Friday, July 1, 2022

Under the banner of the Interpreter, episode 4

In this episode, we'll address the underlying issue of SITH vs U&T.

In 1997, Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson published a book titled How Wide the Divide? A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation

The Interpreter's reviews of two of my latest books leads me to wonder, how wide is the divide? Because the citation cartel refuses to have a conversation, I'll offer one in this post. 

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User Interfaces. The outside world presents identical chemistry and physics to each of us, but we experience life through our individual, unique user interfaces; i.e., our bodies, minds, and spirits. Our tastes in food, art, entertainment, sports, religion, politics, science, history--all of these and more reflect our user interfaces. Our interfaces are basically computer code, written by our DNA, our education, culture, language, and our family, social and life experiences. 

Years ago, when the first Macintosh was released, I bought one right away. IIRC, it cost $2,495, a lot of money back then. It had 128k floppy disks and no hard drive. (I later bought a 5 megabyte hard drive that weighed nearly as much as the Mac itself.) At the time, everyone was using PCs with MS-DOS, a character-based interface. Everyone thought the Mac was "weird." 

My bosses at the time asked me to demonstrate it to them and the staff. They thought it was a toy and didn't see the point when they could simply type cmd prompts to do what they wanted.

Microsoft released an "Interface manager" that superimposed a graphic interface over MS-DOS but was clunky and not competitive with the Mac. Of course, Microsoft had a much larger installed base, but ordinary people intuitively preferred the graphic interface over the character interface. Microsoft innovated until Windows became not only competitive with the Macintosh operating system, but even better according to many users.

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Different interpretations of Church history and Book of Mormon historicity are like different user interfaces. I frequently discuss M2C and SITH because those two theories aim directly at the heart of the keystone of our religion: the Book of Mormon. 

My user interface operates by believing what Joseph and Oliver taught. Others have a different user interface. That doesn't bother me at all, any more than I care whether someone uses a Mac or a PC, an iPhone or an Android. 

But, apparently, the people running the M2C/SITH citation cartels and their followers insist that everyone needs to use their user interface.

Let's have a conversation about what that means.

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I'm well aware that many Latter-day Saints say it doesn't matter how Joseph produced the Book of Mormon because they know it's true. I respect that. Some adherents of every religion simply believe regardless of what anyone says. Anyone who has served a mission has encountered this approach because most people in the world consider their beliefs integral to their identity and worldview. 

We could say they have the spiritual gift of "exceedingly great faith" (Moroni 10:11). And that's awesome. 

But that's just one of the spiritual gifts Moroni listed. For those who have different gifts, a different approach may be more useful.

And it's obvious that the vast majority of God's children don't have the gift of "exceedingly great faith," at least not in the sense of believing it doesn't matter how Joseph produced the Book of Mormon--especially when they are told he produced it by reading words off a peep stone he found in a well long before he got the plates, and that he didn't use the plates at all.

In my case, I have great faith, but I also think it matters how Joseph produced the Book of Mormon, partly because he said it mattered and he took efforts to distance himself from the peep stone narrative, as we'll see in an upcoming episode.

As an aside, I suppose the gift of "exceedingly great faith" might extend to having faith in the teachings of the "Interpreters" who write for and publish the "Interpreter." That's a gift I definitely lack. Instead, I follow the adage "trust, but verify," and when I verify, I often find it was a mistake to trust these scholars.

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Speaking of conversations, here's the gist of one that occurs thousands of times daily around the world, either in person or over the Internet.

Missionary (handing over a Book of Mormon): "I'd like to share with you another testament of Jesus Christ."

Friend (taking the book): "Awesome! Where did you get this?"

Missionary: "From a prophet named Joseph Smith."

Friend: "Who? When was this?"

Missionary: "In 1823, a resurrected being told Joseph, who was seventeen at the time, living in rural New York in the United States, that an ancient record had been written and deposited in a hill near his house."

Friend: "Really?"

Missionary: "Yes, and it tells us about Christ. Joseph got the record, which had been written on metal plates. Then he translated it into English and had it printed."

Friend: "How did he translate it if it was an ancient language? How did he know the language?" 

Missionary: "See, here's the thing. He didn't know the language. If you look here at the beginning of the book and read his history, he said he translated it, but actually, our scholars have discovered that he didn't really translate it."

Friend: "Huh? Why are you telling me this?"

Missionary: "Because it's true. He had this stone he found in a well years earlier that he used to find buried treasure..."

Friend: "Did he find treasure with it?"

Missionary: "No, but that's not the point. God called him as a seer. He could read words that appeared on the stone. He put the stone in the hat to block the light and read the words out loud. He had a scribe who wrote everything down and that's how we got this Book of Mormon."

Friend: "Didn't you just say he found an ancient record?"

Missionary: "He did. But it turns out he didn't really need it because God put the words on the stone."

Friend (handing the book back to the missionary): "No thanks."

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It's probably just me, but it seems like a better approach is to stick with what Joseph and Oliver said, not what our modern scholars say.

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SITH, portrayed by BYU professor
The premise for SITH has been explained in several venues.

BMC: "Joseph used both the Nephite Interpreters (later called the “Urim and Thummim”) that were discovered with the plates and his individual seer stone in the translation of the Book of Mormon... Unfortunately, the historical sources on Joseph’s use of these instruments during the translation are sometimes contradictory or ambiguous. For example, even eyewitness participants in the translation of the Book of Mormon sometimes confused the terminology in their descriptions of the event."

As this excerpt demonstrates, some historians have conflated witness statements about the translation of the 116 pages with statements about the translation work after those pages were lost. So far, no one has produced a historical source that claims Joseph used "both" the Urim and Thummim and the seer stone from the well (the "peep stone") to translate the text we have today. 

The historical sources claim one or the other. Even the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed presented them as alternative explanations.

Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old ''peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book.

Another account they give of the transaction, is, that it was performed with the big spectacles before mentioned, and which were in fact, the identical Urim and Thumim mentioned in Exodus 28 — 30...

https://archive.org/details/mormonismunvaile00howe/page/18/mode/2up?q=Urim

Although modern scholars have tried to bridge the gap between these alternative accounts by conflating the two objects under the common rubric of "Urim and Thummim," the historical record contradicts that effort. While it's true that David Whitmer, Emma Smith, and others eventually adopted the SITH narrative set out in Mormonism Unvailed, we can see that Joseph and Oliver explicitly distanced their explanation from SITH.

Obviously, neither Joseph nor Oliver ever said or implied that Joseph merely read words off the peep stone he found in a well long before he ever had the plates. But SITHsayers cite the adage that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so we need to see what Joseph and Oliver did actually say. Which we will do in an upcoming episode.

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