A Closer Look at the LDS Church History Gospel Topics Essays (guest post)

I’d like to express my appreciation to my friend, Jason N. Harris, MD, for this guest blogpost contribution where he explains his perceptions of minimization, distortion, deception and spin in the LDS Church History Gospel Topics Essays.  

Among the most difficult conclusions to which I personally came as I studied the Church History Gospel Topics Essays after I stumbled across them on April 29, 2016, was that it seemed to me like there were recurring conflicts between what I perceived the essays attempted to present to me as a reader with the information that I found included in the footnotes and in the cited sources, and conflicts with information I had been given by the Church to teach from lesson manuals during my lifetime.  

While these essays, in my opinion, represent a huge move towards greater transparency, my experience of perceiving deception in them resulted in a loss of trust and faith.  In many cases, the my interpretation of whitewashing and spin was actually more damaging to my faith than the actual challenging topics themselves.

On Facebook, I’ve written about problems I perceived with The Race and the Priesthood essay and Brigham Young’s February 1852 speech used for footnote/cited source #9, and  The Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham essay and Warren Parrish’s Letter to the Editor used for footnote/cited source #31.  However, I haven’t gone through and put things together in writing to identify issues with the other essays.

Jason has done the work and taken the time to break down each one of the essays to provide his take in the form of brief summaries and links to these and other problems.

More about Jason’s experience can be read at: https://jasonsvoyage.com/

Thanks Jason 🙂

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Minimization, Distortion, Deception and Spin in the LDS Church History Gospel Topics Essays
By Jason N. Harris, MD
August 9, 2018

INTRODUCTION

“Recognizing that today so much information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be obtained from questionable and often inaccurate sources, officials of the Church began in 2013 to publish straightforward, in-depth essays on a number of topics. The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.”
Gospel Topics Essays Online Introduction https://www.lds.org/topics/essays?lang=eng

Much of what used to be deemed by many as “anti-Mormon lies” are confirmed as truth in these Gospel Topics Essays. In this regard, I think the LDS church has taken a remarkable step forward in an attempt to be transparent and is to be highly commended. Yet in my view, in many ways these essays fall short as they frequently minimize, distort and even deceive. I believe this is absolutely clear upon an in-depth examination of the footnotes. Coming to this conclusion has been incredibly heart-breaking for me. DO NOT continue reading this unless you are prepared to possibly have your trust in the “straightforward” and “accurate” nature of these essays as published by the LDS church shaken.

This document is best used side by side with the essays. If the essays are changed or edited in the future, some of the footnote numbering or quotes from the essays as cited in this document may not match up. The LDS church has a very long history of editing prior documents without being fully transparent to their lay membership that such has been done. Numerous historical changes from the Book of Commandments to the D&C could be shown verifying this. There have been numerous changes to official LDS church historical records after the fact that are very well documented as well, but discussing all of this is far beyond the scope of this document. Frankly, I would not be surprised if further changes to the essays are made (without clearly showing the prior versions) as the misleading portions of the essays as outlined in this essay are clearly brought to light. Though such corrections may be done with honest intentions, as perhaps such past “attempts” have been, such edits without a clear record of the prior documentation can also be misleading and dishonest.

This document is based upon:

A review of the LDS gospel topics essays and footnotes:
https://www.lds.org/topics/essays?lang=eng
A review of various in depth online reviews of the essays to include:
http://www.mormonism101.com/search/label/Essays?m=1
http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-responses-intro.htm
Other documents and knowledge gleaned after many years of study (not all of which is directly referenced).

Many have conducted a tremendous amount of “heavy lifting” researching the information of these essays. I have mostly gathered and summarized much of their hard work. The referencing of this document is not done rigidly in any specific academic fashion or format. That said, I have provided numerous links for the reader to easily verify much of what is said here. I have made every attempt to be honest. I have a strong background in the sciences, having 14 years of formal education beyond high school. But I am a clinician much more than an academician. The more technical topics (e.g. population genetics) are not outside the realm of what I am familiar with, though I also do not consider myself an expert in population genetics, egyptology, etc. That said, I also strongly disagree with the notion that it takes a PhD level education in the specific fields of study to understand the concepts I will present and share with you in this document. Nor do I believe it necessarily requires a graduate level education to spot and understand deliberate deception and obfuscation. In full disclosure to the reader, I was a life-time member of the LDS church. It literally was my life in so many ways. My family has been in the LDS church since its inception. (My great-great-great Grandfather is Martin Harris.) Since originally writing this review of the Essays, I have formally resigned my membership from the Church. Doing so has been the most heart-breaking difficult journey and decision I have ever experienced, but also one I felt was necessary to maintain my own integrity. I personally believe God cares far more about the integrity of our hearts than the correctness of our cognitive constructs.

I believe Divinity can be found within the LDS church and the lives of service, love and devotion that many members and leaders of the LDS church lead. However, I do not believe the LDS church is what it claims to be. I believe most of the Bible is metaphorical and allegorical but also think the evidence is overwhelming some aspects of the Bible are grounded in actual concrete history. I think the overarching message in the Bible, that God loves all of mankind, is true. I believe Jesus really lived. I believe the essence of Jesus is love, compassion and mercy. I believe this is God. I believe Jesus can be found in many places, even amongst the “least of these” and I believe in Jesus.

