Church leaders proclaim that the Book of Mormon is sacred and untouchable. They will tell that it has not been disproven and lay a case that it is impossible for you or anyone to create such a book without divine guidance. They claim it is historically accurate and that it has never been altered. It was translated by Joseph Smith via
the Urim and Thummim a seer stone and burying his face in his hat. They ignore the anachronisms in the text and ignore the 19th-century language and heavy borrowing from the King James Bible. They ignore the 19th-century plagiarism found in the Book of Mormon.
Church leaders like to pin the book as the keystone of the religion and along with the first vision state that it’s either all true or it’s all a fraud. Elder Holland adds his voice:
If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.Safety for the Soul, Elder Jeffrey R Holland
First off, it seems he gets his metaphors from children’s books.
We’re going on a bear hunt
We’re goint to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Oh-oh! Grass!We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Long, wavy grass.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
It sounds like Holland wants to go on a bear hunt for the Mormon truth. He can’t go over it. He can’t go under it. He can’t go around it. He’s got to go through!
Holland has many other things to say about people who leave the church or people who think the church behaves more like a cult than a church. He is furious with people who do leave the church, even if they are able to make it over, under, around, or through the Book of Mormon.
Reasons to Believe the Book of Mormon
Supporters of the Book of Mormon point to several pieces of evidence they consider as supporting its truthfulness. It’s important to note that these arguments are subjective and not universally accepted. Here are some of the main pieces of evidence that believers often cite:
- Personal Spiritual Witness: Many individuals who believe in the Book of Mormon claim to have received a personal spiritual witness through prayer or other spiritual experiences that confirm its truthfulness. They assert that they have received a direct revelation from God, testifying to the authenticity and divinity of the book.
- Teachings and Doctrines: Supporters argue that the teachings and doctrines contained within the Book of Mormon align with their understanding of God’s plan and teachings. They find value in its moral teachings, emphasis on faith in Jesus Christ, and the call to live virtuous lives.
- Complex Narrative and Internal Consistency: Advocates of the Book of Mormon assert that the book exhibits a remarkable internal consistency and complex narrative structure. They believe that its intricate accounts of ancient American civilizations, genealogies, prophecies, and theological themes provide evidence of its authenticity and divine inspiration.
- Witnesses: The Book of Mormon includes statements from eleven individuals who claimed to have seen and handled the golden plates from which Joseph Smith translated the book. Supporters argue that these testimonies provide additional evidence for the book’s truthfulness.
- Impact: Believers often point to the transformative power of the Book of Mormon in their own lives and the positive impact it has had on their communities. They see the spiritual and moral changes it has inspired as evidence of its truthfulness and influence for good.
- Witness of the Holy Ghost: Supporters of the Book of Mormon believe that the Holy Ghost, a divine presence in their lives, can confirm the book’s truthfulness. They rely on personal feelings of peace, joy, and spiritual confirmation when reading or studying the book as evidence of its divine origin.
The evidence supporting the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is largely based on personal faith, spiritual experiences, and individual interpretation. These pieces of evidence are compelling for some believers, but they may not be persuasive to those who approach the book from a different perspective.
Reasons Not to Believe the Book of Mormon
There are various reasons why some individuals may not believe the Book of Mormon to be true. Here are a few common reasons:
- Lack of Empirical Evidence: Critics argue that there is a lack of archaeological, linguistic, and genetic evidence supporting the historical claims made in the Book of Mormon. The absence of substantial evidence for the civilizations, cities, and peoples described in the book raises doubts about its authenticity as an ancient historical record.
- Anachronisms: Skeptics point to anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, which are references or details that appear to be out of place in the ancient American setting described in the book. Examples include the mention of horses, steel, chariots, and certain plants and animals that did not exist in the Americas during the Book of Mormon time period according to mainstream archaeological and historical understanding.
- Linguistic and Textual Issues: Some critics argue that the language, writing style, and grammatical errors in the Book of Mormon align more closely with Joseph Smith’s 19th-century milieu than with ancient Hebrew or Egyptian. They suggest that the book reflects the linguistic patterns and vocabulary of its time rather than an ancient document.
- Historical Context: Doubters raise questions about the historical context surrounding the Book of Mormon’s publication. Joseph Smith’s reputation, his involvement in treasure-seeking activities, and the testimonies of witnesses who claimed to have seen the golden plates (the source material for the Book of Mormon) under supernatural circumstances have led some to question the book’s origins and authenticity.
- Contradictions and Changes: Critics point out apparent contradictions and changes within the Book of Mormon, such as alterations to the text made over time, including grammatical edits and theological modifications. These alterations have led some to question the book’s claims of divine authorship and its consistency over time.
- Comparison to Other Religious Texts: Skeptics argue that the Book of Mormon’s narrative, teachings, and style bear similarities to other works of fiction, religious texts, or contemporary literary sources. They suggest that it can be viewed as a product of Joseph Smith’s creative imagination rather than a genuine ancient record.
Theories Regarding the Origin of the Book of Mormon
There are various theories proposed by scholars and researchers regarding its origins. It’s important to note that these theories are speculative and not universally accepted. Here are a few examples:
- Joseph Smith as Author: One prominent theory suggests that Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, authored the Book of Mormon himself. According to this theory, Smith drew inspiration from various sources available during his time, such as the Bible, popular religious ideas, and the culture of his environment. Supporters of this theory argue that the Book of Mormon reflects elements of 19th-century American religious thought and language.
