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An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself

An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself

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An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself

478 pages
6 heures
Jun 15, 2013


My first impression in reading this text was that it was rightly named in its title. Indeed the author intends to lead the reader through an exploration of a book that he describes as an imperfect book, and does so in a way that enables the book to speak for itself. Given the fact that so many approach the Book of Mormon through lenses already adjusted to read the text for apologetic purposes, I found the author’s engagement of the Book of Mormon to be respectfully and critically refreshing. Feeling unable to rely on historians, archeologists, self-designated authorities, or others with sure knowledge of the Book of Mormon, the author turns to the book itself for what it might reveal about itself. Rather than turning to external evidences to vindicate the central claims of the Book of Mormon, the author invites the reader to explore internal evidences to be discovered in the book itself. He does this while engaging a broad range of contemporary scholarship.

Dale E. Luffman, Association for Mormon Letters
Jun 15, 2013

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An Imperfect Book - Earl M. Wunderli

An Imperfect




Earl M. Wunderli

Signature Books | Salt Lake City | 2013

Copyright 2013 Signature Books. Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

Quality Paperback edition, ISNB 978-1-56085-230-8

For more information, consult www.signaturebooks.com.

Cover design by Ron Stucki.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Wunderli, Earl M., author.

An imperfect book : what the Book of Mormon tells us about itself /

by Earl M. Wunderli.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references.

Summary: Examines questions surrounding Book of Mormon issues such as

Native Americans as descendants of ancient Hebrews, Jesus’s visit to the

western hemisphere, restoration of pure Christianity.

ISBN 978-1-56085-230-8 (alk. paper)

1. Book of Mormon—Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Church of Jesus

Christ of Latter-day Saints—Apologetic works. I. Title.

BX8627.W86 2013





1: Overview

2: Problems with the Bible in the Book of Mormon

3: Words and Phrases

4: Proper Names

5: Prophecies

6: Curiosities

7: LDS Scholarly Defenses

8: Political, Scientific, and Religious Ideas


Appendix 4-1: Names for Deity, and Derivatives, in The Book of Mormon

Appendix 4-2: Nephite, Jaredite, and Biblical Names

Appendix 4-3: Nephite and Jaredite Names Found in the Bible

Appendix 4-4: Possible Deprivation of Names

Maps And Illustrations


Joseph said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion.¹

Like others born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I wondered, as a young adult, whether my church—known informally as the Mormon or LDS Church and headquartered in Salt Lake City—was what it claimed to be. And like many other Mormons, I eventually found my answer in the Book of Mormon. This book of scripture is considered both the foundation upon which the church is built and its keystone. The religion founded by Joseph Smith is said to be built on either a firm foundation or a shaky one, standing or falling when the keystone remains in place or is removed. Thus, the Book of Mormon seemed like a logical place to find my answer.

The Book of Mormon gives accounts of two Old World peoples led by God to the Americas. The first, called the Jaredites, are said to have come from the Tower of Babel about 2200 BCE when the Lord scattered the people upon the face of all the earth (Ether 1:33; cf. Gen. 11:8). They live in the western hemisphere until about 600 BCE when they destroy themselves about the time other people arrive. Their history, through their civil war, is written by their last surviving prophet, Ether.

The second group, consisting of the prophet Lehi and his immediate family, and a few others, leaves Jerusalem, followed by another small group of Israelites. Lehi’s family divides into two factions. One of those follows Nephi, Lehi’s God-fearing son; the other follows Nephi’s rebellious oldest brother, Laman, and is cursed with a dark skin. The Nephites, being righteous, remain light-skinned and soon merge with the Mulekites, the other Israelite immigrants. Their history covers about 1,000 years and is written by Nephite prophets. Before their genocide, their accounts are condensed by a prophet named Mormon. It ends with another civil war in which the Lamanites destroy the Nephites and survive as Native Americans. Mormon’s son, Moroni, is the last surviving Nephite. Moroni condenses Ether’s history and hides it, along with Mormon’s condensed Nephite history, in a hill near Joseph Smith’s future home in Palmyra, New York.

