An LDS Gem: Elder Holland's Opus
Active Against Autocracy (Part One)

Understanding Elder Holland's "Safety for the Soul" General Conference Address

My good friend GDTeacher has kindly allowed me to post his in-depth analysis of Elder Holland's recent General Conference address titled "Safety for the Soul."  I commented on the address myself in a recent entry.  GDTeacher's analysis is more detailed and thorough than mine, and I think it complements well my thinking on the sermon.  Also included in GDTeacher's analysis are two appendices.  Appendix A contains the full text of Joseph Smith, Sr.'s dream of the tree of life, which I mentioned in my comments and which is eerily similar to the dream that Book of Mormon character Lehi had, as mentioned by Elder Holland in his talk (without, of course, mentioning Joseph Smith, Sr.'s dream, which predated the publication of the Book of Mormon).  Appendix B contains the full text of the Wikipedia entry on the possible Solomon Spaulding connections to the production of the Book of Mormon.  Elder Holland mentioned Solomon Spaulding (and Ethan Smith) in his talk.  Many Mormons likely are unfamiliar with the theories concerning the production of the Book of Mormon that Elder Holland dismisses as "frankly pathetic" in his talk.  This appendix will provide more background for those whose curiosity was piqued when Elder Holland mentioned their names.

Unfortunately, when I pasted GDTeacher's words into my post editor, all the footnote references were lost.  If anyone would like a copy of the essay with footnote references included, simply email me ([email protected]) and I will send it to you. Now on to GDTeacher's cogent analysis:

During the Sunday afternoon session of the October, 2009 LDS General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave an uncommonly impassioned and emotional talk, “Safety for the Soul. ”  This talk was unusual in delivery and content for General Conference.  It left many feeling proud and vindicated in their belief and conviction in the Book of Mormon.  It left many feeling satisfied and spiritually fed.  Yet others it left feeling confused and still others it left feeling discouraged, hurt, or betrayed.  This paper presents an analysis of Elder Holland’s talk in an attempt to help adult members and those in church leadership positions understand why some members were confused or otherwise adversely impacted by this powerful talk.

Elder Holland’s talk was a passionate defense of the divinity of the Book of Mormon.  The range of emotion that flowed during delivery was broad and deep.  He portrayed undeterred conviction, barely contained anger, deep sadness, and utter disdain.  The content of the talk covered obscure references, conventional LDS wisdom, historical facts, historical claims, and LDS fable.  The address left many wondering, “Why this talk?  Why now?”  Many were confused by the unusual delivery, the obscure references, the anger of an apostle of God, the prolific use of rhetorical devices, and the selective use of facts. 

An all encompassing identification and definition of those who were troubled by this talk is not possible.  However, in general, those troubled by this talk fall into four loose categories.  The first is those who react strongly to unusual emotional displays.  The second category includes those with inquiring minds who know nothing about Book of Mormon authorship theories.  The third includes informed members, usually intellectually inclined, who understand the scholarship behind alternative Book of Mormon authorship theories.  The last category, also usually intellectually inclined, includes those who understand the art of rhetoric and persuasive speaking and writing techniques.

The divinity of any sacred text is fundamental, if not foundational to the theology and belief system of any religion.  Elder Holland’s defense of the Book of Mormon is understandable, if not expected, in this light.  Just as the Book of Mormon was defended by Elder Holland in this General Conference, so also have other sacred texts such as the Koran (Qu’ran) and The Book of the Law of the Lord , been passionately defended by religious leaders and apologists.  As Elder Holland’s talk is analyzed, the reader should understand that an impassioned defense of any sacred text could be mounted using the same approach and perspective which Elder Holland employed in his defense of the Book of Mormon.  Doing so will allow the reader to more fully understand Elder Holland’s talk from both a spiritual perspective, which he emphasizes, but also from an objective perspective.

This analysis of Elder Holland’s talk will cover the content, historical references, logical references, and the use of rhetorical devices in both the written and the spoken word.  The approach will be to analyze the full text of Elder Holland’s talk sequentially, identifying and analyzing key points.  Each point analyzed will have a reference number inserted into the text in brackets (e.g. A1), with each point being discussed at the following paragraph break.  Following the sequential analysis, a summary of findings, implications, and a request for understanding will be presented.

Let’s move onto the talk.

Elder Holland: Prophecies regarding the last days often refer to large-scale calamities [A1] such as earthquakes or famines or floods. These in turn may be linked to widespread economic or political upheavals of one kind or another.

But there is one kind of latter-day destruction [A1] that has always sounded to me more personal than public, more individual than collective, a warning, perhaps more applicable inside the Church than outside it. The Savior warned in the last days even those of “the covenant,” the very elect, could be deceived by the enemy of truth. [A2] If we think of this as a form of spiritual destruction, [A1] it may cast light on another latter-day prophecy. Think of the heart as the figurative center of our faith, the poetic location of our loyalties and our values, and then consider Jesus’s declaration that in the last days, “men’s hearts [shall fail] them.” [A1]

A1 – Destruction.  Elder Holland uses the comparison of earthquakes, famines, and floods, which can and do result in tremendous carnage, to individual “spiritual destruction.”  The use of this physical metaphor emphasizes the carnage he perceives when members of the church are deceived by Satan, the enemy of truth.  This rhetorical device paints a grotesque picture illustrating the consequences of the deception, yet its nature remains undefined.  The notion that members are deceived, in this case by Satan, carries with it a grave warning of the potential Satanic influence associated with a reasoned and informed study and analysis of the Book of Mormon origins.

A2 – The Deceived Elect.   In Matthew 24:24, we read, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”[emphasis added]  Elder Holland’s talk does refer to the elect being deceived, but does not refer to false Christs or false prophets.  He eventually arrives at the idea that members may be deceived by what he claims to be false theories of Book of Mormon authorship.  Since no proponents of the various non-canonical theories of Book of Mormon authorship claim to be Christs or prophets, the reference is confusing and possibly even inapt.  Given the context in his talk, it can be understood that “those of ‘the covenant,’ the very elect,” is meant to mean faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The deception to which he refers is the members’ acceptance, in whole or in part, of one or more non-canonical theories of the Book of Mormon authorship.

Elder Holland: The encouraging thing, of course, is that our Father in Heaven knows all of these latter-day dangers, these troubles of the heart and the soul, and has given counsel and protections regarding them.

In light of that it has always been significant to me that the Book of Mormon, one of the Lord’s powerful “keystones” in this counter-offensive against latter-day ills, begins with a great parable of life, an extended allegory of hope vs. fear, of light vs. darkness, of salvation vs. destruction, an allegory of which Sister Ann Dibbs spoke so movingly this morning.
In that dream, Lehi’s dream, [B1] an already difficult journey gets more difficult when a mist of darkness arises obscuring any view of the safe but narrow path his family and others are to follow. It is imperative to note that this mist of darkness descends on all the travelers: the faithful and the determined ones (the elect we might even say) as well as the weaker and ungrounded ones. The principal point of the story is that the successful travelers resist all distractions, [B2] including the lure of forbidden paths and jeering taunts from the vain and proud who have taken them. [B3] The record says that the protected “did press their way forward, continually [and I might add tenaciously] holding fast” to a rod of iron that runs unfailingly along the course of the true path. However dark the night or the day, the rod marks the way of that solitary, redeeming trail. [B4]

B1 – Lehi’s Dream.  Given that Elder Holland is raising a defense of the divinity of the Book of Mormon against alternate theories of its authorship, it is startling that he selected the story of Lehi’s dream to help build his case.  Proponents of alternate theories of the Book of Mormon’s authorship use this specific story as evidence against the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.  In 1811, Joseph Smith, Sr. had a dream  extremely similar to the story contained in the Book of Mormon about Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life (see Appendix A).  Since this story was already held and retold in the Smith family lore for 19 years prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, the inclusion of this story in the Book of Mormon text is evidence that the Book of Mormon was written using, in part, the life experiences of Joseph Smith as foundational material.

