Given the complete lack of evidence supporting the existence of the Nephites or Lamanites, plus the myriad of other issues challenging the historicity of the book, do most LDS still believe those civilizations actually existed or are many starting to see the BoM more as religious allegory?
I would say most just accept the churches teaching and aren’t really aware of the controversy or ignore it as anti Mormon rhetoric. Some do know the history and some of those have left the church because of it. Those that know but stay in the faith reconcile it in their minds so they can still believe, probably assuming that there is truth in there somewhere. They just don’t know how to answer it.
Because Mormonism is so community based and that community is so important to them, they just don’t read or question what they are taught as is true of many religious communities.
There is lack of evidence supporting many of the things in the Bible, especially the earliest parts. I doubt many Catholics seriously believe in the literal description of creation, the fantastical ages people supposedly lived, the flood story, and so on. There is also few concrete corroboration with many parts of the Gospels. We can safely say that a man named Jesus existed due to 3rd party references, we know Pilate existed, but much of it was written down decades later. I think you will find something similar within Mormon teaching, some believe things literally some don’t.
Read Mormon’s Codex (available at https://www.amazon.com/Mormons-Codex-Ancient-American-Book/dp/1609073991/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533593558&sr=1-1&keywords=mormon’s+codex) and then determine for yourself whether your question is still worth asking.
The Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is really like a library with different texts with different purposes. We read the Bible understanding context and author intent. Some parts are literal while others are not meant to be taken that way. https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Compass-Catholics-Navigating-Scriptures/dp/1934217786
While I agree with what you said about the Bible, I disagree with your last comment about how this is similar to Mormonism. The two cases are very different. Mormons are taught to believe in the BoM stories as literal fact–that the places and people and stories actually happened. Catholics believe that the Bible contains history, but also that not everything in it is literal.
I would also add that when it comes to actual historical evidence, the Bible and the BoM could not be further apart. In the case of the bible, for example, we have actual evidence of people, places, and events from other sources. We know the languages, we know the cities, etc. In the case of the BoM, however, there has never been anything found about any single person, place, language, event, or anything else found unique to the BoM people or civilization–not even a single shred of writing.
I believe the BOM is a “Translation of a text from history. … Thus the expectation that it should reflect an ancient culture that produced it will be mixed with the virtually inevitable presence of the world of the translator that presents the text in terms that make sense to the culture and time of the translator.”
I believe Lehi walked the frankincense trail from Jerusalem to Nahom to Bountiful. The multiples point of contact with Lehi’s journey and the actually archeology and topography of the area touch parallel the narrative of the BOM in an extraordinary way. I do not think it is possible that this part of the BOM sourced from anyone in 19th century America.
I believe the location of cement at Teotihuacan is a remarkable convergence of “land Northward,” “many waters,” “desolate of trees,” and “building of cement.” This aligns with Sorenson’s geography and is a multi-point hit not just some shot in the dark.
I believe the BOM speaks of Jesus Christ coming to America and Mesoamerican legend speaks of Quetzalcoatl the great white god. But, upon digging into this purported connection I do not find it compelling and thus it is likely mostly unrelated and certainly not a reason to believe the BOM is a translation of a text from history.
I think there are many other “convergences” and single point connections. If the BOM contains history the single point connection might be true echoes of ancient culture, but they do not make a compelling case by themselves. The “convergences” on the other hand have some staying power and as they build upon themselves they do make a compelling case.
You asked if LDS still believe these civilizations actually existed. I do.
You claimed there is a “complete lack of evidence.” I disagree.
Because I am a jerk, I will tell you that the BOM is better supported by archeology and ethno history than is the Book of Exodus. Much of what we should find concerning the BOM IF it is a translation of a real history we do find. What we should find of the Book of Exodus we do not find. I have faith that the Book of Exodus is scripture too.
I love threads where I have absolutely, positively, no possibility of offering anything cogent. So I can just sit back and and take in the show.
I am not sure I have ever been encouraged to believe BOM stories are “literal fact.” This seem to be hyperbole to me.
I know that while I actually believe that the BOM is a translation of actual history, I regularly tell my class that we teach in Sunday School not to create an detailed understanding of history, but to present moral lessons that can be applied in the lives of all LDS (and all people if they would just listen).