In 1823, Moroni appears to Joseph Smith as an angel and reveals the location of the hidden records, which Moroni explains are engraved on gold plates and are buried alongside a supernatural instrument used for translating them. Joseph Smith is eventually permitted to retrieve the records in 1827 when he is not quite twenty-two years old. He dictates his translation to various scribes in 1828-29 and publishes it as the Book of Mormon in 1830.

In Defense of Evidence

One of the few things that defenders and critics of the Book of Mormon agree on is that the book is either what it purports to be or it is not; in short, it is either true or false. It is not, as some peacemakers have wanted to argue, inspired scripture that is not actual history.² Defenders and critics disagree over whether faith or reason is the proper method for finding out, and as every Mormon knows, Moroni, in his last chapter of the book, tells readers to pray to know whether the Book of Mormon is true. Moroni exhorts readers to ponder it in their hearts, to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true. If we ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto us, we are told, by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moro. 10:3-4). Church leaders and LDS scholars alike quote Moroni as the means to know the Book of Mormon is the word of God.³ Two contributors to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism note that the position of the Church … has invariably been that the truth of Joseph Smith’s testimony can be validated through the witness of the Holy Ghost.

Critics prefer evidence and reason over faith and prayer as the method for testing truth. In a classic science vs. religion argument—that is, evidence and reason vs. faith and prayer—a former LDS educator calls these opposing epistemologies rationalism and emotionalism. In other words, Moroni’s exhortation does not reflect the rationalism of the Enlightenment, which favors evidence and reason, but rather the evangelical Protestantism of Joseph Smith’s time and place, which favored faith and prayer. For Mormons, personal inspiration is favored over empiricism as a higher means of substantiating the book’s antiquity. American psychologist William James wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience, after studying hundreds of people who had received inspired promptings from God, that despite the reality of a religious experience to the recipient, it cannot be used as an actual source in determining truth because the conflicting claims of different mystics are doctrinally incompatible.

It is not clear why we, as individuals, prefer one or the other method on questions of religion. It may be our worldview.⁶ For example, one LDS scholar insists that mortals must live by faith because divine realities are veiled from their physical senses.⁷ Another possibility is that we recognize early on the appeal of one orientation or the other. One LDS scholar said that for him, it was obvious from childhood that the Book of Mormon is true and he never had any questions about the Book of Mormon that troubled [his] faith.⁸ Another wrote that he had an empirical bent, through which belief derives from evidence.⁹ Perhaps it is not fixed in us at all because there are those who later change their reliance on evidence and reason to accept faith and prayer for answers or vice versa.¹⁰ But so long as we adhere to different preferences, we are likely to come to different results, as reflected in an exchange of several letters between two friends about their beliefs. One of them, who was active LDS, concluded: I’m afraid that the river between us is still unbridged—and perhaps unbridgeable. The reason for that, as I see it, is essentially epistemological—I accept spiritual revelation as a valid way of knowing and you do not.¹¹

Why one person relies on faith and another on reason is a fascinating question but not one to be resolved here because regardless of which approach we use, there are at least two reasons why we should engage evidence and reason in examining the Book of Mormon. The first is that the Book of Mormon invites an evidentiary approach. LDS scholar and defender of the Book of Mormon Terryl Givens refers to the artifactual reality regarding the Book of Mormon plates and other ancient items found with them:

Why, one can fairly ask, should it be necessary to spiritualize what are, in essence, presented as archaeological artifacts? Dream-visions may be in the mind of the beholder, but gold plates are not subject to such facile psychologizing. They were, in the angel’s words, buried in a nearby hillside, not in Joseph’s psyche or religious unconscious, and they chronicle a history of this hemisphere, not a heavenly city to come. As such, the claims and experiences of the prophet are thrust irretrievably into the public sphere, no longer subject to his private acts of interpretation alone. It is this fact, the intrusion of Joseph’s message into the realm of the concrete, historical, and empirical, that dramatically alters the terms by which the public will engage this new religious phenomenon.¹²

Louis Midgley, in a review of Givens’s book, agrees and argues that the claims made by the Book of Mormon are open to critical inspection by scholars using whatever means they have at their disposal, that the Book of Mormon does not ask to be shielded from such inspection. In other words, artifactual reality subjects the founding text to the exacting scrutiny of scholarship.¹³

