obviously, stone structures are going to last much longer than wooden ones. Did the Mayans have buildings that could burn? Of course!
I suspect that most people in ancient Mesoamerica lived in structures that could burn easily. Perhaps even the stone temples had wood structures on or in them that could burn. First-hand evidence of the flammable nature of Mayan buildings comes from Diego de Landa, the Spanish friar who gave the West most of what we know about the Mayans at the time of the Spanish conquest. He reports that they lived in homes covered with thatch or palm leaves. This is in section 20 of his book, available in English as "Yucatan Before and After the Conquest," transl. by William Gates, New York: Dover Books, 1978, p. 32. Obviously, stone buildings are very expensive and will be reserved for important civic and religious structures such as temples, palaces, prisons, etc. The ordinary poor Mesoamerican farmer or merchant or laborer would not be expected to have such a dwelling place.
However, the Book of Mormon is not devoid of references to building with stone and cement. Alma 48:8 mentions Nephite defensive efforts, which included "building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities" - walls of stone being listed with banks of earth that also encircled cities. In Alma 14:27-29, we also read of prison walls that tumbled to the earth during the miraculous delivery of two imprisoned prophets. The earth shook, causing the walls to be "rent in twain" and collapse, killing the persecutors of the two prophets and causing a great noise that caused others to come running to the prison. This certainly sounds like stone walls were involved. Regarding cement, Helaman 3:5-9 refers to a northern Nephite region where buildings of cement were used due to the scarcity of timber, apparently from overharvesting. Tourists to Mesoamerica can find ancient cement work in abundance at Teotihuacan (which is in the right area for cement use according to modern models for Book of Mormon geography). Mesoamerican cement was being used at least by the first century B.C. This could not have been known to Joseph Smith. In fact, it would have a blunder for anyone writing in 1830 - but now is one more piece of evidence (though a tiny one!) of authenticity.
The Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient text that does often quote from the Old Testament, as the New Testament does, and as some Old Testament writers do (e.g., Micah or Jeremiah quoting Isaiah). Quoting other texts is not necessarily a rip-off (especially when the source is cited or intended to be well-known to the audience). As for the King James language, in Joseph Smith's day, that was the language of scripture, and it makes sense to use that style for the translation.
John Tvedtnes offered the following insight into the use of KJV language for translation of scripture (e-mail, Sept. 23, 2002):
To be sure, the Book of Mormon was translated into what we often call "King James" Language, though, in fact, the King James version (KJV) of the Bible retained some 80% of Tyndale's English translation and Tyndale was partly dependent on the even older version by Wycliffe. It's a long-standing tradition among Bible versions and only surprises people who are acquainted with modern translations prepared after Joseph Smith's time. I should also point out that several renowned Bible scholars have mimicked KJV style in their own translations of ancient texts. Most notable was Robert Henry Charles, whose two-volume work on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament is still published by Oxford. Because he did his work around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, he rendered the texts into KJV language because that was THE Bible par excellence in his day. So, too, with Joseph Smith.
The Book of Mormon is not a rip off of anything, but a new, ancient, authentic text. For my analysis of related but ill-conceived charges of plagiarism in the Book of Mormon, please see my page, "The Book of Mormon: Stolen from Modern Writings?"
This is a good question, with an interesting answer. The wordiness of the Book of Mormon is actually what we must expect if the writers were using Hebrew or related Semitic languages, for a classic feature of Biblical Hebrew is its apparent wordiness. If the Book of Mormon lacked this basic feature and read like Hemingway, for example, our critics would rail about its lack of Hebraic flavor.
Book of Mormon writers explained that they were engraving on metal and that writing was difficult. However, the difficulty is not necessarily because it was hard to make the engravings - gold or gold-alloys are very soft and it's easy to make engravings. While writing per se is "difficult" compared to speaking, and while engraving is certainly more difficult that using a pen, part of the difficulty may have been the writing system that was used, apparently using an Egyptian-based writing system for their sacred writings, even though Hebrew (or later, a Hebrew-related language) was the language being used by the Nephite writers. In any case, it seems clear that the difficulty in writing and space limitations on the plates did not stop the writers from writing in true Semitic style. They obviously were very selective in what they included, but when they wrote scripture, they wrote in the traditional style of Biblical Hebrew, including the use of seemingly redundant poetical forms like chiasmus and numerous other forms of Biblical parallelism, which seem to be essential elements of Hebrew scripture. Many of these forms of parallelism - all of which involve repetition to some degree - could not have been known to Joseph Smith. One such form of Biblical parallelism, known as "paired tricola," was not even recognized by scholars until the twentieth century, but this form is masterfully present in the writings of Nephi, the writer who was most closely familiar with the literary style of the Jews. Attempts by the critics to explain away chiasmus are pathetically weak (pointing to weak and random forms of it in ordinary writings, while ignoring the deliberate and sophisticated use of it in the Book of Mormon, exemplified by Alma 36).
