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.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

More on the new book

There have been two principal narratives about Joseph Smith, both supported by historical evidence. 

One narrative sees him as an ignorant, uneducated farm boy who was plucked from obscurity to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another sees him as a clever religious manipulator who composed the Book of Mormon and adopted religious ideas from his surroundings.

People can believe whatever they want, and they can usually find some evidence to confirm their biases. 

I find a third narrative more persuasive and better supported by the evidence. In my view, God prepared Joseph Smith for his future role as translator and prophet. His life-threatening leg infection led Joseph to become a young religious seeker. His pursuit made him well-informed and conversant on religious topics, enabling him to become an active translator of the engravings on the plates.

The "religious seeker" narrative not only accommodates all the available historical evidence, but it also addresses most of the anti-Mormon arguments. For example, when critics complain that the Book of Mormon includes anachronistic 19th century terminology and worldviews, the "religious seeker" narrative responds that as an active translator, Joseph necessarily used his own vocabulary and worldview to render the ancient text into English.

This example illustrates one of the problems with SITH (the stone-in-the-hat narrative). 

Some people ask what difference it makes if Joseph Smith used a seer stone instead of the Urim and Thummim to produce the Book of Mormon.

According to SITH, Joseph merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat. The words were provided by a mysterious incognito supernatural translator (MIST) who, presumably, was translating the engravings on the plates so Joseph didn't need to even consult the plates. Left unanswered is why the MIST used the anachronistic 19th century terminology and worldviews.

The SITH narrative rejects Joseph's explanation that he copied and translated the characters (JS-H 1:62) by claiming that Joseph's efforts failed and he had to resort to reading the words off the stone in the hat. The SITH sayers also say that when Joseph said he "translated" the plates, he didn't mean he actually translated them, but instead he relied on the translation provided by the MIST and simply read it out loud. 

The problems with SITH seem so obvious that it's astonishing to see LDS scholars promote SITH the way they do.  

Additional reasons why it's important to distinguish between the Urim and Thummim and SITH include:

(i) SITH contradicts Joseph and Oliver so it undermines their credibility, 

(ii) SITH eliminates the need for the plates so it undermines the plausibility of the founding narratives, 

(iii) SITH presumes an occult origin, 

(iv) SITH was an early anti-Mormon attack that Joseph and Oliver addressed (asked and answered), so it's foolish for LDS scholars to revive SITH, and 

(v) SITH destroys the historicity of the text (detaching it from the plates). 

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