The second reason is that virtually every aspect of the book has been, in fact, examined by defenders and critics alike. Givens confirms that Mormons are unwilling to forego the resources of scholarship in shoring up the Book of Mormon’s historicity. Church leaders, he writes, have taken to embracing the position of Austin Farrer: … ‘what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.’¹⁴

Defenders examine the evidence extensively and deeply even though it remains for them secondary to a witness of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, in 1984, one LDS scholar noted that Book of Mormon scholarship was so wide and deep today that no single person can possibly keep up on all aspects of it.¹⁵ This was before the subsequent explosion in further research. In 2002, Givens was pleased to report that researchers at BYU and FARMS [Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies] continue their work at a blistering pace, that a 1995 bibliography listed over 6,500 entries on the Book of Mormon.¹⁶ Another LDS scholar regarded research as a way to reinforce and encourage individual testimonies by fostering understanding and appreciation of the scriptures, belief in which is ultimately a matter of faith and requires divine witness.¹⁷ Some LDS scholars refer to particular evidence not just as fostering understanding and appreciation of the scriptures but as strong, if not irrefutable, proof of the Book of Mormon’s historicity.¹⁸

In fact, LDS scholars aggressively defend the Book of Mormon with supportive evidence and by refuting critics and their evidence. For example, when critics pointed to the failure of archaeologists to find records of ancient Jewish people in the western hemisphere,¹⁹ an LDS anthropologist replied that there were Nephite records before the Native Americans destroyed them all.²⁰

In other words, both defenders and critics of the Book of Mormon rigorously engage the evidence. Since 1830, both have offered arguments supporting or challenging the book’s historicity. Both have dealt with so-called higher criticism, which largely developed after 1830 but has added to our understanding of the Bible and to biblical material in the Book of Mormon. Historians have explored the religious excitement, or Second Great Awakening, that occurred in New York during the 1820s, as well as Masonic connections to Mormonism. Linguists, not having the gold plates to study because they were retrieved by the angel, have examined Joseph Smith’s translations of Egyptian papyri that are still extant. Darwinism, which came a generation after Joseph Smith, challenged the biblical account of creation, which is embedded in the Book of Mormon. Recent work in DNA confirms that Native Americans are Asiatic in origin.

All this can easily overwhelm anyone who wants to study it. Much of it is beyond the competence of any one person. Defenders and critics often interpret the evidence differently. Most of us, as one lawyer writes, are in no position to determine who is right.²¹ To enter this morass is daunting. In 1996, one scholar from the Community of Christ (then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) observed that "Mormon and non-Mormon scholars have debated the … origins of the Book of Mormon back and forth ad nauseam for a half century without resolution."²²

EXternal and Internal Evidence

My own entry into Book of Mormon research began quite innocently. As a young lawyer, I acquired a reproduction of the first edition of the Book of Mormon. One issue in the air at that time was the significance of the changes in the book between the first edition and the 1920 version. Critics argued that changes discredited the book since it was supposed to have been translated by the gift and power of God. Defenders maintained that changes only corrected typographical errors or improved grammar and meant nothing. Critics countered that if the widely accepted account of the translation process was true—that Joseph Smith would bury his head in a hat with a seer stone and dictate to his scribe the translated words as they appeared to him, which would not disappear until they had been transcribed correctly—there was no room for any change, let alone changes that altered the meaning of the text. Defenders insisted that our knowledge of the translation process is sketchy and that the prophet who translated the book approved the changes.

With copies of the first and current editions in hand, I set out to find what the changes were and to determine whether the critics or defenders of the Book of Mormon were right. I read the current edition aloud while my wife noted each change in the first edition. When we finished, we had the facts. That alone was enormously satisfying. They affirmed what both sides had found, that there are anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 changes, depending on how one characterized them.²³ Contrary to one argument of the defenders, few of the changes merely correct typographical errors. Most of them do improve on backwoods English, such as the change from this they done to this they did or from unto them which to unto those who. Indeed, Joseph Smith changed which to who 707 times for the 1837 edition.²⁴ A few of the changes seemed to change the meaning, altering behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father, to "behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father" (1 Ne. 11:21; also 1 Ne. 11:18, 32; 13:40). Defenders insisted that this was just a clarification.

