On Not Giving a Fig for Historicity Debates

There’s a lot of discussion lately about the relationship between scripture and history. In this post, I suggest, by way of a case study, that the trees are obscuring the view of the forest for those gazing at historicity questions.Fig_Tree

In Mark 11, Jesus approaches a fig tree. It has leaves, but no fruit. He says “may no one eat of your fruit again.” Mark carefully notes that his disciples heard it. Jesus then goes to the temple and kicks some people out. Later, as they pass the tree, Peter says, “Look! The tree which you cursed has withered from the roots!”

This incident vexes interpreters. It can seem as if Jesus has engaged in the first-century equivalent of kicking a vending machine which had taken his dollar bill but refused to release his Doritos. That’s the result of a strictly literal reading. But Mark has carefully given us hints that a strictly literal reading is not appropriate here: first, he said very specifically that it was not the season for figs. So you either have to read Jesus as ignorant and petulant (to expect figs out of season) or you have to realize that there is something else going on. Next, Mark has interjected the story of Jesus’ removal of the moneychangers and the merchants from the temple in between the two halves of the story of the fig tree; Mark does this when he wants to use two stories to interpret each other. The fig tree is a symbol for Israel; fruitlessness/barrenness is a symbol of destruction; so we are to take Jesus’ temple action and Jesus’ fig tree action as conveying the same message about the temple/nation. (See Hosea 9, Jeremiah 7-8, and Micah 7). Further, Mark notes that the disciples saw that the tree had withered from the roots up. (Think about that for a minute: how could they have seen the roots?)

So it seems to me that at this moment, the least important and least interesting question that you could spend time thinking about is: Did Jesus really cause a fig tree to wither? I mean, who cares? Mark has carefully signaled that this is a deeply symbolic incident. Whether it happened in history seems about as relevant as whether Jesus was wearing his khaki tunic or his slate one with the nice stitching on the sleeves that day. Who cares? What difference does it make to how you read the story? Why would you even waste your time debating the historicity of this incident?

As I’ve said elsewhere, I think it matters whether you think Jesus was capable of withering a fig tree. I do think he was, as a matter of faith. But there’s no way for you or anyone else to torture this text enough to get it to reveal whether this event did or did not actually, historically happen. There’s nothing you can do (in terms of textual analysis) to determine whether a text recounting a miracle corresponds to history; the attempt to do so is a category error. It’s like thinking that if you analyze the data in just the right way, the thermometer will eventually reveal whether it is raining. But it just can’t do that; neither can a text somehow indicate whether a miracle actually happened. All of the efforts to force it to reveal its historicity or lack thereof are fruitless.

Far, far more interesting questions to ask about this passage include: How does the fig tree incident relate to the temple incident? What is being (symbolically) destroyed and, more importantly, why? What do the disciples (and, Mark’s audience) learn about Jesus from this incident, and how do they learn it? How does the Hebrew Bible background (of the fig tree, of barrenness, of the two texts Jesus quotes in the temple) inform the story? And, of course, how should my reading of this story impact my beliefs and behavior? What can I take from this text that can make me a more fruitful disciple?

So my gripe with all of the, uh, pixels being wasted in the Mormon historicity wars is not just that they are trying to answer inherently unanswerable questions, but that they are trying to answer really boring questions, at the cost of never getting around to asking the really interesting ones.

139 comments for “On Not Giving a Fig for Historicity Debates

  1. rah
    February 21, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Fair enough. I do think most the historicity questions vexing Mormonism these days are of a different variety, though. Namely, when generations of leaders revered as prophets not only teach historicity but historicity as critically, important proofs of truth claims on which to build one’s entire life then I think it is bad form to go blaming people that go forth with good intent and a bit of intellectual integrity to look into them.

    That said, I totally agree that scriptures are way more interesting when read as artful, deeply symbolic stories with a moral point than as historical. Noah’s ark is far more meaningful, beautiful and fascinating when read as a creation myth than a real historical event (maybe you should write the the church and suggest they finally change the GD manual that is still obsessed with its childlike historical realness). The BoM is a really fascinating text in its own right, when read as an incredibly complexly crafted multi-generational morality tale. Its compelling when consider an ancient text as it purports to be or a 19th century one. Tons of great things to get out of it. But clearly that is not what we are supposed to do as we have for generations hinged the truthfulness of the church on the historicity of the BoM following the lead of our founding. Gripe equally in both directions – at the institutional church which has framed it all this way and those members silly enough to take them totally seriously. I hope for a day when it is acceptable and legitimate for members to openly believe and discuss the BoM from anywhere along the historicity spectrum. Clearly today is not that day. Not just because of excommunication but even here on the blogs people are attacked enough when they even hint that they may, you know, be agnostic to or even question historicity to any significant degree that they have to write whole posts assuring people they aren’t “one of those”. Sure you can believe that you just can’t talk about it in polite company.

  2. p
    February 21, 2015 at 10:52 am

    “So-called intellectuals” to the ….. RESCUE? Really? I’m dizzy! Who could ever have imagined this? What kind of prophetic abilities would it have taken to see that, barely twenty years after Pres. Packer delivered his unfortunate address to the All-Church Coordinating Council, this most historical of all American churches would be facing not simply historicity “debates” but a historicity catastrophe?

  3. Steve
    February 21, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Well the church leadership seems to think it’s pretty important. Their power seems to be based on it. Further, they practically demand belief in historical claims in order to get into the temple. However, your position is understandable given the mountain of evidence against historicity. The debate does take away from the study of the texts and maybe if the church finally admitted to reality, everyone could move forward to a better place where scholarship is rewarded and gospel doctrine lessons aren’t at a sixth grade level.

  4. Steve Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Who cares? You may not, but the organization to which you belong (and many of whose claims you are defending and around whose claims you have shaped formed much of your very identity) seems to care, and quite a bit. For the LDS church has been making very bold claims about history and the nature of the cosmos since its inception and has asked its members to give a substantial amount of their time, money, and emotional effort (even to the point of rooting their identities around its fundamental doctrinal and historical claims) to defending these claims.

    Consider the following passage from the first chapter of Preach my Gospel:

    The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is convincing evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored. It is the keystone of our religion, the most powerful resource for teaching this message.

    The LDS church is strongly invested in claiming that Joseph Smith was a prophet (meaning that he literally transmitted ideas to people not from his imagination from ancient people and could have only done so by revelation from God), that the Book of Mormon is evidence of this, and that this Book of Mormon is an account of ancient people in the Americas literally witnessing the resurrected Jesus Christ.

    inherently unanswerable questions

    Once again. The question of the Book of Mormon being the words, ideas, and experiences of ancients in the Americas transmitted through Joseph Smith by looking at some stones in a hat is not claimed to be unanswerable by the LDS church. They claim that we can know of the truthfulness of that claim by praying and asking God, who will then give us the feeling of the spirit as confirmation of the truth of such.

  5. Jared vdH
    February 21, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Speaking to comments above, not the OP: Do you guys have some kind of coordination meeting every day or something? I regularly see several of your names all on similar articles all making the same arguments, all with similar hyperbole. It’s getting rather tedious.

  6. John
    February 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Not only do modern-day prophets seem to care a lot about historicity, but the BOM itself cares. There is enormous space in the book give. To keeping track of dates, locations, weights and measures, etc. The book seems to be wanting to be read as a history book to some degree.

    If it as if the fig tree parable included a full chapter on how fig trees work and how they can get dried up. This would make one want to think more about the actual details of the curse. In the same way, the BOM seems to care about the historical details.

  7. Ivan W.
    February 21, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I think using the fig tree is a bit of a dodge here. Applying the principle to the fig tree incident makes sense. However, I think most people in the church who are concerned with historicity aren’t worried too much about the fig tree or the order of events in the temptation in the desert. What happens when you apply this to the resurrection? or the suffering in Gethsemane? Those are the topics that will get people worked up.

    When I’ve taught Gospel Doctrine in fairly conservative wards, bringing up the idea the gospel writers didn’t have perfect memories or sources, reordered events, had different perspectives on events, and perhaps even “spun” some events is relatively uncontroversial. That’s not really where the concerns are.

  8. February 21, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Great post, Julie, and nicely stated.

  9. ji
    February 21, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    I believe Jesus was crucified — really, not allegorically. I believe he was resurrected — really, not allegorically. I believe Moses was a real man and that he led the people out of Egypt. I believe David was a real man. I believe Joseph Smith and George Washington were real men, and that one was a prophet of God and the other was a president of the United States (neither is the creation of later writers). To me, some acknowledgement of historicity is crucial to understanding the scriptures. To me, it is easy to believe that Jesus, a real man, saw a fig tree as he was walking along, and then seeing that it offered leaves, looked further for figs — and seeing none, he used it as a teaching moment for the benefit of those who walked with him. It’s easy to believe! Indeed, it is easier for me to believe that it really happened than to believe the gospel writer made it all up as he wrote.

    The problem with dismissing the historicity of the scriptures, it seem to me, is that approach is often a sophistry to avoid commitment to the message of the scriptures — well-intentioned men (well, even that is debatable these days) writing nice allegories to help others believe in nice principles. But to me, there’s more to it than that — our God is involved in the scriptures. So sometimes when others deny the historicity of the scriptures, I feel I need to defend the truth for the benefit of whoever is listening. Even so, I do understand that there is probably some hyperbole, some imagination, and so forth in the scriptures.

  10. PP
    February 21, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Sorry I’m late to the discussion! Just getting back from the coordination meeting over at Steve Smith’s :)

    Here’s a somewhat cynical view that strikes my fancy this very moment. As far as the church’s stance on historicity, its preeminent concerns are survival of the institution and maintaining the authority of church leaders. Given that former leaders have taken a very literal, “historical” view of our sacred texts, discarding their views would make them look bad and undermine the notion of church leaders as divinely inspired in matters related to our faith. It was only with tremendous reluctance that the church crafted the Book of Abraham essay decades after it was obvious that we had lost the battle, but it was becoming necessary to say *something* with the rise of the internet. So now a very short *something* has been said, but we won’t get any more until it once again becomes imperative.

    In the meantime, the function of the apologist will continue to be to tread where no church leader can (but with their tacit approval)- to gingerly suggest ways of reconciling our sacred texts with reality, thereby providing an informal release valve for cognitive dissonance. At times this will involve new interpretations of the sacred texts; at times it will involve attacks directed to secular knowledge. The imperative thing is that the backbone of the church–largely the tithe-paying folks in North America with mormon roots in their family or education (at BYU)–remains happy enough to stay put and continue tithing.

  11. Dave
    February 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    The evidence is clearly against historicity. So let’s come to reality and move forward. Myth can still be valuable and recognition of reality helps avoid gross error.

  12. Steve Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Jared vdH, I think you are referencing me. No coordination between me and anyone else. Just a lot of posts on historicity on Times and Seasons recently (which don’t seem to square well with what the LDS church is claiming about historicity) that appear to strike a nerve with me and p (I haven’t seen or remembered Steve’s or rah’s comments on this string of historicity posts before). If you’re referring to my comment(s) as hyperbolic, I’d be interested to know how. And if my comments on these posts are getting tedious and repetitive, then, well I must say that I’m tired of people toying with the meaning of the word ‘historical’ for their own convenience, denying what the historicity question is about, and even blatantly denying that the historicity issue even matters, especially when it is not some random bloggers and commenters who are all of a sudden pushing the historicity issue, but the LDS church leaders for well over one hundred years (and quite successfully to their advantage, at that). It is an odd feeling to be reminding people who have been LDS their whole lives of what should be fairly obvious things about the church. I suspect that cognitive dissonance really messes with people’s heads after a while.

  13. jared
    February 21, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Jared vdH
    Are you saying that their logic/reasoning is unsound or that you are just tired of having those historical facts mentioned in proper contexts?

  14. Travis
    February 21, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    I don’t believe Julie intended to dismiss the importance of the historicity of all scriptural stories. She says that questioning the historicity of the fig tree story is a category error—this story is meant to be allegorical, regardless of whether it’s based on real events. She never claims that the other category—that of stories meant to be historical—doesn’t exist.

  15. Joel Winter
    February 21, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    “The evidence is clearly against historicity.”

    On its face this seems true. Except that there is so little real evidence.

    And why are these things harped on all the time? Because some would use scant evidence to arrive at an absolutely unfounded and incredible conclusion such as “the evidence is clearly against historicity.”

    So, here I trot out the legal standard for the establishment of fact again. Cue the cry, “Historians don’t have to abide by such rules. It would be impossible for them to work” (code for “come to any conclusions at all.”) And wouldn’t that be nice?

