The Earliest Part of the Book of Mormon

By: John Hamer
January 1, 2014

ChapterheaderSample1Although our project this year is to carefully read the Book of Mormon in the order of its composition, the earliest portion of Joseph Smith’s gold plates manuscript was lost (and consequently did not make its way into the Book of Mormon when it was published in 1830).

The first phase of the writing began after Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where her father Isaac Hale set them up with a small house of their own in December of 1828. The composition process was oral: Joseph dictated and Emma wrote down the text. Martin Harris, who was emerging as the chief financier of the project, visited a couple times in early 1829 before relocating to Harmony on April 12 and taking up work as the principal scribe.[1] By the middle of June, a significant portion of the work was complete and Martin convinced Joseph to let him take the working manuscript back to Palmyra, where it was stolen and probably destroyed.

The lost section is generally called the “116 pages,” (although that figure refers to the number of pages of the later replacement manuscript covering the lost section and not the actual number of pages lost). This first section is also called the “Book of Lehi.” From the later internal narrative of the Book of Mormon, the lost text was said to have been first part of an abridgment or edited summary of a much longer collection of records. The Book of Mormon takes its name from Mormon, who was the editor of the abridgment. Properly speaking this name should only refer to the lost 116 pages and the section of the text from “Words of Mormon” through the “Book of Mormon” within the Book of Mormon, i.e., because the Book of First Nephi through the Book of Omni, and then the Book of Ether and the Book of Moroni are not meant to have been part of Mormon’s abridgment.

We’ll explore the device of texts within the text in future weeks; suffice to say that that although we’re attempting to read the book in the order it was composed this year, we can’t start with the original beginning because it is lost. However, we do have something else. (If you’re following along in our weekly readings, you’ll already know what that something is.) In July of 1828, Joseph dictated a new text — with Emma once again replacing Martin as scribe. Joseph used the same procedure that he had been employing to dictate the Book of Mormon with the key difference that the plates were not involved at all, even conceptually. The result was an original message of rebuke, but also consolation. (Because of later alterations when the text was published in the Book of Commandments and again when included in the Doctrine and Covenants, I’m quoting here from the text as copied into the “Revelation Book 1” manuscript, transcribed by the Joseph Smith Papers Project.)

Beginning with the assurance that “the works & designs & the Purposes of God cannot be frustrated”, we read: “although a man may have many Revelations & have power to do many Mighty works yet if he boast in his own strength & Sets at naught the councils of God & follows after the dictates of his will & carnal desires he must fall to the Earth & incur the vengence of a Just God”.[2]  However, the warning is probationary: Joseph has messed up, but he’s going to get a second chance:

[B]ehold thou art Joseph & thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord but because of transgression thou mayest fall but remember God is merciful therefore repent of that which thou hast done & he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season & thou art still chosen & will & will again be called to the work & except Thou do this thou shalt be delivered up & become as other men & have no more gift[.][3]

In the first several paragraphs, God is referred to in the third person (he, his) and Joseph in the second (you, your, thou, thee, thy) as if the Joseph who is dictating the text is acting as a kind of disembodied narrator to the Joseph who is receiving the message. However, that changes briefly in the final paragraph[4]:

[F]or as the knowledge of a Saveiour hath come to the world so shall the knowledge of my People the Nephities & the Jacobites & the Josephites & the Lamanites come to the Lamanites knowledge of the Lamanites & the Lamanites [Lemuelites] & the Ishmaelites which dwindeled in unbelief because of the iniquities of their Fathers who hath been suffered to destroy their Brethren because of their iniquities & their Abominations & for this very Purpose are these Plates prepared which contain these Records that the Promises of the Lord might be fulfilled which he made to his People & that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their Fathers & that they may know the Promises of the Lord that they may believe the Gospel & rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ & that they might be glorified through faith in his name & that they might repent & be Saved Amen[.]

With the phrase “my People the Nephites,” Joseph appears to slip into the prophetic voice for the first time — moving from the indirect discourse of God speaking of his people to the direct discourse of God speaking about “my people” in the first person.[5] (And I say “appears to slip” in because by the end with “his People” and “his name,” Joseph has already slipped back out again.) Joseph’s use of the prophetic voice (which will build considerably in future revelations) was a restoration or imitation of ancient Israelite prophets, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, who presumed to speak messages of rebuke, counsel, and hope to people and individuals, invoking God in the first person.