Rather than get too wordy on this topic on this particular Web page, I've prepared an auxiliary Web page that gets into specific instances of wordy passages that have been cited by some who reject the Book of Mormon. For details, see my new page, "Is the Book of Mormon too Wordy to Be True?" at http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/wordy.shtml.
Easy. It was written with small characters. Janne M. Sjodahl addressed this issue thoroughly in the April 1923 Improvement Era. His article, "The Book of Mormon Plates," is reprinted in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2001, pp. 22-24. The first page of the article shows Hebrew script written by Henry Miller. In a rectangle originally seven by eight inches in size (now less than six by seven inches as printed), Miller has written legible Hebrew script containing a translation of fourteen pages of the Book of Mormon. Sjodahl estimates that at this density of text, the entire Book of Mormon could be put onto 21 plates having dimensions of seven by eight inches, as Martin Harris estimated the size to be. If there were 50 plates per inch in a 4-inch thick volume, then the one-third of the plates that were unsealed would be about 67. Since legible Hebrew characters could hold the entire Book of Mormon on 21 plates, a figure of 67 plates would allow larger, more legible characters to be used. In 1927, Henry Miller repeated his exercise with a larger paleo-Hebrew script, in which 7 pages of the Book of Mormon were written in a small box (less than six by seven inches as printed on page 24 of the 2001 publication). At this density, about 42 plates would be needed for the whole Book of Mormon. The dimensions of these characters and those of the 1923 Hebrew translation are consistent with the dimensions of Hebrew characters found in other ancient engravings. While Hebrew written with pen or brush is usually larger, when it was engraved on ancient seals, bullae, or weights, small characters were used, with dimensions as small as one millimeter square and typically in the range of 1 to 3 millimeters square (see John Gee, "Epigraphic Considerations on Janne Sjodahl's Experiment with Nephite Writing," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2001, p. 25). Miller's 1927 document uses characters that are 1.5 millimeters square.
Of course, the script used to write the Book of Mormon was not classic or paleo-Hebrew, but something later called "reformed Egyptian," which presumably was more compact. In any case, it would have been possible to have put the entire Book of Mormon on one-third of the metal plates, based on the physical descriptions we have of the plates. The small size of characters required to fit the text on the plates is consistent with the observation of witnesses. Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt said, "The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved," and John Whitmer said, "There were fine engravings on both sides" (see Kirk B. Henrichsen, "How Witnesses Described the Gold Plates," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2001, pp. 16-21). And John Gee (op. cit.) observes that the use of small characters might explain Jacob's comment about "the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates" (Jacob 4:1) and Moroni's comment that "we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands" (Ether 12:24).
Now stop and think: if the plates had never existed, and no witnesses had seen them, would we expect there to be any reasonable correlation between the alleged dimensions of the plates and the length of the English text? Joseph knew nothing of ancient Hebrew engravings and the use of small characters. He knew nothing about the relationship between Hebrew and English and how much English one could expect from a given amount of Hebrew. Was he just lucky that there would be a plausible mathematical explanation for the amount of text obtained from the stated dimensions of the plates? Anti-Mormon critics with much more formal education than Joseph Smith have long ridiculed the Book of Mormon on this point, saying that Joseph blundered in telling the world that he got the whole book from just one-third of the plates, for they couldn't possibly hold the text. Was he just fortunate that it wasn't a blunder after all? Or did the witnesses actually see plates with real characters, that Joseph translated by the power of God? (Hint: the Book of Mormon is true. Don't reject the sacred word of God!)
Here is the specific question (slightly modified for clarity) that I received in 2003:
I was reading the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible and also the comparable scriptures in the Book of Mormon. I came to the first verse in Mathew chapter 7 ("Judge not, that ye be not judged") and also the comparable verse in the Book of Mormon, 3rd Nephi chapter 14, verse 1. I found them to be the same. But here's the thing that didn't make any sense to me: I then found that the Joseph Smith translation of the fist verse in Matthew 7 altered the verse dramatically to "Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment." The related verse in the Book of Mormon was not changed. It seems to show that Joseph Smith made a mistake, either in the JST or in the Book Of Mormon.
