Friday, March 5, 2021

Discerning accurate Church history

The Mark Hoffman saga is in the news because of the Netflix documentary

In response to the Hoffman events, President Oaks delivered a detailed, masterful address, which you can read here:

Here are excerpts from that talk (in blue), along with my commentary (in red).

What interested me most was the fact that these forgeries and their associated lies grew out of their author’s deliberate attempt to rewrite the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that so many persons and organizations seized on this episode to attempt to discredit the Church and its leaders. [emphasis added]

Deliberate attempts to rewrite the early history continue, but now it's the Church History Department doing the re-writing.

For many years, certain LDS historians have sought to rewrite the early history of the Church. Richard Bushman explained:

"The downside of that is that there is developing in the scholarly world a view of church history. It’s out of kilter with the church version, what’s told in Sunday school class. All sorts of things that don’t fit together such as the seer stones in the hat, or many, many other things."

Now the problem has reversed. Correlated Church history, such as the Saints books, is "out of kilter" with authentic historical documents and events. Why? So far as I can tell, the only reason is to promote modern narratives, including M2C and SITH. 

Yesterday I showed specific examples regarding Cumorah. The Saints book, volume 1, quotes Lucy Mack Smith's histories 127 times, but it deliberately omits every one of her references to Cumorah because the M2C citation cartel rejects the New York Cumorah. We see the same careful re-writing of Church history in the Gospel Topics Essays.

There is a revolving door between the Church History Department and the M2C citation cartel (including BYU Studies and Book of Mormon Central), so naturally they work together and reinforce these narratives. That's what makes it a cartel.

Consequently, well-meaning but uninformed Latter-day Saints don't know that when Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he identified the hill where the plates were concealed as Cumorah, even though this was widely known during Joseph's lifetime and informed everyone's writing and understanding at the time. By omitting Cumorah from the historical record, our LDS historians have distorted Church history and created a new version that (i) accommodates M2C but (ii) contradicts the historical record. This leads to preventable confusion among new, former, and prospective members.  

The same thing has happened with the discrepancies between the Urim and Thummim and seer (or "peep") stone accounts. (SITH=stone-in-the-hat.) Like the Gospel Topics Essays, the Saints book deliberately omitted Lucy Mack Smith's accounts of Joseph using the Urim and Thummim. Instead, it cites much later accounts from David Whitmer and Emma Smith, both of whom had ulterior motives for promoting SITH (i.e, refuting the Solomon Spalding theory). 

For example, Saints merely says "Another letter informed David that it was God's will for him to bring his team and wagon to Harmony to help Joseph, Emma and Oliver move to the Whitmer home in Fayette, where they would finish the translation."

However, Lucy explains that they made the request because Joseph received a commandment through the Urim and Thummim to do it. 

"an intimation that was given through the urim and thumim for as he one morning applied them to his eyes to look upon the record instead of the words of the book being given him he was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmore [Whitmer] this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and his Oliver [Cowdery] back to his house which was 135 miles that they might remain with him there untill the translation should be completed for that an evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph’s life in order to prevent the work of God from going forth among the world"

"Not far from this time, as Joseph was translating by means of the Urim and Thummim, he received instead of the words of the Book, a commandment to write a letter to a man by the name of David Whitmer, who lived in Waterloo; requesting him to come immediately with his team, and convey them [3 words illegible] (Joseph & Oliver) to Waterloo; as an evil designing people were seeking to take away his (Joseph’s life), in order to prevent the work of God from going forth to the world."

Saints omits these and related passages because they contradict the currently fashionable narrative that (i) Joseph merely dictated words that appeared on the seer stone in the hat (SITH); (ii) Joseph didn't even use the plates, which remained concealed under a cloth the entire time; and (iii) Joseph didn't really translate anything anyway.

And, of course, Saints completely omits the account of David, Joseph and Oliver meeting the messenger on the road to Fayette. In his knapsack, the messenger had the abridged plates that Joseph had given him in Harmony. He declined a ride to Fayette, explaining he was taking the plates to Cumorah. Joseph identified him as one of the Nephites. 

But instead of relating these detailed historical accounts, Saints elaborated on the sketchy account of the same messenger showing the plates to David's mother Mary. To make it worse, Saints concocted a fake quotation! 

"My name is Moroni," he said.

Except that is a fictional quotation and contradicts what Mary Whitmer herself said, that the messenger identified himself as "Brother Nephi." It also contradicts Joseph Smith's identification of the messenger as "one of the Nephites," an identification he made more than once.

