Book of Mormon Invites Criticism

Hugh Nibley (1910–2005) was an American scholar and prominent figure in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was known for his contributions to LDS scholarship, particularly in ancient history, languages, and religious studies. Nibley held a Ph.D. in ancient history and wrote about ancient civilizations, religious history, and Mormonism.

Nibley’s influence extends beyond academia, as he contributed to the intellectual foundation of Mormon apologetics, defending and explaining aspects of LDS theology and history. Although his perspectives and interpretations were not universally or officially accepted within the LDS community he wrote extensively on the topics with an authoritative voice.

"The Book of Mormon can and should be tested. It invites criticism." - LDS Apologist and Historian, Hugh Nibley, 1988 |
“The Book of Mormon can and should be tested. It invites criticism.” – LDS Apologist and Historian, Hugh Nibley, 1988

Nibley claims that the Book of Mormon is open to scrutiny and examination and invites others to do this when he states that it “can and should be tested” and “it invites criticism.” He encourages individuals to evaluate the book critically, question, and analyze. He implies that the Book of Mormon welcomes thorough examination, evaluation, and discussion rather than discouraging or avoiding scrutiny. This statement implies a confidence in the Book of Mormon’s ability to withstand critical inquiry and invites individuals to engage with it intellectually and analytically.

The Book of Mormon can and should be tested. It invites criticism.

Hugh Nibley, LDS Apologist and Historian, BYU Professor
An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 1988

Does the book and the church really invite criticism? Does the church encourage others to test the book? We are encouraged to read the scripture daily and to study the “official” version detailing the history of how we have the Book of Mormon (but not dig into the details or footnotes). Nibley’s statement is another example of the church leadership and culture not standing with the apologists.

Members of the church are not encouraged to test the Book of Mormon. They are not encouraged to research things or criticize anything to do with the church. Rather they are told that when you have questions research is not the answer, that it is wrong to criticize leaders, that they should give Brother Joseph a break, that some true things, are not useful or important, and to ignore the bad while assuming the good. Mormons are told to only follow their feelings to determine truth. Finally, members are told that if they find it difficult to believe in the truth claims of the church or if they struggle with doubts or doubting their doubts sufficiently, they should simply choose to believe anyway and if they do leave, they will never have a happy day and leaders will be furious with them for leaving the boat.

We should mention Moroni’s Promise as delivered in the final chapters of the Book of Mormon. This is not a sound test or honest logic. How is waiting for a good feeling after asking God if something is not true sufficient leverage to give your life to an organization? An organization that hoards wealth and lies about it, that spins fantasy narratives as true history, and refuses to be held responsible for its own racist history, sexist present and harmful, discriminatory practices still today.

Another potential retort from the church is Alma’s suggested “experiment” on the word of God. Some may refer to this and Moroni’s Promise as examples of testing the Book of Mormon. But it really tests one’s own mental gymnastics and confirmation bias more than anything. If we are looking for reasons to believe something, we can find many many reasons.

Some may even refer to the Book of Mormon writing challenge Nibley famously gave to his students and is often repeated from the pulpit as evidence of the book’s miraculous authenticity as well. But this challenge takes many assumptions and simplifies claims to make its appearance more miraculous than it really was. For instance the challenge claims the Book of Mormon was written in 60 days, but it omits the details that these 60 days were simply the days spent writing and that they were spread out over a much longer period, that Joseph was skilled in story telling about native Americans, and that he had help from multiple scribes and that the book has been revised to accommodate evolving doctrines.

There are many many things wrong with this religious text and at least as many troubling things about the source of the text. There are multitudes of anachronisms within the text that cannot be ignored. For instance, the scripture mentions horses multiple times, but there is archeological evidence that no horses existed during the suggested Book of Mormon era on the American continent until Columbus. The apologist’s response to this is to consider that perhaps the term horse was used by Smith when translating for a different animal, such as a tapir, since he didn’t know the proper name. But men don’t ride tapirs, and besides this logic isn’t followed for the cureloms and cumoms which are mentioned. The text claims claimed to be about the principal ancestors of all native American peoples (but was changed to state that these Nephites and Lamanites were simply among the ancestors), but genetic and DNA studies have revealed no link between the indigenous peoples anywhere on the continent and the ancient Hebrew or Israelite peoples from which the family of Lehi originates.

There also are many plagiarized phrases, concepts, and ideas. Consider comparing the Book of Mormon to the Book of the Hebrews, The Late War, the Spalding Manuscript, and of course the King James Bible – these texts were all available to Joseph Smith and contain many potential sources for inspiration in concept as well as syntactic structure and direct phrases.

Only recently, the church finally admitted to Joseph Smith “translating” the scripture by use of a peep stone he found while digging a well for buried treasure. This is something the church leaders denied for over a century. They dismiss it as something as normal as using a smartphone today, but in reality, this was occult folk magic of the day and not anything the church would accept today.

So among the many issues one can easily find with the Book of Mormon, the church officially urges members to simply accept it as the word of God and read it. They are counseled not to read material that is not published by the church or at least not faith-promoting in nature. This attempt to control information and shape the collective and accepted worldview of the membership and church culture shows the cult tendencies of the church as well.

How did the Book of Mormon help or hurt your own faith deconstruction? Did the origin story or the anachronisms found in the text catalyze your research or invite your criticism? Let us know in the comments or consider joining the fray and sharing your Mormon exit story here at

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