As part of an assignment, Elder Corbridge read critical material. Lots of critical or anti-Mormon material. In fact, he claims there’s virtually nothing he hasn’t read from critical or anti sources.
Elder Corbridge explained there are primary and secondary questions when it comes to the Church. The primary questions must be answered first, as they are the most important. They include:
Is there a God who is our Father?
Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the world?
Was Joseph Smith a prophet?
Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on the earth?
In contrast, the secondary questions are unending. They include questions about Church history, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, how the Book of Mormon was translated, DNA and the Book of Mormon, gay marriage, different accounts of the First Vision and so on.
“If you answer the primary questions, the secondary questions get answered too or they pale in significance and you can deal with things you understand and things you don’t understand, things you agree with and things you don’t agree with without jumping ship altogether,” Elder Corbridge said.
More from the talk:
“There are some members of the Church who don’t know the answers to the primary questions, and they spend their time and attention slogging through the secondary questions.
They mistakenly try to learn the truth by process of elimination, by attempting to eliminate every doubt,” Elder Corbridge said.
One cannot prove the Church is true by disproving every claim made against it. Ultimately, there must be affirmative proof. With the things of God, that affirmative proof comes by revelation through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
Skeptics have sometimes compared the Book of Mormon to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, including his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings. If, they reason, Tolkien could create an entire imaginary world, with a large and detailed geography and a complex history that involves multiple ethnic groups, wars, and intricate subplots, it’s surely not impossible to imagine that Joseph Smith might have done the same.
Of course, there are some differences between them. For example, Joseph Smith was a marginally literate frontier farmer who dictated the Book of Mormon in less than three months and always insisted that it represented genuinely ancient history.
By contrast, Tolkien, who created his Middle Earth over the course of many decades and never claimed it was other than fiction, was an accomplished philologist and translator. He taught at Oxford University as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and then as the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature.
However, a new comparison of the Book of Mormon to the works of Tolkien is well worth considering. In their intriguing article “Comparing Book of Mormon Names with Those Found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works: An Exploratory Study,” four Brigham Young University professors — Brad Wilcox (ancient scripture), Wendy Baker-Smemoe (linguistics), Bruce L. Brown (psychology, with specialization in the psychology of language), and Sharon Black (education, with a focus on writing and editing) — look specifically at the unusual names found within both Tolkien’s books and the Book of Mormon. (It’s published on mormoninterpreter.com, of which I am the chairman and president.)
They focus on “phonemes,” the smallest units of sound, using a hypothetical construct that they term a “sound print” or “phonoprint.” This is a pattern of sound that — rather like the individual “wordprint” seems to characterize different writers or like the fingerprints that are used to identify and specify the perpetrators of criminal acts — appears to be distinctively characteristic of individual authors and could, therefore, serve to differentiate one writer from another.
“Traditionally,” say the authors of this new study, “words have been seen as the smallest building blocks over which authors have some freedom to choose. This new line of research expands the fundamental unit of text into phonemes and proposes the possibility that we could produce a phonoprint that would differ from author to author. Despite that authors have fewer sounds with which to create words than they have words with which to create prose and poetry, there is some evidence that authors favor certain sounds over others when choosing or inventing names.”
Using this fresh and unusual research approach in an “exploratory” fashion, the authors examine the dwarf, elvish, hobbit, and human names created by Tolkien, as well as the Jaredite, Nephite, Mulekite, and Lamanite names found in the Book of Mormon. Although Joseph Smith always maintained that he had translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient record, his critics have frequently claimed that he wrote it himself, just as any ordinary writer composes a fictional narrative. Presumably, if those critics are right, he would have chosen the names for his imaginary world, or created them, just as other writers of fiction do.
Their summary of their findings is worth quoting:
“Results suggest that Tolkien had a phonoprint he was unable to entirely escape when creating character names, even when he claimed he based them on distinct languages. In contrast, in Book of Mormon names, a single author’s phonoprint did not emerge. Names varied by group in the way one would expect authentic names from different cultures to vary. . . . Thus the Book of Mormon name groups were significantly more diverse than Tolkien’s. . . . If the Book of Mormon names were created by an individual, they were created by a very different process or based on languages more different from each other and consistent within themselves than those created by Tolkien.”
For Tolkien, the invention of fictional languages was a lifelong hobby that contributed substantially to his creation of Middle Earth. He began developing “Elvish” in his late teens, for example, and was still working on its history and grammar at age 81 when he died in 1973.
It seems highly unlikely that Joseph Smith was better at inventing fictional languages than Tolkien was.
