Sunday, July 18, 2010
Just Write The Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith some 170 years ago said he translated some gold plates that were given to him by an angel by the gift and power of God. Supernatural, to be sure! Some people, however, still doubt the authenticity of The Book of Mormon. Many of Joseph’s critics continue to explain the book’s existence some other way. So the next time you confront one of those doubters, send them to this blog. Even if you doubt it yourself, print it, read it, then ask yourself if you can come up with a better explanation than Joseph did:
Business affairs had to be settled on Monday, but on Tuesday, April 7, 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sat down in earnest to begin the translation. In Oliver, Joseph had a twenty-two year old, vigorous, young man who could work long and tedious hours and someone who had already consulted the Lord about the plates.
The next three months, April through July 1829 would be some of the most significant in the Restoration as translation progressed rapidly and priesthood and baptismal gifts were bestowed by heavenly messengers. It appears that it only took some 63 to 70 working days to complete the entire translation, a complex religious history covering 2,000 years and more than five hundred pages.
To demonstrate how astounding this is, Hugh Nibley once asked his Book of Mormon class at Brigham Young University, "Since Joseph was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names – hundreds of them – pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 B.C.; be lavish with cultural and technical details – manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials. Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up – we have our little joke – but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as a fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim – they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck!" [Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989) pp. 220-21.]
The following is the statement of the Prophet’s wife Emma. No one was in a better position to evaluate Joseph’s work of translation than Emma. The process occurred under her nose often in the same room as she worked about the cramped quarters. Many years later even after she was instrumental in helping her son establish the Reorganized Church, she stated her position without reservation:
Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin of the Book of Mormon?
A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity – I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this, and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible." (Saints' Herald Journal, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma", October 1, 1879, as quoted in Porter, "Origins," p. 152. This statement is from Emma Smith to Joseph Smith III, February 4-10, 1879.)