Section 8: The Book of Mormon- Keystone of the Faith

The Book of Mormon- Keystone of the Faith

Joseph Smith lauded The Book of Mormon as "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion." One set of golden plates was said to have been the source for his writings.

A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry vault or arch, which is the final piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight…

The term is used figuratively to refer to a central element of a larger structure (such as a theory or an organization) that locks the other elements in place and allows the whole to be self-supporting1.

As the "keystone of our religion," Mormonism rises or falls on the truth of the Book of Mormon. It's that simple.

Let us consider the anti-Mormon position first. If Joseph Smith made the book up, then its peoples did not exist, its events did not happen, and there should be no trace of them anywhere. If, after a reasonable period of diligent searching, material evidence is not found, then the Book of Mormon would be shown to be imaginary, and by implication Joseph Smith would be exposed as a liar and the church he founded unveiled as a hoax.

The Latter-day Saint position is the near opposite. Confirmation of historic details of the Book of Mormon would substantiate Joseph Smith's account of how it came to be and thus validate his seership and the divine origin of both the book and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This brings us to the astonishing possibility of being able to test Joseph Smith's claims through science, a possibility that critics have long tried to exploit. The Book of Mormon is the keystone of Mormonism; destroy this stone and all that it supports will come crashing down. Given the stakes involved, the very possibility of testing the book's historicity and authenticity becomes a moral obligation…20.

While Joseph Smith never explained what he meant by saying the Book of Mormon is "the most correct," there are many who believe it is because it is the only book written and compiled by prophets, translated by another prophet, and never entering the hands of any non-prophet where it might become corrupted as other texts.

Now, let's talk about the Golden Plates for a bit, shall we? From the very beginning, enemies of the Church have pointed to various things as proof that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were fraudulent. Among these things, they ridiculed writings on metal plates, use of the word wheel, and records being buried in stone boxes, none of which had ever been discovered at that time. Joseph was surely making up a silly story. Who would believe it?

Joseph Smith declared that the Book of Mormon record was engraved on metal plates. Research has revealed that the ancient world recorded significant events upon plates of gold, silver, bronze, and lead. The Book of Mormon also suggests the use of the wheel. To date, over one hundred ancient wheeled artifacts have been found in the Americas. The Prophet described the Book of Mormon as being buried in a stone box. Since the book was published, over fifty stone boxes have been found containing many varieties of ancient treasures.2

A... filmstrip, Ancient Writing and the Book of Mormon, is... available... It shows the consistency between ancient record-keeping practices and Joseph Smith's account concerning the gold plates. It shows many examples of ancient writings on metal and of stone boxes where ancient records were stored.3

"King Darius, who put Daniel in the lions den (see Dan. 6), wrote his records on gold and silver sheets and placed them in stone boxes and buried them in the ground for safekeeping, just as Moroni did. His records now have been translated and published. To make certain someone would be able to read them, Darius wrote in three different languages. Ancient Assyria's King Sargon II had the same idea, but he used a variety of metals to make his books: gold, silver, brass, copper, and even tin. He also engraved on alabaster. He dearly desired to preserve those records for future posterity, so what did he do? Like Darius and like Moroni, he placed them in well-made stone boxes to protect them, and buried them in the ground, in the foundation of his palace. His records, too, have been translated and published.4

Why do people continue to believe in the teachings of Joseph Smith? Because, as Prof. Hugh Nibley once said, "Time vindicates the prophets!"5

Eleven Mormons testified that they saw the plates. Upon completion of the document, though, Smith said the plates were taken to heaven. Thus, they are not available for textual analysis.