    There is nothing at all clear. Not on either side. Sit in a courtroom and see how people disagree with contemporary evidence, evidence of their own eyes and ears, see how hard it is to get them to agree, And then use that experience to look at the disagreements regarding the interpretation of evidence from history, and accept how hard it is to paint a picture of the “truth” from any empirical evidence.

  16. Dave
    February 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Jared vdH: I believe the leadership doesn’t want to recognize inconvenient facts because that would be a direct attack on their authority. The geography of the book of mormon started out as the entire americas and now is a tiny area. Anthropology, archeology, linguistics as well as internal evidence simply are against historicity. So what do we do? Maybe realize this and move on, keeping what’s good and disgarding what’s bad? Clearly the authoritarian model tends to keep the membership in adolescence and needs to change.

  17. ji
    February 21, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    this story is meant to be allegorical

    There are some stories in the scriptures that are meant to be allegorical, and are presented as such — the parables of the sower, the prodigal son, the dinner, and so forth are intended to be and are presented as allegorical — other stories are presented as fact (or history) — the woman at the well, the woman with an issue of blood, and so forth. The story of the fig tree is in the latter category. Any movement of it to the former category is untrue to the text, it seems to me. After all, the text itself is the only guide we have for categorizing, absent further revelation.

  18. Jared vdH
    February 21, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    To those who have addressed me directly:

    1. In my observations your definitions of historicity are likewise fluid depending on the argument you’re trying to make or who you’re arguing with. Maybe you really could use some kind of coordinating committee to make sure your message is consistent.

    2. My observation of hyperbole primarily has to do with the supposed “historicity crisis” that you all seem to uniformly say is plaguing the church. From my observation most members of the Church I have met in the past 6 years or so (since I left the Mormon Belt and have been moving around a lot) aren’t really concerned with historicity. Even the people I’ve known who have left the Church haven’t much cared about historicity. Yes, that’s anecdotal evidence. However I would likewise claim that the evidence you all generally bring forth about to evidence this “crisis” sounds a lot like the Bush administration’s “evidence” for WMDs in Iraq. Sure you may prove to be right that there is a “crisis”, but for right now, I’m mighty skeptical.

    3. I would like someone at some point to actually name an individual from anywhere in North or South America that lived between 600 BCE and 400 CE. I keep seeing claims that Anthropology, archeology, and linguistics all have strong proofs against all of the events and people described in the Book of Mormon. If just 1% of the Book of Mormon is anciently derived how would I prove that? How would I disprove it?

    In reality the historicity question lies in whether or not you believe Joseph Smith completely fabricated the Book of Mormon or not. I personally believe that Joseph Smith did not lie about how he received the Book of Mormon. However you also seem to shy away from this question when asked directly because then you would potentially out yourself as a non-believer and thus lose some clout/respectability with the believers you wish to persuade to see things your way.

    As for T&S, I would guess that they’re hitting the historicity questions lately because each of them had a response to the original thread that grew too long to be a comment. So it became a blog post instead to feed the ever present need for content. Plus, it seems these posts get a lot of hits. I’m guessing that that is another incentive.

  19. Julie M. Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    You know what’s ironic? Writing a post about how historicity debates bore you and then having a dozen or so people debate historicity in the comments.

  20. Jared
    February 21, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Jared vdH,
    This is my second time on this website, but your second comment makes things clear for me – you are assuming people here are believers, that explains to me what your perspective is I was unaware that this was a qualifier for discussions on here.

    Also, your self-described anecdotal evidence of people not caring about historicity – my own anecdotal evidence shows those over 40 don’t care, but those that are younger care a great deal.

  21. ABM
    February 21, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    I and my 10 best Mormon friends are under 40 and none of us care… Who else wants to present anecdotal evidence?

    Julie, I think people can’t get past the historical debate because 1) Faithful members want to defend the historical aspects of their testimonies and 2) Those critical of the church (from within or without) see this as a reliable pot shot against believers.

  22. February 21, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Sorry in advance if my comment comes across as rude. That’s not my intention, but I have strong feelings about this, and passionate language often is received as being offensive.

    Julie, I have no idea why you would write this. I don’t know why you would dismiss a part of so many people’s faith that is important to them, and to the Restoration as a whole, because you don’t find it “interesting.” To me, it is like those who dismiss the Old Testament out of hand because it is before Jesus came, or who dismiss the Bible because of the unreliability of its translation, or who give up on Isaiah because it is repetitive and hard to understand. They’re part of the Gospel, and just because any of these things don’t interest you, doesn’t mean they don’t interest and aren’t important to other people.

    A central teaching of The Book of Mormon is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and because of that, if he did literal miracles then, He does them now. Maybe you don’t care about literal miracles in your life, but I do, and many other people care one way or the other about whether they really happen. That question—are literal miracles real—is a big part of what historicity discussion is all about.

    And for Joseph Smith, at least, they are real. One of the problem with the churches in his day, according to his canonized history, is that they dismissed that, “having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (JS-H 1:19)

    Miracles are an important part of the Gospel. Mark, in particular, puts emphasis on what Jesus actually did, not just what he said. For Mark, it would matter whether Jesus literally cursed that tree, or whether he didn’t. The fig tree as a symbol for Israel is an interesting one, but that’s not the explicit reason for Mark including the story. That’s not what Jesus said when asked about it. Instead,

    “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
    “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
    “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
    “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
    “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

    The lesson Jesus taught from his cursing of the fig tree was that when we pray to God with pure intent and forgiveness of others, He will give us the power to perform miracles. I believe Christ said that, and I believe it is true, and it is an essential part of my faith and religion.

    Because of that, it’s important to know whether Jesus is saying I can metaphorically perform miracles when I pray, or whether those miracles are literal.

    I am sorry this isn’t part of your faith, but please don’t disparage those of us for whom it is. There are a million components to God’s work, and all of us have knowledge of different ones. How we grow is by appreciating the ones others have and we don’t, not by belittling them. What are important to different groups are seldom mutually exclusive.

    Again, sorry to so entirely disagree. Please don’t be offended.

  23. Julie M. Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 6:27 pm


    You have completely misunderstood my post in three important ways:

    1. I am not dismissing _historicity_ as unimportant. I am dismissing _debates over historicity_ as useless.

    2. I personally do not dismiss historicity. I accept it for pretty much everything (minor exceptions for Jonah, worldwide flood, details of some miracles, etc.)

    3. I’m not saying that, e.g., Mark presents the story as having no grounding in history. I’m saying that devoting your scripture study time to that question means that you miss the forest for the trees.

  24. p
    February 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Jared vdH #5 during the past several weeks I have read five variations on theme “history-less Mormon historicity” authored by David Bokovoy, Adam Miller, Nathaniel Givens, Jonathan Green, and now Julie Smith. What’s going on here? I fear PP’s interpretation #10 is correct. The Brethren leaving damage control to “so-called” LDS intellectuals is absolutely beyond ironic – IOW, these professors and scholars have been either been assigned or taken upon themselves the task of ameliorating the incredible mess our audacious Brethren past & present, including Elder Packer, have perpetrated.

    It is also beyond ironic that an institution that for almost two centuries has claimed to be the ultimate repository of Truth on Earth would resort to such deceit and misrepresentation. Scholars and intellectuals, even so-called scholars and intellectuals, should not be part of this, but should insist that the truth be told. If the Book of Mormon is not actual history, and YES, we know what that is, then so be it, let us FACE UP to this and move on. BH Roberts said as much almost a hundred years ago. This is the honest thing to do and this is the moral thing to do, and how can we even contemplate doing less and call ourselves disciples of Jesus?

  25. Jared
    February 21, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    I see you missed my tongue and cheek approach to the anecdotal evidence – it was to illustrate that it is absurd because it is all relative to who you are and where you live.

    As for not letting go of the historicity issues – I will identify what my main hang up is right now.
    A government can change – it does not really matter who or how it was founded it is meant to flow and change and the original people don’t matter that much.

    However, with a religion – it very much matters who started it and what the issues were and what they said/claimed what things were. It can’t be ‘oh yeah ok they got it wrong – but poof out of thin air we have the authority now, or – now the signal is clear it wasn’t really a translation after all’.

    That kind of stuff really matters – I certainly don’t see it as a ‘pot shot’ at believers, it is a way or a method to investigate the credibility of persons/claims and to (hopefully) arrive at a conclusion.

    I will readily admit that I don’t understand how you and your ’10 best mormon friends’ can be so non caring about it. However, given that this starts to get into every body deals with and processes this differently as religion is a highly personal thing – then I guess sometimes that reason alone has to be enough.

  26. February 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    There’s nothing you can do (in terms of textual analysis) to determine whether a text recounting a miracle corresponds to history; the attempt to do so is a category error. It’s like thinking that if you analyze the data in just the right way, the thermometer will eventually reveal whether it is raining. But it just can’t do that; neither can a text somehow indicate whether a miracle actually happened. All of the efforts to force it to reveal its historicity or lack thereof are fruitless.

    Fruitless. heh

    While walking around NYC this past week, my daughter and I had a long conversation about religious questions. I told her that the particulars of scriptural historicity really wasn’t something that I cared much about at all. Your post explains why infinitely better. Thank you!

  27. ji
    February 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    You know what’s ironic? Writing a post about how historicity debates bore you and then having a dozen or so people debate historicity in the comments.

    It’s not a matter of irony — it’s a clever tactic on your part to dismiss historicity and then to say is isn’t worth talking about — you get to make your assertion as the last word and then silence everyone else with a differing opinion. For me, historicity is important — and maybe for other readers here now or later — so that’s why in post. Can we agree to disagree?

  28. February 21, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Julie, thank you for clarifying.

    I got a very different impression from the majority of your initial post.

    Thank you for not getting offended by my response.

    I am interested (seriously—I am not being sarcastic or skeptical here), since you feel historicity is important, what do you think the best way to know and share about it is, since you believe debating it or focusing scripture study on it is useless?

    What did you do to gain your belief in the historicity of the majority of the scriptures, and, connectedly, your disbelief for the exceptions you mentioned?

    This isn’t any kind of rhetorical device; I am genuinely interested.

  29. Julie M. Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    ji, please see comment #23. I am not dismissing historicity. Repeat: I am _not_ dismissing historicity. I am suggesting that debates over it (1) are always, ultimately, inconclusive and (2) are a distraction from more important and more interesting questions.

    mirrorrorrim, without suggesting that this is or should be true for anyone else, I’ll share my experience. I converted to the church as a teenager. I accepted what I was taught because the Spirit confirmed that I was in the right place and doing the right things by reading the scriptures. Later, as I learned more specifics, I realized that in some instances, assumptions that I had made (or had been taught) about historicity were not an appropriate or reasonable belief (Jonah is a good example here), so I let go of belief in that.

    I also don’t know that I would agree with your statement that I think historicity is important. I don’t. Once you get past the Resurrection account, historicity is not important to me. If evidence were to show up tomorrow that certain things I take to be historical are actually not (again, Resurrection excepted), I just wouldn’t care. It’s hard for me to understand why other people care so much, I confess. (If you aren’t upset over the fact that parables aren’t historical, why would you be upset over anything else not being historical? The response I usually get to this question is “but X presents itself as historical; the parables do not” to which I would reply [a] “ahistorical texts sometimes present themselves as historical as a narrative device” and [b] “maybe not; maybe you thought it was presenting itself as historical and you were wrong.”)

    I can’t imagine, to answer your question, a situation where I’d ever want to “share” about historicity. I think I’d always want to share about the narrative facets of and moral meaning of the text.

  30. February 21, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Jared vdH, as P points out, it is not the commenters, but the site bloggers that have been bringing historicity up so often. The format of the site only allows us to comment on what the permanent bloggers write about. There have been a lot of topics on historicity lately, so there are a lot of comments on it. From a quick count, if you exclude articles that are part of an ongoing series, a full third of the remaining topics on the front page of Times and Seasons are directly related to historicity.

    So, I may be wrong again, and please, Julie, correct me if I am, but I am assuming Julie’s message is more directed to the bloggers here, than to those of us who comment on the threads they start. I find that to be very brave on her part to directly question what her fellow bloggers are writing. But like I said, I may be wrong about Julie’s intentions.

    But regardless, in my mind if we keep talking about the same thing in different ways, it makes sense there will often be very similar answers each time. No correlation needed.

  31. Mike Maxwell
    February 21, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    It is fun and interesting when history, geology, archeology, psychology, and other scientific disciplines validate scriptural narratives… but it is unnecessary to achieve the objectives of faith. I choose to believe in a literal Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, largely as matter of faith due to what I have interpreted as personal revelation. I do not accept talking donkeys and serpents, Moses parting the Red Sea, Israelites obeying God’s command to inflict genocide, Joshua’s horns collapsing the walls of Jericho, Lehi building a ship to cross the Atlantic, and many other supernatural stories in scripture as necessarily literal.