Jason N. Harris, MD

ADDENDUM
September 9, 2018

I’d like to express my appreciation to my friend Anthony D. Miller, MBA, MSFS, CFP® for the opportunity to share my opinions and experiences on his blog. He spent a considerable amount of time and effort to format my material for his blog, to capture and include images for references, and to spend time with me to edit and refine my thoughts. I have also requested feedback from other scholars and apologists regarding the information in this post, and as a result, I have periodically edited the content. However, there have not been significant edits that re-write the basic interpretations I have shared here. If at some point there are significant edits that materially change how I represent my interpretations, I will acknowledge them either in the text of the post or at the conclusion.

Anthony may or may not hold the same conclusions as I have regarding all the things I’ve included here.

 

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ARE MORMONS CHRISTIAN? https://www.lds.org/topics/christians?lang=eng

This essay largely comes down to a matter of theological interpretations rather than objective facts that can be analyzed. That said the essay states one of the common reasons for not being considered Christian is because: “Latter-day Saints do not accept the creeds, confessions, and formulations of post–New Testament Christianity.” Many Christians would take issue with this statement, particularly the idea that their beliefs are based primarily on “post-New Testament Christianity.” Without getting into the weeds of a discussion of varying views of God and/or the Godhead/Trinity, etc., one passage of scripture should be mentioned.

1 Colossians: 16-17
“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

“Before” here in Greek is referring to a sequence in time (used this way in many other verses in the NT as well). https://biblehub.com/commentaries/colossians/1-17.htm

Most Christians believe God/Jesus Christ being “before” all things, principalities and powers argues against man and the elements being co-eternal with God as Joseph Smith taught. It also seems to many to strongly argue against the eternal progression of gods as taught by Joseph Smith as God was before (sequentially) all things, all dominions, all powers… everything. At least this is the traditional Christian interpretation of this passage. This is one of the most important reasons many Christians feel Latter-day Saints literally worship a different God and different Jesus than they do. Not the “Jesus of the Bible.” Thus… not “Christian.” This viewpoint is not addressed anywhere in the essay, which as a result, fails to respond to one of the most major concerns of most non-LDS Christians.

My personal viewpoint is that Jesus already has defined who are Christians and how we can tell. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) My personal belief is that many are “Christian” who don’t even know they are Christian, and many are not “Christian” who claim that they are. I believe the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt 27: 31-46) supports this concept. I believe many Mormons are Christians. As mentioned above, I believe God cares far more about the integrity and character of our hearts than the accuracy of our cognitive constructs.

 

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BECOMING LIKE GOD https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-like-god?lang=eng

“Becoming Like God.” Though not inaccurate with LDS beliefs, this also seems a bit disingenuous, watered-down and minimizing. D&C 132 and other LDS sources say that exalted Latter-Day Saints will “become gods.” “Becoming gods” may have been a more accurate title for this essay.

Much of the debate about the honesty of this essay comes down to various differences of theological opinion regarding interpretations of the Bible, LDS scriptures and early Christian writings. Not delving into that. However, there do seem to be some pretty clear instances of minimization, distortion and varying degrees of dishonesty in this essay.

Footnote 44:
This quote from Gordon B. Hinckley found in this essay has always struck me as a bit disingenuous:

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Here is the transcript from the interview with President Hinckley in order to provide context for his answer:

Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?

A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.

Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?

A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.

Read the interview here:
https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/SUNDAY-INTERVIEW-Musings-of-the-Main-Mormon-2846138.php

The concept “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” (Lorenzo Snow) has been commonly taught by many LDS prophets, starting with Joseph Smith at the King Follett discourse: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man…I am going to tell you how God came to be God…that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 345-346, Deseret Book, 2006.See also, the first edition of the official History of the Church, vol. VI, ch. XIII, pp. 300-307, published by Deseret News, 1912.) as quoted from http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-becoming-like-god.htm

Towards the end of the essay, discussion about critiques about Latter-Day Saints believing in receiving their own “planets” as “cartoonish” and a “caricature” seems like spin and a diversion. In fact, if exalted beings are truly to become as God is, this would imply the creation of far more than just planets. In fact, NUMEROUS quotes (beyond the scope of sharing in this essay) from LDS prophets directly support this concept.

A biased, but in depth well-documented analysis of this essay may be found here: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-becoming-like-god.htm

 

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BOOK OF MORMON AND DNA STUDIES https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng

Footnotes 2-5:

Let’s look at the text from the essay:

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The main premise of this essay is admitting that “the majority” of Native American DNA originates from Siberia from a migration across the Bering Land Bridge at the time of the last ice age. “The majority” minimizes the truth. What isn’t specified in the essay is that “the majority” is in fact over 99% of Native American DNA, and that the remaining less than 1% can be accounted for by Post-Columbian migrations.
https://www.academia.edu/10367076/Genetic_Research_a_Galileo_Event_for_Mormons
Also see pp 48-50 of: https://www.academia.edu/10367026/Sin_Skin_and_Seed_Mistakes_of_Men_in_the_Book_of_Mormon

What also isn’t specifically mentioned is that there is overwhelming evidence this migration happened at least 13-15 thousand years ago. Well before the time of a literal Garden of Eden six thousand years ago and well before the time of a literal global flood of Noah eliminating life upon earth other than what was in the ark.

In the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, Lamanites used to be proclaimed to be the “principal” ancestors of the American Indians. After DNA evidence emerged, the text was quietly changed to Lamanites being “among” the ancestors of the American Indians.

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VS.

