Thursday, July 29, 2004

What is the Book of Mormon?

Yet another strictly religious (well maybe philosophical or epistemological as well) post:

Lately I have wanted to learn precisely from the Book of Mormon what the Book of Mormon is. There are several new approaches taken by critics of the Book and/or the LDS Church that attack some of the beliefs that are derived (accurately or not) from the Book of Mormon. One of the more publicized in this genre is the "Lamanite DNA" argument, that claims A. Book of Mormon (BoM) says the Lamanites are American Indians, B. the Lamanites are descendants from Jerusalem and are of the tribes of Israel (Ephraim and Mannasseh), C. American Indians (or some of them) appear by DNA evidence to not be descended of Jerusalem, therefore D. the BoM's claim to historicity is largely shot since its people are not from where they claim to be from. That's merely a shell outline.

But I wonder what the Book says about itself, and if the claims that are associated with the BoM are textual claims, or inferences made by readers and even church leaders as to its nature.

For example, when I talk about what the BoM says about itself, one of the most pervasive descriptors that the Book of Mormon self-applies is that it is true. It is true and it is good, and it is true because it is good, is what I think the message of Moroni (the book, not the man) is.

A related issue is whether we can apply the claims of the part to the claims of the whole. Can Nephi's declaration, for example, that he "will show you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen" be applied to that which was written by Brother of Jared, and redacted by Moroni, or is it valid precedent for the recording preachings of Amulek the convert?

More generally, what are the claims of the BoM textually? What claims seem to have been stacked on the BoM over time, by its friends or enemies, that seem without textual foundation?

3 Comments:

At 7/29/2004 10:42:00 PM,

Jason, this is a good post.
I think a quick mention of the title page is necessary in this discussion, as it explains it is a record of the Nephites and the Lamanites and of the people of Jared. It is written to the Lamanites, Jew and Gentile (pretty much everybody). It had a set time to come forth. It's purpose is to show the House of Israel the blessings of their fathers, to teach them the covenants of the Lord, so they know they're not cast off forever. In that context it sounds like a message of hope. It's purpose is to convince all people of Jesus Christ's divinity and that he manifests himself to all nations.
Hmmm, I hadn't thought of the Hope theme, but as I read it now, I can't help but think it is the main purpose. To me that makes it a lot more meaningful. After all, what is life without hope? Without hope--I think that describes the state of the condemned in the scriptures.
I have thought that the claims of the part can be applied to the whole, but I've never considered it before. Definitely worth more thought.

As a quick aside (you know, the original item I wanted to bring up). The Book of Mormon doesn't purport to be a record of the American continents. It's still possible that people came over near the Bering Strait, or from other places (Scandinavia, Africa--there are records). The population growth of the peoples in the Book of Mormon seems too great to be that of just two families, plus Zoram. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of Asian blood is found in the people. Therefore, existence of non-Hebraic blood prooves nothing of the Book of Mormon's truth or lack thereof. If having ties to such roots is a proof, I have a buddy who studied Hebrew in high school and he said the Indian language he learned on his mission in Paraguay was curiosuly (or not so curiously) similar. What of that?

 
At 7/30/2004 01:26:00 AM,

Ben, by way of footnote to your post, I have read a first person joseph smith that indicates the title page that you get your info from is, in fact, a translation from the last "plate" in the plates that he translated, thus being a part of the ancient record. If I remember right, he said it was Moroni that wrote that page, so it would be Moroni looking back to comment on the significance of the book, I think.

This comment might seem contradictory to my words about extra-textual inferences projected onto the text, however, it seems clear that a trustworthy translator (in the straight-forward, faithful sense of the word "translator") would know what was the ancient scripture and what was modern commentary on ancient, so he would not be likely to blur the two when talking about what was on the plates and what wasn't.

 
At 7/30/2004 02:08:00 PM,

The assumptions about what the book pretends to be are huge. I grew up for years thinking (or not thinking, just assuming) that of course all indians are hebrews. But in reality, nothing in the book suggests that. It could easily be that this small group of people (the nephites) decided to tag everyone who wasn't one of them a Lamanite. These non-Nephites could have mixed with the hebrew lamanites, dissemminating the DNA enought to qualify them for the book's promises.

Our problem is the word "true". In my mind, historical truth doesn't equal theoligical truth. The BoM is true because it accuratly shows the principles of the plan of salvation, not because it gets the facts right. Suppose Mormon misses count on the 2000 warriors, and really there were 3500 of them. Is the book not true anymore? Of course not, the point isn't historical accuracy-the point is that it inspires men and women to believe in Christ and live fulfilling lives.

But there's a rub. Our faith seems married to its history, i.e. that jesus really lived and was resurrected. So if you take what i said to the extreme, then any fiction that teaches good things and claims to testify of Christ is theologically "true". There's obviously an interplay with historical truth here. So how far can it go? Is there a cutoff point when Mormon misses enough facts that the book's theology is jeopardized?

I know, more questions and less answers, but I really wonder this.

 

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