    To me, scriptures literal truth is largely irrelevant because the truths illustrated in those stories are powerful and inspirational on their own. They are simply the stories that God uses to teach us and it is our act of faith to accept them as such. While I would not characterize as “boring,” I do agree that debates about literal historicity are unanswerable. They are also dangerous because the literalist mindset paints the believer into an impossible “it must be literally true to be true” corner.

    Literal history is not the objective of the stories we read in scripture. Scripture and religion’s primary goal is to enhance our relationship with the Devine and to inspire love and charity for our fellow human beings. If the stories in scripture enhance those conditions, they have served their purpose and their literal historicity just does not matter.

    I hope that in my lifetime I can see this literalism — a fundamentalist artifact of 16th century protestant christianity — put to rest in Mormonism. May the Mormon historicity wars take us there.

    Loved the post, Julie!

  32. Julie M. Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    mirrorrorrim, I had in mind some posts here, but also others elsewhere. There’s been a big back-and-forth of posts between David Bovokoy on the one hand and Daniel Peterson and William Hamblin on the other.

  33. Cameron N.
    February 21, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Well said Julie. My only suggestion is that sometimes the most boring questions are the most important ones. EG can you read the same few books every day for the rest of your life? Can you talk to me like a real person every day throughout the day? etc. I think boredom/diligence is one of the biggest challenges to faith and mortality. I know someone who left the church and took his family with him because he decided he was bored during a high council talk one Sunday!

  34. Terry H
    February 21, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Cameron N. If all of us did that, the church would literally be empty.

  35. rah
    February 21, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    I don’t really understand “I am not dismissing _historicity_ as unimportant. I am dismissing _debates over historicity_ as useless.” Maybe it is because for you it is decided: “I personally do not dismiss historicity. I accept it for pretty much everything (minor exceptions for Jonah, worldwide flood, details of some miracles, etc.)”. Certainly if historicity is decided for you then the debate can be useless and less interesting to you. It makes sense to avoid it. However, for others who are yet decided about the issue and how that impacts their faith and spiritual worldview the debate is not useless or boring.

    Not caring about historicity issues is another clear path forward for Mormons who are tired of the historicity debates. I consider myself to be squarely in the “I don’t care so much category”. I am willing to be mindfully agnostic to historicity questions simply because it is the only way I can try and retain a bit of traction in our literalistic faith. The best GD classes I have ever attended have had teachers who took the scriptures in much less literal ways. Uplifting, insightful and productive. I think I would really enjoy a GD class taught by you. Sadly these seem to be hard to find with any regularity and the manuals certainly don’t encourage such an approach. Whether we like it or not we largely exist in a church with a literalist culture and one that has been groomed for generations to care deeply about historicity. Correlation hasn’t been so much about correlating doctrine as it has been about correlating history.

  36. Steve Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Jared vdH,

    From my observation most members of the Church I have met in the past 6 years or so (since I left the Mormon Belt and have been moving around a lot) aren’t really concerned with historicity. Even the people I’ve known who have left the Church haven’t much cared about historicity.

    I live in Salt Lake and interact with both actives and inactives in Salt Lake, Davis, Cache, and Utah counties. Historicity is huge. And yes, the inactives I know talk about historicity constantly. I have a hard time believing anyone who claims that historicity issues aren’t important to LDS people. Dehlin’s 2012 survey of over 3,000 LDS actives and inactives (http://www.whymormonsquestion.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Survey-Results_Understanding-Mormon-Disbelief-Mar20121.pdf) reveals that historicity is one of major issues that people deal with.

  37. ABM
    February 21, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Yeah, lets cite a self- selecting survey from John Dehlin. That will surely give us accurate data.

  38. Steve Smith
    February 21, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Although Dehlin does acknowledge in the survey that the sample is not random and may not be necessarily representative of all Mormons, the fact that 3,000 self-selected people took the survey and claimed that historicity issues mattered says something. To say that historicity doesn’t matter to LDS people is just blatant denial.

  39. Steve Smith
    February 22, 2015 at 12:01 am

    Juile, with this post, you are an active participant in the historicity debate, like it or not. For you are claiming that historicity questions are unanswerable (which is quite a strong position, which many, myself included, would disagree with). You also misunderstand what the historicity issues are all about in the LDS church, hinting that people are trying to determine whether or not a miracle was possible through textual analysis thus committing a category error. That’s not what is happening. People aren’t taking issue with miraculous claims because of textual analyses, they’re taking issue with historical claims because of their observations about history and nature. Furthermore you are claiming rather strongly that these debates are a waste of time (which is also a strong position). I know several apologists and church leaders who would beg to differ.

  40. February 22, 2015 at 12:38 am

    The first question that must be asked is not weather every verse accurately describes actual historical events or not. For someone who desires to be a “believing” member of the Church, the first question should be “Did Joseph Smith write the book or did he translate it from an ancient text?” Weather that ancient text is historically accurate is actually irrelevant to the question of is the Church true based on a testimony of the BoM. And can hear everyone “but but wait of course it’s important, if it is just a book of stories and fables then we can’t believe the claims of the Church.” Actually that isn’t 100% true.
    I would like to submit the idea, that especially because the BoM itself claims to be a abridgment of records spanning over half a millennium, some or even a lot of the stories may not be historically accurate, especially because we are talking about a culture (if you will concede for one moment that they are based on an Israelite culture I promise you can take that concession back in just a moment if you choose to) that highly valued parables. From the 1906 unedited full-text version of the Jewish Encyclopedia,

    In the Talmud.
    A large number of parables are found in post-Biblical literature, in Talmud
    and Midrash. The Talmudic writers believed in the pedagogic importance of
    the parable, and regarded it as a valuable means of determining the true
    sense of the Law and of attaining a correct understanding thereof (Cant. R. i. 8).
    Johanan b. Zakkai is said to have studied parables and fables side by side with the
    Mi?ra, Mishnah, Halakah, Haggadah, etc. (B. B. 134a; Suk. 28a), and R. Meïr used
    to divide his public discourses into halakah, haggadah, and parables (Sanh. 38b).
    In the Talmud and Midrash almost every religious idea, moral maxim, or ethical
    requirement is accompanied by a parable which illustrates it.

    Now conceding once again for this argument that the BoM is an abridgment would Mormon be sure what was parable and what wasn’t. Maybe, maybe not. While most would say that the “editor” would I think we can look to the bible for a comparison. In the old. In the Talmud the writings are much “newer” then in comparison to to the Torah which had only 5 parables, if using the strictest “Jewish” definition of the word. But does it. The Torah is also an abridgment, of an oral history, it may be unclear what was originally a parable (the flood?) and what wasn’t.

    Staying with that line of reasoning it may be unclear what is story, what is factual. But here is the awesome part of what I am saying, if you can see the above as reasonable, and a way to answer the question of “perceived” historical inaccuracies ( I say that because some things that people like to point to like steel swords is actually a false argument. Steel existed at the time of Lehi, it was rare and extremely valuable, but credible, non LDS archaeologists have shown it did happen. Wrought Iron was being produced in China during this time, and because it is off point I won’t go into it look it up yourself, but if you can produce wrought you can make steel, this probably being why Nephi made such a big deal of Laban having it) then in truth IT DOESN’T matter if the text is historically accurate or not.

    Is it what Joesph Smith claimed? Was it an ancient text found buried in a hillside in upstate New York and not a story fabricated by an uneducated young man (or his friend). Again you can look to sources that show that the text follows very closely follows Ancient Israelite writing styles and was it possible that they where written on Gold Plates (please look up Chiasmus, Bedouin menacing practices, Edward Herbert Thompson/Mesoamerican gold plates, Persian vs Babylonia mid 1st millennium BC, Anthroponomastics in relations to Names of people in BoM ).

    Yes even if you agree that they are ancient writings, other people will bring up other arguments about why the founding of the Gospel not genuine, did he find them or was it an angel., multiple First Vision stories, polygamy, treasure hunting, Masons, ect. All of that not withstanding, and acknowledging that those can/should be addressed . But In the context of this post, and simply as a starting point for further discussions, the question of weather or not is it an ancient or modern text is fundamental. If it is a modern text nothing further needs to be said, if it is an ancient text, it is a strong foundation proof that the gospel may in fact be true.

    So in response to the post, does Historicity matter when considering the BoF as true. The author made some wonderful points that I agree with, but I do think it is limited, especially in regards to all of the posts comments saying “of course it does, if it’s not historical it isn’t true” and for those wanting a more “scientific” explanation. The author is correct for many more reasons (scientific) reasons than stated. The Historicity doesn’t matter in the argument of proving weather the Gospel is true or not. As clear from my argument it is my feeling that the only thing that matters is weather it is an ancient text or not. After that argue among yourselves about how he got them, how he translated them, (how his translation conformed to ancient Jewish writing styles that weren’t even known of by scholars during that time period….hmmmmm) and all the other questions that come up.

    For myself I believe tat a great deal of the book is Historical, and that many of the things that are seen as argument against that are either a lack of mid 1st millennial cultural literacy, regurgitated arguments that have been proven false but people keep bringing up (steel, peoples names, gold plates) without actually studying the scientific data available from non LDS academics and LDS academics, and finally Cognitive dissonance ie: so many that oppose the BofM have spent so many years and so much energy, emotional and psychological, to prove it is false that even when presented with credible sources, information and facts they will not, in fact cannot see it, Because psychologically they are unable to align it with THEIR absolute “faith” that is is a lie, it would cause such a psychological schism, their mind just stops. And no reasonable argument, either mine or the authors will be heard.

  41. ABM
    February 22, 2015 at 12:49 am

    I don’t think Dehlin’s survey has much of anything important to tell us. “Self-selected” and “online” being two important reasons.

    Regardless, to Julie’s point, the historical questions that are most important to Mormons: (Resurrection, Book of mormon, etc.) are essentially unknowable.

    That is why there is faith.

  42. Pacumeni
    February 22, 2015 at 1:28 am

    #6 mentions the inclusion of weights and measures as evidence that the Book of Mormon has a primary interest in history. But in fact, the monetary/weights/measures passage in Alma is used much like the story of the cursed fig tree in the New Testament–for rhetorical effect. Alma is preaching to the corrupt, money-obsessed people of Ammonihah. Their legal system, in particular, has been corrupted by obsession with money. A participant in that system, Zeezrom, is the principal adversary of Alma and Amulek. That is the context in which the weights and measures are mentioned. That long passage on money/weights is preceded by Alma 10: 32, “Now the object of these lawyers was to get gain; and they got gain according to their employ.” It is followed by Alma 11: 20, “Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek.” The laborious, perhaps even tedious sixteen verse account of their money/weights powerfully illustrates who the Ammonihahites were and the emptiness of their corrupt preoccupation with money. That rhetorical function is the most important thing to understand about the passage. David Bokovoy makes this points as follows in Insights:

    A careful survey of editorial activity in the Book of Mormon shows that Nephite editors used repetitive resumption in a similar manner. For example, the editor of the book of Alma (in this case apparently Mormon) interrupts the account of Alma’s confrontation with Zeezrom by interjecting an outline of the Nephite monetary system (see Alma 11:1—19). Prior to this insertion, the account reads, “Now the object of these lawyers was to get gain; and they got gain according to their employ” (10:32). However, after the editorial interruption that breaks the flow of the primary narrative, the editor returns to the original account by using repetitive resumption: “Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ” (11:20).

    The rhetorical use of that long monetary passage exists—and is impressive—no matter what the historical status of Nephites and Ammonihah. What is clear, and too little appreciated by people inside and outside of the Church is what a powerful literary work the Book of Mormon is. Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon makes a good start on bringing this fact to the attention of believers and nonbelievers alike. But as he would freely admit, he just scratches the surface. Would that a small fraction of the attention given to the historicity of the Book of Mormon were devoted to exploring and explicating its many parallel narratives and intertextual allusions. As #35 indicates, most of us would enjoy Gospel Doctrine much more—and would probably have our faith strengthened—if we were more attentive to these aspects of this great work of scripture.

  43. rah
    February 22, 2015 at 9:19 am


    Because the survey is not random it can not tell us the relative representation of these issues in the broader adult population of LDS members. Of course it can’t. It is best see as a sort of quantitative ethnography of a very specific group of people in the communities of people in faith crisis that John was swimming in at the time. Because the self-selection criteria is pretty well know it does allow us to say something about that select group. It can give some evidence on what that subgroup of people were experiencing and feeling. In the context of this discussion, such a thing is relevant with its acknowledged limitations and all. Its not like the sample method was hidden, disguised or ignored. It is what it is. To say its value is completely null would be just as erroneous as making strong claims as to its representitiveness. The sad fact is that it remains one of the only and best sources of public data on the topic. If you have a better one please share.