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The essay implies the DNA evidence about Native American ancestry is “tentative.” However, it is in fact highly consistent with numerous other lines of evidence also supporting the hypothesis which has been around for around 200 years now that the Native Americans originated from Siberia anciently across the Bering Land Bridge. Lines of evidence include but are not limited to linguisitic factors, distributions of blood types and archeological remains. In fact, ancient Native American remains over 11,000 years old also have the same genetic markers from East Asia as today’s populations. Together all of the available lines of evidence with DNA data make the case overwhelming in support for migration of ancient native Americans from Siberia. To call this “tentative” at this point is frankly to ignore, minimize or distort mountains of evidence available. Even LDS scientists agree with these facts.
https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/bitstream/handle/1808/16863/Boyd_ku_0099M_13581_DATA_1.pdf?sequence=1
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ancient-migration-patterns-north-america-are-hidden-languages-spoken-today-180950053/
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/03/575326694/ancient-human-remains-document-migration-from-asia-to-america

Footnotes 6-8:

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To be absolutely clear NO DNA has been found in any Native American populations clearly placing a Near-East population in the Americas from the time of Lehi. EXTENSIVE testing has been and continues to be conducted in representative samples throughout the Americas and Pacific Islands. (See appendix B of “Losing a Lost Tribe,” Simon Southerton for some insight into the state of the science in 2003, which though very compelling then has advanced even more since this time, still supporting these same conclusions).
https://www.amazon.com/Losing-Lost-Tribe-Native-Americans/dp/1560851813

LDS apologists have varying explanations for this. However, for the genetic signature to most likely have been lost in this manner, the Lehites (and Mulekites) that immigrated would have had to intermingle with a large pre-existing population almost immediately upon their arrival.

There ARE “clues” in the BofM text that there may have been “others” in the Americas besides the “Nephites and Lamanites.” However, such an immediate integration is not at all clear from the text. In fact, in my mind, the words of nearly every LDS prophet, as well as “Lehi” himself seem to argue against such an integration. What has been the dominant BofM historical narrative since the founding of the church is now being abandoned… as if this was never the narrative to begin with. (NUMEROUS sources could be given verifying this… beyond the scope of this document).

The words of Lehi:
2 Nephi 1: 8-9:

8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be 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.
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

Nephi and his posterity are described as ruling elite. The only time a small company of immigrants immediately becomes the ruling elite of a pre-existing large population, as essentially must be the case for the DNA evidence to make sense in this essay in conjunction with the text, is during times of violent conquest. Such a conquest by the Nephites of a pre-existing population that would seem to be critical to show God’s hand in the conquest (as with other conflicts in the Book of Mormon) is NOT described in the text.

Compare the words of Lehi from above vs. apologetic reconciliations in Footnotes 6-8:  Also please see: https://www.academia.edu/10722103/Simply_Implausible_DNA_and_a_Mesoamerican_Setting_for_the_Book_of_Mormon

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Footnote 16 (from my Gospel Library App):

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Footnote 16 (from LDS.org that matches what is on my Gospel Library App.):

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There is no easy way to say this other than the way this footnote is referenced seems to be meant to deliberately deceive the lay reader. It is incredibly academically dishonest. The last sentence of this paragraph is particularly deceptive: “This study paints a more complex picture than is suggested by the prevailing opinion that all Native American DNA is essentially East Asian.” The study cited is of a Siberian male from 24,000 years ago. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature12736

(As I mentioned earlier, the Church periodically changes the text in the essays without identifying the changes.  The images above are from my Gospel Library App and from LDS.org.  However, today the text on LDS.org is slightly different, but not in the App.  The modifications to the text on LDS.org are still problematic, but not as severely egregious as what remains on my Gospel Library App.)

Human migrations originated out of Africa many thousands of years ago. Eventually there were humans in Siberia, one of the sources being western Eurasia. The fact that there is (autosomal) DNA from 24,000 years ago in Siberia that also links to Western Eurasia does nothing to disprove the vast mountain of evidence that Native American DNA originates from Siberia over 13,000 years ago. The fact is, NUMEROUS lines of evidence show that Native American DNA IS essentially all East Asian (Siberian). It just depends on how far one wants to go back. Go back far enough in human migration patterns, and all Native American DNA originates in Africa. A more in depth analysis of this entire topic can be read here:
https://simonsoutherton.blogspot.com/2016/02/response-to-claim-13-of-native-american.html?m=1

There is an effort to suggest mitochondrial X lineage “near-eastern DNA” may come from the time of the “Nephites.” However, studies have since shown origination well before the time of the “Nephites” similar to other Eurasian DNA that made its way into Siberia over 20,000 years ago.
https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14625
https://simonsoutherton.blogspot.com/2015/06/kennewick-man-breaks-heartland-hearts.html?m=1
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/2055556315Z.00000000040
See also pp 246-250 https://www.academia.edu/10367006/Imagining_Lamanites_Native_Americans_and_the_Book_of_Mormon

“Founder Effect”: I think bringing this up skirts the issue for a number of reasons. It is highly unlikely in my mind that the DNA of the said Lehites would have Siberian markers 13-15 thousand years old.
See pp 117-120:
https://www.academia.edu/10722103/Simply_Implausible_DNA_and_a_Mesoamerican_Setting_for_the_Book_of_Mormon

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“Population Bottleneck:” One could argue the annihilation of Jaredites and Nephites would create population bottlenecks. By the same tokens, we know native Americans continued to live throughout the Americas during these said time periods of annihilation calling into question the very nature of said annihilations. Also, per the BofM, there was likely plenty of genetic mixing between the Nephites and Lamanites for hundreds of years after Lamanites became white, lived amongst the Nephites and “ites” were eliminated (Helaman-4 Nephi). Given this, it is hard to argue the said annihilation of Nephites could create a bottleneck sufficiently narrow to eliminate all Lehite (likely Near-Eastern) DNA signatures.