- Collaboration or Co-Authorship: Another theory proposes that Joseph Smith might have collaborated with others, either directly or indirectly, in creating the Book of Mormon. Supporters of this theory suggest that Smith could have relied on the assistance or input of friends, family members, or other contemporaries in developing the narrative and content of the book.
- Spalding-Rigdon Theory: This theory suggests that Sidney Rigdon, a contemporary of Joseph Smith, may have played a significant role in the creation of the Book of Mormon. Proponents of this theory claim that Rigdon, who had access to a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding called “Manuscript Story,” may have used it as a basis for the Book of Mormon.
- Cultural Influences: Some theories propose that the Book of Mormon was influenced by the cultural milieu of Joseph Smith’s time, including prevailing religious ideas, literary trends, and political and social issues. These theories suggest that Smith incorporated elements of his cultural environment into the book to address contemporary concerns.
Richard Bushman Finds 19th-Century in Book of Mormon
These theories are subject to ongoing scholarly debate. The origins of the Book of Mormon remain a topic of interest and investigation for researchers and scholars interested in the history of American religion and Joseph Smith’s role in founding the LDS Church.
Richard Bushman, the prominent (and faithful) Mormon scholar on church history and Joseph Smith has said that the dominant narrative of the church is not true. Bushamn even admits in a discussion with Bill Reel that the Book of Mormon contains many 19th-century phrases and ideas and theology.
Bill Reel: Let’s go to Richard Bushman, who I had on the podcast a while back where he answered some really tough questions. One of them was regarding Book of Mormon historicity. And so here’s richard bushman:
Richard Bushman: I think right now the Book of Mormon is a puzzle for us, even people who believe it hardily in every detail, it’s a puzzle.
To begin with we have the puzzle of translation: translating the book without the plates even in sight and wrapped up in a cloth on the table. So, it’s not something that comes right off the pages, the characters on the plates. So we don’t know how that works.
And then there is the fact that there is phrasing everywhere–long phrases that if you google them you will find them in 19th century writings. The theology of the Book of Mormon is very much 19th century theology, and it reads like a 19th century understanding of the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament. That is, it has Christ in it the way Protestants saw Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. That’s why we now call it “Hebrew Bible” because the Jews never saw it quite that way. So, these are all problems we have to deal with.
Bill Reel: Lest I be accused of painting bushman a certain way or taking him out of context, let me be clear. In the interview, if you listen to his next comment that follows the audio we just shared, He also goes into detail about some of the ancient things he sees in the Book of Mormon. That for him it is a puzzle of evidence on both sides. That he doesn’t know quite yet what to do with that, and he’s saying that Mormonism doesn’t quite know what to do with that that apologetic answers to why there’s 19th century material. They’re not quite dealing with the full scope of just how much 19th century material is in the Book of Mormon. He says we’ve still got to formulate a better answer for this…
Bushman is saying that there’s 19th century material in this. There’s 19th century material in this to the point where we have to come to grips with joseph imposing, a strong word, maybe implementing, as a softer word, his own culture, milieu, his own theology, his own perspective, his own thoughts, and beliefs into the Book of Mormon story…
A lot of these scholars, one of the things they’re saying is: ‘I personally hold ground that at least part of the book of Mormon is an ancient text’, but then, they follow that up right away with the idea that, ‘but I want to give room to people who do not hold the Book of Mormon as historical, that as long as they still find it to be scripture and inspirational, they still find it to connect them to the divine, these scholars then say, ‘I want to leave room for that person to still be in the church and to be seen as completely faithful.’ I think that’s a new facet of the conversation that is just beginning to make itself to the surface.Richard Bushman and Bill Reel, Mormon Discussions Podcast 267: Book Of Mormon Historicity
Bushman stated similarly in a Reddit “Ask me anything” session that the Book of Mormon has a lot of nineteenth-century protestant material in it. He thinks we need to study this so we can better understand translation, but it seems obvious that it helps explain the origins of the Book of Mormon as not being divine, but a product of the 19th century.
Bushman: The Book of Mormon has a lot of nineteenth-century Protestant material in it, both in terms of theology and of wording. I am looking for an explanation of how and why it is there. I don’t think it is enough to say JS absorbed it from his environment. It is too complex and to far beyond his cultural range. But it is there, and we need to explain why and how. Right now it seems possible that the Joseph gave us exactly what he got by his inspiration, but that what was given him went beyond what the Nephite prophets wrote on the plates. The text was augmented in some way.
Question: Can you expound on the “nineteenth-century Protestant material”? Examples?
Bushman: Ah, you catch me unprepared. I said in another post you should not challenge standard belief without evidence in hand. All I can say here is that while reading Alma in the Book of Mormon I began to google long phrases from the sermons, and they came up in sermons in very much the same doctrinal context. All the talk about Jesus in the Book of Mormon, its glory we would say, has a 19th century ring to it. In my opinion, we should become the experts on this material and figure out what it tells us about translation and the nature of the text.Richard Bushman, AMA (Ask me Anything) via Reddit on r/latterdaysaints/
What do you make of The Book of Mormon? Did you reconcile your issues and questions with the book of scripture or did they overload your shelf and collapse into the reality that it is not historical, not true, and not from God? Tell your faith transition story at wasmormon.org and share your thoughts on the Book of Mormon today!