On October 1, 2017, Tad Callister, the President of the LDS Sunday School gave an impassioned talk about the Book of Mormon. He attempts to disprove the critics of the Book of Mormon through a series of evidences of the Book. Inasmuch as this blog has spent considerable time bringing up the ample problems with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, I feel compelled to dispel some of his key points with basic historical context and information. I am certain that LDS Scholars Richard Bushman and Teryl Givens were utterly embarrassed by this talk as the core of the talk echoed 1990s era evidences that have all been thoroughly debunked. That being said, it’s worth doing it one more time!
For those of you would like to see the talk here it is: https://youtu.be/GBA-ttzOyRI?t=2h23m19s
Alright let’s go through it, point by point
Point #1: If the book is true then Joseph was a prophet.
What follows naturally is the inverse then. If the book is not “true” then Joseph was not a prophet, and regardless of how the Church and Book make you feel, it is not at a minimum what it claims. So let’s jump into it. Can we prove categorically that the Book of Mormon is not true?
Point #2: The critic must explain how an uneducated farm boy could create a story with unique names and places as well as detailed stories and events.
For those of us familiar with this argument the key quotes that pop out first are the following from his mother:
“In the course of our evening conversations Joseph would give us some of the most ammusing recitals which could be immagined he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent their dress thier maner of traveling the animals which they rode The cities that were built by them the structure of their buildings with every particular of their mode of warfare their religious orship-as particularly as though he had spent his life with them[.]” – Lucy’s Book
As far as unique names, first Joseph was familiar with the names of the Bible, and where we see those repeated that easily explains that. Thanks to Chris Johnson we have discovered another likely source, here’s just a taste of what we’re talking about. The Charles Anthon book can be found here. It’s important to note that the names below are not-Biblical.
“Helorum” Book of Mormon (1830)
“Helorum” Charles Anthon’s Book (1827)
Antion (1830, New York, BOM)
Antion (1827, New York, Anthon p.106)
Melek (1830, New York, BOM)
Melek (1827, New York, Anthon p.668)
Nephites (1830, New York, BOM)
Nepherites (1827, New York, Anthon p.520)
Alma (1830, New York, BOM)
Alma- (1827, New York, Anthon p.n17)
Mormon (1830, New York, BOM)
Memnon (1827, New York, Anthon p.454)
— Both: Writer war heroes each leading 10,000 men and died at war
Moroni (1830, New York, BOM)
Morini (1827, New York, Anthon p.313,503)
Teancum (1830, New York, BOM)
Teanum (1827, New York, Anthon p.763)
Coriantum (1830, New York, BOM)
Corinthum (1827, New York, Anthon p.208)
Antiparah (1830, New York, BOM)
Antiparos (1827, New York, Anthon p.63)
Gadianton (1830, New York, BOM)
Gaditanum (1827, New York, Anthon p.305)
Corom (1830, New York, BOM)
Coron (1827, New York, Anthon p.210,378)
Egyptus (1835, PoGP)
Egyptus (1827, New York, Anthon p.105)
Neas (1830, New York, BOM)
Nea (1827, New York, Anthon p.516)
Zenos (1830, New York, BOM)
Zeno (1827, New York, Anthon p.335,884-887)
Omni (1830, New York, BOM)
Omnis (1827, New York, Anthon p.557)
For me the best evidence that the Book of Mormon is not uniquely divine is using the same standard of evidence that Tad Callister is using. Here’s a simple graphic that reminds us he was not the first author to create a book with little education. The Koran is the quickest example, and there are over 1 billion Muslims who know it is a true book of scripture, with some even willing to die for it.
Point #3 Critics argue he relied on other books in the area.
This is exactly what we argue. It’s certainly more logical than arguing that an angel appeared, giving him gold plates that wouldn’t actually be used, and that a magic stone caused text to appear on it. I mean the argument he is putting forth is that magic is more logical than that he used books in the area. Here are some likely sources for the ideas in the Book of Mormon.
- The King James Bible
- View of the Hebrews
- The Late War
- Apocryphal books of the Catholic Bible
- The First Book of Napoleon
Interestingly enough, the ideas and whole sentences in these Books are found within the pages of the Book of Mormon. Most notably of course are the chapters upon chapters of word for word copies from the King James Bible that made it into the Book of Mormon. It’s important to note that much of what made it into the Book of Mormon from the King James Bible was not written before Nephi supposedly left Jerusalem. Add to it, the chapters that are direct copies from Matthew (3 Nephi 12-14) contain references to life in Palestine, and that would have had no relevance to the Nephites.