    In the bigger picture its not like there isn’t ancillary evidence that these issues are a major and widespread source of concern in the church. Everything from the Swedish Rescue to the fairly remarkable new GD essays, to changes in the Maxwell Institute, to initiatives in CES, to dynamics of the bloggernacle in which you are participating speak to that. There is a reason Julie is fatigued of this discussion and its not because of its rarity in the LDS community.

    I would agree that among active, pew sitting Mormons these issues aren’t top of mind, but in subgroups many people care about they are – subgroups like otherwise normal Mormons leaving activity during a faith transition or crisis. But you can choose to not care about that relatively small subgroup.

  44. Steve Smith
    February 22, 2015 at 9:57 am

    ABM, I echo what rah said about the survey. I think you are grasping at justifications to deny what comes as an inconvenient reality to you: that historicity matters to Mormons. I’m not sure why this is inconvenient for you, but it is what it is. Look at it this way. Quantum physics debates don’t matter to me at all. If some friend of mine up and took a strong position on string theory and the hypothesis of a multiverse, I honestly wouldn’t really know what he was talking about, I wouldn’t be emotionally unsettled, and I wouldn’t really lose much sleep thinking about what he said. Contrast this with 9/11. I care about what happened and what people think about it, even if I may not talk about it that much and even if I don’t go around asking people what their thoughts are on 9/11. But if a friend of mine up and claims that 9/11 was an inside job (and this has happened, and I can imagine that most of us have been blindsided by conspiracy theorist friends who catch us by surprise), I do feel emotionally unsettled and even prompted to look at or reference some material debunking his outlandish claims. I imagine that many LDS feel the way about historicity the same way that I feel about 9/11. They may not talk about historicity issues much, but they care about them, especially when someone challenges them. There are those LDS people who do look at historicity issues as I look at quantum physics debates. They really don’t know what is being talked about, and someone can talk about it all day in front of them without them being unsettled in the least, and it is the lack of emotional unsettling that is the epitome of apathy.

    As for your assertion that things such as the resurrection and the historicity of the Book of Mormon are unknowable, my point wasn’t to argue that these questions are knowable (although I do think that they are), but rather, my point was that claiming that these questions are unknowable is taking an position on the historicity issue. You are investing emotional stock in a pretty strong proposition. Let me ask you, have you ever claimed to someone that the question of whether we reincarnate or not is unknowable? Have you even talked about reincarnation? I don’t know, it could be that you actually have. But I suspect that most LDS people, like me, haven’t talked about that issue, and really don’t care about it at all. Yet it is hard to believe that Julie doesn’t care about historicity debates when she has claimed in the comments that historicity matters to her and has asserted that historicity questions are unanswerable.

  45. Jack
    February 22, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Julie, you may be right that the debate over historicity isn’t very important as it relates to our daily scripture study — though I’m sure in some instances it can be. But even so, that debate has a lot of, er, history behind it. It stems from what is perceived as a fundamental shift in the direction of the Maxwell Institute at BYU — a shift away from “polemical” apologetics to an apologetics of “richness.” And it is feared by some (including myself) that this shift may have more to do with satisfying an academic criteria than with reading the scriptures in new, more enlightened ways.

    That said, what I find most sad about this whole thing is that the real point of contention (from one side of the debate) is simply not to throw the bay out with the bath water. I’m fairly certain that Dan Peterson embraces any positive approach to scholarly research on the scriptures. But it’s when historicity gets summarily swept under the rug in the process that he, Hamblin, and others get concerned.

  46. PP
    February 22, 2015 at 10:19 am

    If we can’t agree about historicity, can we at least agree to a truce?

    People in the literalistic/”historicity” camp can take comfort that all the church manuals and virtually all church leaders discuss the scriptures in this way. This won’t be changing soon, as I argued in my prior comment (#10). There is no reason to feel threatened by a relatively voiceless minority who don’t take every aspect of the scriptures literally.

    The choice for many people in the non-literal camp is often *not* between believing non-literally vs. believing literally. Instead, the choice is between believing non-literally vs. believing at all. I don’t see why we should try to make life even more difficult for these people. I don’t see why we should be trying to usher these people out of the church. The literal/historical people should surely want these people to “hang on” with whatever they can muster. Doesn’t the Savior’s love extend to people who we disagree with? Shouldn’t our love extend to people we disagree with?

    “OK, then, they can stay as long as they’re quiet about their views,” some might be tempted to say. But is this really showing love – treating people like they’re mute animals? Again, the “literals” have nothing to fear from the “non-literals” speaking up, because the overwhelming institutional weight of the church is on their side for as far as the eye can see. Why not just enjoy listening to a different perspective on what a passage means? Perhaps it will lead to greater understanding; if it doesn’t, then at least you’ll know that one of your fellow Saints had a few moments where they felt affirmed, listened to, and more likely to stay put in the church.

  47. Steve
    February 22, 2015 at 1:41 pm


    I think at least the literalists who comment on this blog (and I suspect more) are worried and that’s why this is such an emotional subject. As time marches on, there seems to be more and more evidence against historicity of the scriptures. Apostle Holland’s recent speech on Feb 6 to CES seemed to echo these fears. This seems to be why you have a doubling down on the “follow the prophet” rhetoric coming out of 47 E. South Temple. Nevertheless, we should welcome and not fear scholarship and reason about these subjects. It may seem to be difficult now knowing that various mythical paradigms are shifting, but in the end reason needs to win out and we will all be better for it.

  48. p
    February 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Internal contradictions crash cultures. Slavery almost destroyed the Land of the Free. Poverty & corruption shattered that Worker’s Paradise the USSR. Child abuse at the hands of God’s Servants in the Catholic Church has essentially finished it the First World. Nobody has any idea the long-term effects on our Church of de facto downgrading of BoM (BoA) to “literary” or “allegory” or “faith promoting.” Will this happen? Of course, because this construct, “most correct of any book on earth”, is also an internal contradiction that can no longer be maintained. When “the most correct of any book” generates statements like Michael Coe’s in 1973, and these are corroborated a full quarter-century later by DNA evidence and this information is available world-wide via Internet, meltdown is imminent. Whether our culture/church collapses quickly or slowly, and if it recovers, is largely in the hands of a hierarchy the most salient behavioral characteristic of which is reactionary retrenchment. The Church’s de-evolution from One True to Republican PAC is disheartening but perhaps an indication of things to come.

  49. ABM
    February 22, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Rah & Steve,

    I should note that I am not arguing that historicity debates are not important to people or that the membership has no stake in them. Essentially, this is how I feel:

    1) The most controversial historical issues are all but unsolvable.
    2) Historical issues are in my view, ultimately a foolish reason to leave church activity. The church has always maintained that one can only learn the truthfulness of the gospel through the spirit. That people leave any religion over historicity issues says more about our culture and what it values than it does about the church’s truth claims.
    3) There are of course members that worry about historical issues. I have spoken to some. I am related to at least one. I just disagree with the suggestion that this is a church-destroying problem.
    4) Lastly, on Dehlin’s survey, I do not disagree that some sincere people participated. But based on what I know about survey design, I don’t trust the results.

    And Steve, on reincarnation, I would assert that whether or not it exists is not knowable. If, upon death, our souls enter into another body and we live again, I would have no way of knowing it. Obviously, I don’t believe in reincarnation. Most of the major religious claims around the world would transcend our normal methods of proving something true or false.

  50. ABM
    February 22, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    “meltdown is imminent”

  51. Jack
    February 22, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    p: “The Church’s de-evolution from One True to Republican PAC is disheartening but perhaps an indication of things to come.”

    Conservatives really go for historicity, you know. So I guess that means the future looks bright!

  52. p
    February 22, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    ABM #50 I will refer you to Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises:

    “How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

    “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

    Jack #51 since the historicity of conservatives seems completely devoid of actual history, I guess you’ll have to give me examples. Please reference BoM/BoA.

  53. eponymous
    February 22, 2015 at 4:33 pm


    I echo your thoughts and intent. I was just re-reading Eugene England’s treatise on Lowell Bennion’s legacy (thanks to the Lectionary project over at BCC) and England’s and Bennion’s thoughts on the question of Book of Mormon historicity really resonated with me. Then I clicked into your post here and smiled to see a similar treatment of the question. I’m going to quote from England’s essay from the September 1996 Sunstone because the Church made a shift in the 1960’s that pushed approaches like Bennion’s out of favor and as a result we are spending time debating the problems of historicity rather than engaging around the core message:

    “In 1936, as a young teacher developing his first Book of Mormon classes, anxious to do the very best by his students, Lowell went to Seattle for the summer and took a course in the archaeology of ancient America at the University of Washington. He studied carefully and read widely in scientific journals. After the course ended, he secluded himself for a week, reading the Book of Mormon and trying to relate his summer’s work to it. He found very little connection. Though he later recognized, in 1985 when he published his The Book of Mormon: A Guide to Christian Living, that Book of Mormon archaeology had come a long way in fifty years, he still remained convinced that “the relationship of this book of scripture to external evidence remains problematical because the Book of Mormon peoples were not the only migrations to the Western Hemisphere” and sorting out Nephite or Jaredite remains from others is impossible. But he still valued his study back in 1936, especially that final week of “intensely satisfying,” concentrated reading, in which he “discovered that the Book of Mormon is not a textbook in any science, not even mainly an historical account or a theological treatise,” but “a religious record of three migrations.” It is a book written by prophets whose purpose it is to persuade “people to believe in God, to have faith in Christ, and to forsake evil for good. I felt their faith and resonated to their testimony.”

    In the past thirty years, as his Book of Mormon study guides have no longer been used, Bennion’s approach has been greatly neglected in Church education and too often forgotten by all sides in the often unseemly battles in the Mormon intel- lectual community over the “historicity” of the Book of Mormon. Many who write about the Book of Mormon seem more interested in proving, by external evidences, that it is or is not inspired—rather than in examining how inspiring it is, how well it can move us to Christian faith and Christian living.

    Surely, if God wanted to, he could provide us the artifacts to prove without doubt that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be. That he doesn’t, and that the best efforts of a lot of devoted and reasonably intelligent people (I have tried myself in a few essays) have not moved us very far beyond Lowell Bennion’s judgment in 1936—that the proofs of historicity are “problematical.” All that ought to suggest to us that God doesn’t care much about such proof. Perhaps he knows from much experience that simply knowing the scriptures are historically “true” doesn’t help much to make his children more faithful or moral—or kind to each other.”

    Is the Book of Mormon the word of God or not? Was Joseph Smith called of God or not? Those are the fundamental questions here. I have a firm witness that both of those statements are true. What I do with that understanding and how it leads me to treat those around me is ultimately how I will be judged.

  54. February 22, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    P, are you really likening a belief in The Book of Mormon as real history to slavery, the 20 million people Stalin killed, and child abuse? That seems a little extreme, especially since, whether you believe in it or not, I think it would be hard to correlate any negative behavior by Latter-day Saints to their belief that The Book of Mormon is real history. Historically, the Book of Abraham was directly used as a justification for excluding people with dark skin from holding the priesthood, so you could make an argument for that, historically. But President Kimball rectified that in 1978, so I don’t know what the negative effects today from literally believing that book are, either.

    Is it bad to believe that Native Americans, whom we have historically persecuted and denigrated, are God’s chosen people, and that we owe them a debt of gratitude? Is it detrimental to believe that people in America have been given a choice land of promise, a place where they will have freedom if they follow God? Does it hurt people to believe that the survival of our countries depends on how we care for our poor? Does it cost lives to believe that God will never support a country in fighting wars of revenge?

    All of these come from a literal belief in The Book of Mormon’s history, and all are weakened when that is removed. How much a person cares about historicity, as far as I can tell, is rooted in either their love for modern science on one side, or belief that absolute truth is important, on the other. I think these things both have a lot of good that can come out of them, and both have some bad if they are taken in unhealthy directions. I can’t really say I value one over the other. I believe in The Book of Mormon’s historicity because I believe in doctrines that come out of it, like caring for the poor, which I have listed above, and those are the things such a belief promotes.

    You can easily find other doctrines to believe in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that don’t depend on historicity. Just look at The Book of Mormon musical. I love the idea of a metaphorical Sal Tlay Ka Siti. That’s why I don’t think either side needs to be focused on getting rid of the other. If belief in one starts to lead people to do bad things, I think then, and only then, should we start opposing one, and then I hope our opposition focuses on the effects.

