Loading

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Caveat Lector or the Book of Mormon Ab Antiquo

After my escapade with Matt Slick at CARM, I came across another website that criticizes the Book of Mormon[1]. This one, however, is not from a fundamentalist Protestant source. Instead, it comes from the good folks at Catholic Answers, a Catholic apologetic site dedicated to defend the orthodoxy of Roman Catholicism.

Therefore, I shall once again take up the pen (er... keyboard) and examine the claims of this Catholic webpage to see if it holds up under scrutiny.

My first impression of this article is that it is amazingly sweeping and generalizing (many claims are spouted off without any documentation or consideration of contrary evidence) and the criticisms directed against the Book of Mormon are surprisingly weak and fatuous. As a matter of fact, the Book of Mormon actually does not seem to be the focus of this article, but instead only shares a few paragraphs next to a critical view of the claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as representing a restoration of primitive Christianity. Because of such, I will focus only on the criticisms directed against the Book of Mormon (since, after all, this is a blog about the Book of Mormon) and will skip the Catholic arguments against Latter-day Saint claims to representing primitive Christianity[2].

As before, the comments of the webpage critical of the Book of Mormon shall be in red with my comments in black.

In these "latter days," there are few people who haven’t been visited at least once by Mormon missionaries. At some point in your doorstep dialogue, these earnest young men will ask you to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and pray about it, asking the Lord to "send the Holy Ghost to witness that it is true." Then, very solemnly, they’ll "testify" to you that they know the Book of Mormon is true, that it’s God’s inspired word, and that it contains the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." They’ll assure you that if you read their text in a spirit of prayerful inquiry, you, too, will receive the testimony of the Holy Ghost. That testimony supposedly will convince you beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon is exactly what they claim it to be.

So far so good. Everything seems okay here.

Keep in mind that the missionaries want you to have a feeling about the Book of Mormon after reading it. They’ll tell you that you’ll receive the witness of the Holy Ghost in the form of a "burning in the bosom"—a warm, fuzzy feeling—after reading and praying about it. This feeling is the clincher for them. It’s the real "proof" that the Book of Mormon is inspired Scripture, and everything else follows from that conclusion.

And here is where we run into a problem. This cheap caricature of Latter-day Saint testimonies is not only inaccurate, but offensive. The manifestation of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is of God is not a "warm fuzzy" despite what some of the critics would like us to think. Instead, it is a revelation, like that of Peter when he declared that Jesus was the Christ, that permiates both the mind and spirit and awkens us to the realization that the Book of Mormon is true. The phrase "burning of the bosom" is nothing more than a Mormon colloquialism that is used by the Latter-day Saints to describe the feeling that comes after gaining a testimony and convinction that the Book of Mormon is true[3].

But think about it. How often have you felt strongly about something or someone, only to learn your feelings were misguided? Feelings, although a part of our human makeup, can’t be a yardstick in matters like this.

This fallacy assumes that the Latter-day Saints have grounded their testimony in the Book of Mormon only by a "feeling" and not by revelation. Furthermore, this argument could be turned around and pointed against Catholics. How do you know that your testimony in the Pope or the Catholic faith is not just a "feeling"?

The devout Mormon believes this text is inspired because Joseph Smith said it is. He believes Smith had the authority to claim divine inspiration for the Book of Mormon because the book itself says Smith was a prophet and had such authority.

This sentence is problematic. I would venture to say that most, if not all, Latter-day Saints accept the Book of Mormon as an inspired text because of not only their personal witness of the Spirit but also because of its powerful testimony of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. While it is true that the Book of Mormon does foretell the ministry of Joseph Smith, this is only secondary to the many testimonies and prophecies in the Book of Mormon about Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon itself suffers the same fate when it comes to its own historical support. In a word, it hasn’t got any.

This is just one example of the many sweeping generalizations mentioned earlier and is a living manifestation of the ignorance of whoever wrote this article. In a word, the Book of Mormon has substantial evidence for it's authenticity. Many historical, literary, archaeological and anthropological evidences have been discovered in favor of the Book of Mormon[4].

The Book of Mormon describes a vast pre-Columbian culture that supposedly existed for centuries in North and South America.