B2 – Resisting Distractions.  Elder Holland’s point on resisting distractions suggests the idea that holding to the iron rod includes only focusing on LDS church approved materials regarding the authorship claims of the Book of Mormon.  This implies that to investigate other theories of authorship is to invite distractions and to consider them is to let go of the iron rod.  This is confusing to many members who find spiritual, moral, and intellectual strength and fulfillment in engaging their minds in their spiritual studies.  These members take to heart the idea that they should “…seek learning even by study and also by faith.”   They also give heed to the instruction given to Oliver Cowdery through Joseph, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”

B3 – Taunts from the Vain and Proud.  Using the vain and proud from the “great and spacious building” in Lehi’s dream, Elder Holland takes this extremely negative rhetorical device to paint an unflattering picture of honest scholars seeking to develop a defensible naturalistic explanation of Book of Mormon authorship.  The unstated characterization is that those who propose alternative theories of authorship are vain and proud.  This is presumptuous on the part of Elder Holland and it acts as a blanket condemnation of those holding differing views.  Moreover, he marshals no evidence to support the assertion that those whose opinions differ from his own necessarily must be vain and proud.  Additionally, the use of these labels constitutes an ad hominem attack and also name-calling, a common propaganda technique employed to artificially discredit and minimize the impact of those being labeled.

B4 – Solitary Redeeming Trail.  The idea of a solitary redeeming trail, meaning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is accepted by many members of the LDS church.  Further, the idea that all other churches are an abomination in the sight of God is canonized in the Pearl of Great Price.   This same idea of the solitary trail paints an uncomfortable picture of pride and arrogance in the hearts of other church members.  To them it strains credulity to imagine that a loving God would be so random as to create a path that less than one percent of his currently living children have a realistic opportunity to follow.  This concept paints a picture of a fickle, uncaring, ethnocentric God.  This concept hurts their hearts and souls. 

Encouraged by the increase in ecumenical activities over the past several years, these members are hopeful of mutual respect, reconciliation, and acceptance with and of various religious traditions.  It is clear that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to be accepted, viewed as Christians, and not persecuted.  These members hope that their church, the LDS church, will extend the same hand of fellowship to other churches that it desires for itself.  Elder Holland’s characterization of the solitary redeeming trail suggests otherwise.

Elder Holland: “I beheld,” Nephi says later, “that the rod of iron... was the word of God, [leading] the tree of life;...a representation of the love of God.” Viewing this manifestation of God’s love, Nephi goes on to say: “I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world...[who] went forth ministering unto the people…. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits;.... And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.”

Love. Healing. Help. Hope.  The power of Christ to counter all troubles in all times—including the end of times.  [C1]  That is the safe harbor God wants for us in personal or public days of despair. That is the message with which the Book of Mormon begins and that is the message with which it ends, calling all to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” [C1]  That phrase taken from Moroni’s final lines of testimony, written one thousand years after Lehi’s vision, is a dying man’s testimony [C2] of the only true way.

C1 - Love, Healing, Help, Hope.  Most members of the LDS church accept this message as it is expressed in the Book of Mormon.  They believe in the power of Christ to counter troubles in their daily lives and strive to “come unto Christ. ”  This is fundamental to their testimony of Christ and his mission.  As presented in Elder Holland’s talk, this is the first element of a three stage rhetorical device .  The testimony of Christ, as stated by Moroni in the Book of Mormon , is shared by most members of the LDS church.  They feel a personal connection to Moroni’s testimony.  This connection amplifies the effect of the second and third stages of the rhetorical device.  Informed listeners or readers may have identified this emerging rhetorical device and are troubled by its use by a revered leader of the Church because such devices are typically used to mask poor arguments.

C2 – Dying Man’s Testimony.  The use of the phrase, “dying man’s testimony,” with regard to Moroni’s testimony of Christ at the close of the Book of Mormon, is the second element of the rhetorical device.  The implication is that a person close to death will not lie or otherwise exaggerate as he or she will shortly meet God and stand to be judged.  This is a presumptuous, if not irrelevant, logical leap for many.  It is unclear whether or not dying persons are actually more truthful than men not expecting to die soon , but Elder Holland’s assumption is clearly that a dying person’s testimony can be trusted implicitly.  The third element of this rhetorical device occurs in the following paragraph.

Elder Holland: May I refer to a modern “last days” testimony? [D1]  When Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum started for Carthage to face what they knew would be imminent martyrdom, [D1]  Hyrum read these words of comfort to the heart of his brother. “Thou hast been faithful; wherefore,…Thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I, Moroni, bid farewell...until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ.”

D1 – Imminent Martyrdom.  The notion of the dying testimony of Joseph and Hyrum is the third element of the three stage rhetorical device.  The prior two elements amplify the effect of the third in the hearts and minds of the listeners and readers.  The stretch from Moroni’s testimony of Christ to a dying testimony of Hyrum and Joseph strains the limits of logic for some. 

Elder Holland has characterized Hyrum’s reading out of the Book of Mormon prior to his and Joseph’s journey to Carthage as a “last days” testimony that is their dying testimony because they knew they would be imminently be killed.  It is not clear why Hyrum’s reading several verses from the Book of Mormon constitutes a dying testimony more than any other readings or declarations in those circumstances, but Elder Holland declares it to be so, perhaps because it is implied in the Doctrine and Covenants by the use of the word, ”testators. ”  This is a confusing non sequitur, and a logical fallacy.  It is true that it is recorded that Joseph said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter .”  This seems to indicate that Joseph knew that he and Hyrum would be killed, or at least believed that it was highly likely.  It is unclear whether Hyrum actually thought the same thing , further calling into question the characterization that Hyrum’s reading could constitute a “dying testimony.” 

However, other significant evidence suggests that Joseph did not believe he was facing imminent death.  While not an exhaustive list, several of these evidences will be considered.

•    Joseph removed his temple garments and told others to do the same.    One has to wonder why he would do this if he were preparing to meet God imminently.
•    Joseph destroyed the original revelation of plural marriage (now D&C Section 132) [leaving a copy with Newel K. Whitney] just prior to going to Carthage .  One has to wonder why he would do this if he were preparing to meet God imminently.
•    Joseph had guns smuggled into the Carthage jail for protection.   If he knew that he was going to die a martyr’s death, why would he make this preparation to defend himself and to live?
•    In direct violation of the Word of Wisdom, Joseph, Hyrum, and others present in the Carthage jail, drank wine and smoked tobacco.    Why would they do this if they were preparing to meet God imminently?
•    Joseph requested that the Nauvoo Legion march on Carthage jail and rescue both Hyrum and him.   Why make this preparation for life if he knew he was imminently going to die?
•    When the mob that killed him first came toward Carthage jail, he calmed the jailers saying, “Don't trouble yourself, they have come to rescue me, ” thinking the mob was the Nauvoo Legion, coming at his command.
•    As shots were fired and after Joseph emptied his gun shooting down the jail stairwell , he ran to the jail window in a last desperate attempt to save his own life, attempting the Masonic distress call, “O Lord My God! Is there no help for the widow's son?”  This Masonic distress call would presumably invite help and assistance from fellow Masons.   Why would he call for help if he knew he was going to die?