    Maybe you feel like it’s already at that point, P, which is why you so strongly oppose historicity, and why you feel it is an important issue to debate, unlike Julie, who doesn’t. Or maybe my logic is off somewhere. Or maybe you just really like modern science. That’s fine, too. But please don’t discount that other people just really value literal truth because of that. And please don’t compare their beliefs to murdering, enslaving, and child abusing, unless you are willing to describe effects that are being caused that are comparable.

    And before you bring up Mountain Meadows Massacre, I think it is impossible to tie that to matters of historicity. There are a lot of problems in our church that contributed to that, and I think it is more important to focus on getting rid of those, since they have had and continue to have real, negative impacts on the world. I wish more people would write posts about those things, and patriarchy, and sex obsession (via polygamy, or however you want to address it)—things that actively hurt members, as opposed to something like historicity, that doesn’t.

    Sorry for the long rant.

  55. February 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    “you are assuming people here are believers, that explains to me what your perspective is I was unaware that this was a qualifier for discussions on here.”

    Belief is not a prereq for reading and commenting, but the vast majority of Times&Seasons writers are believers, and our intended audience is believers. This is not a DAMU site, and we don’t generally share those assumptions.

  56. Martin James
    February 22, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    As long as God is symbolic and not literal then I’m for it too. But I don’t think you have it both ways.

  57. p
    February 22, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    mirrorrorrim #54, who is this addressed to? I find no “P” upper case listed among respondents. If you meant “p” as in lowercase, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  58. Clark Goble
    February 22, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    So my gripe with all of the, uh, pixels being wasted in the Mormon historicity wars is not just that they are trying to answer inherently unanswerable questions, but that they are trying to answer really boring questions, at the cost of never getting around to asking the really interesting ones.

    I think this is right, although I’d add that not all the historicity questions are boring. It’s certainly easy to find ones that are less significant to the message of the text. But then it’s not terribly hard to find ones that are rather important such as the passages saying Jesus returned from the dead. All depends upon what one is looking for.

    That said I do think those discussing the historicity question need to explain the “so what” portion.

  59. February 22, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    p, I responded—I was replying to you—but my comment is awaiting moderation. I have no idea how long that takes. I must have used some flagged words. I would rephrase it, but I’m not sure which words those are.

  60. p
    February 22, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    In the meantime #59 and FWIW I was not drawing parallels beyond providing well-known examples of systems suffering inherent contradictions. I could also have used Mitt Romney’s presidential bid; you saw an example of a politician attempting to correct a contradiction when he recently stated his concern for the poor, an obvious band-aid to his 47% comment last cycle.

  61. rah
    February 23, 2015 at 1:32 am


    totally agree. the bennion/england approach to these issues was rather rudely and powerfully brushed aside in favor of what we now have. personally this is something i struggle with. I love the the england/bennion/brown version of Mormonism. I really do. I am really morally and intellectually uncomfortable with the benson/wilkerson/packer version of Mormonism. the theological and organizational battles of the 1970s really shaped the church we now have and the side i tend to identify not only lost but was systematically marginalized. Certainly it is there in pockets and available in our history, but it is largely gone from the pews and apparently from the COB as well. I know many people trying to hang on to this version of Mormonism. To keep it alive and vibrant against cultural and organizational head winds. I daresay it is more robust to the current epistemological and social challenges facing our faith.

    The more I think about Julie’s post the more I see it as in communion with the Mormonism I love and I think I misread it as having a lack of empathy for those struggling with historicity issues which are in so many ways more severe because of what to me was a tragic historical mistake.

  62. February 23, 2015 at 5:31 am

    I don’t really know much about Mormonism, but from a bit of recent reading as an outsider, my impression is that the original post above is begging the question.

    Fifteen years ago I started getting pains in my knee. I had an MRI and nothing seemed to be wrong, so I stopped worrying about it. And I’ve been fine. Moaning about my little aches and pains would just make me a tedious old man before my time. The forest is that I’m healthy. The twinge in my knee is just a twig.

    The reason I worried enough to get an MRI, though, was that twenty-five years ago my best friend felt a pain in his knee, and within a year he was dead from metastasized osteogenic sarcoma.

    Some aches and pains are not just tedious distractions on which it is foolish to dwell. It’s only human to tell yourself that it’s just one of those little twinges that you ought to ignore, but if it’s not, then denial won’t help. There is a time to just take an ibuprofen and keep skiing, and there is a time for aggressive treatment and radical measures.

    The concerns that many Mormons seem to have about their scriptures’ historicity seem to me to be too serious to dismiss their discussion as a perverse concentration on details.

  63. Steve Smith
    February 23, 2015 at 7:52 am

    ABM (49),

    The church has always maintained that one can only learn the truthfulness of the gospel through the spirit

    Doesn’t learning truthfulness imply knowing? At any rate, the idea that historicity questions are “unknowable,” as you claim, is in contradiction with one of the LDS church’s key propositions, which is that you can know the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is a true prophet who translated an ancient text by praying about it and feeling the spirit. So the real question surrounding the historicity questions isn’t really whether or not we can prove or disprove them through conventional scholarly methods (which if applied would clearly show the extremely high implausibility of someone being able to translate ancient records by looking at some stones in a hat), but whether or not you can actually know things through the spirit.

    I just disagree with the suggestion that [historical issues are] a church-destroying problem

    I think you’ve misread my words, for I’m not suggesting that the historicity issues are church-destroying. People have been attacking Joseph Smith’s claims about historicity since he first made them and yet he managed to found a very successful and rapidly growing church, which by all measures is still successful and growing, and shows no signs of stopping (although it may slow and even collapse in some areas, such as Norway). What I’ve been asserting is that historicity issues do actually matter to a large number of members in the Mormon belt (the most significant area of Mormondom, as opposed to Africa, Asia, and other areas, where Mormonism doesn’t really have deep roots). This is because 1) Mormons root much of their religious identities in the claim that the Book of Mormon is true (the repeated mention of ‘knowing the Book of Mormon is true’ in fast and testimony meetings is evidence of this), and 2) active LDS people in the Mormon belt are likely to be emotionally unsettled by the slightest suggestion that the Book of Mormon isn’t what Joseph Smith claimed it to be.

    Most of the major religious claims around the world would transcend our normal methods of proving something true or false

    OK, then why bother defending and promoting the claims of one religion over the other?

    To reiterate, I take issue with Julie’s assertion of unanswerability and your assertion of unknowability. 1) You have to recognize that these are bold assertions that suggest that you do have a stake in the historicity debates, and 2) if you mean that historicity questions are unknowable and unanswerable by conventional scholarly methods, then you are dead wrong. The idea that you can cause a tree to wither by uttering words at it is completely falsifiable by all measures of conventional modern-day scholarship, therefore making Jesus’ ability to do that in the past highly unlikely.

  64. Joseph Stanford
    February 23, 2015 at 9:49 am

    1) What does it mean that a piece of text is “true”? Is a newspaper report “truer” than a piece of literature? If the literature brings me closer to God, maybe it’s “truer” than the newspaper.
    2) It seems that different Mormons have different understandings about what “true” means, including among others, historically accurate, spiritually accurate, inspiring, bringing people to Christ, bringing family together, bearing fruit of the Spirit in our lives. For some people, those meanings have to go together, for others, they do not. Perhaps we could give each other some room to have different ideas about what “true” means?

  65. p
    February 23, 2015 at 10:40 am

    mirrorrorrim on February 22, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    “Is it bad to believe that Native Americans, whom we have historically persecuted and denigrated, are God’s chosen people, and that we owe them a debt of gratitude? Is it detrimental to believe that people in America have been given a choice land of promise, a place where they will have freedom if they follow God? Does it hurt people to believe that the survival of our countries depends on how we care for our poor? Does it cost lives to believe that God will never support a country in fighting wars of revenge?”

    If you are ostensibly basing and then selling those beliefs to believers as genuine history (which is what you imply) then, yes, it is bad. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s called lying. This currently en vogue version of a flexible Mormon truth is a sign of decay.

    Leadership! Discipleship! Now!

  66. ABM
    February 23, 2015 at 11:05 am


    Yes, the church teaches you can know things through the spirit. The most interesting questions of our religion are not know able through conventional scholarly methods but only through the spirit.

    On the church-destroying thing… I agree that you have not asserted this but other have. My comment came after reading “p” above about how collapse was imminent.

    On your conclusion, I agree that the use of words to cause a tree to wither is “completely falsifiable by all measures of conventional modern-day scholarship”…. but if someone could do it, wouldn’t that person be God? Wouldn’t this also be true for the resurrection? That is kind of my point. conventional scholarship plays by a different set of rules than deity. And that is what I mean by it being unknowable or unanswerable.

  67. p
    February 23, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Saw this in NYT this a.m. and it seemed oddly relevant to our discussion here, esp. this passage:

    “Whether or not “hard A.I.” ever appears, the harm is also in the loss of all that we prevent ourselves from discovering and understanding when we insist on protecting beliefs we know to be false. In the 1950 essay, Turing offers several rebuttals to his speculative A.I., including a striking comparison with earlier objections to Copernican astronomy. Copernican traumas that abolish the false centrality and absolute special-ness of human thought and species-being are priceless accomplishments. They allow for human culture based on how the world actually is more than on how it appears to us from our limited vantage point. Turing referred to these as “theological objections,” but one could argue that the anthropomorphic precondition for A.I. is a “pre-Copernican” attitude as well, however secular it may appear. The advent of robust inhuman A.I. may let us achieve another disenchantment, one that should enable a more reality-based understanding of ourselves, our situation, and a fuller and more complex understanding of what “intelligence” is and is not. From there we can hopefully make our world with a greater confidence that our models are good approximations of what’s out there (always a helpful thing.)”


  68. Doug
    February 23, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Excellent post. Debates about historicity are pointless, given that there is practically zero evidence for the claims of any religion. The problem of the historicity of the BOM pales compared to the fact that outside of the Gospels there is no evidence for the Resurrection!

    Perhaps one day that evidence will be found–and believers shouldn’t stop looking–but until then, it’s all a matter of faith. Each individual must accept it or not, as their conscience (or the Spirit) guides.

  69. PP
    February 23, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Doug –

    Yes, religion is a matter of faith, conscience, and Spirit. But I disagree with you about the “zero evidence” bit. As for the resurrection, the British scholar NT Wright has argued quite forcefully for it based on historical grounds in the “Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God.” There actually *is* evidence on Jesus – but people disagree about what it means. There is likewise evidence pro and con certain things in the Book of Mormon, and obviously considerable disagreement. But its inaccurate to suggest all religion is fluffy la-la land stuff that just takes place in the clouds. Religion happened, and happens, right here on earth, and we should keep our eyes open to whatever evidence is available and assess it on its own merits.

  70. February 23, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    As someone who believes in the historicity and the historical nature of The Book of Mormon and many other scriptures (except the ones that aren’t historical or that don’t display historicity, of course), I found this post to be a wonderful addition to the topic — thank you so much, Julie. This is such a good, relevant, and important perspective about questions of “historicity.”

  71. Mary Ann
    February 23, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    #53 eponymous and others, I don’t think Bennion’s viewpoint is as absent from mainstream Mormonism as people here think. The DNA and Book of Mormon essay on the Gospel Topics page also states that attempting to prove the Book of Mormon “true” via empirical methods will likely be futile as the book is primarily a spiritual record rather than historical. This viewpoint was shared by many of my Mormon college professors and peers, very few of which would be considered liberal except by only the most extremely conservative members.

  72. Jared vdH
    February 23, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Why not just enjoy listening to a different perspective on what a passage means? Perhaps it will lead to greater understanding; if it doesn’t, then at least you’ll know that one of your fellow Saints had a few moments where they felt affirmed, listened to, and more likely to stay put in the church.

    PP, I’m fine with a truce. However it has been my experience that those who have strong feelings on the anti-historicity debate rarely want to discuss “a difference perspective on what a passage means”. They’d rather share all of their evidences for why the BoM isn’t historical and Joseph Smith was a big liar. In fact, none of you on the anti-historicity side of this comment thread really had anything to say about actual scriptural passages. You’d rather cite statistically-specious internet surveys and complain about Joseph’s stones in a hat not being a prominent part of Church manuals. From the available evidence you don’t want to talk about alternative perspectives of a passage’s meaning. You just want to undermine the beliefs of those you disagree with.

