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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book of Mormon Month - Days 29 and 30: Did Joseph REALLY translate the Book of Mormon?

Painting by an unknown painter, circa 1842. Th...Image via Wikipedia
Painting by an unknown painter,
circa 1842. The original is owned
by the Community of Christ archive
Have you ever tried to write a book?

I mean a real good book, like what you hope will be the next Great American Novel, or at least something that people might read and feel a compulsion to share with others so that word-of-mouth is a primary driver of its propagation. It would have to be a book with plots within plots and a multitude of characters playing their roles over long periods of time and across a landscape of cultural differences and story twists. It would have to be internally consistent as far as time sequences, place names and relationships, and the overall treatment of the subject matters it discusses. To add even more interest, it would need to be written as a true-life, perpetual journal handed down over thousands of years from author to author, and it would need to read differently according to which author is speaking.

Not me. I have tried only to write a simple, entertaining fiction novel or two which, of itself, is not easy by any means. (As you can see from the title of this post, it's taken me at least two days to even produce this short article. Even then, I've only succeeded in standing on the shoulders of other giants in quoting their work.)

I'm not uneducated, though. I've been reading and writing stories, poetry, prose, and novels starting from my earliest memories of going to the library after school and on weekends with my librarian mother and holding a pencil to some discarded Xerox paper to the present. In high school, I won as runner up in an English Language Arts scholarship competition against many other schools in my state. In addition, I won a scholarship given out to only four students in my state for space sciences engineering (mostly due to my talent in persuasive writing and not really due to any skill as an engineer). I later switched my major to computer science and ended up graduating with a Bachelor of the Arts degree in business education and Spanish. Now I work for a publishing company.

1851 lithograph of Smith's body about to be mu...Image via Wikipedia
1851 lithograph of martyred
Joseph Smith's body about
to be mutilated by a mob
(Library of Congress).
Yet, even with my relatively broad array of educational and career experiences and my many blog posts and traditional writing, it still requires much effort for me to put very many words onscreen or on paper. I've never even been published for all my efforts, nor had my name "for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people" as has Joseph Smith! (And, thank goodness for that, judging by what he went through because he simply wouldn't deny what God had wrought through him!)

For example, during the November 2010 National Novel Writing Month, on a good day, writing for about two hours, with a burst of pure, unstoppable inspiration, and with an unhealthy amount of self-confidence, I can barely manage between 1,000 and 2,000 words of manuscript.

Oh, and that's on my iPad with a detachable keyboard, spell check, and the ability to look up anything I desire on the Web for my research. I can also instantly delete and retype something that doesn't work. And, that is raw text that will have to undergo several major revisions before it ever is shown to an editor...IF I pretend to become so brave as to submit it.

If one of my kids, my job, or some random, menial task around my modern, centrally heated, 21st century household interrupts this flow of inspiration, it all comes crashing down.

I've never completed any novel I've undertaken to write. I just can't seem to pull together enough quiet time and coherent thinking to produce more than 150 pages before I lose interest or some other project or crisis distracts me indefinitely. At some point, I just abandon my efforts on one manuscript and start another a year later with the same results.

Ask any writer and they will all agree! It's that hard!

Daniel C. Peterson, Ph.D. (I actually had to look up how to spell "Ph.D." just now, which indicates the large gap in intellect between he and I) has written a number of books at this point in his career. I'll let him tell it in his own words as given in a speech at a Book of Mormon symposium:
I might just add that I had a fairly productive period in terms of writing over the past two years, and I have kept daily records of the number of words I had written. I've averaged just over 3,000 words a week over the past two years of what I would consider publishable prose. Some of it has been published and has resulted so far in at least one very bad book and several articles, in any event, that's a fairly good level of productivity in that I'm not working at it full-time but I'm working fairly consistently at it...
That's a lot of words per week compared to what yours truly can output per week as a hobbyist writer. Then again, Dr. Peterson has actually chosen this unique form of torture for himself as part of a real-life academic career.