Thus, out of the crisis of the lost text, we have the start of something new: Joseph the seer is now beginning to act as Joseph the prophet. Ultimately, the assertion of direct revelation was probably just as important as the publication of the Book of Mormon for the foundation of the Latter Day Saint movement that followed. But as the first instance illustrates, the history and forms of both are intertwined.

We can note also that in addition to rehearsing some of the contents of the lost text — it was apparently a story about the Nephites, Jacobites, and Josephites who were destroyed because of their iniquities and abominations by the Lamanites, [Lemuelites], and Ishmaelites — we also are told the purpose of the work: to give the “Lamanites” a history that will lead to belief in Jesus Christ and ultimate salvation. We’ll surely talk more about all of the above in the weeks to come.

Next week’s assignment: Mosiah 1 (CofC); Mosiah 1-3 (LDS).



[1] An extremely useful chronology of this period is found in Dan Vogel (ed.) Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Signature Books, 1996-2003), 5:337-456. A briefer, but still useful chronology can be found in Grant Hardy (ed.) The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois, 2003), 643-52.

[2] In the original, the scribe wrote “the words of designs” but crossed out “words of” correcting the text to read “works & designs”. See: : the-papers, Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revlation Books (2), Revelation Book 1, pages 3-4.

[3] Later edits will soften this rebuke somewhat. When published in the 1833 Book of Commandments as “Chapter II”: “thou mayest fall” becomes “if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.” And by the time the same text was included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as “Section XXX,” the line “therefore repent of that which thou has done & he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season & thou art still chosen” became “therefore repent of that which thou hast done, which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen”.

[4] This changed when the text was edited. The text in the Book of Commandments read: “Therefore, repent of that which thou has done, and he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season, and thou are still chosen…” The altered text in the D&C reads: “therefore, repent of that which thou hast done, which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen…” which retroactively introduces God as “I”.

[5] These prophetic compositions (now usually referred to as “revelations”) were often initially called “commandments” and were collected, edited, and published in the Book of Commandments (1833). They were later edited again and rebranded as “covenants” when included in the Doctrine and Covenants (1835). This first revelation became “Chapter II” of the Book of Commandments and “Section XXX” of the 1835 D&C. (It’s now Community of Christ D&C 2 and LDS D&C 3.)

38 Responses to The Earliest Part of the Book of Mormon

  1. Rigel Hawthorne on January 2, 2014 at 8:32 AM

    The information that Mosiah was transcribed before First Nephi is new to me, so reading CoC D&C 2 as a prologue to Mosiah provides new insight. Was CoC D&C 2 the first of the commandments (or later designated as revelations) to be written?

    The first thing that I see in this reading is that verses 1-3 are chiastic.

    The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God, cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught,

    for God doth not walk in crooked paths; neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left;

    neither doth he vary from that which he hath said;

    therefore his paths are straight and his course is one eternal round.

    Remember, remember, that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;

    The phrase ”neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left” strikes similarities to a few Old Testament phrases referring to staying on the true path. The use of the word “frustrate” in the past tense is more of a Book of Mormon expression. They are put together in this chiasm with the key element being that God does not vary from what He has said.

    For those who would claim that the use of Chiasm could be explained by Oliver Cowdery or Sidney Rigdon having been acquainted with its occurrence, this 1828 revelation would seem to pose a problem. Did Joseph meet either of these two men before July 1828? As I recall, they did not—and to extend authorship of CoC D&C 2 to one of them would require a sophisticatedly engineered hoax.

    The use of the two words ‘remember, remember’ back to back does not occur, to my review, in the Old Testament, but occurs 5 times in the Book of Mormon, the next to follow this instruction being in King Benjamin’s address.

    The phrase “neither doth he vary from that which he hath said” is similar to Mosiah 2:22. The phrase “his paths are straight and his course is one eternal round” is similar to Alma 7:20. Interesting that the revelatory instruction is using quotations from the Book of Mormon that were not yet put to paper.

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  2. mark gibson on January 2, 2014 at 8:36 AM

    Great lesson! I remember the Mark Hoffman documents scandal of the early 1980′s when he claimed to know the whereabouts of the 116 pages; in an attempt to solicit further funding. Most believe they were destroyed, likely by Harris’s wife.

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  3. John Hamer on January 2, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    Rigel (re #1): My understanding is that this is the first one that was written down (which is why it’s at the beginning of both churches’ D&Cs which have been re-ordered chronologically, unlike the 1835 D&C which was ordered topically).

    However, it’s clear from this commandment that there were previous commandments that were not written down (or, if they were written, were not copied into the Revelations book or published in the Book of Commandments). In this text, we have the phrase “strict was your commandment” — presumably a prior revelation to Joseph and Martin that detailed precisely who Martin was to show the manuscript to, etc., which was not adhered to.