Additionally, Lehites coming to the Americas with Old-world diseases would likely have caused a higher death rate amongst pre-existing populations than the other way around. If anything, population bottlenecks would likely have occurred amongst the hypothetical pre-existing population with which the Lehites would have had to immediately intermarry facilitating (not eliminating) the presence of Lehite DNA signatures.

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Genetic Drift. Again, it is hard to argue this would completely eliminate the Lehite DNA signature unless there was immediate intermarrying of a very small band of Lehite immigrants with a large pre-existing population. Additionally, one would have to believe genetic extinction happened for more than one migration event as documented in the BofM. For a number of reasons, this is extremely unlikely.
See pp 117-120: https://www.academia.edu/10722103/Simply_Implausible_DNA_and_a_Mesoamerican_Setting_for_the_Book_of_Mormon

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Quoted from the paragraph above:

“Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today.”

This statement is dishonestly trying to write off all of the DNA evidence as irrelevant.

This statement is only really plausible if a small band of Lehites immediately intermarried with a large pre-existing population. For a response to these and other common apologetic arguments and examples (e.g. genetic drift in Iceland) used to try to write-off current DNA evidence, please see: http://mit.irr.org/answers-apologetic-claims-about-dna-and-book-of-mormon

For more technical information about the genetic history and samplings of native Americans, the following link is useful, particularly the list of references at the bottom: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_history_of_indigenous_peoples_of_the_Americas

For a more in depth response to this essay see: http://simonsoutherton.blogspot.com/2014/02/tentative-faith-meets-uncompromising.html?m=1

 

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BOOK OF MORMON TRANSLATION https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng

Footnote 19:

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Footnote 19 discusses the use of the brown seer stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. One of the main issues is this, Joseph used this for years prior for numerous treasure digs. His degree of involvement in this is minimized in the 1838 account as written in the Pearl of Great Price, but discussed extensively by LDS historian, Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling.” Michael Quinn also discussed this extensively in his very well-documented “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View.” Joseph was tried in court for this and never once found a single treasure via this means. Typically, he would tell the people he was working with that the treasure had “receded” or sunk further in the hill, etc. as they were digging. Are we to believe that a process repeatedly shown to be so unreliable produced a reliable and ancient manuscript?

Footnote 29:

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Here, Emma denies Joseph using any book or transcript during the translation. However, many LDS scholars disagree, coming to the conclusion that he copied directly from the Bible in his possession. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/09/by-the-gift-and-power-of-god?lang=eng

(Here is a web archived version of that September 1977 Ensign article in the case the link above takes you to a 404 page:  https://web.archive.org/web/20180619200627/https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/09/by-the-gift-and-power-of-god?lang=eng)

The source of this quote for Footnote 29:

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This source is very problematic for a variety of reasons.  First, it is a late recollection near the end of Emma’s life in 1879.  But more importantly, in “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” she blatantly lies about a number of very significant things–not the least of which was Joseph’s teachings and practice of polygamy.  As a result, it seems dishonest to cherry pick out a narrative about the “translation” without at least acknowledging that it may be unreliable because there are other instances of clear and blatant lying in the cited source.

So much could be written about this essay. The main issue at play is if the Book of Mormon itself isn’t what it claims to be, the entire matter is deceptive anyway, regardless of how it was “translated.”

There is a tremendous amount of evidence the Book of Mormon is a product of the influences of the 1800’s to which Joseph Smith was exposed.

For one thing, huge passages of post Babylonian captivity, Deutero-Isaiah are quoted “from the brass plates” in the Book of Mormon. Yet there is EXTENSIVE and VERY STRONG evidence this was written one hundred years AFTER Lehi supposedly left Jerusalem.

The LDS apologetic arguments against Deutero-Isaiah are weak, incomplete, and frankly often dishonest.

Here are two articles by a believing member on this subject:

(Since originally writing my review, the author of these two articles has stepped away from the LDS Church. These two articles don’t appear to currently be available on Rational Faiths, but archived internet versions are available.)

https://web.archive.org/web/20180908185820/https://rationalfaiths.com/truthfulness-deutero-isaiah-response-kent-jackson/
https://web.archive.org/web/20180923143557/https://rationalfaiths.com/truthfulness-deutero-isaiah-response-kent-jackson-part-2/

In addition to extensive passages being on the “brass plates” that could not possibly have been present, there are literally hundreds of unique phrases and words (sometimes extensive phrases) unique to the New Testament also found in the Book of Mormon hundreds of years before they were written or spoken in the New Testament.

For more extensive review and annotation regarding Joseph’s direct borrowing of anachronistic New Testament phrases and words:  http://2think.org/hundredsheep/bom/intro.shtml

There are also passages directly quoting King James translational errors that could not possibly have been on the brass plates because the errors weren’t made until the 1600s.
(Please see section 3 KJV translation errors retained in the BofM Isaiah, ch 6 Isaiah in the BofM in the book “American Apocrypha” for numerous examples.)
https://www.amazon.com/American-Apocrypha-Essays-Mormon-Mormonism/dp/1560851511

Joseph Smith told the witnesses that he translated by a very specific process, specific words appearing in a stone. (Clearly this is what he told them, because this is what several of them related). Thus, the very specific nature of the translation would seem to argue against any possibility of an incredibly “loose” translation.  A “loose translation” seems to be the best apologetic reconciliation of the anachronisms and other problems with the text of the BofM.  However, this reconciliation goes contrary to the majority of the accounts of the “translation.”

