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Friday, June 19, 2009

Three Types of Book of Mormon Evidence: Internal

In Hugh Nibley's "The Prophetic Book of Mormon", we find three types of evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon: internal, external, and circumstantial. This and the next few posts will quote from Nibley's book and enumerate some of many evidences of these types.

Internal Evidence. Imagine that a Book of Mormon has been dropped from a helicopter to a man stranded on a desert island, with instructions to decide on its reliability. On the first page the man would find a clear statement of what the book claims to be, on the following pages a story of how it came into existence, and finally the testimonies of certain witnesses. Here are three astonishing claims—all supernatural. Has the man on the island enough evidence in the contents of the book alone—no other books or materials being available to him—to reach a satisfactory decision? By all means. Internal evidence is almost the only type ever used in testing questioned documents; it is rarely necessary to go any further than the document itself to find enough clues to condemn it, and if the text is a long one, and an historical document in the bargain, the absolute certainty of inner contradictions is enough to assure adequate testing. This makes the Book of Mormon preeminently testable, and we may list the following points on which certainty is obtainable.

1. The mere existence of the book, to follow Blass, is a powerful argument in favor of its authenticity. Without knowing a thing about LDS Church history, our stranded islander can immediately see that someone has gone to an enormous amount of trouble to make this book. Why? If the author wishes to deceive, he has chosen a strange and difficult way to do it. He has made the first move; he has magnanimously put into our hands a large and laborious text; in the introductory pages of that text, he gives us a clear and circumstantial account of what it is supposed to be and invites us to put it to any possible test. This is not the method of a man out to deceive. We must credit him with being honest until he is proved otherwise.

2. Before he has read a word, our islander notes that the book in his hand is a big one. This is another strong argument in its favor. A forger knows that he runs a risk with every word he writes; for him brevity is the soul of success and, as we have seen, the author of such a long book could not have failed to discover what he was up against before he proceeded very far. In giving us a long book, the author forces us to concede that he is not playing tricks.

3. Almost immediately the castaway discovers that the Book of Mormon is both a religious book and a history. This is another point in its favor, for the author could have produced a religious book claiming divine revelation without the slightest risk had he produced a Summa Theologica or a Key to the Scriptures. If one searches through the entire religious literature of the Christian ages from the time of the Apostles to the time of Joseph Smith, not one of these productions can be found to profess divine revelation aside from that derived through the reading of the scriptures. This is equally true whether one inspects the writings of the apostolic fathers, of the doctors of the Middle Ages—even the greatest of whom claim only to be making commentaries on the scriptures—or more modern religious leaders who, though they claimed enlightenment, spoke only as the Scribes and Pharisees of old, who, though they could quote and comment on scripture on every occasion, never dared to speak as one having authority. This writer never falls back on the accepted immunities of double meaning and religious interpretations in the manner of the Swedenborgians or the schoolmen. This refusal to claim any special privileges is an evidence of good faith.

4. Examining the book more closely, the islander is next struck by its great complexity. Doesn't the author know how risky this sort of thing is? If anyone should know, he certainly does, for he handles the intricate stuff with great understanding. Shysters may be diligent enough, in their way, but the object of their trickery is to avoid hard work, and this is not the sort of laborious task they give themselves.

5. In its complexity and length lies the key to the problem of the book, for our islander, having once read Blass, remembers that no man on earth can falsify a history of any length without contradicting himself continually. Upon close examination all the many apparent contradictions in the Book of Mormon disappear. It passes the sure test of authenticity with flying colors.

6. Since the author must in view of all this be something of a genius, the lonely critic begins to study his work as creative writing. Here it breaks down dismally. The style is not that of anyone trying to write well. There is skill of a sort, but even the unscholarly would know that the frequent use of "it came to pass" does not delight the reader, and it is not biblical. Never was writing less "creative" as judged by present standards: there is no central episode, no artistic development of a plot; one event follows another with equal emphasis in the even flow of a chronicle; the author does not "milk" dramatic situations, as every creative writer must; he takes no advantage of any of his artistic opportunities; he has no favorite characters; there is no gain in confidence or skill as the work progresses, nor on the other hand does he show any sign of getting tired or of becoming bored, as every creative writer does in a long composition: the first and last books of the Book of Mormon are among the best, and the author is going just as strong at the end as at the beginning. The claim of the "translator" is that this book is no literary creation, and the internal evidence bears out the claim. Our critic looks at the date of the book again—1830. Where are the rich sentimentality, the incurable romanticism, and the lush but mealy rhetoric of "fine writing" in the early 1800s? Where are the fantastic imagery, the romantic descriptions, and the unfailing exaggerations that everyone expected in the literature of the time? Here is a book with all the elements of an intensely romantic adventure tale of far away and long ago, and the author turns down innumerable chances to please his public!

7. For the professional religionist, what John Chrysostom called "the wise economy of a useful deception," i.e., religious double-talk, has been ever since his day a condition of survival and success. But there is little of this in the Book of Mormon. There are few plays on words, few rhetorical subtleties, no reveling in abstract terms, no excess of esoteric language or doctrine to require the trained interpreter. This is not a "mystic" text, though mysticism is the surest refuge for any religious quack who thinks he might be running a risk. The lone investigator feels the direct impact of the concrete terms; he is never in doubt as to what they mean. This is not the language of one trying to fool others or who has ever had any experiences in fooling others.

8. Our examiner is struck by the limited vocabulary of the Book of Mormon. Taken in connection with the size and nature of the book, this is very significant. Whoever wrote the book must have been a very intelligent and experienced person; yet such people in 1830 did not produce books with rudimentary vocabularies. This cannot be the work of any simple clown, but neither can it be that of an able and educated contemporary.

9. The extremely limited vocabulary suggests another piece of internal evidence to the reader. The Book of Mormon never makes any attempt to be clever. This, says Blass, is a test no forger can pass. The Achilles' heel of the smart impostor is vanity. The man who practices fraud to gain an ascendancy and assert his superiority over others cannot forego the pleasure of enjoying that superiority. The islander does not know it, but recent attempts to account for Joseph Smith claim to discover the key to his character in an overpowering ambition to outsmart people. Why then doesn't he ever try to show how clever he is? Where are the big words and the deep mysteries? There is no cleverness in the Book of Mormon. It was not written by a deceiver.

10. Since it claims to be translated by divine power, the Book of Mormon also claims all the authority—and responsibility—of the original text. The author leaves himself no philological loopholes, though the book, stemming from a number of nations and languages, offers opportunity for many of them. It is a humble document of intensely moral tone, but it does not flinch at reporting unsavory incidents not calculated to please people who think that any mention of horror or bloodshed should be deleted from religious writing.

Next up: External Evidences