Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is the Historicity of the Book of Mormon Relevant?

The Book of Mormon is supposed to be a historical document of religious texts of people that lived in Ancient America. In my previous post, I talked about how there is a change in the way the Mormon leadership views Native Americans.

Traditionally, it was widely believed, taught and accepted that Native Americans were all decedents of the Lamanites. Now, it seems that the church is starting to back off on that assumption and take the position that it is unclear who are the decedents of the Lamanites. However, it is clear the the church still stands by the Book of Mormon as being a historically accurate document of Native Americans and their religious practices.

Let's assume for a minute that the Book of Mormon is a historical record. My question is this: Why stop there? If the LDS church accepts religious texts of ancient America as scripture, why do they stop at just the Book of Mormon?

Other Religious Texts Of Ancient America

We have the Books of Chilam Balam, written in Yucatec Maya and consisting of historical chronicles mixed with myth, divination, and prophecy. Unlike the Book of Mormon lands and people, we know that the Mayas existed and that the Books of Chilam Balam are historicaly accurate.

The Aztecs had sacred texts like The Hymn of Huitzilopochtli. The great thing is that we know that the people that wrote this hymn existed. We can translate the texts from Nahuatl, which language actually exists, because people still speak Nahuatl in Mexico. I know this first hand, because I saw villages that still speak Nahuatl and even picked up a few words on my mission in Mexico.

Among ancient Aztec writings are prophesies concerning the years we are living in today. Why does the LDS church dismiss these writings, yet we know they are historical documents written by people that lived in Ancient America.

How Is The Book Of Mormon Different?

So my question is this: If the Book of Mormon is a historical religious document of civilizations of Ancient America, why do we accept it as being scripture if we don't accept the Books of Chilam Balam, or the Hymn of Huizilopochtli, which are also historical religious documents of civilizations of Ancient America?

I don't think the Book of Mormon is intended to be a historical document. If it were, the angel Moroni would have given it to the Smithsonian institute or maybe a wondering sheepherder like the dead sea scrolls. We could also ask the opposite, why didn't a Mormon prophet discover the dead sea scrolls?

So why does the LDS church try to prove the historicity of the Book of Mormon? If the historicity of ancient texts qualifies as scripture, then by that measure, the Book of Mormon shouldn't hold as much weight as the Books of Chilam Balam, or the The Hymn of Huitzilopochtli. Compared to those documents, the Book of Mormon should take a backseat, since we can all agree that they are historical documents from real people that we know existed, and we can actually point on a map of the real world where they lived.

What It Comes Down To

My point is that it has nothing to do with the historicity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. It has everything to do with the story of an Angel and the translation of a mysterious language on gold plates. The Book of Mormon is nothing more than a device to claim divine authority.

Disillusioned Mormon
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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Word Change in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon

From an article in the Salt Lake Tribune

The book's current introduction, added by the late LDS apostle, Bruce R. McConkie in 1981, includes this statement: "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."
The new version, seen first in Doubleday's revised edition, reads, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians."
LDS leaders instructed Doubleday to make the change, said senior editor Andrew Corbin, so it "would be in accordance with future editions the church is printing.

I don't mean to brag, but "I told you so". In a post dated 4/10/2007 on a discussion board on the website , I said:

Do you think they will change the introduction to the Book of Mormon? The sentence that says "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." With all we know now about Linguistics, Archaeology, Anthropology and now DNA evidence.

Why the heck not? The BoM has gone through so many changes, it wouldn't be all that shocking, especially since it isn't the actual text itself, it is just the introduction page.

I predict that new editions of the BoM will have this sentence either omitted or altered in some way.

To which someone replied "
I imagine the "principal ancestors of the American Indians" will be replaced with something like "among the ancestors" in a future edition of the Book of Mormon."

That was 7 months ago and it is almost scary that it happend exactly word-for-word. The only discussion on the board was when this change would take place. Some believed that it wouldn't happen for years as the older generation are still around.

I think in many ways, it is a positive step in the right direction because here you have an organization that is finally starting to admit that it was incorrect about certain assumptions. It is the first step in admitting that it is not a literal history.

Some have suggested that both the Lamanites and the Nephites were destroyed a long time ago. The problem with that theory is that it contradicts scripture.

Enos 1:12-18
"12 And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him?that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation?
14 For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
15 Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
16 And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
17 And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.
18 And the Lord said unto me: Thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine."

Not to mention that the Doctrine and Covenants specifically mentions the Lamanites by name repeatedly:

D&C 32: 2
"And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall ago with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites."

D&C 54: 8
"And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites."

D&C 28: 8-9, 14
"8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.
9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites."

There is no doubt that it was widely accepted, publicized and taught that the Native Americans were Lamanites. The idea that the Lamanites might not be all Native Americans is a dramatic change in Mormon theology.

Disillusioned Mormon
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