The changes were comforting in a sense, in that they were facts about which I could be certain. They were based on an examination of the Book of Mormon alone. The value of internal evidence is that it is accessible and verifiable by anyone. It does not change, and it is fairly understandable. As valuable as historical, linguistic, archaeological, and other external evidence is, it leaves room for disagreement and uncertainty because it is, by its nature, incomplete, hard to access, or difficult to understand. We know little for certain about the translation process (see chapter one). There is no consensus even among the faithful. If recollections of early witnesses are true and the translation was revealed word for word, there would seem to be no room for any but typographical changes. If, according to other accounts, Joseph Smith was inspired as he worked out the translation in his mind—if the translation had to filter through an imperfect agent—the result could reflect his vernacular and require later changes. Without an understanding of the process, the significance of the changes remained unclear. There seemed to be disagreement, especially between defenders and critics, on everything in Mormon history. Indeed, Mormon and non-Mormon scholars could have sharp differences with each other, such as Hugh Nibley responding to Fawn Brodie’s 1945 biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, with his 1946 pamphlet, No Ma’am, That’s Not History. Brodie, the niece of future church president David O. McKay, wrote her book to answer a lot of questions for herself and then, having discovered the answers, … to give other young doubting Mormons a chance to see the evidence.²⁵ Nibley, with his recently completed PhD in ancient history, was to become, according to one writer, the best-known and most highly revered of Latter-day Saint scholars.²⁶ Few would disagree. Brodie and Nibley have been praised and pilloried by their supporters and detractors since.

I felt unable to rely on historians, archaeologists, linguists, or others for sure knowledge about the Book of Mormon and turned to the book itself for what it could reveal about itself. Since each change from the first edition occurred and was a reliable fact, why not look to see what other facts were right there in the book itself? I felt I needed to begin with that in order to resolve in my own mind the disagreements among the experts. The facts might turn out to mean nothing by themselves, divorced from the wealth of historical, archaeological, geographic, linguistic, and other facts and interpretations external to the book, but I suspected they would mean something. Indeed, only the internal evidence could answer another question in the air. Some LDS scholars claimed that the several ancient authors of the Book of Mormon differed from one another in writing style, which if true, would support the authenticity of the book. I had never seen the evidence. If I had every word and phrase used by every author, I thought I could compare the several authors myself. This was as far as my imagination carried me when I began to prepare an index of every word in the Book of Mormon, but I was determined to see whether Joseph Smith could have written the book. I prepared the index manually, years before computer technology was available, and it took over a decade. I needed, as a stake in the ground, an analysis of the Book of Mormon itself, apart from all the external evidence that confused more than enlightened me. So far as I knew, no one else had done such an analysis, and as far as I know, no one else has yet. As one writer noted, LDS scholars focus "mainly on external evidence to vindicate the central claim of the Book of Mormon, that it is a divinely inspired book based on the history of an ancient culture."²⁷

I was not then aware of the internal examination of the book by the Reverend Martin T. Lamb back in 1887, although his examination was based on judgments made as a Baptist minister. For example, his first objection to the book was that "it has no trace of God’s hand upon it. No divine stamp. Everything about [it] is human, very, very human. He compared the beautiful simplicity and sublimity of biblical scripture with the inelegant and uncalled for repetitions, the unnecessary verbiage" in the Book of Mormon.²⁸ No trace of God’s hand, sublimity, and unnecessary verbiage are personal judgments, albeit educated ones backed by examples. I wanted, to the extent possible, evidence that spoke for itself.

Nor was I yet aware of a 1920s study by B. H. Roberts, who is widely regarded as the foremost intellectual in Mormon history.²⁹ More than anyone else, he established in Mormondom the distinction between external and internal evidences that had already been applied to the study of the Bible.³⁰ Roberts observed in 1922 that there is much internal evidence in the book to support the view that Joseph Smith authored it, based on a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history, showing an undeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency.³¹ Like Lamb’s judgments, a certain lack of perspective and reasonableness are informed conclusions tied closely to the internal and external evidence.