If the Joseph Smith translation was inspired, then why doesn't it always agree with the Book of Mormon version of the Sermon on the Mount or other passages?
There are a few examples in which the Joseph Smith translation makes changes that are not reflected in the Book of Mormon. It's important to understand that the JST was not intended to always represent an actual translation of any text or a restoration of the original text, though some of that appears to be present (it also was never completed nor canonized, and was simply a work in progress when Joseph was murdered). In some cases, it seems clear that Joseph is clarifying passages that may seem difficult, confusing, or unclear. In other cases, related passages or prophecies from other scriptural or ancient texts may have been added to enhance the clarity or completeness of the message.
For example, when the Lord says "judge not," in the context of the Sermon, it's pretty clear that He really means "judge not unrighteously" because it is obviously necessary that we have to evaluate and judge to some degree in order to deal with other people. In fact, in John 7:24, He states: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." He would be directly contradicting His own words in Matthew 7:1 unless we understand the implied meaning to judge not unrighteously. John 7:24 can be used to clarify what Matthew 7:1 is all about. (Alma 41:14 in the Book of Mormon also reiterates the need to judge righteously.) Thus, it's entirely reasonable for Joseph Smith to add an inspired clarification to more explicitly harmonize the passage with the rest of scripture and common sense as part of his efforts to make an inspired "translation" of the Bible, which was not a literal translation in the sense we normally use.
Several critics have been alleging that 2 Nephi 10:7 is a false prophecy. Referring to the Jews, this verse says:
"But behold, thus saith the Lord God: When the day cometh that they shall believe in me, that I am Christ, then have I covenanted with their fathers that they shall be restored in the flesh, upon the earth, unto the lands of their inheritance."
Today the Jews are back in their lands, but generally do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. The allegation is made that the Book of Mormon is wrong, for the Jews have been gathered and, for the most part, do not believe in Christ. I think they overlook the possibility that this is a prophecy in the process of being fulfilled, with many years yet to go. It's far too early to complain about this verse!
Ray Woodward has granted me permission to quote his response to this issue:
Although some critics claim 2 Nephi 10:7 is a false prophecy, the truth is this prophecy has already been partially fulfilled: since the first publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, some Jews have believed that Jesus is the Christ. As a result, they have returned to some of their lands with the assistance of the nations of the Gentiles (vv. 7-9). But for the most part, the Jews have not believed. Consequently, they have not been restored in the flesh unto "all" their lands.
Even though "all" is not mentioned in 2 Nephi 10:7, it is mentioned earlier in 2 Nephi 9:2:". . . when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise." (Emphasis mine)
Here, the comma after "inheritance" indicates that the previous quote is not a single clause with a compound predicate; but rather, two clauses. In the second clause, the subject is omitted, but understood. In addition, these two clauses are written; so that, the expression, "the lands of their inheritance," is in parallel with the expression, "all their lands of promise." This parallelism reveals that in the author's mind these two expressions are synonymous:"'Parallelism' is a stylistic form in which what is essentially the same idea is expressed twice over (or even more often) in parallel clauses or groups of clauses: the thought is the same, but the words are different." (F.F. Bruce, "Introduction to the Poetical Literature," in The International Bible Commentary, ed. by F.F. Bruce, Zondervan Publ. House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, p. 91)
With this parallelism in mind, we now have a better understanding of what the same author meant in 2 Nephi 10:7:"But behold, thus saith the Lord God: When the day cometh that they shall believe in me, that I am Christ, then have I covenanted with their fathers that they shall be restored in the flesh, upon the earth, unto [all their lands of promise]."
Therefore, because the Jews are not restored in the flesh unto "all" their lands, 2 Nephi 10:7 can and will be completely fulfilled in the future when the Jews as a whole believe that Jesus is the Christ.
The Americas truly have remarkable complexity in language, with roughly 100 major language families. But what does that actually imply about the Book of Mormon? The question that is being asked is based on a serious error in understanding, for the Book of Mormon DOES NOT say that all Native Americans descended from Lehi. In fact, there is strong evidence in the text that other population groups were present in the limited area described by the Book of Mormon, and no reason to doubt that many other groups were present in other parts of the hemisphere. It is a gross misconception to think that the Book of Mormon describes the only origins of all ancient peoples in the Americas, though some LDS people have made that assumption. For details on this issue, see John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived, Did They Find Others in the Land?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies Vol. 1. No. 1, 1992, pp. 1-34, and see my page on "DNA Evidence and the Book of Mormon."
