Category Archives: Church History

“Others” in the BoM: Michael Ash and MormonTimes

In a recent article on “MormonTimes”, LDS apologist Michael Ash tackles the problem of “Others” in the Book of Mormon.  The problem being that the book doesn’t clearly acknowledge there being existing peoples and civilizations when the Lehites landed.

Why aren’t other peoples mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

For reasons I do not know, Ash declined to acknowledge some of the reasons people feel strongly that there weren’t “others” here when the Lehites landed (for the purposes of discussion, “Others” refer to people not specifically integrated into the Book of Mormon narrative; the Jaredite remnant and Mulekites aren’t counted.)

So, for the benefit of those who like to see both sides of an issue, here are some of the reasons people might believe there weren’t others:

– For a book that is so focused on Christ and bringing people to him (and missionary work in general), it seems odd that they wouldn’t mention the conversion of whole cultures of natives in the first few decades of their colonization. The mass conversion of such people (who didn’t even share a common language upon Lehite Landfall) would be one of the greatest miracles in the history of Christianity, and hopefully worth mentioning somewhere between the  lengthy transcriptions of Isaiah and descriptions of Nephite coinage.

The Lehite conversion of the indigenous pagans would also offer an interesting precedent for missionary work throughout the rest of the BoM. At the very least, I can imagine the Sons of Mosiah being inspired by the story of their ancestors long ago converting whole populations at the same time they were learning their language.

Jacob 1 (~40 years after Lehite landfall) presents a “laundry list” of the existing population, naming each group by name.  There is no “other” category.  This may be explained by having every existing native aligning with a Lehite sub-group, but that kind of destroys the “small sub-culture” theory of Lehite integration.

13 Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.

14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.

– Intermarriage.  Traditionally, the God of the Old Testament takes a dim view towards his chosen people intermarrying with the pagan natives in designated promised lands.

2 Nephi describes the Promised Land as being “kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.”  This would seem to be at odds with the idea of a land already populated by numerous pagan cultures.

It would be like someone inheriting a house from a grandparent and being told the house had been “preserved” for them as a special place of sanctuary and peace.  Then, when the family shows up, they find it overrun with a bunch of squatting Canadian illegal immigrants.  They then look at the fine print in the will, and see that the grandparents knew about the squatters, and that it was intended for the two families to intermarry and get along sharing the house.

– When Nephi catalogs what they find in the New World, he includes cows, horses, goats, wild goats, and “all manner of wild animals”. He also includes gold, silver, and copper.   But no mention of…unusually dark skinned, loin-clothed people who speak an odd language but are particularly susceptible to conversion to pre-Christianity?

– In the Wentworth letter, Joseph Smith describes his first visit by Moroni, in which Moroni gives an other-less overview of the history of the Americas:

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me.
———————————————-
In [The Book of Mormon] the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country.  The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.

(emphasis added)

So, while I agree there are some interesting (and, as it turns out, necessary) arguments to be made for “others”, we shouldn’t forget why some believers in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon might find such arguments to be less than convincing.

Whether or not the expression of such ideas would be welcome in “MormonTimes”, I can only imagine.

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The Curious Case of the Church Website

Many members of the Church struggle with polygamy, but apparently none moreso than the editors of the Church website.  I can only imagine the long meetings discussing how much detail should be included about the practice, with debates raging about openness and propriety.

A good example is the Presidents of the Churchpage on the Church website, where each Prophet is introduced to the world.

For an interesting study in the Church’s inability to deal with its polygamous past, I suggest the following:

1. Click on each President, then click on “Significant Events” on the left side of the screen.

2. Compare the list of “Significant Events” for the polygamous prophets with the list for the monogamous prophets, (or prophets that had multiple wives but not living at the same time).

Do you notice any differences? Why do you think these differences are there?

Bonus Question: Three prophets married an additional wife only after their first wives passed away. Are these bios presented differently than prophets who married more than one living woman at a time? If so, why might that be?

Bonus Bonus Question: Does Joseph Smith’s profile resemble the profiles of other polygamous prophets, or other monogamous prophets? Which would you expect, and why?

Discuss.

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Thoughts on the recent First Vision Video (2005)

In 2005, the Church released a “new” video telling the story of the First Vision, meant to replace the film from the 1970’s that has been seen thousands of times by anyone growing up in the Church at that time.  If anyone hasn’t seen the two, here were my notes:

I think the best summary of the DVD is that it presents Joseph Smith’s family and situation as the Church wishes it had been. Or, as it would have been if they had lived as a good LDS family in Utah in the 1950’s. Or, as it would have been if produced by the Hallmark channel, or the guys who make Kodak film commercials. Take your pick.

I thought these were the most intersting points:

-No pre-vision visit from Satan. This has been left out of the first discussion for years, and now it doesn’t warrant a mention in the video.

-We don’t actually see the floating bodies of God and Jesus. It’s just a bright light in the trees. This is much more ambiguous; while the narration mentions the personages, the visual stamp isn’t quite as memorable.

-Joseph only mentions that when he asked God which Church to join, he was told to “join none of them”. But that’s it. No mention about abomidable creeds, corrupt professors (all of them), and near lips but far hearts.

-After the experience, Joseph calls to his mother from afar, as if he was going to excitedly tell her of his vision. Verse 20 of the Joseph Smith History has him giving less than full disclosure to his mother’s inquiries.