  73. Hopeful
    February 23, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    First time commenter here. I can only speak for myself. I’m a middle-aged housewife who has raised her children in the church. They have gone on missions and married in the temple.
    I believe in evolution. I don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve. I don’t believe Noah could have put every species on the planet in a boat. I don’t believe polygamy has EVER been God’s will for his children. I am bothered by the information that has come to light about the book of Abraham. I don’t like the way women are treated in the temple ceremony. I’ve been distraught about the way the church has handled the LGTB community and the way the Utah legislature has cow towed to them.
    But the church is my spiritual home. My family is here. I live in Utah. I go visiting teaching every month. I am holding on by my fingernails to my belief in God and that Jesus is my Savior. I’m desperately looking for a way to stay in the church. Is there room for me? In my ward it would seem the answer is no. These discussions give me hope.

  74. PP
    February 23, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Jared vdH –

    Regarding your comment #72, which references mine, I think I should add a point of clarification. My prior comment was really meant to address the situation of allowing people with various viewpoints to speak up at church, and not feel scared about doing so. Inside church meetinghouses, I don’t think you encounter the problems you’re discussing – people saying “Joseph Smith was a big liar” etc. I’ve never seen this done in a chapel; even if people think other religions are totally wrong, they generally don’t go into their meetinghouses to tell them so. In contrast, I have seen members shut down people at church who offer unorthodox interpretations of scripture. Its those views I’m suggesting we protect (since the orthodox views have currently have free reign in our chapels).

    On the internet, you’re never going to get people to stop arguing, as this post and its comments amply demonstrate.

  75. Jared vdH
    February 23, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    I suppose I’m just an outlier then. I’ve never been smacked down for voicing unorthodox opinions and my previous bishopric (Austin, TX) thanked me for often sharing my “unique point of view” when I moved away. I was their ward clerk at the time. In the ward before that (Jacksonville, FL) the bishop called me to be the gospel doctrine teacher.

    Perhaps our views of “unorthodox interpretations of scripture” are different. I’d welcome you sharing what you observed being smacked down. I tend to be vocal in classes and often take slants against the standard narrative as portrayed in the manuals. When I was a teacher I would often take the scriptures assigned and then ditch the manual entirely. I do this because otherwise I would generally be bored out of my mind if I just went with what was in the manual.

    Like I said, I’m probably an outlier. Also, I’m 31, single, and just transitioned from YSA wards to family wards. Use that data as you will.

  76. rah
    February 23, 2015 at 6:32 pm


    I totally get you. Many of us our in the same boat. You are not alone in Mormondom and probably not even your ward. Its just that publicly in your ward people can’t express those ideas and discuss that version of Mormonism without social repercussions they want to avoid.

  77. p
    February 23, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Jared vdH #75 – enjoy the push&pull here, brother, it DO get noisy! There are great people on both sides of these issues and so far as I can tell most if not all love the Church. This is how the modern institution will move forward, from the grassroots, and believe me that’s a good thing.

    Will also say that it may be helpful to mix a little Zen w/ your Zarahemla because accepting where you are at the moment is a healthy thing. Be sincere, be honest, push forward. Bless you. It’s all good.

  78. Adam Smith
    February 23, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    This is a perfectly logical position to take if you have a working brain and a desire to stay in the LDS church.

    What I don’t understand is where that desire comes from — if all you care about is the Resurrection then why spend so much time and energy on a church with so much other unnecessary baggage?

  79. p
    February 23, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Because, Adam Smith #78, the LDS Church is the Cadillac of Christianity, nothing else even comes close, baggage and all. Heretic though I am, my Mormon family is as real and cohesive to me as blood. And who knows, it’s a strange universe, maybe somewhere out there angels ARE singing …

  80. February 24, 2015 at 9:12 am

    p, responding to your posting of the New York Times excerpt, I think that, from a scientific viewpoint, the Copernican question is the only important one in regards to belief: that is, does a belief hinder or promote the advancement of human progress?

    A desire for objective truth has nothing to do with science; science only cares about a desire for practical truths. In fact, caring at all about objective truth may very well be one of those ideologies that is opposed to scientific progress, just as dangerous as a Ptolemaic one.

    That is, belief in a geocentric solar system doesn’t affect science, even though it is false, unless you are exploring astronomy or studying gravity, and believing it does otherwise matter could just as easily set science back as believing the wrong model could.

    Belief in unprovables, such as an unobservable life after we die, or ancient American civilizations that left no archaeological evidence of their existence, do not set science at large back at all. Newton’s beliefs in unscientific alchemy did not at all prevent his groundbreaking discoveries in physics.

    So, I appreciate that you value objective truth, but in 66 you said, “If you are ostensibly basing and then selling . . . beliefs to believers as genuine history . . . then, yes, it is bad.” Do you mind describing why that is true, other than because it conflicts with something you personally value?

    Isn’t your whole argument that a belief doesn’t need to be literally true as long as it is helpful?

    If not, then it seems to me that you agree with the Latter-day Saints who believe historicity is central and important, and are only disagreeing that The Book of Mormon is historical, not that it matters whether it is. If that’s the case, then it seems you, and no one else, is telling you that you cannot be a Latter-day Saint as long as you disbelieve The Book of Mormon’s historical claims.

    But I didn’t think that was the argument you were making.

    I thought your argument was that Latter-day Saints who have a foundational belief in The Book of Mormon’s historicity make terrible Ancient American archaeologists and historians. That I agree with completely. :)

  81. p
    February 24, 2015 at 11:03 am

    mirrorrorrum #80, in that same spirit let me conclude with a quote from a man who appreciated the psyche’s awesome complexity – which, basically, is what we’re dealing with here, right?

    “I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object. What is realized in my history is not the past definite of what was, since it is no more, or even the present perfect of what has been in what I am, but the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.”
    (Jacques Lacan)

  82. Jake
    February 24, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you, Julie. Loved it.

  83. stephenchardy
    February 24, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I wish to thank Julie Smith for her characteristically thoughtful and insightful post.

    I fear that I have nothing novel to say, but I still want to say it:

    I have been raised as a Mormon, and consider myself to be Mormon through-and-through. I identify strongly as a Mormon; I experience my life through “Mormon lenses.” I have read the scriptures deeply and hungrily over my years, indexing and journaling my thoughts.

    Around 15 years ago, I let go of a need to believe in the “historicity” of scriptures. I can recall today the exact moment that I realized that this was the way for me. The key here is that this was the way “for me.” As I got to know the scriptures better I was more and more aware of how different my life was than what is described in the scriptures. My life isn’t as miraculous. I could describe that in more detail, but let me leave it at that. This led to some discouragement. I wondered: “Why isn’t my life more extra-ordinary?” I must not be worthy. I must become a better person. This led, for me, to a more internally oriented religion. Navel gazing.

    When I let go of a historical/literal interpretation of the scriptures I was able to see the scriptures very differently. I found meaning and beauty that I had missed before. I could never go back.

    Let me be clear here: It is not my testimony that the flood was not literal. It is not my testimony that Job did not exist. Or Alma. It is not my testimony that Jesus didn’t curse the fig tree. I simply don’t think about whether those things actually occurred any more. I don’t pray for or seek to “know” such things. I still believe that I will be held accountable for the teachings of the Book of Mormon. I no longer really care about its historicity specifically or generally.

    I can say that I don’t think any less of Moses, Abraham, Peter, Paul, Alma, or Joseph Smith. I don’t think that any of them lied to me. Of course I am no longer even concerned about whether any of those people above even existed. (OK, I’m pretty sure that Joseph Smith existed, and Peter… and Paul.) Rather than wonder about whether or not Job was a real person, I prefer to think about why we have the Book of Job. Rather than fret over whether the flood was universal or local, I prefer to wonder about what the story is meant to teach me. I don’t worry any longer about where the Book of Mormon may have taken place… but rather I want to read and understand its themes and messages.

    For me, the historicity is unknowable, and therefore unknown. Again, I’m not saying that it is beyond belief; just that it is beyond knowledge. If we were to learn tomorrow that Noah’s ark was identified under some glacier somewhere, I would be interested to be sure, but I don’t think that that I would need to change my outlook. I believe that any or all of it is possible; I just am not sure that all of it is historical, and I no longer expend much or any effort trying to determine that. I’m tired of Book of Mormon proofs; I never found them convincing. I love the Book of Mormon for its own message.

    This has allowed me to be more outward in my outlook.

    You might say: “You could have it both ways. Right?” My answer would be that I could have it both ways, in theory. In practice, however, the letting go of the historicity issue was a key to me understanding symbolic and other meanings in the scriptures. By no longer fretting over the literalness of it all, I am more able see things that I couldn’t see before. It changes my reading from feeling some sort of apologist’s urge (How can I figure out how this might have happened) to a focus on how I can understand and apply it.

    So, thank you Julie Smith. I’m not sure that my experience is exactly what you are getting at. But this is what I got from it.

  84. Pacumeni
    February 24, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    83, I generally agree with what you say about the irrelevance of historicity for most exegetical and devotional purposes, but I would add that one gleans a great deal more from the Book of Mormon by reading it as if Mormon wrote it. Grant Hardy demonstrates this in Understanding the Book of Mormon where he takes that approach. The same is true for reading the book as having arisen in Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian exile. Among other things, that was a time when a person who had the views attributed to Zenos and Zenoch would have been killed in Josiah’s purge of those who believed that God had a divine son or sons, e.g., who believed in the host of heaven.

  85. Pacumeni
    February 24, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    The pre exilic setting also explains the persecution of Lehi whose first vision was of a corporeal God sitting on a throne whose son descends from heaven to earth–doctrines that were anathema to the Josiah and his Deuteronomist priests.

  86. stephenchardy
    February 25, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Agreed. I have read Grant Hardy’s book and found it inspiring. Remember, it isn’t my testimony that Mormon did not exist, or that the book of Mormon is historical fiction. I focus on what the Book of Mormon has to say, and Grant Hardy’s insights are great towards doing that.

  87. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 9:51 am

    stephenchardy, if the historicity of the Book of Mormon is unknowable as you claim, what do the LDS church leaders mean when they say that they know that the Book of Mormon is true? Consider this phrased used in some recent conference talks:

    Russell M. Nelson, 2010:

    Many years ago two colleagues of mine—a nurse and her doctor husband—asked me why I lived the way I did. I answered, “Because I know the Book of Mormon is true.”

    Thomas S. Monson, 2011:

    When we know the Book of Mormon is true, then it follows that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet

    Gordon B. Hinckley, 1996:

    We know that the Book of Mormon is a true testament of the reality and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ

  88. p
    February 25, 2015 at 11:43 am

    The concept of TRUTH in the LDS Church has now apparently lost its moral dimension. We are now in the realm of pure semiotics – dangerous territory indeed for a fundamentalist faith.

  89. G.
    February 25, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Historicity is important, but by itself it’s pretty sterile. Make up your mind, or put it on a shelf, and move on to the good stuff.

    Nice post, JS.

  90. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Steve Smith – I will not presume to answer for stephenchardy, however I will give you my own answer to your question.

    The historicity of the Book of Mormon is unknowable from a purely academic/scientific perspective. There simply is not enough extant evidence at this time concerning the history of the American continents from 600 BCE to 400 CE to make a definitely conclusion either way. Thus historicity of the Book of Mormon is dependent at least partially upon spiritual/supernatural experience. It is this spiritual/supernatural experience that the individuals you cited are resting their testimony upon. If you do not accept that as a suitable foundation, you may do so.

    As for p, “the concept of TRUTH” in the LDS Church as always encompassed both the natural/scientific and the spiritual/supernatural. I don’t know what moral dimension you think it has lost, but if this is a problem for you, I don’t know what to tell you.

  91. Pacumeni
    February 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    P, 88. I know you to be a committed Mormon. Are you a fundamentalist? I know myself to be a committed Mormon. I am not a fundamentalist. While some, perhaps many Mormons, may be fundamentalists in some respects, the faith is not intrinsically fundamentalist. Indeed, it is arguable that the doctrine of continuing revelation makes Mormonism intrinsically NOT fundamentalist. It is fundamentally open to new light and knowledge which overturns past understanding. That puts it at odds with the essential ethos of the various fundamentalist faiths.

  92. p
    February 25, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Jared #90, Round & round we go.

    “HISTORICITY is the historical actuality of persons and events, meaning the quality of being part of history as opposed to being a historical myth, legend, or fiction. Historicity focuses on the truth value of knowledge claims about the past (denoting historical actuality, authenticity, and factuality.) The historicity of a claim about the past is its factual status.[1][2]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity

    Not only are you struggling with the concept of historicity, but you’re going about the truth-discovering process backwards, as almost all apologists do, namely, you come to conclusions first, then seek facts to support these, ignoring all evidence to the contrary (thus the demise of FARMS). In the words of one Sterling McMurrin describing another LDS anti-truth ploy, that is both “odious and reprehensible.”