Preston discusses Joseph’s poverty, early struggles, and the help he got from others to further the mission of the Church.
YouTube intro: “Without the Prophet Joseph Smith, the entire state of Utah—not to mention the entire world— would be a different place than it is today. Preston Nibley narrates accomplishments of Joseph’s life and proves that he was a man of sincerity and determination who never wearied of the task of spreading the gospel.
Abstract of this podcast specifically about Joseph’s dealings with Missouri’s efforts to extradite:
This is the second of two articles discussing Missouri’s requisitions to extradite Joseph Smith to face criminal charges and the Prophet’s recourse to English habeas corpus practice to defend himself. In the first article, the author discussed the English nature of pre-Civil War habeas corpus practice in America and the anachronistic modern idea that the Nauvoo Municipal Court did not have jurisdiction to consider interstate habeas corpus matters. In this article, he analyzes the conduct of Governor Thomas Reynolds in the matter of Missouri’s requisitions for the extradition of Joseph Smith in light of 1840s legal ethics in America. That analysis follows the discovery that Governor Reynolds had dismissed the underlying 1838 charges against Joseph Smith when he was a Missouri Supreme Court judge. It also responds to the revelation that Missouri reissued indictments based on the same underlying facts in June 1843 despite the existence of a double-jeopardy provision in the Missouri Constitution of 1820.
In my earlier article, I explained that Joseph Smith’s use of habeas corpus practice was legally and morally unobjectionable, despite the contrary claims of his detractors. In this article, I have shown that Governor Reynolds of Missouri knew that all the Mormon War charges against Joseph Smith had been dismissed, yet he not only allowed his State’s unfounded 1840 requisition for Joseph Smith’s extradition to remain in place, but he issued a new requisition for Joseph Smith’s extradition on the strength of contrived new indictments. That is abuse of process which amounts to official state persecution of an innocent man who had been released because the prosecutor had abandoned a case he could not prove.
Governor Reynolds’ involvement in the requisition for Joseph Smith’s arrest on suspicion of complicity in the murder of former Governor Boggs is less objectionable on legal and ethical grounds, as there is no suggestion from available records that Governor Reynolds knew those allegations were contrived. But as a former chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, [Page 324]it is likely he recognized how thin the underlying case was. In the context of Missouri’s obsession with the persecution of Joseph Smith and his followers, he should have paused before adding his personal imprimatur to the interstate pursuit of Joseph Smith on those charges.
While legal ethics on the frontier were still developing, Governor Thomas Reynolds’ involvement in requisitions for the arrest and extradition of Joseph Smith to face contrived charges was dishonorable from start to finish.
“Historical analysis of Joseph Smith’s earliest religious experiences
raises the larger question of what documentation can reasonably be
expected for such events. A few writers on this subject virtually claim that
one could not accept the vision if it were not headlined by the regional
press in the spring of 1820. But that is projecting twentieth century journalism
onto the patterns of another age, for precious little local news
reached the columns of the country newspaper of Joseph Smith’s youth.
A more realistic criterion is the outside publicity given the rise of Christianity.
Contemporary mention of this obscure religious reform is absent
until it became an influential force, and at that point comment emerges in
Roman sources. Non-Mormon references to the First Vision follow this
parallel. The earliest known newspaper allusion is a reaction to the first
great success of Latter-day Saint proselyting, the Ohio-Missouri mission.
“Our Painesville correspondent” forwarded a report of the 1830 preaching
of “Cowdery and his friends” in Ohio: “Smith (they affirmed), had seen
God frequently and personally.”88
At the peak of his career in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith was a creative religious
innovator, but every important First Vision account antedates that
period. The visions of the 1820’s were historically recorded in the 1830’s,
with the first detailed account of the First Vision framed in 1831–32, about
a decade after the event. This compares favorably to the best parallel, the
New Testament record of Christian revelations. For instance, Paul’s first
vision occurred about A.D. 33, but his only detailed descriptions are
speeches given in the period A.D. 58–60, also the earliest date for the composition of Acts, in which these speeches and Luke’s historical account of
Paul’s vision appear.
In present terms, many readers of this article in 1969 remember very well certain episodes of December 7, 1941 (a quarter of a century ago), because of their aroused emotions on “a day that will live in infamy.” Some twenty years after the death of his brother Alvin, Joseph Smith said that the vivid memories of that event had not left him.89 The First Vision, an experience of greater emotional impact, was entered in the early ledger book after about half that time. This paper has shown that Joseph Smith’s memory is basically accurate for the external events of his early life.