Since there obviously were many people in the Americas when Lehi landed, and since the presence of these other people is compatible with Book of Mormon claims, the fact that there is huge diversity in Native American languages poses no fundamental problem for the Book of Mormon. In fact, the complexity of Native American languages poses an even more serious problem for those who attack the Book of Mormon by citing the popular theory that Asians crossing the Bering Strait were the sole source of all Native Americans. Daniel Peterson explains in his article, "Yet More Abuse of B. H. Roberts," FARMS Review of Books (Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, pp. 69-86):
Furthermore, it might be noted that the remarkable linguistic complexity of the pre-Columbian New World is rather difficult to explain on the basis of any unitary theory of Indian origins, including the one that has them all coming across a Siberian land bridge. As one recent discussion of the subject observes, "Of the world's approximately 3000 languages, that is tongues that are mutually unintelligible, about 400 were spoken in the Western Hemisphere." But it is not merely the number of languages that impresses; far more than that, it is their variety and distinctness:Linguists, beginning with Major John Wesley Powell in the 19th century, have classified these languages into about 100 "families" of genetically related tongues, similar in scope to the Indo-European family (which includes most of the languages of Europe, Persia and India). [Michael Coe, Dean Snow, and Elizabeth Benson, Atlas of Ancient America (New York, N.Y.: Facts on File, 1986), p. 13]
In other words, there were approximately one hundred language families in pre-Columbian America that were as distinct from one another as the Indo-European family (which is made up of such varied languages as English, Sanskrit, Russian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Norwegian, Persian, Irish Gaelic, and Hindi) is distinct from Chinese, Sumerian, and Arabic. Furthermore, even in the view of those most committed to an Asian origin for the American Indian, at best only a few languages of the New World can be even tentatively linked with Asian tongues:With the exception of Eskimo, speakers of which are found on both sides of the Bering Straits, no native American language has been found to have positive connections with any in the Old World, although some arguments have been advanced for the affinity of Athapascan (spoken in northwestern North America and by the Navajo and Apache of the American Southwest) and certain languages of eastern Asia. [Ibid., pp.13 , 15]
Thus, despite the uncontested fact that mainstream anthropological opinion overwhelmingly agrees that the ancestors of the American Indians came from Asia, even very establishment discussions of pre-Columbian linguistics acknowledge that "one cannot point out Asiatic origins for New World languages." [Ibid., 15. On the same page, the authors express their strong belief in the solely Asiatic, Mongoloid origin of the Amerindians.]
All of which goes to say that the diversity of Amerindian languages presents no greater a puzzle to believers in the Book of Mormon than it would to Mr. Spencer [the critic to whom Daniel Peterson is responding], were he to consider the matter carefully. (Incidentally, it is rather amusing to see fundamentalist Protestants, in their efforts to discredit the Book of Mormon, making use of anthropological theories about Ice Age Asiatic immigrants crossing a land bridge at the Bering Straits twenty thousand years ago. How do they reconcile such theories with their typically literal reading of the first chapters of Genesis? Contemporary anthropology, they should note, is a sword that can cut both ways.)
Daniel Peterson also addresses objections based on the apparent absence of Hebrew in surviving Native American languages, noting that:
It is not at all uncommon for a language to disappear quite completely when it is covered up by foreign invasions or colonization, or when its speakers are assimilated into another, often larger, population. Very little Etruscan, for instance, survived into Latin, and even less exists in modern Italian, Spanish, or French. Indications of the ancient pharaonic language are quite rare in Egyptian Arabic. No Sumerian lives on in the Arabic dialects of Iraq. American English preserves only a few American Indian terms. English has virtually eliminated Irish Gaelic. The Greek of such great Hellenistic cities as Antioch and Alexandria is irretrievably gone. These examples could be multiplied indefinitely. Few things are better attested in human history than the death of languages.
But the question, as stated, appears to rest on a debatable presupposition in any case. It is not universally conceded that "there [is] no indication of Hebrew in any of the Indian languages." One recent study presents 108 equivalences between Semitic languages (particularly Hebrew), and the languages of the Uto-Aztecan family (which include such tongues as Paiute and Shoshone, Hopi, and the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl). The similarities do not demonstrate that the Uto-Aztecan languages descend from Hebrew alone, but they certainly hint, if they are genuine, that Hebrew may have been among the ancestors of those languages [reference given below]. Given that the Book of Mormon does not require all American Indians and their languages to descend only from Hebrew stock, such a conclusion, if accurate, is entirely consistent with Latter-day Saint belief.
