Jim Bennett Responds (again) to the CES Letter

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Jim Bennett, son of late US Senator from Utah, wrote a reply to the CES Letter in 2016.
Jim is an incredibly witty, entertaining, and talented writer. Not only were the answers helpful, but it was a joy to read, given Jim’s wonderful style.
 
Many of us know Latter-day Saints who have recently struggled with their faith, especially when unprepared and facing down a huge list of criticisms and unfamiliar context. 
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Drinking from a critic’s fire hose isn’t a good idea.  It’s best to get help and to see a line-by-line response to critics’ claims.  Jim provides helpful answers and insights for those sincerely seeking answers.
 
Jim updated his response here to this anti-Mormon PDF and released the update today.
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To review other scholars’ responses click here.   The answers to LDS critics are scholarly, fair, exonerating, and voluminous.

Critics of the 3 witnesses (especially of Martin’s account)

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Before we get to the critics, let’s keep the criticisms in perspective.  The witnesses are direct witnesses.  To favor the critics’ testimonies — whom most current LDS critics don’t know a thing about — is absurd.  It shows tremendous bias.  For an attorney to withhold exculpatory, direct evidence and to favor hearsay (2nd-hand account) or even anonymous claims puts such an attorney in jeopardy of sanction in court.

 

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3 Witnesses:  saw and heard an angel.  The angel held the Gold Plates, flipped through the pages, called David by name, and testified.  The three witnesses, additionally, observed a table on which rested many ancient artifacts:  Gold Plates, Brass Plates, other plates, Liahona, Sword of Laban, and interpreters (seer stones).  These 3 witnesses were David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris.

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8 witnesses:  saw, held, and hefted the Gold Plates; flipped through the metal pages; and noted the engravings on the pages.   The plates were set on a stump. The eight men reported the sealed portion and the three D-shaped rings.  The eight saw the plates 1-2 days after the 3 witnesses saw the angel and objects.  These eight were Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Smith.

Richard L. Anderson (Harvard Law graduate & Berkeley PhD) is a leading authority on the Book of Mormon witnesses.  As an attorney, he understood the value of witnesses.  During Richard’s study of these witnesses, he collected documents with over 200 positive and affirming statements from the 11 witnesses.

The three witnesses:  30 interviews or reports of contact w/ Oliver Cowdery, minimum of 70 with David Whitmer, and about 50 with Martin Harris.  The eight witnesses shared up to 60 reports, affirming their experiences holding and evaluating the Gold Plates.

In contrast, a very small number of records critical to the witnesses’ testimony exist (8 to 10 total).   8-10 vs. 200.   So, around 5% of the total records relative to the witnesses argue that the witnesses made it all up.  Anderson shows how these critics — 1 named Stephen Burnett was recently excommunicated and hostile to the Church — take the witnesses’ stories out of context, misreport, and otherwise claim the witnesses were not credible.  Richard discusses the topic  and critics below.

 

Now we’ll shift to the criticisms of the Book of Mormon witnesses.  We’ll start with Steven Burnett.  At one point a very faithful member of the Church.  In fact, he’s name in D & C 80:

Section 80

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to Stephen Burnett, at Hiram, Ohio, March 7, 1832.

1–5, Stephen Burnett and Eden Smith are called to preach in whatever place they choose.

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.

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Stephen is mentioned again in D & C 75:35.  23–36, Families of missionaries are to receive help from the Church.

35 And also my servant Ruggles Eames and my servant Stephen Burnett;

Minutes of a general Conference held at the dwelling of br. Serenes Burnet[t] in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1831.

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Elder David Bendar referenced Stephen Burnett many times in a 2017 General Conference talk, “Called to the Work“.

Section 80 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a record of a mission call to Stephen Burnett extended by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832. Studying this call to Brother Burnett can help us to (1) understand more clearly the distinction between being “called to the work” as a missionary and “assigned to labor” in a particular place and (2) appreciate more completely our individual and divinely appointed responsibility to proclaim the gospel.

Verse 1 of this section is a call to serve: “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.”3

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Interestingly, verse 2 informs Brother Burnett about his assigned missionary companion: “And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant Eden Smith.”4

Verse 3 indicates where these two missionaries are to labor: “Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.”5

I do not believe that the phrase “it mattereth not” as used by the Lord in this scripture suggests that He does not care where His servants labor. In fact, He cares deeply. But because the work of preaching the gospel is the Lord’s work, He inspires, guides, and directs His authorized servants. As missionaries strive to be ever more worthy and capable instruments in His hands and do their best to fulfill faithfully their duties, then with His help they “cannot go amiss”—wherever they serve. Perhaps one of the lessons the Savior is teaching us in this revelation is that an assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work.

The next verse highlights important qualifications for all missionaries: “Therefore, declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and know to be true.6

The final verse reminds Brother Burnett and all of us from whom a call to serve truly comes: “Behold, this is the will of him who hath called you, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.”7

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In 1838, Steven lost property in Independence and then made (conflated, false) statements about Martin, suggesting Martin never saw the plates. Prior to that (loss of faith and property in Independence) Burnett never would have made such statements, as he was a believing Latter-day Saint.

Stephen Harper discusses the witnesses, Stephen Burnett, and others:

As an early convert in Ohio, Stephen Burnett felt the Holy Spirit and a desire to take the gospel to his relatives. He led his parents into the Church and responded successfully to revealed mission calls (see D&C 75:35; 80). He “was the first one that sounded the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel” in Dalton, New Hampshire.[28]

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But by 1838 Burnett felt completely disillusioned. He felt he had tried but failed to regain the Holy Spirit. Finally he “proclaimed all revelation lies” and left the Church.[29] Burnett wrote candidly to Lyman Johnson, explaining his decisions. “My heart is sickened within me when I reflect upon the manner in which we with many of this Church have been led & the losses which we have sustained all by means of two men in whom we placed implicit confidence,” Burnett wrote, referring to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. He felt that Joseph had used his influence for financial gain and had prophesied lies. He continued his compelling story:

I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it—lo[a]th to give it up—but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell [in] a heap of ruins, I therefore three week[s] since in the Stone Chapel gave a full history of the church since I became acquainted with it, the false preaching & prophecying of Joseph together with the reasons why I took the course which I was resolved to do, and renounced the Book of Mormon with the whole scene of lying and deception practiced by J. S & S. R in this church, believing as I verily do, that it is all a wicked deception palmed upon us unawares[.] I was followed by W. Par[r]ish Luke Johnson & John Boynton all of who concurred with me, after we were done speaking M. Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true.[30]

Burnett gave us a rich metaphor by describing his faith as a building whose foundation had been shattered, leaving only a heap of ruins. Those who share his experience know exactly what he means. One strategy of coping with the devastating loss is to pull what remains from the heap of ruins and try to rebuild something sensible. Burnett and others since have dug into the pile of statements by and about the Book of Mormon witnesses and fashioned an alternative way to interpret the testimonies of the eleven eyewitnesses. Those whose faith in their own spiritual experiences has been shattered doubt that the witnesses had authentic spiritual experiences either, and therefore seek alternative explanations for the testimonies of the witnesses. Acknowledging that “Harris and others still . . . believe the Book of Mormon,”

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A letter from Stephen Burnett claims that Harris never saw the plates at all, and that he only saw them when they were covered with a cloth

The quote in question is from a letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson” on 15 April 1838:

when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel…renounced the Book of Mormon…after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was…[1]

(image below of Emma feeling plates wrapped in a cloth.  Emma never witnessed the plates.  Harris didn’t either until 1829.)

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When Harris said that “he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them,” he was not referring to his experience as one of the Three Witnesses

The comment about hefting the plates repeatedly while they were covered by a cloth refers to the period of time when he was assisting Joseph Smith in the translation – a time during which Harris was not allowed to view the plates. What is missing from Burnett’s account is any mention of Harris stating that he saw the plates as one of the Three Witnesses.

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For years after Harris is said to have made the comment related by Burnett, he used clear language to assert that he had actually seen the plates. For example, Martin Harris said in the presence of 12-year-old William Glenn:

Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[2]

Harris told Robert Aveson,

It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.[3]

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George Mantle recalls what Martin Harris said while he was in Birmingham on a mission for the Strangites. This was well after Martin had left the Church:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: ‘Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.’[4]

These statements are much clearer regarding Martin’s experience with the place than Burnett’s account of him claiming to have seen the plates while they were covered as a “city through a mountain”.  Critics dismiss direct evidence in favor of hearsay.

 

 
Another fellow who’s on record dismissing Martin’s account is a Palmyra pastor, John Clark, who considered Joseph a fraud.  The problem with Clark’s account is that he never interviewed Martin. Instead, Clark’s statements dismissing Martin got into the historical record, despite being 3rd hand.
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Really, you ask? Really. Clark never heard Martin. Not 1st hand. Neither did Clark hear from the person who supposedly heard the account from Martin. Not 2nd hand. Clark claims to have heard from the person who heard from the person who heard from Martin. 3rd hand. However, worse than that is that the 3rd-hand individual isn’t named. He or she is anonymous. Hummmm. Lots of credibility to this charge of Martin’s denial?  Nope.
 
In fact, such a pastor would have lots of motive to distort the record. It seems he did just that, knowingly or unknowingly.
 
Here’s the dialogue that ended up in the historical record: Did Martin Harris tell people that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes, but rather the “eye of faith”?
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A former pastor, John A. Clark, said that a “gentleman in Palmyra” told him that Harris said that he saw the plates with the “eye of faith”
 
John A. Clark, a former pastor who considered Joseph Smith a fraud and the Book of Mormon “an imposture,” states,
 
To know how much this testimony [of three witnesses] is worth I will state one fact. A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly,-”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did.
 
“Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,-they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.”
 
“But did you see them with your natural,-your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,-”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,-though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.[1]
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John A. Clark did not interview Martin Harris – he was repeating what someone else told him.  The source cited is “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.
 