Although not commenting upon the circumstances of the First Vision,
Joseph Smith’s father alluded to the experience itself. The occasion was a
formal gathering of the entire Smith family and a few trusted Church leaders
in 1834 to receive their blessings from the appointed patriarch of the
Church. The meeting was opened by brief observations of the sixty-threeyear-old leader, surveying his personal and family history. He recalled that
the Lord had “often” given him “visions” and “dreams,” a supporting statement
for the seven related in detail by his wife, the last of which is dated
1819 by her. He reviewed God’s favor on the family in their “many afflictions,”
mentioning specifically the tragedies of the “untimely birth” of a
son (about 1797), the death of another child “in his infancy” (1810), and
the 1823 death of Alvin, “taken from us in the vigor of life, in the bloom of
youth.”90 Obviously, Joseph Sr. was voicing the personal convictions and
traditions of an entire household. After a prayer, the initial blessing was
given to his prophet-son.
The opening words of Joseph Smith, Sr., summarized the spiritual career of the twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Smith, Jr., as then accepted by those who knew him most intimately: The Lord thy God has called thee by name out of the heavens; thou hast heard his voice from on high from time to time, even in thy youth.91
In a series of revelations given “from time to time,” the initial experience
mentioned is not the coming of an angel, but an incident in which the
youth is addressed personally by God from the heavens.92 Thus the patriarch
spontaneously gives the same sequence for the First Vision as found in
the writings of his wife and prophet-son.
To recapitulate, the reality of the First Vision has recently been challenged
on the ground that no revivals are found in the village of Palmyra in
the years immediately surrounding Joseph Smith’s date of 1820. But a
study of the leading non-Mormon recollection of the Prophet’s early religious
investigations makes this line of investigation largely irrelevant.
Orsamus Turner, printer’s apprentice in Palmyra until about 1820, recalled
young Joseph’s “catching a spark of Methodism in the camp meeting, away
down in the woods…” Thus the “religious excitement” that the Prophet
identifies as preceding his First Vision must be seen in a rural setting, what
a contemporary minister of the Genesee Conference termed “forest gatherings.”93
The documented camp meeting near Palmyra in 1820 is no doubt
typical of many others not noted in the press. But a constellation of
Methodist preachers comprising all circuits of western New York gathered
in their annual meeting at nearby Phelps in 1819. The impact of their public
preaching is measured by the description of the “crowds which gathered
from far and near” for the conference of the previous year.94
A careful study of the quality of recollection found in the writings of
William Smith and Oliver Cowdery render them not prime sources for
the First Vision itself. This means in essence that recent challenges to the
Prophet’s first religious experience have set up the problem with improper
sources and have attempted a solution by studying only one type of revival
in an unduly restricted locality. When the personal recollections that reach
back to 1820 are isolated, the few Mormon and non-Mormon sources that
qualify are in basic agreement. Though scornful of Mormon claims and
preoccupied with money-digging gossip, Orsamus Turner and Pomeroy
Tucker agree that Joseph Smith loosely affiliated with Methodism but
shortly announced a negative evaluation of all Christian churches. A study
of Turner’s early life, combined with the shortness of Joseph Smith’s
Methodist association indicated in Tucker, requires a date of approximately
1820 for these events.
By far the best independent source on Joseph’s early personal life is his mother, who confirms the religious excitement about 1819 “in the surrounding country,” relates his vision, describes his ostracism afterwards, and emphasizes that his conviction that the churches were wrong prevented his following the majority of the adults of his family in participation in the local revivals of 1824–25.
Beyond these historical details, it is most impressive that both parents express acceptance of the First Vision. An exacting study of existing recollections of the early 1820 period leaves the distinct impression that Joseph Smith is more accurate on his early history than any of his current critics.
General background on Joseph and the seer stones here.
Josiah Stowell’s nephew filed a suit against Joseph. Josiah Stowell, the man for whom Joseph worked, testified in court on behalf of Joseph against the charge of Joseph being a conman. No conviction.
Emma met Joseph while Joseph was employed by Josiah Stowell. Joseph, in fact, stayed in Emma’s home. Emma’s parents didn’t approve of their courtship.
Bill Reel discusses the history behind well digging, treasure digging, the seer stone, diving rods, and more.
Rather than being a treasure digger, Bill argues that Joseph was a lost-item finder. Several anecdotes support this theory.
Josiah Stowell surely heard about Joseph’s ability to find things, and hired Joseph to find rumored Spanish gold near Harmony, PA . Joseph had a spiritual gift or talent. He was not, however, a serial conman. In fact, Joseph told Josiah Stowell to stop his gold-seeking enterprise, since it wasn’t successful.