Elder Holland: A few short verses from the 12th chapter of Ether in the Book of Mormon. Before closing the book, Hyrum turned down the corner of the page from which he had read, marking it as part of the everlasting testimony for which these two brothers were about to die. [E1]  I hold in my hand that book, the very copy [E1] from which Hyrum read, the same corner of the page turned down still visible. Later, when actually incarcerated in the jail, Joseph the Prophet turned to the guards who held him captive and bore a powerful testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Shortly thereafter pistol and ball would take the lives of these two testators.

E1 – The Very Book.  Elder Holland claims that Hyrum’s turning down the corner of a page after reading it marks an everlasting testimony.  Following previously made points, reading from a book does not constitute a testimony, unless the testator stated it was.  The use of the phrase, “everlasting testimony,” suggests an equivalent to a “dying testimony,” although it is not stated directly as such.  Additionally, it is unclear whether Hyrum thought he was going to die imminently.  It is clear that Joseph is reported to have said he was going to die, but other concurrent actions suggests that he had no intention of dying while traveling to, being rescued at, or returning from Carthage. 

Elder Holland’s holding and displaying what he claims to be the very book from which Hyrum read just prior to their death, while interesting and engaging, is irrelevant.  This is an effective oratory rhetorical device.  However, whether Elder Holland was holding the very book from which Hyrum read does not change the meaning or the validity of his argument.  Holding the very book may influence people to think and believe his overall argument is more factual and compelling, when in fact, it is exactly the same, with all of its inherent strengths and weaknesses.  Separately, while there are valid questions regarding the provenance of the specific book which Elder Holland was holding, the actual provenance is irrelevant.  The use of such props is a known technique for emphasizing the emotional impact of an address as well as de-emphasizing critical thinking and analysis.

Elder Holland: As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. [F1]  In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you—would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth? [F2]

F1 – Evidence of Truthfulness.  Elder Holland has suggested that his linkage of Moroni’s testimony of Christ to Hyrum’s reading a few verses from the Book of Mormon just prior to traveling to Carthage where he was killed constitutes a powerful dying or everlasting testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  He claims this to be strong evidence for that proposition.  This series of non sequiturs is a confusing linkage of events, which does not constitute strong evidence of the truthfulness, or the divine origins of the Book of Mormon.  Suggesting it is strong evidence is a logical fallacy, an appeal to his own authority as an apostle.  Although it is a heartrending story, it is difficult to understand why Elder Holland would claim this series of events, tenuously linked only in a talk, is evidence which he would submit of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

F2 – Blaspheme before God.  Elder Holland carries forward the confusing non sequitur that Hyrum’s reading a few verses from the Book of Mormon prior to traveling to Carthage constitutes an everlasting testimony of a dying man.  It is not clear whether Joseph and Hyrum firmly believed that they were going to die.  Even if they did, reading a few verses from the Book of Mormon hardly constitutes a dying testimony, unless Hyrum specifically stated it as such.  He did not. 

Elder Holland suggests that Hyrum and Joseph were given the opportunity to recant their story regarding the origins of the Book of Mormon in exchange for their lives.  There is no evidence that this ever occurred.  This suggestion is yet another non sequitur from which he draws the questionable conclusion that they chose not to blaspheme God by denying the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. 

He also extends the argument by implying that because they did not deny the divine origins of the Book of Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church. 

One further issue with this line of reasoning is that none of the naturalistic theories regarding Book of Mormon authorship suggest that Hyrum had any part, nor knew anything about the authorship of the Book of Mormon, aside from the canonized version of its authorship.  As such, pulling Hyrum into the equation is a logical fallacy. 

Additionally, a review of other religious leaders who died without recanting their respective positions would suggest that there are many religious texts (e.g. Qu’ran, Book of the Law of the Lord), and by extension, religious faiths that are equally as valid as the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Holland:  Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, homeless and friendless” and that their children will leave “footprints of blood” across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of the earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true.   [G1] Disregard all of that and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? [G2]  They would not do that! [G3]  They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  [G4]

G1 – Never Mind.  Elder Holland’s impassioned portrayal of a series of heart-rending events that are known after the fact, as if Joseph and Hyrum would have known them before the fact, as a consequence of a fictional deal which they were never offered is another rhetorical device intended to draw out emotions from the listener or reader but is not grounded in either logic or historical fact.  The careful listener or reader could question why Elder Holland would present this troublesome line of reasoning.

G2 – Hour of Death.  As has been discussed previously, it is far from certain that either Hyrum or Joseph believed that they were near the hour of death.  It is clear that they understood that they were endangered, but their death was not a foregone conclusion.  If the actual origins of the Book of Mormon were other than divine, there are no authorship theories which suggest Hyrum would have known.  Suggesting, again, that Hyrum’s reading from the Book of Mormon was his and Joseph’s dying testimony of its truthfulness, so they would not offend God is rather presumptuous of Elder Holland.  The harsh words, “imposters and charlatans,” are another rhetorical device, specifically a false dichotomy, that accentuates the emotional response to the idea of these men standing before their “Eternal Judge.”

G3 – They Would Not.  With emphasis, Elder Holland proclaims, with absolute certainty, that Hyrum, and presumably Joseph, just prior to traveling to Carthage, would not read from the Book of Mormon if either one of them knew that the Book of Mormon was not of divine origin.  That he knows the will and mind of these men at that point in time is dressing his speculations in the robes of certainty.

G4 – Rather Die.  Elder Holland again reiterates the deal for which there is no evidence.  His portrayal of the situation is that Hyrum and Joseph were given a choice of denying the divine origins of the Book of Mormon or being killed.  Of that choice, he said they were willing to die.  This is a red herring.  It is a distraction used as a powerful rhetorical device that emerges from a series of fallacious non sequiturs.  This red herring is offered as firm proof and evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.  This rhetorical device is fraught with assumptions and broad license to interpret circumstantial evidence to create a heart-rending tale.  By this point in Elder Holland’s talk, the careful listener or reader may be so confused by the array of rhetorical devices, logical fallacies, and non sequiturs, he or she has difficulty ascertaining the actual meaning and validity of what Elder Holland is saying.

Elder Holland: For one hundred and seventy-nine years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born, parroted and died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. [H1]  None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination [H2] because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.  [H3]  In this I stand with my own great-grandfather who said simply enough, “No wicked man could write such a book as this, and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.” [H4]

H1 – Failed Theories.  Stunningly, Elder Holland labels four naturalistic theories of Book of Mormon authorship as “failed theories.”  One wonders if observers with no vested interest would consider them failed.  Since he does not analyze them in his address, one wonders by what criteria Elder Holland judged each of these theories to be failed.  One can’t help but wonder if Elder Holland has objectively subjected the canonized description of the divine origins of the Book of Mormon to the same criteria of judgment.  A very brief summary of each theory mentioned by Elder Holland will be offered here, with a more extensive description for the first two given in Appendix B.  It should be noted that these theories are deemed by proponents as plausible or probable, not certain.

•    Ethan Smith published a book, View of the Hebrews, in 1823, which LDS church General Authority, Elder B. H. Roberts, said contained striking parallels in content and storyline with the Book of Mormon.   The theory is that Joseph and perhaps others could have used this book as foundational material for creating the Book of Mormon.
•    Solomon Spaulding wrote a manuscript, which went missing from a Pittsburg print shop which Sidney Rigdon frequented in the 1812-1816 time-frame.   This manuscript is purported to be foundational material for the Book of Mormon to which Sidney Rigdon added his Campbellite doctrines.  Rigdon met Oliver Cowdrey when Cowdrey was working in Ohio in the district in which Sidney was a circuit preacher.  Oliver, Joseph’s second cousin, introduced Sidney to Joseph as both were interested in bringing forth a book regarding the origins of the Native Americans.  Current scholarship suggests an overlap of the Ethan Smith and Solomon Spaulding theories.
•    Deranged paranoid is Elder Holland’s label to describe a range of theories surrounding Joseph’s presumed mental illness.  Altered mental states created scenarios in which Joseph purportedly wrote the Book of Mormon.
•    Cunning genius is Elder Holland’s label to describe the theory Joseph Smith was a genius con man who wrote the Book of Mormon by himself in order to rescue his family from financial destitution.