    Joseph Smith didn’t meet Oliver Cowdery until April 5, 1829, so this composition pre-dates their meeting by a better part of a year. Although Oliver served as principle scribe for the rest of the project (which at that point proceeded rapidly), it had already been contemplated for five and a half years prior to his involvement (Sept. 21-22, 1823, being the earliest vision with the spirit or angel later identified as Moroni). Joseph didn’t meet Sidney Rigdon until December of 1830, some nine months after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Rigdon had a huge impact on the development of the early church and on the Inspired Version (Joseph Smith Translation) of the Bible, but was not involved in the composition of the Book of Mormon.

    Interesting points about the language, thanks for pointing those out!

    Mark (re #2): Yes, finding the 116 pages would really be the greatest coup in all Mormon history and it’s little wonder that Hoffman was making noises about them. As good as he was at forgery, it would have been quite a feat to create the entire manuscript, which is presumably why he was never able to produce it.

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  4. Rigel Hawthorne on January 2, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    H. Clay Gorton, author of “A New Witness For Christ–Chiastic Structures in the Book of Mormon” postulates that in the lost manuscript (which is not really 116 pages?) that there may have been a Book of Benjamin and a Book of Mosiah (the father of Benjamin). The Book of Omni describes a series of wars during which King Benjamin had driven the Lamanites out of Zarahemla, the details of which are not known further. Mormon’s abridgement of Mosiah picks up at the point in time when there was peace among the people of King Benjamin for the rest of his days.

    I guess the only “Book” in the lost manuscript that is referenced in communications of the time is the “Book of Lehi”. The postulation of the other possible books which may have followed is pure speculation, but speaks to the devastation of the loss of the manuscript to those who had worked on it and knew of the contents.

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  5. John Hamer on January 2, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    Regarding the priority of Mosiah (the idea that Mosiah was composed first after the loss of the 116 pages), Brent Metcalfe has a great essay in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon (which is now online):

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  6. John Hamer on January 2, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    Re (#4): The surmise that the lost portion was not merely the “Book of Lehi” but also included other lost books makes sense given that we apparently don’t have the beginning of the Book of Mosiah. Where we start with what today is Chapter 1, there is no chapter header. So it makes sense that the lost section includes Lehi and the beginning of Mosiah and probably several other unknown lost books in between.

    It was a little surprising to me that although the Jacobites, Ishmaelites, and others are mentioned in this revelation, there’s no mention of the Mulekites — since they are presumably at the point of the story where the Nephites, Jacobites, and Josephites have linked up with the Mulekites — whose story is mostly untold in the Book of Mormon as we have it. I also wonder if more time wasn’t spent on these various -ites in the 116 pages, since they are essentially not given distinct stories in the book as we have it.

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  7. mark gibson on January 2, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    I found it interesting that Joseph would mention the loss and the instructions on how to proceed in an Author’s Preface of the 1830 edition. That probably pre-empted many objections.

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  8. Rigel Hawthorne on January 2, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    ” I also wonder if more time wasn’t spent on these various -ites in the 116 pages”

    I did find it interesting that this 1828 account would include a differentiation of the Nephites into the subgroups of Jacobites, Josephites, and Zoramites. My memory of reading the BOM was vague on other citations of Jacobites and Josephites, but I did find two references that described those subgroups in 4 Nephi, and one reference each in Mormon and Jacob. So, it stands to reason at some point in time, there may have been a greater reason to cite the distinction. Either there was information about these ‘ites” in the 116 pages or in the longer record that Mormon abridged.

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  9. log on January 2, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    Mr. Hamer,

    Was Joseph the translator, or was he the author, of the Book of Mormon?

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  10. John Hamer on January 3, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    Log (#9): Joseph uses the word “translate” in this text to describe what he also calls his “gift”, the text says: “God had given thee right to Translate…” However, both here and elsewhere it’s clear that Joseph’s definition of “translate” is very different from ours.

    We obviously use the word to describe the process of taking something said or written in one language and then rendering it in another language. For Joseph, however, the word means the exercise of a spiritual power or gift, which he often understood to be supernatural. For example, when the Biblical prophet Elijah was said to have been taken up to heaven, his body is described as having been “translated” from a mortal to a celestial state. Similarly, the City of Enoch is “translated” from an earthly state to a heavenly state.