Peterson's footnote for the above quote is:
Brian D. Stubbs, "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 1-49. Compare Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting, 74-81; Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 279-81. For evidence, well beyond a Latter-day Saint context, for the presence of Hebrew in pre-Columbian America, see J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Cherokee or Hebrew?" Tennessee Anthropologist 13/2 (1988): 79-123; Cyrus H. Gordon, "A Hebrew Inscription Authenticated," in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 1:67-80; and the debate between J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?" Biblical Archaeology Review 19/4 (July-August 1993): 46-53, 82-3, and p. Kyle McCarter, "Let's Be Serious about the Bat Creek Stone," Biblical Archaeological Review 19/4 (July-August 1993): 54-5, 83. Matthew Roper surveys the current state of the question on the Bat Creek materials in the present issue of this Review, on pages 139-43. Compare Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 29-31.
Again, if there were many language groups already on the continent, and the Hebrew-speaking immigrants were a tiny minority, we need not expect to find significant traces of Hebrew. Languages can fade and die quickly. But there may be traces of Hebrew after all. Further scholarship in this area is needed. Sadly, there a very few linguists with expertise in both Hebrew and Native American languages, so many possible relationships may have been missed. Be patient.
No, absolutely not. There are contradictions between Martin's account the various accounts of Charles Anthon, but from the major internal inconsistency in Anthon's accounts, it is clear that he has fabricated parts of his story. See B.F. Sperry's account, Some Problems Arising from Martin Harris' Visit to Professor Charles Anthon.
Further, if Charles Anthon did not tell Martin Harris that the characters appeared authentic, then it is hard to believe that the already skeptical Martin Harris, a respected and cautious farmer with a reputation for integrity, would then be convinced enough of Joseph Smith's claims that he would immediately mortgage his farm to support the publication of the Book of Mormon. The most logical explanation is that Charles Anthon did make the statement Martin Harris reported. While Anthon undoubtedly could not have translated the characters, he may have stated that the translation appeared correct to help get involved in the project and gain access to the precious relics. When that possibility was ruled out, he withdrew his support and tore up his statement of authenticity. In any case, Martin returned with his doubts assuaged.
Here is a related question that was posed to John Tvedtnes:
How does the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Mormon belief that the Bible was changed through the translations over the years? In my understanding, these scrolls, which were written before the apostasy, closely match the Masoretic Texts written during the apostasy, which closely match the scripture that we use today. Am I missing something?
Here is John's answer, received in e-mail from 2004:
The Dead Sea Scrolls include portions of all of our Old Testament canon except Esther, along with many texts that were not included in the Bible as we know it, though some are known from other ancient manuscripts. There are, however, many variants and, in fact, different versions. For example, there are several different versions of Exodus and Samuel (1 and 2 Samuel were a single book at that time). One of the Samuel manuscripts has information found in no other Bible versions, while others have material found in the Greek Septuagint of the 3rd century B.C. but not found in the Hebrew texts from which English Bibles have been translated. The late Yehezkel Kutscher of the Hebrew University wrote an entire book on the variants between the larger Isaiah Scroll found in cave 1 and the Masoretic Hebrew text that has been used in synagogues for centuries and was the basis for our English Bibles. Fundamentalist Christians, believing that the Bible is complete and inerrant, take exception with Latter-day Saint views of the Bible, but the scholarly evidence suggests that there have always been problems of transmission of Bible texts. Some of the Isaiah variants from the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Book of Mormon quotes from Isaiah, while others support the Massoretic text and still others support neither.
No, the story can be accepted at face value and doesn't pose any legitimate problems to accepting the Book of Mormon as a legitimate ancient text translated with the power of God. The way God does things, though, frequently differs from the many alternative pathways that we are always eager to propose, which is the real source of the complaints people have about this part of the Book of Mormon story.
The translation of the Book of Mormon involves the curious fact that a portion of what he originally translated was given to Martin Harris to show his doubting wife, and these pages, all 116 of them, were lost and never returned. This translation involved a portion of the plates that gave the account of Lehi and the secular record of the early Nephites. When the pages were lost, Joseph was devastated and the work of translation was stopped by the Lord for a period of time. The Lord reprimanded Joseph for allowing the translation to fall into hands of the enemies of the Church, who were waiting for the retranslation to come out to entrap Joseph (they had altered parts of the text necessary to claim that Joseph was a fraud even if the retranslation were identical). But the Lord had already prepared for this disaster with a seemingly redundant record, the "small plates of Nephi," at the end of the main gold plates, added by the prophet-editor Mormon for reasons he didn't understand, but which saved the day and provided an appropriate beginning to the Book of Mormon but from a different source for which the alterations made by unnamed enemies would be irrelevant. Latter-day Saints see this story as illustrative of the fallibility of Joseph and the cleverness of the Lord, able to prepare for human disaster centuries in advance with a clever solution.