H2 – Frankly Pathetic.  The use of the rhetorical propaganda technique of “name-calling,” while effective with unsophisticated listeners and readers, does not impact the facts behind any of these theories.  It also distresses informed listeners or readers.  Elder Holland’s calling alternate theories of Book of Mormon authorship “frankly pathetic,” does not make them any more or less valid.  The impact is the same as if someone called the canonized version of the story given by Joseph Smith “frankly pathetic.”  Name- calling is not proof and, to the informed, doing so tends to weaken the arguments of those who do it.  The reality is the theories identified by Elder Holland and other naturalistic theories are still being investigated.  For many of these theories, there is a growing body of evidence each year. 

To suggest that they have not withstood examination is to suggest that apologetic dismissals are valid, factual, and verifiable arguments.  These apologetic dismissals are not as compelling as some would hope, being founded on plausible denials and speculative supports. 

Hugh Nibley was the late 20th century prototypical LDS apologist.  His views and pronouncements were and are viewed with awe, reverence, and respect by many members of the church.  Although he was and is held in respect by many LDS church members, those more fully aware of his techniques and approaches tended to be much more critical.  Fellow BYU professor, Kent P. Jackson, decried the validity of Nibley’s methods and conclusions.   Additionally Bergera and Priddis noted, “[a]s a former BYU history professor observed in 1984, '[Nibley] has been a security blanket for Latter-day Saints to whom [cognitive] dissonance is intolerable....His contribution to dissonance management is not so much what he has written, but that he has written. After knowing Hugh Nibley for forty years, I am of the opinion that he has been playing games with his readers all along....Relatively few Latter-day Saints read the Nibley books that they give one another, or the copiously annotated articles that he has contributed to church publications. It is enough for most of us that they are there.'”  

Informed members are aware of the humble confidence expressed by earlier leaders of the LDS church and wonder where Elder Holland’s humble confidence is or if he even has any regarding the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.  It seems to some that if he has to resort to name-calling, his case must be very weak.  They recall the comment of George A. Smith, who said, “If faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak. ”  They also recall the comment by Parley P. Pratt, “. . . convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the word of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information, and you will ever have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments in the hands of God of redeeming your fellow beings from the darkness which you may see enveloping their minds. ”  Also, J. Reuben Clark, when he said, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed. ”  Finally, specifically with regard to the Book of Mormon, Elder Orson Pratt had confidence that a full and critical inquiry into the Book of Mormon would vindicate the claim of its divine origin.  He said, “This book must be either true or false.  If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God….If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world….If after rigid examination, it be found an imposition, it should be extensively published to the world as such; the evidences and arguments on which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated…. ”  Many Church members are hurt by Elder Holland’s seeming lack of humble confidence in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. 

Is the church afraid of real scholarly critique and investigation?  Is the Church really afraid of “failed theories” that are “frankly pathetic?”  If not, why resort to common propaganda techniques in an attempt to discredit them?

H3 – No Other Answer.  Not surprisingly, Elder Holland states with certainty that there is no other answer aside from Joseph’s canonized description of the origins of the Book of Mormon.  This claim is a false dichotomy.  Extraordinary claims, however, require extraordinary evidence.  The church has put forth no objectively and independently verifiable evidence that suggests the canonized version is correct. 

To suggest that a supernatural explanation and a supernatural verification of the origin of the Book of Mormon is the only explanation for its origins requires that the same criteria be used when assessing other sacred texts including, for example the Qu’ran, The Book of the Law of the Lord, the Bhagavad Gita, etc. 

If the Church would accept the claim that the other sacred texts are of divine origin, it calls into question the validity of the church’s claim as God’s one and only true church.  If the Church calls into question the divine origins of these sacred texts, it must submit the Book of Mormon to the same standards of judgment to which it would submit other sacred texts for verification.  Troubling to some members is why Elder Holland seemingly would subject the Book of Mormon to one set of criteria and all other sacred texts to a completely different set of criteria.

H4 – No Wicked Man.  There is no reason to doubt Elder Holland’s sincerity when he said he agrees with his grandfather in saying, “[n]o wicked man could write such a book as this, and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”  This is honorable, understandable, and acceptable for what it is.  He is not ambiguous in his position, conviction, or belief.  However, Elder Holland uses this conviction as evidence of an irrefutable fact.  This type of conviction is commonplace in the realm of religious claims, including within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (now Community of Christ) had a firm conviction that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy and polyandry because he publicly stated that he didn’t.   But their conviction was not supported by facts.   Islamic suicide bombers have a conviction that they will be received into heaven as martyrs.  But their conviction is unsupported by any objective evidence.  Religious convictions do not equal objective fact, despite the fervor of the conviction. 

Interestingly, Elder Holland opens up for possibility yet another commonly held Book of Mormon authorship theory.  In saying, “…no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so,” he opens the credible possibility that Joseph perceived that he had received a commandment from God to write the Book of Mormon, and, therefore, he did so, creating what may be called, an “inspired fiction.”

Elder Holland: I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter day work [I1] —and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort for our times [I2]—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon [I3]and the Lord Jesus Christ of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text [I4] teeming with literary and Semitic complexity [I5] without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages somehow [I6]—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that’s the case then such persons, elect or otherwise, have been deceived [I7] and, if they leave this Church, they must do so by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make their exit.   In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be—“a stone of stumbling,...a rock of offence,” a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work. [I8]  Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. “They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,” they declared. “Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” [I9]

I1 – Full Faith. Assuming that Elder Holland is referring to the Restoration, it is reasonable to assume that a lack of belief in the foundational stories of the Book of Mormon would equate to a lack of full faith in the latter-day work as it is currently portrayed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I2 – Fullest Measure.  Given the peace and comfort many outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel in their lives, it seems presumptuous of Elder Holland to suggest that unless one accepts the Book of Mormon people cannot find the fullest measure of peace and comfort.  At the same time, Elder Holland is clear and direct in his conviction regarding his view.  Some members view the world around them and are confused by the contradiction between this claim of Elder Holland and what they actually observe empirically.

I3 – Embracing the Divinity.  Embracing the divinity of the Book of Mormon as a requirement for full peace and comfort in this life is presumptuous on the part of Elder Holland.  Many people live in a peace and comfort far greater than members of the church while they do not accept the divinity of the Book of Mormon.  Many members of the church do not accept the divine origins of the Book of Mormon, yet acknowledge the inspiration and good that they have received by reading the Book of Mormon.

I4 – Foolish Enough.  Calling people “foolish” again underscores the argument-weakening use of name-calling, which is a propaganda technique meant to elicit negative emotion and to demean the value of those being called names.  Calling someone foolish and misled for not accepting the divinity of the Book of Mormon is a common propaganda ploy having no effect on the truthfulness of falsity of anyone’s position.