    In the patriarchal blessings that Joseph Smith’s father gave, the word “translate” is used for our word “teleport.” For example, in a blessing given to Joseph Cooper on May 14, 1836, Joseph Sr. promises “thou shalt translate thyself from planet to planet,” and similarly in a blessing given on March 23, 1836, Ethan Barrows is told “Thou shalt have power to translate thyself from land to land, and from country to country, from one end of heaven to the other, & when thy work is done, thou shalt be translated from earth to heaven.”

    In other words, “translate” in the early Mormon context means exercise a spiritual power, defined elsewhere as “the gift and power of the spirit.” I think that the actual process of Book of Mormon composition is relatively clearly described in D&C 8 and 9 (both CofC and LDS happen to line up here) on the occasion when Oliver is given the opportunity to do the dictation part of the process. The system described is entirely spiritual. No knowledge of a foreign language is involved, any more than “speaking in tongues” and “interpretation thereof” (glossolalia) involve actual foreign languages; rather, they are a spiritual practice.

    For myself, I believe it’s been conclusively established from studies of the Book of Mormon, both higher and lower literary criticism, that the text is a 19th century composition, dependent on the King James Version of the Bible. The plates, like the seer stones, were a source of spiritual focus and inspiration, not a literal record. The composition was an original work and is not a translation in our sense of the word “translation” (rather than Joseph’s).

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  11. mark gibson on January 3, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    On June 11th, 1829, Joseph Smith submitted the text of the Book of Mormon’s title page to the “Clerk of the Northern District of New-York” which was “In conformity to the act of the Congress of the United States” And “the right whereof he claims as author” All of this was included in the 1st edition. I’m guessing that it fulfilled legal requirements since whoever heard of a book with no author?

    JH: Your theory on the origin of the Book of Mormon is one of many; and trying to accommodate all is the trick of teaching, since there is no definite proof of any one belief.

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  12. log on January 3, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Mr. Hamer,

    I’m sorry. Let me ask my question more directly.

    Do you believe the events recounted in the Book of Mormon ever actually occurred?

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  13. John Hamer on January 3, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    mark (#11): As you say, there are a number of different beliefs, which was why I was very explicit above in saying “For myself, I believe…”

    log (#12): As mark reminds us, there are a multiplicity of beliefs on the topic. However, for myself personally, I believe (from internal and external evidence) that we can conclude the Book of Mormon is not a literal history and does not refer to actual events in antiquity, except when it is recounting certain parts of the Biblical narrative (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem). However, even in the Biblical overlap, we are often dealing with stories that never actually occurred. For example, the Jaredites of the Book of Ether are refugees from the Tower of Babel — a story told in the Bible which is not history and never actually occurred.

    In the broader context of scripture, we should always keep in mind that history is not scripture and scripture is not history (although scripture may contain historical information useful in producing actual history). I would also argue that scripture is not meant to be read literally, and that reading it literally distorts its actual message, which is religious, theological, and philosophical.

    For these reasons, I am explicitly /not/ reading the text this year as a history book, but instead for its theological content in the context of its composition, i.e., the Second Great Awakening of the young American Republic of the 1820s. (I wrote some of this out in my introductory overview of the project:

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  14. log on January 3, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    Mr. Hamer,

    I think a more straightforward use of your time and space would be in devotion to supporting the assertions you have made concerning the ahistorical nature of the Biblical and Book of Mormon accounts. I am keenly interested to see the logical and historical evidence establishing that we are dealing with events which never actually occurred.

    Indeed, it is because of the claim to historical veracity that the religious and theological components of the Book of Mormon become worthy of notice, just as the historicity of the resurrection makes the religious and theological teachings of Christ worthy of notice.

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  15. John Hamer on January 3, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    log (#14): Respectfully, I disagree. (1) I disagree that historicity has anything to do with what makes the books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian New Testament worthy of notice. (2) I disagree that my time would be better spent in the well-worn trenches where authors deconstruct the traditional Book of Mormon narrative or the tenets of Biblical fundamentalism.

    For the Bible, we have two centuries of scholarship — literary criticism, history, linguistics, archaeology, and the like — which have massively clarified our understanding of the component texts. There are hundreds of wonderful books to read on all topics from the documentary hypothesis explaining the source texts of the 5 books traditionally attributed to Moses to the creation of the Deuteronomic history at the core of the Bible to the authorship and construction of the gospels. I don’t think you need anything new there from me.