Of course, we can offer endless alternate scenarios for how the problem could have been handled. God could have prevented the theft of the 116 pages or transported them back by special angelic delivery to Joseph's hands. But Latter-day Saints also see lessons about how the Lord helps us to cope and grants enemies their free agency to carry out their evil deeds, using "big miracles" like smiting bad guys as little as possible and leaving as much as possible in the hands of his servants, with painful learning experiences along the way. We can offer many other ways to deal with the situation, but I trust the Lord and His ways and suggest we live with it.
For some critics, though, the story of the lost 116 pages in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is utterly ridiculous. Some say it shows Joseph was just making things up on the fly and would have all sorts of accidental changes as he went through the fabrication process a second time, so for safety, he just punted with the first part of the record and concocted the story of the small plates. This is the "Joseph was an idiot with bad memory" theory. The story of the 116 pages from that perspective directly challenges the popular theory of "Joseph got help from Sidney Rigdon or some other very smart person" to create the impressive and remarkably self-consistent text of the Book of Mormon. These theories based on plagiarism and texts from the likes of Solomon Spaulding or Sidney Rigdon or both assume that there was some text that had been prepared and carefully edited over many months or even years in preparation for the grand Book of Mormon scheme. When Joseph was dictating the Book of Mormon to his scribes, he must have been reading from the pre-written manuscript. If such a manuscript existed, then it would have been no trouble reading it again exactly as read before.
A more imaginative anti-Mormon "solution" to the origins of the Book of Mormon has been proposed. Robert W. Thurston's Unlocking the Great Mormon Mystery: A Radically New Approach to Deciphering Mormon Origins (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2008) is actually one of the "best" and most responsible anti-Mormon books that I have read--"responsible" in the sense that it actually acknowledges the existence of pro-Book of Mormon scholarship from people such as Stephen Ricks and Daniel Peterson of BYU rather than just alleging that there is no serious evidence of any kind for ancient origins. Thurston has seen the evidence, recognizes that some of it can be quite impressive, and has to conclude that the Book of Mormon could not have been authored by the likes of Joseph Smith. In that sense, he's actually ahead of many Latter-day Saints in appreciating the richness of the Book of Mormon text. And I'll also credit him for a generally enjoyable and readable style in his writing.
His imaginative solution takes an old, tired theory and gives it an interesting new twist. Thurston argues, as a number of others have, that the Book of Mormon is far too sophisticated to have been written by Joseph, so it must have come from--you guessed it--Sidney Rigdon with the aid of Solomon Spalding, well educated men with access to scholarly resources, men who were able to put years into their masterpiece of deceit (Hebraisms! Arabian Peninsula details! even the Narrative of Zosimus!). Their carefully drafted manuscript only had to be dictated by an alleged prophet who would claim to be "translating" a text from gold plates. This man would be their partner in crime, Joseph Smith, Jr. The scheme was designed to bring Sidney access to religious power and fame, and would give Joseph a chance to introduce polygamy so he could party with lots of wild Mormon women (when he wasn't being jailed or tarred and feathered, that is).
The basic framework of Thurston's solution, the Spalding theory via Sidney Rigdon, is easily refuted and has been rather dead for years (more on that later), but there is a cute twist: the doomed manuscript that Joseph gave to Martin Harris was actually not the 116 pages of partially completed dictation to a scribe, but, through a horrific and remarkably stupid blunder, the full, big, original manuscript, the much lengthier Spalding manuscript itself that was the basis for the whole fraud that Sidney and Joseph were developing. This hypothesis supposedly solves several problems.
Thurston, claiming to use advanced problem solving skills akin to the legendary Sherlock Holmes, insists that perplexing little details in the story may be the key to finding the surprising truth. One of the great little details that others allegedly ignore and he uses as a key to discovery is the reaction of Joseph Smith to the loss of the manuscript he gave to Martin Harris. Thurston says Joseph's gloom-and-doom reaction is completely illogical if he were a prophet of God. If a prophet, Joseph would have just shrugged off the loss and said, "OK, let's retranslate." Or he could have relied on the powerful Angel Moroni to simply transport the manuscript back into his hands. No trouble! But the depression and anxiety shows something else was going on, according to Thurston.