However, rather than being an interview between Clark and Harris, as implied by the title of reference work using in the citation, Clark’s actual statement clearly says that he received his information from a “gentleman in Palmyra…a professor of religion,” who said that he had talked with Harris. This is not an interview between Clark and Harris.
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Larry E. Morris notes that the “claim that ‘Harris told John A. Clark’ is not accurate. This is not secondhand testimony but third-hand—’he said that he said that he said.’….As if that weren’t enough, Clark does not name his source—making it impossible to judge that person’s honesty or reliability. What we have is a third-hand, anonymous account of what Martin Harris supposedly said.” (Larry E. Morris, FARMS Review, Vol. 15, Issue 1.)

Clark’s account mixes elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as one of the Three Witnesses and portrays Harris as contradicting himself

The two elements that are mixed together in Clark’s account are the following:

  1. Martin Harris said that he only saw the plates through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his experience as a witness.
  2. Martin Harris saw the plates uncovered as one of the three witnesses.

Note also that the date assigned to these comments places them prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet Clark’s statement appears to include elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as a witness. Harris “saw them” with his eyes when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, but he only saw them through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his being a witness. Clark’s third-hand hostile relation of another hostile source, makes no distinction between these events, and instead portrays Harris as contradicting himself.

When Martin Harris said that he had seen the angel and the plates with his “spiritual eyes” or with an “eye of faith” he may have simply been employing some scriptural language that he was familiar with. Such statements do not mean that the angel and the plates were imaginary, hallucinatory, or just an inner mental image—the earliest accounts of Martin Harris’ testimony makes the literal nature of the experience unmistakable.

Rather than being hallucinatory or “merely” spiritual, Martin claimed that the plates and angel were seen by physical eyes that had been enhanced by the power of God to view more objects than a mortal could normally see (cf. DC 76:12DC 67:10-13).

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Joseph Smith was an eyewitness to what Martin Harris said at the exact moment that the manifestation took place. He reported that Martin’s words were: “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld“. [6] Another eyewitness, named Alma Jensen, saw Martin Harris point to his physical eyes while testifying that he had seen both the angel and the plates. [7]

Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to a skeptical author in November 1829, and spoke for both himself and Harris on the question of whether there was some trickery or “juggling” at work:

“It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye“.[8]

Sandra and Gerald Tanner: LDS critics, most prominent in the 60s and 70s

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The Tanners were significant LDS Church critics for generations.   Each had doubted the Church as a teenager.  In 1958, when Jerald was 19, he was began to hold religious meetings in SLC.  By this time, Jerald had aligned with Pauline Hancock’s group, headquartered in Missouri.  Hancock believed in the Book of Mormon but renounced nearly all other beliefs which distinguish Mormonism from fundamentalist Protestantism.

Sandra McGee met Jerald at such a meeting in Salt Lake City in 1959. They married two months after this initial meeting.  Four months after their marriage, Sandra converted to evangelical Protestantism.  Both resigned their membership one year after they married in 1959.   Sandra was 18 when she was married and 19 when she left the Church.  Jerald was 21 when they married and 22 when they left the LDS faith.

From Lawrence Foster’s article in the 1984 Dialogue journal:

Another important transition in the Tanners’ career came in 1964 when Jerald quit his machinist job to devote his full time to their anti-Mormon publishing.  That work has always been conducted on a shoestring and threatened with closing, due to Jerald’s ill health and the recurrent shortages of funds.

Originally, they were known as the Modern Microfilm Company.  In 1983 they incorporated into the non-profit, Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Inc.  Their organization has disseminated LDS-critical material since the early 1960s.  Their goal is to lead Mormons to the true Jesus.  That was the trendiest option to Mormonism at that time: call Mormons to return to the biblical Jesus.

Non-Mormon writer, Lawrence Foster, writes about the reason for the Tanner’s continued hostility:

“Why was the Tanners’ disillusionment with Mormonism so deep and their hostility toward it so sustained? A key factor was Jerald Tanner’s reaction to his initial naive and unrealistic understanding of Mormonism. As a youth, he appears to have believed that Joseph Smith was perfect and that the Latter-day Saint Church had all the answers and could do no wrong.”

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When his research increasingly showed him that Joseph Smith had flaws, that the eternally true (and some assert, changeless) Church had in fact changed, and that Mormon leaders had sometimes made mistakes, even very serious ones, he was furious.

He felt that he had been cheated — sold a bill of goods — that the Church had willfully lied to him about matters of the highest importance. Not only did the emperor have no clothes, but the Mormon Church had sold them to him!

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The anger, even fury, that emerges from much of the Tanners’ writing, with its frequent obtrusive underlining, LARGE CAPITALS, and LARGE CAPITALS WITH UNDERLINING, along with sharp attacks on the personal motives of Joseph Smith and other Church leaders, seems to be crying out for the Mormon Church either to prove that it is perfect or else cease making its exclusivistic truth claims.”

These quotes are from a non-Mormon commenting on the Tanners in their heyday, in 1984.  So, two teenagers have unrealistic expectations and make a career out of them.  Bad scholarship.

More from Foster on possible motive.  Foster is an interesting scholar, taking on Mormon critics when most non-Mormons don’t bother to investigate.

“As described in the Faulring interviews with Sandra Tanner, Jerald’s family life seems to have been filled with stress. Both he and his family appear to have been isolated from many positive aspects of Mormon culture.

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His father developed a drinking problem, Jerald himself, during his teenage years, began to drink so heavily that for a time he feared that he might become an alcoholic.

Some of Jerald’s Mormon friends also were outsiders who drank and did not conform to the ideal pattern which the Church has sought to develop. Quite possibly Jerald’s failure to find satisfying social contacts in the Mormon Church contributed to the deep bitterness which he eventually developed toward it.

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In comparison, Sandra Tanner, whose social experiences with Mormonism while growing up were positive, expresses a more balanced understanding of the personal appeal of Mormon culture, even when she criticizes specific Mormon truth claims.”

Why Jerald is more hostile to social aspects of Mormonism makes more sense now, doesn’t it?

“They were a united team with a common mission for decades:

Neither individual alone could have been as effective; together they have compensated for each other’s weaknesses and have developed a remarkably strong partnership.

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Jerald, an intense and almost painfully shy man, is primarily responsible for the research and writing. His own drive, more than any other factor, sustains their operation. Whether Sandra would even have become an active anti-Mormon had she been by herself is open to question.

On the other hand, Jerald would hardly have been effective by himself either.  Sandra, a warmer and more outgoing personality, takes major responsibility for dealing with the public. Whereas Jerald is often socially inept and strident in his writing, Sandra conveys real warmth and caring that only close associates have the opportunity of experiencing with Jerald.”

How they view the Church and its history:

“…the Tanners are critical of what they term the Mormon “suppression” of documents and evidence for a very different reason: they believe that the full record of Mormonism, if it could be made available, would utterly refute the Church’s truth claims and lead to the destruction of the faith.

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At every point, the Tanners see fraud, conspiracy, and cover-ups. They always assume the worst possible motives in assessing the actions of Mormon leaders, even when those leaders faced extremely complex problems with no simple solutions.”

Foster contrasts the Tanners with the approach taken by historians:

In general, the primary goal of the historians has been to understand and appreciate the remarkably complex and multi-faceted movement that constitutes Mormonism.

Toward that end, Mormon historians, like historians in all fields, seek to sift through all pertinent evidence in order to reconstruct the fullest possible picture of the past and its significance for the present.

 

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Both positive and negative factors are candidly considered in trying to come to a realistic understanding of Mormon development.

By contrast, the Tanners sound like high-school debaters. Every bit of evidence, even if it could be most plausibly presented in a positive way, is represented as yet another nail in the coffin being prepared for the Mormon Church.

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There is no spectrum of colors, only blacks and whites, good guys and villains in the Tanners’ published writings.

Even when the Tanners backhandedly praise objective Mormon historical scholarship, they do so primarily as a means of twisting that scholarship for use as yet another debater’s ploy to attack the
remaining — and in their eyes insurmountable — Mormon deficiencies.

All too often, the Tanners’ work thus simply provides a mirror image of the very Mormonism that it is attacking.

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The Tanners faded from prominence with the arrival of Ed Decker (above).  Ed published the over-the-top (but founded on Tanner scholarship) God Makers in 1982.  Newer critics — John Dehlin and others, including Runnells — didn’t surface till the 2000s and recently.

Dehlin (below) and Runnells do what is trendy today:  believe in secularism and no God.  But they, too, rely on Tanners’ scholarship.  Nobody else but the Tanners copied (without permission) from LDS archives and started a “ministry” for Mormons.

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I wrote about the Tanners in an earlier post about Jeremy Runnells and the CES Letter.  A couple quotes from a non-Mormon scholar on the Tanners’ “scholarship”:

Ex-Mormons almost always rely on Sandra Tanners for their material.  Even Ed Decker used that argument — the Tanners are awesome scholars — in his God Makers’ series.

 

Problem with Decker’s claim:  it’s simply not true.  The Tanners fail when it comes to honest scholarship.

Gilbert Scharffs wrote this LDS Church-supporting book, “The Truth about the Godmakers” in 1986.  I’ll quote from Scharffs’ book below.

By the way, reading this book (published in the 80s) today is almost as good as any of the current books defending the Church.  That is how old nearly all the critics’ claims are!

In reply to the God Makers’ chapter, “The Mormon Dilemma”

Page 49, line 12

Decker’s claim:  “Jerald and Sandra Tanner are former Mormons who have established an international reputation for their impeccably accurate and thorough research,” claim the authors.

Scharffs’ response: quotes  Lawrence Foster, a professor of American history at Georgia Tech, a scholar who is non-Mormon and who has spent decades in intensive work on Mormonism.

Photo of Lawrence Foster, Ph.D.