    For the Book of Mormon, of course, we have less quantity, but there’s still been an enormous amount of useful study from the 1960s onward (albeit often marred by adopting polemic positions). For textual criticism, demonstrating the book’s dependence on the KJV of the Bible, see Richard P. Howard, “Restoration Scriptures: A Study of their Textual Development” (revised & enlarged) (Herald House, 1995). For higher criticism, my favorite collection on the topic continues to be Brent Lee Metcalfe (ed.) “New Approaches to the Book of Mormon” (Signature, 1993). For the most recent recapitulation of the deconstruction of the traditional narrative, see Earl M. Wunderli, “An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself” (Signature Books, 2013).

    For myself, I’m not interested in slogging through the polemical trenches. We have the deconstruction of the traditional Book of Mormon narrative. We have reactionary work which attempts to counter the deconstruction. The issue has been settled to my satisfaction.

    I’m personally interested in scripture for its content. I see the texts primarily as useful for addressing the questions of how we as individuals and as communities can relate to God, understand ourselves, and how we can live meaningful lives. I will be writing an awful lot on this idea and this alternative way of looking at scripture.

    In the end, you certainly don’t have to agree with me (and I don’t have to convince you). But I suggested at the outset that even for those readers who absolutely don’t agree with me, there may yet be some value in reading the Book of Mormon specifically for its theological content.

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  16. log on January 3, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    Mr. Hamer,

    Since you bring nothing new to the table except a perspective which has apparently been forged in one side of the “well-worn trenches,” it’s not so much that I need anything new from you, but that I should not expect anything beyond the doctrine of your teachers from you.

    I’m not sure there is, or can be, any value in a fictitious theology explicated through myth, as you are apparently proposing the Book of Mormon is; exactly analogously, neither is there value to be gained by analyzing the theology of the Silmarillion, beyond entertainment. Granted, a diligent student of the Silmarillion may come up with a clever turn of phrase here or there in his imaginative analysis of the metaphysics of Eä, but in the end it is as a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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  17. John Hamer on January 3, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    log (#16): I thoroughly disagree with your analogy. I likewise disagree with your premises and conclusions. There are plenty of places online where you can argue Book of Mormon historicity, for example the board. Your time is probably better spent engaging someone there.

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  18. mark gibson on January 3, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    JH: Told ya it’s tricky! You’ve barely got started and discussions threaten to pull you off-track. Perhaps this will help: If the Book of Mormon is based on actual historical events, there is evidence to the contrary. If the Book of Mormon is the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination, there is evidence to the contrary.

    I taught the Temple School course on the Book of Mormon in 1990 and had to tell my students “Whichever personal belief you may have, if it causes you to read/study/ponder its message and apply its teachings to your life, more power to you!

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  19. Rigel Hawthorne on January 3, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    I think there is a second, more loosely composed chiasm in the following verses, but if I am missing a bigger picture, feel free to correct me:

    2:2b for although a man may have many revelations, and have POWER TO DO MANY MIGHTLY WORKS, yet, if he boast in his own strength, and SETS AT NAUGHT the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.

    2:3a Behold, you have been intrusted with these things, but HOW STRICT WERE YOUR COMMANDMENTS;

    2:3b and REMEMBER, ALSO, THE PROMISES WHICH WERE MADE TO YOU, IF YOU DID NOT TRANSGRESS THEM; and, behold, how oft YOU HAVE TRANSGRESSED THE COMMANDMENTS and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men:

    2:3c for, behold, you should not have feared man more than God, although men SET AT NAUGHT the counsels of God, and despise his words, yet you should have been faithful and he would have EXTENDED HIS ARMS AND SUPPORTED you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.

    4. power to do many mighty works
    3. and sets at naught
    2. how strict were your commandments
    1. remember, also, the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them
    2. you have transgressed the commandments
    3. set at naught
    4. extended his arm, and supported

    The central element of this chiasm refers to making and keeping covenants, which is big theologically to the LDS followers. I assume it has a similar importance, yet theologically different perspective for COC followers. With the central message of the first chiasm being that God does not vary from what he has said, there is a nice tie in with this second central message that if we keep promises, there would be no variance from the covenanted blessing.

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  20. John Hamer on January 3, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    Mark (#18): Thanks! Yes, I agree it’s tricky.

    Part of the problem when attempting to present an entirely different paradigm for understanding scripture is that there’s no one place to begin. Everything connects to everything else and you almost have to present an entire book of ideas and understanding taken in instantaneously.