This demonstrates that the writer at Catholic Answers is not only unfamiliar with the most recent scholarship on the Book of Mormon[5] but with the Book of Mormon text itself. While it is true that the traditional view of Book of Mormon geography has been that the Book of Mormon events occured in all of North and South America (as the article claims) the Book of Mormon itself describes travel details that make that view impossible. Instead, the Book of Mormon events most likely took place in a localized area in Mesoamerica and in only a few hundred miles in distance[6].

It goes into amazingly specific detail describing the civilizations erected by the "Nephites" and "Lamanites," who were Jews that fled Palestine in three installments, built massive cities in the New World, farmed the land, produced works of art, and fought large-scale wars which culminated in the utter destruction of the Nephites in A.D. 421. The Latter-Day Saints revere the Book of Mormon as the divinely-inspired record of those people and of Christ’s appearance to them shortly after his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

While it is true that the Book of Mormon goes into amazing detail about the Nephites and Lamanites (which is remarkable considering the manner in which Joseph Smith produced the text[7]) the Nephites and Lamanites were not Jews. Indeed, Lehi was of the tribe of Manassah, and not of Judah. Thus, Catholic Answers again gets the fine details of the Book of Mormon wrong. At this point, I am wondering if the folks at Catholic Answers have even read the Book of Mormon or if they are just banking off of previous critcisms. I suspect the latter.

The awkward part for the Mormon church is the total lack of historical and archaeological evidence to support the Book of Mormon. For example, after the cataclysmic last battle fought between the Nephites and Lamanites, there was no one left to clean up the mess. Hundreds of thousands of men and beasts allegedly perished in that battle, and the ground was strewn with weapons and armor. Keep in mind that A.D. 421 is just yesterday in archaeological terms. It should be easy to locate and retrieve copious evidence of such a battle, and there hasn’t been enough time for the weapons and armor to turn to dust. The Bible tells of similar battles that have been documented by archaeology, battles which took place long before A.D. 421.

The question of archaeological remains at the Battle of Cumorah is an interesting one, and has been discussed by Latter-day Saint scholars John E. Clark and David Palmer[8]. First, it needs to be understood that the Cumorah of upstate New York is not the same as the Cumorah recorded in the Book of Mormon. The former was first called "Cumorah" by W. W. Phelps in 1833 and became associated with the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon by early Latter-day Saints. That the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same as the hill in upstate New York can be determined by the text of the Book of Mormon itself. Mormon 6:6 records that all of the records except the ones given to Moroni were hid in Cumorah, while Moroni took care of the plates eventually given to Joseph Smith and buried later.

Furthermore, Brant Gardner has this to offer in refutation of the claim that the lack of archaeological evidence for this (and other) battle(s) in the Book of Mormon is detrimental to its claims of historicity:

The Illusion: War plays an important part in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Old World archaeology has found remnants of battles at certain cities where vast numbers of arrowheads have been found. In contrast, the New World does not have similar evidence. The narrator tells us: “The footnotes in the Book of Mormon suggest that the Lamanite extermination of the Nephites took place around 400 ad. Yet, it left no archaeological evidence. By contrast, a much smaller battle that happened centuries earlier in the first century ad in Palestine demonstrates what one can expect to find if a battle like the one described in the Book of Mormon had really occurred.”

The Unmasking: When one is looking for evidence of a battle, it is essential to dig at the location where the battle took place. A known historical siege took place at Masada (the first-century site mentioned in the film). Digging at that location is digging at a battle site.

What about the Book of Mormon battles? Most of the Book of Mormon battles take place on open fields, not in cities. Since the archaeological excavations concentrate on the cities, it is not very surprising that the remnants of large battles are not found there, where they did not happen. That does not mean, however, that the battles did not happen. The Aztecs fought tremendous battles, but archaeologists have not yet located great battlefields littered with bodies or artifacts. Yet the Aztecs lived much later than Book of Mormon times. Once again, the authors of the film use a general problem from all of Mesoamerica and presume that it has specific meaning for the Book of Mormon. The lack of remnants of a battle for the Nephites no more means that there were no Nephites than the lack of evidence for Aztec battles means that there were no Aztecs. This argument is another demonstration that the film's experts are not expert in the issues of Mesoamerican archaeology.

The Cumorah Illusion: The film attempts to make it appear that Latter-day Saints are afraid to do archaeological excavations at the New York Hill Cumorah because they know that they will not find the evidence of battles there. Murphy attempts to strengthen this problem: “Growing up Mormon, I was always taught that the Hill Cumorah was the location of the culminating events of the Book of Mormon.”