I5 – Semitic Complexity.  Elder Holland presumably here refers to the Hebraic (and according to many, the human) tendency to chiasmus in writing.  The Book of Mormon has sections which fit the criteria for chiasmus.  This point is often overemphasized, given that Dr. Seuss books have a greater tendency towards chiasmus than the Book of Mormon.  No one claims that Dr. Seuss books have Semitic complexity or divine origins.  Informed listeners and readers understand this and wonder why Elder Holland would highlight this point.  Uninformed listeners and readers may perceive that “Semitic complexity” is somehow firm evidence of the divine origins of the Book of Mormon.

I6 - Accounting for the Origin.  Elder Holland seemingly forgets or is unwilling to accept that there are honest attempts to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon from a naturalistic point of view.  These, and others, are the theories that he says are “frankly pathetic.”  By inference, he is labeling all efforts to research, develop, and put these theories forward for discussion as “dishonest.”  How he reaches this conclusion is unknown; some may view it as arrogance.  An honest examination of these theories underscores and highlights that the vast majority of proposed authorship theories are grounded in honest inquiry and honest scholarship.  It is difficult to understand why Elder Holland would effectively characterize them all as being founded in dishonesty.

I7 – Been Deceived.  With much passion and conviction, Elder Holland, without trial and without putting forward any real evidence, condemns as deceived anyone who honestly holds the view that the Book of Mormon’s origins are not entirely congruous with his understanding of the stories published in the scriptural canon.  This is astonishing to many members.

I8 – Crawling Around the Book of Mormon.  Elder Holland has characterized the Book of Mormon as a barrier to those who “wish not to believe.”  There are several problems with this characterization.  The first problem being the suggestion that those who leave the LDS church simply wish not to believe.  The reality is that the reverse is more often true.  People who leave the church most often fervently wish to believe. 

To members who know people who have left the church, Elder Holland’s characterization is confusing at best, and dishonest, hurtful, and disparaging at worst.  It highlights to them that Elder Holland either does not understand why people leave the Church, or does not care. 

Many who choose to leave have held onto the Book of Mormon as their last bastion of hope that the church is true before that hope finally gives way.  Elder Holland uses a variety of prepositions, “over or under or around,” to suggest the physical maneuvering required for someone who “wish[es] not to believe,” to leave the church.  Interestingly, he neglects to use the preposition, “through.”  Many who ultimately leave the church would characterize their process with the Book of Mormon as going “through” it on their way out of the church.  A representative but poignant recounting of a journey was relayed to me by an anonymous woman: 

When people have been willing to actually sit down with me and ask me why I left the church, I have told them, ‘If the Book of Mormon is true, then the current church isn't practicing what's in it, and if the current church is true, then they don't need the Book of Mormon 'cause it doesn't have much in it to support the current practices.’

About 7 years ago, I bought a paperback copy of the Book of Mormon and I used a red pencil to underline everything in the text that I felt was a "...Testament of Jesus Christ" My intention at the time was to show a friend who had been well taught that Mormons aren’t Christians that we did indeed hold up Christ as our Savior.

About 6 years ago, following the advice of someone I considered to be a wise and spiritual man, I gathered together all the ‘Teachings of...’ the prophets that I could find and I started reading backwards from Gordon B. Hinckley. I got a very good picture of the workings of the church and what the leaders feel is important (confession/repentance of sin, tithing, temple work/sealing power) and I started to see the church as a very Old Testament kind of organization. By then I was reading the D&C and found it to also be very Old Testament-y.

And then I got to spend all those months in [quiet contemplation]. I decided that the Book of Mormon would be the most comforting and useful to my heart so I was back to reading it almost exclusively and I really believe that that is where my testimony came apart.

Trying to find justification in the Book of Mormon for the current practices of the church is really hard to do. It is now used as a validation for Joseph Smith. "He translated it. It's good. He's good. We're good."

It really is true that I went THROUGH the Book of Mormon on my way out of the church. 

Many people have gone through the Book of Mormon on their way out of the church. After careful, prayerful and considered study and searching, they have determined that from their perspective they do not see that the Church teaches the fullness of the gospel as contained in the Book of Mormon.  They perceive the inconsistency to be stark, irreconcilable, and real.  Is the honest searching of these people that leads them right through the heart of the Book of Mormon irrelevant and not worthy of honest, sympathetic consideration, and open, frank discussion within the church? 

Additionally, the Book of Mormon is often a barrier to those who actually do wish to believe.  Many have prayed fervently, believing that Moroni’s promise  would provide them with a correct knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  They are discouraged when they do not receive a recognizable answer.  This becomes a barrier to belief.  For Elder Holland to present only one side of the story and ignore the other, equally legitimate side, is yet another rhetorical device, and a logical fallacy of card stacking, aimed at creating an emotional response in the audience.

I9 – Witnesses Testified.  Elder Holland presents elements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses as included in the Book of Mormon.  He represents that none ever denied their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.  The picture he paints is disheartening to those members who are informed, expecting that he would paint a more complete picture if he chose to focus on the 11 witnesses.  The testimonies were written, presumably by Oliver Cowdery, but possibly by Joseph, and presented to the witnesses to sign rather than the witnesses collaborating and writing of their own, presumably shared experiences.  Martin Harris reported that the eleven witnesses hesitated to sign the statements for this reason.   This is important in that while none of the witnesses ever publicly denied their testimony, many of them publicly clarified their testimony and there is evidence that at least two privately denied their testimony.   Three of the eleven witnesses clarified that their seeing the plates was not with their physical, but their spiritual eyes, while Harris claimed that none of the witnesses viewed the plates with their physical eyes.  

Additionally, if we accept as evidence of the divinity of the Book of Mormon the testimonies of the 11 witnesses, as Elder Holland suggests, by like reasoning and logic we should accept the testimonies of the 11 witnesses to The Book of the Law of the Lord as evidence for the divinity of that work. 

Upon Joseph’s death, church member James J. Strang presented a letter to Church leaders in Nauvoo, presumably from Joseph, in his handwriting.  The letter indicated that the mantle of prophet should be passed to Strang.   Strang and some his followers were led to some metallic plates, which they dug up.  The plates had curious writings, which Strang translated using the “Urim and Thummim,” resulting in The Book of the Law of the Lord.  Like the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, the 11 witnesses of the Book of the Law of the Lord signed their testimonies of its divine origin.   None of these 11 witnesses are reported to have denied their testimony of this book.  Of the 11 witnesses, two had belonged to the LDS church in Nauvoo, Ebenezer Page and Jehiel Savage.  Using the same reasoning Elder Holland uses for the Book of Mormon witnesses, The Book of the Law of the Lord must stand as an equal text, divine in origin. 

Moreover, if we were to accept the logic of the validity of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, we should also accept the validity of the testimony of the seven independent witnesses that individually, separately, and legally testified that Solomon Spaulding wrote the core part of the Book of Mormon.

Elder Holland: Now, I did not sail with the brother of Jared in crossing an ocean and settling in a new world. I did not hear King Benjamin speak his angelically delivered sermon. I did not proselyte with Alma and Amulek nor witness the fiery death of innocent believers. I was not among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the Resurrected Lord, nor did I weep with Mormon and Moroni over the destruction of an entire civilization. But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them “I give my name unto the world, to witness unto the world that which I have seen.” And like them, “I lie not, God bearing witness of it.” I ask that my testimony of the Book of Mormon and all that it implies, given today under my own oath and my office, be recorded by men on earth and angels in heaven. I hope I have a few years left in my “last days,” but whether I do or do not, I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth, [J1] and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the last days.

J1 – The Book of Mormon is True.  Elder Holland’s conviction and belief is clear and unequivocal, but conviction does not necessarily equate to fact.  Allowing that there can be a gap between conviction and fact should allow honest members of the church to explore and understand the facts and “study them out in their own minds,” as the Lord had commanded, and make an honest assessment of those facts.