This is, of course, intended to be another snub suggesting that Joseph Smith was making everything up. Is it truly necessary, though, for the actual Golden Plates to be present for us to examine their validity? Elder M. Russell Ballard, an LDS Apostle relates the following account:

I traveled to the School of Theology in Toronto and met with about forty-five ministers, who were all seated around a large table. I was given forty-five minutes to explain the basic teachings of the Church, then the ministers were free to ask questions. The first comment, issued in the form of a challenge, was, "Mr. Ballard, if you could just place the Gold Plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated on this table so all of us could handle them, then we would know that what you are telling us is the truth." I felt prompted to respond by looking the questioner in the eye and saying, "You are a minister, and you know that no truth has ever come into the heart of man except by the Holy Ghost. You could hold the Gold Plates in your hands, and you would not know any more about whether this Church is true than before. May I ask, have you read the Book of Mormon?" He answered that he had not. I replied, "Don't you believe it would be wise to read the Book of Mormon, and then ponder and pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true?"6

You see, although the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated are not available, their translation is! A careful study of the Book of Mormon reveals several things that an uneducated farmboy could not have known, and which we are only recently discovering, such as chiasmus and parallelism, two poetic Hebrew literary forms.

Chiasmus, according to John W. Welch, made itself known in the 1930s but burst much more dramatically into public view in the 1960s7.

An appreciation of the principles of Hebrew poetry can also enhance our understanding of the Book of Mormon, a work written by the descendants of a Hebrew-speaking family. Although the Book of Mormon is predominantly a prose work, its style is very repetitive, and the rhetorical element of chiasmus has been observed in its pages. The Book of Mormon also contains isolated instances of parallelism, the best example of which is the song of Nephi in 2 Nephi 4. A review of that poem reveals the presence of formulaic word pairs from the ancient Near East that scholars have catalogued. The most striking of these is the heart/soul word pair found in the following passages of 2 Nephi 4...This word pair, which is repeated in a number of other passages in the Book of Mormon, is also repeated in both Hebrew and Ugaritic poetry8.

One firm indication that the Book of Mormon is an ancient work is its extensive use of chiasmus. Chiasmus is a rhetorical pattern that matches elements in reverse order; that is, the first element parallels the last, the second element parallels the next-to-last, and so on. This sentence of King Benjamin is a simple example: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give. (Mosiah 4:24; italics added.) Modern civilizations use chiasms infrequently, though many ancient civilizations, especially in the Near East, employed them often. Since chiasmus is a pattern, it can function in virtually any language and survive translation. Chiastic patterns are found throughout the Bible, sometimes governing the structure of entire chapters. Chiasmus also appears in the Book of Mormon9.

Josph Smith could not have known to include a Hebraic literary form in the Book of Mormon as evidence of its truth because chiasmus was not even discovered until over one hundred years later! Scholars have discovered other Hebraisms in the book of Mormon, as well:

Book of Mormon Research: Hebraisms (YouTube)

The Pearl of Great Price (see box, page 20) tells of a Professor Charles Anthon who was shown a copy of some of the inscriptions and declared them to be authentic and the translation accurate. But upon being told of the plates' origin, the account says he retracted his verdict. This story appears to be inconsistent, however, with Smith's claim that he alone had the gift to translate the language of the plates, "the knowledge of which was lost to the world." Could Professor Anthon verify as correct a text he could not read and therefore could not translate?

It wasn't that no one else could translate the language on the plates, but since a portion of the plates were sealed and not to be opened, the plates could not leave his possession, and the responsibility for translating the plates was his alone. This view is supported by Section 8 of the Doctrine & Covenants, where Oliver Cowdery, who was acting as scribe for Joseph Smith, desired the gift to translate some of the plates and was granted permission by the Lord to do so. Also, while "the knowledge of [the reformed Egyptian used on the plates] was lost to the world," that doesn't preclude scholars from being able to recognize their similarity to characters and their meanings from other languages. The website Evidence For Reformed Egyptian shows the characters that were taken to Prof. Anthon, along with images from dictionaries on "Egyptian Hieratic, Demotic, and Hieroglyphs," showing corresponding characters. (I have done research in this area, as well, and will be submitting even more examples to this website, from other dictionaries.)