The Unmasking: I do not doubt that Murphy might have been taught at some age by someone that the Hill Cumorah was the hill of the Book of Mormon. I was taught the same thing. However, since at least the 1950s Latter-day Saint scholarship on the Book of Mormon has argued that the text's Cumorah is in Mesoamerica. The New York hill is merely a namesake. Why do we not find evidence of the final battles at the New York hill? Because those battles happened thousands of miles away. It is not surprising to find nothing when you look for something in the wrong place. [9]

There are other problems with the Book of Mormon. For example, critics of Mormonism
have shown convincing proof that the Book of Mormon is a synthesis of earlier works
(written by other men), of the vivid imaginings of Joseph Smith, and of simple
plagiarisms of the King James Bible.

If this is the case, then the good folks at Catholic Answers are under the obligation to
inform the Latter-day Saints of just what this “convincing proof” is. What other works has
the Book of Mormon “synthesized” from? Catholic Answers does not tell us. And just
how “vivid” were Joseph Smith’s “imaginings”? (Furthermore, how does the writer at
Catholic Answers know this? Is he or she a mind reader like the amazing Fawn Brodie
of No Man Knows My History fame?) Catholic Answers gives us nothing but sweeping
and triumphant assertions (that are as hollow as a rotten log) without any evidence[10].

As for the simple plagiarisms from the King James Bible, it should first be realized that
the Book of Mormon gives clear credit to Isaiah and the other biblical Prophets quoted,
so plagiarism is not even the right technical term. Furthermore, the fact that the Book of
Mormon is a translation means that we should expect Joseph Smith (who was familiar
with King James phraseology) as a translator to be work with King James language and
biblical phraseology as he crafted his translation.

Scholars now know the Textus Receptus contains errors, which means the King James
Version contains errors. The problem for Mormons is that these exact same errors show
up in the Book of Mormon.

Latter-day Saint scholars have long dealt with the supposed “textual problems” in the
Book of Mormon, including those that supposedly come from the Book of Mormon’s
cribbing from the KJV[11].

It seems reasonable to assume that since Smith was a prophet of God and was
translating the Book of Mormon under divine inspiration, he would have known about
the errors found in the King James Version and would have corrected them for when
passages from the King James Version appeared in the Book of Mormon. But the errors
went in.

Why does this seem reasonable to assume? Neither the Book of Mormon nor Joseph
Smith either claimed infallibility or perfection. Perhaps the Catholic dogmatic position of the infallibility of ecclesiastical leaders has crept into the writer’s thesis; a position that is entirely
inappropriate and foreign to Mormonism.

According to a standard Mormon theological work, Doctrines of Salvation, one finds this
definition: "By fullness of the gospel is meant all the ordinances and principles that
pertain to the exaltation of the celestial kingdom" (vol. 1, p. 160). That’s an official
Mormon statement on the subject. But there’s a problem.
If the Book of Mormon contains all the ordinances and principles that pertain to the
gospel, why don’t Mormonism’s esoteric doctrines show up in it? The doctrine that God
is nothing more than an "exalted man with a body of flesh and bones" appears nowhere
in the Book of Mormon. Nor does the doctrine of Jesus Christ being the "spirit brother"
of Lucifer. Nor do the doctrines that men can become gods and that God the Father has
a god above him, who has a god above him, ad infinitum.

It should first be noted that even if Doctrine of Salvation is a “standard Mormon
theological work”, it has never been an officially endorsed work by the 1st Presidency of
the Church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, off the bat the writer at Catholic Answers is going
off of a false assumption. Furthermore, the Book of Mormon itself defines just what
exactly the “fulness of the Gospel” entails. The fulness of the Gospel of Christ onto
Salvation is not to be confused with the higher ordinances pertaining to exaltation. The
fulness of the Gospel of Christ (as outlined in 3 Nephi 11 and 27) is a six point system
that consists of Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism by Immersion, the
laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the Resurrection and eternal
judgement.

What’s more, two-thirds of the Book of Mormon remain sealed until later times. Who
knows what other doctrines are contained therein. And, as I pointed out in Part 2 of my
response to Matt Slick, there are some hints of these higher doctrines contained in the
Book of Mormon.

