Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Relatively Few Mormons Understand the Book of Mormon Really Well

For the purposes of this post, I am going to discuss a few things about the Book of Mormon from a perspective that isn't focused on my testimony of it as scripture.  I'm going to lay that aside today and talk about it from a more analytical perspective.  

When I speak of my love of the Book of Mormon, it's not about exact content, so much as how it "speaks to me".  I get the "voice from the dust" description, and I love the "story" of it.  As a book, I really like it and it seems inspired, at the very least, to me - certainly every bit as much as the Bible.  There are lots of passages I really like, content- and doctrine-wise, but that's never been what it's about for me. 

I also see some things as almost impossible to "fake" within the text itself.  I won't go into lots of detail here, but the dichotomy between the Book of Ether and the rest of it is just one example of this.  It is amazingly compelling, if you have studied much of the cultural differences between the Middle East and Northeast Asia  - and, if I am right in how I read the Book of Ether, it basically solves the DNA issue on a theoretical level. Even without my spiritual experiences while reading it and subsequent testimony of it as scripture, on a purely academic level, I just can't see the Book of Mormon as an intentional fraud.  Again, to me, it is an "inspired" book, at the very least. 

One important thing to understand is that there really isn't any more physical proof of most of the important claims in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) than there are for those in the Book of Mormon.  Most people don't realize how shaky the non-religious / non-spiritual "proof" for the Bible is, particularly when it comes to the accuracy of the New Testament teachings and just about everything in the Old Testament.  Even most ardent Christian historians agree that the accounts in the New Testament were written after the fact - and were taken from multiple, conflicting source materials.  Hence, we have all the hoopla in the early centuries about which writings to include and which to exclude in the formal compilation we know now as the Bible. 

For example, from a purely "historical" perspective (taking away all claims of source and method of discovery and translation), the Book of Mormon is MUCH easier to accept as scientifically plausible than the Bible - since there is FAR less of the miraculous chronicled in it than in the Bible (and those things that are presented as miraculous generally are much easier to explain as non-miraculous). Further, it's interesting to realize that most of the truly unique "doctrines" in Mormonism are not found in the Book of Mormon.  In fact, there are almost none in it.  Nearly all of them are in the Bible and the D&C - and nearly all of the ones in the D&C are presented as revelations received as a result of contemplating Biblical passages or specific issues of the time. 

Finally, the words of some leaders notwithstanding, the actual book itself DOES NOT claim to be something that should be read instead of or more than the Bible - or even contrasted with it.  Rather, it says explicitly, more than once, that one of its central purposes is to convince people to believe the Bible.  Based on what it actually says, it's supposed to be a supporting companion to the Bible, not a superior work.  Thus, again, some leaders' words notwithstanding, pitting it against the Bible or studying it almost exclusively instead of the Bible simply isn't consistent with its stated purpose - and I regularly go back and forth between it and the Bible in my own study. 

I've said more than once that I think Joseph Smith didn't really understand the Book of Mormon very well - at least not academically with regard to what it actually says in its pages.  I think he simply didn't care about it as a proof text, so he didn't "study" it intently to understand doctrine.  I think he saw it as proof of his prophetic role and as a conduit through which the Holy Ghost could testify.  Ironically, that's one reason I can't accept it as conscious fiction.  Every author I've known understood their works MUCH better than Joseph appears to have understood the Book of Mormon.  

None of the above proves anything regarding the nature of the Book of Mormon in an objective manner, but it's important to keep in mind when comparing it with the Bible.  We've inherited a lens through which we "naturally" see the Book of Mormon, complete with previous leaders' and members' assumptions about what it says, and I believe that lens is one of the "incorrect traditions of (our) fathers".

As a result, I think relatively few members understand the Book of Mormon really well.


ji said...

I much appreciate your insights here. I would want to add an amen to most of your paragraphs. The beauty and majesty of Mormonism is not in the Book of Mormon; rather, it is in the entire tapestry.

"I think he saw it as proof of his prophetic role and as a conduit through which the Holy Ghost could testify. " So true.

I have heard a few times very good Mormons expressing bewilderment at how a person could read the Book of Mormon and not immediately and automatically be convinced of its truth. To me, it is easy to see. To me, the Book of Mormon makes sense only when I look at the big picture of the entire tapestry, and to me in that context, it makes perfect sense and is a wonderful gift.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this! I've had a challenge with culture versus doctrine and this helps reconcile some of it from an intellectual and unique perspective.