Thursday, December 17, 2020

Overview


Mormonstories.org provides a podcast, an analysis of LDS truth claims, the Thrive Project, Faith Crises resources, and a section on Understanding Mormonism.

We think Mormonstories provides an important service for people who question their beliefs and who want to know more about the Restoration, including the Community of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other Restoation groups, as well as Christianity generally.

Decisions to join or leave any organization involve multiple complex considerations. The stakes are even higher when joining or leaving a religion. We are all free to believe whatever we want and we are free to choose whatever organizations we want to belong to or affiliate with. Ideally, we make informed decisions.

John Dehlin demonstrates genuine empathy and understanding for the people he interviews and supports. We applaud that approach. Every organization should do the same for its members and others. 

However, we think John has evolved away from openness toward a dogmatic editorial stance that confirms his own biases and does not provide his audience with an honest variety of perspectives. We're not here to debate, but to offer some alternative perspectives. 

By "alternative perspectives" we're not referring to FairMormon and similar sites, with whom we disagree on some important issues.

Overall, MormonStories focuses on the views and theories of LDS intellectuals as represented by what we call the M2C citation cartel, including FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, and Meridian Magazine. This group, in important ways, have repudiated the teachings of the prophets and caused confusion. We think MormonStories has pointed out some of the problems created by the citation cartel.

Usually, people who share the same assumptions reach the same conclusions. For that reason, we examine the assumptions behind the conclusions.

We will discuss and explain alternative perspectives in each section of our review.


Podcasts

This section discuss some of the podcasts on Mormon Stories. It is regularly updated. I'll try to keep them in order.

_____

1388: RECREATING THE BOOK OF MORMON PLATES WITH TRENT TOLD

January 27, 2021

https://www.mormonstories.org/podcast/recreating-the-book-of-mormon-plates-with-trent-told/

Summary from webpage: In this short Mormon Stories Episode I sat down with Trent Told, who created a prototype of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon Plates. Based on Dan Vogel’s theories surrounding the “Tin Plates” and the Book of Mormon, Trent created a proof of concept model of the Book of Mormon made out of tin, in order to help demonstrate the physical size and weight of the plates. This model is also intended to help illustrate complexity and improbability that Joesph [sic] Smith could have possessed and handled actual Gold Plates (let alone run with them).  

This podcast again demonstrates one of the fallacies of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). As always, I emphasize people can believe whatever they want. Those who believe M2C, and don't want their belief challenged, should not read this blog.

Our LDS M2C scholars insist that the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in southern Mexico. They say the Hill Cumorah in New York is a false tradition started by early Church members who ignorantly speculated. This means that Moroni had to take the plates from southern Mexico to western New York. 

In the podcast, John Dehlin points out the impracticality of Moroni hauling heavy metal plates from Mesoamerica to western New York. 

The other approach, of course, is to believe what Moroni told Joseph Smith; i.e., that the Nephite "history was written and deposited not far from that place," referring to the Smith farm where Moroni first appeared to Joseph.

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/69

The Hill Cumorah was about 3 miles from Joseph's home. If, as he said, Moroni and his father abridged the Nephite records while living "not far from that place," it would not be difficult for them to move the plates around, even if they weighed 60 pounds as some accounts indicated. 

Other accounts reported 30 pounds. E.g., the Fayette Lapham interview with Joseph Smith, Sr., published 40 years after the fact and containing obvious errors or misunderstandings, nevertheless includes some interesting detail. For example, it includes this quotation: "I weighed it," said Mr. Smith, Senior, "and it weighed thirty pounds." )

http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1870s/Laph1870.htm#may

I attribute this discrepancy to Joseph Sr. weighing the plates of Nephi instead of the abridged plates. Even though the quotation in the Lapham interview follows the account of Joseph bringing home the plates, it does not necessarily follow that he weighed them right when Joseph brought them home in September 1827. That seems implausible, actually, given how protective Joseph was of the plates at that point. 

It wasn't until nearly two years later, in late June 1829, that Joseph Sr. was allowed to handle the plates as one of the Eight Witnesses. That is more likely when Joseph Sr. weighted them (which probably means he "hefted" them, not that he put them on a scale).