Joseph Smith described the experience with Professor Anthon as follows:

Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances, as he related them to me after his return, which was as follows:

"I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.

"He then said to me, 'Let me see that certificate.' I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, 'I cannot read a sealed book.' I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation."10

Charles Anthon was "a professor of languages at Columbia College."11

[A] more important question is why he was directed to Professor Anthon… In 1828 the main centers of learning were of course all in "the East." There were five such centers– Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania… and Columbia College (now Columbia University). Since the science of Egyptology did not exist in 1828 there were no Egyptologists. The only scholars in the world acquainted to any degree with the Egyptian language would have been those in the field of classical studies. In those days, classicists did not limit themselves strictly to Greek and Roman studies, but studied most of the other ancient civilizations as well… Of the… practicing classicists in the East during 1828, Anthon was the best known…

Of the many extant contemporary opinions concerning Anthon, the following are representative. In an 1850 sketch of his life, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, "If not absolutely the best, he is at least generally considered the best classicist in America… As commentator he may rank with any of his day, and has evinced powers very unusual in men who devote their lives to classical lore."12

Prof. Anthon obviously knew a few languages in this profession, and recognized "Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic" in the characters. It is not hard to believe that a man familiar with the languages listed would recognize them, and understand their meanings, especially with the translation already provided!

Another fact little known to those outside the LDS faith is the fulfillment of prophecy in this event. Isaiah 29:11-12 says:

And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:

And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.

Note that the "words of a book" (the characters and their translation) are taken to a "learned" man (Prof. Anthon), who says he can't read a sealed book (A portion of the plates were not meant to be opened, which is why Joseph could not let them out of his sight.). The book itself (the plates) is delivered to "one that is not learned" (Joseph Smith, a farmboy with the equivalent of a third-grade education).

The Book of Mormon quotes extensively from the King James Version of the Bible, with its Shakespearean English, which was already considered archaic in Joseph Smith's day. It has troubled some readers that The Book of Mormon, this "most correct" of books, lifts at least 27,000 words directly from the Bible version that is purportedly full of errors and that Smith later undertook to revise.- See box, page 20.

The suggestion that Joseph Smith merely copied text from the KJV is naïve, and not supported by the testimony of those who assisted him in the work:

Why does the Book of Mormon match the KJV so closely?

Critics have long adopted the cynical position that Joseph Smith simply copied the King James Version (KJV) Bible text for the relevant portions of Isaiah, Malachi, and the Sermon on the Mount. Even some Church members have presumed that the close match between the texts indicates that Joseph simply opened a Bible and copied those chapters when he came to material on the gold plates that he recognized as being from the Bible.

Did Joseph simply copy the KJV text?

There are several problems with this view.

1) Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating. Recalled Emma, in a later interview:

I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for [Joseph] I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.

Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?

A. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.

Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?

A. If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.

Martin Harris also noted that Joseph would translate with his face buried in his hat in order to use the seer stone/urim and thummim. This would make referring to a Bible or notes virtually impossible…13

More than thirty years after Joseph's death, his wife, Emma, was interviewed by her son, Joseph Smith III. [Author: The previous quotation comes from that interview.] She was no longer closely associated with the Church, and she had long since remarried. Still, as one of only a few firsthand witnesses to the translation of the Book of Mormon, her testimony is compelling.

"Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon," Emma told her son, "and though I was an active participant during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, a marvel and a wonder as much as to anyone else. "My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity. I have not the slightest doubt of it," she continued. "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 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."14

Nothing was "lifted" from the Bible. Lehi and his family brought the Old Testament with them to the New World (up through Jeremiah, approximately), and taught it to the people. Are these quotations really word-for-word? Speaking of the Isaiah passages found in the Book of Mormon, Garold N. Davis tells us:

One benefit from the duplication of Isaiah is the correction of some errors in our English translation, the King James Version. The Isaiah text in the Book of Mormon is an inspired rendering of text taken originally from the brass plates of Laban and which consequently predates our current Isaiah texts by several centuries. After Lehi's departure from Jerusalem with the writings of Isaiah on the brass plates, some changes apparently occurred in the Isaiah manuscripts from which our current Bibles have been translated. One interesting example of change occurs in 1 Nephi 20:2 (Isa. 48:2), in which the King James Bible states that the priests of ancient Israel stay themselves on the God of Israel, while the Book of Mormon text of this passage states that they do not stay themselves on the God of Israel (emphasis added).

