As promised last week, for your interest I’ve included the transcript of a couple of questions about the Book of Mormon that John Dehlin asks of Terryl Givens (professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond and commentator).

While I may not feel the need for this kind of input, I do appreciate that there are some who may struggle and seek others’ observations. And too, I really enjoy Givens’ insights regarding what we learn about revelation from the Book of Mormon. 🙂

Dehlin:

“…It seems possible that through some sort of conspiracy, that this book (The Book of Mormon) could have been written secretly by a group of people. What are your thoughts on that?”

Givens:

“Well, I think it all depends on what are the presuppositions with which you begin your investigation of the Book of Mormon. If you’re beginning with the assumption either that Joseph was a fraud, or that there is no such thing as supernaturalism, then of course you have to come out with some kind of an environmental explanation for how Joseph put this stuff together. And if you’re proceeding on that set of assumptions then these kinds of theories that you’re talking about are the most plausible and reasonable ones that one can suggest-the best that we can come up with.

“Perfect Beauty and Symmetry and Organic Unity”

But I’m not disadvantaged in that way. I don’t have to prima facie exclude supernaturalism or the possibility of modern prophets because those possibilities are just part of my world view. They’re part of my paradigm. And then I also come at it from a different perspective because my whole life has been devoted to the study of literature-to the reading of texts.

…I find those theories utterly incompatible with the perfect beauty and symmetry and organic unity of the Book of Mormon as a literary work.”

Dehlin:

“Really?!”

Givens:

“Yeah. Absolutely. There’s coherence to it. In the very first-the opening chapters- where Lehi has a series of visions and experiences, there are a series of themes that are laid out. Revelation. Christ. Scriptures. And Zion in the wilderness. And those themes are carried and executed throughout the book with such perfect consistency from beginning to end. Especially the theme of revelation.

The very first real theological claim that the Book of Mormon makes, of what I think is real importance, is 1 Nephi 10 when Nephi is talking about the experience his father had with the vision of the tree of life. And he goes to the Lord and asks if he can have that same vision. The angel says, “What, don’t you believe the words of your father?”

Well, the entire Old Testament tradition is predicated on the notion that prophecy is given to prophets. Revelation is the province of leaders of nations or peoples. And at that moment, Nephi says, “Yea, thou knowest I believe all the words of my father.” And then the angel breaks into this hosanna shout and gives Nephi his own private personal vision.

“Individualized Personalized Revelation”

So at that moment early in the Book of Mormon it’s established that the major theological divergence of the Book of Mormon from the Christian scriptural canon is the principle of individualized personalized revelation. And that is carried out thematically throughout the book, in such a pervasive way.

“And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.” Moroni 10:29

Fathers get revelation for their sons, generals get revelation as to where the Lamanites are going to attack, hunters get revelation as to where to look for the deer, enquirers get answers to theological questions and doctrinal  questions and then the book ends with a return to that exact same theme, right, where Moroni makes the extended process to a futurity.

So, in that way and in terms of the Christology that is so pervasive everything in the book chronologically and thematically is oriented around the centrality of Christ’s incarnation. It doesn’t make sense to me to try to explain that literary work as a kind of potpourri, as a kind of pastiche of all kinds of odds and ends that just come together from a variety of sources.

And then other more subtle indications, like the way the audience is so carefully constructed and shifts, from Nephi’s family and  posterity, to a Lamanite people who were going to displace the Nephites, and gradually by the end of the Book of Mormon it’s to an unknown audience through whom this record will come by means unknown.

“Cohesive, Coherent Literary Work”

This isn’t to my mind compelling proof that the Book of Mormon is inspired or ancient, but it is compelling proof to my mind that we’re working here with a literary work that is cohesive, coherent and not to be explained as I said in terms of this kind of ad hoc constitution or mosaic.

I think in this regard, Grant Hardy has done a magnificent job of showing that there is a complexity and a literary sophistication to this work that even Fawn Brody and others were far from fully appreciating.”

(some dialogue)

“…that’s the striking thing about Joseph is that again and again, he chose the most difficult possible way to perpetrate a fraud. Why not follow the path of Jacob Burma, or Immanuel Swedenborg or a thousand other mystics, who said, “Well, I fell into this dream trance and this book was revealed to me.” Why pretend that you’ve got an actual physical artifact that you have to prove to people exists. Why develop a Christology that is completely out of sync with what would be more plausible in terms of an ancient American record. So, yeah, there’s a certain perverseness to his self destructiveness, if he was a fraud.

Dehlin:

Yeah, because… If it were a fraud, right, if it were a conspiracy, he brought his wife into it, he brought his parents into it, he brought his siblings into it, he brought Martin Harris into it, Oliver Cowdery, the Witmers-all those people and nobody, nobody broke the agreement, right?

Givens:

“Well, that to my mind is one of the oldest defenses made of the Book of Mormon and it’s always been, I think, the most compelling. The fact that so many of those witnesses defected from the church, that broke personally with Joseph Smith, only enhances the value of their testimony with regard to the Book of Mormon, because that would have only added additional weight to expose the fraud, and yet, not a single one ever did.”

“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on the earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” Joseph Smith

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2 Responses to Addressing the Book of Mormon- Part 2

  • Emily Capuyan says:

    A good read Lily! You should have been at my house last night when a couple of Born- again Christians insisted that they know they are saved by the Grace of God alone without work. They know how to say “Faith without work is dead” but they do not understand the concept of it. “That the Bible tells it so and do not add or subtract from the Bible”. They think we added the Book of Mormon to the Bible. They do not understand that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are separate. But together, both Books testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world, that by reading the Book of Mormon, you get closer to God.
    I am just grateful that I know that the Book of Mormon is another word of God, so as the Bible as long as it is translated correctly.

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