    When I’ve taught seminars on Restoration Scripture for the Discipleship Now program and other programs, we take the first two hours just tackling the idea “What is scripture?” The next two hours are an exploration of the Community of Christ’s “Statement on Scripture” ( which I find to be a fantastic foundation point for building what I might call a ‘meaningful’ rather than a ‘literal’ concept of scripture. Then I spend an hour on the history of scriptural conceptions and how scriptural literalism is an entirely modern, reactionary view of scripture that would be alien to Medieval and early Christians as well as ancient Israelites. We then discuss how scholars approach the study of scripture in general, lower and higher textual criticism, using Biblical examples.

    It’s only after we’ve had those six or seven hours of preface that we get into our discussion of the Book of Mormon, and I still begin that segment with a long list of provisos: “In Community of Christ, we do not have a creed; we value ‘unity in diversity’; we do not all have to believe the same thing, so long as we are respectful of each other; you don’t have to believe what I believe; I am very happy to be in communion with members who have polar opposite beliefs from my own; and there is a ‘diversity of beliefs’ concerning the antiquity of the Book of Mormon.”

    However, all that said, I personally believe that your phrasing regarding the evidence is more balanced than the scholarship will warrant (of course, we shouldn’t only approach scripture through the lens of scholarship). Instead of presenting a neutral position, I’m open about my own views — as I have been here — explaining that I’m not sharing my perspective in order to attack someone else’s beliefs. Rather, I’m hoping I can show why I consider scripture to be meaningful to my life and my faith, even though I perceive it in a way that is rather different than the way people within a literalistic paradigm tend to view scripture.

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  21. John Hamer on January 3, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    Rigel (#19 and #1): These are interesting! Thanks very much for pulling them out of the text.

    We have here an original revelation, apparently the first one written, and you’re already finding this characteristic literary device. Going into this project, my gut sense has been that the chiasms we’ll observe are somehow related to the oral nature of the composition process.

    In the formal sense, the words sort of wander inward to the core idea and then circle back out again, right? So the first one you cited has at its core God doth not “vary from that which he hath said”: presented as an answer to the question how can the promise that a marvelous work is about to come forth come to pass still be true now that the manuscript has been stolen? And in the second one we have “remember, also, the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress” God’s commandments at the core, which you’ve identified as the covenant it is. Very cool.

    I agree that the take in Community of Christ is likely a little different, but “covenant” is certainly part of our religious language. (If you’re interested, I gave a talk/sermon last year entitled “Continually Becoming a Covenant People”

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  22. hawkgrrrl on January 4, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    Not much to add except to say this is fascinating stuff, presented respectfully. I would think those who believe the book refers to actual historical people can gain equally from a discussion of the theological merits of the book, which I agree are more on point for a religious text than a history document.

    I appreciated the first and third person distinction. Maybe God is like that guy Jimmy who hits on Elaine on Seinfeld, referring to himself in the third person. :)

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  23. log on January 4, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Hawkgrrrl, what is your reasoning? Mr. Hamer has avoided explaining what possible “value” there can be in the “theology” of the Book of Mormon, while not “finding” the same “value” in the “theology” of the Silmarillion. Or the Norse myths – or perhaps their modern movie adaptations.

    If the works are fiction, they are fiction, and their “theology” is necessarily equally valueless except as intellectual exercises and entertainment. Except the Silmarillion was not, in Mr. Hamer’s view, the product of fraud, neither are the “followers” of Tolkein’s fiction necessarily dupes, as the Restorationist movement’s adherents must necessarily be. Though we might quibble as to whether the audiences of the latest Thor movie were dupes.

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  24. hawkgrrrl on January 4, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    log, it seems to me that you are attempting to derail the discussion John has teed up in favor of the one you want to tee up. Our guidelines state this behavior is out of bounds. The link to the rules of conduct is listed in the sidelines. If you want to write a post about what you are interested in (proving the BOM is historical), we will happily accept your guest submission.

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  25. log on January 4, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    Hawgrrrl, let me see if I am hearing you correctly: I am not permitted to comment on the premises from which Mr. Hamer deigns to interpret the Book of Mormon.

    Since these premises entirely control his interpretation, they seem to me to be supremely relevant to the discussion. It may not be the discussion John wishes to have, or that you wish to read.

    However, it’s your house. You tell me if I have heard you correctly.

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  26. log on January 4, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    Incidentally, I’m not particularly interested on “proving the BOM is historical,” and I am at a loss as to how you have interpreted me to be saying that. I have advanced no claim nor argument that the BOM is historical on this thread. What I have done is pointed out that if we start from the position that the BOM is not historical, one’s reading of the “theology” of the book is just as relevant as one’s interpretation of the “theology” any other work of fiction, and is, in the end, merely an intellectual exercise, or something done merely for entertainment purposes.