Foster has even served as President of the 1,000-member Mormon History Association (although he is not a Mormon), and he has received an NEH Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship to Australia and New Zealand.

Foster has said of the Tanners:

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Until they “are prepared to abide by accepted standards of scholarly behavior and common courtesy, they can expect little sympathy from serious historians,” and “the Tanners’ own work falls short of history.”

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Foster also stated, “The Tanners have repeatedly assumed a holier-than-thou stance, refusing to be fair in applying the same debate standard of absolute rectitude which they demand of Mormonism to their own actions, writings, and beliefs.”

Foster gives the Tanners credit for publishing old LDS documents, “but criticizes them for using unauthorized materials which” have been acquired leaving “much to be desired, ethically speaking.”

The Tanners often publish “scholarly works of living individuals without their permission,” because “the end (destroying Mormonism) justifies the means.”

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Foster continues, “The Tanners seem to be playing a skillful shell game in which the premises for judgment are conveniently shifted so that the conclusion is always the same — negative.”

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Foster also quotes from another Tanner critic who said, Jerald and Sandra Tanner have read widely enough in the sources of LDS history to provide that [larger] perspective, but they do not.

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Although the most conscientious and honest researcher can overlook pertinent sources of information, the repeated omissions of evidence by the Tanners suggest an intentional avoidance of sources that modify or refute their caustic interpretation of Mormon history (“Career Apostates,” Dialogue, Summer 1984, pp. 35-60).

This isn’t a Latter-day Saint condemning the Tanners.  This guy Foster is a non-LDS scholar who made a career out of studying Mormonism.  He’s fair.  Not an ideologue.  

Foster wrote the following article in Dialogue:    Career Apostates:  Reflections on the Works of Jerald and Sandra Tanner

As a non-Mormon scholar who has spent nearly a decade of intensive work in Mormon history without becoming either Mormon or anti-Mormon, I believe that I am in a particularly advantageous position to suggest some new perspectives on the Tanners and to present a balanced analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of their work.

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Foster will be shunned by most colleagues if he grinds an axe.  Good scholars aren’t dogmatic.  Not against the Mormons.  Not against any minority or other group.  Anti-Mormons don’t always follow the same academic standards as those in the academy (American universities).

If you think you can trust the Tanners’ research methods you might be in for a disappointment.  If you think you can trust what John Dehlin and current critics share — warmed-up Tanners’ research — with his listeners (he runs a podcast, unabashedly asking for donations)  I wish you good luck.

You’d be better served listening to this fellow below, Lawrence Foster (link to bio above) who doesn’t believe in the First Vision, but is at least fair to our history.

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Below are a few archived FARMS articles about the Tanners from decades ago.  Bad scholarship is the hallmark.

FARMS wrote a response to one of the Tanners’ many books and another response to the Tanners’ criticisms of the LDS witnesses:

 

Robert and Rosemary Brown wrote this book in 1986 about LDS critics:   They Lie in Wait to Deceive. 

Volumes 1 and 4 address the Tanners specifically.

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Michael Quinn, a historian and former member of the LDS Church, takes issue with the Tanners’ work.  Quinn, an ex-communicated former member, still points out bad scholarship when he sees it.

He noted that “although the most conscientious and honest researcher can overlook pertinent sources of information, the repeated omissions of evidence by the Tanners suggest an intentional avoidance of sources that modify or refute their caustic interpretation of Mormon history.”

To their credit, The Tanners have debunked what they characterize as misrepresentations of the LDS Church by Ed Decker, a Christian evangelist. They criticized his film The God Makers IIdespite their involvement in his earlier film, The God Makers.

So, if you’re seeking information about the LDS Church you might want to find other sources than the Tanners.

1) CES Director Answered Jeremy in the 80s. 2) “The God Makers” Births CES Letter, part 1 and 2.

I couldn’t settle on a title for this post, so I used two.  I have two major points to make:

1) A CES Director Answered Jeremy Runnells in the 80s.
 
2) “The God Makers” series Births the CES Letter, part 1 and 2.

1) So, I exaggerated for effect.  An institute teacher (not CES director, but close enough, right?) wrote this book, setting the record straight against the critics in the 80s and 90s — long before Jeremy Runnells lost his faith and created his CES Letter.

Scharffs provides some of the best responses to critics I’ve heard.  Jeremy doesn’t seem to have read much critical information before his world view was challenged.  Too bad, as these books were in circulation for decades to many who sought answers.

2) Jeremy’s material he squeezed into the CES Letter was passed down from generation to generation (within the anti-Mormon community) from Ed Decker to him.  Scharffs answered all those questions in the 80s.

Jeremy should have simply read the blue book above.  Too bad he didn’t before he had his faith crisis.

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Another book Jeremy could have read — also from the 80s, but not from a CES employee — is “They Lie in Wait to Deceive.”  LDS apologist, Robert Brown, wrote this book in 1986 about LDS critics.

Each volume of They Lie In Wait to Deceive focuses on different professional anti-Mormons. Most of these individuals are still writing their venomous materials, and many of them are now augmenting their living by publishing on the Internet. The different volumes provide the following information:

  • Volume 1. A detailed look at the antics of “Dr.” or “Prof.” Dee Jay Nelson and his crusade against the Book of Abraham, as well as some enlightening information about the work of Jerald and Sandra Tanner.
  • Volume 2. Learn the truth behind well-known anti-Mormons such as “Dr.” Walter Martin, Wayne Cowdrey, Howard Davis, and Donald Scales.
  • Volume 3. This is the magnum opus on the works of the late “Dr.” Walter Martin, a radio personality who would often use his pulpit to denegrate and deride the LDS faith.
  • Volume 4. Focuses on the efforts of professional anti-Mormons such as Ed Decker, Richard Baer, “Dr.” Richard Fales, “Dr.” Charles Crane, and “Dr.” John L. Smith. Also includes additional information on Jerald and Sandra Tanner.

 

Some of you may not know about the God Makers or previous generations of anti-Mormons.  We’ve had them since 1834 when “Mormonism Unvailed” was published by Eber D. Howe.  Yep, awesome name!  Eber.

I had heard about the movie and book, “The God Makers”, growing up.  Like most Mormons, I had heard bits, but didn’t really know what it was about.  What I did know, for sure, was that the author didn’t like our Church.

During graduate school I had the opportunity to learn about the God Makers from a faithful source.  The author above, Gilbert Scharffs, wrote a well-researched book for inquiring Latter-day Saints.  Scharffs first published the book in 1986.

My home teacher loaned me this book in the summer of 2003.  This home teacher — someone I served in the nursery with then — knew lots of answers to “controversial” topics.  I borrowed around 15 books.  I had a few weeks off that summer and read.  A lot!

 

Gilbert Scharffs (above) was a University of Utah institute teacher at the time.  He spent countless hours on this book.  I and many Latter-day Saints benefited from his efforts.

I learned a lot and put the concerns I had relative to the God Makers to rest.  I thought I had heard the last of anti-Mormon literature.  Boy, was I wrong.  Critics keep making new books, new pamphlets, videos, and PDF files.

Along came the CES Letter.  I first heard of it 2.5 years ago.  Some of the CES Letter issues seemed new (when first told to me by someone on an airplane), but most of what I heard  didn’t surprise me.   I wasn’t polished up on the material, but I knew I had passed through a majority of those issues before and came out just fine.

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Every generation will have it’s Fawn Brodie (above).  Its Ed Decker.   It’s Jeremy Runnells.  Some critics last decades.  Some disappear quickly.  It appears now we have multiple critics competing in the same space.  And, yes, they’re competing for ex-Mormon and anti-Mormon dollars.

In the last 2.5 years I’ve read lots and lots about all the “controversial” stuff.  I’ve posted well over 100 times here on this site.  About a year ago — and before I started blogging here — I found and read (on the FAIR site here) the online version of The Truth about the God Makers.

When I started reviewing Gilbert Scharffs’ response to the God Makers a couple years ago, for the first time I saw that Gilbert also wrote other books .  Including one for missionaries.  This book prepares missionaries for the huge range of critical issues.

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This book has been selling at Deseret Book for decades.  Read it and give it to others.  This information should be understood by all Latter-day Saints.  Not only the apologists.  It’ll help prevent your testimony and faith from being fragile and shaken when winds blow.

As I compared the CES Letter to the Godmakers, I realized the CES Letter had virtually nothing new.  Style and organization was different.  Tone was different.  

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Ed Decker — who wrote the God Makers in the 80s and carried the critics’ torch for 2 decades — was more mocking in his style.  Decker constantly mocked temple ordinances, concepts of deification, and the planet Kolob.  The CES Letter’s victimizing, they-lied-and-hid-stuff-from-me tone is a new style.

But Decker’s list — the overall substance of his critique — was very much the same as Jeremy’s. 

I just reviewed “The Truth About the Godmakers” last night for 2+ hours.

I saw the following topics and included them in the post below:  seer stones, BofM historicity, KJV Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, View of the Hebrew and B.H. Roberts, Joseph’s magical world view, “issues” with the witnesses, Strang Plates, Kinderhook Plates, and more.

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Summary:  nothing new.  Jeremy got these “controversial” issues (though not controversial to many informed LDS folks) from Ed who got them from the Tanners who got them from Fawn Brodie…

Scharffs (LDS author) had good arguments against the God Makers.  Some were the best I’ve seen on certain topics.  It was a great review!  

If members had encountered this book — The Truth about the God Makers or similar books — and prepared themselves, the CES Letter would have washed right over them.

What will the next generation of ex-Mormons say?  The Church lied and hid stuff?  Everything is now online.  The Church has been putting its history online for years.  The Joseph Smith Papers project started in 2001, and presents mountains of information about the Prophet.

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I often ask critics if they heard of the Godmakers.  They usually make insulting remarks toward Ed Decker.  When I ask them the material (not style) differences between Ed and Jeremy they have no answer.  They often say I’m obsessed with Ed.  I’m not.  Just connecting obvious dots in the ex-MO family tree or history.

