Alma 32 and Book of Mormon Historicity
By Ken K. Gourdin
Another poster at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion posted the following in response to a prior post, in which I advised someone who had her new testimony of the Book of Mormon shaken by an anti-Mormon video. The thread can be found here, last visited today: http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/54126-the-bible-vs-the-book-of-mormon/page-7#entry1209295060. I recommended that she read Alma 32 and ask herself, in light of Alma’s counsel, why she would need archaeological or historical evidence to buttress her testimony of the Book of Mormon. Another poster replied: “I read Alma 32 and am having trouble finding your argument. However, I am not familiar with these readings and am obviously missing your observation. Could you possibly elaborate on why Alma 32 suggests that historical or a[r]chaelogical evidence is not necessary to proving a faith is truth?”
I don’t accept the premise of the argument advanced by some, that an alleged total lack of historical or archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon dictates that its believers must, therefore, accept that, while it contains profound spiritual truths, it lacks any basis in historical reality. Accepting such a premise would dictate that I reject the existence of tangible objects and purportedly-genuine heavenly messengers which figured prominently in its coming forth.
As to tangible objects, if Book of Mormon events did not actually take place essentially as recorded, then why the need for plates? For an alleged fraud, the Book of Mormon seems entirely too obsessed with its own source material: its compilers say, essentially, “In compiling our abridgment, we took a section of our abridged history from these plates, and another section of our abridged history from those plates,” and so on. It would seem to me that Joseph Smith violated a cardinal rule of fraud: “Keep it simple, stupid.” Not only must the purported plates from which the Book of Mormon reportedly was translated be accounted for, but other purported records and physical artifacts need to be accounted for, as well. For background, see Cameron J. Packer (2004), “Cumorah’s Cave,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 13, Iss. 1, Pp. 50-57, Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, available on line at the following address (last accessed today): http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=13&num=1&id=338.
And, thusfar, I have said nothing of other physical objects which played a role in the Book of Mormon’s coming forth, such as Joseph Smith’s seer stone, the hat in the “head-in-the-hat” accounts, or the interpreters. I’m sure there are no shortage of skeptics who feel they can win the battle over the Book of Mormon’s coming forth by persuading others to concentrate, not on the book itself, but rather on the chain of purported events which led to its coming forth. After all, everyone knows that God (if there is one) doesn’t reveal scripture by such means. Yet how was Joseph Smith, with his limited intellect, able to produce such a coherent narrative (Samuel Clemens’/Mark Twain’s blithe dismissal of the work as “chloroform in print” notwithstanding)? If simple plagiarism is the answer, why didn’t the original creators of the work(s) from which Joseph Smith “borrowed” (or at least, their descendants) ever come forth? And if such works figured prominently in the book’s coming forth, why was their being resorted to never mentioned by those who were in a position to know about them? Why did Emma Smith say Joseph didn’t refer to any other work while translating? More impressive, why did she say that when Joseph resumed translating, he did so without having any portion of the manuscript read back to him? And again, such objections fail to address the question of why Joseph Smith didn’t adhere to the “KISS Principle.”
Many detractors dismiss this information with a wave of the hand and by indicating that its purveyors simply were deluded or were lying. That is their prerogative. However, this information, too, is inconsistent with the “KISS Principle” cited above. Even the smallest possible conspiracies, those involving but two people, tend, eventually, to collapse under their own weight. I’m puzzled as to how and why an alleged conspiracy which was (and is) far larger has yet to collapse. Joseph Smith apparently was simply very adept at attracting a large number of those who are especially prone to delusion and hallucination to become part of his conspiracy.
As to the purported physical existence of actual [I]beings[/I] from a world beyond this one with whom Joseph Smith and others purportedly interacted, the “Book-of-Mormon-as-inspired-fiction” theory also either fails to account for them or concludes that they (God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, the Angel Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Elias, Elijah, Moses, et cetera) were mere [I]ad hoc[/I] holograms created to support an otherwise-fictional story. And other earthly beings who allegedly interacted with many of these heavenly beings apparently did so merely out of a shared delusion. Again, why was the “KISS Principle” violated, and why did so many of these people (who were in the best position to tell the truth about what really went on, and regardless of later disaffection from Joseph Smith), instead, continue to maintain that they actually saw heavenly beings? (See, e.g., Richard Lloyd Anderson (1989), Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book).
Now, how does all of this relate to Alma 32? I admit, I have never seen any of the physical objects to which I refer above; and I admit, neither the Father, nor the Son, nor John the Baptist, nor any of the others have appeared to me personally. I accept the premise that the faith necessary to believe these things is a spiritual gift. I admit, I merely “believe on [others’] words” (see Doctrine & Covenants 46:13-14; see also John 20:29). Why do I believe these things? Because (naive soul that I am!), in faith, I planted the seeds necessary to gain that belief and they bore good fruit in my life. Had those seeds not borne that good fruit, then, consistent with the counsel in Alma 32, I would have cast them out and continued to look for other seeds which would bear good fruit in my life.
Having said this, does this mean, then, that I don’t have questions about aspects of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, about Church history, or about something this Church leader said or that Church leader said? Of course not. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have a reasonably well-functioning brain and to not have questions about such things. In the Millennium or on The Other Side, I anticipate the opportunity to attend several firesides (Mormon meetings usually highlighting a featured speaker) with themes such as, “Brother Joseph, What Were You Thinking?“; “Brother Brigham, What Were You Thinking?“; and so on. Do I know everything about the intricacies of Church history? About some things, I simply have to shrug my shoulders and say, with Nephi, “I know not the meaning of all things. Nevertheless, I know that God loveth His children” No. With Brother Davis Bitton, “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church”. See Davis Bitton (2004), “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church,” FARMS Review, Vol. 16, Iss. 2, Pp. 337-354, Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, available on line at the following address (last accessed today): http://www.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=16&num=2&id=560.
In the end, physical artifacts and purportedly-genuine interactions with heavenly beings notwithstanding, one must apply the test given in Moroni 10:3-5 in the Book of Mormon to discover whether the book is what it purports to be, as well as whether Joseph Smith really is a prophet of God and whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is God’s true church restored to the earth.