Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Heber J. Grant 1930: An Incidental Testimony of the Book of Mormon

One often encounters rare treasures in unexpected places. On July 15, 2014, a dear friend and relative, Sister Leola Tarwater Sims passed away in Colonia Juarez, Mexico. Our family had an opportunity to visit her home and settle some family business associated with her passing. While perusing some of her books on an old dusty shelf in a small back room of her her house, I found a much worn, and well used, black leather covered copy of the 1921 edition of the Book of Mormon. Pasted to the inside cover page, immediately preceding the Book of Mormon title page was the following brief, signed letter addressed to a young lady who would become Leola's mother. It reads as follows:

January 25, 1930
Miss Iola Whetten
Juarez Stake Academy
Colonia Juarez
Chihuahua, Mexico

Dear Sister:

In recognition of your success in the oratorical context on "Why Observe the Law of Tithing", I take pleasure in presenting you this copy of the Book of Mormon.

As a boy of fifteen I read carefully and prayerfully the Book of Mormon, and there came into my heart an abiding and firm testimony of its divinity. From that day to this its wonderful teachings have been a comfort, a blessing, and a guide to me.

I thank God from the bottom of my heart that I read the life of Nephi in my youth. I fell in love with him then, and his life has influenced mine for good more than that of any other character in ancient history, sacred or profane--save only the Redeemer of the world.

Wishing you success in the battle of life,

Sincerely your friend and brother,

Heber J. Grant.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Another Article on Book of Mormon Geography

Neal Rappleye has some thoughts on the use of statements by Joseph Smith on Book of Mormon geography.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Joseph F. Smith 1913: Part 2: A Testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham

In an earlier post I discussed President Joseph F. Smith's letter to Isaac Russell. That same month President Smith published the following in the Church's Improvement Era Magazine:

The Latter- day Saints maintain that while there was some difference between the methods of translation used by the prophet in the translation of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon ; that while he applied his own mind as far as he could, in all his work, (and his mind expanded in intelligence as he grew in age and experience,) yet in all his work he was divinely inspired— in his translations, his revelations, and his wonderful personal direction in the establishment of the work of God known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "the marvelous work and a wonder" predicted by the ancient prophets that should be founded upon the earth in the latter days.

 Men may not believe it. but nevertheless we testify to these truths. They did not believe that Jesus was the Christ— he was repudiated by his own generation, unto whom he was a sign calling to repentance. He said:

“The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon: and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here."— Luke 11:31.

As they did not believe in the divinity of the Christ, so also men repudiate the divine inspiration of the Prophet Joseph, who is a true witness of Jesus. But it is the testimony of the Latter- day Saints that Joseph Smith is an inspired prophet sent of God with the true message of salvation to the sons of men ; that the work he did was inspired ; that the Church which he was instrumental in founding is the Church of God, and that the doctrines which he taught are the restored, plain, and simple principles of the gospel taught by the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of all mankind. We invite all men, in all the earth, to investigate, to repent of their sins, and to be baptized by those who have received divine authority, thus submitting their lives to the saving ordinances of the gospel, and the unfailing promise is that they shall receive the Holy Ghost to be their surpassing daily light and joy, and their eternal guide and comfort.

Not only do we testify that Joseph Smith was inspired when he gave to the world the Pearl of Great Price, but we declare that it was by the inspiration and power of God that he translated the Book of Mormon, organized the Church of Christ, and gave mankind the precious revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants; and it is our firm belief that scientific investigation and discovery will confirm our testimony, rather than weaken or repudiate it. 

[Joseph F. Smith, “Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator," Improvement Era 16/4 (February 1913): 378-80].

Thursday, July 17, 2014

B. H. Roberts on Faith, Investigation, and Future Vindication

In 1912 Elder B. H Roberts wrote the following:

I would suggest to my own people that they should remember that there is a wide difference between the thing that one may not be able to explain and the thing which overthrows his theory altogether. One may not always account fully for his truth, nor beat down successfully all objections that may be urged against it; but it remains truth, just the same. And so in this case.

I believe that in the translations Joseph Smith has given to the world — confessedly not by scholarship but by inspiration, by his own spirit being quickened by contact with God's spirit — that in those translations are truths that are parts of a mighty system of truth, the like of which is not found elsewhere among men. And that system of truth, now being worked out in the experiences of both individual men and nations of men, will receive, ere the end, a splendid vindication both as a system and in all its parts . . . .  

If any new form of evidence shall hereafter be needed to meet new forms of attack, and authenticate afresh the word of truth, they will be found deposited somewhere, waiting for the fulness of time; and God will bring them  forth in their season, from the dark hieroglyphics, or the desert sands, or the dusty manuscripts, to confound the adversaries of his word, and to magnify his name. Secure in such a conviction, here let us stay ourselves, nothing daunted; and let the world's investigation of our truth be welcomed, confident, with the apostle of the Gentiles, that nothing can be done against the truth, but for the truth. 

[B.H. Roberts, Salt Lake Tribune, December 15, 1912].

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Joseph F. Smith 1913: Part 1: On the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon

In November 1912 Episcopal Bishop Franklin S. Spalding of Salt Lake City, Utah published his pamphlet, Joseph Smith Jr., as a Translator. Spalding had solicited and published statements from  influential American and European scholars of the day who dismissed the Book of Abraham as a fraud. This generated a flurry of articles published in Utah and across the nation over the next year or more.