And again because I am a Jerk:
The Bible tells us that the sun stood still. St. Robert Bellarmine used this fact and others to declare that the earth was the center of the universe and that this truth was “de fide.” (which means of the faith, half of concerning faith and morals BTW). As a Doctor of the Church his opinion is not infallible of course. And one could argue that the Popes who agreed with him were not offering a position concerning “faith and morals” so they ALSO were not protected by Papal Infallibility. Only a small but vocal group of Catholic believe the earth is a the center of the universe today, but it was a common belief based in large part upon literal reading of the Bible.
LDS have no infallibility chrism and I know that there are SOME LDS who do not see the BOM as a translation of an ancient document. I also know that some earlier LDS held unscientific views concerning the Biblical flood or the BOM geography. But we are in good company with radically liberal Catholics and earlier Catholics.
I agree, but you can certainly bet there are a few. Either way there are plenty of non-Catholics who take it all literally.
Does that mean you believe it is history and not an allegory?
As a Trinitarian Christian I can and have read portions of the BOM as it has several faith building stories and nothing that contradicts the Bible. It can be read in the same light as many faith uplifting books or private revelation.
I am not sure I have ever been encouraged to believe BOM stories are “literal fact.” This seem to be hyperbole to me.
I don’t know what you have been encouraged to believe. But I do know that the LDS Church teaches its members that the BoM people, places, and events are historical fact. But I also think the church over time will have to soften this position because as the myriad of historical and factual problems become more and more widely known among its membership, more and more members are questioning the BoM as actual history. I have listened to quite a few podcasts of current LDS still active in the church who have come to realize these very serious problems and have to nuance their current beliefs in order to keep the religion working for them. They want to stay in but have to make certain allowances for that to happen–the historicity of the BoM being one of them.
The reason for this topic is to hear from LDS as to whether they are experiencing these same problems and how they are handling it.
I do think its laughable how some LDS will defend the historicity of the BoM to the bitter end, even though the evidence against it as actual history far outweighs evidence for it. They can quote Sorenson all they want, but the fact is that no archeologists believe the BoM is a record of actual ancient peoples in the Americas because the evidence just isn’t there. The BoM is a 600-page book in English, yet not a shred of Nephite writing has ever been found… not a shred. Apparently the Nephites never wrote anything else except for a handful of men who wrote the BoM. That alone should be a huge problem for anyone trying to defend the BoM as actual history.
Yes I know the bible has many parts that don’t have a lot of archeological evidence. But I’ll tell you what it does have… we know how to read Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic because plenty examples of those writings actually exist, and there are actual people who can read, write, and speak those languages. We know the actual locations of Jerusalem and Rome and Ephesus and Persia and Egypt and the Red Sea, and hundreds of other biblical places, either through archeology or because they actually exists to the present day. We have records of actual ancient Jews and Pharaohs and Romans. The Book of Mormon has none of that. None, nothing, nada. When it comes to history, it exists in a complete vacuum.
The stretches LDS apologists will make to somehow show the BoM could be actual history are desperate and pathetic. Not comparable to the bible at all.
This idea is inconsistent with what the Mormon church’s own history says was the method of “translation” of the BoM. Those who actually witnessed Joseph “translating” the BoM all reported the same thing–he did it by putting a seer stone into a hat and then burying his head in the hat where the English translation appeared to him. (Incidentally I find it very odd that there are no paintings of this in LDS chapels.) He dictated the words that appeared to whomever was acting as scribe at the time. I put the word “translation” in quotes because this is certainly not the traditional sense of the word, wherein one has a copy of some other language physically present in front of them and goes about translating the words into another language. This is not what Joseph did. Instead, the words magically appeared to him from his seer stone inside of the hat. Often the plates were not even in the room. And if you’re just reading what appears from a seer stone to the scribe to write down, it doesn’t make sense that you would somehow be injecting your own world into the text. This is also very different from how the biblical writers are traditionally understood to have received revelation and put it on paper, not in a see-and-copy way like with Joseph Smith, but more of a prompting way told through their own view of the present day and times.
Oh and the Nahom thing…that “archeology” is highly suspect. I know how badly LDS want it to be true in order to have something solid to hold onto, but it just isn’t there. There is far, far more evidence that the BoM is a 19th century production than an ancient record. The funny thing about BoM archeology is it’s always put in the vein of “well this could be…” There is nothing ever concrete. BoM archeology is like watching the TV series “Finding Bigfoot.” They keep looking but never actually find real evidence.