Elder Holland: My witness echoes that of Nephi who wrote part of the book in his “last days”:
“Hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ [you shall believe] these words, for they are the words of Christ,...and they teach all men that they should do good.


“And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day….” [K1]

K1 – Hearken unto These Words.  A quotation from the Book of Mormon is not proof of its validity, particularly given the circular logic required to believe that it is.  Similarly, it is not proof of its invalidity, but that is not the question.  The supposition is that these words are true.  Many believers in Christ would be astounded by this logic.  For many of them, belief in Christ is the foundation for their dismissal of the Book of Mormon as a 19th century work of fiction.  The emphasis and use of logic which is circular is unpersuasive to careful listeners and readers.

Elder Holland: Brothers and sisters, God always provides safety for the soul. And with the Book of Mormon He has again done that in our time. Remember this declaration by Jesus Himself, “Whoso treasureth up my word shall not be deceived” ---and in the last days neither your heart nor your faith will fail you. [L1]  Of this I earnestly testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

L1 – Shall Not Be Deceived.  Many religious people believe that if they treasure up the word of God from their respective sacred texts, they will not be deceived.  They sincerely treasure the words that they believe to be of God, and therefore feel like they have the truth and are not deceived. 

While it is true that they may have a deep conviction of the truthfulness of their scripture, this does not account for the discrepancies and contradictions among and between the various sacred texts that religions around the world hold dear.  Many people of a wide variety of religious traditions would say that by treasuring up their sacred texts, “…neither your heart nor your faith will fail you.”  This is a primary purpose behind each sacred text, meant to bring a closer connection between man and God.  Supposing that the Book of Mormon somehow transcends this and stands alone as a unique, sacred text, is problematic to many LDS church members who would expect humble confidence with respect to their treasured Book of Mormon.


While many members of the Church found Elder Holland’s talk to be thrilling, exciting, and vindicating, others were disheartened by this talk.  The confusion spans many areas throughout the talk.  Elder Holland’s display of passion and emotion is very uncommon at General Conference.  To see Elder Holland passionately sad, angry, defiant, happy, and resolute through the course of the talk was disquieting to many.  The pervasive use rhetorical devices throughout the talk detracted mightily from Elder Holland’s core message of his testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon.  Logical fallacies, propaganda techniques, and non sequiturs stitched together a talk that, while having emotional impact, was largely devoid of logic.  These rhetorical devices and communication techniques caused many to wonder why in the world Elder Holland would abandon his intellectual background and stoop to the trade of a rhetorician.  Many lost hope in the one apostle who seemed to hear and at least attempt to understand the marginalized intellectual segment  of the Church population.  Many were deeply saddened as they watched Elder Holland as he stood at the pulpit during General Conference and trammeled honest scholarship and marginalized the spiritual, emotional, and psychological need that many have to learn, understand, evaluate and study aspects of the Church unavailable in the standard Church curriculum. 

The hope and intent of this analysis is to provide local leaders with the opportunity to understand that many are confused, hurt, and even distraught over Elder Holland’s talk.  There are real and identifiable reasons within the talk why these people feel the way that they do.  These people need comfort, compassion, and acceptance, not blanket condemnation.  Please reach out to these people even if you perceive them to be the “lost sheep.”  As Christ said, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4)  Thank you for your service as shepherd or stewards over the members of the church in your area.  God bless you.

Joseph Smith Senior’s Dream of the Tree of Life

    I thought...I was traveling in an open, desolate field, which appeared to be very barren. As I was thus traveling, the thought suddenly came into my mind that I had better stop and reflect upon what I was doing, before I went any further. So I asked myself, "What motive can I have in traveling here, and what place can this be?" My guide, who was by my side, as before, said, "This is the desolate world; but travel on." The road was so broad and barren that I wondered why I should travel in it; for, said I to myself, "Broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leads to death, and many there be that walk therein; but narrow is the way, and straight is the gate that leads to everlasting' life, and few there be that go in thereat."

    Traveling a short distance farther, I came to a narrow path. This path I entered, and, when I had traveled a little way in it, I beheld a beautiful stream of water, which ran from the east to the west. Of this stream I could see neither the source nor yet the termination; but as far as my eyes could extend I could see a rope running along the bank of it, about as high as a man could reach, and beyond me was a low, but very pleasant valley, in which stood a tree such as I had never seen before. It was exceedingly handsome, insomuch that I looked upon it with wonder and admiration. Its beautiful branches spread themselves somewhat like an umbrella, and it bore a kind of fruit, in shape much like a chestnut bur, and as white as snow, or, if possible whiter. I gazed upon the same with considerable interest, and as I was doing so the burs or shells commenced opening and shedding their particles, or the fruit which they contained, which was of dazzling whiteness. I drew near and began to eat of it, and I found it delicious beyond description. As I was eating, I said in my heart, "I can not eat this alone, I must bring my wife and children, that they may partake with me." Accordingly, I went and brought my family, which consisted of a wife and seven children, and we all commenced eating, and praising God for this blessing. We were exceedingly happy, insomuch that our joy could not easily be expressed.

    While thus engaged, I beheld a spacious building standing opposite the valley which we were in, and it appeared to reach to the very heavens. It was full of doors and windows, and they were filled with people, who were very finely dressed. When these people observed us in the low valley, under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us, and treated us with all manner of disrespect and contempt. But their contumely we utterly disregarded.

    I presently turned to my guide, and inquired of him the meaning of the fruit that was so delicious. He told me it was the pure love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of all those who love him, and keep his commandments. He then commanded me to go and bring the rest of my children. I told him that we were all there. "No," he replied, "look yonder, you have two more, and you must bring them also." Upon raising my eyes, I saw two small children, standing some distance off. I immediately went to them, and brought them to the tree; upon which they commenced eating with the rest, and we all rejoiced together. The more we ate, the more we seemed to desire, until we even got down upon our knees, and scooped it up, eating it by double handfuls.

    After feasting in this manner a short time, I asked my guide what was the meaning of the spacious building which I saw. He replied, "It is Babylon, it is Babylon, and it must fall. The people in the doors and windows are the inhabitants thereof, who scorn and despise the Saints of God because of their humility."

    I soon awoke, clapping my hands together for joy.  (Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith, The Prophet And His Progenitors For Many Generations, 1845.)


Summary of Two Alternative Book of Mormon Authorship Theories

Ethan Smith – View of the Hebrews

This summary is taken in whole from Wikipedia.

View of the Hebrews
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

View of the Hebrews is an 1823 book written by Ethan Smith (December 19, 1762–August 29, 1849) which argues that Native Americans were descended from the Hebrews. Numerous commentators on Mormon doctrine, from LDS Church general authority B. H. Roberts to biographer Fawn M. Brodie, have discussed the possibility that View of the Hebrews may have provided source material for the Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe was translated from ancient golden plates by Joseph Smith, Jr. [1]

Biography of Ethan Smith

Ethan Smith, unrelated to Joseph Smith, was a New England Congregationalist clergyman. Born into a pious home in Belchertown, Massachusetts, Smith abandoned religion after the early deaths of his parents.[2] After a prolonged inner struggle he joined the Congregational Church in 1781, and shortly thereafter began training for the ministry, graduating from Dartmouth College in 1790, though finding "but little of the spirit of religion there."[2]

After serving congregations in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, Smith accepted an appointment as "City Missionary" in Boston and also served as a supply pastor for vacant pulpits. "He was a warm friend of what he accounted pure revivals of religion; though he was careful to distinguish the precious from the vile" in matters of religious experience. Smith enjoyed a "robust constitution and vigorous health" and continued to preach until within two weeks of his death. At eighty his sight "became very dim, and he was no longer able to read, though he never became totally blind. So familiar was he with the Bible and Watts, that it was his uniform custom to open the book in the pulpit, and give out the chapter and hymn, and seem to read them; and he very rarely made a mistake, to awaken a suspicion that he was repeating from memory."[2]