These heterodox teachings, and many others like them, appear nowhere in the Book of
Mormon. In fact, pivotal Mormon doctrines are flatly refuted by the Book of Mormon.
For instance, the most pointed refutation of the Mormon doctrine that the Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost are actually three separate gods is found in Alma 11:28-31: "Now
Zeezrom said: ‘Is there more than one God?’ and [Amulek] answered, ‘No.’ And
Zeezrom said unto him again, ‘How knowest thou these things?’ And he said: ‘An angel
hath made them known unto me.’”

Context is key. As Brant Gardner has pointed out[12], these passages do not refute the
Latter-day Saint doctrine of the persons of the Godhood being distinct gods. Instead,
when read in context, we see how Amulek responded in the manner that he did
because he was being crossed examined by Zeezrom, a crafty and cunning lawyer who
wanted to trap Amulek in his words. It is clear, in other words, that Amulek was
being careful not to seemingly contradict himself before Zeezrom and selected his
words carefully to escape from Zeezrom's rhetorical snare.

The Book of Mormon fails on three main counts. First, it utterly lacks historical or
archaeological support, and there is an overwhelming body of empirical evidence that
refutes it. Second, the Book of Mormon contains none of the key Mormon doctrines.
This is important to note because the Latter-Day Saints make such a ballyhoo about it
containing the "fullness of the everlasting gospel." (It would be more accurate to say it
contains almost none of their "everlasting gospel" at all.) Third, the Book of Mormon
abounds in textual errors, factual errors, and outright plagiarisms from other works.

1. This is false, as has been demonstrated. There is an abundance of historical
evidence for the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, it would be nice for Catholic Answers
to show the reader the “overwhelming body” of “empirical evidences” that refutes the
Book of Mormon. But, as before, Catholic Answers simply declares a broad
generalization and leaves it at that. Some of the polemical readers of the Catholic
Answers website might be impressed by this, but the Latter-day Saints are not.

2. Catholic Answers has drastically misunderstood the nature of Mormon theology,
specifically relating to the Key Points of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we drop
the straw men created by anti-Mormons in this regard, we see that not only is Latter-day
Saint doctrine concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ radically preached in the
Book of Mormon, but also hints here and there of the higher doctrines of exaltation.

3. Like before, Catholic Answers does not bother to tell us these “textual errors, factual
errors and outright plagiarisms”. It simply declares it and then leaves it be, hoping that
someone foolishly takes heed. Any example be nice, as it would give the intrepid - if
not thoroughly bored - reader something to engage.

If you’re asked by Mormon missionaries to point out examples of such errors, here are
two you can use.
We read that Jesus "shall be born of Mary at Jerusalem, which is in the land of our
forefathers" (Alma 7:10). But Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem (Matt. 2:1).
If you mention this to a Mormon missionary, he might say Jerusalem and Bethlehem are
only a few miles apart and that Alma could have been referring to the general area
around Jerusalem. But Bethany is even closer to Jerusalem than is Bethlehem, yet the
Gospels make frequent reference to Bethany as a separate town.

This tired criticism has long been refuted by Latter-day Saint scholars[13]. The fact that
Catholic Answers brings this up shows either how desperate for something against the
Book of Mormon or ignorant of LDS scholarship they really are.

As I pointed out in part 4 of my response to Matt Slick, the simple fact of the matter is
that many ancient texts speak of Bethlehem as being a small suburb in the “land of
Jerusalem”. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is strictly correct in identifying the birthplace
of Jesus as being in the “land of Jerusalem”. So instead of being a point against the
Book of Mormon, this phrase from Alma is further evidence for its authenticity.

Another problem: Scientists have demonstrated that honey bees were first brought to
the New World by Spanish explorers in the fifteenth century, but the Book of Mormon, in
Ether 2:3, claims they were introduced around 2000 B.C.

Just once it would be nice to the see the critics read the Book of Mormon in context.
This passage in Ether speaks of the Honey Bee in an Old World setting. Also, Catholic
Answers is simply wrong in stating that it was the Spanish who brought the Honey Bee
with them to the Americas. There is abundant evidence that pre-Columbian Honey Bees
existed long before the Spanish. However, this is not a problem since, as was
mentioned before, the only mention of bees in the Book of Mormon are in an Old World
setting[14].

The problem was that Joseph Smith wasn’t a naturalist; he didn’t know anything about
bees and where and when they might be found. He saw bees in America and threw
them in the Book of Mormon as a little local color. He didn’t realize he’d get stung by
them.