Of course, neither the North American setting nor the two sets of plates scenario were raised by Dehlin or his guest. It's far easier to point out the improbabilities of M2C.

The podcast also assumed the plates were a solid block of sheets of metal. The guest had fabricated plates of tin and said they weighed about 37 pounds. I've also fabricated plates, just to see what the process involved. Mine weighed considerably less, but they were not tightly stacked (which seems more realistic to me, given they were hand made and not machine rolled metal).

Another consideration is the possibility, which I consider a likelihood, that the set of plates included a compartment for the Urim and Thummim. 

The Lapham interview also included this interesting detail:

In answer to our question, as to what it was that Joseph had thus obtained, he said it consisted of a set of gold plates, about six inches wide, and nine or ten inches long. They were in the form of a book, half an inch thick, but were not bound at the back, like our books, but were held together by several gold rings, in such a way that the plates could be opened similar to a book. Under the first plate, or lid, he found a pair of spectacles, about one and a half inches longer than those used at the present day, the eyes not of glass, but of diamond. 

Whenever I read published accounts, I pay attention to quotations within quotation marks vs paraphrasing. The article quoted Smith Sr. as having weighed the plates, but here it paraphrases the rest of his description. Let's look at each detail.

Six inches wide and nine or ten inches long. That description varies from Joseph's in the Wentworth letter. "These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin." 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/2

The difference between "eight inches" and "nine or ten inches" may not be significant, but it could also be another indication that there were two sets of plates. In the Wentworth letter, Joseph described what he found in Moroni's stone box--the abridged plates, which he called "the original Book of Mormon." Joseph Smith Sr. most likely weighed the plates he handled as one of the Eight Witnesses, which I think were the original plates of Nephi. We call them the small plates, but that's a reference to how much history they contained, not their actual dimensions.

Half an inch thick. Joseph said "The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed." This discrepancy could be attributed to Joseph Sr. referring to the plates he handled (the plates of Nephi) vs the abridged plates, or it could be a mistake in the paraphrased published account; i.e., Joseph Sr. might have said "half a foot think" but the interviewer recorded "half an inch thick" instead.

Under the first plate, or lid, he found a pair of spectacles. Joseph wrote, "With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate."

Joseph's description is vague; "with the records" could mean "next to" the records, "on top" of them, or "inside" the records, as Joseph Sr. said. Joseph Sr.'s description makes sense. It doesn't seem reasonable for Moroni to just put the spectacles loose somewhere in the stone box, or even resting on top of the plates. A compartment with a lid as part of the set of plates does make sense. I built one when I constructed my set of plates, and it can move around the rings if the holes are the right size.

If the abridged plates included a compartment for the U&T, the entire set would weigh much less than a solid block of gold. This also explains why David Whitmer, as one of the Three Witnesses, said part of the plates looked "solid as wood." He was looking at the compartment.

This is also consistent with the concept of two sets of plates. Joseph Sr. said he weighed (or hefted) the plates, and he was one of the Eight Witnesses who handled the plates, but none of those witnesses said anything about seeing the Urim and Thummim or any compartment. That leads me to conclude that when he described these elements, Joseph Sr. was relating what Joseph Jr. told him, not what he actually saw himself. 

Here's the scenario that makes sense to me. Mormon and Moroni abridged the plates while living "not far from" the Smith farm near Palmyra. Moroni constructed the stone box for the abridged plates, breastplate, and U&T in a part of the hill separate from the repository (for reasons I've discussed elsewhere).

Joseph Jr. brought the abridged plates home in September 1827. He told his family what they looked like, including the U&T in the compartment. Lucy Mack felt the breastplate and U&T through a cloth.

Joseph then he took the artifacts to Harmony. When he finished translating the abridged plates, he gave them to the messenger (one of the Three Nephites) who returned them to the repository in Cumorah and picked up the small plates of Nephi for Joseph to translate in Fayette. (These were to replace the Book of Lehi lost with the 116 pages and were the "other records" that Oliver was promised he could help translate in D&C 9:2). 