The fact the Lord supposedly told Joseph Smith not to re-translate the 116 pages because even some minor changes in text would discredit the translation, also argues for a “tight” translation instead of a “loose” translation.  (Not to mention that the 116 pages were handwritten by scribes on paper, and the narrative that adversaries could change the text to discredit it would be like arguing that a forger could convincingly forge many pages of handwritten text to insert discrediting information, while appearing to be on the exact same paper, with the exact same ink and handwriting patterns as the scribes–more challenging than forging a simple signature on a document.)

In addition to this, both the Nephites and Jaredites were documented to bring many seeds over from the old world for crops. And these were confirmed more than once in the text to “grow exceedingly.” Yet there weren’t any old world crops in the Americas before Columbus. We know many of the Native Americans were prodigious farmers because they raised potatoes (not mentioned in the BofM), squash (not mentioned in the BofM), beans (not mentioned in the BofM), and maize in abundance. They did not raise any old world crops. And if they had at the time of Nephi… why do we not only see no evidence of this in the archeological record, but none of these crops perpetuated to later generations? (The ancient barley discovered in AZ is NOT an old world variety).

Furthermore, the Book of Mormon has numerous references to the inhabitants working in iron. Whenever any society has entered the iron age, there is abundant evidence of this in the archeological record. It is not just swords and weapons of war that are made, but nails, and MANY common items. It profoundly changes the way people live. Yet in the American archeological record, no iron other than rare artifacts are present, likely from meteoric iron pre-Columbus. No evidence of iron smelting, etc.

Add on to this the fact that all of the doctrinal Christian issues the Book of Mormon discusses were prominent topics of conversations during the 1800’s, and it becomes extraordinarily unlikely this is an actual historical record. And this doesn’t even get into the incredibly damning DNA evidence (see BofM and DNA comments) or many other issues as well.

It is often stated there is absolutely no way Joseph Smith could have produced such a work as the BofM on his own. The essay insinuates as much as well. Yet there are other examples of individuals influenced under the phenomenon of “automatic writing” (likely related to temporal lobe hyperactivity) producing extensive and profound writings (to include novels) in very short periods of time as well. Pearl Curran (“Patience Worth”) is a classic example of this.
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/patience-worth-author-from-the-great-beyond-54333749/
(Also please see “Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon” in “American Apocrypha” for an excellent discussion of this topic.). https://www.amazon.com/American-Apocrypha-Essays-Mormon-Mormonism/dp/1560851511
(FairMormon has a discussion on this as well which in my view greatly minimizes and discounts many of the issues brought up in the American Apocrypha essay.)
https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Book_of_Mormon/Authorship_theories/Automatic_writing

Just because something is incredible, even “miraculous” viewed through the lenses of many, does not mean it is directly from God. Hebraisms and chiasmus are often cited as “evidence” of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as well. Yet we find similar hebraisms and EXTENSIVE chiasmus in the “The Late War” (Gilbert Hunt, 1816). http://www.mormonthink.com/glossary/chiasmus.htm

In addition, there are NUMEROUS phrases in common between this work and the Book of Mormon. http://wordtree.org/thelatewar/

There is far more that could be said about this essay. Additional facts cast doubt as well as further clarification on many of the assertions of this essay. A biased, but in depth well-documented review of this essay can be found at http://www.mormonism101.com/2013/12/book-of-mormon-translation.html

 

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FIRST VISION ACCOUNTS https://www.lds.org/topics/first-vision-accounts?lang=eng

Some of the main issues arguing against the authenticity of the First Vision aren’t really even touched upon in this essay, others are glossed over, minimized, or distorted. 

The 1832 account says Joseph was 15 (not mentioned in essay).

Also, there are NO clear records from anyone of his First Vision prior to the formation of the church, to include his family, and NO clear record of any persecution towards him in regards to the first vision he later talks about in the 1830’s, despite him saying he received intense persecution for sharing this experience shortly after 1820.  This is not mentioned anywhere in the essay despite this being perhaps the greatest concern as to the validity of his account. 

Are we to believe that numerous familial and extra familial sources documented the experiences he claimed to have with Nephi/Moroni and gold plates but everyone failed to mention the first vision prior to the establishment of the church?

There are numerous other concerns where facts, footnotes, etc. appear to have been twisted in this essay. For instance, the strength of evidence for a revival during 1820 appears to have been overstated in the LDS essay. Space will not permit commenting on all of these issues individually, but it is worth reading both of these in depth reviews of this essay in their entirety.

Two in depth reviews of this essay:
http://www.mormonism101.com/2011/11/first-vision-accounts.html
http://www.mormonthink.com/firstvisionweb.htm

 

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JOSEPH SMITH’S TEACHINGS ABOUT PRIESTHOOD, TEMPLE AND WOMEN: https://www.lds.org/topics/joseph-smiths-teachings-about-priesthood-temple-and-women?lang=eng

Overall, this essay is a bit misleading to non-LDS readers in particular. The degree to which women preach sermons, pray, lead organizations, participate in priesthood councils and teach theology at Church universities and in other educational programs is far less than men. The women leaders are called by men, use manuals written and approved by men, and will be replaced if they do not strictly follow the counsel and direction of the men under which they work. Significant omissions in this essay include Biblical references and early Christian historical references to women as priestesses and prophetesses. It is refreshing that the common practice of LDS women giving blessings of healing and comfort prior to the 1920’s is documented in the essay. A biased, but in depth well-documented analysis of this essay may be found here: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-priesthood-and-women.htm

 

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MOTHER IN HEAVEN: https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng

It is nice to see this essay address the LDS doctrine of a Mother in Heaven. That said, “Mothers in Heaven” might be a more accurate title given LDS theology as taught by many past LDS prophets and apostles that Heavenly Father has numerous wives.