The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the ...Image via Wikipedia
The Book of Mormon: An Account
Written by the Hand of Mormon
upon Plates Taken from the
Plates of Nephi
Now, I'd like you to consider the word count that was required for Joseph Smith to dictate all 500+ pages, in translation even, to a scribe over the slightly more than 2 months it took to produce the all 260,000+ words of the Book of Mormon. Again, from Dr. Peterson's speech:
...the production of the Book of Mormon is a process that's resulting in almost 5,000 words a day for a period of just little over two months. To me that's breathtaking, that's really astonishing. Especially for a person with Joseph Smith's level of education, and people who just say, well he just had a great level of imagination gushed out of him, need to try it. Books don't gush, at least in my experience, I wish they did.
Did you catch that? Dr. Peterson, who has a Ph.D., was prone to writing 3,000 words per week (while juggling his other duties at the university, which include teaching and primary research in his field, and, presumably, more work at home as a husband and father and at church). Yet Joseph Smith, in 1829, with barely above an elementary grades education, taking whatever meager temporal work he could find to barely scrape up a living wage for his wife and family, all while starting an ambitious (to say the least) restoration of the original Christian church, building cities and temples, and being chased by mobs from one end to another of whatever state he happened to reside in, was somehow still capable of producing 5,000 words of text per day.

I'm out of breath just in writing that!

Now, to those who insist that the Book of Mormon is false, I challenge you here and now to explain how Joseph was able to produce it. Was he a literary prodigy? Could he somehow stop or slow down time to make it work in his favor? No. One must first consider that, like other prophets chosen in Biblical times to perform great feats and miracles, Joseph was likewise called of God to perform a "marvelous work and a wonder". Everyone who knew him insisted he was nothing less than a prophet, seer, and revelator (because they, among other reasons for believing, literally had no other explanation for the amazing words and works that came out of him).

Even Joseph's own beloved and devoted wife, Emma, couldn't explain it in any other way. In an interview with her son, who had asked whether his father could have written it beforehand, then somehow memorized or dictated it to her and to Oliver Cowdery, she replied,
Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, 'a marvel and a wonder,' as much so as to any one else.
Did the devil Beelzebub prompt him to write it? Not likely, as the Savior taught in Mark 3:22-27:

 22 ¶And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
 23 And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?
 24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
 25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
 26 And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.
 27 No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.

In other words, we only need to take Christ's word for it. Just as Satan would not prompt Jesus to cast out Satan's own demons in the name of God, who Satan is fighting against, Satan would likewise not prompt Joseph to write a book of scripture that glowingly speaks of his nemesis, Jesus Christ, on nearly every page and which denounces Satan's own kingdom at every turn.

In 2002, the work of tracking down every extant version of the Book of Mormon and critically analyzing and comparing each text resulted in the following conclusion:


Ultimately we must realize that the original English-language text [Oliver Cowdery's transcription] of the Book of Mormon is not fully recoverable by human effort. Textual errors are generally not found except by discovering the correct reading in the manuscripts. Unfortunately, only 28 percent of the original manuscript is extant. Conjecture based on internal analysis of the Book of Mormon text has largely been unsuccessful in recovering the correct reading. Still, some conjectures are probably correct. Another important point to keep in mind is that even if we had the entire original manuscript, there would still be errors in the text, mainly because the original manuscript itself has some [grammatical and spelling] errors.

The systematic nature of the original text supports the theory that the text was revealed to Joseph Smith word for word. On the other hand, all subsequent transmissions of the text appear to have been subject to human error. Errors have crept into the text, but no error significantly interferes with either the message of the book or its doctrine. These textual errors have never prevented readers of the book from receiving their own personal witness of its truth.

Joseph Smith, Jr.'s signature.Image via Wikipedia
Joseph Smith, Jr.'s Signature
Critics of the Book of Mormon can rail against Joseph's character (what they think they know of it), the events of his life, the doctrines he revealed, and anything else they can concoct to discredit the man. But there is one thing they have not, can not, and never will be able to do. They will never be able to explain how we got the Book of Mormon using any other account than the one Joseph, his family, his associates, and church members have produced and testified to in blood, sweat, tears, and persecution...that he dictated it from the ancient metal plates by the Holy Spirit of God.

If you are an anti-Mormon writer or you like to read anti-Mormon literature, and if you want anyone to take your arguments against the LDS Church seriously, you need to do the work of scholars rather than the "work" of scholarly poseurs. You need to actually study and publish your own intellectually and logically satisfying counter-arguments to the points made by even this small handful of LDS scholars.