long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Witnesses, SITH, and the tipping point

A few notes (trigger warning for SITH/M2C promoters):

The Witnesses movie is generating a lot of discussion on social media because of SITH (the stone-in-the-hat). The movie adopts the approach taken by Mormonism Unvailed, the 1834 anti-Mormon book that claimed Joseph never even used the plates but produced the Book of Mormon by reading a "peep stone" he put in a hat. 

John Dehlin of MormonStories is delighted. SITH is one of his key points, as he explains on TikTok (31.7k views in one day, 800 views on twitter)

There's no pushback against SITH from any Church leaders or prominent scholars. 

Instead, Kawku promotes SITH as a feature, not a bug. Our scholars fall all over themselves trying to justify SITH (much as they did with the Hoffman documents decades ago).  

Like other intellectual trends, we can see the origins of SITH among LDS academics even before Rough Stone Rolling came out, but that book pushed it into the mainstream. I think Rough Stone Rolling is an exceptional, timely, and useful book, but it portrayed some interpretations as fact and overlooked other facts, as I indicated in Part 1 of my summary, here: 

Saints and the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation formalized SITH, mainly by ignoring historical sources that corroborate what Joseph and Oliver taught and instead relying on sources that, on a surface level, contradicted what Joseph and Oliver taught. The Essay never even quotes what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation with the Urim and Thummim. Instead, it focuses on the theories of various academics.

The Urim and Thummim is essentially de-correlated. 

No one is claiming any revelation about what happened in Church history to overturn what Joseph and Oliver taught. The new narrative is based purely on revisionist historical interpretation of the same facts everyone has known for over 150 years. People today, looking at some historical evidence while ignoring other evidence, thereby conclude Joseph's contemporaries and successors were wrong. 

This is the same process by which Cumorah was de-correlated.  

Consequently, SITH has become the prevailing narrative in our day. 

And that's great for those who believe it. If you think it's awesome that the Book of Mormon is the product of words appearing on a stone in a hat, and not a translation of the ancient Nephite plates (as Joseph and Oliver claimed), good for you. I'm not going to say you're wrong. People can and will believe whatever they want.

But it seems likely (and statistics indicate) that most people will not accept that narrative, whether they are inside or outside the Church. In 1834, Mormonism Unvailed promoted SITH because the author knew it undermined the credibility of Joseph and Oliver. Detractors today promote SITH for the same reason. 

There are alternative interpretations of the evidence.

For example, the Stoddards and others reject SITH by saying David Whitmer, Emma, Martin Harris etc. were liars. However, that plays into the critical narrative that the witnesses were dishonest. 

This is the mirror image of the SITH/M2C approach; i.e., we can believe some of what the witnesses said, but we have to reject other things they said, based on what we want to be true. 

Similarly, our M2C scholars (M2C=Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory) reject what the witnesses said about Cumorah because they want Cumorah to be in Mexico to fit their theories. But they still expect people to believe SITH based on what the witnesses said. It's transparent cherry picking.

Now you see why I've been saying that:


They've all reached a consensus that the prophets are wrong any time they disagree with the prophets.

If they disagree, they disagree only with regard to which things the prophets were wrong about--a distinction without a difference.

I realize there are numerous interpretations of the evidence, ranging from Joseph seeing the words on a stone (or in vision) to Joseph composing, memorizing or reading the text. Some even say that when Joseph and Oliver testified about the Urim and Thummim, they deliberately misled people because they knew they were really referring to the stone Joseph found in a well; i.e., they used misleading terminology.

People can believe whatever they want, and that's fine with me.

But I've looked at all these explanations and none of them make sense to me. That's why I looked at the evidence for myself.

So far, the only explanation I'm aware of that reconciles Joseph and Oliver as credible, and David and Emma as credible, is the demonstration narrative I set out in A Man that Can Translate.

I'm completely open to any better explanations. If you know of one, email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.

There are still some Latter-day Saints who believe what the prophets have taught about both the translation and the historicity of the Book of Mormon, including the New York Cumorah. This is not "blind faith" or "blind obedience." This is recognizing that the people involved with the events are more credible than arm-chair commentators distant in time and space. It is also recognizing science- and fact-based, rational analysis supports and corroborates the teachings of the prophets.

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