Footnotes 2 and 3:

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Regarding footnote 2, “Heavenly Mothers” would be more accurate of LDS theology given Heavenly Father has been taught to have many wives.

Regarding footnote 3, this is as relayed by Susa Young ten years after Zina died. It is not clear if this is what Joseph actually said to Zina over 70 years prior.

A biased, but in-depth well-documented analysis of this essay can be found here: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-mother-in-heaven.htm

 

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PEACE AND VIOLENCE AMONG 19TH-CENTURY LATTER-DAY SAINTS https://www.lds.org/topics/peace-and-violence-among-19th-century-latter-day-saints?lang=eng

Footnote 4:

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The clarification that one meaning of the word “exterminate” was to “drive from within the limits or borders” is good. This is still not commonly understood in this way by many Latter-day Saints. What isn’t mentioned is that this extermination order was in part a reaction to Sidney Rigdon’s July 4th Oration at Far West Missouri: “We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever. The men or the set of men that attempts it does so at the expense of their lives. And the mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them till the last drop of blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us; for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses and their own families, and one part or the other shall be utterly destroyed…” The hostilities towards the Latter-Day Saints were abhorrent. That said, the hostilities and violent rhetoric in Missouri were not entirely one-sided either. Frequently violent actions against the Saints were a reaction to earlier violent actions or rhetoric by the Saints towards the Missourians, and vice-versa.

Footnote 22:

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The essay acknowledges a secret society amongst the saints known as the “Danites” that intimidated dissenters within and without the church. Evidence shows The Danites conducted a full range of violent actions towards dissenters within and without the church. In fact, this was also partly to blame for the continual hostilities in Missouri against the Mormons. The essay states Joseph Smith “approved of the Danites but that he probably was not briefed on all their plans and likely did not sanction the full range of their activities.” Though perhaps technically true, this grossly minimizes the situation.

“We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of very great evils which hath hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings & persuasions.” (Joseph Smith diary, Missouri Journal, 1838, march to September, under July 27, 1838.) http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-march-september-1838/46#full-transcript

Joseph was absolutely clear that force was being used to enforce the “right.” This is never quoted in LDS manuals. Furthermore, this quote in Joseph’s journal directly contradicts the principles he later claims to follow to a visitor in Nauvoo, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” This is a very common quote in LDS teaching manuals.

Footnote 36:

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At least blood atonement was mentioned in the footnote. And there were instances of people being killed with the thought that murdering them was necessary for their salvation. There are disagreements amongst historians as to the breadth of understanding and practice of this doctrine, as taught by Brigham Young.

Footnote 41 (regarding the Mountain Meadows Massacre):

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The essay mentions there is no proof Brigham Young ordered the Mountain Meadows Massacre. However, it fails to mention that for twenty years he obstructed the pursuit of justice, investigations, etc. into this matter. This is clear when this matter is evaluated in depth.

A biased, but in depth well-documented analysis of this essay may be found here: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-peace-and-violence.htm


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PLURAL MARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints?lang=eng

There are four essays on Polygamy (plural marriage). Of the four, this one has the least amount of controversial material in it. The other three are more controversial and harder to find on lds.org, but are buried as links within this essay. There is still some “spin” in this essay as well however. For example, mixing of ethnic heritages is mentioned as an important reason for plural marriage, even though interracial marriage was also strongly condemned at this same time other than with “Lamanites.” (“Other than with “Lamanites” inserted Feb 16, 2019). Also, this essay states, “Women were free to choose their spouses, whether to enter into a polygamous or a monogamous union, or whether to marry at all.” However, this is very misleading. In fact, there was tremendous psychological pressure for many of these women to enter into marriage, to include polygamous unions. This is documented further below in “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah.”


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PLURAL MARRIAGE IN KIRTLAND AND NAUVOO
https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng

This essay is more difficult to find. On lds.org, this essay is buried as a link in the essay, “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Footnote 3:
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Footnote 3 implies we just don’t know very much about the early days of polygamy in the LDS church. This is false and misleading.  In fact, we know a significant amount of information regarding the early days of polygamy.  See the multiple source documents for footnote 29:

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John Widstoe says, “The literature and existing documents dealing with plural marriage in Nauvoo in the day of Joseph Smith are very numerous. Hundreds of affidavits on the subject are in the Church Historian’s office in Salt Late City.” (Widstoe, 1946) (as cited in http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo.htm) The Temple Lot case of the 1890’s also talks extensively about Joseph’s sexual involvement with many of his wives. Active LDS historian Todd Compton’s book “In Sacred Loneliness” also delves into this subject in much greater detail, to include many original source documents.

Footnote 4 and 10:

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The Doctrine of Plural Marriage was said to have been known as early as 1831. Footnote 10 confirms what historians know, that Joseph Smith had sexual relations with Fanny Alger (his housemaid) in the “mid 1830’s.” What isn’t noted is that this was most likely in 1833 or 1834, she was 16 at the time and this was before he is said to have received the sealing keys in the Kirtland temple on April 3, 1836 (the entire doctrinal basis for “plural marriages.”) Also, this was before the 1835 edition of D&C 101 was written, “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835/259

There were charges of “polygamy” (which 1835 D&C 101 effectively denies) because Joseph WAS practicing polygamy during this time, which the essay and historians confirm.