Lamb, as a critic, was essentially disregarded by defenders of the Book of Mormon, and Roberts is said to have written for the benefit of those who wanted to know how to successfully defend the book against critics, not to persuade the public.³² I wanted as much as possible to deal with simple facts and what they meant. My quest has not been completely realized because judgments must be made about what the facts mean, and such judgments are not made in a vacuum.

My effort got me into a consideration of biblical passages that appear in the Book of Mormon, the proper names used by the Nephites and Jaredites, the prophecies, and things that I consider to be curiosities. I examined everything I could think of to determine whether several ancient authors could have written the book or whether it was the work of a single writer. Since completing my analysis, I have reviewed much of what defenders and critics have written about one piece or another of the internal evidence. For example, one scholar commented on the literary structure and three others challenged whether the book could be a product of early nineteenth-century American folk culture. Of those, Hugh Nibley compared the Book of Mormon and Near Eastern cultures; BYU law professor John Welch identified ancient literary patterns in the Book of Mormon; and Richard Bushman compared Nephite and early nineteenth-century American political assumptions.³³ All three studies compared internal with external evidence.

Critics replied in kind. For example, the internal evidence indicates that the author or authors believed God the Father and Christ the Son are one God, which differs from the current teachings of the LDS church on the nature of the Godhead. In an extensive paper, one scholar included rich historical detail about how the monotheistic God of the Book of Mormon became the tritheistic God of today’s LDS church.³⁴ The internal evidence reveals a nearly identical Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the King James Version (KJV), which would seem to show that Joseph Smith copied the sermon from the KJV. A study of the original text of Matthew’s version of the sermon confirmed that Joseph Smith copied the KJV blindly, not showing awareness of translation problems and errors in the KJV.³⁵

While the textual origin of the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon is fairly obvious, some scholars have discovered less obvious borrowings from the Bible. For example, David Wright, who was terminated from BYU as an assistant professor of Hebrew and Near Eastern Languages because of his view that the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth-century work,³⁶ argued that Alma 12-13 depended on Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews written 200 years later.³⁷ UCLA English professor Robert Rees agreed, finding this more plausible than what some apologists argued, that there was an ancient prototype that served as a source for both Alma and Hebrews.³⁸ Wright and Rees differ on the meaning of this unavoidable conclusion. Wright views the dependence of Alma 12-13 on the Bible as an anachronism, which suggests Joseph Smith’s composition. Rees believes the Book of Mormon is "both an ancient and a modern text, arguing for a more liberal, open concept of translation. This would include Joseph Smith’s turning to a scripture … he was familiar [with] in order to find a fuller expression" of Alma’s idea.³⁹

All the examples show the intimate connection between internal and external evidence. Even my comparison of the God of the Book of Mormon and the God of today’s church invokes the external evidence of church doctrine. To find biblical passages in the Book of Mormon involves looking outside the Book of Mormon to the Bible. I admire scriptural scholars and value their work. Many scholars, both defenders and critics of the Book of Mormon, have done sound research. Any comprehensive analysis of the evidence supporting or refuting the historicity of the Book of Mormon must take into account the internal and external evidence together. However, my training is in the law and not in historical or archaeological research or ancient languages. I have limited myself to the fairly obvious internal evidence as the contribution to the search that falls within my area of competence. Some scholars may be critical of my narrow focus, but I had a sense early on that internal evidence had a peculiar value. Indeed, as recently as 1992, John Welch opined that treasures await the pondering mind that contemplates virtually every word, idiom, figure of speech, or semantic value in the Book of Mormon, and that many valuable insights wait to be uncovered by careful scrutiny of Book of Mormon expressions. He noted that several studies were underway to examine distinctive words and phrases in the book.⁴⁰ I welcome this unintended endorsement of research like mine.