  93. p
    February 25, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Again, Jared #90, your quote:

    “The historicity of the Book of Mormon is unknowable from a purely academic/scientific perspective. There simply is not enough extant evidence at this time concerning the history of the American continents from 600 BCE to 400 CE to make a definitely conclusion either way.”

    Completely false, and, unfortunately, an emerging conceit among the faithful. If there is evidence for New World lithic cultures in the late Pleistocene 12,000 years ago (see link below) why is there essentially nothing for the vast societies described in BoM? Does this make sense?

    Again, this is what happens when you work a problem backwards and ignore contrary evidence.


  94. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Jared, I really don’t see the LDS church leaders making the distinction between spiritual knowledge and academic knowledge. Knowledge appears to be knowledge, according to them. Take for instance the 1982 talk by Boyd K. Packer, “The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge,” (reprinted in the 2007 New Era): https://www.lds.org/new-era/2007/01/the-quest-for-spiritual-knowledge?lang=eng) in which he claims to know God lives to an atheist. To this assertion, the atheist (probably more correctly termed agnostic) responded, “You don’t know. Nobody knows that. You can’t know it.” Elder Packer didn’t say, ‘yes, the existence of a God is unknowable by academic standards.’ Instead, he gave the now famous salt analogy to try to prove his point and let the atheist know that he could not dictate what he did or didn’t know. Packer represented himself as knowing God lived as he knew that planes could fly.

  95. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    p –

    Good job proof-texting Wikipedia. Further on in that same article: “Questions of historicity also arise frequently in relation to historical studies of religion. In these cases, value commitments can influence the choice of research methodology.”

    My methodology does not begin with assuming something did not happen until I can prove it did happen. Yours apparently does. In my view there is not sufficient physical or historical evidence at this time to prove that it either did or did not happen other the testimonies of those surrounding the production of the Book of Mormon. This is the case with all of religion. You can’t prove the reality of the resurrection without the testimony of the four gospels. There is no physical evidence. The only way you can know if Christ has died for your sins is via supernatural means. I’m sorry that you find that “odious and reprehensible”.

  96. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Steve Smith –

    “Packer represented himself as knowing God lived as he knew that planes could fly.” Elder Packer is not an aeronautical engineer. He doesn’t know that planes can fly except by his experience of flying in them. He doesn’t know that God lives except by his experience.

  97. ABM
    February 25, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    p, you seem convinced that the vast societies described in the BoM are not the same societies that we actually do have archeological evidence for (Olmecs, Mayans, etc.).

    Steve Smith, I think you are making a distinction without a difference.

  98. p
    February 25, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Hall, J. (2007). History, methodologies, and the Study of Religion – but, believe me, the BYU-NWAF teams dispatched to Central America were looking for history with a capital H, certainly not something nuanced by “value commitments.” Value commitments do not build swords and helmets.

  99. p
    February 25, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    ABM #97 you are entirely correct – me, the scientific community and, apparently, those parts of the hierarchy that sponsored the above mentioned expeditions.

  100. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    p – Since you’ve decided to be pedantic today, please define what you mean by “history with a capital H” and what I can only assume would be “history with a lower-case h”. I cannot find a definition on wikipedia.

  101. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Also, p, I think I’ve fairly demonstrated on this thread that I am not a literalist. I do not believe the Book of Mormon to be 100% historically accurate, just as the entirety of what is contained in the Bible is not 100% historically accurate. I believe that at least a portion of it is anciently derived, though how much I do not know. I also believe Joseph Smith did not lie about how he received it.

    I also cannot prove any of what I just said above except to appeal to my supernatural experiences. I have never claimed to anyone that my testimony is based on anything other than my supernatural experiences. Since, for you, supernatural experiences are off the “historicity” table, I don’t know where we go from here.

  102. p
    February 25, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    History “h” = that history mediated by dreams, visions and wishful thinking, i.e., “faithful history”, the kind once on display at BYU where photographs and “artifacts” from Central America purported to show Nephite baptismal fonts, etc. In recent years these have all been taken down. There’s a reason for that.

    History “H” = that aforementioned http://www.nature.com/articles/nature13025.epdf?referrer_access_token=tmhRsbYW0OV9QrYhNBDewdRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0MvmrYVIo8ihVb74lRtW5mE3Rrcjbki1N2TapI504TCTm0Flf31Fk3hZYt5PfD2Hx0p0PVBzfoCeOVsIfdwusJw

    History “H” proceeds from evidence to conclusions and is amenable to correction when new or contrary evidence becomes available.

    Please stop quibbling. You know this stuff.

  103. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    p, I’ll stop acting like an idiot when you stop treating me like one.

  104. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Jared vdH (96), to remind you of the original side question we were discussing, it was: do the church leaders make a distinction between spiritual knowledge and academic knowledge? And your answer appears to be that there is no distinction between spiritual and academic knowledge (although you are silent on whether the church leaders are making such a distinction), thus contradicting your earlier point in comment 90. Just like Elder Packer knows that planes fly because of his experience, he knows that God lives because of his experience. Seems like the same type of knowledge to me.

  105. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Steve Smith – While they are both experiences, the source of the experience differs. Flying in planes is physical experience and coming to know God is supernatural experience. Mormons conflating natural and supernatural experiences into “knowledge” and “truth” goes as far back as Joseph Smith.

    To quote p above, “Please stop quibbling. You know this stuff.”

  106. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Jared, the original question that prompted our side discussion was do the LDS church leaders make the distinction in their discourse? Maybe you do, but the leaders don’t appear to. And if the leaders don’t make the distinction between academic and spiritual knowledge, then the claim that historicity claims are “unknowable,” whether we be informed through spiritual or academic practice, is at odds with what the church leaders are claiming. Knowledge appears to be knowledge in the LDS leadership discourse. Whether you know something because of reason or intuition, it is knowledge.

  107. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Steve Smith, I’m only making the distinction for the purpose of this conversation, because it has been demonstrated that you and others to not believe that supernaturally derived knowledge is acceptable knowledge.

    For me, one of the my favorite ideas in Mormonism is that reason and intuition, scientific and supernatural knowledge, can all work together for our benefit, and I value both equally.

    I do not believe that LDS Church leaders need to necessarily make that distinction in public discourse. They are leaders of a religion after all. It should be rather obvious that the supernatural is involved whenever they speak of “knowledge” and “truth”.

    Historicity claims are “unknowable” by your apparent standards of “knowledge”. However by my standard it is knowable.

  108. ABM
    February 25, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Steve, I believe church leaders regularly make the distinction between academic and spiritual knowledge in their talks. If you go to LDS.org and search for phases like “Knowing by the spirit”, “spiritual vs. temporal knowledge” “spiritual vs. secular knowledge, etc., you will find many instances of church leaders and articles drawing a line between things that can be known through the spirit (like a testimony) and things that can be discovered through academic or secular inquiry.

    I am not really sure why this is even a question

  109. Pacumeni
    February 25, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    P and Steve Smith, have you read Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon? Are you aware of insights I mentioned briefly in 84 and 85? If so, what is your hypothesis on how the Book of Mormon came to have such a sophisticated narrator? What account can you give of the many parallel narratives and intertextual allusions in the book? Revelation? Literary genius on the part of Joseph Smith?

  110. p
    February 25, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    It’s a question #108 in reference to the historicity of the BoM, historicity defined as “the historical actuality of persons and events, meaning the quality of being part of history as opposed to being a historical myth, legend, or fiction”

    If we’re going to allow “spiritual/supernatural” into historicity debates, why not open the door to all this crazy stuff, Marian apparitions, stigmatics with bleeding eyes, levitating yogis – thus the value of scientific inquiry.

  111. p
    February 25, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Pacumeni, I have no issue regarding BoM as a sacred text, much like I have no issue regarding the Bhagavad Gita as sacred text. Literal history, which we have been taught for generations, is quite another matter.

  112. Old Man
    February 25, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Steve, Church leaders know and make the distinction between the two forms of learning. And in my experience, they tend to be very good at both. The Quorum of Twelve is not lacking in academic and professional degrees. Both forms may be “experiential,” IMO the spiritual path more so than the academic, so Elder Packer’s analogy would apply. But a similarity between the two methodologies does not prove that Elder Packer regards academic and spiritual knowledge as identical..

    p, you accuse “apologists” of arriving at a conclusion and ignoring evidence which contradicts their theories or worldview. But isn’t this essentially what materialists like yourself do? Materialists are even more radically biased, materialists absolutely dismiss spirituality as a methodology. This bias even creeps into their methodology. They engage in discussing LDS history and theology, when they obviously have not even read the works or even the online essays referred to. No true academic would do that.

  113. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    p – This is the basis of our disagreement, as I pointed out all the way back in comment #18. You do not believe the supernatural should have a place in this debate. Others, including myself, include it.

    If you insist on debating the historicity of religion with religious people of any sect or belief system, but only limit that debate to non-supernatural evidence, you’re really talking to the wrong people. Unless you’re trying to make those religious people irreligious. Which is fine. You can totally do that. But you could at least be up front about it.

  114. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    From another perspective, if I accept that the supernatural can and does play a role in my life as I presently experience it, why can the supernatural play a role in the study of the history of my own religion.

    The cognitive dissonance you’re proposing that I have to endure to even have a conversation with you is staggering.

  115. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    The LDS church leaders are distinguishing between the source (secular and spiritual methods), but not the product of knowledge of truth itself. For they treat knowledge as knowledge, and truth as truth. They aren’t making the case for two distinct knowledges or two distinct truths. Their claim is that you can acquire a knowledge of the truth by the spirit.

    I am not really sure why this is even a question

    One of the main assertions of the OP is that historicity questions are “unswerable” and thus not worth debating. Several commenters have asserted that historicity questions are “unknowable” by standards of mainstream academics. This is wrong both by using the standards of the LDS church leaders, who claim to know that the Book of Mormon is historically true and who claim that the spirit can work in tandem with secular academic methods to produce knowledge, and by the standards of much of mainstream academia (except for some postmodernistic currents in comp lit, anthropology, and philosophy), which establish knowledge on the basis of hard evidence. The assertion of unknowability of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is nothing but an obtuse diversion made by believing intellectuals with the aim of assuaging the pain of cognitive dissonance.

  116. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Materialists are even more radically biased, materialists absolutely dismiss spirituality as a methodology

    (I know this is really tangential, but I couldn’t resist) I take it that you would regard Sam Harris, prominent atheist and critic of free will, to be a materialist. His most recent book is entitled, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion.

  117. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Steve Smith,

    I’ve now gone on two full revolutions with you and p on this topic. As I stated before much earlier in the comments and I stated again more recently, our standards of what can contribute to knowledge and truth are different. They don’t appear to be reconciling, despite your arguments and your insults. You are free to do and believe what you wish to do and believe. Could you at least do the polite thing and stop insulting me?

  118. p
    February 25, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Old Man, Pacumeni, Jared, spirituality & the supernatural have no place in historicity debates. Those aforementioned BYU archaeologists learned this the hard way. Presenting BoM as literal history is unsupportable. I understand this puts the institutional church in an awkward position. I don’t know any other way forward besides honesty.

  119. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    p – As I stated in #101 I am not presenting the BoM as literal history, just as I do not present the Bible as literal history. I present them as anciently derived, but I do not know which parts are literally historical.

    Please stop portraying me as a scriptural literalist when I am not one.

  120. Cameron N.
    February 25, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    @p (118)

    “-spirituality & the supernatural have no place in historicity debates. Those aforementioned BYU archaeologists learned this the hard way. Presenting BoM as literal history is unsupportable.”

    Of course it’s supportable, you just have to pick the right set of assumptions before you have your discussion. Personally, I find the archaeological/historical/geological/scientific community makes just as many assumptions as the religious community, if not more.

  121. ABM
    February 25, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    I am with Jared.. I feel like I am arguing against not only p and Steve Smith but their caricature of my position. I don’t think a single person on this thread believes that the scriptures should be read or presented exactly as literal history.

  122. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Jared, I was never trying to directly make the case that the historicity of the BOM was knowable or unknowable (although I did state that I think it is knowable, but without building a case around it). I was simply making the assertion that according to the LDS church leaders’ lines of reasoning about knowing through the spirit and the standards of mainstream academia, the historicity question is knowable. If you feel that I insulted you, then I apologize, it was never my intent.

    ABM, it wasn’t my intent to make a caricature of your position. But you do not seem to have been understanding much of what I was arguing.

  123. Jared vdH
    February 25, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Steve Smith, please find me a quote from a GA that the historicity of the BoM is knowable through “the standards of mainstream academia”. I can’t think of any and I can’t find any. Like you have stated, they don’t make a differentiation between knowing through the spirit or knowing through science. That doesn’t mean you get to claim that their doing both.