Where did the ex-Mormon subreddit group — where Jeremy Runnells crowdsourced the CES Letter — get their content?  Yep.  Ed Decker and the Tanners.

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Critics mock Ed Decker but usually praise the Tanners. The Tanners were plagued by bad scholarship, though not to the level of Decker.  Lots of omissions, withholding exculpatory information, out-of-context statements, and always the least favorable conclusion from the data.  

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Yes, emotional and agenda-driven “research”.  Jeremy (above) learned well from his mentors.

Mormons that learned this material in past decades must be aghast that any youth and others today gobble up this nonsense.

The real issue is that more Mormons are ready to leap into new atheism than evangelical (or other forms of) Christianity.  Secularism is taking these people.

Just yesterday I was told that Jeremy had published the CES Letter 2.0.  That reminded me of Ed Decker’s Godmakers II.  Arguably, Ed’s low point.  The authors make so many outrageous claims, even anti-Mormon Sandra Tanner condemned their sequel.

 

Below I’ll list some of Decker’s claims and Scharffs’ responses.  Click the link above to read as much as you want.

See for yourself just how “shocking” this material is.  If only Jeremy had known more about past ex-Mormon history before he jumped into this material on reddit.  And was quickly overwhelmed and drowned.

 #1:  Tanners’ scholarship:  not much better than Decker’s

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In reply to the chapter, “The Mormon Dilemma”

Page 49, line 12

Decker:  “Jerald and Sandra Tanner are former Mormons who have established an international reputation for their impeccably accurate and thorough research,” claim the authors.

Scharffs’ response:  Lawrence Foster, an associate professor of American history at Georgia Institute of Technology, a scholar who is non-Mormon and who has spent a decade in intensive work on Mormonism, has said of the Tanners:

Until they “are prepared to abide by accepted standards of scholarly behavior and common courtesy, they can expect little sympathy from serious historians,” and “the Tanners’ own work falls short of history.”

Foster also stated, “The Tanners have repeatedly assumed a holier-than-thou stance, refusing to be fair in applying the same debate standard of absolute rectitude which they demand of Mormonism to their own actions, writings, and beliefs.”

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Foster gives the Tanners credit for publishing old LDS documents, “but criticizes them for using unauthorized materials which” have been acquired leaving “much to be desired, ethically speaking.”

The Tanners often publish “scholarly works of living individuals without their permission,” because “the end (destroying Mormonism) justifies the means.” Foster continues, “The Tanners seem to be playing a skillful shell game in which the premises for judgment are conveniently shifted so that the conclusion is always the same — negative.”

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Foster also quotes from another Tanner critic who said,

Jerald and Sandra Tanner have read widely enough in the sources of LDS history to provide that [larger] perspective, but they do not.

Although the most conscientious and honest researcher can overlook pertinent sources of information, the repeated omissions of evidence by the Tanners suggest an intentional avoidance of sources that modify or refute their caustic interpretation of Mormon history (“Career Apostates,” Dialogue, Summer 1984, pp. 35-60).

However many faults the Tanners have, the authors of The God Makers have outdone them by far. Much of The God Makers is based on the Tanner material, including wrong interpretations.

Some anti-Mormon charges which the Tanners published have turned out not to be true.[∗] For example: For years one of their star witnesses was “Dr.” Dee Jay Nelson who claimed to be an Egyptologist. He did not get a degree or even attend the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago as he alleged, nor did he ever—as he claimed—attend or get an M.S. in Egyptology from the University of California at Berkeley. For a thorough analysis of the background and tactics of Dee Jay Nelson, see Robert L. and Rosemary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive, Vol I, and Vol II pp. 165-213.

 

#2:  The Kinderhook Plates

Topic debunked at the top of this page.

 

 

#3:  Criticisms of the Book of Mormon witnesses

Page 101, line 14

The authors accuse Oliver Cowdery, among others, of being “probably a co-conspirator” in the “scam.”

The authors give no explanation why Oliver Cowdery, disgruntled with Joseph Smith for several years, did not expose the “scam” or why he eventually came back into the LDS Church in 1850.

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Page 102, line 3

“Only the three Smiths out of the eleven witnesses [of the Book of Mormon] remained in Mormonism.”

This, of course, is wrong. Christian and Peter Whitmer remained until their deaths. The authors also fail to mention that two of the “three” witnesses returned to the Church—Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris. Nor do the authors point out that those leaving the Church consistently continued to affirm their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

Page 102, line 13

“All eleven of the ‘witnesses’ were astonishingly unstable and unreliable.”

The available evidence points to the opposite conclusion and has been treated thoroughly elsewhere. (See Richard Anderson, investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses).

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In a nutshell:

  • Martin Harris was perhaps the most prosperous man in Palmyra, twice the age of Joseph Smith, at the time the Book of Mormon came forth. Why would he risk his reputation supporting a youngster if the authors’ charges about Joseph Smith and his family were true? He traveled to Salt Lake City in 1870 and rejoined the LDS Church.
  • Oliver Cowdery was reliable enough to be a schoolteacher and successful lawyer, and at one time. Assistant President of the LDS Church.
  • David Whitmer became a respected community leader in Richmond, Missouri, and the town’s leading citizens attested to his reliability and character prior to his again reaffirming his Book of Mormon testimony (Ibid.).

An objective study of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon reveals men of strong character.

Page 102, line 28

“Martin Harris . . . ‘saw’ Jesus standing beside Joseph Smith in a meeting, though no one else present except the ‘Prophet’ saw him.”

The footnote refers to the Max H Parkin “Conflict at Kirtland” thesis, pp. 82-83. Dr. Parkin’s quotation from the Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner diary does not say that Martin “saw” Jesus, but that Joseph Smith on this very spiritual occasion asked the group, “Brothers and Sisters, do you know who has been in our midst this night?” Martin Harris then replied, “I know, it was our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Joseph then said to Martin Harris, “God has revealed that to you.” When God reveals something to a human being it does not usually include physical evidence; nevertheless, the authors claim that Martin Harris on this occasion actually claimed he “saw” God. From the reading of the quotation one cannot conclude this. When Christ in the New Testament said to the Twelve, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20), he did not mean that each of the Twelve would constantly see him with their physical eyes. But Christ can be perceived in our midst and this is what the journal entry is referring to and not a physical sighting of Christ.

Page 103, line 1

“Indeed, Martin Harris did go from one thing to another, changing his religious beliefs no less than thirteen times.”

There is no documentation. Richard Lloyd Anderson points out the errors of this accusation in his Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, pp. 168-169. He gives evidence that the alleged thirteen religious changes of Martin Harris are overstated. Out of touch for decades with mainstream Mormonism because he did not move westward with the body of the Church, Martin Harris was subject to differing influences in his desire for supportive religious affiliation. Nevertheless he never denied his testimony of the Restoration, and he made only one religious change after his excommunication that was not with some Mormon-oriented group. Richard Anderson has also called the charges of Martin Harris’ early religious affiliations, before joining Mormonism, exaggerated and from a bitter anti-LDS source.

Page 104, line 21

“[The Shakers were] one of the groups that Martin Harris joined. He seems to have remained faithful to them the rest of his days, claiming ‘repeatedly that he had as much evidence for {the] Shaker Book as he had for the Book of Mormon.’ “

The source is a thesis by Wayne Gunnell, Martin Harris—Witness and Benefactor to The Book of Mormon, p. 52. In actuality this source on the page cited states that Martin Harris was rebaptized into the LDS Church in Kirtland in 1842 soon after he had joined the Shakers. Although the thesis statement which the authors quote is correct, it appears to be based on hearsay. The book fails to report the following information from the same page: “Notwithstanding his profession of belief in a new religion, the testimony that Martin declared for Shakerism soon lost its fire.”

Again the authors ignore evidence that is contrary to what they want the reader to believe even when it comes from the same page of the source they are quoting. Richard Anderson in his Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p. 168, says Harris’ “sympathy for Quakerism [was] without full participation.”

The authors, as before, make no mention of Harris’ migration to Utah in 1870 to join with the Latter-day Saints, where he often repeated his testimony of the Book of Mormon until his death five years later in 1875.

 

#4:  Strang

Page 103, line 23

“Some of these groups were very similar to Mormonism,” the text states to show Mormonism was not unique. As an example the book uses James Strang as having similar ideas in his movement.

One would expect an offshoot to be somewhat like the group it broke away from.

Page 103, line 28

“At least for a time all of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, except Oliver Cowdery, accepted [James] Strang as Joseph Smith’s successor. “

If objectivity were the purpose of the book, at least the word “living” should be used in connection with these witnesses since more than half of the original eleven had died by this time. Also, why is it not pointed out that all soon left Strang’s movement?

 

#5:  Treasure hunting, $ digging, and seer stones

 

Page 93, lines 11-15

“Long before Joseph Smith allegedly was led by the angel Moroni to the ancient gold plates, he had already established a wide reputation as a ‘seer’ who, in the words of his mother, Lucy, ‘possessed certain means by which he could discern things invisible to the naked eye.’ “

If Joseph Smith had a reputation as a “seer” long before he claimed any encounter with angels or deity, this certainly does not rule out any subsequent claim as a prophet. The quotation used in the book refers to Joseph Smith working with Josiah Stoal in digging for a silver mine in 1826, several years after encounters with Deity and the Angel Moroni. (The authors ignore the next lines of Joseph Smith’s mother’s history where she states that Joseph Smith tried to convince the man Stoal, for whom he was working, to give up the project.) To criticize Joseph Smith, whose family was struggling financially, for accepting employment working in a mine, even if he tried to employ his extrasensory talent, seems unfair. Prophets, like all of us, need to eat. The Smith family was in extreme poverty at this time. Joseph Smith was a human being, who admitted he had faults. God developed him into His prophet. Joseph Smith did not start out as a prophet, but became a great prophet of God similar to the pattern of Christ, growing “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). For an excellent analysis of Joseph Smith’s “money digging” involvement, see Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), pp. 71-76. Dr. Bushman states that “Despite the ongoing fascination of treasure hunting, the Smiths by 1826 were ready to take a greater interest in translation of the plates, and the record is . . . explicit that Joseph Smith did not like treasure hunting” (Ibid., pp. 75-76).