Joseph was tried for glass looking after Stowell’s nephew pressed charges. Joseph was ultimately exonerated.
*** The fellow who did the podcast (in 2014), Bill Reel, is now far from the kind of believer he was when he made this podcast. Faith is similar to any living organism. Must be nourished.
I’ve called Bill Reel. Nice guy. Sadly, he’s now very (very, very, very, very) far from the basics.
“The words dictated by Joseph Smith between April 7 and June 30, 1829, were published with few alterations. However, Joseph intervened in the 1837 and 1840 printings to make multiple changes in the previously published wordings. Other emendations have been authorized by subsequent Church leaders.
Several authors have documented different tallies of alternations made in the various versions of the Book of Mormon (see below). Understanding the quantity and quality of these emendations may be helpful in understanding how Joseph Smith created the text in the first place.
Two critics took the time to count the changes. Turns out, they underestimated when compared to the digital work done by LDS scholar, Royal Skousen:
Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s 1965 publication, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, has probably had a greater influence. Much like Lamoni Call’s approach in the 1890s, Jerald Tanner sat down eighty years later with an 1830 edition and a 1964 edition of the Book of Mormon and annotated all changes he could identify. His count almost doubled Call’s. In their introduction, the Tanners also allege a conspiracy by Church leaders to conceal the changes: “The changes made in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith’s revelations have apparently caused the Mormon Church leaders some concern, for they fear that their people will find out about them.”12
In the last two decades, digitalization of the texts has allowed a much more nuanced analysis of the words and word substitutions by a team of scholars in the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project led by BYU professor Royal Skousen.13 When he was asked, “How many changes are there in the Book of Mormon text?” Skousen replied:
I don’t know for sure, and I’ll tell you why it’s hard to count them. In my computerized collation of the two manuscripts and 20 significant editions of the Book of Mormon, I can count the number of places of variation. These are places where there’s a textual variant. The variant itself can involve spelling, punctuation, words missing or added, a grammatical change, and so on. In all, there are about 105,000 places of variation in the computerized collation.14
Critics claim no errors at all should be present. But the translation at least partly involved Joseph. And the original didn’t include punctuation, headings, columns, etc.
Different camps of believing Latter-day Saint scholars believe Joseph exercised what have been called tight or loose control.
There is evidence for both camps, tight and loose control. Joseph spelled out proper nouns, but seemed to have freedom to speak (loose control), using words he knew, and playing a role in the transmission.
Others, such as Martin Harris and David Whitmer, reported that Joseph literally saw a scroll with Egyptian characters with English below. That is the view of tight control.
“Joseph Smith left no description of how the words came to him as he dictated. At a Church conference in 1831, Hyrum Smith invited the Prophet to explain how the Book of Mormon came forth. Joseph’s response was that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and … it was not expedient for him to relate these things.”24 His only answer was that it came “by the gift and power of God.”25
That Joseph contributed to the process in an undefined but necessary way was demonstrated in 1829 when Oliver Cowdery attempted to translate but failed. The Lord explained why: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask.” (D&C 9:7–8). It appears that translating involved more than mimicking a court recorder reading back previous testimony.”
Brian Hales identifies and categorizes the changes and variants below:
Understanding the “Changes” and “Variants”
The Book of Mormon is “a literary feat for the ages,” writes Huffington Post blogger Jack Kelly. That Joseph Smith “dictated most of it in a period of less than three months and did not revise a single word before its initial printing is even more jaw-dropping.”29 So Joseph did not revise the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon before it went to print, but as Lamoni Call and the Tanners have documented, changes were made in subsequent printings.
If numerous revisions, rewritings, edits, and modifications were needed in a second edition, then the question is why? Did the original Book of Mormon manuscript contain many errors that needed correction like the early draft of most books that are eventually printed? If so, its creation might not have required divine intervention or have been significantly different from other publications. But if the changes constituted minor letter and word substitutions to upgrade the dialect and grammar without changing the primary story line or message, then Joseph’s creation would retain an important uniqueness.
Royal Skousen has recently published “all of the cases of grammatical variation in the history of the Book of Mormon text.”30 His study identifies 106,508 “accidentals” in the different versions of the Book of Mormon.31
Skousen’s research supports that none of the general categories of changes indicates the presence of glaring problems within the Book of Mormon narrative.
The two major (Tanner) claims related to adding “Son of” to God in four places in the Book of Mormon. And changing Benjamin to Mosiah in two positions. Hardly major changes. Only editing changes for clarity.