Point #4 Not a solitary witness saw Joseph with these alleged resources. This is so obviously false, considering Joseph regularly read the Bible according to his Mother. So at a minimum he had been seen with this book. I mean for pity Pete’s sake, he was supposedly reading James 1, when he decided to pray to know which church was true. Other books mentioned above were very likely in the area and even in his family’s library. For example, The Late War was a school textbook. Joseph Smith Sr., was a school teacher! A View of the Hebrews was written by Ethan Smith, a preacher at the very church attended by Oliver Cowdery.
Even B. H. Roberts was forced to admit the stunning similarities between the content of the Book of Mormon and A View of the Hebrews:
|Book of Mormon||View of the Hebrews|
|Gives an Israelitish origin of the American Indian.||Pleads for an Israelitish origin of the American Indian on every page.|
|Deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel.||Deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel.|
|Deals with the future gathering of Israel and the restoration of the ten tribes.||Deals with the future gathering of Israel and the restoration of the ten tribes.|
|Emphasizes and uses much of the material from the prophecies of Isaiah, including whole chapters.||Emphasizes and uses much of the material from the prophecies of Isaiah, including whole chapters.|
|Makes a special appeal to the Gentiles of the New World–esp. the people of the United States to become nursing fathers and mothers unto Israel in the New World, holding out great promises to the great Gentile nation that shall occupy America, if it acquiesces in the divine program.||Makes a special appeal to the Gentiles of the New World–esp. the people of the United States to become nursing fathers and mothers unto Israel in the New World, holding out great promises to the great Gentile nation that shall occupy America, if it acquiesces in the divine program.|
|The peopling of the New World was by migrations from the Old World.||The peopling of the New World was by migrations from the Old World.|
|Migrating Jaredites are taken into “that quarter where there never had man been”.||Its migrating people are taken into a country where “never man dwelt”.|
|The colony enters into a valley of a great river. Peoples journeyed northward and encountered “seas” of “many waters” in the course of their long journey. The motive of their journey was religious. Ether is prominently connected with recording the matter.||The colony enters into a valley of a great river. Peoples journeyed northward and encountered “seas of many waters” in the course of their long journey. The motive of their journey was religious. Ethan is prominently connected with recording the matter.|
|Nephites divide into two classes, the one civilized, the other followed a wild hunting and indolent lifestyle that ultimately led to barbarism.||The lost tribes divide into two classes, the one fostering the arts that make for civilization, the other followed a wild hunting and indolent lifestyle that ultimately led to barbarism.|
|Long and dismal wars break out between the Nephites and Lamanites.||Long and dismal wars break out between the civilized and barbarous divisions of people.|
|The Lamanites utterly exterminate the Nephites. (The same thing occurs with the Jaredite peoples in the exact place the Nephites would later be exterminated).||The savage division utterly exterminates the civilized one.|
|Civilized people develop a culture of mechanic arts; of written language; of the knowledge and use of iron and other metals; and of navigation.||Civilized people develop a culture of mechanic arts; of written language; of the knowledge and use of iron and other metals; and of navigation.|
|Unity of race–the Hebrew race and no other is assumed for the inhabitants of ancient America.||Unity of race–the Hebrew race, and no other is assumed for the inhabitants of ancient America.|
|Book of Mormon peoples are assumed to occupy the whole extent of the American continents.||With the possible exception of the Eskimos of the extreme north, this race of Hebrew peoples occupied the whole extent of the American continents.|
|The original language of the people was Hebrew.||The Indian tongue had one source–the Hebrew.|
|Joseph Smith used an instrument in translating the Book of Mormon called Urim and Thummim which he described as two stones and a breastplate.||View of the Hebrews describes an instrument among the mound finds comprising a breast plate with two white buckhorn buttons attached, “in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim.”|
|Admits the existence of idolatry and human sacrifice.||Admits the existence of idolatry and human sacrifice.|
|Prophets extol generosity to the poor and denounce pride as a trait of the people. Polygamy is denounced under certain conditions as in the practices of David and Solomon.||Generosity to the poor is extolled and pride is denounced as a trait of the American Indian. Polygamy is denounced|
|Lost sacred records would be restored to the Lamanites along with the return of their lost favor with God in the last days.||Indian traditions of a “Lost Book of God” and the promise of its restoration to the Indians, with a return of their lost favor with the Great Spirit are quoted.|
|Sacred records were hidden or buried by Moroni, a character that corresponds to this Indian tradition in the Hill Cumorah.||Ethan Smith’s sacred book was buried with some “high priest,” “keeper of the sacred tradition.”|
|Reports of extensive military fortifications erected throughout large areas with military “watch towers” here and there overlooking them.||Reports of extensive military fortifications linking cities together over wide areas of Ohio and Mississippi valleys, with military “watch towers” overlooking them.|
|Reports of prayer or sacred towers.||Describes sacred towers or “high places,” in some instances devoted to true worship, in other cases to idolatrous practices.|
|Some Book of Mormon people effect a change from monarchial governments to republican forms of government.||Part of Ethan Smith’s ancient inhabitants effect a change from monarchial governments to republican forms of government.|
|Civil and ecclesiastical powers are united in the same person in Book of Mormonrepublican people.||Civil and ecclesiastical powers are united in the same person in Ethan Smith’s republics.|
|Lehi, first of Nephite prophets taught the existence of a necessary opposition in all things–righteousness opposed to wickedness–good to bad; life to death, and so following.||Some of Ethan Smith’s peoples believed in the constant struggle between the good and the bad principle by which the world is governed.|
|The gospel was clearly preached among the ancient inhabitants of Americas.||Ethan Smith’s book speaks of the gospel having been preached in the ancient America.|
|The Book of Mormon brings the risen Messiah to the New World, gives him a ministry, disciples and a church||Ethan Smith’s book gives, in considerable detail, the story of the Mexican culture-hero Quetzalcoatl–who in so many things is reminiscent of the Christ.|
Point #5 How did Joseph Smith read these alleged resources. Well this one is almost comical. He opened the books and read them, just like you are reading this post. It’s not like he didn’t know how to read. Again the church claims he was reading from the book of James when he decided to pray to know which church is true.