Page 94, lines 27-34

Referring to evidence that came to light in 1971 as a devastating blow to the LDS Church the book charges, “[This] proved once and for all that Joseph had indeed been arrested and found guilty on March 20, 1826, of pretending to find buried treasure by ‘glass-looking.’ “[∗]

The LDS Church has never denied that Joseph Smith was arrested numerous times during his life. These arrests were obviously mostly harassments, since I am not aware of any official record that Joseph Smith was ever convicted of criminal charges. The authors do not mention that this new evidence of “conviction” was included in the next LDS history written after the evidence came to light and in LDS periodicals. The authors in their footnote do give reference to this LDS source, but fail to mention that it brings out that there is much contradictory evidence on this point: “Stoal [Joseph Smith’s employer] stood fast by his employee. Some accounts have Smith being acquitted” (Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience, p. II). Oliver Cowdery said Joseph Smith was acquitted. One scholar has recently made a strong case that Joseph Smith on March 20, 1826, only appeared at a pre-trial hearing. The money he paid was for “fees of examination,” and not a fine levied against him, this writer shows (Paul Hedengren, In Defense of Faith, pp. 195-234).

Considering the harassment potential and the arguments the ill intentioned could bring to a charge like this, even if there was a conviction, why is this a fatal blow to the LDS Church? History is filled with religious leaders who were arrested and “convicted.”

Many early Christians, the early Apostles, Martin Luther, John Huss, Jesus Christ and others were accused, arrested, and in many cases convicted of violating prevailing laws. Does that invalidate any of their work? Is Christ’s work any less true because he was charged and put to death for what the Sanhedrin considered a crime?

Page 95, lines 35-37

“This ‘seerstone’ . . . is still held by the Mormon Church” and the footnote refers to “Reed C. Durham, Jr., typed syllabus published by the Church Educational System.”

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Why did the authors not refer to well known published works by LDS writers?[∗] In both of these earlier, more readily available sources, it also says that the Church still has the “seerstone.”

These other two sources discuss the “seerstone” and the “Urim and Thummirn,” which Joseph Smith used in the Book of Mormon translation. The authors mention only the LDS prophet using the seer stone. See Page 96, line 30 for further explanation of the Urim and Thummirn.

Page 96, lines 19-35

“Joseph . . . looked into his hat, and there, shining on the ‘seer stone / were the hieroglyphics . . . . “

The authors seem to “know” a lot about the translation details, again without documentation. If this was the way the Book of Mormon came forth it has nothing to do with its authenticity. Two explanations by Joseph Smith that I am aware of are, that the plates were “translated by the gift and power of God” (HC 1:315) and “through the medium of the Urim and Thummirn I translated the record through the gift and power of God” (HC 4:537). The authors chose not to give Joseph Smith’s version.

Page 96, line 30 to Page 97, line 1

The book refers in a footnote to Deuteronomy 18:9-14 and states that the Bible forbids the use of “magical objects.”

Yes, there is “false” divination which this verse refers to, but the Bible also has many accounts of Deity and angels communicating with mortals legitimately. Joseph did claim that with the plates he received an object, a breastplate containing the Urim and Thummirn, which he used in the translation process.

The Urim and Thummirn is mentioned in connection with priestly functions and receiving the mind and will of the Lord at least a half dozen times in the Bible, but the book ignores this fact. See Ex. 28:15, 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; I Sam. 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65; Rev. 2:17, 1:20. See also Page 98, lines 35-37 for further explanation.

Page 98, lines 35-37

“From early childhood he [Joseph Smith] and his family had been dabbling in divination, necromancy, and various forms of ritual magic. Smith believed in and practiced occultism until his death” is the summation of chapter seven.

Although the first part of the statement about Joseph Smith’s early life may be true, to claim that Joseph Smith was involved with “occultism until his death,” is not warranted as a conclusion. Speaking in general terms of Joseph Smith’s forefathers. Elder B. H. Roberts (one of the authors’ references) said a few things that could be said about many people’s seventeenth and eighteenth century ancestry, especially in Colonial America:

Yes, the Prophet’s ancestors were credulous in that some of them believed that they were healed of bodily ailments by the power of faith in God. Others had dreams, as their neighbors had, that they could refer to no other than the spiritual forces of this God’s world. In common with their neighbors they lived in a spiritual world as well as in a material one; they experienced much that they could not understand, and after the manner of their times and the locality in which they lived, they attributed the phenomena of this spiritual world to God or Satan!—the names that stood to them for good and evil forces. It may be admitted that some of them believed in fortune-telling, in warlocks and witches—though, to their credit be it said, they are not found among those who burned the witches, or who oppressed others for their religious opinions, or for the lack of religious convictions—all this may be admitted. Indeed it is scarcely conceivable how one could live in New England in those years and not have shared in such beliefs. To be credulous in such things was to be normal people. To have been incredulous in such matters in that age and locality, would have stamped them abnormal. (B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:26-27).

Page 105, line 3

“Glass-looking” and “money digging” had “obsessed” Joseph Smith “and his family for years.”

Joseph Smith’s involvement in seeking treasure during his early life was common in his locale. During the 1820s, in the northeastern United States, digging for treasure was neither uncommon nor disreputable. The Palmyra Herald on 24 July 1822 quoted the Montpelier (Vermont) Watchman as saying that “We could name, if we pleased, at least five hundred respectable men, who do, in the simplicity and sincerity of their hearts verily believe that immense treasures lie concealed upon our green mountains; many of whom have been for a number of years, most industriously and perseveringly engaged in digging it up/’ (William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons, p. 33.)

Page 112, line 27

“[Using] his ‘peep stone’ . . . Joseph Smith. . . plagiarized several books about early America.”

So far the authors have mentioned only one possible book. View of the Hebrews. Why is there no documentation for the “others”?

If Joseph plagiarized, why did he need a “peep stone”? If Joseph Smith’s work is satanic, why did he have to plagiarize at all? Wouldn’t Satan reveal all the “lies” necessary?

Elsewhere (page III; 13-15) the authors say the Book of Mormon came from Joseph Smith’s fertile imagination. It is not consistent to say he made it up, and that he plagiarized it, and that it came from Satan. The authors break rules of logic in dealing with Joseph Smith.

 

#6:  Wierd visions and weird behavior among early Mormons

Page 107, lines 14 to 28

“There were so many strange visions and so much weird behavior among the early Mormons’ the book claims citing some reliable, some questionable, and often no sources.

The book attributes some of the “strange” occurrences to satanic influence. Of course the scriptures speak of “wonders and signs” in connection with God also. “And these signs shall follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17) and “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). The scriptures do warn of “false prophets and . . . signs,” (Matt. 24:24) and the authors of course charge that everything LDS falls into this category. One of such signs the authors make light of is quoted from Max Parkin’s thesis.

Conflict at Kirtland: “Old Elder Beamon, who had died a few months before, was seen” (p. 331). However, the authors omit John Pulsipher’s previous words: “They worked and prayed and the Lord worked with them.” What is spiritual to some is considered “magic and demonic” by others. The spiritual experiences of the “Early-day Saints” in the New Testament are also considered “strange and weird” by the nonbelievers.

Do the authors also discredit the biblical events that seem strange? What right do the authors have to take what is sacred to millions and falsely call it strange, weird and satanic? The authors would do well to ponder the Prophet Nephi’s words in the Book of Mormon: “\ do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred . . .. For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth . . . others set at naught and trample under their feet” (I Nephi 19:6-7).

 

#7:  changes in The Book of Mormon

Page 110, lines 19-22

“4,000 changes had to be made in theBook of Mormon.”

Doesn’t every first edition have errors? All books typeset from handwritten manuscripts, as the Book of Mormon was, have many errors. Even with today’s advanced publishing methods, trained writers, proofreaders, word processors, computer programs that correct spelling errors, first editions usually have more errors than later editions. But the Book of Mormon manuscript given to the printer was a longhand copy of a longhand copy. Evidently, no proofreaders were used except what the printer did.

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Ninety-nine percent of the original edition of the Book of Monnon has not been changed. Indeed, 4,000 changes seem amazingly few. Also, when one realizes the duress Joseph Smith worked under, with mobs frequently trying to get the plates, his printer being threatened, his having to move his residence more than once to avoid physical attack, having the first 116 pages of manuscript stolen and never retrieved, it is indeed amazing that such a monumental book could be produced in such a short time.

Ironically, dozens of new editions of the Bible have been brought forth, some deliberately changed almost word for word, with little criticism. Yet every change of the Book of Mormon has been minutely examined by Mormons and non-Mormons. Dozens of articles and books have been written on the subject of Book of Mormon changes and these changes have logical explanations and almost every change is trivial. It seems inconsistent for the authors to criticize the Book of Mormon that has but a small fraction of the number of changes that have been made in the Bible. (See page 110, line 30 to page 111, line 5 for one kind of change the authors think is significant.)

Elder Boyd K. Packer has commented on the Book of Mormon changes:

[Critics] cite these changes . . . as though they themselves were announcing revelation. As though they were the only ones that knew of them . . .. When properly reviewed, such corrections become a testimony/or, not against, the truth of the book. (Ensign, May 1974, p. 94.)

As Dean Jessee has pointed out, “Every time the Book of Mormon comes under attack, it calls to our attention even more proof that Joseph Smith told the truth” (Ensign, September 1977, p. 95).

