Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Royal Skousen on the Witnesses - Part 1

Just for a fun change of pace, the last couple of days I posted some images to prod a goofy anonymous critic who, as I expected, posted his typically goofy responses.

Today, though, I'm posting something serious. 

It was one thing for the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) theory to worm its way into the Gospel Topics Essays. Next, it surfaced in the Saints book and in the Ensign. Nevertheless, careful readers and students could easily detect the factual and logical fallacies of SITH. 

Now, though, we're about to see a more serious effort to embed SITH in LDS thought.

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First, I emphasize that this discussion is not intended for those who think the translation of the Book of Mormon is unimportant or irrelevant. Lots of people accept the Book of Mormon on its face for what it teaches and what it means to them. I have no problem with that at all. They don't care where it came from or how it originated. That's all great. There are people in every religion who take that approach to their respective sacred texts. Anyone who has been a missionary has encountered such people, and that's fine. It's wonderful. If you're in that category, you don't need to read the rest of this post.

This discussion is for those who think the origin of the Book of Mormon matters. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery spoke about it as a critical aspect of the divine authenticity of the book. It's difficult to argue otherwise, particularly for those who seek to share the Book of Mormon with the world outside the believers. I cannot imagine what life is like for missionaries who have to tell people that the Book of Mormon came from a stone in a hat, but statistics show it's not a very successful approach.

The bizarre aspect of the discussion is that SITH as the source of the Book of Mormon is not well supported by the historical evidence in the first place. But neither are claims that SITH is a lie.  

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Royal Skousen, the top scholar of the Book of Mormon manuscripts, posted a preliminary version of his next book, which focuses on the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. 

I admire and respect Brother Skousen and I cherish his detailed research. His research is highly influential throughout the Church, deservedly so. His book on the witnesses will likely be considered the definitive statement about those witnesses.

Which is an enormous problem, in my opinion.

In his manuscript, not only does Brother Skousen strongly endorse SITH, but he concludes that Oliver and Joseph gave statements about the translation that were “only partially true” and appear to be “intentionally misleading.” 

Notice how that also sums up the conclusions of our M2C scholars regarding what Joseph and Oliver taught about the New York Cumorah.

While I embrace Brother Skousen's factual research, I don't agree with his conclusions because I think his assumptions are flawed and not supported by the evidence. 

Because I don't see anyone else credibly resisting what the scholars are doing, or even offering a plausible alternative, I took some time to analyze Brother Skousen's document. You can read part 1 here:

https://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/2021/09/royal-skousen-on-witnesses-of-book-of.html

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By now, readers here know that the stone-in-the-hat narrative (SITH) has replaced the traditional teaching that Joseph Smith translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim (U&T). 

Many LDS scholars have joined long-time critics to teach that Joseph never really translated anything, but instead he merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat. 

I realize some LDS authors have responded by claiming all evidence of SITH is bogus or a lie, but that's not historically accurate or even plausible. Plus, it undermines the credibility of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Most of all, such an approach is not necessary to defend and support what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

There is unmistakable, unambiguous, obvious historical evidence to support both scenarios. 

Joseph, Oliver, and Lucy Mack Smith all explained that Joseph translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim. 

Others, including David Whitmer, Emma Smith, and Martin Harris, claimed that they observed Joseph dictating while his face was in a hat, reading words that appeared on a seer stone. The SITH scenario involves what I call the MIST (mysterious incognito supernatural translator) who had the power to cause words to appear on a stone, which became a sort of supernatural teleprompter.  

Reconciling the evidence has been a challenge. As I describe in my review of Brother Skousen's book, there are four main alternatives. See which one makes the most sense to you.


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