This statement is puzzling. First, how does Catholic Answers know that Joseph Smith
simply “saw bees in America and threw them in the Book of Mormon as a little local
color”? What documentation does Catholic Answers provide for this claim? Not
surprisingly, none. This is just irresponsible rhetoric on the part of an irresponsible writer
who irresponsibly created an irresponsible polemic against the Book of Mormon. I now
seriously doubt that the writer of this article has 1) read the Book of Mormon and 2) read
contemporary Latter-day Saint scholarship regarding the Book of Mormon.

Because of such, this article is not a reliable guide to determining Book of Mormon
historicity. It simply does not hold up to close scrutiny. It is riddled with errors, false
assumptions, phony conclusions and empty attacks. It is simply one giant broad stroke
of the fallacy brush that makes triumphant albeit ultimately meaningless assertions that
cannot and should not be taken seriously.

Notes:

[1]: In what can only be described as creative genius, the article was given the original and fresh name "Problems with the Book of Mormon".

[2]: A large corpus of LDS literature has been produced that argues in favor of the claims of the LDS faith as being a restoration of primitive Christianity. Some items include Hugh Nibley in Mormonism and Early Christianity (link here), The World and the Prophets (link here) andApostles and Bishops in Early Christianity (FARMS and Deseret Book, 2005) as well as Daniel C. Peterson in Mormonism as a Restoration (link here) and "What Has Athens have to do with Jerusalem?": Apostasy and Restoration in the Big Picture (link here). Also worth reading is Tad R. Callister in The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration (Deseret Book, 2006) as well as Early Christians in Disarray edited by Noel B. Reynolds (link here). Restoring the Ancient Church by Barry Bickmore (link here) also offers an excellent treatment on this subject.

[3]: For a good reponse to the criticisms brought up against the "burning of the bosom" see the following by FAIR.http://en.fairmormon.org/Search_for_the_Truth_DVD/Burning_in_the_Bosom

[4]: Some excellent materials include Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited edited by Noel B. Reynolds (link here) and Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon by Daniel C. Peterson, Donald W. Perry and John W. Welch (link here). Other materials covering Book of Mormon evidence inlcude:

Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins (Deseret Book and FARMS, 1982) edited by Noel B. Reynolds

Lehi in the Desert (link here) by Hugh Nibley

An Approach to the Book of Mormon (link here) by Hugh Nibley

King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom" (link here) edited by Stephen D. Ricks and John Welch

Warfare in the Book of Mormon (FARMS, 1990) edited by Stephen D. Ricks

Book of Mormon Evidences by Jeff Lindsay (link here).

Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Deseret Book, 1981) by Richard L. Anderson

An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985) by John L. Sorenson

Second Witness: Analytical and Contexual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Greg Kofford Books, 2007) by Brant Gardner.

This is just a small sampling of the evidence for the Book of Mormon. For a more information, check out the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

[5]: Nowhere in the article are Latter-day Saint arguments for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon engaged or even acknowledged. This smacks of intellectual dishonesty on the part of Catholic Answers.

[6]: For a signifgant disucssion on Book of Mormon geography, see John L. Sorenson in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and Brant Gardner in his 6 volume seriesSecond Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon.

[7]: Daniel C. Peterson has written an excellent article on this subject, which can be accessedhere.

[8]: On this subject, see Archaeology and Cumorah Questions by John E. Clark (link here). Also see In Search of Cumorah (1999, Ceder Fort.) by David Palmer.

[9]: Brant Gardner in Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion (link found here). Also see Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon Geography by William J. Hamblin (linkhere).

[10]: Two popular anti-Mormon theories (which are possibly the ones being referenced in the article by Catholic Answers) as to how the Book of Mormon was written are the claims that Joseph Smith either plagiarized the works of Solomon Spaulding or Ethan Smith (or both). For an analysis on the veracity of these two theories, see Louis C. Midgley in Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?: The Critics and Their Theories (found here).

[11]: For an introduction, see John A. Tvedtnes in Isaiah in the Bible and the Book of Mormon(found here). Also see Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon (found here). For a more extensive treatment of this subject, see Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (FARMS, 1998) edited by Donald W. Perry and John W. Welch.

[12]: Brant Gardner in Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 4:186-187

[13]: See especially the article prepared by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) on this subject. The link can be found here.

[14]: FAIR again offers a fine rebuttal to this accusation, which can be accessed here.