The Book of Mormon is undoubtedly one of the most scrutinized books in history. The results of that scrutiny point to its authenticity.

Page 110, lines 23-26

“These [Book of Mormon] corrections run all the way from those necessitated by changes in Joseph Smith’s beliefs to elimination of hundreds of obvious contradictions, absurdities, and childish grammatical errors.”

The book does not mention that almost every change is to correct the grammatical or spelling errors. Where is there evidence of “changes in Joseph Smith’s beliefs” and “hundreds of obvious contra- dictions”? (We will treat separately one alleged problem mentioned on page 110, line 30 to page 111, line 5.) There are grammatical errors in The God Makers, which I chose to ignore. (My response will certainly have errors in it, too.)

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The correction of typographical errors and some clarification changes do not detract from the reality of the Book of Mormon. That certainly is true when one considers the eternal inspiring truths to be found in it, both those that are unique and those that offer clarification of religious principles found elsewhere (see “Overview” Section). When King Jehoiakim in the Bible burned the scriptures that Jeremiah had dictated, the prophet dictated them a second time, “and there were added besides unto them many like words” (Jer. 36:32). It is interesting to note that Ernest Hemingway rewrote The Old Man and the Sea forty times.

Page 110, line 30 to page 111, line 5

“[Rejecting the Trinity] required many ‘corrections’ to the Book of Mormon. First Nephi 13:40, for example, which read in the 1830 edition ‘. . . that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world’ was changed to read ‘that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father.’ ” .

According to LDS doctrine, this is not a problem. To Latter-day Saints, it is appropriate to refer to the Savior as Christ the Eternal Father but this in no way makes Him the same as God the Eternal Father. To Latter-day Saints both Christ and God may be appropriately called Eternal Father: “Ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:18).

Thus the addition of “son of” to the phrase “Eternal Father” was a clarification that Christ was being referred to in I Nephi 13:40 and the other three examples cited in the authors’ note 41.

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The authors claim that the “declaration in the introduction of the Book of Mormon that its purpose is to convince ‘Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God’ [was] . . . apparently overlooked and left unchanged.” The authors misinterpret the point, because in the introduction, Christ the Eternal God cannot be confused with Christ the Eternal Father. Both Christ and God are separate Gods to Latter-day Saints and a clarification was not necessary. In I Nephi 13:40 and the other verses cited, Joseph Smith apparently felt clarification would be needed. But this change is not related to a doctrinal change in the verses nor an accidental omission in the introduction.

It seems apparent that when the Book of Mormon or the Bible speaks of the three members of the Godhead as one, there is room for two interpretations. In the Bible, John 10:30, stating “I and my Father are one,” is a New Testament scripture, like some Book of Mormon passages, that could either refer to literal oneness (Trinitarian) or a oneness in purpose. When one reads all the biblical scriptures dealing with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, one sees that they definitely favor an anti-Trinitarian interpretation, especially John 17:20-22 which states:

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they [the believers] all may be one) as thou. Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they [the believers] also may be one in us . . . that they may be one, even as we [God and Christ] are one.

Four Book of Mormon passages pointed out in the book do sound more like John 10:30 in the first edition and in subsequent editions they sound more like John 17:20-22. However, the doctrinal meaning is the same, and not different, as the authors charge, just as John 10:30 (“I and my Father are one”) and John 17:20-24 (“that they may be one, even as we are one”) must mean the same or the biblical doctrine would not be consistent.

There are other verses in the Book of Mormon besides the testimony of the three witnesses that speak of the oneness in purpose of the Godhead, that were left intact, which Joseph Smith apparently felt no need to change.

Image result for LDS godhead

The authors are silent on other Book of Mormon passages which make clear the separate personalities of the Godhead and that have been that way since the first (1830) edition.

While Christ visited the Book of Mormon people in America, He said, “Always pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Nephi 18:19).

Again while in America Christ said, “I pray . . . that they may be purified in me, that I may be in them as thou. Father, art in me, that we may be one, that I may be glorified in them” (3 Nephi 19:29).

In these passages the Book of Mormon is as explicit on separate beings as is John 17:20-22. Elsewhere the Book of Mormon passages sound more like John 10:30, but mean the same.

Thus we see that a major doctrinal point the authors claim was changed was not. It was a clarification.

#8:  Book of Mormon historicity and geography

Page 86, line 30 to Page 88

“Archaeologists within [the LDS] ranks confess that not one shred of evidence has been found to support the Book of Mormon. “

There is no mention if it is two archaeologists or a hundred! There is no reference given for this statement. The authors do quote one non-LDS archaeologist, using his negative statement on the top of Page 87, line I, beginning with ellipses. Checking to see what they chose to omit, one finds that the writer said “Mormon archaeologists over the years have almost unanimously accepted the Book of Mormon as an accurate, historical account of the New World peoples between 2000 B.C. and A.D. 421.”

The book is correct in stating that John L. Sorenson, the LDS chairman of the BYU Anthropology Department, considers LDS amateur “experts” to be “naive” as well as harmful in their ” ‘cut-and-paste’ efforts.” The authors of The God Makers themselves use this procedure throughout their book.

One example of “cutting” that the authors did with the above quotation is that Dr. John L. Sorenson in the very same article says that one of the books he is criticizing “in some cases has information of value . . . concerning wheeled ‘toys’ for example.”

The authors also fail to note that Dr. Sorenson himself points out many evidences of the Book of Mormon in his writings as do bona fide LDS archaeologists (see John L. Sorenson articles in September and October 1984 Ensign and his 1986 book. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon).

The facts still remain that the Book of Mormon in addition to teaching of a white God, Jesus, in ancient America, also mentioned horses, steel, wheels, white skinned people, metal toys, barley, etc. In Joseph Smith’s day, charges against the Book of Mormon stated that these were anachronisms. Today these items are verifiable.

There are other approaches to verifying the Book of Mormon such as language and cultural peculiarities and how these people compare to Semitic people. But the real test is the prayerful reading and studying of the book.

Actually a number of scientific studies have been made and are continuing to be made concerning the Book of Mormon text. A few examples: Dr. John W. Welch has found chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. Chiasmus is a rhetorical device used prevalently in the Bible and in other ancient literatures and was unnoticed by modern Western civilization until the mid-nineteenth century. “Since there is no evidence that anyone in America understood chiasmus in 1830 when the Book of Mormon was published, the remarkable presence of complex chiasms in the Book of Mormon testifies to the ancient origin of the text” (Noel B. Reynolds, ed. Book of Mormon Authorship, p. 34).

Dr. C. Wilfred Griggs has pointed out the striking similarity to the Book of Mormon Tree of Life story and other sixthor seventh-century B.C. texts which have been found in burial sites around the Mediterranean. Griggs reviewed these writings and noted the Near Eastern, or more particularly Egyptian, origin of the texts. He then compared Lehi’s dream with these ancient texts and “concludes that the Book of Mormon account is highly similar both to the writings on metal tablets and to the related Egyptian literature” (Ibid, p. 75).

Dr. Hugh W. Nibley has examined two sections of the Book of Mormon—the account of Lehi’s exodus from Jerusalem and the account of Christ’s ministry in the Americas—in light of recent scholarship. He rigorously compared the Lachish letters, discovered in 1935, with Lehi’s story, and found truly astonishing parallels in form, style, subject matter, and even mention of specific names and events. Nibley also compared early Christian writings called “Forty Day Literature” to 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and again found striking parallels and similarities (Ibid, p. 103).

Dr. Eugene England has made a comparison of the details of Lehi’s Arabian journey as in the Book of Mormon account, published in 1830, with subsequent cultural and geographical findings. This study revealed no contradictions and numerous remarkable correspondences. England developed the argument that the Book of Mormon account of Lehi’s journey across the Arabian peninsula could not have been written in the 1820s. More than twenty significant geographic details accurately described in the Book of Mormon, but not known in America in Joseph Smith’s time, serve as evidence that it is indeed an ancient document, written from firsthand information (Ibid, p. 143).

Dr. Wayne A. Larsen and Dr. Alvin C. Rencher have reported their findings from a statistical analysis of style in the Book of Mormon. Using “wordprint analysis,” a method of determining idiosyncratic subconscious patterns in the writings of any author, they conclude that (1) the Book of Mormon was written by many authors, and that (2) no Book of Mormon passages resemble the writing of any of the commonly suggested nineteenth century authors. “The clear yet hitherto unnoticed characteristics of the Book of Mormon discovered by Larsen and Rencher strongly support Joseph Smith’s account of the book’s origin” (Ibid, p. 158).

Page 86, line 32

“The Mormon Church persists in the fraudulent claim that archaeology substantiates [the Book of Mormon] as a true history of early America.”

Although Latter-day Saints like to point out evidence for the Book of Mormon when such comes forth, the LDS Church does not claim to prove the Book of Mormon by “external evidences,” but by the “internal evidences” of reading the book. Nor does the LDS Church claim the Book of Mormon to be a history of all pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas. It is the religious account of three groups that came to the Americas prior to 421 A.D. There undoubtedly were many other groups that could have come independently including groups coming across the Bering Strait, as much evidence shows.

The authors quote non-Mormon archaeologist Michael Coe when it pleases them, but do not quote him from the same article where he correctly says, “Neither the [LDS] Church in Salt Lake City, nor the Reorganized Church in Independence takes an official stand on the identification of the events and places described in the Book of Mormon.” The authors also do not quote archaeologist Coe of the Smithsonian Institution when he said in the same article:

There can be no question that the BYU sponsored New World Archaeological Foundation’s program has been an unqualified success. Its twenty years of excavations and exploration in Chiapas have put that state on the archaeological map and have established one of the longest and best archaeological sequences for any part of the New World. Credit for this goes to the foresight of [Thomas Stewart] Ferguson and the original directors, but especially to the first-class [LDS] archaeologists who have carried out the program. First and foremost among them, I would name Gareth W. Lowe, who has been field director for a number of years and who has established himself as the outstanding expert in the field of Formative Mesoamerica. And full praise must be given to the generosity and wisdom of the [LDS] Church leadership in providing financial backing for the foundation. “Mormon archaeology” is no longer something that brings chuckles in Gentile circles. (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, “Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View,” Summer 1973, pp. 41-46.)