Point #6 How did he keep the facts straight. Well let’s consider the examples where he didn’t keep the facts straight. For example in Mosiah 21:28 it currently reads: King Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings. However in the 1830 version it reads: King Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings. Unfortunately Benjamin had been dead for years according to the story.
Another example that persists even today is the time that Alma was unconscious after his Pauline experience while persecuting the Church. In Mosiah 27 it states that Alma was out for 2 days but in Alma 36 as he tells the story to Helaman, he was out for 3 days. Minor perhaps, but still inconsistent.
Here’s a document with a solid list of inconsistencies: click here. Start at page 14.
Point #7 Joseph’s wife Emma’s testimony. This was the same testimony where she denied polygamy and claimed she touched the plates. This was a testimony to her son Joseph III and is full of half-truths and bald-faced lies. I’m sorry but it’s just not trustworthy.
Point #8 Joseph would have had to have had a photographic memory. Martin Harris claimed that Joseph could quote nearly any part of the Bible from memory. It’s quite possible that this was due to some basic genius. What Tad is putting forward is that Joseph was not very bright. It’s the critic that is arguing that he actually was bright. Being intelligent is found throughout the history of this planet. What is less common are actual appearances of Angels, and stones that magically dictate words. This is less common and is clearly the bigger claim.
Point #9 Critics didn’t call attention to his genius. Has he not heard of Mormonism Unvailed by Eber D Howe. Here’s the archive.org version if you want to read it yourself.
Point #10 Where did he get profound doctrine. First most of the doctrine isn’t profound. Secondly, he regularly attended revivalist sermons in the area. It was the 1820s in the Burned over District. This website has some great content regarding the sermons of the time: “Gentle Awakening” I’d recommend specifically this page that compares the revivalist sermons to the doctrines in the Book of Mormon.
Another Book worth reading is Wrestling the Angel by Terryl Givens. Even he is forced to admit where the doctrine and philosophies of Mormonism are derived.
Point #11 The Doctrine clarifies Christian beliefs of the time. So where is the clarity regarding the Trinity. Here’s an example of a very ambiguous statement on the Trinity in Mosiah 15:
2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—
3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—
4 And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.
Talk about clarity! Actually talk about a giant FAIL!
Point #12 The Fall of Adam was a good thing.This is actually a natural out-cropping of predestination Calvinism, since once you conclude that God predetermined all that occurs, and God is good, then the fall was actually good. Making the argument was likely something that Joseph and his contemporaries would regularly argue. Here’s the thing though–the fall is a myth. The Book of Mormon makes it a literal claim and therefore puts the Book of Mormon at direct odds with science. There is ample evidence from DNA, to archaeology to basic logic that proves that there was no “fall” 6000 years ago. For example there were civilizations in the Americas 12,000 years ago. The Chinese were starting their dynasties over 6,000 years ago. There have been homo sapiens in Australia for over 60,000 years. I mean seriously there is plenty of evidence the fall did not happen, period!
Point #13 Christ’s atonement perfects us. I guess he thinks that only Mormons believe in Jesus. I don’t know if he’s ever attended another Christian church, but Martin Luther was a pretty big fan of Jesus’ grace hundreds of years before Joseph came onto the scene.
Point #14 Alma 32 and Mosiah 2-5. Again these were doctrinal discussions that occurred in the burned over district. These are not likely concerns of a pre-Colombian people in Mesoamerica. I wrote a post once that gives ample evidence of where 2 Nephi 31 doctrine came from, see post here.