Here I begin to have trouble with Thurston's analysis--or perhaps it's just a personality thing. He must be a very easy-going fellow who doesn't understand what it feels like for some people ("spiritual Type A" perhaps?) to take on a huge responsibility, to feel the full weight of an important project or duty affecting other lives, and then to make mistakes that lead to failure. For some of us, failure, especially when it is clearly our fault, is a terribly painful ordeal. I have felt similar pain for much smaller and less serious blunders. Maybe Joseph, like me, was more prone to guilt trips than the general population, but to dismiss his reaction as absurd is sloppy. Joseph's reaction makes sense to me and I can accept it at face value. Maybe Thurston would have been comfortable telling the Almighty that he had just lost the sacred manuscript he was supposed to publish and "let's just start again--no problem, right?" But it was a much bigger failure for Joseph.
If Joseph were a fraud, argues Thurston, his reaction still poses difficulties. Losing the dictated text, the 116 pages, is an inconvenience that simply requires starting over to dictate the "translation" exactly as before. Just a few days of copying would be lost. But if Joseph had an original manuscript with a carefully written text upon which all depended, and then, through amazing stupidity, handed that to Martin Harris instead of the smaller 116 pages, it truly would have been a disaster. That's the interesting twist proposed by Thurston, and I have to credit him for creative thinking here and for significantly advancing the cause of the Spalding Theory. The Spalding Manuscript itself is what Joseph foolishly handed to Martin Harris, according to Thurston.
Such a mistake by Joseph would be a double disaster, actually, because the manuscript was lost and their main source of funds for the scheme, Martin Harris, might be lost as well. Instead of strengthening his faith in the work to lead him to give financial support, he would be puzzled about receiving the full manuscript when it was supposed to be only partially translated, only 116 pages so far. He might notice that the text was already complete and in someone else's handwriting, or perhaps, I would suggest, he might see that it looked like a carefully written and edited manuscript that had been around for years, not a fresh dictation to a scribe. Gratefully, Thurston acknowledges that Martin Harris can't just be dismissed as a con-man accomplice knowingly supporting a crooked scheme (the same actually applies to the other witnesses such as Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, but this is conveniently overlooked and they remain knowing accomplices of Joseph's outrageous fraud in Thurston's model). So the concern was that Martin, the one they needed to dupe to gain access to his funds to publish their book, might, uh, begin to have misgivings. He would need to be given revived confidence in Joseph the "prophet" and the divinity of the Book of Mormon. How to rescue the scheme? Here comes another creative twist with a kicker that I just love.
With Sidney's brilliant help, a backup plan was quickly concocted in short order. The "small plates" story was contrived and a new Book of Mormon text was crafted on the fly (hey, how then do we fit in all the intricate details that had been crafted in the lost original manuscript?). Further, to regain Martin Harris's trust, Joseph and Sidney concocted the "three witnesses scheme" in which those in one the con job (Joseph, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon) would use peer pressure and trickery to make Martin Harris think he saw an angel and the plates, and thus become convinced enough to sacrifice vast wealth and his reputation for the cause. As for the Angel Moroni that Martin would "see," it was actually just the voice of Sidney Rigdon--um, hiding behind a tree. That's the best part. I love it! Not much to actually "see" in this scenario, but the voice part can be explained fairly well. Sidney certainly had one.
This may be the most enjoyable anti-Mormon book of the decade, and one of the few with the courage to admit that there is any kind of scholarship on the pro-Book of Mormon side. Many bonus points for that. He discusses chiasmus, Hebraisms, confirmations from Arabian geography, cool parallels to the Narrative of Zosimus, word print studies and even the Mesoamerican limited geography theory as a plausible location for Book of Mormon events, and attempts to explain it all as good scholarship (good? maybe "genius," "visionary," or even "prophetic" would be better) by Sidney in collaboration with Spalding, drawing upon the scholarship of Alexander Campbell and others.
His fresh take on the old Spalding theory is interesting, but when it comes to confronting the reality of numerous witnesses with track records, reputations, and lifelong commitment to the divine origins of the Book of Mormon, well, Thurston's theory simply falls flat. It doesn't come close to matching the details of the lives and testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the many other facts associated with the witnesses to the plates, the witnesses to the translation processes, and the other details of the Book of Mormon story. And seriously, Sidney behind a tree as the Angel Moroni--an event that would change Martin's life, motivate him to sacrifice all for the cause of the Book of Mormon, and be part of his vibrant testimony to the day he died? Well, Sidney did have a great voice, I guess.
