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Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 25 Nov 2018, 17:43
by mfree6464
I was recently chatting with my wife's grandparents. They are both into their 80's and very TBM. As they approach the end of their lives they speak more and more about the Gospel (understandably so.) I was recently struck by something they said that I had heard many times before but never thought of in this way.

In speaking about the Book of Mormon, one of them stated, "There's no way Joseph Smith could have written that book. No way." I think this is an iteration of something I have heard many times before that taps into the idea that Joseph Smith, as an uneducated farm boy, could not have possibly written the Book of Mormon. Therefore it must be the word of God.

The thought I had was, if not Joseph then whom? Someone wrote it, right? I think many would mistakenly answer that the book was written by God but the actual claim of the church is that it was translated by JS. What exactly then was he translating? If you believe the book to be true then he was translating words written by people who were essentially uneducated farmers living and surviving in the wilds of North America. Not all of the writers in the book fit this description, but I would argue many of them do.

So the idea that one can "prove" the validity of the BOM by pointing out Joseph's lack of education really doesn't hold any water. It seems to me that someone born in pre-columbian north american would be even less educated.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 25 Nov 2018, 18:01
by SilentDawning
mfree6464 wrote:
25 Nov 2018, 17:43
So the idea that one can "prove" the validity of the BOM by pointing out Joseph's lack of education really doesn't hold any water. It seems to me that someone born in pre-columbian north american would be even less educated.
I know. Someone (several people) told me when I was investigating that so and so tried to write a book like the BoM and failed. I accepted that as evidence that no man could write a book like the BoM without inspiration.

Fast forward 25 years and in a commitment crisis with the church. I sat down to write two chapters like the BoM that details the story of a Nephite king who was selfish, arrogant, and unkind, but who, through marriage to a good woman, and a wake-up call (a failed battle or something), became kind, righteous, and loving to his people. I wove in some catchy maxims, and wrote it in the style AND formatting of the BoM with an italicized summary, verse numbers, etcetera. Then I let it sit for a couple months, and re-read it.

Guess what, I felt the spirit as I read my own book. Just like I can feel the spirit when i read parts of my own missionary journal. To me, it stood up as good scripture. Even though I knew it wasn't inspired.

Now, everyone hold their horses -- I'm not claiming to have written competing scripture with the BoM, don't hold myself out as anything but a member of the church experimenting, and don't believe what I wrote was of any consequence to anyone but myself. And the fact that I no longer even know where the MS Word file is, is testament to that.

But to me, I made the point to myself that anyone can write scripture provided they implement the principles of inviting the spirit --expressions of love to God and Man, spiritual experiences, testimony, and other vehicles used to inspire others. And I felt the spirit even knowing what I'd written was NOT scripture in the full sense. The same way script writers and directors can inspire others to feel the spirit when they watch a movie.

So, I argue that the argument that "JS couldn't have written the BoM" doesn't really hold water. There may be other solid reasons you can give for the BoM being an inspired book, but the one in quotes in this paragraph doesn't seem to be one of them. If you read his account of the first vision, JS wrote very well. I have memorized parts of the first vision, and he wrote in a really memorable way when speaking as himself. I wouldn't put it past him to have been able to write the BoM in the style he did -- I did it, so could many other people, I believe.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 25 Nov 2018, 18:28
by DarkJedi
I think Joseph, and perhaps people generally at the time, used the word "translate" differently than we do today. To him, I don't think it necessarily meant looking at a word, sentence, or group of words and changing those words from one language to another. It is not (at least now) taught by the church that Joseph sat at the plates with his finger going symbol/word to symbol/word and expressing the same word in English. As I understand it, usually the plates were not actually even present and most was done with the seer stone and hat. We'll keep it at the BoM since that's the topic.

I've heard that TBM "Joseph couldn't have written it himself" argument hundreds of times in testimonies, classes, etc. Going along with this is that he did it in a finite number of days, also deemed impossible for a human to do. What those people fail to note is that days were not all consecutive and there were months intervening. (Note that Handel wrote the Messiah, music and all, in 24 days. Just saying.) I've also heard people assert that Joseph would have had to have been a genius to have done so - as if it is a ridiculous idea. I honestly don't know what's so ridiculous about the idea that Joseph could have been a genius, and in fact I believe he was, BoM aside.
So the idea that one can "prove" the validity of the BOM by pointing out Joseph's lack of education really doesn't hold any water. It seems to me that someone born in pre-columbian north american would be even less educated.


Agreed. It should also be noted that Joseph was probably of average education for his day and place. That's why he read the Bible - it was the common text, and it is likely that his parents (probably mostly his mother but his father could read) taught him to read using the Bible. He could also do basic math, etc. School/education in those days was quite different from now, especially in rural America.