“In Joseph’s early teachings, Christ was both God and the son of God, so either rendition was accurate.42 It could be reasoned that this highlighted change did not alter any doctrine or teaching, but the additional words served to more clearly distinguish the teaching from Trinitarian views popular in other religious traditions. Skousen speculates, “Perhaps he didn’t like the Catholic sounding expression” and that the addition was simply a “clarification.”43
It appears that of all the possibilities, these two emendations were the most significant changes the Tanners could identify. If more important historical or doctrinal alterations had been encountered in their research, it is probable those would have been mentioned first.
The significance of all the changes will likely remain controversial, but a couple of observations can be made. First, these two do not seem to represent an attempt to correct sweeping contradictions or blunders in the text but rather provide clarification to potential ambiguities. Second, if these are the most egregious changes critics can identify, the Book of Mormon narrative, as it fell from Joseph’s lips, was remarkably free from significant errors.
Book of Mormon Changes Do Not
Represent Revising or Rewriting
As discussed above, the changes identified by Skousen and Carmack do not refer to major modifications or corrections to sections of the Book of Mormon’s original wording.
(LDS critic) historian Dan Vogel acknowledged, “Smith’s method of dictation did not allow for rewriting. It was a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness composition,” adding, “It is not that the manuscript went through a major rewrite.”44
Normal content editing, which involves revising and reworking parts of the text, did not occur in the original or in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon.
Many naturalists consider Joseph Smith to have been a first-time novelist in 1829 as he created the Book of Mormon, so the lack of revisions is unexpected.45
Professional writers and instructors generally emphasize the need for rewriting in order to create a finished manuscript. Betty Mattix Dietsch, author of Reasoning & Writing Well, addresses the plight of first-time novelists: “Some inexperienced writers seem to think they have hit the jackpot on their first draft. They evade the fact that every exploratory draft needs more work.”46
Note: image above is from the 9th edition.
“I usually write about ten more or less complete drafts” confides Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder, “each one usually though not always closer to the final thing.”47 In her college [Page 62]textbook, Steps to Writing Well, Jean Wyrick emphasizes the importance of rewriting:
The absolute necessity of revision cannot be overemphasized. All good writers rethink, rearrange, and rewrite large portions of their prose. … Revision is a thinking process that occurs any time you are working on a writing project. It means looking at your writing with a “fresh eye”—that is, reseeing your writing in ways that will enable you to make more effective choices throughout your essay. … Revision means making important decisions about the best ways to focus, organize, develop, clarify, and emphasize your ideas. … Virtually all writers revise after “reseeing” a draft in its entirety.48
Louis Brandeis, who served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939, coined a common maxim for authors: “There is no good writing; there is only good rewriting.”
That changes have been made in the Book of Mormon text should not be confused with the idea that revisions or rewriting occurred. They did not, which is surprising for a frontier-schooled twenty-three-year-old farm boy who is listed as “author.”49
A review of critical literature regarding the Book of Mormon identifies two classes of critics. There are those who tell their audiences that many changes have been made and provide examples (like the Tanners). There are others who report “upwards of 4,000” changes without any further discussion.50
On the surface, voices that stress the thousands of emendations could easily generate a mental picture of a book that underwent significant revisions and rewriting after its first edition. If the overall insignificance of the changes is not disclosed, the number of 2,000 or 3,913 changes could be used by critics to mislead their audiences, as propaganda is designed to do.
Jerald and Sandra Tanners have sold many copies of their book 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, since first released in 1965. The title of the book is technically accurate. But how many unsuspecting observers have read (and continue to read) the title and assume the Book of Mormon manuscript required thousands of corrections to compensate for significant mistakes in Joseph Smith’s dictation?
The perception created by the title might be misleading because readers may impute more significance to the word “changes” than actually justified. If transparency is sought, then adding a subtitle might be useful: 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon: But None are Really Significant.
Royal Skousen summarized his research: “Errors have crept into the text, but no errors significantly interfere with either the message of the book or its doctrine. … Ultimately, all of this worry over the number of changes is specious.”51
Reid Moon, a 1985 BYU grad, shows the first five editions of the Book of Mormon printed in Joseph’s lifetime.
By Royal Skousen at FAIR, published in 2015. Royal discusses several minor emendations. Nobody knows more about the Book of Mormon manuscripts and the Book of Mormon changes than Royal Skousen.
The Book of Mormon is a marvel. The translation was a matchless feat. It contains the restored Gospel.