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, March 6, 2024

SITH: LDS scholars vs. the real world

Here is yet another example of the disconnect between the intellectuals who promote SITH (and M2C) and the real-world members of the Church who have to deal with the SITH narrative in the real world.

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) recently released a short video about the Book of Mormon.


The video includes four elements:

1. Joseph dictating from a stone in the hat (SITH), with no mention or depiction of the Urim and Thummim.

2. The BYU/BMC fantasy map of Book of Mormon geography that teaches the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

3. Mesoamerican costumes, settings, weapons, etc. that teach M2C.

4. The translation timeline that ignores what Joseph said (that he resumed translating in the fall of 1828) as well as D&C 5:30.

All of this would be fine if these scholars mitigated the SITH and M2C problems by acknowledging other relevant historical facts about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon, but they don't.

BMC is "all in" on both SITH and M2C.

Now, let's consider the real world.


By now, most faithful Latter-day Saints can relate a story such as the one in this video, which someone sent me. We all know someone (usually many people) who lost their faith because of the SITH narrative. That's why critics keep emphasizing SITH. It's a major impediment to missionary work as well.

Granted, she has a snarky, self-satisfied attitude, doesn't give names, and could have made up the entire story, or at least embellished it.

But that doesn't matter.

Our Church historians have enabled this type of narrative by favoring late, second-hand, hearsay statements over the direct, contemporary explanations from Joseph and Oliver.


An alternative to SITH: simply apply basic principles of historical analysis. 

But both critics and faithful Latter-day Saint historians refuse to do so. 


From the outset of the Restoration, SITH was a problem. In 1829, even before the Book of Mormon was published, Jonathan Hadley wrote a derogatory article that was widely circulated, in which he claimed Joseph put "spectacles" in a hat and read words to his scribe. Some LDS scholars cite this article as evidence of SITH!


In the Preface to the 1830 Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith denounced the "false reports" of Hadley's SITH narrative, explaining that "I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi." Nothing in the Preface suggests, implies, or even accommodates the claim that Joseph read words off a stone (or spectacles) in a hat.

In response to the persistent SITH allegations in the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed, Joseph and Oliver twice explained the U&T in the 1834-5 Messenger and Advocate, an account that Joseph had his scribes copy into his journal and that was republished in the Gospel Reflector, the Times and Seasons, the Millennial Star, The Prophet, and the Improvement Era. 

But their account was never published in the Ensign or the Liahona. It probably never will be.

Consequently, most Latter-day Saints will never know about it.

He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.

Fortunately, another excerpt from this account was added as a note to JS-H 1:71 so the scholars can't completely ignore it. But good luck finding this quoted in Saints or the Gospel Topics Essay. 

Actually, the Gospel Topics Essay edited the note to omit the portion in bold below!

“These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites should have said, “Interpreters,” the history, or reccord, called “the book of Mormon."


Because the SITH rumors persisted, for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph edited what is now D&C 10:1 to clarify that he had the power to translate "by the means of the Urim and Thummim." He also added D&C 17 which explained that the witnesses would have a view of "the Urim and Thummim" along with other artifacts related to the Book of Mormon. No "seer stone" was included among the evidences of the Book of Mormon.

In 1838, Joseph set out several oft-asked questions in the Elders' Journal. Joseph answered the question about the Book of Mormon directly, clearly, and unambiguously. This should be the starting place for any discussion of the translation, but the SITH scholars never quote it.

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the Book of Mormon?

Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the Book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me and told me where they were and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which I translated the plates and thus came the Book of Mormon.


The Gospel Topics Essay on Translation (GTE) actually includes a citation to the Elders' Journal in note 19, but only regarding Joseph's answer to whether he was a "money digger." The GTE completely ignores what Joseph said about the translation, even though Joseph's explanation quoted above is on the same page as the "money digger" answer! Here again, the historians deliberately omitted what Joseph said about the translation.

In 1841, the Church history essays were republished in the Times and Seasons and the other Church magazines.

Then, in the 1842 Wentworth letter, Joseph reiterated the point. This, too, is missing from the GTE.

With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.


In 1844, Joseph's brother William Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, republished the Church history essays yet again, this time in the New York newspaper called The Prophet.

For over a century, Joseph's contemporaries and successors in church leadership reiterated what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

None of those accounts are included, except for one misleading excerpt, in the Gospel Topics Essay or the Saints book. See, e.g., https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/p/gospel-topics-essay-on-translation.html

Even in the March 2024 Liahona, an article that purports to relate what Joseph said about the translation omits these references (except for a brief misleadingly edited excerpt from the Wentworth letter). https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2024/02/march-2024-liahona-articles-on.html

Instead, our Church historians quote from Emma Smith's dubious "Last Testimony" and David Whitmer's antagonistic "Address to All Believers in Christ," both published 50 years after the event.

And then Book of Mormon Central, which claims to "build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by illuminating the Book of Mormon and other restoration scripture, making them more accessible, defensible and comprehensible to people everywhere," promotes SITH and M2C. 

No wonder so many people have problems with the self-appointed scholars who teach SITH and M2C.

No comments:

Post a Comment