Point #15 Allegory of the Olive Tree. First, the allegory is not consistent, inasmuch as Joseph swaps between talking about an olive tree and a vineyard. A vineyard is a place of vines. Olive trees are found in a grove. Regardless, some claim that the intricacies of olive tree maintenance were unknown to Joseph at the time. Interestingly enough, apple orchards require the exact same care and maintenance as an olive tree. In fact all the grafting and dunging would have been common with an apple orchard. Regardless, inasmuch as we have seen Joseph’s propensity to copy ideas from other books it’s likely parts of this story come from an unknown source, while the majority simply comes from a combination of Matthew and Isaiah. I recommend reviewing some of the direct copies here.
Point #16 God’s fingerprints are all over the Book of Mormon. Tell that to Laban who, despite being completely passed out and unable to defend himself lost his life so that Nephi could steal the brass plates. Speaking of the brass plates, they are a literal impossibility. Reddit user Mithryn did a great write-up here.
Point #17 It was revelation that was the source of the book. Good to hear they are admitting that it wasn’t gold plates. Since they now have admitted that the book was revealed by a stone, sometimes producing words and other times producing thoughts… I mean seriously? We’re arguing that a rock can provide revelation. Since they still have that rock, why doesn’t the prophet stick it in a hat today and tell us how to deal with North Korea, or the Syrian refugee crisis. How about providing some insight on what to do for global warming or actions we can take to solve the terrorist attacks. No, we’re stuck debating how gays are the worst thing ever and how The Book of Mormon is totally legitimate because we say so.
Point #18 Naturally gifted writer. Joseph didn’t write The Book of Mormon we have today. In fact James Talmage, a PhD spent considerable effort just trying to make it grammatically correct. Indeed, the early editions contained thousands of grammatical errors. Even FAIR Mormon admits to the changes here. Also, he keeps going back to names and places. We’ve already disproven that. Also it’s likely he used his surrounding geography as the place for the Book of Mormon, with the narrow neck of land mentioned in the Book of Mormon being the same narrow neck between present day Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. I’d recommend taking a look at the Vernal Holley maps and Jeremy Runnel’s review of the FAIR Mormon apologetics.
Point #19 Catchy Phrases. Just because people like some of the quotes of your book, that doesn’t mean it’s scriptural. I’m just sayin…
Point #20 65 Working Days. First we don’t have the original draft, we have the printer’s manuscript. The church recently paid $35M for the printer’s manuscript. We have some parts of the original draft and certainly what we have appears to be dictated from another source, as laid out by a BYU professor, Royal Skousen. In fact this is likely evidence that he drafted these before, and while Oliver was in another room, for example, Joseph simply read what he had written. Additionally, Joseph started talking about the ancient inhabitants when he was 16, according to his mother. The Book of Mormon was complete when he was 24. He had a solid 8 years to put the story together.
Point #21 President Nelson’s 40 re-writes. Where is the inspiration for the “scripture” which is General Conference talks. I thought Russell Nelson was also a “prophet”. Not only that, but take a look at some of the draft copies of D&C sections. Joseph clearly worked the sections over and over again. If he did that with the D&C, how do we know he didn’t do the same with early drafts of the BOM. The point is we don’t.
Also he quotes Emma again, but this quote also comes from her testimony to her son Joseph III and is again full of half-truths and lies. The testimony cannot be trusted.
Tad claims the burden is on the critic to prove Joseph wasn’t inspired by God. I say, the burden is on the Church to prove Joseph used magic to create the Book of Mormon. Dragon in My Garage by Carl Sagan
Point #22 Gold plates and cement. This is my favorite, because Tad literally is stretching back to 1990s apologetics that has been so thoroughly debunked that even FAIR has abandoned these. Gold plates are unlikely. First, the weight would have been impossible to carry. Second, the writing would have been crushed after a 1000 years in the ground. Third, the reference to other metal plates is dubious at best. Another great write-up by Mithryn can be found here.
In terms of cement. Yes the Maya created cement. So I suppose Tad is suggesting that Mesomerica is where the Nephites were? Of course then he would have to account for the hundreds of unaccounted problems with a Mesoamerica geography. Perhaps a quick read of Michael Coe’s work.
Funny that Tad is trying to suggest that Joseph overcame all the scientific knowledge and guessed right. However, the Church has had to backtrack on the Book of Mormon due to science today. DNA evidence clearly proves that Native Americans are descendants of ancient Asians. Sorry science won.
So let’s suppose for a moment, the Book of Mormon is true. Which Joseph Smith branch should we believe and follow? If we accept Brigham Young as a prophet then more likely we should follow one of the Polygamous sects. If we don’t like polygamy, maybe we should look at Denver Snuffer or others who actually claim revelations and visions. Certainly the Salt Lake branch cannot be the same as the Church Joseph started with its constant lust for money and the honors of the world.
I know others will do a deeper job debunking this talk, but this is just a quick review on the day the talk was given.