By the time Joseph showed plates to the Eight Witnesses in Palmyra in June 1829, they were the plates of Nephi, not the abridged plates. That's why they weighed only 30 pounds and did not have either a sealed portion or a compartment for the U&T.

None of this makes sense if you believe M2C, of course. If you believe M2C, by definition you reject what David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, Lucy Mack Smith and others said about these events. 

And that's fine. People believe whatever they want to believe. But I agree with John Dehlin and his guest that the M2C scenario is implausible.

_____

1385: THE LEGAL CASE FOR MORMON CHURCH FRAUD – GADDY VS. THE LDS CHURCH JANUARY 14, 2021

https://www.mormonstories.org/podcast/class-action-lawsuit-against-the-lds-church-for-false-truth-claims-gaddy-vs-lds-church-featuring-radio-free-mormon/

This podcast was mostly an interview with RFM (Radio Free Mormon) about the amended complaint in the Gaddy lawsuit. I blogged about the original suit in 2019, expecting it to fail on a motion to dismiss, which it did. 

The amended complaint adds a new theory that would probably be no more successful, except for a few developments since the original one was filed. 

The "stone-in-the-hat" narrative (SITH) is now quasi-official. The Ensign quoted David Whitmer on the subject a year ago, which I blogged about here:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/01/january-2020-ensign.html

and here:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/01/january-2020-ensign-more-to-discuss.html

The Saints book establishes SITH, as well. SITH was an emphasis at BYU Education week in 2019, about the time when I first posted on the lawsuit.

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/08/byu-education-week-peep-stones-vs-urim.html 

It seems to me that the plaintiff can rely on the revisionist LDS historians who have repudiated what Joseph and Oliver taught about the translation and the New York Cumorah. Through the academic cycle, these scholars have persuaded younger generations that Joseph didn't really translate anything, but merely read words that appeared on the stone-in-the-hat.

The alternative interpretation, as I've explained in detail elsewhere, is that Joseph used SITH as a demonstration but actually translated the ancient plates with the Urim and Thummim.

My prior posts about this lawsuit:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/08/peep-stone-lawsuit-and-m2c.html

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/08/peep-stones-part-7.html

_____

Truth Claims

Here we discuss each of the truth claims posted on MormonStories.org. Click on the active links to see the discussion. Because the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, we have started there and will address the other topics as time permits.

_____

From MormonStories (my comments in red):

Mormonism is a religion largely based upon faith inspiring stories. In 2013, the LDS Church began releasing a series of Gospel Topics Essays, to explore frequently questioned aspects of its doctrine and history. Following upon prior works, the Church recently published Saints: The Standard of Truth as the first in a four-volume history. While many have lauded the Church’s efforts to enhance openness and transparency, others feel that the Church’s narrative remains incomplete or excessively apologetic.

Some of us think Saints was written to promote an intellectual agenda that repudiates basic teachings of the prophets, including the New York Cumorah and the translation with the Urim and Thummim (the Nephite translators that Moroni provided with the plates). 

Mormon Stories Podcast is excited to announce a new project entitled “Examining Mormon Truth Claims.”  Over the next 12-24 months, we will explore various LDS topics in both written and podcast form. The primary audience will be Mormons who are investigating their church’s truth claims. The intent will be to author the essays that should have been released by the LDS Church; essays that tell a story, are accurate and robust, and yet succinct in length.

This objective has not been met because the essays on MormonStories focus primarily on the teachings of the intellectuals, not the original teachings of the prophets, as we show in each section.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Abraham

Joseph Smith Translation (JST)









Faith crisis resources

 Here we review the faith crisis resources from MormonStories.org.

Understanding Mormonism

 On this page, we discuss the section on MormonStories titled "Understanding Mormonism."

The THRIVE project

 Here we discuss the THRIVE project provided through MormonStories.

Overview

Mormonstories.org provides a podcast , an analysis of LDS truth claims , the Thrive Project , Faith Crises resources , and a section on Unde...