Besides View of the Hebrews, Smith published A Dissertation on the Prophecies (1809), A Key to the Figurative Language of the Prophecies (1814), A View of the Trinity, designed as an answer to Noah Webster's Bible News (1821), Memoirs of Mrs. Abigail Bailey, Four Lectures on the Subjects and Mode of Baptism, A Key to the Revelation (1833), and Prophetic Catechism to Lead to the Study of the Prophetic Scriptures (1839). Ethan Smith died in Royalston, Massachusetts in 1849.[2]

Smith lived in Poultney, Vermont, the same town as Oliver Cowdery, who later acted as Joseph Smith's scribe for the Book of Mormon. Ethan Smith also pastored the Congregational church that Cowdery's family attended from 1821 to 1826 while he was writing View of the Hebrews.[3]

Thesis of View of the Hebrews

The first edition of Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews was published in 1823, and a second expanded edition appeared in 1825.[4] Ethan Smith's theory, not uncommon among theologians and laymen of his day, was that Native Americans were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who had disappeared after being taken captive by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE.[5] Terryl Givens calls the work "an inelegant blend of history, excerpts, exhortation, and theorizing."[6]

Smith's speculation took flight from a verse in the Apocrypha, 2 Esdras 13:41,[7] which says that the Ten Tribes traveled to a far country, "where never mankind dwelt"—which Smith interpreted to mean America. During Smith's day speculation about the Ten Lost Tribes was heightened both by a renewed interest in biblical prophecy and by the belief that the aboriginal peoples who had been swept aside by Europeans settlers could not have created the sophisticated burial mounds found in North America. Smith attempted to rescue Indians from the contemporary mound builder myth by making Native Americans "potential converts worthy of salvation."[8] "If our natives be indeed from the tribes of Israel," Smith wrote, "American Christians may well feel, that one great object of their inheritance here, is, that they may have a primary agency in restoring those 'lost sheep of the house of Israel.'"[9]

Parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

It has been argued that there are significant parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. In 1922 B.H. Roberts (1857–1933), a prominent LDS apologist and historian,[10] was asked to answer a non-believer's five critical questions by LDS Apostle James E. Talmage. It is unclear when Roberts first learned of the View of the Hebrews or what motivated him to make the comparison, but he produced a confidential report that summarized eighteen points of similarity between the two works.[11]

In a letter to LDS Church president Heber J. Grant and other church officials, Roberts urged "all the brethren herein addressed becoming familiar with these Book of Mormon problems, and finding the answer for them, as it is a matter that will concern the faith of the Youth of the Church now as also in the future, as well as such casual inquirers as may come to us from the outside world."[12] Roberts' list of parallels included:

    * extensive quotation from the prophecies of Isaiah in the Old Testament
    * the Israelite origin of the American Indian
    * the future gathering of Israel and restoration of the Ten Lost Tribes
    * the peopling of the New World from the Old via a long journey northward which encountered "seas" of "many waters"
    * a religious motive for the migration
    * the division of the migrants into civilized and uncivilized groups with long wars between them and the eventual destruction of the civilized by the uncivilized
    * the assumption that all native peoples were descended from Israelites and their languages from Hebrew
    * the burial of a "lost book" with "yellow leaves"
    * the description of extensive military fortifications with military observatories or "watch towers" overlooking them
    * a change from monarchy to republican forms of government
    * the preaching of the gospel in ancient America.[13]

Roberts continued to affirm his faith in the divine origins of the Book of Mormon until his death in 1933, but as Terryl Givens has written, "a lively debate has emerged over whether his personal conviction really remained intact in the aftermath of his academic investigations."[14]

Fawn Brodie, the first important historian to write a non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith,[15] believed that Joseph Smith's theory of the Hebraic origin of the American Indians came "chiefly" from View of the Hebrews. "It may never be proved that Joseph saw View of the Hebrews before writing the Book of Mormon," wrote Brodie in 1945, "but the striking parallelisms between the two books hardly leave a case for mere coincidence."[16] On the other hand, Mormon apologists argue that the parallels between the works are weak, over-emphasized, or non-existent.[17]

Solomon Spaulding – Manuscript Found

This summary is taken in whole from Wikipedia.

Spalding–Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Spalding–Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship is the theory that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized in part from an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding. This theory first appeared in print in the book Mormonism Unvailed,[1] published in 1834 by E.D. Howe. The theory claims that the Spalding manuscript was at some point acquired by Sidney Rigdon, who used it in collusion with Joseph Smith, Jr. to produce the Book of Mormon. Although publicly stated that it was through reading the Book of Mormon that Rigdon joined the Mormon church,[1] the Spalding–Rigdon theory argues that the story was a later invention to cover the book's allegedly true origins.
Spalding manuscript and the Book of Mormon

While living in Conneaut, Ohio, in the early nineteenth century, Solomon Spalding (1761–1816) began writing a work of fiction about the lost civilization of the mound builders of North America. Spalding shared his story, entitled Manuscript Story[2] with members of his family and some of his associates in Conneaut, as well as his friends in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Amity, Washington County, Pennsylvania, where he lived prior to his death. However, Manuscript Story was not published during his lifetime.
In 1832, Latter Day Saint missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde visited Conneaut, Ohio, and preached from the Book of Mormon. Nehemiah King, a resident of Conneaut who knew Spalding when he lived there, felt that the Mormon text resembled the story written by Spalding years before. In 1833, at the urging of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, King, Spalding's widow, his brother John, and a number of other residents of Conneaut signed affidavits stating that Spalding had written a manuscript, portions of which were identical to the Book of Mormon.

Origins of the theory

The Spalding theory of authorship first appeared in print in Eber D. Howe's 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. Howe printed collection of affidavits collected by Hurlbut. Hurlbut had heard of an unpublished romance novel by Solomon Spalding as he was touring Pennsylvania giving lectures against the Latter Day Saint church. Hurlbut concluded that the description of the story in the manuscript bore some resemblance to that of the Book of Mormon.[3] A contemporary of Hurlbut's, Benjamin Winchester, states that Hurlbut "had learned that one Mr. Spaulding had written a romance, and the probability was, that it had, by some means, fallen into the hands of Sidney Rigdon, and that he had converted it into the Book of Mormon." Upon learning this, Hurlbut determined to obtain the manuscript.[4] Hurlbut learned that Sidney Rigdon had once resided in Pittsburgh and that the manuscript had once been there, and subsequently "endeavoured to make the finding of the manuscript take place at Pittsburgh, and then infer, that S.R. [Sidney Rigdon] had copied it there."[5]

Author Dan Vogel suggests that Hurlbut was not the originator of the Spalding-Rigdon theory, noting that Hurlbut pursued this in response to what he had heard about the manuscript and suggests that had Hurlbut been the inventor of the theory "he would not have made strenuous efforts to recover Spalding's manuscript."[6]
[edit] Statements from Spalding's neighbors and relatives

Eight of the affidavits acquired by Hurlbut from Solomon Spalding's family and associates stated that there were similarities between the story and the Book of Mormon.[7]

An example is the statement of Solomon Spalding's brother John, which declared that Spalding's manuscript "gave a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem, by land and sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of NEPHI and LEHI. They afterwards had quarrels and contentions, and separated into two distinct nations, one of which he denominated Nephites and the other Lamanites." Spalding's widow told a similar story, and stated that "the names of Nephi and Lehi are yet fresh in my memory, as being the principal heroes of his tale."[8]

Author Fawn Brodie expressed suspicion regarding these statements, claiming that the style of the statements was too similar and displayed too much uniformity. Brodie suggests that Hurlbut did a "little judicious prompting."[9]

However, an article published in the Hudson Ohio "Observer", (Masthead of Vlll:15 - June 12, 1834), tells a different story. In the article, the editor interviewed some of the Conneaut witnesses, who then told the editor the same thing that they told to Hurlbut, even though they had every opportunity to say anything they wished. The significance of the article is that it appeared shortly after Hurlbut's trial in April 1834 and around six months before Howe's book, "Mormonism Unvailed", was published, thus refuting the claims that the witnesses had been coached by Hurlbut or that he had inaccurately reported their testimony.