To illustrate, here is another significant change through the Prophet Joseph Smith's translation. Isaiah 29:10 reads, For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. But 2 Nephi 27:5 corrects this passage to read: The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity (emphasis added)."15

While the above quotations have not yet been confirmed through other ancient texts, some non-standard (non-KJV) phrases from the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon have:

We often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern texts disagree. One verse (2 Nephi 12:16), is not only different but adds a completely new phrase: "And upon all the ships of the sea." This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which had not been translated into English in Joseph Smith's day.

It is also significant that the chapters of Isaiah actually quoted in the Book of Mormon (chapters 2-14 and 48-54) are those which modern scholars widely agree correspond closely to the original Isaiah collection and therefore would have been the most likely to have existed in Lehi's day. Could Joseph Smith have known this?13

Did you notice the comment in the opening paragraph, above, about where the "differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts" often appear? In those places "where modern texts disagree." How interesting! Remember our earlier discussion about changes to the texts, and the doctrinal difference even minor changes can make?

A comparison of the first edition of The Book of Mormon with current editions reveals to many Mormons a surprising fact- that the book said to be "translated...by the gift and power of God" has itself undergone numerous changes in grammar, spelling, and substance. For instance, there is apparent confusion over the identity of "the Eternal Father." According to the first edition at 1 Nephi 13:40, "the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father." But later editions say that "the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father." (Italics ours.) The two original 1830 manuscripts of The Book of Mormon still exist. One of the two originals, held by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has the words "the Son" added between the lines.

First of all, this is no "surprising fact" to any Latter-day Saint who actually reads his scriptures, because every copy of the Book of Mormon contains the following note:

Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith16.

Let us also not forget that in the early 1800's all typesetting was done BY HAND! Every tiny letter, every punctuation mark, was an individual piece put in place by experienced, though imperfect, hands. There was never any confusion about the identity of "the Eternal Father." No debate or schism. This was clearly human error. We know full well the distinction between Christ and His Father, and their roles in the Gospel. The publisher was informed, I'm sure, and the error corrected for future editions.

Readers may be interested in the Critical Text Project, a nine-volume study on all textual variations in the different editions of the Book of Mormon. The author gave three roughly two-hour presentations on his findings, which you can see here:

Royal Skousen, "The Original and Printer's Manuscripts" (Book of Mormon lecture, 1 of 3), YouTube

Royal Skousen, "The Printed Editions" (Book of Mormon lecture, 2 of 3), YouTube

Royal Skousen, "The Nature of the Original Text" (Book of Mormon lecture, 3 of 3), YouTube

As for the Mormon scripture Doctrine and Covenants, the book The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, by LDS scholar Lyndon W. Cook, explains in the preface: "Inasmuch as some revelations have been revised by those committees appointed to arrange them for publication, significant textual additions and deletions have been noted."

An unhurried reading of Cook's preface makes it abundantly clear that he spoke of "additions and deletions" of the text of HIS BOOK, and not the revelations quoted therein!17 Something I learned in preparing and writing this response, originally, is that you cannot include every quote, every comment, and every evidence available. In the interest of time, focus, and paper itself, it is simply not possible. So, quotations are shortened, comments are removed, and evidences only briefly mentioned. This has obviously changed some since I transferred this paper to the internet!

One such alteration is found at Book of Commandments 4:2, which said of Smith: "He has a gift to translate the book...I will grant him no other gift." But when the revelation was reprinted in 1835 in Doctrine and Covenants, it read: "For I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished."- 5:4.