We lay people cannot as readily ignore the text we read, as we might the external evidence related to the First Vision or Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papyri, which we leave to experts to battle over. Internal evidence is available for everyone to ponder, and it is not going to change. Its availability seems to be its peculiar value. As it turns out, there is a large amount of it that we can analyze to infer a lot about who wrote the Book of Mormon.

1. Wilford Woodruff journal, Nov. 28, 1841, LDS Archives; also Susan Staker, ed., Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 49.

2. LDS scholar Louis Midgley, for example, rejects some ‘new middle ground’ between or beyond the polarities of authentic ancient history or fraudulent composition—and hence also between Joseph Smith as seer or charlatan, prophet or blasphemer, kingdom builder or disturber of the peace. He insists that one must choose between these radically different alternatives (Louis C. Midgley, New Book a Milestone in Mormon Studies, Insights, May 2002, 1).

3. See Richard L. Anderson, Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses, in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), 56-57; Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 338-39.

4. D. Brent Anderson and Diane E. Wirth, Authorship of the Book of Mormon, in To All the World: The Book of Mormon Articles from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, comps. Daniel H. Ludlow, S. Kent Brown, and John W. Welch (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 15.

5. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 130-33. See also Thomas W. Murphy, Simply Implausible: DNA and a Mesoamerican Setting for the Book of Mormon, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 4 (Winter 2003): 109-10, 130.

6. L. Jackson Newell, Scapegoats and Scarecrows in Our Town: When the Interests of Church and Community Collide, Sunstone, Dec. 1993, 24.

7. Douglas E. Brinley, Faith in Jesus Christ, in Book of Mormon Articles, 92.

8. An Interview with John L. Sorensen, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11, no. 1 (2002): 80-81. See also James E. Faulconer, Loving the Book of Mormon, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11, no. 1 (2002): 86; Ludlow, Companion to Your Study, 342.

9. Levi S. Peterson, My Early College Years, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 168.

10. See Richard L. Bushman, My Belief, Brigham Young University Studies 25, no. 2 (Spring 1985): 29-30; David O. Tolman, Search for an Epistemology: Three Views of Science and Religion and Response, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 103. See also Robert Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 185, in which the author describes the possible movement from faith to reason in early twentieth-century LDS general authority and intellectual Brigham H. Roberts. Regarding the story in the Book of Mormon of 2,060 youths who are wounded in battle but all of them survive, Roberts noted in early writings that they were preserved according to their faith in God. Years later, however, he regarded this as a beautiful story of faith! Beautiful story of mother-assurance! Is it History? Or is it a wonder-tale of a pious but immature mind? Was Roberts losing his faith? We do not know for sure. One LDS writer suggests that Roberts may have been acting as devil’s advocate (Truman Madsen, B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young University Studies 19, no. 4 [Summer 1979]: 427-45; Madsen, B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon, in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 7-31).

11. Anonymous, Letters of Belief: An Exchange of Thoughts and Feelings about the Mormon Faith, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 9, no. 3 (Fall 1974): 20.

12. Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 42.

13. Midgley, New Book a Milestone, 5-6.

14. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 118.

15. John L. Sorenson, Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Ensign, Sept. 1984, 26.

16. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 132.

17. John Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and Sermon on the Mount (Provo: FARMS, 1999), v-vi.

18. See John L. Sorenson, The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record, in Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, 398-99.

19. See Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2000), vii.

20. Sorenson, Book of Mormon as Mesoamerican Record, 425-26.

21. L. Rex Sears, Philosophical Christian Apology Meets ‘Rational’ Mormon Theology, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 90.

22. Roger Launius, From Old to New Mormon History: Fawn Brodie and the Legacy of Scholarly Analysis of Mormonism, in Newell G. Bringhurst, ed., Reconsidering No Man Knows My History (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996), 206.

23. As LaMar Peterson noted in his own study, the difference in definition of exactly what is a ‘change’ var[ied] from author to author. The Creation of the Book of Mormon: A Historical Inquiry (Salt Lake City: Freethinker Press, 1998), 109.

24. Douglas Campbell, ‘White’ or ‘Pure’: Five Vignettes, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 124.

25. Shirley E. Stephenson, Fawn McKay Brodie: An Oral History Interview, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14, no. 2 (Summer 1981): 106.