-We see a conversation Joseph has with the local minister. I couldn’t help but wonder how an LDS Bishop or Stake President would react if a 14 year old teacher revealed that God and Jesus had appeared, and told him the LDS Church was corrupt, and that his family should leave. I’m sure he’d get a very warm reception, up to and including a Disciplinary Court.

The story of the First Vision is a story of any rebel struggle against the status quo, and now that the Church is entrenched in its mindset and efforts of self-preservation, drastic “revelations” from outside the power structure would be just as unwelcome as they were in Joseph Smith’s day.

-And finally, we see Joseph in the process of translating the Book of Mormon. It shows Joseph sitting at a table, studying the plates without the aid of a Urim and Thummim or seer stone, while the scribe sits across from him taking it all down. Maybe if we wish hard enough, we can convince people that that was the way it really happened.

My wife and I both agree that the 1970’s First Vision film was superior, if only because it seemed much more sincere. And the low budget made it grittier and more realistic. And because it appears so old, we can tell our kids it’s actual footage from the early 1800’s.

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Joseph Smith and the Prophecy of the American Civil War

An important part of being a “Prophet” is making “Prophecies”, so when discussing the Prophet Joseph Smith, it is logical for people to ask about his prophecies and their fulfillment.  And any discussion of Joseph Smith’s prophecies will certainly touch on his most famous one: The Prophecy of the Civil war.

Members of the church love to discuss this prophecy for two reasons:

1. It appears to be a clear, concise prophecy.  So often, prophecies are imprecisely worded, but this prophecy appears to be specific because it actually names a location.

2. It is canonized.  Most of Joseph Smith’s “prophecies” are reported in obscure books or the non-canonized 7 Volume “History of the Church“.  The Prophecy on the Civil War was canonized by the Church in 1877, so it is found in the Doctrine and Covenants, a “Standard Work” of the Church.

But is this prophecy really a “prophecy”, and was it fulfilled in the way that Joseph Smith prophesied it?  I say…no, and here is why.

First, you should familiarize yourself with the environment in which this prophecy was made.  Specifically, Joseph Smith made his prediction in 1832 right as the Nullification Crisis was occupying the national mind.  What’s that?  You aren’t familiar with the “Nullification Crisis” of 1832?  Here is some background.
Nullification Crisis

Nullification Crisis

Nullification Crisis

Then consider other subsequent parts of the prophecy:

QUOTE
3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain,…
QUOTE
…as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
Ummm…no.  That didn’t happen.

QUOTE
4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
Ummm…no.  That didn’t happen”The recruitment of black men, including many freed slaves, into the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation was approved: towards the end of the war, the Confederacy relented, and began to allow Blacks to enter the Confederate Army, but this action was only a token effort. ”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War

More here…

History of Slave Rebellions

(Notice the Turner rebellion in 1831, with no notable rebellions during the Civil War)

More on Slave Rebellions…

QUOTE
5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
Who are the “remnants”? Who are the “Gentiles”? When did these remnants “marshal themselves” and “vex” the “Gentiles”?

QUOTE
6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;
Honestly, by any reasonable measure, things are drastically better all over the world since the Civil War.And “end of all nations”….? It probably sounded foreboding in 1832, with the second coming just around the corner and all that, but 172 years later, most nations seem to be doing just fine, with little worry of “ending” any time soon.

So if I have to spell it out for you, let’s go through verse by verse and see how many specific claims Section 87 (the Prophecy on the Civil War) contains, and how many are “hits”:

QUOTE
1.VERILY, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;
The nullification crisis of 1832 (just months before this revelation was given) provides ample context for this prophecy. Also, the term “shortly” is certainly debatable. But we can call it a “hit”.1/1 (Hits/Claims)

QUOTE
2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
The American Civil War did not “pour out war upon all nations”. Not even Britain and France got really involved.

QUOTE
The open recognition, the active aid, the material and financial support which the South needed so greatly were never forthcoming. Europe refused to take a hand in America’s quarrel. North and South were left to fight it out between themselves.http://www.civilwarhome.com/europeandcivilwar.htm
That’s a miss.1/2

QUOTE

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States,-and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called,-and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations;

-and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

Yup. Yup. Nope. Nope.3/5

QUOTE
4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
Nope.3/6

QUOTE
5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves,-and shall become exceedingly angry,-and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
Nope. Nope. Nope.3/9

QUOTE
6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn;-and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;
This is pretty dramatic stuff, but “all nations” seem to be doing fine, by and large. We’ll just say he’s 0/2, and not break down each prophecy in the verse.3/11

QUOTE
7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.
I have no idea what he meant by this, so if you can explain it, it could be a “hit”.

QUOTE
8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.

The “day of the Lord” hasn’t come yet. I’m gonna say that “170+ years” does not equal “quickly”, and call this a miss. You can stretch “quickly” as long as you like and call it a hit, but that’s more of a stretch than I could make and still keep a straight face.

3/12

So of the 12+ distinct portions of the prophecy contained in Section 87, Joseph Smith only got 3 right, and even that involves a stretch of the word “shortly”, and ignoring the contemporary Nullification Crisis as a probable “inspiration”.

In short, the “Civil War” prophecy would be the prophetic equivalent of (current LDS Prophet) President Monson seeing a weather forecast for a hurricane in Florida, and prophesying that a hurricane was going to soon wipe all of Florida into the ocean. Then the hurricane dies out, and nothing happens. 30 years later, a small monsoon hits Florida, and causes a little damage. Church members point to President Monson’s prophecy as being fulfilled, conveniently ignoring the part about Florida being wiped into the ocean.

Personally, I’m only impressed with prophets that bat better than .500.

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