Through the wonders of the internet, both the Book of Commandments and 1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants are available to view and read online!18 These original documents show that the quote above from Book of Commandments 4:2 is correct, but the quotation shown here, purporting to be from the 1835 D&C, chapter 5, verse 4, is not there. The revelations in these books are apparently in a different order, but the following may explain the discrepancy in the verse quoted above:

…the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants was the most important collection of revelations published to that point. It presented more revelations than the incomplete Book of Commandments and presented some previously published revelations in expanded form18.

"In the preparation of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith made prophetic editorial changes as he felt impressed to do so."19

To the prophet is given the word of the Lord. Therefore, it is his duty to see that what the Lord has said is conveyed to us correctly, and in a manner in which we will best understand it.

Notes

  1. Keystone (architecture), Wikipedia.
  2. "New Developments in Book of Mormon Research." Paul R. Cheesman, Professor emeritus of ancient scripture, BYU., Ensign. Feb. 1988. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/02/new-developments-in-book-of-mormon-research?lang=eng)
  3. "Policies and Announcements." Ensign. Feb. 1983. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/02/news-of-the-church/policies-and-announcements?lang=eng)
  4. "The Angel Moroni Came!" Mark E. Petersen, Ensign. Nov. 1983, 30. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1983/10/the-angel-moroni-came?lang=eng)
  5. The World and the Prophets, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley Volume 3. (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/book/the-world-and-the-prophets/)
  6. Our Search for Happiness. SLC: Deseret Book. 1993, 23-26. Also available from store.lds.org.
  7. "A Clear Poetic Voice." Paul Cracroft, Ensign. Jan. 1984. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1984/01/a-clear-poetic-voice?lang=eng)
  8. "Understanding Old Testament Poetry." Kevin Barney, Ensign. June 1990. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/06/understanding-old-testament-poetry?lang=eng)
  9. "Chiasmus in Mayan Texts." Allen J. Christenson, Ensign. Oct. 1988, 28. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/10/chiasmus-in-mayan-texts?lang=eng)
  10. Joseph Smith-History 1:63-65
  11. "Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet." George Q. Cannon. SLC: Deseret Book, 1998. (http://deseretbook.com/Life-Joseph-Smith-Prophet-George-Q-Cannon/i/5092111) This book can be read online at OpenLibrary.
  12. The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems, Stanley B. Kimball, BYU Studies. (https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=4907)
  13. Why do Isaiah quotes in the Book of Mormon include King James Bible errors?, FairMormon. (http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Anachronisms/Translation_Errors_from_the_KJV)
  14. Joseph Smith Letter Books. Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1.
  15. "Book of Mormon Commentary on Isaiah." Ensign. Sept. 1998, 54. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/09/book-of-mormon-commentary-on-isaiah?lang=eng)
  16. "A Brief Explanation About The Book of Mormon." The Book of Mormon. SLC: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/explanation?lang=eng)
  17. I own this book on the GospeLink CD-ROM, but I am currently unable to access it. GospeLink is now available as a website, and this book is also available if you have a subscription. (http://gospelink.com/library/contents/898)
  18. Book of Commandments 4:2, pg 10, Joseph Smith Papers. (http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/book-of-commandments-1833?p=10#!/paperSummary/book-of-commandments-1833&p=14); 1835 D&C 5:4, pg 96, Joseph Smith Papers. (http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835?p=96#!/paperSummary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835&p=104)
  19. "Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints." C. Wilfred Griggs, GospeLink. CD-ROM. SLC: Deseret Book, 1998. (http://deseretbook.com/Apocryphal-Writings-Latter-day-Saints-C-Wilfred-Griggs/i/5086586) Also available to read online at BYU Religious Studies Center. (http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/apocryphal-writings-and-latter-day-saints/2-apocryphal-literature-and-latter-day-saints)
  20. Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief. John E. Clark, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005). (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1383&index=6)