In February 1913 President Joseph F. Smith wrote to Isaac Russell, a professional writer and a Latter-day Saint who had been negatively influenced by these attacks. Acknowledging that the Church, at the time, did not have the ability to fully respond to some of these criticisms, President Smith explained some of his concerns with Russell.

You will recall that Bishop Spalding and associates took all the time they needed to digest and bring forth this plan of attack without making known their purpose, and the result of their labor was put forth in pamphlet form unannounced, and this with the pretense of getting at the truth.

This pamphlet was circulated among Mormons and non-Mormons, but the former class, found since to have received free copies of the pamphlet, consisted chiefly of students not capable of seeing through the scheme behind it.

At first it was thought best to treat the pamphlet in silence for the time being, as it dealt with a subject none of our community was thought capable of writing upon, as none was known to be capable of passing on the translations of the hieroglyphics it contained from an Egyptologist standpoint. But, much to our gratification, Brother Sjodahl quickly took the question up and submitted a communication in answer, and without any knowledge whatever of this fact, Brother Roberts did likewise. . . . 

I could not but keenly feel the significance of an attack of this kind because of the effect it was perhaps going to have on those of our young people lacking in faith, and when Brothers Sjodahl and Roberts voluntarily came forward in defense my heart warmed towards them, and they and I, and all interested in the outcome so far feel well in what has been done, but your communication produced a very different feeling, as the spirit of it to us was from one in the camp of the enemy, and the thought occurred to me that you, a member of the Church, could ill afford to stand in with Bishop Spalding in a premeditated attack on our religious faith.

President Smith then counseled Russell to not abandon his faith, the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham or the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith, but rather do his best to defend it.

In connection with this whole matter this thought is of prime importance, and should ever be borne in mind: The same overruling providence which prompted the father of Joseph Smith to change the place of abode of himself and family from Vermont to Palmyra, New York, the neighborhood of the Hill Cumorah, where were hidden at that time the sacred Nephite record, also prompted the exhuming of the mummies containing the sacred writings of Abraham, and guided the man in possession of them to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the self-same spirit moved upon Oliver Cowdery to come to, and make the acquaintance of, Joseph who needed his help, as was plainly make known to Oliver by revelation. And we firmly believe that the same overruling providence will continue to move upon men, whom the Lord in his wisdom will use, from time to time,  to bring forth and establish in their own way and their own time indisputable evidences of the authenticity and divinity, not only of the Book of Abraham, as brought to light through the Prophet Joseph Smith, but the Book of Mormon as well.

This part of the work, however, is evidently for the scientists themselves to accomplish and not for us as a Church, for our testimony is not received or admitted by the critics, and in its consummation it is to be hoped they will have dug their own grave of unbelief, and be willing to acknowledge the truth. But in the meantime whatever you or any other member of the Church may be able to do along this line of work will of course be acceptable to the Lord and your brethren, and will at the same time redown [sic] to your own gratification and honor.

I sincerely hope that the love of the truth and the desire to uphold and defend it may ever be a part and portion of your being, and that nothing may occur in your life, however eventful it may be, to weaken your faith or in the least shake your confidence in the Prophet Joseph Smith. 

With best wishes and kind love, 
I am your friend and brother, 
Joseph F. Smith.

[Joseph F. Smith to Isaac Russell, February 2, 1913]

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Update on Ether's Cave

Last year in a post which commenced this blog I wrote that “Ether’s Cave” is where I share my reflections on the Book of Mormon. These include personal insights, interpretations of the text, perspectives on controversial questions, and news about contemporary scholarship on the Book of Mormon which I hope may be of interest to others. Here I want to state that while the Book of Mormon will continue to be the primary focus of Ether's Cave there will always be a corner in the cave for Abraham who from time to time may need place of residence. Consequently, there will occasionally be posts relating to the Book of Abraham as well as the Book of Mormon.

Reason and Revelation

In an interesting talk Elder Dallin H. Oaks said the following:

I admire those scholars for whom scholarship does not exclude faith and revelation. It is part of my faith and experience that the Creator expects us to use the powers of reasoning he has placed within us, and that he also expects us to exercise our divine gift of faith and to cultivate our capacity to be taught by divine revelation. But these things do not come without seeking. Those who utilize scholarship and disparage faith and revelation should ponder the Savior's question, "How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" (John 5:44).

God invites us to reason with him, but I find it significant that the reasoning to which God invites us is tied to spiritual realities and maturity rather than to scholarly findings or credentials. In modern revelation the Lord has spoken of reasoning with his people (see D&C 45:10, 15; 50:10–12; 61:13; see also Isaiah 1:18). It is significant that all of these revelations were addressed to persons who had already entered into covenants with the Lord—to the elders of Israel and to the members of his restored church.

In the first of these revelations, the Lord said that he had sent his everlasting covenant into the world to be a light to the world, a standard for his people: "Wherefore, come ye unto it," he said, "and with him that cometh I will reason as with men in days of old, and I will show unto you my strong reasoning" (D&C 45:10). Thus, this divine offer to reason was addressed to those who had shown faith in God, who had repented of their sins, who had made sacred covenants with the Lord in the waters of baptism, and who had received the Holy Ghost, which testifies of the Father and the Son and leads us into truth. This was the group to whom the Lord offered (and offers) to enlarge their understanding by reason and revelation.

 [Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon." This talk was given at the annual dinner of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies in Provo Utah and has been subsequently published in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2011, 237-48 and reprinted in the Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/1 (2012): 66-72].