David Whitmer, who actually conversed with both this messenger and Moroni on separate occasions, clearly differentiated between the two individuals, but Saints changes Church history to portray the resurrected Moroni as capable of changing his appearance, age, and physical size for unknown reasons. Obviously, that raises important questions about the doctrine of the resurrection.

In a sardonic sense, it's funny to see how the historians manipulated the history to reach this result. For example, in note 16 (page 595), they cite David Whitmer Interviews, 26-27. That book is long out of print and difficult to obtain, but I have a copy. On page 182 of the same book, which Saints does not reference, David says "Joseph looked pale almost transparent & said that was one of the Nephites and he had the plates of the Book of Mormon in his knapsac." 

Why deprive Church members of this interesting and relevant information?

Recall, this was the messenger who said he was going to Cumorah before going to Fayette. Because the M2C citation cartel insists Cumorah cannot be in New York, our historians decided we should not be informed about this event. They must accommodate M2C at all costs. I've shown before how the book Opening the Heavens went so far as to deliberately falsify this same history.

Which brings us back to President Oaks' talk.

The Church operates under a divine mandate to acquire and preserve the documents and artifacts that show its history...

We are deeply indebted to the Joseph Smith Papers project to preserve our history. Despite the notes and annotations that, in some cases as I've discussed, seek to promote M2C and SITH, at least we have the actual documents that the historians cannot change. 

The historians can and do omit relevant documents from correlated materials such as the Gospel Topics Essays, Saints, and lesson manuals, but anyone can go to the original documents and see for themselves what Joseph Smith and his contemporaries said, did and thought, as much as the historical record can reveal.

It seems to me that the mandate is not only to acquire and preserve the documents, but also to accurately convey them to Church members and the world as a whole. When it comes to M2C and SITH, though, that does not seem to be the case. 

In order to perform their personal ministries, Church leaders cannot be suspicious and questioning of each of the hundreds of people they meet each year. Ministers of the gospel function best in an atmosphere of trust and love. In that kind of atmosphere, they fail to detect a few deceivers, but that is the price they pay to increase their effectiveness in counseling, comforting, and blessing the hundreds of honest and sincere people they see. It is better for a Church leader to be occasionally disappointed than to be constantly suspicious.

Here, President Oaks gives us an exceptionally important insight. I agree that Church leaders should be able to trust the Church historians and scholars to be open and honest in their portrayal of Church history. 

But when we see the type of omissions we see in Saints, and no effort to correct those omissions when pointed out, it is difficult to continue to trust those historians who are promoting an agenda instead of accurately reporting history. 

It's even worse with the Gospel Topics Essays, as we've discussed many times. Fortunately, some of those have been edited (albeit without notification) from time to time to correct mistakes, but they still reflect specific agendas of the scholars who wrote them. There is a long way to go to making those essays reliable and credible.   

I observed that “historical and biographical facts can only contribute to understanding when they are communicated in context.” This is the work of the scholar. We would all be better informed about history if historical impressions came from the articles and books of mature and objective scholars rather than through the often sensational and always incomplete “stories” of journalists.

Sound historical work takes time, but patience is rewarded.

This is another important point. My basic life philosophy is that eventually, the right thing happens. A lot of Latter-day Saints are impatient with the revisionist Church history we are expected to believe, even though it contradicts the historical record and the teachings of the prophets. 

Nevertheless, we remain hopeful that these things will be corrected and revised over time. In the meantime, we can read the original sources ourselves and see how the writings of both critics and correlated materials vary. 

Fortunately, the actual history is the most faith-affirming of all. 

When it comes to naivete in the face of malevolence, there is blame enough to go around. We all need to be more cautious. In terms of our long-run interests in Church history, we now have the basis, and I hope we have the will, to clear away the Hofmann residue of lies and innuendo. With that done, we should all pursue our search for truth with the tools of honest and objective scholarship and sincere and respectful religious faith, in the mixture dictated by the personal choice each of us is privileged to make in this blessed and free land.

I bolded that last sentence because it epitomizes my approach to all of this. I strongly favor and encourage people making informed decisions. That's why I don't accept the revisionist history designed to accommodate M2C and SITH. That's also why I disagree with the censorship-based editorial policies of the M2C citation cartel. 

I don't expect LDS scholars to vary from their dogmatic enforcement of M2C and SITH. Book of Mormon Central, for example, has M2C embedded in its logo. After decades of promoting M2C, it is probably impossible, psychologically, for the scholars to become open to alternatives to M2C, let alone change their minds.

But their intellectual rigidity doesn't matter to those who, as President Oaks says, "pursue our search for truth."

the end

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