    Also, I’m pretty sure being called “obtuse” is an insult. Maybe a highbrow one, but an insult all the same.

  124. ABM
    February 25, 2015 at 5:07 pm


    I think I understand your arguments fine… it is much more likely that I don’t agree with the basic premises that you bring to the table, much to Jared’s point.

  125. Old Man
    February 25, 2015 at 5:07 pm


    You engaged in the polygamy debate on another post. Have you honestly read any of the books or documents? Have you read the online essays which didn’t say what you claimed they said? Your devotion to history is highly selective, like Wikipedia and snippets from anti-Mormon websites.

    “spirituality & the supernatural have no place in historicity debates.” Yes, it does. Especially if the historicity debate relates directly to ultimate beliefs and worldviews, then it gets bumped up to an epistemological issue. And I am still looking for the “aforementioned BYU archaeologists.” Maybe I missed that comment.

    “Presenting BoM as literal history is unsupportable.” As an academic history, the case couldn’t be made on the material evidence. Big deal. It would be difficult making a case about very many groups of people from 7th century BCE. But you go much further than that. You commit the fallacy of equating a lack of evidence as a lack of existence. There are many smaller ethnic groups and peoples from entire geographic regions from that period that we know next to nothing about because of a lack of material evidence and the unavailability of written records.

    “I understand this puts the institutional church in an awkward position.” Not really. Stop projecting your wishes on the situation. The serious debate has be ongoing since the late 19th century. It is sure to outlast me. Maybe even you.

    “I don’t know any other way forward besides honesty.” Cute. You know the truth and you will set us free. You are paving the way for the LDS Church to follow, like a Messiah, a Moses leading the children of Israel… I would take that statement more seriously if you read and understood the sources you cited.

  126. p
    February 25, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    SteveSmith: “The assertion of unknowability of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is nothing but an obtuse diversion made by believing intellectuals with the aim of assuaging the pain of cognitive dissonance.”

    That neatly describes our immediate debate/situation.

    Where do we go from here? That’s a very large question, because the rank&file won’t react to cognitive dissonance quite as creatively/passively as a nomenklatura that depends on Mormon networks for position & income. I surely wouldn’t count on an extended “introduction to reality” interval, either. The net’s fast, but faster’s coming.

  127. Pacumeni
    February 25, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    P, your argument is a tautology. If, per 118, spirituality and the supernatural have no place in historicity debates, it is tautelogically true that the Book of Mormon is not historical because it is shot through with spirituality and the supernatural. If those things are definitionally not part of history, then the Book of Mormon cannot be historical, by definition. And if someone knows from their own experience that spirituality and the supernatural are real, then they willl reject the relevance of historicity, as you define it, to the Book of Mormon which they know, by spiritual means, to be true.

    In our back and forth on Adam Miller’s historicity post, I argued that presuppositions make all the difference. You claim hegemony in these arguments by insisting that no one can reasonably hold a belief if they do not share your materialist presuppositions. But many cannot because they know from personal experience that those presuppositions are not valid or, at a minimum, at least not valid for their experience of reality. You may, of course, be able to give a materialist account of the other person’s experience, which suggests that those spiritual experiences–like Book of Mormon historicity as you define it–are unreal. But others are not obligated to accept your account of their experience. At some point, you and they will just have to agree that you live in different, incomensurable worlds. In my view, that is part of God’s plan. We get to decide what world we live in by choosing the axioms that guide our interpretation of experience. It is also tautologically true that axioms are known by intuition or are posited through an act of faith. They cannot be justified by some other datum. To live peaceably with each other, at some point we just have to acknowledge that our axiom-based differences in understanding cannot be harmonized.

    Now the multiplicity of incomensurable worldviews that derive from alternative sets of axioms of reasoning is part of my belief system. God may know a unitary truth, but no human being does. It is, therefore, incumbent on all human beings, I believe, to exercise intellectual humility and grant that others may reasonably reach different conclusions than they do. Ultimately, as I argued in the Miller post, for these discussions to be productive, we must move to a discusson of our different presuppositions or axioms. Doing that can help us understand, in some measure, the alternative universe in which our interlocutors live. Dogmatic, hegemonic assertion that our priors are the only allowable priors/axioms does not get us anywhere.

  128. p
    February 25, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    That’s not how an airplane flies, Pacumeni, priors notwithstanding. The airfoil lifts or it don’t. There were no large Semitic Old World civilizations in the New World as described in the Book of Mormon.

  129. Joel Winter
    February 25, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Thoughts on temporal knowledge.
    When I was a computer expert, I would be called to fix problems with desktop pc’s though they were only adjunct to my greater role. When I could seem to magically fix things I would explain that it was because I both knew what I knew and knew what I didn’t know about computers because extant knowledge about computers was a discrete definable set of knowledge. Knowing that what I didn’t know was irrelevant to the current problem allowed me to set the problem within a workable framework. Rather than casting about for all sorts of possible solutions like slaying gremlins with incantations, I could isolate easily what the problem was not and therefore what remained was usually that they needed to plug it in or something equally brilliant.
    Take out a blank sheet of paper and with a pencil draw a crude circle. The circle will represent all that you know. Its size will be more representative of your humility rather than your actual knowledge of things.
    Next, draw another crude circle, which circumscribes your knowledge circle, to represent all that we collectively know. Again, its size will indicate your perception of the breadth and depth of human knowledge rather than our actual knowledge of things.
    Finally, draw a third circle to circumscribe the second circle for all that is knowable. This should indicate your perception of how much is not known relative to what is. It may be possible that the outer circle is infinitely large since we have not yet been able to visualize the set of knowledge we do not know. See my explanation above of the value of recognizing what we don’t know.
    Each circle will also be a measure of your hubris.
    Stephen Hawking once said he thought we were close to a theory of everything. Now perhaps he is beginning to realize that next to the outer circle he is a moron and was even more of a moron when he made that catastrophically arrogant statement.
    So I ask, in the face of this demonstration are you prepared to jettison that set of knowledge you obtained from spiritual sources for what we arrogantly assume is established fact? Do you really revere so-called brilliant men and women of secular knowledge so much that you will easily dismiss experiential knowledge from the spiritual walk? Or flight?
    I know planes can fly too, and I know there is a god. And I know p and Steve (and I of course) are morons in the face of what is not known. Certainly, all is knowable but our continued proclamations that one or the other historical or scientific or sociological, etc. fact is established is patently absurd in the face of how many times human brilliance has been embarrassed in comparison to the seemingly ever growing outer circle. I have returned to eating at least two eggs a day by the way.

  130. Pacumeni
    February 25, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    P, I should add that implicit in your argument that the Church is on the verge of collapse is the assumption that most Church members share your uncompromising materialist presuppositions. If you are right, then you are right to worry about the future of the Church. I don’t think you are right on that point for most members, so I don’t fully share your worries. A few members do share your presuppositions, and I am worried for them. I just think they are a minority, and probably always will be.

  131. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Jared, you’ve lost me with comment 123. I was never claiming that the LDS leaders were claiming knowledge of the truthfulness of the BOM because of the spirit and because of mainstream academia. The LDS leaders claim knowledge because of the spirit. According to principles of mainstream academia, the historicity of the BOM is demonstrably falsifiable on all kinds of grounds and therefore mainstream academics can comfortably claim knowledge that the Book of Mormon does not contain the words, ideas, and experiences of ancients in the Americas.

  132. Pacumeni
    February 25, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    P, 128 “That’s not how an airplane flies, Pacumeni, priors notwithstanding. The airfoil lifts or it don’t. There were no large Semitic Old World civilizations in the New World as described in the Book of Mormon.”

    Translation. “My priors/suppositions/axioms are the only ones allowable. Airplanes cannot fly unless all my presuppositions are granted and all alternative baseline views ruled out.”

    P, I am a pilot. I don’t share your assumptions. And yet, my two ultralight aircraft both fly.

  133. p
    February 25, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Note to all: I did not wake up one morning and suddenly decide to take on my beloved Church re: the matter of Book of Mormon historicity. It was instead THAT BELOVED CHURCH that advanced, and has for almost two centuries been advancing, that proposition – a proposition, which, frankly, seemed dubious at best. I thought it best to speak up a bit. Sorry. I also thought it best to speak up a bit on the subjects of the “homosexual conspiracy” (nonexistent), the status of women in the church (woeful), and the extreme rightward tilt of our leadership and many of our best & brightest (disgraceful).

    Blessed be the whistle-blowers for they shall inherit the lash. So be it, but let the whistles sound.

  134. Steve Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    The idea that we don’t know as much as we thought we did (stated in Joel Winter’s post) doesn’t actually help the cause of the LDS church. For the LDS leaders have long made strong claims to know lots of things. Joel spoke of Stephen Hawking, p, myself, and himself as morons in the face of what is not known (and I fully agree). But now add to that list the LDS church leaders and then ask yourself if the idea that they don’t know as much as they think they do helps or hurts their claims. The Book of Mormon is not made historically truer the more strongly we assert the unknowability of things. In fact, it would seem just the opposite.

  135. Pacumeni
    February 25, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    P, re: “Blessed be the whistle-blowers for they shall inherit the lash.” Very nice. Let me beg forgiveness for the strokes of the lash I have delivered. For the sake of the Church we both love, I hope you are not a prophet who sees the future clearly. I guess time will tell.

  136. Joel Winter
    February 25, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    Steve. Now we are talking. Sort of. I did not say unknowable, I said unknown. Agreed that truth and untruth claims (about the really important stuff including whether a man named Moroni actually lived), from leaders, scientists, and myself based on anything but revelation to the individual soul are without merit. The book of Mormon remains historically true to me, not in the way it jives with our limited extant knowledge, but because I have a different source, until someone proves otherwise. I assert that the Book of Mormon is as durable against those extant proofs as my father’s prophecy about eggs and dietary cholesterol have been to science only on a longer time scale of discovery.

    I testify that the Book of Mormon is historically true without setting it in a particular place. The set of unknown (not unknowable) things is only used to say that proofs against will be as chaff in the face of future discovery–and revelation. Alas, it will be too late to replace our faith today.

    p, I agree that too many leaders got excited and opined about too many things which they hoped and even believed indicated empirical proofs of our cherished truth claims, but you still claim too much. You cannot know there is no “homosexual conspiracy”. Why? because just like I know I can fly, and that there is a god, I know there is a devil. Is it likely that there is a human cabal? No. You cannot know that the status of women is woeful, because you cannot use empirical sociological evidence to determine what is actually in the best interests of women in the long term. Perhaps it is rather woeful that we have not utterly eschewed all the worldly pressure to equate womanhood with worldly manhood and returned to a more Amish way. No I am not recommending it. My wife is a practicing pediatric nurse practitioner. There is no rightward tilt, only more silence and statements like “we just don’t know” on controversial issues of worldly “fact.” I do not fault earlier leaders for having engaged in it, though they too were guilty of pride. I think they are all learning to zip it and wait. And isn’t that a relief!?

  137. p
    February 25, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Joel #136 you make me thankful for the Enlightenment. There is no homosexual conspiracy, women have no position or status in the decision-making bodies of the LDS Church (and therefore no power), and the rightward tilt of the Brethren is palpable (http://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/1877438-155/top-mormon-leaders-mostly-republican-two). Were you alive during the latest Bush administration?

    No, Pacumeni #135, I’m not optimistic. We are led by a self-perpetuating cadre of Bensonites who see internal erosion as a wheat/tares phenomenon and instead concentrate their best efforts on forging alliances with debauched Catholics and dim Evangelicals in the cause of “religious liberty” as if this were somehow endangered. Meanwhile, the earth moves beneath their feet and they hardly seem to notice, an essay here an essay there, all hidden deep in the website and PRESTO problem solved. You do the math.

  138. p
    February 26, 2015 at 9:32 am

    TWO EGGS A DAY?! Joel Winter, the first thing I thought of when I got up this morning was, TWO EGGS A DAY!?!? I don’t know who told you this is OK. Unless you also include lots of cardio-vascular + resistance esp squats/lunges, high dietary fiber and either coffee/green tea with associated antioxidants you’re just asking for trouble, CV or prostate. Prostate issues among Mormon men are sky-high, prob because of high dairy, low exercise, cessation of sex after age 50.

    Old Man, thanks for this: “You are paving the way for the LDS Church to follow, like a Messiah, a Moses leading the children of Israel…” I wouldn’t go QUITE that far. A well-dressed Napoleon would do just fine, thanks.

  139. Julie M. Smith
    February 26, 2015 at 10:43 am

    And . . . thanks for the discussion.

Comments are closed.