Footnotes 22 and 23:

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“Carefully worded denials” It is absolutely clear examining the historical record that these “denials” signed affidavits, etc. were written with the intent to mislead and deceive those reading or hearing the denials (to include church members not in Joseph’s inner circle of trust). One of the first such denials was in the 1835 edition of D&C 101 as noted above.

Footnotes 26 and 27:

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In Footnote 26, the claim that “some women married in their mid-teens” gives the impression that this wasn’t necessarily uncommon. However, teenage marriages in a plural context WERE. In addition, teenage marriages to someone over 20 years their senior (Joseph was 37 at the time) were uncommon and not typically the types of marriages “in their mid-teens.”

In Footnote 27, the essay states Helen Mar Kimball said her marriage was for “eternity alone” “suggesting there were not sexual relations.” This is a misleading use of this reference. This quote comes from a poem Helen wrote. In the first stanza she “thought” the marriage was for “eternity alone.” However, in the second stanza, she makes it absolutely clear she was mistaken… That said, she did believe she would be blessed in the eternities for this marriage.

“I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking’s for eternity alone,
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.

To my guileless heart all free from worldly care
And full of blissful hopes and youthful visions rare
The world seamed bright the thret’ning clouds were kept
From sight and all looked fair but pitying angels wept.
They saw my youthful friends grow shy and cold.
And poisonous darts from sland’rous tongues were hurled,
Untutor’d heart in thy gen’rous sacrafise,
Thou dids’t not weigh the cost nor know the bitter price;
Thy happy dreams all o’er thou’st doom’d also to be
Bar’d out from social scenes by this thy destiny,
And o’er thy sad’nd mem’ries of sweet departed joys
Thy sicken’d heart will brood and imagine future woes,
And like a fetter’d bird with wild and longing heart,
Thou’lt dayly pine for freedom and murmor at thy lot… “

“Helen Mar Kimball Whitney 1881 Autobiography,” Appendix I in Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486. As cited by: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Joseph_Smith/Polygamy/Plural_wives/Helen_Mar_Kimball/Circumstances_of_her_plural_marriage#cite_note-22

Footnote 32:

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The claim is made that complaints about the sealings with Joseph to women already married to other men are virtually absent. This depends on what “virtually absent” means. There is plenty of documentation of numerous complaints and heart-ache from these sealings. In addition, the complaints from those who stated Joseph propositioned their wives are well documented. This was said to be a major reason for William Law later founding the Nauvoo Expositor. Citing the numerous sources here is beyond the scope of this document. However, a biased but in depth well-documented analysis of these complaints as well as this entire essay may be read here:
http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo.htm


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PLURAL MARRIAGE AND FAMILIES IN EARLY UTAH
https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-and-families-in-early-utah?lang=eng

This essay is more difficult to find. On lds.org, this essay is buried as a link in the essay, “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Footnote 6:

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Footnote 6 argues that overall polygamy increased offspring: However there are other views: “The relationship between polygamy and fertility (number of children) is very complex and not the same in every situation. The polygyny-fertility hypothesis maintains that fertility in polygamous marriages is lower than in monogamous ones. This effect has been observed in many studies (Winking et al. 2013) and also applies to nineteenth century Mormons (Josephson 2002; Moorad et al. 2011, cited in McKie 2011). In all likelihood, polygamy led to fewer children than probably would have been born in a monogamous society (Bean et al 1990, p. 136).” http://www.mormonism101.com/2013/12/polygamy-families-early-utah.html

Footnote 16:

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Footnote 16 is misleading. In fact, there was intense psychological pressure for many of these women to enter polygamous unions.

“Although many Mormon women voluntarily participated in polygamy, not all did (Zeitzen 2008, p. 104). In reality, there was a lot less freedom to choose monogamy over polygamy than is suggested here, particularly from a theological point of view (Volf 1999). For 40 years, ever since the public announcement of polygamy by Brigham Young, Mormons had been “steadily taught and impressed” that polygamy “was a necessity to man’s highest exaltation in the life to come”(Proceedings before the Committee on Privileges and Elections 1904, volume 1, p, 18). According to Mormon researcher Kathryn Daynes, “without that doctrinal foundation, few, if any, would have entered into plural marriages” (Daynes 2001, p. 116).

“The promise of salvation as a means for applying psychological pressure had been part and parcel of Mormon polygamy since Joseph Smith told 14-year old Helen Mar Kimball that marrying him would “ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred. This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward”.

“Helen wrote about another polygamous relationship in which Joseph Smith engaged under the same pretense with 17-year old Sarah Ann Whitney: “No earthly inducement could he held forth to the women who entered this order. It was to be a life-sacrifice for the sake of an everlasting glory and exaltation” (Compton 1997 pp. 349, 499).” As quoted and cited in http://www.mormonism101.com/2013/12/polygamy-families-early-utah.html
where a biased, but in depth well-documented analysis of this entire essay may also be found.


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THE MANIFESTO AND THE END OF PLURAL MARRIAGE
https://www.lds.org/topics/the-manifesto-and-the-end-of-plural-marriage?lang=eng

This essay is more difficult to find. On lds.org, this essay is buried as a link in the essay, “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Footnotes 18, 34:

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Polygamy was also illegal in Canada and Mexico, where many polygamists fled to. This wasn’t an issue of trying to obey the law of the land as implied by footnote 18, but rather escaping the consequences of disobeying this law within the jurisdiction of the U.S. which was determined to enforce this law.