Page 87, line 22

“The world’s great museums contain huge quantities of evidence uncovered by archaeologists that verifies Biblical history to the minutest detail.”

Yes, there is some evidence to support parts of the Bible, but no reputable archaeologist would make such an absurd statement as this one by the authors. Even archaeologist Coe, whom the authors partly quote on the previous point when it suits their purposes, said in the very same article, “Not even the best and most advanced research has ever been able to establish on purely archaeological grounds the historical details of the Bible, for instance the existence of Jesus Christ” (Ibid.). The authors’ logic, to be consistent, must then teach that Christ did not exist.

However, the Book of Mormon that is being discredited testifies of Christ and the Bible in no uncertain terms.

Page 89, line 24

“The admission by Mormon archaeologists and anthropologists that no one knows the location of even one Book of Mormon city . . . is absolutely fatal to the claims of the Mormon Church and exposes The Brethren as brokers of fraud.”

Since the ancient Book of Mormon civilizations were completely destroyed it should not be surprising that the location of specific cities is not certain.

The authors must be aware that some LDS archaeologists feel they have good evidence for locating many of the sites (even though the LDS leaders have not taken an official position). The Book of Mormon sites may or may not prove accurate, but many biblical sites have been changed over the years, too. Aren’t the authors aware that dozens of biblical sites have not been found? How can the authors quote certain LDS archaeologists and not point out that they continue as true believers of the Book of Mormon? In their quote by LDS Professor Dee F. Green they ignore that he believes that the cultural and historical evidence that has been done is much more impressive than archaeological evidence. After all, the Book of Mormon deals with people. Archaeology deals with things.

All “the LDS Brethren” have asked the world to do is read, ponder and pray about the Book of Mormon.

Page 89, line 35

“Nor has anyone ever been able to unearth even one gold plate (which would be one of the world’s greatest archaeological finds and would prove the Book of Mormon).” The parenthetical material is included in the book.

Not one original biblical manuscript exists either, yet the authors claim acceptance of the Bible.

If the authors mean that records written on gold plates have not been found they are wrong, because a number of such ancient metal records, dating to Book of Mormon times, have been found, a fact the book omits. (See Paul R. Cheesman, Ancient Writings on Metal Plates.)

The authors, although their statement is not clear, probably mean an actual Book of Mormon gold plate. If such were found they probably would change their argument to, “the devil forged it to deceive Latterday Saints,” since they use a satanic explanation to Mormonism as one of their basic conclusions throughout the book.

Page 90, lines 1-29

The real Cumorah is not in New York.

The LDS Church only claims that the Palmyra, New York, area is where Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon plates. No official claim is made as to where the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon was located. Moroni could have brought the plates to New York after his many years of wandering as a fugitive or angels could certainly relocate plates if they wished.

 

#9:  B.H. Roberts and Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews

Page 111, line 15 to page 112, line 9

“B. H. Roberts, eminent Mormon historian and General Authority of the Church, confessed in an unpublished manuscript that the evidence pointed compellingly to Joseph Smith as the [Book of Mormon’s] author. “

This resurrects an old charge against the LDS Church that has been leveled many times. The authors offer no documentation to verify this claim.

B. H. Roberts devoted his life to studying the Book of Mormon from every angle. He was undoubtedly one of the foremost defenders of the faith the LDS Church has ever had. As defender of the faith, Roberts sometimes took the role of “devil’s advocate” to encourage Church leaders to find answers to what some of the critics of the Book of Mormon were saying.

Image result for bh roberts

Since Elder Roberts had a very analytical mind, a letter in 1903 to Church President Joseph F. Smith asking “tough” questions about the Book of Mormon was referred to him. Both the letter and Roberts’ reply were published in the official LDS magazine [Improvement Era, 7 [1904]:180-182; also cited in “Defending the Keystone” by George D. Smith, Jr., Sunstone, May/June 1981, pp. 47-48).

Elder Roberts recognized that there were some questions difficult to handle and he wanted to find answers so that the LDS Church would have replies to critics when needed. One must keep in mind that many of the Book of Mormon expressions for which supportive evidences have come forth in the last fifty years were considered anachronisms in Roberts’ day.

On January 4 and 5, 1922, B. H. Roberts made a two-day oral presentation before the General Authorities “concerning some of the problems” (Truman Madsen, “B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies, Summer 1979, p. 435).

Several General Authorities were assigned to find appropriate answers. “In March of 1922, Elder Roberts prepared a draft of a written report to the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve,” with “parallels” from Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews compared to the Book of Mormon (Ibid., p. 440).

B. H. Roberts made the following disclaimer about the report:

Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. This report [is] . . . for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro and con, as well as that which has been produced against it and that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it. (Ibid.)

Truman Madsen points out “the report was not intended to be balanced. [It was] a kind of lawyer’s brief of one side of a case written to stimulate discussion in preparation of the defense of a work already accepted as true” (Ibid., p. 441).

In support of this view in a letter addressed to Elder Richard R. Lyman of the Council of the Twelve, “Roberts expressed his desire to share the ‘parallels’ with the Twelve Apostles so as to prepare the brethren against future problems that might arise” (George D. Smith, Jr., “Defending the Keystone,” Sunstone, May/June 1981, p. 52).

The “devil’s advocate” method was often B. H. Roberts’ style. “He was known to turn the tables on young Mormon missionaries and represent the case ‘against’ with crisp skill. . . that tested their mettle.” Elder Roberts was criticized for this approach, but argued it was a good experience and “will open your eyes and deepen your understanding” (Truman Madsen, “B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies, Summer 1979, p. 439).

This approach—used to prepare the president of the United States for a press conference, to prepare a salesman to answer objections—is recognized as a legitimate technique for preparation. No one would consider such briefing papers to represent the position of the one who prepared such papers. Yet in The God Makers the authors have felt they could further truth and objectivity in this selective manner by using B. H. Roberts’ words without placing them in their proper context, even to the point of omitting the disclaimer statement. This tactic is used often by the authors.

Image result for view of the hebrews

Elder Roberts said in 1933 that he had “concluded Ethan Smith played no part in the formation of the Book of Mormon” (cited by Madsen, p. 441).

Authors Decker and Hunt could at least have quoted one of their favorite anti-Mormon writers who admitted, “It may never be proved that Joseph Smith saw Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews before writing the Book of Mormon” (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, p. 47).

In April 1928 on only one of the thirty occasions when he used the Tabernacle pulpit on this subject, B. H. Roberts read the poignant account of the reaction of the Nephites to the visit of Christ in America as recorded in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 27). Roberts then said:

Now, tell me in what church or cathedral in the world, in what sacred grove, in what place among the habitations of men will be found a more glorious Easter vision of the Christ than this? And the world would have lost this if it had not been for the Book of Mormon coming forth and there are a hundred more such glorious things that have come to the world in the book to enlighten the children of men.

He closed with a prayer, for on this level the paralytic influence of analysis gave .way to faith and its fulfillment. It was the praise of God that shone in him as he sang his song of praise. (Madsen, p. 443.)

B. H. Roberts had his problems with some Church leaders. He was chastized several times, once when he ran for the U. S. Congress without getting Church approval, which was expected of General Authorities. Elder Roberts won the election, but suffered the pain of never holding his seat when his peers in Congress refused to allow him to do so because he was a Latter-day Saint. If B. H. Roberts had wanted to turn against the LDS Church, he had every reason to.

Among readers who came to the Book of Mormon with hard, skeptical assumptions, B. H. Roberts is notable. He was capacitated by temperament and equipped by study for penetrating analysis. Moreover, at many junctures of his life he had profound personal reasons and emotional and spiritual stresses which might have led a man of lesser integrity to discard wholesale his religious heritage. (Madsen, p. 427.)

Madison U. Sowell pointed out that Elder “Roberts’ concern was ever that of defending, not destroying the faith” and charges that he lost his testimony are “denied by his family and existing evidence supports their denial” (“Defending the Keystone,” Sunstone, May/June 1981, pp. 51-52).

To exonerate B. H. Roberts is one thing, but did Joseph Smith have access to Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews and, even if he did, would this mean that Joseph Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, as Decker and Hunt maintain?

View of the Hebrews was first published in 1823 and a second edition in 1825. This was during the time Joseph Smith received annual visits from the Angel Moroni, but before he received the plates in 1827. The first edition of View of the Hebrews was published seven years before the Book of Mormon. Some writers feel that Joseph Smith could have been influenced by the book and they point out such parallels as:

  1. Both books claim that some of the American Indians descended from Hebrews
  2. Savage tribes destroyed their civilized brethren in a final battle.
  3. In both accounts, sacred records, handed down from generation to generation, were buried in a hill and handed down later.
  4. Both books identify American Indians as the tribe of Joseph.
  5. Both books inform Americans that they should convert the Indians to their Hebraic scriptural heritage (see George D. Smith, “Defending the Keystone,” Sunstone, May/June 1981, pp. 46~7.)

Students of the Book of Mormon would agree that the parallels are generally true with slight modification as far as the Book of Mormon is concerned. Roberts pointed out other parallels such as lost books, Urim and Thummirn, and the many Isaiah quotes.

Some LDS views are as follows: There is no evidence that the LDS founder had seen View of the Hebrews and we have already pointed out that Fawn Brodie admitted “It may never be proved that Joseph Smith [had access to the Ethan Smith work].” Geographically it was of course possible that the Ethan Smith work could have been available to Joseph Smith. It would certainly have been normal for Joseph Smith to have read it had he heard about it. In fact in 1842 the LDS newspaper made an allusion to Ethan Smith as support for the validity of the Book of Mormon (Times and Seasons, June II, 1842, pp. 813-814).