26. Kent P. Jackson, review of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 1, Old Testament and Related Studies, in Brigham Young University Studies 28, no. 4 (Fall 1988): 114.

27. Eugene England, Why Nephi Killed Laban: Reflections on the Truth of the Book of Mormon, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22, no. 3 (Fall 1989): 32, emphasis added.

28. M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible: or The Book of Mormon, Is It From God? (New York: Ward and Drummond, 1887) 12, 13, 18, 20, emphasis in the original.

29. Stan Larson, Intellectuals in Mormon History: An Update, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26, no. 3 (Fall 1993): 189.

30. Davis Bitton, B. H. Roberts and Book of Mormon Scholarship: Early Twentieth Century, Age of Transition, in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 2 (1999): 63.

31. B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, ed. Brigham D. Madsen (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 251.

32. Madsen, B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon, 440.

33. Noel B. Reynolds, Nephi’s Outline, in Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship, 54.

34. Melodie Moench Charles, Book of Mormon Christology, in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 81-114.

35. Stan Larson, The Historicity of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi, in Metcalfe, New Approaches, 132.

36. David P. Wright, Statement, together with news article, BYU Professor Terminated for Book of Mormon Beliefs, Sunstone, May 1988, 43-44.

37. David P. Wright, ‘In Plain Terms That We May Understand’: Joseph Smith’s Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12-13, in Metcalfe, New Approaches, 166.

38. Robert A. Rees, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 107.

39. Ibid., 106, 108.

40. John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 282.

1: Overview

The Book of Mormon seems to be structured around three or four main ideas that are recognized by scholars as themes. The first is that Native Americans are Hebrew in origin, or as one researcher writes, The central themes of the book revolve around the depiction of the American Indians as transplanted Israelites.¹

The second idea is that the Book of Mormon would restore pure Christianity to an apostate world. According to one religious historian, the danger of ‘going astray’ from doctrinal truth and the need for establishing the one true fold are major and recurrent themes of the Book of Mormon.² The third idea is that the resurrected Jesus visited the Nephites in the western hemisphere, or as early twentieth-century church intellectual B. H. Roberts wrote, "It is, as is well known, the great feature of the Book of Mormon, that Jesus Christ visited the land of America after his resurrection, and ministered unto the people here."³

A fourth characteristic of the Book of Mormon narrative is a repeated cycle of ruin and renewal, depending on whether the people were rebellious or repentant.⁴ One scholar writes that in the Hebrew Bible we can see this same cycle of righteousness, followed by prosperity, followed by pride, followed by wickedness and then downfall, followed by humility and a return to righteousness. However, we see it more easily in the Book of Mormon because it shows the pattern so clearly.

These concepts were all available to Joseph Smith. For instance, one of the prevailing theories about American Indians was that they were part of the scattering of Israel. The Book of Mormon’s embrace of Native Americans as Hebrew is nevertheless problematic, and today Mormon defenders and critics alike accept the Asiatic origin of these earliest New World inhabitants. Defenders argue that the Israelites of the Book of Mormon were small colonies that were absorbed by the indigenous peoples and lost their separate identity, including their DNA (see chapter 7).

The interest of Joseph Smith and his family in the one true church was probably heightened by the Second Great Awakening that swept western New York, when Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists vied for popular allegiance.⁶ Restoring ancient Christianity in an age of apostasy was a common quest at that time on the part of people called seekers. The visit of the resurrected Jesus to the western hemisphere may have been suggested by Jesus’s own statement that he had other sheep to visit (John 10:16; 3 Ne. 15:21), which fits well with the establishment of pure Christianity among the Nephites. The cycles of destruction and repentance may have been Joseph Smith’s sense of how history unfolds, based on his familiarity with the Bible.

These main ideas are reflected in the structure of the book. In broad outline, the book brings Israelites to the western hemisphere (first idea), then jumps over several hundred years to the ups and downs of the Nephites and Lamanites (fourth idea) and the founding of the church (second idea), leading up to Jesus’s visit (third idea), then jumps over another several hundred years to the final destruction of the Nephites and the survival of the Lamanites as Native Americans (first

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