    That is the point that Mr. Hamer “disagrees” with but has not advanced any cogent rationale why it should not be the case.

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  27. John Hamer on January 4, 2014 at 5:41 PM

    log: As I said from the outset, this project is not about debating Book of Mormon historicity. The premise here is that we are taking that question as settled academically, and we are moving onto what we can learn from the text’s religious contents, read within their 19th century context.

    For me, this is a religious and spiritual exercise, in addition to being an intellectual exercise. I’m the adult Sunday School teacher in my congregation in Toronto and this year the class is reading the Book of Mormon with me and we’re discussing it each week. (I need to finish tomorrow’s lesson tonight.) Church members in my congregation have an entire spectrum of beliefs about the Book of Mormon. For some older members who first read the book 60+ years ago with a mid-20th century RLDS perspective, we’re looking at it this year in a new way. For other members who are completely negative about the book, we may be rehabilitating it as a part of our canon that they hadn’t previously considered seriously.

    I’ve suggested that for readers here at WheatandTares who don’t agree with me, it may be possible — as an intellectual exercise — to suspend one’s own beliefs and consider this alternative perspective. That may prove fruitful. However, if you don’t believe there is value to the exercise, I invite you to not participate.

    Either way, I’m not going to be drawn into a debate on Book of Mormon historicity in the course of this project; forums for that debate are plentiful. Regarding your questions about comments that are judged to have an agenda of derailment; the answer is ‘yes,’ they are unwelcome and they will be deleted.

    I didn’t give an expansive reply to your post about the Silmarillion because I read it to be a somewhat snarky jab at non-literalistic/non-fundamentalist worldviews. To my thinking, you’ve presented a false dichotomy. In my view, your conclusion that all early Restoration seekers were “dupes” is an uncharitable and simplistic misreading of history, scripture, and the human experience. If you can’t imagine how I can square that circle, but are interested how I do, read along; it will become clear over the course of a year. If you’re unserious and don’t care, I’m very happy to leave it at “we don’t agree.”

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  28. log on January 4, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    For the final time, I am not arguing here for or against BOM historicity.

    To assert that the followers of Joseph were and are necessarily dupes when one “accepts” as “settled academically” that the BOM is fictitious is simply the necessary logical inference of that claim.

    I am calling into question the value of your endeavor on first principles as well as on the logically necessary implications of those first principles for those of the faith Joseph restored.

    A fictitious theology remains, in the end, fictitious. And victims of deception are, in the end, still deceived.

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  29. John Hamer on January 4, 2014 at 7:29 PM

    And, for the final time, I have answered that I believe your inference that we must define early members of the Restoration in black-and-white terms as “dupes” and “victims of deception” is a false dichotomy, which I assume is based on an uncharitable and simplistic misreading of history.

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  30. log on January 4, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    If the Book of Mormon, held by Joseph Smith to be a translation from golden plates delivered by angels and translated by the gift and power of God is, instead, fraudulent, fictitious, or whatever adjective you care to apply, with semantic content equivalent to “unreal, untrue, false, incorrect”, &c., then those who follow the faith promulgated therein, and the Restoration more generally, are dupes, defined as “victims of deception”, by ready reference to the dictionary, cf. “dupes“.

    You may believe what you wish; establishing rational, public, and rigorous grounds for those beliefs is, however, a different beast. I have yet to see the alleged “excluded middle,” which necessarily exists if indeed I am engaged in the fallacy of the false dilemma, produced. Its existence may be asserted, as indeed any claim may be merely voiced, but it seems as yet unassertible. The BOM either is, or is not, what Joseph and those who follow(ed) his teachings say it is. You say it is not. What word other than “dupes,” covers that particular situation in terms of those who follow(ed) Joseph’s teachings?

    Feel free to substitute another word of your choosing – this is the cold, hard logical implication of your position. And if the BOM indeed is fictitious, fraudulent, &c., any “theology” based on it is also fictitious – or, at the very least, it is not obvious what relationship it would have to an actually existent God.

    Incidentally, your position was addressed a couple of decades ago, if I am not greatly mistaken:

    And I will end my participation on this thread with this word of warning to my fellow Saints – we are expressly warned that there will always are many willing to preach to us the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture. If a man does not even believe, and engages in instructing men in the scripture, then what else can he be teaching except the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture?

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  31. John Hamer on January 4, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    I have not used any of those words here to define the Book of Mormon or early members of the Restoration. Those are your words, drawn from your worldview.