So let others believe as they believe and let me believe as I believe. The BoM could have been inspired, or Joseph could have written it or some mix of the two. Whatever it is, I do not believe it to be a history of an ancient American people but I do believe it can and does bring people closer to God and Jesus Christ. I believe Handel's Messiah and many other good works do exactly the same thing.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 26 Nov 2018, 13:54
by Roy
First off - this is just one of those things that people say to help them feel secure in their beliefs. It does not mean anything. It is an emotional argument wrapped up like a logical or historical argument.
Second - do not argue with these people. They will likely see your argument as an attempt to attack their beliefs. Once a church friend used the phrase "the church is perfect". I thought it would be easy to demonstrate that the church cannot be perfect as the dictionary defines the word. In the end the friend said that he is merely a simple farmer with a simple faith and does not understand philosophical arguments. He continues to use the word perfect to describe the church … as though "simple" people cannot be bothered with using words appropriately. :evil:

Similar to this idea is the following quote from Emma Smith:
[JS] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.
I find this quote interesting for several reasons. 1) JS was a gifted orator, he wrote speeches and a good many letters - some portions of his letters have since been canonized as part of our scriptural canon in the D&C. I do not see any evidence that JS could not write, communicate, or express ideas well. 2) This quote comes 50 years after the BoM was published. It comes from an interview that Emma gave for her son JS III who was president of the reorganized church at the time. In this interview, I believe Emma has a motive to protect the legacy of her son by defending the prophetic role of her first husband. This is the same interview in which Emma famously denies that JS had anything to do with polygamy. This interview was published as Emma's final testimony on the RLDS paper "Saints' Herald" a few months after her death.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 26 Nov 2018, 14:50
by dande48
Roy wrote:
26 Nov 2018, 13:54

Similar to this idea is the following quote from Emma Smith:
[JS] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.
I find this quote interesting for several reasons. 1) JS was a gifted orator, he wrote speeches and a good many letters - some portions of his letters have since been canonized as part of our scriptural canon in the D&C. I do not see any evidence that JS could not write, communicate, or express ideas well. 2) This quote comes 50 years after the BoM was published.
Whenever I see this quote, I want to say, "Have you ever READ the letters Joseph wrote to Emma?!" Seriously, if I had a fraction of his skill with the pen, my wife would be SWOONING!

Joseph Smith was no dummy. His dad was a teacher. He read, and understood the bible. How many 14 year old kids can say the same? I don't care how much formal education you have, some people just can't make it as a writer. Mohammad had very little education. L Ron Hubbard was a college dropout. Martin Heidegger was a GENIUS, and yet his work is so poorly written, I can hardly make it a paragraph without getting a headache.

My point is, call it the "holy spirit", call it charisma, Joseph Smith had the "x-factor" in spades.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 26 Nov 2018, 18:17
by LDS_Scoutmaster
SilentDawning wrote:
25 Nov 2018, 18:01
Guess what, I felt the spirit as I read my own book. Just like I can feel the spirit when i read parts of my own missionary journal. To me, it stood up as good scripture. Even though I knew it wasn't inspired.
Don't cut yourself short. I've done the same thing and felt the same outcome. I've felt the spirit reading many texts outside of what we would consider Canon.

Translated, transliterated, authored, it doesn't really matter. Most of my misgivings about the BoM faded away after I read the Bible cover to cover. I read inspired words from imperfect people. I realized that scripture comes in many forms and it is where you feel the spirit.

To quote a podcast: 'Inspired texts are not necessarily historical.' sorry I don't have the source.
I doesn't matter to me whether or not the BoM is in fact a historically acturate document. It doesn't matter to me if Nephi was a real living person at one point in history or not.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 27 Nov 2018, 08:34
by DoubtingTom
I listened to an interesting interview recently with David Bokovoy who is an Old Teatament scholar and antiquity historian. He commented that as a historian, it is quite easy to explain the Book of Mormon as being entirely a product of the 19th century, from the 19th century ideas about origins of the native americans to the very advanced 19th century Christology. One doesn’t need to invoke the supernatural to explain the Book of Mormon.

That doesn’t mean one can’t invoke the supernatural and choose to believe the book is inspired scripture, whatever that means for that individual. But historically speaking there is no necessity in doing so to explain the origins of that book. The more I learn about 19th century ideas and Joseph’s amazing gift of syncretization, the less miraculous the book seems to me, but no less impressive. Even as a completely man made piece of literature, the book is extraordinary and certainly can and does bring people closer to Christ, as millions of members can attest.

One final interesting quote from BH Roberts who spent considerable time studying this very question:
“One other subject remains to be considered in this division... viz. – was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials as have been indicated in the proceeding chapters... That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question....

“In light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, an imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are found in the ‘common knowledge' of accepted American antiquities of the times, supplemented by such a work as Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews [published in Palmyra in 1825], it would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is.”

- Studies of the Book of Mormon

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 27 Nov 2018, 22:30
by On Own Now
This is a simple matter reflecting how human beings think. We have a strong tendency to start with the desired conclusion in mind and then set out to back it up with reasonable explanations for why we are right. I think we are practically all guilty of that, no matter how enlightened we think we are. It's just that we have hypersensitivity to notice this behavior in those with whom we disagree.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 29 Nov 2018, 14:14
by SamBee
It would have been extremely tough for JS to have written it. Yes, there are Biblical quotes in it, but for someone of his age and background... I was probably far more educated than Smith at the age he produced it. I'd still struggle to write anything like that today.

Re: Joseph Smith Could Not Have Written the Book of Mormon

Posted: 30 Nov 2018, 06:03
by DarkJedi
SamBee wrote:
29 Nov 2018, 14:14
It would have been extremely tough for JS to have written it. Yes, there are Biblical quotes in it, but for someone of his age and background... I was probably far more educated than Smith at the age he produced it. I'd still struggle to write anything like that today.
I'm an educator by trade. Education does not equal intelligence, nor does intelligence equal education. I have known some very smart uneducated people in my life and at the same time known educated people who can't find their ways out of a paper bag.