Update, Sept. 18., 2012: How disappointed I am to learn that Thurston's imaginative reworking of the Three Witnesses story, with Sidney Rigdon starring as the voice of the Angel Moroni, is not quite his original contribution after all. In fact, the core of this scenario is over a century old and comes from a 1908 book by William Heth Whitsitt--an author not mentioned by Thurston. It would be unjust to accuse Thurston of plagiarism--he probably picked up the idea from some other anti-Mormon source that plagiarized Whitsitt without credit, and then drew upon it in this work, perhaps unconsciously, dressing it up a bit, and not feeling a need to give credit. That's OK, I guess, but it would have been helpful to know where such an amusing solution came from so we can all give proper credit. The information that unlocks the mystery of the origins of Thurston's Three Witnesses scenario comes from FAIRLDS, in a short page on the alleged missing, second Spalding manuscript. Here is the relevant text (note that Solomon Spalding's name can be been spelled both "Spalding" and "Spaulding"):
The discovery and publishing of the [Spaulding] manuscript put to rest the Spaulding theory for several decades. But in the early 20th century the theory surfaced again, only this time its advocates claimed there was a second Spaulding manuscript that was the real source for the Book of Mormon. However, supporters of the revised Spaulding theory have not produced this second purported manuscript. They do, however, rely upon early works such as a 1908 book written by William Heth Whitsitt called Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism. The entire book is based upon Whitsitt's initial assumption that Rigdon and Spalding wrote the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt then proceeds to fit the known facts to match that assumption. One of the most amusing parts of the book is the attempt to explain the experience of the Three Witnesses. In Whitsitt's book, Sidney plays the Angel Moroni and the Spalding manuscript itself (the second, undiscovered one) actually plays the part of the gold plates! According to Whitsitt:It is suspected that Mr. Rigdon was somewhere present in the undergrowth of the forest where the little company were assembled, and being in plain hearing of their devotions he could easily step forward at a signal from Joseph, and exhibit several of the most faded leaves of the manuscript, which from having been kept a series of years since the death of Spaulding would assume the yellow appearance that is well known in such circumstances. At a distance from the station which they occupied the writing on these yellow sheets of paper would also appear to their excited imagination in the light of engravings; Sidney was likewise very well equal to the task of uttering the assurances which Smith affirms the angel was kind enough to supply concerning the genuineness of the "plates" and the correctness of the translation.
OK, Thurston's scenario (or whoever it was that created it) "improves" upon Whitsitt by keeping Rigdon behind the tree and relying more fully on imagination to fill in the appearance of the angel and the plates, but it's still pretty similar. One must remember that anti-Mormon writings are not nearly as original as they seem. There is a great deal of unacknowledged borrowing going on, especially in the works accusing Joseph Smith of plagiarism. Understanding that principle can help us in unlocking the many mysteries of anti-Mormonism.
A fascinating question, actually, and one that teaches us several lessons. Yes, there are some parallels to consider for a number of Book of Mormon names. There are some critics who look at the parallels and wonder how anyone could be so stupid as to believe in the Book of Mormon. Some feel it is the most compelling evidence for plagiarism yet--and they may be right about that, but this "most compelling evidence yet" is still pretty weak when you dig into the details. I've attempted to do that on my post at Mormanity entitled "Book of Mormon Plagiarism: The Hawaiian Connection." My post was the basis for a related entry in the FAIRMormon Wiki, Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Place names from North America. I'll refer you to both of those pages for the details. If you don't have time, the bottom line is that the alleged parallels leave little of note once you recognize that some of the US place names weren't given until after the Book of Mormon came out, others are common Biblical names, others are for places so small or obscure that Joseph probably would not have known about them, and they are also scattered over such a large geographic area as to represent a few scattered needles in a haystack of geographical names. As I show on my Mormanity post, you can find a much higher density of "hits" and many more hits by looking at place names in the tiny Hawaiian islands. That doesn't prove that Joseph was using Hawaii to create the Book of Mormon, but does demonstrate that rough parallels in place names by themselves might not mean much.
The Book of Mormon and the Fullness of the Gospel - An excellent essay by Michael B. Parker answering the common anti-LDS allegation that the Book of Mormon cannot have the "fullness of the Gospel" as the Lord told Joseph Smith (they claim that the book would have to contain all LDS doctrines, but that is hardly what the Lord meant).
Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon - information on issues like coins, glass, the glowing stones in the Book of Ether, etc.
The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Archaeology Question - excellent insight into claims that the Bible has been "proven" by archeology, unlike the Book of Mormon. Includes some good satire.