    The words I use to define the Book of Mormon include: scripture, gospel, testament, sacred story, and teachings that point us to Christ. The words I use to define early members of the Restoration, include: earnest seekers, passionate believers in Christ, members of a community devoted to the ideal of Zion and building Zion together.

    Having ended your participation in this thread, I think you can be satisfied that you’ve made your position clear.

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  32. hawkgrrrl on January 4, 2014 at 9:20 PM

    I’ve been in PLENTY of Gospel Doctrine classes, taught by literalists and believers, whose entire lesson plan was “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.” Even if you stick to the lesson manual completely, which would be coma-inducing and have nearly zero value, who is on the correlation committee? Men and their philosophies (or interpretations of the scriptures). There is no such thing as scripture without interpretation. And that’s one reason our tag line is “the philosophies of men mingled with the philosophies of women.” As soon as we start talking, our philosophies and ideas get mingled with whatever the absolute truth is. Every single talk we hear in church consists of the philosophies of people mingled with scripture. That is simply the nature of the beast.

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  33. New Iconoclast on January 5, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    I, for one, am interested in learning a great deal more about the Book of Mormon this year by following John’s reasoning. I may not agree with him about its origins, but in my mind that just spices the stew. I always learn more from people with whom I do not see eye to eye, and I have a great deal of love and respect for our brothers and sisters from the Reorganized tradition, whether they went the Restoration route, left for the Remnant Church or some other organized sect, or stayed with the institutional CoC.

    Joseph left us a big tent, and I’ve always very much enjoyed getting to know the others under it. I think one of the Utah church’s biggest cultural faults is its insularity vis-a-vis other parts of the Restoration movement.

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  34. Rigel Hawthorne on January 5, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    Forgive my overindulgence on the topic of chiasmus, but here I go again.

    2:4a Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall, but remember God is merciful;

    2:4b therefore, repent of that which thou hast done, which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;

    3. thou wast chosen to do the work
    2. but because of transgression
    1. repent of that which thou hast done
    2. contrary to the commandment
    3. thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;

    Interesting how the Lord teaches Joseph about his mistake using the plan of salvation. God has a plan–first chiasm. We are promised blessings when we keep covenants–second chiasm. We sin and repentance is required–3rd chiasm. Then the revelation ends with the promise that through repentance salvation comes when relying on the merits of Jesus Christ.

    So John, I take it that work on transcribing the Book of Mormon resumed shortly after this revelation. Was the process on hold from June 1828 through July 1828 or was it a longer duration?

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  35. John Hamer on January 6, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    Rigel (34): Very cool — this poetic form is beginning to appear ubiquitous. I also like your breakdown of the overall structure of the revelation.

    The timeline at this point is apparently a little muddled. There are some contradictory later recollections about how soon after this revelation the dictation recommenced. Apparently by the time Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Sr. visited (around September) some portion of the new text (Mosiah) had been written, with Emma acting as scribe. By the following February (1829), the work is continuing in fits and starts with Emma and Samuel H. Smith as scribes. I don’t know if there’s good information how far into Mosiah they get prior to Oliver Cowdery’s arrival in the beginning of April.

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  36. John Hamer on January 6, 2014 at 4:21 PM

    New Iconoclast (33): Thanks for the vote of support and for your attitude and perspective — they’re much appreciated.

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  37. Rigel Hawthorne on January 6, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    Just curious how long they were required to wait before they were allowed to start work again. Seems like they should have been waiting a long time to learn the lesson of the seriousness of their mistake, but on the other hand, the work needed to be done speedily for the restoration to happen, so the waiting time could not be excessively long.

    Do you remember that old film that dramatized the events of the lost manuscript? It ended with Martin Harris searching his house frantically with his wife looking smug with that ‘cat that swallowed the canary’ look, knowing he would never find them. I assume that the depiction invoked artistic license on the part of the director and that there is no actual evidence that incriminates Mrs. Harris? The actress did well invoking the portrayal of the ‘villainess’. Made for a good film watching experience, even if not historically accurate.

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  38. John Hamer on January 6, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    Rigel (37): Joseph’s mother said it wasn’t until the traditional date of Sept. 22 (the anniversary of the annual Moroni visits) that he was able to start again; David Whitmer recalled that the probation period was 3 months. I think this is the time that Joseph said he tried to do some farm work in the meantime.

    I’m afraid I didn’t see that movie or don’t remember it. As far as I know, we can’t blame Lucy Harris with any certainty, although the speculation seems somewhat justified.

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