Polygamy continued to be practiced after the 1890 manifesto. The essay acknowledges this, but the degree of involvement and approval of this practice by the First Presidency, including Wilford Woodruff and the degree of lying and denial about this ongoing practice to the public is felt to be much greater by many historians than is presented to be the case in this essay based on numerous source documents not presented in the essay. More can be read about this involvement, the 1890 manifesto and post-1890 polygamy here: http://www.mormonthink.com/joseph-smith-polygamy.htm#1890

 

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RACE AND THE PRIESTHOOD
https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

In the fourth paragraph: “Toward the end of his life, Church founder Joseph Smith openly opposed slavery.” This seems a bit disingenuous to include as this was very clearly a political stance while he was running for president and not reflective of earlier “revelation” (which also was likely a political stance to appease the Missourians).

D&C 134: 12
We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.

Footnote 9:

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This quote is dishonest, making it sound as if Brigham Young prophesied of a future day when Blacks would receive the priesthood, and that had been fulfilled in 1978. In reality, Brigham Young taught that African Americans would not carry the priesthood while the Kingdom of God was on earth, and not until all descendants of Abel had it.

The complete quote on which the last sentence is based according to the sources in the endnote to this paragraph, reads as follows: “That time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more. In the Kingdom of God on the earth the Africans cannot hold one particle of power in government.”

“Brigham Young specifically preached that lifting the restriction would not occur “in the kingdom of God on the earth”. In that same sermon, Brigham Young also said that lifting the racial restrictions would be the end of the church: “On that very day, and hour we should do so, the priesthood is taken from this church and kingdom and God leaves us to our fate. The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain, the Church must go to destruction.”

The context of these and similar statements made by Brigham Young on this topic make it clear that he did not anticipate the restrictions being lifted at any time in the foreseeable future.” As quoted from: http://www.mormonism101.com/2013/12/race-and-priesthood.html (A more in depth analysis is available here as well)

For your convenience, I have uploaded a pdf file of Brigham Young’s February 5, 1852, speech used for footnote/cited source #9 with this link:  BY 1852

Alternatively, you can access the cited sources speeches here:
https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE2343323
http://mit.irr.org/brigham-young-we-must-believe-in-slavery-23-january-1852
https://archive.org/details/CR100317B0001F0017
https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/desnews1/id/170711/rec/1

The third to last paragraph states:

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In my opinion, this is the most important paragraph of this entire essay. Particularly the last sentence. Yet it is clear that many of these theories were taught over the pulpit for years as doctrine (see review below). Furthermore, it is clear that the priesthood ban was by definition racist, as it used ethnicity as the determining factor. If “all racism” has been “unequivocally condemned” then that would mean the Ban has also been unequivocally condemned unless they are trying to use double speak and deception here. Regardless, how can we have confidence that we “won’t be led astray” by LDS prophets when they here admit to having gotten matters of such gravity and importance wrong for well over 100 years?

Further in depth analysis of this essay can be found here: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-race-priesthood.htm


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TRANSLATION AND HISTORICITY OF THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng

The essay confirms that both LDS and Non-LDS Egyptologists agree that Joseph’s translations (to include of the facsimiles) of the Book of Abraham do not match the papyri in possession. There is a great deal of obfuscation about this entire subject.

Footnotes 21 and 22:

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Footnotes 21 and 22 imply that the evidence for understanding how the papyri were translated to the text of the Book of Abraham is poorly understood. In fact there is substantial evidence that points to how this was accomplished by Joseph and his scribes. One of the best reviews of this entire essay is by Dr. Robert Ritner, a famed Egyptologist from the University of Chicago.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/Research_Archives/Translation%20and%20Historicity%20of%20the%20Book%20of%20Abraham%20final-2.pdf

Additionally, this blog post does a decent job briefly outlining how the facsimile translations from Joseph are vastly different than that from Egyptologists, (though it doesn’t delve in depth into how the portions Joseph inserted into the facsimiles are completely incorrect).
https://leavingthegarden.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/letter-from-a-doubter/

Footnote 31:

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Warren Parrish’s quote is used 180 degrees out of context to support Joseph’s translation, when Parrish was claiming nothing of the kind. In this quote in context, Parrish is actually arguing for Joseph Smith being a fraud and a charlatan… “I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven. I have listened to him with feelings of no ordinary kind, when he declared that the audible voice of God, instructed him to establish a Banking-Anti Banking institution… I have been astonished to hear him declare that we had 60,000 Dollars in specie in our vaults, and $600,000 at our command, when we had not to exceed $6,000 and could not command any more… For the year past their lives have been one continued scene of lying, deception, and fraud, and that too, in the name of God.”

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Original source document as quoted from https://thoughtsonthingsandstuff.com/cherry-picking-the-book-of-abraham-essay/

A biased but in depth well-documented analysis of this essay may also be found here: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-book-of-abraham.htm


OTHER THOUGHTS

“The Witness of the Spirit” is repeatedly cited in these essays as the way to come to know “the truth.” What isn’t discussed is that this same type of witness and method for procuring truth has been/is used by MANY other groups with vastly contradictory claims. Clearly this is not a highly specific test for literal truth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycUvC9s4VYA&t=74s

Other psychological phenomenon not mentioned in the essays but worth knowing about to help make sense of all of this include:

Confirmation Bias: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
The Backfire Effect: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/
Cognitive Dissonance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
And the Elevation Emotion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevation_(emotion)

2 thoughts on “A Closer Look at the LDS Church History Gospel Topics Essays (guest post)

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