Well, I don’t plan on reading his book, but if the best he can do is find “similarities” to things in Mesoamerica (as the description seems to indicate), then this looks like another pathetic attempt at showing the BoM is actual history without really showing that the BoM is actual history. Know what I mean? I did find it funny that the description also said that archeologists will find it appealing. Which archeologists I wonder?
That’s the funny thing about The Book of Mormon. It’s full of Protestantism (19th-century Protestantism of the Burned-over District to be more exact), and very little Mormonism.
Well, perhaps some of your LDS hopes have come true (notwithstanding this 1993 Ensign article by the future President Russell M. Nelson). I of course have believed the stone in the hat story for almost 20 years, but I can acknowledge that it was less common to believe that than it once was and is probably still less common today than it will be ten years from now. But, if you go to the visitors center in Harmony, Pennsylvania (the location of Emma’s families house, the name of the town has changed) you can see pictures of the stone and the hat. You can see a mock up of the room with a physical stone and a physical hat. If you go on a winter day when it is too cold for normal folks to be out you will have the place almost to yourself.
Now, concerning the words appearing on the stone, that is less solid. I think it almost SOLELY derives from the witness of David Whitmer. Joseph Smith later refused to elaborate upon how it worked, but would only say that it was by “the gift and power of God.” Much research has gone into understanding the process, but there is still debate within LDS scholarly circles as to the particulars or even what we can know about the particulars.
I too like to place the word “translate” in quotes, because I agree that what Joseph Smith did is nothing like secular translation. While the presence/existence of the BOM plates is beyond question IMO, the utilization of the plates in any “normal” way is also not at all likely. Add to this the fact that Joseph Smith “translated” writings from John the Baptist without any physical writings, and it is clear that “translation” is not but very tangentially related to scholarly translation. Joseph Smith called it “translation,” but when he describes what he did it is not like what translators do.
LDS and some non-LDS have contributed a great deal of research to the understanding of how the BOM came into being. Sometimes studies concerning how the scribes wrote, made errors, and corrected the original manuscript have given insight into some of the aspects you touch upon. Sometimes things like the increasingly prevent view that the BOM is not written in King James English, but is written in Early Modern English (which was prevalent many years before the KJV or the Bible); offer us little in the way of understanding what happened but only open up further questions.
Finally, I do believe part of Joseph Smith’s bringing forth of scriptures is likely to be exactly like the ancient Biblical authors. That being said, the bringing forth of the BOM is clearly different. Some LDS scholars believe the BOM did involve the pondering it out in ones (Joseph’s) mind, but we really do not know. What we do know is that it proceeded at a blistering pace, stopped for breaks/sleep/meals/prayer and continued without scribal reorientation, and could not happen when Joseph was in conflict with Emma or when Oliver tried to trick Joseph by switching his stone. Why those are true, I do not know, but they are interesting.
Michael Coe is an archaeologist known for his research in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies. He has also spent much time working the Mormon archaeologists. Here are his thoughts on how Mormons are handling it as early as 1973.
I very much disagree. The BOM contains hundreds of place names. I think there are only two that are not names given by BOM authors to places. Those two are Jerusalem and Nahom. In a land were a significant percentage of ancient toponyms have survived, the Old World, two of two BOM toponyms are were the should be. Not only are they were they should be, they exist within a fabric of dozens of geographic features that are well documented. The most striking being Bountiful a green oasis in the Arabian dessert, but things like rivers, valleys, flora, and fauna also adding to the points of convergence.
You asked when would LDS abandon the believe in a literal BOM. To the extent things like Lehi’s journey (or the conditions of Jerusalem in 600BC which is also powerful evidence) continue to anchor a believe in a real historical foundation for the BOM it will be a LONG time.
Without any such anchor in science, there are today Catholics who believe and argue that the earth is the center of the universe. They do this because their view of Papal Infallibility and “de fide” in their mind demands that they continue to hold this view. The rest of Catholicism took a LONG time to follow the prevalent scientific data, but they abandoned their previous beliefs. As a LDS, I have not belief in an infallible Pope/Prophet. I do not have “doctors of the church” declaring things “de fide.” I will abandon a historical BOM when and if I think the evidence suggests I should. If that evidence does nothing to undermine other aspects of my evidentiary belief in the truth claims of the CoJCoLDS, I will be a LDS who believes that BOM was an inspired production of the 19th century. My worship will not change, may faith commitment will not change, just this will change. It should be easier for me to change than it was for most Catholics to abandon geocentrism, but I don’t see the evidence yet.