Howe's response to the Spalding manuscript

Hurlbut obtained a manuscript through Spalding's widow, and showed it in public presentations in Kirtland, Ohio, in December 1833.[citation needed] Hurlbut then became embroiled in a legal dispute with Joseph Smith. Subsequently, Hurlbut delivered the documents he had collected to Howe. Howe was unable to find the alleged similarities with the Book of Mormon that were described in the statements and instead argued in Mormonism Unveiled (1834) that there must exist a second Spalding manuscript which was now lost. Howe concluded that Joseph Smith and Sidney Ridgon used the Spalding manuscript to produce the Book of Mormon for the purpose of making money.[10]
[edit] Responses to the theory

In 1840, Benjamin Winchester, a Mormon defender who had been "deputed ... to hunt up the Hurlbut case,"[11] published a book rejecting the Spalding theory as "a sheer fabrication." Winchester attributed the creation of the entire story to Hurlbut.[12]

Regarding Sidney Rigdon's alleged involvement, Rigdon's son John recounted an interview with his father in 1865:

    My father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with tears glistening in his eyes: "My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story."[13]

In 1884, a Spalding manuscript known as Manuscript Story was discovered and published, and the manuscript now resides at Oberlin College in Ohio.[14]. This manuscript appears to bear little resemblance to the Book of Mormon story, but some critics claim it contains parallels in theme and narrative.[citation needed] The second "lost" manuscript purported to exist by Howe has never been discovered.

A 2008 computer analysis of the text of the Book of Mormon compared to writings of possible authors of the text shows a high probability that the authors of the book were Spalding, Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery; concluding that "our analysis supports the theory that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple, nineteenth-century authors, and more specifically, we find strong support for the Spalding-Rigdon theory of authorship. In all the data, we find Rigdon as a unifying force. His signal dominates the book, and where other candidates are more probable, Rigdon is often hiding in the shadows".[15] This study did not include Joseph Smith as one of the possible authors, arguing that because of Smith's use of scribes and co-authors, no texts can be presently identified with a surety as having been written by Smith.

The Stanford group (Jocker et al., 2008) found a strong Spalding signal in Mosiah, Alma, the first part of Helaman, and Ether. The Spalding signal was weak in those parts of the Book of Mormon likely produced after the lost pages incident (1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, some of the middle part of 3 Nephi, Moroni). They found the Rigdon signal distributed throughout the Book of Mormon (except for the known Isaiah chapters), and a weak Pratt signal in 1 Nephi. They also found a strong Cowdery signal in mid-Alma and weaker Cowdery signals in locations that contain content similar to Ethan Smith's "View of the Hebrews".

Previous wordprint or computer studies have come to different conclusions (for a history of such studies from the perspective of a LDS group, see A 1980 study done by John Hilton with non-LDS colleagues at Berkeley concluded that the probability of Spaulding having been the (sole) author of book of Nephi was less than 7.29 x 10-28 and less than 3 x 10-11 for Alma[16].

In the Stanford group (Jocker et al., 2008) peer-reviewed publication in the "Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing", they reviewed the (non-peer reviewed) Hilton study and pointed out numerous flaws in it.

They (Jocker et al., 2008) found that the Book of Alma is a mixture of Rigdon, Cowdery, and Spalding. The Hilton study does not indicate what text they used for Alma. If one lumps all the signals for Rigdon, Cowdery, and Spalding together, one is left with a corrupt signal that does not match Spalding.



Nicely done. I especially enjoyed section I8, in regards to the path out of the Church going "through the BoM." Truly, the "gospel" described in that book is not the one practice in the CJCLDS. I have come to realize that what I came to love in the BoM is actually what it takes from the New Testament--the focus on Christ and Christian living. It might serve as a useful gateway from Mainstream Christianity to Mormonism, but the BoM is not the keystone of the religion, by any means.


Thanks for hosting this. I hope this is useful for some people who follow your blog


"...a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work."

This fragment of text was difficult for me to digest. It seems Mr. Holland is assuming that at least some people who become disaffected are doing so because they want to - or they "wish not to believe."

From my own personal experience, I never wanted to "wish not to believe." I simply discovered the numerous and undeniable truths which clearly indicate the fraudulent nature of the church, thus, to be honest with myself, I "could not believe" - it wasn't something I whimsically decided to wish for - I wasn't looking for a reason to leave the church.

I began my search for truth by merely wanting to settle several doubts I held on to for years. What I found left me no choice. I honestly had no idea I would discover what I did, that this information was undeniable, and how it would change my life so dramatically.

When I gathered all the evidence and carefully considered the factual events which occurred and continue to take place, I had no doubt the church has been and continues to be deceitful. The choice of searching for truth shattered my testimony. The result was to either live a hypocritical life which involved mingling with the saints, pretending to be "of the fold," or I could leave the church. I did not "wish" to leave. Realizing the truth and then deciding to live a life without hypocrisy were the factors which pushed me out of the church. This was not a wishful endeavor.

Hank Rearden

"I did not sail with the brother of Jared in crossing an ocean..."

Neither did anyone, else, Mr. Holland. I wasn't with those they left behind at the ancient architectural wonder of the Tower of Babel, nor have I been threatened by Voldemort, had a meaningfully amicable relationship with an invisible rabbit, nor known the love of Josie, lead singer of the Pussycats, despite wanting desperately for the lattermost to be true when I was 10.

I'm just sayin'.

Ray Anderson

Nice analysis. Very meticulous. I appreciate all the time you must have put into it (logical fallicy here? It's lengthy therefore it must have taken a lot of time).

Anyway, I agree with your positions but I must ask for a point of clarification. Who are all these people that are disheartened by Holland's talk? Am I to assume you are personally aware of them, or of an organized group of "in-between" Mormons that have articulated as much? It would seem to me that those who were truly conflicted must of necessity be a small, probably quiet group of believers. Yes, I've seen a few comments on proLDS blogs that comment on the surprising tone of the sermon, but the feedback is usually overwhelmingly positive. No doubt mixed feelings are had by at least a few. I'm just wondering if you're making a leap here to suggest that there is a significant population of these members.

You are talking active members, right??? Certainly non-believers, former or lingering Mormon's included, aren't "disappointed" by his talk. It's par for the course. The true believers, as you said already, are all pumped up about it. Who and where, then, are all these people in the middle? Just an honest question here.

Chino Blanco

If you've yet to join the conversation re X-Mormon of the Year over at Main Street Plaza, this here is your official invite! ( And all apologies for this spamalicious OT comment ! )

Mister IT

Actually I would rather archive this more recent article in the Concerned Christians documentation archives if I may.

Please advise.

Thank you.

Stephanie Orgill

While I find you are clever with your words and took a lot of time to write out your thoughts, I found that I disagree with you on just about everything you said.

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