Articles by Hugh Nibley in a two-part 1959 Improvement Era series said of some of the parallels, “Joseph Smith could more easily have found the material in the Bible” (Improvement Era, October 1959, p. 746).

What about the differences between the two works? In 1961 Ariel Crowley in About the Mormons (pp. 130-131) pointed out three significant differences:

The View of the Hebrews relates to biblical texts and secular and religious investigations into evidence supporting a particular interpretation of those texts, whereas the Book of Mormon is scripture, complete in itself. The View of the Hebrews relates primarily to a people lost in about the year 725 B.C. whereas the Book of Mormon relates to people never lost, but who migrated from Jerusalem a century and a quarter after the “lost tribes” were expelled. The View of the Hebrews is intended as a spur to induce Protestants to engage in proselyting Jews and Indians to Protestant Christianity by contributing to missionary organizations and welfare groups. The Book of Mormon has a purpose identical with the purpose of the Bible, i.e., attestation of the divinity of Christ and the preservation of the records of affairs and teachings in a theocratic system (Madison U. Sowell, “Defending the Keystone,” p. 53).

In 1964 Sidney Sperry pointed out other differences:

“Where in [Ethan] Smith’s book can be found of the atonement as distinctive as found in 2 Nephi 9:6-9? Where in Smith’s book can be found a treatment of the doctrine of an opposition in all things and the meaning of the fall such as in 2 Nephi 2:11-25? How could Joseph Smith possibly extract the ideas pertaining to Lehi’s dream of the tree, the river, and the rod of iron (I Nephi 8) from the View of the Hebrews ? Or where in this book could he possibly get the ideas found in Alma 32 pertaining to faith? Certainly Joseph Smith could not have found ideas in View of the Hebrews to compose what is said about the state of the soul between death and the resurrection in Alma 40:11-14. And is there anything comparable in Ethan Smith’s book to the dramatic three-day ministry of Jesus in 3 Nephi 11-26?” (Ibid.)

A 1971 master’s thesis by William L. Riley, “A Comparison of Passages from Isaiah and Other Old Testament Prophets in Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon, ” definitely shows Joseph Smith “did not use Ethan Smith as a reference for Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon” (Ibid. p. 54).

Historian Richard L. Bushman has pointed out that View of the Hebrews has the lost tribes moving northward. The Book of Mormon has a small remnant of one tribe 125 years later moving south. View of the Hebrews has little to say about the history of the tribes in America, whereas the Book of Mormon says a great deal about its people including the visit of Christ. View of the Hebrews has America reserved for the tribes; the Book of Mormon speaks of the lost tribes scattered in other parts of the world. In View of the Hebrews the tribes are lost; in the Book of Mormon the Joseph remnant is not lost, but deliberately led to America. There are hardly any sermons of salvation in View of the Hebrews, whereas the Book of Mormon abounds in such material. View of the Hebrews admonished Christians to bring Christianity to the Jews and Indians. The Book of Mormon stated that “Indians, Jews and Christians” would be in a state of apostasy and a restoration would be needed. (Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, pp. 135-139.)

Recently scholars at the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon studies have published an article called “View of the Hebrews: An Unparallel,” which points out many items used in View of the Hebrews to support the Hebraic origin of the American Indian. None of this information appears in the Book of Mormon. This study asks that if Joseph Smith had access to View of the Hebrews, why would he “have contradicted and ignored [it] at virtually every turn, if indeed he gave it basic credence?” (F.A.R.M.S. Update, October 1985, pp. 1-2).

The authors of The God Makers have ignored the facts in connection with parallels between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews.

 

#10:  KJV Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

Page 113, lines 1-9

“The hundreds of quotations from both the Old and New Testament [are not acknowledged as coming from Joseph Smith’s Bible but are represented] as though they came from the ‘Gold Plates.’ “

Neither the LDS Church nor Joseph Smith ever claimed that the Book of Mormon did not have passages similar to and even identical with biblical ones. In fact, for such verses in the Book of Mormon, chapter headings and footnotes invite the reader to compare the corresponding biblical verses.

The plates were written in an ancient language (called reformed Egyptian in the Book of Mormon) and the translator, Joseph Smith, put them into the best English of his day of which he was capable.

Wouldn’t any good translator put his translation into the vernacular of the people he was translating for? Isn’t a translation considered to be a poor one when it doesn’t use the word order, grammar or language that is currently in common usage? The vernacular for scripture in Joseph Smith’s day was the King James Bible. It is not known whether Joseph was actually told by the Lord the King James wording or whether there is another explanation. Possibly, when the scriptures to be translated were almost identical to those in the King James version, Joseph Smith opened up his Bible and whenever something was close to what these translators had said, he thought to himself, ‘That’s good enough for me.” Latter-day Saints don’t claim to know what happened. It would seem odd for Joseph Smith not to see what the King James translators said when he was covering similar ground on the plates. We do know that the Book of Mormon translation required studious effort on the part of the translator (D&C 9:8).

If Joseph Smith had such a “fertile imagination” as the authors suggest earlier, wouldn’t he have been smart enough to paraphrase more, as they suggest on the last two lines of page 112 he should have done? Or if Joseph Smith were perpetrating a fraud, as they claim, why would Joseph with a “fertile imagination” take anything from the Bible at all? He surely knew his work would be scrutinized. Joseph’s “fertile imagination” could just as likely have produced a book without a single biblical quote if he were involved in a hoax, rather than to copy a small fraction from the Bible. And if the Book of Mormon has satanic origins, then why didn’t the devil give a “nonplagiarized” account?

Joseph Smith simply translated biblical passages that were on the plates, not because he was running short on imagination; after all, over 93 percent of the Book of Mormon plates are not direct biblical quotes or paraphrases. A 100 percent non-biblical quoting book of scripture wouldn’t have been much harder to produce.

Why don’t the authors point out the remarkable differences in Christ’s great Sermon on the Mount that he delivered both by the Sea of Galilee and in America, the Book of Mormon account of which adds greater understanding to this great masterpiece?

Why don’t the authors point out that the main quotes from the Bible are from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah? Joseph Smith quotes 433 Isaiah verses of which 199 are word for word, but 234 are different than the King James version. One verse (2 Nephi 12:16) is not only different from the King James version but adds a completely new phrase: “And upon all the ships of the sea.” This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which had not been translated into English in Joseph Smith’s day.

All this information about the Book of Mormon is readily available, but has been ignored.

One fact remains—the Book of Mormon itself. It has to be explained in some way. At first, hearing about gold plates, angels, the voice of God, all sounds unbelievable. But on careful, thoughtful, sincere reflection and prayerful study of the Book of Mormon, any explanation different than the one Joseph Smith gave is beyond believability.

 

#11:  Feelings only for Testimony?

Page 115, lines 7-9

“[The counsel to pray for the Spirit’s confirmation of the truth of the Book of Mormon] sidesteps facts and substitutes feelings.”

How can the book say this when the Book of Mormon’s very existence is an indisputable fact? Missionaries teach that if one will read, ponder and pray about the Book of Mormon, one will be entitled to a confirmation from God. This is combining fact with feeling, not sidetracking “facts and substituting feeling” as The God Makers says. Isn’t the authors’ belief that one has achieved a guarantee of eternal life merely a strong feeling? Although its origin may be disputed, the Book of Mormon is a fact.

 

I’ll stop there.  I’ve only shared a fraction of the claims and responses.  But you get the idea.

I’ll repeat, those that familiarized themselves with the claims of The God Makers saw little new from the CES Letter.

Indeed, all of Decker’s material was in the ex-Mormon subreddit.  That is where Jeremy found all this information.  It wasn’t new at all.  Jeremy (and members since) simply didn’t know about it.

Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff? Controversial Topics in the Church

Geoff Biddulph is a convert to the Church of just over 15 years. Before joining he read a lot of anti-Mormon literature. However, it was the Spirit that converted him and helped him be open to being baptized. Since then, Geoff has read the book of Mormon more than 10 times and have read the entire Bible at least five times.

He has a large library of Church-related material from which he draws upon as he writes for the Millennial Star blog—where he has contributed for nearly a decade. He his wife Cindy were married in the Denver temple nearly 11 years ago and they now have five kids. He is joining us by phone today from Denver, CO. Geoff is here to talk about an article he wrote for the Millennial Star Blog entitled, “Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff”

Those Who Left the LDS Church and Returned: Loss and Rekindling of Faith

Awesome Elder Uchtdorf:

Three prominent Latter-day Saints left the Church.  Years later they returned.  Each story of deconversion and reconversion is very unique.

I’ll introduce each panelist briefly:

  •  on the right:   Janet Eyring; niece of Spencer W. Kimball and cousin of Henry B. Eyring; grew up in Berkeley, CA; graduated from BYU in 1976; served mission in Toronto; got Master’s & PhD at UCLA; crisis of faith started as a child & wasn’t resolved till 46; spent 20 years outside the Church
  • middle:   Don Bradley; grew up in Upstate NY; Bachelor’s in History from BYU; spent time as an agnostic and atheist, then back to theist, then Baha’i, then generic Protestant before returning to the Utah-based church where he had begun; now getting Master’s in History at Utah State
  • on the left:   Maxine Hanks;  related to Marion G. Hanks; was excommunicated as one of the “September 6” in 1993; was out of the LDS Church for 20 years; 1/2 of life in the Church, 1/2 of life out of the Church; feminist who has authored or co-authored several books including Women & Authority: Re-emerging Mormon FeminismMormon Faith in AmericaGetting Together With YesterdayA History of Sanpete County, and was a contributor to Secrets of Mary MagdaleneReligion in America, and Latter-day Dissent.

 

 

For young Latter-day Saints:

Patrick Mason — author of Planted — discusses belief and doubt.